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  • The Economist explains

    What sovereignty means for America’s Indian tribes

    by K.W.

    AMID the headline-grabbing news from the Supreme Court this term—the travel ban upheld, Anthony Kennedy’s retirement—came something altogether more prosaic: a fight over fish. The case, United States v Washington, asked whether Washington state must ensure a healthy supply of salmon in its rivers and streams for fishing by Indian tribes. The court in effect said yes. In a 4-4 tie, with one recusal, it let stand a lower-court order in the tribes’ favour. The gist is that treaties signed in the 1850s between the state and 21 Indian tribes guarantee them a right to fish off their reservations.

  • The Economist explains

    Why Japan is going to accept more foreign workers

    by S.B. | TOKYO

    FOREIGN cashiers and carers are now a fact of life in Japan, especially in urban areas. The number of foreign workers has risen fast recently, to 1.3m—some 2% of the workforce. Although visas that allow foreigners to settle in Japan are in theory mainly for highly skilled workers, in practice those with fewer skills may be admitted as students or trainees or as immigrants of Japanese extraction. In June the government announced that it would create a “designated-skills” visa in order to bring in 500,000 new workers by 2025, in agriculture, construction, hotels, nursing and shipbuilding.

    Japan has historically been wary of admitting foreigners.

  • The Economist explains

    How England surprised everyone at the World Cup

    by J.T.

    WITH the English men’s football team reaching the semi-finals of the World Cup for the first time since 1990, the country is going a bit potty. On July 7th, when England beat Sweden in the quarter-finals, Spotify, a music service, reported 1m streams for “Three Lions”, an anthem from the 1990s which promises that “football’s coming home”. The delirium has been magnified by the fact that the expectations were so low at the start of the competition. Many fans would have been happy for the England team just to improve on its dismal showing at the World Cup of 2014. How did such an unfancied bunch reach the cusp of a first final since 1966?

    Four reasons stand out.

  • The Economist explains

    The enduring influence of the Czech Republic’s communists

    by B.C. | PRAGUE

    FOR more than eight months since elections failed to produce a coherent result, the Czech Republic has been operating without a confirmed government. That could change on July 11th when Andrej Babis is expected to win a vote of confidence in parliament on his second attempt to form a minority government. Comprised of Mr Babis’s ANO party in coalition with the Social Democrats, the government will rely on the support of the Communist Party. Unlike elsewhere in central and eastern Europe, the Czech communists are historically contiguous with the organisation that ran the country during the cold war. Those links with the past have made co-operating with the Communists taboo, until now.

  • The Economist explains

    What are “predatory” academic journals?

    by B.S.

    TO GET ahead in academia, not much beats publishing lots of papers that have been vetted by independent experts, a process of quality control known as peer review. In recent years, however, this practice of appraising researchers by counting their publications has become problematic. This is because an astonishing number of journals that bill themselves as “peer-reviewed” do not, in fact, take the trouble to be so. A tally of journals that an American analytics firm, Cabells, believes to falsely claim to peer-review submissions, amounted, on a recent day, to 8,699—more than double the number of a year ago. A blacklist compiled by other experts is even longer.

  • The Economist explains

    Why bitcoin uses so much energy

    by G.F.

    BITCOIN has been alarming people for years because of the amount of electricity needed to mint new virtual coinage. Alex de Vries, a bitcoin specialist at PwC, estimates that the current global power consumption for the servers that run bitcoin’s software is a minimum of 2.55 gigawatts (GW), which amounts to energy consumption of 22 terawatt-hours (TWh) per year—almost the same as Ireland. Google, by comparison, used 5.7 TWh worldwide in 2015. What’s more, bitcoin “miners” consume about five times more power than they did last year, and orders of magnitude more than just a few years ago—and there are no signs of a slowdown.

  • The Economist explains

    Why Delhi wants to become a state

    by M.R. | DELHI

    ON JULY 4TH the Indian Supreme Court issued a sharp rebuke to the central government. It ruled that Delhi, the country’s capital, should be allowed to run its affairs without constant interference from the lieutenant-governor, an appointed official. The judgment ended three years of rising tension and growing paralysis during which Narendra Modi’s government and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have wielded a panoply of instruments, from police to courts to the governor’s office, to thwart the city’s elected leaders. Despite its court victory, the Aam Aadmi Party, which has been in charge of the city since 2015, wants further concessions.

