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The Weekly Wrap for Saturday, 2 July 2022

The Question

On what date should you have perfected your rendition of Scotland the Brave?

Talking Points

Mass deaths outside San Antonio. PHOTO: The Texas Tribune
  1. 53 migrants were cooked alive in a truck crossing into America
  2. Ghislaine Maxwell got 20 years for pimping for Jeffrey Epstein
  3. Singer R Kelly was handed 30 years for child trafficking
  4. Jan 6 testimony revealed Trump's food-fight tantrums
  5. Airbnb cancelled your party
  6. Rafael Nadal dazzled at Wimbledon
  7. 22 people died of mysterious poisoning in South Africa
  8. France sentenced 19 accused terrorists over the Paris attacks
  9. Russia found a willing oil buyer in Sri Lanka
  10. China's President visited a distinctly docile Hong Kong

Deep Dive

Courting danger. PHOTO: Axios

Having broken free from an ideologically balanced, swinging bench of justices, America's Supreme Court is now going hard on Constitutional literalism and states' rights. Roe last week, the EPA this week. The docket is full this year.

Roe to ruin

A week ago the Supreme Court of the United States of America abrogated the constitutional right to an abortion up to 24 weeks established in Roe v Wade (1973). For half a century the Court had affirmed and reaffirmed that right in the face of constant legal challenges. The case on the docket was Dobbs v Jackson Women's Health Organization ; a last ditch challenge against Mississippi's ban on abortion after 15 weeks by the sole abortion clinic in the state. The Court split down ideological lines a 6-3 majority ruling against the clinic. In doing so it brushed aside the right for American women to exercise reproductive freedom.

Overall, 64% of Americans support a woman's right to chose. But wild variations across the different states make a mockery of the idealised notion of the country as a unified, federated political community. Just shy of half of the states already have, or will soon have, outlawed abortions. Missouri and its ilk have been hacking away at women's reproductive rights for decades — access to safe abortions there was already beyond the reach of women. In Oklahoma and Texas, the citizenry has been deputised to file civil suits against organisations or individuals who carry out abortions. As a result, the clinics have been run out of town . But a countervailing force is also gathering: cities and NGOs are working to create safe passage for women to have abortions in states where the right still exists.

In D.C., the Biden Administration is dead in the water on this issue. Aggressive action against the states curtailing reproductive rights would be too politically costly this close to midterm elections. The touted changes to FDA schedules on mifepristone and misopristol are welcome, but hardly world-changing. More substantive changes to the organs of federal government are seen as being too radical for mainstream Democrats. The Senate (an anachronistic institution that affords 600,000 Wyomingites the same representation as 40,000,000 Californians) will retain the filibuster. The Supreme Court will not be stacked.

The activists

And so, with the Court lurching heavily to the right, its time for conservatives to tick off their wish-list. As Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan noted in their Dobbs vs Jackson dissent , "No one should be confident that this majority is done with its work". So what's up for debate next? Justice Clarence Thomas has a list of "demonstrably onerous decisions" that he wants reconsidered. These include the rights to contraception, same-sex intercourse, and same-sex marriage. Never mind that the court already has the lowest approval rating of any government institution: it's time for even more unpopular judicial activism . And so, while the rest of America, and the world, was busy trying to absorb the repercussions of the Dobbs v Jackson decision, the Court was already teeing up another controversial judgment.

On Thursday, the Court ruled (6-3 once again) that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not have broad authority to require states to decarbonise their electricity sectors. The West Viriginia vs EPA case is a funny one. The famously coal-friendly state led a number of others in suing the EPA over the Obama-era Clean Power Plan. That proposal sought to cap emissions and set targets which would have pushed coal generators out of the market. But the plan was held up in court, and repealed by the Trump administration in 2016. West Virginia kept up the pursuit to prevent the Biden administration from extending the EPA's ambit.

Chief Justice Roberts explained it thus, "Capping carbon dioxide emissions at a level that will force a nationwide transition away from the use of coal to generate electricity may be a sensible 'solution to the crisis of the day'. But it is not plausible that Congress gave EPA the authority to adopt on its own such a regulatory scheme... A decision of such magnitude and consequence rests with Congress itself, or an agency acting pursuant to a clear delegation from that representative body". So, unless Congress legislates on the specifics of each potentially impactful phenomena, the agencies responsible cannot themselves respond. And, given how utterly dysfunctional America's Congress is, you can bet the going will be slow.

This decision also forces the EPA to regulate each power plant within each state individually rather than collectively . This is a stick in the spokes of Biden's already-brittle climate policy. And it's moot anyway since the inescapable realities of market economics have already killed coal in the United States. What is not moot is the flow-on effect of this judgment on other governmental agencies. Expect other regulators to now narrow the scope of their own work to avoid challenges in the Supreme Court.



Trick or treaty

It's been a banner year for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. After spending the last decade or two shuffling its feet, the moribund alliance's raison d'etre has been singlehandedly resuscitated by Vladimir Putin . On Monday, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg proclaimed that the defence pact will place 300,000 soldiers on high alert to deter the Russian menace. That is a lot of combat-ready troops. So many, in fact, that European defence ministers don't know where they are going to get them from. NATO's rapid-response force currently stands at 40,000. One official quipped that a sevenfold increase would require some "number magic".

Here's another number: 2. This week, NATO formally invited the distinctly non-Atlantic countries of Finland and Sweden to join . It's a sensible decision for Sweden to bolster its offensive capacities in the face of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. We're not so sure Finland needs the help: they had a pretty good batting average against Russia in the 20th century. The accessions will speak to a unity of purpose in Europe that was missing early in the conflict. They are also, inevitably, going to be read as a provocation against Moscow . The conference also heard some NATO representatives describing China as a threat, but we'd encourage them to content themselves with one nemesis at a time.

