Economist 2/29/16

  1. IN LATE February the citizens of Delhi were made painfully aware of a grievance borne by the Jats of Haryana, a state that surrounds India’s capital on three sides. The Jats are a caste-like community spread from Pakistan across much of north India. Since India’s independence, the government has made provisions to uplift the most downtrodden members of the caste system, known as Dalits, most often by means of state favours known as “reservations”: jobs and slots at universities set aside for the people who had been least likely to enjoy their benefits.But since 1990 the national government has allowed other, somewhat less disadvantaged groups to claim similar benefits, if they can establish that they belong to the “Other Backward Classes” (OBCs). There are 11 formal criteria for admission into the ranks of the OBCs, but these are open to interpretation. Dalits and OBCs together may claim as many as 50% of a given state’s reservations. The Jats of Haryana, like the Patidars of Gujarat or the Kapus of Andhra Pradesh, all want to be counted among the OBCs to gain a slice of the social-welfare pie to which lowlier castes are entitled.
  2. For children born out of wedlock, however, the nightmare of bureaucratic non-recognition persists in China. Attitudes to sex have been changing fast in China, but not the taboo surrounding extramarital births.The government imposes stringent penalties on the very few unmarried women brave enough to have children. Giving birth requires permission from family-planning authorities. They will not give it without proof of marriage. Violators usually have to pay the equivalent of several years’ working-class income.Then there is the problem of registering the child. Until last month it was impossible for many of those born in violation of family-planning rules to get identity papers. Now it is easier, as long as both parents can prove they are related to the child. But a mother who does not know who the baby’s father is, or who cannot convince the father to submit to a DNA test, is out of luck. The child cannot be registered. Hence it cannot obtain other vital documents such as an identity card.To avoid such horrors, some unmarried women leave China in order to have their children.Most women, however, try their best to avoid extramarital births altogether. Abortions are readily available.
  3. Marrying a close relative markedly increases the chance that both parents are carriers of dangerous recessive genes, which can then cause disease when a child inherits a copy of the gene from both parents, as will happen in 25% of cases. The gamut of such illnesses runs from known ones such as microcephaly (in which children have unusually small heads) cystic fibrosis and thalassaemia, a blood disorder, to wholly new disorders.Once common practice in Western societies, estimates suggest the Middle East, along with Africa, continue to have the highest levels in the world. In Egypt, around 40% of the population marry a cousin; the last survey in Jordan, admittedly way back in 1992, found that 32% were married to a first cousin; a further 17.3% were married to more distant relatives. Rates are thought to be even higher in tribal countries such as Iraq and the Gulf states of Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Kuwait.
  4. Today the first reason men and women look to wed within the family is because they know a lot about their relatives: who they are, what they earn, any past blunders.Tying the knot within also ensures property remains in the family. In Upper Egypt, a rural farming area, rates are the highest in Egypt.Unlike in the West, there is no social stigma; quite the opposite.To reduce genetic disorders, some countries have made blood tests mandatory for fiancés, which have helped reduce incidence of diseases such as sickle cell anaemia. In Tunisia, the government mandates premarital counselling for all those betrothed to a relative.
  5. But after three years of decline the national murder rate in Mexico jumped in 2015 and has continued to rise this year. The number of murders in January was 11% higher than during the same month last year. This does not portend a return to the horrific violence of 2010-12; almost 40% of the recent rise is accounted for by gang-infested Guerrero.An astonishing 99% of all crimes are never punished, a level of impunity that encourages criminality of all sorts. Mexico came 58th out of 59 countries in a global impunity index.Mr Peña’s response to the public revulsion caused by the students’ disappearance was to announce a ten-point anti-crime programme. It is making halting progress.Political wrangling is holding up a measure that the president considers vital, a federal law that would subject Mexico’s 1,800 or so local police forces to the control of the 32 state governments, a policy known as mando único (unified command). Like his predecessor, Felipe Calderón, Mr Peña relies on the army and navy to combat serious crime, largely bypassing local police forces. Under mando único state police forces, which are supposedly more competent and effective than local ones, could play a more active role.In Guerrero, mando único could “decontaminate” some of the local police forces that have been infiltrated by organised crime, says Gabino Solano of the state’s Autonomous University. But what Guerrero needs more, he says, is a rigorous federal response to such problems as its weak economy, poor health and education and the lethal competition among drug gangs.

