Economist 1/4/16

  1. Two years ago, the governor, Alejandro García Padilla, insisted that America’s Caribbean commonwealth “cannot default” on its debt because the island’s constitution forbids it. Today, the unthinkable happens: $1.06 billion in interest is due, and the government lacks the cash. To service its highest-rated guaranteed debt, Puerto Rico is “clawing back” revenue from lower-priority obligations, and will miss a $35.9m payment on its Infrastructure Financing Authority (PRIFA) bonds, plus $1.4m on its Public Financing Corporation paper. Senior debt could soon be imperilled too, since Mr García Padilla insists he will pay police and teachers before creditors. Congress could ease the squeeze by letting Puerto Rico’s public corporations, which cannot legally declare bankruptcy, use the same section of the federal bankruptcy code as agencies of American states.
  2. A study conducted in 2014 showed that more people attend London’s plays and musicals than London’s Premier League football matches. Live-streaming multiplies the audience numbers during the course of a show’s run: over 4m people have watched National Theatre Live since its inception in 2009. As well as increasing numbers of theatre-goers, there is also an inflation in hype. Tickets to see Mr Cumberbatch in “Hamlet” sold faster than any others in London theatre history, with online queues of 30,000. People camped outside the Barbican theatre in the hopes of securing a seat and, on the first night it was streamed, 225,000 people around the world went to their local cinema to watch it. Live-streaming has allowed millions of people to see the world’s best ballet, opera and theatre in their local cinema and get the best seats in the house for a fraction of the price of a normal ticket.
  3. THE year 2015 was probably the hottest since meteorological records began. It certainly ended with a flourish. On North America’s east coast, dreams of a white Christmas were banished by springlike temperatures. In New York, for instance, the mercury hit 22°C (72°F) on Christmas Eve.But this was no festive gift, for the warm, moist air that caused it also brought humungous storms.One explanation for the weird weather, at least in the Americas, is El Niño—a phenomenon in which a slackening of trade winds over the Pacific allows warm water to slosh back eastward, increasing the amount of heat and moisture in the atmosphere in a way that has various predictable effects across the tropics. The floods in South America are part of a typical Niño pattern, and the tornadoes in the United States tend to fit, too.Another factor is that the polar vortex, which traps cold air in the Arctic.Climate change is a contributor too. The greenhouse effect warms the oceans as well as the atmosphere, and they have stored up quite a lot of heat in recent years.
  4. On November 25th Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi approved a committee tasked with “improving the morals and values” in his country. Efforts to reduce littering or sexual harassment, both plagues in Egypt, might be welcome. But experience in the Middle East suggests that the boot will be put into more harmless activities.A young Egyptian couple tells of police accusing them of being together without being married, something that is not banned in the country. Across the region gay people, atheists and dissidents are punished for their supposed moral transgressions.Saudi Arabia and Iran, regional and religious rivals, are the bossiest. Both regimes claim to be Islamic. Both have vice squads. In Iran they berate women for showing too much fringe.Police in Algeria, Morocco and Sudan, too, have powers to stamp out immorality. Sudan’s criminal code, which outlaws adultery and women wearing trousers, is particularly harsh. Vague laws across the region such as causing offence and encouraging indecency are broad and open to abuse.
  5. Though the Far East(a territory larger than the European Union that is home to just 6m people) is staunchly Russian, it has grown dependent on its Asian neighbours. Some regions do 85% of their foreign trade with China. Europe feels a world away. When Russia’s economy was booming, locals took their holidays at Chinese resorts and popped over the border for cheap massages and shopping.Since the collapse of the rouble the flow has reversed. Chinese shoppers come to buy Russian food, which they think safer than their own chemical-ridden produce.The fate of such foreign-backed projects depends on Russia providing the conditions for success. For Tigre de Cristal, little went smoothly. A bizarre legislative oversight means that it is illegal to advertise the casino: with the exception of a handful of special gaming zones, gambling is banned in Russia.

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