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  • Catalonia’s unconstitutional means to an undesirable end

    SPAIN has known tumultuous times: civil war in the 1930s, dictatorship until 1975, a failed coup in 1981, a financial and economic crash in 2008-13, and terrorism of the nationalist and jihadist sorts. Now it faces a constitutional crisis that threatens its unity. The Catalan government plans to hold a “binding” referendum on independence on October 1st. If a majority votes yes—regardless of the turnout—then Carles Puigdemont, the Catalan president, will unilaterally declare independence.

    The Spanish constitutional court has declared the vote illegal, and the conservative government of...

  • SESTA is flawed, but the debate over it is welcome

    ONCE the giants of the internet could do no wrong. Now they are a favourite target of politicians everywhere. Europe’s finance ministers are discussing ways to increase taxes on digital services. Theresa May, Britain’s prime minister, this week demanded that social-media platforms be able to take down terrorist material within two hours. In America Facebook’s bosses must soon tell Congress what role users tied to Russia played in last year’s presidential campaign.

    Much of this is still political theatre. But not all. America’s Senate is contemplating the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), a bipartisan bill that seeks to deter sex trafficking by ensuring that the Communications Decency Act (CDA) does not protect online services, such as Backpage.com, notorious for making money with sex-trafficking ads (see article...

  • How to fix match-fixing

    IN 267AD Nicantinous and Demetrius, two teenage wrestlers, had reached the final bout in a prestigious competition in Egypt. Their fathers struck a deal. For the price of a donkey, Demetrius would “fall three times and yield”. The signed contract is the earliest surviving record of a sporting competition being stitched up for financial gain.

    Today, match-fixing is a vast global enterprise (see article). The pickings are rich. Around $2trn is wagered on sport each year, mostly with online bookmakers who enable punters to evade national anti-gambling laws. Around one game in 100 is thought to be manipulated across a range of sports.

    Modern fixing is a more subtle affair than that of Nicantinous and Demetrius. It often involves manipulating the odds in live betting while a match is under way. Arranging for a cricketer to score...

  • Jeremy Corbyn: Britain’s most likely next prime minister

    NOT even Jeremy Corbyn could quite picture himself as leader of the Labour Party when he ran for the job in 2015. After he became leader, few could see him surviving a general election. Now, with the Conservatives’ majority freshly wiped out and the prime minister struggling to unite her party around a single vision of Brexit (see Bagehot), the unthinkable image of a left-wing firebrand in 10 Downing Street is increasingly plausible. Bookmakers have him as favourite to be Britain’s next prime minister. Labour need win only seven seats from the Tories to give Mr Corbyn the chance to form a ruling coalition. He will be received at next week’s Labour Party conference as a prime minister in waiting.

    There are two visions of a future Corbyn government. One, outlined in Labour’s election manifesto earlier this year, is a programme that feels...

  • How China is battling ever more intensely in world markets

    IF DONALD TRUMP had slapped punitive tariffs on all Chinese exports to America, as he promised, he would have started a trade war. Fortunately, the president hesitated, partly because he wants China’s help in thwarting North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. But that is not the end of the story. Tensions over China’s industrial might now threaten the architecture of the global economy. America’s trade representative this week called China an “unprecedented” threat that cannot be tamed by existing trade rules. The European Union, worried by a spate of Chinese acquisitions, is drafting stricter rules on foreign investment. And, all the while, China’s strategy for modernising its economy is adding further strain.

    At the heart of these tensions is one simple, overwhelming fact: firms around the world face ever more intense competition from their Chinese rivals. China is not the first country to industrialise, but none has ever made the leap so rapidly and on such a monumental scale. Little...

