“I always use this chart of childhood death,” Bill Gates says. “In 1960, 25% of kids died before the age of 5. And now we’re down below 6% of kids dying before the age of 5.”
We’re sitting in a bare conference room at his foundation’s D.C. headquarters. Gates — who Bloomberg News calculates is once again the world’s richest man — is in town to talk to members of Congress about his top priority this year: Global health – and, in particular, the total eradication of polio. He wants to drive that 6 percent even lower, and he believes he can. Wiping out a disease like polio sounds impossible. But it’s actually, Gates tells me, completely achievable. Perhaps even by the end of 2013. This is a transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.
Bill Gates holds vaccine during a news conference after his address to the 64th World Health Assembly at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, May 17, 2011.
(Denis Balibouse / Reuters)
Ezra Klein: Your Foundation is known for taking a particularly data-driven approach to its work. So how do you know what’s actually working when you’re in failed states with very little data-collection capacity?
Bill Gates: Of all the statistics in health, death is the easiest, because you can go out and ask people, “Hey, have you had any children who died, did your siblings have any children who died?” People don’t forget that. If you say to them, “Did your kids get vaccines or not,” they might have done it and not remember, or they might think, “Oh, this person wants me to say yes, maybe I look bad if I don’t say yes.” Death is something we really understand extremely well.
But you can save a lot of lives. One thing about the childhood death rate is you really can split it into the first 30 days of life versus 30 days to 5 years. Thirty days to 5 years is all vaccine preventable stuff — it’s diarrhea, respiratory and malaria. The first 30 days, the primary healthcare system really has to engage with the mother pre-birth, and then get the mother to do things like keeping the baby warm, making sure to avoid doing things that break the baby’s skin, breast-feeding, and that’s been harder. We’ve had sites in India where we can cut those deaths down by over 50 percent just by training the mother. But the worker has to engage with the patient, hopefully speak the same language or be of the same caste so that they’re willing to trust the advice that they’re getting.
Read all of this at the WONKBLOG.
Why are we not much, much, much better at parenting?
We’ve come a long way, as a species. And we’re better at many things than we ever were before – not just slightly better, but unimaginably, ridiculously better. We’re better at transporting people and objects, we’re better a killing, we’re better at preventing infectious diseases, we’re better at industrial production, agricultural and economic output, we’re better at communications and sharing of information.
But in some areas, we haven’t made such dramatic improvements. And one of those areas is parenting. We’re certainly better parents than our own great-great-grandparents, if we measure by outcomes, but the difference is of degree, not kind. Why is that?
Down to the market…
Let’s turn first to the system that created the desktop computer and the perfected the mobile phone: the relentless churn of global capitalism. Why aren’t companies selling us products to make us super-parents?
But in parenting capitalism, who is the consumer? You could take the kids themselves as the consumers, as they’re the primary concerned. But they have no purchasing power, which means they don’t count. In practice, the parents are the consumers. So the strongest feature of the free-market – that the purchaser directly experiences the quality of the product – is diluted.
And capitalism has indeed responded to parents’ demand, making available a whole variety of products, from car seats to push chairs to nappies to baby monitors. Problem is, though, parents aren’t very good consumers, in that they have a limited ability to figure out (and demand) what they actually need. In part, this is because they have few children apiece: most parents in rich countries (i.e. the most important consumer-parents) will have one, two, or three children, seldom much more. Bearing in mind that children have different personalities and change as they grow, we can see that the average parent will have very little experience in, well, parenting.
Read it all HERE.
How the IRS’s Nonprofit Division Got So Dysfunctional
The IRS division responsible for flagging Tea Party groups has long been an agency afterthought, beset by mismanagement, financial constraints and an unwillingness to spell out just what it expects from social welfare nonprofits, former officials and experts say.
The controversy that erupted in the past week, leading to the ousting of the acting Internal Revenue Service commissioner, an investigation by the FBI, and congressional hearings that kicked off Friday, comes against a backdrop of dysfunction brewing for years.
Moves launched in the 1990s were designed to streamline the tax agency and make it more efficient. But they had unintended consequences for the IRS’s Exempt Organizations division.
Checks and balances once in place were taken away. Guidance frequently published by the IRS and closely read by tax lawyers and nonprofits disappeared. Even as political activity by social welfare nonprofits exploded in recent election cycles, repeated requests for the IRS to clarify exactly what was permitted for the secretly funded groups were met, at least publicly, with silence.
All this combined to create an isolated office in Cincinnati, plagued by what an inspector general this week described as “insufficient oversight,” of fewer than 200 low-level employees responsible for reviewing more than 60,000 nonprofit applications a year.
Read it all HERE.
13 Ways to Know if the Government is Reading Your Email
The National Security Agency is the primary cryptographic and signals-intelligence agency of the United States. To spy on foreign communications, it operates data collection platforms in more than 50 countries and uses airplanes and submarines, ships and satellites, specially modified trucks, and cleverly disguised antennas. It has managed to break the cryptographic systems of most of its targets and prides itself on sending first-rate product to the president of the United States.
Inside the United States, the NSA’s collection is regulated by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, passed in 1978 to provide a legal framework for intercepting communications related to foreign intelligence or terrorism where one party is inside the United States and might be considered a “U.S. person.”
Three bits of terminology: The NSA “collects on” someone, with the preposition indicating the broad scope of the verb. Think of a rake pushing leaves into a bin. The NSA intercepts a very small percentage of the communications it collects. At the NSA, to “intercept” is to introduce to the collection process an analyst, who examines a leaf that has appeared in his or her computer bin. (An analyst could use computer software to assist here, but the basic distinction the NSA makes is that the actual interception requires intent and specificity on behalf of the interceptor.) A “U.S. person” refers to a U.S. citizen, a legal resident of the United States, or a corporation or business legally chartered inside the United States.
So the big question everyone wonders is: does the NSA read my e-mail? Based on the public statements of the former director of the National Security Agency, Justice Department attorneys, and others involved in NSA operations—as well as confidential information provided to the authors and verified independently by officials read in to the programs—here is how to tell if the NSA spies on you:
Read at Mental Floss now.