Economist 2/26/16

  1. BY THE standards of any other Western country, the role played by faith in America’s presidential race seems enormous. A poll last month by the Pew Research Centre confirmed that being a professed atheist would be a deadly liability for anyone hoping to enter the White House. Some 51% of voters would be less likely to vote for a candidate who did not believe in God, and only 6% more likely.The same poll found that 51% of American voters deemed it very or somewhat important to have a president who shared their religious perspective. Unsurprisingly, the percentage who felt that way was higher (64%) among Republican-leaning voters than among the Democratically-minded (41%).Still, the role played by faith is neither static nor easily predictable. As recently as 2007, the share of people who said they would be put off by a candidate’s atheism was higher (63%) than now. The proportion who said a candidate’s non-belief in God would make no difference has jumped in the past nine years from 32% to 41%. Among all respondents in 2016, some 68% thought that religion was losing influence on American life.But that clearly doesn’t mean that the more evangelical you are, the more Republican voters will like you. In three out of four preliminary contests, the thrice-married, loosely churched Donald Trump has prevailed over Ted Cruz, whose fervent evangelicalism has been a main selling point.
  2. Danish legislation designed to stop the “glorification of terrorism” has been used in a draconian way which sometimes treats the public assertion of Islam’s truth as suspect. On the other, strongly attacking Islam with words or gestures can also incur prosecution.Like many democracies, Denmark has inherited an ancient, almost obsolete ban on blasphemy, criminalising those who “ridicule or insult the dogmas or worship of a lawfully existing religion.”Several Western countries (Britain in 2008, Norway last year) have formally rescinded their near-defunct blasphemy laws, in part as a kind of protest against the appalling way in which such laws are misused in countries like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Denmark considered that move but decided against it, citing the need to prevent provocative acts like the burning of holy books. But when faced with “provocation”, the authorities prefer not to allege blasphemy but to instead stretch the meaning of hate speech.
  3. The cinema business’s health seems as rude as ever. Revenue from the American box office grew by 6.3% in 2015, to a record high of $11 billion. Thanks to droves of new filmgoers in China, where the market grew by 49% last year, global revenues increased by 4% to $38 billion.But much of the industry’s recent success, at home and abroad, comes from the rise of the big special-effects event film: franchises like “Fast and Furious”, “Avengers”, “The Hunger Games”, “Jurassic Park”, James Bond and “Star Wars”.Academic studies in recent decades have generally failed to find any conclusive evidence to support studio bosses’ faith in stars’ pulling power. Our own analysis suggests only that a few of them do add a bit to box-office receipts.Among the few stars who do, by common consent among studio bosses, producers and agents, seem to be guarantors of success are the biggest comedy actors—names such as Kevin Hart and Melissa McCarthy. This is in part because they signal to the audience precisely what kind of entertainment is on offer, and are good at delivering.Foreign cinemas like to exhibit films with known names in the lead roles. Some old-school stars are still big draws—the likes of Mr Cruise or even, apparently, Arnold Schwarzenegger. The latter’s 2015 film, “Terminator: Genisys”, a flop in America with $90m in takings on a $155m production budget, was a blockbuster overseas, earning $351m, including $113m in China.
  4. On February 25th, after a year of deliberation, the telecoms regulator, Ofcom, announced that it was not, after all, going to recommend radical surgery for the Britain’s broadband network, as many had hoped.This means, in practice, allowing BT, the former state-run monopoly, to hang on to its very profitable subsidiary, Openreach, which is the main business by which nearly all homes and businesses are connected to fixed-line telephones and broadband.Many analysts, as well as BT’s rivals such as TalkTalk and Sky, had argued that Openreach should be separated from BT and run as an independent company, to give all telecoms providers an equal crack at using its infrastructure to connect to their customers.BT gets to keep Openreach, but only if it conforms to a new set of regulations and targets designed to make the system work better. Thus Openreach must now be run more independently from BT, with more control over its budget and strategy. BT will also have to make it easier for rivals to lay their own optical fibres along Openreach’s vast network.
  5. IRAN’S holiest city, and also its second-largest, has long been a conservative bastion. In parliamentary elections in 2012 Iran’s most right-wing party, the Paydari or Stability Front, won all of Mashhad’s five seats. In local elections the year after it won an outright majority and left the reformists with none. But after the nuclear deal and the lifting of sanctions, reformists backed by the city’s businessmen are attracting packed audiences to their hustings for elections due on 26th February.Their demands include a new railway to halve the time of travelling the 900 kilometres (560 miles) from Mashhad west to Tehran, the capital; highways designed to turn the city into Central Asia’s conduit to the Middle East; and leisure centres to diversify a rigidly spiritual form of tourism.Economic demands often turn cultural. Several female candidates are campaigning for an end to the glass ceiling on senior government posts.A campaign manager insists that, post-sanctions, hardliners also favour foreign investment. He fears the perception, even among the party’s traditional constituency, is that they are out of step with the times.

