May 18, 2019

Radio #Cybernet

Bionde Elettromagnetiche LIVE al CSA Next Emerson, Firenze

This is Bionde Elettromagnetiche’s live!

Recorded Live at CSA Next Emerson, May 10, 2019. It wasn’t a Warmup for Hackmeeting 2019 but I like to think different 😉 #lol

Recorded with ZOOM H2N, from the main mixer output 😉

Also check Museo dell’Informatica Funzionante exhibition there!


by admin

May 16, 2019


A Treehouse

The novelty is real. 

The foundation “the Treehouse” and agreed to join in a communal experiment around the NDSM treehouse, a new temporary studio space in noord amsterdam. It will be part of a wider research and experimental setup that involve this space and aims to create and enforce communal creation and social art projects.

Very down to earth: income generated by the shows, the bar, the parties and overall the artistic program will go in a separate pot from the rent of the space. This pot that will be completely controlled by an autonomous assembly of the artists that will co design the space rules. And it will be allowed by

Every profit from coffee or beer drinked in the space will go back into sustaining the production of the emergent artistic scene  guested by the house. This experiment will rely on an internal digital currency co-designed with the first renters of the spaces within a small pilot for EU CAPPSI project “Commonfare”.

So far for the laylines of the event. But were does this come from and how we managed to be part of it?

In the early 2k’s NDSM used to be a home for Amsterdam’s alternative scene. A former shipyard in a remote part of town. You had to cross the harbour to get there, and bike a good 30 minutes from Central Station. In the area a commistion of freaks, squatters, artists and teathermakers were building stages, machines, scrapyard sculptures. Ravers were populating that space as a TAZ (Temporary Autonomous Zone) and amid scrap you could find interesting artists, stoned faces of students and party people and antisocial cyberpunks in improvised saunas.

All this before this space, as any space in the city, followed the path of the methodic gentrification. Amsterdam is now populated by copies of the original scene, sanitized and rendered less obtrusive, fruible to the mass of the coffee standbyer turism. And moreover “pictoresque” enough to attract urban development.

NDSM zone is now one big reconfigurable space for the Creative Industries, temathic festivals and roadshows were forever young people are lured have a “nice time” in the sun.

Criticism for the capitalistic drive of modern life set aside and in all this landscape a foundation imagined and operated by two members of the long lost “alternative scene”, decided to set foot for a unusual operation: re-install a space for art production that could welcome artists to a decent fee and attempt to rise a community.

The Builders: Marc and Adriaan from the Treehouse foundation

The Treehouse construction is rising as we speack, out of recycled shipping containers and scrapped wooden barraks. Will become in the plans of the builders to be a structure that resembles a crossover between a cyberpunk garbage park and a Cashbah. But has aspirations we want to help out: to be a place for meeting up, for transformation, to catch up and work hard with fellow dreamers. It is maybe a complicated and overarchieving plan we fell into, and this makes it exactly the type of plan that deserves our attention.

The Treehouse will be populated by artists looking for cheap temporary space to develop a project: musicians, visual artists, actors, dancers and open to their collectivizing economy through an experiment in use of digital coin… 

This novelty, that should be a tool to identify and protect values shared by the artistic commoners, has been designed by in the context of the over mentioned commonfare EU project. Already tested in Santarcangelo Festival last year and up and running in the famigerate art-squat MACAO in Milan.

As well there will be a small teather, a space for showcasing ideas and jamming, a cafe build around a common kitchen/small restaurant and some other fancy addiction to the community activities (and cashflow) still hard to forecast. 

Dyne will have its small space, a coin-lab-observatory, hosting various activities in the treehouse village and as well will set up as a space to share ideas through both the co-design activities tied to the last moments of the commonfare project and of future research we will be surely involved, set around the use of complementary currency for value mapping and horizontal organisation.

We will continue to report on it.

As far as dyne-Trasformatorio goes, we plan to help building the community, to prolong the influence of the commonfare project and various activities we already started planning. Something for sure will happen around the next equinox, in collaboration between trasformatorio and this flamboyant artistic co-community of and the artists in our extensive network.

Stay tuned!

by trasformatorio

Data Knightmare (Italian podcast)

DK 3x31 - Padroni a casa nostra

Secondo la leggenda, Internet era Libera e Gratuita (con le maiuscole) e poi i Russi, i Cinesi e la UE han fatto di tutto per imbrigliarla. La leggenda è una stronzata.

by Walter Vannini

May 15, 2019 we can't both be right.

webshit weekly

An annotated digest of the top "Hacker" "News" posts for the second week of May, 2019.

Amazon S3 Path Deprecation Plan – The Rest of the Story
May 08, 2019 (comments)
A tech company would like to stop doing a couple things the hard way. Hackernews considers the ramifications of minor changes in a service atop which they've spent over a decade building sandcastles. In the process, they reinvent the Internet from first principles. Many Hackernews are flummoxed that they cannot forever trust promises like "your data will last ten thousand years." Other Hackernews smugly point out that the data will be intact, merely inaccessible -- because the precise wording of an idiotic assurance is much more important than the idiocy of the assurance.

We got banned from PayPal after 12 years of business
May 09, 2019 (comments)
Some spammers are so vile that not even PayPal wants to do business with them. Hackernews is mostly okay with this, except for the ones who expect full accountability from a company whose business model is "we're a bank, but without all that pesky consumer protection" (2019 edition: "Uber for banking"). The rest of Hackernews drags out horror stories about all the times PayPal was mean to them, too, and hypothesizes the right set of money-transfer rituals to undertake so that they may continue to enrich companies who are actively hostile to them.

GitHub Package Registry
May 10, 2019 (comments)
Microsoft would like webshits to entrust even more of their shit unto GitHub. This news is hailed as a definitive win by the people who have encrusted their working lives with sufficient bureaucracy that they spend at least half their time untangling themselves from it. Some debate occurs over whether the incumbent services can withstand a frontal assault from Microsoft, but most of the discussion focuses on which webshit Microsoft will absorb next. The remaining comments consist of whining that someone else's favorite programming language got picked first.

Adults learn language to fluency nearly as well as children: study
May 11, 2019 (comments)
The owner of some language-teaching webshit would like people to learn languages, even if they are old. Hackernews suspects this might be a trick, but gets distracted by spouting wild-ass guesses about the nature of learning, cognition, linguistics, and human society. No technology is discussed.

How I Run a Company with ADHD
May 12, 2019 (comments)
An Internet has advice on how to overcome a tendency to get distracted: have someone give you thousands of dollars to focus, or else pay someone to tell you to focus. The result is a terrifying glimpse into the psyche of Hackernews; they catalog all of their personality traits they've determined to be abnormal, the methods through which they discovered the apparent abnormality, and the rituals they undertake to ensure they can still click emoji reaction buttons on GitHub issues for a living. Nothing, however, is quite as disturbing as the Hackernews who reports having played "handball at an elite level," which caused me to search the Internet for "semi-professional macaroni necklaciers." It turns out there is only one: Gavin Hazelwood, of Australia.

WhatsApp voice calls were used to inject spyware on phones
May 13, 2019 (comments)
In a bid to evade European anti-trust investigations, Facebook now bundles third-party spyware with some products. Hackernews argues over who the good guys are, then spends six hours refreshing their phones' app store to try to get the version without the malware conduit.

ZombieLoad: Cross Privilege-Boundary Data Leakage on Intel CPUs
May 14, 2019 (comments)
Intel continues the war against its own users. The news of an Intel hardware security flaw is by now so unsurprising that Hackernews spends most of its time complaining that the academics who identified the latest batch of failures did not get a sufficiently artistic shout-out in the GReeTZ section of Intel's mitigation .nfo. If Intel spent as much money on hardware engineering as they do on convincing shareholders their core product is not a Matroyshka doll of bad decisions, at the very least they wouldn't be a full generation behind on PCIe. The rest of the field day sees Hackernews select among several now-traditional Intel Flaw Thread Activities: reminiscing about architectures gone by, incorrecting one another about how computers work, fretting about Intel stock prices, and pretending they're going to buy anything else ever.



/tmp/lab au THSF 10e edition

Le programme de cette nouvelle édition du festival toulousain THSF s’inspire du manga AKIRA. Bienvenue en dystopie post-apo !

Lien vers le plan et le programme complet du Festival

C’est quoi le THSF ?

Franchement, ils le disent mieux que nous. Copier, coller.

Depuis 2010, la THSF est un rendez-vous autour des différentes facettes de la culture hacker. Logiciels et matériels libres, DIY, réappropriation et détournement des technologies, art et science, défense des droits et libertés sur Internet, sécurité informatique, médias et investigation citoyenne, politique et société… sont parmi les sujets que nous vous invitons à venir découvrir, questionner, partager et construire ensemble.

On y retrouvera le public toulousain mais aussi de nombreux hackerspaces dont la fréquentation est bonne pour la santé : les toulousains du Tetalab bien sûr, mais aussi le Fuz (Paris) ou le Labomedia (Orléans), parmi ceux qu’on connaît le mieux.

Au programme cette année

Comme vous pourrez le constater en lisant le programme, le choix ne manque pas entre installations, résidences, conférences, conférences….

Le /tmp/lab en fait partie avec du classique et de belles surprises !

Usinettes dans le bendo

Le Monde Parallèle : création d’un fanzine 

Tous les jours, 2h pour écrire et imprimer un fanzine et le distribuer le lendemain matin!
Textes, photos, dessins, à propos du festival, à propos du quotidien…
Pas raciste, pas LGBTQ-phobe.

Le dôme géodésique : Carnet d’une auto-construction collective en cours

Présentation du dôme par les membres d’Usinette avec des vidéos, des slides, ça va envoyer du bois – de construction bien sûr.

/team/laser en action

Atelier lasers / Lasers et livecoding / Lasers et musique

Tous les jours vers 17h / 17h / 21h le /tmp/lab invite des artistes à hacker du laser pour la plus grande joie des grands qui sont restés petits.

Shader Laser Showdown

Tous les jours à partir de 23h, le Collectif Cookie & /tmp/lab enflamme le plafond du THSF avec ses projections laser.

Passage en douane

On a tou·tes quelque chose à cacher changer dans notre identité. 

Du bullshit, encore du bullshit

Une fois de plus, les bullshiters ont frappé à notre porte ! Les éternels rouleaux de PQ dorés seront de nouveau décernés après un vote du public pour les manieur·ses les plus habiles de la novlangue qui fait de la deep-ruption.


by alban

Data Knightmare (Italian podcast)

DK 3x30 - La punta dell'iceberg

SECONDA REGISTRAZIONE RIVEDUTA E CORRETTA. Sottrarre e diffondere dati personali è un reato, e non ci piove. Ma è un reato anche trattare dati personali con misure di sicurezza insufficienti, che rendono facile la loro sottrazione. Se, come pare, (cui i dati sono stati sottratti) opera "sotto la direzione e il coordinamento" della casa madre (Tinexta, che controlla anche InfoCert), allora un grosso pezzo dell'infrastruttura italiana è insicura.

by Walter Vannini

May 11, 2019

Evgeny Morozov

It's not enough to break up Big Tech. We need to imagine a better alternative | Evgeny Morozov

Presenting tech companies as America’s greatest menace may appeal to voters, but it does little to chart an alternative future

As Facebook all but pleads guilty to a severe form of data addiction, confessing its digital sins and promising to reinvent itself as a privacy-worshiping denizen of the global village, the foundations of Big Tech’s cultural hegemony appear to be crumbling. Most surprisingly, it’s in the United States, Silicon Valley’s home territory, where they seem to be the weakest.

Even in these times of extreme polarization, Trump, who has habitual outbursts against censorship by social media platforms, eagerly joins left-wing politicians like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders in presenting Big Tech as America’s greatest menace The recent call by Chris Hughes, Facebook’s co-founder, to break up the firm hints at things to come.

Related: Who stands between you and AI dystopia? These Google activists | Veena Dubal

The rise of big tech is a consequence of our underlying political and economic crises

Related: If Silicon Valley were a country, it would be among the richest on Earth

Evgeny Morozov is a Guardian US columnist

Continue reading...

by Evgeny Morozov

May 09, 2019

Data Knightmare (Italian podcast)

DK 3x30 - Il caso

Sottrarre e diffondere dati personali è un reato, e non ci piove. Ma è un reato anche trattare dati personali con misure di sicurezza insufficienti, che rendono facile la loro sottrazione. Se, come pare, (cui i dati sono stati sottratti) opera "sotto la direzione e il coordinamento" della casa madre (Tinexta, che controlla anche InfoCert), allora un grosso pezzo dell'infrastruttura italiana è insicura.

by Walter Vannini

May 08, 2019



Hier unser erster Newsletter in diesem Jahr. Um den Newsletter zu abonnieren, bitte eine formlose Mail an: office[at]

by ms we can't both be right.

webshit weekly

An annotated digest of the top "Hacker" "News" posts for the first week of May, 2019.

A Conspiracy to Kill IE6
May 01, 2019 (comments)
The last remaining Svbtle user recounts the time Google started the war against its own users. Hackernews discusses when is the correct time to sidestep your entire business model in order to force your meaningless software preferences upon strangers. (The answer, apparently, is "always.") The rest of the comments are people reminiscing about how hard it used to be to execute bad ideas in HTML.

Self Studying the MIT Applied Math Curriculum
May 02, 2019 (comments)
Some rando intends to read some books. Hackernews has also read books. The upvotes come in an avalanche, since talking about learning things is something Hackernews strongly approves of, even if actually learning things isn't something they tend to get around to. All of the comments are Hackernews competing for first prize in the Talking About Learning Math contest.

All extensions disabled due to expiration of intermediate signing cert
May 03, 2019 (comments)
Mozilla opens a new front in the war against its own users. Instead of wasting money on useless side projects nobody wants, they decide to torpedo their own primary product. The only mechanism Mozilla has to restore functionality is to repurpose user-spying malware-distribution pipelines. In the process of trying to unfuck the only program any of them run on their computers, Hackernews is startled to discover that the configuration window in Firefox does not have any predictable correlation to the configuration of Firefox. Many of them declare they are giving up and switching to alternative software from Google, a company widely regarded for respecting the privacy of anyone at all.

Negotiations Failed: How Oracle Killed Java EE
May 04, 2019 (comments)
An Internet learns a hard lesson about nailing someone else's colors to your mast. Hackernews thinks the answer, as in all things, is to switch to javascript. The tattered remnants of the Knights of Enterprise Java Middleware arrive to namedrop some development projects that nobody has cared or thought about since 2003. Every other language partisan with a "Hacker" "News" account gathers in the town square to throw fruit at the die-hards.

Canada Border Services seizes lawyer's phone, laptop for not sharing passwords
May 05, 2019 (comments)
Some Canadian cops emulate their better-armed and less-accountable neighbors to the south. Hackernews unleashes days' worth of pent-up armchair legal theory, eager to explore edge cases in a topic whose common cases they don't understand. Multiple technical solutions are offered (offloading private data, regularly wiping devices, etc) to a problem which is not technical in nature (police can just take your shit). Several Hackernews appear convinced that the cops will leave them alone if they can recite relevant statutes, like magical wizards casting warding spells. I look forward to their outraged thinkpieces after they test their theories.

.NET 5
May 06, 2019 (comments)
Microsoft shovels some more platform garbage out the door. In the process, they've managed to make a pointlessly-confusing marketing scheme even less understandable, with the result that Hackernews gets to drag out the easels and bikeshed Microsoft project management practices ad infinitum. Those Hackernews not in on the project management hijinks choose instead to whine about Linux. Microsoft claims the new platform garbage will work across several operating systems, but does not disclose how they intend to pop up a dialog box demanding yet another redistributable runtime installation for each program the user attempts to launch.

Css-only-chat: A truly monstrous async web chat using no JS on the front end
May 07, 2019 (comments)
A webshit demonstrates the hubris and folly of cascading style sheets. Hackernews is only interested in how to make their spam campaigns report more information about their victims.


May 07, 2019

Zero Days

Data breach, password esposte e Consigli dell'Ordine: una conversazione con Fabrizio Sigillò su avvocatura e sicurezza

I recenti accadimenti di violazione di servizi online, piattaforme e siti web contenenti dati di avvocati e di Consigli dell'Ordine hanno riportato di attualità le questioni relative alla sicurezza informatica nell'attività professionale quotidiana e, in generale, nell'avvocatura tutta.

L'occasione è ghiotta per un dialogo con l'Avv. Fabrizio Sigillò, nome storico dell'Informatica Giuridica in Italia e sempre attento, sia nella sua attività didattica e di formazione, sia nella sua professione, agli aspetti della sicurezza informatica.

by Giovanni Ziccardi

May 05, 2019

Il Pianista

External encrypted disk on LibreELEC

Last year I replaced, on the Raspberry Pi, the ArchLinux ARM with just Kodi installed with LibreELEC.

Today I plugged an external disk encrypted with dm-crypt, but to my full surprise this isn’t supported.

Luckily the project is open source and sky42 already provides a LibreELEC version with dm-crypt built-in support.

Once I flashed sky42’s version, I setup automated mount at startup via the script and the corresponding umount via this way:

// copy your keyfile into /storage via SSH
$ cat /storage/.config/
cryptsetup luksOpen /dev/sda1 disk1 --key-file /storage/keyfile
mount /dev/mapper/disk1 /media

$ cat /storage/.config/
umount /media
cryptsetup luksClose disk1

Reboot it and voilà!


If you want to automatically mount the disk whenever you plug it, then create the following udev rule:

// Find out ID_VENDOR_ID and ID_MODEL_ID for your drive by using `udevadm info`
$ cat /storage/.config/udev.rules.d/99-automount.rules
ACTION=="add", SUBSYSTEM=="usb", SUBSYSTEM=="block", ENV{ID_VENDOR_ID}=="0000", ENV{ID_MODEL_ID}=="9999", RUN+="cryptsetup luksOpen $env{DEVNAME} disk1 --key-file /storage/keyfile", RUN+="mount /dev/mapper/disk1 /media"

May 04, 2019

Il Pianista

Automated phone backup with Syncthing

How do you backup your phones? Do you?

I use to perform a copy of all the photos and videos from my and my wife’s phone to my PC monthly and then I copy them to an external HDD attached to a Raspberry Pi.

However, it’s a tedious job mainly because: - I cannot really use the phones during this process; - MTP works one in 3 times - often I have to fallback to ADB; - I have to unmount the SD cards to speed up the copy; - after I copy the files, I have to rsync everything to the external HDD.

The Syncthing way

Syncthing describes itself as:

Syncthing replaces proprietary sync and cloud services with something open, trustworthy and decentralized.

I installed it to our Android phones and on the Raspberry Pi. On the Raspberry Pi I also enabled remote access.

I started the Syncthing application on the Android phones and I’ve chosen the folders (you can also select the whole Internal memory) to backup. Then, I shared them with the Raspberry Pi only and I set the folder type to “Send Only” because I don’t want the Android phone to retrieve any file from the Raspberry Pi.

On the Raspberry Pi, I accepted the sharing request from the Android phones, but I also changed the folder type to “Receive Only” because I don’t want the Raspberry Pi to send any file to the Android phones.

All done? Not yet.

Syncthing main purpose is to sync, not to backup. This means that, by default, if I delete a photo from my phone, that photo is gone from the Raspberry Pi too and this isn’t what I do need nor what I do want.

However, Syncthing supports File Versioning and best yet it does support a “trash can”-like file versioning which moves your deleted files into a .stversions subfolder, but if this isn’t enough yet you can also write your own file versioning script.

All done? Yes! Whenever I do connect to my own WiFi my photos are backed up!

May 03, 2019

Data Knightmare (Italian podcast)

DK 3x29 - Morire di software

Una lunga, sofferta tirata sulla professione dell'informatico --e sul suo fallimento.

by Walter Vannini

May 01, 2019 we can't both be right.

webshit weekly

An annotated digest of the top "Hacker" "News" posts for the last week of April, 2019.

Otonomo, with nearly $55M in funding, is cloning our product
April 22, 2019 (comments)
Some assholes made a REST API for CAN bus and are about to find out just how little anyone cares. As professional, well adjusted adults who discovered some strangers are making a compatible product, their natural and totally normal response is to throw a giant piss-baby tantrum on a blog, whining about how much more money the other people have. Hackernews is outraged and unsurprised at both halves of this conflict, and thinks that GitHub should do something to prevent idea piracy, even though Tantrum Incorporated explicitly licensed their shit such that anyone can have a copy. A sizable number of Hackernews are left trying to figure out what "our product" is from the article title, since nobody on Earth thinks a REST API is a "product."

I Sell Onions on the Internet
April 23, 2019 (comments)
A domain squatter accidentally gets a real job, leading to the only onion routing that's actually lived up to its promises. Hackernews describes aiming over two thousand dollars at a domain name purchase as a "moment of whimsy." Other Hackernews already had this idea but didn't try it. The squatter shows up in the comments and is overrun with confounded Hackernews trying to understand how it is possible to exchange goods for money without involving Redis. Seventeen venture capital firms receive pitch decks centered around building a REST API for onion farms.

Inflammation might be the root of preventable disease
April 24, 2019 (comments)
Some rando spits out five thousand words of performance art, in which the performer imagines terrible pop-sci reporting but with a thesaurus. Hackernews work hard to integrate new out-of-context medical-sounding concepts into their bizarre DIY medical worldviews. Along the way, Hackernews cures diabetes, gets mad at each other for assuming that their correspondents are making assumptions, blames Big Pharma for ... apparently everything?, and demands citations from people who expressed opinions. No technology is discussed.

April 25, 2019 (comments)
Some amateur statisticians make a racket playing with their video cards again. Because Hackernews' rich uncle Sam is royalty among this particular bad-computer-music crew, Hackernews upvotes the shit out of the completely uninteresting results, and ritually sacrifices would-be detractors to the CUDA gods.

Google Is Eating Our Mail
April 26, 2019 (comments)
An Internet notices that Google cares as little about non-customers as they do about customers. Hackernews wish the webshit nobility were kinder to the lower classes, but have resigned themselves to the divine nature of the ruling classes. All of the comments are arguing about the only remaining safe Google-related topic: whether or not the GMail spam filter is perfect or just incredibly unsurpassably wonderful.

The inception bar: a new phishing method
April 27, 2019 (comments)
Webshit number 56,302 notices that when you turn your hypertext document browser into a Turing-equivalent virtual machine with full access to the underlying hardware, bad people can do mean things with it. Hackernews scoffs at this revelation, correctly regarding it as ancient, and incorrectly suggesting Hackernews has simple solutions for it. The rest of the comments are Hackernews smugly declaring they were too clever to fall for the forgery, because they use some specific piece of software.

How I Almost Destroyed a £50M War Plane and the Normalisation of Deviance (2016)
April 28, 2019 (comments)
An unemployed pilot describes the terrifying consequences of not being a pansy: you might break something. Hackernews reads and/or listens to this harrowing tale of almost-fatal aircraft mismanagement and, as the author intended, immediately sees the connection to the database programming they do for a living. This, however, proves to be a less alluring topic than incorrecting each other about avionics.

Topics in Advanced Data Structures [pdf]
April 29, 2019 (comments)
Some academics offer their students the opportunity to know things. Hackernews thinks other people should learn things, so they upvote the link, but the content is entirely technical, so nobody has anything to say. All of the comments are discussions about whether anyone ever uses anything they've ever learned. A brief survey brings out the pattern: the only people who use anything they learned in school are academics.

WeWork Files for IPO
April 29, 2019 (comments)
"Hacker" "News," which contains 'please use the original title' in its submission guidelines, elides the second half of the title of this article, which in full is "WeWork Files for I.P.O., Joining Wave of Cash-Burning Start-Ups in Going Public." Meanwhile, Hackernews recounts all the times they've tried to patronize WeWork (business model: "Uber for Cubicles") only to discover it's no fun to rent office space that is full of strangers. Most of the article deals with the fact that while the IPO was once a sign that your business had Made It and needed capital to get to the Next Level, now it's just the venture capitalists cashing out their investment before the rubes notice there's no money being made. None of the comment threads are about that. A few Hackernews try to bring it up, but they're ushered out of the party.

I made a smart watch from scratch
April 30, 2019 (comments)
An internet has a fun hobby. Hackernews is mad that the hobby did not end poverty or war, then mad about THAT. Other Hackernews list every other smartwatch they've ever worn or heard of. One Hackernews is mad that people use an image hosting service that the commenter did not create.


April 29, 2019


#EterTICs v10.0 #Kuntur con kernel #linux-libre 5.0.10-gnu GRACIAS ...

#EterTICs v10.0 #Kuntur con kernel #linux-libre 5.0.10-gnu GRACIAS por el trabajo enorme en mantener linux-libre

by Javier Obregón

April 22, 2019 we can't both be right.

webshit weekly

An annotated digest of the top "Hacker" "News" posts for the third week of April, 2019.

Notre-Dame cathedral: Firefighters tackle blaze in Paris
April 15, 2019 (comments)
The French memorial of the death of Saint Fructuosus gets a little out of hand. Hackernews can't make up their minds whether they are architects, historians, or theoretical firefighters, so the resulting thread contains the absolute finest collection of wild-ass guesses on this range of topics. Because of the sudden nature of the disaster, facts are scarce, and that's where Hackernews feels the most qualified to opine. No technology is discussed.

Animating URLs with JavaScript and Emojis
April 16, 2019 (comments)
A webshit demonstrates the depth of javascript depravity. The demonstration is pointless, wasteful, and obnoxious, so Hackernews is on board for votes, but it is not interesting, so the webshit shows up in the comment thread to talk about how to make bad videos instead.

Post-surgical deaths in Scotland drop by a third, attributed to a checklist
April 17, 2019 (comments)
The World Health Organization demands credit for getting Scottish doctors to kill moderately fewer people. The solution appears to be a checklist, presumably strategically placed between the whisky bottle and the benefits application. Hackernews creates an agile development model for producing checklists, then lists every computer program anyone has ever written to implement them.

