Economist 9/8/14

  1. Detroit’s bankruptcy—court hearings about a proposed deal with creditors began on September 2nd.In the municipal bond market, where the default rate is just 0.23%, it is a remarkable event, the biggest in American history. Some bondholders say they are being discriminated against in Detroit’s rush to restructure its unpayable debts, estimated at $18 billion or $26,000 per resident.For decades Detroit has allowed delinquent water bills to go unpaid. Householders have therefore had little incentive to pay, or to conserve water. 
  2. THE dire prospects for young Syrians in their war-wracked country and as refugees in neighbouring countries explains why many risk everything to get to Europe. On August 16th siblings Rasha and Moaz al-Rez, both university graduates from a middle-class family, left Damascus to embark on a treacherous journey to reach Italy, with the aim of getting to Sweden. After making the hazardous journey to reach the ship to Italy, they found themselves crammed in with 500 other immigrants. The journey took its worse turn yet when the boat began to sink.” After four hours in the water the Italian authorities arrived to rescue the survivors. They were taken to a camp in Sicily to rest and identify some of the 200 dead.
  3. With fees plus accommodation for four-year colleges in America running at $45,000 a year and up, few families can afford to meet the total cost out of their own pocket. Local state universities are cheaper, but can be even more choosy about who they admit.By all accounts, filling in the federal government’s form for financial aid—with its 116 questions—is as daunting and time-consuming as preparing a tax return. Even with grants, tax relief and scholarships, the average debt students face after completing a four-year degree is around $30,000. But that is just the average. Many have loans in excess of $100,000, and can be out-of-pocket (in terms of depleted savings, family contributions and forgone earnings) for as much again or more. And that is for only an undergraduate degree. Attending graduate school, where tertiary education in the United States begins in earnest, is a whole different ball game—and one that can leave a student with a lifetime of debt. In America, student debt now exceeds $1.2 trillion—about 7% of the country’s GDP.. Accordingto the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the median annual wage of Americans with a bachelor degree, and lucky enough to have found (not easy) full employment, was $48,000 last year, compared with a little over $25,000 for those with only a high-school diploma. But college graduates in the lower quartile made no more than $27,000. Two out of three students at American universities and colleges change their major at least once during their four years on campus; one in five does so two or three times.
  4. India’s Muslims are numerous, but moderate. Though barely 15% of the total, at some 180m they roughly number the same as Pakistan’s entire population. Many are disaffected. In the only Muslim-majority state, Kashmir, residents are embittered by years of heavy-handed rule by Indian security forces, and protests frequently erupt. Islam in South Asia has a long history, over 1,000 years, but was long dominated by Sufis who integrated closely with non-Muslim Hindus, sharing many cultural practices. In Pakistan, decades of large-scale migration to the Gulf along with close political ties to Saudi Arabia saw harder forms of Sunni Islam adopted, notably the spread of Wahhabi and Deobandi mosques, madrassas and beliefs. By contrast many Indian Muslim migrants to the Gulf, for example from Kerala, have proved less effective at reimporting harder-line forms of Islam on a large scale. Indian madrassas appear to be under more watchful eyes of the state.
  5. Routinely collected tower data can place a mobile phone in a broad area, but it cannot “pinpoint” it. That would require a special three-tower “triangulation”, which cannot reveal past locations. Last year America’s courts and law-enforcement agencies served 37,839 subpoenas, court orders, and search warrants for location data just to one phone company, AT&T. Often they would assert that mobile phones connect to the nearest tower. In fact, two calls dialled consecutively from the same spot may connect to two different towers: one close by, the other many miles away. Which tower a phone connects with depends on such factors as how thick the nearby foliage and walls are, the size of nearby cars and bodies of water, and how well the handset is working. None of this information is usually recorded.

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