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  • The Economist explains

    How California could split up

    by G.F.

    CALIFORNIA’S boundaries were established in 1849, paving the way for it to join the United States the following year. Its admission to the union as a free state was one of many compromises made before the civil war between states that allowed slavery and those that did not. At the time, much of California was considered uninhabitable, compared with lands further east. It was full of mountains, forests and river valleys that routinely flooded. Indeed the state census of 1850 counted fewer than 100,000 people. Nearly 170 years later the state is America’s most populous and most wealthy by some distance, with 40m residents and the world’s fifth-largest economy.

  • The Economist explains

    What does CICIG do?

    by S.M.

    THE United Nations has long sent peacekeepers to war zones and food to refugee camps. Around a decade ago it introduced a new kind of outfit. The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) is an internationally staffed anti-corruption body that helps Guatemalan prosecutors dismantle death squads, drug cartels and money-laundering rings. It has brought hope to a country known for high murder rates and weak institutions. It has also sparked a backlash.

    CICIG was originally meant to help a war-torn country make the transition to peace.

  • The Economist explains

    How to dope a horse

    by E.W. | SYDNEY

    THE best-known doper of this century rode on two wheels. But horses, as well as humans, can be drugged to enhance or tarnish their performance. This month eight people linked to a now-defunct racing stable in Australia were found guilty of charges related to the doping of horses over seven years from 2010. One prominent trainer, Robert Smerdon, and two of his stable hands were banned for life. They had administered illegal “top-ups” of sodium bicarbonate, better known as baking soda, which reduces the buildup of lactic acid in muscles, allowing horses to run for longer without tiring. A state authority called it the worst scandal in Australia’s racing history.

  • The Economist explains

    Why is the Vatican negotiating with China?

    by M.J. | BEIJING

    FOR several years delegations have shuffled between Beijing and Rome in the hope of reaching an agreement over how to appoint Catholic bishops in China. Recent rumours suggest that a deal is closer than ever. But what are the roots of the disagreement between the Vatican and the Communist Party? How could both sides benefit from resolving it?

    Catholics in China are required to worship in closely watched, registered churches run by priests chosen by the party. The Vatican is fairly pragmatic about this, even though devout Catholics bridle at the fact that an atheist ruling party is picking their clergy.

  • The Economist explains

    Why the Supreme Court changed America’s betting rules

    by M.J.

    LITTLE connects radioactive waste with LeBron James, Serena Williams and other contemporary sporting heroes. But the link is there and it could have a big impact on how millions of Americans watch their favourite sports. It was highlighted by the Supreme Court, which ruled on May 14th that legislation preventing most Americans from gambling on sport was unconstitutional. When explaining its decision the court referred to a ruling it gave in 1992 to strike down a federal proposal that would force states to dispose within their own borders of the radioactive waste that they generated.

  • The Economist explains

    The effect on European companies of American sanctions on Iran

    by A.D.

    LAST week Donald Trump pulled America out of the Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). This gives Iran sanctions relief in return for curbing its nuclear programme. It was signed in 2015 by Iran and the permanent members of the UN Security Council—America, China, France, Britain and Russia—as well as Germany and the European Union. Mr Trump’s decision weakens the deal, perhaps fatally, and will see America reimposing sanctions on Iran. American companies’ dealings with Iran will be ended, but European business also have reason to worry.

  • The Economist explains

    Silvio Berlusconi’s continuing role in Italian politics

    by J.H. | ROME

    RIDICULED the world over because of his “Bunga Bunga” escapades, ousted from government in 2011 and convicted of tax fraud in 2013, Silvio Berlusconi continues to play a pivotal role in Italian politics. For more than two months after the general election on March 4th, the former prime minister prevented the Northern League, the ally (and rival) of his own Forza Italia party, from entering coalition talks with the Five Star Movement (M5S). He insisted that the League’s leader, Matteo Salvini, stick to a centre-right electoral alliance with Forza Italia.

  • The Economist explains

    Who has the right to judge Americans?

    by T.E. | NEW YORK

    AS WITH many important cases that go before the Supreme Court, the facts underpinning Lucia v Securities and Exchange Commission would hardly seem to justify attention. Raymond Lucia ran an investment business, which included his “Buckets of Money” promotional lectures. The SEC, the main Wall Street regulator, considered these deceptive and in 2013 revoked Mr Lucia’s investment-adviser registration. Mr Lucia objects. What transformed the case into something more than a nuanced squabble was Mr Lucia’s claim that not only was the punishment unfair but so too was the forum in which the SEC delivered it.