Economist 2/25/16

  1. Most Europeans are, on average, at their happiest since the financial crisis. In 2008 76% of EU citizens said they were satisfied with their lives. That number is now 80%, according to the Eurobarometer survey, which has tracked self-reported happiness for over four decades. Those in northern European countries, such as Denmark and Sweden, are consistently the most content.But there are big differences between individual age-groups. Europeans are generally happier when they are younger. However, richer countries see an uptick of joyfulness in old age: Germans are happier when they are over 75 years old than when they are between 25 and 34, and the Swiss are happier when they are over 75 than when they are teenagers. (Britons, Swedes and Danes are happiest when they are between 65 and 74.)Of the cities surveyed, most are home to populations reporting an increase in happiness over the past few years. The highest correlation with life satisfaction in cities is a feeling of safety.
  2. Tim Cook, Apple’s boss, is in a heated battle with America’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which wants the company to help it unlock a terrorist’s iPhone. Mr Cook says complying with the FBI’s request would have dangerous consequences, and is refusing to do so.The FBI has requested Apple to design a solution to bypass one of its security procedures, which deletes the contents of an iPhone if the password is guessed unsuccessfully ten times. A federal court has ordered the firm to comply with the request, but Mr Cook is refusing, on the grounds that doing so would have dangerous consequences. It would enable the FBI to gain access to the contents of the phone, which, granted, could provide helpful clues to law enforcement. But Apple says that such a tool does not yet exist and that building one could put its users at risk. Once a key exists, it could be used by law enforcement to unlock people’s private information in less justified cases.. However, Apple is right to be concerned that complying could trigger an avalanche of requests and potential privacy concerns.
  3. ON FEBRUARY 23rd, a committee of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, began debating a new law which will allow it to suspend its own members for “expressing support for terrorism”. While the law is not specifically directed at any political faction, its thrust is clear. It was tabled by the government in response to a meeting three weeks ago between three Israeli-Arab Knesset members and the families of a number of Palestinians who had been killed while attacking Israelis.Mr Netanyahu is surely aware that the law is unlikely ever to pass all the necessary legislative stages of the Knesset; if it does, it is liable to be struck down by the Supreme Court; and even if it gets past the court it is unlikely ever to be used because it requires a three-quarters majority of the Knesset to agree to any suspension.Yet it is part of a verbal campaign Mr Netanyahu stands accused of waging against Israel’s Arab minority since last year’s general election.Most Israelis take great pride in their democracy, which is committed to equal rights for Jews and non-Jews.Some argue that the suspension law undermines this.
  4. Most people have never heard of the Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA), which covers 26 African countries. It will create the biggest free-trade area on the continent, “from Cairo to the Cape”, as its supporters boast.The continent features 17 trade blocs. The TFTA aims to join up three of them: the East African Community (EAC), the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).An abundance of borders has long divided the continent’s 54 countries, limiting economies of scale.Average transport costs in Africa are twice the world average and are thought to harm trade on the continent more than tariffs and other barriers.An African firm selling goods on the continent still faces an average tariff rate of 8.7%, compared with 2.5% overseas.Nearly all African countries are party to more than one regional agreement. These overlapping allegiances can tie them in knots.Whether to protect their dominance or avoid hardship, most countries revert to protectionism.
  5. The volume of intra-African trade is so small that fixing these problems, and upgrading the continent’s infrastructure, may not seem worth the expense to some countries. So UNCTAD recommends creating an integration fund, financed by relatively rich African states, to pave new roads and build export capacity in poorer countries.In their zeal to integrate, African leaders may also be using the wrong model. Broad and shallow agreements are the norm, but the continent’s most successful economic bloc consists of just five countries. EAC members keep good data, and a public scorecard holds them accountable for non-tariff barriers.

