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Resilience Under Shock: Time for a Paradigm Shift

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Governments compete on the global market for medical equipment produced elsewhere. Squeezed public sectors are stretched beyond their limits and the social consequences of shutdowns reverberate across the world. The coronavirus crisis has fundamentally questioned how society should be organised to ensure health and wellbeing for all. Faced with a systemic shock, the guiding principle for recovery should be resilience. Dirk Holemans sets out what it means in practice.

By Dirk Holemans

Corona is a shock that we did not see coming, although it was written in the stars. New viruses, that research has linked to the destruction of natural areas, combined with an economic model that depends on global trade and travel, are just two problematic aspects of today’s world system. Add to this negligent governments; according to virologist Johan Neyts, this pandemic could have been prevented had governments invested in antivirals 10 years ago.

It’s time for a paradigm shift: from a sleepwalking society focused on profit, competition, and consumption, to a future-oriented one that prioritises investment, cooperation, and wellbeing. This transition is imperative to avoid what Naomi Klein describes as the “shock doctrine”. As she has observed, free-market neoliberals are always ready to use disasters to strip the state and further their own interests. This, in turn, makes our societies even more vulnerable to shocks.

In the knowledge that shocks still await us in terms of climate, biodiversity, and food supply, what would an emancipatory response to the coronavirus crisis look like? In this effort, the concept of “resilience” can serve as a guiding principle. What defines resilience? A system is resilient if it continues to function after a shock. Moreover, a resilient system avoids shocks as far as possible.

It’s time for a paradigm shift: from a sleepwalking society focused on profit, competition, and consumption, to a future-oriented one that prioritises investment, cooperation, and wellbeing.


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Resilience is about more than simply being robust. It is about socio-ecological systems that are able to re-organise themselves without losing their function and structure. Although it’s not often recognised, our global society is a socio-ecological system. As the corona crisis has shown, all human activity depends on and influences natural systems. In this sense, nature has become an actor. It can no longer be conceived of as a static backdrop or a resource to exploit indefinitely. As French thinker Bruno Latour makes clear, nature and culture are intertwined and, thus, appreciating society’s co-dependent relationship with nature is part of achieving a resilient society.

A resilient system is one that is able to transform itself when circumstances change to continue to provide necessary services. Think, for example, of a river valley: new reservoirs absorb increased rains in the winter to prevent flooding, while in drier summers the same basins supply water for local food systems. Most importantly, a resilient system is one that anticipates proactively and does not resign itself to reacting to emerging events.

Resilience includes four components: short feedback loops, modularity, diversity, and social capital. The first term refers to how quickly we are confronted with the consequences of our actions. Short feedback loops are a problem for both tackling climate change and the spread of new diseases. In both of these cases, the period between the causal action and the effects is relatively large. Many people rightly wonder why our societies can react decisively in response to the coronavirus when we have failed to do so in the case of the climate crisis. The reality, however, is more complex. While we are reacting quickly to the health emergency, in essence, corona and the climate are consequences of the same economic system.

For both corona and climate change, the culprit is the growth-addicted economy that is penetrating deeper and deeper into nature to extract raw materials and exploit land. Cutting down forests for industrialised agriculture reduces habitats for animals, forcing them to seek food in human settlements. Parallel to the destruction of their ecosystems, bats in Asia and Africa are increasingly coming into contact with people. As the biologist Dirk Draulans points out, bats carry many viruses, to which they themselves are resistant. When bats come under stress through habitat destruction, the viral load in their bodies increases and they become more contagious. In short, an economic system based on expansion and eco-colonialism has been destroying nature for decades. But only now, due to slow feedback loops around the planet, are its harsh effects on health and the climate becoming clear.

Modularity highlights another fundamental problem of our society. A modular system consists of several subsystems that are not overly interconnected so as to be sufficiently autonomous. An economy based on global production chains in the hands of multinationals is precisely the opposite. Many Western countries are no longer even capable of making protective masks. China currently makes about half of the world’s masks: that is the opposite of modularity. Modularity implies that large quantities of masks should be produced in different, relatively separate places throughout the world. The US company 3M, known mainly for post-it notes but also a large producer of masks, has already shown that this is possible. When the economy globalised, 3M did not close down its parent company in the United States but rather built additional factories in China and South Korea. Each factory has its own supply chain, and the parent company also manufactures the components needed for protective masks. And although the three production units prefer to deliver to the regions where they are located, they also operate on the global market.

