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Trump Repealism Rolls Back Obama’s Cuba Reforms

Grunge Cuban flag, image is overlaying a detailed grungy texture

Donald Trump’s push to repeal many of the Obama administration’s foreign policy initiatives has extended to the landmark lifting of the embargo against Cuba. Will the new hardline approach be effective in achieving its goal of encouraging political reform and economic liberalisation? 

On 16 June, US President Donald Trump announced a long-expected change in US foreign policy towards Cuba. The new policy will roll back many of the Obama administration’s reforms including travel liberalisation, while imposing further restrictions.

The exiles and dissidents here today have witnessed communism destroy a nation, just as communism has destroyed every single nation where it has ever been tried. But we will not be silent in the face of communist oppression any longer. You have seen the truth, you have spoken the truth, and the truth has now called us—this group—called us to action.Last year, I promised to be a voice against repression in our region—remember, tremendous oppression—and a voice for the freedom of the Cuban people. You heard that pledge. You exercised the right you have to vote. You went out and you voted. And here I am like I promised—like I promised.Remarks by President Trump on the Policy of the United States Towards Cuba 16 June 2017, Manuel Artime Theater, Miami, Florida, US.

Specific elements of the Trump policy include restrictions that prohibit individual travel (with the exception of Cuban Americans who will continue to be able to visit relatives in Cuba and send remittances) and limit non-academic educational travel to organised groups. While the US embassy in Havana will remain, the policy effectively reaffirms the statutory embargo of Cuba.

The stated objectives of the Trump policy are to:

  • “enhance compliance with United States (US) law—in particular, the provisions that govern the embargo of Cuba and the ban on tourism”;
  • hold Cuba “accountable for oppression and human rights”;
  • further US “national security and foreign policy interests”; and
  • empower the “Cuban people to develop greater economic and political liberty”.

The policy changes seek to prohibit business, trade and financial transactions between US companies and entities linked to the Cuban military’s holding company Grupo de Administración Empresarial (GAESA). Instead, it seeks to promote direct economic ties between US individuals and entities and the private sector in Cuba. According to the White House, the policy will promote commerce with “free Cuban businesses and pressure the Cuban government to allow the Cuban people to expand the private sector”.

The Trump policy was announced at the Manuel Artime Theater in Miami, Florida, before a gathering of Cuban Americans. The new policy fulfilled a commitment made by the Trump campaign several weeks before the 2016 election in which Donald Trump pledged to roll back the Obama administration’s reforms. It was made in order to secure the presidential endorsement of the Brigade 2506 Veterans Association—the organisation of veterans of the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. Florida Republicans Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, both influential advocates for the continuation of the US embargo against Cuba, supported the Trump initiative.

On the day of the announcement, the Cuban government responded in the strongest terms. In a statement published in Cuba’s official newspaper Granma, the government condemned Trump’s action as a “setback in the relations between both countries”.

“Once again, the US government resorts to coercive methods of the past when it adopts measures aimed at stepping up the blockade, effective since February 1962, which not only causes harm and deprivations to the Cuban people and is the main obstacle to our economic development, but also affects the sovereignty and interests of other countries, which arouses international rejection…

“The Government of Cuba condemns the new measures to tighten the blockade, which are doomed to failure, as has been repeatedly evidenced in the past, for they will not succeed in their purpose to weaken the Revolution or bend the Cuban people, whose resistance against aggressions of all sorts and origins has been put to the test throughout almost six decades….”

With the exception of hardline anti-communist Cuban Americans, the Trump administration’s approach to Cuba has limited support within the US. For example, a December 2016 Pew Research Center poll found that 75 per cent approved of the 2015 Obama administration decision to re-establish US relations with Cuba, while approximately 73 per cent favoured ending the trade embargo against Cuba.

Following the Trump announcement, the Engage Cuba Coalition—a US lobby group which advocates for the lifting of the embargo—published a statement noting that the directive would negatively impact Cuban entrepreneurs and that the new restrictions could cost the US economy “billions of dollars and affect thousands of jobs”.

In the days leading up to the Trump announcement, human rights groups, such as Amnesty InternationalHuman Rights Watchand the Washington Office on Latin America, also expressed concerns about the implications of the proposed changes.

Many Republicans also don’t support the policy. On 16 June, Senator Jeff Flake (R-AR), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, released a statement in which he criticised renewed restrictions on US citizens’ ability to travel to Cuba. Other Republicans known to be critical of the policy include Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), Senator John Boozman (R-AR), Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS), Representative Tom Emmer (R-MN), Representative Rick Crawford (R-AR), Representative Ted Poe (R-TX), Representative Justin Amash (R-MI), Representative Mark Sanford (R-SC) and Representative Rodney Davis (R-IL).

Several conservative organisations and think tanks are also critical of the Trump approach, including the Cato InstituteReasonCampaign for Liberty and the Federalist.

While some dissidents in Cuba reportedly support a hardline policy approach, it is difficult to ascertain—on account of restricted access to the internet and social media in Cuba—whether the policy has any support among moderates who might be critical of the regime. However, some Cuban academics and entrepreneurs have expressed concern about the implications for Cuba of the election of Donald Trump.

Following the Trump announcement, one academic commented privately that “what happened in Miami… was imaginable”. She added, however, that it would be difficult to reverse what had hitherto been achieved in terms of bilateral engagement and closer ties between the two countries. That said, it was necessary for Cuba to continue to implement political and economic reforms; Cuba “must make deeper and better paced transformations”.

A Cuban entrepreneur commented separately that the Trump policy would impact adversely on tourism and, in particular, on individuals and small businesses involved in the provision of hospitality and accommodation in private dwellings, the so-called ‘casas particulares’. Another academic noted that while the Cuban government and many Cubans had expected the announcement, they were angered to see Trump surrounded by the “most radical members of the Miami hard-right exiles, some of [whom are] associated with the old mafia and wanted by the Cuban police”. Irrespective of whether or not this was the case, there is little doubt that the Trump announcement angered both stalwart supporters of the Cuban government and Cubans of more moderate persuasion.

