Don’t Be Evil: The Other Side of the Tech Industry

Another one of my articles published on Impakter:

HOW TO ADDRESS THE TECH WORLD’S MORAL BLINDNESS

Who leads the tech world and what is their impact on the economy? Put together two remarkable statistics:

  • Of the ten richest men in America, only three are not tech billionaires: Warren Buffett and the Koch brothers;
  • Tech firms represent 21% of the 500 largest American firms, yet they employ only 3% of the workforce (Guardian, 2017);

and you get an exact description of the New Golden Age.

We’ve moved from the Robber Barons of the 1900s to the tech billionaires of the 2000s. Same concentration of wealth, same political and economic power, same income inequality, same moral blindness – with one big difference that hurts the working class: compared to the Robber Barons and the manufacturing giants of the 1950s, they create very few jobs.

Worse: The ‘frightful fives’ – Apple, Google (Alphabet), Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook, as noted by the New York Times’ columnist Farhad Manjoo –  are gobbling up start-ups, buying out the most successful rather than allowing healthy competition to develop. This puts the very process of innovation at risk. Instagram, WhatsApp, DeepMind are some of the better-known examples.

The rise of tech is affecting not just the economy, but our politics and culture too, twisting and straining the moral fibre of our society. In his 2016 speech at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, Obama somberly noted that “technological progress without an equivalent progress in human institutions can doom us”. And he reminded us that “the scientific revolution that led to the splitting of the atom requires a moral revolution as well.”

The moral revolution certainly has not arrived in Trump’s America, focused for now on its America First agenda, denying climate change and trying to rebuild the coal-based manufacturing of the 1950s instead of addressing the real challenges of the future. Challenges that stem from tech industry AI products, robots and supercomputers, displacing jobs and ruining the middle and lower classes.

Tax havens are a big part of the story.

After the Panama Papers, we now have the scandal of another offshore firm, the Appleby files. Among Appleby’s long list of ultra-rich clients, including 31,000 Americans, we find a range of businessmen, pop stars and royals, including George Soros, the financier and philanthropist, Carl Icahn, the equity investor, Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate, Madonna, Bono and even (for the first time) Queen Elizabeth II.

Inevitably, we find tech titans like Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen.

IN THE PHOTO: FROM LEFT TO RIGHT, PAUL G. ALLEN, GEORGE SOROS, BONO AND QUEEN ELIZABETH. SOURCE: COLLAGE FROM PHOTOS IN WIKIMEDIA COMMONS 

 

While bashing the tech industry on moral grounds has become fashionable, how useful it is in curbing it is debatable. After all, the tech industry has changed our lives, sometimes for the worse, to be sure, but also for the better. And the industry has many friends and supporters, not to mention ample lobbying power both in Washington and Brussels. And so long as the industry is making money, criticism, however right and morally grounded, will fall on deaf ears.

There are other ways to curb the tech industry and ensure it becomes a responsible citizen.

To read the rest on Impakter, click here.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Business, Tech

The World Number One Killer: Non-communicable Diseases

Here’s my latest article published on Impakter Magazine: 

Non-communicable diseases are the major global health issue that most people have never heard of. Yet it kills nearly 40 million people every year, more than traffic accidents (1.3 million) or scary communicable disease outbreaks like Zika and Ebola that do make it in the news, but rarely exceed 10,000 deaths. For example, the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa killed 11,310 (latest Centers for Disease Control data).

NCDs include four major diseases that you can’t catch from someone else:

  • cardio-vascular diseases (stroke and heart attacks, 48% of NCD deaths),
  • cancer (21%),
  • chronic respiratory diseases (12%),
  • diabetes (3.5%).

This is not to belittle the threat or devastation caused by communicable diseases. Currently, the massive cholera outbreak in Yemen that has infected some 800,000 people in the past year and a plague outbreak in Madagascar that has killed nearly 100 people in two months are making the news. Rightly so, these are people in urgent need of help.

But NCDs should not be underestimated: They cause 70% of deaths globally, and nearly 50% of global disability. High-income countries are more affected than low-income countries (88% vs. 37%, 2015 data). As a result, there is a misperception that NCDs are a high-income country problem, but that’s not the case.

