Category Archives: Population

China sparks human rights outcry by ramping up DNA testing in Muslim-dominated region

Thanks;Matthew Brown 

Published ; Wednesday 17 May 2017 07:34 
Police in Xinjiang purchase $8.7m of equipment to analyse genetic material from citizens, prompting fears of state security crackdown

Ethnic Uighurs sit near a statue of China’s late Chairman Mao Zedong in Kashgar, Xinjiang Thomas Peter/Reuters 

China appears to be laying the groundwork for the mass collection of DNA samples from residents of a restive, largely Muslim region that’s been under a security crackdown, rights observers and independent experts said Tuesday.

Police in western China’s Xinjiang region confirmed to The Associated Press that they are in the process of purchasing at least $8.7 million in equipment to analyse DNA samples.
Observers from Human Rights Watch said they’ve seen evidence of almost $3 million in additional purchases related to DNA testing. They warned such a collection programme could be used as a way for authorities to beef up their political control.
The move comes after Chinese authorities last year reportedly required Xinjiang residents to submit DNA samples, fingerprints and voice records to obtain passports or travel abroad.

Xinjiang borders several unstable Central Asian countries, including Afghanistan. It’s experienced numerous bombings and vehicle and knife attacks blamed on ethnic separatists from the native Uighur Islamic minority.

In one of the most recent attacks, eight people, including three assailants, were killed in a February knife attack in southern Xinjiang’s Pishan County, which borders Pakistan.

Chinese authorities seeking to counter religious extremism among the Uighurs have taken increasingly aggressive steps to quell the unrest. Those have included mandatory satellite tracking systems for vehicles in some areas, rewards for terror-related tips and prohibitions against women wearing veils and men growing beards.

The purchases of DNA testing equipment in Xinjiang were confirmed by an official at the regional Public Security Bureau. The official, who gave only her surname, Huang, said a supplier already had been found. In Xinjiang’s Sheche County, suppliers were being sought for voiceprint collection systems and 3-D portrait systems, according to a security official surnamed Yin, who declined to give further details.
If used at full capacity, the new equipment could be used to profile up to 10,000 DNA samples a day and several million a year, said Yves Moreau, a computational biologist specialising in genome analysis and DNA privacy at the University of Leuven in Belgium.
The scale of the purchases raises “a legitimate concern that Chinese authorities could be planning to DNA profile a large fraction, or even all” of the Uighur people in Xinjiang, Moreau said.

5 Things to Know About the Global Coffee Pods Market

Thanks ; 
Published ; May 8th, 2017

Euromointor International discusses five key trends that are shaping global coffee pods, including the growing power of Nestlé and JAB Holdings and the importance of addressing sustainability concerns.

5 Things to Know About the Global Coffee Pods Market

 

 

 

*a coffee pod is a single serving of coffee packed in its own filter (much like a tea bag).

Three Reasons Why Japan Is Falling Behind in Mobile Commerce

Thanks; 
Published; April 22nd, 2017

Many see Japan as a technology leader in various industries and the country is continuing to develop innovative solutions in the digital space. However, if we look at adoption of technology on the consumer side, there is greater inconsistency than might be expected.

Euromonitor International’s 2016 Digital Consumer Index unveiled a remarkable gap between Japan’s advanced digital environment and the slow uptake of digital commerce, particularly with mobile-based purchases that are increasing rapidly in other Asian countries. Whilst mobile digital purchases registered strong 17% value growth in Japan in 2016, other Asian countries registered even stronger growth, at a minimum of 30%. The leader of mobile digital purchases, China, saw an 81% value increase in 2016. This analysis aims to explore major impediments that are keeping Japan from what should perhaps be phenomenal growth in mobile digital purchases.

mobile-purchases-asia-pacific

CHART 1 : MOBILE DIGITAL PURCHASES IN ASIA PACIFIC, TOTAL VALUE SALES, 2013-2021

1. DEMOGRAPHIC CHALLENGE: LOW PENETRATION OF SMARTPHONES AMONG SENIORS

Smartphones are the catalyst for digital disruption in countries. The leading digital commerce marketplaces have developed platforms optimised for mobile apps. However, in Japan, smartphones are not as ubiquitous as one would expect. In Japan, the population aged over 60 accounts for 34% of the total population, and is characterised by low smartphone penetration. Only 28% of respondents aged over 60+ owned personal smartphones, according to Euromonitor International’s 2016 Global Consumer Trends Survey. This is extremely low compared to other Asian countries. Against the backdrop of low smartphone penetration among seniors, there also is a strong presence of feature phones that offer fewer functions in exchange for ease of use. As a result, a sizeable portion of the Japanese population is unable to take advantage of digital innovation.

CHART 2 : POPULATION AND SMARTPHONE OWNERSHIP IN JAPAN, 2016

population-smartphone-owners-japan

2. LIFESTYLE CHALLENGE: HIGH SECURITY CONCERN AMONGST JAPANESE CONSUMERS

In addition to the relatively conservative nature of Japanese consumers, there also has been a lot of media coverage on cybersecurity from the early digital era, which has made consumers concerned. For example, Consumers Affairs Agencies regularly warns against cyber-crimes due to the growing prevalence of e-commerce. As a result, Japanese consumers are highly concerned about the potential risk in online activities. In fact, only 6% of Japanese online respondents answered that they were willing to share personal information online, which was the lowest in 20 responding countries, according to Euromonitor International’s 2016 Global Consumer Trends Survey.

This hesitation toward sharing information online is especially true with mobile users. Many Japanese consumers utilise long commuting time on trains for mobile activities, but still feel uncomfortable entering their credit card information aboard a busy commuting train, afraid that other riders may see their personal information on the screen. Additionally, many are reluctant to let mobile devices store payment information, and would rather use alternative payment options, such as cash on delivery. In general, Japanese consumers are typically risk-adverse, and remain cautious about making payments on websites. Despite the rise of card payments worldwide, Japanese consumers bucked the trend, opting to more often pay for purchases with cash compared to other developed countries. Within Asia, while 85% of mobile remote orders were paid online in South Korea, only 51% were paid in Japan.

