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Facebook's Tamil Censorship Highlights Risks to Everyone

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 19/01/2022 - 10:00pm in


Technology, World

Facebook’s Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy, a vast library of secret rules limiting the online speech of billions, is ostensibly designed to curtail offline violence. For the editors of the Tamil Guardian, an online publication covering Sri Lankan news, the policy has meant years of unrelenting, unexplained censorship.

Thusiyan Nandakumar, the Tamil Guardian’s editor, told The Intercept that over the past several years, Facebook has twice suspended the publication’s Instagram account and removed dozens of its posts without warning — each time claiming a violation of the DIO policy. The censorship comes at a time of heightened scrutiny of this policy from free speech advocates, civil society groups, and even the company’s official Oversight Board.

A string of meetings with Facebook have yielded nothing more than vague assurances, dissembling, and continued deletions, according to Nandakumar. Despite claims from the company that it would investigate the matter, Nandakumar says the situation has only gotten worse. Faced with ongoing censorship, the Guardian’s staff have decided to self-censor, sparingly using the outlet’s Instagram account for fear of losing it permanently.

Facebook admitted to The Intercept that some of the actions taken against the outlet had been made in error, while defending others without providing specifics.

Civil liberties advocates who discussed the Tamil Guardian’s treatment said that it’s an immediately familiar dynamic and part of a troubling trend. Facebook moderators, whether in South Asia, Latin America, or in any of the other places they patrol content, routinely take down posts first and ask questions later, the advocates said. They tend to lack expertise and local nuance, and their employer is often under pressure from local governments. In Sri Lanka, authorities have “picked up and harassed” Tamil journalists for critical coverage in real life, according to Steven Butler of the Committee to Protect Journalists, who called the Tamil Guardian’s Facebook experience “definitely a press freedom issue.” Indeed, experts said Facebook’s censorship of the Guardian calls into fundamental question its ability to sensibly distinguish “dangerous” content that can instigate violence from journalistic and cultural expression about groups that have engaged in violence.

Sri Lanka’s Information Offensive

The roots of the Tamil Guardian’s very 21st-century online content dilemma go back more than four decades, to the civil war that erupted between Sri Lanka’s government and members of its Tamil ethnic minority in 1983. It was then that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam began a 25-year, sporadically fought conflict to establish an independent Tamil state. During the war, the LTTE, also known as the Tamil Tigers, developed an increasingly ruthless reputation. To the ruling party of Sri Lanka and its allies in the West, the Tamil Tigers were a bloody, irredeemable militant group, described by the FBI in 2008 as “among the most dangerous and deadly extremists in the world.” But for many Sri Lankan Tamils, the Tigers were their army, a bulwark against a government intent on repressing them. “It was an organization that at the time became almost synonymous with Tamil demands for independence, as they were the group that was quite literally willing to die for it,” Nandakumar explained via email.

Unquestionably, however, the LTTE was a violent organization whose tactics included the use of suicide bombings, torture, civilian assaults, and political assassinations. The government, meanwhile, perpetrated decades of alleged war crimes, including the repeated massacre of Tamil civilians, generating waves of bloodshed that dispersed Sri Lankan Tamils throughout the world. The Tamil Guardian was founded in London in 1998 to serve members of this diaspora as well as those who remained in Sri Lanka. Though it was often considered a pro-Tiger publication in contemporaneous reporting during the war, the Tamil Guardian of today runs editorials by the likes of David Cameron and Ed Milliband, and its work is cited by larger outlets in the western political media mainstream.

The Tigers were defeated and dissolved in 2009, bringing the civil war to a close after the deaths of an estimated 40,000 civilians. In the years since, Sri Lankan Tamils have observed Maaveerar Naal, an annual remembrance of those who died in the war, with ceremonies both at home in Sri Lanka and abroad. “When [Tigers] died or were killed, people lost family, friends, colleagues,” said Nandakumar. “They are people that many around the world still want to remember and commemorate.”

Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan state has conducted what human rights observers have described as a campaign of brutal suppression against the memorialization of war casualties and other expressions of Tamil national identity. Mentions of the LTTE are subject to particularly fierce crackdowns by the hard-line government helmed by Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a former Sri Lankan defense secretary accused of directly ordering a multitude of atrocities during the war.

The suppression campaign has included attempts to stifle unwanted online commentary. In September 2019, Gen. Shavendra Silva, Sri Lanka’s army chief, announced a military offensive against “misinformation” at the nation’s Seventh Annual Cyber Security Summit. “Misguided youths sitting in front of the social media would be more dangerous than a suicide bomber,” Silva remarked. Soon after, Nandakumar says, the Tamil Guardian found itself unable to even mention the Tigers on Facebook without being subjected to censorship via the DIO policy. Nandakumar said that virtually any coverage from the Guardian related to the Tigers or even to sentiments of Tamil pride risks removal. Routinely stricken from the Tamil Guardian’s Facebook and Instagram accounts are posts covering Tamil nationalist political protests inside Sri Lanka as well as uploads merely depicting historically notable LTTE figures. Each time the Tamil Guardian has posts deleted or its account ejected, the only rationale provided is that the post somehow violated Facebook’s prohibition against “praise, support, or representation” of a dangerous organization, even though the policy is supposed to carry an exemption for journalism.

“We have never been accused of breaching any UK, or indeed U.S., laws particularly with regards to terrorism,” Nandakumar told The Intercept.

On the Tamil Guardian’s overall experience with Facebook, spokesperson Kate Hayes would say only, via email: “We remove content that violates our policies, but if accounts continue to share violating content, we will take stronger action. This could include temporary feature blocks and, ultimately, being removed from the platform.”

Though defunct, the Tigers are still a designated terror organization in the U.S., Canada, and the European Union, and Facebook cribs much of its DIO roster from these designations, blacklisting and limiting discussion of not only the Tigers but also 26 other allegedly affiliated persons and groups. Still, as Nandakumar points out, Western outlets like the BBC and U.K. Guardian routinely cover the same protests and remembrances as his publication, and write obituaries for the same ex-LTTE cadres, without their publications being deemed terrorist propaganda.

Nandakumar is convinced that the government is monitoring the Tamil Guardian’s Instagram account and reporting anything that could be construed pro-Tamil, Tiger or otherwise — although he concedes that he can’t prove the Sri Lankan state is behind the Facebook and Instagram suppression. In July 2020, Instagram removed a photo uploaded by the Tamil Guardian of Hugh McDermott, a member of the Australian Parliament, attending a Maaveerar Naal memorial event in Sydney, while a photo of a flower being laid at a similar event in London was deleted three months later. When the outlet published an article about Anton Balasingham, a former LTTE negotiator, in November 2020, on the anniversary of his death, an Instagram post promoting the article was quickly removed, as was a post that same month depicting the face of S. P. Thamilselvan, former head of the LTTE’s political wing and a peace negotiator who was killed by a Sri Lankan airstrike in 2007.

Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eelam's (LTTE) chief negotiator Anton Balasingham during the press conference at the Bogis-Bossey chateau in Celigny, Switzerland, on Feb. 23, 2006.

Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eelam’s chief negotiator Anton Balasingham during the press conference at the Bogis-Bossey chateau in Celigny, Switzerland, on Feb. 23, 2006.

Photo illustration: Soohee Cho for The Intercept, Francois Mori/AP

Facebook Adds to Government Pressure

In January 2021, following two years of vanishing posts and requests for more information from Facebook, Nandakumar was able to secure a meeting with the team responsible for DIO enforcement. “The meeting was cordial, with Facebook acknowledging that … their policy can sometimes be bluntly applied and that mistakes can occur,” Nandakumar said. “They encouraged us to send examples, assuring us that this was an issue of importance and one that they would look into.” Nandakumar says the outlet then submitted an 11-page brief documenting the removals and hoped for the best.

