America doesn't crack the top 10 of the best places to be born in new survey
by Max Fisher -
The Washington Post
If you came into the world today and could pick your nationality, there are at least 15 better choices than to be born American, according to a study by the Economist Intelligence Unit. The firm looked at 80 countries, scoring them across 11 variables to determine "which country will provide the best opportunities for a healthy, safe and prosperous life in the years ahead."
The study incorporates hard data on facets such as economic opportunity, health standards and political freedoms; subjective "quality of life" surveys; and economic forecasts for 2030, when an infant born today would be entering adulthood. Even gender equality, job security (as measured by unemployment data), violent crime rates and climate are taken into account.
Here's some of what I found interesting about the data. There's surely more here - just as there are surely plenty of holes to be poked in any endeavor to understand life and opportunity in only 11 variables.
Money can't buy you happiness, though it will get you 2/3 of the way.
The correlation between wealth, as measured by gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, and happiness is clear, though not nearly as clear as you might expect. The report concludes from the results that "GDP per head alone explains some two thirds of the inter-country variation in life satisfaction, and the estimated relationship is linear." Only two-thirds!
If you look at the map, you'll see that the world's richest countries score highly, but not in the top category. The United States and Germany, two of the world's economic powerhouses, tied for 16th place; Japan ranks way down at 25th. Britain and France score even worse.
The Middle East offers some great lessons on money and well-being. The region scores poorly in general, with two exceptions. Democratic and developed Israel, which is about as rich per person as the European Union average, ranks 20th. But the top-ranking country in the region, at 18th, is the oil-rich United Arab Emirates. Even more telling, though, is the gulf between the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia, which for all its oil money scores much lower, perhaps due in part to problems such as repressive laws or a lower human development index.
The best countries to be born in are small, peaceful, homogenous, liberal democracies.
Yes, it's yet another international ranking on individual well-being where the Nordic countries come out on top, alongside Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. The top 15 also include Austria and Switzerland, which seem to meet similar criteria. The three best places to be born are, in order: Switzerland, Australia and Norway.
Here's a surprise: the top-ranked countries also include Asia's two super-rich city-states, Hong Kong and Singapore, as well as Taiwan. I'll admit to being surprised by the data's suggestion that a newborn today is better off being Taiwanese than American or German, particularly because Taiwan's aging population and declining birthrate could lead the economy to decline. But Taiwan does enjoy good political freedoms and improving health and living standards.
There is some interesting variation among the top-ranked countries. New Zealand ranks seventh overall even though its GDP per capita is low compared to many worse-ranking European countries. Singapore, though ranked sixth, is not a liberal democracy by any stretch, and life satisfaction in the hyper-competitive city seems relatively low. But it sure is rich.
It's still best in the West.
In spite of Asia's miraculous growth and of Europe's economic decline, factors such as political rights and health standards keep the Western world overwhelmingly desirable. Other than a small number of exceptions, most of which are mentioned above, the top third of the rankings is dominated by Europe and other Western states.
Even Portugal and Spain, for all their very real troubles, score highly. A child born today is likely to have a better life, according to the data, in Poland or Greece - yes, Greece - than in rising economic giants such as Brazil, Turkey or China.
Poverty, violence and/or lack of freedom define the worst countries to be born into.
Countries with violence, poverty or political oppression all rank poorly, but the variance within the bottom fifth or so is fascinating. The worst three countries to be born into, in order from the bottom up, are Nigeria, Kenya and Ukraine.
Some of the bottom-ranked countries are not actually so poor, such as Russia, which has bad records on political rights and public health.
Ecuador, backsliding on political rights, is the sole low-scoring country in an otherwise optimistic-looking Latin America.
Though countries such as Indonesia and Vietnam are projected to show astounding economic growth over the next generation, they are poor today. This map is a reminder that being born into a poor society, even one that offers opportunities for new wealth, can still mean life-long challenges.
Inequality plus poverty is much worse than just plain poverty.
Three telling cases here are Angola, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, all of which scored much lower than I'd have expected. Both Angola and Kazakhstan are enjoying rapid economic growth from energy and mineral exports, and Ukraine is a middle-income democracy. But all three have severe and worsening problems with economic inequality, which in turn are fueling corruption and poor governance.
You're worse off being born in any of these three countries, according to the data, than you are just about anywhere else, including Sri Lanka, a poor hotbed of ethnic violence, oppressive Vietnam, or even Syria. Pakistan places higher than Angola or Ukraine but just below Kazakhstan. China is still not a great place to be born.