CHART 3 : WILLINGNESS TO SHARE PERSONAL INFORMATION IN ASIA PACIFIC, 2016

willingness-to-share-personal-information-japan

3. COMPETITION: MATURITY OF EXISTING SHOPPING OPTIONS VERSUS MOBILE COMMERCE

Another reason why mobile digital purchases have struggled to gain wider acceptance in Japan is due to the many other shopping options that Japanese consumers already have. One example of competition for mobile proximity payments is maturity of contactless payments using a physical card. This is because in Japan, consumers prefer to use a physical card to touch an NFC-enabled terminal rather than a device. Therefore, many mobile proximity payment brands such as Suica and Edy also offer consumers physical cards along with the digital payment option. Contactless smart cards, registered a 26% value CAGR during 2011-2016, and in 2016 Japanese consumers held an average of three contactless smart cards per person; far higher than in other Asian countries. Without a compelling reason to switch from contactless smart cards to mobile proximity payments, most consumers are satisfied with using card-based tap-and-go payments in an in-person environment.

SUMMARY

The gap between the advancement of mobile-centric products and actual adoption of mobile commerce amongst consumers is something businesses in Japan need to address. Communication with the customer or data collection made via mobile devices can be valuable, but is currently ineffective due to this gap. Over the forecast period, mobile digital purchases in Japan will continue to face these demographic, lifestyle and competitive obstacles.

However, there are positive developments that can help drive mobile commerce. For example, 2019 will be the first year with production of feature phones planned to be discontinued. Following the increase of low-cost smartphone plans, a switch from feature phones to smartphones can be expected. Moreover, solutions are being introduced in response to the high security concerns among Japanese consumers. For example, the mobile-focused fashion marketplace called ZOZOTOWN, implemented a post-pay product in 2016. GMO post-pay allows ZOZOTOWN customers to make post-pay options by cash, at convenience stores, after safely receiving their products. This is important as in Japan, credit card payments are mostly paid in full each month. Therefore the introduction of post-pay service will lower the hurdle and expand mobile remote purchases for those consumers who can only spend a limited amount of money each month, such as students and housewives. The post-pay options will support expansion of remote purchases while also meeting the demand of the cash-driven society.

Recognising the gap between digital connectivity available and digital commerce uptake, digital innovators and promoters like Suica should make concerted efforts to address concerns among Japanese consumers while promoting mobile digital purchases like Mobile Suica. Although mobile digital purchases in Japan is expected to see a strong 11% value CAGR at constant 2016 prices over the next five years, growth could be even stronger with consumers’ greater acceptance. In fact, other Asian countries are expected to see more than 20% value CAGRs. If Japan wants to remain a digital leader, its wider society needs to be incentivised to adopt mobile technologies. At the moment, it isn’t empowered – or interested enough.

 

Brexit is killing the pound but it’s having a really productive side-effect on Britain’s economy

Thanks;Lianna 


Brexit is having a seriously positive impact on employment.

LONDON – The pound has cratered against the US dollar ever since Britain voted to leave the European Union on June 23 last year.

But while that has a negative effect on Brits’ purchasing power, it is actually having a seriously positive impact on another sector in Britain’s economy – employment.

That is according to Sam Bowman, the executive director of one of the world’s prominent think tanks, the Adam Smith Institute, who spoke at a local Conservative party conference in East Croydon, which Business Insider attended on Saturday.
He was talking about how Brexit is expected to affect the UK economy over the short and long term and looked at both positive and negative impacts from Britain planning to leave the European Union.
“Probably many people in this room are like me – frustrated by the tone of the Brexit debate, even eight or nine months after the referendum,” said Bowman.

“It feels like the referendum debate has never ended. On one side we have around 10% some extremely die-hard leavers, who refuse to accept there could be any difficulty on leaving the European Union. And then there is 10% extremely die-hard remainers who refuse to admit there would be any benefits from leaving the European Union.
“In the middle, I think, is the rest of us – 80% who accept the result and want to make Brexit work but also want to acknowledge that it is not necessarily going to be an easy ride.”
He also talked about how Brexit has already had an impact on the UK economy. But it is not all bad. Bowman said he is a “short term pessimist but a long term optimist about Brexit.”
Here is an excerpt from his speech:

“I think employment is likely to be quite strong. It is unlikely that [Brexit] will cause any large scale unemployment. even in a very, very pessimistic outcome – the reason for that being the pound has absorbed most of the costs, meaning that we effectively have real term wage cuts and our purchasing power falls but people become more employable as a result. So there are good and bad [aspects] to the fall in the pound.”
The pound against the US dollar tanked in the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum vote. While it has recently gained a little bit of ground to reach $1.28, it is still a far cry from the $1.50 last seen in June last year:

Markets Insider

UK flag glasses

Brexit is having a seriously positive impact on employment.Reuters

LONDON – The pound has cratered against the US dollar ever since Britain voted to leave the European Union on June 23 last year.

But while that has a negative effect on Brits’ purchasing power, it is actually having a seriously positive impact on another sector in Britain’s economy – employment.
That is according to Sam Bowman, the executive director of one of the world’s prominent think tanks, the Adam Smith Institute, who spoke at a local Conservative party conference in East Croydon, which Business Insider attended on Saturday.
He was talking about how Brexit is expected to affect the UK economy over the short and long term and looked at both positive and negative impacts from Britain planning to leave the European Union.
“Probably many people in this room are like me – frustrated by the tone of the Brexit debate, even eight or nine months after the referendum,” said Bowman.
“It feels like the referendum debate has never ended. On one side we have around 10% some extremely die-hard leavers, who refuse to accept there could be any difficulty on leaving the European Union. And then there is 10% extremely die-hard remainers who refuse to admit there would be any benefits from leaving the European Union.
“In the middle, I think, is the rest of us – 80% who accept the result and want to make Brexit work but also want to acknowledge that it is not necessarily going to be an easy ride.”

