Teachers unions say they’re ready to come back to schools. I’ll believe it when I see it.

coronavirus uk schools
  • The politically-powerful teachers unions say they’re ready to send their members back to work, now that the COVID pandemic is effectively over.
  • And yet as a NYC public school parent, I don’t believe my kids will have full-time, in-person, five-day-a-week learning this September.
  • Because with the teachers unions there’s always a “but” – just as there is this time.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

One of the US’ major teachers’ unions has, at long last, come around to admitting its members should be back in school, full-time, this fall. It’s a huge, albeit long-delayed, development. But as a parent of three school-aged kids, count me as still skeptical.

The shift came when American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten last Thursday gave a long-anticipated speech to members of the second-largest teachers union in the country and thousands of its local affiliates.

Weingarten said plainly: “There is no doubt: Schools must be open. In person. Five days a week.”

The fog of pandemic fear, behind which the teachers’ unions have hidden for over a year, is lifting. The miracle of the COVID vaccines have made so many questionably-effective “better safe than sorry” safety measures truly obsolete.

But as a New York City public school parent whose kids haven’t been in school in any meaningful sense since March 10, 2020 – I’ve heard these sweet-sounding words about the teachers’ unions’ commitment to “fully” reopening schools before.

Their relentless goalpost-shifting for reopening, and their gaslighting of parents with repeated claims that they have wanted to reopen schools since April 2020, have lost them the benefit of the doubt.

I’ll need to see it – full-time, in-person schooling with actual teachers in the classroom – in order to believe the teachers unions truly mean what they say this time around.

There’s always a “but”

Weingarten said all the right things in her speech, asserting that her union is “all in” on fully reopening schools. She conceded that “prolonged isolation” for young people is “harmful.” And she admitted “remote learning is not on par with in-person teaching” and “equity gaps have grown wider” as a result.

But there’s always a “but.”

The union boss said schools will need to continue to vigorously enforce social distancing, which will require schools to come up with a whole lot of additional space they don’t have. Weingarten also called for schools to reduce class size, and warned of yet-unknown risks that could complicate schools reopening or staying open next year.

And as The New York Times noted, “The devil will be in the details negotiated at bargaining tables, where local union leaders may demand additional safety measures as a precondition to a full return.”

If the past year of failed negotiations to get teachers back in schools has taught us anything, it’s that the unions get what they want without having to give much in return.

Teachers prioritized for vaccination? Done. Almost $200 billion in federal spending for COVID safety measures in schools? Done. Enormous amounts of time and resources spent on hygiene theater? Done.

The unions admitting they were wrong to hype the threat of schools becoming COVID hotspots, and thus making many Black and brown families not want to send their kids to school? Never.

We’ve seen this movie over and over again for the past 15 months

I can clearly envision the anti-reopening arguments that will begin percolating when this August rolls around:

“Too many parents don’t feel safe sending their children back into school buildings!”

“We need remote teachers to teach the remote students!”

“There aren’t enough teachers, so we’re only going to have in-person school 1.5 days a week.”

With less than four months before the next school year begins, I’m not confident that any of these concerns will be effectively hashed out in time to save kids from losing part of a third year of their education.

As vaccines proliferate in the US, the AFT and other politically-powerful teachers unions can pat themselves on the back for so successfully working the system that they keep their “essential worker” membership from going into work for the entire pandemic.

But they also should be embarrassed over the damage they’ve done.

Forget about the learning loss – which some educators say we should now refer to as “learning change” – experienced during the pandemic. The psychological tolls and stunted socialization have been devastating for children kept out of schools and away from other kids for more than a year.

And by downplaying the necessity of in-person learning for so long, they’ve recklessly undermined the value of the noble profession of teaching.

Good teachers are invaluable guides through children’s development. Pretty much all teachers work hard. The pandemic has been brutal on educators.

But teachers unions have peddled the fiction that there has simply been no reasonable compromise available to fully reopen schools many months ago. That short-sighted misstep has driven people toward private schools and out of areas with politically-powerful public school teachers unions.

There are many institutions whose pandemic comportment deserves a full accounting once we’re truly out of the COVID woods.

The intransigence of the teachers unions and the feckless government officials who bent to their will at the expense of parents and students deserves a full, independent accounting.

Denying scientific evidence in the name of members “safety” was always just a front for flexing political power.

Weingarten’s seemingly-resolute declaration that it’s time for teachers to get back into school buildings was made up of nice-sounding words, but they are only words.

I’m not holding my breath that my kids will be back in school full-time in September, because I’ve seen this movie over and over again.

Teachers unions do not deserve to be trusted on their words at this point, just their deeds.

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The Republican party is no longer serious

mitch mcconnell kevin mccarthy
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy address reporters outside the White House after their Oval Office meeting with President Joe Biden on May 12, 2021 in Washington, DC.

  • The Republican party used to generate actual policy ideas, but no longer.
  • Now trolling and obstructionist shenanigans are all the GOP cares about.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

In 1994, Americans were presented with “A Contract with America” from Republican Leaders Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey. This policy document was a set of proposals inspired by President Ronald Reagan’s 1985 State of the Union speech.. The “contract” was a detailed document of specific policies and actions that Republicans would advance if they took over the majority of the US House of Representatives. Many of these proposals made their way into actual laws.

Fast forward to today’s Republican Party, and it’s no longer a party of ideas and policy, nor do they even pretend to be.

Instead, the GOP has turned into a party of obstruction. Recently, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said that “100% of my focus is standing up to this administration,” meaning that his entire goal was blocking whatever the White House proposes. A few weeks ago, President Biden introduced his anticipated infrastructure plan to the American people, and upon the release of that plan it hit its first roadblock, as the GOP widely panned it.

I will admit there are aspects to the American Jobs Plan that I do not support. For example, I do not believe that child care and caregiving should be part of this bill. It should be a stand alone bill because it has nothing to do with infrastructure or creating infrastructure for the future, such as electric vehicles. However, the Biden plan is the only legitimate one on the table. When President Trump was in office, there were many “Infrastructure Weeks” with no actual plan or any real effort by congressional Republicans to work on any legislation. In fact, during the Trump administration, the term “Infrastructure Week” essentially became a joke to those of us who awaited real action.

Instead of focusing on or proposing ideas to help solve the problems facing the country, the GOP has devoted most of its time and energy to promoting “The Big Lie:” that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump. Republicans even purged conservative leader Rep. Liz Cheney from House leadership simply for refuting that lie.

