Amid allegations of fraud, Congo’s high court confirms a new president

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JOSEPH KABILA’S machinations to keep control of the Democratic Republic of Congo have crumbled one by one. But his last desperate gamble—handing power to the friendly leader of an opposition party—is having a tad more success.

In the early hours of January 20th, Congo’s constitutional court (stacked with government loyalists) ceremoniously ruled that a presidential election held on December 30th had been won by Félix Tshisekedi, the friendly opposition leader, with 39% of the vote. It said that Martin Fayulu, a former oil executive who has promised to fight corruption, had come second with 35% of the vote.

The court’s judgment flies in the face of extensive evidence that the election was actually won by Mr Fayulu. A tally by the Financial Times of leaked data found that Mr Fayulu had won almost 60% of the vote and that Mr Tshisekedi was far behind, with 19%. Congo’s Catholic bishops, who sent out 40,000 observers, also said the official result did not match their tally.

Mr Kabila, who has been in power for 18 years, is no stranger to dirty tricks. In 2015 he tried to change the constitution and abolish term limits, so that he might join the regional club of presidents-for-life. After that failed because of massive protests, Mr Kabila simply refused to hold an election when his second term ended in 2016. He stayed in office for another two years. But more protests and pressure from regional powers forced him to set a date for the poll.

Mr Kabila wanted voters to elect his handpicked successor, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, a former interior minister. But he proved too unpopular to win even a rigged election. The vote count was delayed for several days amid an internet blackout. Mr Fayulu, who has threatened to investigate the wholesale theft of Congo’s mineral wealth by members of the ruling class, appears to have lost the count. He is backed by Mr Kabila’s two biggest adversaries, Jean-Pierre Bemba (a former warlord) and Moïse Katumbi (a tycoon), both of whom were barred from standing. Mr Kabila apparently saw him as the biggest threat to his continuing influence.

The African Union inititally expressed concern about the vote and called on Congo to hold off on officially handing victory to Mr Tshisekedi. But following the court ruling the AU seemed to back down. The Southern African Development Community, a regional bloc that had called for a recount and government of national unity, congratulated Mr Tshisekedi. So did the presidents of South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania.

Most are concerned mainly with preserving stability in Congo, a sprawling and ill-governed country that could destabilise its neighbours if it descends again into civil war. Yet the electoral stitch-up has so infuriated many Congolese that it, too, presents a risk to stability. Mr Fayulu has asked his supporters to stage peaceful protests across the country. There is a good chance that government troops will use force to disperse them. If people are killed then outrage may spread rapidly.

Meanwhile Mr Kabila’s allies “are furious—he cannot even cheat successfully,” says someone close to the president. For now the police and army are backing Mr Kabila. But their loyalty is fickle.
As may be that of Mr Tshisekedi, who celebrated the court’s decision by sipping champagne. He has made friendly noises towards Mr Kabila, calling him “an important political partner”. He may be unable to throw his weight around much without Mr Kabila’s co-operation, since Mr Kabila’s party dominates the legislature. Indeed, Mr Kabila’s critics say he wants to play puppet-master to Mr Tshisekedi.

But he may not be able to. Power can quickly drain from a former president to a new one, and it is far from clear that Mr Kabila has the political skill to remain in charge when he is no longer in office. The game is not over. Nor, probably, is the cheating.

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Remembering John Bogle, patron saint of the amateur investor

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IN DECEMBER 2009 Paul Volcker, a revered former chairman of the Federal Reserve, took part in a conference on the future of finance. America was plunging to its worst recession since the 1930s, taken to the brink of disaster by the products dreamed up by Wall Street alchemists. To underline his argument, Mr Volcker made a bold claim. The most useful financial innovation—indeed the only beneficial one—of recent decades, he said, had been the ATM.

Mr Volcker is right about many things, but wrong about this one. The prize must go to the index fund, pioneered in the mid-1970s by John Bogle, who died last week aged 89. The idea behind it was simple: a mutual fund that mimicked the S&P 500 index of leading American stocks. An index fund holds stocks in exact proportion to their importance (measured by their market capitalisation) to the overall stockmarket. Because such a fund owns all the stocks in the index, it is diversified: it is not overly exposed to the risk that a single firm, or group of firms, would fail. Above all, an index fund is cheap to run. It has no need to employ expensive stockpickers. Turnover costs are trivial. You only buy a stock when it joins the index, and sell it when it leaves. Otherwise you just hold the index.

The original idea was not Bogle’s. It emerged from academia. In October 1974 Paul Samuelson, a Nobel-prize winning economist, published a short article in the Journal of Portfolio Management. In it, he argued that most stockpickers should go out of business. They charged hefty fees for achieving worse returns than the market average. An alternative was urgently needed. Someone should set up a low-cost, low-turnover fund that tracked the S&P 500.

When Bogle read Samuelson’s article, it “struck me like a bolt of lightning”. Just a week earlier he had set up Vanguard, a mutual-fund group that would be truly mutual: it would be run not by external shareholders but by investors in the funds. The following year Vanguard launched an index fund. It was not met with great enthusiasm. Denounced on Wall Street as “un-American”, the Vanguard fund raised a mere $17m in its first five years. It was only after the mid-1990s that index investing took off. Fund-management groups other than Vanguard began to launch their own index funds. In the two decades since, such funds have grown far faster than those tended by “active” fund managers who select stocks.