He also talked about how Brexit has already had an impact on the UK economy. But it is not all bad. Bowman said he is a “short term pessimist but a long term optimist about Brexit.”

Here is an excerpt from his speech:

“I think employment is likely to be quite strong. It is unlikely that [Brexit] will cause any large scale unemployment. even in a very, very pessimistic outcome – the reason for that being the pound has absorbed most of the costs, meaning that we effectively have real term wage cuts and our purchasing power falls but people become more employable as a result. So there are good and bad [aspects] to the fall in the pound.”

The pound against the US dollar tanked in the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum vote. While it has recently gained a little bit of ground to reach $1.28, it is still a far cry from the $1.50 last seen in June last year:

sterlingUSD1

Markets Insider

Since the Brexit vote, various economists and financial institutions predicted that the UK’s unemployment rate will shoot up as a result of the vote to leave. Credit Suisse, for example, predicts an increase to 6.5% for the base rate, equivalent to roughly 500,000 jobs being lost. However, the last few months have seen the rate remain near its record low and Wednesday’s figures show the trend appears to be holding up.

Unemployment in the UK fell once again in March, according to the latest data released by the Office for National Statistics on Wednesday.

Headline unemployment fell was 4.7% in the month while employment remained unchanged at 74.6% in the month, equalling a record high set in both January and February, but not seen before that since records began in 1971.

However, wage growth is still poor.

CHILD REFUGEES ‘FORCED TO SELL THEIR BODIES’ TO ENTER EUROPE, RESEARCHERS WARN

THANKS:BY  

Published; 4/19/17 AT 7:29 AM

Smugglers are forcing unaccompanied child refugees to sell their bodies in exchange for money to aid their traveling through Europe, a new report from Harvard University has claimed.

There is a “growing epidemic of sexual exploitation and abuse of migrant children in Greece,” say the report’s co-authors, Dr Vasileia Digidiki and Professor Jacqueline Bhabha, at Harvard University’s center for health and human rights.

Informants in Greek migrant camps told Digidiki and Bhabha that men prey on unsuspecting child refugees, sexually abusing those without proper adult supervision. The actual number of children who have been abused is unknown as many do not report it, fearing reprisal.

A psychologist in one of the camps told the researchers: “[Many children] do not want to report [the incident], because they are afraid that the offender will take revenge on them. They also do not believe that the police can help them.”

Unable to afford exorbitant fees charged by smugglers to help them reach European nations where they can seek asylum, children who have fled conflict in Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan are selling sex to fund their journeys.

child-refugees-lesbos (2)

Child refugees at the Moria migrant camp on the island of Lesbos, Greece, September 20, 2016.REUTERS/GIORGOS MOUTAFIS

The report includes an interview with a child refugee who told a journalist: “I never thought I’d have to do something like this. When the money ran out I had to learn to do this. He said “it was the first time I did this, I had no experience.”

The average price of a sexual transaction between a child and a smuggler is 15 euros, the researchers say, adding that the majority of those forced into prostitution are Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan boys.

Offenders, primarily men aged 35 or older, target the children who are found in Athens’ Victoria Square and Pedion tou Areos, a park next to departure areas for buses traveling towards Greece’s northern border.

“There is a reason why these two places have been chosen. They have been key centers for the drug and sex trade for years now. The only difference is the age of people involved. Before you wouldn’t see children. Now you do,” one informant said.

Digidiki told The Guardian that the international community cannot ignore the situation of child refugees in Europe: “We can no longer sit idle while migrant children are abused and forced to sell their bodies in broad daylight and plain sight in the heart of Athens simply to survive.”

“It is our responsibility as human beings to face this emergency head on and take immediate action at every level to put an end to this most heinous violation of dignity and human rights,” she said.

 

 

It’s time to shine a light on Putin’s American propaganda ARM

Thanks;ELENA POSTNIKOVA Publised; 1/16/17 AT 6:10 AM


Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of Russian broadcaster RT, with the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in the background in Moscow on October 17. Elena Postnikova writes that RT should be registered as an agent of the Russian government because, as FARA states, it acts under the “direction or control” of its foreign principal, and it engages in “political activities” in the interests of its foreign principal./MAXIM SHEMETOV/REUTERS

Why isn’t Russia’s American TV channel RT registered as a foreign agent?

Kurt Eichenwald On MSNBC’s ‘AM Joy’ To Discuss Russia, Trump, And Vladimir Putin

This article first appeared on the Atlantic Council site.

Russia used RT, its TV channel, to influence the recent U.S. elections.

This was the finding of the recently declassified U.S. intelligence report. It concluded that Russia implemented a multifaceted campaign involving disclosures of data obtained through hacking, intrusions into state and local electoral boards and propaganda.
While the American elite is debating an appropriate response, they are ignoring an existing tool—the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938 (FARA). As an immediate step to counter the Kremlin’s influence campaign, the U.S. government should enforce FARA against RT to alert the American people to Russia’s efforts and limit the country’s ability to disguise its “information warfare” as legitimate media activity.
This is not the first time a foreign country has directed “information warfare” against the United States. Similar tactics were also used by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

To address Nazi propaganda activities in the 1930s, Congress adopted FARA, which required persons advancing foreign interests to register as “agents of foreign principals,” who were required to disclose their activities and the nature of their employment. The act aimed to ensure the American people would not be misled into thinking they were receiving information from disinterested sources. During the Cold War, representatives of Soviet news outlets (TASS, Pravda, Izvestia and others) were registered agents. There is a lesson here.
Related: How Russia Wages Information Warfare in the U.S. 

