February 20, 2019
February 15, 2019
An annotated digest of the top "Hacker" "News" posts for the second week of February, 2019.
February 08, 2019 (comments)
The headline is inaccurate; PostgreSQL still uses fsync incorrectly. Hackernews recounts all the times the PostgreSQL development team has rejected simple fixes for this and other bugs. Other Hackernews debate whether the filesystem should lie to the userspace applications, the kernel, both, or neither. Most of the comments, of course, are Hackernews incorrecting each other with how filesystems work at all, complete with shitty ASCII diagrams.
February 09, 2019 (comments)
Google shitcans some moron's shovelware, then reneges after mild social media attention. Hackernews speculates on the incentives that might cause a moron to nail their flag to someone else's mast, then spends a few hours armchair-lawyering the Google terms and conditions. The core question of the day, however, is just how the hell anyone is supposed to survive if they can't use AdSense?
February 10, 2019 (comments)
February 11, 2019 (comments)
Google places yet another football for Charlie Brown to kick. The press release authors could not think of any reason for anyone to give a shit, so they namedrop fashionable Valley companies instead. Hackernews enjoys similar tools for making end runs around their coworkers. The rest of the comments are priest-led Praising of the Holy Google, followed by the ritual bitching about identically bug-ridden webshit from non-Google providers.
February 12, 2019 (comments)
A database administrator thinks that database shit is the most important shit. Hackernews completely agrees, and breathlessly extolls the wonders of technology designed to enable people to access information. The original article is nearly content-free, so Hackernews pitches in by arguing about which fundamental mathematical theory obviously underpins SQL. Here and there, random Hackernews pair off to have brief Big-Data-related pissing matches.
February 13, 2019 (comments)
A simple question results in The Gospel According to Some Dipshit, illustrating to the Philistines the wisdom and divinity of the Lord your Google. Hackernews upvotes the shit out of this testament, even though one of the other answers was written by the creator of the fucking technology being described. The Anointed Answer is sufficiently nontechnical that Hackernews comes streaming out of the walls and forms two ranks: those who love and fear the Lord their Google, and those who are annoyed by how shitty CAPTCHAs are. The battle is without end.
February 14, 2019 (comments)
Amazon does not build a building. Amazon frequently does not build buildings, but now it is news, because Amazon said it was going to build a building this time. Hackernews totally saw this coming, and is perfectly willing to explain their reasoning, which is totally unassailable and directly in conflict with their previous analysis from back when Amazon said they would build a building.
Every sea turtle in global study found to have synthetic fibers and microplastics in their guts
February 14, 2019
Find the full briefing here.
The objective of this briefing is to stimulate debate and raise critical questions on the latest developments in the IMF’s approach to gender, both between civil society communities and within the IMF itself. It sets the IMF’s latest work against the background of long-standing feminist thinking, with the aim of encouraging the Fund to be ambitious in genuinely and meaningfully addressing feminist concerns in its work. A central question running throughout the thinking behind this briefing is, ‘What is the appropriate role of the IMF in creating an enabling macroeconomic environment for women’s rights and gender equality?’, building on BWP’s previous work in its Gender Equality and Macroeconomics Project.
Following from these analyses, this briefing argues that the emphasis of the IMF’s gender work should lay squarely with addressing the ways in which its own ‘bread-and-butter’ macroeconomic policies undermine gender equality and women’s rights, rather than pro-actively pursuing new policy areas. In this context, the development of new IMF guidance on gender to its staff, in particular its paragraph 26, which recognises the IMF’s own policy advice can exacerbate gender inequality, is a welcome development in the Fund’s evolving understanding of the relationship between gender equality and macroeconomic policy.
Yet, the new guidance and latest IMF gender work do leave many questions unanswered and raise some new concerns:
- Macro-criticality for gender and economic inequalities remains an unclear standard, leaving the Fund’s approach ad-hoc and unsystematic.
- The econometric model developed by the IMF to measure gendered impacts of its conventional policy advice as applied to Argentina offers only a very narrow glimpse of the incredibly complex question on measuring adverse gendered impacts of macroeconomic policies. The guidance remains unclear as to which components of the economy it should analyse, which policies it should be applied to and raises myriad concerns about its scaled-up, sustained application in practice.
- The guidance also remains unclear as to what types of alternative policies IMF staff should consider to avoid exacerbating gender inequality, while early indications point to a very constrained menu of options. Further guidance on what may constitute mitigating measures also remains lacking, although standard policy prescriptions to mitigate negative gendered impacts by further targeting social protection schemes are clearly inadequate.
More broadly, if determining harm is not done in a comprehensive way, and alternatives are defined in only the very narrowest sense, the IMF risks its gender work being perceived as merely another exercise in ‘co-option’, whereby the language of women’s economic empowerment is deployed as just another branding strategy to disguise regressive policies as progressive ones. The guidance’s recognition that the Fund’s own policies can indeed exacerbate gender inequality, which it concedes can be critical to the fulfillment of its mandate, marks a point of no return and must be the start of a significant and meaningful policy shift.
Find the full briefing here.
This briefing has been produced as part of the Gender Equality and Macroeconomics project, a joint project of the Bretton Woods Project and the Gender and Development Network.
February 10, 2019
Atenas, para fugarse del sótano del mundo
A propósito de la última película de César Gonzalez, Atenas.
A modo de respuesta activa frente al ajuste creciente hacia el cine
independiente de ficción y documental emergen nuevas películas que crean
y recrean la producción audiovisual. Como un "cross a la mandíbula" a
los tanques de Hollywood y las carreras al Oscar que por estos días
ocupan las páginas de los suplementos de espectáculos, Atenas, de
César Gonzalez, aparece en las pantallas con un cine propio, rabioso,
urgente y a la vez pensado en todos sus elementos de lenguaje.
Una joven, Perséfones (Débora González), sale de la cárcel pero su
camino no la conduce a la libertad. Salir a la calle, buscar vivienda,
laburo, comida, son laberintos cerrados en una sociedad en donde la
explotación de una clase sobre otra rige todos los aspectos, y si dentro
de esa situación se nace mujer, la opresión se duplica. La solidaridad y
la esperanza vienen desde abajo, en quienes viven las mimas
experiencias. Juana será quien marque este camino junto a otros
personajes que están en la misma y dejan claro que nada se puede esperar
de los sectores del poder, su Estado y sus representantes.
La película destaca un gran trabajo en la caracterización de los
personajes. Los pibes y pibas del barrio conocen de las experiencias de
encierro, violencia policial, desocupación y maltrato, la interpretación
es fresca, transparente alejada de todos los estereotipos y
exageraciones que se ven a diario en series de tv o películas “con
contenido social”. Los personajes que ocupan alguna posición de poder,
sea en el Estado, como pequeños o grandes patrones, y hasta quizá con
alguna idea “progre”, se demuestran también en forma transparente y así
se descubren sus miserias. El trato humano marca esta opresión de clase,
“vos te victimizás” le dice una psicóloga del Patronato a quien es
justamente una víctima; “¡ustedes no saben trabajar!”, acusa un patrón a
los pintores mientras se toma un trago junto a su amigo proxeneta;
“¿podés calmar este bebé?”, pide una madre a la niñera mientras sigue
con sus ejercicios de meditación en el jardín, y así… En esta sociedad
está claro quién da las órdenes. César reflexiona que construyeron estos
personajes “Un poco por el cansancio de la hegemonía de la
representación en el perdón que se le brinda siempre a la
caracterización de los burgueses en el cine… se amaga a ridiculizarlos
pero se los termina complejizando, y para mí esa supuesta complejización
es una muestra de complicidad”; por otro lado, en relación a las clases
populares y las minorías, “allí se ridiculiza más que de lo que se
complejiza, toda minoría es representada con una uniformidad de
sentimientos muy obscena”.
Por eso Perse, de pocas palabras, trasmite con sus gestos, su mirada y
sus silencios; pequeños diálogos cotidianos cuentan mejor que extensos
parlamentos. Como una forma de destacar gestos y rostros, en distintos
momentos se incorpora un recurso narrativo en donde se rompe el raccord,
es decir, durante un diálogo la imagen corta a planos cortos de rostros
en silencio y así se produce un extrañamiento, una forma de develar la
poesía en la realidad.
El recorrido de la película, como lo sugiere el título y el nombre de su
protagonista que remite a la mitología, es el de una tragedia griega.
También hay otra relación, la civilización antigua donde se desarrolló
la filosofía y el arte, la ciencia y la democracia, creció a costa del
trabajo esclavo, con seres humanos considerados como bestias. Y en este
sentido César se pregunta "¿Cuán lejos estamos hoy de eso?". La acción y
las imágenes que construye Atenas interpelan el presente, la
esclavitud moderna como continuación de una historia de siglos.
En el texto que difunde la película se abren una serie de interrogantes.
“¿Es posible fugarse del sótano del mundo? ¿Deja el hombre a la mujer
soñar? ¿No es una pesadilla si además de mujer naciste pobre y recién
salís de la cárcel?”. Porque hay un sistema que conspira contra
cualquier gesto, contra cualquier voluntad, y esto está presente en cada
La propia realización de la película se transforma entonces en un
desafío a esta realidad. César Gonzalez, que nació en 1989 en la Villa
Carlos Gardel y estuvo 5 años en prisión, se hizo cineasta y construyó
un equipo con muchos de sus amigos y vecinos. Los actores de Atenas
vienen trabajando en las películas anteriores, junto a Diagnóstico
Esperanza y Qué puede un cuerpo completan su “trilogía villera”, y su
formación aporta nuevas formas creativas. La experiencia artística
colectiva que construyen cuestiona también el mundo del arte y su propio
sistema, forma, contenido y proceso creativo se conjugan para dar la
En los títulos finales se agradece especialmente a una serie de
directores, desde Eisenstein, Rossellini, Godard, Vardá, Gleyzer, Birri,
Rouch, Rocha, Mizoguchi, entre otros; cada uno a su manera y en
distintos momentos históricos aportaron con su cine a cuestionar la
imagen dominante y su ideología, a construir nuevos lenguajes, nuevos
mundos imaginarios. El cine nace con el surgimiento del capitalismo que
rápidamente lo convierte en un negocio, pero también nace con el
surgimiento de la revolución social, que desde los primeros años
entusiasma a miles de artistas y está en la base de una tradición
crítica que encuentra ecos y se renueva constantemente. Aunque cada año
se inviertan más millones en productos envasados para el consumo masivo,
no partimos de cero y películas como Atenas se suman para engrosar la
crítica a las ideas dominantes y su construcción de la imagen.
Te puede interesar: César González: "Parto de la rabia para empezar
February 09, 2019
An annotated digest of the top "Hacker" "News" posts for the first week of February, 2019.
February 01, 2019 (comments)
Some bureaucrats notice that Google is maximizing shareholder value. Hackernews enumerates all the various webshits and telephone software that various companies use to inspect in minute detail the lives of every single customer, but concludes that stripping yourself bare and presenting your entire life for examination is worth it so you can look up how long your bike ride was on Tuesday. Some Hackernews identify some alternate providers of software and services, which do not traffic in private information. The Google Analytics team dispatches self-driving vans to round them up and deliver them to re-education dormitories.
February 02, 2019 (comments)
Some dipshit has strong opinions about where you should keep your files. Instead of letting an idiot like you decide what software to run and where to put things, we are treated to a disquisition on open-source bureaucracy. Some Hackernews think the author is complaining about the wrong files, but the real fight breaks out over whether people should be allowed to use more than one program in association with a given file. On the sidelines, the rest of Hackernews spends some time reinventing filesystem features from the 1980s, then bikeshedding each other into the ground.
February 03, 2019 (comments)
A Python takes the stage to reveal that complicated systems are not simple and designing them may require actual human thought. Now that the topic has been nominated, Hackernews slogs through reinventing each component of an imaginary implementation from first principles. Since technology is being discussed, instead of technological aesthetics, the discussion is desultory and short-lived.
February 04, 2019 (comments)
Mozilla fixes a ridiculous problem they've had for at least ten years. Hackernews bitches about Netflix, then Youtube, then the internet advertising industry, then Safari.
February 05, 2019 (comments)
Reddit begs for money from China, because thirteen years is just not long enough to turn a profit. Hackernews, all of whom use Reddit extensively, agree that Reddit faces several problems: its userbase is garbage, the website itself is a pile of shit, and the company is now beholden to extremely rich people who live in a dictatorship. Most Hackernews suggest various UI improvements that can overcome these limitations.
February 06, 2019 (comments)
An internet destroys some light bulbs to find out why the manufacturers stopped lying about their average service life. Hackernews, of course, is furious about pulse-width modulation. A light bulb engineer shows up in the comments to tell people to shop at Ikea. Other Hackernews wonder if light bulbs would be better if they were connected via USB.
February 07, 2019 (comments)
A good old-fashioned shitfight breaks out between two newspaper publishers, except instead of immigration issues or mining workers' rights, it's more like Joseph Pulitzer threatened to print daguerreotypes of William Randolph Hearst's hog. Hackernews does not want to think about this particular Elastic Beanstalk, so they focus on the politics of the matter. No technology is discussed.
February 08, 2019
February 06, 2019
February 03, 2019
February 02, 2019
February 01, 2019
Enforcing the rules in a global economy: The emergence of structural conditionality in the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund Pauly, L., 2018; In: Indart, G., Critical Issues in International Financial Reform, New York: Routledge, Chapter 9
International finance institutions are known for suggesting structural conditionality; a tactic which this chapter suggests has the motive of initiating interaction amongst international political economies.
