99 years old and STILL planning ahead...

99 years old and STILL planning ahead...


ANOTHER year, another official birthday. As you will see, my age has just gone up from 98 to 99 and the world is beginning to worry about the potentially devastating effects of the so-called Centennial Bug, when it hits 100.

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City news: FTSE, Sports Direct and CBI

City news: FTSE, Sports Direct and CBI


BROKERS expect the FTSE100 to be weighed down by low commodity prices this year, as well as slowing growth in emerging markets.

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Osborne ‘behind axed bank culture review’

Osborne ‘behind axed bank culture review’


GEORGE Osborne has been accused of forcing regulators to ditch a review into Britain’s banking culture under pressure from the industry’s biggest names.

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Bailing on the constitution

Bailing on the constitution

AMERICA incarcerates people awaiting trial at triple the world average. Every day, roughly 500,000 people who have been convicted of no crime sit in county jails. Some are there because a judge determined they were too dangerous to return to the streets. But the vast majority end up behind bars because they could not afford to post “bail”, a returnable payment designed to ensure they’ll show up for their court dates. In practice, this means that wealthy people like Bill Cosby (who wrote a quick check for $1m yesterday after being charged with sexual assault) remain free before their trials while the poor are locked up.

Money buys all kinds of things, so it is not surprising that people who have been charged with crimes do better when they have more of it. There are rather stark inequalities introduced by most states’ money-bail system, as an...Continue reading

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The WORST plane food of 2015

The WORST plane food of 2015


Plane food isn't exactly renowned for its great taste and impressive apperance but these meals are a step too far

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Chicago's mayor vows to reduce the use of deadly force by police

Chicago's mayor vows to reduce the use of deadly force by police
 

SITTING in a hot, overcrowded room on the fifth floor of City Hall while presiding over a hastily convened press conference on December 30th, Mayor Rahm Emanuel looked tanned and rested. Little in his demeanour, and his unusually calm way of responding to journalists’ questions, betrayed the fact that the mayor is fighting for his political life. In the last few weeks calls for his resignation, from protesters in the street, church leaders and others, have grown louder every day.

Mr Emanuel had not planned to be in Chicago on the day before New Year’s Eve. He was on holiday with his family in Cuba over Christmas and intended to return to his hometown this weekend. But the calls for his resignation had reached such a pitch over the weekend that he cut short his trip and returned to Chicago on December 29th so that “he can continue the ongoing work of restoring accountability and trust in the Chicago Police Department”, in the words of Kelley Quinn, the mayor’s spokeswoman.

The reason for the intensifying outrage over the weekend was yet another tragic fatal shooting by police officers of two black Chicagoans, a...Continue reading

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Courting disaster

Courting disaster
Communists, communists everywhere

WHEN the far-right Law and Justice (PiS) party won Poland’s parliamentary elections on October 25th, it was clear that the country was headed for change. But few expected anything like what has followed: purges of senior security officials, threats against public broadcasters, a police raid on a NATO–affiliated office and a deepening crisis over the constitutional court. On December 28th President Andrzej Duda (nominated by PiS, though technically non-partisan) signed a law that would, among other things, require Poland’s constitutional tribunal to approve all verdicts by a two-thirds margin, crippling its ability to review legislation. PiS has appointed five additional judges to the tribunal, in a move the standing judges ruled unconstitutional. PiS politicians refer to the court as a bastion of the previous Civic Platform government that must be subdued. Liberals and centrists have taken to the streets in protest.

Observers wondering why a stable EU member with a growing economy has suddenly plunged into such turmoil might do well to visit Torun, a small city in northern Poland. Torun is...Continue reading

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Learning the hard way

Learning the hard way
That’s an ä not an å

AFTER Aida Hadzialic’s parents fled war-torn Bosnia for Sweden in the early 1990s, they put their five-year-old daughter in a school full of native Swedes and made sure she studied hard to get ahead. It worked. Today Ms Hadzialic, 27, is Sweden’s minister for upper secondary education. Like her counterparts across Europe, she faces a new challenge: ensuring that a fresh wave of refugee children can integrate as successfully as she did.

Even before this year’s surge, western Europe had lots of immigrant students. According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the proportion of 15-year-old schoolchildren in Spain who are foreign-born rose from 3% to 8% from 2003 to 2012 (though in Germany it fell by about the same amount). The new wave of migrants from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere has redoubled the strains on school systems.

