- Created on 21 December 2012
(AP) — The world's happiest people aren't in Qatar, the richest country by most measures. They aren't in Japan, the nation with the highest life expectancy. Canada, with its chart-topping percentage of college graduates, doesn't make the top 10.
A poll released Wednesday of nearly 150,000 people around the world says seven of the world's 10 countries with the most upbeat attitudes are in Latin America.
Many of the seven do poorly in traditional measures of well-being, like Guatemala, a country torn by decades of civil war followed by waves of gang-driven criminality that give it one of the highest homicide rates in the world. Guatemala sits just above Iraq on the United Nations' Human Development Index, a composite of life expectancy, education and per capita income. But it ranks seventh in positive emotions.
"In Guatemala, it's a culture of friendly people who are always smiling," said Luz Castillo, a 30-year-old surfing instructor. "Despite all the problems that we're facing, we're surrounded by natural beauty that lets us get away from it all."
Gallup Inc. asked about 1,000 people in each of 148 countries last year if they were well-rested, had been treated with respect, smiled or laughed a lot, learned or did something interesting and felt feelings of enjoyment the previous day.
In Panama and Paraguay, 85 percent of those polled said yes to all five, putting those countries at the top of the list. They were followed closely by El Salvador, Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, Thailand, Guatemala, the Philippines, Ecuador and Costa Rica.
The people least likely to report positive emotions lived in Singapore, the wealthy and orderly city-state that ranks among the most developed in the world. Other wealthy countries also sat surprisingly low on the list. Germany and France tied with the poor African state of Somaliland for 47th place.
Prosperous nations can be deeply unhappy ones. And poverty-stricken ones are often awash in positivity, or at least a close approximation of it.
It's a paradox with serious implications for a relatively new and controversial field called happiness economics that seeks to improve government performance by adding people's perceptions of their satisfaction to traditional metrics such as life expectancy, per capita income and graduation rates.
The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan famously measures policies by their impact on a concept called Gross National Happiness.
British Prime Minister David Cameron announced a national well-being program in 2010 as part of a pledge to improve Britons' lives in the wake of the global recession. A household survey sent to 200,000 Britons asks questions like "How satisfied are you with your life nowadays?"
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, which unites 34 of the world's most advanced countries, recently created a Better Life Index allowing the public to compare countries based on quality of life in addition to material well-being.
Some experts say that's a dangerous path that could allow governments to use positive public perceptions as an excuse to ignore problems. As an example of the risks, some said, the Gallup poll may have been skewed by a Latin American cultural proclivity to avoid negative statements regardless of how one actually feels.
"My immediate reaction is that this influenced by cultural biases," said Eduardo Lora, who studied the statistical measurement of happiness as the former chief economist of the Inter-American Development Bank
"What the empirical literature says is that some cultures tend to respond to any type of question in a more positive way," said Lora, a native of Colombia, the 11th most-positive country.
For the nine least positive countries, some were not surprising, like Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and Haiti. For others at the bottom, Armenia at the second lowest spot, Georgia and Lithuania, misery is something a little more ephemeral.
"Feeling unhappy is part of the national mentality here," said Agaron Adibekian, a sociologist in the Armenian capital, Yerevan. "Armenians like being mournful; there have been so many upheavals in the nation's history. The Americans keep their smiles on and avoid sharing their problems with others. And the Armenians feel ashamed about being successful."
The United States was No. 33 in positive outlook. Latin America's biggest economies, Mexico and Brazil, sat more than 20 places further down the list.
Jon Clifton, a partner at Gallup, acknowledged the poll partly measured cultures' overall tendency to express emotions, positive or negative. But he said skeptics shouldn't undervalue the expression of positive emotion as an important phenomenon in and of itself.
"Those expressions are a reality, and that's exactly what we're trying to quantify," he said. "I think there is higher positive emotionality in these countries."
Some Latin Americans said the poll hit something fundamental about their countries: a habit of focusing on posivites such as friends, family and religion despite daily lives that can be grindingly difficult.
Carlos Martinez sat around a table with 11 fellow construction workers in a Panama City restaurant sharing a breakfast of corn empanadas, fried chicken and coffee before heading to work on one of the hundreds of new buildings that have sprouted during a yearslong economic boom driven in large part by the success of the Panama Canal. The boom has sent unemployment plunging, but also increased traffic and crime.
Martinez pronounced himself unhappy with rising crime but "happy about my family."