One size for all? policy advice of the World Bank and the OECD on quality assurance and evaluation of school education in Russia, Brazil, and China Takala, T., Kallo, J., Kauko, J., Rinne, R., 2018; in Wiseman, A.W., Davidson, P.M., (ed.), Cross-nationally Comparative, Evidence-based Educational Policymaking and Reform (International Perspectives on Education and Society, Volume 35) Emerald Publishing Limited, pp.301-319
This chapter discusses the impact of transnational education policy agendas made by the World Bank and Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
World Bank Urban Shelter projects in East Africa: matching needs with appropriate responses? Campbell, J. 2018; in: Housing Africa’s Urban Poor, London: Routledge, Chapter 11
This chapter reviews the success of the World Bank-sponsored urban shelter programmes in East Africa since 1974 and whether similar shelter projects would be successful in meeting the needs of the urban poor.
REPORTS AND BRIEFINGS
A toolkit for advocacy at the World Bank Group Eurodad, October 2018
This report provides a toolkit for those interested in development finance issues within the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. An overview of the Bank is provided before giving guidance on possible advocacy and campaign work.
A toolkit for advocacy at the International Monetary Fund Eurodad, April 2018
This report provides a toolkit for those interested in development finance issues within the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The report focusses on how the IMF influences international finance architecture and the effects of this.
Argentina goes back to the IMF. Neo-Liberalism, crisis and protest Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, November 2018
After 15 years of independence from the IMF, Argentina once again sought help from the IMF after devaluation of the peso. This report discusses the turbulent relationship between Argentina and the IMF.
Assessing austerity: Monitoring the human rights impacts of fiscal consolidation Center for Economic and Social Rights, February 2018
This briefing assesses the impact of austerity measures in the decade since the 2008 financial crisis on human rights. Suggestions for policy makers, oversight bodies, and civil society actors are offered to ensure there is not another lost decade for human rights due to fiscal consolidation.
Broken promises: The World Bank, international investors and the fight for climate justice in the Philippines Inclusive Development International, Bank Information Center Europe, Philippine Movement for Climate Justice, April 2018
The Philippines is becoming increasingly vulnerable to threats posed by climate change, especially typhoons. Though the government signed the Paris Agreement in 2017 and adopted the Renewable Energy Act, they are also pushing through coal expansion projects financed by domestic banking centres. This paper discusses the implications of this.
Climate scheme hands $105 million profit to global insurance industry Jubilee Debt Campaign, November 2018
In over 80% of the most economically damaging climate disasters of the 21st century, government debt was higher two years after the disaster. This report critiques the current model of climate risk insurance, arguing that currently the victims of disasters are the one’s that must foot the bill of climate change.
Coming out of the dark: Is the IFC investing in a fossil free future? BIC Europe, November 2018
By tracking 148 financial intermediaries (FIs) investments made by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the World Bank’s private sector arm, this report aims to assess whether the IFC has really reformed its FI lending.
Extreme poverty and human rights United Nations General Assembly, September 2018
This report discusses the trend to encourage privatisation popular amongst governments and international actors and the subsequent implication on human rights.
Gender equality and macro-level economics: recommendations for action Gender & Development Network, May 2018
GADN make recommendations on the ways macro-level economic policy can be transformed to achieve gender equality.
History RePPPeated – How public private partnerships are failing Eurodad, October 2018
Public private partnerships are promoted by the World Bank and other multilateral development banks as the solution to promoting SDGs, however this report discusses PPPs shortfalls with reference to both developed and developing countries.
Lighting the way? Assessing the World Bank’s Climate Action Plan and energy access BIC Europe, October 2018
The WBG has made commitments towards both resolving the unacceptable situation of unequal access to electricity and climate change goals, however sufficient progress has not been made on either goal. This paper discusses the shortfalls of the WBG in this area.
Powering the transition World Bank and other IFI energy lending in Asia Oxfam, October 2018
The Climate Vulnerable Forum of countries has made commitments to reach 100% renewable energy by 2050 in Pacific Island nations putting IFI energy sector support plans to shame. This paper suggests how IFIs can improv
Realising women’s rights: The role of public debt in Africa Gender & Development Network, August 2018
Public debt in the African continent undermines the ability for governments to meet their commitments on gender equality and the promotion of women’s rights. GADN suggests a reform of the global financial system is required to ensure the costs of debt are not disproportionately born by women.
Report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights United Nations General Assembly, July 2018
This report discusses the IMF stance on social protection and suggests that in light of the Funds involvement in low-income countries it ought to include social protection in its considerations.
Reward work, not wealth Oxfam, January 2018
Last year saw the biggest increase in billionaires in history, one more every two days. This huge increase could have ended global extreme poverty seven times over. 82% of all wealth created in the last year went to the top 1%, and nothing went to the bottom 50%. Dangerous, poorly paid work for the many is supporting extreme wealth for the few. Women are in the worst work, and almost all the super-rich are men. Governments must create a more equal society by prioritizing ordinary workers and small-scale food producers instead of the rich and powerful.
Seven reasons why feminists say no to World Bank-IMF Neoliberalism APWLD, October 2018
The report highlights the ways in which World Bank infrastructure projects and IMF conditional loans impact women’s human rights.
Shortchanging energy access: A progress report on multilateral development bank finance Oil Change International, October 2018
This report discusses the success of financing energy access projects by MDBs. It finds that whilst half energy access finance went to energy poor countries, more directed targeting needs to occur in order to reach the most energy poor communities.
Short-changed: How the IMF’s tax policies are failing women ActionAid UK, October 2018
The report examines the gendered impact of the IMF’s promotion of regressive, indirect taxes like VAT compared with progressive taxes that are directly linked to income and wealth. It recommends that gender responsive tax and expenditure policies should be at the heart of the IMF’s efforts to tackle gender inequality.
The IMF and fragile states evaluation report 2018 Independent Evaluation Office of the International Monetary Fund, 2018
Countries facing persistent fragility, conflict, and violence have been deemed an international priority because of the potential implications for global stability. This report discusses the role the IMF should play in improving this situation.
Time for a reboot at a critical time for multilateralism Independent Evaluation Office (IEO) of the International Monetary Fund, July 2018
Provides an evaluation of the impact of the IEO in the work of the IMF in relation to current global developments.
An evaluation of the feedback loops in the poverty focus of world bank operations Fardoust, S., Kanbur, R., Luo, X., Sunderberg, M., 2018, Evaluation and Program Planning, Volume 67, pp.10-18
Feedback loops are used by the Independent Evaluation Group of the World Bank to enhance operations and give more focus to work, however this article argues that they are currently weak and ineffective with regard to poverty focus.
Disequilibrium in development finance: The contested politics of institutional accountability and transparency at the World Bank Inspection Panel Sovacool, B., Naude Fourie, A., Tan-Mullins, M., 2018, Development and Change, pp.1-29 [Online]
Focusing on the World Bank independent inspection panel this article reviews how independent accountability mechanisms operate.
Empowering women through agricultural extension: A global perspective Tiwari, R.K., 2018, Indian Rural Market: Opportunity and Challenges in the Global context, 1(1), pp.68-75
This article critically discusses the push from IFIs to increase female labour force participation.
The politics of transnational accountability policies and the (re)construction of corruption: The case of Tunisia, Transparency International and the World Bank Murphy, J., Brindusa Albu., O., 2018, Accounting Forum, 42(1), pp.32-46
This paper discusses how transnational actors like the World Bank define acceptable governance and assume that corruption is endemic in developing countries. The effects of such policies are discussed.
The role of the World Bank in middle-income countries Kabur, R., 2018, Issues in Indian Public Policies, [Online] pp.167-180
Paper provides a discussion of World Bank relationships with MIC’s. It points out that MIC’s are a diverse category and therefore should be considered differently.
ARTICLES, CAMPAIGN LETTERS, PRESS RELEASES AND BLOGS
Argentina: new austerity, old neoliberalism Green Left, February 2018
Protests in Argentina after the coalition government, Cambiemos, presented a bill in congress proposing cuts to social security by $3.4 billion.
Budha Ismail Jam, et al v. IFC: An Indian fishing community takes on the World Bank EarthRights International, 2018
The World Bank’s private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), is taken on by fishing communities and farmers for the role it played in funding Tata Mundra Ultra Mega coal fired power plant, which has destroyed natural resources relied upon by locals.
Civil society wishlist for the World Bank’s post-2020 climate goals Civil society letter signed by 37 organisation, September 2018
Civil society groups from around the world issued eight recommendations for the World Bank’s consideration, ahead of its announcement of its new 2025 climate targets in December 2018 at COP24.
Illicit financial flows and the tax haven and offshore secrecy system Tax Justice Network, February 2018
Reducing and eventually eliminating illicit financial flows has been recognised by the Addis Ababa Action Agenda of the United Nations as important for achieving Sustainable development goals. However, what is covered by the term ‘illicit’ is unclear.
IMF conditionality: still undermining healthcare & social protection? Eurodad, May 2018
Despite previously denying claims that conditionalities connected to IMF lending worsen health outcomes, Eurodad hopes that 2018 reviews of its conditionalities regarding health care will be considered.
Letter to president of the World Bank expressing views on the draft World Development Report 2019.
Newly adopted UN resolution shows growing consensus to improve regulation of education in accordance with human rights law The Global Initiative, July 2018
UN Human Rights Council issued a public statement highlighting the need to further regulate the commercialisation of education in respect to human rights principles.
Response to The Guardian’s opinion piece on Tunisia IMF, February 2018
IMF defend advice given to Tunisia, claiming that they do not advocate austerity but instead promote ‘well-designed, socially balanced reforms’.
Role of IMF-backed elimination of universal social protection in protests Development Pathways, 2018
Iranian population suffers after IMF encourages government to end universal cash transfers.
S. Government opposes “absolute” immunity for World Bank Group in brief to SCOTUS EarthRights International, August 2018
US Supreme Court reverses ruling that international organisations like the Word Bank Group are entitled to ‘absolute immunity’ for lawsuits in US courts. Instead, these institutions are ruled to be subject to the same ‘restrictive’ immunity faced by foreign governments.
The fiscal costs of PPPs in the spotlight Investment Policy, March 2018
PPPs are becoming an increasingly popular way to finance development, however they come with higher risks and often higher costs to governments.
The World Bank’s fetish for ranking: The case of Doing Business rank for Chile Oakland institute, February 2018
Discussion of debate as to whether ‘methodological changes’ to the World Bank’s Doing Business Ranking system were a deliberate ploy to disfavour Chile in rankings because of their new socialist president, Michelle Bachelet.
The World Bank’s incoherent approach to taxes Oxfam, January 2018
Article provides a critique of the World Bank’s Doing Business Rankings which it argues are flawed on a variety of grounds including subjectivity, tax indicators and labour components.
Whither democratization and sustainability? Heinrich Boll Stiftung, October 2018
A critique of the 22 proposals on broad areas for increasing the power of the current development finance system listed in the G20 EPG Report.
An annotated digest of the top "Hacker" "News" posts for the last week of January, 2019.
January 22, 2019 (comments)
Google continues the war against its own users. After declaring an intent to further cripple extension functionality, Google is met with moderate pushback from people who write or use browser extensions. They are reassured that the functionality they demand is not disappearing entirely; merely being replaced with completely inapplicable other functionality, which should serve everyone's needs when combined with vague promises about future plans. In the basement of the Mountain View campus, the Google Analytics team soberly takes notes on which internet citizens should be executed for sedition. Hackernews tries to keep off the List, but a few reckless agitators reveal themselves as disloyal to the State.
January 23, 2019 (comments)
A reporter publishes the worst-kept secret in the eye care industry. After spending a couple hundred comments reciting everything they've ever done in the course of buying eyeglasses, an especially alert Hackernews manages to post the exact content of the story, presumably in answer to the question in the headline. This leads to a piecemeal retelling of the rest of the article, except in conversation form between various Hackernews, apparently unaware they're recreating the article. Then another group does it again, under the guise of pretending that things work differently in Europe (they do not).
January 24, 2019 (comments)
"Hacker" "News'" absentee step-brother shits out a blog post containing instructions for being rich. Most of the advice boils down to being arrogant, rich, or well-connected, which basically exhausts Sam Altman's available set of skills. None of the advice involves selling a shitty business at the height of an economic bubble, but that's the only actual advice that might apply to anyone reading this drivel. Hackernews experiments with definitions of success that don't require being a wealthy sycophantic jackass, and the author arrives to peddle more off-target garbage in that regard, but the moment is gone.
January 25, 2019 (comments)
A Hackernews nails a webshit project to the bulletin board, and the rest of them try to make sense of it. Most of the comments are wild assumptions about the motivations, implementation, and possible usage of the project, all of which is trivially accessible but entirely opaque to Hackernews, because nobody posted about it on Stack Overflow. The other half of the comments are Hackernews bikeshedding every analogy anyone mentions, then arguing about the epistemology of UNIX.
January 26, 2019 (comments)
Hackernews rediscovers a years-old story of the lengths to which manufacturers must go to convince the shipping industry not to push boxes out of planes midflight. The comments are rife with Hackernews speculating on how exactly boxes get from Amazon to their studio walkup in the Mission, but no technology is discussed.
January 27, 2019 (comments)
An academic writes a tutorial. Of the 180 lines of bare C++, fourteen of them are include directives. Hackernews doesn't give a shit about the implementation in question; they just want to post about how they did it better or someone else did it more usefully. One Hackernews is mad that someone else is getting attention, so they bicker about that for a few hours. The fact that the article contains actual code is like kryptonite to Hackernews; the vote-to-comment ratio is well in excess of ten to one.
January 28, 2019 (comments)
Apple continues the war against its own products, reviving their previous practice of avoiding security backdoors in favor of security frontdoors. One Hackernews wants to know how Apple can release such obviously broken garbage, and the Apple-ogists arrive in force to explain how hard it is to be the best phone manufacturer on earth, and the gang invents all kinds of fantastic scenarios in which this situation is not the result of extreme incompetence at every level.