Meanwhile, the deletions kept coming. “We continued to send over examples, ensuring Facebook was kept almost constantly aware of the number of times our news coverage was being unfairly removed,” said Nandakumar.

Despite Facebook’s suggestion that the posts had been removed in error, Nandakumar says that in February 2021, the DIO team flatly told him that the Tamil Guardian account had in fact been properly punished for its “praise, support, and representation” of terrorism. “It was extremely disappointing,” recounted Nandakumar in an email to The Intercept. “We had what seemed like a productive meeting, sent over a detailed brief and repeatedly emailed extensive examples, yet received a curt and blunt response which failed to address any of the issues we had raised. We were being brushed off. We highlighted once more that some of the events we covered were actually taking place in the [U.S.], legally and with full permission, but were still inexplicably being removed. Their reasoning just did not hold.”

“We had what seemed like a productive meeting … yet received a curt and blunt response which failed to address any of the issues we had raised.”

The deletions continued apace: When Kittu Memorial Park in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, burned to the ground in March 2021, the Tamil Guardian wrote an article accompanied by an Instagram post reporting on the suspected arson attack. The park was named for a Tiger colonel who killed himself in 1993, and Facebook deleted the Instagram post associated with the Guardian article. Two months later, when the outlet published a series revisiting the 2009 destruction of a civilian hospital, believed to have been perpetrated by the Sri Lankan government and described by Human Rights Watch as a war crime, the accompanying Instagram posts were removed.

A photo of Kittu Memorial Park posted to Instagram by the Tamil Guardian in March 2021 and removed later that month.

Tamil Guardian

A photo of Australian MP Hugh McDermott attending a Sri Lankan civil war memorial event in Sydney posted by the Tamil Guardian’s Instagram account, removed by Facebook in July 2020.

Tamil Guardian

During the weekend of Maaveerar Naal this past November, the account was reopened with an automated Facebook message saying that the suspension had been a mistake and then banned once more within the same 24-hour period. Though the account is currently reactivated, Nandakumar says the Tamil Guardian’s editors decided that using it to reach and grow the publication’s audience of about 40,000 monthly readers isn’t worth the risk.

Facebook’s Hayes wrote, “We removed the Tamil Guardian account in error but we restored it as soon as we realized our mistake. We apologize for any inconvenience caused.” The company did not answer questions about why the Tamil Guardian’s deleted posts had been removed if its overall suspension had been an error.

The Tamil Guardian obtained a second meeting with Facebook this past October after a pressure campaign from Canadian and British parliamentarians and Reporters Without Borders. At that meeting, Facebook cited its obligation “to comply with U.S. government regulation,” Nandakumar said, and stated that “our content may have continued to breach their guidelines.”

Experts say there is no law on the books in the U.S. stopping Facebook from letting journalists or ordinary users freely discuss or even praise LTTE figures, commemorate the war’s victims, or depict contemporary remembrances of the dead. “I know of no obligation under U.S. law, no requirement that they remove such material,” Electronic Frontier Foundation Civil Liberties Director David Greene told The Intercept. “For years they would say, ‘I’m sorry, we are required by law to take that down.’ And we would ask them for the law, and we wouldn’t get anything.”

The Daunting Job and “Human Error” of Moderators

It appears then to be Facebook, not the federal government of the U.S., that is collapsing the LTTE and Sri Lankan Tamil nationalism into a single entity, the consequences of which make exploring the country’s painful past and uncertain future from the perspective of the war’s losing side a near impossibility on an internet where a presence on the company’s platforms is crucial to reaching an audience.

Nandakumar said that the history of the Tigers and the future of Sri Lanka’s Tamils are impossible to untangle. “For newspapers and media organizations reporting on the conflict and the Tamil cause, it was impossible to avoid the LTTE – just as much as it would have been to avoid the Sri Lankan state,” he continued. Today, Nandakumar said, “alongside highlighting of the daily repression faced in the Tamil homeland, our role is to reflect and analyze the variety of Tamil political voices and opinion. We report on commemoration of historical or significant events as these remain important to the Tamil polity, who continue to mark these dates despite Sri Lanka’s attempts to stop them.”

Tamil Guardian reporters, along with staff from other outlets, are frequently harassed and detained by Sri Lankan police, sometimes on the grounds that they’ve violated national anti-terror laws, according to a Reporters Without Borders report. In 2019, the Tamil Guardian’s Shanmugam Thavaseelan was arrested for “trying to cover a demonstration calling for justice for the Tamil civilians who disappeared during the civil war,” as the report put it.

Nandakumar says he’s convinced that the Sri Lankan government has a hand in the Facebook deletions, in part because he’s learned that it has attempted similar tactics on other platforms: In December 2020, Twitter informed the Tamil Guardian that the Sri Lankan government had lobbied, unsuccessfully, to have the outlet’s tweets deleted on the platform. “This coincided with a ramping up of media suppression across the island and with the removal of our content on Facebook and Instagram.”

“What is one person’s dangerous individual or organization is someone else’s hero.”

“The action taken against The Tamil Guardian account was not in response to any government pressure or mass reporting,” said Facebook’s Hayes, adding that each of the two Instagram suspensions “was a case of human error.”

Greene said that the Tamil Guardian’s treatment is illustrative of a fundamental parochialism behind the DIO policy: “What is one person’s dangerous individual or organization is someone else’s hero.” But before values come into play, there is the question of basic facts; a moderator overseeing Sri Lanka must know “who the Tamil Tigers were, what the political situation was, the fact that they don’t exist, what their ongoing legacy might be,” Greene said. “The amount of expertise that a company like Facebook is required to have on every single geopolitical situation around the world is really startling.”

According to Jillian York, director for international freedom of expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the rigidity of Facebook’s DIO roster risks causing what she described as “cultural and historical erasure,” a status quo under which one can’t publicly and freely discuss a group designated as an enemy by the U.S., even after that enemy ceases to exist. “We’ve seen this with some groups in Latin America that are still on the U.S. [terror] list, like FARC,” the Colombian guerrilla army that dissolved in 2017 but remains banned from free discussion under Facebook policy. “At some point, you have to be able to talk about these things.”

Update: January 19, 2022
This article has been changed to reflect a decision by the Tamil Guardian this week to resume posting on Instagram in a limited fashion.

The post Facebook’s Tamil Censorship Highlights Risks to Everyone appeared first on The Intercept.

Pegasus Spyware Used Against Dozens of Activist Women in the Middle East

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 19/01/2022 - 7:40am in


Technology, World

Dozens of women journalists and human rights defenders in Bahrain and Jordan have had their phones hacked using NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware, according to a report by Front Line Defenders and Access Now.

The report adds to a growing public record of Pegasus misuse globally, including against dissidents, reporters, diplomats, and members of the clergy. It also threatens to increase pressure on the Israel-based NSO Group, which in November was placed on a U.S. trade blacklist.

“When governments surveil women, they are working to destroy them,” wrote Marwa Fatafta, Middle East and North Africa policy manager at Access Now, in a statement accompanying the report. “Surveillance is an act of violence. It is about exerting power over every aspect of a woman’s life through intimidation, harassment, and character assassination. The NSO Group and its government clients are all responsible, and must be publicly exposed and disgraced.”

NSO Group was placed on the trade blacklist after a consortium of journalists working with the French nonprofit Forbidden Stories reported multiple cases in which journalists and activists appear to have been targeted by foreign governments using the spyware. (NSO denied the allegations.) The same month, researchers from Amnesty International and the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab said they found Pegasus on the phones of six Palestinian human rights activists. Last week, another Citizen Lab report found that dozens of Salvadoran human rights activists’ phones had been hacked using Pegasus.

