Archive for June 11, 2009

If you haven’t got the time to watch the 80-minutes presentation by Google on Wave, Lifehacker created a shortcut: 8 clips demonstrating Wave features. For convenience purposes, I’ve reposted the clips and the brief intros here. The list of features is not complete, but they are more or less the main ones – with the selction being made by Gina Trapani – a thank you to her and Lifehacker.

Inline Replies

First the simple stuff. Google says Wave is what email would be if it were invented today, so it looks a whole lot like Gmail. But all editing and commenting happen on a single copy of a given wave (that is, message or document). You can comment on a wave below it, or inline. Check it out.

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As-You-Type Live Updates Over the Internet Between Users

Thanks to the new HTML 5 standard and some client-server magic Wave has going on, you can watch your recipient live-type a response in your browser across the internet, much like instant messaging. (If that gives you the creeps, you’ll have the option to disable live as-you-type updating.)

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Wave Revision Playback

When you add someone to a Wave after it’s been chopped up, commented on, and edited by others, that person can see the evolution of that wave using the super-cool playback feature. Imagine watching Wikipedia page revisions happen in sequence. Here’s a taste of playback in Wave.

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Private Replies

Like a group email you forward to an individual person to have a “private” conversation, you can restrict access to a sub-Wave to certain people.

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Embed Waves into Web Pages

Bloggers will go nuts for this: you can embed waves in web pages and collect replies and edits to those waves in your Wave client, as well as on the page itself.

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Live Collaboration on a Single Wave

Several people can edit a wave at the same time and watch one another’s cursors dance across the page as it happens.

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Live-Updating Search Results

Keyword search results live-update as others type, too.

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Contextual Spellcheck

This was the ultimate OMGPONIES! moment for me in the Wave demo. Using a natural language model, Google Wave’s spellchecker makes smart corrections based on the context of your word. For example, Google Wave auto-corrects the sentence “Icland is an icland” to “Iceland is an island.” (Guess all those billions of web pages can really come in handy.)

Vodpod videos no longer available.

big-bang
Visualisation of the Big Bang

I had this piece sitting on my ‘to-publish’ list for a couple of weeks now. It was created by a friend of mine, to be written into a 30m long brass spiral, which is the main feature of the floor for a ritual space she has created at her and her partner’s home. The spiral is kind of a walk along the unfolding of our universe according to the cosmological views of a range of scientists, authors and poets, including mathematical cosmologist Brian Swimme, evolutionary biologist Elisabet Sahtouris and cultural historian, geologian and planetary guardian Thomas Berry.

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The same Wall Street players that upended the economy are clamoring to open up a massive market to swap, chop, and bundle carbon derivatives. Sound familiar?

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Published on Tuesday, June 9, 2009 by Mother Jones
by Rachel Morris

You’ve heard of credit default swaps and subprime mortgages. Are carbon default swaps and subprime offsets next? If the Waxman-Markey climate bill is signed into law, it will generate, almost as an afterthought, a new market for carbon derivatives. That market will be vast, complicated, and dauntingly difficult to monitor. And if Washington doesn’t get the rules right, it will be vulnerable to speculation and manipulation by the very same players who brought us the financial meltdown.

Cap and trade would create what Commodity Futures Trading commissioner Bart Chilton anticipates as a $2 trillion market, “the biggest of any [commodities] derivatives product in the next five years.” That derivatives market will be based on two main instruments. First, there are the carbon allowance permits that form the nuts and bolts of any cap-and-trade scheme. Under cap and trade, the government would issue permits that allow companies to emit a certain amount of greenhouse gases. Companies that emit too much can buy allowances from companies that produce less than their limit. Then there are carbon offsets, which allow companies to emit greenhouse gases in excess of a federally mandated cap if they invest in a project that cuts emissions somewhere else-usually in developing countries. Polluters can pay Brazilian villagers to not cut down trees, for instance, or Filipino farmers to trap methane in pig manure.