"Overall, I'm happy because this is a country with many natural resources, a country that plays an important role in the world," he said. "We're Caribbean people, we're people who like to celebrate, to eat well and live as well as we can. There are a lot of possibilities here, you just have to sacrifice a little more."
Singapore sits 32 places higher than Panama on the Human Development Index, but at the opposite end of the happiness list. And things weren't looking good Wednesday to Richard Low, a 33-year-old businessman in the prosperous Asian metropolis.
"We work like dogs and get paid peanuts. There's hardly any time for holidays or just to relax in general because you're always thinking ahead: when the next deadline or meeting is. There is hardly a fair sense of work-life balance here," he said.
In Paraguay, tied with Panama as the most-positive country while doing far worse than Panama by objective measures, street vendor Maria Solis said tough economic conditions were no reason to despair.
"Life is short and there are no reasons to be sad because even if we were rich, there would still be problems," she said while selling herbs used for making tea. "We have to laugh at ourselves."
- Created on 20 December 2012
(AP) — Aiming to prevent companies from exploiting online information about children under 13, the Obama administration on Wednesday imposed sweeping changes in regulations designed to protect a young generation with easy access to the Internet.
Two years in the making, the amended rules to the decade-old Children's Online Privacy Protection Act go into effect in July. Privacy advocates said the changes were long overdue in an era of cellphones, tablets, social networking services and online stores with cellphone apps aimed at kids for as little as 99 cents.
Siphoning details of children's personal lives — their physical location, contact information, names of friends and more — from their Internet activities can be highly valuable to advertisers, marketers and data brokers.
The Obama administration has largely refrained from issuing regulations that might stifle growth in the technology industry, one of the U.S. economy's brightest spots. Yet the Federal Trade Commission pressed ahead with the new kids' privacy guidelines despite loud complaints — particularly from small businesses and software apps developers — that the revisions would be too costly to comply with and cause responsible companies to abandon the children's marketplace.
As evidence of online risks, the FTC last week said it was investigating an unspecified number of software developers that may have illegally gathered information without the consent of parents.
Under the changes to the law, known as COPPA, information about children that cannot be collected unless a parent first gives permission now includes the location data that a cellphone generates, as well as photos, videos and audio files containing a human image or voice.
The Congressional Bipartisan Privacy Caucus commended the FTC for writing the new rules. "Keeping kids safe on the Internet is as important as ensuring their safety in schools, in homes, in cars," caucus co-chairman Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said at a Capitol Hill news conference.
Data known as "persistent identifiers," which allow a person to be tracked over time and across websites, are also considered personal data and covered by the rules, the agency said. But parental consent is not required when a website operator collects this data solely to support its internal operations, which can include advertising, site analysis and network communications.
The rules offer several new methods for verifying a parent's consent, including electronically scanned consent forms, video conferencing and email.
The FTC sought to achieve a balance between protecting kids and spurring innovation in the technology industry, said Jon Leibowitz, the agency's chairman.
The final rules expand the definition of a website or online service directed at children to include plug-ins and advertising networks that collect personal information from kids.
But the rules were also tightened in a way favorable to some Internet heavyweights, Google and Apple. Their online apps stores, which dominate the marketplace for mobile applications, won't be held liable for violations because they "merely offer the public access to child-directed apps," the FTC said.
Google and Apple had warned that if the rule were written to include their stores, they would jettison many apps specifically intended for kids. They said that would hurt the nation's classrooms, where new and interactive apps are used by teachers and students.
A Washington trade group that represents independent apps developers criticized the agency for addressing the concerns of large businesses while doing too little for the startups that make educational apps parents and teachers want. The FTC's belief that the apps industry will figure out how to thrive under the new rules is akin to jumping off a cliff then building a parachute, said Morgan Reed, executive director of the Association for Competitive Technology.
"While that may work for big companies, small companies lack the silk and line to build that parachute before they hit the ground," Reed said.
Companies are not excluded from advertising on websites directed at children, allowing business models that rely on advertising to continue, Leibowitz said. But behavioral marketing techniques that target children are prohibited unless a parent agrees. "You may not track children to build massive profiles," he said.
The agency included in the rules new methods for securing verifiable consent after the software industry and Internet companies raised concerns over how to confirm that the permission actually came from a parent. Electronic scans of signed consent forms are acceptable, as is video-teleconferencing between the website operator or online service and the parent, according to the agency.
The FTC also said it is encouraging technology companies to recommend additional verification methods. Leibowitz said he expects that this will "unleash innovation around consent mechanisms."