Pegasus is breathtaking in its ability to take complete control of a device without detection and is often referred to as “military grade” spyware. Researchers have said that it can access every message the subject has sent and received, including from encrypted messaging services; it can also access the camera and microphone, record the screen, and monitor the subject’s location via GPS.

Apple sued NSO Group in November, trying to stop the company’s software from compromising its operating systems. That followed a similar suit from Facebook in 2019 alleging that the company was hacking the social media giant’s WhatsApp messaging service.

NSO Group did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the new report. But earlier this week, in the wake of the El Salvador research, it said that it only grants licenses to government intelligence and law enforcement agencies following “a process of investigation and licensing” by the Israeli Ministry of Defense. The company added that the use of its cybersecurity tools to monitor dissidents, activists, and journalists is a serious misuse of that technology.

In a study published in December 2020, Citizen Lab identified 25 countries whose governments had acquired surveillance systems from Circles, a company affiliated with NSO Group: Australia, Belgium, Botswana, Chile, Denmark, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Equatorial Guinea, Guatemala, Honduras, Indonesia, Israel, Kenya, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, Peru, Serbia, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, Vietnam, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

The hacks of the activists in Jordan and Bahrain now add two more countries to the list.

Beaten by Police Then Hacked Eight Times

The report documents how Pegasus can have a particularly egregious impact on women, who are disproportionately vulnerable to the weaponization of personal information when governments seek to intimidate, harass, and publicly smear dissidents.

It details the case of Ebtisam al-Saegh, a renowned human rights defender who works in Bahrain with the advocacy group SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights. Al-Saegh’s iPhone was hacked at least eight times between August and November 2019 with Pegasus spyware, according to the researchers.

The privacy violations extended what the report described as brutal harassment by Bahraini authorities. On May 26, 2017, the report said, Bahrain’s National Security Agency summoned al-Saegh to the Muharraq Police Station. Interrogators subjected her to verbal abuse and physically beat and sexually assaulted her. They threatened her with rape if she did not halt her human rights activism. Upon release, she was immediately taken to a hospital.

“I am in a state of daily fear and terror after I was informed by Front Line Defenders that I was spied on.”

“I am in a state of daily fear and terror after I was informed by Front Line Defenders that I was spied on,” the report quotes al-Saegh as saying. “I started to be afraid of having the phone next to me, especially when I am in the bedroom or even at home among my family, my children, my husband.”

Front Line Defenders’ forensic investigation found that al-Saegh’s phone was compromised multiple times in August 2019 (on August 8, 9, 12, 18, 28, and 31); on September 19, 2019; and on November 22, 2019. Traces of process names linked to Pegasus were identified on her phone, such as “roleaccountd,” “stagingd,” “xpccfd,” “launchafd,” “logseld,” “eventstorpd,” “libtouchregd,” “frtipd,” “corecomnetd,” “bh,” and “boardframed.” Amnesty International’s Security Lab and the Citizen Lab have both attributed these process names to the NSO spyware.

Another victim described in the report is Hala Ahed Deeb, a human rights activist and member of the legal team defending the Jordan Teachers’ Syndicate, one of the country’s largest labor unions. The Jordanian government dissolved the union in December 2020 in response to mass protests. Deeb’s phone was compromised by Pegasus on March 16, 2021, according to the report.

Other victims mentioned in the report include Emirati activist Alaa al-Siddiq, Alaraby journalist Rania Dridi, and Al Jazeera broadcast journalist Ghada Oueiss.

The report calls for an “immediate moratorium on the use, sale, and transfer of surveillance technologies produced by private firms until adequate human rights safeguards and regulation is in place” and a “move to take serious and effective measures against surveillance technology providers like NSO Group.”

The post Pegasus Spyware Used Against Dozens of Activist Women in the Middle East appeared first on The Intercept.

The Real Cost Of The Gig Economy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 07/01/2022 - 5:01pm in

With workers pushed to breaking point, is it now time to call time on predatory business models that give rise to this form of exploitative relationship?

Ross met up with Writer and Filmmaker, Shannon Walsh, to discuss.

The post The Real Cost Of The Gig Economy appeared first on Renegade Inc.

The Real Cost Of The Gig Economy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 07/01/2022 - 5:01pm in

With workers pushed to breaking point, is it now time to call time on predatory business models that give rise to this form of exploitative relationship?

Ross met up with Writer and Filmmaker, Shannon Walsh, to discuss.

The post The Real Cost Of The Gig Economy appeared first on Renegade Inc.

Even Walmart Is

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 06/01/2022 - 6:47am in

hello i have written about the metaverse and that cursed walmart video that’s been going around

Vaccine Passports Are Here to Stay. Why Worry?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 01/01/2022 - 10:00pm in




Illustration: Soohee Cho/The Intercept

“Yeah I use the pass. What should I be afraid of?” That’s Jack, a friend who works in state and city politics, responding to a poll I posted on Facebook about digital Covid-19 vaccination passports. “Are you using one?” it asked. “Why’d you download it instead of using the paper card? Do you have any fears about it?”

The responses were untroubled. Using it: mostly yes. “Now that theater is back, [New York] Excelsior passes are handy, since proof of vax is mandatory,” wrote a critic. A retired teacher noted that the app is more durable; paper “rumples” and gets lost.

And fears? Mostly no. I sent Jack a few off the top of my head: “Concerns about privacy, misuse of digitized biodata, lack of transparency, more info in hands of tech companies and the state in some unknown collaboration.”

“The state already had vax data,” he replied. “I never considered the rest. Which answers your question about whether people were worried, in my case.”

The digital Covid vaccination certification, or “passport,” is a mobile app that instantaneously affirms the vaccinated status, Covid test results, birth date, gender, and/or other identifiers of its holder. The information is usually mosaicked in a QR code, read by a proprietary scanner, and linked to a government registry. Led by New York, California, and Louisiana, as many as 30 states are rolling them out. The Biden administration announced last spring that it would wrangle them under national standards but so far it hasn’t. Internationally, the EU and a growing number of countries are adopting them, from repressive regimes like Bahrain to democracies like Denmark.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern heralded her country’s My Vaccine Pass as the keycard to the kingdom. “It’s actually really straightforward. If you’ve got a vaccine pass, you can do everything,” she announced, flashing a friendly shark grin. “Basically, that’s it.”

Not everybody is as nonchalant as Jack or as gung-ho as the PM. Twenty U.S. states have banned the passes, and hashtags like #NoVaccinePassports are proliferating on both sides of the Atlantic. “Spoiler alert,” tweeted British DJ, record producer, and anti-vaccine conspiracy-monger Lange. “They are not planning on removing vax passports once introduced. This is just the first step to get you conditioned to accepting government restrictions in your daily life via your mobile phone. This digital ID is going to expand to all aspects of your life.” Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene called the passport “Biden’s mark of the beast.”

Normally I’d rather have the mark of the beast tattooed on my forehead than write these words, but: Marjorie is not entirely wrong.

I’ve been double-vaxxed and boosted. Needless to say, I want to do everything — or at least go to the movies. I’ve handed my paper vaccine card to a dozen gatekeepers, but I’m not getting New York’s Excelsior Pass. So I too am bartering shreds of my personal data for brief furloughs from the cage. I’m not pure.

Still, I’m troubled. What else am I — are we — trading away? There’s no doubt something like the vaccine passport is here for good, beyond Covid. In the end, we may decide we want this thing. But we should go into it with our eyes open.