  • America’s strategy for countering Iran makes no sense

    THE long-feared “Shia crescent”, stretching from Iran to Lebanon, is now materialising. As the Sunni jihadists of Islamic State (IS) are crushed by disparate military coalitions, their place is being filled by radicals of the Shia sort sponsored by Iran—Lebanon’s Hizbullah group, local militias and mercenaries recruited from as far as Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    The prospect of Iranian hegemony is raising alarm across the region (see Briefing). Israel is holding large military exercises to prepare for a future war against Hizbullah. Saudi Arabia, fearing the rise of a Hizbullah-like group in Yemen, has waged a poorly run campaign against the Shia Houthis. Gulf states are spending billions on new weapons. Now President Donald Trump may be about to make everything worse by, in effect, reneging on Barack Obama’s...

  • The lessons of Equihack

    EQUIFAX, like all credit-monitoring firms, trades on its ability to handle sensitive financial information. So there was grim irony in the news that the firm has been the victim of a particularly big and damaging data breach. The company reckons that more than 143m people, mostly Americans, have been affected. The pilfered data include addresses, credit-card details and Social Security numbers. The Social Security numbers are especially valuable: they are the closest thing America has to a centralised national-identity system, and are far harder to change than a password on a compromised account.

    A series of self-inflicted wounds made things much worse (see article). A rickety website set up so that customers could check whether they had been affected seemed to require them to waive their right to sue (not so, insisted the firm,...

  • How the Caribbean should cope with Hurricane Irma

    BEFORE tearing up parts of Florida, Hurricane Irma ravaged whole Caribbean islands. In doing so, it exposed the strange territorial shreds that make up the region: it destroyed Barbuda, Antigua’s poorer partner in their independent state; it wrecked most dwellings on St Martin, an island divided between France and the Netherlands; it flattened Tortola, the largest of the British Virgin Islands, and St John in the American-owned half of the same archipelago. The storm did not kill huge numbers of people—around 40 before it hit the American mainland and probably fewer than 80 all told—but the economic toll in small island territories is immense. In the United States the property damage wrought by Irma and Harvey, an earlier storm that struck Houston, is equivalent to about 1.5% of GDP. Irma’s cost to some small Caribbean islands, which promote themselves as tourist paradises, exceeds their GDP (see...

  • Why Donald Trump should reappoint Janet Yellen

    ONE of the many fears about President Donald Trump was that he would pack the Federal Reserve with loyalists. That concern has been replaced by another: the central bank’s top echelons are unpacked with anyone. On September 6th Stanley Fischer, a seasoned policymaker and crisis-fighter (see Free exchange), announced that for personal reasons he was retiring early as vice-chairman. That means a fourth vacancy has opened up on the Fed’s board; as a consequence, four of the 12 seats on the Fed’s interest-rate-setting committee are also up for grabs. That number could rise to five in February, when Janet Yellen’s term as Fed chair is due to end.

    Mr Trump has been slow to make senior appointments of any kind. But an underpowered Fed is a particular concern. Its policies help determine everything from the health of the American economy to...

  • Closing in on cancer

    THE numbers are stark. Cancer claimed the lives of 8.8m people in 2015; only heart disease caused more deaths. Around 40% of Americans will be told they have cancer during their lifetimes. It is now a bigger killer of Africans than malaria. But the statistics do not begin to capture the fear inspired by cancer’s silent and implacable cellular mutiny. Only Alzheimer’s exerts a similar grip on the imagination.

    Confronted with this sort of enemy, people understandably focus on the potential for scientific breakthroughs that will deliver a cure. Their hope is not misplaced. Cancer has become more and more survivable over recent decades owing to a host of advances, from genetic sequencing to targeted therapies. The five-year survival rate for leukemia in America has almost doubled, from 34% in the mid-1970s to 63% in 2006-12. America is home to about 15.5m cancer survivors, a number that will grow to 20m in the next ten years. Developing countries have made big gains, too: in parts of...

  • Donald Trump is right: Congress should pass DACA

    IF YOU could design people in a laboratory to be an adornment to America they would look like the recipients of DACA. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an executive action issued in 2012 by Barack Obama to protect most of those who were brought to the country as children from deportation, covers about 800,000 people. They are a high-achieving lot. More than 90% of those now aged over 25 are employed; they create businesses at twice the rate of the public as a whole; many have spouses and children who are citizens. They are American in every sense bar the bureaucratic one.