For academics like Samuelson, the case for an indexed fund rested on the idea that stockmarkets are broadly “efficient”, in that relevant news about a company’s prospects is reflected in its share price. The weight of active money will quickly bid up the price of any obvious bargains. The index investor is a free-rider on this market efficiency. For his part, Bogle claimed he knew nothing of the efficient-markets school. “I was part of the pragmatic school of indexing,” he wrote in 2016. The average investor can do only as well as the stockmarket average, he concluded. If some investors beat the market, others must be beaten by it. After costs, most professional investors do indeed lose to it.

The key to successful stockmarket investing is avoiding high management fees. This is what Bogle called his “cost-matters hypothesis”. Because of him, lots of ordinary investors now get the average stockmarket return, thus beating the professionals, for a negligible fee. In total, Bloomberg reckons, investors may have saved $1trn in fees from indexation. John Bogle is the patron saint of the amateur investor. And he was the man who created something that is supposed to be as vanishingly rare as rocking-horse dung: a useful financial innovation.

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We need to own our data as a human right—and be compensated for it

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AT A LUNCH at the World Economic Forum five years ago, guests were asked to predict what people would care about around 2019. My mind raced through thoughts about identity and data. When the host, Marc Benioff, the founder and chairman of Salesforce, turned to me, I stated: “idatity”. Identity and data are increasingly intertwined. The term I coined that day evokes the need for people to be more aware of how they safeguard and share their information.

Personal data needs to be regarded as a human right, just as access to water is a human right. The ability for people to own and control their data should be considered a central human value. The data itself should be treated like property and people should be fairly compensated for it.

As a musician, I benefit from the copyright system that attaches ownership rights to my lyrics and instrumental tracks. Why should the data that I generate be handled any differently? It makes no sense that the information is used as the raw material to produce billions of dollars of income for massive “data monarchs” yet is of no financial value to me.

But in the five years since that lunch in Davos, these data monarchs—companies like Facebook and Google that collect, store, mine and sell data—have expanded into giant businesses. While these companies that give away “free” services have grown rich, the data that belongs to their users has at times been compromised, and people’s digital habits sold, often without their full knowledge.

The consequences have included fake news and groups that have influenced the outcome of America’s presidential election and Britain’s “Brexit” referendum to leave the European Union. Phoney social-media campaigns have been launched in South Africa designed to create chaos. So much for a “free” account. Has this ugly outcome that has divided societies on three continents been worth the trade?

Of course, I love technology and apps. I’m always using Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. But I’m tired of being bombarded with content that adds little value to my life, and I’ve become desensitised and ignore most of it. The data monarchs know more about me than my mother, my government or my doctor. Then there’s the question of trust—I’ve lost my faith in social-media networks and search engines to deliver information that is as true as it is helpful.

There is no data freedom when the options of who to sign up with are limited, the data monarchs rake in billions and all one gets is a “free” account bursting with advertising, faux news and lame “sponsored content”. The current arrangement feels lopsided, benefiting the data monarchs more than it benefits individuals and communities.

Payment is one way to redress the balance. If personal data has been used to build a handful of companies that exceed $3trn in market value, it should absolutely have monetary worth. But so is transparency about the terms of trade. I want to have it clearly explained in plain language who has access to my camera, to my photos, who’s listening to my microphone, and who gets to use this information. Are my apps tracking my activity and selling information about me? Promisingly, Europe is making progress with its General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to help rebalance data rights to be more transparent and fairer to people.

Now step it up: mix personal data with artificial intelligence (AI) and all these issues become super-charged. With AI algorithms, police can predict high-crime periods and pinpoint neighborhoods where more resources should be deployed. Computers can screen x-rays and scans, identifying problems with more accuracy than the human eye. The potential benefits of such services are huge. But they make it all the more important that consumers, especially young people, are educated about “What is data?”, “What is my personal data?” and “Why is it so valuable?”.

I see these issues not just as a user of technology but as an entrepreneur. Social-media platforms are the companies of today, but they are not the companies of tomorrow. The next data giants will create new types of services designed to help people. They will become the most valuable companies in the world by providing beneficial new uses of data and AI for people, based on a combination of trust, services that improve one’s life and the involvement of communities.

Today, my gadgets may count my steps, but they aren’t seeing the big picture: what I ate, how I felt, what my blood pressure is. New services, built from the point of view of the consumer, will benefit me by sharing and interconnecting my own data, rather than selling it on. When more trust is established, my personal “agent” or “assistant” should merge relevant things together that are currently just disconnected data points.

Their systems will be based on conversational computing and aimed at consumers and businesses. Consumers will be able to read the terms-of-service agreements that are fair to both sides and don’t require an attorney to decipher. It will be so easy that your granny can use it. It will be intelligent and useful, from directions to find the right train station, to guidance on how to live a healthier life. You will trust it and value it.

Despite dark, cinematic visions of a future hijacked by algorithms, I am an optimist that AI and data can contribute to society. It is time to focus on doing what is moral, fair and right. I challenge today’s data monarchs and the next generation of leaders to put their energies into data and AI that serve humanity first, instead of designing platforms bent on controlling humanity with money as the primary goal.

The ideas behind “idatity” are becoming understood. So what would I say today over lunch about what people will care about in five years? Actually, I’d say “idatity” again because i.am my data, and my AI agent should be my personal data scientist. But in five years, I believe this will be the norm. Tomorrow’s entrepreneurs will create virtuous companies that honour people’s data. They will make use of my data with my consent but I will always own it.

____________

will.i.am is a musician and the founder and chairman of I.AM+, a consumer-electronics and voice-assistant services company using artificial intelligence. He is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global AI Committee and an honorary fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology in Britain.