 As a disclosure statute, FARA does not prohibit, edit or restrain an agent’s ability to distribute information. Rather, it compels disclosure of the origin and purpose of the information to help its audience develop an accurate understanding of the source. In doing so, it does not suppress freedom of speech; instead, it serves the First Amendment with supplemental information available to the public.

RT should be registered as an agent of the Russian government because, as FARA states, it acts under the “direction or control” of its foreign principal, and engages in “political activities” in the interest of its foreign principal.
RT engages in “political activities” since its reporting intends to influence the U.S. government and public in order to affect U.S. domestic and foreign policy. RT’s coverage of the recent elections and its impact on public discussion is just one such example.
RT denies that it is subject to the Kremlin’s “direction or control” because of its formation as an “ autonomous nonprofit organization,” TV-Novosti. But this assertion is misleading. Even if a media nonprofit could be considered independent in Russia, in the United States such legal formality has little weight if it doesn’t reflect the reality.
In truth, we know of “not very many” occurrences in Russia that take place without President Vladimir Putin’s knowledge—“certainly none that are politically sensitive in other countries,” according to U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, when testifying before the Senate on foreign cyber threats.
Ofcom, the U.K. communications regulator, investigated complaints against RT and found nine episodes in the last two years when its reporting was in breach of broadcasting standards on impartiality. Each incident of bias coincided with the Kremlin’s policy goals in Ukraine, Turkey and Syria. No other media outlet was close to having as many violations in such a short period of time.
RT claims it does not qualify as a foreign agent under FARA because it operates in the U.S. through a commercial entity to whom RT “simply transfers funds.” What we know of as RT in the United States are two Washington, D.C.–registered entities—RTTV America, Inc., and RTTV Studios, LLC, both of which are owned and controlled by Russian-born businessman Alex Yazlovsky.
These entities are RT’s contractors, which produce video content, tape shows and provide crew services and studio facilities for RT, as well as transmit content to its audience. RT operates similarly in the U.K., where it contracts its services from a local “ supplier,” Russia Today TV Ltd. It’s hard to believe that RT’s U.S. contractors are fully independent from the client who pays for its custom-made products and services.
According to the law, FARA does not apply to foreign news organizations that engage in “bona fide news or journalistic activities.” Such media are usually not owned, directed, supervised, controlled, subsidized, or financed or have their policies determined by any foreign principal.
For example, the U.K.’s BBC and Germany’s Deutsche Welle are considered exempt from FARA because their governance structure protects their editorial policies and maintains their independence from government influence; there is no indication that they are “directed or controlled” by their governments. For this same reason, RT would have hard time proving that it qualifies for this exemption.
When former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul suggested last month that perhaps RT’s employees should be accredited as foreign agents rather than journalists, RT responded with personal attacks, threats of retaliation against American journalists, accusations of infringement on press freedom and complaints that the Russian media are treated unfairly. Their fierce response, however, is not a good reason to avoid FARA enforcement.
Registration would require RT to label its information as “distributed by an agent on behalf of the foreign principal.” Such disclosure would alert the public to the purpose of RT’s reporting. But it would have no effect on RT’s ability to continue working in the United States, conduct broadcasting from its Washington, D.C. studio, or otherwise operate as it had prior to registration.
In any case, RT journalists would continue to enjoy more press freedom in the United States than U.S. journalists in Russia.
Elena Postnikova is a JD candidate at Georgetown University Law Center.

BETSY DEVOS IS COMING FOR YOUR PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Thanks;ALEXANDER NAZARYAN Published; 1/10/17 AT 12:00 PM

Betsy DeVos has worked to undermine Michigan’s public schools, according to her critics. Is she ready to lead the nation’s education department?

Betsy DeVos, a billionaire Republican from Michigan, has been nominated to head the federal Education Department. MIKE SEGAR/REUTERS

 

There was a brief moment in mid-November when education reformers were thrilled about President-elect Donald Trump’s swamp-draining imperative and what it might mean for the nation’s eternally beleaguered public schools. On November 16, Trump met at his Manhattan tower with Eva Moskowitz, whose Success Academy charter network has achieved impressive results with children of color across New York City. The following weekend, he entertained Michelle Rhee, the former head of Washington, D.C.’s public schools, at his golf club in New Jersey. Despite her uneven results, Rhee remains popular with those who think incompetent teachers and the unions that protect them are holding back America’s kids.

Instead, Trump chose Betsy DeVos to head the Education Department, a federal agency with oversight over all of the nation’s educational institutions, from prekindergarten programs to graduate schools of business. The choice mystified all those who’d figured Trump was looking for a capable, forward-looking technocrat focused on student testing and teacher accountability. The choice horrified teachers unions, as DeVos is a billionaire Republican who has worked assiduously to weaken the public schools in Michigan.
Comedian Rob Delaney tweeted, “Trump’s pick of DeVos as Sec. of Education is more hateful than pouring a vat of shit out of a helicopter onto a group of 1st graders.” Crude as that sentiment may be, it reflects the prevalent perception—unfair, perhaps—that DeVos is unsuited to her post, having never worked in a school or a school district. Her nomination is in keeping with Trump’s apparent conviction that nothing fuels government work better than antipathy to the government.

DeVos would not be the first ideologue to head the Education Department: William Bennett, appointed by Ronald Reagan, was a conservative culture warrior of the first order. George H.W. Bush’s appointments, Rod Paige and Margaret Spellings, were also no liberals. But ever since the first education secretary—Shirley Hufstedler, appointed by Jimmy Carter to the new post in 1979—nearly every person to hold that office has had direct experience in teaching or educational administration (two were governors who’d enacted large reform measures).

