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Via NewYorkTimes: Some Who Fled Cuba Are Returning to Help

Some Who Fled Cuba Are Returning to Help
By DAMIEN CAVEMARCH 4, 2014
20140306-132551.jpg

At Atelier, foreigners and Cubans find food and service that had disappeared from Havana for decades. Credit Todd Heisler/The New York Times

HAVANA — The business ideas have ranged from a bikini franchise to a peanut farm, restaurants, and design firms for software and home interiors. But even more novel than the pitches — in a country where entrepreneurship used to be illegal — is the financial muscle behind them: Cuban-Americans whose families lost their previous ventures to Cuba’s Communist government.

“It’s all about people not losing hope and seeing that starting a business is a way to improve their lives,” said Eduardo Mestre, 65, a Wall Street banker who returned to Cuba last year for the first time since 1960 to see the start-up training he helps finance. “Emotionally, it’s very hard not to connect with people who have all this ambition in a place where maintaining hope is very hard to do.”

Many of the first Cubans to leave after Fidel Castro took over are beginning to come back, reuniting with the island they left in bitterness and anger, overcoming decades of heated opposition to its leaders, and partnering with Cubans in direct, new ways.

Some are educating a new crop of Cuban entrepreneurs to take advantage of the recent limited openings for private enterprise in Cuba. Conservative Republican exiles in Miami have also helped finance the renovation of Cuba’s most revered Roman Catholic shrine. Young heirs to the Bacardi family, which fled Cuba after the revolution, leaving behind luxurious homes and a rum business that employed 6,000 people, are sending disaster relief and supporting artists. And Alfonso Fanjul, the Florida sugar baron, recently acknowledged that he had gone back to Cuba twice, meeting with Cuban officials and later declaring that he would consider investing under the “right circumstances.”

It has been a shocking reversal for a community of exiles that has long represented a pillar of support for the American embargo against Cuba. And though the activity is legal through humanitarian or other licensed exceptions to the sanctions, some Cuban-American lawmakers have responded with outrage. Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, a Republican from Miami, called Mr. Fanjul’s trips a betrayal.

“The question is how can we better help the Cuban people free themselves from this regime that has been there for over half a century,” he said. “And the best way to do that is to deny funds to the regime in any way we can.”

But what has emerged in Miami, New York and elsewhere over the past two years, as President Raúl Castro has opened the economy, just a crack, is an alternative approach that emphasizes grass-roots engagement, often through churches, as a tool for giving Cubans skills and independence from the state. Among many Cuban-Americans who now describe themselves as a part of a diaspora, rather than exiles, a new sense of responsibility — to Cubans on the island, not to the property they lost or to fighting the Castros — has gathered strength.

“We think engagement, dialogue and interaction — lowering the barriers — is the best way to develop civil society,” Mr. Mestre said, “but also some of us who feel some respect for the 11 million people stuck there, we just really feel that’s the right thing to do.” He added that he sought a relationship with Cuba, despite the loss of his family’s homes and businesses, including what was once Cuba’s largest television and radio network, because “the loss of our property and wealth is kind of secondary to the feeling about what happened to the country and its people.”

The expanding exchange of people, ideas and money is a result of policy changes over the past few years in Washington and Havana that have opened up travel and giving for Cubans and Cuban-Americans. After decades of being cut off by politics, the airport here is always crammed with Cuban-Americans coming to see family and lugging in gifts, just as it is now more common to see Cuban artists, academics and dissidents in Florida or New York, often mingling with the established Cuban-American elite.

“The broad trend is Cubans’, regardless of their politics or ideology, coming here to visit, live and work, and go back and forth,” said Julia E. Sweig, the director for Latin American studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. “It’s an organic dynamic in which the elite are participating.”

For many families, the transition from keeping Cuba at a distance to pulling it close has taken time and multigenerational discussion. When Kevin O’Brien and some of his cousins decided a few years ago to take charge of the long-dormant Bacardi Family Foundation, they agreed to focus much of their support on Cuba, returning to a version of an old family custom: Relatives pool money together and distribute it to a chosen cause or person.

Not everyone gives; there are about 500 Bacardis now, and disagreements over the homeland are common, said Mr. O’Brien, the foundation’s president. But since reactivating the foundation in 2012, the Bacardis have raised $28,000 for water filters after Hurricane Sandy and financed efforts to encourage creative expression, with art, photography and music.

Cuban officials seem tolerant, to a point. Eager to improve their weak economy, they welcome the money but fear its power, said one artist supported by the foundation who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid reprisals. He added that while Cuba’s leaders had become more welcoming — no longer calling exiles gusanos, or worms — they were still distrustful, determined to keep Cuban-American influence from becoming an immediate challenge to the state.