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Livers for transplant can now be kept alive at body temperature

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Editor’s note (January 21st 2019): An innovative new machine that keeps livers alive outside of the body received recommendation for use from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence on January 16th 2019. The device is expected to greatly increase the availability of livers for transplant—as far more organ donations can be kept healthy until they can be matched with a recipient. The device has been designed to keep livers fully functioning, provides blood, oxygen, nutrients and temperature control, and is also being tested in America, Europe and India. Similar devices for hearts, lungs and kidneys are bound to follow eventually. This piece, published on January 25th 2018, explains how the device works. 

WHEN Constantin Coussios, a biomedical engineer at Oxford University, arrived one day in 2013 at the transplant centre of King’s College Hospital, in London, with a liver for their use, he triggered a brief flurry of panic. Two other livers had arrived at the same time. The hospital had only one operating theatre in which liver transplants could be carried out—and because livers intended for transplant can be kept in cold storage for no longer than 12 hours, the situation looked serious.

What saved the day, and possibly a patient’s life, was that Dr Coussios was bringing not a cold liver, stored on ice, but a warm one. Instead of having had its metabolism slowed, it was fully functional. This was because it was connected to a supply of blood and nutrients inside a special box known as a metra (a Greek word meaning “womb”), invented by Dr Coussios and his colleague Peter Friend. The metra even had a graphical interface to show, moment by moment, how well its cargo was faring. Dr Coussios told the surgeon to transplant the cold-stored livers first. The one he had brought would keep.

That was in the early days of metras. Now, the devices are starting to spread. So far 25 have been deployed around the world and others are about to be. There are also plans, by Dr Coussios and others, to extend the idea behind the metra to the preservation of other vital organs. If that works, it would change the transplant business by improving both the supply and the health of such organs.

A metra is designed to keep the organ it is nurturing supplied with the correct amount of blood—an amount which varies from one instant to the next. It detects the organ’s demand for blood by monitoring pressure in the arteries and veins going into and out of the liver. It then adjusts the power of its pump in response.

The blood in question has been tinkered with to make it more effective. It has had its white cells and platelets removed to avoid inflammation, clotting and the transfer of disease. For the further prevention of clotting, it has had anticoagulants added. And it has been boosted with special chemicals that the liver needs in order to produce bile; with insulin to regulate the organ’s metabolism; and with nutrition in the form of glucose and amino acids.

Once a liver is hooked up inside a metra, its health can be tracked by monitoring things like blood flow, bile production and acidity levels. All these data permit a transplant team to see how the organ is faring. Moreover, a metra not only keeps a liver healthy but can, in some circumstances, actually improve its health. Putting a liver that has been cooled for storage into a metra can reverse damage it has sustained when cold by providing an environment in which its natural propensity to rejuvenate can come to the fore. More remarkably, metras may even be able to recondition livers that are sickly because they contain too much fat, and are thus untransplantable. Once a liver has been removed from the body that was making it fat, it will recover surprisingly quickly. A mere two days in a metra “liver spa” is enough to have a palpable positive effect on the health of such an organ.

At the moment, this last benefit is of only theoretical value, because regulations mean livers for transplant can be stored in a metra for a maximum of 24 hours. That, though, is twice the maximum a liver ought to be kept chilled for transplant, and almost three times the nine-hour limit generally preferred—hence Dr Coussios’s insouciance at the hospital back in 2013. Research on metras suggests that the 24-hour limit could safely be raised to three days, and possibly longer than that.

Twenty-four hours is, though, still long enough to conduct tests on the quality of livers that might otherwise be rejected. The existing assessment of a liver for transplant is necessarily subjective, because there is no sure way to tell if a cooled organ will work normally when it is warmed up and reconnected. Many surgeons therefore err on the side of caution, knowing that if they put a defective liver into a patient, it will probably kill him.

All this means that using metras should increase the availability of livers for transplant. Dr Coussios reckons that reducing the rate of rejection by surgeons could, by itself, double the number which can be used in Britain. Metras could also make it easier to perform the tricky operation of splitting livers in two, which is sometimes done to create a child-sized organ while still leaving enough over to transplant into an adult. The use of a metra is likely to permit these divisions to be carried out more slowly and carefully.

The metra is being commercialised by OrganOx, a firm based in Oxford. Dr Coussios estimates that the world’s hospitals have need for about 300 of the machines, but the firm says it will have reliable repeat business from furnishing the metras it has sold with the disposable plastic connectors that hook machine and organ up together—for a replacement set of these is required with each new liver stored.

In the future, OrganOx hopes to expand its activities by building a metra for kidneys, and perhaps also one for pancreases. Meanwhile, the firm has competition in the form of TransMedics, of Andover, Massachusetts. This company is developing similar devices for livers, hearts and lungs.

Besides increasing the supply of organs, and improving patient outcomes, metras and their competitors can also help ease the psychological burden on surgeons. One such, of some 30 years’ experience, still admits to having sleepless nights after performing a liver transplant. Even if he has done the surgery perfectly, he cannot be sure that the liver he has transplanted will actually work. Metra-storage makes it quite likely that it will.

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“Artistic Encounters with Indigenous America” is timely and troubling

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BETWEEN 1811 and 1813 Pavel Petrovich Svin’in, a Russian diplomat, travelled across eastern America gathering stories and images. The resulting travelogue, “A Picturesque Voyage in North America” (1815), purported to reveal to curious foreigners how Native Americans lived; in truth, Svin’in and his illustrators never witnessed many of the scenes the book depicted. Instead, they drew upon pernicious cultural stereotypes, creating sensational paintings that would stimulate the imaginations of readers abroad. Svin’in’s watercolour of a European man in a top hat grappling with two barely clothed Native American men in a canoe (pictured) powerfully encapsulates the offensive misconception—held by Euro-American societies for centuries—that indigenous American cultures are uncivilised and uncouth.