Republicans once had grand visions for America. Other than the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 and the failed American Health Care Act of 2017, there has not been any significant or bold policy proposal from the GOP. The party has been sluggish in solutions and anemic in answering the calls from Americans to work to move the country forward.

Whether you liked it or not, Republican President George W. Bush pushed for an ambitious plan to reform our immigration system. The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007 demonstrates that the GOP used to be serious about tackling important issues facing many Americans, and were willing to work with Democrats to solve them. The bill never became law, in large part to opposition on both sides, but the same forces in the Republican Party that helped kill this bill are now the “mainstream” leaders of the party.

In 2005, Republicans and Democrats worked together on a major $286.4 billion transportation bill. The Republican sponsored bill won enormous bipartisan support. It received the support of 412 members of the House to eight in opposition, and passed 91 to four in the Senate. This goes to show that when Republicans put forward sensible policy and aren’t afraid to work with Democrats, great things can be accomplished.

It’s important to notice that at that time, the Democrats weren’t solely focused on obstructing the Republicans. They were willing to compromise with them. Lately, that hasn’t been the case with the GOP.

In 2016, when the Republican Party was debating who their nominee should be, we saw that base voters chose to support candidates that offered more sensational soundbites than solutions. Candidates like Governors John Kasich and Jeb Bush were heavy with policy ideas, but the media and the GOP base were more attracted to the chaotic candidacies of Donald Trump and Senator Ted Cruz. Sadly, this laid the foundation for many others in the party to become less serious about policy and more interested in becoming a personality, to the detriment of their part and their constituents.

This desire to become a personality has reinforced the notion that the GOP isn’t serious on policy or putting forth any new ideas. Representatives Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene go on Fox News to be incendiary figures who care more about throwing elbows and airing GOP grievances to grow “their personal brand” and bank accounts rather than discussing substantive policy. Sadly, this problem is rotten to the GOP core, as this is what their base wants.

There are some Republicans who care to focus on policy, but as a whole, the party doesn’t care to lead on ideas.

While a significant majority of the GOP is focused on extraneous matters like old books from Dr. Seuss, there are people who have been castigated from the Trumpist portion of the GOP that hope to lead the way and unveil a new set of guiding principles. This group, to which I belong, consists of current and former Republicans and should be listened to, as we have the vision to lead a policy-oriented debate, free of Trumpism. We have put out a call for an American Renewal.

The best path forward is to increase competitive incentives for the GOP to recommit to truth, our founding principles, and decency. If ultimately the GOP won’t accept our agenda, and continues down this path of conspiracies and anti-democracy, we’ll have no choice but to forge a new path.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Anti-maskers and COVID deniers have been yelling about ‘freedom’ since the pandemic began. Now many of them are standing in the way of America’s actual freedom.

anti mask man cutout protest
A ‘Hazardous Liberty! Defend the Constitution!’ rally to protest the stay-at-home order in Olympia, Washington.

  • Science deniers and anti-maskers have been crying about “freedom” for the length of the pandemic.
  • Now the US has a real chance at freedom through the vaccines.
  • But some of those same science deniers are morphing into anti-vaxxers and stopping America from getting back to normal.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

America’s anti-maskers have become America’s anti-vaxxers.

Their argument against these common-sense precautions is personal freedom. The only problem with this logic, or lack thereof, is that their claims to freedom are causing the rest of us to lose ours.

It would be nice to be able to dine inside with no worry, go to the movies in a packed theater, or enjoy any of the other freedoms we enjoyed before the pandemic. But that will be impossible to do with the threat of COVID – unless we reach a certain threshold of the population who are vaccinated, probably around 80%. Who is preventing us from reaching that threshold? The 1 in 4 Americans who say they’ll refuse to get vaccinated.

Cat scratch fever

You’ve heard GOP Rep. Jim Jordan pounding the table, asking when we’re going to live our lives again. In a recent congressional hearing with Dr. Anthony Fauci, Jordan demanded to know the precise moment the world will be back to normal and harangued the infectious disease specialist about basic safety measures. By undermining Dr. Fauci, Jordan is in turn undermining our efforts to get back to normal. As Dr. Fauci expressed, it’s a paradox that Republicans legislators simply cannot seem to wrap their minds around.

You’ve heard Sen. Ron Johnson talk double-talk on vaccines. He asked “what is the point” of getting vaccinated, undermining our attempts to reach herd immunity. By spewing this inane rhetoric, he’s all but ensuring that some followers of his in Wisconsin remain unvaccinated and get COVID.

Studies show that many vaccine-hesitant folks are in a ‘wait-and-see’ pattern and aren’t completely writing off the vaccine. A positive pronouncement from their trusted elected officials or a celebrity they admire could make a world of difference. But instead of that, we get people like Jordan, Johnson, and faded rockstar Ted Nugent.

I’ll admit, I had a moment of schadenfreude when Nugent got COVID and whined about how bad it was. He said “it was really scary” and that he “didn’t know if [he] was gonna make it.” And, of course, he is right. COVID is scary, and nearly 600,000 of his fellow citizens weren’t as lucky as he and didn’t make it. But he remains a poster child of all “freedom-loving” COVID-deniers: anti-mask, anti-vax and making the country suffer as a result.

Former President Donald Trump, afraid to offend the faux-freedom lovers, got his vaccine in secret and waited two months to reveal it. He clearly knows that the vaccine will protect him and that his words carry a lot of weight with his MAGA disciples, up to 40% of whom don’t want a shot. But instead of shouting about the success of the vaccines and winning over his supporters, Trump doesn’t seem to care if his followers have the same protection that the vaccine provides.

The tone these guys and their brethren have set from the beginning has prolonged the crisis. Fewer masks meant more contamination. If everyone masked, fewer people would have died. And fewer vaccines prolongs the threat of COVID for everyone.

Faux freedom

Even as more and more folks around the world get the vaccine, new COVID variants continue to emerge in unvaccinated communities. The vaccines have stayed ahead of the variants – at least for now. But if we don’t reach herd immunity soon we could find ourselves with a variant that has outsmarted the vaccine, which could lead to another lockdown.

If everyone eligible got the vaccine, we could all get our lives back as soon as Jim Jordan wants. But the “freedom” from the vaccine that the right wing clamors for could allow variants to stick around, mutate and deprive all of us again. So instead, we may have to fight variants, hunt for boosters, and mask endlessly.