The country ranks 49th out of 80, just below Latvia and Hungary. That's an amazing finding, given that China now has the second-largest number of billionaires in the world after the United States and might some day have the most. You would think that, with so many Chinese families catapulting to higher status within a society that is itself seeing historic gains, China would be a great place to be born in 2013.
The statistics are a reminder that, for all of China's astounding gains, those gains have not benefited all Chinese equally. About half of the country is still rural and 128 million are still below the poverty line. Even in the big coastal cities, the rising cost of living, stalled political freedoms and worsening income inequality mean that the next 20 or 30 years may not be prosperous for a lot of families.
So, if you're a Westerner fretting about American decline or European collapse, then if nothing else, know that your children have still lucked into one of the best deals in history: being born in the right place at the right time.
City officials say they're committed to community policing, just not to funding it
by Mick Dumke
One of the first matters to come up at last week's community policing meeting in west Humboldt Park
was the trouble brewing around the corner of Thomas and Springfield
"Some new guys popped up over there and the other guys didn't like it," said H.T., a Vietnam veteran who's lived nearby for 27 years. "There was a shooting over there an hour ago."
Captain Roger Bay knew just what H.T. was talking about. Bay, one of four cops at the meeting, recalled that police cleared out a drug operation on the same corner last spring, arresting the "main characters" and posting 24-hour sentries for several weeks. But now some of the dealers were back on the street, and in the meantime others had tried to move in.
"The guy shot today is not from around there," Bay said.
Bay has been taking notes at west Humboldt meetings since being assigned to the 11th police district a couple years ago. His presence is notable. It's typical for up to five police officers to stop by beat meetings in other parts of the city, but appearances by supervisors are rare, and often the officers who show up are different from the month before because their assignments shift so often.
That obviously makes it difficult for residents to work with police on problem solving and crime prevention, which is the whole point of community policing, including Chicago's version of it, known as the CAPS program.
So it was good news this week when Mayor Rahm Emanuel and police superintendent Garry McCarthy promised to "revitalize" community policing in Chicago. "The strength of that philosophy within the Chicago Police Department and in our communities is more critical now than ever before," Emanuel said.
He could have been referring to the disconcerting fact that police were only able to clear a quarter of the city's 506 homicides last year, largely due to a lack of cooperation from witnesses in the neighborhoods.
The mayor and police chief went on to say that the CAPS central office, responsible for coordinating community police efforts since the 1990s, would be dismantled, and some of the resources would be shifted into police districts. District commanders will now have the responsibility of shaping programs to meet the needs of the neighborhoods they serve.
Of course, most of this had been announced previously, yet aldermen, police, and community leaders tell me they still aren't sure how it's going to work.
Some of the other claims simply don't add up.
"We have the same budget, but it's applied differently," Emanuel said of the new approach.
Except that's not actually true, assuming your guide is the city's official budget. It shows that funding for CAPS-specific work will be cut by more than 40 percent this year, to about $2.6 million. In contrast, the budget for drug enforcement is up 20 percent, to $28.4 million.
The mayor and police chief rightly emphasize that community policing isn't supposed to be an isolated program but a philosophy guiding how the department functions. Key to the approach is what McCarthy calls "beat integrity"—making sure that officers patrol the same areas consistently.
As he told aldermen a few weeks ago: "We're setting up a method of operation that relies on real community policing—the same officers in the same beat every single day so they know who Ms. Jones's kids are and who Mrs. Smith's kids are, because they're two totally different groups of kids."
Unfortunately, Chicago doesn't have enough officers to keep them on the same beats for years or even months at a time. The city certainly doesn't have enough to allow some officers to focus on crime prevention while others respond to 911 calls and emergencies, which was the original design for CAPS. That's one of the reasons CAPS evolved into a bureaucratic program instead of a strategy guiding the entire department.
In the short run, at least, doing preventive, community-based police work would almost certainly require more funding at a time the city's finances are already in rough shape. Not that it's any consolation, but other cities are struggling with the same issue—places as wide ranging as Anchorage, Indianapolis, New Haven, and Kalamazoo have cut back community policing as their budgets have shrunk.
In the long run, the investment saves money by increasing efficiency and lowering crime.
Residents can't afford to wait. In west Humboldt last week, the conversation turned to the neighborhood's central unyielding issue—what can be done about the guys selling drugs on the corners, other than watching them cycle in and out of prison. Everyone agreed: there's got to be a better way.
"It's got to be something that puts money into their pocket, because that's why they're out there," said Annlouise Bishop, who's watched the drug trade unfold in front of her home on North Homan the last two years.
The residents decided to reach out to neighbors, Alderman Walter Burnett Jr., and a local alternative high school to start formulating some plans. Captain Bay said he would be right with them.