DeVos, by contrast, is a professional lobbyist. She may be qualified, but when it comes to the battlefields of public education, she is plainly inexperienced.

‘Christ’s Agent of Renewal’

Grand Rapids, Michigan, has largely defined the life of the woman born in 1958 as Elisabeth Prince. She grew up in nearby Holland, on the shores of Lake Michigan, where her father, Edgar Prince, ran an auto parts empire that he would eventually sell for $1.35 billion. The family belonged to the Reformed Church in America, which has its roots in a kind of Protestantism known as Calvinism, the predominant faith of the Dutch who settled western Michigan.

Some flee home for college; Betsy Prince traveled just 30 miles to Grand Rapids, where in 1975 she enrolled in Calvin College, from which her mother, Elsa, had graduated. Any attempt to forecast what DeVos might do as the nation’s education secretary must begin here, at this college of 4,000 that bids its students to act as “Christ’s agents of renewal in the world.” The college is affiliated with the Christian Reformed Church and takes its religious mission seriously: Faculty members, for example, are required to send their own children to a Christian secondary school.

The college is named after John Calvin, the 16th-century French thinker from whom Calvinism gets its name. A branch of Protestantism that took root in Northern Europe, Calvinism hews to its founder’s doctrine of predestination, which holds that God has predestined all sinners to Hell, and while he chooses to save some as an act of grace, that salvation cannot be earned. No amount of effort is sufficient to rescue the damned from damnation. It is also among the more intellectual of the various Protestant movements. “Calvinists are usually smart,” says Julie Ingersoll, a scholar at the University of North Florida who has studied conservative Christianity. “The core of worship will be a sermon that is sophisticated and philosophically inclined.”

Kenneth Pomykala attended Calvin College at the same time as Prince and remembers her “vaguely.” Today the head of Calvin’s religion department, Pomykala estimates that back then, perhaps 90 percent of the students belonged to the Christian Reformed tradition. “One of the things Calvinism is known for is that one’s religious values should affect the way you live all of life,” Pomykala says. “It doesn’t make the separation between private religion and public life.”

At Calvin College, Prince studied business economics and served on the student senate; she volunteered on Gerald Ford’s losing presidential bid in 1976 and worked for other Republican campaigns. In 1980, she married Dick DeVos, a native of Grand Rapids and a student at nearby Northwood University who stood to become the heir to the Amway fortune, the massive marketing company co-founded by his father that some have called a pyramid scheme. His family, like hers, was conservative, pious and very rich.

The DeVoses have four children, whom they raised in Ada, a wealthy suburb of Grand Rapids, where the annual median household income today is almost $122,000, more than double Michigan’s average of about $49,000. The town, the seventh wealthiest in Michigan, has unsurprisingly good public schools, but the DeVos children apparently did not attend them. Two daughters were at least partly home-schooled, a fact that has been happily noted by home-schooling advocates, many of whom are religious conservatives elated to finally have a booster in Washington, D.C. Both sons attended the Grand Rapids Christian High School, which has a DeVos Center for Arts and Worship.

Though she has been reticent with the press since her nomination to the Trump Cabinet, DeVos was not shy about expressing her convictions previously. In 2013, she told Philanthropy magazine that her desire to improve education began with a visit to the Potter’s House Christian School in Grand Rapids, a private religious academy. “At the time, we had children who were school-age themselves. Well, that touched home. Dick and I became increasingly committed to helping other parents—parents from low-income families in particular. If we could choose the right school for our kids, it only seemed fair that they could do the same for theirs.”

The DeVoses began their prolonged assault on Michigan’s public education system in earnest in 1990, when Dick DeVos won election to the state’s school board. Three years later, the couple led a successful push for legislation that would welcome charter schools to Michigan (the first charter school in the nation had opened in 1992 in St. Paul, Minnesota). But while charter schools bloomed there, they didn’t thrive. As early as 1997, the state auditor found the state has shown “limited effectiveness and efficiency in monitoring” charters. Two years later, the Michigan Department of Education worried there was “no defined system of quality control in regard to charter schools,” despite there being 138 institutions that enrolled 30,000 students across the state.

The DeVoses persisted in advocating for more choice, disregarding calls for oversight. In 2000, they pushed for Michigan to adapt a voucher system, which proposed to give students about $3,300 to attend a private school of their choice, including a religious one. The Wall Street Journal wrote, “By focusing on the worst-of-the-worst schools, the campaign also has helped recast the image of vouchers from a middle-class pipe dream to a lifeline for inner-city kids. And in the long, heated, name-calling, lawsuit-filing history of school vouchers, that combination eventually may prove tough to beat.”

The voucher measure failed to pass, but DeVos, who’d headed the Michigan Republican Party for the latter half of the 1990s, redoubled her efforts. She began to establish groups like the Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP), founded in 2001. The group’s goal is “supporting quality choices in public education for all Michigan students,” in part by shaming public education. For example, one ad campaign, called Got Literacy?, featured misspelled school signs: Welcome Back, Hope You Hade a Good Break; 15 best things about our pubic schools. The campaign didn’t mention that the first sign was from Arizona, and a student joke besides, while the second was made for an Indiana school by an ad agency.

Supporters of DeVos argue that Michigan’s schools were dismal and that her only mission has been to provide a life raft to those stuck on a sinking ship. Matt Frendewey, communications director at the American Federation for Children (AFC), another group DeVos founded, calls her a “relentless advocate for students,” particularly poor children of color. School choice, he argues, is the first and necessary step to better educational outcomes.

In 2011, GLEP and its conservative allies won a major victory when the Michigan Legislature erased the charter school cap, creating what is effectively an unrestrained market for charter school operators. DeVos scored another victory last summer, when she and her husband spent $1.45 million to stymie a legislative effort to provide more oversight to Michigan’s charter schools.

