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 Another 7.5% had their names withdrawn before the Senate voted.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.

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