January 29, 2019 (comments)
Facebook continues the war against its own users, this time by just paying them to sabotage themselves. Among the valuable data harvested during this process is the supremely useful fact that it's easy to convince children to do dumb shit and there are no consequences to doing so. Hackernews brainstorms hare-brained technical solutions that a phone software company might implement to combat an ultrawealthy psychopathic corporate entity actively pursuing hostile activity on a global basis. A popular Hackernews refrain: Facebook would be irresponsible if they failed to use every method available to them to harvest the personal data of teenagers.
January 29, 2019 (comments)
A Y-Combinator-funded business is dynamically scaling its resource expenditure. Hackernews is absolutely outraged by this cartoonishly evil business practice, and blames tipping (which does not affect the minimum wage due the employee) instead of the gig economy's habit of classifying employees as independent contractors (which does). Dozens of Hackernews from the European bureau arrive to misunderstand American labor laws, but it's unclear whether they decided to misunderstand it deliberately or are merely emulating the ignorance of the American faction. Nobody is interested in recognizing that this abuse is helping to pay for "Hacker" "News" hosting fees.
January 30, 2019 (comments)
A webshit complains that the internet is homogeneous and boring, and that everyone seems to be implementing the same shit in the same way. To combat this, the webshit reimplements Scratch and Glitch. Hackernews disagrees with the webshit's thesis, and responds by linking every single goddamn website they've ever seen. When that gets boring, they take breaks to debate the raison d'être of the web, but only until they're ready to resume pasting their browser histories.
January 31, 2019 (comments)
Apple continues the war against its own users, which in this case is Google and Facebook, which Apple banned from the Apple Store for continuing the war against their users. It turns out that both Google and Facebook have 'internal' iPhone applications, which leads to the obvious question: why the fuck would they do that? Nobody knows, and Hackernews isn't interested in finding out. The only questions Hackernews wants to answer are "how dare Google and Facebook defy Apple's Holy Writ," and "how dare Apple treat Google and Facebook like they were some random third-party strangers." These answers, as well, are moot; Apple has relented and allowed the other two back into the church.
Let's take a look at my annotated copy of the FOSDEM 2019 main talk schedule, shall we?
The sign-in sheet for this session doubles as a census of people nobody wants to talk to.
Some bureaucrats make excuses for the conference attendees' hypocrisy. In place of productive information or actual technical content, the speakers will whine about which programs nobody's writing for free. The audience will take notes on Macbooks, iPads, and other Apple products.
A primordial webshit travels to a conference devoted to serving a specific copyright cult, and then holds a lecture about why the copyright cult is really important. Nobody in the room will learn anything new, and the speaker will not reach any audience not already in the cult. While this is arguably a massive failure of advocacy, it's also about on par with copyright cultists' track record to date.
Another bureaucrat speaks to a very specific confluence of misapprehensions, to wit:
- Any functioning human gives a shit about bitcoin,
- Bitcoin has any effect on human society at all,
- Anyone has found a valid use case for blockchain technology,
- Blockchain dunces are ever given any position of responsibility,
- Anyone cares about the ethical value judgments of a professional copyright cultist
Nobody attending the talk will have the heart to point any of this out.
The speaker is very angry that people are using computers in a manner that renders specific copyright licenses irrelevant. The audience will be instructed to care even harder, even though no solutions are available. The speaker works for a company whose profitability depends on a customer base who gives a shit about copyright licenses.
Jon Hall observes the 50th anniversary of the creation of UNIX, and generously includes Linux in the observance. Linux does not deserve this, and the FOSDEM audience does not deserve Jon Hall, but on the bright side this talk will ruin the "100% useless dipshittery" streak in this year's FOSDEM lineup. That's right: they can't even fuck things up correctly.
if they'd just started with this talk we'd all be spared a lot of noise
Why, you might ask, would "open source" layered extensibility be different from any other extensibility approach (layered or otherwise) in any other software? It would not, of course, but the CEO of the company needed a reason to fly to Brussels for the weekend, and this is as good a reason as any to write it off as a business expense. Spoiler alert: "layered extensibility" here is a code for "everything is webshit."
A webshit will try to convince the audience that replacing other protocols with webshit is healthy and good. "Why" will be answered with "because we want to track you more closely," "how" will be answered with "extremely poorly," "when" will be answered with "as soon as the Chrome team tells you to" and "who gets to control how names are resolved" will of course be "Google."
A corporate drone explains that using non-Linux operating system makes it easier to get your company's shitware committed upstream, spreading out the maintenance burden and magically converting some of your operating expenses into externalities you can ignore. Sorry, I mean "engaging with a close-knit developer community benefits your product's ROI."
A database management program has not yet ceased development. The speaker will read the version control commit log for one hour.
A Postgres will mumble about RAM management features that everyone has been using for approximately twenty years. This talk belongs at some kind of professional database symposium, but it's happening at FOSDEM, so the audience will consist entirely of the speaker's co-workers and the people who are going to use the room next.
Another Postgres regrets to inform us that they've been fucking up basic storage primitives for at least the entirety of the 21st century, and continue to fuck them up today. This talk will comprise an extended apology, followed by a lot of excuses and whining, wrapping up with wholly unsubstantiated claims regarding future improvements. The only people who care already know.
The programmer behind an also-ran database program will discuss the only interesting aspect of that program: someone else's algorithm. The program in question is a port from Java to C++ of a database management program so shitty that Facebook, who created it, almost immediately discontinued all use and development thereof and donated the software to the Office of Software Terminal Care, also known as the Apache Foundation. The speaker chooses to work on this disgraceful travesty full-time.
Some corporate programmers are released from the mines long enough to pretend anyone cares about the things they work on. The anxiety and excitement induced by being allowed out of the cave caused them to paste the talk description into the web form twice. Nobody noticed.
This talk is an hour-long sales pitch for the speaker's employer, which sells a product that other companies can use to provision TLS certificates and spyware updates to touchscreen refrigerators. In order to lure idiots into attending the sales talk, the speaker will point out that the license of the software conforms to the thematic goals of the conference.
This talk is from a VA Linux alum, which means the talk will almost certainly be a story about how the speaker spent way too much money on poorly-performing hardware, then made it worse by crowbarring a half-working Linux installation onto it, resulting in a very expensive disaster that works about a third of the time. This will be followed by an invitation to others to follow suit in purchasing and then ruining a hundred-thousand dollar car, leading to a brand-new interpretation of the well-worn phrase "malfunctioning Linux driver."
Some rando is excited because you can now check if err != nil on smaller processors than ever before. Like literally every other language, the entire project is just transpiling to llvm intermediate code and then letting the existing toolsets handle the rest, completely removing any advantage of using a specific programming language.
A bureaucrat will ramble incoherently about seeking life advice from copyright law cultists.
Some Googles will present propaganda in order to sell low-quality laptops, on the principle that they can sometimes be tricked into functioning like actual laptops. With any luck, this will give Adsense valuable insights into the behavior patterns of gullible idiots, which sounds like a pretty juicy demographic to advertise in front of.
The speaker would like anyone at all please to use software maintained by the speaker. To achieve this goal, the speaker will try to convince a bunch of random strangers to choose graphical design tools not on their suitability for a given task, but based on the copyright licenses under which they are available. This conference is ridiculous.
A Microsoft tries to convince everyone to install a shitload of .dll files onto their Linux systems in order to use expensive IDEs to produce the same shit everyone else already does. Along the way, the Microsoft will brag about tricking many rubes into working for free on corporate platform code.
The rich and lengthy tradition of the Free Software community making inferior copies of other, better-engineered systems continues, in this instance enabling underemployed nerds the world over to shout things at their computers. Shouting at computers while some shoddy software desperately attempts to parse and respond to this input is apparently preferable to using any of the well-supported existing input devices that come with every single computer on earth, so this talk will be well-attended and extremely beneficial to anyone who has nothing better to do on Sunday afternoon.
This talk, from a Facebook lawyer apparently being punished with public relations duty, has nothing to do with privacy at all. The entire point of the talk is to make the audience believe that Facebook gives a single shit about their opinions regarding intellectual property law. The actual product whose weaponized license caused a shitstorm in nerd circles is not mentioned even once: misdirection, or idiocy? That's a trick question; nobody can tell the difference.
An academic, enrolled in the Tim Berners-Lee fan club, will engage in a performance-art piece hypothesizing about a world where anyone gives a shit about what Tim Berners-Lee wants. In accordance with the colorful tradition of web-reinvention nutcases, bold claims and broad promises will rain down upon a rapt audience. After forty minutes, the speaker will ask for questions from the audience, who will respond by spending ten minutes' sober contemplation of profound questions like "what if we COULD do things better?," "I wonder what room I was supposed to have been in?," and "if I leave now, can I get something to eat before the next unhinged rant?"
The United States Defense Department's most successful honeypot sends its apex bureaucrat to reassure paranoid Europeans that they can still totally trust all this stuff, you guys. Everything's fine. We're on your side. Route all your traffic through us. It's for your own good.
A researcher would like the audience to consider what happens when government oppression is executed in a mode that allows blame to be shifted to ostensibly-unbiased computer programs, but the talk description suffered a transporter malfunction and was merged with every edition of Roget's Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases. Those audience members with a sufficiently enhanced vocabulary will have to undertake the task of translating the meaning of this talk into emoji for wider dissemination.
A search engine programmer will deliver a sales talk.
The audience for this talk, whose topic is low-level systems diagnosis, will consist entirely of webshits who are under the delusion that "distributed" means it uses http as a core protocol. None of them will understand it, but understanding is not required to paste the relevant keywords into the end of their resumes.
Because Kubernetes, a clustered-application execution platform, was invented by Google, there is no way to usefully inspect any aspect of it. The speaker is one of a large class of poor sods who have to resort to injecting code at runtime into the kernel to make up for the absense of fundamental operational functionality. The talk will be well-attended, because injecting code at runtime into the operating system kernel is simpler than debugging Kubernetes.
A programmer will attempt to Fix All The Problems with perl by reimplementing all of the other projects created to Fix All The Problems with perl. This talk was primarily scheduled to keep the room available for people who couldn't get into the ChromeOS talk in the other room.
A Red Hat drone thinks that the problem with local filesystems is they don't have enough of the network stack involved. This talk will explain how to rectify this omission, as well as some tips on how to make block storage as unreliable as everything else Red Hat pays to develop.
A FreeBSD developer thinks that five-year-olds are interested in why storage software caches things into RAM and how that cache is managed. The only five-year-olds the speaker has ever met are bugs in the software being discussed. The word 'works' in the talk title is to be interpreted as an aspiration. We can reevaluate things after the FreeBSD project deletes all this shit and gets in line behind the Linux weenies.
Another sales talk designed to turn this weekend into a business expense. No apologies to this software's victims are promised. The sales talk highlights using the software as an abstraction layer for AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud Storage, without mentioning what a high-maintenance treadmill nightmare the solution is.
An OpenStack refugee disguises a CV as a talk, using numbers that seem large to attract an audience. Most of the performance of the namedropped system comes from add-on 'accelerator' cards which are so unusably terrible that Intel discontinued the entire product line out of shame. If the OpenStack project had any dignity, it would follow suit. The talk description does not contain a reason the speaker would admit in public being involved with any of this.
January 30, 2019
January 25, 2019
Per il ciclo “bin/art, retrospettiva sulla computer art” presentiamo
TAPE MARK 1 (1961) di Nanni Balestrini
DOMENICA 27 GENNAIO 2019
al MusIF / Museo dell’Informatica Funzionante
Via Carnevale 17 – Palazzolo Acreide (SR)
Ore 18:00 – Presentazione del ciclo di mostre temporanee “bin/art”
Ore 18.15 – Presentazione dell’opera TAPE MARK 1 (algoritmo di poesia combinatoria di Nanni Balestrini, 1961)
Ore 18.30 – Proiezione del video documentario “Tape Mark 1, a reconstruction” di Federico Bonelli
DOMENICA 27 GENNAIO 2019
al MUSIF / Museo dell’Informatica Funzionante
Via Carnevale 17 – Palazzolo Acreide (SR)
January 23, 2019
January 22, 2019
The American wing of the movement sees big tech as a target of attack while populists in the rest of the world see it as their best chance of escaping intellectual hegemony
The emerging global movement of rightwing populists is guilty of many things but ideological incoherence in choosing their enemies is generally not one of them. Whether it is Steve Bannon bashing Pope Francis, Matteo Salvini attacking the “do-gooders” in humanitarian NGOs or Marine Le Pen venting against the dull technocrats in Brussels, the populists go after a predictable, well-calculated set of targets. If anyone chooses their enemies well, it’s them.
But there’s one issue on which there’s no agreement between American rightwing populists and their peers in the rest of the world: what to make of Silicon Valley. On the one hand, its services and platforms have been a boon to the populists everywhere, greatly boosting their audience numbers and allowing them to target potential voters with highly personalized messages; the Cambridge Analytica fiasco has made it quite clear. Today, upstart and new rightwing parties like Spain’s Vox instinctively understand the primacy of digital battles; Vox already leads all other Spanish parties in terms of Instagram followers.
Steve Bannon called people leading ‘evil’ Silicon Valley ‘complete narcissists’ and ‘sociopaths’
The European Union Copyright Directive nicely illustrates the bizarre friendship between Silicon Valley and European populistsContinue reading...
An annotated digest of the top "Hacker" "News" posts for the third week of January, 2019.
January 15, 2019 (comments)
Some webshits change teams, and the Hackernews partisans gird their loins to take part in the unending war between Apples and Googles. Some hippies organize an OpenStreetMap drum circle and whine about bicycles. Five hundred comments are fired in anger, with the net result of nobody noticing, including Apple, Google, or OpenStreetMap.
