October 12, 2009
From Time Magazine:
Few things in France can provoke heated debate faster than moves to tinker with the country’s vaunted public-education system, which embodies republican values that date back to the French Revolution. It’s especially true when the changes involve an idea as capitalistic and nonegalitarian as paying certain students — the ones most apt to fail and drop out — to attend classes and get good grades.
This is exactly what’s happening in a pilot program that started this month at three vocational high schools in disadvantaged suburbs of Paris. Accounts will be set up for two classes in each school, each containing around $3,000 apiece. If the students maintain good attendance records and reach performance targets agreed upon with their teachers, reward payments will be added to their class account. But here’s the catch: the students can’t go and spend the money on a new iPod or an Xbox at the end of the year. Each account, which could reach a maximum of $15,000, can only be used to finance a school-related project or endeavor, such as a class trip abroad to improve foreign-language skills, computer equipment for the classroom or driving lessons to obtain a license. Still, not a bad deal.
The government’s objective is simple: increase student motivation and class attendance and reduce the number of French teenagers who leave school without earning a diploma or professional training certificate, roughly 120,000 to 150,000 each year. The program is being tested at vocational schools, not at the more traditional high schools that most students attend to prepare for the Baccalaureate exam — and university study beyond. The reason: students at vocational schools, particularly those in marginalized, immigrant-heavy areas, tend to have the most performance problems in France. Many students feel like failures after ending up in professional schools. Some also lose interest when they’re moved to classes they’re not interested in due to lack of space in the ones they’d requested. Truancy and dropout rates are high.
Click here to continue reading.
September 29, 2009
Often, Canadians who seek medical treatment are forced to wait weeks for their surgery:
So rather than waiting, they chose to travel south to the U.S. for medical treatment. So what has been the consequence in Canada? The Los Angeles Times reports:
Hoping to capitalize on patients who might otherwise go to the U.S. for speedier care, a network of technically illegal private clinics and surgical centers has sprung up in British Columbia, echoing a trend in Quebec. In October, the courts will be asked to decide whether the budding system should be sanctioned.
More than 70 private health providers in British Columbia now schedule simple surgeries and tests such as MRIs with waits as short as a week or two, compared with the months it takes for a public surgical suite to become available for nonessential operations.
“What we have in Canada is access to a government, state-mandated wait list,” said Brian Day, a former Canadian Medical Assn. director who runs a private surgical center in Vancouver. “You cannot force a citizen in a free and democratic society to simply wait for healthcare, and outlaw their ability to extricate themselves from a wait list.”
September 28, 2009
Gaelle Faure from Time writes:
Treating heroin addicts by giving them heroin might seem counterintuitive. But for some of the most hardened addicts, administering heroin in supervised clinics may just do the trick where detox and methadone have failed.
Following the lead of Switzerland and a handful of other countries, Britain recently concluded a four-year trial in which longtime addicts were given daily heroin injections as part of a treatment program to eventually wean them off the drug. Now, with results showing the trial succeeded in reducing street-drug use and crime among participants, Britain could soon become only the second country in Europe to institutionalize the program. That would mean permanent, state-funded heroin clinics would be set up across the country to treat the most heavily addicted people.
Though the methods have been controversial, the resulsts have been encouraging: Street-drug use among participants fell 75% in six months.
September 6, 2009
A new paper by Michael Burda and Daniel S. Hamermesh provides an interesting insight into how unemployed people spend their time:
Using time-diary data from four countries we show that the unemployed spend most of the time not working for pay in additional leisure and personal maintenance, not in increased household production. There is no relation between unemployment duration and the split of time between household production and leisure. U.S. data for 2003-2006 show that almost none of the lower amount of market work in areas of long-term high unemployment is offset by additional household production. In contrast, in those areas where unemployment has risen cyclically reduced market work is made up almost entirely by additional time spent in household production.
Co-author Daniel Hamermesh explains,
The unemployed use the time freed up from work for pay almost entirely in leisure and personal maintenance—they do no more household work than employed people. Similarly, in areas where unemployment is perennially high, there is less work for pay, more leisure, but no more household production. BUT—when unemployment suddenly rises, as in a recession, people shift from work for pay to household production—people don’t take more leisure time than before. So if we measured output to include production at home, we would infer that a recession doesn’t reduce total output by as much as we thought; and perhaps the utility burden of a short recession is not as severe as one might imagine.
September 1, 2009
A very interesting article in Time magazine on the Taliban’s funding explains,
Up to now, most explanations of the Taliban’s funding have focused on its control of Afghanistan’s poppy fields, which provide the raw material for heroin. Last month the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency released a report estimating that the Taliban receives about $70 million a year from the drug trade. But drugs aren’t the whole story. “The Taliban obtains revenue from a variety of sources, including extortion of funds from both legitimate and unlawful activity,” says David Cohen, the Treasury’s assistant secretary for terrorist financing. Major General Michael Flynn, senior military intelligence official at NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan stresses Mafia-like activities such as extortion and kidnapping for ransom. “I would say that there is more money going into the pockets of local leaders [of the insurgency] from criminal activities than there is from narcotics money,“ he says.
Click here to read the entire article.
August 30, 2009
According to The Economist, the evidence from Portugal since 2001 shows that decriminalizing drug use and possession has “benefits and no harmful side-effects”:
Officials believe that, by lifting fears of prosecution, the policy has encouraged addicts to seek treatment. This bears out their view that criminal sanctions are not the best answer. “Before decriminalisation, addicts were afraid to seek treatment because they feared they would be denounced to the police and arrested,” says Manuel Cardoso, deputy director of the Institute for Drugs and Drug Addiction, Portugal’s main drugs-prevention and drugs-policy agency. “Now they know they will be treated as patients with a problem and not stigmatised as criminals.”
The number of addicts registered in drug-substitution programmes has risen from 6,000 in 1999 to over 24,000 in 2008, reflecting a big rise in treatment (but not in drug use). Between 2001 and 2007 the number of Portuguese who say they have taken heroin at least once in their lives increased from just 1% to 1.1%. For most other drugs, the figures have fallen: Portugal has one of Europe’s lowest lifetime usage rates for cannabis. And most notably, heroin and other drug abuse has decreased among vulnerable younger age-groups, according to Mr Cardoso.
The share of heroin users who inject the drug has also fallen, from 45% before decriminalisation to 17% now, he says, because the new law has facilitated treatment and harm-reduction programmes. Drug addicts now account for only 20% of Portugal’s HIV cases, down from 56% before. “We no longer have to work under the paradox that exists in many countries of providing support and medical care to people the law considers criminals.”
Click here to read Part I.
August 16, 2009
Maia Szalavitz of Time writes,
Although its capital is notorious among stoners and college kids for marijuana haze–filled “coffee shops,” Holland has never actually legalized cannabis — the Dutch simply don’t enforce their laws against the shops. The correct answer is Portugal, which in 2001 became the first European country to officially abolish all criminal penalties for personal possession of drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine.
At the recommendation of a national commission charged with addressing Portugal’s drug problem, jail time was replaced with the offer of therapy. The argument was that the fear of prison drives addicts underground and that incarceration is more expensive than treatment — so why not give drug addicts health services instead? Under Portugal’s new regime, people found guilty of possessing small amounts of drugs are sent to a panel consisting of a psychologist, social worker and legal adviser for appropriate treatment (which may be refused without criminal punishment), instead of jail.
So did the policies work? Click here to read on. (Hint: “Five years after personal possession was decriminalized, illegal drug use among teens in Portugal declined and rates of new HIV infections caused by sharing of dirty needles dropped, while the number of people seeking treatment for drug addiction more than doubled.”)