Mozilla WebThings
April 18, 2019 (comments)
Mozilla introduces another product that has nothing to do with their only valuable asset. Hackernews is extremely excited, because they regard Mozilla as the only possible resistance against the dominance of Google. Since the primary difference is that when Google arbitrarily terminates a product there are users affected, we can conclude the foremost concern among Hackernews is harm reduction for abandonware.

Austrian government seeks to eliminate internet anonymity, with severe penalties
April 19, 2019 (comments)
Some idiots in Europe want to get into a fistfight with the weather. Hackernews gets into an argument about which countries are going to try to deanonymize the internet next, which countries have laws that would prevent idiocy on this scale, and which countries don't have such laws but are populated with such superior people that nobody would even consider it. Other Hackernews, who have read too many Robert Ludlum novels, tell each other campfire stories about hiding from the government.

Joe Armstrong has died
April 20, 2019 (comments)
A programmer passes away. Hackernews relates stories of the programmer's kindness, and struggles not to notice that they've collectively ignored basically every idea the programmer has expressed for the past thirty years.

SuperTuxKart 1.0 Release
April 21, 2019 (comments)
Some programmers release a new version of their cloned video game. Hackernews can't understand why nobody is charging money for it.


April 18, 2019

Bretton Woods Project

Sexual orientation & gender identity – considering risk mitigation within World Bank programming

This Civil Society Policy Forum Session was co-sponsored by the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, Council for Global Equality, Gender Action, BIC Europe, HRC.



Session summary

Phil Creehan (moderator): LGBTI is powerful acronym, and it has allowed for significant resources to the community. But we can sometimes forget about the people involved. It’s a diverse community, with people of colour, young, old, disabilities, rich, poor and middle-class people.

This brings us to think of human rights. We might say LGBTI rights but this is not right, these are rights everyone should enjoy, regardless of our gender identity. Rights that all people have. The human rights of LGBTI people are the human rights of women, indigenous people.

Looking at international economic development, our international human rights well-articulated. We need more space to work on rights of LGBTI people through UN and others. Also there’s the question of economic development. Traditionally International Financial Institutions (IFIs) like the World Bank do not address LGBTI people outside of HIV/AIDS work. But has changed in the last year. We can look at the appointment of the SOGI advisor at the World Bank. This is something we can celebrate while prodding the World Bank to do more on these issues. The World Bank has looked at the socio-economic impact of LGBTI issues. LGBTI people experience lower economic development outcomes which has both a harsh impact on the community and loss in GDP per capita. It is incredible that the World Bank is showing the economic dimension to LGBTI issues.

SOGI is complex and is a human rights and economic development issue.

How do we mitigate risk when comes to World Bank and its portfolio? What are risks, challenges, vulnerabilities?

Irena Cvetkovijk: The Margins Coalition works on the human rights of marginalised communities, particularly on sexual health rights.

Amarildo Fecanji: We work on advancing LGBTI rights and equality in Western Balkans and Turkey, a network of 59 countries. We do capacity building on international and regional advocacy, on research and public campaigning.

Mwamba Nyanda: A lot of our work is sensitising people because transgender issues in Tanzania are newer issues. Looking at safe spaces for minorities. It’s important to look at income generating activity as most transgender people do not finish education and many end up living on streets.

Elaine Zuckerman: I worked inside World Bank as economist in 1980. My final job was working in gender unit in the late 90s. For me, a light went off that World Bank’s rhetoric and research on gender was good, but its investments were reinforcing the patriarchy. I set up Gender Action to hold IFIs to account on gender issues.

Together 4/5 organisations pushed World Bank to establish taskforce on SOGI and hire Clif in the World Bank. Gender Action has been doing research on the economic impacts of excluding LGBTI folks from projects.

Clif Cortez: My role is operations facing. There are others in the Bank who focus on LGBTI Bank staff and internal equality and fairness issues, but my focus is on SOGI inclusion in Bank operations and how we can support clients in incorporating this in their development agenda.

Irena Cvetkovijk: We’ve seen lots of change in society recently. The state was hostile to LGBTI community, then became an ally. But things are never stable. Now it’s a more friendly environment to take opportunities. When I started 10 years ago, it was more difficult, Macedonia was in a dispute with Greece. The Government was hostile towards LGBTI people and civil society in general. We were excluded from institutions and could not advocate for any kinds of reforms or changes. Many times we heard of people being physically attacked and living everyday with threats to safety.

We criticised a textbook for negative portrayal of homosexuals and we were sued and faced prison or 30,000 euros. I was expelled from the community and lost my job. Then we realised that couldn’t work with that Government. We saw civil society in other countries working with the opposition, and so we focused on that. We were advocating a lot behind closed doors. Recently, the laws have been getting better. SOGI was not mentioned in any law before. Two years ago, we passed gender identity discrimination law. Now we are working on gender recognition law.

Phil Creehan (moderator): What are some of the challenges LGBTI people face on health?

Irena Cvetkovijk: We have focused on sex workers with low access to medical services, but we have noticed that the transgender community face the worst access. There is lots of discrimination within these facilities, such as facing intrusive questions. The transgender community is excluded from health system when it comes to the very first entry point. I remember once we were celebrating Pride, we all got attacked and one transman was saying whatever happens, do not take me to the doctor.

For our first step, we created a group of specialists. We trained doctors and psychiatrists. We created core group of doctors now training general practitioners. We also focused on education as it is the best way to change narratives. For example, working on textbooks and we tried to talk with schools and universities. The new Minister of Education started a process of revising the textbook. However, it is not only about textbooks, but the overall environment. There’s a longitudinal study in Europe every four years on indicators of health on youth. We advocated for a sexuality package of questions in this research. It is the first time in north Macedonia that this has been done for 15-year-old students. Got good numbers of participation. This was only about LGB youth. It found they were struggling in terms of emotional/sexual health compared to peers. 30% of LGB youth have once in their life seriously taken into consideration suicide. Now we are trying to help schools create internal mechanisms through gender-based violence (GBV) work, including the SOGI element and ensuring there are professional services in every school.

Phil Creehan (moderator): What is the situation like in Tanzania?

Mwamba Nyanda: We still struggle. People think only about being gay and don’t want to learn about trans people. We need greater sensitisation for our country. We do not have freedom of association. The police can take you to custody for two weeks on the charge of the promotion of sexuality. We do not know about the psychological and social help. Most trans people have been taken to custody, forced to strip, and end up being traumatised and without right treatment in health systems. There’s an increase in HIV/AIDs infections because trans people don’t feel they can disclose and because of the closure of centres for LGBTI people. This makes it difficult for people to get the right treatment. People don’t know the issues LGBTI people are facing on ground, like harassment and physical attacks in the community. That’s why we create our own safe spaces. Lots of trans people are not educated, on the street, facing a lot of risks, trauma and sometimes end up committing suicide. There’s also the deregistration of organisations. Once you are registered, the Government come deregister you or make sure the funds coming from international entities do not support the LGBTI community.

Phil Creehan (moderator): I have a question for Clif. You’re hearing serious concerns about what LGBTI people face. Can you tell us about the World Bank’s approach to addressing SOGI issues?

Clif Cortez: The World Bank, as an institution, has come to understand the importance of SOGI inclusion over time, and formally took this on from 2015. Elaine mentioned the role of civil society organizations in putting pressure on the Bank, but there were also clients asking for support to address exclusion based on SOGI, and so as far back as a decade ago SOGI inclusion activities and pilots were organically bubbling up from some clients. As well, there were Bank shareholders who were advocating for this. By 2015 all of these influencing factors had come together. I was not in the Bank at the time but I can imagine that the discussions that led to the Environmental and Social Framework (ESF), and the importance of social inclusion within that discussion, played a role, too.

The World Bank is now moving forward on applying a SOGI-lens to development, just as we apply other inclusion lenses to our work. Some of the first things we are focusing on are the Bank’s Systematic Country Diagnostics (SCDs), Country Partnership Frameworks (CPFs), and the stakeholder engagement required as part of the ESF (ESS10), as these are good entry points for effectively supporting clients. But it’s early days and we are learning as we go – the way we are addressing SOGI inclusion and the approaches we are using now might not be exactly the same in five or ten years. In terms of Bank engagement on SOGI under the ESF, it’s really grounded in ESS1 and non-discrimination, and ESS10/stakeholder engagement. And supporting Bank Task Teams in their support of our clients is an important reason for why the Bank created my position. But it’s not just my role as the SOGI Global Advisor that will help ensure we move this agenda – the World Bank has a SOGI Task Force made up of representatives of Bank Global Practices and other Bank units, including the Operations Policy and Country Services (OPCS), and Chaired by the Director for Social Development. The SOGI Task Force supports operationalization of the SOGI inclusion agenda and also provides internal advice and practical recommendations to Bank leadership, as requested. Plus there’s GLOBE (the Bank’s official employee resource group for LGBTIQ staff). GLOBE works closely with the Human Resources Vice Presidency and HRVP’s Diversity and Inclusion team to work on policies that promote equality, fairness and safety for LGBTIQ staff. All of these parts of the Bank influence how we engage on SOGI inclusion, including in some of the most challenging contexts. And that brings us back to the ESF and non-discrimination, and noting the Bank Directive on vulnerable and marginalized groups – the Directive is meant to help Bank staff understand what is required when it comes to non-discrimination, including as relates to non-discrimination on the basis of SOGI. And we tie this closely to ESS10 and stakeholder engagement – because the best perspectives on the challenges faced due to exclusion based on SOGI come from the affected persons, themselves. Speaking as someone who was an external partner to the Bank before 2016, I can say that it is clear that the Bank has gotten better at stakeholder engagement. The key now is translating the information gained through stakeholder engagement into what is needed for project design so as to minimize the possibility of discrimination in project design or implementation. Will we eliminate discrimination based on SOGI 100% – no, that’s a high bar and we have to be realistic – we’re all imperfect people in an imperfect world – but the Bank is committed to do the best that we can.

By the way, it is not just about addressing the most challenging contexts as relates to SOGI. We also have clients who address or want to address SOGI inclusion as part of their sustainable development agenda. Some of these have already been asking the Bank for support on this. And that’s where building the evidence base, including data generation, comes in, as well as capacity building of clients. We’re also beginning to see clients who ask for a project to include a SOGI component – in projects related to social protection and education in South America, for instance. So yes there are challenges but there are also opportunities.

Phil Creehan (moderator): Let’s focus on data question, we need knowledge. The role of World Bank is to facilitate data questions. LGBTI people face hypervisibility in the community but also invisibility in terms of data. The Bank is doing a lot, but we are expecting it to be doing more. Can you speak to data collection in Western Balkans?

Clif Cortez: Recently, the World Bank has engaged on SOGI-specific data generation in the Western Balkans and in Thailand. In the Western Balkans this included a regional survey. In the regional case, we took an existing EU survey on LGBTI discrimination, tweaked it a bit, and replicated it in Western Balkans countries. At the same time, in Serbia, we went for a closer look at economic outcomes for LGBTI people, by taking the Survey on Income and Living Conditions (SILC), tweaking it a bit and targeting survey respondents who were self-identified sexual and gender minorities. So now we have a SOGI dataset to compare to Serbia’s general population SILC dataset. That analysis is being finalized now, with the report to go public in the next couple of months. But data, as important as it is, was not the end goal. We followed up the data generation and analysis with meetings with CSO stakeholders, and then discussions with the clients. All of this is helping us understand better how we can do data generation that’s SOGI-specific, and understand better the role the Bank should play in this.

Phil Creehan (moderator): How did you take part and how did that inform dialogue with the Government?

Amarildo Fecanji: LGBTI activists are still faced with a lot of hard questions. However, sometimes information goes in front of walls, prejudice still exists. It is hard to convince people of how hard the lives of LGBTI people are, and that this discrimination leads to violence, hate speech but also poverty in terms of access to employment, opportunities in workplace. E.g for a trans person, exclusion has huge economic cost, such as being able to access employment freely without discrimination. When you don’t have right to family or legal recognitions, it can be difficult to access loans and other things. When the World Bank came with research in region, we were excited. We think this is a must, to continue to produce more evidence, analysis on the price tag of discrimination. Shows LGBTI people feel threatened by institutions, out of all the people who have suffered discrimination/violence, only 17% have taken case to police. People don’t have support for most basic thing like seeking help when being attacked.

Also LGBTI people suffer from attacks in the workplace. The World Bank does help to strengthen ability to speak to stakeholders. When you have research – and this research is strong backup. Data important for sensitisation and helping Government to make right choices.

We are happy with the meeting taking place in Western Balkans, happy with ESF and processes at country level such as SCD and CPF important tools to influence work of country offices. The message I have here is that the World Bank is operating in a tough space, it is hard to open minds. Some countries are progressive on LGBTI rights and others horrifying like in Brunei. So the World Bank has an important task in working with all these countries, especially those countries in the middle that are open to LGBTI rights but don’t know how to work on it.

Phil Creehan (moderator): Elaine, can you tell us about how the World Bank left has out LGBTI people?

Elaine Zuckerman: For two decades Gender Action has been doing gender analysis of World Bank portfolio. For first time, instead of doing for binary women and men, we decided to do for LGBTI folk. Looked at Haiti, took the World Bank (and Inter-American Development Bank) portfolio sample, which covered 6 out of 19 projects 47% of World Bank grants in the country over 5 years. In Haiti, there is severe discrimination against LGBTI people. It is illegal to be an LGBTI person in Haiti.

I’ll walk through the six projects quickly. Firstly, we looked at two water and sanitation projects that World Bank financed in Haiti. The first one after the 2010 earthquake, and additional financing from hurricane Matthew in 2016. Both projects had big focus on eradicating cholera and building water and sanitation infrastructure. We found no acknowledgment of sexual minorities who would have been affected by calamities and suffered from issues arising from loss of livelihood. I visited the area of hurricane Matthew in 2017 and everything was destroyed. The Bank’s projects were to help people affected by these disasters but LGBTI people not listed as a vulnerable group.

LGBTI people must be included in resettlement many do not get compensation when forced to leave.

On projects where there’s an influx of construction workers, LGBTI people would have been affected by gender-based violence (GBV) or sexual based violence (SBV), not just the women who were listed. Transportation project in the middle of Haiti, also involuntary resettlement. This was strongly sensitive from women’s rights perspective but negligent of LGBTI folk. There were incentives to hire women construction workers but not LGBTI folk. We talk of subsidies for the poorest, but LGBTI people were not included. The Bank did not require contractors to hire LGBTI workers or even protect from harassment which it did for women. Also, there’s a big industry of tourism in Haiti, particularly sexual tourism. This affects not just women but also LGTBI people, who are strongly vulnerable to sexual tourism. The Bank should have taken steps to address LGBTI people’s needs. They were not even targeted for consultation.

Another World Bank health project for Haiti was a maternal and child health project, but it was broader than that. Also lesbian women get pregnant and should get help through project. Only talked about barriers that women faced, not LGBTI people, even through talked about people with disabilities or from indigenous groups. The World Bank’s CPF for Haiti was also negligent. The health project discussed influxes of labourers, but not LGBTI people.

I’ll end by talking about an energy project that the World Bank did. No project documents talked about LGBTI people. I assume they were excluded from jobs from projects. Our report recommended that they be offered benefits for projects.

Haiti is a typical World Bank country example. We are happy that the World Bank is positively engaging in the Balkans. But these are the exceptions. The vast majority of projects do not have anything in portfolio for LGBTI people. This discrimination is reinforced when you exclude them from projects. I’ll conclude by saying that World Bank needs to expand budget for SOGI. We are glad Clif was hired, but he can’t cover entire World Bank portfolio of projects. We’d like every region, even country to have SOGI experts. We’d like to see project analyses with a SOGI lens.

Phil Creehan (moderator): the bulk of financing from Nordic trust fund. We are expecting this public institution to be giving more resources programmatically and projects. The World Bank has massive sectoral loans. The opportunity for LGBTI people to partake in that is tremendous.

We have been talking about ESF which replaces the World Bank safeguards. When huge loans go from World Bank to clients, loans can exclude or hurt environment. Clif, what is your strategy to engage country offices so they are doing due diligence on SOGI issues. What are the implications in countries where there is a surge in discrimination on ESF?

Clif Cortez: I have a small team supporting me on the SOGI inclusion support to Bank teams and our clients. We’ve begun trainings on SOGI and the ESF for our Bank Social Development Specialists, and it is they who have eyes on projects in preparation and know what is in the pipeline. This is especially important in terms of how the Bank engages with our clients in discussions that may lead or are leading to new projects. So it’s at that level that is critical that the Bank is able to apply a SOGI lens. This is all still new so we aren’t going to be doing this perfectly at first, we likely still have big gaps. But the ESF will help us reduce these gaps. We recently conducted a training for all Africa-based Social Development Specialists, focused on the ESF, SOGI and also disabilities. So now when Bank Task Teams are engaged in supporting discussions with clients on new operations, the ESF has been the trigger for those teams to reach out for support on SOGI. As opportunities come, we can respond and support teams, and we were able to do this recently for new project designs for Tanzania, for instance.

The new ESF allows us to move from just mitigating risk in design of projects to supporting clients on a robust social inclusion development agenda. That is reflected in projects on social protection in the employment sector in Argentina, higher education sector in Chile, and others. By the way, the Argentina and Chile projects have as their major focus addressing gender inequality but they also include a focus on SOGI inclusion.

Phil Creehan (moderator): I have a question for Mwamba. In Tanzania, what was it like to engage with World Bank when law on the books? What can be done?

Mwamba Nyanda: In Tanzania, when the crackdown was happening, the World Bank issued a statement, which helped us but also the Government of Tanzania and they talked to President. The World Bank should continue to advocate for inclusivity and non-discrimination for sexual minorities in its programming. In its support for financial inclusion, the World Bank could have inclusive policy in programming. When we talk about economic empowerment and LGBTI, there’s a big gap. But also issues in terms of freedom of assembly, association and speech. It should promote the economic development of LGBTI groups through funds to support livelihoods. Many are not considered when it comes to the economic sector, education sector and heath sector.

Audience questions

-I’d like to push back on the data point about a dearth of quantitative data. It’s very important for making cases for funding,  but it is not true that there is a desert of data. There’s a tonne of data but it is qualitative. How do we include qualitative data? The ESF and gender analysis is important for clients, other donors and helps us consulting in other places.

-I’m happy to hear a human rights framework mentioned here. It’s usually not mentioned in development environments, poverty is human rights issue, especially violations. We need to think beyond just no harm, but to next steps.

-In Haiti illegal to be LGBTI, how does it work in terms of World Bank engagement?

-You mentioned that the World Bank is not necessarily where it could be in five or ten years time on this issue, so where do you think the World Bank could get to in five or ten years time?

Mwamba Nyanda: We have a new country framework. It’s about health, education, empowering women. How will the World Bank address LGBTI in the economic development framework coming up? In terms of qualitative indicators, we do not have census, so now are the first steps.

Clif Cortez: In terms of working in situations in which aspects of SOGI are criminalised, it’s important to remember that this is not only specific to SOGI and is not new for the Bank or other multilaterals. We’ve often worked in such situations and still found ways to advocate for and move the agenda of inclusion. Good examples are addressing gender inequality in contexts in which the law placed or still places great restrictions on women and girls, as well the great HIV work that has been supported and has led to such great successes, often in spite of bad laws related to HIV and/or to HIV key populations.

On the SOGI inclusion work, where we are now is not where we’ll be in 5 years. And at every IMF-World Bank Annual and Spring Meetings, we should keep meeting and discussing this and this also helps progress the work. We want to effectively move the ESF implementation related to non-discrimination, such that more and more clients will have SOGI inclusion on their own radars and will consider it as one of the important approaches for economic and social inclusion. For instance, perhaps at the moment in Haiti we are limited to ensuring good stakeholder engagement that informs project design, and ensuring we’re minimizing the possibility of discrimination in project design and implementation. As long as this is the most that the client wants or will allow, then that’s what we will focus on there. But if things on the ground change, and the client asks for more, the Bank will be there to respond.

Phil Creehan (moderator): Time will tell if the ESF provides more robust safeguards. Our message to OPCS is that this is something civil society is monitoring. We expect a document on the SOGI good practice note.


by Ella Hopkins

Mobile Communications for All

5G won’t reduce the digital divide and might even make it worse

By Peter Bloom

As laid out in my previous piece about 5G networks, much of the energy from the mobile sector around connecting the unconnected is dissipating. It is not that there are no efforts, for example the Telefonica/Facebook partnership in Peru, Internet para Todos, but simply that they are waning. This shift away from connecting people is important as the mobile industry has been seen over the past couple of decades as the magic bullet in terms of increasing connectivity. But with the focus on 5G, the number of those connected with mobile technology is unlikely to increase.

In this brief piece, I will place special emphasis on why 5G is poorly suited to close the digital divide and how it will, perhaps, widen it. The reason for this is simple: the mobile industry has engaged in substantial regulatory capture all over the world. In other words, they have managed to shape how telecommunications are regulated in ways that benefit their business and suite of technology. This happened because, frankly, they delivered. The mobile revolution was a real thing and millions and millions of people were connected to more affordable voice and data services. In response, regulators generally do the mobile industry’s bidding because mobile “works”. But that revolution is over. This is born out by the GSMA’s own numbers on slowing subscriber growth. The regulatory capture is important because the strength of the mobile lobby, and the regulations that have been shaped by it, are not conducive to allowing new entrants into the market (e.g. community networks) and potentially undermine other existing access technologies and providers (e.g. satellite).

From this analysis, it is probably time to find additional ways to solve the digital divide that are not only based on large-scale mobile if we really want to address getting half of the world’s population connected. The mobile industry is in the throes of a new revolution, just one that has little or nothing to do with increasing access or affordability. In fact it is not even clear when 5G will start rolling out at any scale. By the GSMA’s own estimation: “global 5G adoption will still only be around 16 per cent in 2025.”

A fundamental issue is that 5G is not human-centered. Communication between and among human beings is only a small part of the package, as is people accessing information and engaging in dialogue. As my previous piece highlighted, there is an important focus on facilitating machine-to-machine communications (“Internet of Things”) and converting 5G into a media distribution platform for HD television, gaming, virtual reality and the like. When people are no longer the intrinsic focus of the communication system, then something fundamental has changed about the nature and purpose of the network. 5G networks are being built to do something different and if we are concerned about how 3 to 4 billion people on the planet will be able to exercise their fundamental rights to communications and information, then we need to look elsewhere.

Not only is 5G problematic from a teleological standpoint, it is also unlikely to close the digital divide, and might even make it worse.

5G is incredibly expensive to deploy, even in optimal, urban conditions. The base stations are expensive, you need lots of them, and they require costly supporting infrastructure, like high-capacity fiber optic cabling, to operate. This makes sense if you want to create a very dense network to serve lots of data to lots of people in a small area. It does not make sense for rural areas, where generally you need to cover few people in a large area. As we know from our current situation, mobile networks struggle to operate sustainably in rural environments where population densities and available income are lower. This is why operators tend to avoid building anything in these kinds of places. If the major operators decide not to build out in new places, the fact that their spectrum licenses are generally national, means others cannot build the networks instead. Additionally, 5G, in most cases, requires operators to access new spectrum bands, which is not cheap. Mobile operators are investing lots of money to access millimeter-wave spectrum for 5G that is not feasible to use in rural areas as these very high frequencies are not well suited for covering large areas.

Since so much money is going into gaining access to spectrum and building these next-generation networks, it is possible that what little investment in rural areas currently happens, will actually decrease. And forget about prices dropping for existing services. The operators need money to roll out 5G and they are going to squeeze it out of existing users however they can. In places like South Africa, affordability of existing services is a major issue, even if there is coverage in most places.

Another way that 5G might make the digital divide worse is the ongoing fight between mobile operators and satellite operators for spectrum. There are disputes happening over the C-Band (4GHz to 8GHz), 28GHz and in higher V-bands (40GHz to 75GHz). v-band-spectrum-competition-wrc19While satellite operators have struggled to make prices affordable, their technology is crucial for rural connectivity and has been for many years. In addition, the satellite industry is on the cusp of a major shift. High Throughput Satellites (HTS) and proposed low-orbit constellations should lead to dramatically increased capacity and lower prices for end users. If those technologies cannot access the spectrum they need, then they will have trouble growing and reaching people. In a later piece co-authored with my colleague Steve Song, we will look at some of these new technologies.

There is a final way that 5G could muck up the works and it has to do with drawing the attention of policy-makers and regulators away from ensuring affordable connectivity for all their constituents. Administrations around the world are setting up highfalutin commissions and sending their people all around the world to look into how their countries can embrace the 4th Industrial Revolution. This is all well and good, but it would be fantastic if such zeal and expertise went into dealing with present-day issues and not only those of the future. This argument is partially about regulatory capture, as noted above. It is also about the fact that in many countries with low connectivity penetration, communications ministries and telecoms regulatory agencies are understaffed, and there are only so many civil society, academics and independent people available to put energy into solving a problem. This shift in attention could also mean that government agency funding for research and development, as well as support to bridge the digital divide, might dry up for a problem that is nowhere near to being solved.

