Madrid As A Democracy Lab

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By Bernardo Gutierrez for Open Democracy – During the occupation of Puerta del Sol in Madrid in 2011, the hackers at the core of Madrid’s 15M developed a platform for anyone to make political proposals. Designed in free software, the Propongo platform allowed users to put forward ideas which could then be voted on. The operational arrangement was pretty simple: decentralized proposals, from the bottom up. The State of Rio Grande do Sul (Brazil), where participatory budgets came to light in 1989, used part of the Propongo code and its philosophy for the Digital Cabinet, its star citizen participation project. In Spain, the political class turned its back on the Indignados. On the other side of Propongo, no one was there. No local, regional or state government listened to the new music coming out of the squares – and even less to the proposals. Meanwhile, collective intelligence and networking in the squares were developing sophisticated mechanisms for participation and deliberation, both online and face-to-face. The powerful technopolitics made in Spain conquered the hearts of activists all over the world. And the hearts of some foreign academics and politicians too.

As Sessions Promises Drug War Escalation, Listen To Drug War Prisoners

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By Doran Larson for The Conversation – Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently announced a return to a pre-Obama policy of seeking maximum penalties for all drug crimes, including low-level, nonviolent offenses. Criticism from politicians, criminologists, lawyers and others was swift and unambiguous. Based on a discredited belief in a zero-sum relationship between crime and incarceration rates, the thinking behind this policy was called “one-dimensional,” “archaic,” “misguided” and “dumb.” America’s unprecedented attempt to jail its way out of crime long ago passed the point of diminishing returns. Drug trafficking in particular sees a replacement effect: Removing one drug seller simply makes room for another (often accompanied by a violent reshuffling of territories). Excessive incarceration can also damage communities and can actually make an individual more, not less, likely to reoffend. I have been facilitating a writing workshop inside Attica Correctional Facility since 2006. For the past eight years, I have solicited, collected, helped publish and digitally disseminated the first-person writing of incarcerated Americans. Those on the receiving end of the attorney general’s misguided policy will naturally feel his words more deeply than others. The writers among them will be burdened with responsibility to make those feelings known.

Over 190 Engineers & Tech Experts Tell The FCC It's Dead Wrong On Net Neutrality

Ajit Pai (center) is the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. Mignon Clyburn (right) and Michael O'Rielly (left) remain as commissioners.
STEVE BALDERSON/FCC

By Karl Bode for Tech Dig – There’s now 11 million comments on the FCC’s plan to kill net neutrality, a record for the agency and a significantly higher output than the 4 million comments the FCC received when crafting the current rules. And while many of these comments are fraudulent bot-crafted support for the FCC’s plan, the limited analysis we’ve seen so far suggests the vast majority of those organizations, companies and individuals prefer keeping the existing rules intact. And most people generally understand that removing regulatory oversight in the absence of organic market competition doesn’t end well for anybody not-named Comcast. One of the more notable recent filings (pdf) from this tidal wave of opposition comes from a collection of engineers, technologists, professors, current and former IETF and ICANN staffers, and numerous network architects and system engineers. Collectively, these experts argue that the FCC is not only making a mistake in killing net neutrality protections, it doesn’t appear to understand how the internet actually works: “Based on certain questions the FCC asks in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), we are concerned that the FCC (or at least Chairman Pai and the authors of the NPRM) appears to lack a fundamental understanding of what the Internet’s technology promises to provide

World’s Young Face $535 Trillion Bill For Climate

New York, September 2014: Young people protest against climate change.
Image: By Thomas Good via Wikimedia Commons

By Tim Radford for Climate News Network – LONDON, 19 July, 2017 – One of the world’s most famous climate scientists has just calculated the financial burden that tomorrow’s young citizens will face to keep the globe at a habitable temperature and contain global warming and climate change – a $535 trillion bill. And much of that will go on expensive technologies engineered to suck 1,000 billion metric tons of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from the air by the year 2100. Of course, if humans started to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 6% a year right now, the end of the century challenge would be to take 150 billion tonnes from the atmosphere, and most of this could be achieved simply by better forest and agricultural management, according to a new study in the journal Earth System Dynamics. The study, authored by researchers from the US, France, China, the United Kingdom and Australia, rests on two arguments. Slow start. One is that although the world’s nations vowed in Paris in 2015 to contain global warming by 2100 to “well below” 2°C relative to the average global temperatures for most of the planet’s history since the last Ice Age, concerted international action has been slow to start. One nation – the US – has already announced that it will withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

