TransCore Debuts New Harrisburg, PA Facility

HARRISBURG, Pa., Nov. 05, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — TransCore celebrated the opening of its new Harrisburg facility with an open house last week. The event was attended by dignitaries from the state and region including Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Secretary Leslie Richards, Pennsylvania State Representative Thomas Mehaffie, Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission CEO Mark Compton and Dauphin County Commissioners Mike Pries and George Hartwick III. Representative Mehaffie presented a Certificate of Congratulations and the Dauphin County Commissioners presented a Proclamation in honor of the occasion declaring October 29, 2019 to be "TransCore Day" in Dauphin County.

The facility consolidates several offices in the area and provides room for continued growth and expansion to serve customers in Pennsylvania and across the United States. The newly renovated complex includes approximately 50,000 square feet of conditioned space in two buildings. The main office building houses primarily office space and an auxiliary building provides additional space for test lane monitoring, lane software testing, and warehousing. The complex also includes full–scale gantries spanning seven lanes for testing a variety of sensors, antennas, and lane configurations.

TransCore has served the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (the Commission) and other customers in the region since the 1930's and now will be able to serve them well into the future. The Harrisburg facility also houses corporate administrative functions. TransCore directly employs over 250 staff based in Harrisburg and employs an additional 200 through staffing services.

TransCore's President, Tracy Marks, states, "I am extremely proud of our new Harrisburg facilities. After years of expanding into additional locations to house our growing staff, we were able to consolidate into one location, increasing our team's efficiency and effectiveness supporting the Commission. In addition, the state–of–the–art testing facilities will help us maintain TransCore's technology leadership in the toll industry and provide a convenient location for customers to observe testing in a comfortable, conditioned setting."

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Trade Liberalization for Development?

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Anis Chowdhury
KUALA LUMPUR and SYDNEY, Nov 5 2019 – The International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the World Trade Organization (WTO), all dominated by rich countries, have long promoted trade liberalization as a ‘win-win’ solution for “all people—rich and poor—and all countries—developed and developing countries”, arguing that “the gains are large enough to enable compensation to be provided to the losers”.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

Yet, the IMF’s 2016 World Economic Outlook has warned that free trade is increasingly seen as only or mainly benefiting the well-off. The help and compensation needed by those disadvantaged by trade liberalization has rarely if ever been forthcoming, even in most developed economies.

Dubious claims
In 2001, World Bank research papers claimed a strong positive effect of trade for growth, arguing that globalization would accelerate growth and poverty reduction in poor countries. Similarly, a November 2001 IMF brief noted, “Integration into the world economy has proven a powerful means for countries to promote economic growth, development, and poverty reduction”.

Earlier, its 1997 World Economic Outlook claimed, “Policies toward foreign trade are … promoting economic growth and convergence in developing countries.” A host of Fund research papers likewise advocated trade liberalization.

However, surveying a large body of influential early research, Rodriguez and Rodrik concluded, “we are skeptical that there is a strong negative relationship in the data between trade barriers and economic growth…”

Likewise, the historical record since 1870 offers no support for claiming a positive growth-openness relationship before the 1970s – the correlation was, in fact, negative during 1920-1940.

Similarly, during 1990-2003, growth was not significantly correlated with any measure of national trade openness. After all, the effects of any national trade policy also depend on the trade policies of others, especially existing and potential trading partners.

Baldwin observed that general policy advice of openness should not imply “that no government interventions, such as selective production subsidies or controls on short-term capital movements, are appropriate at certain stages of development.” He cautioned, “we must be careful in attributing … lowering of trade barriers as being a sufficient government action for accelerating the rate of economic growth.”

Trump backlash
With US President Donald Trump attacking trade liberalization, the nature of the debate has changed. For him, trade liberalization mainly benefits large corporations which profit from producing abroad, depriving American workers of jobs and decent remuneration.

Anis Chowdhury

Trump’s trade restrictions have reversed decades of uneven trade liberalization. By insisting on bilateral over plurilateral and especially multilateral free trade agreements (FTAs), he has undermined trade liberalization’s advocates and their claims. With Trump, the US, erstwhile champion of freer trade, has become its nemesis.

This policy U-turn has not only strengthened earlier doubts about the ostensible benefits of trade liberalization, not only for American workers, but also for developing countries, who have long insisted that international trade gains and costs are unequally distributed among nations.

Trade liberalizers strike back
Growing scepticism about trade liberalization, even before Trump’s election in late 2016, had rekindled the IMF-World Bank-WTO advocacy, e.g., in Making Trade an Engine of Growth for All, despite its acknowledgement that “trade is leaving too many individuals and communities behind, notably also in advanced economies.”