In summary, policy-makers and telecoms regulators have an important role to play in balancing the requirements of new 5G networks with their own stated goal of ensuring affordable connectivity for all. If they are committed to making spectrum available to mobile operators for 5G they must also find creative mechanisms to guarantee access to spectrum and backhaul for other connectivity models interested in bridging the digital divide, be it community networks or even satellite companies. Additionally, finance institutions and Universal Service Funds, especially those oriented towards poverty reduction and sustainability, should understand how their investments in 5G might leave room and money to pay for other, more appropriate technologies and business models, including community networks.


by Peter

Bretton Woods Project

Taxing to Develop: International Taxation Challenges for Africa


Vitor Gaspar, Director, Fiscal Affairs Department, IMF
Ceyla Pazarbasioglu, Vice President for Equitable Growth, Finance and Institutions, World Bank Group
Michael Keen, Deputy Director, Fiscal Affairs Department, IMF
Mary Baine, Director Tax Programmes, African Tax Administration Forum
Jan Loeprick, senior economist, World Bank Group
Susana Ruiz Rodriguez, Global lead on Tax Justice, Oxfam International
Alexandra Readhead, Technical Advisor to the Intergovernmental Forum on Mining (IGF)

Opening Remarks:

Vitor Gaspar: First, taxation is fundamental for development. Tax is the means that enables the state to deliver on inclusive and sustainable growth. Second, the IMF has been working on issues of international tax cooperation for a long time. International spillovers are particularly important for low-income countries (LICS) and hence, international tax cooperation is important for development. Third, we are at a point that is extremely important for international tax cooperation. We have the opportunity to shape the way forward for international corporate tax cooperation that hopefully will prove robust to technological change and globalisation. This process is important to the world, but particularly for LICs. Finally, there is some urgency in making progress in state tax capacity and coordination. It is incumbent on us to work together, in particular the IMF and World Bank.

Ceyla Pazarbasioglu: Domestic revenue mobilisation, financing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and how to think about new challenges such as digital taxation are on top of these Spring Meetings agenda. What is the critical question for us, and what we heard echoed at the G20, is how to join up efforts. Countries are bombarded by International Finance Institutions (IFIs) and bilateral donors, providers of technical assistance (TA), but it is important that, given the lack of capacity they face, we work together and make sure we have a joined up approach. We have been providing IDA countries with assistance on domestic revenue mobilisation. These efforts are in the billions of dollars in terms of support. Linked to this discussion on tax is debt and debt transparency, and how do we look at both sides of the fiscal coin? While digital tax also came up in every single meeting, at the G20 meetings there is not a consensus on it yet and it will take some time to reach a consensus.

Corporate Taxation in the Global Economy, with a Focus on the Issues for Developing Countries

Mick Keen: The international corporate tax system is under unprecedented stress. The G20/OECD project on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) has made significant progress in international tax cooperation, addressing some major weak points in the century-old architecture. But vulnerabilities remain. Limitations of the arm’s-length principle—under which transactions between related parties are to be priced as if they were between independent entities—and reliance on notions of physical presence of the taxpayer to establish a legal basis to impose income tax have allowed apparently profitable firms to pay little tax. Tax competition remains largely unaddressed. And concerns with the allocation of taxing rights across countries continue. Recent unilateral measures, moreover, jeopardise such cooperation as has been achieved.

The IMF has published a paper that reviews alternative directions for progress. The call for taxation “where value is created” has proved an inadequate basis for real progress. There now seems quite widespread agreement that fundamental change to current norms is needed—but no agreement, as yet, on its best form.

Key concerns are to better address both profit shifting and tax competition—and ensure full recognition of the interests of emerging and developing countries. Low income countries (LICs) are especially exposed to profit shifting and tax competition (and have limited alternatives for raising revenue) and their limited capacity is now stretched further by increased complexity. For them, securing the tax base on inward investment is key.

Alternative international tax architectures differ not only in their economic properties, but in how far they depart from current norms and the degree of cooperation they require. No scheme is without difficulty, but there are clear opportunities for improvement:

  • Minimum taxes on outbound investment can offer significant though incomplete protection against profit shifting and tax competition and generate positive spillovers for other jurisdictions (other than those with low tax regimes). Minimum taxes on inbound investment can be especially appealing for LICs. These schemes have the merit of being readily designed to complement current norms. But there is a tradeoff between ease of administration and risk of such bluntness as to potentially jeopardise investment. Further, distortions remain (through for instance the relocation of parent companies) and underlying weaknesses of the system are patched rather than fixed. While minimum taxation has advantages over current arrangements, it is not clear that it alone would prove a robust long-term solution.
  • Further from current practice, but addressing current weaknesses more fully, schemes of residual profit allocation (RPA)—broadly, allocating a normal return to source countries, and sharing the residual on a formulaic basis. Such schemes can substantially reduce profit shifting, as would other unitary approaches, while retaining the familiarity of the arm’s length principle for straightforward cases. But much depends on the way in which residual profits are allocated: tax competition is more limited the greater the weight placed on allocation by the destination of sales (or similar criterion), given the relative immobility of final consumers. The residual profit allocation approach sets the scene for constructive discussion of the allocation of taxing rights in relation to some part of international corporate profits, though securing agreement on such apportionment will be difficult.
  • Some allocation of taxing rights to destination countries features in many proposals, including some residual profit allocation schemes: this is the most effective way to address tax competition and profit shifting. Among such schemes— and most remote from the current debate among policy makers—border adjusted taxes—combining value-added tax (VAT)-like treatment of trade with a wage subsidy—face potential World Trade Organisation issues (because border adjustability resulting in imports and exports being taxed differentially is not currently permitted for (direct) corporate taxes) and may amplify refund problems that arise under the VAT; and unilateral adoption could have significant adverse spillover effects. They remain, nonetheless, the most complete solution to tax competition and profit shifting. To the extent that erosion of the corporate tax leads to increased reliance on the VAT moderated by a desire to keep labor taxes low, the default outcome in the absence of more deliberate reform may be implicit but imperfect taxation of this kind. The economic impact and administrability of these schemes requires further analysis—especially for emerging and developing countries. Even for advanced economies, little is known, for instance, about the nature and extent of residual profits. Data and research gaps for low income countries remain substantial. Some improvements can be achieved unilaterally or regionally, but more fundamental solutions require stronger institutions for global cooperation. Addressing the distinct concerns of developing countries is critical, as is making full use of the differing comparative advantages and mandates of relevant international organisations.

Mary Baine: Key international corporate tax challenges in the African landscape.

  1. Developing technical and other administrative capabilities to address base erosion.
    1. The importance of corporate tax in Africa; Corporate Income Tax (CIT) revenues make up 15 per cent of total revenues in Africa. Does this mean CIT is not a priority area? No. The question to ask is rather whether the contribution is too low due to BEPS and or tax incentives or other factors.
  2. Developing effective legal regimes in Africa to address base erosion.
    1. Challenges of BEPS in Africa:
      1. Weak domestic legislation
      2. Tax treaties that do not have the appropriate tax allocation rights between source and residence taxation and are susceptible to abuse.
      3. Limited exchange of information networks which starves African tax administrations of the vital information they need to address base erosion and stem illicit financial flows.
      4. Limited capacity within tax administrations.
      5. Excessive tax incentives. Example, we found very high investment deductions in some countries, with some offering 100 per cent exemption for bringing in certain technologies or expertise.
    2. Taxing the digital economy in Africa:
      1. The digitalisation of the economy presents tax challenges and opportunities for Africa.
      2. The tax challenges may lead to fundamental changes to the international tax rules, including changing the allocation of taxing rights between residence and source jurisdictions.
  3. ATAF is part of the global debate on international cooperation on corporate tax.
    1. ATAF is part of the debate in many fora, including the OECD.
    2. ATAF supports its African members on this issue
    3. ATAF develops technical notes on this issue
    4. ATAF participates in global standard setting to give the African perspective and make proposals
    5. ATAF is working with key African bodies
  4. ATAF advice on tax incentives
    1. ATAF advises on base erosion
    2. Results from the studies suggest that tax incentives are not the main driver for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Africa
    3. ATAF has created this awareness through a Technical Note to members.
  5. The EU blacklisting story and the ATAF response.
    1. ATAF is concerned about the EU listing of African countries on its list on non-cooperative tax jurisdictions. It is the unfairness of the process we really object to, and it often causes severe distress to countries placed on them.
      1. The list does not provide a fair picture as countries such as Namibia do no provide fertile grounds for tax avoidance.
      2. The listing is viewed as bullying on the part of the EU, as joining these international bodies and instruments is voluntary for developing countries.
    2. ATAF is providing technical assistance to members on the list helping them to:
      1. Understand the commitments made to the EU
      2. Meet the commitments in a manner that meets the country’s own priorities whilst ensuring they are completely removed from the list of countries.

Susana Ruiz Rodriguez: Reforming the international tax corporation architecture

The new tax paradigm:  Corporates are paying less while burdens are shifting to families through Personal Income Tax (PIT), payroll taxes, and taxes on goods and services. We are glad to hear here at Spring Meetings and from other speakers that tax is seen as being crucial to the achievement of the SDGS. However, it is just as important to ask, ‘who is contributing?’, as to ask whether we are collecting more revenues. We are seeing the contributions of large corporates to tax revenues decrease by 14 or 15 per cent, while the burdens to families increases by 30 per cent. To us, we need to take into account how we increase tax revenues and who contributes.

A phantom economy: Eight major pass-through economies host more than 85 per cent of global investment in special purpose entities, often set-up only for tax reasons. These are growing fast. More and more growth that is being created is going to those jurisdictions, taking money away in particular from developing countries. As we were talking about blacklists earlier, none of these pass-through economies are part of European blacklists. We need to ask ourselves what we are doing if countries like Namibia are being identified on tax blacklists, while we are not able to address these very low tax jurisdictions. These countries represent a huge risk to many developing countries.

New business model, same old problems: The time has come for real solutions. Many of the same old problems remain after BEPS. BEPS has not been successful in looking at the problems of the present and future. It was just set up to address the problems of the past. For example, tax challenges of digitalisation are not limited to specific business sectors, but existing problems are exacerbated by digitalisation. The implementation of BEPS has left room for profit shifting and increased tax competition for real investment. We have a unique and important opportunity now to look to the future. The current system and BEPS was designed to address the past. The more we have been looking at how to address this, the more we see that countries are choosing to attract FDI through tax competition. What we are seeing is that we have been trying to solve only part of the problem, but that this approach actually is exacerbating a new problem. Trying to look only at the individual pieces will not be helpful.

Developing countries need to work together on international tax cooperation – Oxfam

It is therefore now a unique time for a historic reform, that has to include two components. Implementing one without the other will not be sufficient. Shifting taxing rights has to go together with minimum tax (TBEP IIR). It will not make sense when we have a historic opportunity to only tackle part of the problem. The whole solution means that even if we shift taxing rights, it will mean nothing if we still tax at very low levels. Employment will be a crucial element in terms of taxing rights. Developing countries need to act together and be united to work together. It is complicated because developing countries are diverse and can have different interests, but it is acting together that will bring the solution, perhaps best exemplified by this illustration (to the right). We cannot afford to again go through solutions that only address part of the problem.

Alexandra Readhead: Unresolved issues, corporation taxation in the natural resource sector.

Extractives are different when it comes to international corporate taxation. The most obvious issue is that we are dealing with a finite source that is location-specific. Citizens are thus right to be concerned about whether they are receiving their fair share of these resources, because when they are gone they will not be able to benefit from them anymore.

There is a risk that because they are different, they are left out of tax reforms. Yet, it is precisely what makes this sector different that demands more, not less, attention on profit shifting. We cannot offer proper solution to LICs without looking at the resource sector. LICs really rely on resource taxes, averaging 17.5 per cent of total government revenues in those countries.

Yet, still, profit-shifting persists. While it is difficult to have a global estimate, it is reasonable to assume that the extractive sector accounts for a large chunk of profit shifting. Current rules are too complex. For example, in the case of one transfer pricing dispute in Australia, the dispute fees equalled 45 per cent of Sierra Leone’s entire budget for its tax administration. There is tax competition, despite dealing with a location-specific resource. We have looked at the number of mining tax incentives over time in 21 countries. Looking at these incentives over the last 10 years we see there are 12 newly signed contracts, and 2 newly enacted laws, that include corporate tax holidays.

Corporate tax reform proposals applied to mineral sector – IGF

So, can reforms apply to this industry? To provide an overview we have designed this traffic-light assessment (above) of alternatives. For instance, the destination-based approach is unlikely to work for the extractives sector. While source-based tax might compensate some of those losses, it is still unlikely it will be very successful. What might be more feasible for the extractive industries is formula apportionment. There would be a lot of issues to resolve but it could work. But perhaps the best solution for this sector would be the ‘minimum tax on inbound’ combined with a greater use of benchmarks prices – option.

What type of source-based tax would be most appropriate for the extractives sector? – IGF

If these more ambitious reforms do not take place and source-based tax continues, then what type would be most appropriate for this sector? Again, we have designed this colour-coded guide on different options (above), with ‘fixed fee’ and ‘paid equity’ options making most sense.

In summary, resource taxation has to be part of the conversation. Source-based taxes that are robust to BEPS should be prioritised, and some reform proposals could apply, with modifications.

Jan Loeprick: To get back to the initial presentation and what we have heard, on where we are and future proposals. It is clear that when we think of LICS and priorities, you certainly need to look at matching tools to capacity. And we need to think about the political economy of reform implementation and decision-making.

If you look at Africa, there are major implementation gaps, even with the current rules. Clearly there is an important question on why that is. The IMF toolkit on transfer pricing offered some solutions to implementation, but, as mentioned, was very long and perhaps difficult to use in practice. In theory we have made the case, in practice we have failed to implement. We have done some work in TA to address this, but we have not seen this all the way through and many of these proposals have not seen the light of day. Policy makers are afraid to be the first mover.

We should hope for an inclusive framework discussion that includes the interests of the wider constituencies. Like how to make country-by-country reporting easier for African countries to do and use. It is key to understand that profit shifting has continued due to gaps in the rules and a mismatch between rules and the current environment. You end up with a lot of room for discretion and judgement by design.

While the administrative side is quite critical to get right, there are many small solutions for those. To tax competition, I agree that self-inflicted base erosion is a big concern. On the treaty body argument, what comes out of TA on this is that we should think of tax treaties like other areas where TA is needed, especially outlier treaties, as they tend to come with a very high cost.

Two concerns around BEPS: One, implementation is not trivial, and two, it can divert attention from looking at treaty policy more generally. Minimum taxes can be a very useful tool, but perhaps also think about more targeted rules. I still think there is merit in thinking more simply about the formulaic method for developing countries.

Which brings me to future directions. I agree that we need to think about balance between unilateral measures and reaching a consensus, and we are facing a very ambitious timeline to reach consensus. In that context it would be hard to justify holding back unilateral measures. In the short term, we need to very quickly move to provide parameters of the overall design.


(only in part)

Q – Tove Ryding (Eurodad): Thank you for the new IMF report. It says that while all countries are invited to participate in BEPS implementation on equal footing, it acknowledges that LICS were not on equal footing when BEPS was adopted. To get a seat at the table, developing countries had to accept the decisions already made. Meanwhile, we continue to hear the constant call of the G77 for a UN negotiation of tax standards that is open for everyone on an equal footing. Where does the IMF stand on such a UN-led process?

A – Mick Keen: Please take another question, I need time to think about that one.

Q – Chris Morgan (KPMG): One thing that has not been touched on is trust. There is a lack of trust on both sides, between companies and tax authorities. We had companies saying that tax authorities have all the power and can unilaterally make the rules, while tax authorities often have no way of knowing what companies are telling them is accurate. Between companies and tax authorities, how do we overcome a lack of trust, because at the end of the day they are all in the same boat.

Q: A lot of large companies pay 1 to 2 per cent of their revenues of tax, although the nominal tax rate is about 30 per cent. Do you think we should consider a tax on gross profits?

A – Mick Keen: On the UN question, we all know it is a charged issue. We are keen on multilateralism and it can be achieved in a manner of ways, at the regional or global level. We are not particularly invested in one mechanism or the other. One of thee reasons we did the Platform for Collaboration on Tax is to bring in more groups, bring in the standard setting and analytics of the IMF and the Bank. We are admirative of all efforts to promote multilateralism, and as the IMF are keen to support that.

A – Mary Baine: On the trust question, the issue of trust has been put on the table. In our opinion, both examples that you gave are quite valid. They emanate from a lack of tax certainty, meaning that weak tax laws lead to profit shifting.

by Emma Burgisser

April 17, 2019

Bretton Woods Project

Sustainable Infrastructure: Aligning with Rights and the SDGs


Matti Kohonen, Principal Advisor – Private Sector, Christian Aid (moderator)

Motoko Aizawa, Independent Researcher

Amal-Lee Amin, Chief of Climate Change Division, Inter-American Development Bank

Cecilia Gondard, Senior Policy and Advocacy Officer, EURODAD

David Cruz, Consultant, Infrastructure and Sustainable Energy, Asociacion Ambiente y Sociedad

Clive Harris, Head of Maximizing Finance for Development, World Bank Group

CSO session sponsors: Christian Aid, Bretton Woods Project, ITUC, EURODAD, Urgewald, Debt Justice Norway, SID, LATINDADD.


Motoko Aizawa: Quality Infrastructure Investment (QII) and Japan’s G20 presidency

During its 2019 G20 presidency, QII is one of Japanese priority areas; why is this being picked up? There’s the geopolitical context – the quad, which includes the US, Australia, India and Japan – are working an agenda of ‘peace & prosperity’ in the Pacific, which is in competition to China. The quad is a very strong political driver for quality infrastructure in Japan’s G20.

QII origin – this is not a new initiative: it started in 2014 with the Brisbane G20, where QII was discussed without really defining what it means. The concept has evolved in recent years, with key moments including the Financing for Development/Addis Ababa Action Agenda in 2015, the G7’s Ise-Shima Principles in 2016, and the G20 Leaders’ Summit in Argentina. APEC issued a revised Guidebook on Quality Infrastructure Development and Investment in 2018. There are also various reference points in Japan, including with JBIC and the QII Casebook. Overall, the content of what constitutes ‘quality’ in infrastructure depends on who is saying it.

Three qualities of QII in Japan’s G20:

  • Openness – for enterprise, etc (project bidding not tied to national contractors; i.e. a direct response to China’s Belt and Road Initiative).
  • Transparency
  • Debt sustainability

There are also references to infrastructure for human development.

Meanwhile, there is the C20 process, which focuses on civil society. Some of us have been developing a set of Quality Infrastructure Principles. These have an emphasis on:

  • Inclusion
  • Environmental and social sustainability
  • Labor standards
  • Anti-corruption
  • Transparency and accountability
  • Specific concerns regarding PPPs

These were actually developed for past G20 discussions of quality infrastructure. Now we are trying to see how we may be able to use these as part of the Japan G20 process.

Overall, the normative framework of QII alone isn’t enough; we need monitoring of ‘sustainable’ or ‘quality infrastructure’, that allows for it to be regulated, and aligned with national and regional standards. However, the Japan G20 is already happening at the end of June, rather than later in the year, so the processes leading up to it are quite rushed.

Beyond Japan’s G20 will follow Saudi Arabia and India presidencies. Also, the Global Infrastructure Hub has developed a new tool on inclusivity and social equity, which is a useful benchmark. Will the G7 processes ensure undergirding of QII? Overall, there are up to 30 ‘sustainable infrastructure’ processes; can these be standardised?


Amal-Lee Amin: IDB’s Approach to Sustainable Infrastructure

In 2015, there were four ground-breaking international agreements that frame how we approach sustainable infrastructure: the Sendai Framework, Financing for Development (Addis Agenda), the Sustainable Development Goals, and the Paris Agreement.

When we look at all four of those agreements, infrastructure is key. And 70 per cent of IDB’s work is in infrastructure, so if we can get that right, we’re aligned with those agreements in that part of our portfolio. There’s also an urgency from the point of view of climate change, in ensuring that our investments are not locked in to a high carbon future, and might become stranded assets.

Defining ‘sustainable infrastructure’ – no one really knows what they are talking about, and that includes investors, who are saying “we also need to know.” IDB has been working on its own definition, which is part of a much larger trajectory of work on the concept of sustainable infrastructure, starting in the 1990s with World Bank early references, the IFC performance standards in 2006, and importantly for the current discussions in the G20 surrounding quality infrastructure, and the G7 Ise-Shima Principles in 2016.

In our Sustainable Infrastructure Framework published last year, and a summary publication released yesterday, we have identified four pillars:

  • Economic / financial
  • Social
  • Environmental (incl. climate and resilience)
  • Institutional

This includes ensuring infrastructure is aligned with countries’ national, regional and international commitments, including to the Paris Agreement. The approach attempts to address three overlapping challenges: reigniting global growth, helping countries achieve their Nationally Determined Contributions to the Paris Agreement (NDCs) and the SDGs, and addressing climate risks. Rights of end users: human rights are accounted for under the ‘social’ part of the framework, which stipulates the need to consult with project-affected communities.

Last year, IDB produced a report on four decades of infrastructure conflict in transport projects in Latin America, which was very eye-opening, and revealed an overall lack of data and information of these types of issues. Lack of adequate planning, lack of transparency and lack of community engagement were important factors that had led to conflict in the cases outlined in the report.

In terms of upstream planning for sustainable infrastructure, we’re looking at applying our approach across the whole lifecycle of the project. You need to link the concept of ‘sustainable infrastructure’ to the whole upstream and regulatory context, into investment strategies, national plans, etc. This is essential: if you really want to have ‘sustainable infrastructure’ outcomes you need to introduce it at the start, so that it informs the policy and institutional setting.

Financing: There are different types of finance, that involve different types of leveraging of the private sector, and different roles for the state.

A new IDB report, Moving forward together: Attributes and Framework for Sustainable Infrastructure, will be launched soon. There was event at Brookings Institute on 9 April that included 4-5 MDBs, WRI, etc., and we’re trying to develop a more standardised approach to sustainable infrastructure, if possible. We recognise that other MDBs, especially the Asian Development Bank, are developing their own standards, and it’s really important to collaborate.

Question from audience: Are you plugged in to G20?

Amal-Lee Amin: Yes and no, we were involved under the Argentina presidency last year, but now with the Japan presidency in 2019 we are less involved. We are working with Harvard on a literature review of the concept of sustainable infrastructure. Every time you hear a talk on infrastructure in the G20 it sounds slightly different.


Cecilia Gondard: PPPs & Infrastructure

The rationale for the World Bank’s PPPs push focuses on the so-called ‘infrastructure gap’, and the need to leverage the private sector to meet it. This includes the ‘Billions to Trillions’ approach to achieving the SDGs, which the World Bank has tried to operationalise through its Maximising Finance for Development (MFD) initiative. The World Bank has emphasised the use of public institutions to attract private finance, through different mechanisms. Nine pilot countries have been identified by the World Bank for MFD, with an emphasis on infrastructure investment.

Eurodad has published a number of reports over the past few years that reflect the growing body of evidence on the risks associated with PPPs. The History RePPPeated report, published in October, looks at 10 case studies, both in developing and developed countries, which show that in these cases PPPs have resulted in very high costs for the public purse, with greater risks, and sometimes increased inequality and negative impacts for the poor. New Eurodad research has also found that PPP conditionalities are sometimes part of IMF loan programmes, as well as World Bank development policy loans (DPLs); in Egypt, Jordan & Iraq, DPLs included promotion of PPPs.

The ‘PPPs manifesto’, signed by over 150 CSOs from around the world in 2017, called on the World Bank to:

  • Halt aggressive promotion of PPPs
  • Support countries in finding the best financing method for public services in infrastructure
  • Prioritise domestic resources to provide efficient and accountable public services
  • Ensure high transparency standards would apply


David Cruz: Case study – Colombia’s PPP law

My presentation will look at the first PPP that took place in Colombia after the change in PPP law in 2012; this is one of the case studies from Eurodad’s History RePPPeated report. This involved the Magdalena River, and was signed in September 2014 to develop the river and improve navigability for a 908 km stretch; $840 million was the estimated cost of the project. Navalena – a international consortium – won the contract. However, after the Odebrecht corruption scandal involving the government took place in 2015, Navalena declared the contract void.

Communities had limited participation in all the main pre-project planning phases of the PPP. The project was incompatible with fishing, but this was overlooked as the main beneficiaries were coal and hydrocarbon industry. Nevertheless, the current government is looking to launch other PPPs on the Magdalena River, and to continue initial plans to improve navigability of the river, despite the voiding of the initial PPP contract. Thus, PPPs still represent a threat to fishing communities on the river, who remain excluded from the planning processes related to the river’s development.


Clive Harris: The World Bank’s promotion of PPPs – how and when

I am going to talk a little bit about the role of the private sector in development; when the Bank recommends PPPs to governments; and governance issues.

Role of the private sector in development finance: If you look at the original “Billions to Trillions” paper, domestic resource mobilisation is the largest resource available to fund development, whereas MDBs put their money into funding service delivery. We always realise that public money is essential to funding development. But there is also the realisation that we need private finance. It doesn’t only equate to PPPs, or only to infrastructure.

How can governments access different types of finance? In Egypt, the changes in PPP laws in the energy sector have been part of energy subsidy reform, that has replaced fossil fuel subsidies with targeted subsidies for the poor.

In terms of PPPs, I think that we are very much on the same page around the need for transparency. If you look at the academic evidence, which isn’t huge, where PPPs do exist, they typically don’t affect the cost of services, or lead to negative impacts.

What we’ve done over the last 4-5 years is to give governments the tools to say, “This is what you need to do if you decide to pursue PPPs.” It is not appropriate for all projects and sectors. That includes the PPPs Knowledge Lab. We have also launched P-FRAM, along with the IMF, which gauges how appropriate PPPs are in different contexts. We’ve been trying to collect data on how well countries are doing on their PPPs. This is part of trying to identify examples of best practice.

Where countries are weak on governance of infrastructure, they are weak across the board. I was in a country in South America recently, and while they had scored poorly on PPP preparation, the publicly-funded projects were also in bad shape.

Another challenge is that transparency declines as you go through the project cycle. Not just for PPPs, but for public services, we’re developing performance indicators. This should enable end users to gauge the quality of services. Work on the gendered aspects on PPPs is also forthcoming.


Q&A with audience:

Luiz Vieira, Bretton Woods Project: This is a question for Amal-Lee Amin – how do you evaluate the development outcomes of projects? Do you use a particular framework?

Victor Bullen, USAID: Financing from private sector usually comes in a separate tranche from public side – there is a disconnect, in terms of the accountability process. How are you dealing with this issue?

Disability CSO: I am not seeing much on how disability access is included in infrastructure, even though it is included in the SDGs. Am I missing something?

