Economist 8/4/14

  1. In the Netherlands, where a policy of official tolerance towards smoking weed was established in the 1980s, puffing now feels about as subversive as shopping for lingerie.. The clientele at Amsterdam’s coffee shops are mainly tourists or other foreigners, while the Dutch themselves smoke marijuana at lower rates than Americans do. Since marijuana remains illegal at the national level, credit-card companies refuse to work directly with Colorado dispensaries, which necessitates an expensive work-around.
  2. Mexico’s embattled oil-workers’ union extraordinary relationship with Pemex has been splashed all over the front pages of Mexican newspapers recently—a convenient diversion for the government as it sidles the energy bills through Congress. First, congressmen have drawn attention to the whopping size of the oil workers’ unfunded pension liabilities, which have been negotiated with Pemex over decades.According to Luis Videgaray, the finance minister, they amount to 1.7 trillion pesos ($129 billion) on an actuarial basis, or about 10% of GDP (though Congress puts them lower). That’s not far short of the size of the entire private pension industry (13% of GDP).As part of the reform, some of these pension liabilities will be shifted onto the government’s books, which critics have interpreted as a bailout of the union by its friends in government.
  3. Iran has long been hostile to the media. Press cards issued to journalists based in Iran are often withdrawn without warning and the authorities are prone to charge writers with vague offences such as posing a risk to national security, spreading propaganda or failing to follow “Islamic guidance”. Twenty-seven journalists are currently in jail in Iran, according to the International Federation of Journalists, a Brussels-based lobby.No one knows why Iran feels the need to crack down now. The authorities don’t like Iranians who work for foreign media, especially dual citizens like Mr Rezaian, an Iranian-American who speaks Farsi. Three days after Mr Rezaian and his colleagues were taken, Tehran’s chief justice issued a statement suggesting espionage.Iran says it wants reporters to cover normal life beyond what ruling clerics see as the West’s perception of a country bent on obtaining nuclear weapons.
  4. Using downloaded software to unlock phones, so they can be employed on a different cellular network after existing contracts have expired, is punishable by a fine of up to $500,000 and/or five years in jail. (Unlocking a phone is not called “jail-breaking” for nothing!).On July 25th, Congress finally passed a bill which makes it legal for Americans to unlock their phones without repercussions. Americans’ new freedom to unlock their phones so they can repair or modify them could be quashed next year. The Library of Congress—the agency responsible for interpreting matters concerning copyright to the legislature—decides every three years whether to grant, renew or withdraw special copyright exemptions for various groups of people.
  5. Back in the 1990s, following the introduction of audio compression algorithms like MP3 and file-sharing websites such as Napster, recording companies witnessed an explosion in online piracy. Seeing it was their turn next, Hollywood studios joined forces to lobby Congress to prevent their films from likewise being ripped off.The unhappy outcome of all the lobbying was the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998.To keep Hollywood happy, language was included in the act (Section 1201) that made it illegal for anyone to “circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title”.An even bigger mistake by the DMCA’s drafters was to make the definition of circumvention so broad that it could be applied to practically any piece of equipment containing a digital controller—whether a car, a washing machine or a combine harvester—even when no copyright infringement was involved. While it was never intended to cover mobile phones, wireless carriers embraced the act as a way of locking customers into their networks.
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