Economist 10/8/15

  1. THIS morning, October 8th, European interior ministers are meeting in Luxembourg to debate a common list of “safe countries of origin”. The idea is to agree on nations that are not considered dangerous, and so their citizens’ claims for asylum can be fast-tracked.The European Commission has proposed adding all western Balkans states and Turkey to member states’ lists of safe countries.The European Union’s safe lists are certainly in need of harmonisation. At the moment Kosovo, one of the biggest sources of asylum applications, is considered safe by Belgium but not by Bulgaria. Britain’s list contains war-ravaged Ukraine whereas most other member states’ lists do not, and it is almost alone in designating a handful of African countries as only safe for men because of concerns about female genital mutilation.
  2. IT SOUNDED like the plot of out a B horror movie. On Monday, the pilot of an American Airlines flight from Phoenix to Boston took suddenly ill and died, forcing an emergency landing.But this is hardly the first time a pilot has died at the controls. As the New York Timesreminds us, a Continental Airlines pilot died of a heart attack in 2009; two months earlier, the pilot of a privately operated plane died after takeoff; and two years before that, another Continental pilot died in the air. In all three cases, the plane landed safely.That is because no commercial flight is at the mercy of a single pilot capable of landing the plane.Flying a plane is a collaborative process, and that is why each plane has a captain and a first officer (or, in the case of some long-haul flights, a captain and two first officers).Pilots receive two health screenings per year once they reach the age of 40, and they must not have certain ailments that could cause problems in the sky. Indeed, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, since 1994 just seven pilots for commercial airlines in America have died while flying.
  3. IN THE past 30 years the rate of homeownership among 25- to-34-year olds has fallen from 60% to 40%; the drop among younger Britons has been even bigger. To stop things from getting even worse, on October 7th David Cameron, the prime minister, pledged that by the end of this parliament 200,000 “starter homes” would be built.Each year in England about 50,000 extra “affordable” homes are constructed. Under this model of affordable housing, local authorities and private landlords can charge rents at about 80% of the market value. With lower grants from the government, they are economical only if tenants meet a large chunk of the cost of construction. But this pushes new government-subsidised housing out of the reach of the poorest.How will Mr Cameron’s push for starter homes change things? The number of affordable homes available to buy (as opposed to being purely to let) will need to increase from 15,000 to 50,000 a year. To make that happen, local authorities will need to pare back regulations that make it difficult for housebuilders to build affordable houses for sale.
  4. HAVING dramatically entered Syria’s war on September 30th with a slew of air strikes against the forces battling Bashar al-Assad, Russia upped the stakes again a week later.he missiles and the strikes are said by Russia to be part of a campaign against “terrorism”, but have almost exclusively been directed not against Islamic State (IS) but against opposition groups, including some supported by America, much closer to Mr Assad’s remaining heartland.Air strikes alone cannot defeat the rebels, who are made up of an astonishing 7,000 different groups, according to the Carter Centre, a think-tank.In recent months non-IS rebel groups, who range from the non-ideological to al-Qaeda’s Syrian arm Jabhat al-Nusra, have co-ordinated their fighting well despite their differences.The rebels will be in much more danger if Russia sends in ground troops.Rebel groups are urging international backers to give them more and better weapons.Although the CIA has trained and equipped some rebels at a cost of $500m, this programme has failed badly.
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