It’s a global problem.

And as I argue in the article, it’s a global problem the World Health Organization (WHO) has been addressing over the past two decades…almost single-handedly. To find out what is being done, click here. This is an issue I feel very strongly about, and it’s high time it be given the attention it deserves. The future of our children depends on it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Health, Uncategorized

Cocaine: The Hidden Cost – Environmental Destruction

This is the second of a two-part article investigating cocaine, just published on Impakter. Part One surveyed the cost in human terms, focusing on Colombia, the world’s top coca producer (see here). Part Two investigates the environmental destruction caused by cocaine and also takes a look at Peru.

Uncle Sam’s fumigation program in Colombia has added a grim dimension to the environmental devastation that is, in any case, inherent to coca production when it is made illegal. When coca fields are mechanically torn up by the army or the police, farmers are pushed deeper and deeper into the jungle to clear more areas to grow coca along with the food needed for their own sustenance.

IN THE PHOTO: RAINFOREST PHOTO SOURCE: ANAHI MARTINEZ ON UNSPLASH

But when coca fields are sprayed with potent herbicides, fumigation turns the fertile earth into a desert, threatening local farmers’ health. In fact, for decades, Colombia has been the only government in the world that has allowed aerial herbicide spraying of coca, hurting its own population. But it did so at the bidding of the United States that ended up paying US$ 2 billion for the spraying.

An extraordinary cost to the American taxpayers with zero results in terms of reduced cocaine supplies.

It had, however, very measurable results in terms of environmental destruction of Colombia’s rainforests – precious not just for Colombia but for the whole world, as they act as major carbon sinks, playing a key role in stabilizing global climate.

To read the rest, click here. I feel very strongly about the conclusion of the article: The solution, in my opinion, is not yet another “war on drugs” to try and limit cocaine supplies (it never works) but treatment to limit demand. Addicts are not children to be punished, they are people who need our help. Your views?

Comments Off on Cocaine: The Hidden Cost – Environmental Destruction

Filed under Economics, Health, politics, Sociology

Migration, Conflicts and Climate Change: What the Pope Said and How the US reacted

On Monday morning 16 October, I rushed to FAO, the opening ceremony for World Food Day was to be graced by Pope Francis who had agreed to deliver the keynote address: the theme was migration…Here is the article I immediately wrote for Impakter (it was published yesterday):

MIGRATION, CONFLICTS AND CLIMATE CHANGE: A NEW TURN?

World Food Day held yesterday at UN-FAO headquarters in Rome was full of surprises. An event organized since 1979 by FAO every year on October 16 to celebrate the founding of the organization in 1945, World Food Day is the occasion to draw the international community’s attention to a pressing issue in agriculture and rural development. This rarely excites the world’s attention, but this year’s theme was particularly well chosen: The focus was on what is undoubtedly the number one problem of our times, migration.

IN THE PHOTO: HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS GREETING FAO STAFF DURING THE WORLD FOOD DAY CEREMONY, FAO HEADQUARTERS (ATRIUM).PHOTO CREDIT: ©FAO/CRISTIANO MINICHIELLO.

The numbers are staggering: UN figures show there are roughly 244 million international migrants – that’s more than the whole population of Brazil –  while 763 million are migrants within their own country. Taking the two numbers together, that’s about one billion people, as much as India.

As the video FAO made for the occasion shows, the problem with migration is the lack of choice. And the solution to the migration crisis, is investment in the rural sector to give people a livelihood, so that they are not forced to migrate. Why the rural sector? Because that is where the problem starts, 75% of the world’s poor and food insecure live in rural areas.

In 2015 alone, 65.3 million people were forcibly displaced by conflict worldwide, and more than 19 million people were internally displaced because of natural disasters – many triggered by climate change.

First, Pope Francis is different from other Popes in that he attends more readily UN events. He has come before to FAO and gave a notable address to the ICN2.  Food security is clearly one of his major concerns.