Zimbabwe CSO: Do you have any data to show that you are having any success in helping the LICs to mobilise finance for infrastructure? How can these countries move forward?

Motoko Aizawa: On the sequencing of (public & private) Environmental and Social Impact Assessments (ESIAs): we all struggle with that. I think that it happens better in larger projects, where there are resources in place, but in smaller ones it is very difficult. There should be an attempt to have facilities in place so that ESIAs can be done effectively.

On disability and where it sits within sustainable infrastructure – I think it fits in the inclusivity part, including urban design. I am afraid that the topic is not really getting sufficient attention when we see all the other things on the QII agenda.

Cecilia Gondard: The risks of PPPs include that there can be off-balance sheet debt liabilities. That is why we are pushing for prior assessments that include fiscal risks, and account for inclusivity.

Amal-Lee Amin: The sustainable infrastructure framework is something that we are trying to roll out in our operations, but it is not yet incorporated into IDB’s development impact framework – we’re looking at how to do that this year. It’s comparable to other MDBs’ development outcome frameworks. For PPPs, we’re trying to help governments get the best deal they can, if they decide to go that route. On inclusivity, we are working to include disability access as part of the social aspect of upstream infrastructure planning.

Luiz Vieira: How comprehensive is your development impact framework, in terms of gauging its wider development impact?

Amal-Lee Amin: This is not about safeguards, its about delivering on Sendai and the SDGs. When we look at projects, whether they are publicly or privately financed, we need to ensure that they are working in the public good. This involves more intent, and planning.

David Cruz: The initial contract is important for getting the company and the government on the same page. This is where the involvement of local communities is also important.

Amal-Lee Amin: Private companies are increasingly seeing a huge risk if there isn’t sufficient consultation with local communities. So this is something that they are looking for governments and MDBs to have undertaken.

Clive Harris: Just building on Amal’s point there, we’re seeing private sector say that “this will hit our bottom line.” This stuff has been around long enough that we can now spot the pitfalls. These days, a lot of PPPs are on the balance sheet.

Brazilian academic: For any policy to be successful, the ethics have to be right. Ethics goes beyond environmental and social frameworks. How are you dealing with this issue.

Barry Herman, The New School: the World Bank has been trying to bring private finance into public projects since 1945; what gives MFD a greater chance of success?

Jon Sward, Bretton Woods Project: This is a question mainly for Amal-Lee: Do you think we have the right financial instruments in place for countries to fund their low-carbon transitions, linked to the question earlier about finance for LICs? Or do you think we need to create ‘transition facilities’, that can provide more concessional and grant-based financing to support countries’ low-carbon transitions?

CSO from NewClimate Economy: Already the carbon footprint of infrastructure is too large. Quality infrastructure needs to address this issue. Do you see Japan agreeing a set of quality infrastructure principles under its G20 presidency?

Motoko Aizawa: I think Japan will do something on QII. On climate, Japan has been a non-performer. Why not use SDGs to build in ethics, as it’s already in there? I would love to see QII actually enter the conversation through sustainable development, but I don’t think this will happen.

Amal-Lee Amin: On the question of finance – yes, we do need more concessional or grant financing to get below 2 degrees (as mandated by the Paris Agreement).

Clive Harris: Just to respond to the question of “Why do we still try to do this?” Although development finance is mostly public sector, there are important areas where the private sector can be involved, and we’re trying to help governments navigate that.

by Jon Sward

Data Knightmare (Italian podcast)

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by Walter Vannini

April 16, 2019

Bretton Woods Project

Taxes, Taxes, Taxes: Shifting the IFI Narrative to Progressive Gender-just Taxation

This Civil Society Policy Forum session was a product of the Tax and Gender Working Group of the Global Alliance for Tax Justice, and co-sponsored by Christian Aid, the Tax Justice Network and the Bretton Woods Project.


• Dereje Alemayehu, Executive Coordinator, Global Alliance for Tax Justice (Moderator)
• Kathleen Lahey, Professor and Queen’s National Scholar, Faculty of Law, Queen’s University
• Matti Kohonen, Principal Advisory – Private Sector, Christian Aid
• Soren Ambrose, Policy Advisor – Fiscal Justice, ActionAid International
• Serena Abi Khalil, Research and Programme Officer, Arab NGO Network for Development

Session Summary

Event flyer

Dereje Alemayehu: We have all been involved in tax justice issues for many years, but we are here today at the World Bank and IMF Spring meetings because we want to talk about the role of International Financial Institutions (IFIs) on tax policy. I personally have been involved on World Bank and IMF issues for 30 years. We think they have a lot of power, especially in low-income countries (LICs), but they maintain that they only give advice and policy is made and implemented by governments. They often claim, including in relation to tax policy, that the responsibility lies with those who tried to implement and failed, not with those advising the policies. This reminds me of the fall of the Berlin wall. It had written on it when it came down: “Sorry it was just an idea.”

The other aspect of my experience with IFIs is that there often is a long denial phase on new issues. Civil society organisations (CSOs) fight for a long time to get issues on the agenda, then they are added to the rhetoric of IFIs. Then for new issues to be integrated in policy coherence, that is another story.

Finally about tax, generally we have to fight back the idea that it is just a tool for revenue collection. It is also a tool for redistribution. Tax policy should be completely linked with revenue leakage issues. And finally, because we are talking about a global phenomenon, on the issue of tax governance, cross-border taxes should also be considered. It is from those perspectives we want to address the issues of tax and gender in particular today, with a great panel to do so.

Kathleen Lahey: I am here to pick up where Dereje left off and start with the general proposition: connecting gender and tax, which starts with the political economy of women. Globally, women perform 71.4 per cent of unpaid work, have 42.5 per cent of paid jobs, and share 43.2 per cent of market earnings. These unfair distributions mean women will always be at an unfair starting position in the economy. While this picture is slightly different in different countries, overall we still see these same trends across almost all countries. In Vietnam for instance, we see women perform 62 per cent of unpaid work, hold 49.4 per cent of paid jobs, and share 38 per cent of market earnings. At the lower end of the scale, in Timor-Leste, these figures are 57.6 per cent, 48.8 per cent and 24.3 per cent respectively, while in a high income country, paradoxically, it can actually get worse, like in Australia, where the same figures are 67.2 per cent, 34.1 per cent, and 36.8 per cent.

One of the ways to look at how this happens, is to try to track where the money is. In Vietnam for instance, there is a close parallel between men and women on earnings and income throughout the life-cycle. Take that data and cross-cut it with the composition of the tax mix. Based on 2017 data of the World Bank, the key things to notice is the enormous rise in VAT rates and a significant lowering of corporate tax rates from 1990 to 2014. If you think of this VAT increase in addition to increases in social protection contributions, carbon taxes, which are also a flat consumption tax, as well as excises and fees, and sometimes informal taxes, what you have is a glowing glut of low-income targeted taxes.

What does that mean for gender? My research in Timor-Leste shows that VAT burdens are highest on the poorest women, who make up 66 per cent of the lowest-income group. I looked at exemptions that were supposed to make the VAT neutral for poor people, bu they actually were ridiculously meaningless for the poorest. It means 65 per cent of the population is not able to afford the basic necessities of living. When the 2 dollars VAT are added to that, it means they cannot afford that much more. The highest incomes do not carrythat burden. If you replace that VAT with personal income tax, it would make an enormous difference in progressivity. The entire revenue amount raised would be increased by focusing just on a few people in the upper 9th and 10th deciles, and it would not be that much money out of their pockets. That amount was not going to break anybody in those upper deciles. When presented with evidence like this, the rush to put VAT increases in place was slowed down in that country, and other measures have been put in place, like social protection, that help mitigate some of these impacts. This is happening in rich countries as well, but it does not have such clearly devastating impacts relating to poverty, and ironically it can be harder to get the data for those countries.

Matti Kohonen: Are these trends homemade? Where do they come from to be global trends? It is great to see the gendered impacts of tax policy in the way Kathleen just presented. We need to see that type of research more widely, including to be used here at the World Bank. Christian Aid works in over 30 countries. We see high levels of indebtedness in the countries we work in, which means there needs to be fiscal surpluses to pay off debt. That means that taxes need to be raised, and understanding that the economy often has not performed well, that often translated into a need for “quick wins”.

The reason why VAT is pushed so much is that it is a quick way to raise income fast, you can change rates within a few months, that can plug in some of the gaps in the budget. That is why its popular. Other quick wins are fuel taxes, and there are also new taxes being invented like this, like in Zimbabwe on electronic transactions and bank levies. Its really important to start to look at impact assessments of those taxes, and many of those impacts are gendered as well. I mean that the IMF and World Bank should not just look at their impacts on low versus high income groups, but also how they can impact men and women significantly differently.

Christian Aid Nigeria and Sussex University looked at market traders and how increasing taxation of the informal sector can target women in particular. This research looked at simplified market taxes, those are again indirect taxes not based on profits you make but that those you have pay to access the market space, and we found they disproportionately impact women, supporting what has already been presented by Kathleen.

In this context we ask IMF staff here in particular, but also World Bank staff: How are you implementing Christine Lagarde’s words on gender being macro-critical in tax policy? What we hear when we present these considerations is push-back on gendered impacts of VAT, that as long as its revenues are spent well, it will be fine for women. Essentially, ignore how you collect it and assume it is spent well. Those assumptions should not be made, in particular with countries with high debt payments.

I am really questioning whether the expenditure side is the way to solve it. We have to look at the tax side. We are increasingly relying on VAT. Why not rely more on PIT, as countries move to being middle-income countries in particular? On Bangladesh, which is moving to middle-income status and will need to mobilise more of its own revenues as concessional financing becomes less available, even very wealthy people are not registered in its income tax system. People who work in factories, etc, the bosses in those factories, need to be taxed. What makes income tax better is that we can have a threshold and can exclude the poorest. If we add a box on gender as well when they are filing their tax returns, we can distinguish between men and women and get that crucial data we need to measure the so-far mostly invisible gendered impacts.

A lot of the IMF’s new research on gender is not being implemented in policy advice. The Tax Policy Assessment Framework (TPAF), a new tool for assessing tax policies by the Platform for Collaboration on Tax, can be a good starting point to include these issues, but if gender is not being included from the start in all the Fund’s tax policy advice we are missing a trick.

We have the same conversations on social protection. Why are we not talking more about the gendered dimensions of social protection, which would make the need clear for care work compensation and maternal health coverage in the ongoing social protection discussions at the IMF? We have also looked at the IFC and private sector lending. Many IFC loans and equity shares are rooted through tax havens or jurisdictions which have low rates and high secrecy. Because the IFC has a large impact through its investments, the IFC can do better and raise standards. The IFC has leverage here and the avoidance of tax reduces revenues needed for public services that, as we know, play such a crucial role in moving closer to gender equality and providing for women’s rights in particular (see Observer Autumn 2016) .

Soren Ambrose: We have heard about a lot of problems the IMF can do more about, or, sometimes, perhaps actually should do less to improve things. The title of this session is a reference to the viral video of the Dutch historian at the World Economic Forum at Davos this year, making the point that raising taxes and the rich paying their fair share is more important for sustainable development than the various philanthropic initiatives showcased at Davos. This panel might similarly start to sound like VAT VAT VAT, but the reason is because that is where the IMF puts almost all of its focus. We think the IMF has been very responsible for pushing VAT so much around the world. ActionAid published “Short-Changed” last year, that focused on regressive impacts of VAT on women. The fact is that many developing countries depend on VAT for 25 to 30 per cent of their revenues, so its a hard trend to break in short order, but we want to at least moderate it with other types of taxes. We are also concerned about the ‘un-virtuous’ cycle between tax and public services. As Matti touched upon, countries that cannot raise revenue also end up not being able to fund public services. That in turn impacts women disproportionately, by cutting into their time and incomes more, restricting access to services and increasing their unpaid care burdens disproportionately.

ActionAid has emphasised that VAT cannot be implemented fairly without paying more attention to zero ratings. The Fund is generally very opposed to that for products families depend on to survive. If your starting point is welfare and the survival of women however, it becomes so clear they just cannot pay taxes they do not have, as Kathleen evidenced in looking at the poorest women and their expenditures. Women are indeed also more concentrated in the informal sector, which also aggravates the gendered impacts of tax systems.

We published a report during in February on these issues in Ghana. The emphasis is on the concern about inadequate tax collection on public services. While Ghana for a while has seen money go to poverty reduction activities, it has re-entered IMF programmes in a big way and then saw a huge drop in this spending since the IMF programmes as their conditions mandated. Since 2015, strict implementation of IMF wage freezes has created big problems for public services in Ghana. Nurses are sitting idle not working, teachers are not being replaced.

In Ghana, tax problems include the fact that revenue growth is almost entirely made up from indirect taxes, almost entirely VAT and excise taxes. Aggravating the regressive impacts of that, is that Ghana has implemented a financial services tax, as advised by the IMF. The problem with that tax is that it only affects the customers, not the banks, and it therefore actually increases the problem of financial exclusion in Ghana, which, as we know, is an incredibly gendered issue. Just like in Kenya, Ghana has also had to implement fuel taxes, which again disproportionately hit women and the poor.

In one more publication series on tax by ActionAid, we have published a series of progressive taxation briefings. They cover property tax, capital gains, informal sector taxes, excise taxes, wealth taxes, and talk about how to make indirect taxes like the VAT less regressive. These are living documents as we are continually revising them and would appreciate feedback. We hope they may be useful to these types of discussions going forward and we are adding on corporate and personal income taxes next.

Serena Abi Khalil: I work at ANND, the Arab NGO Network for Development. We are about to publish new research that considers the issue of gendered impacts of tax policies in the region. While the findings in the MENA region are not so different from the global trends the panel discussed, we suffer particularly from pressure of IFIs, and so far there has been no research in this field in the region. We focused on four countries, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Morocco.

Within a period of 25 years, there have been almost no meaningful reconsiderations of the impacts of tax policies in these countries. Why is that the case? Because these countries have been under strong IMF influence. We looked at this from a regional perspective, even though we know these policies are different at the national level, because the conditionality imposed was non-tailored and region-wide in our view. That is the common thread. The best way from under IMF conditionality is to increase VAT. When we as a network decided to work on gender and tax with Christian Aid, it was hard for us to rely on data, as there is no gender dis-aggregated data in the region.

Yet, our main findings firstly led us to differentiate between implicit and explicit bias in tax systems. Lebanon had the most explicit bias, with joint filings only carrying exemptions for men as main breadwinners, and with significant maternity leave discrepancies in the private and public sector. We also found explicit bias in the code of commerce, which explicitly differentiates between men and women in property ownership during bankruptcy. Egypt also shared the same bias in parental leave. In Tunisia, certain exemptions were also only offered to men. They did adopt a separate instead of joint filing system, which is usually good from a gender perspective, but only because women are severely paid less than men. The thing these countries have in common on implicit bias is the high VAT burden. Average annual household expenses on water, fuel and food is mostly bought by women. The study will show more by sector and region and will be published soon. There are recommendations to governments to adopt more progressive taxation, but also to the IMF to change its tax conditionality approach depending on specific country needs. We have even seen in post-conflict countries, with a very specific context, it is generally the same old policy package.

Other ANND research into the tax systems in Lebanon, Egypt and Tunisia concluded that tax laws and policies reflect unequal gender norms and practices and often aggravate them, but that they can also be changed to mitigate gender inequality. For example, where VAT is regressive, the impact on women is generally greater than on men, not only because women are generally less wealthy, but also because in the Arab region women generally take care of a larger proportion of household expenditure so that increases in VAT impact on women disproportionately.

Actions needed towards gender equality are clearly set out in the Convention on all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the SDGs. Tax and fiscal policies must contribute more to financing the progressive realisation of women’s rights and the achievement of SDGs, ensuring public spending meets the needs of women living in poverty and other marginalised groups as a priority, and that tax policies raise revenues in a way that is progressive in relation to gender and other inequalities.

Dereje Alemayehu: Thank you all for those presentations. To be clear to everyone. We are not talking about having a gender-specific tax policy. It is about regular taxes carrying gendered burdens. To the whole panel, what are the negatives to be eliminated and positives that need to be brought out? What are the things to be done at the level of IFIs and governments?

Matti Kohonen: There is a lot to be done. Improvement of corporate tax systems and wealth taxes for instance. These are policy tools that need to be used. Tackle corporate tax evasion through transfer pricing. IMF has looked at that, they say spillovers are significant and that it adds up to tens of billions of dollars not going into public services. I really hope that we can start to build a corporate tax system that is fair and fit for purpose, that means taking the conversation away from here, in Washington DC at Spring Meetings, and take it to the UN at a bigger table, with more developing countries involved. We have suggested the UN should be involved in these discussions. That was proposed at the Addis Ababa 2015 conference by developing countries, but those in power were against it and so it did not go through. The existing UN tax group cannot set or change rules as it is not a political body. It should be therefore be upgraded. We have also seen the rate of reductions in corporate tax rates. We have gotten down to rates between 10 and 20 per cent. Twenty years ago these rates were between 30 and 40 per cent. We are all losing out to those who make the most money in the global economy.

Serena Abi Khalil: At a national level we need to have gender dis-aggregated data and have studies of women’s consumption and tax burdens, and role in production. We need personal income tax design with poverty lines and inflation rates taken into account. We need to design tax policies that are in line with CEDAW and for those countries that have not yet, CEDAW needs to be ratified.

Soren Ambrose: We need to build developing country capacity to deal with corporate tax collection. A lot is being lost to transfer pricing. They need to have capacity to go after that. Gender-friendly formulas of VAT include increased use of capital gains tax, or income tax that taxes capital gains, and the introduction of high-net wealth individual units in revenue authorities. It is a political challenge, because those in power are those with the money, but it has to be done to get countries to be self-sufficient. There have been recent improvement in property tax collection that have helped make things more efficient. Those should be scaled up. We would like to see trade taxes make a come back. There should be impact analysis on trade agreements on gender as well. The new at least rhetorical focus on wealth taxes is also a good thing. It is difficult to go after the wealthy, but it must be done and the conversation is increasing. We need to look where the money is, which is with the corporations and the wealthy.

Kathleen Lahey: A good place to start is addressing the issue of joint taxation, as it helps go into two big barriers: 1. Getting rid of it would help us collect gender dis-aggregated data, we need to have that for better and more analysis. 2. If joint filings were eradicated in Canada, women’s annual income would go up with $3,000 on average, but almost double that in lower income groups. That would be a high priority.

I think the progressive trade-offs for the VAT need to become second nature. I was very disappointed to see the first VAT TPAF module, which still holds up this perfectly ‘clean’ VAT as the golds standard. We need to go after the difficult process of trying to follow tax avoidance chains and gender exploitation chains that now encircle the globe. Special export zones also need to be resisted, as they are essentially tax havens on steroids that harm labour standards and turn people into labouring ants. The number of these are growing as we speak in all countries and feed through tax avoidance chains. That is part of the problem in countries like Bangladesh.

We need to scour all the rules for evasion and avoidance. Another issue, which I consider a ‘sleeper’, is that corporate income tax is vanishing before our eyes, because it is silently being split from income. A counter legal fiction has been created to tell us it is a separate entity that has been created. These entities are not really seperated from the people who profit off them. It is this technical interface between corporate and human tax payers that is causing corporate tax to melt before our eyes. Personal income tax looks like its going up but corporate tax is going down much more at the same time.


Jane Seruwagi Nalunga (SEATINI – African trade justice organisation): You mentioned bringing back trade taxes and using tax as a tool to bring growth to developing economies. I agree. Tax has to go beyond just revenue mobilisation. We have to use it as a tool to grow our economies. This is critical. I do not support protectionism, but it can be important to protect certain vulnerable sectors.

Chris Morgan (KPMG): I have heard a lot of folks talking about corporate tax disappearing. While rates are going down, the OECD says that as share of total tax revenue, corporate tax income has gone up, from 12 to 13 per cent. There is a paradox there. Nobody knows why. A lot of what has been said is focused on poverty. Not necessarily on gender. Isn’t the issue poverty rather than gender? If you solve the first then the second will follow?

Amanda Mukwashi (Christian Aid): You mentioned that we need to build the capacity of developing countries. I am keen to understand what that looks like. I have been talking to colleagues from developing countries. It seems too complex to solve at the national level. The solution needs to come from the global level.

On tax dodging, the issue is, when you look at how it is being done, it is not just a tax issue, it is really an exploitation issue. On the earlier question from the KPMG colleague, unfortunately the people that are at the bottom of the economic pyramid are women. It is not just a tax conversation, but this conversation crystalises the double unfair impact of gender and the economy.

My questions are: What does the capacity building you mentioned look like? When you talk about a UN Tax Body, what is the resistance from the global community? Who is being protected by the current system? Is it time we upped the tempo of global tax system reform, as women are bearing the brunt of the system.

Sargon Nissan (Financial Transparency Coalition): You mentioned briefly in the MENA presentation an interesting issue of energy subsidy cuts in the region, which obviously has big gendered implications because men and women use different types of fuel, which raises the question of rentierism in the region. In trying to connect this big picture to women’s daily lives, lets be propositional between the big picture and people’s every day lives and how can we best do that?

Matti Kohonen: On the KPMG question, poverty is gendered, fundamentally. For women to participate in the labour market, you need to take away care burdens, address social norms, provide child care. All of that requires public expenditure, social protection, maternity pay, that enable women to enter and get a rise in salary. There are thus budgetary reasons why women are not in the workplace. That is why taxes need to be raised from a gender perspective, but if those tax burdens are unequal, women are being double burdened.

On the question about the barriers to a UN Tax Body, even in the Financing for Development Forum, the G77 of developing countries did request it again, yet a consensus was not reached. Why? Because it is about losing control by the richest countries over how the rules are made. It raises important questions like, does that mean we do not trust each other and are not equal? They need to work together on the problem of transnational corporations being taxed together. We have talked a lot about the ABC of taxes, including a public registry, beneficial ownership, and country by country reporting. It also needs to be brought out more in public discourse. We are working with the EU parliament, that helps make this a more public issue. Once you have the ABC, you can have a real discussion about who pays what and who should pay what.

Serena Abi Khalil: About rentier states, I was specifically talking about Gulf countries. They are trying to create this model out of concentrated wealthy economies. For Egypt, there were studies in the energy sector on gender dis-aggregated data, based on South Africa, because the problem with Egypt is that there is no access to information.

Soren Ambrose: In terms of how to raise country capacity, it is a conundrum we have been facing for a long time. We have OECD tax inspectors without borders, but there are always suspicions about that because who they are. I think for countries to be able to develop their own approaches, they need to fund their own development. The presence of regional economic communities should be one way to go about doing this. The African Union has set expectations to develop capacity on tax, but have limited capacity to enforce that. So if we can move it down closer to regional economic communities and get countries to finance their own regional communities, that would help.  Another would be to fund the South Centre. They have an excellent tax programme, but are underfunded. Also the African Tax Administrators Forum is really helpful in this regard. All of these are underfunded. Its up to developing countries authorities to fund these and would pay huge dividends if they did so.

Kathleen Lahey: To address the question on corporate tax, last time I looked, the 100 richest economies in the world, 70 per cent of them were corporations. The 10th richest economy in the world is already a corporation. It is actually a sad comment to say that even though corporate tax rates are going down, their income is going up. That shows you how unbalanced the situation is that we are in. What we should be asking is why not collect at more traditional rates and see where that takes us and right the balance quickly.

On the KPMG question, how do you connect gender to taxation without going into political economy issues? If you look at indicators for economic gender equality, issues like pay equity, full time employment, etc, no one country is able to get all of these rights. Countries have not yet developed an integrated method to address all of these together. That is reflected in how tax burdens fall across society. Yet, all countries that have signed up to the UN conventions mentioned are obligated to conduct gender budgeting on all levels. It is amazing how easy it is to demonstrate how almost anything in a budget will have a negative gender impact. It is not something that needs more understanding, it needs more respect and resourcing.

Dereje Alemayehu: Thank you all for your comments and questions. I will close with a personal reflection of mine. For a very long time now, it has been a well-told story in development that if you go to a village in Africa, and ask where to dig a water-hole, the gender aspect of the location is the first thing that comes up, because men and women have different needs and daily experiences. So, for IFIs to say they have never considered tax and gender is ridiculous. If we see tax dodging rising and regressive taxing rising across the world, we know there must be more going on than just governments on their own making this happen. We need to hold governments, as well as IFIs to account for these trends, not just for sustainable development and equality in gender, but also for gender equality and women’s rights in particular.

by Emma Burgisser

Austerity and the right to health – the IMF’s role in expanding fiscal space for public spending


  • Moderator: Iara Pietricovsky de Oliveira, Co-director, Institute for Economic and Social Studies (INESC)
  • Gino Brunswijck, Senior Policy Officer, Eurodad
  • Kate Donald, Director of Economic and Social Policy, Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR)
  • David Coady, Division Chief, Expenditure Division, Fiscal Affairs Department, IMF
  • Mariska Meurs, Wemos

Mariska Meurs opened with remarks about the how “we need to illustrate the funding gaps for universal health coverage. She noted “an estimated $371 billion of additional spending on health is needed per year to by 2030 for low and middle income countries to meet the SDGs. This amount may seem daunting but it is not so big compared to global annual tax losses, which are estimated at $500 billion.”

Mariska notes that an international recommendation for health spending is for governments to allocate at least 5 percent of GDP to health, combined with an absolute target of USD 86 per person per year. Adding, “There is room for improvement for reaching the relative target for health expenditure, but few LICs and LMIC would reach the absolute target even if they would raise the budget allocation to health to 5% of GDP. Urgent attention is needed to prioritize health at national level and to scale up international action on issues such as tax justice and debt relief”.

Kate Donald opened her talk by saying that there is “increasing evidence that austerity is detrimental to human rights enjoyment, including the right to health” adding that is it vitally important to recognise that the impacts of this are often gendered, “with women suffering the worst.”