Evidence supports the detractors’ suspicions. Every government introducing a vaccine certification vows that their use is voluntary and no personal information will be held beyond its necessity. International bodies including the World Health Organization, the EU, and the International Chamber of Commerce are crafting regulatory standards. But governments are far from unanimous even on such basics as whether you need to show the pass to enter a bar — much less on how long and by whom our intimate information will be held, owned, or overseen.

New York, for one, is not expecting to mothball the technology when Covid wanes. Along with IBM, the designer, state bureaucrats are “exploring how the platform could be retrofitted to verify other types of records and credentials,” according to Vox. Experience with the Excelsior Pass has “accelerated our thinking about digital governments,” said the architect of the program. Will President Joe Biden use the passport to enforce his federal employee vaccine mandate? Then what? Once biodata are collected and filed, cautioned Hamid Kahn of the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, which organizes in Los Angeles’s poorest and most policed communities, “there’s no delete button.”

When biometric data — bodily attributes digitized — are married to surveillance technology, both the potential for profit and the ambitions of the techno-futurists inflate without limit. One industry analyst predicts the global biometrics market will grow 15 percent annually, reaching nearly $105 billion by 2028. The British tech firm Onfido envisions a seamless EU-wide identify verification, or IDV, system for online gambling, telemedicine, car rentals, electronic voting, “and more.” Scientists in academe and industry are working on a global biodata repository. It would be naïve to assume these networks would not be linked.

In 2020, Onfido called its immunity passport in development the “linchpin of a new normality in a post-COVID19 society.” This year, the company’s chief privacy officer (an Orwellian job title if ever there was one) told Biometric Update that proven immunity to the virus du jour might become a “basic permission attribute.” A Swedish company has introduced a vaccine certification microchip that can be implanted under the skin.

What should I be afraid of?

I have no beef with data collection per se. Data are the lifeblood of what Michel Foucault called the biopolitical state, which governs by maximizing life and sustaining populations rather than by threatening violence and imposing death, as earlier regimes had done. Logically, one of the chief institutions of the biopolitical state is public health. A big part of public health is containing transmissible, fatal diseases: keeping illness from becoming epidemic, and epidemics from mushrooming into pandemics. In the last century, that job has been the ambit of epidemiology, the science of the spread of disease.

Epidemiologists have a lot of tools, but many are stored in the drawer marked “surveillance” — identifying the first cases of a superspreader like Ebola, avian flu, or Covid-19; tracing and testing the patients’ contacts; treating or isolating those who’ve been infected — and all the while gathering and analyzing data to predict the routes the pathogen will take and the bodies it will hijack to keep traveling. The data then go into larger databases to parse when the next murderous bug comes along.

Biodata can serve the public good — or they can give ammunition to eugenicists or evidence to the prosecutors of an HIV-positive person who failed to inform a lover of his serostatus, a felony in some states. In the biopolitical state, there is no bright line between benign and malign surveillance.

In the biopolitical state, there is no bright line between benign and malign surveillance.

Similarly, prevention and cure can look a lot like discipline and punishment. When the Trump administration squandered the opportunity to use less draconian epidemiological measures, the nation was pitched into extreme action: lockdown. Jeffrey Escoffier, a historian of sexuality, queer activism, and public health, was alarmed. Quarantine is a grave incursion on liberty, he told me. During the two decades he served as director of health media and marketing for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene — “propaganda minister for the biopolitical state” — the decision to impose it on even one person was taken with caution. But lock up everyone? Self-isolation is sometimes necessary. It is also the carceral function of the health-protecting state; the doctor moonlights as a prison warden.

During Italy’s lockdown, the philosopher Giorgio Agamben blogged about the “techno-medical despotism” so focused on eliminating the risk of contagion to preserve mere biological existence — what he calls “bare life” — that it prohibited everything that makes human society meaningful, from dating to democracy. “How could we have accepted,” he asked in a New York Times interview, “in the name of a risk that we couldn’t even quantify, not only that the people who are dear to us … should have to die alone but also — and this is something that had never happened before in all of history from Antigone to today — that their corpses should be burned without a funeral?” Actually it has happened before: during the plagues of the Middle Ages, according to Foucault, the birthplace of the biopolitical state.

But we don’t have to look back that far to see a wish for perfect security trumping everything else that matters. The surveillance technologies of the War on Contagion are inherited from the War on Terror, and the software is encoded with the same forever-war mentality: Both fight risk rather than actual threat. When the enemy is protean, like suicide bombers and viruses, the calculation of risk is easily manipulated and often subjective. My partner and I used to argue about whether to wash the milk cartons from the supermarket. Now we listen to delphic sentences like this one, from Chief White House medical adviser Anthony Fauci speaking of the omicron variant on NPR: “You have so many cases it essentially obviates any diminution of the severity, because of the quantitative number of cases that you’ll get with such a highly transmissible virus.” Then we Google the latest statistics and argue about whether to eat out.

Risk cloaked in statistics is a ghost in a suit. It starts to resemble a person. Who is the terrorist? Who is the Covid carrier? Among the contradictions of the pandemic is that collective safety requires honesty and mutual trust, yet the expression of that trust is vigilant mutual suspicion. The best bet is to fear everyone.

The vaccination passport seems to solve this problem, replacing suspicion with certainty. But in admitting the vaccinated and deporting the unvaccinated, it also sorts the good biocitizen from the outlaw. The rhetoric of contagion has long mobilized xenophobia and legitimized racist and eugenicist citizenship and immigration policies (think Donald Trump’s “Chinese virus”). American University historian Alan M. Kraut calls this “medicalized nativism.”

“Securing borders is all about fear. The action of fear is to restrict movement.”

“Passports have everything to do with borders,” says Jenell Johnson, associate professor of rhetoric, politics, and culture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a co-editor of “Biocitizenship: The Politics of Bodies, Governance, and Power.” “Securing borders is all about fear. The action of fear is to restrict movement. The passport allows for movement in both physical and economic ways. It also immediately suggests belonging — the people who belong and people who don’t.”

A pocket-size dossier of one’s “attributes of permission” affords its holder a sense of inclusion, and thus protection from a menacing world. My Facebook friends told me as much. “What I like about Excelsior is the extra level of confirmation it offers — the info individuals input is checked against a database,” responded one woman. “Basic steps to avoid fraud make me feel better about being in a venue with similarly vaccinated and vetted people.” In fact the apps are subject to fraud, glitches, and haphazard use; they may provide more security theater than security. Anyway, the omicron variant is infecting everyone, vaccinated or not. But even skeptics are buying the ticket. Wrote one: “I’d rather hand over my personal info to some corporation than eat [in a restaurant] next to the unvaccinated.”

I too want to eat in a restaurant, away from the unvaccinated. But to be honest, it’s not just because I don’t want to get sick. It’s because I despise them — whoever they are — the sans-papiers. I am not proud of this.

“We are going to be living in pandemic societies for the rest of our lives,” predicted Escoffier, the historian. “What does this mean politically?” I wondered: Can public health kill public life?

Perhaps it was inevitable that in a nation where mutuality is in splinters, isolation turned from prescription to preference. Workers reconsidered the rewards of in-person colleagueship and deemed them not worth the commute. Shopkeepers slid the credit card reader forward, recoiling from accidental touch. We all withdrew further into our screens. Human connection squeezed further into digital pathways patrolled by corporations. With the decline of casual social intercourse in public spaces we are unlearning the instincts and emotions — the very notion — of the social. Babies are starting life without ever seeing a stranger’s smile.

Omicron is leapfrogging from body to body. The virus is no doubt busily mutating. Now the corporate digital police are reinforced by agents of the biopolitical state, armed with scanners. They read our QR codes and unlock our cells. Who does not want out?