Building The Networked City From The Ground Up With Citizens

From magazine.ouishare.net

By Bianca Pick for Oui Share Magazine – One key point is access to housing. The government is not only tracking down big banks that leave apartments empty but also confronting platforms like Airbnb whose business model has a negative impact on affordable housing. Another big theme is energy transition and renewable energy. Barcelona wants to create a municipal energy company to fight the current monopoly. We are also looking into more distributed energy models, like smart grids, models that are more affordable and which allow citizens to be in control of their data. We are also rethinking urban planning with projects like the SuperBlocks (Superilles). Aimed at giving back public spaces to citizens, they were created in a very innovative process with a digital democracy platform for large-scale citizen participation. Opening the debate brought many great ideas, but it also showed us the complicated aspect of participation. There were many conflicting interests and it was learning by doing in an iterative way. Finally, instead of working only with big companies as governments typically do, we are also rethinking the economic model to support new economies like the solidarity, collaborative and digital economy.

Tree Biotech Conference Disrupted Amidst Week Of Protest

From stopgetrees.org

By Staff of The Campaign to Stop GE Trees – Concepción, Chile – Today the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) 2017 Tree Biotechnology Conference was forced to cancel its field trip to the University of Concepción’s Center for Biotechnology amidst protests on campus against genetically engineered (GE) trees. This week of protest in Concepción is the latest in a global, years-long campaign to end the threat of GE trees. On Wednesday, dozens of students and allies held a demonstration outside of UC’s Center for Biotechnology, denouncing the university’s research on GE trees as only benefiting corporate interests, and demanding an end to the monoculture forestry model. This is the second time the conference was targeted for protest. On Monday, demonstrators marched on the opening session of IUFRO, which was hosted by Arauco and regional government spokespeople. Demonstrators argue that GE varieties of pine and eucalyptus would exacerbate the social and ecological crises already caused by the monoculture model, including record wildfires this past January that killed 11 people and displaced thousands.

Prepare Now: Artificial Intelligence To Take Jobs Defeat Human Intelligence

Image Credit: Katja Grace/University of Oxford

By Karla Lant for Futurism – Researcher Katja Grace at the University of Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute and a team surveyed 1,634 of the leading artificial intelligence researchers from all over the world about when they believe intelligent machines and the AI that powers them will surpass human intelligence in a variety of contexts. 352 of the experts responded, and the team then calculated median responses. The results of the probe were presented this month. The experts predicted that within the next decade, AI will outperform humans in tasks like driving trucks (by 2027), translating languages (by 2024), and writing high school essays (by 2026). The consensus was that other tasks such as writing a bestseller (2049) or carrying out surgeries (2053) wouldn’t be quite so imminent. Interestingly, the experts (who answered in 2015) predicted that AI would not surpass humans at Go until 2027 — yet that’s already happened. This suggests the sobering thought that in general their predictions may have been far too conservative against AI. Still, even if we go with the estimates the experts provided — and these were attendees of two of the most significant AI events in 2015…

California Court Upholds Berkeley Cellphone Warning

A California court has upheld a law that forces retailers to warn customers about the potential health risks of cellphones. 

On Friday, a Ninth Circuit panel of judges ruled in favor of a Berkeley, California law which requires retailers to display warnings about the possibility of health risks from cellphones. The 2 to 1 decision rejects a legal challenge from the Cellular Telephone Industries Association (CTIA), a wireless industry trade group who challenged Berkeley’s so-called “Right To Know” ordinance in June 2015. The group claimed the law violates the First Amendment by forcing retailers to spread a message that they say is misleading.

Circuit Judge William Fletcher disagreed, writing that because Berkeley’s cellphone warning is “purely factual” and is offering protection of public safety, it does not violate the First Amendment.

“Berkeley’s compelled disclosure does no more than to alert consumers to the safety disclosures that the FCC requires, and to direct consumers to federally compelled instructions in their user manuals providing specific information about how to avoid excessive exposure,” Fletcher wrote. “Far from conflicting with federal law and policy, the Berkeley ordinance complements and reinforces it.”