“Artistic Encounters with Indigenous America”, a small but thought-provoking exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, explores how European artists have depicted Native Americans over the past five centuries. The exhibition begins with efforts to sell the fantasy of America in the 17th century by emphasising the “exotic” qualities of indigenous groups. The “Indian princess”—a beautiful woman covered in animal skins and feathers—was an especially popular trope, seen to embody the independent spirit of the young United States. “An Emblem of America” (1801), a print, depicts a woman wearing a leopard skin in a lushly vegetated landscape; the title links the supposedly wild sexuality of indigenous women with the fertility of American soil. By the turn of the 19th century, even as the national government refused to accept Native claims to land and resources, the depiction of America as an “Indian princess” recurred in visual mythology.

The exhibition also features images by artists convinced by the notion of a “doomed race”. Their subjects were usually tribal chiefs, such as Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce, who campaigned for the return of ancestral lands in the late 19th century. These tragic, romanticised portraits appeared in both ethnographic studies and in advertisements, contributing to the idea of the “noble savage”. On display are collectible Allen & Ginter cigarette packages (1888), showing stoic indigenous chiefs in ceremonial clothing. These promoted a Native American crop—tobacco—which many groups could no longer cultivate due to their forced displacement.

By the early 20th century Euro-American artists began to create more humanised portraits. Some members of the Taos creative colony, a group of artists and writers, journeyed around New Mexico and observed Pueblo culture. They recorded scenes of women working on pottery and of local celebrations, which began to be heavily frequented by tourists from the 1920s onwards. While the colony’s work resulted in more naturalistic portrayals and an appreciation of customs, it also contravened the wishes of communities who did not want to be photographed or sketched. Artists such as Gene Kloss and John Marin depicted Pueblo ceremonial dances from memory instead.

By juxtaposing troubling images with enlightening interpretative texts from the curators and Wendy Red Star, an indigenous artist, the exhibition offers an arresting examination of non-Native depictions of Native cultures. However, the exhibition’s impact is dulled by its location within the museum. Although it is sensibly placed within the airy American Wing, the exhibition occupies an inconvenient, hard-to-find location: a small mezzanine in the farthest corner of this large building, accessible only through the open archives or via an elevator. A show about a marginalised group exists in the institution’s margins. 

This exhibition is important viewing, so it is a shame that so few will be able to find it. Harmful stereotypes and gross simplifications about indigenous American culture persist. President Donald Trump has frequently taunted Elizabeth Warren, a senator, about her avowed Native American ancestry with the name “Pocahontas”—considered a racial slur by many indigenous groups. On January 18th a video from the March for Life in Washington, DC, went viral, showing Nathan Phillips, an Omaha tribal elder, being intimidated by a male teenager; the boy, wearing a “Make America Great Again” cap, was encouraged by his friends, who shouted disparaging remarks about Native Americans. It is clear that the attitudes laid bare in “Artistic Encounters with Indigenous America” are not yet consigned to history.

“Artistic Encounters with Indigenous America” is showing at the Met until May 13th

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Why are Indian farmers angry?

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FARMERS ACROSS India joined in a countrywide general strike earlier this month to protest against what a representative called the government’s “failure to address rural distress issues”. This was far from their first such protest. In November 2018 over 100,000 farmers marched to Delhi. Some wore skulls around their necks to represent the 12,000 debt-ridden colleagues who commit suicide annually. The previous march, outside the capital in October, was met by water cannons and tear gas. In another, farmers held dead rats in their mouths to highlight their desperation. In north and west India, they spilled thousands of gallons of milk and truck-loads of onions onto the streets. Why are they angry?

The last few years have been grim. Monsoons from 2013 to 2015, and again in 2018, delivered below-average rainfall. The messy overnight recall of high-denomination banknotes in 2016 made it harder for farmers to buy seeds and fertilisers just before the crop-sowing season, and also caused problems for providers of labour, transport and distribution services. The implementation of a nationwide goods-and-services tax in 2017 reduced farmers’ incomes by widening the array of taxable goods to include things like chemical fertilisers and pesticides. And with fuel prices near an all-time high, the extra expenses of diesel-guzzling water pumps and generators added to the hardship.

The farmers are demanding an increase in the minimum support price (the price that the central government guarantees to pay for all farm produce should the market price drop any lower) and improvements in the systems to pay those monies. There are not enough government-run centres to buy farmers’ produce; those that do lack storage facilities. And because the centres are not always adept at finding buyers, farmers routinely have to queue for days to get a turn to sell their stuff at the minimum support price. With every day spent away from the farm denting their earnings, and with payments by the government taking up to three months to arrive, farmers may prefer to sell to private traders. They get less money but are assured of instant cash. Additionally, farmers’ demands for unconditional loan waivers have been only partially assuaged by the announcement from eight state governments of debt relief worth 1.9trn rupees ($26.8bn). On-ground implementation has been patchy. Millions of eligible agriculture workers have yet to see the money. Moreover, such windfalls do not help the smaller farmers who own nearly 70% of India’s farmland and have little access to formal credit. As banks and financial institutions are loth to lend to them, they rely on local moneylenders who charge exploitative interest rates. 