In pandemics past, vaccines were the key to how our country returned to normal. There is, after all, a reason no one has contracted polio in the United States since 1979. But that didn’t happen in a vacuum. Public health officials, politicians, celebrities and everyday teenagers all teamed up to make the vaccine accessible, normal, and even “cool.” Everyone got together, and before long, polio epidemics were no more.

Today, that seems all but impossible — not in the era of alt-right cable news and the politicians mugging for that audience. I’m not the first to say it, but instead of science leading us all to health and safety, the faux-freedom lovers are causing the rest of us to lose our freedom.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Restaurant and retail owners have 2 options nowadays: stop treating their workers like garbage or stop having workers at all

Business owner with a sad emoji face for a head holding bags of money with a protesting supporting higher wages with an annoyed face emoji as a head on a green background.
“I made more money on unemployment than I did working at the bar because they only gave me lunch shifts and I was part time,” said Mark, a former bartender in New York.

  • Restaurant and retail staff have been underpaid and overworked for decades.
  • Government aid during the economic crisis has allowed workers in the industry to reassess going back to work.
  • Employer claims that people won’t come back out of laziness are increasingly laughable.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • Eoin Higgins is a journalist based in New England and Contributing Opinion Writer.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Sean Earl is a 10-year veteran of the restaurant business who was out of a job when the coronavirus pandemic hit. He still doesn’t know if he’ll return to the industry – especially without the promise of worker protections and better conditions on the job.

“If I returned it would have to be somewhere with union representation or at least a co-op situation,” Earl said. “Some way of having better control over what happens in the workplace.”

I talked to Earl this week for a story highlighting the voices of service industry workers at my newsletter The Flashpoint. The piece pushed back against a number of recent articles featuring business owners blaming unemployment insurance and government aid for contributing to laziness on the part of staff to not return to their jobs.

Over and over again, the people I talked to told me that while the aid provided security and support at a crucial time, they weren’t passing up work just to sit around. Rather, they were looking at other options because of the service industry’s terrible working conditions and low pay.

“The pandemic kind of stripped away the illusion of fairness and equity in the industry,” said Sarah, a restaurant professional who is on her way out of the business and off to grad school.

Reassessing things

One of the first casualties of the pandemic last year was the service industry. With businesses forced to shut down due to health restrictions and few people willing to risk going out anyway, restaurants shuttered around the country and prepared to wait out the disease.

Stimulus and aid packages passed by the federal government under both former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden delivered relief. In addition to aid for businesses, programs like the $600 weekly bonus COVID unemployment payments that came with the first stimulus were a huge help to workers forced out of their jobs by the shutdown.

It is true that for some service industry workers, what they made staying home was more than what they made at work. Indeed, that was part of the point of the pandemic aid; to keep people whole after losing their jobs to public health orders that were no fault of their own.

And now, as things begin to open back up, people are pushing for these benefits to be cut off – despite lingering health concerns and ongoing aid.

“There’s no reason for workers to come back to their old jobs earning the same poverty wages, especially since more than 100 million Americans remain unvaccinated, and there’s still a stable safety net in place until autumn,” writer and former restaurant worker Carl Gibson wrote for Insider on May 2. “It’s not that unemployed restaurant workers don’t want jobs – we just have more options now.”

The time off prompted a reevaluation of not only their role in the business but industry practices in general. The service industry is a notoriously harsh and unforgiving business that makes intense demands on staff for low pay and anarchic schedules.

“I made more money on unemployment than I did working at the bar because they only gave me lunch shifts and I was part time,” said Mark, a former bartender in New York. “They also over-staffed so there were fewer tips per person, I went from making $250-ish a week to a solid $600 a week from unemployment.”

But now that many of these workers have been able to step back from an industry where low pay and abusive practices were the norm these businesses face a challenge: improve working conditions or shut down.

Tall Tales

As the country has begun to reopen, some politicians and pundits are claiming that staff are uninterested in returning to work because they’re lazy. Signs on windows of shuttered businesses or temporarily closed outlets claim that people aren’t willing to come back because they’d rather sit back and do nothing.

The media has helped spread this narrative, too. Articles from NPR, Fox News, and others have portrayed business owners as hard on their luck victims of circumstance who just can’t catch a break. Workers – if they’re included in the stories at all – are presented as shiftless, careless louts who aren’t thinking of what’s best for the company’s bottom line.

The reality is different, Lucas, a former Uber Eats driver, told me.

“We’re sick of being called lazy bums because we’re sick of thankless, s—-paying jobs,” Lucas said.

Rather, Lucas and other workers I spoke to said they are finally asserting themselves after years of mistreatment and becoming more selective and holding out for incentives-or even considering leaving altogether if things don’t change. That’s what happened two weeks ago at a Dollar General store in Eliot, Maine. Three out of four of the store’s employees walked off the job and quit over the weekend due to their pay and the company’s disrespectful mistreatment. Two of them, Brendt Erikson and Hannah Barr, put signs up on the store’s door explaining why they quit, putting the blame squarely on Dollar General for the company’s disrespectful treatment of employees and low wages.

Erikson told me he wanted people to know that he and his comrades didn’t leave their jobs because they were lazy.

“You’ve probably seen on Twitter those signs on businesses that are closing due to understaffing because people don’t want to work,” Erikson said. “I have been thinking about those signs a lot lately. And I wanted to make a retort to those signs that actually told the truth of why people weren’t going to work there anymore.”

Best practices?

Despite claims that businesses are scrambling to attract workers, in many cases owners simply aren’t offering incentives for employees to return to customer-facing positions – as Ary Reich, a floor member at the National Museum of Mathematica in New York, told me.

“Less than a month after lockdown, after keeping us on to help them fix their broken website, they laid all eight of us off,” Reich said. “Since then we’ve received emails letting us know we all can have our jobs back if we want them, but they are not interested in raising our pay.”

That shows a misunderstanding of the power dynamic at play now – workers are able to decline offers to come back to their jobs without losing income for the first time in decades. Bosses who expected new workers to crawl back begging for jobs no longer indisputably have the upper hand in negotiations. So their attempts to strong arm staff back into the poor conditions and insufficient pay are falling flat.

Given this dynamic some restaurant owners are deciding to try and bring in newer, less experienced staff rather than rehire seasoned professionals – leading to more instability.

“A lot of folks I know in the fine dining world are struggling because many places closed during the pandemic and some are re-opening but instead of hiring back their old staff they are trying to hire new staff for less money or less front-of-house staff,” said Earl. “Which means more front-of-house will do more work for the same or less money.”

