South Korea’s Birth Rate Crisis Is Driven by Gender Inequality

South Korea is emblematic of East Asia’s well-documented coming demographic crisis. Not only has its birth rate been the world’s lowest for the past three years, it keeps getting worse. In 2021, its birth rate was a mere 0.81 child per woman—even lower than that of Japan, the world’s fastest-aging nation, where that same year the figure was 1.3 children per woman. By 2070, South Korea’s population of 52 million is projected to drop to 38 million. 

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America Risks Losing the Global Race for Vaccines

If an entire neighborhood is burning, as any firefighter knows, putting out only your own makes zero sense. So long as any house is on fire, the whole neighborhood, and town, is unsafe.

The same goes for tackling a global pandemic. But rich countries have yet to wake up to this fact. President Biden is firmly sticking to an America-first approach when it comes to vaccination. The U.S. will loan half of its stockpile of millions of AstraZeneca vaccines to Mexico and Canada. That’s it, even though it has secured enough doses from other manufacturers to cover all adults in the country by May. Soon it will have excess supply of 100 million doses.

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The Robots at Labor’s Gate

The World Wide Web debuted 30 years ago. More than half of humanity now has access to surf the internet, up from just 20 percent a decade ago. That’s an amazing transformation.

But the breathless predictions of Silicon Valley’s starry-eyed utopians that the internet would unleash prosperity for all and end inequality have sadly not been realized. In fact, arguably it has widened the world’s chasm between the haves and have-nots.

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The Undiscussed Backsliding of Women’s Rights in Egypt and Arab World

When I lived in Cairo last year, many Egyptians told me that the Arab Spring hadn’t improved anything. Things were worse than they were before the 2011 revolution. Food prices shot up. Young people still didn’t have jobs and didn’t care to vote. The military government crushed dissent, arresting journalists and activists alike. A Thomson Reuters poll named Cairo as the world’s most dangerous city for women in 2017, testifying to the double whammy of oppression Egyptian women endure.

Misogyny – the child of patriarchy and religious fundamentalism – grows stronger as Egypt enters one of the most repressive climates in recent history. In Egypt, the global outcry against sexual abuse is not even close to making a dent on the culture where women are second-tier citizens.

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Stop Celebrating Diversity

At a think tank in Washington where I used to work, I once attended a one-day compulsory diversity training, during which the instructor requested everyone to identify themselves by age groups, sexual orientation and childhood socio-economic background. Seeing a coworker identify herself as a gay woman, another coworker who’d grown up outside of the U.S. expressed shock and dread. It was a case of a good intention creating negative emotions. For me, I resented having to sit through the training, when I could have worked and gone home earlier.

Despite damning evidence that shows mandatory diversity trainings don’t work or actually make things worse – a 2006 review of over 700 companies showed that trainings aimed at managers activated bias rather than reducing it – we keep doing it. From Wall Street headhunters to Harvard admissions offices, diversity is seen as a positive end in itself, yet it is one fraught with cultural baggage.

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Doing Away with “Publish or Perish”

In a past life I was a flak for a Washington-based think tank. Researchers there toiled long hours at desk, facing intense pressure to publish. Other duties included drafting proposals to raise funds for the institute, supervising junior researchers, and trying out their best TED-like talks at conferences. But when it came time for promotions and bonuses, only one thing mattered: getting published in high-ranking journals.

“Publish or perish.” Scientists are supposed to have an open mind and question existing beliefs. But to succeed in the dog-eat-dog world of academia, they must abide by this archaic rule. This has given birth to a $25 billion scientific publishing industry that spans the globe.

In other words, “peer review” is mainly about profits, not ideas.

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The Chinese Ghettoization of American Campuses

A record number of foreign students, 890,000 and climbing, are enrolled in American universities. A third of them are from China. Their high tuitions might be a godsend for universities facing slashed state budget cuts. After all, in 2014 foreign students contributed $27 billion to the U.S. economy. Plus they provide a veneer of diversity every college covets.

But their presence on campus has stoked a backlash, as middle-class American students are increasingly crowded out of the admissions process. Campus life has also been negatively affected, as these students cluster themselves off from the rest of their classmates.

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How Not to Empower Women in Afghanistan

The U.S. Agency for International Development’s $416 million, five-year program to boost women’s leadership runs the risk of being irrelevant in a country where, just last month, a woman was beaten to death by a mob of men in broad daylight for allegedly burning a Quran. In a video taken by an onlooker, a man is seen taking a concrete block to smash her head. Her body was then set on fire and thrown into a river.

The issue is not just the legitimate concerns over the difficulties of implementing, monitoring and assessing the impact of the program amidst a NATO pullout, as the inspector general of the government watchdog on Afghanistan reconstruction pointed out.

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Why the Pentagon Needs a War on PowerPoint

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter became the latest top Pentagon official to recognize the threat posed by the indiscriminate and ingrained use of PowerPoint, when he banned his commanders from using it during a summit in Kuwait. According to his spokesman, it was so that they could have thoughtful analysis and discussions, instead of fixed briefings.

He should go further and ban PowerPoint throughout the defense department. It will boost the quality of analysis and briefings, among others, as officers will no longer be able duck behind indecipherable, mumbo-jumbo slides to bury inconvenient facts or their own lack of understanding of the issue at hand.

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Restore public confidence in vaccines

Natural-lifestyle parents in California’s anti-vaccine communities seem to believe that it’s better that their children get childhood diseases than to have toxins put into their bodies by being vaccinated. This reasoning is equivalent to brushing teeth with organic, fluoride-free toothpaste and then developing cavity – except that, unlike cavity, measles is contagious and can kill.

Given that the falling rate of immunization has allowed measles to resurge, after it was declared eliminated 15 years ago, an awareness-raising campaign is in order. It’s good that California is trying to make it harder for parents to opt out of vaccinating children, but that doesn’t diminish the need to address the public’s lack of knowledge, misinformation or distrust.

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