The vaccine passport embodies the contradictions of the pandemic that birthed it. It guards borders, divides us from them. It also facilitates travel, and travel is an antidote to tribalism. In either case, it is not going away. Therefore, if it is indeed the prototype linchpin of a future global, digital hyper-surveillance apparatus, we must demand that it be universally accessible, publicly owned and regulated, its workings transparent, and its uses stringently defined.

For the moment, the vaccine pass is allowing us to repopulate the third spaces and revitalize the public square, where accidental touch accustoms us to tolerance and minor conflict conditions us for democratic discourse. Technologies encode their makers’ and users’ values. This one must serve the survival of the social.

The post Vaccine Passports Are Here to Stay. Why Worry? appeared first on The Intercept.


Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 31/12/2021 - 11:38pm in



Meta-Facebook: The Quest for the Infinite Office

Timothy Erik Ström, 30 Oct 2021

Zuckerberg describes the metaverse as ‘an embodied internet’. In this, he could not be more wrong: the metaverse is precisely about deepening the forces of disembodiment.

The Year in Cheer

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 31/12/2021 - 7:00pm in

When you think back on 2021, your mind may naturally drift to the difficult parts: fires, floods, conflicts, variants. To focus on the negative is only human. But if you’ve been taking your daily dose of RTBC, you know that there have been green shoots sprouting and bright spots shining in every dark nook and cranny. As we stumble into 2022, here’s a look back at a few of the positive changes we reported on in the last year — 192 of them, to be precise. Happy New Year!

To prevent the Sahara Desert from spreading southward, a 5,000 mile line of trees is being planted across the African continent. 

A California law that gives non-car commuters a cash payout helped increase transit ridership by 50%

After decades of efforts, China has gone from 30 million cases of malaria to zero, essentially eradicating the disease.

The total number of incarcerated people in the U.S. fell by 13% between 2010 and 2020.

Up to 400 Spanish companies will reduce their employees’ working week to 32 hours while keeping salaries the same. 

El Paso Community College used its pandemic relief aid to forgive $3 million in student debt

A French ban on single use plastics for many fruits and vegetables will reduce plastic packaging by one billion units per year. 

Credit: Kilogramme

A Vancouver company has upcycled 33 million chopsticks since 2016 into everything from cutting boards and shelves to dominos and furniture. 

Sanitation workers in Turkey have rescued over 6,000 books from the trash — and they’ve opened a library so the public can check them out. 

A solar-powered fridge that can last for up to two weeks without electricity is being used to transport vaccines to over 50 countries. 

Sweden has delivered the world’s first batch of steel produced without fossil fuels, and industrial quantities of it could be on the market within five years.

41 women topped the new Fortune 500 list, more than at any other time in the six decades that the list has been published. 

300 women showed up to a women-only party in Nigeria to dance without fear of sexual harassment. 

Credit: Aisha Ife/Wine and Whine/Minority Africa

Due to the pandemic, China’s seasonal springtime shift occurred 8.4 days earlier than it has in recent years — and leaf coverage increased by nearly 18 percent.

After a town in Arizona converted a juvenile detention center into a youth hangout, juvenile arrests in the county dropped by 55%.

The U.S. is phasing out HFCs in refrigerators, which could eliminate emissions equivalent to 4.7 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide by 2050, about as much as a billion cars emit in a year.

Ecuador will add 23,000 protected square miles to its current 50,000 square miles of the Galapagos Islands.

The Netherlands is making all of its train stations accessible to its 320,000 visually impaired citizens.

Scientists in Bastia, France are deploying 150,000 oysters to help depollute their port.

oysters Stella MareCredit: Peter Yeung

Milan is saving 260,000 meals per day as the first major city to enforce a citywide food waste policy.

Overfishing has been eliminated in 91% of U.S. fish stocks. 

India pledged to get half of its energy from renewable sources by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2070.

In Barcelona, hundreds of children are riding their bikes to school together in a vivid display of impromptu street reclamation.

In the past eight years, the number of worker-owned co-ops in the U.S. has increased 36%. The business model offers employees, on average, more than $7 more per hour than standard businesses.

A research startup is developing a “bee vaccine” for pollinators to protect them from harmful pesticides.

A Shanghai dance troupe in wheelchairs has performed over 70 shows.

Over 100 countries have agreed to cut global methane emissions by 30% by 2030.

Photo: Matías Rebak.

80% of Napa Valley winemakers are using owls to control their rodent populations.

19 U.S. states have enacted laws that allow mobile home park residents to collectively buy the land they’re living on.

A simple letter-grading system that shows how eco-friendly grocery items are led to a 10% reduction in meat consumption.

The United Nations is aiming to ecologically restore 350 million hectares of land in 70 nations by 2030.

Washington, D.C. converted 20 acres of sewershed into green infrastructure with curbside rain gardens, permeable parking lanes, permeable sidewalk pavers, “landscape infiltration gaps” and new street trees.

In Congo, deforestation is 23% lower than the national average in forests managed by the communities that live in them.

Photo: Peter Yeung

Wooden cat houses in Istanbul are providing shelter for the city’s estimated 125,000 strays.

11 cows were potty-trained by German researchers, showing the potential for a substantial reduction in agricultural emissions.

Paris is greening its public housing — in its tallest residential building, energy bills have fallen by 47%.

A stretch of beach worth $75 million was returned to the Black family it was taken from 97 years ago.

Incarcerated men in California are training dogs in a program that has saved and placed more than 680 rescued pooches into homes.

Photo: Rita Earl Blackwell

By comparing current satellite imagery with aerial photos from World War 2, researchers have found that the islands of Micronesia and parts of Kiribati have increased in total area by two to three percent.

New York’s highest court has agreed to hear a case about granting legal rights to a 50-year-old elephant in the Bronx Zoo.

When a denim company was forced to go green by new environmental laws, it reduced water use by 75% and chemicals by 65% — and is now selling its ultra sustainable product to the world’s biggest brands.

Burn patients who were immersed in a virtual world of icebergs and snowmen felt up to 50% less pain when having their bandages changed.

A program in Montana connecting medical patients to lawyers has helped more than 130 people find financial and legal stability during their recoveries.

140 refugees living in Kenyan refugee camps have been trained in online freelancing, helping them earn a better income and giving them more independence in the workforce.

In Austin, Texas, working-class folks who have been priced out by gentrification will be given priority for 560 new units of affordable housing.

This month, “Orca,” the world’s biggest direct air capture plant, opened in Iceland, and will pump 4,000 tons of captured CO2 underground per year.

Los Angeles is painting more than 250 city blocks with a reflective paint that is lowering temperatures in those neighborhoods by two degrees Fahrenheit.

Cool pavement LAPhoto: StreetsLA

After Nassau County in New York removed race from social welfare forms, the percentage of Black children placed into foster care dropped 36%.

After going carbon-neutral and vegan, one soccer club has quadrupled its visitors and quintupled the amount of food sold at the stadium.

Shandon Elementary in California will become America’s first public school to mill its own flour on site.

Ten advocates have helped 325 people eliminate nearly 40,000 days in jail, saving society $4.9 million.

A South Korean scheme is letting rural residents hail a taxi for 100 won — or about nine U.S. cents.

New legislation is capping phone call costs for incarcerated folks at 14 cents per minute, and some states are offering free video calls and emails.

600,000 acres of intensively farmed English countryside could be returned to wildlife over the next 50 years.

100,000 employees are finding affordable, quality childcare through a new app that partners with employers to subsidize babysitters. 

babysittingCredit: Ihor Bulyhin / Shutterstock

In North Carolina, a former prison has been turned into a farm run by at-risk teenagers, and 95% of the youth involved with the program have avoided recidivism.