How well that’s working for the owners varies, but it seems clear from their complaints that staffing remains a concern.

Lessons learned…. maybe

But not everyone in the industry is willfully ignoring the new reality. Joseph Tiedmann, who works as an executive chef in New Orleans, told Eater’s Gaby del Valle this month that restaurants need to figure out how to change the business to pay people better and make the business a more desirable destination for workers.

“We need to make this an attractive business to work in,” said Tiedmann. “At the end of the day, it’s all about being able to do more for your employees.”

It still remains to be seen whether or not the owners of restaurants and other service industry businesses will end what’s effectively a capital strike and invest in their workforce.

But there is one simple trick to getting people to want to come and work for you, as Pittsburgh’s Klavon’s Ice Cream Parlor discovered: offer people more money. The outlet more than doubled its starting pay from $7.25 an hour to $15 an hour and saw immediate results.

“It was instant, overnight,” the parlor’s general manager Maya Johnson told the Pittsburgh Business Times. “We got thousands of applications that poured in.”

Restaurant owners have a choice to make. They can provide incentives for people to return to work in what’s still a dangerous, fraught time for staff to be in forward facing roles – or they can continue to try to shame workers into returning to their jobs. The former works, the latter doesn’t. Owners should take heed of that lesson and pay their staff more, not only because it’s the right thing to do but because it’s the path forward for the industry’s survival.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Big banks are propping up the coal industry as it keeps on pumping out toxic emissions in some parts of the world

People protest Standard Charter Bank's ties to global warming.
People protest Standard Charter Bank’s ties to global warming.

  • Standard Chartered just helped fund the giant Indonesian coal company Adaro with US$ 400 million.
  • Adaro’s business models are in line with 5-6ºC of global warming, far above the 1.5ºC Paris Agreement limit that Standard Chartered claims to support.
  • Standard Chartered’s climate policy allows them to continue funding destructive coal companies whose business plans are consistent with the Paris Agreement failing.
  • Binbin Mariana is an environmental campaigner from Indonesia.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

It’s been six years since the world’s governments adopted the Paris Agreement. But in many parts of the world, including my country of Indonesia, the coal industry rampages on, aided and abetted by banks from around the world.

Coal is the single most significant source of global temperature increases to date. Scientists say if we want to meet the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C target, coal needs to be phased out globally by 2040.

As important as political action is on climate change, banks must end their financing of coal too. Through their lending and investing activities, many banks are funding companies opening new coal mines and building new coal power plants, despite the UN saying that all new coal projects should be cancelled immediately to meet climate goals. If financial institutions phased out funding for coal-dependent companies, the transition from polluting power to clean would be vastly accelerated.

Dirty money

In the UK, public and investor outcry on coal is mounting. Barclays has been targeted for the second year in a row by shareholder resolutions calling on the bank to phase out financing for fossil fuels. HSBC was recently forced into committing to a global coal phase-out by 2040. Polling shows a majority of customers in both banks don’t want them to fund fossil fuels.

But one major UK bank has escaped scrutiny for its poor coal policies: Standard Chartered.

Best known for sponsoring Liverpool FC, Standard Chartered is a major bank in Asia. It’s climate policy allows them to continue pumping billions into destructive coal companies, including in Indonesia.

Standard Chartered is funding one of Indonesia’s giant coal companies, Adaro. Since 2006, the bank has funded over US $400 million to Adaro and its subsidiaries. Last month, Standard Chartered helped provide another US $400 million for Adaro’s coal mining, as part of a syndicate of banks. This new loan underlines how weak Standard Chartered’s coal policies are.

Despite the bank’s internal analysis showing that Adaro’s business plans are in line with 5-6°C of global warming, it has decided to support Adaro anyway. Adaro is a major supplier of coal to Europe, Asia and America. It controls at least 31,380 hectares of land, an area bigger than Birmingham, producing 54 million tonnes of coal in 2020 alone.

Adaro estimates its coal reserves at 1.1 billion tonnes. Burning all of these reserves – as Adaro intends to do – would release 2.2 billion tonnes of CO2-e, almost the equivalent of the annual emissions of India. The company has no plans to produce any less coal. And yet, Standard Chartered continues to fund Adaro, whose business plan is consistent with the Paris Agreement failing.

Like the fallout of climate change in general, Adaro causes much suffering in my country. The company has deprived villagers of their livelihoods for the sake of the coal that lies beneath their homes. When all the coal has been extracted from a mine, it leaves behind desolate open-mining pits, which coal companies are obliged by law to restore and rehabilitate to the previous ecosystem. To date, only 18% of Adaro’s post-mining pits have been rehabilitated.

Adaro coal mining operations tear down forests, degrading the land. Early this year, at least 24 people were killed, and more than 113,000 people were displaced due to a massive flood in South Kalimantan, on the island of Borneo. The immense suffering from the floods has been linked to degraded land in the water catchment area. Adaro is one of the mining companies that operate its coal mines near the river catchment area.

We have been paying the price for pollution from coal combustion with our health. In 2015, research estimated existing coal-fired power plants in Indonesia cause 7,100 premature deaths every year. Adaro is a part-owner of the controversial 2,000 MW Batang coal-fired power plant, which will add to the horrible degradation of air quality for our communities and could cause additional 30,000 premature deaths over an operating life of 40 years.

So Standard Chartered isn’t just funding a perennial coal mining company. It’s funding a company building new dirty coal power plants. And yes, we’re talking about a UK bank in the year 2021.

Standard Chartered’s slogan, “Here For Good”, means nothing if it means continuing to provide hundreds of millions to a company ripping the heart out of communities in my country and making global climate change worse.

Binbin Mariana is an energy finance campaigner living in Indonesia, campaigning with environmental group Market Forces. A former banker, she believes that financial institutions must stop contributing to the climate crisis.

Read the original article on Business Insider

You know what mothers really want for Mothers’ Day? A work and school schedule that lines up

working mom
A mother is working while her daughter plays next to her on an iPad.

  • We pamper moms on Mother’s Day, but massages and gifts can’t make up for how society is stacked against mothers.
  • Millions of parents are constantly stressing about filling childcare gaps or leaving work to pick up their kids.
  • For Mother’s Day, all I really want is for work and school to end at the same time.
  • Emily Dreyfuss is a writer and the senior editor at the Technology and Social Change Project at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

“Sorry, I can’t make that meeting because I have to pick up my kid.”