Economist 2/24/16

  1. America’s constitution says presidents “shall nominate…judges of the supreme court”, along with “ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls…and all other officers of the United States”. But to “appoint” individuals to any of these offices, “the advice and consent of the Senate”, the upper house of America’s parliament, is required. In practice, this means that before deciding their fate, senators invite potential justices to their chamber for weeks of confirmation hearings where they are quizzed about their experience and judicial philosophy. The 20-member Judiciary Committee, currently led by Charles Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, vets the nominee and holds a vote.Historically, presidents have had a rather easy time getting their favoured candidates onto the highest court. Of the 160 names that have been sent to the Senate since 1789, 7.5% (12 nominees) were formally rejected while about 5% (9) were not acted upon. Another 7.5% had their names withdrawn before the Senate voted.
  2. Delta was the first big airline to introduce basic economy, and it refined it last year as one of its five fare classes. Now United and American have both announced that they will be debuting their versions of basic economy later this year.So what is basic economy? For frugal travellers, it’s shorthand for giving up some of the few remaining comforts of flying economy. The biggest sacrifice is losing the ability to reserve a seat when booking a flight.Passengers flying basic economy also forfeit their right to upgrade their seats and to change or cancel their reservations more than 24 hours after booking.From the airlines’ perspective, last class is an effort to compete with the profitability of no-frills competitors such as Spirit and Frontier.But some people suspect a more nefarious motive: Delta and its rivals are making basic economy so unpleasant that people will pay extra to “upgrade” to standard economy.Budget airlines are doing extremely well. Travellers have signalled that they are willing to suffer all sorts of discomforts and inconveniences for the sake of a lower fare.
  3. Bombardier, a Canadian maker of planes and trains announced net losses of $5.3 billion in 2015, mainly due to write-downs, and a $10 billion shrinking of its order book since 2014.The trainmaking division is doing fine. But Bombardier’s aerospace division, which made only $138m in profit in 2015 before $5.4 billion of write-downs, is giving its executives nightmares. Those parts that used to generate good profits are stalling. The market for business jets, particularly large ones, is suffering from slower growth in emerging.The company’s biggest problem, though, is the CSeries, its project to develop a 100- to 150-seater plane to break the duopoly of Airbus and Boeing in this area. Three years late and costing $5.4 billion to develop instead of the $3.5 billion originally forecast, the project has been soaking up cash. Although the plane’s entry into service is planned for later this year, it still has not been awarded safety certification by authorities in America and Europe. Ruthless pricing by Airbus of its A320neo and Boeing of its 737 MAX, as well as fears over Bombardier’s financial viability, have made the company’s cashflow situation worse by discouraging new orders.To keep it going in the meantime, Bombardier needs cash. Last year it offered Airbus a majority stake in the CSeries project, but was rebuffed.
  4. IN RECENT years breakfast cereals seem to have lost their snap, crackle and pop.Add to this a rising disdain for big brands and adoration of small, “authentic” ones, and large cereal-makers have been suffering soggy sales.The market for “ready-to-eat” cereals shrank by 9% in America between 2012 and 2015, according to Euromonitor, a data firm. In Britain, the second-biggest cereal market, sales fell by 6%.Cereal firms have tried many ways to cope with waning appetites. They have diversified. Post Holdings, which sells Honey Bunches of Oats and Grape-Nuts, now also sells eggs and protein shakes. Some firms have acquired trendier brands, with mixed results. After Kellogg bought Kashi in 2000, many of its oat-munching customers fled. Kellogg is now trying to win them back, returning Kashi’s headquarters to California.Makers are also spending to revive their main brands. Kellogg has put more fruit in its Special K Red Berries cereal.
  5. TO DEFEAT the enemy, you must first know the enemy. In the immune system, that job is done by T-cells, which recognise the molecular signatures of threats to their owner’s well-being. This week, at the AAAS conference, researchers explained how turbocharging these cells can boost the immune system’s ability to fight cancer, and possibly other illnesses, too.First, a batch of T-cells is extracted from the blood. A custom-built virus is used to implant them with new genes. The modified cells are then returned to the body, where their new DNA gives them a fresh set of targets to attack.Stanley Riddell, at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre in Washington state, creates cells that target a molecule, called CD19, that is found on the surfaces of some cancers.In a trial of 31 patients with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), that approach brought about a complete remission in 93% of cases—something Dr Riddell described as unprecedented.Sometimes, boosted T-cells can prove too eager for their owner’s good. As their numbers double, roughly every 12 hours, they can trigger a runaway immune reaction called a cytokine storm.

