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    What Amazon does to wages

    21735020 at http://www.economist.com

    WHEN Amazon announced in 2010 that it would build a distribution centre in Lexington County, South Carolina, the decision was hailed as a victory for the Palmetto State. Today the e-commerce giant employs thousands of workers at the centre. Just 3.5% of the local workforce is out of work. Alas, the influx of jobs has not boosted wages for the region’s forklift drivers and order-fillers. In the years since Amazon opened its doors in Lexington County, annual earnings for warehouse workers in the area have fallen from $47,000 to $32,000, a decline of over 30% (see chart 1).

    Lexington County is not alone. Since Amazon opened...Continue reading

    Thu, 18 Jan 2018 15:48:15 +0000

    How to increase your chances of surviving a nuclear blast

    21735077 at http://www.economist.com

    Toons you can use

    THE alerts mistakenly sent to residents of Hawaii, warning them that a missile was on the way, were a reminder of an era when terror was measured in kilotons. In the 1950s and 1960s public-service broadcasts informed Americans about what to do in case of a nuclear attack. Since then, with nuclear conflict seeming less likely, such knowledge has seemed esoteric, like taking an interest in Brutalism or taxidermy. Here is a reminder of something we hope you will never need to know.

    If a nuclear bomb exploded in an airburst, around 90% of people would die instantly near the centre of the blast: a roughly 1.9km (1.2-mile) radius for a 300-kiloton (KT) device—the estimated force of the weapon North Korea tested in September. Within a 15-square-kilometre area, at least half the population would die more slowly, from radiation and burns. Those who make it through the blast or are farther away can take steps to increase their chance of survival.

    An...Continue reading

    Thu, 18 Jan 2018 15:48:19 +0000

    Donald Trump gives his European allies 120 days to get a better deal with Iran

    21735070 at http://www.economist.com

    ON JANUARY 12th President Donald Trump declared that if the “disastrous flaws” in the nuclear deal with Iran are not fixed within 120 days, he will pull America out of it. He renewed the presidential waiver that lifts nuclear-related sanctions on Iran, but signalled that this was a final reprieve rather than a change of heart.

    Mr Trump says he wants a new agreement to modify the pact of 2015 that curbed Iran’s nuclear programme, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), in return for limited relief on sanctions. Among Mr Trump’s demands are ending the expiry clauses in the agreement that, for example, allow Iran after 15 years to enrich uranium beyond the 3.67% normally required for commercial power production; a ban on ballistic-missile testing; and unconstrained access for International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to any military site, regardless of whether there has been any indication of nuclear activity there.

    Mr Trump has now twice refused to...Continue reading

    Thu, 18 Jan 2018 15:48:15 +0000

    Kansas and Missouri, both alike, indignity

    21735066 at http://www.economist.com

    Greitens, contritens

    ONE is struggling to stay in his job, the other is scrambling to leave it. Eric Greitens, the Republican governor of Missouri, is fighting for his political life after a television station in St Louis revealed an extramarital affair, as well as allegations of blackmail and violence, less than three hours after he gave his state-of-the-state address on January 10th. Sam Brownback, another Republican, announced six months ago that he was stepping down as governor of Kansas to become President Donald Trump’s ambassador-at-large for religious freedom, but his nomination has not yet been confirmed by the Senate and so he has remained as governor. Both are in an embarrassing limbo.

    For Mr Greitens, the uncertainty over his political future is more painful because he was just starting out in politics. The 43-year-old former Navy SEAL, Rhodes scholar and White House fellow, who had never before run for office, was the surprise winner of Missouri’s...Continue reading