“Sorry about my kid talking during the call; school just got out.”

“Sorry honey, you have to stay in aftercare for a bazillion dollars so Mommy doesn’t get fired.”

Moms are always saying sorry, but we didn’t cause this mess. And by mess, I mean the status quo in the United States that we all accept as normal, but which is actually mind-bogglingly stupid: The school day and the work day don’t line up.

I think about this all the time, but especially this week, as every email filtered into my “Promotions” tab tried to sell me the perfect gift to celebrate my special day.

Hey mama, you deserve lingerie! A fashionable Covid mask! A four-course meal at a restaurant you’ve never been to in a town you lived in 15 years ago!

My husband asked me what he and our two boys should get me for Mother’s Day and my mind went completely blank. All I really want for Mother’s Day is for work and school to end at the same time so all parents – but, yes, mostly mothers – can stop constantly being put in the impossible situation of picking between work and kids.

Impossible childcare gaps

Last week, after another bullshit Mother’s Day email pinged, I tweeted about this problem, and it hit a nerve. Probably because there are millions of parents in America experiencing the utter chaos of this simple timing mismatch on a daily basis.

“Every day from 2:45-4 p.m., I’m working on my laptop in my car during softball practice,” one mom told me.

A teacher replied: “I’m a teacher and it’s impossible for me to 1. Make sure ALL my students are going home safely and as expected when dismissal starts at 3 p.m. WHILE 2. Getting my sons by 3:30. I can’t imagine how 9 to 5 parents survive if they are in an inflexible job.” She added, “and then I feel horrible for the teacher that must wait with my child because I’m late because I was waiting with someone’s child. It’s a snowball rolling downhill.”

That snowball affects not just parents, teachers, and kids, but a cobbled-together industry of after-school and part-time childcare programs – which depend on low-paying care jobs with no benefits or security – and the goodwill and free labor of relatives tasked with filling these gaps.

There are innumerable ways that our society is currently designed to deprioritize the needs of children and families, but to me, none is more glaring than this. For one day each year we tell moms they are worthy of foot massages, candy, and fancy face masks, while the rest of the year, our culture and policies leave parents to fend for themselves.

I’m not asking for the school day to go until 6 p.m., necessarily. Perhaps work and school could both end around 4 p.m., creating something closer to a 35-hour work week, which is still more hours than the 4-day work week that countries like Spain and New Zealand have adopted.

We need a systemic structure that spreads the responsibility for children’s wellbeing around so the burden doesn’t fall entirely on the parents. Let me spell out just a few of the ways the current system is absurd.

If the US government had a central HR department, this is what the conversation about having kids would sound like

So, you want to have kids, huh?

Well, if you live in a major metropolitan area, you’re going to need to set aside anywhere from $10,000$29,500 each year for daycare (and more like $33,000 for a nanny), even though childcare workers in your area are likely paid poverty-level wages and often have children of their own who they can’t afford to send to the childcare center where they work. If you can’t afford that, maybe you should think of taking care of your own kids?

Now, early childhood education is extremely important for development, but the government doesn’t provide any, so you’ll need around $1,350 each month for preschool when your child is between ages 3 and 5 – and more if you live in a place like California. It’s just 2-3 years, so at most it’s an extra $48,600. Unless you have two kids in daycare at once, haha!

Once your kid is in elementary school, class starts promptly anywhere from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., and in some cities – oh, like San Francisco, where you live! – some kids get placed in schools miles and miles away, and there are no school busses to get them there. But they cannot be late. Also, school ends around 2:35 p.m., so try to find a job that pays you enough to afford your city but also is over by 2 p.m., since you’ll need to factor in traffic.

DO NOT TAKE WORK CALLS IN THE CAR. Before you even consider multitasking, we must remind you that talking on a hand-held phone in most metropolitan areas is illegal, and so is texting, so just because your boss is Slacking, “WHERE ARE YOU? THE MTG IS NOW” doesn’t mean you can text back, “im in line 2 pick up kid, so sorry.”

No, your kid cannot walk themselves home. Are you crazy? Should we call Child Protective Services?

If you can’t get your own kid on time, then you can pay for after-school care, although not all schools offer it, slots can fill up, and it’s hundreds of dollars a month. But hey, you’re planning to be a working parent, so that should be fine, right?

Or you could enroll them in sports or extracurricular classes. Start saving for those when they are babies, and don’t forget you’ll need to pick them up and drop them off and pick them up again, so ideally, you should be able to work from a parking lot. Also, you better have a car.

Don’t forget schools are out for the whole summer, but work doesn’t stop, nor does the government provide any universal alternative for the summer months, so, you might want to get on some summer camp lists! But be warned, those fill up quickly, cost thousands of dollars, and also usually end at 3 p.m. But hey, maybe you can bring your kid to work with you all summer! That sounds fun!

Our parental policies are living in the past

The structure of our society is set up for an era that no longer exists, when dads worked and moms didn’t. Moms were meant to keep the kids home until kindergarten, provide their early childhood education, walk them to school once they were old enough, pick them up at the end of the day, and watch them for the whole summer. Not only is that largely not what people want anymore, it’s also just not possible.

We live in an economy that all but requires both parents to work – if there are two parents – and if there is only one parent, it absolutely requires that parent to work. We also live in a culture where paid work is valued above all – not just monetarily, but in terms of prestige and a sense of personal dignity – so that for many parents the prospect of “just” being a parent is unfathomable, even though that work is incredibly hard.

For Mothers’ Day, what I really want is recognition that one day of gifts and massages is not enough to make up for the ways we leave moms to deal with all of this alone. Like so many other systemic problems, we treat this as though it’s the duty of individuals to solve for their own lives. But that makes no sense, and it’s not working.

Obviously systemic change won’t be easy. Even for the problem of when school and work end, you can’t just snap your fingers and say, OK, line them up. But we should at least begin by admitting that it would be better and should be the goal. Along with policies like public preschool and a livable minimum wage requirement for caregivers, aligning the work and school days is an obvious fix for a huge problem that parents spend inordinate amounts of time stressing about and dealing with. This shouldn’t be normal, it’s cruel. And a day to pamper moms doesn’t make up for it.