Circuit Judge Michelle Friedland was the dissenting vote. Judge Friedland says the law promotes a “misleading” message that  “carrying a cellphone in one’s pocket is unsafe.”

The Berkeley ordinance informs cell phone users that, “If you carry or use your phone in a pants or shirt pocket or tucked into a bra when the phone is ON and connected to a wireless network, you may exceed the federal guidelines for exposure to RF [radio frequency] radiation.”  The ordinance also warns that the risk is higher in children. U.S. District Judge Edward Chen originally put a halt to the Berkeley law in September 2015 because of one line of text that was deemed unscientific. The language of the ordinance was later changed and then approved.

The CTIA filed their challenge shortly after, stating that the use of the word “radiation” was “fraught with negative associations” and would cause economic losses. Judge Fletcher Circuit Judge Morgan Christen found that the organization failed to provided proof that the ordinance would result in fewer cellphone sales.

Judge Friedland, on the other hand, said the ordinance was obviously designed to send a message: “carrying a phone ‘in a pants or shirt pocket or tucked into a bra’ is not safe.”However, she said, “That implication is a problem for Berkeley because it has not offered any evidence that carrying a cellphone in a pocket is in fact unsafe.”

Friedland skepticism in the possible dangers associated with cellphone use has been repeated by CNN and others. To be clear, there are studies which have found some association with possible negative health affects. As Digital Trends notes, “studies in both Australia and India have found that men who use their cell phones most frequently (and keep them in their pants pocket) had lower sperm counts than those who used cell phones less often. Other studies have also suggested a link between radiation exposure from cell phone usage and certain types of brain cancer.”

There are also studies which have concluded there is no risk of cancer or other illnesses from the radiation released by cell phones. An 18-month study from Denmark compared cancer rates in 360,000 cell phone users to adults without cellphone subscriptions and found no connection to brain or spinal cord tumors. Still, many health advocates are cautious about the growing use of cell phones and a lack of studies.

“If industry does not want to advise people about the fact that phones are not tested next to the body, then they should get the FCC to change its requirements for radiation testing. They cannot do this because, if phones were tested next to the body, they would be found to emit too much radiation to pass current standards,”  Dr. Robert Morris, Environmental Health Trust’s Senior Medical Advisor, stated.

Wherever you fall in this discussion, it seems that City of Berkeley is not the only institution warning people about potential dangers related to the technology. As Activist Post reported, the Athens Medical Association of Athens, Greece, held a conference on April 1st regarding “Non-Ionizing Radiation and Its Effects on Human Health.”  The conference featured lectures and concluded with 16 recommendations to reduce exposures and human health adverse effects. The recommendations include, “Restrict cell phone use when children or pregnant women are near,” and “Keep mobile phones away from your body.”

What are your thoughts? Is the Berkeley ordinance another example of the State attempting to tell business owners how to run their business? Is there any danger to cell phone use? And if so, is there a cover-up happening? Leave your thoughts below.

By Derrick Broze for Activist Post – On Friday, a Ninth Circuit panel of judges ruled in favor of a Berkeley, California law which requires retailers to display warnings about the possibility of health risks from cellphones. The 2 to 1 decision rejects a legal challenge from the Cellular Telephone Industries Association (CTIA), a wireless industry trade group who challenged Berkeley’s so-called “Right To Know” ordinance in June 2015. The group claimed the law violates the First Amendment by forcing retailers to spread a message that they say is misleading. Circuit Judge William Fletcher disagreed, writing that because Berkeley’s cellphone warning is “purely factual” and is offering protection of public safety, it does not violate the First Amendment. “Berkeley’s compelled disclosure does no more than to alert consumers to the safety disclosures that the FCC requires, and to direct consumers to federally compelled instructions in their user manuals providing specific information about how to avoid excessive exposure,” Fletcher wrote. “Far from conflicting with federal law and policy, the Berkeley ordinance complements and reinforces it.”

VW’s Environmental Settlement Includes 400 EV Fast Charging Stations

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By James Ayre for Clean Technica – As part of its court settlements with with the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Volkswagen will build around 400 electric vehicle fast-charging stations in the US, according to reports. The $2 billion settlement will see the majority of stations — to be comprised of 150 kW and 320 kW DC fast-chargers, around 5 chargers to a station — installed in metro areas with high expected demand for electric vehicles. Note that these are genuinely “fast charging” rates, much faster than current non-Tesla fast chargers. The first US high-power, superfast-charging station with 150 kW of power is currently being constructed for the EVgo charging network (visualizations of that station from EVgo below).

