The $1-a-week school – The Economist Aug 1st 2015 | From the print edition

ACROSS the highway from the lawns of Nairobi’s Muthaiga Country Club is Mathare, a slum that stretches as far as the eye can see. Although Mathare has virtually no services like paved streets or sanitation, it has a sizeable and growing number of classrooms. Not because of the state—the slum’s half-million people have just four public schools—but because the private sector has moved in. Mathare boasts 120 private schools.

This pattern is repeated across Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. The failure of the state to provide children with a decent education is leading to a burgeoning of private places, which can cost as little as $1 a week (see article).

The parents who send their children to these schools in their millions welcome this. But governments, teachers’ unions and NGOs tend to take the view that private education should be discouraged or heavily regulated. That must change.

Chalk and fees

Education in most of the developing world is shocking. Half of children in South Asia and a third of those in Africa who complete four years of schooling cannot read properly. In India 60% of six- to 14-year-olds cannot read at the level of a child who has finished two years of schooling.

Most governments have promised to provide universal primary education and to promote secondary education. But even when public schools exist, they often fail. In a survey of rural Indian schools, a quarter of teachers were absent. In Africa the World Bank found teacher-absenteeism rates of 15-25%. Pakistan recently discovered that it had over 8,000 non-existent state schools, 17% of the total. Sierra Leone spotted 6,000 “ghost” teachers, nearly a fifth the number on the state payroll.

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Rio’s waters are so filthy that 2016 Olympians risk becoming violently ill and unable to compete – Brad Brooks and Jenny Barchfield, Associated Press Jul. 30, 2015, 1:38 AM

Brazil 2016 Olympics

In this July 28, 2015 photo, workers remove garbage collected by floating waste barriers in a canal at the Mare slum complex, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Athletes competing in next year’s Summer Olympics here will be swimming and boating in waters so contaminated with human feces that they risk becoming violently ill and unable to compete in the games, an Associated Press investigation has found.

An AP analysis of water quality revealed dangerously high levels of viruses and bacteria from human sewage in Olympic and Paralympic venues – results that alarmed international experts and dismayed competitors training in Rio, some of whom have already fallen ill with fevers, vomiting and diarrhea.

It is the first independent comprehensive testing for both viruses and bacteria at the Olympic sites.

Brazilian officials have assured that the water will be safe for the Olympic athletes. But the government does not test for viruses.

Extreme water pollution is common in Brazil, where the majority of sewage is not treated. Raw waste runs through open-air ditches to streams and rivers that feed the Olympic water sites.

As a result, Olympic athletes are almost certain to come into contact with disease-causing viruses that in some tests measured up to 1.7 million times the level of what would be considered hazardous on a Southern California beach.

Despite decades of official pledges to clean up the mess, the stench of raw sewage still greets travelers touching down at Rio’s international airport. Prime beaches are deserted because the surf is thick with putrid sludge, and periodic die-offs leave the Olympic lake, Rodrigo de Freitas, littered with rotting fish.

“What you have there is basically raw sewage,” said John Griffith, a marine biologist at the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project. Griffith examined the protocols, methodology and results of the AP tests.

“It’s all the water from the toilets and the showers and whatever people put down their sinks, all mixed up, and it’s going out into the beach waters. Those kinds of things would be shut down immediately if found here,” he said, referring to the U.S.

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Rick Perry just rolled out a surprisingly progressive agenda on Wall Street regulation – Updated by Matthew Yglesias on July 30, 2015, 7:00 a.m. ET

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Rick Perry has a plan to change the way the federal government regulates Wall Street and it is … kind of left-wing. Almost shockingly so for the very conservative governor of Texas.

He laid out his plan in a Wednesday speech. He hits on many familiar conservative themes, but also some not so familiar ones. For example, he credited Texas’ relatively strong weathering of the Great Recession in part to strict financial regulation. “But there’s another thing we have in Texas that the rest of the country could learn from,” he said “we regulate, in an intelligent way, the use of a type of mortgage called ‘cash-out refinancing.'”

The Perry campaign does not have a ton of specific details to offer about his ideas, and financial regulation is certainly an area in which the devil is frequently in the details. But in broad strokes, Perry has some pretty good ideas combined with a standard Republican aversion to any kind of consumer financial protection. His proposals are aimed, overwhelmingly, at reducing the amount of debt in the financial system both by regulating big banks but also by reducing the tendency of federal programs to encourage middle class households to borrow heavily to buy houses. The total impact would be a financial system that is considerably less fragile, albeit one in which it is also easier for financial firms to make a quick buck by pulling the wool over consumers’ eyes.

Rick Perry calls for something like Glass-Steagall

The headline here is that Perry comes close to calling for a breakup of big multi-line financial conglomerates, with his fact sheet saying that “requiring banks to separate their commercial lending and investment banking practices should be considered.” This is something liberals have made a lot of noise about since the financial crisis, and that Hillary Clinton has declined to endorse even as Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders have. But Perry’s backup idea “alternatively, require these banks to hold a significant additional capital cushion for their trading activities” is probably a better idea.