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There’s a simple way Congress can make birth control easier to access and improve women’s health

stoppingbirthcontrol
Nearly one in 10 women ages 18-25 say they delayed or were not able to get their birth control due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Because of COVID-19, telehealth has become more commonplace and accessible.
  • Allowing women to get and refill birth control prescriptions via text or phone would increase accessibility.
  • Lawmakers must make their constituents’ continued access to basic birth control through telehealth a key focus.
  • Liz Meyerdirk is the CEO of The Pill Club, a direct-to-consumer birth control provider and wellness brand.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

There are very few upsides to the pandemic, but the accelerated deployment and adoption of telemedicine is certainly one. Our healthcare system was forced to adapt to lockdowns and social distancing, so the CDC issued emergency waivers for patients to use telehealth services from home, allowing doctors to be paid for virtual visits. Clearly, not all medical care can or should be provided virtually forever, but one category absolutely should: birth control. That’s why we’re calling on Congress to increase access to birth control via telehealth on a permanent basis.

Barriers to birth control access

The number of telehealth claims increased 3,060% nationally from October 2019 to October 2020. The telemedicine solutions worked so well that lawmakers are looking to make some emergency stopgaps permanent, and members of Congress have introduced a slew of bills pertaining to telehealth just this year.

The status quo for millions of American women today requires them to see a doctor in person every year to receive a new prescription for a birth control medication they have been on for years if not decades. Women must make these appointments not because they want to, but because in many places they have to, and in other places, because they don’t realize there is another option. Women who are already navigating multiple jobs or caregiving responsibilities also then have to drive, park, take the bus or subway, and wait in line every month at a pharmacy to get a limited supply of their medication, just 30 days at a time.

The persistent physical and economic barriers that keep women from receiving basic healthcare have only increased over the tumultuous past year. We know now that it is women – particularly black women – who are more likely to have lost their job due to the pandemic, and with it their work-related health insurance and access to affordable healthcare. A survey published last month revealed that nearly one in 10 women ages 18-25 and 7% of women ages 26-35 say they delayed or were not able to get their birth control due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

I recently became the CEO of The Pill Club, a company founded in 2016 to address this challenge and make women’s lives easier by delivering on-demand healthcare for their everyday needs. We currently provide 24/7 telehealth services from medical professionals for hundreds of thousands of women in 46 states. Our premise is that women’s health isn’t niche: it’s half the population.

An anecdote that perfectly encapsulates the absurdity of the constraints we place on women to receive this foundational care came my way recently from a current Pill Club member. She was turned away from her annual OB-GYN visit last year because she brought her toddler with her. Having her 2-year-old present violated office COVID-19 restrictions and she had to skip the appointment and forgo receiving a new prescription for a medication she’d been on for years. No one should have to get childcare or time off to gain access to this kind of healthcare.

Telehealth as a solution

“Telehealth” is sometimes used as a shorthand to mean video visits with physicians, but it also can refer to text and phone consultations. Text and phone have proven themselves to be a lifeline to increase access for seniors on Medicare during the pandemic, and we know that it can help younger women, too. Millions of Americans still don’t have high-speed internet, hi-res video, or unlimited data plans, particularly in rural areas and urban centers. Our company oversees nearly 250,000 patient visits a year, the vast majority of which don’t require video consultation. An example of a commonsense public policy change would be to permanently expand access to contraception care via text and phone consultations.

Making it easy for women to receive birth control consultations virtually and their medication by mail should not be viewed as a luxury, but rather a utilitarian tool that can save women precious time while they find a way to make ends meet, care for their children, and put their family lives back together post-pandemic.

This flexibility is even more important for the roughly 17 million women who receive Medicaid services and are currently within their reproductive years. After all, in 2018 Medicaid paid for 42% of all births in the United States, so it seems self-evident that helping women prevent unwanted pregnancies, which often result in costly care, should be top-of-mind for lawmakers.

As we move into a post-pandemic world, one in which women have borne the disproportionate cost of economic and job dislocation, we urge lawmakers to make their constituents’ access to basic birth control a key focus and permanently less of a hassle.

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Who’s to blame for the drop off in new vaccinations? Start with public health officials like the CDC.

COVID vaccine
Amanda Richardson, employee at Life Care of Action, a skilled nursing and rehab center, gets her Pfizer coronavirus vaccine in Acton, Massachusetts on December 28, 2020.

  • The COVID-19 vaccines are among the most effective ever invented.
  • But when people hear that getting vaccinated may not usher in a return to normalcy or could harm their health, they grow reluctant to get the shots, slowing our march to herd immunity.
  • An ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 73% of unvaccinated Americans wouldn’t take the Johnson & Johnson shot.
  • Sally C. Pipes is president, CEO, and the Thomas W. Smith fellow in healthcare policy at the Pacific Research Institute.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Don’t throw those masks away just yet. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) relaxed mask-wearing guidance for those who have been fully vaccinated. But only outside. And only in settings that aren’t crowded.

However, the CDC could’ve issued much of this new guidance months ago. Epidemiologists have known since last summer that it’s nearly impossible to contract the virus outdoors, even for an unvaccinated person.

Waiting to ease mask restrictions is part and parcel of a doomsday mentality that’s permeated the government response to the pandemic. It’s also fueling vaccine hesitancy. When people hear from public health officials that getting vaccinated may not usher in a return to normalcy, may not prevent COVID-19, and could harm their health in other ways, they grow reluctant to get their shots.

That slows our march to herd immunity — and ensures the pandemic will be with us longer than necessary.

Unclear guidance

The COVID-19 vaccines are among the most effective ever invented. Real-world data have borne out what the clinical trials showed. Every vaccine approved for emergency use in the United States stops hospitalization or death from COVID-19 nearly 100% of the time.

Still, the number of people who say they won’t take the vaccine remains high. According to the latest CBS News/YouGov poll, 18% of Americans say they might get the vaccine, and 22% say they will not. While the share of “Maybes” has decreased four percentage points since March, the share of “Nos” has stayed constant.

Guidance from public health officials may contribute to this stickiness in public opinion. They’ve been encouraging people to get vaccinated – but cautioning that it shouldn’t change their behavior afterward.

Most people concluded months ago that going for a mask-less run or hanging out with a few friends in the backyard posed little to no risk. And after high-profile mass gatherings like the Black Lives Matter protests last summer turned out not to be super-spreader events, it seemed clear that masking up outdoors was probably overkill. Yet the CDC is only now relaxing its mask advice?

Then there’s the guidance for indoor masking. The CDC says even vaccinated people should still cover their faces. But there’s scant evidence to suggest that fully vaccinated individuals spread the virus inside.