To read the rest on Impakter, click here. You will also find there the video of the Pope’s speech (very interesting, worth seeing, it’s only 20 minutes) and I report on the remarkable position taken by the US Secretary of Agriculture: Since the Trump administration announced last week that the US was pulling out of UNESCO, everybody in Rome feared the worst. But the worst, surprisingly given Trump’s track record, didn’t happen. See what happened and rejoice!

1 Comment

Filed under climate change, politics, United Nations

How a Film About Human Trafficking Was Made

Today there’s another one of my articles up on Impakter magazine. It’s about human trafficking and Magda Olchawska’s amazing film that brings home all the pain of modern day slavery that is affecting millions of people, as many as the population of New York and Hong Kong combined!
 
Here is the start of the article, with Paula Preston, the lead actress in the featured image.

INTERVIEW WITH MAGDA OLCHAWSKA, DIRECTOR AND PRODUCER OF ANNA & MODERN DAY SLAVERY (out in 2017)

Seven years ago, I met Magda Olchawska by chance, through our common love for literature. But Magda is not just a Polish writer living in the UK and the proud mother of an 8-year old boy, she is also a talented filmmaker. She moved to London at 19 and graduated from London College of Communication (LCC) in 2004, starting on a career in filmmaking.

At the time we met, she had written the first in what became a series of seven children’s books, and she was busy making an indie micro-budget feature film about sex and human trafficking, called Anna & Modern Day Slavery.

Anna & Modern Day Slavery official poster

Magda had always been “passionate about making films that make a difference”, as she put it, and this was a subject that deeply moved her, she wanted to do her piece to fight the scourge of modern-day slavery. Her objective was not only to raise awareness about sex and human trafficking but also raise funds to help small charities working on the ground with trafficking victims.

She did the film as an indie, writing the film script, pulling together cast and crew, including some remarkable actors like Paula Preston and Pawel Palcat, and organizing the shooting in Poland in the summer of 2012.

IN THE PHOTO: Magda Olchawska (center) on the set, directing her film in Poland  (SOURCE: M. Olchawska, Mayan Films)

 

It took four more years of “post-production” and editing to finalize the film and finally bring it into the indie film circuit. To finance her film, Magda resorted several times to crowdfunding and has become something of an expert in this form of financing.

I had a chance to talk to her about her long, tortuous journey in making this, her first feature film.

To read the interview, click here

Comments Off on How a Film About Human Trafficking Was Made

Filed under filmmaking, interviews, Uncategorized

GLOBAL HUNGER IS ON THE RISE AGAIN: DOES ANYONE CARE?

Impakter magazine just published my latest article – I wrote this while attending the CFS (Committee on World Food Security) that runs from 9 to 13 October: It’s the biggest UN meeting on food issues, opened to the private sector and civil society – the latter totaling some 380 million people, farmers, women, youth, consumers – who are given a chance to bypass their own government and make their voice directly heard at the UN! In fact, no other UN meeting compares with the CFS and what they are discussing this week really does matter…Here’s the beginning of the article:



GLOBAL HUNGER IS ON THE RISE AGAIN: DOES ANYONE CARE?

When the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) opened its 44th session in Rome on October 9, it wasn’t just another chatty UN meeting. It came with the disturbing news that global hunger was on the rise again. This was a shock. Since 2000, we had all grown complacent, every year brought the good news that hunger was slowing even though world population continued to grow, it looked like the scourge of famine was at last a thing of the past.  From a high 926 million in 2005, global hunger hit a low of 777 million people in 2014.

Hunger: 815 million people were affected in 2016 – up from 777 million in 2014

But now we need to revise this cheerful view. According to the best estimates of five major UN agencies, FAO, World Food Programme, IFAD, UNICEF and World Health Organization, the trend has reversed, 815 million people were affected in 2016, slightly more than one in ten persons, as reported in the newly released UN document “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World”.