Higueras Martinez, 39, in the kitchen of Atelier. Credit Todd Heisler/The New York Times
For now, experts say that seems unlikely. The organized money going to Cuba, beyond an estimated $2.6 billion in family remittances, mostly from the United States, remains relatively small. A lot of it is still funneled into the Catholic Church, one of the few institutions allowed to play a role in civil society. The Order of Malta provided 800,000 meals for the elderly in Cuba last year with around $250,000 in donations, mostly from Cuban-Americans in Miami. The Cuban police nonetheless interrogated some of the old women being fed.

The Cuba Emprende Foundation, a nonprofit on which Mr. Mestre is a board member, has also struggled to reassure Cuban officials that its founders — a bipartisan mix of exiles long dedicated to engagement and others who only recently embraced the idea — are interested only in incubating small businesses, in line with the government’s stated economic policy. The organization’s official tax forms filed recently with the I.R.S. state that it has disbursed about $225,000 so far, none of it from the United States government.

Board members say that Cuban officials suggest that Cuba Emprende must be part of a covert Washington plot. A Cuban instructor in Havana, who spoke anonymously to protect the program, said the pressure had increased as Cuba Emprende grew; by mid-March, 731 graduates will have completed the 80-hour course, run through the church in an old seminary here and at a rectory in Camaguey.

Cuban-American lawmakers who back the embargo also seem displeased with the increased engagement, even though Cuba Emprende and other groups in Cuba emphasize that their work does not violate the embargo.

Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the Cuban-American Democrat often described by administration officials as Washington’s main impediment to broader changes in Cuba policy, said it was simply ineffective. “I’m not seeing this engagement produce the results they say it would,” he said, adding that “the regime hasn’t become more open,” even as Europeans travel and invest in Cuba, unfettered.

Mr. Mestre contends Mr. Menendez and other embargo supporters in Congress are counterproductive. “With that attitude,” he said, “you’re just hurting the people you’re trying to help.”

Increasingly, many Cubans and Cuban-Americans are building their own ties, reveling in the surprise of a rediscovered connection. “Cubans are Cubans,” said Niuris Higueras Martínez, 39, one of Cuban Emprende’s first graduates, in 2012. “We find ways to work together.”

That bond is now evolving alongside, or within, Mr. Castro’s limited opening to market ideas. Ms. Higueras, a whirlwind who had always dreamed of opening a restaurant, now owns Atelier, one of Havana’s most popular eateries. Cuba Emprende played a major role in making it happen.

“Everything in that course was important,” she said, including how to calculate her books or change her menu for the slow season. She said she also benefited from the sense of a shared mission with her classmates and the accountants and other professionals Cuba Emprende relies on for help in Cuba. “There was just such chemistry,” she said.

Now, in her business and others, there is a demand for more opportunity, more possibility — but also the usual barriers. Cuban law and the American embargo prohibit Cuba Emprende from bankrolling its students’ ideas as it would like to. Without enough capital for bigger ventures, including Ms. Higuera’s dream of a cooking school, some ambitions are just visions.

During the dinner rush at Atelier, however, with foreigners and Cubans enjoying food and service that had disappeared from Havana for decades, Ms. Higueras was more interested in focusing on how far she had come. “If you have 15 employees, you have at least 10 families whose troubles are suddenly resolved,” she said, wiping a few drops of chocolate from the corner of a plate on its way out of the kitchen. “If you open a little, you get a lot.”

via Telegraph: The maps which explain the Ukraine crisis

The maps which explain the Ukraine crisis

As Russia and Ukraine come ever closer to blows over Crimea, we explain, using maps, the issues at stake

10:35AM GMT 04 Mar 2014

Ukranian and Russian Military Balance

Ukraine’s regular army has only 65,000 soldiers, compared with almost 300,000 deployed in Russia’s western and southern military districts, which border Ukraine. Russia also has an established military presence inside the Ukrainian region of Crimea, centred around the Black Sea Fleet base at the port of Sevastopol. These forces have now fanned out across Crimea and seized de facto control of the territory.

EU gas dependency

The three pipelines that carry gas across Ukraine to Poland and Slovakia and on to the EU. Trade sanctions are unpopular among European countries, which are heavily dependent on Russian oil and gas. Europe gets 40 per cent of its natural gas from Russia. Germany is particularly reluctant to get into a sanctions war since it imports more than a third of its oil and gas from Russia.

Distribution of the population speaking Ukrainian or Russian

via National Geographic: Behind the Headlines: History and Geography Help Explain Ukraine Crisis

A woman cries near a memorial for the people killed in clashes in Kiev.