The new Trump Cuba policy will be implemented through a series of regulations in coming months, the full impact of which remains to be seen. Nevertheless, the policy is another example of the isolationist approach of the current US administration and will likely enhance nationalist and anti-US sentiment among key players within the region, such as Mexico and Venezuela. In terms of its impact on business, US companies and their Cuban counterparts are taking a wait-and-see approach to ascertain how and to what extent their interests will be affected.

The new Trump foreign policy towards Cuba may have additional unintended consequences. It would provide a strategic opportunity for China to enhance its relations with, and influence in, Cuba. China is already Cuba’s third destination for exports after Canada and Venezuela, and its second source of imports after Venezuela. During a 2016 visit to Cuba, where approximately 30 bilateral agreements were signed, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang spoke of the need to deepen their “traditional friendship”, enhance “pragmatic cooperation” and maintain “close cultural exchanges”.

China has previously taken a cautious approach to Cuba. However, in the wake of the Trump announcement, China is likely to assess potential trade and investment opportunities, which may be created by the US vacating the proverbial field, and seek to build on its existing interests, including with the provision of foreign loans.

The coming months will reveal the full extent of the rollback of the Obama administration’s initiatives to liberalise US-Cuba bilateral relations and its implications for the region and beyond. As always, the devil will be in the detail.

[Original published at]

Big Data in Action: 4 Examples of Positive Change Brought About by Big Data

How does one make a decision that could affect millions of lives? How can the government assess the effectiveness of a nationwide program? The process of decision making is complex, often taking gut feeling into account. But one thing is certain: big data is required in making big decisions. As data analytics becomes a major trend in the technology space, business and organization leaders rely less on intuition and more on the widely available data and analytics to support them in their decision-making.

“Companies are constantly looking at ways to connect, collect, store and analyze the data that is being captured. This is the reason why data analytics tools are becoming increasingly important,” says Ivan Teh, CEO of Fusionex International, a multi-national IT software group that specializes in big data analytics, the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence, and deep learning.

While a decade ago the tech world focused largely on the creation, storage and sharing of data, it has now shifted to deriving actionable intelligence from vast amounts of data. As data continues to grow in enterprise systems, social media and other digital platforms, so does the pools of structured and unstructured data that could reveal patterns, trends, and associations and provide information on human behavior and interactions.

Here are four cases where big data has brought about positive change to many:

NHS hospitals improve treatment based on national chemotherapy data

This year, Cancer Research UK reported that examining routine patient data has changed how England’s National Health Service (NHS) hospitals manage and review chemotherapy treatment, including palliative care. Based on data collected by Public Health England, NHS hospitals were able to see how their breast and lung cancer patients were doing compared to others. The first 30 days are especially critical as it shows the effectiveness of the treatment administered. This has resulted in steady improvements in patient care.

“Public Health England is now exploring other ways of using data to help improve patient outcomes. These answers will only come if trusts put high quality data into the system. Public Health England is working closely with trusts to make sure all their data are present and correct, for every patient, which is no mean feat,” writes Emma Saxon, a cancer intelligence officer and co-lead author on the Systemic Anti-Cancer Treatment (SACT) study.

Cargill taps big data to help farmers make their cows more productive

One of the world’s biggest agricultural companies, Cargill Inc., recently revealed that it plans to offer the application of its Dairy Enteligen system — which analyzes information such as the cows’ living conditions to diet and milk productivity on smart tablets and computers — to U.S. farmers. It sets up a win-win situation for the farmers and the animals; the system allows farmers to optimize animal welfare, affecting the amount of milk the cows can produce.

Having tested the system in Italy and Spain, Cargill reported an 11.7% increase in milk production in Italian farms, coupled with lower production costs. The 152-year-old company plans to use big data in aquaculture and other segments while also researching the use of sensors and artificial intelligence to improve data collection and analysis.

Boston’s Citywide Analytics Team uses data to improve government services

In 2014, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh spoke to the city about his vision to use of real-time data to “measure everything from shootings to building permits, using management techniques often found in business settings to infuse city government with new urgency.” The Citywide Analytics Team was formed. Based in the Department of Innovation and Technology, the team serves departments collaboratively, helping them solve problems using the power of data.

The benefits are evident. Harvard’s Data-Smart City Solutions reported in May 2017, “In Boston, when an ambulance arrives at an address in under six minutes, when a resident’s call to 311 is answered in less than 30 seconds, or when a restaurant inspector finds a health code violation before anyone gets sick, there is one common thread — Boston’s Citywide Analytics Team.”

Today, daily data on city performance, from the number of potholes filled to homicides, is shown to Mayor Walsh and other department and cabinet heads through a dashboard. This helps them focus on the most pressing issues in the city. The Citywide Analytics Team also launched CityScore in 2016, a standardized score based on key metrics from across city departments that is updated daily, enabling quick interventions.

UNICEF uses big data to optimize its response to public health emergencies and natural disasters

The lack of actionable data once hindered international development and poverty reduction efforts. Trend analysis and progress monitoring are critical in helping aid workers reach the world’s poor and disadvantaged, who urgently need access to immunizations, healthcare, and clean water. Having understood the importance of data, in the 1990s UNICEF developed the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (Mics) program to fill huge gaps in the availability of data on women and children in middle and low-income countries.

In the past few years, UNICEF has partnered with a number of organizations to harness the potential of technology and big data. In 2017 alone, UNICEF announced partnerships with global travel technology provider Amadeus and multinational broadband and telecommunications provider Telefónica. Other partners include Google and IBM.

These partnerships are part of UNICEF Innovation’s Magic Box initiative, an open-source platform that “uses real-time information to inform life-saving humanitarian responses to emergency situations.” Magic Box was launched in 2014. It was used to respond to the Ebola crisis, and more recently, the threat of Zika.

Extraterrestrial, Synthetic and Omni-Channels: a global outlook on the jewellery industry

It is no secret that state of the global economy and its effect on people’s purchasing power is arguably the biggest factor impacting the performance of the jewelry industry.