U.S. gun panel to report soon
Plan includes funds for police in schools, but NRA scores curbs
by Philip Rucker / The Washington Post
WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration is considering a $50 million plan to fund hundreds of police officers in public schools, a leading Democratic senator said, part of a broad gun violence agenda that is likely to include a ban on high-capacity ammunition clips and universal background checks.
The school safety initiative would make federal dollars available to schools that want to hire police officers and install surveillance equipment, although it is not nearly as far-ranging as the National Rifle Association's proposal for armed guards in every U.S. school.
The idea is gaining currency among some Democratic lawmakers, who see it as a potential area of common ground with Republicans who otherwise oppose stricter restrictions on firearms. Liberal Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said she presented the plan to Vice President Joe Biden, and that he was "very, very interested" and may include it in the policy recommendations he makes to President Barack Obama.
"If a school district wants to have a community policing presence, I think it's very important they have it," Ms. Boxer said in an interview Thursday. "If they want uniformed officers, they can do it. If they want plainclothes officers, they can do it."
But hope of finding an accord over gun laws dimmed considerably Thursday after the NRA lashed out publicly against what it called the administration's "agenda to attack the Second Amendment" after meeting with Mr. Biden and senior White House officials.
Mr. Biden plans to present recommendations from the administration's working group on gun violence to Mr. Obama next Tuesday. The vice president said Thursday that he sees an emerging consensus around "universal background checks" for all gun buyers and a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines. Mr. Obama, meanwhile, has said he also supports a ban on assault weapons.
The New York Times is reporting today that while White House officials see such as ban as an element of whatever final package is proposed, it is trying to avoid making its passage the sole definition of success, given the entrenched opposition from gun rights groups and their Capitol Hill advocates. Instead, the Obama administration is emphasizing other new gun rules that could conceivably win bipartisan support and reduce gun deaths.
The gun industry has long opposed universal background checks, a renewed assault weapons ban and curbs on magazine capacity. After its 95-minute White House meeting Thursday, the NRA that it would have nothing more to do with Mr. Biden's task force, foreshadowing a partisan and emotionally charged fight over gun control.
"It is unfortunate that this administration continues to insist on pushing failed solutions to our nation's most pressing problems," the NRA said in a statement. "We will not allow law-abiding gun owners to be blamed for the acts of criminals and madmen. ... We will now take our commitment and meaningful contributions to members of Congress of both parties who are interested in having an honest conversation about what works -- and what does not."
Mr. Biden met with other gun-owner groups as well as representatives of hunting and sporting organizations Thursday in his ongoing effort to survey interest groups in the wake of last month's elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn., that killed 20 children and six adult staff members.
Attorney General Eric Holder met separately Thursday with major gun retailers, including Wal-Mart and Dick's Sporting Goods based in Findlay, west of Pittsburgh, as well as Dunham's Sports and similar retailers. Dick's suspended its sales of certain weapons a few days after the Newtown killings, a move that has made the company a target of much criticism from some gun owners. The company has not indicated if or when it might sell those items again.
Mr. Biden already has spoken with law enforcement leaders, gun violence victims and gun-safety groups and has had conference calls with governors and other state and local elected officials of both parties.
The vice president said that, going into Thursday's meetings, his task force heard repeatedly about the need to strengthen background checks to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill. He said the proposals would go beyond closing a loophole that exempts some private firearms sales, such as gun show transactions, from background checks.
"There is an emerging set of recommendations -- not coming from me, but coming from the groups we've met," he said. "There is a surprising, so far, a surprising recurrence of suggestions that we have universal background checks." These recommendations were not only about "closing the gun-show loophole," he said, "but total universal background checks, including private sales." He said the focus would be on how to "strengthen those background checks."
Mr. Biden also mentioned strengthening the ability of federal agencies to conduct research about gun violence. He drew a comparison between current limits on federal gathering of data about gun violence and 1970s-era restrictions on federal research into the causes of traffic fatalities. He stressed a need for the government to collect information about "what kind of weapons are used most to kill people," and "what kind of weapons are trafficked weapons."
The administration is weighing solutions beyond gun laws, including mental health and education initiatives. Ms. Boxer's school safety plan would cost about $50 million and restore or add funding to some Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS, programs that pay for police officers, tip lines, surveillance equipment and secured entrances at public schools.
After the Newtown shootings, NRA Vice President Wayne LaPierre proposed that every school in the nation be protected by armed guards, who could be volunteers, firefighters or private security personnel. Ms. Boxer said her plan is limited to law enforcement officials from the community, and that any decision would be up to individual schools.