  • The Economist explains

    What is the Singularity?

    by T.C.

    THE cover of this week’s issue of The Economist is about the Vision Fund, a colossal investment fund with $100bn to spend, which is making a splash in the technology industry. The fund is piloted by Masayoshi Son, the head of SoftBank, which has put up about a quarter of the money. Mr Son has had an interesting career. He founded SoftBank in 1981; it is now reckoned to be the fifth-biggest company in Japan. He also holds the distinction of being the person who has lost the most money in the history of investing, after seeing roughly $70bn go up in smoke during the dotcom bust at the turn of the century. But he is interesting for another reason, too.

  • The Economist explains

    Why has Argentina called in the IMF?

    by J.A. | BUENOS AIRES

    IT WAS an announcement Mauricio Macri hoped never to have to make. On May 8th Argentina’s exhausted-looking president declared that Argentina was seeking a credit line from the IMF. He had little alternative. Efforts to prop up the peso, which has lost a fifth of its value against the dollar since the start of the year, had failed. Between April 23rd and May 4th the central bank hiked interest rates by 12.75 percentage points to 40% and sold $5bn of its currency reserves. The finance ministry announced it would shift this year’s deficit target from 3.4% to 2.7% of GDP. Neither was able to arrest the peso’s slide.

  • The Economist explains

    Why one state election is so important to the whole of India

    by A.T. | DELHI

    POLITICAL animals in Delhi, the capital of the world’s biggest democracy, take a natural interest in elections to any of India’s 31 assemblies. Most states have populations the size of ordinary countries and so merit attention in their own right. But usually, as when the 64m people of Karnataka, a southern state roughly the size of France, vote for their own state’s government on May 12th, the rest of India wants to know what’s in it for them. Bangalore, the state capital, is among the richest and most dynamic of India’s cities.

  • The Economist explains

    Why Mexico’s murder rate is soaring

    by R.E. | MEXICO CITY

    LAST month 12,000 people marched in protest through Guadalajara, Mexico’s second-biggest city, after authorities revealed that three missing film students had been dissolved in acid. The month before, a bottler for Coca-Cola shut down its operations in the state of Guerrero because of the rampant violence there. Meanwhile the morgue in the northern border town of Tijuana, where the murder rate has nearly tripled in two years, is so full of bodies that residents complain about the smell. As repellent as they are, these tales are just a taste.

  • The Economist explains

    The rise of universities’ diversity bureaucrats

    by B.S.

    AMERICAN universities are boosting spending on “diversity officials”. At the University of California, Berkeley, for example, the number of diversity bureaucrats has grown to 175 or so, even as state funding to the university has been cut. Diversity officials promote the hiring of ethnic minorities and women, launch campaigns to promote dialogue, and write strategic plans on increasing equity and inclusion on campus. Many issue guidance on avoiding sexist language, unacceptable lyrics and inappropriate clothing and hairstyles. Some are paid lavishly: the University of Michigan’s diversity chief is reported to earn $385,000 a year. What explains their rise?

  • The Economist explains

    Why the Malaysian election will be so tight

    by M.S.L.J.

    ON MAY 9TH about 15m Malaysians will head to the polls. They will elect representatives to the 222-seat national parliament and to assemblies in 12 of the country’s 13 states. About 65% of the seats are thought to be competitive, up from 50% in the last election in 2013. In most ways the task facing Najib Razak, the incumbent prime minister, looks harder this time round. He faces a fearsome opponent in the shape of Mahathir Mohamad. The 92-year-old once ran Malaysia himself at the head of the party which has governed the country for more than six decades: the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO). UMNO is part of Mr Najib’s ruling coaltion, Barisan Nasional (BN).

  • The Economist explains

    Why North Korea keeps changing its time zone

    by The Economist

    THE meeting between the leaders of North and South Korea, Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in, on April 27th was widely considered a success. The goodwill flowed; the two men visited both sides of the border; a peace tree was planted. The actual, useful results were more limited. But one immediate consequence will be felt from May 5th. On that day, North Korea’s clocks will be turned forward by half an hour so that both Koreas sit in the same time zone again, nine hours ahead of GMT.  It was only in August 2015 that North Korea’s clocks were turned back by 30 minutes.

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