Reinvigorating Trade and Inclusive Growth is also unpersuasive, with poorly substantiated patronizing assertions, as if preaching to the converted. For the trio, the backlash is due to ignorance and failure to better advertise the benefits of free trade. Their touching faith remained unshaken despite considerable evidence, including their own, qualifying their advocacy claims.

Instead of more nuanced, and credible advocacy of multilateral trade liberalization, unencumbered by intellectual property, investment and other non-trade agreements, they can only recommend targeted ‘safety-nets’ and pro-active ‘labour market programmes’ (e.g., retraining).

UNCTAD dissent
By contrast, UNCTAD’s Trade and Development Report 2018 focused, inter alia, on the ‘Free Trade Delusion’. The World Input-Output Database suggests trade liberalization has favoured capital at the expense of labour.

Capital’s share of export value added in manufacturing global value chains (GVCs) rose from 44.8% in 2000 to 47.8% in 2014. Exceptionally, China’s labour share rose from 43.0% to 50.4%, underscoring how government policy can influence distributional outcomes.

Besides exporting primary commodities, by participating in GVCs, some developing countries now produce intermediate manufactures, typically with imported inputs and equipment. Meanwhile, South-South trade has also increased.

From the 1980s, much of international trade growth was contributed by East, including Southeast Asia, accounting for growing shares of world output and manufactured exports. By 2016, East Asia accounted for over two-thirds of manufactured exports by developing countries.

“Asia alone accounted for about 88 per cent of developing country gross exports of manufactures…, and for 93 per cent of South–South trade in manufactures, while East Asia alone accounted for 72 per cent of both.”

Services: great new hope
UNCTAD’s report acknowledges that services, particularly those enabled by digital technologies, offers new opportunities for development. However, while the trio claim that opening up e-commerce would generally lift living standards, ostensibly because medium and small enterprises would benefit, UNCTAD notes e-commerce is dominated by a few giant transnationals.

The advantages conferred by intellectual property monopolies, incumbency, resources, name recognition and ‘network effects’ favour ‘winner-takes-all’ outcomes, strengthening domination of e-commerce, software, payments and others by a few large corporations. In 2014, for example, the top 1% of exporting firms accounted for 57% of exports (besides oil, gas and services), the top 5% for more than 80%, and the top quarter for almost all.

‘Big data’, secured by providing services to users, have been very profitably used by ‘free’ digital service providers. By 2015, 17 digital giants accounted for a quarter of the market capitalization of the top 100 transnational corporations.

The UNCTAD report suggests three policy measures to address digital service providers’ profitable abuse of ‘big data’. First, privacy laws must require ‘informed consent’ before collecting and using data from digital users.

Second, appropriate ‘anti-trust’ and competition policy measures should minimize ‘restrictive practices’ and other such abuses by monopolies and oligopolies. Third, effective digital policies involving data localization, data management flows, technology transfer, custom duties on electronic transmissions and other such measures can help increase gains.

Development, not liberalization
Trade liberalization has undoubtedly had varied consequences, and may well undermine a country’s development prospects, food security and more. With trade liberalization, the main benefits often chiefly accrue to powerful transnational corporations and their business partners.

Meanwhile, employment generated in developing countries has often been seen as being at the expense of rich country workers displaced by the internationalization of GVCs. In the face of such challenges, appropriate and pragmatic government interventions have helped increase gains, reduce costs and develop economies.

As UNCTAD highlights, “Developing countries will need to preserve, and possibly expand, their available policy space to implement an industrialization strategy”. But such options for development diminish as economies liberalize indiscriminately, praying for the best.

Prepare to Win: Tsunami Awareness and Preparedness

Young students take part in Tsunami evacuation drills in Bali, Indonesia. Credit: UNDP Asia-Pacific

By Asako Okai
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 5 2019 – Once considered rare in their occurrence, in the last 10 years tsunamis have struck nearly every year: from Samoa to Chile, and from Iceland to New Zealand.

Usually triggered by a massive earthquake which is impossible to predict, there is often very little time to respond to a tsunami warning. Yet, if the warning is clear and people know what to do, thousands of lives can be saved.

As we mark World Tsunami Awareness Day November 5, I’d like to express my appreciation to the Government of Japan for supporting the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in raising tsunami awareness among school children in disaster prone countries in Asia and the Pacific.

In Japan, every school child knows what a tsunami is, and how to respond to it. Now, through this initiative, Japan’s good practice and experience is helping school children in the region learn and improve their preparedness.

Under the three-year partnership until mid-2020, at least 10-12 schools each in 23 tsunami prone countries would have updated their preparedness plans and tested them through drills.

