Economist 6/22/14

  1. Last year online travel agents (OTAs) had combined bookings of $278 billion. Expedia had gross bookings were $39.4 billion. The third-largest travel agent is also an online firm: Priceline, whose brands include, made reservations worth $39.2 billion in 2013.PhoCusWright, another research firm, reckons that online booking now accounts for 43% of total travel sales in America and 45% in Europe.Since much of the rest is accounted for by business trips handled by specialist corporate-travel agents such as Carlson Wagonlit, scope for the OTAs’ market to grow seems limited. Although the Chinese now spend more on travel in aggregate than any other country’s population, in 2012 they booked only 15% of their trips by value online, says PhoCusWright. Online travel is an industry in which size counts. The scale of Expedia and Priceline means they can sign up more hotels, and negotiate better prices, than their smaller rivals. So besides Ctrip, perhaps the biggest threat to the big two OTAs is TripAdvisor, a popular travel-reviews site spun off by Expedia in 2011.
  2. SWEDEN and Finland stopped being neutral years ago. They both participate in NATO exercises, commit troops to its rapid-reaction force.Yet they do not enjoy the biggest benefits of NATO: a seat at the decision-making table and the protection afforded by Article 5, the clause that defines an attack on one as an attack on all. Sweden and Finland want to be as close and interoperable as possible with NATO, without being members; NATO has sought to embrace them as closely as possible, and is drawing up new privileges, without granting them decision-making rights. It is time to consummate the relationship. Uncertainty gives Russia scope for mischief-making. Finnish and Swedish membership would enhance security by turning the Baltic into a NATO lake.
  3. The railway line from Golmud to Shigatse stretches 250km southwest of Lhasa, Tibet and will reduce the five-hour road journey to two hours by rail.By 2020 the aim is to complete several other major rail routes connecting Tibet with its neighbouring provinces of Xinjiang, Sichuan and Yunnan. The party’s infrastructure drive is an important part of its policy of integrating the poorer west of the country with the richer east.Lavish spending on infrastructure reflects the central government’s determination to use economic development to pacify restive western regions. Last year 7.5m passengers rode the railway from Golmud to Lhasa—more than double the population of Tibet itself. The party values Tibet’s mineral reserves at 600 billion yuan ($96 billion).
  4.  On June 18th Spain’s parliament will give effect to the decision so King Carlos’s son can take the throne as Felipe VI.  King Carlos gave up that power by leading his country into constitutional democracy. In return, Spaniards voted to keep the monarchy. They wanted to avoid renewed bloody confrontation between what the poet Antonio Machado called “the two Spains” (of left and right) that provoked civil war in the 1930s.The new monarchy had come with special privileges, including minimal public scrutiny of the king’s personal and financial affairs. Yet as Spanish democracy became more robust, this deal began to crack.In 2012, as Spain reeled from recession, he flitted to Botswana for a free elephant-hunting trip, accompanied by a glamorous German woman.
  5. ALABAMA’S Women’s Health and Safety Act sounds innocuous enough. The new law, which takes effect July 1st, requires doctors at abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. This will protect women and make abortions safer, claims the state attorney general’s office. Actually, this is bunk. In fact the law will simply force several abortion clinics to close, as it is practically impossible for the doctors on staff to gain the relevant privileges, owing to either residency requirements (most doctors travel from out of state and work one or two days a week. For years anti-abortion advocates simply made life harder for women seeking abortion by imposing such rules as pro-life counselling, ultrasounds and mandated waiting times between a consultation and a procedure Between 2011 and 2013 states enacted 205 abortion restrictions—more than in the entire previous decade combined. Howevercontraceptive use—more than anything else—has played a key role in lowering both the rate and the number of abortions in America. Indeed, the number of women seeking abortion fell by 13% between 2008 and 2011.

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