Sharing Economy: It Takes More Than A Smartphone

Albert Gonzalez Farran – UNAMID

By Steven Gorelick For Local Futures – I ran into my friend Rick the other day in a small town near our homes in northern Vermont. He was just coming out of the bookstore, holding a pink plastic bag that, I would soon learn, contained a dozen eggs from his flock of free range hens. After a bit of small talk, Rick asked, “you don’t by any chance have a pair of jumper cables in your car?” I did. “Would you be willing to drive over to the post office and jump my pickup truck? I’ve been trying to park on hills until I can get a new battery, but there just ain’t enough slope at the post office.” After we got his truck started, Rick held out his pink plastic bag and asked, “Could you use some eggs?” As a matter of fact, I could: our elderly hens don’t produce enough for a family of four any more

Law Enforcement’s Possible Use Of Surveillance Tech At Standing Rock

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By Stephanie Lacambra for EFF – One of the biggest protests of 2016 is still underway at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota, where Water Protectors and their allies are fighting Energy Transfer Partners’ plans to drill beneath contested Treaty land to finish the Dakota Access Pipeline. While the world has been watching law enforcement’s growing use of force to disrupt the protests, EFF has been tracking the effects of its surveillance technologies on water protectors’ communications and movement. Following several reports of potentially unlawful surveillance, EFF sent technologists and lawyers to North Dakota to investigate.

The Coming Tech Backlash

Mural in Portland, Oregon restaurant depicting Ned Ludd exhorting "Luddites" to destroy technology taking their livelehoods. From (http://www.foodforthoughtmiami.com/2011/09/ned-ludd-portland-oregon.html)

By Ross Mayfield for Linked In – The tech industry played an influential role in the outcome of the US Presidential election. Not just in providing the medium for fake news and propaganda. The root cause is job destruction by automation, which drove a base of dissatisfied Rust Belt voters to support Trump. Job destruction is accelerating — and if tech doesn’t get ahead of this problem there will be a significant populist backlash against the industry and its ability to progress. This post was inspired by a senior in high school, Bianca Al-Shamari, who is writing an article on job automation and the impact on future generations. Fifty percent of the jobs will be gone in about twenty years.

Police’s Secret Cellphone-Surveillance Tool Can Also Block Calls

Law enforcement agencies in dozens of cities and states have suitcase-sized surveillance tools that simulate cellphone towers such as this one and can track individual cellphones. But the devices can also disrupt emergency calls placed by individuals who are not being monitored. This week, a congressional committee called for legislation to set a national standard for their use. Nati Harnik AP

By Tim Johnson for McClatchy DC – It’s no secret that state and local law enforcement agencies have grown more militarized in the past decade, with armored personnel carriers, drones and robots. But one item in their arsenal has been kept largely out of public view, to the dismay of civil liberties advocates who say its use is virtually unregulated – and largely untracked. The device is a suitcase-size surveillance tool commonly called a StingRay that mimics a cellphone tower, allowing authorities to track individual cellphones in real time.

Silicon Valley And Police Create COINTELPRO For Tech Age

The data that was used by law enforcement to track activists of color. | Photo: Reuters / Wikimedia Commons

By Staff of Tele Sur – The most widely-used social media platforms have collaborated with law enforcement to track Black Lives Matter activists, providing police agencies with data that is unavailable to the broader public, the American Civil Liberties Union revealed Tuesday. Indeed, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all gave “special access” to Geofeedia, a Chicago-based social media monitoring company whose marketing materials have referred to labor unions and activists as “overt threats.”

Exclusive: Yahoo Secretly Scanned Customer Emails For U.S. Intelligence

A sign advertising internet company Yahoo is pictured in downtown San Francisco, California February 4, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Blake

By Joseph Menn for Reuters – Yahoo Inc last year secretly built a custom software program to search all of its customers’ incoming emails for specific information provided by U.S. intelligence officials, according to people familiar with the matter. The company complied with a classified U.S. government demand, scanning hundreds of millions of Yahoo Mail accounts at the behest of the National Security Agency or FBI, said three former employees and a fourth person apprised of the events.