There are no easy answers for the 600m Indians who depend on agriculture for their livelihood. First, the water crisis needs addressing. Nearly two-thirds of land under cultivation has little or no irrigation. The country’s 20m boreholes, up from tens of thousands in the 1960s, deplete groundwater. Since 2016 the government has sunk 400bn rupees ($5.6bn) into a “Long Term Irrigation Fund” that is riddled with bureaucracy and delays. Smaller steps like introducing rainwater-harvesting to trap monsoon run-off and building check dams on riverbeds to improve groundwater levels would have helped instead. No matter. Narendra Modi vows to double farm incomes by 2022. Farmers, fed up with fancy projects and false promises, have threatened not to vote for Mr Modi in next year’s general elections. After his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party lost, in December, in three Hindi-speaking states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, the threat looks ominous.

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Donald Trump v Congress

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IN 1989 WILLIAM BARR, then a White House lawyer, wrote a memorandum warning the president to be mindful of attempts by Congress to encroach on his authority. Thirty years on Mr Barr, who will shortly become America’s attorney-general, has had to defend himself in his Senate confirmation hearings against the charge, which stems partly from the memo, that he holds an alarmingly expansionist theory of the presidency. Meanwhile, the actual president cannot extract funds from Congress to build a wall along the southern border. The president’s main set-piece, the State of the Union, may be postponed on the suggestion of Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, who reminded the White House that the speech is given at the invitation of her office, and that perhaps a written version would be fine this time?

The conflict between the legislative and executive branches that has given America its longest-ever shutdown is inherent to presidential systems. Juan Linz, a sociologist and political scientist at Yale who died in 2013, argued that though America’s constitution has been much-imitated, it only seemed to work in one place. Everywhere beyond America, making the legislative and executive branches coequal eventually resulted in stalemate. In Latin America, Linz observed, the deadlock was often broken by the army taking power. “The only presidential democracy with a long history of constitutional continuity is the United States,” he concluded in 1990.

Since then, America’s government has suffered three prolonged shutdowns, and is therefore looking a bit less exceptional than it once did. When the two political parties were a jumbled collection of interest groups, conflict was easier to manage. Ronald Reagan could usually find enough like-minded Democrats to work with. Since then each party has become more ideologically uniform, with little overlap between them. The current president cannot find a single member of the House Democratic caucus who thinks that giving him $5.7bn for his wall so the shutdown can end is a reasonable deal.

The dominant view of the presidency has long been that in the conflict with the legislature there is only one winner. Arthur Schlesinger argued in “The Imperial Presidency” that America had already passed the point of no return in the 1970s: the accretion of presidential power could not be undone, nor the office returned to something resembling what the founders intended. Bruce Ackerman, writing in 2010, echoed this in “The Decline and Fall of the American Republic”. Neomi Rao, whom President Donald Trump has nominated to be a judge on the DC circuit, published a paper in 2015 on “administrative collusion”, by which she meant the spineless tendency of lawmakers to give away powers to the executive. Yet the shutdown is a reminder of how powerful Congress remains.

In some ways the presidency is less powerful domestically than it was 50 years ago. The White House has built up its own legal staff, suborning the Justice Department and pushing the limits of presidential authority wherever possible. Judged by spending, though, the executive branch is actually less imperial than under Eisenhower or Kennedy. The part of the budget that the executive actually spends (non-defence discretionary spending), accounts for a lower share of GDP now than in the 1960s. Congressional deadlock, which has been a feature of government since the mid-1990s, empowers the president in one way, inviting him to attempt rule by decree. It has also weakened the whole system that the president sits on top of.

The concern that an overmighty POTUS is a threat to the republic is a staple of American politics. It is often accompanied by a side-order of hypocrisy. Thomas Jefferson insinuated that the first and second presidents harboured monarchical ambitions and then, when he held the office himself, concluded a deal doubling the territory of the republic without first asking Congress. Conservatives have tended to put up most resistance to presidential overreach, but find their party is now led by a president who has closed down a quarter of the federal government rather than bow to Congress, and wants to make extensive use of eminent domain to build his wall.

Progressives cheered the expansion of presidential power in the 20th century up to the Vietnam war and Watergate. Since then they have worried more about circumscribing the powers of the White House. Before he published “The Imperial Presidency”, Schlesinger held a conventionally progressive view of the presidency, which during his lifetime had vanquished the Depression, the Nazis and Jim Crow. When Nixon left the White House, Democrats in Congress then set about codifying what presidents can and cannot do, to prevent future abuses. The first bill introduced by the new Democratic majority in the House is designed to accomplish a similar cleanup for the post-Trump era.

That would be a sensible prophylactic. But it is also worth remembering that after Democrats lost their majority in the House in 2010, Barack Obama spent the remaining six years of his presidency issuing executive orders, most of which were then undone by his successor. Brendan Nyhan, a political scientist at the University of Michigan developed what he called the Green Lantern theory of the presidency, named after a DC Comics character. Mr Nyhan described this as, “the belief that the president can achieve any political or policy objective if only he tries hard enough or uses the right tactic.” Progressives who lamented the limitations of Mr Obama’s domestic power forgot all about this when Mr Trump took office, and assumed he could govern by force of will. He cannot, and so the shutdown goes on.

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How chicken became the rich world’s most popular meat

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IN A SHED on a poultry farm just outside Colchester, in south-east England, thousands of chickens sit on piles of their own excrement. The facilities will not be cleaned until after the birds are killed, meaning they suffer from ammonia burns and struggle to grow feathers. Ants and maggots crawl over the bodies of those that have not made it to slaughter. The chicken industry is a dirty business, but it is also a profitable one. In the OECD, a club of mostly rich countries, pork and beef consumption has remained unchanged since 1990. Chicken consumption has grown by 70% (see chart).