What this means is that Perry would make a more complicated bank be more cautious about borrowing money than a similarly-sized by less-complicated entity would have to be.

This would make complexity less profitable and create a financial incentive to shrink and simplify unless you’re really reaping massive efficiency gains. At the same time, it would ensure that a complicated bank is especially unlikely to go bust — and thus that difficult questions about how to deal with the failure of such a bank are unlikely to arise.

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How the Black Lives Matter Movement Is Upending Bernie Sanders’s Campaign — and the Entire Democratic Primary

Photo: Charlie Leight/Getty Images

Photo: Charlie Leight/Getty Images

Marcus Ferrell, the new African-American outreach coordinator for Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign, was only a week into his new job when he went to Netroots Nation two weekends ago and watched Black Lives Matter activists shout down his candidate. “He felt a little ambushed, quite honestly … he’s a human being,” he told a group of grassroots supporters, African-Americans for Bernie Sanders, who got together on a conference call for the first time last week to begin organizing behind the candidate.

Of all the unexpected turns of Bernie Sanders’s surprisingly successful presidential candidacy, becoming an object of opprobrium among black activists was probably the one he least anticipated. It’s not that his team was completely unaware of the fact that he had work to do introducing himself to one of the most important constituencies of the Democratic party: Both the polls and a quick survey of the mostly white crowds that have shown up to his campaign rallies indicated as much. But in the three short months since he announced his Wall Street–bashing bid, Sanders has been drawing crowds in the thousands in places like Maine and Iowa and Wisconsin. He’s earned endorsements from rappers Killer Mike and Lil B. He was catching on with white liberal voters, and as a longtime progressive who came out of the civil rights era, it seemed like he was on the path to a growing following among black progressives, too.

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This Gadget Hacks GM Cars to Locate, Unlock, and Start Them – ANDY GREENBERG: 07.30.15 7:00 AM



GM’s Onstar service offers some of the most futuristic features on any connected car, including the ability to locate the vehicle, unlock it, and even start its ignition—all from a smartphone app. But if a hacker like Samy Kamkar has hidden a small, $100 box anywhere on your Onstar-equipped car or truck, those same conveniences could fall into unintended hands.

At the DefCon hacker conference next week, Kamkar plans to present the details of a new attack on GM’s OnStar RemoteLink system he’s developed that can allow a hacker to track a target vehicle, effortlessly unlock it, trigger the horn and alarm or even start its engine—everything but put the car in gear and drive it away, one function that thankfully still requires the presence of the driver’s key. Kamkar’s shown that if a hacker can plant a cheap, homemade Wi-Fi hotspot device somewhere on the car’s body—such as under a bumper or its chassis—to capture commands sent from the user’s smartphone, the results for vulnerable vehicle owners could range from nasty pranks to privacy breaches to actual theft.

“If I can intercept that communication, I can take full control and behave as the user indefinitely,” says Kamkar, a well-known security researcher and freelance developer. “From then on I can geolocate your car, go up to it and unlock it, and use all the functionalities that the RemoteLink software offers.”

When the driver comes within Wi-Fi range of Kamkar’s $100 contraption, which he’s named “OwnStar” in a reference for the hacker jargon to “own” or control a system, it impersonates a familiar Wi-Fi network to trick the user’s phone into silently connecting. (Modern smartphones constantly probe for known networks, so the trade-paperback-sized box, packed with three radios and a Raspberry Pi computer, can listen for and then impersonate a friendly network, or by default call itself “attwifi” to appear as a common Starbucks connection.) If the user launches their GM RemoteLink Android or iOS app while their phone’s within Wi-fi range and unwittingly connected, OwnStar is designed to exploit a vulnerability in GM’s app to steal the user’s credentials and send that data over a 2G cellular connection to the hacker. “As soon as you’re on my network and you open the app, I’ve taken over,” Kamkar says.

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‘Dark money’: Conservative group wants image makeover – By TARINI PARTI 7/30/15 5:15 AM EDT Updated 7/30/15 5:15 AM EDT

The goal is to reduce negative perceptions about anonymous contributions.

Occupy Portland F29 marchers walk up SW Broadway in Portland, Ore., Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012. The march was to raise awareness of the American Legislative Exchange Council or ALEC. (AP Photo/The Oregonian, Benjamin Brink)

The Koch brothers-backed group that helped launch the push for voter ID laws and “stand your ground” statutes has a new project: defending the anonymous “dark money” in politics.

The American Legislative Exchange Council, composed of conservative state lawmakers and corporations, devoted part of its annual conference last week to turning around negative perceptions about anonymous contributions. In an audio tape obtained by POLITICO, panelists at the San Diego event lament a movement gaining traction in state and local governments to require more disclosure of donations to politically active nonprofits, which are expected to spend hundreds of millions in the 2016 election.