To date, we have already trained over 100,000 students and teachers from about 250 schools in 19 countries. Preparedness plans have been updated, School Committees have been set up, evacuation routes have been identified – and in some instances newly built – and safe evacuation zones have been designated.

What started off as strengthening school preparedness has gone beyond expectations in many countries. I’d like to elaborate by sharing four country examples.

In Indonesia, one of the most tsunami prone countries in the world, we held our very first drills under this initiative. The drill was in a school in Bali, right in the middle of a highly urbanized locality.

Since the latest risk assessment had shown that the school premises would get inundated in the event of a tsunami, students were made to evacuate and move to higher ground – in this case to the roof of a six-storey hotel.

The drill resulted in creating awareness on the need for providing a safe evacuation area and led eight hotels in the locality to sign agreements with the local government offering their space for safety to the local school children and neighbouring communities.

In the Pacific Ocean, the terrain in Gizo, Solomon Islands looks quite different from Bali, with the sea on one side and steep hills on the other. Fifty two children and adults had lost their lives in the 2007 tsunami that had hit the island.

The school drills exposed the lack of preparedness and new evacuation routes were constructed to help students safely escape to higher ground. The National Disaster Management Organisation is now committed to scaling up drills in other vulnerable islands.

The reality in the Maldives is yet again unique. The 2004 tsunami swept over nearly all the atolls. Unlike other countries, there were no waves, rather it was as if the low-lying islands were sinking.

Survivors do not wish to recall the devastating memories and most of the young people have little or no knowledge of a tsunami. The safest evacuation is by boat and by moving to higher ground – in this case a building that may not be higher than two-storeys. Most islands have only one school, so our preparedness initiative helped to educate the entire community.

Typhoons and storm surges hit the Philippines, often creating tsunami like waves with very little warning. While earthquake drills are regularly conducted, our tsunami preparedness initiative has spurred the government to combine earthquake with tsunami drills.

Together with Government agencies and local partners, we’ve held several drills in disaster prone provinces reaching 60,000 students and teachers in the country.

Based on the positive feedback of the preparedness initiative from students, teachers and communities in various countries and our own experiences, we have developed a regional guide for schools to help them to be prepared so that we can scale up awareness and preparedness in more at risk schools.

With new students entering school every year, strengthening school preparedness helps us to build resilient generations.

Online Trolls, Bots, Snoopers Imperil Democracy: Report

Freedom House president Mike Abramowitz warned of online propaganda and disinformation spreading ahead of elections in 24 countries this past year. Credit: Erick Kabendera/IPS

By James Reinl
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 5 2019 – Using armies of online fans, trolls and, automated ‘bots’, the world’s authoritarians and populists are increasingly using the web to drown out opponents and swing public opinion and elections their way, a new study says.

The Freedom on the Net report, compiled annually by Freedom House, a United States government-funded research group, confirms the fears of many online activists and paints a bleak portrait of how the internet is straining democracies.

The 32-page document, released Tuesday and titled “The Crisis of Social Media” found that more than half of the world’s 3.8 billion web users live in countries that censor the internet and use pro-government trolls to manipulate the online realm.

Freedom House president Mike Abramowitz warned of online propaganda and disinformation spreading ahead of elections in 24 countries this past year. The group assesses web freedom in 65 countries that host 87 percent of the world’s web-users.

“Governments are finding that on social media, propaganda works better than censorship,” Abramowitz said in a statement. 

“Authoritarians and populists around the globe are exploiting both human nature and computer algorithms to conquer the ballot box, running roughshod over rules designed to ensure free and fair elections.”

Researchers found that officials had worked with celebrity yes-men, business titans and semi-autonomous “online mobs” to spread clickbait, conspiracy theories and misleading memes from “marginal echo chambers to the political mainstream”.

The report spotlights Brazil, where Jair Bolsonaro’s presidential election win in October 2018 was preceded by misleading news, anti-gay rumours and doctored images being spread by the right-winger’s fans via YouTube and WhatsApp, researchers said.

In Egypt, the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi blocked some 34,000 websites to stifle debates about whether el-Sisi should be allowed to hold power until the end of 2030 ahead of an April referendum, the report said.

Hundreds of thousands of online trolls spread fake news to swing voters behind two main parties in April-May elections in India this year, it added. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “NaMo” app was reportedly relaying users’ data to a private analytics firm.

The world’s two biggest economies — the United States and China — come in for special scrutiny.

In the U.S., much like in the 2016 presidential election that brought Donald Trump to power, online trolls spread “disinformation” during the November 2018 mid-term vote and during the confirmation process for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. 