    Thu, 18 Jan 2018 15:48:15 +0000

    Bob Murray, the coal baron with the president’s ear

    21735025 at http://www.economist.com

    Mr Murray in his element

    TRADITION dictates that bad children get coal in their Christmas stockings. But the elaborate Christmas display in the headquarters of Murray Energy Corporation, America’s biggest privately owned coal firm, suggests otherwise. At its centre are two cherubic children pulling a wagon loaded with coal, and looking pleased with their haul. The other distinctive feature in the building’s lobby is a plethora of pictures featuring Bob Murray, the company’s founder and boss, with President Donald Trump. Mr Murray was a vocal and generous backer of Mr Trump; today he has the president’s ear. He sent the administration an “Action Plan” with 16 detailed policy requests, many of which the administration is on track to fulfil. Mr Trump nominated Andrew Wheeler, a lobbyist for Murray Energy, to the number-two position at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A few weeks after a meeting with Mr Murray, Rick Perry, the energy secretary, ordered a study...Continue reading

    Thu, 18 Jan 2018 15:48:15 +0000

    Hostility to immigration used to be found in both parties

    21735018 at http://www.economist.com

    ONE moonlit night 13 years ago Jennifer crossed into Texas, squeezed into a car footwell. Her mother had made the clandestine journey from their native Guatemala, looking for work to help pay for Jennifer’s leukaemia treatment, five years earlier. Having established herself in Maryland, cleaning houses and caring for children, she wanted her son and two daughters—including Jennifer, by then six and cancer-free—with her. “All I remember is staring at the moon,” Jennifer recalls. “So long as I could see it, I thought we’d be OK.”

    Now in her last year of high school in Maryland, Jennifer is the commander of her school’s air cadets and has been offered a place by six colleges. Whether she will be able to join the air force, as she would like, or study for a degree, or even remain in America is unclear, however. She is one of the 700,000 beneficiaries of an Obama-era programme, known by its acronym DACA, that shields illegal immigrants brought to America as children from deportation;...Continue reading

    Thu, 18 Jan 2018 15:48:15 +0000

    The safety net in Republican states is about to get skimpier

    21735017 at http://www.economist.com

    KENTUCKY, a poor, rural state nostalgic for coal, has never been quite sure of its politics. For three years it was the darling of Obamacare. Governor Steve Beshear, a rare Appalachian Democrat, complied with the reform by creating a statewide health-insurance exchange and expanding Medicaid (government-subsidised coverage for the poor and disabled). Between 2013 and 2015, uninsured rates for poor adults fell from 40% to 9%—the biggest improvement in the country. But now that the state is under new management—the Republican governor, Matt Bevin (pictured above), is a Tea Party favourite—Kentucky may soon be notable in health-policy circles for a new reason: it wants to become the first state in history to require some Medicaid recipients to work.

    Other states with Republican governors, including Indiana and Arkansas, hope to follow. Before long, the health-care safety nets in these states may look very different from those in Democratic ones—and indeed from those in other rich countries,...Continue reading

    Thu, 18 Jan 2018 15:48:15 +0000

    The Trump administration bars Haitians from visas for low-skilled work

    21735129 at http://www.economist.com

    ON JANUARY 17th the Trump administration said it was removing Haiti, Belize and Samoa from the list of countries whose residents are eligible for seasonal visas, usually used by farms. This came six days after Donald Trump reportedly complained about the number of immigrants arriving from “shithole” countries (the Department for Homeland Security’s justification for the move was more nuanced).  The suspended programmes are small: just 65 Haitian temporary agricultural workers arrived in 2016. That is partly because farms that use the visas must convince the government that there are no American workers to fill their job openings. But despite the tiny impact of such programmes, for the individuals involved, such policy decisions are utterly life changing. That is because the personal financial benefit of moving from a poor country to a rich one is vast. 

    The debate over whether or not low-skilled immigration benefits America’s existing residents is well-rehearsed. Economists sympathetic to immigration say that workers from...Continue reading

    Thu, 18 Jan 2018 19:00:08 +0000

    Can a lawyer admit the guilt of a client who claims to be innocent?