January 16, 2019 (comments)
A rich person has passed away, and so Hackernews spends an afternoon complaining that the deceased wasn't rich enough to respect, or else marveling at the seeming impossibility of a rich person somehow failing to be a complete asshole. No technology is discussed.
January 17, 2019 (comments)
A Facebook reports that a stranger got a pet killed. Hackernews decides that a software company can make process changes to keep dogs from dying. Some Hackernews suggest maybe checking ahead of time to see if you're handing your dog to someone with a track record of not killing dogs, but this idea is dismissed as wasteful luddite nonsense. Hackernews digs up similar stories of phone app vendors not giving a shit about their customers or employees, and much outrage is expressed. Despite the fact that "not giving a shit about customers or employees" is the founding principle of the gig economy, Hackernews thinks these problems can all be solved with fatter databases.
January 18, 2019 (comments)
A peon shares tips on how best to groom yourself for acceptance into the Bay Area Exploitation Preserve. Hackernews debates whether or not doing tricks for your prospective masters is a good career move. An entire comment thread is devoted to Hackernews helping each other learn the specific dances favored by a desired fiefdom. Another thread attempts to discern whether Facebook is the savior of human relationships or the harbinger of civilization's doom.
January 19, 2019 (comments)
A gaming webshit is excited that a Netflix financial document mentioned a game. Hackernews loves working for Netflix but can't make a decision regarding its product. Several hundred comments wrestle with whether to regard Netflix as the savior of human relationships or the harbinger of civilization's doom.
January 20, 2019 (comments)
A blogspammer wants to sell a book. The Hackernews Beauty Pageant Gold Medalist arrives to tell everyone how to hire people, and the few Hackernews who aren't so sure this person's individual experiences generalize flawlessly are chided for breaching the social contract. The fact that the Gold Medalist's advice focuses on overcompensating for being a credulous dolt is nervously overlooked by the fandom. Nobody has anything useful to contribute to the discussion, but the allure of talking to the Gold Medalist is sufficient to ensure that two-thirds of the comments are descended from that initial Papal Bull.
January 21, 2019 (comments)
An airplane pilot recounts the story of suriving a military engagement by hiding from the bad guys until they were killed or driven away, which is easily the best possible plan short of just not being in Kabul. One Hackernews recommends psychotropic drugs as a substitute for combat in the pursuit of clarity. The rest of the comments are water-cooler conversation about how amazing the story is. No technology is discussed. Personally, shit like this is why I stay at the Serena.
January 20, 2019
January 16, 2019
January 15, 2019
An annotated digest of the top "Hacker" "News" posts for the second week of January, 2019.
January 07, 2019 (comments)
It's too big and too slow.
January 08, 2019 (comments)
The petulant infant in charge of driving an American commercial institution directly into a volcano receives a six hundredth second chance. Hackernews argues extensively about whether a business with a hundred-year head start and an identical business model could possibly have stood a chance against the unavoidable ascendance of Amazon. Many other threads are devoted to pointing out that perhaps things would have gone differently, had it not been for the human barrelfish inexcusably allowed to participate in adult business transactions with actual money.
January 09, 2019 (comments)
A pensioner pretends to be able to tell birds apart. One Hackernews recounts being bullshitted by a teacher about whether penguins can fly... and comes out the other end blaming the penguins for the humiliation. A different pack of Hackernews argue over whether it is possible to domesticate animals, while the bulk of the comments -- almost a third -- wistfully speculate on whether it's possible for animals to experience human emotions. Most Hackernews express regret that they must kill and eat animals to survive, even though they're talking about a story involving an animal none of them have ever eaten. No technology is discussed.
January 10, 2019 (comments)
A grifter writes vague motivational blogspam about how to swim in money. The latest grift involves attempting to "help companies tell stories that inspire with new company," which is both a grammatical disaster and the most bullshit possible business* model. Hackernews enumerates all the ways they've tried to wring dollars from the unsuspecting, generally involving liberal application of webshit. One Hackernews realizes the grifter is in fact an e-mail spammer, but the rest of the Hackernews point out that at least it's quality spam. Another group of Hackernews debates whether money tastes better if you bleed on it first.
January 11, 2019 (comments)
A dipshit discovers that Google does not waste time or money on customer service. Hackernews staffs the lectern in shifts, explaining why it just wouldn't make any sense for Google to give a shit about the people whose money and data they collect, and it's best to just lie back and think of Adsense.
January 12, 2019 (comments)
A webshit finally pays attention to the garbage faucet, and is outraged to discover a tracking script someone else dropped in the stream. Hackernews shares in the outrage, and bickers over which domain registrar they should use to host websites. The rest of the comments are Hackernews getting nerd-sniped into escalating the surveillance webshit arms race.
January 13, 2019 (comments)
A train enthusiast sells information about trains. Hackernews knows a lot about trains -- that is, any given Hackernews who has ridden a train is an expert on that particular train.
January 14, 2019 (comments)
Some webshits make some webshit to centralize all your other webshit. Hackernews dives right in with third-party client software, since webshit is their native language. Later, it turns out the data-scraping webshit also, as it happens, collects as much possible data about every single move you make, to everyone's profound surprise. Other Hackernews pine for some kind of alien technology that would enable them to record and organize text. The problem remains unsolved.
January 14, 2019 (comments)
The Rust Evangelism Strike Force throws a fancy-dress party, where Rust dresses up as a programming language anyone wants to use for non-webshit tasks. Hackernews finds the material commendably approachable, which is a natural condition that arises from hypothetical programming. Sadly, while the article itself receives a frenzy of vote increases, the content is technical, so Hackernews observes the traditional ten-to-one vote to comment ratio. Most of the comments thirst for embedded systems development in Rust, which is of course a perfect fit for a language so elegant and lightweight that it must be implemented in six million lines of C++ grafted onto a multi-gigabyte compiler toolchain.
* business here used in the most general form, to wit: accepting someone else's money.
January 09, 2019
Catania, l’assessore Cantarella contestato al corteo per Pippo Fava. Si è imbattuto nell’antimafia vera
di Riccardo Orioles e Giovanni Caruso
Bisogna aiutare l’Africa a casa sua, certamente. E bisogna fare antimafia, un sacco d’antimafia. Lo dice Corrado Labisi, Gran Maestro della “Serenissima loggia del Sud”, promotore di convegni in Africa nonché fondatore della gloriosa “associazione antimafia Livatino” (premi, convegni e trombonate varie). L’hanno arrestato a luglio per una serie di imbrogli fra cui, pare, traffici di diamanti in Africa (“Aiutiamo le nostre tasche a casa loro”).
E chi è il propagandista di Labisi, il “fratello” vicedirettore del suo giornale? L’onorevole (spera lui) Fabio Cantarella, nemico di africani e barboni (memorabile il suo blitz a san Berillo col vice-Salvini Stefano Candiani, quest’estate), siciliano per caso ma brianzolo onorario, arrapatissimo al pensiero delle prossime elezioni: assessore a Catania (a che? ai rifiuti) non gli basta più, e deve in ogni maniera farsi vedere, mettersi in mostra, far parlare di sé.
C’è una manifestazione antimafia: che migliore occasione? E subito si fionda in prima fila, appena dopo lo striscione. Ma purtroppo per lui, non è una delle manifestazioni “antimafia” del Gran Maestro, ma antimafia vera, i Siciliani giovani addirittura. Una signora lo riconosce e garbatamente gli chiede che faccia là. Lui dà in escandescenze. La gente comincia a voltarsi, don Ciotti lo guarda perplesso, qualche ragazzo comincia a fare “Razzista! Via di qua!”. Lui imbestialisce, si lancia, arrivano i poliziotti e, urlante e scalciante, se lo portano via.
L’antimafia va avanti col suo corteo, e il nostro giorno dopo il Cantarella rilascia dichiarazioni e interviste sui suoi diritti di cittadino, sui “comunisti” cattivi e sugli “antagonisti” feroci che violentano e mettono al rogo chiunque non la pensi come loro. Ma tutto quel che è successo è che per una volta è incappato nell’antimafia vera, quella che non imbroglia la gente e non permette ai “fratelli” dei truffatori di giocare col nome di Giuseppe Fava. A parte ciò, ciascuno – nelle manifestazioni dei Siciliani – la pensa come vuole: è 30 anni che qui si fanno cortei unitari con tutti, dal notaio liberale all’“autonomo” arrabbiato, a condizione che almeno quel giorno tutti rispettino tutti e non siano, ovviamente, “fratelli” di gente losca. (Quella stessa mattina, ad esempio, la “nemica” – politicamente – assessora Barbara Mirabella era stata a trovare i Siciliani al Giardino di Scidà, con molta correttezza e cortesia, ed era stata accolta con la cortesia e correttezza che meritava).
Poi la politica c’entra, come c’è sempre entrata a partire da Giuseppe Fava. Che non era l’intellettualino borghese che piacerebbe a tanti, ma un militante civile, senza partito, che si batteva senza riserve per le cause umane: non solo l’antimafia (I quattro cavalieri dell’apocalisse mafiosa) ma anche il pacifismo (Ti lascio in eredità i missili di Comiso) e i dolori degli emigranti (La passione di Michele).
* * *
I Siciliani di oggi, che non a caso si chiamano Siciliani giovani (e prima o poi qualcuno vorrà pur ringraziare, fra i grandi dell’antimafia, la generosità e l’impegno di questi ragazzi), continuano le idee e le battaglie di Giuseppe Fava, esattamente quelle, non una parola di meno, non una parola di più. Se Palma di Montechiaro, nel frattempo, si è spostata in Africa e se dalle valigie di cartone si è passati ai gommoni, e dai vecchi avvocati mafiosi ai nuovi allegri gerarchi padaneggianti, a noi non interessa: noi restiamo fedeli a Giuseppe Fava, e chi vuol dare una mano è benvenuto, e chi vuol far finta antimafia no. Di quest’ultima siamo i primi nemici e con essa, ci spiace, ma siamo del tutto intolleranti. Chiedetelo ad Antonello Montante, il capo di Confindustria finito in galera coi mafiosi: sono stati i Siciliani giovani a smascherarlo per primi, e figuratevi se abbiamo voglia di impietosirci di fronte a qualche “fratello” di loggia siculopadana.
Ci rivediamo l’anno prossimo, amiche e amici nostri, senza tante storie. Sempre a gennaio e sempre il cinque, sempre tutti diversi e tutti insieme, e sempre con la garanzia dei Siciliani, che qui antimafia fasulla non ce n’è e mai ce ne faremo entrare.
January 08, 2019
An annotated digest of the top "Hacker" "News" posts for the first week of January, 2019.
January 01, 2019 (comments)
The world celebrates as the creators and artists in our society prepare to contextualize for us the hottest trends and thought-leadership of the Harding administration. Hackernews doesn't really give a shit about the content of any of the newly-public-domain intellectual property; they're just chomping at the bit to demonstrate their nuanced and insightful mastery of the 'copyright' and 'trademark' hashtags on medium.com.
January 02, 2019 (comments)
An academic crowdsources some free copy-editing services. This is obviously a terrible and exploitative process, as evinced by the fact that n-gate does it the same way. Hackernews doesn't have much to say about the content of the book, but once the author shows up in the comments, it turns into a Q&A session about how to academia.
January 03, 2019 (comments)
A Google writes a sales brochure for Google's software engineering recruiters. Literally none of the reported 'practices' are new to Google, but at least the author gets to write in the first-person plural. Hackernews reads tea leaves to associate inexplicably unpleasant experiences with Google products with the engineering practices that might have caused them, maybe. Anyone who doesn't immediately understand a given report is given an avuncular lecture about the infirmity of Man and the necessity of a heavenly father, guiding us all from the Mountain View campus.
January 04, 2019 (comments)
An elderly* webshit lectures aspirants on the ineluctability of the nodal V8-fold path. Hackernews agrees, but can't figure out why. Lots of sage opinions are expressed, but since the primary sources of app-download metrics and the primary sources of webshit-traffic metrics have every reason to juke their stats, Hackernews is doomed to strive in ignorance, with only blogspam like this to guide them.
January 05, 2019 (comments)
A journalist is still mad about the Jets leaving Hofstra. Hackernews thinks the article is about whatever town they live in, so most of the comments are about San Francisco. The largest comment thread is devoted to debating whether the citizens of a democracy have the authority to legislate the behavior of an elected government.
January 06, 2019 (comments)
A mid-career* games developer provides advice at a rate of approximately eight words per day since grad school. A Hackernews wants people to try a specific university-course approach, but the rest of the pack insists that the only way to learn any topic is by rigorously following the exact protocol that any given Hackernews followed, and any other approach is doomed to failure.
January 07, 2019 (comments)
GitHub gives us permission to keep our shit to ourselves, as long as we don't work together on any of it. Hackernews regards this move as a major business modification, since GitHub had previously worked very hard to convince these clods that anyone at all was paying for this garbage. Throwing that hypothetical revenue in the trash is regarded as brilliant, pending Hackernews' analysis of what Microsoft is playing at here.
* - elderly, adj. possessed of more than five years of experience.
* - mid-career, adj. possessed of approximately six months of experience.
January 02, 2019
Di auguri, per noi esseri umani, c’è davvero bisogno: perché il 2019 non sarà un anno banale. Nel mondo occidentale, così bello e crudele, Adolf Hitler nasce a poca distanza da Mozart, e l’italiano brava gente si alterna con quello dei genocidi in Etiopia o in Croazia. Periodicamente un quarto degli italiani si riscopre feroce, dapprima in teoria e poi nella pratica concreta.
