Economist 4/14/15

  1. For all of America’s perceived openness to innovation and finance, regulators have energetically restricted the ways corporate tiddlers can raise money.That will largely be reversed from May when rules approved by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on March 25th come into force. Under one of the (long-delayed) provisions of the JOBS Act, a compendium of enterprise-boosting laws passed in 2012, companies will be able to raise up to $50m in what is commonly referred to as a “Mini IPO”, or initial public offering. Although SEC agreement will still be required, many of the intrusive constraints found in garden-variety IPOs will be waived. Typically access to anything out of the ordinary requires an investor to be “qualified”, meaning those with a net worth of $1m or an annual income in excess of $200,000. Now anyone will be able to invest up to 10% of their income in early-stage ventures, a type of investment that makes stockmarket gyrations look dull.Plenty of other barriers will be lifted for small firms. Financial results will have to be filed twice a year, rather than quarterly. And firms can forgo an “independent” audit committee of board members, a costly requirement under t
  2. Mr Jordan Spieth is only 21—a few months older than Tiger Woods was when he first won a major championship. His winning score of 18 under par equals the record (set by Mr Woods in 1997) for the best 72-hole total ever in the Masters. Mr Spieth has vaulted to the number two spot in the world golf rankings, behind Rory McIlroy.
  3. The central issue is whether state bans on same-sex marriage, and state laws that refuse to recognise gay weddings performed in other states, comport with the federal constitution. Plaintiffs from Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee, where the Sixth Circuit Court upheld marriage and recognition bans, contend that the policies violate the 14th amendment, which guarantees “equal protection” and “due process” under the law. They argue that the laws demean gay couples, deprive them of essential benefits and violate their “fundamental right” to marry.Framing the case as “about ‘marriage’, not ‘same-sex marriage’“, the Michigan brief tries to assert that no new “special” right need be written into the constitution. And all of the petitioners’ briefs rely heavily on Windsor v United States, the case from 2013 in which the justices nullified the section of the federal Defence of Marriage Act defining marriage along exclusively heterosexual lines.In order to prevail on the equal-protection question, the plaintiffs aim to show that gays and lesbians are a “suspect class—a group that has suffered from discriminatory treatment and therefore deserves special judicial solicitude when they are targeted by a law. But none of the briefs hinge their claim on proving that homosexuals deserve any particular level of scrutiny. The lawyers claim, instead, that nothing justifies the states’ bans on same-sex marriage.
  4. When IS lost the city of Tikrit in Iraq but took over the long-suffering Yarmouk camp in Syria. A Palestinian refugee camp, now a suburb of Damascus, the capital, Yarmouk has long been held by a mixture of Palestinian and Syrian rebels, and besieged by troops loyal to Syria’s president, Bashar Assad.The new IS tactics expose the latent contradiction in America’s strategy. In Iraq its coalition has uneasy partners on the ground in the form of the Iraqi government and the Iranian-backed Shia militias. In Syria, its plans to support mainstream rebels have not come to much; America is opposed both to IS and to the Assad regime. Iran, by contrast, supports both the Iraqi and Syrian governments, helping form local militias to support them and sending fighters from Hizbullah, its Lebanese client.Syria’s rebels in the south are better equipped and less extreme than their northern peers, but even they are receiving only limited help from American and Arab states.As the jihadist problem has spread, some Arab states appear to be warming to Mr Assad as the lesser evil. Yet the Syrian president is losing strength and relying ever more on Hizbullah and other militias backed by Iran.
  5. In 2014 advanced industrialised countries used 0.9% less electricity than in 2013, and slightly less even than in 2007, since when their combined economies have grown by 6.3%.A new study for the UN Environment Programme concludes that two factors are at work. One is thrift. Faced with rising prices, consumers use less. British electricity prices increased by 44% over the period; consumption fell by 12%. The other is greater use of energy-saving technology. This includes better insulation, advanced heating and cooling systems. Transport accounts for 27% of global energy demand. Lighting, heating, cooling and ventilating buildings account for roughly another third. New vehicles and buildings are far more efficient than old ones.A house with a floor area of 300 square metres built to America’s 2006 standards consumes the equivalent of 1.1 tonnes of oil a year; one built to 2012 standards, just 0.7 tonnes. The simplest measure is to persuade consumers to stop throwing energy away, for example by heating or cooling empty rooms. Spotting such waste and helping to cut it is becoming a decent business.Storing off-peak energy as ice is particularly useful for air-cooling systems, one of the industrialised world’s biggest energy hogs. Air conditioning in commercial buildings accounts for about 5% of America’s electricity use. But in some parts of the country, on a hot day, the figure can reach 30%. The IEA reckons that only one-third of the available energy-saving opportunities with a cost-effective payback period are taken up. For businesses and residents alike, factors including ignorance, inertia and misaligned incentives still rule.

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