US deficit

♦ Martin Wolf argues that world trade remains vulnerable to problems such as financial crises and inequality: “As we learnt in the first half of the 20th century, liberal trade and investment cannot be an island isolated from events.”
♦ Alexei Navalny’s campaign to become Moscow mayor could be derailed by the five cases pending against him – the verdict of the first comes this week.
♦ Despite a surprisingly sharp fall in the deficit, political divisions in the US over longer-term budget policy are as wide as ever.
♦ The last of the Russian “Night Witches” has died – Nadezhda Popova flew 852 missions, chasing German invaders back to Berlin in the dark, with no parachutes, guns, radios or radar.
♦ Peter Hessler looks at the winners and losers in Egypt’s ongoing revolution.  Read more

The space shuttle is in its last ever flight, and Washington is locked in debt talks that now resemble a Samuel Beckett play on which someone has forgotten to bring down the curtain. A good time to recall one of the fiscal follies from the heady spending days of the 2000s boom: George W. Bush’s idea of putting a man on Mars.

As plans go, the Mars programme was a particularly mad one: it would have cost about a trillion dollars, (over many years, admittedly, so the net present value would have been a lot lower) in an agency notorious for cost overruns. Best quote at the time came from the redoubtable Charles Schultze, former White House economist under Jimmy Carter: the price of keeping an astronaut safe in space means every crewed mission becomes a flying Ming vase. Read more