Siamo in una di queste fasi e ogni volta non è facile, per quelli rimasti civili, ricondurre a ragione la parte ubriaca. Oggi, in particolare, i problemi sono tre:
1. l’informazione disinformante e l’insegnamento regressivo;
2. il modello mafioso che da criminale è diventato egemone, specie ma non soltanto nell’imprenditoria;
3. il cinismo politico che compera le poltrone con l’odio fra i miserabili e la libertà dei padroni.
Per noi dei Siciliani – in quanto giornalisti, in quanto antimafiosi e come cittadini – sono questi i tre campi di battaglia, che certo non dipendono solo da noi ma in cui facciamo pure la nostra parte. Catania – metafora d’Italia – città fallita, città avvelenata e corrotta dal giornalismo mafioso, città in cui nessuno osa guardare in faccia né il fallimento né il veleno, città da cui i ragazzi fuggono in massa per non essere stritolati. Eppure città coraggiosa davanti alle grandi ferocie dalla natura: ricostruita più volte, ardita di fronte ai vulcani e ai terremoti, ma stranamente vile di fronte ai meschini tiranni che tranquillamente la spolpano ogni anno e ogni giorno.
Così, il lavoro da fare non è difficile da comprendere: combattere i distruttori, incivilire i cittadini, non cedere d’un millimetro di fronte al male e continuamente allargarsi, con curiosità e ottimismo, su terreni nuovi. La forza dei Siciliani son sempre stati i giovani, è loro questo miracolo per cui dopo tanti anni ci siamo ancora.
Quest’anno il nostro 5 gennaio sarà un po’ diverso dal solito: oltre al solito corteo silenzioso (rigorosamente senza simboli di partito) e all’incontro alla lapide di Pippo Fava a Catania, l’assemblea dei Siciliani sarà divisa fra varie città collegate in rete. È un salto di qualità del nostro tradizionale “facciamo rete”: ora le tecnologie ci consentono di lavorare insieme fra Catania e Milano, fra Napoli e Bologna, di imparare/insegnarci reciprocamente quel che sappiamo, non una volta ogni tanto ma ogni momento. Così, senza grandi parole ma concretamente, senza crederci il centro di niente ma sapendo di essere utili a qualcosa, comincia un altro anno dei Siciliani.
January 01, 2019
An annotated digest of the top "Hacker" "News" posts for the last week of December, 2018.
December 22, 2018 (comments)
A webshit conflates America and the New York Times. Hackernews contains many ideas about why other countries pay so much attention to America, all of which are completely informed by whatever the commenter remembers from secondary-school economics classes. Most Hackernews opt to bikeshed the pictograph, which leads to some wonderful new phrases, my favorite of which is about how a "line chart would forgo the act of scrolling which would eliminate the narrative feel" of a gigantic series of flags.
December 23, 2018 (comments)
The United States Congress finally and irrevocably repairs every present and potential problem with government data by demanding that computers can read it. Hackernews performs post-mortems on all the previous times the world's problems were solved by putting data into computers.
December 24, 2018 (comments)
An Internet manages to come up with a valid reason to own a robotic vacuum cleaner. Because most of the content is technical, Hackernews has almost nothing to say about it, aside from generally being pleased about it. To pass the time, they discuss methods of preventing comment spam instead.
December 25, 2018 (comments)
A credulous journalist continues the centuries-old tradition of reporting the very latest wild-ass guess about how sleep works. Hackernews doesn't slow down to read anything, much less an 1800-word treatise on sleep -- not when Hackernews has their own 1800-word treatises on sleep to post. A very large thread is derived from reports on the behavior of a handful of employees one Hackernews micromanages for a living. Most of the comments are people comparing the article in question to whichever such article the commenter encountered first.
December 26, 2018 (comments)
The United States Department of Health & Human Services finally and irrevocably repairs every present and potential problem with health care costs by demanding that humans can read them with computers. Hackernews recounts every fistfight they've ever had with an insurance company and trades hand-to-hand combat tips for surviving the experience. A few Hackernews recount heavenly examples of healthcare nirvana experienced in foreign lands, but for some reason they came back.
December 27, 2018 (comments)
A Google experiments with cutting-edge development methodologies: "understanding the code" and "documenting the code." Hackernews hails these innovations as further proof of the timeless nature of Google's natural place at the forefront of all human endeavor. Elsewhere in the comments, Hackernews formulates the Law of Conservation of Complexity, then debates where the dark matter might be hiding in Kubernetes. Theories abound, impromptu abbreviations are created to describe various flavors of complexity, and hundreds of comments appear whining that other developers never document anything well enough. Hackernews, of course, is fastidious in their documentation practices, unless they get distracted or bored.
December 28, 2018 (comments)
A webshit decides to learn how computers work outside of web browsers, and makes a list of target topics to study. Hackernews pretends to like the idea, but it's not about something really important like the pursuit of sleep or new books about project management, so they don't have a lot to say. Everyone decides to talk about webshit instead.
December 29, 2018 (comments)
A webshit makes a font that is designed for user interfaces, which is font-nerd equivalent of writing a Hello World program. Hackernews spends a little while arguing over whether and how to configure CSS to do things that are built into the computer. Of course, new versions of CSS will support this native thing natively Real Soon Now. Once the incisive technical debate is over, Hackernews gets back to bikeshedding ligatures, which is all anyone really wanted out of a font story.
December 30, 2018 (comments)
A man has died, so Hackernews presses the upvote arrow, since that's the closest approximation of human emotion any of them have. Although the deceased leaves behind a lifetime of great work, Hackernews hasn't ever heard the name, so they don't have as much to say about this as they do about, for example, some webshit's font hobby. One comment is from someone who met the deceased, but nobody responds, because everyone is too busy incorrecting each other about networks.
December 31, 2018 (comments)
A wealthy tenant moves out of Cupertino's garden. Hackernews recognizes Apple's rent-seeking business model for what it is, but is primarily outraged that this change might cause them to have to do business with someone who isn't Apple. The rest of Hackernews rejoices, believing that this is the beginning of the revolution which will end in their regaining control of their pocket computers. No word is handed down as to whether Netflix will accept Apple Pay.
Better luck next year.
December 31, 2018
The heart organ beats on average 60-80 times per minute, about 100,000 per day, and about 35 million times per year. The entire vascular system is approximately 60,000 miles in length and circulates nearly 5-6 liters of blood three times a minute, totaling 2,000 gallons of blood circulated each day (Cleveland Clinic, 2016).
December 29, 2018
December 25, 2018
In 1998 Disney had the copyright law changed to keep Steamboat Willie (Mickey Mouse) from entering the public domain. So no copyrighted works have entered the public domain for 20 years. That ends next year and we will start seeing stuff from 95 years ago, and year by year, more stuff.
December 24, 2018
December 22, 2018
An annotated digest of the top "Hacker" "News" posts for the third week of December, 2018.
December 15, 2018 (comments)
A student reminisces about a famous person in her late father's life. Hackernews has opinions on sports and television, but since this story is primarily about human relationships, most of what Hackernews has to say is pretty gross. No technology is discussed.
December 16, 2018 (comments)
Thanks to decades of advances in webshit technology, the Rust Evangelism Strike Force proudly demonstrates, at long last, feature parity with a Turbo Pascal demo from 1994. This triggers a massive outbreak of nostalgia amongst Hackernews, but they shake it off long enough to pedantically whine about the physics of a toy simulation. After a short break to talk about how much better their toy simulation was, they get down to serious business: naming every program ever released that bears any characteristic at all resembling this webshit.
December 17, 2018 (comments)
A journalist manages to profile an alive member of the miniscule class of people who have done more good than harm with computers. Hackernews, unsatisfied with the one-day scope of the journalist's experience with the subject, compensates by recounting everything else the subject ever said to anyone, and several things nobody ever said.
December 18, 2018 (comments)
A professional attention-gatherer gathers attention. Hackernews is mad at cops, parcel delivery personnel, thieves, and each other.
December 19, 2018 (comments)
The Grauniad documents a needlessly painful recovery from a series of bad decisions. Hackernews is enthralled, since it's like reading a biography of themselves. All of the technical commentary involves people ardently defending a terrible database program. Some Grauniads appear, responding to criticism of the article by agreeing with the critics.
December 20, 2018 (comments)
A webshit IRC clone enforces the long-standing United States federal government ban on providing goods and services to people with the temerity to exist in lawless inimical rogue states like Canada. A few Hackernews opine that entrusting important communications to privately-controlled unfederable webshits might be foolish, but the rest of Hackernews immediately seizes them and drowns them in a barrel of gasoline. While this is the traditional punishment for suggesting open protocols in Silicon Valley, in this case the barrel is also ignited, because someone suggested that a non-programmer is capable of using any software except Google Chrome.
December 21, 2018 (comments)
The government of India thinks it's the Transportation Security Administration. Hackernews invokes the Fourth Amendment, which has never applied to either organization. While the main body of Hackernews gleefully engages in some good old-fashioned armchair constitutional lawyering, the rest of Hackernews are agreed: the government has no business intruding in people's personal computers. The advertisers don't like the competition.
December 19, 2018
December 15, 2018
An annotated digest of the top "Hacker" "News" posts for the second week of December, 2018.
December 08, 2018 (comments)
A webshit mailhost denounces a bad law in another country, apparently under the impression that anyone in Australia cares about the political opinions of some Swiss nerds. Hackernews doesn't really care about the mail service; this post was selected as the Armchair Legal Theorists meeting location for the month of December. The Hackernews interpretations of this set of laws range from "end of world" to "obviously just," and maybe it would matter which one was right, if Australia produced anything worth consuming now that John Clarke is gone. One Hackernews links to a Twitter thread containing a hypothetical implementation of the bad law in which JIRA foils the spies.
December 09, 2018 (comments)
Australia fires the first volley in its campaign to discredit JIRA, which was yesterday determined to be the primary counterintelligence force stopping its spies from spying. Hackernews breaks out into factional disputes, depending on which denomination of the Agile religion the poster adheres. An argument breaks out about who is more important to a business: the programmers, or the customers? Several dozen Hackernews perform the ancient rite of webforum discussion: one, trying to explain a concept, outlines a hypothetical scenario; the rest, completely ignoring any point anyone is trying to make, bikeshed the scenario by laser-focusing on one tiny irrelevant aspect (in which they happen to be expert). No technology is discussed.
December 10, 2018 (comments)
A journalist gets the scoop: when a company measures every single element of your personal life, it's because they would like to sell that information for money. Hackernews is less concerned about outmoded flyover-state concepts like "privacy" or "dignity" and is instead super concerned with reverse engineering the location service that Google ships on their phones. A few Hackernews make a desultory attempt to theorize a world in which people weren't immediately preyed upon the moment they touch a computer, but nobody can really muster up much energy for trash-talking Google's business model.
December 11, 2018 (comments)
Mozilla shoves another featureless release of their web browser out the door. The only user-detectable change in this release was made by someone who does not work for Mozilla and was paid for by Google. Like all stories about browser releases, this one is five hundred comments from people who are angry about some weird-ass extension they started using in 2003, people angrily replying that some other weird-ass extension is better, and people angrily declaring you don't need an extension because that database has been built into the address bar for ten years now. Mozilla still hasn't mastered HTML 4, but now that the bug report is old enough to drink, they're at least starting to invent excuses for not fixing it.
December 12, 2018 (comments)
Something happened, but it's impossible to care about. I can't even care about it long enough to remember what it is. Hackernews doesn't like a webshit's business name, logo, or anything else about it. Most of the comments are trying to figure out why Google would do such a thing ... whatever it was.
December 13, 2018 (comments)
Some dipshits would like to act like a bank without doing any of the things that banks are required to do. The dipshits (motto: "Uber for financial crises") haven't even got the product defined before they start misleading potential customers about it, which is a new record for Silicon Valley efficiency. Hackernews, trying to understand, reinvents banking from first principles, even going so far as to identify places where a given society may be required to implement restrictions on financial markets. After that, it's just a matter of every single Hackernews naming every single banking product available in the iOS app store.
December 14, 2018 (comments)
A webshit refuses to leave an abusive relationship. Hackernews has lots of stories about similar abuses, but chooses to focus on how this obviously shitty behavior wasn't the fault of the innocent corporation, because it was the big mean state government that forced their hand.
December 12, 2018
December 11, 2018
Je rêve de toi.
Chaque jour je te vois.
Je fais pas de faux pas,
Toujours des commentaires sympas.
Ta vie est belle,
Ça se voit sur les cocotiers!
Mais mon label,
Ne pourras pas me déployer.
Une fois, chaque fois, que mon téléphone,
S’allume, s’éclaire, sonne le vibraphone.
J’espère, c’est claire, que c’est la bonne,
Fois en moi, mais cette fois, ce n’est pas toi.
J’ajoute des cœurs,
A tous les poste que tu publies!
J’envoie des merdes,
A tous les cons qui t’humilient!
Ta vie radieuse,
Illumine mes après-midi!
Quand je me lève,
Après avoir perdu encore une nuit!
Une fois, chaque fois, que mon téléphone,
S’allume, s’éclaire, sonne le vibraphone.
J’espère, c’est claire, que c’est la bonne,
Fois en moi, mais cette fois, toujours pas toi…
December 07, 2018
December 06, 2018
Qu’as tu fais de nous?
Qu’as tu fais de nous?
Acid est la tribe
Cyberpunk le game
Sur des reseaux de bribe
On fait monter le fame
Meme pas besoin de files
Isoles sur l’iles
On fait un tour au grotte
Pour pas que la story capotte
Qu’as tu fais de nous?
Qu’as tu fais de nous?
Si la police nous ajoute
Nouvelle vie nouveau compte
On tourne le dos au toute
On delete sans honte
Meme pas besoin d’ecrire
Tu peux m’entendre rire
En tour de face a face
Qui brise la glace
Qu’as tu fais de nous?