A February study out of Israel found that vaccinated people had viral loads in the nose and throat 60% smaller than those who weren’t vaccinated. Since the virus mainly transmits through the nose and throat, the findings suggest that vaccines reduce transmission.

The CDC ran a similar study of 4,000 vaccinated healthcare workers and found that the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines prevented infection, including asymptomatic infection, 90% of the time.

Encouraging masks for reasons of social solidarity may be wise, but that’s not the CDC’s reason for asking vaccinated people to wear masks. The agency doesn’t really offer one.

The Food and Drug Administration has been similarly opaque with the public. The nation’s top drug regulator famously suspended administration of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine for 10 days while it investigated reports of rare blood clots. Of the 7.5 million people who have received the shot, seven women have reported the blood clot symptoms. That means 99.9999% of recipients of the vaccine didn’t see any severe side effects.

That pause ended with a warning label being placed on the vaccine. But the damage has been done. The number of first doses of vaccine administered daily plummeted 40% after the pause. An ABC News/Washington Post poll out this week found that 73% of unvaccinated Americans wouldn’t take the Johnson & Johnson shot. Just 46% of all Americans believe it is very or somewhat safe.

Government guidance that restricts safe behavior and sows doubt about vaccine safety – even unintentionally – will undermine the campaign to vaccinate the population. Public health officials are fond of saying they’re just following the science. They should level with the public and actually do so.

Sally C. Pipes is president, CEO, and the Thomas W. Smith fellow in healthcare policy at the Pacific Research Institute. Her latest book is False Premise, False Promise: The Disastrous Reality of Medicare for All (Encounter 2020). Follow her on Twitter @sallypipes.

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Colombian protesters as young as 13 years old are being killed in the streets as they fight for a better future. The rest of the world should have their backs.

Protesters stand in the street holding signs with balloons behind them.
Colombian protests in Bogotá.

  • In the last week, protests in Colombia have been met with widespread police brutality and repression.
  • Many of the protestors who have been killed and injured are young people speaking out for a more just and peaceful Colombia.
  • The global community should condemn the violence and pressure Colombia’s government to better protect human rights.
  • Jordan Salama is a writer, journalist, and author of the upcoming book Every Day the River Changes.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

As their country tries to move towards peace, Colombia’s young people are doing everything they can to meet the moment.

It’s something that I noticed the very first time I reported from the country back in 2016, and found a nation that didn’t at all fit the stereotypical reputation that many foreigners have come to accept: a much-maligned country filled with narco-traffickers and guerrilla soldiers.

On that first trip I instead met a young man who was transforming his rural hometown into a regional center for ecological conservation. When I returned two years later for an ongoing project meant in part to explore how the people of Colombia’s heartland are recovering from more than half a century of conflict, I met dozens of other young leaders working tirelessly to pull their communities out of violence and towards a more stable and resilient peace.

Police have killed dozens of young protesters

Today, in the midst of a still-raging pandemic, brave young Colombians are being killed and assaulted in the streets at an unimaginable scale. Protests over a proposed bill to raise taxes – which was quickly revoked – have now shifted towards more general outrage over rising pandemic-induced poverty, hunger, and joblessness among the lower and middle classes of Colombia, and longstanding frustration with the current government over the implementation of the 2016 peace deal that officially ended more than half a century of armed conflict in the country. Protesters have been met with state repression and police brutality and dozens have been killed by government forces. Hundreds more have been injured, and riot control officers are facing multiple allegations of sexual abuse.

A line of police officers in riot gear block the street
Colombian protests in Bogotá.

“People are not taking to the streets in the middle of a pandemic because they want to,” said Francia Márquez Mina, 39, one of Colombia’s most prominent human-rights defenders and a current presidential candidate, told me by phone from the city of Cali, where she’s been marching alongside protestors. “There is no other way out.”

It’s a rapidly unfolding human rights crisis. Videos of the killings, some even broadcast live on social media, show instances of police (or ESMAD – the national anti-riot force) officers shooting into crowds. People in their teens and 20s have made up a huge portion of the demonstrators, and according to INDEPAZ, a national Colombian peacebuilding organization, the majority of injuries and deaths.

Marcelo Agredo, a high schooler, was killed by police in Cali after kicking a police officer. Santiago Murillo, 19, was killed while heading home from a protest in the city of Ibagué. Nicolás Guerrero of Cali, an artist and activist in his early 20s, was shot in the face by police in the midst of a peaceful protest being streamed live on Instagram. The youngest person known to have been killed was just 13 years old.

“As an activist, as a student, as a citizen, I’ve risked my life by taking to the streets and fighting for our rights,” said one 18-year-old woman from Cali, who asked that her name not be revealed because she has received death threats for speaking out. “It’s unimaginable that in the middle of peaceful, artistic, and cultural protests, the [riot police] officers would arrive every day to spray tear gas, confront the protestors, and violate our human rights. In Cali they are killing people simply for protesting against a corrupt government, a government that doesn’t think about the needs – food, jobs – of the people of Cali and the people of Colombia.”

A woman and man dressed in black and red playing drums in a street protest.
Colombian protests in Bogotá.

“Today people are rising up, and more than anyone else it’s young people,” added Márquez. “I think about all these young people who are in the streets and I think about my own children. And I think about all the mothers, these women who are losing their children every day, who are getting the news that their children have been hurt, assassinated, jailed by the state…it’s sad, but we know we have to forge on, to keep resisting, to keep fighting.”

Response to government failures

Colombia’s former president, the far-right politician Álvaro Uribe, took to Twitter over the weekend to defend “the right of soldiers and police officers to use their weapons to defend themselves” against what he called “terrorism.” The tweet was soon removed, and Twitter cited “glorification of violence,” but many also saw the tweet as a green light for Uribe’s mentee, the current President Iván Duque, to escalate the state’s repressive response.

It’s an apex point of violence against a generation that has already faced multiple threats in the years since the 2016 peace agreement. The conservative Duque administration has been resoundingly and rightly criticized for being slow to implement the accords, especially in rural areas. Colombia is now one of the most treacherous countries in the world for social leaders and activists, whose community initiatives often run counter to the interests of armed groups fighting for control of the resource-rich countryside – not long ago a 10-year-old received death threats for his environmental and educational activism. And in the past year especially, repeated massacres and shootings have led to youth deaths across the country. The Duque government has been accused of not doing enough to solve or stop these crimes.