Kate moved on to discuss case studies of Egypt, Brazil and Spain. In Egypt, she noted “the economic reform package underway in Egypt, underpinned by IMF loan conditions, is centered on austerity” and is exacerbating inequalities. Access to healthcare has become squeezed, with public expenditure on health very low and declining since 2015, as shown by the civil society-led Egypt Social Progress Indicators. Studies show that “Out of pocket health expenditures have exacerbated the normalised poverty gap by 1.4 per cent” adding that personal income tax for high earners is just over 20 per cent and introduction of a capital gains tax has been stalled.

In Brazil, she focused on the “devastating impact” of constitutional amendment 95, which she described as an “extreme and unprecedented step but has been vocally supported by the IMF.” Forecasts in Brazil show dramatic losses to health and education spending, Kate noted, adding that gendered impact of this has seen specialized services reduced by 50 per cent as a result of budget cuts, and a projected increase in the infant mortality rate. Despite this evidence about the impacts and the alternatives – like combatting tax evasion – the IMF’s 2018 Article IV report doubles down on austerity.

In Spain, Kate stated “a big part of the austerity package in Spain de-universalised healthcare and placed restrictions on undocumented migrants accessing healthcare.” She noted that they haven’t just been documenting the impact of these measures, they’ve also been trying to challenge them, using an example of Egypt, where they worked to bring about the social accountability tool above, and in Spain, where after the new government came in to power last year, it restored universal access to the healthcare system, citing the findings of the UN committee on ESCR.

Gino Brunswijck spoke next, who began by stipulating that austerity measures remain very largely popular. Cited research from Eurodad, he noted that 23 out of 26 country programmes studies found specific objectives geared towards fiscal consolidation, adding, “IMF research has raised question marks around the distributional impacts of inequality.”

Gino continued to say that the programmes have not achieved debt sustainability, citing that 24 out of 26 countries had another IMF programme within 10 years and adding “Debt service payment puts a drain on public budgets.”

He noted that the debt crisis is increasing, especially in Africa and that the assumption is that debt service payments crowd out payment on health in more countries than was the case in 2015, for which we have data. “Countries have a pressing need to invest in health workforce, pressing need to invest in staff and improve working condition.” He added “the need for fiscal space to increase retention, by decent wages, training, adequate infrastructure, supply of medicines and modern technological equipment. Achieving strict fiscal targets has knock on effects on healthcare services, underfunding of hospitals, and supply of medicines.”

On the need to create fiscal space, Gino said that international tax avoidance loses an estimated $500 billion, $50 billion losses for Africa due to illicit financial flows and that an international tax body at a UN level is critical for countries’ capacity to collect taxes and retain value of economic activity.

He finished by stressing the need for “more focus on universal health coverage rather than targeted spending” as it is not an effective approach, neither is it in line with international standards.

David Coady begun by saying that social spending has been high on our agenda, stressing that the priority should be for countries to not get in to a situation where austerity is needed.

He noted that some of the bigger issues going forward are going to be about whether the IMF is part of the solution or the problem, citing that there was an IEO report that came back to say that social protection is uneven and there is lots of room for improvement, adding that management accepted that the IMF needed to do something about this.

On the development of an institutional view on social protection, David said, “We’ve just finished a board paper, and have interacted with a broad range of stakeholders” noting that it is time to start doing that more systematically and more effectively.

David outlined that the first steps in developing an institutional view on social protection involved discussions around what the Fund should and should not do, adding that in a programme context where austerity is adopted, the first goal has to be to protect the level of spending in this area. He stated that what people look to the Fund to do is to create the sustainable finance space to finance the spending for development and health, stressing, “a key role that we have to do is creating the fiscal space.”

He continued saying that we need to look more carefully at the distribution and ask if spending fell, why did it fall?

The first question was from John Kalage, of Haki Elimu in the Tanzania Education Coalition, who asked about how low-income countries are now failing to fulfill obligations to allocate resources to issues of quality, noting that some of the IMF policies have not provided the solutions to addressing the challenges and that some countries are failing to replace the resources, adding a recommendation to the IMF to consider playing a different role.

David responded to say that people look to the IMF to create a macro fiscal framework where countries can recruit and that we are aware of these issues.

On the question of whether the IMF would support the UN-adopted Guiding Principles for human rights at times of economic reform, David noted that the IMF should be focusing on asking if it can do a better job and tackling unevenness. He added that there’s a conditionality review going on, asking whether the IMF has the right tools and if it is monitoring how we use them.

Kate responded to this saying that the IMF has said it aims to help countries achieve the SDGs, but that countries have also signed up to legally binding human rights obligations “so if the IMF is meant to support the SDGs, they also have a responsibility to uphold human rights,”

She continued to say that she really welcomes a lot of stuff out of the IMF’s fiscal affairs department that emphasizes progressive tax reform and combatting tax evasion and avoidance, but that we not seeing that same emphasis transpire in policy, and would love to see more of that.

Gino added here that he would support the IMF including the human rights guiding principles in its debt sustainability framework.

Iara noted here that it is interesting how institutions took the SDGs agenda while the human rights agenda is off the agenda, even though it is binding.

Mariska added that the IMF has also been spurred to reconsider the strict targets on budget deficit reduction and inflation. If these targets were loosened somewhat, this would result in more fiscal space for social investments.

Barry Hernan of Social Justice in Global Development asked what civil society should do to push for change in social protection, to which David responded to say that we should not talk about domestic resource mobilisation in insolation and noted that civil society and others have a role to be pushing the agenda of effectual decisions around spending.

Soren Ambrose from ActionAid asked about wage bill conditionality, noting “this is something that we thought we had eliminated about 10 years ago but it seems to have made a startling return” and highlighting that ActionAid has done a series of briefings about progressive taxation, to get governments to do domestic resource mobilisation through capital gains tax and wealth tax. David responded to highlighting the case of Ghana where health and education were excluded from cuts but added that if you’re in austerity, wage bills might be part of the short-term solution, noting that it is about how you carry this out.

Kate responded to say that people experience austerity cumulatively. She said that it is not any one decision that impacts human rights. It’s great that the IMF is now looking at gender and income inequality, as well as looking at the spending side, but that they also need to look at how taxes impact various groups.

On the subject of wage bills, Leo Banauch of the International Trade Union Confederation noted that the delivery of health and education requires trained and well-paid public servants, adding that an effective social protection system needs this.

Itai Rusike, Director of the Community Working Group on Health from Zimbabwe, said that he comes from a country that showed a lot of promise and did well in health indicators until the IMF came in with a structural adjustment programme. He noted that soon after independence, civil society was very weak and as a result, Zimbabwe lost out on the gains that the country had achieved. He noted that Zimbabwe has a broken health system, and the political elite that do not get care there, and that people are left to face the consequences. At the same time, the trade unions tried to say that the governments should not do austerity.


by Miriam Brett

Spring Meetings wrap-up 2019: what crisis of multilateralism?

The 2019 World Bank and IMF Spring Meetings began with the announcement of a projected decline in global economic growth, with the IMF’s World Economic Outlook, April 2019 report noting that “global growth [is] now projected to slow from 3.6 percent in 2018 to 3.3 percent in 2019, before returning to 3.6 percent in 2020.” The relative optimism for 2020 comes with significant caveats, with emerging economies already experiencing low levels of growth and with the IMF finding 40 per cent of low-income countries to be in, or at high risk of, debt distress. Considering this context, the IMF’s Independent Evaluation Office evaluation’s report on financial surveillance of January 2019 – which noted that current lack of expertise in Article IV teams and of resources in the Financial Sector Assessment teams coupled with the financial surveillance programme’s focus on relatively stable countries – must have given the Fund pause.

Concerns about a deepening of the trade war between China and the US and the unravelling of the ‘rules-based’ multilateral system were again a topic of intense discussion, with the International Trade Union Confederation calling for “an equitable multilateralism that supports a new social contract and sustainable development” ahead of the meetings. Meanwhile, UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and Boston University’s Global Development Policy Center released a report entitled A New Multilateralism for Shared Prosperity: Geneva Principles for a Green New Deal, which provides a five-point plan to address fundamental problems with the current global system.

Crisis of multilateralism be damned – it is good to be the King(s)

As the Bank and Fund met in Washington to ponder the challenges posed by the crisis of multilateralism brought about by marginalisation and lack of trust in their institutions, it was with a palpable sense of embarrassment that the World Bank presented its new president and renowned skeptic of multilateralism, David Malpass, to the world. While the Bank’s Executive Directors (EDs) tried to put on a brave face and convince those gathered in Washington (and themselves?) that they had lived up to their promise to ensure a transparent, open and merit-based process (see Observer Spring 2019), presenting the appointment of yet another US national in a one-man contest as a paragon of 21st governance proved a challenge beyond even the Bank’s well-oiled PR machine. This was quite clear at the civil society round table with World Bank Executive Directors on 9 April where Christian Aid’s CEO Amanda Mukwashi’s made an impassioned demand that the illegitimate process must come to an end. She argued that the process reflects and perpetuates the global power imbalances that create the conditions that undermine the Bank’s very efforts to meet its twin goals of eradicating poverty and reducing inequality – wait, no, apologies, increasing ‘shared prosperity.’ The dynamics at the round table also seemed to speak volumes about the failings of the Bank’s efforts meet the goals outlined in the Spring 2018 Report to Governors on Shareholding, to “enhance the voice and participation of developing and transition countries,” as EDs from the Global North dominated the discussion, as usual.

Amid the contemplation of 75 years of the Bretton Woods system by the Fund, the long-awaited IMF quota reform and related recalculation of voting shares was quashed by the US, with US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin stating that, “In our view, the IMF currently has ample resources to achieve its mission” and that the US does “not see a need for a quota increase at this time and supports closure of the 15th General Quota Review as soon as possible.” As reported in The Global Times on 14 April, the Treasury Secretary’s statement did not go unanswered with Chen Yulu, deputy governor of the People’s Bank of China, noting in a statement to a meeting of the International Monetary and Financial Committee (IMFC) that, “China supports a strong, quota-based, and adequately-resourced IMF to preserve its central role in the global financial safety net.”

The dynamics between China and the US on the issue bares close attention. For now, there seems little reason for hope of a significant and equitable re-organisation of the current multilateral system, as once again demanded by major developing countries of the G24, which in its communiqué stressed that “the lack of progress on the IMF 15th General Review of Quotas is a major source of concern since quota increases are essential to undertake the necessary quota realignment.” The lack of progress in Bank and Fund governance reforms leaves many wondering whether China and others will begin to increasingly distance themselves from them and rely more on fragmented regional systems (see Observer Spring 2016).

Debt, glacial policy changes and double standards

The extent to which the IMF has followed its own advice on promoting inclusive growth has been called into question by research from Brussels-based civil society organization (CSO) Eurodad on conditions in IMF loans for 26 country programmes approved in 2016 and 2017. Eurodad found that at least 20 of those countries had experienced strikes or protests against “government cutbacks, the rising cost of living, tax restructuring and wage bill reforms pushed by IMF conditionality.” It will be interesting to see whether the forthcoming IMF conditionality review will address the issue.

In perhaps an inadvertent reference to the lack of significant changes in the governance structure while the multilateral systems smolders, the IMF’s latest Finance and Development publication explored how Ancient Rome offers lessons on the importance of sustainable development. The IMF’s Fiscal Monitor focused on the fast-changing global economy and curbing corruption, noting that “with global growth slowing and uncertainty rising, fiscal policy should prepare for potential downturns – balancing stabilization and sustainability objectives – and put more emphasis on reforms to foster long-term inclusive growth in a fast-changing global economy.”

As the prime minister of Barbados highlighted in her remarks at a joint event hosted by UNCTAD and Boston University’s Global Development Policy Center on 12 April, the focus on corruption in the developing world and the silence on the role played by the developed world in enabling it (and indeed silence on corruption in rich countries), remains a striking and unacceptable double standard. The disparity of the treatment of countries in tax haven blacklists is a clear case in point. According to a 2017 Oxfam report, four EU countries classify as tax havens by EU criteria, but are excluded from the blacklist.  A December 2017 Blomberg article noted that the US, “is becoming the world’s new tax haven.” Despite forcing hundreds of countries to comply with rules it devised, it does not follow them. In short, there is much talk of debt, taxes and governance ‘failures’ in the developing world without mention of the role played by the developed world in the process, plus ça change.

As UK-based CSO Jubilee Debt Campaign noted in April, between 2010 and 2018 the average external debt payments of developing countries increased by 85 per cent as a proportion of government revenue. Stressing the negative impact of these high debt payments, the report notes that, “There is now evidence of falling public spending in countries hit by high debt payments, further undermining progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.While discussion of the impending debt crisis was prevalent during the Spring Meetings, the Bank and Fund studiously avoided calls for new debt restructuring mechanisms, such as the International Debt Restructuring Court, proposed by the now-forgotten 2009 UN Commission of Experts report on reforms of the international monetary and financial systems. This was echoed by Fanwell Bokosi from Afrodad, the African CSO network on debt and development, who, in an co-sponsored CSO-IMF high-level panel on the subject of tackling the next wave of sovereign debt crises, noted that, “Civil society is calling for a new sovereign debt restructuring mechanism.” While David Lipton, IMF’s First Deputy Managing Director, retorted that there is no appetite from the international community for such a mechanism, another panelist captured the essence of the dilemma by responding that “to stay healthy you need to eat even if you have no appetite.”

The panel discussion followed the publication of a briefing by Jubilee Debt Campaign and 43 regional organisations and networks entitled Transparency of loans to governments: The public’s right to know about their debts. The publication made several recommendations, including the establishment of a publicly available global registry of loans and debt and that “all governments and multilateral institutions commit to disclosing the loans they give in this registry.”

Continued Bank investments in fossil fuels highlight urgency of leadership at the Bank

While the new WBG President made conspicuous efforts to assure his audiences that he no longer denies the reality of climate change by stating on the record his support for the World Bank’s climate action plan, as laid out in its 2025 climate targets, doubts persist about whether the Bank will take further steps to reduce its finance for fossil fuels under his leadership (see Observer Spring 2019). Civil society remain to be convinced of Mr. Malpass’ support for the Bank’s climate agenda and will be monitoring closely whether the Bank maintains its existing climate commitments under Malpass’s stewardship. Civil society will continue to push the Bank to take further steps to align all of its financial flows with Paris Agreement, as mandated by Article 2.1c of the agreement, as any deviation would be catastrophic. Despite the Bank’s high-profile climate commitments, a recent report from Germany-based CSO Urgewald found that “the Bank provides 3 times as much project finance to fossil fuels as it does to renewable energy … [and] continues to require governments to adopt investment incentives for coal and upstream oil and gas.”

Given that, as noted in an April blog by the International Institute for Sustainable Development, “approximately 70% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are linked to the construction and operation of infrastructure,” the fact that climate change was barely mentioned in the IMF’s Fiscal Forum event on infrastructure finance spoke volumes. Those following the sustainable and ‘quality’ infrastructure debate were also concerned by how far the World Bank lags behind other Multilateral Development Banks, such as the Inter-American Development Bank, in integrating social and ecological sustainability within its infrastructure finance framework – which remains largely focused on its much-criticised leveraging private sector investment agenda. The disjuncture between rhetoric in Washington and country programming brings further doubts about the Bank’s ability to contribute to closing the ‘other infrastructure gap’ identified by the UN Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) last fall: sustainability and rights.

Maximising Finance for Development and fragile states – a dangerous combination

Fragility, conflict and violence were once again front and centre of discussions, with the Bank announcing the launch of its forthcoming Fragility, Conflict, and Violence (FCV) Strategy Consultations between April and September 2019. The Bank continues to present FCV situations as the final frontier of the battle against poverty. While much was made of the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank’s low-income lending arm, doubling of its support to FCV settings, civil society and borrowing countries expressed concerns about the effectiveness of the Bank’s approach in these settings. The challenges were made clear by the Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva’s unwillingness to engage with the comment by former Chilean President and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, during a ‘flagship’ event on 10 April, that a human rights-based approach is essential to address fragility and violence. The Bank CEO similarly failed to explain how the Bank will adapt its approach to bring it in line with the insights of Nobel Peace laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf that effective action requires adaptability and local-level engagement. Given that state legitimacy and service delivery were identified as keys to successfully address drivers of conflict and fragility, observers will be watching closely to see whether the Bank will change its policy prescriptions, such as privatisation, reduction in public sector wage bills and erosion of workers rights, that, as noted in UNCTAD and Boston University’s above mentioned Geneva Principles report, have undermined the social contract. The Bank and Fund’s silence on the utility of the recently released Guiding Principles on Human Rights Impact Assessments provides further evidence of both institutions’ unwillingness to reconceptualise their work through a human rights lens and therefore better address many pressing concerns (see Observer Spring 2019).

As IDA delegates met at the Spring Meetings to begin negotiations on the replenishment of IDA 19 in the wake of the IDA 18 mid-term review, CSOs continued to be excluded from the discussions among delegates. Currently CSO contributions are limited to participation in the IDA Forum, which, due to time constraints, is not a particularly effective space for substantive exchanges. As with all aspects of the Bank and Fund’s work, the IDA 19 replenishment is framed by China-US tensions, with US Treasury Secretary Mnuchin calling, in a veiled reference to alleged Chinese ‘debt diplomacy’, for better and more transparent debt management by borrowers. The use of IDA’s private sector window (PSW) came under criticism from senior US officials for lack of transparency and evidence of its contribution to sustainable development, as outlined in a Center for Global Development blog. In fact, well beyond discussions about the PSW, doubts about the Bank’s Billions to Trillions agenda, implemented through its Maximising Finance for Development (MFD) initiative, were raised in a report by UK-based Overseas Development Institute that stressed that “each $1 of MDB and DFI [development finance institutions] invested mobilises on average $0.75 of private finance for developing countries, but this falls to $0.37 for LICs [low-income countries].” This approach and its promotion of public-private partnerships (PPPs), particularly in education, was further challenged by a new Oxfam report on education PPPs in Punjab and the adoption of the Abidjan Principles on the human rights obligations of States to provide public education and to regulate private involvement in education.

As the World Bank and IMF approach their 75th anniversary this summer, communities, social movements and others disadvantaged by their policies and programmes hope that both institutions finally critically engage with ever-mounting evidence of the failures of their policies, and undertake radical policy shifts that go beyond slow and uneven progress on the key development challenges of the day.

by Luiz Vieira

V20 proposes new financial instruments in attempt to tackle climate risks

On the side lines of the 2019 World Bank and IMF Spring Meetings, the Finance Ministers of the V20 proposed new instruments to tackle climate finance shortfalls.

A press release from the V20 published on 11 April noted, “V20 countries face considerable barriers such as higher costs of capital in financing that affect both resilience and renewable energy projects, as well as huge inefficiencies when attempting to access international climate finance.” In response to this, the release announced that, “the V20 has proposed the ​Accelerated Financing Mechanism (AFM) for Maximal Resilience & a 100% Renewable Energy Transition ​to upscale existing risk mitigation tools, guarantees and blended finance facilities, and a new menu of instruments within MDBs [multilateral development banks] and other development banks for adaptation, resilience and renewable energy projects.” The release also announced the creation of a Sustainable Insurance Facility (SIF).

The need for finance to urgently address countries’ climate transition policies, as well as finance for the interlinked Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), proved to be one of the central themes of the Spring Meetings. While new World Bank Group President David Malpass, who began his five-year term on 9 April, eased the nerves of some shareholders by issuing multiple statements of support for the Bank’s climate action plan – a concern given his previous evasion of questions about the Bank’s role in fighting climate change during US Senate hearings in November 2018 while a US Treasury official – the urgent need for climate finance remains.

“Shortfalls in decisive action persist despite the blueprint provided by the Paris Agreement. We must go far beyond rhetoric. The moment calls for a robust response to protect economic growth from the risks of climate change and secure continued progress,” said Benson Wase, Finance Minister of the Republic of Marshall Islands and current chair of the V20, in the group’s press release.

The V20’s release cited a new report commissioned by the United Nations Environment Programme, which highlights the already-existing impact of climate change on V20 members’ cost of capital: “In the last ten years, climate vulnerability has cost V20 countries an additional US$62 billion in interest payments alone, including US$40 billion in additional interest payments on government debt… . Future interest payments due to climate vulnerability are projected to increase to US$168 billion over the next decade. These payments are separate from economic losses directly suffered from climate change, which compound the issue by reducing countries’ ability to invest in climate change mitigation and adaptation measures.”

At an event on “SDGs in Action: Integrating the SDGs into National Budgets” on 12 April, Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, reflected on the recently published Financing for Sustainable Development Report 2019 report, which provides a stock take of finance for the SDGs: “We’ve heard discussions about greening the economy, but not at the urgency or scale we need.” Mohammed added, echoing new research from the UK-based Overseas Development Institute showing the limited success of efforts to leverage private sector investors to support SDGs funding thus far, “Billions to Trillions has not materialized, and we must ask the question, ‘Why?’”

Separately, a new initiative, the Coalition of Finance Ministers for Climate Action, was launched on 13 April, with 22 Finance Ministers – including 12 from European states – endorsing the Helsinki Principles, with the aim of aligning policies with the Paris Agreement. As Leonardo Martinez-Diaz from the World Resources Institute commented, “But can they develop a joint workplan & keep momentum? That’s the key.”

With the promised private finance for development that has been the focus of the Bank and other MDBs over the last several years yet to materialise, it seems, as Deputy Secretary-General Mohammed noted, when it comes to securing climate finance, there are more questions than answers for climate vulnerable countries.

by Jon Sward

Falling growth, rising tensions – IMFC communiqué analysis Spring 2019

Mr. Lesetja Kganyago, Governor of the South African Reserve Bank, chaired the 39th International Monetary and Financial Committee (IMFC) meeting, and a full list of attendees can be found here.

Global Economic Outlook

Reflecting the somber tone of the April 2019 World Economic Outlook (WEO), which noted that “after strong growth in 2017 and early 2018, global economic activity slowed notably in the second half of last year”, the IMFC communiqué opened by stating that global expansion continues, but at a slower pace than anticipated in October (see Dispatch Autumn 2018). Building on IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde’s opening press conference remarks that, “we are now talking about a synchronized slowdown by 70 per cent of the global economy”, the communiqué noted that growth is projected to firm up in 2020, but risks remain tilted to the downside.

Drawing on the now-familiar themes of trade tensions and geopolitical risks, the communiqué noted that “free, fair, and mutually beneficial goods and services trade and investment are key engines for growth and job creation”, and committed to recognise the need to resolve trade tensions. This builds upon a central message in the WEO, which stated that, “Trade tensions increasingly took a toll on business confidence and, so, financial market sentiment worsened, with financial conditions tightening for vulnerable emerging markets in the spring of 2018 and then in advanced economies later in the year, weighing on global demand.” In responding to such tensions, the IMFC supported “the IMF’s efforts to mitigate risks and enhance confidence in trade through policy advice and trade-related macroeconomic analyses” and welcomed “continued efforts to conduct a rigorous, evenhanded, and multilaterally-consistent assessment of external positions and look forward to further analysis of the role of exchange rates in the external adjustment process.”

IMF Operations

The committee noted the IMF’s work to enhance debt transparency and the sustainability of financing practices by both debtors and creditors. While this focus will be seen as welcome, civil society has pointed to substantive problems with the current Debt Sustainability Framework (DSF), particularly in relation to its lack of debt relief and vague definition of sustainability (see Observer Winter 2017-18Update 40). By the IMF and World Bank’s own admission, the DSF would still have missed 1-in-5 past crises – a point of particular concern as 33 out of the 68 countries assessed were in high risk of external debt distress or in distress (see Observer Spring 2019).

Building on messages around climate change, domestic resource mobilisation, and energy scarcity, the communiqué stated, “We support efforts toward achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs].” This restatement of the commitment to the SDGs follows accusations from civil society that the IMF is merely using the SDGs as a public relations exercise to justify what it is already doing, no matter how incompatible this may be with truly equitable sustainable development (see Observer Spring 2019). As the IMF prepares to finalise its institutional view on social protection, the communiqué further noted that members look forward to the IMF proposing a strategy to more systematically engage on social spending issues – with the current approach having been heavily criticised for its failure to adhere to internationally agreed standards (see Observer Spring 2018).

On future work, the committee noted the IMF’s upcoming work in areas such as the 2020 Comprehensive Surveillance Review; the reviews of the Financial Sector Assessment Program; and work on the Data Standards Initiatives and data provision to the IMF for surveillance purposes and stated support of ‘improving lending policies, including through the reviews of program design and conditionality and concessional facilities; and integrating capacity development with surveillance and lending.’

IMF Quota Reform

Last but by no means least, the communiqué reaffirmed members’ commitment to “a strong, quota-based” IMF and requested – following the recent report to the Board of Governors on progress on the 15th General Review of Quotas (GRQ) – “the Executive Board to continue its work on IMF resources and governance reform as a matter of the highest priority, and to report on its outcome when it concludes its work on the 15th General Review of Quotas and by no later than the Annual Meetings of 2019.” The focus marks a change from the October 2018 IMFC communiqué, which called for “increased shares for dynamic economies in line with their relative positions in the world economy and hence likely in the share of emerging market and developing countries as a whole, while protecting the voice and representation of the poorest members.”

Pressure on the Fund to complete the quota review and address the democratic deficit has been mounting in the face of US efforts to block the reforms (see Dispatch Spring 2019). Following the G24 Spring communiqué, which cited the lack of progress on quota reform as a “major concern” (see Dispatch Spring 2019), the G24 October communiqué called on the Bank and Fund to “strengthen their efforts toward addressing the severe under-representation of some regions and countries, including at the managerial levels” (see Dispatch Autumn 2018). These calls from developing countries come in addition to senior Chinese officials urging progress on quota reform as well, as reported by Chinese news agency Xinhua.

Ministerial statements responding to the Spring 2019 IMFC communiqué can be found here.

by Miriam Brett

Development Committee communiqué analysis – Spring 2019

The World Bank and IMF Development Committee met in Washington on 13 April within the context of the World Bank and IMF Spring Meetings 2019.