In addition to trading the allowances and offsets themselves, participants in carbon markets can also deal in their derivatives-such as futures contracts to deliver a certain number of allowances at an agreed price and time. These instruments will be traded not only by polluters that need to buy credits to comply with environmental regulations, but also by financial services firms. In fact, a study (PDF) by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions anticipates that if the United States passes a cap-and-trade law, the derivatives trade will probably exceed the market for the allowances themselves. “We are on the verge of creating a new trillion-dollar market in financial assets that will be securitized, derivatized, and speculated by Wall Street like the mortgage-backed securities market,” says Robert Shapiro, a former undersecretary of commerce in the Clinton administration and a cofounder of the US Climate Task Force.

Banks like JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, and Goldman Sachs already have active carbon trading desks that deal in instruments connected to Europe’s cap-and-trade system and voluntary markets here. But business will explode if a cap-and-trade system becomes law. So it’s no surprise that the financial industry has taken an intense interest in the fine print of the Waxman-Markey bill. According to data compiled by the Center for Public Integrity, the financial services industry has 130 lobbyists working on climate issues, compared to almost none in 2003. They represent companies like Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, and AIG (before it was shamed into temporarily halting its lobbying activities last fall). The industry “wants lawmakers to create a brand-new revenue stream for its bottom line, and cap and trade would do it,” says Tyson Slocum of Public Citizen, who is a member of a Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) advisory committee considering how carbon trading should be regulated.

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paro

Published on Wednesday, June 10, 2009 by Rabble
by Ben Powless

The rhetoric was sharp enough to cut down Amazonian hardwoods. Yesterday, Sunday June 7th, after a number of ministers had been paraded out Saturday and the day before, Peru’s el Señor Presidente, Alan Garcia decided to make it personal. After a joint police-military operation aimed at stopping an Indigenous protest had gone awry, leaving many dead on both sides, Garcia declared the Indigenous elements to be standing in the way of progress, in the path of national development, wrenches in the gears of modernity, and part of an international conspiracy to keep Peru down. In a troubling statement on the resemblance of the Indigenous protesters to the infamous Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) armed insurrection, Garcia seemed to imply the Natives were a band of terrorists as he stood in front of hundreds of military officers in a nationally televised speech. He continued to decry the Indian barbarity and savagery, and called for all police and military to stand against savagery.

Clearly, the battle lines were being drawn. Garcia demonstrated he is not about to allow anything to get in the way of “our development” of the oil and mineral resources the Amazon has to offer. Especially by a bunch of confused savages (his words) who are pawns to the international market and to Indian elites and therefore have no real reason to be resisting. At this point, it was obvious he thought nothing of the Indigenous cause, and what they actually stood for. There is too much money to be extracted from oil, from minerals, from logging, and from possible agriculture in the Amazon region, the 2nd largest stretch outside of Brazil. All on land with less than 200,000 Indigenous people. All now supposed to be open for business, as a result of a series of laws passed under the auspices of Free Trade Agreements signed with both Canada and the United States.

All those who lost their lives – certainly more than the 30 or so officially cited – have in the end given their lives for these free trade agreements and their domestic implementation. After wresting a concession from Congress – a la Bush – Garcia was able to push through 99 changes to the law of Peru. A number of these were ruled unconstitutional later, one dealing with property law standing out. Indigenous groups disputed from the beginning that these laws threatened the integrity of the Amazon, its cultural and biological diversity. Since the beginning, they were ignored. Living up to their Amazonian warrior mythology, they decided to take action.

Protests have lasted now over 50 days, only recently erupting into bloodshed when Garcia suspended civil liberties, declared a state of emergency, and decided to send in the military to end the dispute. This was all done in the name of Garcia’s idea of ‘democracy,’ which should be farcical to anyone who has the least idea what democracy means. Indigenous groups have maintained they want to be included in this so-called democracy, meaning they have a say over what happens in their lands, and that their rights be respected. This is clearly within international law now, after the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was approved two years ago.