“We young people are the ones sticking our necks out for our country, in every sense, and we’re just met with constant repression,” Sofía, a 17-year-old activist in Bogotá, told me. “To be a young person in Colombia is not only an act of survival, but an act of rebellion. We want to put an end to the systematic violence that has been upheld by so many.”

Protesters raise their hands with fists. Someone is holding a Colombian flag.
Colombian protests in Bogotá.

Hope for a better future

Young people I speak with all over Latin America have echoed Sofía’s sentiment: That in a digital, globalized world, grassroots activism is a tool that feels more appealing and more powerful than ever before. I’ve written this past year about how the pandemic has galvanized our generation of young-adult Americans to fight harder for positive social change. But in few places has it felt as urgent as in Colombia, where for many communities nearly every significant step forward has been met with a relapse into violence. The pandemic has, of course, made everything worse, with nearly 43% of the country’s population now in poverty.

And yet there is so much that Colombians love about their own country and want to see prosper – including its hugely diverse communities, rich history, and vast natural beauty. At the very least, this new generation should have a safe and fair way to speak its mind about the country and world they want to live in. That’s why, at yet another important inflection point for democracy in the Americas, the international community must not only condemn the current violence against protestors, but continue to pressure the Colombian government in the long term to protect defenders of human rights and the environment across the country.

A shirtless man with red fabric draped around him dances in the street with a crowd of people watching
Colombian protests in Bogotá.

For young people, change can’t come soon enough. “Our generation is not going to be silenced by fear,” said Sofía. “We are going to push until things change for the better.” To do our part from afar, we must stand with the pueblo of Colombia and ensure that our own leaders do the same.

Jordan Salama is a writer whose essays and stories appear often in National Geographic, The New York Times, and other outlets. His first book, Every Day the River Changes, a journey down Colombia’s Río Magdalena, will be published by Catapult in November 2021.

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I’m a former hacker and I believe the current round of digital vaccine passports pose real security risks. But a safe, effective vaccine passport is possible.

international travel guide
Vaccine passports

  • Vaccine passports are not yet safe and secure enough to be widely distributed.
  • Many of the options available today present security risks for sensitive personal information.
  • To successfully implement vaccine passports, data-tracking guidelines, government policies, and online behavior must change.
  • Mary Writz has 19 years’ experience in the field of cyber security and is the vice president of product at ForgeRock.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

I am a former ethical hacker, and because of my more than 20 years of experience in security, my friends and family often come to me with cyber security questions. On their minds lately is the question of whether digital COVID vaccine passports are safe.

The short answer is not yet. While I believe it is possible to build a safe and secure digital vaccine passport, there are serious hurdles that make it difficult to deliver an app that can stand up to the security and privacy rigors that would meet my, or my peers’, standards.

Anyone considering downloading one of the existing applications should proceed with caution – some of the options today present too great a risk to people’s identity. Many of these hastily-created applications can expose sensitive personal and health information, which can be sold and used in malicious ways. Tech companies need to keep working to create a safe digital vaccine passport.

A digital passport even a hacker could trust

Before we can debate the possibilities a vaccine passport can unlock, we need to address safety and it’s clear a new approach to vaccine verification is needed. Currently, the technology community does not have the right solution in front of them – it is more of a buffet of options, some riskier than others.

Ideally, companies should aim to create a single, universally-accepted physical or digital passport recognized by all governments and businesses while preserving our privacy and securing our health information. Think of it as the ultimate passport to life that speeds our return to normal when the next global health crisis emerges.

A universal passport could also include verification data for other documents we carry separately today, like driver’s licenses, passports, social security cards, membership cards, and credit card information. But we cannot place big bets on improving access to the digitally-connected world without also investing in security solutions first.

Technical challenges and public buy-in

Technically speaking, the challenge will be to get a bunch of technologists to agree on a standard approach to vaccine tracking. A universal standard will require alignment on what constitutes evidence of vaccination or how data should be collected and stored from the start – without leaking users’ personal information.

Without a widely-adopted set of standards, people will be downloading myriad, potentially dangerous mobile apps to do things we all desperately miss doing now like going to a movie or a concert.

The problem with a fragmented approach is most people do not know how to spot a good app from a less trustworthy option. We can count on Google and Apple to filter out a lot of the garbage for us, but without checks and balances, it’s virtually impossible to ensure the digital safety of these apps. As non-technical consumers, it would be even harder to avoid being tricked into downloading a copycat version or an app that was not developed securely.

Additionally, even if the technology is sound and secure, some folks may not feel comfortable with vaccine verification apps initially. The reason my friends and family come to me for my opinion on the security of technologies is because they feel unqualified to ascertain if these applications are safe. For widespread adoption to take hold, we need time to educate citizens and get their buy-in.

In the meantime, if someone needs to use a vaccine passport now, they should only use a link from an actual source like a government agency, employer, or mobile carrier. Scanning a random QR code or clicking a link from an unknown source can be dangerous.

Government policy around vaccine passports can help

A potential solution for the cultural friction that could surface would be to enforce a government policy around vaccine passports, but there are challenges here too. Governments across the world differ in their ability to enforce such policies, and currently the US government indicates a preference to leave it to the private sector. Even if that position changes – or a public-private partnership forms in our country, like European EID schemes – it would take time to determine specifics surrounding vaccine passport enforcement and the infrastructure needed to stand it up.

Historically, legislation has not kept up with the rapidly-shifting technology landscape. In the case of approving COVID-19 vaccines, we have seen the government move quickly and partner with the private sector to help bring a life-saving solution to market fast. That same rule-breaking approach in developing new protocols that sidesteps traditional processes could go a long way in helping to deliver a universal vaccination passport. For example, the US could fund and steer a task force aimed at delivering a solution that encompasses thinking across policy, security, and user experience.

And it can be done. The tech community has solved hard problems before, like securing the internet with SSL, and they can do it again. But it does not happen overnight – it takes time, resources, and a mindset shift to find the right solution. If tech and government agencies work together, we can be ready to help society get back to the things we love faster, with more confidence in its safety and security.

Mary Writz is the Vice President of Product at ForgeRock. Mary has 19 years’ experience in the field of cyber security. Prior to ForgeRock, Mary held product and leadership positions at Hewlett Packard and IBM in domains such as threat detection, machine learning, penetration testing, security intelligence, distributed denial of service, and targeted attack protection. Mary holds two patents and a Master of Engineering degree in telecommunications.

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