Qu’as tu fais de nous?
24 heures pour dechiffre
On dirait une invitation
La story que t’as balance
Cryptokids une seul nation
Celle des rave et du reve
Hilife a plein poumons
Le flux n’as pas de treve
Et en suede il mange du saumon
During the World Bank and IMF Annual Meetings in Bali, Indonesia, the Bank published its flagship World Development Report (WDR) 2019, which explored the changing nature of work.
The report triggered widespread indignation due to its support for labour market deregulation and its claim that concerns about automation are “unfounded” (see Observer Summer 2018). Rather than complementing current understandings on the future of work, the report’s recommendations clashed with key actors in the international community.
Indeed, in contrast to a recent IMF working paper warning of the dangers of automation, the WDR claimed that anxieties about the impact of technology on employment and inequality are “on balance unfounded”. Additionally, despite being released on the same month as a landmark report warning that we have 12 years to limit climate change, the WDR failed to mention just transition policies. Moreover, the Bank’s claim that “burdensome regulations also make it more expensive for firms to rearrange their workforce to accommodate changing technologies” contradicted its own WDR 2013, which stated that labour regulations had little or no impact on employment levels.
The critical responses to the WDR from wide-ranging communities, including feminists, international organisations, trade unions and diverse civil society groups alike drew further attention to the Bank’s isolated status for supporting private sector expansion at the expense of workers’ rights.
Feminists at loggerheads with Bank’s verdict
Responding to the WDR’s disregard for existing gender inequalities within the labour market, gender experts Shahra Razavi and Silke Staab highlighted that “no reference is made to the critical role of unpaid care work in building human capabilities.” Indeed, an International Labour Organisation (ILO) report this year confirmed that women perform 76.2 per cent of global unpaid care work and that – in spite of this work making a substantial economic and societal contribution – it remains mostly invisible and unaccounted for in economic decision-making.
Razavi and Staab further stated that the WDR, “remains wedded to a rather narrow neoclassical view of human capital…without considering the bearing and raising of children that creates the basic foundation which education and experience may enhance.” This analysis chimes with Elisabeth Prügl’s critique of the World Bank, which recently laid out the Bank’s role in crafting a version of a neoliberal hegemony with a “feminist face” (see Observer Autumn 2018).
Indeed, in reference to the WDR, international policy advisor for women’s rights at ActionAid International, Wangari Kinoti, stated, “efforts to increase women’s participation in labour while simultaneously weakening labour protections and ignoring the stark realities of the exploitation of women’s paid and unpaid labour represent the dismantling of decent work and international human rights standards. They will deepen and broaden gender inequalities.”
Handing capital more power to erode labour share
Civil society voices joined forces at a Civil Society Policy Forum event during the World Bank and IMF Annual Meetings in Bali to discuss the then-draft report, which they argued supports harmful policies of deregulation. Kate Lappin from France-based Public Services International stated, “If we don’t address the fact that technology is pushing down the value of labour in the economy…we will end up with an environment where capital [has] increased power against labour.”
Responding to its publication, which took place just days after the event, Oxfam stated that the WDR’s central rationale – deregulation – is discredited, and that it casts serious doubts over the Bank’s commitment to inequality reduction (see Observer Spring 2018).
In contrast to the WDR, the World Inequality Report 2018, a World Inequality Lab annual publication on global inequality trends, identified that better paying jobs are key to addressing sluggish income growth of the poorest half of the population, adding that “healthy minimum-wage rates are important tools to achieve this.” The report further stressed that the “global top 1% earners has captured twice as much of that growth as the 50% poorest individuals.” This is a fact of particular concern ten years on from the financial crisis, as David M. Kotz notes that the seeds of systemic crisis stem from growing inequality and a financial sector absorbed in risky activities and a series of large asset bubbles.
The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), which represents 207 million workers, issued a scathing written response to the WDR. The confederation avowed that the report is in denial of challenges such as the existing global inequality crisis, at times contradicted its own findings, and failed to acknowledge the Sustainable Development Goals, concluding that “together, this excludes the WDR 2019 as a serious contribution to discussions on the future of work.”
ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow stated that, “Support for further deregulation will only reinforce strategies of platform companies to subvert employment relationship rules, increase precarious work, pay poverty wages and undermine workers’ rights.” An ITUC report earlier this year found that workers in the informal economy are particularly vulnerable to abuses, as they are exposed to inadequate and unsafe working conditions and often earn less.
The World Bank against the tide
Adding to these voices, the ILO issued a response questioning the approach to some key issues addressed in the Bank’s report. The reaction specified that they “remain concerned about the WDR’s approach to labour market institutions, regulations, the informal economy and social protection,” adding that, “a world with deregulated labour markets combined with minimal social assistance and social insurance would have high human and economic costs.”
On the WDR’s mention of Universal Basic Income (UBI), the ILO stated that the report does not provide sufficient detail to show how a UBI would guarantee the minimum social coverage. Indeed, earlier this year the ILO issued a report arguing that while some UBI proposals can enhance redistribution and social justice, others could result in the corrosion of social protection and reinforcement of a small-state neoliberal model.
A consultation leaving a bitter taste
The superficial consultation process during the report drafting supported long-standing criticisms that the Bank is unwilling to listen to external voices. The WDR’s publication followed a year-long effort from coalitions and organisations around the world to highlight the inadequacy of its initial findings and recommendations and attempts to re-shape its findings in line with international standards.
Once the draft WDR was published in early 2018, its failings were widely documented by academics, trade unions, networks, and national and international press. A letter was sent from six global unions and over 80 civil society groups, think tanks and academics, asking that the WDR, “be rewritten to instead promote decent work and inequality reduction, and that this be made clear when the report is presented to the Executive Board.” Despite these efforts, the final report remains strikingly similar to the initial drafts, with only a small handful of alterations, such as a U-turn on support for zero-hour contracts. This approach brings into question the extent to which the World Bank has addressed concerns about its knowledge production raised in the 2006 Deaton Report, which accused the Bank of having a self-referential approach to research and learning that, “rises almost to the level of parody” (see Observer Summer 2018).
World Bank’s investment in Seven Energy in Nigeria once again calls Bank’s due diligence into question
Please find fully formatted PDF version here.
Here’s a question: If you were entrusted with $325 million of public money, would you invest it in a company whose flagship contract involved operating a scheme that was allegedly designed to loot billions of dollars from state oil revenues? Would it make a difference to your decision if these allegations had been made by the state’s head banker, the governor of its central bank?
And here’s another question: If you decided to invest, would you withdraw your investment if 10 per cent of your company’s shares were later listed in a worldwide freezing order as assets that had been obtained through the illegal diversion of oil revenues, for the benefit of the country’s then oil minister and her cronies?
If your answers are “Yes”, “Yes” and “No”, then your prospects of getting a job at the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC, the Bank’s private investment arm) or the World Bank’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) are looking good, as an October report by Corner House, Global Witness, HEDA and ReCommon explains.
This is not a hypothetical example: between 2014 and 2016, both the IFC and MIGA made investment calls that chimed exactly with these decisions, investing almost a quarter of a billion dollars in Seven Energy, an oil and gas company operating in Nigeria. According to the IFC, the investments constituted its “largest equity financing in the oil and gas sector in Africa.” On 1 May 2014, the IFC committed $75 million to an equity investment in Seven Energy International Limited (SEIL, or Seven Energy). Registered in Mauritius, Seven Energy operates in Nigeria through subsidiaries, one of which is Septa Energy Nigeria Limited (Septa). Clock the name – it will feature prominently in what follows – and also note that the IFC was fully aware of the existence of Septa at the time of its investment; indeed, the project’s summary specifically stated that, “within Nigeria, [Seven Energy] operates and trades as ‘Septa Energy’.” Septa has since been renamed Seven Exploration and Production Limited.
A further investment of $30 million was made in Seven Energy at the same time through the IFC African, Latin American and Caribbean Fund, which is managed by the IFC’s Asset Management Company. A few months later, in October 2014, the IFC provided yet more funds through an anchor investment, designed to shore up investor confidence, of up to $50 million in Seven Energy’s inaugural bond issue. In September 2015 MIGA provided a $200 million guarantee for an investment in Accugas Limited, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Seven Energy.
The Governor speaks out
In September 2013, seven months before the IFC made its first investment in Seven Energy, Lamido Sanusi, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, reported in a letter to Nigeria’s president that some $20 billion of dollars in oil revenue had been diverted from the government’s central bank account “in gross violation of the law”. Twenty billion dollars is over ten times Nigeria’s 2014 annual health budget.
Sanusi detailed several mechanisms that he held potentially responsible for this wholesale looting of the public purse. Among them were oil contracts known as Strategic Alliance Agreements (SAAs), under which the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation assigned its financing and operating role in a number of oil fields to private sector companies.
Sanusi named two companies, both founded by oil traders Kola Aluko and Jide Omokore, that had benefitted from SAA deals. One was Atlantic Energy, the other – and, at this point, those at the IFC doing due diligence on Seven Energy should have pricked up their ears – was Seven’s wholly-owned Nigerian subsidiary, Septa, which had been granted an SAA covering three oil fields in November 2010.
Sanusi argued that the use of SAAs was “illegal and unconstitutional”. He also questioned why Seven and Atlantic had been selected as SAA contractors, when, in his view, neither company had experience in crude oil production and both lacked the financial resources to bring any capital of their own to the table. The allegations are denied by Seven and Atlantic.
Sanusi also detailed his concerns in a testimony to the Nigerian Senate in February 2013. Shortly after, he was dismissed from his post. But the issues that he raised have not gone away.
Fast forward to November 2018 and many of the individuals involved in the controversy over the missing oil revenues are now feeling the judicial heat:
- Diezani Alison-Madueke, the former oil minister who approved the SAA deals, is currently on bail in the UK after being arrested on suspicion of bribery and corruption. She denies the charges.
- Kola Aluko, the former oil trader who was Seven’s Deputy CEO at the time that its SAA contract was negotiated, is also under investigation in the UK and has been charged with money laundering in Nigeria. He denies any impropriety.
- Jide Omokore, a close associate of Aluko, has been charged with money laundering in relation to Atlantic’s SAA contract. He also denies the charges.
Meanwhile, the Federal Government of Nigeria has obtained a freezing order which lists 10 per cent of Seven Energy’s shares as assets to be frozen. The shares are said to have been obtained with the illegally diverted proceeds of crude oil lifted under Atlantic’s SAA contract and invested in Aluko’s name.
In the US, the Department of Justice has also moved to seize $144 million in assets said to have been bought with monies looted from the Nigerian government by Aluko, Omokore and Alison-Madueke.
A fine mess?
Our report makes no allegations against Seven Energy and readily records that the company has consistently denied wrongdoing.[i] Its concern is solely with the World Bank Group’s decision to invest in Seven Energy and the adequacy of the IFC’s and MIGA’s due diligence procedures.
The allegations made by Sanusi raised not just one red flag but several. The question is: how did the Bank deal with them?
If you were working at the IFC and tasked with undertaking due diligence on the IFC’s investment in Seven, how would you have assessed the risks? You might take the view that natural justice precludes you from taking any of the listed prosecutions and criminal investigations into account: after all, no-one has yet been convicted of anything and Seven itself has not been charged with any offense. But this would be to misunderstand the purpose of due diligence. No-one is asking you to act as judge and jury: it is for the courts to decide whether or not any criminality has occurred. But due diligence does require an assessment of the risks that related prosecutions and investigations pose to an investment and to the institutions that make the investment.
In this case, one hopes that the IFC and MIGA were following the developments closely. Because, as things currently stand, the IFC is a major shareholder in (and MIGA a guarantor of) a company that is claimed by the Nigerian government in court pleadings to be partly owned by two suspected criminals who are alleged to have used Seven Energy as a vehicle for laundering stolen oil funds.
We do not know how the IFC assessed the financial and reputational risks of its investment in Seven Energy. Despite its professed commitment to transparency, which it describes as “fundamental to fulfilling its development mandate and strengthening public trust”, the IFC does not release its due diligence reports. But we do know that the IFC’s rules require it to assess “integrity risk issues” (related to “the institutions and persons” involved in a given investment) and that these risks are supposed to be monitored “throughout the life of the project or engagement”.
We also know what information was available to anyone with access to the internet at the time that the IFC made its investment in Seven Energy and MIGA issued its guarantee, as the timeline in our report clearly demonstrates. So we are in a good position to make our own assessment of the reputational and financial risks and to judge, on the basis of common sense, whether or not the Bank’s investments were reasonable and justifiable.
And because the IFC’s rules require it to take account of money laundering risks, we are also in a position to take a view on whether or not the Bank has adequate anti-money laundering controls and procedures in place. A benchmark (albeit a low-bar benchmark) might be that set by UK law, namely, the requirement to have controls and procedures that are sufficiently robust to prevent money-laundering. To ensure prevention, the trigger for action on the part of a bank or other financial institution is not proof of criminality but “reasonable grounds for knowing or suspecting” that a person is engaged in money laundering. This would seem to be an appropriate test for whether or not the IFC should have blocked or withdrawn from the investment.
We put a series of questions to the IFC:
- When did the IFC first learn of the allegations made by Governor Sanusi?
- Did the IFC commission its own legal review of the SAA’s constitutionality?
- Did the IFC’s due diligence include an assessment of Aluko’s role as co-CEO of Septa Energy in negotiating the SAAs?
- Did the IFC seek and obtain credible assurances that no Nigerian public official had a beneficial interest in Seven Energy?
- When did IFC become aware of the Federal Republic of Nigeria’s claim that Aluko currently owns 10 per cent of Seven Energy?
- What steps did it take – and when – to satisfy itself that Aluko had not used Seven Energy as a money laundering vehicle for illegally-obtained funds?
