Economist 4/28/15

  1. Signed into law in 1990, the ADA bars firms from discriminating against people with disabilities, whether they are employees or customers. Banks, shops, hotels and other “public accommodations” must remove barriers to the “full and equal enjoyment” of their goods and services. This guarantee may sound vague, but new technical standards from the Department of Justice, which went into effect in 2012, dictate everything from the slope of a ramp to the height of a bathroom basin. The regulations are well-meaning but confusing. The government enforces some of them, but mostly leaves it to people with disabilities to sue. Plaintiffs need not be customers, an appeals court decreed in 2013. And if they win, the defendant must pay their costs.This has created a cottage industry of so-called Title III lawsuits against bars, motels and the like. More than 4,430 reached federal courts in 2014—a 63% rise in one year.Few companies manage to follow all the rules, which are 252 pages long and very precise. But if there is a real problem Mr Berry, who uses a wheelchair, says he finds it easy to ask businesses to make changes. Most oblige.
  2. THE most interesting thing about Cuba’s municipal elections on April 19th was not who won. It was who lost, and who did not even turn up.Four months after a historic rapprochement between Cuba and the United States, for the first time two openly declared dissidents made it onto the ballot among more than 27,000 candidates competing for 12,589 municipal posts around the country. Predictably, they were defeated. Yoani Sánchez, a dissident Cuban blogger, said that 1.7m potential voters did not appear, or they cast void or defaced ballots.The winning candidates are rewarded with a thankless job. They face a barrage of complaints from residents about crumbling housing and poor public services, without having the power or money to do much about them. But voters know that if they do not show up, it is likely to count against them—in university applications, for instance.
  3. AFTER Argentina’s economy crashed in 2001, the ranks of informal workers grew along with those of the unemployed. In Buenos Aires, the capital, destitute citizens picked through rubbish to collect anything worth recycling, sold crafts on the pavement etc. In 2013 the local government conferred formal status on cartoneros¸ workers who comb the city for cardboard and plastic which they sell to recyclers. It recognised 12 of the co-operatives into which they are organised and provided them with uniforms, health plans and cash incentives on top of their earnings from selling rubbish.Other groups are seen as nuisances and are being dealt with brusquely. None is more despised than trapitos, or “rag men”. They wave people into parking spots and solicit fees for keeping cars safe.Another target is street merchants who operate outside areas set aside for them. Their number has increased fourfold since 2011,To date the government has had little success clearing scofflaw workers off the streets. Mr Macri, whose party lacks a majority in the city council, has failed in three attempts to pass a bill that would make it easier for police to arrest trapitos.
  4. Most have failed, managing little more than a big—and costly—bash. Eduardo Paes, the smooth-talking mayor of Rio de Janeiro, who will host the next games in August 2016 and oversees the bulk of the preparations, thinks he can do better. The precedent of last summer’s football World Cup is not encouraging. It cost Brazilian taxpayers 21.4 billion reais ($9 billion), a record sum for the competition. Popular anger about corruption and overspending on flashy projects sparked the biggest protests in Brazil for a generation.Yet there are reasons to believe that Mr Paes’s bullishness is not just the hype of an ambitious politician.The mayor’s Party of the Brazilian Democratic Movement (PMDB) is at the business-friendly end of the governing coalition in Brasília. Mr Paes has coaxed private investors to pay two-thirds of the cost of stadiums through public-private partnerships.  Compared with other recent Olympic games, Rio’s look cheap. Brazil reckons it will cost 37.7 billion reais ($12.5 billion). That will cover operating costs and pay for sports venues, transport links, waste-treatment plants and the refurbishment of the rundown port district. The contribution of all three tiers of government will be 16.4 billion reais, much less than British taxpayers spent on London’s Olympics in 2012.
  5. SOMETHING called Methylococcus capsulatus might not sound an appetising ingredient for a meal. Methylococcus is a methanotroph, a bacterium that metabolises methane. Fortunately, salmon are not fussy eaters. They will happily consume pelletised protein made from these bugs. For Dr Shaw,boss of Calysta, a biotechnology firm in Menlo Park proposes to take advantage of the rock-bottom price of methane, a consequence of the spread of natural-gas fracking, to breed Methylococci en masse as a substitute for the fish-meal such farmers now feed to their charges.The idea of using methanotrophs as fish food was invented by Statoil, a Norwegian oil and gas company. Calysta bought the technology in 2014, and has been refining it since then. Crucially, from a business point of view, the EU and Norway have already approved the use of Methylococcus-based fish food. Though America has yet to follow suit, this means there is a large available market for the stuff.

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