Humans gobble so many chickens that the birds now count for 23bn of the 30bn land animals living on farms. According to a recent paper by Carys Bennett at the University of Leicester and colleagues, the total mass of farmed chickens exceeds that of all other birds on the planet combined. In London, some 50 miles west of Colchester, fried-chicken shops are ubiquitous. Many are named after American states (including Kansas and Montana, not to mention Kentucky). But schoolchildren and late-night partiers are unfazed by the strange names. Nor do they worry much about where their meal came from.

And why should they? Chicken is cheap and delicious. A pound of poultry in America now costs $1.92, a fall of $1.71 since 1960 (after adjusting for inflation). Meanwhile the price of beef has fallen by $1.17 a pound to $5.80.

Fans of cheap chicken have selective breeding to thank. In the 1940s America launched a series of “Chicken of Tomorrow” competitions for farmers. The aim, as described by a newspaper at the time, was to produce “one bird chunky enough for the whole family—a chicken with breast meat so thick you can carve it into steaks, with drumsticks that contain a minimum of bone buried in layers of juicy dark meat, all costing less instead of more.” The result was something along the lines of the modern broiler chicken.

Since then chickens have continued to get bigger. A study by Martin Zuidhof of the University of Alberta and colleagues documented this shift by comparing chickens that were selectively bred in 1957, 1978 and 2005. The authors found that at 56 days old the three birds had average weights of 0.9kg, 1.8kg and 4.2kg (see chart). As raising a single big bird is more efficient than raising two smaller ones, it now takes farmers just 1.3kg of grain to produce 1kg of chicken, down from 2.5kg of grain in 1985.

The intense use of antibiotics means that farmers no longer need to spend much time worrying about their chickens’ welfare. Before the second world war, most birds were raised on small plots. Farmers kept hens for eggs and sold their meat when they got too old to lay any more. But prophylactics have allowed farmers to pack chickens into conditions that would once have been considered unthinkably cramped and dirty. Birds raised in denser quarters do not move around much, and so require less to eat.

Farmers have also benefited from the healthy reputation of chicken. In the 1980s doctors worried that by eating too much beef and pork people were ingesting lots of saturated fat, which was then thought to increase the risk of heart disease. Those fears have since waned, but new evidence suggests that red meat might increase people’s chances of getting colon cancer. In contrast, poultry’s image as a healthy meat survives unscathed.

Feet and feathers

It is not just fussy Western eaters who increasingly favour chicken. Rising incomes mean that demand for the meat is growing even faster in poorer countries. As a result, chickens are now the world’s most widely traded meat. In economic terms they are, in effect, the opposite of cars. They are produced whole. But their value is maximised once they are broken up.

Though Westerners prefer lean, white meat; many in Asia and Africa prefer dark meat, which includes legs and thighs. These preferences are reflected in local prices: in America breasts are 88% more expensive than legs; in Indonesia they are 12% cheaper. Differences in the price of chicken feet are even starker. The thought of eating talons is abhorrent to many Westerners, but they often feature in Cantonese recipes. China now imports 300,000 tonnes of “phoenix claws” every year.

The fact that different countries specialise in different kinds of production also boosts trade. America and Brazil, the world’s two biggest chicken exporters, are agricultural powerhouses that grow huge amounts of feed, the main cost in poultry production. Thailand and China, in contrast, dominate the processed-meat market which requires cheap, skilled labour. Russia and Ukraine, once net importers of chicken, have become net exporters as their grain industries have grown.

Producers that sell their meat abroad expose themselves to risks. Chicken has been a flashpoint in trade negotiations. China imposed tariffs on American birds in 2010 and then banned all imports in 2015, shortly after an outbreak of avian flu. Industry observers are pessimistic the ban will be lifted, much to the dismay of American farmers who would love to be paid more for the 20bn chicken feet they produce every year, which currently become animal feed.

Similarly, the European Union banned the import of chlorinated American chicken in 1997, owing to concern that a chlorine wash allows lower hygiene standards in farms. Arguments over chlorinated chickens also proved a big stumbling block in negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a now-failed trade deal between America and the EU. Some Britons fear that if they leave the EU any trade deal signed with America would require them to accept imports of such chickens.

Although the chicken boom has been good for consumers, animal-welfare advocates worry that the meat industry’s cost-cutting measures have come at the expense of the birds. Vicky Bond of the Humane League, an animal-welfare campaign group, says the size of modern chickens is the cause of the worst problems. Broilers have breast muscles which are too big for their bones to support, leading to lameness. In Colchester the chickens are so unresponsive to humans that they resemble zombies. Indeed, modern chickens have become so big that their muscles prevent them from getting on top of each other to mate (meaning they have to be starved before they are able to consider romance).

Partly because of advocacy by animal-welfare charities, and partly because meat has become so affordable, more consumers are now willing to pay for meat raised in better conditions. Sales of free-range and organic chickens, which—unlike most broilers—have access to the outdoors, are surging. In the Netherlands, a recent public outcry over enormous plofkip (which translates as “exploded chicken”) was so intense that retailers switched in droves to breeds that grow more slowly. Plofkip’s share of the Dutch market plummeted from around 60% in 2015 to 5% in 2017. In Britain sales of free-range eggs have overtaken those of caged ones.   