A woman wipes away tears as she walks away from a memorial in Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine.

PHOTOGRAPH BY DARKO BANDIC, AP

Eve Conant

for National Geographic

PUBLISHED FEBRUARY 24, 2014

Charged with the mass killings of civilians, Ukraine’s recently ousted president, Viktor Yanukovych, is now on the lam.

Last November Yanukovych touched off months of deadly protests in the capital of Kiev and other cities by caving into pressure from the country’s former overlords in Moscow and shelving a landmark trade deal with the European Union. Dozens of citizens died last week in clashes with police and security forces in Kiev.

On Saturday evening, the Ukrainian parliament voted to remove Yanukovych from his post as president.

The new government has now issued a warrant for the president’s arrest, but his exact whereabouts are unknown.

Yanukovych left Kiev by helicopter on Friday after signing an agreement to end the protests. On Saturday, he arrived in the eastern city of Donetsk, where he was prevented from leaving the country on a private jet. He then drove to Ukraine’s pro-Russian Crimean Peninsula and was most recently rumored to be in Sevastopol, the home port of both the Ukrainian navy and Russia’s Black Sea fleet.

The Fault Lines of History

A look back into the country’s history and geography helps explain why Yanukovych would flee eastward, and how the passions and upheaval in the recent news stem from centuries of battles over Ukraine’s precarious position between East and West.

A map of Ukraine.

It was a history that created fault lines. Eastern Ukraine fell under Russian imperial rule by the late 17th century, much earlier than western Ukraine. This helps to explain why, after the fall of the Soviet Union, people in the east have generally supported more Russian-leaning politicians. Western Ukraine spent centuries under the shifting control of European powers like Poland and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The western third of Ukraine was even part of Poland for several years leading up to World War II. That, to some degree, helps explain why people in the west have tended to support more Western-leaning politicians. The east tends to be more Russian-speaking and Orthodox, with parts of the west more Ukrainian-speaking and with heavier Roman Catholic influences.

But it’s not just about geography or religion. “The biggest divide,” saysAdrian Karatnycky, a Ukraine expert at the Atlantic Council of the United States, “is between those who view the Russian imperial and Soviet rule more sympathetically versus those who see them as a tragedy.”

 

At first there were no such divisions. In the ninth century, Ukraine, known as Kievan Rus, was becoming the early seat of Slavic power and of the newly adopted Orthodox religion. But Mongol invasions in the 13th century curtailed Kiev’s rise, with power eventually shifting north into Russia, to present-day St. Petersburg and Moscow.

(Related video: Ukraine at the Crossroads)

East and West

Over the centuries, Ukraine—with its rich black soil that would help it become a major grain producer—was continually carved up by competing powers. In the 16th century, major swaths of the country were under the control of Poland and Lithuania, with Cossack fighters patrolling Ukraine’s frontier with Poland.

In the 17th century, war between the Tsardom of Russia and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth resulted in more internal divisions. Lands to the east of the Dnieper River fell under Russian imperial control much earlier than Ukrainian lands to the west of the Dnieper. The east became known as “Left Bank” Ukraine and as a center of industry and coal. Lands to the west of the Dnieper, or “Right Bank,” were to be ruled by Poland. A small part in the west, called Galicia, was allotted to the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the late 19th century. The Austro-Hungarian Empire ended at the conclusion of World War I, and Galicia remained outside the Russian Empire, becoming incorporated into the U.S.S.R. only as a result of the World War II.

Under the reign of Catherine the Great, the steppe areas of eastern Ukraine became major economic centers of coal and iron. The Ukrainian language—spoken in rural areas—was twice banned by decree of the tsar, says Karatnycky (and today both Ukrainian and Russian are spoken in the country). But peace did not last for long. After the communist revolution of 1917, Ukraine was one of the many countries to suffer a brutal civil war before becoming a Soviet republic in 1920.

Ukrainian Identity

In the early 1930s, to force peasants into joining collective farms, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin orchestrated a famine that resulted in the starvation and death of millions of Ukrainians. Afterward, Stalin imported large numbers of Russians and other Soviet citizens—many with no ability to speak Ukrainian and with few ties to the region—to help repopulate the east.

This, says former ambassador to Ukraine Steven Pifer, is just one of the historic reasons that helps explain why “the sense of Ukrainian nationalism is not as deep in the east as it is in west.”

On some maps you can even see the divide between the southern and eastern parts of Ukraine—known as the steppes—with their fertile farming soil, and the northern and western regions, which are more forested, says Serhii Plokhii, a history professor at Harvard and director of the university’s Ukrainian Research Institute. The institute has created a map depicting the demarcations between the steppe and the forest, a diagonal line between east and west, that bears a “striking resemblance” to political maps of the Ukrainian presidential elections in 2004 and 2010.