Economist 2/23/16

  1. Mr Bill Gates says his wish for more energy for the world encompasses three broad issues. The first is getting energy to people who do not have it. The second is limiting climate change—which will hit many of the same people hardest, since they are subsistence farmers in semi-arid regions, which will become drier and perhaps also more prone to extreme weather events. The third, since some climate change is now inevitable, is finding ways to mitigate its impact.Time and energy are linked, says Mrs Gates: much of women’s unpaid labour is on tasks that could be automated. But to give women more time, she thinks, more than energy innovation is needed: their unpaid work must start to count, both in the sense of being included in national statistics and in the sense of being recognized as work.
  2. THE misery indexadding together America’s inflation and unemployment rates—has been a popular way of expressing national economic performance since the 1970s. Ronald Reagan won the 1980 presidential election (taking office in 1981) with the help of the slogan “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”. Whether the president can take sole credit for improvements in these measures (or blame for their deterioration) is another matter; Congress and, even more so, the Federal Reserve, have a big impact.Of course, a lot depends on the starting point; Reagan followed Jimmy Carter, the second-worst performer (Richard Nixon was bottom of the rankings).The incumbent president, Barack Obama, ranked a respectable fourth in the table as he began his final year in office.Indeed, if presidents were ranked purely in terms of unemployment reduction, a stark political divide emerges; Democrats take five of the top six places, and Republicans the bottom five. On inflation reduction, by contrast, Republicans have the top four places. The gap indicates the different priorities of the two parties.
  3. In recent years, top museums have parted with such prized relics and repatriated Cambodian artefacts to their homeland. Three tenth-century examples—two Kneeling Attendants from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2013, a Bhima statue from California’s Norton Simon Museum in 2014, and a Hanuman statue from the Cleveland Museum of Art the following year—are among 97 pieces that the American embassy reported as returned in the past two decades.Indeed the murkiness of artefact acquisition and ownership remains a hot topic among historians, curators, archaeologists, and politicians. This applies to both objects taken today, which are in clear violation of the law, but also the ethics of objects removed from their homes before such definite laws existed.
  4. LAST week Icelandair unveiled what it described as Europe’s first “gate-to-gate” Wi-Fi service on most of its routes. It says onboard internet will now be switched on from the moment passengers board the plane to when it reaches the gate at the other end—including during takeoff and landing. Meanwhile Lufthansa is to trial a service that allows flyers to connect to their 4G networks on their devices. If successful the technology will likely be taken up by other European carriers in 2017. Another system being developed jointly by Inmarsat, a satellite-maker that is also involved in the Lufthansa trial, and Deutsche Telekom, will allow phones to link to ground masts when at low altitude and to satellites when not.All of which means that, whether over Wi-Fi or a 4G network, the air will soon be abuzz with people making and receiving calls.
  5. AMPLE evidence shows that regular exercise reduces the risk of cancer. Similarly, those who have survived the disease are less likely to see it return if they engage in lots of physical activity after treatment. All this suggests that such activity triggers a reaction in the body which somehow thwarts cancer cells, but the details of the process have remained murky. Now, a team led by Pernille Hojman at Copenhagen University Hospital, in Denmark, has reported in Cell Metabolism that the key to the mystery is adrenalin.To try to understand why exercise does this, Dr Hojman and her team put some of the tumours they had induced under a microscope. They found that those from well-exercised mice contained more immune cells than equivalent tumours from animals that were not as active.Dr Hojman’s findings, then, suggest that epinephrine and interleukin-6 could be used as anti-tumour drugs. She is not proposing that they should be a substitute for exercise in those who are merely lazy—not least because exercise brings benefits beyond curbing oncogenesis.

