Economist 2/9/15

  1. Since he led the conservative Liberal-National coalition in Australia to power in September 2013 , Mr Tony Abbott has spent much of his term fighting to win voters’ confidence.In a Newspoll survey, more than two-thirds of voters were dissatisfied with Mr Abbott’s performance. The prime minister had promised a fresh start to 2015 by “scraping one or two barnacles off the ship”. Instead he got into a scrape of his own, on Australia’s national holiday on January 26th, when he awarded a knighthood to Prince Philip, the husband of Australia’s (British) head of state, Queen Elizabeth. An ardent monarchist, Mr Abbott reintroduced knighthoods and dames to Australia’s honours system last year, 40 years after they were abolished. The “knightmare” brought ridicule on Mr Abbott, and further stoked concerns that he was out of touch with modern Australia.The price of iron ore, Australia’s biggest export, has halved over the past year.
  2. ON MARCH 4th the Supreme Court will hear arguments in King v Burwell, a case that could gut the Affordable Care Act (ACA).The case revolves around four words in the mammoth 906-page law that could bring the whole thing down.  The inadvertent Trojan Horse consists of a seemingly innocuous subclause regarding the provision of tax credits to low and middle-income Americans, who otherwise could not afford to buy health insurance. These benefits may be allocated, the law reads, to people buying policies through “exchanges”—that is, online marketplaces (which Mr Obama likened to shopping on Amazon)—“established by the state.” The trouble is this: only 16 states opted to set up their own insurance exchanges. The rest were established by the federal government. When the Internal Revenue Service drafted its rules, it provided the tax credits to people who bought health insurance on both state and federal exchanges. But based on a literal reading of the law, the challengers in King contend, anyone who uses a federal exchange to buy health-care should not qualify for a federal subsidy.
  3. Europeans only started importing the seeds of Theobroma cacao, a tree native to the Andes foothills between the Amazon and Orinoco rivers, after Christopher Columbus’s fourth and final mission to the Americas in 1502. But once the Spanish started adding honey or sugar to the bitter drink, Europeans embraced chocolate as a refreshing beverage to sip throughout the day. Of the several martyrs named Valentinus who were persecuted for ministering to Christians, one in particular is venerated above all others. As the story goes, Valentine of Rome healed the blind daughter of his jailer during his imprisonment, and wrote a note to her signed “Your Valentine” prior to being thrown to the lions.However, it was not until the late 18th century that young couples in England started using the occasion to express their love for one another.
  4. The question usually asked is how so tempting a delicacy as chocolate could be derived from something as bitter as the beans of the cacao tree? It is all in the processing, plus the addition of sugar. First, the cacao seeds are partially fermented. Then they are roasted (like coffee) to bring out their flavour. The shells are removed and the inner “nibs” ground into a thick, creamy paste known as cocoa liquor. Over half the liquor is a more solid substance known as cocoa butter. This is separated out by pressing. The rest of the liquor is usually dried to form a cake of cocoa solids, from which the powder for drinking chocolate is made.The bitter chocolate used for cooking or making dark chocolate contains mainly cocoa solids and cocoa butter. The more popular sweet chocolate has sugar added, while milk chocolate includes powdered milk as well. White chocolate is made of cocoa butter, sugar and milk, but no cocoa solids. Vanilla is invariably added to enhance the flavour.The benefits of cocoa and its chocolate derivatives.comes from an alkaloid called theobromine found in the cacao plant. Theobromine gets its name not from the element bromine, but from the genus of the cacao tree Theobroma cacao.Apart from being a stimulant, theobromine is also a vasodilator (widener of blood vessels) and a diuretic. While it has less of an impact on the central nervous system than caffeine, theobromine stimulates the heart to a far greater extent. By being able to increase heartbeat, while dilating blood vessels, theobromine can help reduce high blood pressure.
  5. In recent months several senior prosecutors and investigators of South African government have been sacked or have left office, many citing “family reasons”, after probing allegations of corruption with a little too much vigour. Several were looking into allegations that taxpayers had footed more than their share of the bill for a 246m-rand ($21m) “security” upgrade to the president’s palatial private homestead, known as Nklandla, in the hills of KwaZulu Natal. The taxpayers’ funds were meant to cover only security improvements such as fences and guardhouses around the complex. Yet they also paid for the construction of a swimming pool (ostensibly to provide a water reservoir for emergency firefighting), a chicken coop, a tuck-shop and an amphitheatre. The government is preparing a new law that will give the president and the justice minister “additional oversight” over the SIU’s work. If that’s not enough to defang it, the law will also give the heads of government departments and regional governments—often the targets of SIU probes—the right to “request” updates on its investigations.

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