As the protests spread east, the conflict “metamorphosed into much more,” says Pifer. It was initially about Europe but in the end turned to the issues of democracy and the end of corruption. There also appeared to be political divisions based on demographics, between younger and older generations, not just geography and a turbulent history.

via Wired.com: How the U.S. Maps the World’s Most Disputed Territories

Keywords: Boundary disputes; Toponyms (place-names); Delineate; Define; Demarcate; Metes-and-Bounds; State Shapes; Maritime Boundaries; Maps; GPS; Political Geography.

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How the U.S. Maps the World’s Most Disputed Territories

BY GREG MILLER
01.24.14
6:30 AM

When the United States decides to recognize a new government, or an existing country changes its name, Leo Dillon and his team at the State Department spring into action.

Dillon heads the Geographical Information Unit, which is responsible for ensuring the boundaries and names on government maps reflect U.S. policy. The team also keeps an eye on border skirmishes and territorial disputes throughout the world and makes maps that are used in negotiating treaties and truces. These days, Dillon says, maritime borders are where much of the action is. (The recent political squabbling and military posturing between China and Japan over the tiny islands known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan is one potentially worrisome case in point.)

Dillon’s been at the State Department since 1986, and he says his job remains as fun as ever. “The landscape of political geography is constantly changing,” he said. “Every day I come in here and there’s something new.” We spoke with Dillon to learn more about it.

WIRED: What’s an example of an interesting border dispute you’ve worked on?

Leo Dillon: One case I worked on that was kind of fun involves a tiny island off the coast of Morocco. It’s very close to shore and very, very small. But about 11 years ago Morocco sent a few troops there and Spain swooped in with helicopters and expelled them and it became a big deal.

[Then-Secretary of State] Colin Powell was asked to mediate the conflict. [In Powell’s plan] everyone was going to leave the island, with no prejudice as to who it belonged to. They drew up an agreement but the problem was the name. The Spanish wouldn’t use the Moroccan name and the Moroccans wouldn’t use the Spanish name.

I was at a dinner party that Saturday night and I got a call from the Secretary’s staff saying that instead of a name they wanted to use the coordinates for that island. So I showed them how to get on a database and do that. I could hear the Secretary in the background saying, “Ask him how accurate those coordinates are.” They’re not totally accurate, but there’s no island nearby with which it could possibly be confused. So the documents he drew up for the mediations referred to “the island and such and such coordinates” and those documents had to be signed by the prime minister of Spain and the king of Morocco by midnight that same day.

The prime minister of Spain signed, no problem. But they had to send a high speed car looking for the king of Morocco. This was in the days before cellphones were prevalent. So they caught up to him and he basically had to pull over at some house and say, “Excuse me, I’m your king, could I use your phone?” He called up Powell and asked him to read the document, which he immediately agreed to. So that was a big deal, and my small part in it was to provide those coordinates. It’s a great example of how geographic names matter.

WIRED: Where do geographic names come from in more ordinary circumstances?

Dillon: What we’re looking for is names that are used officially or names that are used locally. Actually, officially usually trumps locally. Ninety-five percent of the names in our huge database come from official maps, and maybe five percent require special treatment. That’s where I come in quite often and investigate.

Especially in places like Asia or Africa it comes up because sometimes there’s a typo on a map or something doesn’t look quite right. A good example is a Syrian town near the border with Turkey. It’s an important town that’s been in the news a lot. Most people call it A’zaz, but then I noticed our staff had changed it to I’zaz because there’s a large scale map that spells it that way. And some local people apparently do call it I’zaz. But almost everybody calls it A’zaz, and I had to build a case using everything from Syrian websites, to reputable atlases like National Geographic to internet sources.

WIRED: What happens when a new country comes up? Does that trigger a lot of work for you?

Dillon: It sure does. Every time a new country comes by it shakes up the order. Usually you have a lot of advance notice, but it still gets complicated. For instance, when we recognized Kosovo there were many sets of boundaries. The peacekeeping forces there were using boundaries that weren’t really the legal boundaries at all. Their job was to keep peace in a buffer zone, so they’d set up working boundaries in a way that made it easier for them to keep people with guns apart. We were going with the largest scale available map, in this case a series of Yugoslavian-made maps in the Library of Congress. But it took a while to explain to people why we had the boundary the way we had it and what we were basing it on.