However, for those in the jewelry industry, the show must simply go on regardless of the fate of the economy. It is important, therefore, to keep abreast of the latest trends and developments of the jewelry industry.

The most important development to keep tabs on is the ever-evolving jewelry trend. The year 2016 was the year that saw the return of the 1980s stalwart of yellow gold, while 2017 is seeing the rise of silver. As with everything else that involves human taste, predicting the trend of jewelry for the upcoming year is a matter of personal insight and opinion.

According to internationally acclaimed jewelry maker Le Vian, as reported by jewelry magazine JCK, 2018 will be the year of blueberry sapphire and the colors red, white and blue, as well as extraterrestrial designs. While engagement rings and diamonds will always be as popular as ever, Le Vian predicts that boyfriend rings will see a rise in demand in 2018.

One interesting trend to look out for, according to Manufacturing Jewelers & Suppliers of America (MJSA) is the rise of laboratory-grown or synthetic diamonds.

There has been a notable buzz surrounding lab-grown diamonds in recent years, getting coverage from the likes of The Washington Post. The diamonds are 20 to 30 percent cheaper at retail than mined diamonds. The appeal of lab-grown diamond, however, goes beyond mere price, the MJSA explains.

“Consumers are drawn to them because they don’t contribute to the destruction of the environment and no one is harmed in their creation—two big considerations that tie into the “responsible sourcing” movement that’s gaining traction among consumers, particularly Millennials,” it said.

There has been a concern by those in the industry that the popularity of lab-grown diamonds could mark the end of natural diamonds. But experts are confident that natural diamonds will still have their place with consumers and that lab-grown diamonds are just “another avenue” that the industry can take advantage of.

One feature of the jewelry industry that will continue to persist in the coming years is the growth of branded jewelry.

In its 2014 jewelry industry outlook titled “A Multifaceted Future: The Jewelry Industry in 2020, consultant firm MicKinsey said that the overall jewelry market is set to follow the trend of the watch market, in which branded items account for up to 60 percent of sales.

While the share of branded items sale for the overall jewelry industry is not anywhere near that level, it is set to reach 40 percent by 2020 from the share of only 20 percent in 2014, McKinsey says based on interviews with company executives.

The growth of branded jewelry, McKinsey elaborates, will be driven by three types of consumers. The first being the “new money” consumers who wear branded jewelry to show off their newly acquired wealth. The second group of consumers are the emerging-market consumers for whom established brands inspire trust and the sense of an upgraded lifestyle. Lastly, branded jewelry will also be all the rage for young consumers who turn to brands as a means of self-expression and self-realization.

McKinsey also notes that the main players in the branded jewelry category will be traditionally non-jewelry brands in adjacent high-end fashion industries like Dior, Hermes and Louis Vuitton. These companies will delve deeper into their jewelry collections and expanding their assortment to challenge the past domination of established jewelry brands such as Cartier and Tiffany & Co., as well as newcomers like Pandora and David Yurman.

Having jewelries products that are in demand would mean very little without the right marketing and selling strategy to reach out to today’s digital oriented consumers. And according to Manufacturing Jewelers & Suppliers of America (MJSA), this right way of selling, for this year and beyond, is omni-channel selling.

Omni-channel selling can be understood as the idea of providing a seamless shopping experience, whether customers are shopping in a store, from a computer, over the telephone, or on their smartphones. Since customers now have multiple channels to shop through, retailers must be readily available to serve through every channel possible.

The MJSA argues that transforming into an omni-channel customer service is something the jewelry industry players seems to be failing at. It says that companies still treat their offline and online customers differently when it should “focus on integrating their point-of-sale and inventory control systems with their websites so consumers have up-to-the-minute information regarding inventory levels whether they’re shopping online or in the store”.

Furthermore, it says that jewelers need to stay on top of the preferences of online consumers on matters like delivery options.

While McKinsey agrees that the online channels are something jewelry companies need to explore, it says that putting too much emphasis on them would be a mistake.

From the interviews it conducted, McKinsey came to the conclusion that most consumers prefer to buy expensive items from brick-and-mortar stores, which are perceived as more reliable and which provide the opportunity to touch and feel the merchandise. Fashion jewelry will enjoy more online share of sales, but even that would only make up 10 to 15 percent of all sales by 2020.

The digital media, McKinsey says, can be used by jewelry manufacturers as a platform for conveying information, shaping brand identity, and building customer relationships.

Market trends point to pharmaceuticals being readily available online

Everything nowadays is on the internet. Your resume stored on a website, easily accessible to potential employers; your bank, allowing you to transfer funds or view your statements from the safety and comfort of your home; your life, with social media and many other services allowing what is deemed virtual to become tangible: At the click of a button, you’re able to send an order from China right to your doorstep, or anywhere else in the world for that matter. Now who is to say the same cannot be done for outpatients to purchase their medicine through an app or through an e-pharmacy? Especially if it is a long term commitment in which case will incur unavoidable expenses such as gas and parking, which could accumulate a significant amount.

The reason online shopping has been such a success is due largely to the fact that it is easy, convenient and it saves money; eliminating the need for consumers to make any effort or taking time out from their schedules specifically for a chore.

Furthermore, digitalization of the 21st century has enabled individuals to realize their desires – instant gratification. This has caused consumers to utilize their time in what makes them feel productive. Naturally gravitating towards products and services which allows them to multitask or crossover.

Many retailers have recognized this and in order to exploit it, coined together omnichannel marketing. This allows their patrons to shop however, whenever and wherever – either online or offline. However, established brands have the upper hand when it comes to e-commerce, due to the fact that they are trustworthy. When you push the bigger brands aside, you need to overcome the masses of questionable businesses out to part you from your funds.

It gets increasingly difficult the more niche your market is. Much less to say an independent online business selling pharmaceuticals. The first and most glaring predicament of it would be the authenticity of the drug or the website attempting to market it, since it does not have to go through certain regulations or protocols in order to be eligible for trade.

Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that there have been cases where incidents of purchasing pharmaceuticals resulted in death due to an ill-informed purchase. According to the article by Clacton Gazette – a local news publication in the UK – a girl had passed away after she purchased a medication she mistook for Xanax which somehow led to her death. There are concerns as well, of the drugs being counterfeit or contaminated.

Back in 2016, BBC reported of deaths upward of 120,000 per year, caused by counterfeit anti-malarial drugs in Africa. The company behind the faked brand implemented a simple system to combat against fraud and to verify the authenticity of their medication. On their medicine packets, there would be a scratch-panel sticker which contains a code which can be then texted to the company for verification. However, despite their efforts, the numbers refuse to diminish and they are still struggling today to curb this malicious practice.

Perhaps worse still are drugs in everyday life, seemingly harmless yet fatal. Little blue pills that look identical to Oxycodone – a prescription opidoid – were recently seized in Buffalo. A parcel was sent to an address, implicating an online purchase. They were laced with Fentanyl, which are “so potent even just touching it can lead to an overdose”.

How then, do you avoid such unfortunate misfortunes? Particularly on the internet, whereby there are no solid guarantees about quality or legitimacy, forcing customers to be wary and thereby souring the experience. Unless it is a product of a giant corporation which might charge a premium price.

In order for an independent retailer to stand out from the rest, this is where their “marketers need to launch very strong awareness and trial-building campaigns, supported by a positive product experience. Generating positive word-of-mouth endorsements are important”. Another option is for them to employ a third party guarantee, such as the assurances of an established foundation or organization.

Healthy Heart Club, where you are able to order Tramadol online, are one of those capable of providing peace of mind by being FDA-approved. It is also one of the few that does not require the hassle of signing up, providing a prescription or being a part of a franchise, thereby being much more affordable and convenient.

However, over at the UK, certain e-pharmacies have begun implementing the use of Skype to verify their patients identification, reserve the right to contact their GP and are given a copy of their customer’s medical records. These precautions are taken in order to ensure safe care.

Now then, while there might still be those with reservations, market trends point strongly to medication being readily available through the internet currently and will face exponential growth as the reach of digitalization reach new heights.

The changing face of tertiary education: how online courses are replacing traditional degrees

Classrooms today are much different than those before the internet age. Walk into any university classroom and one will see students typing lecture notes on their tablets and teachers pointing to powerpoint presentations instead of the blackboard. Handing in homework assignments is as easy as ever too, as many university instructors have started using online platforms to enable sharing of documents relate to their courses.

Technology has brought major changes to the learning process. Taking things to the next level, some classes are even conducted completely online, especially for popular classes and foundation courses that thousands of students are required to take each quarter or semester. Many predict that online courses will eventually replace traditional tertiary education. With the number of online courses growing each day, the trend is clear. However, it isn’t without resistance.

There are many benefits that online courses can bring, both for the educational institute and the students taking the online class. From anywhere in the world, anyone with an internet access can sign up for professional courses taught by the best teachers in prestigious educational institutes. Students can also learn at their own pace as timing is flexible and lecture videos can be watched multiple times. Because tertiary education is expensive, online degrees have become an attractive, more affordable option.

Moreover, employers are becoming more and more accepting to interviewees with online certifications and degrees as they come to see first-hand the advantages of professional online courses as a way of boosting industry-specific knowledge and skills. Starbucks and Adidas have partnered with Arizona State University to expand access to higher education for their employees, providing scholarships to ASU’s online degree program. Online courses also demonstrate a dynamic learning style that’s valuable to employers.

By the same token, schools see an opportunity to advance their goals to educate young minds and improve bottom line. For instructors who embrace technology, the new online format presents an easier means of managing students and their assignments. With the help of teachers’ assistants, online courses can be made just as fulfilling as traditional physical classes.

In an interview with PBS, Anant Agarwal — professor of computer science and engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and founder of edX, a MOOC (massive open online courses) provider — said that he was able to reach way more students in one MOOC that he ever could in a year.

“Of 155,000 students that took the course, about 5 percent passed the course and earned a certificate. So that was about 7,200. That is a big number. If I were to teach on campus twice a year, both in the spring and fall semesters, I would have to teach for about 40 years before I could teach 7,200 students,” he said of the first free online course he offered in 2011, a circuits and electronics course.

Considering how lucrative online education can be, top-tier universities have spent millions of dollars on advertisements, thereby elevating the image of virtual education. Stanford, Harvard and MIT, having offered MOOCs on Coursera and edX starting 2012, were also critical in changing the way people view the legitimacy of online learning.

There’s still a real demand for post-graduate degrees and flexible mid-career training. The University of North Carolina, Georgetown University, and Berkeley are among those who have put graduate programs online through the edutech company 2U. 2U’s success is attributed to its focus on the market for online master’s degrees.

A study from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government found that “students who enrolled in Georgia Tech’s $7,000 online master’s degree in computer science would not have gone anywhere else if the program didn’t exist.” The Washington Post also reported that undergraduates still consider the campus experience critical; “Graduate students, however, tend to be place bound, often need a master’s degree to get ahead in their career, and are willing to pay a higher price tag for a degree from a name-brand school, especially if they didn’t get a bachelor’s degree from one.”

Some educators are not so keen on jumping on the online education bandwagon, though. Many instructors still believe that online education can never replace traditional learning as it can never encourage students to engage in intellectual discussions and develop critical thinking skills the way in-person teaching does. Agarwal does agree that online courses cannot completely replace classroom instruction, but they can supplement traditional classes, blending the best of online and in-person learning.

Statistics show that online courses see a high drop-out rate, especially for courses that are offered for free. For many students, the goal may not to be to complete the free course, but just to learn something they would previously not have access to. A 2013 survey by the Babson Survey Research Group corroborates these findings, stating that completion rates for online classes are typically lower than 10%, with a huge number of students not making it past the first week.

Because online courses lack in-person contact and “the time structure of a traditional teaching environment,” students often find it hard to motivate themselves. To keep students engaged, instructors have devised new teaching materials such as interactive presentations, live webinars and other activities that are combined with classroom discussions through online live chat or forum. Over time, as new technologies for online learning emerge, it is predicted that completion rates will improve.