In the countries accepting the most refugees—Sweden and Germany—lack of space is not a problem. Before the migrant surge, both countries faced declining numbers of pupils because of low birth rates. In Sweden the number...Continue reading

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Snow job

Snow job

DOWN a bumpy two-lane road through the hills north-west of Vladivostok, the Pogranichny border crossing is where Russia meets China. Bilateral relations are blossoming, and trade should be booming. Yet lorries loaded with timber idle on the roadside, as obstructive bureaucrats keep them waiting for days. On a recent visit, the electricity was out; candles flickered in the truck stop’s lavatories. “Nothing new here,” said a shopkeeper.

Over the past two years, as its relations with the West have soured, Russia has proclaimed a “pivot to the East”. Officials envisioned China replacing Western capital markets and hoovering up Russian exports of oil, minerals and food. Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, the countries’ presidents, visited each other’s capitals for ceremonies commemorating the end of the second world war; Western leaders stayed away. Big deals in energy, transport and arms seemed to augur a new friendship. In September Mr Putin declared that Sino-Russian relations had “probably reached a peak in their entire history”.

That was the official story, at least. “The turn to the east is happening, but in a...Continue reading

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Russian roulette

Russian roulette
A billion on Siberia, please

THE shiny new Tigre de Cristal casino looks like a black glass and steel spacecraft that has landed in the Siberian forest. A neon sign advertises “Seafood delicacies from the Sea of Japan”. Inside, Russian ladies deal out baccarat cards to Chinese gamblers. The casino itself represents a bit of a bet: that Russia can tap some of the cash from rising Asian economies to help develop its own Far East, a territory larger than the European Union that is home to just 6m people.

Though the Far East 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. Others come for a bit of Europe. Li Tsang, a hairdresser from Fuyuan, raves about Khabarovsk, just across the Amur river: “It’s so...Continue reading

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Reagan’s Chinese echo

Reagan’s Chinese echo

RONALD REAGAN, a sworn enemy of communism, and Xi Jinping, a doughty defender of Communist rule in China, ought to have little in common. Lately, though, Mr Xi has seemed to channel the late American president. He has been speaking openly for the first time of a need for “supply-side reforms”—a term echoing one made popular during Reagan’s presidency in the 1980s. It is now China’s hottest economic catchphrase (even featuring in a state-approved rap song, released on December 26th: “Reform the supply side and upgrade the economy,” goes one catchy line).

Reagan’s supply-side strategy was notable, at least at the outset, for its controversial focus on cutting taxes as a way of encouraging companies to produce and invest more. In Xiconomics, the thrust of supply-side policy is less clear, despite the term’s prominence at recent economic-planning meetings and its dissection in numerous articles published by state media. Investors, hoping the phrase might herald a renewed effort by the leadership to boost the economy, are eager for detail.

Mr Xi’s first mentions of the supply side, or gongjice, in two...Continue reading

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Weibo warriors

Weibo warriors

ON DECEMBER 25th, some three years after taking over as China’s leader, Xi Jinping posted his first tweet. For a man clearly rattled by the rapid spread of social media, and grimly determined to tame them, the venue was fitting. Uniformed military officials stood around as he typed his message into a computer in the office of an army-run newspaper (see picture). His new-year greeting was not to China’s more than 660m internet users, but to the armed forces—most of whose members are banned from tweeting.

It was clearly in part to intimidate feistier members of the country’s online community that the authorities arrested one of the country’s most prominent civil-rights activists, Pu Zhiqiang, in 2014 and eventually put him on trial on December 14th. On the basis of seven messages posted on Weibo, China’s heavily censored version of Twitter, Mr Pu was charged with “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble” as well as “inciting ethnic hatred”. The court handed down a three-year suspended prison sentence, which means that Mr Pu will not be allowed to continue his widely acclaimed work as a lawyer (less than three years ago, he was the...Continue reading

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Of slavery and swastikas

Of slavery and swastikas
Where intersextionality meets microaggressive adultism

WISHING for his death “in a fiery car accident” was only one of many messages directed at Chuck Henson when he became the University of Missouri’s new interim vice-chancellor for inclusion, diversity and equity. Mr Henson does not follow social media, but his wife does. Recently she agreed to stop reading the death threats and other missives intended for her husband, and instead to help him focus on his task, which is to end the racial turmoil that has made the university the centre of a nationwide campus protest movement over race for the past three months.