The communiqué began by acknowledging the troubling projections of reduced economic growth for 2019 as outlined in the IMF’s April World Economic Outlook report. As in the 2018 Annual Meetings, it alluded to the trade tensions between China and the US by reiterating, “the important role of international trade and investment as engines of growth, productivity, innovation, job creation and sustainable development.”

While the validity of allegations of Chinese debt diplomacy is debated, the Committee made oblique reference to it and noted its support for the Bank and Fund’s multi-pronged approach “to improve the recording, monitoring, and reporting of public and private debt, as well as efforts to strengthen creditor coordination in debt restructuring situations, drawing on existing fora.” The emphasis on ‘existing fora’ surprised no one, as the Bank and Fund seem intent on their continued disregard for the proposals, among others, of the 2009 UN Commission of Experts report on reforms of the international monetary and financial systems, which called for the establishment of an “International Debt Restructuring Court.” Indeed, references to the power imbalances which result in differential treatment for powerful and poor countries in the functioning of multilateral institutions – as identified by Barbados Prime-Minister Mia Amor Mottley during her remarks at the Boston University and UN Conference on Trade and Development’s panel discussion on the crisis of multilateralism on 12 April – continued to be conspicuous by their absence in the Committee’s analysis.

Likewise, while the Committee highlighted the importance of domestic resource mobilisation (DRM) and the need to address illicit financial flows, it remained unwilling to contemplate the upgrading of the existing UN Committee into an intergovernmental tax body or to recognise the tension between its stated support for DRM and the Bank and Fund’s core ‘enabling the business environment’ policies that, as noted by the tax holiday example given by the Barbados prime minister, continues to force countries to forego millions of dollars in revenues as they compete for foreign investment. These contradictions were particularly evident in the Committee’s commitment to the Human Capital Project, which aims to support increased spending on health and education. The Committee remained unwilling to acknowledge that Bank and Fund policies and the multilateral structures they support contribute to a worsening debt crisis, as outlined by new research by UK-based civil society organisation (CSO) Jubilee Debt Campaign, which noted that average external debt repayments increased by 85 per cent from 2010 to 2018, with a negative impact on public spending on the Sustainable Development Goals, including health and education.

Given that the document also calls on the Bank to mitigate investment risks, presumably in line with the ‘Billions to Trillions’ agenda, questions remain about how the Bank and Fund will assist developing countries to address the imbalances of power with increasingly powerful corporate actors. Particularly relevant here is the recent report by UK-based Overseas Development Institute, which notes that every dollar of public  development financing ‘leverages’ only an additional 0.37 cents of private capital in low-income countries.

As the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the World Bank’s private sector lending arm, will continue to play an important role in ‘leveraging private capital’ and ‘creating markets,’ the communiqué made an oblique reference to the fact that the US Congress has yet to approve its contribution to the IFC’s capital increase agreed at the 2018 Annual Meetings (see Dispatch October 2018). Recent remarks by Chairwoman of the US House Committee on Financial Services, Maxine Waters, that authorisation of the IFC’s general capital increase “will not be a Committee priority” unless IFC investments “at minimum are competitively based and fully transparent down to the amounts and purpose of aid going to which firms and projects,” are no doubt of concern to the Committee.

The role of IFC and critiques of the International Development Association’s (IDA), the World Bank’s low-income lending arm, Private Sector Window also challenge the Committee’s focus on IDA 19’s jobs and economic transformation agenda, with trade union movements and others noting that much more focus is required to jobs tracking data, including wage, job quality, safety, nature of jobs contracts and gender elements as well as the effect on the local labour market. As the Bank’s publication linked with the IDA 18 jobs and economic transformation (JET) priorities concludes, “Low-income countries need better jobs, not just more jobs.”

The communiqué outlined the key focus areas going forward in light of the capital increase as: crisis preparedness, prevention and management; situations of fragility, conflict and violence (FCV); climate change; gender equality; knowledge and convening; and regional integration.

In a barely veiled reference to the Bank’s ‘previously’ climate change sceptic, newly appointed president, David Malpass, the Committee reiterated “the importance of delivering on the WBG’s Climate Change Action Plan – reiterate commitment to Climate Action plan.”

While the Committee noted that the Bank will increasingly work in difficult environments and acknowledged “the important role that the World Bank’s Inspection Panel (IP) and the IFC and MIGA Compliance Advisor Ombudsman play in accountability, lessons learned, and mitigating risks in an efficient and effective way,” it fell well short of accepting the significant changes called upon by civil society, such as providing the IP with a monitoring role and ensuring systems and resources are available to make complainants whole again if they experienced harm by World Bank-financed projects (see Observer Winter 2018). The language reflects divergences of opinions on the Inspection Panel reform process within the Board, with some shareholders reportedly against a more robust role for the Panel. As the Board must agree on the way forward, the timid language is cause for concern.

With no sense of irony given the fact that the World Bank president is again both a US national and a white man, chosen through back-door negotiations, the communiqué noted the progress made on “diversity and inclusion among WBG staff and management” – the selection process for its presidency presumably exempted (see Observer Spring 2019).

by Luiz Vieira

G24 communiqué analysis – Spring 2019

This year’s communiqué of the Intergovernmental Group of Twenty-Four on International Monetary Affairs and Development (G24), released on 11 April at the World Bank and IMF Spring Meetings in Washington DC, highlighted that the IMF’s latest projections that moderate global growth will be uneven across emerging market and developing economies (EDMEs) and called for stronger global cooperation to address risks.

Fragile global economy

The  communiqué raised concerns about “ongoing trade tensions, sharp tightening in financial conditions and large swings in commodity prices, amid more limited policy space to address downturns,” highlighting challenges of “weak productivity growth, increasing inequality, climate change, migration demographic shifts and policy uncertainty.”

Against the backdrop of trade negotiations between China and the US, the group called for “collective response to resolve ongoing trade tensions”. It urged the global community to foster an “open, rules-based, non-discriminatory and equitable multilateral trading system.”

The communiqué also highlighted concerns of growing debt vulnerabilities (see Observer Spring 2019), including in low-income countries, as shown in a recent IMF report. It called for “stronger action” from the IMF and World Bank on “capacity building for fiscal and debt management, increasing efficiency of investment programs, ensuring debt transparency, building a comprehensive database and developing domestic capital markets,” emphasising the “joint responsibilities of debtors and creditors in fostering debt sustainability.”

Delivering on multilateralism?

Despite civil society concerns about the World Bank’s ability to deliver effective development outcomes though its General Capital Increase agreed in April last year (see Observer Summer 2018), the G24 reiterated its support for the forthcoming implementation of the capital package. It did however highlight that implementation would benefit from “strong country partnerships, WBG [World Bank Group] commitment to decentralization and a focus on measurable development outcomes.”

Civil society calls for reform of the Inspection Panel (IP), the Bank’s independent accountability mechanism, to deliver meaningful remedy to communities that have long been side-lined by the Bank (see Observer Autumn 2018), were largely ignored. The G24 emphasised that the Bank’s new Environmental and Social Framework (ESF) should be “allowed to stabilize operationally before looking for further changes to the Bank’s accountability mechanism.”

After a US lawmaker threatened to delay the capital increase for the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the Bank’s private investment arm, due to concerns over accountability and transparency, the communiqué urged the “immediate adoption” of the IFC Resolution to implement its capital package, which includes more lending in fragile and conflict affected states. This is despite the IFC’s failure to address concerns about its poor track record on project performance in fragile and conflicts affected states (see Observer Autumn 2018), as highlighted by the Bank’s Independent Evaluation Group Results and Performance 2017 – a key focus of the capital increase package.

It reiterated that “economic transformation and inclusive growth” are crucial for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with a particular focus on jobs in emerging market and developing economies (EMDEs). The communiqué emphasised the need to strengthen domestic resource mobilisation in this regard as well, but stressed that relying on this alone was “not feasible” for achieving the SDGs.

Notably absent was an explicit reference to catalysing private financing, a key feature of last year’s  October communiqué. This comes amidst new evidence from the Overseas Development Institute calling the impact of Bank’s ‘Billions to Trillions’ agenda into question. Instead, the communiqué focused on the role of advanced countries in delivering on their Overseas Development Assistance and increasing concessional resources, with emphasis given to the “meaningful replenishments” of IDA19  (the International Development Association, IDA, is the low-income arm of the Bank)  and the African Development Fund.

The communiqué called on the World Bank and IMF to “intensify efforts to address climate risks” and highlighted the role of multilateral development banks (MDBs) to “support the scaling up of EDMEs’ investments in sustainable infrastructure.” This comes amidst longstanding civil society calls for the World Bank to introduce new measures to prevent its finance from going to fossil fuel investments (see Observer Spring 2019). The G24 noted the launch of the Coalition of Finance Ministers for Climate Action at the Spring Meetings, and urged that the Climate Investment Funds, which are hosted by the Bank, be “adequately resourced.” It  urged developed countries to deliver on the $100 billion per year for additional financing to support EDME climate actions under the Paris Agreement.

Bank and Fund legitimacy questioned as developing countries marginalised

The G24 has continually called for greater representation for developing countries at the board level of the international financial institutions. In this year’s communiqué, although the G24 called on the Bank and Fund to strengthen efforts to “deepen the voice and governance reforms for the legitimacy of the IMF and World Bank”, it fell short of acknowledging the failure of the Bank Board to deliver a transparent, merit-based selection process of the new World Bank president, which was once again limited to a US candidate (see Observer Spring 2019). Instead, the group congratulated and welcomed new World Bank President David Malpass, thanking Kristalina Georgieva for her stewardship as Interim President.

On IMF quota reform, the group was more vocal. It stressed its longstanding call for a quota-based and adequately resourced IMF, which includes a realignment of IMF quota shares to better reflect the global economy, stating that the “lack of progress on the IMF 15th General Review of Quotas is a major source of concern,” and emphasising its regret over insufficient support for a general quota increase for the IMF. Indeed, the much-anticipated quota review, which was expected to take place at this year’s Spring Meetings, failed to materialise, with a new US proposal in which quotas remain unchanged now on the table (see IMFC communiqué, 2019). In the face of global economic uncertainty, it issued a plea for “at least maintaining the IMF’s current lending capacity.”

Reflecting on a new IMF paper on the global architecture of corporate taxation, the group called for “reform of the international tax systems rules and standards,” and highlighted that the “views of developing countries need to be central in the reform.” The communiqué called for a “multilateral solution”, but, as in last year’s communiqué, omitted any mention of call by the Group of 77 (G77), the United Nations coalition of 134 developing nations, for a UN tax body. Nonetheless, the G24 did call for strong international cooperation to address illicit financial flows (IFFs), praising the Bank and UN’s Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative and calling for an acceleration of the Fund’s work on IFF measurement.

by Ella Hopkins

April 15, 2019 we can't both be right.

webshit weekly

An annotated digest of the top "Hacker" "News" posts for the second week of April, 2019.

Public Sans – A strong, neutral typeface for text or display
April 08, 2019 (comments)
Some bureaucrats set fire to tax money, and the result is a pointless microcustomization of an existing font. Hackernews argues about whether web fonts are a terrible burden or a fundamental human right, but that's just a warmup for the main event: the United States Forestry Service has a website that doesn't work without javascript. Is this a concentrated attack on people with slow computers, or a sign of the times? Explanation not considered: rich, high-bandwidth webshits who suck at their jobs.

Congress Is About to Ban the US Government from Offering Free Online Tax Filing
April 09, 2019 (comments)
The United States Congress continues the war against its own users. In this salvo, webshit middlemen have paid various politicians to ensure their rent-seeking business models will survive. Hackernews wrings its hands at the impossibility of avoiding the webshit middlemen, and wonder aloud if there might be some method of intervening in a market determined to fuck the customer. If only there were someone who could represent American citizens when coming up with these rules!

Unveiling the first-ever image of a black hole [video]
April 10, 2019 (comments)
A pack of Euros gathers together to practice their English. Hackernews trades YouTube links to fill in the vocabulary they're missing. One Hackernews contributes an essay claiming that the lack of global peace could be remediated via marketing. Other Hackernews try, based entirely on the contents of one TEDx talk, to figure out how this cutting-edge multinational radioimaging project works.

Julian Assange arrested in London
April 11, 2019 (comments)
A migrant enlists the help of the Metropolitan Police Service to move house. Hackernews tries to ascertain the facts of the situation and extrapolate next steps, but instead get lost inside the clouds of their own assumptions. Everyone has a good time anyway; nobody at "Hacker" "News" cares what's actually happening anywhere near as much as the opportunity to incorrect one another on police procedure, international law, espionage, journalism, and narcissism.

Katie Bouman, the computer scientist behind the first black hole image
April 11, 2019 (comments)
Hackernews declares an emergency recess from the Wikileaks bickering, as important news is brought to light: one of the scientists who worked on the black-hole imaging research is not only female but had the audacity to lead a project. This horrific breach of "culture fit" rallies Hackernews around the world to question this so-called scientist's credentials, approach, methods, etiquette, personal history, social media output, and even (just in case) whether or not this so-called scientist actually did anything Hackernews can identify as work, such as copying text files to GitHub or blogging about PowerPoint alternatives. None of the Hackernews can quite follow the math well enough to decide, so they declare the black hole picture to be cooties-contaminated and try to put this whole terrifying incident behind them.

Great developers are raised, not hired
April 12, 2019 (comments)
A motivational speaker suggests that more programmers might be successful if anyone bothered to show them what the fuck was going on. Hackernews tries to reconcile this possibility with their personal experience of never getting promoted and only getting raises by finding new strangers to snow. Nobody can seem to figure out what benefit there is in training younger programmers, since the natural result of such mentorship is that little shit is going to go get fuck-you money instead of working for Hackernews. Downthread, Hackernews invents the labor union apprenticeship program from first principles. One Hackernews insists that anyone who fails to devote themselves utterly to whoever hires them is not a 'real engineer.'

South Korea now recycles 95% of its food waste
April 13, 2019 (comments)
Korea alters the disposition of specific kinds of trash, moving it from 'under the ground' to 'on top of the ground.' Hackernews of various nations turn the story into some kind of ecological pissing-match, and start ranting about using machine learning to enable robots to look at garbage. Other Hackernews recite numbers at each other in lieu of understanding. Several Hackernews question the article, and when presented with additional evidence proceed to defend themselves by declaring they did not read the article, and therefore should not be held accountable for the relevance of their arguments.

Single-dose propranolol tied to ‘selective erasure’ of anxiety disorders
April 14, 2019 (comments)
Some academics think they can use chemicals to take the edge off a traumatic memory. Hackernews, as usual, spends the afternoon in a lively game of armchair psychiatric theorizing. Some Hackernews approach it by relating all the myriad self-medication experiments they've undertaken. Others prefer to spend their time imagining a bleak future of oppressive drugged militias. One Hackernews, an advanced player, declares that the mere idea of removing a specific type of anxiety is itself anxiety-inducing. Everyone plays the game differently, but they're all careful not to speak aloud the real reason this story was voted so highly: the promise of a future where Thursday's "culture fit incident" doesn't keep Hackernews awake at night, mourning that one GitHub account's obviously superior commit history.


April 12, 2019

Centro de Autonomia Digital

Ola Bini arrest

En español abajo.

People working for free software and privacy should not be criminalized

There is nothing criminal about wanting privacy.

Ola Bini, @olabini, a world-renowned figure in the field of free software and defender of digital rights and privacy, was arrested at the airport in Quito, Ecuador at 3:20 p.m. local time on April 11, 2019. As far as is known, there are no charges against him. His lawyers were not allowed to meet him all day yesterday and only gained access to him after he was detained for 17 hours. At 6 p.m. they were told that they were going to transfer him to the Flagrante Delicto Unit (Unidad de Flagrancia de la Fiscalía) of the Attorney General’s office in central northern Quito to give statements in an investigation by the provincial Attorney General’s office in Pichincha.

Bini, a Swedish citizen living in Ecuador, does not speak fluent Spanish and requires an interpreter to make any statement. He has been held illegally, without known charges and without informing the authorities of his country (Sweden) of his detention as established by international protocols.

He is the Technical Director of Center for Digital Autonomy and had posted on his twitter account that he was going to travel to Japan for a martial arts course, a trip planned more than a month ago. He saw comments from Ecuador’s Minister of Interior, and tweeted: “María Paula Romo, Ecuador Minister of the Interior, this morning held a press conference, claiming there are Russian hackers in Ecuador, and also that there is one person part of WikiLeaks living in Ecuador since several years.” (

Bini has been a software programmer his entire life, having started programming as an 8 year old child, and created two programming languages. He’s a long time Free Software and privacy and transparency activist. In 2010 Computerworld from Sweden, rated Ola Bini as the 6th top developer in the country.

He has contributed to:

  • loke
  • Seph
  • JesCov
  • JRuby
  • JtestR
  • Yecht
  • JvYAMLb
  • JvYAML-gem
  • RbYAML
  • Ribs
  • ActiveRecord-JDBC
  • Jatha
  • Xample
  • JOpenSSL

La gente que trabaja en software libre y privacidad no debe ser criminalizada

No hay nada criminal en querer privacidad.

Ola Bini, @olabini, una reconocida figura en el ámbito de software libre mundial y defensor de los derechos digitales y la privacidad en Internet, fue detenido en el aeropuerto de Quito, Ecuador a las 15h20 del 11 de abril de 2019. Hasta donde se sabe, no hay cargos ni pruebas en su contra. No se le permitió a sus abogados reunirse con él todo el día de ayer. A las 18h00 se les dijo que lo iban a trasladar a la Unidad de Flagrancia de la Fiscalía en el centro norte de Quito para rendir declaraciones en el marco de una investigación de la Fiscalía provincial de Pichincha.

Bini, ciudadano sueco residente en Ecuador no habla fluentemente el español y requiere de un intérprete para rendir cualquier declaración. Se le ha retenido ilegalmente, sin cargos conocidos, sin comunicar a las autoridades de su país (Suecia) su detención como establecen los protocolos internacionales.

Bini es el Director Técnico del Centro de Autonomía Digital y habría posteado en su cuenta de twitter que iba a viajar a Japón para un curso de artes marciales, un viaje planeado hace más de un mes. Vio los comentarios de la ministra del Interior y tweeteo: “María Paula Romo, la Ministra del Interior del Ecuador, esta mañana mantuvo una rueda de prensa, donde se alegaba que hackers rusos viven en Ecuador, y que una persona cercana a Wikileaks vive ahí también”.

Bini ha sido un programador de software toda su vida. Comenzó a programar desde los 8 años y creó dos lenguajes de programación. Ha sido un activista de privacidad y software libre por mucho tiempo. En el 2010, Computerworld en Suecia, lo nombró como el 6to mejor desarrollador del país.

Ha contribuido con:

  • loke
  • Seph
  • JesCov
  • JRuby
  • JtestR
  • Yecht
  • JvYAMLb
  • JvYAML-gem
  • RbYAML
  • Ribs
  • ActiveRecord-JDBC
  • Jatha
  • Xample
  • JOpenSSL

April 11, 2019

Data Knightmare (Italian podcast)

DK 3x27.2 - Non moriremo di copyright p. 2

Il 26 marzo il Parlamento Europeo ha passato una legge stupida, retrograda, e che con ogni probabilità finirà per essere inapplicabile. Non prima di avere fatto molti danni, ovviamente.

by Walter Vannini

April 10, 2019

Data Knightmare (Italian podcast)

DK 3x27.1 - Non moriremo di copyright

Il 26 marzo il Parlamento Europeo ha passato una legge stupida, retrograda, e che con ogni probabilità finirà per essere inapplicabile. Non prima di avere fatto molti danni, ovviamente.

by Walter Vannini

April 08, 2019


Actualización... Así va quedando lo que será #EterTICs v10.0 de nom...

Así va quedando lo que será #EterTICs v10.0 de nombre clave #Kuntur (Cóndor en Quechua)

EterTICs GNU/Linux v10.0 "Kuntur"

Sistema Operativo: GNU
Kernel: Linux oficial del pryecto Devuan 4.9.0-8-amd64
Distro base: Devuan 2.0 ASCII
Ramas de instalación: main
Arquitectura: amd64
Escritorio: MATE 1.20

Diferencias con Devuan GNU/Linux
→ Se cambia el gestor de logueo predeterminado de SLim a LightDM
→ Se cambia el gestor de redes predeterminado de wicd a network-manager
→ Se cambia el escritorio predeterminado Xfce4 por MATE en su versión 1.20
→ Se usa y configurar xfce4-panel como lanzador de aplicaciones, teniendo 2 paneles. Uno abajo SIEMPRE VISIBLE (ocultación inteligente) con las aplicaciones de usa Radial mas frecuentes y el segundo panel, sobre el costado izquierdo (OCULTO hasta posicionarse sobre él) con aplicaciones ofimáticas y de internet mas usuales.

Como siempre la idea que motiva el desarrollo de ésta distribución es la de ayudar, en primera instancia, pero no de forma excluyente, a las #RadiosComunitarias que "decidan" migrar o adoptar el Software Libre con TODO lo que ésto implica, siempre recomendamos que ésta decisión no se tome a la ligera pensando que es sólo un cambio de "programas informáticos", o que se van a librar de "virus" o pensando desde lo económico, que no van a "pagar nada" por usar, porque muchas veces estos pensamientos son completamente incorrectos... esta decisión, creemos debe venir después de un profundo análisis y entendimiento de que significa adoptar "tecnologías libres y así generar comunicación libre".

Nuestra ayuda como colectivo desde la comunidad #LiberaTuRadio llega en forma de una distribución GNU/Linux a través de EterTICs, es decir:

"...un conjunto de programas informáticos seleccionados para solventar una problemática puntual, en nuestro caso la instalación y configuración que permitan sacar una radio sea por eter o por internet de forma fácil y rápida, todo ésto sobre un Sistema Operativo GNU con núcleo (o kernel) Linux..."

EterTICs v10.0 es, como viene siendo desde la versión 8.x del 2016, una "personalización" de la distribución madre #Devuan GNU/Linux ( versión estable. EterTICs está pensado para funcionar principalmente en las PC's de aire de las radios y estar sometidas a un trabajo duro, muchas veces de 24x7x365 como un pequeño servidor, es por esta razón que se eligió a Devuan GNU/Linux como distribución madre, por ser SÓLIDA como una roca, pero esta característica tiene un precio ya en sus paquetes predeterminados no suelen tener versiones muy actuales, y es ahí donde hacemos uso de nuestras libertades y sumamos paquetes (programas) de otros proyectos de Software Libre para así conseguir un distribución lo más balanceada posible entre SOLIDEZ Y ACTUALIZACIÓN.

Estamos en días de pruebas y si todo sale bien nuestro "kuntur" tomará vuelo el 10 de Abril próximo.

by Javier Obregón we can't both be right.

webshit weekly

An annotated digest of the top "Hacker" "News" posts for the first week of April, 2019.

Warp – Mobile VPN
April 01, 2019 (comments)
The idiots who ported DNS to HTTP would like you to beta-test their next rental property. Leery Hackernews demand to know why anyone should trust this company, which all of them already trust. Most of Hackernews tries to guess which programs the company is running, while others try to divine the reason this company wants all of the packets on the internet to route through their servers. The rest of the comments are Hackernews listing similar products they already use or company employees defending the honor of their employer.

I tried creating a web browser, and Google blocked me
April 02, 2019 (comments)
A webshit lacks sufficient funds for Google to care. Hackernews compiles a massive list of people whose fault this is, none of whom work in the information technology industry, because that's where Hackernews works. Debates break out regarding which service comprises the best opportunity to pay money in order to not access data. The rest of the comments are Hackernews prognosticating what a world might look like in which people could pay money for art and then decide for themselves how to consume it.

Ex-Mozilla CTO: I was grilled for three hours at US airport by border cops
April 03, 2019 (comments)
The United States law enforcement community continues its war against everyone who is not a cop. Hackernews accidentally notices this time, because one of the casualties happens to touch computers for a living. The usual bravado shows up in the comment threads, as Hackernews pretends to have all sorts of solutions for police abuse. A steadily-increasing percentage of Hackernews finds it simpler to just declare they'll never visit America again in their lives, as though a life spent outside the United States of America was ever truly lived.

You Are Not Google (2017)
April 04, 2019 (comments)
An Internet reminds us to solve the problems we have, as opposed to solving the problems we aspire to have. Hackernews roundly rejects this advice, because there are so many FOSDEM talks to be given if you adopt a strict policy of resume-driven development.

CityBound – An open source city simulation game in Rust
April 05, 2019 (comments)
A webshit clones SimCity, then arrives in the comments to receive applause. The game claims to be built from many concurrent behavior models, and Hackernews' love for oversimplified views of society, built from arbitrary first principles, ensures the result is extremely popular. When it arises that someone who does not work for Mozilla used Rust, the Rust Evangelism Strike Force tries to throw a party. Compile times piss in the punch bowl.

Nuclear power is the fastest way to slash greenhouse gas emissions, decarbonize
April 06, 2019 (comments)
Three academics have opinions on electricity. One of them is qualified to. Hackernews isn't, but they're going to anyway; as with all of the "strongly-held and poorly-understood opinion" debates Hackernews gets into, the vote-to-comment ratio approaches parity. All of the comments are Hackernews declaring Obvious Facts, and then arguing with the flood of demands for definitions and Wikipedia links. Sample quote: "I'm not so sure I'd pick Democracy over nuclear power."

I Lied When I Said We Did Everything We Could
April 07, 2019 (comments)
A medical professional celebrates April Fools Day by reminiscing about the agonizing, prolonged death of a patient and lying to the surviving family. Hackernews recounts all the deaths and illnesses they've experienced or read about. No technology is discussed, but Hackernews has fun lecturing one another about sectarian differences among religions. Elsewhere, Hackernews struggles to identify nebulous concepts like "fact."