The Declaration lays out provisions that clearly establish the rights to free, prior and informed consent over development projects in Indigenous territories, and the right to be involved in any decision making processes that would impact on Indigenous Peoples’ lands, resources or rights. Repeated demands have called for there to be dialogue with Indigenous groups. Garcia’s response? Yes, there has been dialogue – within the government, by elected officials. Obviously, this hasn’t done enough to safeguard the rights, the lives, and the livelihoods of Amazon peoples, and a number of the new laws have been shown to be unconstitutional. Indigenous leaders quickly condemned the tragic loss of lives as the fault of the government, who was not committed to dialogue, but arms. Even the ex-president has placed the blame on Garcia for not seeking dialogue with Indigenous representatives.

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WASHINGTON – June 9 – Early Friday June 5, as hundreds of Indigenous protesters blocked a highway in the northern province of Bagua, a police force of some 600 opened fire into the crowd, killing 25 and injuring more than 150. In subsequent clashes over the weekend, up to 22 police officers and at least 40 Indigenous people, including three children, have been killed.

MADRE decries the police brutality that led to these killings and notes that the human rights crisis in Bagua is ongoing: the government has declared a curfew from 3pm to 6am, protesters have been labeled “terrorists,” and Peruvian troops have occupied towns.

MADRE joins the international Indigenous movement in condemning the Peruvian government’s incursions onto Indigenous territories in the Amazon.

This weekend’s police violence is intended to enable implementation of the US-Peru Free Trade Agreement, which entered into force on February 1, 2009. The Agreement was accompanied by new laws in Peru to open up Indigenous lands in the Amazon region to multinational corporations for increased mining, agribusiness, oil drilling and deforestation. Since April, Indigenous Peoples have organized to demand the repeal of the new laws. Local communities have blocked roads and bridges to prevent multinational corporations from operating on their lands.

While Peruvian President Alan Garcia has claimed that the protesters are standing in the way of development, MADRE joins Indigenous leaders who have underscored their right to free, prior and informed consent regarding any activities on their lands, as codified in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Member of the MADRE Network of Experts and Chairperson of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues Victoria Tauli-Corpuz released this statement in the wake of the violence:

“The Chair of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues expresses her shock and deep distress at reports received of atrocities committed starting 5 June against Indigenous Peoples in the Amazon region, resulting in the loss of lives, disappearances and grave injuries. The Chair sends her deepest condolences to the families of the victims. The Chair calls upon the Peruvian Government to:

Immediately cease all violence against indigenous communities and organizations, Ensure immediate and urgent medical attention to the wounded and assist the families of the victims, Abide by its national and international obligations regarding the protection of all human rights, including the rights of indigenous peoples and human rights defenders, especially their right to life and security.”

MADRE is an international women’s human rights organization that works in partnership with community-based women’s organizations worldwide to address issues of health and reproductive rights, economic development, education, and other human rights. MADRE provides resources, training, and support to enable our sister organizations to meet concrete needs in their communities while working to shift the balance of power to promote long-term development and social justice. Since we began in 1983, MADRE has delivered nearly 25 million dollars worth of support to community-based women’s organizations in Latin America, the Caribbean, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, the Balkans, and the United States. For more information about MADRE, visit our website at www.madre.org.

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WASHINGTON – June 9 – Today, the Government Accountability Project (GAP) released a report that investigates and finds evidence of racial discrimination against black professional grade employees at the World Bank. The report, which documents the treatment of these employees in recruitment, retention and internal judicial decisions, finds that a race ceiling exists at the institution, and that the Bank’s legal system fails to address racial discrimination adequately.

Specifically, the report details that of over 3,500 professional grade World Bank staff worldwide (more than 1,000 of whom are Americans), there are only four black Americans. In addition, the report details how other black bank staff, such as black Caribbean nationals and black African employees, are also underrepresented.

The report, which was prepared in response to multiple disclosures concerning racial discrimination at the World Bank, is available on GAP’s Web site. The annexes can also be viewed here.