The names were an issue too. Before, Serbian names were all we used, but now the State Department said we can’t do that, we have to use both Serbian and Albanian names for each and every town and feature. We had to go chase down an authoritative source of Albanian place names, which had never really existed. The Kosovars did a reasonably good job of tracking them down. But then we had to make a basic reference map, and I couldn’t include as many towns as I wanted to because I couldn’t fit all the labels.

The other problem from our perspective is that a new country makes all the old reference maps obsolete. The other day I was asked for a good page-sized map of the Central African Republic because things are going on there. We have one produced in 2004. Well, it’s no good anymore because it doesn’t say South Sudan.

WIRED: What kinds of information do you use when you’re working on a border dispute?

Dillon: It’s mostly whatever commercial satellite imagery we have available. Honestly, these days it’s a lot of good old Google Earth. We prefer commercial because it’s neutral. But we also use terrain data from SRTM [the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission] or LIDAR or whatever else we need.

In one case, my colleague went to the capitals of both Kosovo and Macedonia. Formerly they were two states in Yugoslavia. Their borders weren’t all that properly defined, and they needed to normalize their borders to have proper diplomatic relations. But they were very mistrustful of each other. He showed up with some Google Earth and Landsat images and showed them that there was this ridge line. He showed them that it’s not a big deal, you might have to give up an acre here or there, but if you just follow the ridge line that’s where the boundary should be. And they agreed. So it was a kind of technical solution to a politically charged situation. It worked out very quickly.

WIRED: Do you ever go to a place and survey a disputed border?

Dillon: No, we don’t do that. That’s not our job. Instead we try to act as a good faith broker between two parties, and we only do it if they both ask us. That’s what happened in Kosovo-Macedonia. We also helped out in Azerbaijan-Armenia and Ethiopia-Eritrea.

WIRED: Do you ever use historic maps?

Dillon: All the time. A good example is during the Iraq war. Our embassy staff were trying to negotiate with the Kurds in the north, and the Kurds were saying these lands used to belong to us, and our folks there had no way of knowing if that was true. I got tasked with finding old maps that would corroborate what these guys are saying. So I went to the Library of Congress and found old maps of the area. I was able to make copies and georectify them and put them up against Kurds’ claims, and that was used as a negotiating tool. Our folks were able to say look, you said this whole area used to be in this particular province, but you can see here that only half of it was. And they’d say, “Oh yeah, maybe you’re right.”

One of my colleagues is working hard now on India and China, which is one of the few borders that never really had a solid treaty behind it. He’s got all these detailed maps from both sides, and he’s trying to work through the differences. He’s found areas where the British surveyors on the Indian side made mistakes. He’s basically doing detective work, where he can say it’s obvious they had a guy on this ridge line and another guy on this ridge line, but there was a valley in between they couldn’t see, so they basically drew a line where they shouldn’t have.

WIRED: Do you work with a lot of classified maps?

Dillon: Most classified maps we deal with are something that’s going on at a given time. They show the movement of rebel groups or narcotics or something like that. But they’re ephemeral. I don’t like to make them because why make a map that only a small number of people will see and is only useful for a short time?

WIRED: Where are some of the current hot spots in terms of border disputes?

Dillon: Maritime borders are really where the hot spots are right now. The South China Sea is huge right now. You’ve got all these tiny islands there that are claimed by various actors. In the eastern Mediterranean there’s all these complicated maritime agreements that some states recognize and other states don’t.

As people are trying to exploit resources in the sea it’s getting more and more important for them to be able to delimit the areas of sovereign rights. You have what’s called your territorial seas, which is 12 nautical miles [off the coast], then you have your exclusive economic zone which is 200 nautical miles, and you even have certain rights to what’s called the extended continental shelf which goes beyond 200 nautical miles — if you can define it. Some states are trying to do that responsibly using international law, and some states are not doing it responsibly.

WIRED: How does defining maritime borders differ from defining land borders?

Dillon: Maritime boundaries are actually simpler. Most people agree on a principle of equidistance, so you just have to get together and agree on a distance. You take an island or a coastline and start drawing concentric circles out and find a midline between them. But there are disputes all the time. Burma and Bangladesh took a case to the International Court of Justice recently. Chile and Peru is another case we’re really watching. A decision could be out any day.

WIRED: Is climate change creating new areas of dispute?

Dillon: Sea level rise is going to play an enormous role in coastal states. People who are trying right now to negotiate their maritime boundaries with a neighboring state have to take that into account. If you chose a spot right now that’s the terminus of your land boundary and you move it out 12 nautical miles, and your shoreline is very shallow, you may find yourself in 100 years with your land terminus underwater.

WIRED: Have open access cartography tools like Open Street Maps impacted your work?