Meanwhile, U.S. immigration officials are increasingly demanding access to the mobile phones and laptops of visitors and snooping on immigrants’ social media feeds, operating with “little oversight or transparency”, the report says.

China remains the “world’s worst abuser of internet freedom” — a title it has held for four consecutive years, and where a phalanx of online commentators known as the 50 Cent Army pushes government messages online.

Beijing clamped down harder on web users ahead of the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre on Apr. 15 and got tighter still in the face of ongoing anti-government protests in Hong Kong, the report says.

Adrian Shahbaz, the group’s research director for technology and democracy, warned that even governments of smaller economies can now afford large-scale “advanced social media surveillance programs”.

Last month, Facebook sued NSO Group, an Israeli surveillance firm, for using the WhatsApp messaging service to hack the phones of some 1,400 dissidents, journalists, diplomats, officials and others for their clients, understood to be governments and spy agencies.

“Once reserved for the world’s most powerful intelligence agencies, big-data spying tools are making their way around the world,” said Shahbaz. “Even in countries with considerable safeguards for fundamental freedoms, there are already reports of abuse.”

Researchers noted that officials in 47 countries, armed with such sophisticated web-snooping tools, had arrested web users between June 2018 and May 2019 for posting political, social or religious messages online.

“The future of internet freedom rests on our ability to fix social media,” said Shahbaz. 

“Since these are mainly American platforms, the U.S. must be a leader in promoting transparency and accountability in the digital age. This is the only way to stop the internet from becoming a Trojan horse for tyranny and oppression.”

The Fight for Bread Became a Fight for Freedom

By Alaa Salah
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 5 2019 – My name is Alaa Salah. I am 22 years old and I grew up in Khartoum. Before the revolution, I was a student of architectural engineering. I did not grow up around politics, but in an ordinary middle-class family—my mother is a designer and my father owns a construction company.

But, as I would walk to University every day and see my fellow citizens around me, struggling to get food and medicine, half of the country living in poverty, how could one not become political?

In December last year, our fight for bread became a fight for our freedom. I stand before you today to tell you my story, which is one shared by the thousands of ordinary women and men of Sudan who left their homes, their schools and their daily work to take to the streets, to face bullets and teargas, who risked their lives and their livelihoods to demand an end to dictatorship.

My journey to you was forged by a long line of Sudanese women who have fought for peace and justice in our communities for decades, well before we arrived at this important moment in the future of Sudan. I wouldn’t be here without them.

I address you as a member of MANSAM, a coalition of Sudanese women’s civil and political groups, and on behalf of the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security**.

My statement will focus on two key issues: (1) Women’s meaningful participation and protection of women’s rights; and (2) Accountability and disarmament. Women have played an important role in Sudan at pivotal moments in our history—in opposing colonial rule, fighting for the right to vote, as well as in recent struggles against the dictatorship of Omar al-Bashir.

It has also taken extraordinary courage to fight for basic rights—to wear trousers, to leave their hair uncovered, to voice their opinions on social media without fear, or to share a meal with male friends—all of which were criminalized by the former regime’s public order laws.

These laws were designed to quash dissent and also to target women, particularly from the most marginalized and working-class communities, such as tea and food sellers, whose working tools could be confiscated without explanation, who faced penalties, and who could be jailed.

Women and young people were at the forefront of the recent protests, often outnumbering men and accounting for 70% of protestors. I was one of many women chanting, singing and walking with my fellow citizens through the streets.

Women led resistance committees and sit-ins, planned protest routes, and disobeyed curfews, even in the midst of a declared state of emergency that left them vulnerable to security forces. Many were teargassed, threatened, assaulted, and thrown in jail without any charge or due process.

Both women and men also faced sexual harassment and were raped. Women also faced retaliation from their own families for participating in the protests. Women served as key members of the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) and helped shape the Declaration of Freedom and Change— a roadmap for Sudan’s transition from military to civilian rule.

However, despite this visible role, despite their courage and their leadership, women have been side-lined in the formal political process in the months following the revolution.

Even in the past, when we have achieved a seat at the table—women represented 31% of parliamentarians in 2018—they were often without real influence and left out of decision-making circles.

Despite women standing ready to actively contribute to the political negotiations that began in April this year between the military council and the Forces of Freedom and Change, only one woman participated in the talks, that too, only after strong advocacy by women’s groups.

Now, unsurprisingly, women’s representation in the current governance structure falls far below our demand of 50% parity and we are skeptical that the 40% quota of the still-to-be formed legislative council will be met.

