Economist 7/11/14

  1. America is home to 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of the world’s prisoners. More than 2m Americans are locked up at any given time, more than half of them in state prisons. This is costly, at $29,000 per federal inmate per year and more for state prisoners—about the price of sending each one to an Ivy League university. Nearly half of all state prisoners are mouldering in jail for non-violent crimes.The Redeem Act (otherwise forgettably known as the Record Expungement Designed to Enhance Employment Act), introduced by Messrs Booker and Paul on July 8th, aims to fix some of this. The Redeem Act would improve the accuracy of FBI background checks to reduce false positives, seal up the records of non-violent criminals, and potentially expunge them for juveniles. In ten states youngsters under 18 can be tried as adults, which can ruin their employability, bar them from public benefits and ban them from voting for the rest of their life.
  2.  WHEN Moldova became the first Eastern Partnership country to ratify its association agreement with the European Union last week, many in Chisinau celebrated a milestone. But further from the capital city, in the ethnically concentrated regions that comprise much of Moldova’s countryside, the news struck a raw nerve.  Gagauzia, the predominantly Orthodox Turkic autonomous region in southern Moldova,  held its own independence referendum in February, and a majority of Gagauzians apparently voted to leave Moldova. Not much happened after the referendum, but the separatist rhetoric continues at full volume.Dissatisfaction in Comrat, the capital of Gagauzia, has less to do with geopolitics and more to do with local economics, says Mihail Sirkeli, a local lawyer and NGO activist.Fear of Romanian annexation is one of the reason the largely Russian-speaking groups might oppose the EU association agreement.
  3. SINCE the People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949, no ministerial-level Communist official has set foot in Taiwan. That changed on June 25th when Zhang Zhijun, head of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, accepted an invitation from his counterpart, Wang Yu-chi, and visited in hopes that the democratic island nation might one day be wooed into the Chinese fold.Taiwan’s president since 2008, Ma Ying-jeou, has long tried to ease mutual hostilities. He has signed business agreements with the mainland that have led to a surge in cross-strait trade, investment and travel. Yet many Taiwanese worry that economic integration will undermine their lively democracy.
  4. Around 5,000 people were picked up by patrol boats on June 28th-29th, the busiest weekend of the year so far. On July 2nd another 70 migrants were reported lost at sea in a separate incident. All this comes after Italy began a search-and-rescue effort called Operation Mare Nostrum, in response to the tragedy last October in which 360 people drowned off Lampedusa, an island half-way between Sicily and the North African coast.Mare Nostrum completed a U-turn for a country that until 2011 blocked immigrants at sea, returning many to Libya, their main point of departure. Some Italians believe this policy deterred people from attempting the perilous crossing, whereas Mare Nostrum encourages them. t is true that, since Operation Mare Nostrum began, arrivals in Italy have soared (more than 65,000 so far this year, against around 8,000 in the first half of 2013). But Greece also saw a large rise, of 142%, in the first four months of 2014, as fighting in Syria intensified. 
  5. GERMANY, Austria and German-speaking Switzerland have an educational tradition that sets them apart from most other countries. Children tend to get out of school at midday instead of late afternoon. Secondary schools are divided into three types. The basic one prepares for technical apprenticeships and vocational training. The middle one teaches skills such as book-keeping. And the highest, called “Gymnasium” (to evoke ancient Greece, not athletic facilities), leads to university. Then came the PISA shock of 2001. PISA rankings also found big internal differences: pupils in Bremen and Berlin fared badly, whereas those in Saxony and Bavaria did well.The PISA shock launched a frenzy of reform. All-day schools have become more common, with one in three German pupils now attending them.Perhaps as a result, German pupils have improved in recent PISA tests. Their fury is aimed at one particular change: the move, a decade ago, in most states from a nine-year Gymnasium (for a total of 13 school years) to an eight-year one. The justification was to align German pupils, who used to enter the workforce older than their peers, with the international norm of 12 school years. But the implementation was rushed, with the same material stuffed into less time.

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