April 04, 2019

Mobile Communications for All

Talkin’ ’bout my (5th) Generation

By Peter Bloom, General Coordinator

For the past year and a half, part of my professional duties have included thinking about how to keep community networks relevant in an evolving technological and regulatory landscape. As such, I attended telecom industry conferences, read a lot and spoke with people working on connectivity from different backgrounds and approaches. A recurring theme was the massive transition to a “4th Industrial Revolution” that we are supposedly already in the midst of. Although some of the conversations didn’t directly name it as such, it’s clear that everyone recognized big changes on the horizon. This was made most evident to me at the 2018 GSMA Mobile World Congress, where I was struck, worried even, by the change in discourse from connecting people to connecting things. The colonial nature of the ‘connecting people’ discourse is problematic in its own right, but when that is being supplanted by ‘connecting everything’, further concern is warranted. My conclusion is that the imperative to ensure everyone has the right to communicate and access information, which is laudable, is being supplanted by this new drive to connect the already connected even further through a whole host of new and upgraded technologies.

“Our industry purpose to connect everyone and everything to a better future.” – Mats Granryd, General Director of GSMA

Although these technologies vary widely from Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to multi-access edge computing, Network Function Virtualization and slicing, I will use 5G networks as the primary lens for this piece. I decided to do so as 5G is being positioned as the underlying connectivity infrastructure upon which many of these technologies will rest and through which people and things will interact. The focus on infrastructure has been central to the work myself and others do as part of Rhizomatica around digital and communication rights. Infrastructure is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak, and involves technology, regulation, economics and people. Infrastructure is the means by which these new technologies will actually come into our lives in a physical sense. And while infrastructure, especially of the digital kind, is generally meant to be as invisible as possible, it is ever more crucial to understand and critically engage with as citizens.

Network operators, at least in some rich countries, are on the cusp of rolling out 5G networks. The push towards 5G encompasses a plethora of interest groups, particularly governments, financing institutions and telecommunications companies, that demands to be better analyzed in order to understand where things are moving, whose interests are being served and the possible consequences of these changes. 5G is being positioned by the big telecom companies as “the thing” — a suite of technologies that will solve all of the world’s problems (particularly if you live in a well-connected place already) and make lots of money for everyone in the process.

“5G holds the promise of applications with high social and economic value, leading to a hyper-connected society in which mobile will play an increasingly important role in people’s lives.” – Mats Granryd, General Director of GSMA

Hearing this same message over and over, as if anyone associated with the telecom industry or its regulation were ventriloquist’s dummies got me thinking: what does this better future supposedly hold? And, how concerned or optimistic should we be?

First, we need to understand where 5G comes from. The G is for generation, so the 5th generation of a series of wireless mobile or cellular technologies that we have been interacting with for the better part of 30 years. As the business potential of these technologies grew and became more consolidated the telecom industry, though the 3GPP, started creating technical specifications  every ten years, hence the successive generations of 2G, 3G, etc. Something called IMT-2000 are the specifications for 3G, IMT-2010 is 4G and now 5G is IMT-2020. IMT-2020 is the culmination of ten years of development and lobbying with its codification (perhaps coronation is a better word) coming later in the year at an International Telecommunications Union event called World Radio Congress.

I like to think about World Radio Congress as the Olympics for spectrum. Every three or four years representatives of national governments from around the world gather to discuss and modify radio spectrum regulations as part of a UN-sanctioned (through the ITU) process. There are years of committee meetings that happen regionally beforehand in which mainly governments and industry decide how to enable new technologies via radio spectrum. While some parts of the ITU have become more inclusive of other voices, the Radio Bureau (ITU-R), which organizes WRC and decides on binding international treaties, is not particularly friendly to civil society input. Just being able to keep up with all the meetings is beyond the budget of almost any NGO.

Due to the technical requirements, which I will discuss in a bit, an unprecedented amount of spectrum is being identified for 5G networks. The ITU coordinates spectrum planning globally, and decisions are codified at each World Radio Congress (WRC). Over the past few WRC’s, 1.2 GHz of spectrum was identified for IMT-2010 (4G). IMT-2020 (5G) is a whole new ballgame, with over 10 GHz of additional spectrum being targeted and each operator requiring much larger blocks of spectrum to provide service. Much of this extra spectrum is in the millimeter-wave bands, above 24GHz, making it really good for sending lots of data over very short distances. But there is also a pretty rough fight happening in lower bands, pitting existing C-Band satellite operators against the mobile industry. The takeaway is that backers of 5G are proposing to use an unprecedented amount of spectrum, a public good, exclusively for their services. As more spectrum is identified by ITU for these mobile services, it becomes incredibly hard for other types of technology or service provision models to use those frequencies and develop. In many countries, spectrum for IMT-2020 has already started to be auctioned for huge sums of money.


5G, as a technical proposal, is meant to do three things. Enhance the capacity of existing mobile broadband (e.g. virtual reality on your phone), connect way more devices (e.g. Internet of Things), and increase the reliability and lower the latency of networks (e.g. remote surgery).

Enhancing mobile broadband is fairly straightforward and offers the possibility to do things like play a virtual reality game attached to your mobile device, which requires downloading huge amounts of data constantly and very quickly. The stated goal is 1 Gbps to your device, or better. To put that in perspective, the best performing 4G networks right now top out at about 45 Mbps, so not even 5% of the goal for 5G. The next aspect is the ability to connect way more devices, with the goal for 5G to connect up to 1 million devices per square kilometer, compared to around 2,000 connected devices per square kilometer with 4G. For some perspective, Manila has the highest population density of any city in the world with 43 thousand people per square kilometer. 5G networks would allow for 23 connected devices per person. Finally, 5G designers have come up with a mouthful: Ultra-high Reliability and Low Latency, to talk about making networks more able to support “mission-critical” applications such as smart grids, remote surgery, real-time haptic feedback, and self-driving cars. In layperson’s terms, all packets must get to their destination and do so extremely quickly (in 1 millisecond).



From these three very ambitious technical proposals for 5G, it is clear that the technology is being positioned as a platform for industries and consumers alike — or in the lingo of the mobile industry: “new verticals”. These verticals are entire business realms that 5G networks will become the underlying communications and support infrastructure for. And seemingly no industry is to be ignored or left “un-smart”. At a recent conference I attended, I was surprised (perhaps horrified is a better way to put it) to learn there is a technical standard called V2X or Vehicle-to-Everything, which consists of: Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V), Vehicle-to-Pedestrian (V2P), Vehicle-to-(roadway)-Infrastructure (V2I), and Vehicle-to-Network (V2N) communications. When I think about Vehicle-to-Pedestrian communication it makes me wonder what happens to the pedestrian that is not connected to the network through some device. Do they get run over by the self-driving car that can’t sense them? Does that person wait at some future street corner indefinitely for the traffic light to turn green because the smart crosswalk doesn’t know they are there?

V2X, as just one example, raises fundamental issues about how we move around in space, much of which is (still) public, that are being dictated by engineers and lawyers in technical committees whose bosses have a huge stake in seeing certain proprietary technologies prosper. This is similar to the argument made around how public discourse and access to news and information is being shaped, often with grave real-world consequences, by algorithms programmed in and for the benefit of those already in power. With the rise of the 4th Industrial Revolution, we are facing the “code is law” maxim being taken way further into our lived experience of the physical world than many of us probably want. As Lessig, the coiner of the phrase, points out, code, just like law, is: “an architecture—not just a legal text but a way of life—that structures and constrains social and legal power”. When the book was published in the late 1990’s, the issue was how to protect intellectual property when the Internet and computers allowed for essentially free copying and distribution. What we are increasingly facing, and that 5G is all about making happen, is the complete penetration of a new, ‘smarter’ generation of those computers and the Internet into every aspect of our physical lives. The rise of so-called cyber-phyiscal systems.

“With 5G, networks will be transformed into intelligent orchestration platforms.”

As discussed above, 5G proposes to connect way more devices, with many of these not being only phones and computers, but also sensors, terrestrial vehicles, industrial equipment, implanted medical devices, drones, cameras, etc etc. For those of us concerned about the surveillance capacity and privacy issues related to current networks and Internet platforms, brace yourself because you ain’t seen nothing yet. The fundamental underlying proposal of the supposed 4th Industrial Revolution that 5G networks are meant to help bring about is to connect everything with everything else while also making more things, including our bodies, more connectable. If the current way our personal data are dealt with is any indication of the future, this cyber-physical melding will be a disaster for privacy and anonymity, in addition to being incredibly vulnerable to being cracked and manipulated, as is already happening with IoT botnets like Mirai. So while the 4th Industrial Revolution is not only about 5G networks, it’s nearly impossible to imagine without that infrastructure in place. It’s also, at least from my analysis, hard to imagine this not taking us to a very dark place.

One of the key takeaways I had from attending MWC, and from subsequent telecom industry-related meetings, was that the chip manufacturers are setting the agenda. I was under the naive impression it was the network operators, but no. It makes some kind of perverse sense that if your business is to build processor and base-band silicon it would make sense for you to try and get as many things to have chips in them as possible.

“The 5G chipset market is projected to be $22.41 billion in 2026 registering a CAGR of 49.2% from the estimated valuation of approximately $2.03 billion by 2020.”

Many of the 20 billion connected devices that we are all supposedly going to buy by 2020, are things that were not connected devices before. Think about your toaster oven and your refrigerator and your washing machine all being connected as part of your smart home. And your car too. If you have a heart problem, your pacemaker. And so on. The makers of these networking chips are companies like Qualcomm, Intel, Broadcom and Samsung. These are huge companies and they know how to throw their weight around. The point being, when they set their mind to it, they are able to spur industry-wide changes to benefit their bottom line. At MWC there was a ton of hype around 5G because it creates more business for the whole supply chain, but the apex predators remain the chipset manufacturers for now.

In order for them to get what they want, the chip makers have to convince everyone else in the industry it is a good idea. It was interesting to see at MWC how the network operators were subtly bridling at rolling out 5G because most of them are still either deploying or servicing debt related to 4G services or still can’t figure out how 5G will make them enough money to justify the expense. But since the telecom industry is so command-and-control, the network operators have to toe the party line, which, from what I have been able to glean, is set primarily by the silicon manufacturers and network equipment vendors like Huawei and Ericsson. What struck me about this arrangement is how fundamentally despotic, or perhaps banal, it all is. We as a society are meant to fundamentally transform how we do things in order to accommodate the business goals of people who build tiny processor chips? The troubling part of what is coming is that engaging with network technologies has always been more or less optional and it feels like the option to not connect is being foreclosed. This is why the Vehicle-to-Pedestrian thing so unnerved me when I heard about it. How real is my option to not participate in the network if I wish to simply walk around in public safely?

What remains to be seen is who will step up and actually pay for these networks to be built and if they will even all be owned and operated by traditional telecoms operators. Estimates for the cost of 5G network deployment and associated investment in technology and spectrum are at $2.7 trillion US dollars, according to some estimates! The problem is it is not clear if this is actually a sound investment as the incremental increase in revenue for things like IoT is not that high and it costs a lot of money to deploy dense clusters of 5G microcells in urban areas.

“Spending on 5G roll out is just the thin end of the wedge. This project is actually about funding the growth of the Internet of Things and industrial connection to that […] In the automotive industry, for instance, 5G will be important for tracking components through the supply chain and in to the manufacturing process, then right through to an end product that has connectivity beyond anything we have seen so far.” – Tony Wonfor, Greensill managing director and telecoms finance specialist

Beyond the chipset makers and network operators, 5G networks will enable new entrants into the data harvesting and selling market. Though unlikely, maybe they’ll pay for it?

“Whilst the per-bit value of IoT is rather low, the value generated by holistic orchestration and big data analytics is enormous. For example General Motors (GM) estimates that they could generate €725 revenue per car from telematics information.”

Since large Internet platforms like Google and Facebook have already proven the business model for this, it is likely that the companies selling your smart devices will also be collecting and monetizing the data that streams back to them, if they aren’t already. So way more devices will be collecting way more personal information about you and that information will be collected by the crummy ones we already know about, plus a slew of new companies that likely have no idea how to handle your information safely, and then sold on to people willing to pay for that information. Furthermore, the kind of information being collected is going to be much more personal. Just look up “smart menstrual cup” online and you will see what I mean. This ridiculous product pre-dates 5G networks, but the trend is towards more and more of these network-enabled products coming to market. The addition of the networking chip into your personal device makes the information harvesting aspect as seamless and frictionless as possible. So I get to sell you a “smart” gadget and also make money off the data that I collect from it. There will perhaps be some marginal benefit to the consumer from this aggregation of networked personal devices but the big winners will be those collecting, bundling, analyzing and selling the data produced. Unfortunately, the more is known about us the more vulnerable we are to individual and mass manipulation.

Another big winner here will be the surveillance state. Headlines about 5G at the moment are being captured by the fight to block Huawei, a Chinese company with close ties to the State, from becoming the major network equipment vendor in the West. The argument is that if Huawei sells the underlying network infrastructure for 5G, the Chinese government will gain immense surveillance capacity as a result. While this may be true and while China has a terrible record with regards to respecting their citizens’ privacy and has shown a willingness to engage in cyber-sabotage and warfare, it is not as if governments in the West are that much better. Wholesale government spying on everyday people is commonplace and widespread. 5G networks and the fact that so many more devices will be collecting personal information will undoubtedly make this worse. Furthermore, the reach and potential danger of cyber-attacks on connected critical infrastructure is staggering, as mentioned above.

“The more connected we are, and 5G will make us the most connected by far, the more vulnerable we become.” – Retired Air Force Brigadier General Robert Spalding

Lots of money will exchange hands in regards to 5G networks and the data they enable to flow around, that much is clear. Beyond the digital or data economics of the whole thing, there are also regular ol’ economics at play. The biggest one being how these networks will increase automation and therefore eliminate the need for labor (or at least vastly transform it). As an example, Uber and Lyft, two AI and mobile-enabled transportation companies, are allowed to lose so much money because they are providing a useful service to Capitalism in that they are training their AI with so much data that they will eventually be able to eliminate human drivers altogether. Again, this brave new world cannot come about without the underlying network infrastructure to enable it, as Lyft directly states in their public filing papers with the US Securities and Exchange Commission. Furthermore, the importance of the move towards autonomous vehicles to their bottom line is also plainly laid out in the filing documents:

“Within 10 years, our goal is to have deployed a low-cost, scaled autonomous vehicle network that is capable of delivering a majority of the rides on the Lyft platform. And, within 15 years, we aim to deploy autonomous vehicles that are purpose-built for a broad range of ridesharing and transportation scenarios, including short- and long-haul travel, shared commute and other transportation services. […] If we are unable to efficiently develop our own autonomous vehicle technologies or develop partnerships with other companies to offer autonomous vehicle technologies on our platform in a timely manner, our business, financial condition and results of operations could be adversely affected.”

As our old pal Karl Marx explained, surplus value is equal to the new value created by workers in excess of their own labor-cost, which is appropriated by the capitalist as profit when products are sold. Once you have developed them, which is admittedly not cheap, you don’t have to pay AI or robots to drive your cars, so you can make way more profit. Push back against this pessimistic viewpoint exists, with the argument being that this new form of hyper-connectivity will create an Internet of Skills: “an enabler for remote skillset delivery [that will] democratize labour globally the same way as the Internet has democratised knowledge”. This argument reminds me of what we were promised by neoliberal globalization in the 1990’s. Actually, its worse in some ways, as this skill delivery will happen remotely, making it possible for people to work under one labor regime while producing value in another. This obviously happens all the time in manufacturing and other “outsourced” industries, but this new arrangement would make it possible to outsource more types of jobs, first to poor people in poor countries, and then to robots or computers, which would eliminate those jobs altogether.

So what might stop or mitigate what is coming? Maybe much of the hype is for things that people don’t actually want. As we know, our current system is pretty good at convincing us we want things we didn’t even know we did, but regardless, there will hopefully come a point at which people as consumers and as a society simply don’t see the value in what is being offered or find it actually makes the world a worse place. Whether or not we are successful at that level, it is clear that governments and industry are working closely together to ensure the infrastructure for the 4th Industrial Revolution is put in place, whether we like it or not. One telling example is the recent Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rule limiting what local authorities can charge telecom companies for installing cell sites for 5G wireless networks, or whether they can refuse to have the networks installed at all.

As mentioned above, the rise of cyber-physical systems, aided by the spread of 5G networks, presents clear and profound challenges, both personal and collective. As networked technologies embed themselves further into our lives, those that are traditionally oppressed will feel the majority of the negative consequences. This piece has talked about surveillance and labor precarity as two important ones, but there are other negative ways this will manifest, some of which we cannot even imagine now. At a fundamental level, the technologies being proposed and implemented are designed to create an ever-tighter feedback loop of information. Networked devices will collect more and more intimate information and in so doing create huge data sets on which to facilitate predictive analytics and eventually automation, which in turn will be aided by the existence of the network itself.

“Although material strength will remain essential to geopolitical and state power, the most powerful actors of the future will draw on networks, relationships, and information to compete and cooperate. “

This, in my opinion, all comes down to control. And this increased control by States and corporations is coming just at the right time (for them). While new businesses have been created by networked technologies, many of these have succeeded directly on the backs of workers. This against a backdrop of a planet being damaged and transformed by human-related climate change. Perhaps we are getting too far afield here, but the point is that the ability for people to lead dignified lives around the world is diminishing due to economic inequality and a warming planet. This has already started, and will continue, to lead to social unrest. But at the end of the day, both States and corporate powers recognize that they must augment their capability to control ever-increasingly desperate people.

But all is not lost. Workers in the gig economy and even those working for large Internet companies are pushing back. Ethnic minorities and people of color, too. This is, of course good news. Getting organized is the only way we will be able to mitigate the the negative effects of what is coming. There is not a technological solution to the issues raised in this piece. We can try to circumvent and encrypt, and we can chose to be completely disconnected from all of these innovations, but these networks are going to be installed eventually and we need to come up with a more coherent and collaborative strategy about what we are going to do about it. The people on the front lines, those already feeling the brunt of the negative aspects of this system and organizing around stopping it, must be our guiding light.

by Peter

April 01, 2019 we can't both be right.

webshit weekly

An annotated digest of the top "Hacker" "News" posts for the last week of March, 2019.

Bitcoin ETF research finds that 95% of Bitcoin volume is fake
March 22, 2019 (comments)
Bitcoin Idiots, LLC performs an analysis of the circulation of Fedoral Reserve Notes. It concludes that everything is fine, except for the rampant fraud, because if you are very selective about who you believe, you can pretend the Dunning-Krugerrand market looks something like markets for things that are actually valuable. Hackernews sets up a guard tower to gatekeep the incoming opinion flood based on who spends enough time obsessing over this garbage. Nobody mentions the fact that the 'health' of Bitcoin markets are judged by how closely they resemble the money markets they purport to render obsolete, even though the primary sales pitch involves removing human trust from the process.

Dell Autism Hiring Program
March 23, 2019 (comments)
Dell wonders if maybe their hiring process can be improved. Hackernews debates whether this is a cynical attempt to mine talent from previously-overlooked seams or a genuine attempt to treat human resources as human beings. Some Hackernews consider labeling such personnel so their specific status is on display at all times, an idea that nobody got from Nazi concentration camps.

Mathigon – an interactive, personalized mathematics textbook
March 24, 2019 (comments)
Some webshits would like to teach you math. Half of Hackernews are working on almost-identical webshit, and are eager to discuss their versions in detail. The other half have strongly-held pedagogical views derived entirely from how badly they performed in grade school.

Twitter forces all new users to enter a valid phone number
March 25, 2019 (comments)
Some rando is angry about the Twitter signup process. Hackernews erupts into philosophistry about where "typing text into some company's webshit" lands on the spectrum of liberty, from 'fundamental human right' to 'anyone who would want to do this should go to jail.' Many terrible analogies are created as Hackernews performs a half-assed crowdsourced comparative analysis of other webshits one might type text into. Nobody at Twitter notices.

A guide to difficult conversations
March 26, 2019 (comments)
A grifter posts on medium dot com a series of tips for people who do not know how to talk without being a huge asshole. Hackernews recounts all conversations they've had where at least one participant was an asshole, and trades URLs for commercial products that purport to compensate for various forms of assholery. I'm not sure why I was surprised, given the existence of so many other corporate products that exist to train Hackernews how to be human, but the existence of multiple competing product lines teaching idiots how to talk like a human being was a bit of an eye-opener. Look for the n-gate entry into this market, coming soon to a vanity publisher near you.

Facebook to ban white nationalist content
March 27, 2019 (comments)
Facebook takes away some snowflakes' safe space. Hackernews is absolutely outraged that someone in Silicon Valley could dare set foot on such a slippery slope, which could lead to a society in which you might not be able to post whatever you want on any website you happen across. In particular, Hackernews is concerned that this action may open the door to further persecute a specific political party, which is so downtrodden and abused that it merely controls two and a half of the three branches of the United States Government. These fears are met with similar concerns for the health and well-being of another party, which recently controlled a similar swath of American politics. Because no actual technology is discussed, and the comment threads are entirely composed of arm-chair legal theory, the vote to comment ratio is breathtakingly close to 0.5:1.

Why Bother with What Three Words?
March 28, 2019 (comments)
An Internet doesn't like some startup. Hackernews isn't sure whether the startup is worth a shit, but it sure doesn't like some Internet barging in and slandering a venture-backed operation. There is, apparently, honor among thieves, after all. Everyone seems to agree that the actual coordinate system rented out by the startup is sort of stupid, which is a good reason to name every other coordinate system ever invented, as well as inventing a few new failures along the way.

Apple Cancels AirPower Product
March 29, 2019 (comments)
Apple suddenly has quality standards for hardware. This news comes as a surprise to Hackernews and presumably many hardware engineers at Apple. Hackernews gets to work guessing what engineering problem caused the product to be canceled, then sets about solving poorly-conceived design challenges with poorly-understood lectures about physics.

Bezos Investigation Says the Saudis Obtained His Private Data
March 30, 2019 (comments)
The Saudi royal family will stop at nothing to collect dick pics, which raises the obvious question: why did they pursue Jeff Bezos instead of just making a Tinder account? Hackernews is flabbergasted that mobile phones are not perfectly secure, and begins to panic about the amount of blackmail material being theoretically accumulated by whatever political operative a given commenter fears the most.

Intel VISA Exploit Gives Access to Computer’s Entire Data, Researchers Show
March 31, 2019 (comments)
In what is easily the most horrific possible news story in the information technology industry, some security researchers reveal the terrifying, nightmarish truth: if you have a computer, you can access it. With a little bit of work, you can even get it to do things. Hackernews breaks up into focus groups, trying to decide who should be the most afraid. Preliminary reports indicate that video-streaming rent-seekers should be moderately concerned, perhaps, but nobody can exactly define who should actually give a shit, or how.


March 29, 2019


La ciencia abierta en las ciencias sociales

La ciencia abierta en las ciencias sociales

Organiza el Seminario Permanente de Editores de la #UNAM. El evento se llevará a cabo el 10 de abril a las 10:00 horas en el Instituto de Investigaciones Sociales, Ciudad Universitaria #Mexico #ciencia #cienciaabierta

by carlos m2

March 27, 2019


The Quixotic Narco Slayers

The Quixotic Narco Slayers

I recently spoke at the Navajo Nation at a conference about racism and social medicine. I spoke of how the narco war in Mexico is manipulated by government diplomats and corporations from both sides of the border to steal land for mines and fracking. I refer to my own experiences as well as some other confessions of people who I met that had inside information as employees of the state and assistants to diplomats. They told me of complex multinational schemes to take over the Mexican economic infrastructure. Many of the sources they cite are also publicly available if one knows where to look. I never doubted their authenticity because the horrific rumors I heard from these inside sources actually manifested into horrific social reality soon after I heard these confessions.

The paramilitary narcos are used to terrify people and seize their lands. The cartels are but extensions of the political machinery that do the dirty work of the rival political parties. The rival parties are in aggressive competition among themselves to sell out to foreign investors. Whatever political mafia that can secure the lands of interest can make the lucrative multinational corporate deals that rob their own people of what were once national resources. Since there is not an overt civil war, the “narco” cartels fight among each other in this proxy war. I also spoke of how the cartels are also doing the dirty work of getting rid of immigrants, of making sure they never make it across the border. Central American immigrants are taken from the trains and are assassinated. We have seen how teenage males disappear from poor, Mexican suburban barrios of and are forcefully recruited into the narco cartels or just disappear never to be seen again. All of this is but "collateral damage" for the economic and social restructuring of Mexican society under the new order. Anonymous Zapatista friends heard of our plight and came to our community to investigate this. Nobody else had the courage to help us out.

The corporate take-over of Mexico has been in the making for several decades now. Structurally, it is no different than what we have done in Afghanistan and Iraq. There is a desire for foreign resources and there is existing corruption. We become friends with the state corruption and begin to take control and when we want to take total seizure, then we blame it all on our dirty old friends, as in the cases of the Taliban, Saddham Hussein, or PRI in Mexico. (PRI is the planned scapegoat in this conspiracy, and quite a deserving one, we shall soon see.)

Wherever there are American interests, there is war and genocide, past as well as present. The American people are under the control of ruthless murderers. I am afraid the time is coming in which there will be a great social upheaval in the U.S. and people will want to take the heads off of the political and corporate elite when they finally begin to understand how they have committed so many atrocities yet continue to lie to and exploit us. Considering their malicious transgressions and crimes against humanity, there is no punishment that these people do not deserve, but instead of the guillotine, I would hope there would be imprisonment for these sinister people: the mining, gas, and oil executives, the government diplomats they work with, and of course all of their superior officials up to the most recent presidents of Mexico and the United States.

