Economist 4/6/15

  1. CALIFORNIA is no longer taking a laid-back approach to its water crisis. On Wednesday Governor Jerry Brown issued an executive order imposing a 25% reduction on the state’s 400 local water supply agencies over the coming year. Those local agencies serve 90% of California residents.The governor’s order focused primarily on urban water use, even though California’s $45 billion agricultural industry accounts for the bulk of the state’s water consumption: roughly 80%.Some reckon the governor is giving agricultural interests a free pass; critics point out that farmers have replaced seasonal crops with water-guzzlers like almonds, walnuts, and grapes, causing their water needs to shoot upward. Meanwhile, urban water use in California has held relatively steady over the past two decades, despite massive population growth.For years, California was the only state in the West that did not limit how much groundwater a property owner could extract from his or her private wells. But last year, as panic began to rise that the water could run out, the state legislature passed and the governor signed a bill.But thanks to aggressive lobbying from the agricultural industry, it will take decades to actually implement the law.
  2. Last year, the Japanese government recorded relative poverty rates of 16%—defined as the share of the population living on less than half the national median income. That is the highest on record. Poverty levels have been growing at a rate of 1.3% a year since the mid-1980s. On the same definition, a study by the OECD in 2011 ranked Japan sixth from the bottom among its 34 mostly rich members.The country has long prided itself on ensuring that none of its citizens falls between the social cracks. Japan’s orderly, slum-free neighbourhoods seem to confirm that. Street crime, even in Kotobuki, is minuscule.Shinzo Abe, attempts to boost the economy through monetary easing. Yet the poor quality of new jobs is compounding the problem of the working poor.
  3. LAND is a finite resource. America sits on 3.5m square miles (9.1m square km), but some bits of it are used quite a bit more heavily than others. Of all the 3,143 counties in America,five counties in the New York area (New York, Kings, Queens, Nassau and Westchester) which cover just 917 square miles (or 0.026% of the total land area) account for 5.1% of the total residential property value in America. And if America’s entire population lived at Manhattan density, its citizens would fit nicely into an area half the size of Vermont.
  4. There is more tension over the status of Ukraine’s 156,000 ethnic Hungarians, but it mainly emanates from outside of Ukraine. Viktor Orban, the Hungarian prime minister and one of Vladimir Putin’s better friends in Europe, has repeatedly called for autonomy for Hungarian-Ukrainians. Mr Orban has found something of an ally in Laszlo Brenzovics, head of the Hungarian Cultural Association of Transcarpathia (KMKSZ) and a member of Ukraine’s parliament, where he represents the party of president Petro Poroshenko.The epicentre of Hungarian culture in Ukraine is Berehove, a city of 24,000 near the border that was only incorporated into Ukraine in 1945. Hundreds of red, white and green flags flutter on monuments. Street signs are bilingual, and Hungarian can be used for some administrative purposes.From its headquarters in nearby Uzhhorod, the KMKSZ has hinted at sympathy towards pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine’s east.Mr Brenzovics has also taken up the popular cause of opposition to military mobilisation; Ukraine should not send “a country lad or father from the village” to a war zone, he says.
  5. ON MARCH 26th GitHub, an American-based website for programmers, began to suffer what it says is its biggest ever denial-of-service attack. The means and apparent motive were just as noteworthy: the Great Firewall, China’s web-filtering infrastructure, was used. on March 17th, security analysts say, when the firewall began to be used by unidentified hackers to hijack traffic and redirect it to sites set up by Greatfire.org, an activist outfit that helps users in China to access content that is normally blocked (including the Chinese-language New York Times). The assault on GitHub was similar. Both attacks intercepted foreign traffic entering China that was meant for Baidu, China’s largest search engine, and sent it to the targeted American sites. The immediate aim of such attacks is to bring down the targeted website, depriving Chinese users of access to copies of blocked sites (at least until new ones are set up). In the longer term, it may be to discourage foreign internet firms from hosting such “mirror” sites.
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