“If I wanted to start a school next year, all I’d need to do is get the money, draw up a plan and meet a few perfunctory requirements,” wrote a dismayed Stephen Henderson, the editorial page editor of the Detroit Free Press. “I’d then be allowed to operate that school, at a profit if I liked, without, practically speaking, any accountability for results. As long as I met the minimal state code and inspection requirements, I could run an awful school, no better than the public alternatives, almost indefinitely.”

It’s unclear how closely DeVos looked at the achievements of the charter schools that sprouted in Michigan because of her efforts. Did she know that many of them were failing? And if she knew, why did she do nothing?

Detroit Flunks

The best argument against Betsy DeVos can be made with a single word: Detroit. On the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Michigan’s biggest city has the worst math and reading scores of any large city in America. Its fourth-graders score a 36 on math, while their counterparts in Charlotte, North Carolina, score an 87. Its eighth-graders got a 44 on reading, lagging behind Miami by 33 points.

DeVos claimed that her emphasis on school choice was going to help poor, minority children escape from underperforming public schools. So how did that escape route become a quagmire?

Kids may suffer from a lack of choice, but they can also suffer from an excess of competition. Reporting on the state of charter schools in Detroit last summer, education reporter Kate Zernike of The New York Times described a system that was as at least as chaotic and unproductive as what it supplanted. “While the idea was to foster academic competition, the unchecked growth of charters has created a glut of schools competing for some of the nation’s poorest students,” Zernike wrote, “enticing them to enroll with cash bonuses, laptops, raffle tickets for iPads and bicycles. Leaders of charter and traditional schools alike say they are being cannibalized, fighting so hard over students and the limited public dollars that follow them that no one thrives.”

Douglas Harris, a professor of economics at Tulane University, considers himself a proponent of sensible reform, yet the kind of reform enacted by DeVos in Michigan, he has concluded, is a disaster. In a widely circulated op-ed for The New York Times, Harris wrote that DeVos “devised Detroit’s system to run like the Wild West. It’s hardly a surprise that the system, which has almost no oversight, has failed. Schools there can do poorly and still continue to enroll students.”

Harris contrasted Detroit with New Orleans, where the school system is saturated with charters. Those charters are successful because they’re expected to meet the same high standards that educators demand from students. Lax oversight of a school district is unlikely to produce much better results than lax oversight of a classroom.

“The DeVos nomination,” Harris wrote, “is a triumph of ideology over evidence.”

Much of the fault for the panoply of bad choices in Detroit can be placed on for-profit charters, according to Samuel Abrams, a scholar of privatization in education at Teachers College at Columbia University in New York and the author of Education and the Commercial Mindset. Whereas about 10 percent of charters nationwide are for-profit, about 80 percent of charters in Michigan mix profit-making with teaching. “The fundamental problem with for-profit school management is that we don’t have sufficient transparency for proper contract enforcement because the immediate consumer is a child,” Abrams tells me. “He or she is not sufficiently informed to know if a class is being properly taught.

“There is room for cutting corners in the name of profits,” Abrams says. “You don’t have that in public school.”

‘Advancing God’s Kingdom’

A lot of the worries about DeVos come from association—and insinuation. Some are concerned about her stance on gay rights. She and her husband “have spent heavily in opposition to same-sex-marriage laws in several states,” according to Jane Mayer of The New Yorker. Elsa Prince, Betsy’s mother, has frequently given to right-wing groups like Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council.

At the same time, it’s worth noting that, as the head of the Michigan GOP, she forcefully defended a gay Republican politician who’d been harassed for his stance on a gay marriage amendment. In 2014, she lambasted Dave Agema, a Republican, for making denigrating comments about gays and Muslims. “I couldn’t stand by and hold my tongue,” she said. And despite her appointment by Trump, she was among those Republicans who bore no love for the candidate, calling him an “interloper” from whom she predicted Republicans would defect. (The DeVoses supported former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and, after he dropped out, Florida Senator Marco Rubio.)

“If you look at Betsy’s full record, you won’t be able to fit her in a box that some of those who oppose her nomination are trying to put her into,” says the AFC’s Frendewey. The Windquest Group, an investment group run by the DeVoses, supports clean energy, technological innovation and a well-regarded aviation high school, as well as an arts prize. They were also funders of an arts management institute at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. (The institute has since moved to the University of Maryland.)

Despite all that, detractors have plenty of evidence for their fears. They point, for example, to a recording, obtained by Politico, in which DeVos talks about “advancing God’s kingdom” through public education. That only stokes fears that DeVos is a Christian soldier disguised as a public servant.

Ingersoll, the University of North Florida scholar, says that “it’s a long-standing goal of the religious right to dismantle public education” and that religious conservatives like DeVos “don’t see public schools as religiously neutral.” If an education is not Christian, then it is anti-Christian. This is a view, she suggests, DeVos shares with Mike Pence, the religiously conservative vice president-elect, who is expected by some to have Dick Cheney-level influence in the Trump administration.

When I conveyed these concerns to Frendewey, he laughed. “In no way is this some sort of religion-based agenda,” he says. Betsy DeVos, he assured me, wants successful students, not “disciples.”Poor Choice for the Poor

  • Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence with DeVos before their meeting at the main clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, November 19, 2016.

MIKE SEGAR/REUTER

Nobody accused Trump’s presidential campaign of a wonkish occupation with policy details. Nevertheless, he has been clear about his primary mission in education, which is to inject $20 billion into school choice programs. “As your president, I will be the nation’s biggest cheerleader for school choice,” he said during the campaign.

As with many other aspects of the Trump platform, there are few details to debate. Abrams, the Teachers College scholar, called the education plan “mystifying,” echoing the confusion I encountered whenever I asked, while reporting this story, how Trump and DeVos planned to make school choice a bigger priority.