Urbanization on Poverty: A Boon or a Curse?

Indonesia is a sprawling archipelago and as a country that is so scattered, it is no doubt that social inequality remains an issue. If for example, people in the United States are mainly divided as “coastal elites” and “real Americans”, i.e. the urban vs. the rural, then such polarization is prevalent in Indonesia too. Indonesia’s 261 million people are scattered across the country but more than 70% of the total population resides on the island of Java, where the capital Jakarta is located.

There are many ways to indicate the push and pull factors of migration to Jakarta. One such is the motivation to find work and better living conditions; another is to escape the many problems that people have encountered in their hometown. Migration is either considered a boon or a curse. On one hand, having more people in one area might bolster the economy in so many ways – namely more jobs and more consumption – but on the other hand, the extensive rural-to-urban migration might create a severe housing shortage.

And this has already happened in Indonesia, or in particular, Jakarta. The Jakarta city government, for example, has invented many ways to accommodate the surging number of people on a house hunt. Many Jakartans reside in low-cost apartments, which rent is partially subsidized by the government. Most of the residents come from the low to the middle-class background and work in a variety of odd jobs, but mostly as casual laborers. However, this is apparently not a one-stop solution.

Thousands of rusunawa (low-cost apartment) residents in Tambora, West Jakarta, have recently been entangled in a legal quandary. Around 261 apartment units are now sealed because the majority of the tenants have not paid their rent. Jakarta Governor Djarot Saiful Hidayat said that “life is about choices” and that the residents must pay the required fees if they were to stay in the apartments. Around 6,000 low-cost apartment tenants who have yet to pay rent are former residents of the Ciliwung riverbank, where houses were demolished to make way for a river-dredging project. Many of them complained to the government that they found it hard to find a well-paying job in a different area.

The case of rusunawa Tambora represents a multitude of devastating housing conditions in Jakarta. Many low-income citizens opt to live in the so-called “illegal settlements” on the banks of Ciliwung, a notoriously polluted river full of waste and often causes flooding. The former Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, or commonly known as Ahok, dreamed to transform Jakarta into an orderly city, where shanty towns like those near Ciliwung were to be out of the picture. This, in turn, has created a state of perplexity for the so-called slum dwellers. They often face evictions, as the city government plans to mitigate flooding and fulfill their transformation goals.

Direct effects of urbanization

 According to the United Nations, over half of the population of developing countries will live in cities by 2020. With urbanization slowly but steadily winning over rural settlements, theories about possible economic development have surfaced. In the backdrop, urban slums like those seen in Jakarta cloud the promising landscape. And as the United Nations fights to eradicate poverty by 2030, the question of whether urbanization is a means to do that looms large. The discourse on whether urbanization directly affects poverty and the connection between the two economic patterns are continuously debatable.

The poverty-ridden society of Jakarta is essentially given two options: to remain in the slum areas colloquially known as kampung and constantly battle the city authorities, or to move out and comply with the government’s urbanization plans. Urbanization in itself means “increased spatial scale and/or density of settlement and/or business and other activities in the area during a specific period of time”, as defined by the Joint Urban Studies Center. The forced unit sealing of the Tambora low-cost apartment in West Jakarta can be seen as a loophole in the city’s urbanization plans. The Jakarta Public Housing and Public Buildings Agency said that the sealing would not apply to residents who had been subject to evictions from land cleared by the city administration. Despite so, it paints a bleak picture of the struggle of the urban poor in paying their rent.

And there’s more to that. Gentrification is one of the most insidious effects of urbanization on poverty. Many low-income, native city-dwellers are pushed out when the rent prices in their communities rise. And with the widespread construction of apartments in Indonesia, it’s no wonder that property prices are expected to surge. The affable, urban city-dwellers also find it hard to rent, buy, or sell apartment units simply because the demand is too large.

It’s a two-edged sword. On one hand, urbanization generates new opportunities for rural workers, who shift out of agriculture and into more well-paying jobs in the city. They often boast that they can afford to build a house in their respective hometowns but ironically struggle to pay their rent in the city. On the other hand, as cities develop and property prices increase, poverty alleviation remains a difficult issue to tackle.

America’s Road Safety Statistics Show a Worrying Trend

With the number of cars increasing on American roads, safe driving has become an indispensable life-skill nowadays. Even though the government doles out millions of dollars to reinforce careful driving habits, traffic deaths in the US have been on an alarming rise over the last few years.

In data released by the US Department of Transportation’s (DoT) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), as many as 35,092 people lost their lives due to crashes on American road during 2015, about 2348 more than in the previous year. This 7.2 percent increase is the biggest rise in nearly 50 years. The rising traffic death estimates have prompted the White House and the DoT to issue a call to action to data scientists and safety experts to pool ideas and come up with a solution to eradicate causes of these preventable deaths.

These experts will also analyse why there are so many deaths on roadways even though modern cars come equipped with a wide range of safety features, such as auto emergency braking, curtain airbags, rear-view cameras etc.

Safety advocates and government officials fault driving under the influence of alcohol and cell phone use as the main culprits. The National Safety Council (NSC), a non-profit organisation that advocates for health and safety in the country, blames cell phone use while driving as the most common reason of crashes. The NSC webpage on safety knowledge states “many drivers assume hands-free cell phone use is safe. It’s not. There is no safe way to use a cell phone and drive”. The organisation also lists avoiding prescribed use of seat belts, distracted driving and speeding as frequent causes of traffic deaths.

Experts are also worried about increase in incidents of drunken driving. NHTSA data says alcohol-impaired-driving fatality, that is, a death in a crash involving a driver or motorcycle rider with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 g/dL or greater, accounted for as much as 29 percent of 2015 overall fatalities.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), also a non-profit, suggest implementation of ignition interlock devices that require all repeated drunk drivers to blow on the device and prove they are sober as a precondition to start the car.

According to personal injury lawyer Steve Dimopoulos, driving under the influence of alcohol is not only a problem for the drunk driver. Sober drivers, teetotallers and clear-headed pedestrians also risk losing their lives or suffer serious injuries due to alcohol-impaired driving.