Economist 2/22/16

  1. ON FEBRUARY 26th, Ireland will go to the polls to elect 158 representatives for the Dáil Éireann, the lower chamber of parliament. The government in place since the last set of elections in 2011 has been formed of a coalition between Fine Gael, a centre-right grouping led by Enda Kenny, the current Taoiseach (prime minister), and the Irish Labour party.The country was hit hard by the financial crisis of 2007-9, and was forced to accept a bail-out programme worth €67.5 billion ($75 billion) from the EU and the IMF in order to avoid the collapse of its banking system. As a result, in 2012, its GDP dropped 14% from peak to trough and unemployment rose to more than 15% as public spending was cut and taxes rose. But it has since bounced back from its economic troubles better than almost any other country in Europe, exiting its bail-out programme in December 2013 and enjoying growth of more than 5% a year.
  2. The tussle showed that Europe’s war over austerity economics is back. Portugal’s prime minister, António Costa, was elected on a pledge to “turn the page on austerity”, and his government is backed by big-spending far-left parties. Meanwhile Italy’s prime minister, Matteo Renzi, has been challenging Brussels budget hawks at every opportunity. In Spain, where coalition talks have been deadlocked since elections in December, the Socialists are considering a Portuguese-style alliance with the populists of Podemos.In Greece the radical Syriza party remains in power, though its anti-austerity fire has dimmed.Under its previous centre-right government, Portugal was the prize pupil of the EU’s austerians. During the euro crisis, in exchange for a €78 billion ($87 billion) bail-out, the government slashed public-sector wages and benefits, raised taxes and liberalised the labour market. A sharp recession was followed by a modest recovery for the past two years.
  3. THE recovery in the 19-strong euro area is continuing but it is nothing to write home about. Growth had picked up to 0.5% in the first quarter of 2015 (compared with the final quarter of 2014), the strongest performance since the upswing started in the spring of 2013.Indeed, euro-zone GDP in the final quarter of 2015 was still below its pre-crisis peak of early 2008 whereas America’s was almost 10% above its peak of late 2007.The sluggish pace of the recovery has been especially disappointing given the fact that the euro area has benefited from a double fillip. First, the fall in energy prices caused by the collapse in the oil price acted in much the same way as a tax cut, boosting consumer spending—the main engine of the recovery. Second, the European Central Bank has carried out quantitative easing—creating money to buy financial assets—since March 2015.
  4. . On March 26th the last print edition of the Independent will roll off the presses, its circulation down to a loyal rump of 55,000. Its Sunday sister’s last run will be on March 20th. More than half the titles’ roughly 200 journalists will lose their jobs as theIndependent becomes a digital-only publication.The most profitable bit of the company, the i, a millennial-oriented cheapsheet spun off from the Independent in 2010, is to be sold to the Johnston Press, a regional publisher, for £24m ($35m).he total circulation of British newspapers has fallen by 36% since 2009, and their share of the national advertising market has dropped even more sharply, from 25% in 2009 to less than 10% last year.The online editions of the Daily Mail and the Guardian are among the world’s most popular English-language news sites. But digital ad revenues have yet to make up the steep declines in print-ad sales.The Times is trying another tactic. It maintains one of the strictest online paywalls in journalism, and has managed to stabilise its daily paid circulation at more than 400,000.general-interest news sites struggle to extract money from their readers, who can easily find free news elsewhere, notably from the licence-fee funded BBC.
  5. Every two years, however, American cities make a huge effort to take note of their homeless populations as part of the federally mandated “point-in-time” survey. Volunteers and shelter workers search pavements, parks, and tunnels to count how many of their city’s residents are living without shelter on a given night. The data is combined with a tally of shelter beds to gauge the success of the previous year’s service efforts and to estimate how many people will need shelter in the coming year. In 2014 , 1.49 million people used homeless shelters and 578,424 were recorded as being without shelter: sleeping on the streets, in tents, in cars, and other exposed places.Counting on one night of the year, every two years, is likely to have its limits. For example, the count is made in January, when icy weather makes an accurate tally of the homeless especially difficult. Many people seek temporary shelter with friends or family, or take refuge in hidden locations that volunteers don’t find.