  • The Economist explains

    Why Supreme Court justices serve such long terms

    by S.M. | LOS ANGELES

    WITH Justice Anthony Kennedy’s 30 years on the bench ending this month a few days after his 82nd birthday and a partisan fight brewing in the Senate over his successor, public attention has again focused on a quirk of America’s judiciary: the staggeringly long careers of Supreme Court justices. Article III is by far the slimmest of the constitution’s articles laying out the branches of government, but the term of office it specifies for federal judges is virtually unbounded. Judges of both “the supreme and inferior courts”, section 1 reads, “shall hold their offices during good behaviour”. In practice, that means for life, or until the judge decides to hang up his robe.

  • The Economist explains

    How the EU is fighting to protect the rule of law in Poland

    by A.C. | WARSAW

    THE EUROPEAN UNION can preach the virtues of democracy and the rule of law, but what can it do when a member undermines them? Such is the challenge posed by Poland, which has gone from being a poster-child for European integration to a headache. Since coming to power in October 2015, the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party has gradually increased its hold on the country. It has already placed cronies in the military, the civil service and state-owned companies, and is now politicising the judiciary. On July 3rd around 27 of Poland’s 72 Supreme Court judges will retire.

  • The Economist explains

    What is a civil partnership?

    by A.R.

    ON JUNE 27TH Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan (pictured) emerged triumphant from the British Supreme Court. The judges had ruled that it was discriminatory for British law to deny a heterosexual couple such as them the right to a civil partnership, when same-sex couples have that right. But while Ms Steinfeld and Mr Keidan celebrate, many heterosexual couples in Britain will be wondering what they have been missing out on.

    Civil partnerships first appeared in Europe in the late 1980s and 1990s, as a compromise between supporters and opponents of gay marriage.

  • The Economist explains

    The dangers of Cameroon’s war of words

    FOR decades Cameroon, wedged between central and west Africa, enjoyed a reputation for calm and stability while its neighbours were mired in a cycle of coups-d’état, wars and bloodshed. Yet today that stability is no longer guaranteed, and a long-simmering crisis is erupting. Protests, which began in October 2016 with Anglophone teachers and barristers demonstrating about French curricula and legal texts, have morphed into a conflict of kidnappings, beheadings and the torching of villages. What went wrong? 

  • The Economist explains

    Can Ontario’s new leader wreck Canada’s climate-change plan?

    by M.D. | OTTAWA

    DOUG FORD says his first official act as leader of Canada’s most populous province, Ontario, will be to kill the cap-and-trade programme put in place by the Liberal government that his Progressive Conservatives defeated earlier this month. As of June 29th, the date of the handover, Mr Ford promises that what he describes as “the cap-and-trade carbon tax” will be gone. The climate-change programme is provincial policy, but it also forms part of Canada’s national plan, which crucially depends on each of the 10 provinces and three territories reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

  • The Economist explains

    Why Americans are warming to mobile payments

    by C.S.

    AMERICANS have long been laggards when it comes to paying for goods and services with a smartphone. Plenty still prefer to sign credit-card slips or even cheques. But there are signs that they are warming to more modern methods. One firm forecasts that by 2022 contactless payments, which currently account for just a fraction of card transactions, will make up more than a third of electronic payments in America. And by 2021 mobile payments are projected to reach $282bn, triple the figure for 2016. 

    There is ground to be made up. The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco points out that 30% of all consumer transactions in America are paid for in cash, over twice the Swedish rate.

  • The Economist explains

    Why fewer people use public transport

    by J.B.

    IN MUCH of the rich world, urban public transport is becoming quieter. New York’s subway carried 2% fewer people on weekdays over the last 12 months than it did the year before, and the city’s buses were 6% less busy. London’s “Tube” dipped unexpectedly, too. This is a puzzle. After all, most large cities are growing in population. Employment is often rising even more quickly. Urbanites have jobs to go to—and, because they have jobs, money to spend in shops and restaurants. But they are not taking trains or buses as much as they used to. 

    Cities have noticed the trend, and they have plenty of excuses for it.

  • The Economist explains

    How a soft Brexit differs from a hard one

    by J.P.

    THE debate over the right terms and conditions for Britain’s departure from the European Union is often simplified into two clashing concepts: a soft Brexit and a hard one. The first tends to be favoured by those who voted Remain in the 2016 referendum, the second by those who voted Leave. Yet what is the real, practical difference between the two? And can bits of both be combined to some degree?

About The Economist explains

Subjects topical and timeless, profound and peculiar, explained with The Economist's trademark clarity and brevity

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