Tulane University’s Harris says that a Capitol Hill controlled by Republicans could pass a tax credit program that incentivizes private education, including religious and virtual schools. But this would probably benefit middle- and upper-middle class families already disposed (and able) to pay for a private education.

The same goes for vouchers. While $20 billion for school choice programs sounds like a large number, there are 15 million children living in poverty in the United States, and the average private school tuition is $9,500. Giving them all a meaningful voucher would require about $142.5 billion, or seven times the amount proposed by Trump for his school choice plan.

Consider, also, that some states that have vouchers, like Ohio and North Carolina, allocate less than $5,000 per student, meaning that families would still have to pay several thousand dollars to send a child to private school if this were in fact part of the Trump reform package. That shortfall notwithstanding, even a $5,000 voucher for every child living in poverty nationwide would cost $75 billion. Much like the border wall with Mexico, the golden-ticket voucher might be an empty campaign promise.

Yet almost certainly, Trump will use federal dollars to reward states for enacting his preferred reforms. That was what President Barack Obama did with Race to the Top, which incentivized data collection, student assessment and better teaching.

Harris says school choice is first on DeVos’s agenda. “It’s really her only issue.”

An Existential Threat

Teachers unions and their liberal allies are alarmed by the DeVos pick. Most charters and parochials aren’t unionized, meaning that school choice enervates public sector unions, another favorite Republican goal. “She is an existential threat to public education,” says Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers.

When I relayed that quote to Frendewey, he dismissed the worry by noting the many times Weingarten had used tough language about centrist Obama appointees. “They weren’t happy with Duncan, they weren’t happy with King,” Frendewey says, alluding to Arne Duncan and John King, both Democratic education secretaries who met with resistance from teachers unions on matters of student and teacher evaluation. Frendewey and other DeVos associates acknowledge that Detroit schools are a disaster, but it’s a fair question whether the failure of that experiment should disqualify her from a federal position.

Yet for conservatives, DeVos’s antipathy to traditional public schools is in keeping with a broader desire to lessen what they deem bureaucratic bloat. In an op-ed for The Washington Post, former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, whose father George was the governor of Michigan, branded DeVos an iconoclast of the sort demanded by our moribund schools. “The decades of applying the same old bromides must come to an end,” he wrote. “The education establishment and its defenders will understandably squeal, but the interests of our children must finally prevail.” Romney’s voice on this issue matters because he was a frequent critic of Trump throughout the presidential campaign. Moreover, as he notes, the state he once governed, Massachusetts, has the nation’s best schools.

The vast gap between the vaunted Massachusetts “education miracle” and the state of Detroit’s schools suggests, at least to skeptics, that Romney’s confidence in DeVos may be grievously misplaced. And while it is true that Weingarten—my onetime union leader in New York City—has frequently been tough on Democrats deemed insufficiently loyal to teachers unions, her mood when we spoke in early December seemed to me closer to visceral fear than intellectual disagreement. Calling DeVos an “ideological zealot for private education,” Weingarten says local unions will fight her by asserting their power, though how they will do that is unclear. A senior aide to a top congressional Democrat told me that DeVos should be ready for a tough confirmation hearing, but he didn’t say anything to suggest there’d be a concerted attempt to oppose her.

Weingarten told me about a letter she got from a teacher in New York’s Suffolk County, on Long Island. That teacher had apparently voted for Trump and was now suffering from buyer’s remorse. “I made a terrible mistake,” the letter said, according to Weingarten. “Please, please fight against this.”

The battle is doubtlessly coming to the American classroom, where the nation’s culture wars are frequently fought. Of course, DeVos will be ready for the counterattack. She has spent decades fighting for children, for Michigan and for God.

 

The 6 most corrupt countries in the world

Thanks;Michelle Coffey
Published: Jan 31, 2016 7:35 a.m. ET

Six billion people live in countries where corruption is entrenched

The site of a suicide attack in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, earlier this year that left 33 people dead and injured more than 100.

No country is completely free of corruption, but some are cleaner than others.

Last year, corruption was rife in 68% of the world’s countries, including half of the Group of 20 nations, based on Transparency International’s Corruptions Perceptions Index. On the plus side, most countries’ scores improved from the previous year.
The Berlin-based organization’s gauge, which measures widespread corruption in the public sphere, factors in instances of abuses of power, secret dealings, bribery, child labor, human trafficking, environmental destruction and terrorism, among other factors.

Taking a longer perspective, Greece, Senegal and the U.K. showed the biggest improvements since 2012 while Brazil, which is engulfed by the Petrobras corruption scandal, Australia, Libya, Spain and Turkey saw their scores skid sharply.

The countries that landed at the bottom of the list are ones that continue to be rocked by open conflict and disastrous levels of poverty and inequality: Angola, South Sudan, Sudan and Afghanistan. North Korea and Somalia tied for the dubious honor of most corrupt country in the world. Other countries in the bottom 10 are Guinea-Bissau, Libya, Iraq and Venezuela.
Source: Transparency International

A girl sits in front of a tent in a makeshift camp for people displaced in Angola’s brutal 27-year civil war which ended one year ago.

Angola

Roughly 70% of the people living in Angola lives on $2 a day or less. It’s also considered the deadliest country for children, ranked No. 1 in terms of places where kids are most likely to die before turning 5. Bribery runs rampant, and despite legislation being passed in 2014 forbidding money laundering, the practice continues to prop up business activity.

A South Sudanese soldier.

South Sudan

As oil revenue declines, South Sudan’s economy has gotten crushed and corruption has spiked, according to a report by The Sentry, an organization co-founded by actor George Clooney. The report says the oil sector is greatly mismanaged, and the overall financial system is exploited by a small group of elites to gain power and profits. Fighting for control continues to erupt around key oil sites across the country.