Economist 2/19/16

  1. Most Indians do not drink at all, and per person Indians are far more abstemious than others elsewhere. Yet those who do drink show a preference for the strong stuff. By fast-growing volume India is the world’s third-biggest consumer of alcohol, and far and away the biggest consumer of whisky.Governments everywhere tax booze and control its sale, but few do so as heavily or as capriciously as India’s. It is not just that the federal government imposes a tariff of 150% on imported spirits. Local licensing fees and taxes, along with a range of gouging state controls on the alcohol trade, stick consumers with end prices that are often five or six times those at the distillery gate.India’s 29 states and seven union territories have adopted wildly different approaches to alcohol. In the west prim Gujarat has banned it entirely since 1961.Officially tipplers in Mumbai need a licence to consume alcohol.In Delhi the minimum legal age is a silly 25.Like America in the 1920s, many Indian states have tried prohibition before abandoning it. The odd thing is that some keep trying.
  2. London surpasses its rivals is the number of international visitors it receives: more than any other in the world in 2015.The number of hotel rooms has risen from 129,000 in 2013 to 149,000 today, according to PwC, a consultancy, and may reach as many as 180,000 by 2018. Despite competition from room-sharing sites such as Airbnb, there is still no sign of over-capacity. Last year occupancy rates reached their highest in a decade and average daily rates were higher than ever before.Whereas the strong pound has convinced many tourists to divert to cheaper European cities, business travelers cannot avoid London so easily.Only 0.5% of Londoners advertise their properties on Airbnb, compared with 2.4% of Parisians. One reason is that there is a shortage of reasonably priced residential stock near London’s main tourist attractions, which are hemmed in by offices and mansions.
  3. Syria is a nasty complex of wars within a war: an uprising against dictatorship; a sectarian battle between Sunnis and Alawites (and their Shia allies); an internecine struggle among Sunni Arabs; a Kurdish quest for a homeland; a regional proxy war pitting Saudi Arabia and Turkey against Iran; and a geopolitical contest between a timid America and a resurgent Russia.Barack Obama’s policy in Syria—to wish that Mr Assad would go, without willing the means to get him out—has been wretched.Turkey is being sucked deeper into the maelstrom. It has started systematically shelling Syrian Kurds. It bundles them together with the Turkish Kurds, who have rashly resumed their decades-old insurgency inside Turkey.Yet the Kurds have been America’s best allies against the “caliphate” of Islamic State (IS).In support of Turkey, Saudi Arabia has deployed military aircraft. It has announced war games at home involving Sunni partners such as Egypt, Morocco and Pakistan.The West should urge restraint on the Turks and Saudis: the risks of war with Russia and of jihadist blowback are too high. America should try to persuade its Turkish and Kurdish friends to accommodate rather than fight each other. For its wishes to carry weight, though, America must do more in Syria.
  4. DAVID CAMERON’S plan for the European Union summit on February 18th and 19th was simple enough. There would be a short squabble with the east Europeans over benefits for EU migrants to Britain, a quick battle with the French over protections for countries not in the euro and a brief row with Belgium over “ever closer union”.The east Europeans dug in their heels over the length of time that in-work benefits could be denied to EU migrants, and over plans to curb child benefits even for those already drawing them. François Hollande, the French president, tenaciously resisted any suggestion that Britain on its own would be allowed to refer decisions by euro-zone countries to an EU summit if it felt unhappy with them, on the grounds that this looked too much like a veto for the City of London.Nobody seemed impressed by his argument that the issue of Britain’s place in the EU had festered for too long and that this was a once-in-a-generation opportunity to resolve it.Yet in the end EU leaders know they will have to give Mr Cameron enough concessions to allow him to claim to his party and to voters that his renegotiation has been a success if he is to have a chance of winning his referendum.
  5. Dementia has mostly been a rich-world sickness, because it becomes more common as people live longer. China is fast catching up. Life expectancy increased from 45 in 1960 to 77 now, and the population is ageing rapidly: one person in six is over 60 now; by 2025 nearly one in four will be. Factors that increase the (age-adjusted) risk of developing dementia are also on the rise, including obesity, smoking, lack of exercise and diabetes.Already about 9m people in China have some form of dementia. In absolute terms, that is more than twice as many as in America. It is also more than double the number in India, a country with a population similar in size to China’s but a much younger one. Nearly two-thirds of China’s sufferers have the form known as Alzheimer’s, cases of which have tripled since 1990.Despite recent public-information campaigns, many Chinese regard dementia as a natural part of ageing, not as a disease, and do not know that it is fatal.It carries a stigma of mental illness, making sufferers and their relatives reluctant to seek help.