You may well be wondering: if NATO, Sweden and Finland have won in this round, who lost out? Certainly not Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan , who has had the European Union eating out of his hand for years. Finland and Sweden's NATO membership is contingent on them handing over scores of Kurds linked to the PKK and a handful of Gulenists. Being liberal democracies with a clear-eyed view on how autocracies treat political prisoners, both have previously refused these extradition requests in the past. This time it's not a request. Erdogan has also managed to squeeze into the memo a demand that NATO get onboard with whatever operations (read: throat-slitting) his people are doing in the ruins of what used to be Syria. There's a price for European safety. And it must be paid in Kurdish blood.

Mukesh Ambani (right) is keeping it in the family. PHOTO: Times of India

Business wrapped

When Dhirubhai Ambani dropped dead in 2002 he left behind a sprawling conglomerate, two sons, and no will. For the sake of accuracy he also had two daughters but he had no intention of seeing either of them run his empire. So, for years, the brothers Mukesh and Anil battled across courtrooms , boards, and tabloids for control of the spoils. The fight was eventually resolved when a higher authority, their mother, intervened. Mukesh got the petrochemicals business, Anil got the telco. Mukesh made a mint. Anil built a fortune and then lost it. In 2008, he was one of the top 10 richest people on Earth. By 2020, he had nothing, having successfully run Reliance Communication into the ground. Now, Mukesh has opted to avoid the nastiness that ruined his fraternal relationship by resigning from Reliance Jio to make way for his children.

Also in India, its with a heavy heart that we farewell Pallonji Mistry , a titan of the construction industry whose family engaged in a spectacular feud with the enormous Tata Group. Pallonji was the scion of the Shapoorji Pallonji Group which has built India for over 150 years.

And to Italy, where sunglasses wearers are pouring one out for Leonardo del Vecchio. His rags-to-riches story is well-trodden: a boy raised in an orphanage who would go on to build Luxottica, the undisputed numero uno in eyewear globally. If you've stuck a pair of sunnies on your head, there's an extremely high chance you've got Leonardo to thank.

The Best Of Times

Reindeer tapenta and the view in summer (above) and winter (below). PHOTO: The Atlantic

Ol' Blue Spectrum Eyes

Reindeer change parts of their eyes from gold to blue to better manage the contrast of long, light Arctic summers and long, dark Arctic winters. And here you are, paying $100 for a pair of sunglasses.

The cheapest therapy in the world

Able-bodied people with the ability to exercise have at their disposal an extraordinarily powerful mood booster . While endorphins don't usually kick in until you reach high-intensity exercise, your body still produces a heady brew of chemicals (including endocannabinoids) at lower levels. Just move!

The Worst Of Times

Police march in Udaipur. PHOTO: AFP

Communal violence swells in India

The Rajasthani capital of Udaipur was sent into lockdown last week after the beheading of a Hindu tailor. The gruesome attack, which was filmed and distributed online, came after the tailor shared his support for a BJP spokesperson who had insulted the Prophet Mohammed on a talkshow in May. The comments sparked a furious response from India's Muslim minority. This week another targeted attack confirmed fears of intercommunal reprisals.

Advice to die for

We've known for some years that McKinsey & Company cheerily encouraged Purdue Phamaceuticals to "turbocharge the sales engine". But the release of emails and presentations as part of McKinsey's legal settlement has revealed much deeper ties with the drug industry . As Purdue released a version of OxyContin that couldn't be crushed or smoked, McKinsey was advising another opioid manufacturer to begin a "Sales Force Blitz". The sheer mass of resultant human misery is difficult to comprehend.


The Image

Nick Kyrgios makes himself known at Wimbledon in one fashion or another. Image supplied by The Independent .

The Quote

"Obviously it was completely illegitimate and there was a big backlash. But it does still continue to have the reputation of a disruptor and an industry innovator."

Napster CEO Emmy Lovell provides some backstory as the company enters the cryptocurrency space. Yes, downloading Bomfunk MCs for free was completely illegitimate but at least the music was good. What redeeming value does this pivot have?

The Numbers

14 extra weeks

- The pregnancy-terminating drugs mifepristone and misoprostol are approved for use up to 10 weeks by the US Food and Drug Administration. But American women can safely take it later — much later. Throughout Latin America the combination is used in self-managed abortions up to 24 weeks. One study found that three quarters of these second-trimester abortions did not require medical intervention.

65,000,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU)

- Singapore has pinned a $14bn price tag on its audacious move to double its commercial port footprint . In 2020, the island state handled the most trans-shipped cargo in the world. In order to maintain its dominance over the Asia-Europe sea-link, Singapore is reclaiming land on the west coast to build a largely-automated port that will be able to handle the equivalent of 65 million containers .

And it's not just ports being automated; it's pirates too .

The Headlines

"Lost in Space: Astronauts struggle to regain bone density" AFP . The whole Mars thing isn't happening.

"Elmo gets COVID-19 vaccine in Sesame Street"

The Independent . Oscar the Grouch has refused.

The Special Mention

Not even close this week: Ernst & Young gets the chocolates for allowing its aspiring auditors to cheat on their ethics exam. Now, some unsympathetic soul may say this behaviour is par for the course given the rather lengthy 'Auditing scandals' section on EY's wikipedia page. But ethics is hard! We've been grappling with ethics for millennia and haven't gotten it ironed out yet. Of greater concern is the fact EY's auditors are clearly cheating on their numeracy exams: in 2020 they counted $2.1bn in Wirecard's bank accounts that didn't exist.

The Best Long Reads

The Answer...

19th of October, 2023 . All together now: Hark when the night is falling...