The Quixotic Narco Slayers

It was a Sunday with the family on the ranch. A man from the local village arrived on a 4-wheeled motorcycle. He was a person that did some occasional work for us. He was very drunk and came to ask me for money. I denied him but he implored. I just told him that he should spend the money I give him on food for his family so that his children don’t have to come and ask me for food. There was no way I would give him any money so that he could continue harming himself and his family with his blind and rampant drunken rampages. His eyes flared with hatred and he started to descend from his motorcycle to attack me. I prepared to defend myself but knew that he would not be permitted to touch me. I had no intentions nor interests rather than that his family is provided for and knew that the universe would protect me from him. He saw I was not afraid, got back on the motorcycle, peeled out and started hauling ass out of the ranch. In order to leave the ranch he had to make a sharp turn where there was only about 15 feet of space before the parallel fence in which between was the road that led to the entrance. He was going about 30 mph when he realized he was going too fast and would not make the turn. He turned so sharply that he flipped over the motorcycle due to the inertia. He went flying like a cross, arms wide-spread and flying swiftly through the air after being flung from the tumbling motorcycle. He flew about 20 feet almost perfectly parallel to the ground in his trajectory until his erect body unified with a wooden railway post that we use to hang our gate. It was buried 4 feet into the ground with the desert soil packed solidly all of the way down. Now, to this day, the post is crooked.

He hit the post straight on and bounced back in the opposite trajectory from which he arrived, landing 6 feet away from where he smashed against the post. I was certain that he was dead. However, it is a common fact that drunk people often survive accidents because their bodies are so loose and uncoordinated that their bones don’t break or muscles don’t tear. I was amazed at his brute strength. He got up after a minute and then fell back down again. While I looked for one of his family members to come and bring him home on a donkey my friend counseled him to stop drinking. He spit blood out of his mouth and said “never.”

I was impressed with this synchronicity. I was so keenly aware that his threat against my person was immediately followed by this accident. I went back into my mental registry to see what I was thinking during and after this confrontation. My mind was very clear and I remembered my every thought. I knew he couldn’t hurt me but I was ready to call the Saint Bernard for a snack if he made one bad move. He was terrified of this monstrous dog who always used to bite him in the rear when he worked here. Machismo is a false front, it is all about fear and dogs sense this. Almost all men around here fear dogs.

While he was peeling off and leaving I only thought that he had better be careful because he is offending an innocent person who has a lot of protection behind him. I did not wish him any evil but I knew that he would get an immediate reaction to his actions. While these thoughts percolated to the surface of my mind I am seeing him crash the motorcycle and become airborne.

This happened 8 years ago, before our Apocalypse. Those were the “good old days” when the local degenerates were just beer guzzlers. Now they have all moved on to crack and work for the narco-traffickers who have taken over the valley. People are so terrified and now they easily give into pressure from local politicians to sell their lands. Corporations end up owning these lands and the mountains. There is a huge gas reserve beneath us that many local and even national politicians have invested in.

The Gaze of the Assassin and the Mind of Buddha

The narcos have small paramilitary camps darted all throughout the valley. Each one has a few men with machine guns and bazookas. One of these camps is nearby and there is a man on a 4-wheeled motorcycle who drives by with his machine-gun strapped to his shoulder. It conjures up memories and I know they will suffer the same fate as the drunk from years earlier if they try anything nasty. I could hear the motorcycle coming from far away and so I ran down to the corner of our property to meet him. I wanted to see if a human being could be so evil, and see into the eyes of a murderer to see where the person is, if there still exists a person within that shell of wicked existence. I just observed him. He passed by and acted like he did not see me. He turned my way again and nodded in a friendly manner, looking for confirmation that he was okay with me. He seemed really insecure and wanted some friendly confirmation. I was stunned. I could feel that he did not want to tangle with me, but rather sent me a friendly nod. I suppose even human butchers need to have some form of social interaction. I saw him from within the Buddha Mind as a part of this essence, so how could he not have a Buddha within, waiting in some dark hell to be liberated from such sufferings? I may judge him socially as a danger to human society; I may even strike him if he tried to harm us, however it is now impossible to believe that there is not at least some goodness in the most evil of people. I thank Reality for showing me this.

Every time we chant or play music to create a positive vibration, he comes out on the motorcycle. I think he likes us because he detected us as peaceful but does not know how to show it. The first few times he came with his gun and just observed from far away. Next, he came without his weapon and just drove around in circles like a mad man.

Very positive vibrations frighten very negative people. Even the violent drunk who crashed realized something of the law of karma. Each time he thought about us negatively, he had a minor accident and confessed this to his wife who later told us. Mundane people cannot understand the laws of spirit and subtle energies. Even sophisticated intellectuals who have little introspection and natural harmony know nothing of the higher realms of Mind that work for our well-being if we would only let them.

The other morning I started playing requiem music again for the bad guys in the area. They never live long and every time they start to get too curious about why we haven’t abandoned our home to them, something always happens and they never return. New death soldiers come to inhabit the old places and then they die and this cycle has happened time and time again. I was in meditation retreat even before they arrived I became one with the spirit of the desert. I feel these new arrivals as if they entered inside my own mind and I have struggled to comprehend what it is they do and why they do it. They know their time is short and so they worship the Santa Muerte. However, there is still a small part of them that is still human and suffers.

I welcomed them back with a solo of Gluck’s “Dance of the Blessed Spirits” on my quena bamboo flute. I finished and they returned the message with gunfire. “Okay, now you all want some of my oboe too?” I truly felt protected and I didn’t worry. At first, I saw it as an ideational, meditative stance to create a protective field around our territory so as to keep their evil away. “As you think, so you become,” say the yogis. I won’t even consider it a possibility that they harm us, and so they won’t. However, as I continued to play and further pound them with Marcello, Gluck and Bach, I realized that I was probably playing requiems for their upcoming departure from the planet. I thought of how those boys were probably forced into the paramilitary part of the cartel and they probably weren’t that different from the rest of the youth in the area. Human beings will do almost anything under forced coercion, at any time and any place. Soldiers hardly ever really know what they fight for. These boys are dying in a war insidiously designed to make Mexicans kill Mexicans while the gringos continue to rob their country blind. The plan is to let the locals do the raping and pillaging while the imperialists purposely take advantage of this situation.

Adagio de Marcello - performed by the author

After this realization, I played music for them not so much to scare them but to try to send these poor souls something beautiful. If they really are like the youth in this area, then they probably have suffered many deprivations and have never really felt much human warmth and compassion. There are very few nuclear families and almost all heads of the household are alcoholics. There are almost no opportunities for these outcasts. However, the system has designed a strategy to get rid of them and make money selling arms and drugs in the process.

They had already tried to enter the ranch on a few occasions in the past. They are used to people being afraid of them. However, we decided to reprimand them. They were terrified. They said they heard voices in their heads and wanted to leave. They said they would give us their protection. “No thank you,” was the reply.

A friend went into a meditative trance and told me my future. There would be a fat man who smoked and had a wife and child with him. He was the leader of the other assassins. They were planning on putting me in a giant clay jar to drown out the sound of a pistol when they shoot me. I was told all of this before it happened. My friend didn’t remember any of this. It was as if this person had fallen asleep and was dreaming while awake and moving. When this person returned to normal awareness, there was no recollection of what was said. A few days later while I was alone the assassins came for me, exactly as the oracle predicted: the fat smoking guy, his wife, baby, and the rest of the zombie gang. That is when the fun started.

Just before this affair with the narcos I had a conversation with an old friend about microvita and occult power. He said that a tantric should never use positive micrita (positive psycho-spiritual force) for something destructive, but, at times, it may be necessary to use negative microvita (negative psychic force) for something positive, such as destroying an evil force. One should never use spiritual force in the physical plane, but sometimes one may have to transmute very dense and distorted energies in order to do something good, so as to release negative force from the physical plane. To call down psycho-spiritual force to act in the material plane would create too much imbalance. Instead, negative microvita trapped in the physical plane are transmuted and released to destroy some other negative force instead of using spiritual force and positive microvita for this destruction. It was too dangerous to ask anybody else to come. Also, fear weakens the energetic defenses created in a natural environment conditioned to intense spiritual practice. I heard from a local villager who hears the gossip of the local narco mafia bosses that they were planning to kill me, that they planned to put me in a giant clay pot to drown out the sound of them shooting me. They fired their guns off at night and even came to the edge of our property with a chain saw running at full throttle at 2 a.m. I could hear it but, by grace, I heard Om a little louder. This always happens to me when I am alone; I remember my true and infinite love and lose myself Here.

For days they circled around our small 3 hectare homestead with their big, late model pickups pumping out the latest narco corridos, or narco pop-songs. I found their music even more offensive than their persons as it seemed to manifest and express the perverse spirit living behind these dim-witted demons. I had been playing my requiems for them every night. I knew their routine. Just before they would go out to do their dirty work during the “witching hours” of the early morning, I would play grave but beautiful music for all of the departing spirits that these guys were mercilessly sending into the after-life. I knew that they too wouldn’t live too much longer. Recently a neighbor called the Marines to report these activities because he had already informed the army but they never even came to investigate. It was the same case with the Marines: they never arrived. I was certain that the narcos were the low rung in a chain of command that goes up higher and more northern than most would imagine. This was the system, the underlying brute force of imperialism, the grossest, macabre extension of the capitalist Hydra. These para-military death soldiers serve the system by removing the inhabitants of the valley which is coveted my multinationals for its gas and minerals. Later the land is sold to local politicians who make deals with the multinationals.

I got really tired of them bothering me. I knew if I were an atheist or materialist with an accidentalist, random, meaningless philosophy of life I would have much reason to panic and I certainly would have left this place long ago. But the holy sound of Om was with me day and night and I felt like the most spoiled and beloved brat of the Infinite, so why shouldn’t I take action and attack them first? What could happen? The miracle of Om was with me and there was nothing but bliss. I knew it seemed like madness, but perhaps total madness would be my greatest defense. “Is there any way to mess with the heads of these mothertruckers?”, I pondered. My bamboo flute had already been bombarding them with Bach and Gluck and now it was time for the invasion. What do I have to lose? Immortality is calling me and without this drama I was afraid Om would take me home completely some night in my sleep and that I would leave my mortal coil. So I summoned the spirit of Don Quijote and called my donkey Relampago back down from the mountain where he roams freely. I shouted to the mountains after playing the flute. “The Marines are coming, the army has betrayed you and will let them kill you.” I wasn’t sure about this but I knew these people had a constant terror of this happening as the local government had switched political parties and these changes always effect alliances between the cartels and the various state military forces. When an enemy wants to kill a yogi one can be sure that the yogi feels the mind of those who think on him/her. I knew they had terror and I therefore wanted to exploit that terror. I convinced myself it was a matter of life or death. What would any normal person do? People have the right to defend themselves and their families against such evil, but all that I had to defend me was my mind.

I recalled some experiences within my family life that served to give me another frame of reference. My grandfather told me his grandmother was a Cherokee Indian and I always remember that he always found arrowheads. He told me he always had a feeling that he would find an arrowhead on certain days and was certain that he would later find one on his walk. He was always very intuitive. Once, when he was a teenager, he told his cousin that he had better pull the car over because the tire was about to explode. His cousin thought it was nonsense. A minute later the tire exploded. He was a hero of the second world war. He was a farmer who was conscripted into military service. He continued to drive a tractor, albeit a giant one, all across Europe. It turned out that this intuition saved him several times in the war, from the crossing of the Po River Valley and on into Bavaria.

He and his high school friend were taking their tractors from one battle site to another during the invasion of Italy. German Junker dive-bombers were screeching down to attack them. In the middle of the journey they come across some English platoon commanded by an Indian Sikh officer. He ordered them to dig a trench with their giant tractors to protect them from artillery. My grandfather saw in his mind's eye that all of these men were about to die and that he had better leave. He disobeyed this officer and drove away. Just when he was leaving a shell exploded and killed the whole platoon.

He once had to clear the path across the Po River which was blocked by American tanks destroyed by German artillery. His officer gave the order and he said, "I don't mean to be disrespectful sir, but there are 2 dozen dead men in those armed tanks that tried to cross the river. My tractor is open-caged and all I am wearing is a t-shirt." His officer replied, "Don't worry son, we have got you covered." It took him 30 minutes to clear the path. All the while he had bullets bouncing off of his tractor and shells exploding all around him. When he returned to the shore nobody could believe he was alive.

His fellow soldiers started to note how he escaped the most impossible situations and began to stay close to him in conflicts because they knew he would be alright. He was always very calm and peaceful. I always felt safe with him and always lived nearby.

The next morning I heard their motorcycle passing by the ranch. I wasn’t sure if they were armed or not that day but I decided to charge the rider. I somehow knew there would be no violence, so why not create a drama? He saw me start running at him from 50 meters away. I hurdled the barbed wire fence at full speed with my flute as the only weapon. He saw me and had terror in his eyes. He tried to accelerate but the motor died and I came down upon him. I felt it would have been so easy to break his neck right then and there and that this act would be a service to humanity. However, that would be messy business. It was curious to see how this demon was terrorized by me so I terrorized him a little more by getting in his face and telling him he would be betrayed by his bosses and that he had better just leave now and never return or else just put a bullet in his own head. He was frozen with terror. I backed off and let him get back on his motorcycle and leave. Half an hour later he came back with his boss in a big truck. I had a dream few days earlier in which I saw that the leader was a big fat guy with a wife and child and that he was a chain smoker. It was curious because all of those previous days I had perceived the smell of tobacco and felt that somebody who smokes was sending me their mental energy by thinking about me obsessively. The boss was indeed a fat guy and he had his wife and child with him. He told me he was just an honest businessman who was selling land to people and that he wasn’t a narco or a human organ trafficker. I told him I knew what he was and that he was the scum of the earth. He argued and said that he was a family man and that he wanted to take me to his ranch to see the place myself. I knew what he wanted to do with me. I told him to go to hell. He asked me if I wanted problems with him with a very sinister tone of voice. I said that we already had problems and that it would just be better for him to destroy himself instead of others. He left immediately and wasn’t seen for a week. I knew he feared the Marines.

However, there was no raid and he came back a week later. My family also returned and I came down a little from my euforia. We all had a good laugh, at least something was happening to break this stale mate that has been going on for months between them and us. I knew that if I would have expressed fear instead of playful adventure then my family would be frightened and they would worry about me and never leave me home alone again. I knew it was all insanity, that nobody in their right mind would consider me right-minded, but I knew what I did was right and would do it again. This photo was taken after I tangled with the narco butchers. The skunk knew it was all just a drama and that I really had no aggression in my soul, otherwise I would have been sprayed.

A few days later our faithful gossip source infoms us that this narco is in police custody. He was in the local city without his armed band. He ran over somebody in the street and then went back over his body in reverse to make sure he was dead. He did this in a crowded intersection and many people saw it. I imagine that he felt so empowered that he could just do whatever he wants and whenever he wants. The police were forced to arrest him. Now I am the first one to say that they will let him go because they all work together. However, the local narco politician is now in higher levels of politics and he has a “list” of faithful servants whom he must do away with to cover his trail. Everybody around here speaks of “the list” and attributes this to the increased disappearances of the narcos who used to aid who is now in a higher political position. I think that most of the men around here are on that list. It sounds like a cheap Mexican “telenovela,” or soap-opera, but I have only recently realized how those cheap tv shows really do reflect while at the same time create the popular mentality of those devoured and enslaved to the infraworld of crude matter by the capitalist Hydra and its urban matrix. I suspect these pop songs and violent machismo soap-operas with increasing narco intrigues are designed to create molds and forms for those who have lost the ability to choose and are but products of the system.

Recently, some heavy rains washed away the shallow mass graves in the valley. Body parts flooded the local village. Earlier, there was another mass grave discovered on some land of a political friend of a neighbor who has profited by the presence of the zetas. They give him protection and he grows the grapes and makes the wine for the narco-political crime boss. They even have events in which the burgeousie come and enjoy fine wine, all the while guys with assault rifles protect the entrance of our adjacent properties. It is as if we were also under this protection. The place is often full of dirty politicians in white shirts. Seeing it as such I speak my mind and interrupt their Masque of the Red Wine with a firm “Sieg Heil” salute and shout "wash down all of the red blood with your red wine.”

They say I am crazy.

They are afraid the world will find out what happens around here because those Zetas and their Santa Muerte are untidy demons that have left big messes. Later, the neighbor's wife, a devout Catholic, comes to me with a dozen tamales as a peace offering. She knows my weakness, no doubt, but fortunately a 4 year old friend of mine dreamed the night before that somebody gave me tamales, I ate them, got sick and then turned into a tree.

When confronting evil forces that could easily destroy one’s physical being, one’s only protection is innocence and purity. There is fear because there are impurities. We don’t yet fully understand that we belong to immortality and so we attach our identity to some rlative, mundane notion of self. Meditation burns away the impurities and leads one to a natural state of innocence, at one with nature and spirit. “Who’s universe is this anyway, by what right do these narcos, their narco state and puppet governors have to wield this terror upon us?”

“Love seeketh not itself to please

Nor for itself hath any care

But for another gives its ease

And builds a heaven in hell’s despair.”(W. Blake)

Circumstances have given me proof time and again that the only true protection in this world is to be at one with dharma, the moral order of the universe. “Those who protect dharma are protected by dharma.” Dharma is not about beliefs or religion but rather getting to the essence of things by deep contemplation and then know how to react to the situation from this pinnacled, illuminated perspective.

Meditation and music keep away these and other negative energies that erroneous human minds are proliferating. Our greatest defense against them both physically and mentally is our devotion and that terrifies the narcos just as much as it does the negative force, or "negative microvita." We won’t let them control us with their terror, and thereby direct the destiny of our minds and spirits. Our lives have a higher purpose and our eternal well-being is stamped and sealed if we have just a little bit of love. Without even trying, our spiritual energy sends their dark motives back upon them. Spiritual music and meditation chants are the greatest defense because it is an act of surrender to the I-Witness that brings positive spiritual force, positive microvita. Our war is one of will, love, and reason against materialism, lies and destruction and as well as the thoughts and energies behind these delusions.

If for some reason I can’t concentrate in meditation, then a little spiritual music always helps. Instead of letting the mind be conditioned by terrible information coming from the world of men and their media, one surrenders to dharma, the silent and natural flow of events in the universe. One can truly feel the harmony of nature and spirit and that the force of dharma, the conscious force of nature whose only purpose is to serve what is pure and innocent. The best meditation is that which is totally surrendered to the I-Witness; one desires nothing but simply enjoys being at one with the infinite. Similarly, the best music is that which is played with spiritual devotion. While in meditation or playing music under the neems or the nearby ceiba tree one totally gets lost in spiritual ideation. With music and meditation along with the protection of the neems and ceiba, one can do the necessary work and create a spiritually-protected atmosphere. To always feel that the I-Witness is near and dear, is always loving and looking over, dissipates all fear.

We play this recording from here at el Misterio to protect our environment from the real and present dangers of the Santa Muerte who practice human sacrifice in our valley. I made the flute part very dominant as that sound travels furthest in the desert. Meet Quetzal, the chromatic Quena, striking 12 tones of terror into those mono-tone monkey brains.

listen to “Padmasambhava”

“Om Ah Hum Vajra Guru Padme Siddhi Hum.” This is the classic mantra of Padmasambhava, a great yogi from India who brought Tantric Buddhism to Tibet. It is a mantra to purify the mind and environment for meditation. The “guru” awakens the kundalini at the base of the spine (padme) with the force of “Hum.” This elevation of the mind with “hum” gives one the power to overcome the lower tendencies in the human mind. This new power serves as a “vajra,” a protective weapon to keep away immoral forces, both internal and external. In the ancient legends Padmasambhava used this mystical weapon to punish sinister people and restore dharma, or moral order in Tibet. Some people think these ideas are just mythological. I think it is literal, at least the possibility of using spiritual force to move the world. I don’t know much about the historicity of Padmasambhava, but my ideal of him is kind of like Che Guevara with occult powers, but perhaps with a little more forgiveness for those enemies who surrender to his compassion and renounce their evil ways.

The Vajra flows both upward and downward. Vajra controls Ida and Pingula. Digesting good as well as evil, only those who become completely still inside the Shushumna may wield its power.

Each one of these eight words are mantras. While chanted with deep and emotive music the mantras work together to awaken one's spiritual consciousness via the tantric process of awakening the "kundalini." Kundalini is nothing more than the divine creative energy, or Shakti, that lies dormant within our minds. Shakti is called kundalini when referring to Her presence within the human soul. Once awakened, the kundalini Shakti makes us evolve emotionally, mentally and spiritually so that we can realize our own infinite Consciousness, or Shiva. I use the Shiva-Shakti words from classical Indian tantra only because I am more familiar with these concepts. However, it is very easy to see the same Shiva-Shakti theme in the history of Padmasambhava and his divine lovers. It is probable that the story of Padmasambhava is historical combined with mythological tantric imagery. Like the Indians, the Tibetans also used romantic imagery of lovers to refer to the transcendent relationship between Consciousness and Energy, Source and Creation, or Shiva and Shakti.

Below is a neighbor’s dog whom I encountered on a walk back in 2011, just after Headkicker became friends with the narco and the intense genocide started. Since then the locals have stopped eating jackrabbits because they have a strange taste. Jackrabbits are known to eat dead animals, but now they have become carnivores. Also, the coyotes now attack the goat herders in the evenings on their way home, such is their habit of eating human flesh nowadays. And all of this just 2 hours from the border with the U.S.!

Aghora Phobia

This violence is common in the north of the country near the border and near train depots. Not many immigrants who jump on trains make it all of the way to the border. the closer they get the more traps there are for them. State protected mafia (i.e. narcos) are waiting for them. It is rare that such extermination operations make the news but those who live near the border and the train stations know this happens. What is amazing is that these butcher shops are just on the outside of giant cities. Really, most people are too distracted to even care. I know people who say they understand what is going on yet they continue to live in their habitual manner, worried about what other stupid and frivolous people think of them while driving around in their late model luxury cars. This whole problem of human immigration is caused by economic exploitation and wealth inequity which is caused and sustained by the elite. These are the people who open the doors for imperialism, are in favor of NAFTA, that don't mind that their country is a prostitute for the U.S. and Canada, and are happy that they now have the same commodities as the mindless consumers of the north.

"How great is free trade in which now we can live like the Americans," says Mexican Barbie. Her ancestors used the bible to enslave the natives. And then they gave them PRI. The gringos were still more brutal and used mass genocide against their indigenous people. Now many comfortable Mexicans are exactly like the gringos in ways they never imagined possible. Their parasitic way of living requires that they follow their tradition of committing genocide as well. Now instead of cowboys killing Indians, the cowboys convinced the Mexicans to continue killing Indians.There are brigades of relatives of missing persons accompanied by brigades of activists and forensics experts searching all over the country for the remains of loved ones. They are getting close to the epicenter of the genocide there in the north. There are more than dead bodies buried under the earth there and the richest and most powerful men in the country have stakes in it.

There are great gas reserves in northern Mexico. Besides using narco terrorism to run people off of their lands, the narco government has also used this area for its shady mafia activities. The narco presence was already there as paramilitaries clearing the way for fracking contracts and so they also got involved in other dark activities like kidnapping and organ trafficking. However, it goes even darker than this in that they practice death rituals. The Santa Muerte like to make their victims suffer the most imaginable horrors before they butcher them up. All of these activities have been protected by and perpetuated by the state. This isn’t just another discovery of a mass grave, but a place of many mass graves and the most unimaginable horrors. If the world really knew what happens there, then word would spread to every corner of the globe and there will be an immediate effort for the responsible parties to blame this on another. Mexico is on the brink of civil war and the rival political parties and their cartels may be provoked into conflict.

Around here it has been pure Aghora, or extreme tantra, for the past five years as well. Tantra is composed of two Sanskrit word. "Tan" signifies "dullness" or "inertia," while "tra" signifies expansion. Tantra is the spiritual science to free the mind from ignorance and inertia. A tantric should have no fear to look into his or her dark side. One must move through the personal shadow with a great guiding light of inspiration moving one forward. All people must confront their limitations. Aghora is extreme tantra, and so therefore one must be encountering the shadow in an extreme manner, perhaps beyond one's personal shadow and into the collective shadow of humanity.

The true aghoris are both dark and light, pure and impure. Aghoris traditionally remain near grave yards to send the minds of the departed into the next realm. The pure aghoris do this as service to the universe. They don't eat human flesh, they eat human sin. They also utilize the prana, or vital energy of the departed to do their tricks. The dark aghoris also do this, but for selfish ends and occult powers. They participate in all kinds of dark rituals to accustom their minds to work at these levels beyond physical existence and see life and death and pleasure and pain as One. They try to get beyond desire by indulging desires and even performing what are considered the most disgusting acts while trying to remain detached from pleasure and disgust. The desires and instincts of the brain's limbic and "reptilian" systems are consciously reconditioned.

Recent reports indicate how the Santa Muerte practice rituals of cannibalism. The ritual makes them cruel and inhumane, and capable of any cruelty. The Santa Muerte are not true aghoris, they are just stupid Satan worshipers without technique. A crude imitation of dark aghora, they are but shadows of shadows. They have no metaphysical power like the dark aghoris, who seek this power willingly and for psychic power. The Santa Muerte are but dispensable instruments of the state. They are converted into "demons" via cannibalism so that they can continue to kill other poor people who are no longer needed by the socio-economic system. The whole structure of the "narco war" is to make poor Mexicans kill other poor Mexicans.

A true aghori of the light neither seeks or practices any of this, yet has darkness imposed upon from without, and so must struggle to find a way out. This aghori seeks only light but must descend to the depths of darkness. Many interesting truths are discovered and the aghori takes this knowledge back to the plane of the living, thus raising hell on earth while returning to the light.

As you know, 21 grams of unknown mass is lost from the human body at the time of death. Science has no clue to what this might be. Aghoris live and work with this energy. With so many years of accumulated prana, our Double-Barreled Vajra is loaded with the wildest variety of metaphysical "grape shot" imaginable. Think of our Vajra as a cosmic canon. We put everything in there, all of the suffering and horror, but also a desire for justice. It is pointed back at them. May all of the terror of the victims, refined and purified in the fire of Brahma, swim back upstream to the minds who perpetuate this genocide.

.#genocide #imperialism #capitalism #socialism #fracking #zapatista #mexico #narco-war

by William