Economist 1/18/16

  1. More than 43,000 Cubans made it to the United States in the year to September 2015, a rise of 80% over the previous 12 months. The latest wave could be the last big one.Two forces propel them. The first is Cuba’s well-known deficit of prosperity and freedom, which in some ways is getting worse. Most Cuban workers are still employed by the government, which pays an average salary of about $30 a month. Even with nearly-free housing, education and health care, “el salario no alcanza” (the pay’s not enough).The government recently allowed citizens to sell their homes, enabling some to pay the $7,000 or so needed for tickets, bribes and transport to the United States.The second push factor is the fear that, as relations improve with the United States, the American welcome to émigrés will cool. The Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 gives Cubans a one-year route to residency in the United States. Many have taken up the offer. In 1980 125,000 Cubans joined the mass evacuation known as the Mariel boatlift, after the harbour where the voyages started. A later agreement with the Cuban government introduced the “wet foot/dry foot” policy, under which Cubans reaching American soil may stay, but those picked up at sea are sent back.
  2. On January 16th, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, confirmed that Iran had complied with its commitments to rein in its nuclear programme. Within hours, nuclear-related sanctions were duly lifted. In a surprise side deal, the Iranians simultaneously released from prison four Americans of Iranian descent. In return, America released seven Iranians who were being held for violating sanctions.The co-operation that Iran has shown in decommissioning its enrichment centrifuges, removing the core of its heavy-water reactor and shipping out most of its low-enriched uranium stockpile has surprised arms controllers.The smooth progress towards Implementation Day is largely because the president, Hassan Rohani, and Mr Zarif are desperate to get sanctions lifted. They want to see $100 billion of Iranian assets unfrozen before parliamentary elections next month, in which they hope their faction will oust some of the hardliners who oppose them.nothing else about Iran’s behaviour shows the slightest sign of change. It still hangs gay people, locks up dissidents and stokes sectarian conflict around the Middle East, most destructively in Syria.
  3. POPULAR lore has it that the older a distilled spirit, the finer and costlier it will be. But growing numbers of upstart young drinks-makers who are bringing gin back into fashion aim to disprove this.Unlike whisky, which must be stored for at least three years, gin can be sold almost as soon as it is made. Although it requires juniper berries, it can also be infused with many herbs to produce a range of tastes and colours, adding to its craft-made appeal.It seeks to cash in on the fad among “millennials” for traceable craft-made products, rather than big-name stuff.Diageo, a big drinks multinational, is well aware of millennial fashions, unashamedly marketing Johnnie Walker, which sells more than 200m bottles a year, as a craft whisky.
  4. Remittances: money sent home by migrants, worth $580 billion in 2014. Unlike portfolio flows, which tend to flee at the first sign of trouble, remittances usually increase in tough times.Tajikistan four in ten working-age adults have sought jobs abroad; in 2014 they sent home remittances equivalent to 42% of GDP, proportionally more than any other country in the world received. Armenia, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan also received remittances worth at least 10% of GDP—more than the Philippines, a country famous for its migrant workers.Most migrants go north, to Russia, finding work on building sites or in other low-income jobs. But Russia’s economy contracted last year, and remittances have plummeted.Money sent home from Russia by Tajik migrants was down by 44% in the first six months of 2015,emittances from Russia to Uzbekistan fell by half, and those to Kyrgyzstan fell by a third.These figures partly reflect the weakness of the rouble. Other currencies in the region have also fallen, but not as far: every rouble a Tajik migrant sends home buys 35% fewer somoni than in June 2014, for example.The Central Asian experience is unusual. Elsewhere, remittances grew in 2015. In South Asia they were up by 6%, according to projections from the World Bank.
  5. Thanks to the clever use of software, tips from this and other manuals obtained by intelligence agencies are proving increasingly valuable to counter-terrorist forces deployed both in the West and abroad. Technologists are modifying existing mapping software to produce “geographic profiling” programs that show which areas should be searched or put under surveillance first in the hunt for hideouts, bomb workshops and weapons caches.Data from years of home-made-bomb (IED, or “improvised explosive device”) attacks and discoveries in Iraq suggest that those planting bombs in urban areas almost always carry the device at least a couple of hundred metres from where it was stored, though rarely much more than a kilometre. Also—suicide missions aside—few IEDs are built, stored or detonated in the territories of rival groups.The American army has therefore developed, for use in Afghanistan, geoprofiling software called SCARE-S2. This crunches data on the times and co-ordinates of enemy attacks, analysing these in the context of information about the country’s terrain, road network and ethnic make-up, as well as what is known at the time of the shifting pattern of tribal alliances in the area of interest.Geoprofiling works especially well in countries like Iraq, in which sectarian splits limit where people are willing to live or work. It is, nonetheless, still a useful tool in places, such as Western countries
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