Emailed consent is also acceptable as long as the business confirms it by sending an email back to the parent or calling or sending a letter. In cases of email confirmation, the information collected can only be used for internal use by that company and not shared with third parties, the agency said.
The FTC's investigation of apps developers came after the agency examined 400 kids' apps that it purchased from Apple's iTunes store and Google's apps store, Google Play. It determined that 60 percent of them transmitted the user's unique device identification to the software maker or, more frequently, to advertising networks and companies that compile, analyze and sell consumer information for marketing campaigns.
- Created on 18 December 2012
(AP) — Where is the NRA?
The nation's largest gun-rights organization — typically outspoken about its positions even after shooting deaths — has gone all but silent since last week's rampage at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school that left 26 people dead, including 20 children.
Its Facebook page has disappeared. It has posted no tweets. It makes no mention of the shooting on its website. None of its leaders hit the media circuit Sunday to promote its support of the Second Amendment right to bear arms as the nation mourns the latest shooting victims and opens a new debate over gun restrictions. On Monday, the NRA offered no rebuttal as 300 anti-gun protesters marched to its Capitol Hill office.
After previous mass shootings — such as in Oregon and Wisconsin — the group was quick to both send its condolences and defend gun owners' constitutional rights, popular among millions of Americans. There's no indication that the National Rifle Association's silence this time is a signal that a change in its ardent opposition to gun restrictions is imminent. Nor has there been any explanation for its absence from the debate thus far.
The NRA, which claims 4.3 million members and is based in Northern Virginia, did not return telephone messages Monday seeking comment.
Its deep-pocketed efforts to oppose gun control laws have proven resilient. Firearms are in a third or more of U.S. households and suspicion runs deep of an overbearing government whenever it proposes expanding federal authority. The argument of gun-rights advocates that firearm ownership is a bedrock freedom as well as a necessary option for self-defense has proved persuasive enough to dampen political enthusiasm for substantial change.
Seldom has the NRA gone so long after a fatal shooting without a public presence. It resumed tweeting just one day after a gunman killed two people and then himself at an Oregon shopping mall last Tuesday, and one day after six people were fatally shot at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in August.
The Connecticut shootings occurred three days after the incident in Oregon.
"The NRA's probably doing a good thing by laying low," said Hogan Gidley, a Republican strategist and gun owner who was a top aide to Rick Santorum's presidential bid. "Often after these tragedies, so many look to lay blame on someone, and the NRA is an easy whipping boy for this."
Indeed, since the Connecticut shootings, the NRA has been taunted and criticized at length, vitriol that may have prompted the shuttering of its Facebook page just a day after the association boasted about reaching 1.7 million supporters on the social media network.
Twitter users have been relentless, protesting the organization with hashtags like NoWayNRA.
The NRA has not responded to them. Its last tweets, sent Friday, offered a chance to win an auto flashlight.
Offline, some 300 protesters gathered outside the NRA's lobbying headquarters on Capitol Hill on Monday chanting, "Shame on the NRA" and waving signs declaring "Kill the 2nd Amendment, Not Children" and "Protect Children, Not Guns."
"I had to be here," said Gayle Fleming, 65, a real estate agent from Arlington, Va., saying she was attending her first anti-gun rally. "These were 20 babies. I will be at every rally, will sign every letter, call every congressman going forward."
Retired attorney Kathleen Buffon of Chevy Chase, Md., reflected on earlier mass shootings, saying: "All of the other ones, they've been terrible. This is the last straw. These were children."
"The NRA has had a stranglehold on Congress," she added as she marched toward the NRA's unmarked office. "It's time to call them out."
The group's reach on Capitol Hill is wide as it wields its deep pockets to defeat lawmakers, many of them Democrats, who push for restrictions on gun ownership.
The NRA outspent its chief opponent by a 73-1 margin to lobby the outgoing Congress, according to the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation, which tracks such spending. It spent more than 4,000 times its biggest opponents during the 2012 election.
In all, the group spent at least $24 million this election cycle — $16.8 million through its political action committee and nearly $7.5 million through its affiliated Institute for Legislative Action. Its chief foil, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, spent just $5,816.
On direct lobbying, the NRA also was mismatched. Through July 1, the NRA spent $4.4 million to lobby Congress to the Brady Campaign's $60,000.
- Created on 19 December 2012
(AP) — President Barack Obama is launching an administration-wide effort to curb gun violence, underscoring the growing political consensus over tightening gun restrictions following the horrific massacre at a Connecticut elementary school.