Dillon: In a way, yes. Not so much with boundaries because boundaries are legal instruments. Anybody can put down a boundary in OSM but nobody’s going to pay attention to it because there’s nothing backing it up. But in the realm of names, definitely so. People are putting down names in OSM that are quasi-official or not official or local, and those are very interesting. We look at them and we collect them.

Before the internet, we had a much easier time defending the names we used because we were considered much more of an authority. Now, if you want to find out how to spell a town in an Arabic country, if you go to Wikipedia you may find a name that’s more commonly used on the ground. It’s something we’re having a hard time keeping up with. The democratization of cartography, much like the internet as a whole, has opened up the world of geographical knowledge to a much bigger degree.

vía GlobalPost: Latin America: The Cost of Murder

The effects that crime, violence, and the homicide rate have on Latin America is a model for the rest of the world. The loss of GDP due to a loss of a work force is starting to have an effect on countries in the form of a lost TAX BASE which can lead to decaying INFRASTRUCTURE and social programs. A increasing adult MORTALITY RATE leaves orphans without families and ultimately guidance for their futures. Coupled with political corruption, there is little hope for the trend to change any time soon.

-The Human Imprint

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Latin America: The cost of murder

Simeon Tegel, January 18, 2014 06:01

Editor’s note: Warning — this article contains graphic images.

LIMA, Peru — Dreams of a better life randomly shattered forever by a stranger’s bullet. Homeless orphans sucked into violent crime. Entire neighborhoods where the police fear to tread.

The human toll of Latin America’s unwanted status as the most homicidal region on Earth has long been all too clear. But experts are now focusing on the staggering economic cost of bloodshed that’s left more than 1 million people dead in the region since 2000.

Here, GlobalPost takes a closer look at the price tag of Latin America’s murder epidemic.

Lost GDP

According to a recent United Nations study, “excess mortality” caused by high murder rates cost Latin America 0.5 percent of its gross domestic product, or $24 billion, in 2009. That percentage rises dramatically for the most violent countries. Honduras — one of the world’s most murderous nations, and one of the Western Hemisphere’s poorest — lost 10.5 percent of its economic output.

Even Chile and Uruguay, two of the region’s safest countries, each squandered roughly 3 percent of their 2010 GDP on crime and violence (p. 103 of the UN study). As a part of the world where millions don’t get three square meals a day, Latin America is not in a position to be blowing that kind of cash.

Long-run costs

Even those dramatic numbers may seriously underestimate the cumulative price tag, over time, of Latin America’s bloodbath. Another study, by the World Bank, calculated that a 10 percent drop in the sky-high murder rates of Central America’s most dangerous nations — which would still leave Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala as some of the planet’s deadliest peacetime places — could increase annual economic growth by an entire percentage point. Over several decades, that extra growth would build up significantly, and could eventually make the big difference between a country having the living standards of Switzerland or, well, Honduras.

Complicated bill

Calculating a definitive bill for the violence is close to impossible. How, for example, do you put a price tag on the 331 million years of human life that the UN estimates were lost in 2009 alone? And how would you gauge the counterfactual of investments never made because of the risk of violence and robbery? Nevertheless, experts reached the figures above using factors such as extra health care costs, billions blown on policing and private security rather than productive activities, surging prison budgets, and consumers too afraid to leave their homes to spend their hard-earned cash.

More than narcos

Although the drug cartels have killed thousands, that bloodshed is concentrated in relatively small pockets of a region that’s home to 600 million people. For the most part, Latin America’s high murder rates have more mundane causes, like street crime and domestic violence.

The forces behind the violence are complex, but have much to do with social breakdown and, the UN says, the limited professionalism of police forces and justice systems — polite diplo-speak for widespread corruption and incompetence. According to the UN, 1 in every 3 prisoners in a survey of six Latin American nations’ incarcerated populations left home before the age of 15.

Although Colombia’s murder rate remains seven times higher than that of the United States, the country has managed to reduce homicides since the dark days of the 1980s and 1990s when drug kingpin Pablo Escobar ran amok.

Colombia still has a long way to go, says Camilo Reyes, executive director of the country’s American Chamber of Commerce. But he attributes the homicide reduction to strong state institutions, including courts that actually deliver justice: “We have managed to maintain a separation of powers in Colombia. It is precarious sometimes, but we do have that, including the justice system.”

Poverty ≠ violence

Perhaps one of the most surprising findings is that some Latin American homicide rates have risen even as poverty has waned. The UN explains this paradox by pointing to factors including weak public institutions — governing everything from public schools to the courts — and one of the world’s widest rich-poor gaps. It also cites rapid “disorganized” urban growth, outstripping governments’ ability to provide basic services in new neighborhoods. In fact, there’s a direct correlation in most Latin American countries between urban growth of more than 2 percent per year and high rates of violence, the UN says.