Concerns about the health of livestock have also led the EU to pass some of the world’s strictest animal-welfare laws. Battery cages for egg-laying hens were banned in 2012, for instance. Legislative reforms have been harder to come by in America, especially at the federal level. Animal-welfare advocates lament the country’s congressional system, which gives disproportionate clout to rural states. Nevertheless, a rare but significant state-level change came last November when Californians voted to pass Proposition 12, which will ban the production and sale of pork, veal and eggs from animals kept in cages, bringing the state’s laws roughly in line with those in the EU. The change affects all meat producers who want to sell in America’s biggest state, putting pressure on them to change their farming practices.

Public companies have been more responsive than lawmakers to animal-welfare concerns. Activists have achieved remarkable success in recent years by threatening companies with the release of unflattering images and videos of how their food is produced. Research by the Open Philanthropy Project, a group which funds animal-welfare activists, finds that such campaigns have prompted more than 200 American companies—including McDonald’s, Burger King and Walmart—to stop buying eggs from chicken raised in battery cages since 2015.

An idea is hatched

Farmers are therefore increasingly interested in improving the lives of their birds. Richard Swartzentruber owns two chicken sheds in Greenwood, a small town in Delaware. The company he supplies, Perdue Farms, has stopped using antibiotics altogether. Mr Swartzentruber’s chicken sheds have plenty of windows and doors that open onto a fenced grassy field whenever the weather permits. This comes with trade-offs: chickens might like perching on trees, but so do hawks. Inside the sheds, bales of hay, wooden boxes and plastic platforms are scattered around to entertain his chickens. Such measures have helped him gain a good-farming certificate from the Global Animal Partnership, a charity.

Bruce Stewart-Brown, a food-safety scientist at Perdue Farms, says that his company would love to raise more organic chickens. His ability to provide higher-welfare organic meat is ultimately constrained by market forces, since the feed legally required is pricey. Although larger numbers of people might be willing to pay more for organic or free-range products, most still prefer whatever is cheapest. And, despite growing interest in vegetarianism and veganism, surveys find little evidence that many people in the rich world are turning into herbivores. People may like flirting with plant-based diets. But what they really love is chicken.

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History shows the folly of China’s paranoia about Islam

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IT IS A shame that so few Chinese remember General Bai Chongxi, a brilliant tactician during the war against Japan in 1937-45. He showed China that it is possible to be at once a patriot and a devoted Muslim. Bai was a complicated figure. A warlord capable of ruthlessness, he was also a reformer who wanted education to free his fellow Chinese Muslims from isolation and poverty. As a commander of Kuomintang (or Nationalist) troops, he was involved in massacres of Communists. Still, when Chaguan this week visited Bai’s home town in Guangxi province, in the south, locals praised his victories over the Japanese. The Bai family mansion is a protected historical site. Austere and grey-walled, it sits amid rice fields and limestone peaks straight from a scroll painting. Its empty interior offers no explanation as to why Bai matters.

He was once one of China’s best-known Muslims. Under the autocratic Nationalist rule of Chiang Kai-shek, Bai became head of a body representing the Hui minority, a diverse group of about 10m Chinese united by their Muslim faith. Often indistinguishable from China’s ethnic-Han majority, their ancestors include Persian merchants and Central Asians imported by 13th-century Mongol rulers. The body headed by Bai, the China Islamic National Salvation Federation, recruited Muslim troops and made the religious case for war with Japan. It supported Muslim schools and job schemes for refugees. Bai encouraged Hui delegations to tour the Muslim world to seek diplomatic backing for China’s war effort.

The general, who died in Taiwan in 1966, might have had useful advice to offer today. China is drawing up a five-year plan to “sinicise” Islam, as if the religion had been polluted by links to the outside world. In recent months Hui communities from Ningxia and Gansu in the north-west to Yunnan in the south have seen private Arab-language schools closed, mosques raided for providing “illegal religious education” and Islamic-style domes removed from buildings. Officials renamed the Aiyi river in Ningxia, a region that is home to around 2m Hui, because its name was “Arabic-sounding”. In December Chinese media reported that Gansu and six other regions were abolishing local standards for halal, or Muslim-approved, foods, in the name of fighting extremism and foreign influences. If such measures stir thoughts of repression in the far-western region of Xinjiang, where as many as a million Muslims from the Uighur minority have been sent to re-education camps, that is no coincidence. Ningxia officials recently toured Xinjiang, pledging to learn from its “good practices”.

The Hui have faced suspicions of disloyalty before. In 1280 a Mongol emperor of China, Kublai Khan, outlawed halal food and other Islamic customs, reputedly incensed because Muslim merchants had refused a banquet he offered them. In a forthcoming essay for the Rubin Museum in New York, Johan Elverskog of Southern Methodist University describes a panic that gripped the Qing dynasty in the 1760s. Amid reports that Arab-educated Islamic hardliners were stirring up trouble, local officials were told to report all Muslim misdeeds. A new law deemed three or more Muslims found with any weapon to be criminals. “As might have been expected,” the professor writes, officials inundated the Qing court with reports of dangerous Muslims, prompting still-harsher laws and further radicalisation of the Hui. In time, rebellions followed.

Yet long before Communist bosses vowed to regulate Islam, Hui elites crafted what amounted to their own sinicised versions of Islam, advocating political loyalty to China’s rulers alongside eternal allegiance to Allah. One age of co-operation, about 400 years ago, generated the “Han Kitab”, texts that reconciled Confucianism and Islam, teaching Muslims to obey any emperor who upheld a social order aimed at moral perfection. Jump to the 1920s, and a reformist scholar, Wang Jingzhai, promoted the phrase aiguo aijiao or “loving our country is as one with loving our faith”, which hangs in Chinese mosques. The expression had authority because it was both patriotic and Islamic. It is ascribed to the Prophet Muhammad. Wang translated it after studying in Mecca.