Scientists have found that a new method of repairing coastal ecosystems doubled survival rates of many of the restored environments.

Millions of dirt floors that harbor insects and disease are being replaced with a cheap flaxseed resin developed by students. 

A French biotech company has set up a factory near Bordeaux that is capable of producing 2,500 liters of organic fertilizers from urine per day.

boliviaCarrot harvesting in Sikimira.

A new pollution skimming boat is capable of clearing 20 tons of trash per day from rivers and lakes. 

Scottsdale, Arizona’s advanced water treatment plant is transforming 20 million gallons of wastewater daily into drinkable H2O that exceeds bottled water standards. 

At California’s “tribal colleges” 88% of Native American students say they feel a sense of belonging on campus.  

An African startup has provided free, clean energy to 150 households and over 9,000 students by harnessing kinetic energy from roads and turning it into emissions-free electricity. 

40,000 hair salons in the U.S. donate their clippings to be turned into mats that absorb up to nine times their weight in oil spills. 

A Cleveland program that offers legal representation to tenants in housing court has helped 93% of clients avoid eviction

A South African database of 513 experts across 49 categories is working to amplify women’s voices in the media. 

Organizations are working to make sure 746,000 eligible voters held in local jails can exercise their democratic rights.

A German contest has given 843 people 12 months of no-strings cash to see how it might change their lives. 

Bolivian farmers have decreased malnutrition by 15% by harnessing the power of rainwater. 

Europe’s first solar powered restaurant is serving up refined, emissions-free gastronomy to dozens of diners per day. 

Beirut is using 60,000 tons of rubble from last year’s devastating explosion to rehabilitate quarries and build new sidewalks, trash bins and benches

Alexandria, Virginia, has created a hotline to ask its citizens how they would spend the $60 million the city received from the American Rescue Plan. 

The Orkney islands in Scotland are splitting water molecules to turn hydrogen into clean, green energy for their 22,000 residents. 

A digitization project is ensuring that over 4,000 historic destinations for LGBTQ travelers aren’t lost to history. 

A sustainable gardening program for incarcerated people in Oregon grew 365,536 pounds of food last year, 97% of which went into the prisons’ kitchens. 

A New York City program that dispatches social workers to mental health crisis calls has increased the percentage of people who accept responders’ help by 13%.

A 100-mile stretch of coral reef in Mexico is the world’s first natural asset protected by an insurance policy. 

reef repairCredit: Oliver Gordon

Seattle’s 80-80-80 policy requires the regional transit authority to use 80% of its surplus land for housing and ensure 80% of that housing is affordable to people earning 80% or less of the area’s median income. 

A California company is offering 12 annual “Moon Days” for full-time female employees to use during their menstrual periods. 

A policy in Quebec that charges companies for generating packaging that must be recycled generates $250 million for the province’s cities per year. 

Indigenous tribes are helping to remove some of the two million dams across the U.S. that impede fish from swimming freely. 

Thirteen states and 29 municipalities across the country have passed anti-discrimination protections to include hair styles and textures

A musician has reached more than 150,000 patients on her mission to “humanize” hospital sounds

Credit: Yoko Sen

After Boston stopped automatically prosecuting people for small crimes, violent offenses went down by 64%, and even traffic offenses decreased by 63%. 

More than 166,000 people have participated in a global project to help voice recognition devices understand more languages. 

After getting elected to stated office in Wisconsin, a restaurateur who pays her employees $15 an hour on top of tips is fighting to make higher wages standard statewide. 

A foundation led by a former oil executive has capped seven abandoned oil and gas wells, one of which had been emitting as much greenhouse gas each year as 500 cars.

A program in Colombia is tripling wages for thousands of waste pickers.

Organizations are diversifying the 200 refugee resettlement partners in the U.S. by making sure new arrivals are greeted by someone whose culture they recognize as their own.

Companies are increasing their productivity by reducing their work days to five hours while offering the same amount of money. 

Volunteers have planted over 75 million seagrass seeds, restoring over 9,000 acres of carbon-capturing grass off the coast of Virginia.

seagrassCredit: Aileen Devlin / Flickr

A crowdsourced street safety app is keeping people safe in 71 cities across 16 countries. 

A program in Kansas City is using a nine-acre farm to teach refugees agricultural, sales and English skills. 

Between 2016 and 2020, at least 13 states expanded the right to vote for people with felony convictions, amounting to millions of newly enfranchised citizens. 

A movement to save vanishing historic and vibrant LGBTQ establishments has raised over $117,000

A California organization that helps people with criminal records become lawyers has 200 participants. 

Eight islands in the Pacific have found a way to keep foreign fleets from sailing away with all their fishing profits, netting them $160 million for social programs. 

A “rewards” system for shopping locally in Akron, Ohio has driven $500,000 worth of economic activity to locally owned businesses. 

A new app that keeps leftover food from ending up in the trash is saving around 200,000 meals a day. 

In an effort to take representation into their own hands, a new Indigenous modeling agency has signed supermodels from six Indigenous Nations. 

indigenous modelsCredit: Supernaturals Modeling

The Ivory Coast is preventing 4.5 million tons of emissions per year with a clean energy generator that will run entirely on cocoa byproducts

An Alberta initiative is reintroducing its first bison herd on Indigenous land 150 years after the species was nearly eradicated. 

Some 87,000 citizen scientists used mobile apps to study environmental changes affecting cicadas’ 17 years cycle. 

A new Washington state bill is helping to fill a few of the 54 million spare bedrooms in the U.S. by legalizing group homes. 

A church in California is using its land to build a 12-unit affordable apartment complex. 

Over 500 people affected by domestic violence have found help through a fake cosmetics shop that alerts the police when an order is placed. 

A group in Kenya has trained 619 religious leaders to be allies to the LGBTQ community. 

kenya faith leaderCredit: PEMA Kenya

A startup in Portland, Oregon has helped ten people involved with gun violence transition into green sector jobs

An African tech accelerator projects that venture capital funding for African startups will reach a record $10 billion by 2025

One CCA in California has gone from providing 16% renewable energy to its customers to over 60% by handing over the reins to the community. 

A “transit to trails” initiative in Seattle is opening up breathtaking natural spaces to city-dwellers with a $2.75 bus ride. 

A novel program offering drug recovery assistance to people on parole has been completed by 22 out of 50 participants. Only six have recidivated. 

An initiative paying miners to help restore the riverbeds they’ve mined has already funded five restoration projects, with ten more slated for this year. 

After one Paris school district diversified its public schools, flight to private schools fell from 24% to 16%. 

trailhead directCredit: King County Parks

78% of employees at a company that implemented menopause-friendly policies feel better about their workplace. 

Arnsberg, Germany, where over 20% of citizens are over 65 years old, is a leader in senior-friendly urban development thanks to its Department of Future Aging

Stockton, California, gave some of its residents $500 a month, no strings attached, and full-time employment among them rose by 12 percentage points. 

A six-month experiment in Santa Rosa, California helped over 200 unsheltered individuals by managing their tent city and supplying them with health care and housing solutions. 

An anti-pollution initiative has identified over 5,000 toxic sites around the world for cleanup. 

Conservation dogs” are sniffing out invasive species that cost the U.S. economy over $120 billion a year. 

“Bee B&Bs,” “bee stops” and “honey highways” have generated a 45% increase in the number of solitary bee species in Amsterdam between 2000 and 2015. 

beesCredit: Hashoo Foundation USA / Flickr

A small Italian town has increased its population from around 300 to over 700 by fashioning itself as a hub for resettling refugees

Washington D.C. is offering free canoe rides with a catch: paddlers have to recycle some river trash. A similar program in Europe has collected 10 tons of trash in two years. 

