Rugby World Cup semifinals this weekend

England will play New Zealand on Saturday while Wales will play South Africa on Sunday. Of the four quarterfinals matches played last weekend, three were blowouts, with England, New Zealand, and South Africa easily defeating Australia, Ireland, and Japan respectively by margins of over 20 points.

The one nail-biter was between Wales and France where France was ahead for almost the entire game and had a 19-10 lead at the 30-minute mark before Wales fought back and ultimately won 20-19, the last try scored just about seven minutes before the end of the regular 80 minutes of play.

At the 4:00 minute, France missed the conversion of their first try, a kick that players at this level could be expected to make. The ball hit the vertical crossbar and fell back onto the field. The missed two points was the difference between victory and defeat.

English bookmakers are favoring New Zealand to win the championship (5/6), followed by South Africa (10/3), England (9/2), and Wales (10/1).

Here are the highlights of the Wales-France game.

US politicians would not last five minutes under these ethical standards

Japan’s trade minister has resigned because of violating election laws. What he did will shock you.

Media reports said Isshu Sugawara gave his Tokyo constituents expensive melons, oranges, roe and royal jelly.

He is also said to have offered “condolence money” of 20,000 Japanese yen ($185; £145) to the family of a supporter.

Japan’s election law bans politicians from sending donations to voters in their home constituency.

The magazine also printed lists of gifts that had been sent by his office, including cod roe and oranges, as well as the thank you letters he allegedly received from the recipients.

My attention was caught by the mention of melons. I read in Dave Barry Does Japan that melons are highly valued as gifts in Japan and can be incredibly pricey. If you are invited to someone’s home, giving them a melon as a gift means that you hold them in great regard. Of course, Barry is a wacky humorist so one is never quite sure whether he is being serious but it turns out that he was not kidding.

[A] peek inside the sparkling glass display cases at any of Sembikiya’s Tokyo outlets reveals expensive treasures of a surprising kind.

From heart-shaped watermelons to “Ruby Roman” grapes, which are the size of a ping pong ball, this retailer specializes in selling mouth-watering produce at eye-watering prices.

Expensive, carefully-cultivated fruit, however, is not unique to Sembikiya’s stores.

Across Japan, such products regularly sell for tens of thousands of dollars at auction. In 2016, a pair of premium Hokkaido cantaloupe sold for a record $27,240 (3 million yen).

“Fruits are treated differently in Asian culture and in Japanese society especially,” Soyeon Shim, dean of the School of Human Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, tells CNN. “Fruit purchase and consumption are tied to social and cultural practices.

“It is not only an important part of their diet, but, perhaps more importantly, fruit is considered a luxury item and plays an important and elaborate ritual part in Japan’s extensive gift-giving practices.”

So my question is why growers in countries like the US, where fruits are cheap, are not exporting a lot of them to Japan to take advantage of the price differential.

Meet Katie Porter, yet another sharp progressive congresswoman

Much attention has been focused on four new first-teerm progressive congresswomen who have really shaken things up in the establishment-friendly Congress: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley. But there is another first term congresswoman whose well-prepared, sharp questioning of witnesses before congressional committees has drawn a great deal of admiration but not as much publicity, perhaps because she has not been singled out for criticism by Donald Trump. She is Katie Porter from the state of California.
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Debating the wealth tax

To understand why the oligarchy in the US absolutely hates the idea of Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren becoming president, one need look no further than their proposals for a tax on wealth to serve two goals: provide income to fund their progressive agendas and to reduce the staggering levels of inequality in the US.

Sen. Bernie Sanders has unveiled his plan to directly tax the wealth of millionaires and billionaires — and it goes substantially further than Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s plan to do the same.

The proposal would cut the wealth of billionaires in the United States in half in 15 years and entirely close the gap in wealth growth between billionaires and the average American family, according to University of California Berkeley economists Gabriel Zucman and Emmanuel Saez, who advised Sanders on his plan. Hitting the richest 180,000 American households, Saez and Zucman estimate the tax would raise $4.35 trillion over the next decade, which Sanders says would go toward paying for his biggest policies, including Medicare-for-all, affordable housing, and universal childcare.
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Cultured meat

Some of the arguments against eating meat are that it is morally wrong to kill animals, that the factory farming practices that it leads to create conditions for the animals that are repugnant and ethically indefensible, and that growing animals for meat is a waste of resources and is economically wasteful and environmentally damaging, since it takes a lot of land and plant products to produce animals for meat. And yet people seem to have a taste for meat.
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Warren joins Sanders in fighting the undermining of public schools

Rachel M. Cohen writes that the two most progressive candidates in the Democratic primary race have both called for reining in the charter school movement and the relentless undermining of the public school system

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN RELEASED a wide-ranging education plan Monday, pledging to invest hundreds of billions of dollars into public schools if she wins the presidency, paid in part through her proposed two-cent tax on wealth over $50 million. Warren’s plan is infused with her broader campaign themes of reducing corruption and fraud; she backs measures like new taxes on education lobbying, limiting the profiteering of tech companies that sell digital products to schools, and curbing self-dealing within charter schools.
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Is coffee good or bad for you?

Hasan Minhaj looks at why there seems to be so much contradictory reporting on this question and says that one problem is the pressure to publish papers that result in some researchers finding ways to hype results that are not firmly grounded in the evidence.

I myself drink just one cup of coffee and one cup of tea a day, or two cups of coffee if no good tea is available.

(Thanks to Jeff Hess.)

Power protects power

In an interview, investigative journalist Ronan Farrow says that the resistance he faced from his former bosses at NBC about his investigations into the sexual abuse allegations against powerful media mogul Harvey Weinstein and their own star Matt Lauer are examples of how ‘power protects power’, even though some of the people proclaim themselves to be liberals and even progressives.
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Film review: The Laundromat (2019)

In 2016 there was the explosive leak to the ICIJ (International Consortium of Investigate Journalists) of a massive trove of documents called the Panama Papers from the firm Mossack Fonseca that revealed how that company created massive numbers of offshore shell companies to move money around all over the world to hide the wealth of the global elite so that they could avoid paying taxes. It led to a series of news reports (see here, here, and here) that showed that this was just the tip of the iceberg, that there were many legal and accounting firms operating in small and big countries around the world who were taking advantage of convenient loopholes placed in the tax codes of thosecountries. The US turns out to be one of the biggest tax havens, with the state of Delaware (Joe Biden’s home state, incidentally) being the most accommodating of all these shenanigans.
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