    21735015 at http://www.economist.com

    ROBERT MCCOY had a plan. Facing murder charges in the deaths of his estranged wife’s mother, stepfather and teenaged son in Louisiana, Mr McCoy claimed he was out of town in Houston, Texas when the three were slain. All the evidence of Mr McCoy’s guilt—a Walmart receipt for bullets; the murder weapon; a 911 call from one of the victims pleading with “Robert”; a white Kia getaway car—had been planted by vindictive police officers, the story went. The police were out for revenge, Mr McCoy explained, because he had accused some members of the department of trafficking drugs. 

    This did not persuade Mr McCoy’s public defenders, so he decided, for a time, to go it alone. But soon the defendant thought better of it and hired a family acquaintance to represent him. The new advocate, Larry English (pictured), found the innocence fable no more credible, but Mr McCoy was no less adamant. After repeatedly clashing with his client, Mr English told him his legal strategy would be to save him from execution, not to get him off scot-free....Continue reading

    Thu, 18 Jan 2018 16:14:51 +0000

    Democrats pull off a surprise win in rural Wisconsin

    21735014 at http://www.economist.com

    WISCONSIN’S governor Scott Walker seemed a little frantic on the evening of January 16th. He began no fewer than eight tweets with “WAKE UP CALL”, in capital letters, after it became clear that a historically red district in a rural western region of his state had voted for a Democrat in a special election for a state senate seat. According to preliminary election returns, Patty Schachtner, a medical examiner, handily beat Adam Jarchow, a Republican member of the state assembly, by 11 percentage points.

    Ms Schachtner’s victory was a surprise. She is far less experienced than Mr Jarchow and had a considerably smaller campaign chest. After her victory, Ms Schachtner explained in an interview that she thought she won because of the negative mailings from groups outside the district backing her opponent. Americans for Prosperity—the group backed by the Koch brothers, two conservative billionaires—paid for ads and mailings expressly backing Mr Jarchow. “It wasn’t nice. It was mean,” she said. “People just said, ‘You know what?...Continue reading

    Thu, 18 Jan 2018 15:20:32 +0000

    The Supreme Court takes on two redistricting cases from Texas

    21734870 at http://www.economist.com

    THE SUPREME COURT rejects about 99% of the 7,000 to 8,000 petitions that reach it each year. But when it comes to cases involving reapportionment—challenges to how states draw lines for congressional or state legislative elections—the justices can’t be quite so choosy. Congress has chipped away at the cases subject to mandatory review by the Supreme Court, but it has kept it for redistricting cases where an election looms and time is of the essence. If skewed electoral maps may need to be redrawn, a special three-judge federal court is convened to hear the case; an appeal goes right to the Supreme Court, bypassing America’s 13 circuit courts. 

    This quirk of Supreme Court procedure explains why the justices have now agreed to hear four gerrymandering cases this term, including two added on January 12th. These recurring matters may be their least-favourite to resolve. In 2016, Justice Stephen Breyer told lawyers in a racial-gerrymandering dispute that he had hoped his...Continue reading

    Mon, 15 Jan 2018 18:20:16 +0000

    Chris Christie’s eight tumultuous years as governor of New Jersey

    21734914 at http://www.economist.com

    ON JANUARY 9th, less than a week before he was due to step down as New Jersey’s governor, Chris Christie delivered his eighth and final state of the state address, in which he boasted of his “consequential accomplishments” in office. He also warned his successor, Phil Murphy, a Democrat, who takes over on January 16th, that the state should not revert to the policies of the past. During his 90-minute address there was no acknowledgement that Mr Christie’s tenure had been tainted by Bridge-gate, a public corruption scandal. Nor was there any mention of his failed presidential bid. He had, he said, left the state, “much, much better than it was eight years ago”.  

    In some ways he is right. Mr Christie inherited an enormous budget deficit, which he cut without blinking. His hard-nosed line vetoing of budgets ultimately saved the state $7.3bn in spending over eight years. He helped reform the pension system and cut property taxes and unemployment. Mr Christie also took unusual approaches to old problems. For instance, he...Continue reading

    Mon, 15 Jan 2018 21:37:45 +0000