    Correcting that ought to be about as hard politically as declaring a new public holiday. Instead, there is a good chance that Congress will return them to their prior limbo, or worse. Recipients of DACA were obliged to give their addresses to the federal government, which is charged with immigration enforcement, making it considerably easier to round them up now. After the Trump administration...

  • Making sense of capacity cuts in China

    STOCKMARKETS have been on a tear over the past 18 months. Shares are, on average, up by a third globally. Commodities have rallied. And the optimism has infected corporate treasurers, who, for the first time in five years, are spending more on new buildings and equipment. Plenty of factors have fed into the upturn, from Europe’s recovery to early hopes for the Trump presidency. But its origins date back to a commitment by China to demolish steel mills and shut coal mines.

    On the face of it, that is an unlikely spark for a change in sentiment. Normally, growth comes from the investment in new facilities, not the closure of those in use. In fact, China’s case is a rare one. By taking on extreme overcapacity, its cutbacks have provided a boost, for itself and for the global economy. The risk, however, is that the way the country is going about the cuts both disguises old flaws and creates new ones.

    Steel crazy after all these years

    China...

  • Aung San Suu Kyi and her foreign admirers must help the Rohingyas

    THE reports are horrifying: soldiers and militiamen surrounding villages, raping women, decapitating children, herding men into buildings and setting them ablaze. The Burmese army is letting few outsiders into the northern part of Rakhine state, near the border with Bangladesh, so it is hard to be certain about the scale of the atrocities. But the UN says that well over 150,000 refugees have fled to Bangladesh since August 25th, with 35,000 crossing the border in a single day this week. They are the lucky ones. Satellite images reveal burning villages across northern Rakhine, and bodies have been washing up on the shores of the river that separates Myanmar from Bangladesh (see article). The victims are Rohingyas, a Muslim minority that has been persecuted by the Burmese authorities with varying degrees of ferocity since the...

  • To deter North Korea, America and its allies must speak with one voice

    ON SEPTEMBER 3rd North Korea tested what it claimed was a hydrogen bomb. Whether it was really that, or merely a boosted fission device, is unclear (see article). What is certain is that the bomb was hefty enough to cause big earth tremors in neighbouring China. Seismic data suggest the blast was around 120 kilotons—at least eight times more powerful than the North’s previous test a year ago. If converted into a warhead small enough to fit on its Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile, it could kill nearly everyone across a 15-square-kilometre area. Even if Kim Jong Un’s ruthless regime does not have a hydrogen bomb today, it will within a year or so probably have mastered a technology that has the potential for almost unlimited destruction.

    This is a terrible prospect. Alas, there are no good options for preventing...

  • Why Angela Merkel deserves to win Germany’s election

    TO HER many fans, Angela Merkel is the hero who stands up to Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, and who generously opened her country to refugees. To others, she is the villain whose ill-thought-out gamble on immigration is “ruining Germany”, as Mr Trump once put it, and whose austerity policies laid waste to southern Europe.

    The fans are closer to the truth. Her country has indeed done well under her leadership and the world been better for her steady hand. But during three terms in office, Mrs Merkel has not done enough to prepare Germany for the future. If her many years at the top are to be viewed as more than merely sufficient, she must use her fourth term to bring about change.

    A steady hand in a turbulent world

    There is little doubt that Mrs Merkel and her Christian Democratic Union are coasting towards victory when Germany votes on September 24th. That is partly owing to the lacklustre Martin Schulz, her Social Democratic Party (SPD) rival....

  • What machines can tell from your face

    THE human face is a remarkable piece of work. The astonishing variety of facial features helps people recognise each other and is crucial to the formation of complex societies. So is the face’s ability to send emotional signals, whether through an involuntary blush or the artifice of a false smile. People spend much of their waking lives, in the office and the courtroom as well as the bar and the bedroom, reading faces, for signs of attraction, hostility, trust and deceit. They also spend plenty of time trying to dissimulate.