“When you are in Las Vegas, you walk around a lot. Specifically, you walk between casinos, shopping centres, restaurants and clubs. Public drinking is also generally legal in Vegas, meaning you might be intoxicated as you walk around. Whether you have been drinking or not, drivers may also be under the influence of alcohol or drugs, no matter if they are driving their own passenger vehicle, a taxi or working for a ride-sharing service. Alcohol consumption for both drivers and pedestrians can result in fatal pedestrian accidents,” the Dimopoulos injury law stated in their blog recently.

Dimopoulos cautions pedestrians against alcohol-influenced driving behaviour that can be spotted by a vigilant eye. Some signs of intoxicated drivers are – driving in a zig-zag manner across the road, tailgating, sudden speeding, driving too close to a curb or another vehicle, unreliable braking, night driving with headlights off and driving into opposing traffic.

Safety groups also seek stricter laws on use of seat belts. NHTSA data points out that nearly 48% of passenger vehicle occupants killed in 2015 were not wearing seat belts. Seat belts cut the risk of fatal injury to front-seat passenger car occupants by 45% and light-truck occupants by 60%.

Drivers often find loopholes in traffic laws and use it as an excuse to drive unrestrained. Only 18 states have made seatbelts legally compulsory for both front and rear passengers. Failing to follow this law is recognized as a primary offence, meaning that traffic officials can pull over drivers and issue tickets for not wearing seat belts even though there has been no other violation. However, in 15 states, failure to wear a seatbelt in front seats is only a secondary offense, meaning that drivers cannot be issued tickets unless they are pulled over for other violations.

In some states like Texas, speed limits have been increased over the last few years. Speeding is another major reason for road casualties. This problem is further compounded in some states by budget cuts that have forced authorities to withdraw the number of troopers patrolling the roads and nabbing high-speed drivers.

The US auto industry is a major player in the country’s economy, with automakers and their suppliers currently responsible for 3% of America’s GDP. More than 17.4 million cars and trucks were sold in the US in 2016. By even conservative estimates, it means that there will be more automobiles on roads by every passing year. If safe driving is not implemented and practiced more seriously, more people are going to die on American roads by every passing year.

A Good Dentist Is Hard To Find In Rural America

Stunning results can be found in the “Report on the Economic Well-Being report of U.S. Households in 2014” released by the Federal Reserve a couple of years ago. Among them, the fact that same year, around a quarter of Americans went without dental care because they were unable to afford it.

Despite the improvements made in recent years in oral health for the population as a whole, adequate access to oral health is still a rural health issue.

In 2004 a study made by The National Advisory Committee on Rural Health and Human Services revealed the most prominent factors that contribute to the difficulties of accessing dental care in rural America:

Geographic isolation: Fewer dental health professionals in rural areas result in people having to travel farther to obtain oral healthcare.

Lack of transportation: Public transportation systems are often non-existent; this results in low-income residents’ impossibility to visit a proper professional.

Large elderly population: Rural America has a higher percentage of elderly population, Medicare does not provide dental benefits and only approximately 20 percent of rural elderly receive income from continued workforce activity.

Provider shortages: A large majority of the nation’s Dental Health Professional Shortage Areas are in rural America.

In fact as of December 2016 most states fall far short in having enough dental health professionals to meet residents’ needs, as can be seen in the Department of Health and Human Services interactive map for Dental Care Health Professional Shortage Areas.

Social factors can also contribute to the disparity in oral health disease rates, such as tobacco use, frequency of alcohol consumption and poor dietary choices.

And while all of these factors are undeniably important, the most critical is still economics. Rural populations often do not have the ability to afford dental healthcare or dental health insurance, and low reimbursement rates cause many dentists to not accept Medicaid or Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) patients.

With prices for dental treatments going through the roof as this EG Dental comparative chart shows, local and federal government have to start looking for affordable solutions for the population without access to these alternatives.

In recent years an increasing number of states begun authorizing a midlevel dental provider, usually referred as a dental therapist, to tackle the issue. Dental therapists work under the supervision of dentists to deliver routine preventive and restorative care, including preparing and filling cavities and performing extractions.

One state leading this particular type of provider has been Alaska. The state has been using DHATs (Dental Health Aide Therapists) to meet the needs of Alaska Natives in remote villages.

These Dental Therapists are trained in Alaska in a two-year, competency-based primary care curriculum which includes preventive and clinical strategies.

According to the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, since 2004 the program has expanded and treated more than 40,000 Alaska Native communities living in 81 rural Alaska communities.

Similar projects have been approved and developed in Oregon and Minnesota, with Main and Vermont passing legislation authorizing DHATs to practice in their states in 2014 and 2016 respectively.

Other options presented by Healthy People 2020, a CDC framework dedicated to improve the health of the country, include community water fluoridation and school-based dental sealant programs.

Regardless of the alternative of fluoridated community water systems being cost prohibitive, the CDC reports that this objective is moving towards its target of 79.6 of community water having fluoride.

While the benefits of drinking fluoridated have been proven to reduce tooth decay and keeping teeth strong, the reality is that the access to this option is still a far reach for a lot of rural communities around the country.

Despite a growing national attention to this issue the fact is that the disparity in oral health problems persists. Providers’ shortages in faraway communities are a clear evidence that private and public practices should look at dental therapists as a viable option to provide a better care of their population.

As stated by the NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology): “Employment of DHATs holds promise for creating a more culturally diverse oral health workforce and creating sustainable jobs for people of color who may not have considered a career in the oral health field. State and federal policymakers should consider how dental therapists can be used to improve public health in a market that is increasingly being held to cost, quality, and accessibility standards.”

Trump’s Dangerous Views on Asbestos

Donald Trump will easily go down as one of the most polarizing Presidents in the history of U.S. politics. In the eight months since he has held the Oval Office his administration has been plagued with accusations of corruption and disorganization, and the ‘talk first, facts later’ attitude he had on the campaign trail has morphed into a reckless style of legislative governance that is both unpredictable and often, misinformed.