According to the audio, speakers stressed that groups pushing for disclosure were strategic in labeling anonymous spending “dark money,” “conjuring images of shady operatives in smoke-filled rooms” in the minds of voters to boost their cause.

“Seems to me that by using the term ‘dark money’ in this discussion we are buying into their arguments,” said one state senator at the session. “If the media were to call it something better such as ‘anonymous free speech money’ or something else. Somebody needs to come up with a better label than ‘dark money.’”

Other speakers also acknowledged that disclosure advocates have waged a more successful public relations campaign in influencing voters’ opinion on the issue, and that it’s time for their side to step it up as more statehouses propose disclosure laws.


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Taliban Leader Reports Threaten Peace Talks |by Michael Pizzi July 29, 2015 7:45PM ET

Some see saboteur’s hand in timing of news, which could delegitimize Taliban representatives at talks

Analysts urged caution with the announcement; rumors of Omar’s death have surfaced several times in recent years, usually traced back to unnamed Afghan officials and always denied by Taliban leadership. The one-eyed insurgent leader has not been seen in public since the 2001 invasion sent him fleeing into Pakistan, which has long been accused of sheltering him along with other Taliban members. Since then, Mullah Omar has released only written statements — the latest just five days ago — never appearing in videos or offering other proof of life.

But Wednesday marked the first time Afghanistan offered “official” confirmation, and White House spokesman Eric Schultz said the U.S. believed that the reports this time around were “credible.” And while Taliban officials initially denied Omar’s death prior to Sediqi’s comments — at which time the official line form Kabul was that it was “investigating reports — Taliban officials could not be reached for comment later in the day.

Regardless of the report’s veracity, experts on the Taliban insurgency struggled to explain the timing of Kabul’s announcement, which they said would certainly complicate the peace effort. Omar’s death would raise questions about who authorized Taliban representatives to sit down with Kabul officials. On July 15, the group even released a statement supposedly drafted by Omar that signaled his approval of the process.

Analysts believe the Taliban leadership’s decision to negotiate with Kabul has fractured an already diffuse insurgency. If those involved in the talks are acting without Omar’s blessing, it could further undermine the process.


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On The DNR Frontline: Ukraine’s Failed Ceasefire (Part 1) – Vice News Published on Jul 28, 2015

Watch Part 2:

It’s been five months since the second ceasefire was agreed between the Ukrainian government and the Russian-backed separatists of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR). But this truce, much like the first, has not brought an end to the fighting.

Only a few days after this ceasefire was agreed, the DNR took the strategically important rail town of Debaltseve, trashing any hopes for a lasting ceasefire in the process. Since then, fighting has been constant. Dozens, possibly hundreds of civilians and soldiers have been killed, and serious efforts to get the peace agreement back on track have failed.

In late June, VICE News traveled back to eastern Ukraine to get a firsthand look at how it’s business as usual for soldiers and civilians on both sides of the frontline.

Watch ” Rebel Soldiers Hold the Buffer Zone: Russian Roulette (Dispatch 109) –

Checked Out – By Siva Vaidhyanathan – JULY 28 2015 11:11 AM

The Library of Congress has let itself become obsolete. It needs a new leader who can steer it into the digital age.

The Library of Congress needs more than a respected scholar. It needs a visionary leader. Photo by Alexey Rotanov/Shutterstock

The Library of Congress needs more than a respected scholar. It needs a visionary leader.
Photo by Alexey Rotanov/Shutterstock

Last month, Librarian of Congress James Billington announced that he will resign as of Jan. 1, 2016, after 28 years in office. Filling this vacancy may not seem like the most pressing matter before President Barack Obama, but in fact the decision is one that could help define his legacy. He has the opportunity to name a visionary leader who can nudge the nation toward a richer, more open information ecosystem appropriate for a democratic republic in the 21stcentury.

Traditionally, the Librarian of Congress has been an esteemed scholar who does not threaten conservative sensibilities. Billington is a revered historian of Russia. For much of his tenure, especially early on, he was regarded as a stable and effective advocate for the institution. But he never seemed to grasp the potential of digital media to expand the influence—and thus the value—of the library.

There is some push now to encourage Obama to appoint a professional librarian with administrative experience from one of America’s outstanding academic research libraries. But the library needs more than a respected scholar or librarian. It needs a visionary who can leverage the position to lead us through some essential upgrades and debates that could push this vital institution into public consciousness.

Thomas Jefferson reseeded the Library of Congress with his own impressive book collection after British troops burned the library and its 3,000 books in 1814. Over the ensuing 200 years, the library became a national treasure to researchers and tourists, a repository of our rich tradition of American publishing, and an essential resource for congressional staff. For more than a century, the library was fully stocked as the official copyright repository: You can’t register a copyright without submitting a work to the library. But as the collections have grown—they now include music, film, television, and radio recordings, as well as video games, software, and electronic records of Web publications—the library has increasingly depended on congressional appropriations to keep its operations going. And funding has been far below what the library needs to perform its functions of preserving all this material and making it available to the pubic.

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