For the last 30 years, women’s bodies and our rights have been policed; backlash has been swift and violent when patriarchal norms have been challenged. Women activists, politicians, human rights defenders, and peacebuilders continue to be, systematically attacked and targeted, including through sexual violence, which has forced many out of the country entirely.

Additionally, women’s organizations are at the front line of meeting basic needs and protecting rights in conflict-affected areas, but security restrictions and obstructive administrative requirements prevent critical work from being carried out in areas such as Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains.

In particular, humanitarian access to Jebel Marrah, a conflict area in Darfur notorious for the routine use of mass rape by security forces to terrorize women and girls, continues to be a major challenge in the provision of life-saving services for those communities.

Given women’s pivotal role in working towards peace and development, in the promotion of human rights, and in providing humanitarian assistance to communities in need, there is no excuse for us not to have an equal seat at every single table.

If we are not represented at the peace table, and if we don’t have a meaningful voice in parliament, our rights will not be guaranteed.

After decades of struggle and all that we risked to peacefully end Bashir’s dictatorship—gender inequality is not and will never be acceptable to the women and girls of Sudan. I hope it is equally unacceptable to the members of this Chamber. Sudan is one of the most heavily militarized countries in the world.

We do not need more firearms, yet many governments, continue to sell weapons that directly contribute to and perpetuate conflict, ongoing violations of human rights and forced displacement. The widespread availability of weapons in my country is one of the factors fueling violence and insecurity for all people, including women and girls.

As this body well knows, accountability and access to justice have been all but absent in my country. The existing discrimination and inequality women face, coupled with conflict and violence over decades, has resulted in women being subjected to a wide range of human rights violations, including sexual and gender-based violence on an epic scale.

These crimes contributed to the indictment of our ousted President for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. But violence against women did not end with the end of Al Bashir’s reign. As recent as early September, seven women living in the Shangil Tobaya displaced persons camp in Darfur were raped by armed men.

These women join the thousands of women and girls who have borne the brunt of the violence carried out across the country. Now women are saying “enough”. It is time for accountability and justice for all crimes committed before, during, and after the revolution.

This is the least that can be done to honor those who have been killed or who suffered atrocities. The strength of the revolution came from the representation of diverse voices from across the country—this inclusion is now integral to the legitimacy of the transition process.

Unless the political process reflects and embraces the diversity of our society, women groups, civil society, resistance groups, ethnic and religious minorities, those who have been displaced, and people with disabilities—no agreement will reflect our collective aspirations.

In conclusion, we urge the Security Council and the international community to:

● Press the transitional government, Forces of Freedom and Change, and armed groups to support the full, equal and meaningful participation of women.

We call for at least 50% representation of Sudanese women across all peace processes, in the current negotiations, and at all levels of the government and urge you, the international community, to support our demand in all your engagement with the transitional government.

● Actively monitor the situation in Darfur and halt the drawdown of the peacekeeping mission until the security situation stabilizes; protection of civilians, including those in internally displaced camps, can be ensured; and conditions for safe and voluntary returns are met.

● Support accountability and end impunity. The transitional government must fully support an independent, international fact-finding mission, to investigate and hold all perpetrators of human rights violations, including sexual and gender-based violence, accountable.

Omar al-Bashir must immediately be transferred to the International Criminal Court. The transitional government must ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women without any reservations.

● Support civil society and ensure women human rights defenders are able to carry out their work unhindered and without fear of reprisals. End the use of lethal and excessive force against protestors.

● Stop fueling conflict.

Finally, we implore all countries to stop the export of arms to my country when there is a risk that they will be used in violation of international humanitarian and human rights law, including to perpetrate sexual and gender-based violence, in line with the Arms Trade Treaty.

In conclusion, I would like to leave you with a slogan that grew loud with our recent protests—freedom, peace and justice, revolution is the people’s choice.

Footnote:

**The NGOWG on Women, Peace and Security** advocates for the equal and full participation of women in all efforts to create and maintain international peace and security. www.womenpeacesecurity.org

Formed in 2000 following the adoption of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000), the NGOWG now focuses on implementation of all Security Council resolutions that address this issue. The NGOWG serves as a bridge between women’s human rights defenders working in conflict-affected situations and policymakers at UN Headquarters.

NGOWG members include: Amnesty International; CARE International; Center for Reproductive Rights; Consortium on Gender, Security and Human Rights; Cordaid; Global Justice Center; Global Network of Women Peacebuilders; Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict; Human Rights Watch; International Alert; MADRE; Nobel Women’s Initiative; OutRight Action International; Oxfam; Plan International; Refugees International; Saferworld; Women’s Refugee Commission; and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

*Excerpts from a speech, during the UN Security Council Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security 29 October 2019, on behalf of the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security.