North America’s first tree-free pulping facility is capable of turning 240,000 tons of straw waste per year into paper products. 

Official government policies in the U.K. are fighting loneliness and increasing feelings of well-being in 76% of respondents. 

Abilene, Texas announced that, as of the end of 2020, it had reduced chronic homelessness to “functional zero.” 

The Seattle Seahawks gave back to the Indigenous community that inspired their logo by offering a once-in-a-lifetime football camp to 250 participants ages seven to 18. 

Portland’s ‘Hygiene Hub‘ offers four essential services to its unsheltered population: bathrooms, showers, laundry and medical care. 

99% of citizens in Bududa, Uganda who deliberated policy options voiced their support for girls as well as boys to go to school

France is letting drivers trade in their cars for a 2,500 euro credit that can be used to purchase an electric bike. 

At a prison restaurant serving world-class cuisine to the public, recidivism rates among the incarcerated chefs and waiters is 21% lower than average.

A sea grass responsible for 10% of the ocean’s carbon sink and capable of yielding 3.5 tons of marine rice per hectare is exciting European chefs and climate scientists alike. 

Nearly 40 different right-to-repair bills are being considered in 25 U.S. states, aiming to make product information more readily available and devices easier to open.

stilbruchPhoto courtesy Hamburg Sanitation Department

After Baltimore suspended prosecutions for minor crimes like drug possession and prostitution, the violent crime rate dropped by 20%. Now the city is making the change permanent. 

Singapore is launching a massive urban farming initiative to locally produce 30% of its food supply by 2030 even though only one percent of its land is dedicated to agriculture.

A French bill was passed by a margin of 98 to three criminalizing accent discrimination

By converting used EV batteries into solar power generators, campers are helping to save the 11 million tons of lithium-ion batteries expected to be discarded between now and 2030. 

By placing output sensors on board salting trucks, communities in upstate New York have cut their salt usage in half, saving the ecosystems of nearby lakes and streams. 

A community-owned project in Bath, England, has built five solar farms and 15 rooftop solar projects that generate enough electricity to power 4,300 homes. 

A Canadian program providing cash payouts to low- and middle-income families reduced child poverty by 33% in two years

Eleven “saree libraries” across Gujarat, India are providing free access to top-end clothes for over 4,700 low-income women. 

An 18-story high-rise made entirely of wood has saved over 2,400 metric tons of carbon emissions

Volunteers in Minnesota have rescued and recycled over 600 plywood boards from storefront windows.

Citizen-caretakers are making sure 760,000 of Berlin’s trees stay well hydrated.

A divorce court in China ordered a man to pay $7,700 to his ex-wife for the household chores she did while they were married. 

The Cherokee Nation is reviving their language by offering a two-year program of 40-hour-per-week lessons — and paying students $10 an hour to learn. 

cherokeeCredit: Cherokee Nation

Cities around the world are creating micro-forests in spaces no bigger than a tennis court that can attract up to 600 species of native plants and animals. 

A community of 13 tiny houses in Portland is providing structure, stability and a path to permanent housing. 

The English National Opera set a goal to help 1,000 Covid patients heal their lungs by belting out tunes

Durham, North Carolina has forgiven $2.7 million in fines stemming from around 50,000 traffic violations, some of which were 40 years old. 

A program in Eugene, Oregon that replaces armed police with social workers answers around 23,000 calls per year, saving the city over $8.5 million.

A fund that makes loans to the smallest businesses has been operating continuously for 167 years

A program in San Mateo, California is building housing for farmworkers that costs less than $3 per day.  

In Philadelphia, 317 landlord/tenant pairs have avoided eviction proceedings through a mediation program that helps them work out a solution face-to-face. 

A 2019 bill prohibits Oregon landlords from terminating month-to-month leases without cause after the renter has lived there for 12 months. 

Welsh landowners are committing to fulfilling 65% of their basic needs — including food, water, energy and waste — using only the land they live on

54% of cars sold in Norway in 2020 are fully electric — add plug-in hybrids to the mix, and that figure tops 80%. 

Miami is switching to electric school buses thanks to a student’s science fair project that found 5,000 parts per million of CO2 inside her bus.

In November 2019, Italy’s first tuition-free culinary school opened its doors to its first nine students. 

italyPhoto courtesy Uno Chef per Elena e Pietro

In the spring of 2020, the Regional Indigenous Seed Growers Cooperative distributed 11,000 packets of seeds to 270 Indigenous communities. 

A “Calm Hotline” in Barrancabermeja, Colombia, designed to de-escalate men’s emotions before they lead to violence, has decreased incidents of domestic violence by 43%. 

Turin, Italy, has transformed a 700-meter stretch of former tramway into a public park

Watts, Los Angeles, has decreased violent crime by over 70% in housing developments as a result of gang intervention programs. 

Over 540 libraries across the U.S. have eliminated fines for overdue items.

Colorado has converted six RVs into mobile addiction treatment clinics to reach people far from urban centers.

A megachurch with more than 30,000 members is running a free counseling center with eight licensed clinicians to close the mental health gap in Black communities. 

After New Zealand put gold stars on the bins of folks who properly sort their cans and bottles, the amount of material able to be recycled went up from 48% to 80%. 

Paris will double its dedicated pedestrian space on the Champs Elysées by 2030.

Wildlife bridges in Wyoming have resulted in an 81% decrease in collisions between wildlife and cars. 

After adopting a four-day work week, Microsoft found that worker efficiency rose by 40%.

Edmonton boasts close to 400 “garden suites’‘ across the city, pulling more people into existing neighborhoods instead of building out.

edmontonCredit: Amber Bracken

“Hempcrete” is a concrete alternative that can sequester 19 pounds of carbon per cubic foot — roughly the annual emissions of three refrigerators. 

Oregon has issued 3,100 roadkill salvaging permits over the past two years, providing a free source of food for struggling families. 

A Midwest organization is offering a 24-hour hotline and free unlimited counseling sessions for farmers far from access.

Nearly 80% of Europeans would rather repair their devices than replace them.

One month after receiving a one-time cash gift of $5,800, 50% of homeless people moved into stable housing and 70% of them became food secure. 

A program in the Czech Republic using meals to break down barriers between natives and immigrants has connected 1,676 families

A program in Tulsa, Oklahoma is creating career pathways for the approximately two million college-educated immigrants in the U.S. working in low-skill jobs. 

An Indiana city with 140 roundabouts has saved lives, reduced injuries from crashes and lowered carbon emissions. 

Over 520,000 Kenyan refugees were given the right to work after three decades of restrictions. 

A program offering $10,000 to people willing to move to Tulsa has brought in 1,200 workers plus 600 additional residents accompanying them. 

A tech company has created a fully repairable computer that sells for less than $1,000. 

More than 2,500 local and state down payment assistance programs are helping homebuyers surmount a hurdle that often keeps homeownership out of reach. 

Amsterdam’s opt-in system for junk mail saves 6,000 tons of paper per year. 

junk mailPhoto courtesy of Last Advertisement

A German company will have recycled 2,000 tons of electric-vehicle batteries by the end of the year. 

Adopted otter pups are helping California kelp forests expand by up to 600%

A program lending free e-bikes to Vermonters reports that 17% of people who borrowed one had bought one of their own within 12 months. 

20 students traveled to four different U.S. states through a domestic exchange program connecting teens to different cultures. 

43% of participants in a support program that pairs people who are unhoused with housed volunteers reported an increase in happiness

An U.K. government program is helping five million renters make sure they don’t lose their security deposits unjustly.