Obama is tasking Vice President Joe Biden, a longtime gun control advocate, with spearheading the effort. In remarks from the White House on Wednesday, Obama will outline a process for pursuing policy changes following the school shooting, though he is not expected to call for specific measures.
The president has vowed to use "whatever power this office holds" to safeguard the nation's children after Friday's shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. Twenty children and six adults were killed at the school by a gunman carrying an arsenal of ammunition and a high-powered, military-style rifle.
The White House sees some urgency in formulating a policy response to the shooting, even as Obama and his top aides are consumed with averting the "fiscal cliff" before tax hikes and spending cuts take effect in January. The incident has prompted several congressional gun rights supporters to consider new legislation to control firearms, and there is some fear that their willingness to engage could fade as the shock and sorrow over the Newtown shooting eases.
Many pro-gun lawmakers also have called for a greater focus on mental health issues and the impact of violent entertainment. White House aides say stricter gun laws alone are not the answer.
"It's a complex problem that requires more than one solution," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday. "It calls for not only re-examining our gun laws and how well we enforce them, but also for engaging mental health professionals, law enforcement officials, educators, parents and communities to find those solutions."
Still, much of the immediate focus after the shooting is on gun control, an issue that has been dormant in Washington for years. Obama expended little political capital on gun issues during his first term, despite several mass shootings, including a movie theater attack in Aurora, Colo., in the midst of this year's presidential campaign.
The White House has begun to signal that Obama may be more proactive on gun issues following the murders of the elementary school youngsters, ages 6 and 7.
Carney said Obama was "actively supportive" of legislation to reinstate a ban on assault-style weapons that expired in 2004. The president long has supported a ban, but exerted little effort to get it passed during his first term. Obama also would support closing a gun show loophole allowing people to buy arms from private dealers without background checks and would be interested in legislation limiting high-capacity ammunition magazines, Carney said.
The policy process Obama was announcing Wednesday was expected to include input from the departments of Justice, Education, and Health and Human Services. The heads of those agencies met with Obama at the White House on Monday.
- Created on 17 December 2012
Part 1- What to tell your children
There is nothing a parent can do to prepare psychologically or emotionally for such a catastrophic event. We hope and pray that nothing like this befalls you, your children or your children's children. What makes this event so heinous is that little children were targeted. Generally speaking there is a genetic predisposition within us to protect young children. So the impulse to harm small children is especially troubling.
But here are the things you can do. Tell your children that you love them and hug them a little closer. Turn the TV off. Do not let your children watch this continually, over and over again. Young children might think that repeated showings of the event means it happened more than once.
If your child wants to talk about it, be calm and peaceful, and by all means please do talk about it. It's also OK to bring it up....And parents should to let your child know you are open to having the discussion. Answer your child's questions truthfully and honestly but not graphically. Assure them you, their teacher and their school, will do everything to keep them safe. Assure them, the world is still generally a safe place, they are more likely to get hurt riding their bike...and they still ride their bikes!
Let them know you will be talking to their school about safety. That this is an adult problem and adults will solve it. We will learn from this situation. Also let your child know that if they have any ideas about how to make school safer you would welcome their input too.
Pray with your children for the families affected. It is OK to cry or to feel sad for the kids and teachers who were shot and the people who loved them. Engage your children, if old enough, in some activity that helps the Connecticut community or makes schools safer within your community. This helps all of us feel helpful as opposed to helpless.
Part 2- Action plan for parents at school
This coming Monday, parents across the country will be asking about school safety plans. Most schools are set up so that you have to be buzzed in to enter, but have no defenses after that. Lanza was buzzed into the school building. How are the staff prepared to deal with an aggressive intruder once they have entered the building?
Review the safety plan/drill with your child's teacher. Do they have one? Did they have a practice drill? Did they pass and what were the recommendations for remediation?
The minimal secondary line of defense is to be able to secure and lock the classroom door(s) and have the kids hide in places where they cannot be seen from the door window. The music teacher in Connecticut saved her students when Lanza came banging at her classroom door. He moved on when he saw no one and the door was locked.
Massacres are done with automatic assault weapons. Automatic assault weapons need to be outlawed. In the immediate aftermath the NRA loves to be able to say this is not the time to discuss limiting weapons. this is an effective tactic as less people will be galvanized to do something as weeks pass by. While the Connecticut incident is not solely about the need for gun control, gun control should not be taken off the table as a topic for action. finally, we have witnessed unspeakable horror in all kinds of communities across the nation. This is a teachable moment and a wake up call to action.
Patricia Blessman, holds a PhD in Developmental Psychology from the University of Illinois Chicago.