The IFC did not respond to these specific questions. Instead, it told us that “prior to investing in Seven Energy, IFC conducted comprehensive due diligence as is standard for our investments.” This is hardly reassuring. Under the Bank’s own internal rules, due diligence is not supposed to be a “one off” event: It must be conducted throughout the lifetime of an investment, not just prior to investing.
Far from avoiding unwarranted risk, the IFC’s “comprehensive due diligence” has led to a situation where the Bank is a major shareholder in a company that is alleged to be partly owned by two suspected criminals who are said to have laundered stolen oil funds through the company.
Quite where that places the World Bank is one for the lawyers. But, should the prosecutions of Alison-Madueke, Aluko and Omokore succeed, it is surely not unreasonable to conclude that the IFC might find itself accused of having profited from money laundering and, thus, of unlawful enrichment. Watch this space.
This briefing is based on a longer report: Nicholas Hildyard, The World Bank, Red Flags and the Looting of Nigeria’s Oil Revenues. The IFC’s investment in Seven Energy: What would have been your call? Corner House Research, United Kingdom, October 2018.
Through decades of collective action, civil society has made headway in making governments, donor agencies, and multilateral platforms commit to conceding some space for civil society organisations (CSOs) to articulate the perspectives and demands of their constituencies in policy dialogues. United Nations agencies, global and regional forums, international financial institutions and multilateral development banks have introduced various ‘CSO engagement mechanisms’ to prove their transparency, accountability, and effectiveness.
Such gestures, however, have been overshadowed by the increased stifling of movements and organisations, as recently demonstrated by the clampdown on dissent during the 2018 Annual Meetings of the IMF and World Bank, which took place in Bali, Indonesia, in October. While the red carpet was rolled out for high-ranking state officials and big business interests in Nusa Dua, social movements and CSOs were subjected to blatant violations of their rights to free expression and assembly by the government of Indonesia for attempting to participate in independently organised side events.
Konfrontasi in Bali
Outside the Bank and Fund spaces, government-sponsored repression descended on the Peoples’ Global Conference against IMF-World Bank (PGC), an independent initiative of 34 Indonesian and international social movements and non-governmental organisations. The PGC represented grassroots communities and sectors that have been excluded from the development process in their respective countries and have suffered from rights violations associated with the policies and programmes of the IMF and World Bank (see Observer Autumn 2017, Autumn 2018).
A week before the PGC was scheduled to begin, the Bali Intelligence Police denied the local organisers a permit for the conference scheduled at the Radio Republik Indonesia. The organisers were told by hotel establishments that the police had instructed them to refuse services to the PGC. Anonymous numbers blasted a series of text messages maligning the PGC as “anti-development” and threatening the lives and security of coordinators. Hoax event posters were seen around Bali, linking the PGC to outlawed radical Islamic organisations, such as Hizb ut-Tahrir, seemingly to justify the escalation of violence against the conference and its organisers.
Meanwhile, the national police insisted on a new set of ludicrous requirements, such as copies of passports and the itineraries of PGC’s international delegates, as well as details of the conference’s programme. This harassment soon morphed into physical violence against organising members of the PGC. In the early morning of October 11, a local militia attacked the Bali Legal Aid office in Denpasar and chased away PGC youth volunteers staying there. Intelligence personnel were also seen around the hotels where PGC delegates were staying, taking their pictures and videos without consent.
A win for resilient peoples’ movements
While the Indonesian government succeeded in disrupting the event, the PGC earned the recognition as the people’s alternative forum to the official IMF-WBG meetings. With good flexibility, creativity, quick wit, and firm political resolve, the PGC broke the imposed silence in Bali.
Civil society groups at the Bali International Convention Center (BICC) – the official Annual Meetings venue – held a lightning rally to denounce Indonesia for attacking the PGC and shutting down public activities. The rally exposed the pretence of hospitality, openness, tolerance, and good governance peddled by the Indonesian Government with complicity of the IMF and World Bank.
Seemingly to avoid embarrassment, Bank and IMF staff and the Indonesian police swiftly herded the protesters into a holding room and offered to host the PGC, all expenses paid. Meanwhile, outside the negotiation room, security personnel armed with guns peeping out of their Batik shirts harassed the demonstrators and denied entry to six West Papuans seeking to register at the official Civil Society Policy Forum. Despite these apparent attempts to co-opt the event’s independence, the PGC organisers stood firm and continued.
Upon regrouping, PGC organisers and participants jointly decided to proceed with the activities, albeit scaled down and decentralised to avoid further police sabotage. At least 250 individuals attended discussions, workshops, and solidarity actions held in different venues around Bali. PGC statements and mass actions were extensively covered by both local and international media. Civil society, peoples’ movements, and individuals across the globe expressed their support for the PGC. Towards the end of the week, the PGC issued a declaration calling on organisations to build a strong peoples’ front to contest international financial institutions in every arena of struggle.
Another low for global governance diplomacy
Infringement of civil liberties and freedoms by a host country during an international meeting is not unprecedented. Complete bans on protests were imposed during the IMF and World Bank Annual Meetings in Dubai in 2003, as well as the 2006 Annual Meetings in Singapore. Last year, the Argentine government revoked the accreditation of 63 civil society members a few days prior to the 11th World Trade Organisation Ministerial meetings in Buenos Aires. The extreme actions undertaken by the Indonesian government bring global governance diplomacy to another low and reinforces a worrying precedent for all future international meetings.
This year marks the 20th Anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights defenders. Ironically, harassment, criminalisation, enforced disappearances, and at times, killings of frontline defenders are on the rise. Multilateral institutions and organisations ostensibly acknowledge the importance of civic participation and social accountability in development and have promised to advance civil society inclusion and empowerment. By failing to prevent reprisals against defenders, the IMF and particularly the World Bank in relation to its projects, have not only failed to uphold their human rights obligations, but also significantly contributed in fostering a climate of intimidation that dissuades civil society organisations from exercising their role as development actors (see Observer Spring 2016, Winter 2018).
The 2021 Annual Meetings of the IMF and World Bank will be in Marrakech, Morocco. In light of the current global democratic deficit, global civil society should press the IMF and World Bank and the future host country to honour their legal commitments to respect peoples’ rights to organise and mobilise, including through independent conferences and protest actions, and concretely demonstrate ways to allow the exercise of such rights without fear of reprisals. We call on peoples’ movements everywhere to forge solidarities, push back attacks on fundamental human rights and carve their own democratic spaces of engagement and resistance in the face of adversity and repression.
by Ivan Phell Enrile, Asia Pacific Research Network (APRN) and the People Over Profit campaign. Enrile, representing APRN, was part of the international coordinating committee of the Peoples’ Global Conference against IMF-World Bank and is speaking from his direct experiences.
The approach the IMF and a number of member states have recently taken to address gender inequality appears to be mostly instrumental, rather than anchored in a human rights-based approach that frames the achievement of gender equality as a goal in and of itself. The report I submitted a few weeks ago to the United Nations General Assembly, building on decades of feminist work and analysis, documents the shortcomings of this approach and how austerity, still often prescribed by the IMF, continues to hit women hardest.
The instrumental approach is in serious conflict with the intrinsic importance of gender equality as a key component of human rights standards, particularly in light of the economic policies proposed and promoted by international financial institutions (IFIs) in recent years. While some research shows that securing certain human rights is good for growth and for the distribution of its benefits, there is no conclusive evidence to show that gender equality is always good for growth. In fact, other evidence shows that gender inequality can be conducive to some forms of economic growth.
Cambodia, for example, has seen impressive economic growth over the last two decades, attributed to garment and footwear exports, which account for a massive 80 per cent of its export earnings. While the labour force for this industry is composed almost entirely of women, the gender wage gap in the country more than doubled between 2004 and 2009, raising the question of whether Cambodia’s competitive advantage is reliant at least in part on the very structures that maintain and exacerbate gender discrimination and inequality.
While instrumental justifications could in theory complement human rights-based arguments if governments actually ensure that the fruits of growth are fairly distributed, global trends suggest that this is not happening and that we are moving towards ever increasing inequality.
The Structural Adjustment Programmes of the IMF and the World Bank of the 1980s and 1990s were criticised for imposing harsh austerity measures that significantly and disproportionately impacted the poor and exacerbated inequality, including gender inequality. Yet, this is not just a critique of the past, because even in 2018, the IMF and World Bank continue to prescribe policies that undermine gender equality and the fulfilment of women’s human rights (see Observer Summer 2017, Spring 2018). Some of these include targeting food subsidies, privatising public utilities, downsizing social safety nets, and lowering public wages and the number of public jobs, along with labour deregulation, reductions in pensions, public service cuts and regressive tax regimes through the introduction of, or increases in, VAT, while reducing corporate tax rates (see BWP briefing, The IMF and Gender Equality and VAT).
The effectiveness of the IFIs’ approach to gender equality also raises important questions that are relevant to ongoing policy debates, such as the reduction of coverage of social protection benefits, contracting fiscal space for social services and investments in mega-infrastructure projects over those that are sustainable and gender-responsive. The IMF’s failure to address structural barriers to women’s enjoyment of economic and social rights, like violence against women and girls, and its continued silence about the impacts of illicit financial flows, regressive tax regimes and privatisation of public services that affect women’s human rights also reflect the IMF’s blind spots when it comes to gender just policy interventions.
Meanwhile, the IMF’s ‘gender work’ remains largely centred on the positive growth effects of closing gender gaps in labour force participation. While it might be the case that a specific policy that encourages women to enter into the paid labour force is good for growth, if entry is not on equal terms with men and no attention is paid to internationally agreed standards of ‘decent work’, it could lead to the reinforcement of gender inequality by building an economy around embedded structural inequalities in labour markets.
Similarly, while the 2016-2023 Gender Strategy of the World Bank takes into account some barriers to women’s economic participation, some argue that a more comprehensive understanding of women’s economic empowerment in work-related areas would be needed to achieve substantive equality, and that the Bank continues to push for the same macroeconomic policies as the IMF. The 2019 World Development Report on the changing nature of work constitutes the latest example of the Bank’s pro-business, growth-led agenda that undermines labour rights and gender equality, about which I wrote a letter to the Bank in August (see Observer Winter 2018).
It seems these institutions are neglecting both the ways in which the bulk of their macroeconomic policy prescriptions continue to undermine women’s rights and gender equality, and the macroeconomic and institutional enabling conditions required to foster gender equality. At the very least, IFIs should assess and address the harms caused to women’s rights by their own policy advice, enhance the voices of those impacted most, and support governments in progressively creating the fiscal space needed to deliver on their human rights obligations.
Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, United Nations Independent Expert on Foreign Debt and Human Rights
After years of preparation, the new World Bank safeguards for project lending – the Environmental and Social Framework (ESF) – came into force on 1 October, amidst lingering concerns that they will dilute the Bank’s environmental and social standards at a time when it is pivoting towards more risky project lending.
The rollout of the new ESF occured after the Bank’s shareholders agreed a general capital increase (GCI) in April for the International Bank of Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) – the Bank’s middle income lending arm – and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) – the Bank’s private sector investment arm (see Dispatch Spring 2018). The GCI will increase the Bank’s lending volume. The Bank will undertake more relatively risky lending in fragile and conflict-affected states (CAS) and lower-middle income countries, and will continue efforts to ‘de-risk’ and mobilise private sector investment (see Observer Summer 2017).
Despite a long period of consultation between 2012 and 2016 (see Observer Autumn 2016), and an extended process of creating ESF guidance notes for borrowers (see Observer Summer 2018), many civil society organisations (CSOs) remain unconvinced that the reform of the Bank’s safeguards has been for the better.
A race to the bottom? Vague clauses leave ESF open to interpretation
The World Bank’s new ESF includes ten new core ‘standards‘ with guidance notes for borrowers and ‘best practice’ notes for staff developed over the past two years to guide the ESF’s implementation. It will apply only to the Bank’s new project lending, not to existing project loans or to the Bank’s development policy lending.
The new framework includes a ‘use of country system’ provision, which stipulates that safeguards of borrowers may be used for Bank-funded projects if they are ‘materially consistent’ with the new ESF. Given the difficulty of assessing country systems – and the complexity of monitoring implementation of safeguards in such systems – CSOs are concerned that the widespread use of borrower systems could lead to a considerable dilution of safeguards in Bank-financed projects.
The outcome of the GCI negotiations presents further challenges to the ESF’s implementation, with the Bank set to take on more high-risk projects, as well as more projects in fragile political contexts. As independent researcher – and long-time CSO observer – Korinna Horta noted in an article for German-based website Development + Cooperation following the ESF’s launch, this will take place alongside an important shift in the Bank’s pre-project risk assessments: “A much used ESF term is ‘risk-based management’. It means that risks are only addressed as they emerge in the course of a project. …In the past, environmental impact assessments (EIAs) had to be [done beforehand and] made available to the public before the Bank’s Board could approve them.”
Horta added that, “civil-society organisations…are increasingly being threatened in many places. Indeed, activists run great personal risks when they campaign to protect vulnerable minorities and the environment from the detrimental impacts of large infrastructure projects,” funded by the Bank and other international financial institutions (see Observer Winter 2018).
Indeed, at a Civil Society Policy Forum event on the ESF during the World Bank and IMF Annual Meetings in Bali in October, Indonesian CSOs complained that under existing Bank safeguards, military police were often present in consultations about World Bank-financed projects, raising fears of reprisals for those who spoke out against proposed projects. Later in October, a proposed World Bank geothermal project in Indonesia attracted widespread opposition, with Indonesian CSOs claiming that the environmental and social assessment of the project was inadequate.
Given the challenges confronting the new ESF, CSOs remain unconvinced that it is fit for purpose if the Bank is to deliver on its mandate to implement policies that benefit the poorest.