Alaskans are taking cues from Indigenous builders to replace houses built 50 years ago with sustainable architecture that can withstand the elements. 

A nonprofit in Portland has helped over 50 Black homeowners age in place while preventing communities from being splintered by gentrification. 

The post The Year in Cheer appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Our 5 Most Popular Stories of 2021

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 28/12/2021 - 7:00pm in

What do you like to read about? Believe it or not, we don’t always know. 

We’ve published stories that we thought would be our greatest hits, only to watch them fizzle on the fuse. Likewise, we’ve run articles that we suspected might be too weird for you, and you apparently adored them. (Our sixth-most popular story of the year, barely missing the cut here, is about human composting.) Which is to say, you’re an unpredictable, nonconformist pack of free thinkers, and we wouldn’t have you any other way. 

Here are our five most popular stories of 2021.

seagrassCredit: TNC

5. World’s Largest Seagrass Project Proves “You Can Actually Restore the Oceans”

One thing we’ve learned about you is that stories about the oceans call to you like the Sirens’ song. Maybe it’s a spiritual thing. Maybe the seas are sacrosanct. Maybe you just can’t get enough of the beach. Whatever the reason, this one struck a chord, seaweed and all.

Cool pavement LAPhoto courtesy of StreetsLA

4. L.A.’s New Reflective Streets Bounce Heat Back into Space

It’s getting hot out there. Especially in cities, summer heat is turning into a perennial health hazard. So we’re not altogether surprised that this story about heat-repelling streets got your attention. Sometimes something as simple as a coat of paint can make for the most compelling solution. Throw in an outer-space angle, and it seems you’re all ears.

homelessCredit: Peter Helm

3. Vancouver Gave Homeless People $5,800. It Changed Their Lives.

Perhaps you’ve been in a situation where a single infusion of cash could mean the difference between paying — or not paying — next month’s rent, a parking fine, a tuition bill. It’s a common dilemma, which is why perhaps so many of you were so taken by this story of transforming lives with a single boost of financial help.

officeCredit: Israel Andrade

2. Spain’s Four-Day Work Week Is a Game Changer

If you’re a former office worker turned digital nomad, you probably sense that work will never be the same. Perhaps you now have more control over when, where and how much you work. As with many societal sea changes, governments are playing catch up. But we suspect that many of you have been ready to embrace this particular change for years.

stilbruchPhoto courtesy Hamburg Sanitation Department

1. Don’t Toss It, Fix It! Europe Is Guaranteeing Citizens the “Right to Repair”

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that you, the Reasons to be Cheerful reader, would have a passion for fixing things. After all, it’s our raison d’être. But your enthusiasm for this story has revealed an even deeper affinity for mending, revamping and otherwise resurrecting apparently broken things rather than throwing up your hands and walking away. Great minds think alike.

The post Our 5 Most Popular Stories of 2021 appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Where the “Right to Rest” is Guaranteed

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 24/12/2021 - 7:00pm in

Working as a creative in Portugal’s video and animation industry, Vanessa Oliveira quickly became used to last-minute demands from clients. 

“There were always crazy deadlines,” says the 30 year old, who is based in the northern city of Porto. “I would get calls at 8 p.m., when I was at home already, saying: ‘There’s this project and you have to deliver it tomorrow morning.’”

One time, when working for a large creative studio, Oliveira made an exception and refused to pull an all-nighter. “The next day at the office, they told me: ‘Because you went home, all your colleagues had to work an extra hour,’” she says. “Sadly, these conditions are very common in the creative area. Employees are afraid to say no.”

lisbon“People really have to know when to disconnect now. If the law changes that mindset it could be really important for so many people.” Credit: Shutterstock

But an amendment to Portugal’s Labor Code, passed into law in November, could put an end to these practices and protect the work-life balance of citizens by introducing a so-called “right to rest.” 

Under Portugal’s new laws, proposed by the ruling Socialist Party, workers will have the right to at least 11 consecutive hours of “night rest,” during which they can’t be contacted by their employers unless there is an emergency. Employers with more than 10 employees now face criminal sanctions if they message, phone or email their workers outside of working hours. However, Portugal’s parliament stopped short of voting for employees to be able to turn off all work devices when off the clock.

Responding to the rise of remote working, under the new law companies will also need to contribute to staff’s work-from-home expenses, such as internet and electricity. Bosses will also be expected to meet with staff in person at least every two months, to prevent those working outside of the office from becoming isolated. And the right of parents to work from home, previously reserved for those with children under four, will be expanded to include those with children up to eight years old.

The growing digitalization of the workplace and, more recently, the pandemic-induced spike in remote working, has put a huge strain on workers like Oliveira. According to the EU agency Eurofound, the proportion of people in the EU working remotely rose from five percent in 2019 to 48 percent in July 2020. That rise appears to be part of a long-term trend. Research by Gartner has estimated by the end of 2021, 32 percent of the global workforce will be remote workers.


“For me, it was really difficult in the beginning to disconnect,” says Oliveira, who is now freelance. “When the pandemic started, since we were at home we were working more. At one point, I felt like I was only working and sleeping.”

Catarina Tavares, international secretary at the trade union UGT-Portugal, says that the pandemic has made updating workers’ protections for the digital age a priority.

“This pandemic has not been helpful for working conditions,” she says. “It’s been a heavy duty on these workers. So I think the law is likely to make a difference.”

Portugal’s law, one of the boldest moves to modernize workers’ rights to date, is part of a wider movement in Europe. France, Spain, Germany and Italy have enacted similar protections, and in January the European parliament voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution to propose a pan-European “right to disconnect” law.

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While data on the impact of these measures remains limited, research by Eurofound suggests that they are influencing corporate cultures. German chemicals company Evonik, which in 2013 independently introduced right to disconnect rules for its 32,000 staff, found that between 2013 and 2020 the percentage of emails sent after 8 p.m. decreased from 13 percent to six percent and those sent over the weekend from two percent to one percent. In addition, interview respondents said the policy “has contributed to improvements in work-life balance,” thanks to a greater awareness of flexible working and the risks of constant connection. 

UGT-Portugal’s Tavares says work from home protections could also mean greater gender equality, since women are more likely to take on the burden of childcare. However, she does have some concerns about Portugal’s law. It will take months or years for companies to properly adapt to the new regulations, she says, and adherence will be difficult to monitor and enforce.

“There are always challenges,” she says. “You can’t go into people’s homes and check if they have good working conditions. But in terms of compensation for working from home and the need to have consensus, I think it is a really important law.”

David Carvalho Martins, an expert in Portuguese labor and employment law and founding partner of the labor law firm DCM Littler, is more sanguine about the impact that the law could have. “This is not a massive change to the current system,” he says. “In most cases it’s just a rebranding of what we have already.”

For instance, the ban on contacting employees during an 11-hour “rest period” is not the same as preventing them from working during those hours, according to Martins. And in professions that already have “working time exemptions” or those that require employees to be on call, such as finance, tech and emergency healthcare, little will change. “They can still be contacted, but this must be justified by the employer,” he says.

Oliveira has similar concerns about those emergency exceptions. “It is sad that you have the right to disconnect, except if something urgent happens,” she says. “The concept of urgency to the company could be up to them to decide.”

Yet there is consensus over the symbolic impact of the “right to rest” law, and how it could mark a societal shift. “Now it’s a worldwide topic,” says Martins. “It could be the first step to change mentalities. It opens up the discussion.”

Oliveira agrees. “People really have to know when to disconnect now,” she says. “Even now, if I receive an email at 9 p.m., it’s still difficult for me not to look. If the law changes that mindset it could be really important for so many people.”

The post Where the “Right to Rest” is Guaranteed appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.