Children flock with containers hoping to collect food at a village in Sudan.

Sudan
Decades of civil war have left Sudan with limited government and deteriorating infrastructure, opening the door to widespread corruption. Government authorities continue to be linked to corrupt practices such as embezzlement, cronyism and bribery.

The site of a suicide car bombing near the international airport in Kabul in December.

Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, millions of dollars intended for the war-torn country’s reconstruction have either been wasted or stolen. Conflict in the country continues to flare up as attacks from the Taliban have escalated this past year, undermining the government’s efforts to rein in systemic corruption.

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South Korean veterans burn placards of the North Korean flag and its leader, Kim Jong Un, during a protest in August.

North Korea

At the bottom of the list: North Korea, a totalitarian state that remains isolated from the rest of the world. Collecting dat a is nearly impossible in a country where virtually everything is controlled by the state. Dictator Kim Jong Un has even managed to ramp up the country’s combative rhetoric and behavior toward nearby countries and the U.S. since his father’s death in 2011, claiming earlier this year that the country had successfully detonated a hydrogen bomb.

A body lies in the rubble next to damaged cars near the Jazeera Palace hotel following a suicide attack in Mogadishu.

Somalia

Somalia turns up at the bottom of the index again, tying North Korea for world’s most corrupt country. Violence and political instability have kept Somalia locked in state of fear and corruption. The country continues to rely on foreign aid, as the government has been unable to provide basic services or a judicial system.
Overall, Sub-Saharan Africa was hit hardest on the list, with 40 of the region’s 46 countries suffering from corruption.

This woman spent a year reading a book from every country in the world. What did she learn?

Thanks;Joe Myers, Formative Content

Published;Thursday 8 September 2016

In 2012, author Ann Morgan set herself a very ambitious target. She wanted to read a book from every country, in just one year.

Image: REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

One-hundred and ninety-six books later, she’s written a book and done a TED Talk on her experience. She’s also created a series of interactive maps charting everything she read.
“It’s amazing the breadth of perspective you get,” she said.
‘An intensive course of global reading’
Looking at her bookshelves, Morgan was saddened to see they were dominated by British and North American authors. So, as she explains in her TED Talk, she prescribed herself ‘an intensive course of global reading’.
The challenge was enormous. Reading an average of about four books a week, while also working full-time, was just the first hurdle. Finding an English-translation from every country was also very tricky – just 4.5% of works published in the UK each year are translations.

https://youtu.be/Hh09xlzxRmE

The power of the internet

She posted an appeal online, and was staggered by the response. From all over the world, people began recommending – and indeed sending her – books. “It turns out, if you want to read the world, if you want to encounter it with an open mind, the world will help you,” she explains.
Towards the end of 2012, however, she got stuck. Having spent months trying to find an English translation of a work from São Tomé and Príncipe – the Portuguese-speaking African island nation – she was left with no choice but to commission a translation. She was doubtful whether anyone would be able to help with this.
But, within days of a Twitter and Facebook appeal, she had nine Portuguese-speaking volunteers all willing to devote their time and effort to translating a book for her. Six-weeks later, she had a collection of short stories to read.
She highlights the role that the internet played in making her goal a reality. “It’s testament to the extraordinary times we live in,” she said. “Thanks to the internet, it’s easier than ever before for a stranger to share a story, a worldview, a book with someone she may never meet.”
Mapping the world’s books
Morgan has created an interactive map, showing the book she read for every country. The map also includes a teaser on each one.
She hopes others will use the maps to chart their own experiences. For her, the experiment has broadened her understanding of the world. “Cumulatively, the stories I read that year made me more alive than ever before to the richness, diversity and complexity of our remarkable planet,” she said.

Exclusive: Mexico banking watchdog boosts oversight of banks after Trump win

Thanks; Roberto Aguilar, Noe Torres and Alexandra Alper | MEXICO CITY

Publised;Mon Nov 14, 2016

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Mexican banking regulators have begun extraordinary daily checks on the health of banks and brokerages since Donald Trump clinched the U.S. presidential election, four people familiar with the matter said.

The checks are focused on the capital and liquidity levels at the financial institutions, three sources said, adding that regulators were particularly interested in banks’ holdings of Mexican government peso-bonds.

Yields on Mexico’s ten-year benchmark fixed rate bonds have risen over 100 basis points since the election, their highest since 2011, on concern that Trump could rework or scrap the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and worries that his stimulus policies could mean higher U.S. interest rates.

Two of the sources said that information on derivatives positions was being sought in some cases.

Three sources said their institutions had received one or two calls per day from Mexico’s CNBV banking watchdog since Trump won.

All the sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Mexico’s banking regulator spokeswoman Priscila Blasco said “we are monitoring all the banks … We are not officially asking for anything additional.”

Several analysts consulted by Reuters after Trump’s victory said Mexico’s banking sector is well capitalized and stable.

Mexico’s peso last week took its biggest two-day tumble in more than 20 years following the surprise win for Trump, who has vowed to rework NAFTA and said he will make Mexico pay for a wall on the U.S. Southern border.

Mexico’s financial sector was the second hardest hit in the IPC index .MXX last week, slumping more than 8 percent after Trump’s win.

Before the U.S. election, Mexico’s financial authorities ordered the country’s banks to conduct stress tests to assess the potential macroeconomic impact and volatility resulting from a Trump victory, in addition to a normal annual stress test..

Jaime Gonzalez, CNBV President, said in an interview earlier this month that the results revealed four or five banks needed to boost their capital buffers but declined to name them, adding that the gap was not serious.

The new oversight is in addition to the pre-election tests.

Mexican banks and brokerages usually report monthly capital ratios while banks alone report Liquidity Coverage Ratios, according to the CNBV.

(Additional reporting by Christine Murray and Natalie Schachar; Editing by Bernard Orr)