Resilience includes four components: short feedback loops, modularity, diversity, and social capital.

Autonomous modules also help ensure sufficient stock, a critical weakness of neoliberal economies fixated on cost reduction and profit maximisation. Yesterday’s warehouses have been replaced with trucks, planes, and container ships. This bufferless economy is extremely vulnerable when transport stops or borders close. In the face of the current crisis, it is worth remembering that although countries such as Belgium and France used to have strategic supplies of face masks, they phased them out due to austerity policies.

Increasing travel and transport also undermines modularity. If subsystems are too interconnected, a shock can easily travel through the entire system. A system with a high degree of modularity has more autonomous components, and a shock in one subsystem will do less damage to the others. The value of developing more autonomous circular economies, then, shouldn’t be underestimated.

The importance of diversity is known from agriculture: a farmer that only grows one crop is vulnerable to pests. The same logic can be applied to the economy: a single approach to wealth production – here the neoliberal global market-based approach – represents a monoculture with all the risks that entails. More support to ethical enterprises, such as energy cooperatives and self-harvest farms, can make economic diversity possible.

During spring 2020, many European governments are finding out what it means to depend on the global market. The Belgian government placed an order for protective masks but was forced to cancel it when the suppliers pushed up the price. The Dutch government sent a large supply of masks back to China as the poor quality would have put health workers in danger. In the meantime, in Brussels as in many cities, citizens are launching local initiatives to make high-quality masks. Fablabs are producing plastic face shields, otherwise unavailable on the world market. In many cases, increasing diversity means mobilising flexible production capacity. New machines such as 3D printers and powerful computers make this much more achievable today than it was 20 years ago.

The last component, social capital, is often forgotten. It concerns the social networks in our society and resources they can produce. Social capital is now proving enormously important: think of lonely seniors or the homeless. It stands for practical help as well as for values such as solidarity and participation. It is precisely this social capital that has come under tremendous pressure in recent decades, and it is now being rediscovered.

Let corona be a wake-up call that puts an end to sleepwalking.

The number of people that want to contribute during this corona crisis, as well as the range of initiatives, is overwhelming. In the United Kingdom, the National Health Service called for volunteers to help the country’s 1.5 million vulnerable people with underlying health problems. More than half a million people have already responded positively to the call; they will deliver medicines to homes, take patients to medical appointments, or simply pick up the phone to make sure they are OK. In Belgium, the Partago cooperative, a citizens’ electric car-sharing platform, is working with Food Teams, an initiative that organises groups of citizens to buy healthy food from local farmers. Partago and Food Teams launched a successful crowdfunding campaign that encouraged people to donate a fully charged electric battery to the volunteers who bring local and fresh products free of charge to the homes of care providers and aid workers.

Building these dimensions of resilience requires more than just changes at the margins. Global warming is accelerating and biodiversity is in freefall. Let corona be a wake-up call that puts an end to sleepwalking. This requires changes in our countries, in Europe and on a global scale. According to sociologist Dani Rodrick, a fully globalised economy does not go hand in hand with democratic politics and national sovereignty. Four decades of neoliberal globalisation have stripped the nation state of its substance and neglected democratic politics. Rodrick proposes a turnabout: a new focus on democratic politics and sovereignty (the EU can partly take over the role of nations here) to achieve a partial and democratic deglobalisation.

Deglobalisation does not have to stand in the way of the exchange of ideas and cooperation. Amid the ruins of war in 1944, the Allies concluded the Bretton Woods agreements to strictly regulate the world economy with a view to rapid reconstruction. Today’s multiple crises of corona, climate and biodiversity demand a socio-ecological regulation that can resurrect us from the ruins of neoliberal globalised capitalism. Securing a good life for all within planetary boundaries is well overdue.

Dirk Holemans is coordinator of the Belgian Green think-tank Oikos and co-president of the Green European Foundation. His most recent book is Freedom & Security in a Complex World (2017, GEF).

Source: Green European Journal

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Screen addiction, there’s still hope

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Screen consumption by girls, boys and young people is rising in the scale of concern among mothers, fathers and education professionals about the risks that it entails in the mental health of this age group. Attention is the starting point and therefore there is still hope.

By Marco Trivelli, Seed Foundation, Santiago, Chile

The business objective of the applications is to generate addiction in such a way that people are interacting with the platforms for as long as possible. With more hours in front of the screen, the greater the audience to whom to expose to the publicity.

