Economist 4/23/14

  1. THERE were few more revered figures in this Burma’s (Myanmar ) long struggle for democracy than Win Tin, who died on April 21st at the age of 84 (or 85, as some have it). A co-founder with Aung San Suu Kyi and others of the National League for Democracy (NLD), in all he endured 19 years of imprisonment, often in solitary confinement, for opposing Myanmar’s brutal military regime. Uncompromisingly principled and honest, in the past few years he was also one of the few who dared openly to criticise Miss Suu Kyi for the political accommodations she made with the regime after the new president (and former general) Thein Sein started reforming the country in 2011.Unlike Miss Suu Kyi, who was confined to house arrest during her many years of confinement, and protected to a degree by her status as the daughter of the country’s independence hero, General Aung San, Win Tin endured the worst that the generals could dish out. Win Tin was kept for many years in a cell built as a kennel for military dogs. He was not released until 2008, as part of a general amnesty.
  2. Well, in some states, including Georgia, you get passed over to one of dozens of private-probation companies. Since 2001 private companies have overseen misdemeanant probation, which includes not just minor crimes such as shoplifting, petty theft and public drunkenness, but also speeding tickets and other traffic violations.  if you get hit with a $200 ticket you can’t pay, then a private-probation company will let you pay it off in instalments, for a monthly fee. Then there may be additional fees for electronic monitoring, drug testing and classes—many of which are assigned not by a judge, but by the private company itself. When probationers cannot pay, courts issue warrants for their arrest and their probation terms are extended—a reprehensible practice known as “tolling”, which a judge declared illegal last year. These are folks who had trouble paying the initial fine; you have to imagine they’ll have trouble paying additional fines.Human Rights Watch estimates that in Georgia alone private-probation companies rake in around $40m in fees each yearHouse Bill 837 passed both chambers of the legislature and needs only the signature of Nathan Deal, Georgia’s governor, to become law. One of the state’s biggest private-probation firms said his company spent around $500,000 on lobbyists in Georgia. HB837 reverses last year’s judicial order banning tolling: not only does it allow the practice, but it places no limits on duration, meaning that a single traffic ticket could in effect turn into lifetime probation. The initial draft of the bill reportedly contained planks limiting the monthly fees private-probation companies can charge (state entities charge $23 a month for felony supervision; private firms charge between $39 and $44 for misdemeanants), but a Senate committee took that plank out. 
  3. WHAT government would tolerate its citizens’ passports being confiscated, their earnings being withheld and their deaths being covered up? Nepal’s, it seems. In September reports of the abuse of Nepalese migrants working on stadiums for the 2022 football World Cup in Qatar, and the deaths of at least 44 of them, appeared in the Guardian, a British newspaper. The Nepalese government’s first response was to recall its ambassador to Qatar.. For all the mistreatment, Nepalese workers earn far more in Qatar than they could at home. Remittances make up a quarter of Nepalese GDP. If the Nepalese government were to insist that rules protecting migrant workers in Qatar should be enforced, Qatari employers might look for workers elsewhere.n the Gulf states and Singapore, where migrants have few rights on paper, the foreign workforce is huge: 94% of workers in Qatar were born abroad. Sweden and Norway, where migrants can use public services, claim welfare benefits and bring in dependents, admit relatively few purely economic migrants. Filipinos must be offered a high wage to be allowed to leave for a job, and their government sends envoys and inspectors to the main receiving countriesA UN convention on migrant workers’ rights which came into force in 2003 has been ratified by only 47 countries, most of which are net senders of migrants. It is largely unenforced.
  4.  But now, trading on his reputation as an honest reporter, through his microblog on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter, and on Taobao, an e-commerce site, Mr Liu raised 200,000 yuan ($30,000). That helped him produce his first long investigative report about a land dispute between villagers and their local government in Shandong, an eastern province. The report, which is available on Mr Liu’s blog, has not (yet) caused him problems. Since its foundation in 1921, the Communist Party has insisted that the media is its “throat and tongue”. Though media are freer than ever to report on non-political issues.Even though state-run media are not as bland as they once were, principled journalists still struggle to find a home for their work.Since a crackdown on microblogs last year, many users have gravitated to WeChat, a smartphone-messaging application. It has emerged as a relatively unconstrained platform for free-thinking opinion. But in mid-March there was a sudden shutdown of dozens of prominent accounts known as “WeChat massacre”.  Since Xi Jinping became party chief in 2012 the media have been even more tightly controlled. New legislation means that web users can be imprisoned for three years if a sensitive tweet proves too popular. Mr Xi himself heads a new internet security group, expected to deal further blows to freedom of expression online.
  5. IN THE summer of 2007, things were not looking good for Maulana Abdul Aziz, an extremist cleric who had just failed in his attempt to impose strict sharia law on Pakistan’s capital by force. He has his freedom thanks to the government’s tolerance of radical Islamists in national affairs. In February Mr Aziz was among five people nominated by the Pakistani Taliban to represent its interests in peace talks with the government.  Zahid Hussain, a commentator, says the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has lost its appetite for controlling illegal madrassa construction in Islamabad. He says there are now thousands of madrassa students in the city.

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