Economist 7/28/14

  1. When Tony Abbott, Australia’s prime minister, boasted on June 19th that no asylum-seekers had reached Australia by boat for six months. It did not last. On July 27th the government itself landed 157 Sri Lankan Tamil asylum-seekers on the Australian mainland. Australian authorities had intercepted them at sea a month earlier when they were trying to reach Australia. Lawyers for the boat people are challenging the government’s “stop the boats” policy before Australia’s High Court. Before the boat people’s transfer to the Australian mainland, the High Court had been due to hear their case on August 5th. Partly because they were no longer being held at sea, a judge on July 28th cancelled that hearing.
  2. LIBERIA has closed most of its borders, banned public gatherings and announced quarantines of some communities in an effort to contain an outbreak of the Ebola virus. So far this year there have been 1,201 confirmed, suspected or probable cases of the disease in west Africa. Over 670 people have died. Ebola has no vaccine or cure, and kills up to 90% of those infected. It is transmitted to people by wild animals or by other infected patients. Fruit bats, often eaten by people living in West Africa, are thought to be a host for the virus, which starts with flu-like symptoms but can impair kidney and liver function, and in severe cases damages blood cells, leading to external and internal bleeding. Last week Nigeria reported its first probable case, and was put on high alert after a Liberian man died in its most populous city, Lagos.
  3. Catalan is spoken informally in southern France, but the region is dominated officially by French. Nearby Andorra, a microstate sitting between Spain and France, is the only officially Catalan-speaking state in the world, and despite mass tourism, public signage tends to be only in Catalan. It is in Spain that Catalan is the most controversial. Catalan is the official language of the autonomous province of Catalonia. (Nearly identical Valencian is spoken in Valencia.) Linguists, however, usually say two varieties are separate languages rather than mere dialects when the speakers of one cannot understand normal full-speed speech in the other. By this standard, Catalan is clearly a language.The second complaint is that Spain has given Catalan more and more privileges in the semi-autonomous province of Catalonia. Schooling in Catalonia is in Catalan, and pupils from other regions are expected to learn quickly from immersion. Yet Catalan politicians are angling for a vote on full sovereignty. The government in Madrid insists that this is illegal under the constitution, which declares the indivisibility of the nation.As Johnson wrote in the context of Ukraine, national multilingualism is expensive, in budgetary terms and in the trade-off against other priorities—but it is cheaper than the breakup of a country. And the cheapest solution is merely an attitudinal one: all Spaniards should treat Galician, Basque and Catalan not as regional languages.
  4. SINCE President Xi Jinping launched his anti-corruption campaign at the end of 2012, the question has been how high he would aim. On July 29th an emphatic answer came with the news that Zhou Yongkang was under investigation by the Communist Party for “serious violations of discipline”—for which, read corruption.Mr Zhou was once one of the most feared and powerful men in the land. Until two years ago he was a member of the Politburo’s ruling standing committee; in charge of the state’s vast security apparatus, he controlled a budget bigger than the one publicly declared by the army. Mr Xi and his able sideman, Wang Qishan, who runs the anti-corruption campaign, appear deadly serious about graft. In the first five months of this year, the party says, nearly 63,000 officials have been punished. The total for last year exceeded 180,000. Included in the haul are three-dozen ministers, provincial leaders or top executives at state-owned  companies.. But the two men also seem to think that graft provides an existential threat to the Communist Party’s rule. And they are probably right. Ordinary people are disgusted with party corruption, and going after corrupt “tigers” underpins Mr Xi’s popularity.
  5. In 2010, the average adult in Latin America and the Caribbean had 10.2 years of schooling only a couple of years less than in developed countries. The problem is that Latin Americans don’t learn enough. The international test known as PISA shows that at 15 they are more than two years behind their peers in developed countries in maths and reading comprehension. The main reason for Latin America’s educational failure is simple. The region churns out large numbers of teachers recruited from less-bright school leavers. It trains them badly and pays them peanuts (between 10% and 50% less than other professionals). So they teach badly. A World Bank study found that the region’s teachers spent less than 65% of their time in class actually teaching, compared with a benchmark of good practice in schools in the United States of 85%.The next step is to introduce in-service evaluation of teachers, and to link pay and promotion to performance instead of seniority. Half a dozen places, including Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and Rio de Janeiro, have passed or proposed laws to do this.
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