“We have a unique history and we have a unique problem,” says Mr Henson, a law professor. Missouri was a slave state until 1865; its first public university was founded in 1839 by James Rollins, an owner of slaves. It first admitted black students only in 1950 (Yale’s first black student graduated in 1857, Harvard’s in 1870). The relations of African-Americans both with other students, and with the overwhelmingly white faculty, have frequently been uneasy. Anger boiled over in November, leading to the...Continue reading

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Revenge of the nerds

Revenge of the nerds
Steve McGarrett, awaiting feedback

THE Christian siblings were doing their homework when the police arrived. Two officers entered the house, guns drawn, pursuing what was evidently a prank tip-off about a captive being held at their address. The guns stayed out even when the mistake became apparent. The officers ran the details of the children’s father—who, like them, is black—through the police system on the off-chance of turning something up.

The family was traumatised. The incident, in 2013, brought home to Ima Christian, now 18, that Americans could be vulnerable to rough policing “no matter where you live, or who you are”; her sister Asha, who is 16, says it is “not until you are face to face with an officer that you realise what the deal is.” The sisters—from Stone Mountain, just outside Atlanta—didn’t get even, exactly. Instead, with their brother Caleb (now 15), they developed an app, called Five-O, intended to help improve police behaviour and community relations. It lets citizens rate their experiences with officers, record both parties’ race and sex and the purpose of the interaction, and...Continue reading

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Indecent disclosure

Indecent disclosure

ASK Republicans how best to reform taxes, and they will inevitably mention Ronald Reagan. In 1986 the Gipper slashed levies on earnings; the highest income-tax rate tumbled from 50% to 28%. At the same time, Reagan simplified taxes by closing loopholes and killing off exemptions. Today’s Republican presidential contenders would dearly love to repeat the trick. But they have given up a key ingredient in the recipe. The 1986 reform cost nothing, mainly because taxes on businesses went up. In stark contrast, today’s Republican tax plans are jaw-droppingly expensive.

American taxes are a mess. There are seven different rates of federal income tax, up from three after Reagan’s reform (in Canada there are four; in Britain, three). Endless exemptions and deductions cost just over 7% of GDP. These distort incentives and benefit mainly richer folk, but are hard to keep track of because their cost stays off the government’s books. Filling in tax returns takes the average non-business filer eight hours and costs $110 every year. By one recent estimate, the inconvenience costs of filing add up to 1.3% of GDP.

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Pitchfork politics

Pitchfork politics

BEFORE Donald Trump, there was Patrick Buchanan. More than two decades before Mr Trump kicked over the Republican tea table, Mr Buchanan, a former speechwriter and White House aide to Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, launched his own revolt against Republican grandees. He made bids for the Republican presidential nomination in 1992 and 1996, the first of which challenged a sitting president, George H.W. Bush. Like his billionaire successor, Mr Buchanan ran against free trade and called for restrictions on immigration. As early as 1991 he called for a fence on the border with Mexico (talk of a “great, great” wall would have to wait for Mr Trump).

On foreign policy, the end of the cold war turned him into a non-interventionist. Mr Buchanan—who in 1972 accompanied Nixon on his trip to Maoist China—now concluded that America should shun foreign entanglements and defend only vital national interests. In January 1991 Mr Buchanan found himself speaking in New Hampshire during the American-led operation to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait, which he opposed. Stepping from the podium, he was given a message: America had just started bombing Baghdad....Continue reading

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Prediction 2016

Prediction 2016

IF YOU believed the pollsters, America’s 2012 presidential election looked like a nail-biter. Most national surveys had Mitt Romney and Barack Obama tied; Gallup, the country’s oldest scientific polling outfit, had the challenger ahead, 49% to 48%. When the votes were counted, however, Mr Obama won by four percentage points. To many political pundits, as to Mr Romney, Mr Obama’s margin of victory came as a shock. Among bettors, however, it barely elicited a shrug: prediction markets, in which punters wager on the outcomes of elections, had always considered the incumbent a heavy favourite. An Irish bookmaker, Paddy Power, was so confident of his chances that it paid out £400,000 ($640,000) two days before the election to people who had bet on Mr Obama. Will this trick be repeated in 2016?

Though now a fringe asset class, prediction markets are in fact among the oldest exchanges in America. In the 1820s prominent supporters of candidates frequently offered public wagers on them as a demonstration of their conviction. Punters who could not afford to pony up cash would compensate with offers of public humiliation: one common wager made...Continue reading

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Barmy weather

Barmy weather

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. Europe, too, enjoyed unseasonal warmth. But this was no festive gift, for the warm, moist air that caused it also brought humungous storms.