And the organization blames growing materialism for “aspirational crimes,” in which young people from the wrong side of the tracks see crime as the only way to access the consumer lifestyle rubbed in their faces by advertising.

Iron fist doesn’t work

Another key finding is that “iron fist” policing does not work. “Strong police and criminal repression in the region have often coincided with high crime rates,” the UN notes dryly. Gustavo Beliz, an expert at the Inter-American Development Bank, told GlobalPost what’s really needed are smarter, not tougher, strategies from police forces that currently lack everything from “credible and detailed crime databases to community police training.” Comprehensive social policies, addressing not just poverty but family breakdown and schooling, are also needed to break the cycle of violence from one generation to another, Beliz said.

BBC News – Does the Berlin Wall still exist?

Does the Berlin Wall still exist?

By Stephen Evans

BBC News, Berlin

If you are wondering whether the two halves of Germany are becoming truly one nearly a quarter of a century after the country was officially unified, just have a look at the map of voting patterns in Berlin.

The picture is stark: the former route of the Berlin Wall divides the city into voting choices. In the constituencies of the East, voters chose Die Linke (The Left party), descended from the old communist party.

In the West, they voted for the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats (CDU), both formerly West German parties.

In a few locales in the centre of Berlin, on either side of what was the Wall, the Greens came out on top – and closer examination reveals these to be areas which have been gentrified heavily, with large numbers of young, professional incomers.

The map only takes account of votes in constituencies. Germans had two votes – one for a local candidate and a second for the party nationally. The geographic split of the second vote is not known, but the first vote reveals that old divisions run deep.

Little migration

Perhaps we should not be surprised that voting habits have not changed much. After all, apart from the gentrifying areas in the centre, populations have probably remained much the same as they were before the fall of the Wall.

There was no great cross-border migration in the city after 1989. People had security of tenure in their flats, and they stayed put. Berlin had a large concentration of members of the Socialist Unity Party (as the communist party in East Germany was called), as well as the civil servants and Stasi operatives who kept the communist state running, and they have remained in their areas and transferred their loyalty to Die Linke.

But a close look does reveal a more complicated pattern. In lots of the areas of East Berlin which voted in greatest numbers for Die Linke, the second choice was the CDU. The areas of the East in the city do not gravitate towards the Social Democrats. They are torn between the far-left and the centre-right.

It gets even more interesting if you look at a map of the whole of Germany. It shows that East Germans voted in large numbers for Chancellor Merkel’s party, perhaps out of loyalty to her.

The areas where the SPD triumphed were some of the old industrialised cities of the West (Duesseldorf, Dortmund, Essen, Hamburg, Bremen).

via BBC News – Does the Berlin Wall still exist?.

New Chinese law: Visit your Parents – CNN.com

Human Imprint Synopsis:

In a country where a one-child policy and an aging population prevail, the traditional family is being turned on its head. China is a rapidly developing country that is improving its economic position by sending more of their children to universities, even abroad.  However, as the money starts to come in, dependents of the “little-prince” generation are wondering if their kid will ever come back home to take care of them. Recently, the “Law of Protection of Rights and Interests of the Aged” was established in an effort to make sure that kids are not turning their back on their parents. A social necessity or infringement of human rights? What do you think?

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Story Via: New Chinese law: Visit your parents – CNN.com.

New Chinese law: Visit your parents

By Meng Meng and Katie Hunt, for CNN
updated 6:36 AM EDT, Tue July 2, 2013
Watch this video

In China, visit parents or face jail?

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • New Chinese law requires children to visit elderly parents
  • Care of growing elderly population a big challenge for China’s leaders
  • One-child policy and economic reform have broken up extended family
  • Some say law controversial and hard to enforce

Hong Kong (CNN) — Lola Wang, a 28-year-old marketing officer in Shanghai, makes a six-hour trip to Shandong to see her parents twice a year — once during the Lunar New Year and again during the National Day holiday in October.

“I feel like I should visit my parents more but having a job in the financial industry means I have to work long hours and sacrifice some of my personal time for work,” Wang, an only child, tells CNN.

Wang’s dilemma is faced by many young people in China, where a one-child policy and three decades of economic reforms have accelerated the decline of the traditional extended family.

It’s also a matter of concern for China’s new leaders as they grapple with the burden of supporting the growing number of elderly people.

New law

New Chinese law: Visit your parents

A new national law introduced this week requires the offspring of parents older than 60 to visit their parents “frequently” and make sure their financial and spiritual needs are met.

“People are accusing young people of not visiting their parents enough,” says Wang, adding she agrees with the aims of the law.