Like the gambling, tobacco, sugar, alcohol or trans fat industries, social networks have no incentive to limit consumption and face the dilemma of privileging the common good and protecting their consumers or being carried away by greed by appealing to the freedom to develop economic activities whose only limitation is not to transgress morals or good customs.

In an investigation of the prestigious Wall Street Journal newspaper carried out on the basis of studies carried out within Facebook, the largest and most powerful social network in the world, they found that there was a list of powerful characters to whom the rules of conduct were not applied and therefore the posts were not lowered or their accounts were suspended. Facebook thus avoided the bad publicity of censoring a powerful and generated traffic or views.

Famous is the case of soccer player Neymar who responded to an accusation of rape by publishing intimate images and texts on his WhatsApp without consent and which were later replicated on Facebook and Instagram. They had 56 million views before being downloaded from the web.

Internal Facebook documents also revealed the damage Instagram is doing to the mental health of millions of young people around the world. Instagram is toxic for one in three young people with an effect on eating disorders, anxiety, depression and suicides. Even when these results were generated by the company itself, Instagram defended itself by pointing out that the network did more good than bad.

The United States Congress has requested to know the internal studies carried out by Facebook as have academics and independent study centers, but the company has refused to do so, noting that the results are not conclusive. The answer turns out to be the same as other industries gave in the past.

Becoming aware that the risks of screen addiction in children and young people is decisive for their future is an excellent opportunity for the problem to be addressed in the political processes that we are experiencing in Chile. The screen requires regulation.

At Fundación Semilla we believe that self-regulation or regulation by the State is essential, but not enough. Formal and family education needs to be redesigned by offering constructive and entertaining alternatives. As a personal testimony, I can point out that the spring wind that blew on the national holiday weekend allowed us to fly a large kite together with my grandchildren. We all enjoyed ourselves and were away from the screen for an entire afternoon. Regulation and creativity gives us hope in the task of preventing screen addiction.

Marcelo Trivelli, Seed Foundation, Santiago, Chile

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The Foreign Policy We Need

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Foreign policy is an essential component of any national development strategy. If it changes, external political and trade relations will have to change. Thirty years of a neoliberal strategy have led to an unmediated trade opening to the world economy, while our diplomacy has enthusiastically approached developed countries, distancing itself from Latin America and the countries of the South. The presidential candidate of the left, Gabriel Boric, announces that this must change.

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The free-market logic that reigns within our economy has been fully deployed in the field of foreign relations. A radical opening to the world has been imposed, without protection of the internal market and without regulations in favour of sectors of productive transformation. As a result, trade policy has exacerbated export extractivism, closing off opportunities for productive diversification. Policy has been subordinated to big capital, and not only within our country, but also in our relations with the outside world. The economic policy of “every man for himself”, which destroyed Chilean industry and closed the doors to small business entrepreneurs, was complemented by an indiscriminate opening up of foreign trade.

The incorporation of our country into the global economy has not helped development. Growth, which businessmen, politicians and establishment economists have deified, has generated precarious employment, extreme inequalities, environmental depredation and the depletion of our natural resources. Foreign policy has been functional to this perverse growth. And this kind of growth has held back development.

After a few brief years in the early 1990s, when Chile strengthened its economic and political ties with Latin America, the Concertación governments became dizzy with height. They opted to privilege relations with developed and Asia-Pacific countries. Not to discuss the substantive political issues on the international agenda, but to establish economic and commercial commitments in free trade agreements (FTAs). Foreign policy was subordinated to FTAs. Thus, thanks to FTAs, developed countries and transnational corporations have secured their interests through the indiscriminate liberalisation of goods and services, as well as the extended protection of their investments and intellectual property, in exchange for access for our exports to large markets. This logic was also imposed in our negotiations with middle-developed countries in the Asia-Pacific region, and became the undisputed common sense in international organisations.

It is true that it is in the interest of small countries to open up economically to the world. The narrow internal space makes it difficult for the economy to reproduce itself more broadly. But in the case of Chile, economic expansion through FTAs with developed countries has not turned out to be a good deal (I mean for the country, for the people of Chile). Of course, the primary responsibility does not lie in trade policy, but in economic policy. Indeed, our economic policy does not encourage productive transformation or help to diversify exports and, at the same time, the unregulated opening of trade through FTAs has favoured the attraction of foreign investment, but it has done so in the primary and service sectors. Thus, the FTAs have served to stimulate extractivism, multiplying exports, but not natural resource exports.

