Economist 10/14/15

  1. MONEY is the glue that holds Saudi Arabia together.But for the past year the kingdom has aimed to keep the price of oil low by increasing production in an effort to undermine rivals and gain market share. As the price has collapsed, so too has government revenue, some 90% of which comes from the sticky stuff. The result is a budget deficit that is expected to exceed 20% of GDP this year. There are now creeping signs of parsimony in the once-spendthrift kingdom. Since July Saudi Arabia has borrowed some $15 billion from its citizens through local bonds, its first issuance of debt since 2007.The trajectory of Saudi finances is alarming. Government spending has quadrupled since 2003, raising the break-even price for oil—at which the government can balance its books—to over $100 per barrel. With the actual price sitting at around $50 per barrel, big deficits are expected well into the future.The kingdom’s wealth gives it some capacity to absorb the fiscal shock. In the past year it has burned through over $70 billion of its foreign reserves, but it still has over $650 billion left.
  2. On October 12th Alexander Lukashenko was declared the winner of the presidential election in Belarus.Mr Lukashenko is a former collective-farm boss who has ruled Belarus for 21 years. He stands for his fifth consecutive presidential term on October 11th. To no one’s surprise, he will win. Known as “Europe’s last dictator”, he travels everywhere with his 11-year-old son, who packs a golden pistol and expects to be saluted by Belarusian generals.The wily president is also using the conflict in Ukraine to pose as a statesman. In a war involving its two biggest trading partners, Belarus adopted a largely neutral stance. Strikingly, Mr Lukashenko did not recognise Russia’s annexation of Crimea. He offered his capital, Minsk, as a platform for peace talks.For Mr Lukashenko, the West serves as a counterweight to Belarus’s dependence on Russia.It would, however, be naive to think that Mr Lukashenko wants to reorient Belarus towards the West.
  3. On October 5th Brazil’s government signed an agreement with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees strengthening a two-year-old scheme, recently extended for another two years, to fast-track their visa applications. These are filed in countries that border Syria. Brazil has issued visas to 8,000 Syrians so far and granted asylum to 2,100. That puts it ahead of Italy and Spain (though these are smaller countries). Brazil’s tiny Muslim population of 35,000 is about to grow.The country’s bureaucrats, often unresponsive to their fellow citizens, have been uncharacteristically efficient in processing refugees’ cases.
  4. In Florida, the jury’s view is merely an “advisory opinion”; the judge must give the jury’s recommendation “great weight and serious consideration” but he or she gets the final say. These procedures differ from those of other states in two significant ways, Mr Hust argues. First, they put findings of fact in the hands of the judge, rather than the jury, and thereby violate the sixth-amendment guarantee of a trial by jury in criminal cases. Second, by letting a judge, not the jury, impose the death penalty, Florida violates the eighth-amendment proscription against cruel and unusual punishments.In Tuesday’s well-argued hearing, the lawyers and justices sparred over how to interpretRing and how to understand what really happens in Florida’s death-penalty proceedings.he justices seem likely to decide that Florida’s death-sentencing scheme is unconstitutional. If such a ruling comes to pass, it does not mean that executions will come to a halt in Florida or anywhere else.
  5. The best biopics either reveal a new dimension of a renowned figure or salvage the story of an overlooked one. “Steve Jobs” does neither. Instead this film catalogues (and often inelegantly compresses) the widely known characteristics of a widely known man, without ever really getting under his skin. Messrs Sorkin and Boyle try so hard to rationalise away Jobs’s awkward quirks—using the fact that he was adopted to help explain why he was such a control-freak as an adult, for example—but such armchair psychologising serves to diminish his fascinating complexity, rather than revel in it. Steve Jobs was a remarkable man: difficult, driven, exacting and trailblazing. And as the latest in a handful of films about him makes plain, Hollywood just doesn’t know what to do with him.

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