Amongst the many outrageous claims Donald Trump has made over the years, are a number of dangerously ignorant comments about asbestos.

Donald Trump’s pro-asbestos sentiment can be traced all the way back to 1997 and his The Art of the Comeback book, in which he claimed he believed the anti-asbestos movement was rigged by the mob.
Within the pages he also calls an anti-asbestos law “stupid” and inaccurately claims asbestos is “…100 percent safe, once applied.”

Trump also supported the 9/11 asbestos conspiracy theory. The conspiracy theory suggests that the Twin Towers would never have collapsed if asbestos had been used for the entire structure, rather than just the first forty floors. As recently as 2012, Trump was lending the conspiracy theory credence, tweeting “If we didn’t remove incredibly powerful fire retardant asbestos & replace it with junk that doesn’t work, the World Trade Center would never have burned down.”

Donald Trump’s views on asbestos are polarizing

Considering many 9/11 first responders have suffered respiratory complications due to the clouds of toxic asbestos dust which lingered over downtown New York City, these comments seem crass and insensitive. Many have now resorted to a mesothelia attorney in hope of compensation. But many experts believe it is not just first responders who were at risk while the city was engulfed in the hazardous fumes, 90,000 everyday citizens showed up to assist with the search for survivors amongst the burning rubble of the twin towers. These people also inhaled the noxious fumes. Some experts have estimated that the death toll from 9/11 will rise into the millions over the next few decades, as symptoms related to the effects of exposure to asbestos and other poisonous chemicals begin to manifest in the population.

Trump has also been a proponent of “safe asbestos” or the chrysotile-defense. Which argues that it is the amphibole-containing products which are dangerous. This claim is widely disputed by health and medical professionals, as 95% of the products used in the United States historically were mostly chrysotile.

Countless scientific studies have linked the substance with various forms of cancer, a 2005 study from Yale University’s School of Medicine even linked asbestos with colon cancer. The World Health Organization has recognized the risks of asbestos for decades, stating “all types of asbestos cause lung cancer, mesothelioma, cancer of the larynx and ovary, and asbestosis (fibrosis of the lungs).” The carcinogen has been banned in over 50 countries.

Asbestos can be both inhaled and ingested, and the material has been used for everything over the years, resulting in citizens gulping down microscopic fibers in their water, as it ran through asbestos cement pipes. Or breathing it while they slept thanks to asbestos based ceiling insulation.

Court evidence has revealed that multiple companies contributed to a cover-up of the dangers of asbestos as early as 1929. A chilling example includes the largest manufacturer of asbestos based products in the USA, Johns Manville and company president Lewis H. Brown. Brown was made aware of the chilling effects of asbestos on his workers, by local physicians as early as 1949. However, Johns Manville continued to produce products containing asbestos up until the early 1980’s. The EPA did not classify asbestos as a hazardous air pollutant until 1971.

Donald Trump’s ill-informed views are a slap in the face for those sufferers of mesothelioma and other cancers caused by asbestos, who are now facing renewed concern about the toxic substance and the ban on its use in the USA. Thanks to a combination of Trump’s pick for the role of director of the USA Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Scott Pruitt and the proposed budget cuts to the Agency’s funding.

Pruitt has been accused of a non-committal stance toward the banning of the product. When pressed for answers he’s cited the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act as a reason to spend three years reinvestigating the risks that asbestos may pose. In response to senators’ questions regarding his position, Pruitt suggested that “prejudging the outcome of that risk evaluation process would not be appropriate.” He’s also been accused of approving other toxic products with little regulation by several environmental groups, and members of the democratic party referring to his appointment as a disaster.

In the United States, asbestos litigation is the longest and most expensive mass tort in all of US legal history, involving over 8000 defendants and costing millions in legal fees. Analysts expect costs in the USA alone to reach over $200 billion. The lengthy proceedings and costs involved with Asbestos proceedings in the USA several firms dedicated to providing legal support to those affected like The Ledger Law Firm who provide legal advice to claimants and offer fee-free representation to those whose hearings are unsuccessful.

Today about 125 million people worldwide are still exposed to asbestos in the workplace, and occupational exposure to the carcinogen has been responsible for over 107,000 deaths. New cases of mesothelioma are constantly diagnosed each year, with over a thousand cases diagnosed in 2015 across America, Australia and the United Kingdom.

Safe asbestos may be an ‘alternative’ fact that Trump supports. But the risks and the science behind the dangers are clear, and to grave to be ignored in the name of profit, or convenience.

From Paper to Cloud: the Changing Face of Data Storage

From the days of the old filing cabinet to computers, and now tablets, data storage is essential to nearly everyone. As companies such as IBM, SeaGate, and Western Digital made the technology more efficient and accessible, the more ubiquitous data storage became.

It was almost 90 years ago that the first magnetic tape — a medium for magnetic recording which transformed the entertainment and broadcasting industry — was invented by German engineer Fritz Pfleumer. The invention was revolutionary. Prior to this, punch cards were used to store data to program mechanisms such as textile looms. The magnetic tape gave rise to other magnetic storage media that most people have been well-acquainted with in the age of digitization, namely cassette tapes, VHS tapes, floppy disks, the hard disks in our hard drives, and even the magnetic stripes on our credit cards.

As the size of the drives shrinks, storage capacity increases. When IBM first introduced the world’s first hard disk drive, it was reported to have “weighed about a ton” and could only store up to 5MB of data. It used rapidly rotating disks coated with magnetic material to store data. Today, portable or external hard drives with a capacity of 4TB are easily available at less than US$150.

In the 1990s, as reported in IBM Systems Journal, digital data storage became more cost-effective than paper storage. CD-ROM (Compact Disk Read-Only Memory) was the norm then, but it quickly became obsolete and was replaced by the flash memory card, SD card, DVD, and the USB flash drive. The advancement in data storage technology goes hand in hand with continuous innovation in computing technology. Together, they have completely transformed the way people work and store personal and enterprise information, speeding up the process of creating, storing, and accessing data.