In short, our country has consolidated a productive matrix that exports natural resources, and this has been favoured by trade policy. Thus, foreign policy, especially since the 2000s, has supported rapprochement with developed countries, distancing us from our neighbours. This policy, together with the commitments contained in the FTAs, hinders any joint efforts with the countries of the South to act jointly with the world powers on key issues on the international agenda: uncontrolled financial flows, intellectual property, corporate-state disputes, the environment, among others.

Consequently, if the Boric government promotes a change in the productive structure of our economy, it will also have to modify foreign policy and, in particular, foreign trade policy. It will have to introduce substantive changes. Whether unilateral or negotiated (FTA), it will be necessary to regulate the movement of goods, services and capital, in favour of the productive and social priorities proposed by the new development strategy. This has been well highlighted by Petersen and Ahumada, in reply to Ignacio Walker, who staunchly defends the type of globalisation promoted by Chilean governments (see La Tercera of 2 September 2021).

If effective productive diversification is to take place, both unilateral foreign trade policies and trade agreements cannot be neutral in terms of tariffs, financial capital, foreign investment and intellectual property. Discrimination should be made in favour of industrial sectors or those productive processes that add value and knowledge to the new productive matrix. Gabriel Boric’s programme proposes a review of existing trade agreements to assess their relevance to productive diversification. This is not an easy task, but neither is it impossible. This will require renegotiations that will demand goodwill and mutual respect between our country and its counterparts. This was emphasised by the presidential candidate in his meeting with the ambassadors of the European Union (7 September).

On the other hand, faced with the reality of globalisation and the uncertainties that have arisen with the new protectionism, our country will have to recover multilateralism, which is the best defence of small countries against powerful countries. But this policy will be effective if we are able to act as a whole, united with the countries of Latin America and eventually with other regions of the South. In short, a new government of transformations has the difficult task of strengthening the negotiating strength of “developing countries” to support the international agenda on issues of concern to us: protection of ecosystems, feminism, demilitarisation, peace, solidarity with migratory processes, among others.

At the same time, multilateralism in the economic sphere should aim to promote a fairer international trade and financial system, including: the regulation and control of financial transactions and tax havens; flexible and less costly forms of access to cutting-edge technologies; the reduction of deadlines for the protection of intellectual and industrial property, among other issues.

Our project as a country, and the possibility of having a greater presence in the international context, is linked to Latin America and the developing world. Chile must have a foreign policy of rapprochement and economic and diplomatic cooperation with that part of the world with which it shares interests and problems, even in the midst of the difficulties presented by regional institutions. And it should do so independently of political changes in Latin American governments. It is true that the issue is complex. Relations with the countries of the region, and in particular with our neighbours, are not easy.

Determined efforts will have to be made to attend with special concern to political and economic relations with neighbouring countries. Chile’s security and stability, and consequently our own democracy, are linked to the need to eliminate all sources of tension with our neighbours. This is of prime importance. Diplomatic, political and economic conflicts with neighbouring countries exalt chauvinism and stimulate arguments in favour of armament in certain sectors of our society, with high financial costs. Renewed bilateral efforts are therefore needed to foster mutual trust and, above all, to move forward with simultaneous demilitarisation initiatives.

Chile’s border understandings with Argentina in the mid-1990s have recently been obscured by the dispute over the maritime shelf on the continental ice. At the same time, the disputes with Peru and Bolivia, resolved at the Hague Court, do not lessen the historical resentments of Bolivians and Peruvians and Chileans. This must be overcome. It is necessary to embark on a determined path to put an end to tensions in order to ensure diplomatic rapprochement and peace between our countries.

Finally, there is the complex issue of regional integration, where serious difficulties have arisen in recent years. This sets limits to the deepening of Chile’s relations with the countries of the region and at other times leads to uncomfortable disputes. Consequently, it might be necessary to prioritise sub-national integration initiatives, between Chile’s regions with Argentina, Bolivia and Peru. This may be more effective and, in line with the decentralising interest, would allow for interesting citizen and territorial links between neighbouring countries. This, at the same time, would favour the development of mutual trust between our countries, based on regional governments and social organisations.

This does not mean renouncing plurinational integration schemes. Firstly, it is necessary to revalue ALADI, which has allowed tariff liberalisation between all the countries of the region, especially in the 1990s; but unfortunately, in recent years, it has had little political support. Second, Chile has the opportunity to play an interesting role in converging plurilateral integration initiatives between the Atlantic (Mercosur) and Pacific (the Andean Development Community and the Pacific Alliance) schemes. Finally, the new government should support CELAC as the political integration body for Latin American and Caribbean countries. And, as recently proposed by Mexican President López Obrador, CELAC should hopefully become a replacement project for the OAS.