Withdrawing from the world

If it is a shame that Bai Chongxi is largely forgotten, it is heartbreaking to find how defensively he is remembered in places that know his name. Bai’s kinsfolk still live in villages near Guilin city. Chaguan found some of them preparing ducks for curing ahead of Chinese new year. Alas, even mild questions about whether their ancestor protected the Hui caused disquiet. “Just stop talking,” hissed a woman to an old man surnamed Bai, who had begun answering as he salted duck neck-bones. “We are very happy and there is no ethnic discrimination,” said the woman.

In nearby Jiu village, home to a century-old mosque, Wang Yisehakai, the ahong or imam, blandly praised General Bai as a pious man who prayed in the heat of battle. He added, improbably: “The most important thing about Bai is that he cared for his parents.” Asked about politics, Mr Wang said his community’s only ills come from lost faith. He grumbled that fewer than a dozen elderly Hui pray each week at his mosque, which looks like a Chinese temple with its tree-filled courtyard and curving roof.

At the Bai family mansion, Chaguan bumped into four male travellers from Ningxia, sporting straggly beards, long robes and the white prayer caps of pious Hui. One, surnamed Zhou, hailed General Bai’s strong faith but scorned any link between Islam and patriotism. “We are put on Earth to have our faith in Allah tested. We are not interested in politics at all,” he said. “Such things as aiguo aijiao are spoken only by those who don’t understand.”

Such a historically ignorant vision of Chinese Islam would appal Bai Chongxi, as would official attacks on halal rules. The general was a pragmatist. During wartime rows about dietary codes he proposed creating Hui units with their own food so they could get on with fighting. Communist bosses seem not to care for such approaches. They prefer sullen submission to shared loyalties.

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Donald Trump says he will hold a second summit with Kim Jong Un

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THE SECOND visit to the Oval Office by Kim Yong Chol (pictured, left), North Korea’s chief nuclear negotiator, was decidedly more low-key than the first—if the size of the envelope he brandished was anything to judge by. In June last year Mr Kim brought President Donald Trump a giant letter from Kim Jong Un, the North’s dictator. In response Mr Trump agreed to meet “Chairman Kim” in Singapore a few days later. But apparently size is not everything when it comes to envelopes. Shortly after Mr Kim had waved goodbye to Mr Trump and retired for lunch at his hotel with Mike Pompeo (pictured, right), America’s secretary of state, the White House said that there would be another summit between the two leaders in late February, at a location yet to be specified (though logistical preparations are reportedly underway in Vietnam).

The announcement suggests that both America and North Korea are keen to break the impasse that has plagued their nuclear negotiations since shortly after the summit in Singapore last June. At that meeting, Mr Trump and Mr Kim had agreed to improve relations between their countries and work towards the “complete denuclearisation” of the Korean peninsula. But there has been little movement towards ending the North’s nuclear programme since then. Negotiators have been unable to agree on the sequencing of concessions by the two parties or to make a start on the technical details of a disarmament deal. Reports from American spy agencies and analysis of satellite imagery by arms-control researchers suggest that the North’s programme has continued to expand. The Pentagon continues to regard North Korea as an “extraordinary threat”.

There is a chance that the second summit and the meetings that are planned in the run-up may restore momentum to the diplomatic effort. Stephen Biegun, the special representative whom Mr Trump appointed last year to handle negotiations with North Korea, looks set to hold talks with Choe Son Hui, his North Korean counterpart, over the coming days—for the first time since he took the job in August. That may be a start to the detailed working-level conversations many observers say must supplement the high-level summitry to hammer out a deal.

So far, neither side has released any details of the conditions for the second summit. America insists that the North needs to take concrete steps towards dismantling its nuclear programme before receiving the sanctions relief and “security guarantees” (which may include a partial drawdown of American troops stationed in South Korea) that it says it wants. That the summit is now on the cards suggests the North may have offered something. Possibilities include the dismantlement of its ICBM programme, which would suit Mr Trump’s goal to remove the nuclear threat to the American mainland, or permanently decommissioning the nuclear site at Yongbyon and allowing international inspectors to verify its closure. In return, America may offer support for partial or temporary sanctions relief, possibly tailored to allow economic co-operation between the two Koreas.

Such an outcome would certainly be welcomed in Seoul. A spokesman for Moon Jae-in, South Korea’s president, applauded America’s announcement over the weekend, saying that it represented a “turning point” for building a permanent peace on the Korean peninsula. Inter-Korean rapprochement, which had progressed even as the nuclear talks between America and North Korea had stalled, cannot go beyond today’s symbolic level without at least a partial lifting of sanctions. If the second summit is a success, South Korea may be able to reopen the Kaesong industrial complex and the tourist resort at Mount Kumgang, or begin to invest in refurbishing the North’s railways, which the two Koreas have been jointly inspecting since late November.

As with the summit in Singapore, however, the short time allotted for the preparation of the meeting carries risks. The vaguely worded declaration the two leaders signed in Singapore bears at least some of the blame for the lack of progress since then, because it lent itself to protracted arguments over definitions, which North Korea has used successfully to stall on steps towards nuclear dismantlement. And given Mr Trump’s avowed dislike of America’s global military presence, sceptics fear that he may be talked into lifting sanctions and reducing troop strength on the Korean peninsula in return for an end to the North’s ICBM programme, leaving Japan and South Korea to contend with a de facto nuclear state.

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