FIGURE 1: THE NUMBER OF UNDERNOURISHED PEOPLE HAS BEEN ON THE RISE SINCE 2014, REACHING AN ESTIMATED 815 MILLION IN 2016. CREDIT: FAO-CFS

Undernourishment and malnutrition is clearly on the rise again. Worse, for the first time this century, outright famine was declared in South Sudan on 20 February 2017, and three more countries, Yemen, Somalia and Northern Nigeria are at serious risk, unless international aid comes to the rescue.

Unfortunately, the usual delays caused by donor fatigue have been recently compounded by the fear that the United States might choose to withdraw from the international community, with Donald Trump announcing plans in March to slash the US foreign aid budget by 31 percent. This would directly hit UN agencies, the World Bank and other international institutions, in particular WFP as it proposed to eliminate most US international food assistance.

Read the rest on Impakter, click here. Besides the threat of famine and what to do about it, other issues are also discussed, like obesity.

Comments Off on GLOBAL HUNGER IS ON THE RISE AGAIN: DOES ANYONE CARE?

Filed under politics, Uncategorized

If We Were Gods, Would We Be Happy?

My latest article published on Impakter:

If We Were Gods by Adam Karni Cohen, published by The Endeavour Press, July 2017 Book Review and Interview 

When I started reading If We Were Gods, I was wondering how Adam Karni Cohen, the author of this remarkable and bizarre love story-cum-family saga, could ever pull off the heavy referencing to the ancient world of Greek and Roman mythology. I was ready to be bored and expecting to classify this debut novel as yet another pretentious failure from an aspiring writer.

I was wrong, of course. This is the work of a master story-teller. Don’t be put off by the Roman gods roaming around in this book, they are not a bore or a waste of time. There’s nothing academic or pretentious about them. The gods you encounter here don’t slow down the storytelling, what they do is add a new dimension to it, refreshing and amplifying a common tale in our times. A love story between two university students from different countries and different cultures, in this case, Italy and the UK. We have Claudio Collina, son of a Verona industrialist, who came to study engineering in the UK and Jennifer who is an English med student. Claudio is a pivotal character, loaded with an intellectual baggage shaped by ancient Rome, he is the one living the ancient myths.  He befriends Chris, another British med student, and soon this becomes a “classic” love triangle.

Adam Karni Cohen took literally the classic element in this love triangle and elevated it to the main theme of his novel – thus turning it into something entirely new.

You don’t need to know anything about the triangle of love between Vulcan (the god of fire), Venus (his wife) and Mars (her lover) to enjoy the book. And as you read on, you discover that the author has woven more than a love story, this is the saga of two families, one in England, the other in Italy, and it spans decades and generations, as the story turns on Jennifer’s children, Anna, eighteen and her brother Sam, fourteen.

Sam is a particularly endearing character who, to alleviate the boredom of a summer vacation, plays at being a “detective”. He delves deep into his mother’s personal papers and there are times you feel like telling him to stop. But his relentless curiosity moves the plot forward and you come to enjoy the way the author delicately draws this teenage boy, with all his flaws, misguided ambitions and yearning to be loved.

This is an ambitious novel, finely structured and with multiple points of views. Remarkably, one key character central to the plot is one we never meet but only hear about: Claudio’s father, Federico Collina, who sounds like a ruthless startup entrepreneur (not an entirely lovable character but very real).  He has an outsize effect on his children, Claudio and Melissa, shaping their destinies.

If this all sounds complicated, it isn’t. The author pulls it off brilliantly, aided by a real talent for both story-telling and mastery of language. The reader is drawn in, the pace is relentless, this is a page-turner and a deep plunge into the human condition.

After reading it, I wanted to talk to the author and he kindly agreed to answer my questions.

Question: Literary agent Donald Maass wrote in his famous guidebook “the Breakout Novel” that a “truly BIG book is a perfect blend of inspired premise, larger-than-life characters, high-stakes story, deeply-felt themes, vivid setting and much more”. Your book checks all the boxes. Can you tell me how you came to your “inspired premise” and “larger-than-life characters” – in other words, why the mythology, why Claudio?

To read his answers on Impakter, click here.

Comments Off on If We Were Gods, Would We Be Happy?

Filed under Book review, interviews, Literature, Uncategorized