Foreign policy and trade policy are indispensable instruments for promoting a new development project in our country. Both must intelligently accompany productive changes, as well as economic and social policies, in order to break with neoliberalism.

Source: Pressenza

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The Spy Who Phoned In

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Is the phone in your pocket spying on you? As cell phones have become ubiquitous, government intelligence agencies have poured vast resources into hacking them, remotely stripping people of their privacy in the name of national security. Now, a burgeoning industry has emerged, generating huge profits for shadowy corporations that specialize in developing ever-more innovative ways to secretly infect digital devices with spyware. Activists, journalists, human rights defenders and dissidents the world over have been surveilled and in a number of cases arrested, tortured or killed. This week, Citizen Lab, a cybersecurity research organization based at the University of Toronto, revealed the existence of a “zero-click” exploit that exposed 1.65 billion Apple iPhone and other Apple devices to a complete and almost undetectable takeover by the spyware known as Pegasus, produced by NSO Group, a private company.

By Amy Goodman

Pegasus spyware grants unlimited access to all of an infected device’s content, from chat messages to emails to phone calls, allows control of the phone’s microphone and camera, and shares the phone’s location in real time.

“NSO Group is a mercenary surveillance company based in Israel,” Ronald Deibert, director of Citizen Lab, said on the Democracy Now! news hour. “NSO Group first came on our radar back in 2016, when we discovered it was being used by the United Arab Emirates to target a human rights defender named Ahmed Mansoor. Since then, we and others have documented extensive abuses of this company’s technology.”

If you believe NSO Group’s founders, the software is only legally deployed to catch criminals, terrorists, pedophiles and the like. Not convinced, Amnesty International and 155 other civil society organizations and technology experts issued a joint letter calling for an immediate moratorium on the sale, transfer and use of surveillance technology: “NSO Group’s spyware has been used to facilitate human rights violations around the world on a massive scale,” the letter states. “It has become clear that its technology facilitates systemic abuse…if the recent allegations about the use of Pegasus are even partly true, then that red line has been crossed again and again with total impunity.”

Among the cases cited by Amnesty is that of Cecilio Pineda Birto, a Mexican journalist shot dead on March 2nd, 2017. He had been receiving death threats, and just that morning announced a forthcoming report on corrupt local officials colluding with organized crime figures. In 2021, Pineda’s phone number appeared on a leaked list of about 50,000 cell phone numbers from all over the world, said to be targets of the Pegasus software. Scores of journalists from the Forbidden Stories collaboration and Citizen Lab reported on the leaked list, which included hundreds of journalists and activists as well as many world leaders.

“If you don’t do anything to stop the sale of this technology, it’s not just going to be 50,000 targets. It’s going to be 50 million targets,” NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden told the Guardian last month. “And it’s going to happen much more quickly than any of us expect. The way we do that is to halt the trade of this technology.”

Pegasus was used to target phones owned by family members of Jamal Kashoggi, the Saudi dissident and Washington Post journalist, both before and after his brutal murder by a Saudi kill team inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2nd, 2018.

Another victim of the NSO Group’s spyware is Omar Radi, an independent journalist in Morocco who has long reported on corruption, land expropriation and human rights abuses by the Moroccan government. In 2020, Amnesty International issued a report with proof that Radi’s iPhone had been infected by Pegasus spyware.

“Pegasus is a silent program. You don’t feel it,” Omar Radi told us on Democracy Now! in July, 2020, just two weeks before he was arrested by Moroccan police. “It can use your microphone, it can use your keyboard, it can use your screen, and get any information that is stored in your phone. I don’t know the amount of information they’ve stolen from my phone.” Omar Radi was recently sentenced to six years in prison.

“NSO Group is merely one among many mercenary spyware companies that exist globally,” Citizen Lab’s Ron Deibert said. “Governments that have deep pockets can simply go and purchase this type of despotism as a service off the shelf. We’ve never seen anything like that historically, the privatization of this type of digital espionage.”

Apple issued a software update that supposedly fixed this problem. But hackers will certainly find more holes in these digital device operating systems. Without a ban on Pegasus and spyware like it, human rights defenders, journalists and others will continue to be targeted, spied on, beaten, arrested and killed.

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