In September, the IMF increased Argentina’s original $50 billion loan agreed in June, bringing the total programme to an unprecedented $57.1 billion over three years. The programme was agreed in the face of Argentina’s financial crisis, the underlying cause of which was a rapid build-up of public and external debt, accelerated by abrupt financial deregulation by the Macri government (see Observer Summer 2018).
IMF policy prescriptions: treatment worse than the disease?
Through its programme, the IMF, which former Argentinian Central Bank Governor Alejandro Vanoli described in November as having “total control of economic policy”, prescribes a familiar policy mix with the aim of eliminating the primary fiscal deficit by 2019. To achieve this, the agreed IMF loan programme includes “an increase in [grain] export taxes, scaling back energy subsidies, containment of capital spending [that] will be compensated for by Private Public Partnership projects, limiting [tax] exemptions for cooperatives and mutual organizations, a reduction of discretionary transfers to provinces,” and, “a freeze in the new hiring of public employees”.
Eerily similar to the tried and failed Greek and 2001 Argentina programmes, but now with a much larger amount of money at stake, the new programme once again reflects the flawed economic theory that claims there is no alternative to austerity as a response to economic recession, and promises to restore market confidence in Argentina (see Observer Autumn 2018, Update 79). In fact, prescribing concurrent fiscal and monetary contraction for a consumption-based economy in recession with relatively high unemployment is more likely to be procyclical and further “deepen and extend Argentina’s recession”, according to business magazine Forbes’ Frances Coppola. Perhaps reflecting a lack of confidence in the IMF’s ability to avoid this happening, the peso lost 20 per cent of its value in the two-day period in August after Macri announced he was seeking to renegotiate the IMF loan. In response, Professor Daniela Gabor of University of West England Bristol commented on Twitter, “that ‘#IMF feeling’ when your star pupil does everything you ask and is doing worse than Turkey.”
Argentina’s past experience proves this approach has not worked – and is likely to make things worse in the short-term. Independent estimates suggest that it will “require at least $40 billion in the next 14 months” alone to keep Argentina solvent, with another $48 billion projected to be needed in 2019, and that is still considered optimistic by some. In its own first review of the loan programme in October, the IMF assessed Argentina’s debt as sustainable, “but not with a high probability”, seemingly acknowledging the likelihood of its baseline assumptions not holding true and Argentina once again becoming insolvent. This begs the question of why the IMF is not following its own 2017 advice on the necessity of underpinning debt sustainability assessments with “realistic – rather than heroic – assumptions”, where, “it is not feasible for the problem to be solved through further belt tightening,” and instead turning to sustainable debt restructuring, as long suggested by civil society organisations such as Belgium-based Eurodad.
Burdens of IMF loan conditionality
Without requiring upfront restructuring of Argentina’s current debt stock to private creditors, the programme will continue to “put the burden of adjustments entirely on the shoulders of Argentina’s population,” according to an October Eurodad blog, in particular on the poorest and most vulnerable. With the programme taking place in a context of a cost of living increase of 54 per cent during the past two years, mass public layoffs, a decline of 12 per cent in average salaries, quadrupling of gas tariffs and a six-fold increase in electricity rates, it should come as no surprise that only three months after its introduction, regional ministers declared a state of food emergency, while poverty was reported to be spreading “like wildfire” by October.
Responding to concerns raised in Argentina, in an October interview, the IMF’s Managing Director Christine Lagarde highlighted the programme’s social protection minimum spending floor as a safeguard for the most poor and vulnerable, and expressed hopes of enforcing a new “safety valve” in allowing increases in social spending, “if the situation improves”. Having calculated that the social spending floor in the current programme amounted to $6 for each of Argentina’s 13 million poor for the last six months of 2018, Argentinian civil society groups described these safeguards as “a mockery”. This reflects a wider civil society critique on the inadequacies of the Fund’s approach to social protection floors, which can exclude large numbers of poor people, as recently brought to the fore as the Fund designs its new ‘strategic framework on social spending’ (see Observer Summer 2018, Spring 2018).
As a predictable result of these policy choices, the country has been paralysed by mass general strikes and historic mobilisations under the banner, “no to the IMF, no to adjustment”. Despite the supposed urgent need for more belt-tightening, according to national newspaper the Buenos Aires Times, ahead of December’s G20 Summit, Argentina nonetheless found the resources to invest, “100 million pesos in the purchase of…180 shotguns, 15 million rubber bullets, 2,000 tear gas projectiles and police vests,” for the occasion (see Observer Winter 2018).
Thus, the IMF is choosing to continue to apply its old broken model in Argentina, insisting on a familiar adjustment programme, while many economists, civil society groups, trade unions and the United Nations continue to offer alternative solutions. One such example is the establishment of an international debt workout mechanism, another is the use of human rights impact assessments (as the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural rights recommended to Argentina in October) to guide macroeconomic reform programmes. The question is whether the IMF is capable of changing course.
The IMF was established in 1944 following the Great Depression of the 1930s and World War II, with the initial aim of seeking exchange rate stability within the international monetary system. The 1970s and 1980s witnessed an expansion of the IMF’s remit, to respond to countries’ balance of payments difficulties, most notably with the introduction of structural adjustment programmes. In 2012, the IMF’s mandate was broadened to include all macroeconomic and financial sector issues that it deemed to have a bearing on global stability (see Update 82). There are several mechanisms it relies on in order to deliver on its mandate, one of which is surveillance, established in Article IV of the Fund’s Articles of Agreement. The IMF conducts surveillance at the bilateral (member state) and multilateral (regional and global) levels.
At the member state level (there are 189 member states of the IMF), surveillance is designed to enable the IMF to continuously monitor a country’s fiscal policies and overall economic conditions and to identify perceived risks, which it classifies as posing present or future threats to global economic stability. Having identified such risks, surveillance recommendations include suggested policy adjustments to mitigate against perceived triggers and root causes of economic instability. This forms the basis for the Article IV consultations, which are described in more detail below. While the recommendations made by the Fund through Article IV consultation reports are not binding, bilateral surveillance is mandatory for both the IMF and all members, who have an obligation to consult with the Fund for this purpose. Additionally, in 2010, the IMF made it mandatory for 29 member countries, which it deemed to have systematically important financial sectors, to undergo financial stability assessments, known as the Financial Sector Assessment Program (FSAP), every five years.
Regional surveillance examines both economic developments within regions and the policies of currency unions. Every year, IMF staff hold separate consultations with the regional institutions responsible for common policies in four currency unions – the Euro Area, the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union, the Central African Economic and Monetary Union and the West African Economic and Monetary Union – including engagement with the IMF’s Executive Board. IMF staff also prepare separate Regional Economic Outlook reports, detailing recent economic developments as well as perceived opportunities and challenges for policymakers in countries in various regions.
The IMF conducts multilateral surveillance through periodic flagship reports in consultation with its Board. In its 2011 surveillance review, the IMF stated that “developing top-down approaches of globally (or area-wide) relevant aggregates and policies, and ensuring that they translate into bilateral surveillance, is essential to ensure multilateral consistency and relevance of policy recommendations.” The biannual World Economic Outlook examines trends within the global economy and undertakes growth projections, while the Global Financial Stability Report focuses on the stability of the international financial system and markets, highlighting perceived vulnerabilities that pose potential risks. The Fiscal Monitor, meanwhile, makes medium-term fiscal projections and examines global public finance developments. Additionally, the IMF analyses the external positions of 29 of the world’s largest economies plus the Euro Area in the External Sector Reports. Every year, the findings from all the multilateral reports are collated into the Global Policy Agenda, which proposes responses to perceived challenges for the IMF and its member states.
How do the IMF’s Article IVs work?
Article IV activities begin with regular visits to the Fund’s member states. Although IMF staff monitor members’ economic outlooks continuously, these staff visits provide a more focused state-level examination and normally take place annually.
During visits, IMF staff typically meet with the member state government and central bank officials to discuss the states’ monetary, fiscal and regulatory policies, and perceptions of growth and exchange rate stability. IMF staff are recommended by IMF guidance to request meetings with parliamentarians and representatives of business, labour unions and civil society. Based on these meetings, staff complete country evaluations for wide-ranging policy recommendations for reforms, referred to as Article IV consultations. These staff reports are then shared with the member state governments for consultation.
In finalising the Article IV consultation, completed evaluations are followed by the presentation of the report to the IMF’s Executive Board. The Board then discuss the report and its views are summarised and presented in the final Article IV report in the Executive Board Assessment section alongside the staff report.
The publication of IMF surveillance has undergone changes following the introduction of its transparency policy in 2013, which states that publication of Article IVs are “voluntary but presumed” and a member state’s consent to publish is typically obtained on a “non-objection” basis. It has become standard practice for most member states to allow the IMF to release the final Article IV report and the views of the Board on its website. However, the publication of summaries remains at the discretion of individual member states. Indeed, a 2017 paper by the IMF revealed that seven countries evaluated in 2016 had not given the IMF permission to publish their reports.
Why does IMF surveillance matter?
IMF surveillance reports are non-binding and member states do not have to act on the recommendations. Nevertheless, the IMF’s position at the apex of the international financial architecture and as a key determinant of both ‘sound’ economic policies and creditworthiness means that failure to follow advice can place countries in a precarious position in terms of access to IMF lending programmes, financial markets, investment outlook, and negatively impact their relationship with other international institutions. In such cases, as Domenico Lombardi and Ngaire Woods suggest, a state intending to borrow from the IMF may feel that the Fund has “bargaining power” to potentially enforce rules and policies through surveillance before approving any lending programmes. Even in cases where the IMF’s immediate lending leverage does not come into play, low-income countries (LICs) and emerging markets (EMs) may be motivated to implement the IMF’s advice to maintain perceptions of creditworthiness and build a good relationship. The IMF surveillance can therefore be significant in shaping countries’ macroeconomic policies, from tax structures and debt to the scale and scope of public sector provision of essential services.
The Fund has emphasised that “the ability to influence policy making” is “the cornerstone of effective surveillance”, and has highlighted the importance of increasing the influence of its surveillance over national policies to gain “traction”. More recently, it has indicated that effective surveillance must generate more “multilateral traction” to influence policymakers across multiple states. In its 2014 surveillance review, the IMF found that its multilateral surveillance flagship reports were “highly valued” in surveys and interviews with country authorities and market observers. These surveys indicated that a large share of LICs and emerging markets see the IMF as their external advisor on macro-policy decision, with “no other institution coming close to that position.” The review noted that the member country authorities interviewed had indicated that the greatest value-added of surveillance came from the Fund’s work on fiscal developments and policy, and that they were looking to the IMF for more “concrete and actionable” advice.
However, a study from November 2008 showed that in advanced economies, the influence of the IMF – particularly its surveillance activities – is limited by its perceived inability to integrate spillovers into its analysis and to adapt its advice so that assessments are thorough and relevant to individual countries. The IMF itself has even stated that advanced economies do not always find Article IV consultations practical, as they tend to have substantial “economic debate and scrutiny” of domestic policies. In its 2014 review, Fund indicated the priority for surveillance for advanced economies is labour market and fiscal reforms in order to “boost growth and restore sustainability”, while “public expenditure management and financial deepening” are priorities for LICs. A 2012 Guidance Note stipulates that the scope of surveillance in Article IV consultations in LICs is generally broader than is the case for other countries and can include areas like management of aid flows, natural resources, the promotion of financial deepening, and “macro-critical social issues” (such as poverty reduction and employment).
Labour unions, academics, UN bodies, activists and civil society organisations have long argued that the types of macroeconomic policies the IMF promotes through its surveillance – as well as lending – undermine the capacity of states to fulfil their human rights obligations, exacerbate inequalities within and between countries, and disproportionately hurt the poor and marginalised (see Observer Autumn 2018). More broadly, the IMF has faced accusations of promoting western capitalist interests through neoliberal economic orthodoxy in low-income countries and “co-opting elites” in these countries to support its surveillance recommendations. It has also received criticism for promoting an economic model based on accelerating financialisation, whereby markets are the primary means to organise the economy and society (see Observer Summer 2018).
The IMF carries out a comprehensive review of its surveillance activities to identify areas for potential improvements, with the next review expected in 2020. In the last comprehensive review in 2014, the IMF highlighted a need to focus on improving responses to emerging challenges following the 2008 global financial crisis. It found that surveillance around financial and macroeconomic analysis was fragmented, and further efforts were needed to integrate bilateral and multilateral surveillance. In light of the review, the IMF made commitments to integrate analysis of risks and spillovers, continue accounting for growth and sustainability implications in advice, and achieve greater impact by strengthening policy dialogue.
The IMF has also increasingly incorporating what it deems to be “structural issues”, such as social protection, income and gender inequality. Using a piloting approach, the Fund has included analysis and recommendations on these issues in several Article IV reports since 2014. A 2017 civil society report found that in 2016, policy advice on gender issues was included in one out of five surveillance reports, while it had seldom received a mention in policy advice before 2015. In 2018, the IMF synthesised the lessons learned from its gender and income inequality surveillance pilots in three ‘how-to‘ notes for IMF staff.
In response to this year’s interim surveillance review, the IMF Board emphasised that the piloting initiative had better integrated structural issues into macroeconomic analysis and highlighted that the IMF should extend coverage of macrofinancial surveillance and increase focus on debt vulnerability. The Board highlighted that the forthcoming comprehensive review should evaluate the traction of Fund surveillance in terms of proposed “take up” by member states and the importance of engaging with members and other stakeholders. The 2014 review stipulated that surveillance reviews will henceforth take place every 5 instead of 3 years, which means that the next review was due in 2019. However, the IMF’s 2019 work plan indicates that the next review is delayed by one year and now scheduled for 2020.