Innovations in physical data storage are still underway. Most recently, Seagate’s 60TB Solid State Drive (SSD) set a new world record for the world’s highest capacity SSD in 2016. Although USBs, SD cards, and external hard drives are still popular for personal use, in recent years, along with the improvements in internet bandwidth and the decreasing costs of data storage, the industry has shifted its focus from local storage to remote, server-based storage and processing. The International Data Corporation, a market intelligence firm that also provides advisor services for strategic planning, forecasts a ten-fold increase in worldwide data by 2025.

The cloud has emerged as the prevalent computing and storage platform of the future. Computer scientist John McCarthy first introduced the concept in 1961, but it wasn’t until Amazon introduced AWS in 2006 that the cloud really took off. Cloud computing services such as emails, Netflix and Spotify have permeated into our daily lives, along with cloud data storage services such as Dropbox, iCloud, Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive that allows users to access their files from any device, just by logging into their account.

For the average consumer, cloud data storage means being able to store songs, photos, videos, and applications on the internet, and then retrieve them from any device when the files are needed. Cloud storage services are usually available for free, with limits on the amount of storage provided or a size upload limit. That makes it cheaper and more reliable than physical storage mediums, though some still prefer using portable SSD to back up personal data.

These services also make sharing and collaborating easier. Named cloud-based collaboration, it’s increasingly being used by enterprise employees to edit documents together, as well as for personal projects. This has the potential to tremendously improve productivity and expands the possibilities for remote work.

Thousands of companies have shifted their data storage from physical hard drives to cloud storage. For businesses and large organizations, outsourcing data storage to the cloud presents a more economical solution compared to having to buy and maintain their own data storage hardware, as customers are charged only for the infrastructure used.

Cloud backup service BackBlaze estimates that “by 2020, a third of all data will pass through the cloud,” and “businesses will spend $191 billion on cloud services by 2020, up to $72 billion in 2014.” Companies such as Pfizer, Dow Jones, Financial Times, and Airbnb are also on the cloud, choosing AWS to host and maintain their core infrastructure, while Pearson, Ford, and NBC news have chosen Microsoft Azure.

The Alternative Truth About Teen Angst

When you hear the word depression, one often associates it with a terrible mental ailment that no cure seems to avail. According to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), “depression is more than simply feeling unhappy or fed up for a few days”. Some people often think that depression is trivial and can be easily brushed off as it is mere “a sign of weakness”. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) at the end of February declared depression as the single leading cause of disability worldwide. More than 300 million people suffered from depressive disorders in 2015, indicating an 18.4 percent increase in a decade, as stated in the report released by the United Nations agency.

The symptoms of depression range from mild to severe. They range from lasting feelings of unhappiness and hopelessness to losing interest in the things you used to enjoy and feeling very tearful. Many people with depression also have symptoms of anxiety. At its mildest, people may have feelings of utter sadness or low self-worth and at its worst, depression can lead to suicide. According to estimates by WHO, suicide is the second leading cause of death in 15-29-year-olds, which means that young adults are more susceptible to suicidal thoughts.


The devilish effect of social media

According to a study published in the journal Translational Psychiatry, more than one-third of teenage girls in the U.S. experience the first episode of depression. That number is three times higher than the rate for boys. There are a number of factors that make girls more prone to depression than their male counterpart. Rebecca Schwartz-Mette, an assistant professor in the department of psychology at the University of Maine, mentions pubertal changes, negative thinking styles such as rumination and low self-esteem as some of the common risk factors.

It’s undoubtedly hard to be a teenager. Puberty kicks in, hormonal changes followed by mood swings loom in, and not to mention the escalating peer pressures and academic expectations. The whole mix of changes can increase stress, anxiety and the risk of depression among all teens, research has long shown. And the increasing dependence on social media also exacerbates the problem. As psychiatrist and author Catherine Steiner-Adair explains, her young female patients often tell her they get their “entire identity” from their phone, constantly checking the number of “tags, likes, Instagram photos and Snapchat stories.”

In an age where information is so easily accessed, the internet community can be a hotbed of hate and jealousy. And with the advent of social media, where people can freely post their thoughts and share their stories, cyber-bullying and online harassment are bound to happen. Social media also allows social interaction between people who may never meet in real life but can be regarded as friends. But the dark side of the internet and social media has been unearthed. A survey by the Royal Society of Public Health in the UK shows that Instagram is ranked as the worst social media platform as it is often associated with high levels of anxiety, depression, bullying, and FOMO, or the “fear of missing out.” The survey, which was conducted among 1,500 14 to 24-year olds also found that Snapchat, Facebook, and Twitter all demonstrated negative effects overall on young people’s mental health.

But there is so much more to that. The more important question to ask is why is depression seemingly more prevalent in girls than boys? Or when a 14-year-old girl rants on her Facebook, does it show a symptom of depression or merely an attention-seeking behavior? Mental health is certainly an issue not to be overlooked. While there’s certainly a connection between social media use and signs of depression, parents need to stay vigilant in interpreting their children’s behaviors. When a child really seems to have changed, you can’t just write it off as adolescence.


Treatments for depression

If diagnosed early, depression can be treated effectively. Unfortunately, there are a number of cases where affected people refuse to seek help because of the social stigma that associates with mental disorders. Again, data from WHO shows that fewer than half of those affected in the world (in many countries, fewer than 10%) receive such treatments. Barriers to effective care include a lack of resources or lack of trained healthcare providers.

People with mild depression sometimes get better without any treatment, but in more severe cases they may need lots of help. Lifestyle changes are usually the first method of treatment to try. Getting more exercise, eating healthily and sleeping well can all have a powerful effect on our moods. However, people with more severe symptoms may also need professional help or receive a residential depression treatment.

Identifying depression does not solve the problem. If symptoms continue to appear, parents should be attentive and more importantly, offer help and listen. The challenge is to overcome the social stigma that often entails depression and other mental health disorders. This can be a long and hard journey for teenagers and their families, but the message to parents is to keep asking the right questions.