    Technology is rapidly catching up with the human ability to read faces. In America facial recognition is used by churches to track worshippers’ attendance; in Britain, by retailers to spot past shoplifters. This year Welsh police used it to arrest a suspect outside a football game. In China it verifies the identities of ride-hailing drivers, permits tourists to enter attractions and lets people pay for things with a smile. Apple’s new iPhone is expected to use...

  • Why America must stand by its allies against North Korea

    KIM JONG UN has shown what he thinks of President Donald Trump’s promise in early August to respond with “fire and fury” to North Korea’s growing nuclear threat. After pausing his missile tests just long enough for America’s secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, to say that Mr Kim was showing “restraint”, and for Mr Trump himself to claim to have Mr Kim’s “respect”, North Korea’s dictator unleashed three short-range missiles into the Sea of Japan. Most provocatively, on August 29th, an intermediate-range missile flew over Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido. Japanese under the missile’s path awoke to the sound of sirens, while the authorities urged them to seek shelter (see article). The missile crashed harmlessly into the Pacific 745 miles (1,200km) to the east, but Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, was right to call it an “...

  • Jimmy Morales’s war on Guatemala’s graft-busters

    “NEITHER corrupt nor a thief.” With that slogan Jimmy Morales, a comedian with almost no record in politics, won Guatemala’s presidential election in October 2015. It is easy to see why that line, and that biography, persuaded voters. The election came just after the country’s president and vice-president had been jailed on charges that they masterminded a scheme to bilk the customs authority of its revenues. That turned out to be one of several scams in which they allegedly took part. The detective work that led to their downfall was carried out by a UN-backed “commission against impunity” (CICIG) and Guatemala’s chief prosecutor. It came after months of protests by tens of thousands of Guatemalans.

    Mr Morales has let them down. CICIG is investigating claims that his party took illegal donations, including from drug-traffickers. It has asked congress to strip him of immunity from prosecution. In response he has declared the chief of the commission, Iván Velásquez, persona non grata...

  • How to provide a protein-rich diet to a growing population

    BETWEEN now and 2050 the planet’s population is expected to rise by a third, from 7.6bn to 9.8bn. Those extra mouths will need feeding, and not just with staples. As people grow richer, their demand for protein rises, particularly for meat and fish. Beef consumption in Asia, for example, is expected to jump by 44% over the next decade alone.

    Raising animals to be eaten already has huge effects on the world’s environment. The number of farm animals soared during the 20th century. More than 20bn chickens, 1.5bn cattle and 1bn sheep are alive today. A quarter of the world’s land is used for grazing them. They consume 30% of the world’s crops. They guzzle water—you need about 15,000 litres of the stuff to produce a kilo of beef, compared with only 1,500 litres for a kilo of maize or wheat. And their eructations do nothing for the climate. Livestock are responsible for 14.5% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gases, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

    How...

  • China is ramping up its promotion of its ancient medical arts

    “ONCE eyed with suspicion for not being scientific enough, traditional Chinese medicine might just be about to take over the world.” So opined China’s state-run news agency, Xinhua, in an article last year. It was, of course, indulging in playful hyperbole—even the Chinese Communist Party has no plans to supplant modern medical science with ancient and unproven forms of treatment. But the party is serious in its efforts to promote the use of such remedies (commonly known as TCM) globally, and to reinforce China’s own extensive network of TCM hospitals and clinics.

    In recent years, TCM has been enjoying rapid growth in China. The number of Chinese hospitals offering it rose from about 2,500 in 2003 to about 4,000 by the end of 2015. In the past six years, the number of licensed practitioners in China has increased by nearly 50%, to more than 450,000. Using its network of “Confucius Institutes”, the Chinese government has been subsidising the teaching of TCM in America, Britain and...

 

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