“As Africa’s leading financier, the World Bank should be at the forefront of promoting racial equality,” said Shelley Walden, GAP International Program Officer and co-author of the report. “Instead, their anti-discrimination policies are largely cosmetic and lack effective, impartial enforcement mechanisms. They allow black employees to be sent to the back of the World Bank bus.”

The problem is particularly acute for black American employees. GAP found that the number of black Americans employed in the professional grades at Bank headquarters has decreased in both absolute and relative numbers in the last 30 years. While the World Bank is an intergovernmental institution that cannot focus on the specific concerns of national governments in its personnel policies, the fact remains that an unusually large percentage of its professional staff members are U.S. nationals, yet black American professionals are visibly under-represented. Although the World Bank’s international status exempts it from US Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity statutes, such an under-representation strongly indicates discrimination in recruitment and retention policies, a violation of a core labor standard of the International Labour Organization of the United Nations. Moreover, because the Bank does not regularly collect data on racial identity, to a large extent such patterns of discrimination in employment are invisible.

GAP’s report also documents the failure of the World Bank’s conflict resolution system to address racial discrimination issues adequately. Because the Bank is not subject to national laws, discriminatory conduct by Bank personnel can only be challenged internally. The standard applied by the institution’s internal court (World Bank Administrative Tribunal), however, imposes an onerous burden of proof standard on a complainant that favors the institution and is inconsistent with international discrimination jurisprudence. In the past 12 years the Tribunal has reviewed 21 cases of racial discrimination, but failed to substantiate a single case. That record stands despite internal Bank studies that have repeatedly found racial discrimination to be prevalent within the institution.

When asked about the pattern of racial discrimination in recruitment at the Bank, the Office of Diversity Programs responded that qualified black American applicants were in short supply. “This response seems disingenuous,” said Bea Edwards, GAP’s International Program Director. “Washington, D.C., the city that hosts the World Bank, is home to Howard University, the flagship of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the United States.”

Other significant findings from GAP’s report include:

  • Bank studies uniformly show that Sub-Saharan African, Caribbean and black American staff members are disadvantaged, relative to other staff, when they pursue careers at the Bank. For example, as of 2003, the latest year for which statistics were available, black World Bank employees were 36.3% less likely to hold a managerial grade relative to equally qualified non-black employees.
  • Bank data show that professional black staff members working on Bank operations are disproportionately confined to positions in the Africa Region.
  • In 1999 a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) study found that the Bank’s internal grievance process was ineffective at addressing bias complaints and made a series of recommendations for improving the system’s ability to address discrimination. Ten years later, it appears that the most important recommendation of the GAO and the Bank’s own Review Committee regarding discrimination has not been adopted.
  • The rules of the Administrative Tribunal do not permit the World Bank Staff Association to file complaints contesting policies that appear to have a racially discriminatory impact.
  • Staff members and job applicants of African heritage who allege racial discrimination appear to be unlikely to receive the compensation or vindication they seek before the Tribunal. In contrast, complainants of non-African descent who allege racial discrimination, retaliators or Applicants claiming reverse discrimination have a better chance of receiving a favorable judgment and compensation.

To address these issues, GAP’s study recommends that the Bank record and publish its figures on the recruitment, retention and promotion in professional grades of all black World Bank employees, especially black Americans. GAP also recommends that an independent review of the Administrative Tribunal’s jurisprudence regarding racial discrimination cases be conducted, and that the Tribunal’s rules be amended to allow a shifting burden of proof. In addition, the Tribunal should allow petitions from the Staff Association challenging discriminatory policies or a hostile work environment. Finally, an intensive recruiting effort at Howard University’s graduate schools, and other Historically Black Colleges and Universities, would help to address the issue practically and immediately.

The Government Accountability Project (GAP) is a 30-year-old nonprofit public interest group that promotes government and corporate accountability by advancing occupational free speech, defending whistleblowers, and empowering citizen activists. We pursue this mission through our Nuclear Safety, International Reform, Corporate Accountability, Food & Drug Safety, and Federal Employee/National Security programs. GAP is the nation’s leading whistleblower protection organization.