“Admittedly, some of them use their career and long working hours as an excuse. My problems are that I do care about my parents, but I have little vacation and my parents live far away.”

According to Xinhua, China had about 185 million people above the age of 60 at the end of 2011. The figure is expected to surge to 221 million in 2015 and by 2050 a third of China’s population will be classed as elderly.

Neglect

The “Law of Protection of Rights and Interests of the Aged” was amended by China’s legislature in December after a spate of reports about elderly parents neglected by their children.

In one particularly horrific case in Jiangsu province, a local television station reported that a farmer had kept his 100-year-old mother in a pigsty with a 440lb sow.

Chen Shoutian told the station his mother had been happy to live there: “She wants to stay here because she feels it is convenient,” he said.

A modest pension and social welfare system, particularly in rural areas, means elderly people are usually dependent on their children for support.

More than a fifth live below the poverty line, according to figures from the National School of Development at Peking University.

Changing values

Although respect for the elderly is still deeply engrained in Chinese society, traditional values like filial piety have been weakened by the country’s rush to modernity.

“The traditional family support system is eroding for many reasons and I think the government would like to slow this process down,” said Albert Park, the director of the Emerging Markets Institute at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

The law stipulates that children cannot give up their inheritance rights in attempt to evade their duty to take care of their parents. It adds that children should pay a monthly allowance to their parents if they refuse to take care of them.

The legislation also allows for the elderly to sue their children but does not specify the process or what penalties they might face.

It may also prove difficult to enforce, says Ding Yiyuan from Beijing Yingke Law Firm. He told the Guangzhou Daily newspaper the law fails to qualify the word “frequently.” He added that few elderly people were likely to sue their own children.

Controversial

The law’s introduction has proved controversial. Some say it puts too much pressure on those who move away from home for work, study or other opportunities.

Cheng Zhegang, 50, whose only child is studying for a master’s degree in the United States, said the law “distorts the parent-child relationship.”

He hopes his daughter will head to a big city like Shanghai or Beijing to find a job on graduation and not return to the small town where she grew up.

“I don’t want my daughter to have a burden both physically and spiritually,” he told CNN.

“For me, my daughter’s career is the most important thing. As the parent of an only child, I have spent so much time and money on my daughter’s education and now I want her to be successful.”

Electoral Geography: How Growing Majority-Minority Districts Effect Elections

Voting BallotWhen talking about ELECTORAL GEOGRAPHY and the importance of analyzing the effects of a changing voting population, the 2012 U.S. Census revealed a change that probably does not shock most. ETHNIC groups are on the rise and non-white majority districts are decreasing. MAJORITY-MINORITY districts have the ability to impact REDISTRICTING of voting boundaries every ten years.  The ruling political party of the state conducts the redistricting, and if it can be proven to be done in their favor, it is known as GERRYMANDERING (illegal yet is still happens-Right…I don’t know either…).

Here is an excerpt from a New York Times article that explains how highly populated ETHNIC ENCLAVES can be dealt with and used for political advantage.

“So if Democrats are in charge of the redistricting process in New York in 2020, perhaps they can find a way to squeeze out another Democratic seat or two by splitting up minority voters. And if Republicans are in charge in Texas, perhaps they can avoid giving up as many seats to Democrats by diluting the minority vote in cities like Dallas and Houston.”

Basically, if there are too many minority voters who might have a tendency to vote for a Democrat in the district, they will have more votes than they need to win the district, so why not spread them out over more iffy ones?

Similarly, if a state losses or gains a larger portion of people due to MIGRATION or NATURAL POPULATION INCREASE, the 435 representative seats will need to be REAPPORTIONED (redistributed) across the states.  States such as California, Texas, New York, and Illinois who already have a large number of majority-minority districts, might earn themselves more fighting power on the FEDERAL level.

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Repost from: http://www.nationaljournal.com/congress/since-1982-minority-congressional-districts-have-tripled-graphic-20120413

Since 1982, Minority Congressional Districts Have Tripled—GRAPHIC

By  and David Wasserman

Updated: May 29, 2013 | 9:33 p.m.
April 13, 2012 | 6:54 a.m.

In 1980, the nonwhite share of the U.S. population was 17 percent, and by 1982 there were 35 majority nonwhite districts. In the 2010 census, the nonwhite share of the nation’s population had ballooned to 28 percent, mostly fueled by Latino growth. But over the same time period, the number of nonwhite majority districts has more than tripled, to 106. For the first time ever, a majority of states–26–will contain majority nonwhite districts, in part thanks to new deliberately drawn minority-majority seats in Washington state where Asian-Americans are the largest minority group.