In South America flooding has forced 130,000 Paraguayans from their homes. In the United States tornadoes before and after Christmas have killed at least 29 people. Thirteen more have drowned in floods caused by a storm that this week tracked across the Atlantic (see map), where it may add to the misery of people in large parts of northern England, who have already been inundated several times this year, the Christmas period included (see article).

As The Economist went to press, forecasters were warning that this storm, dubbed Frank by...Continue reading

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Flying’s new gear

Flying’s new gear

EVERYONE remembers the Wright brothers, who made the first powered, heavier-than-air flights by human beings on a beach in North Carolina in 1903. Few, by contrast, remember Charlie Taylor, a mechanic at the brothers’ bicycle business in Dayton, Ohio. Yet it was Taylor who, by building an internal-combustion engine out of aluminium castings rather than iron ones, created a device both light enough and powerful enough to lift Orville and Wilbur into the sky.

Engine design has always been crucial to aviation. To start with, more powerful versions of the piston-driven motor pioneered by Taylor ruled the roost. Then, a radical, new approach emerged as the designs of Frank Whittle, a British engineer, ushered in the jet age. The jet has since evolved into the turbofan, whose gaping intakes have—as seasoned air travellers will have noticed—grown larger and larger over the years, to accommodate ever bigger and better fans. And now, as 2015 turns into 2016, another new design is being rolled out. This is the geared turbofan, which is available as an option on the A320neo, the latest product of Airbus, Europe’s biggest aerospace group.

Geared...Continue reading

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No end in sight

No end in sight
He’s backed by a fat budget

SITTING on the floor with neighbours, Sakariya uses a mobile phone to flick through photos of his son. In one, Kholid stands dressed in his school uniform. In another he sits hunched over his university work. In a third he is dead—lying cold on a mortuary slab. The picture was taken in March, only hours after soldiers surrounded a group of men at a construction site in Toh Chud, their home in Thailand’s restive south. Seven bullet holes perforate his chest.

Kholid was one of four to die that day—victims of a botched operation seeking to collar murderous separatists who for years have dreamed of resurrecting an independent sultanate in Thailand’s southern borderlands. Nearly two dozen villagers were detained and interrogated but later released. The men who were shot may have tried to run, perhaps for fear of being found with soft drugs on them. A fact-finding panel says the killings were an error. Compensation is promised. But what the families want is justice, says Mohammad, another parent whose son is among the dead.

Toh Chud up in the hills had mostly managed to escape the...Continue reading

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Reagan’s Chinese echo

Reagan’s Chinese echo

RONALD REAGAN, a sworn enemy of communism, and Xi Jinping, a doughty defender of Communist rule in China, ought to have little in common. Lately, though, Mr Xi has seemed to channel the late American president. He has been speaking openly for the first time of a need for “supply-side reforms”—a term echoing one made popular during Reagan’s presidency in the 1980s. It is now China’s hottest economic catchphrase (even featuring in a state-approved rap song, released on December 26th: “Reform the supply side and upgrade the economy,” goes one catchy line).

Reagan’s supply-side strategy was notable, at least at the outset, for its controversial focus on cutting taxes as a way of encouraging companies to produce and invest more. In Xiconomics, the thrust of supply-side policy is less clear, despite the term’s prominence at recent economic-planning meetings and its dissection in numerous articles published by state media. Investors, hoping the phrase might herald a renewed effort by the leadership to boost the economy, are eager for detail.

Mr Xi’s first mentions of the supply side, or gongjice, in two...Continue reading

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One country, but no single market

One country, but no single market

NARENDRA MODI likes to make a splash abroad. On December 25th he turned up in Pakistan, the first visit by an Indian prime minister in more than a decade, for an impromptu summit with his counterpart, Nawaz Sharif. At home, though, Mr Modi appears less impressive. Despite his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s thumping general-election victory in 2014, his promises of business-friendly reforms are stuck.

The passage of an all-embracing value-added tax, known as the goods and services tax (GST), has become the litmus test of his liberalising credentials. It is the one reform that both the BJP and the opposition Congress party ostensibly agree on. Raising funds for both the federal government at the centre and the states, it is meant to replace a monstrous excrescence of taxes, duties, surcharges and cesses levied by the centre, the states and local authorities—a system that fragments the economy and gives huge scope for corruption by officials and politicians. Replacing most taxes with a GST would, for the first time, create a single market in India—of 1.3 billion people.

The latest and perhaps most promising attempt to pass the necessary...Continue reading

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