SAN Francisco is flourishing, but skyrocketing house prices are spooking locals. With the technology-led boom showing no signs of slowing, the city is struggling with its success
SAN Francisco is flourishing, but skyrocketing house prices are spooking locals. With the technology-led boom showing no signs of slowing, the city is struggling with its success
THIS week I wrote about a battle over religious monuments in Oklahoma City (great town, by the way—vastly underrated). The short version: in 2009 Oklahoma's legislature passed a bill authorising the placement of a monumental version of the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the state capitol building. The bill specifically stated that the monument be modelled after one in Texas that the Supreme Court found constitutional in a 2005 case called Van Orden v Perry—a nice shot across the bow from the bill's sponsor, Mike Ritze, in advance of the inevitable constitutional challenge.
That challenge came last year, courtesy of the Oklahoma chapter of the ACLU. They did something very clever: instead of suing in federal court and claiming an Establishment Clause violation, they sued in state court, and asserted that a religious monument on public property...Continue reading
FIRST it was the $4 slice of toast. Then the sort-of fake Google bus protest. Today, the dunderheaded start-up executive. Like zits on the face of a pubescent teenager, San Francisco's growing pains regularly erupt in unexpected places. Unlike those zits, they are not easily treated. The rise in house prices in the city may be slowing, slightly, but while techies continue to flock to the Bay Area and San Francisco's unusually sophisticated breed of NIMBYs refuse to countenance an easing of the city's Continue reading
BARACK OBAMA'S health department today announced new enrolment figures for its health-insurance exchanges. The new numbers are far less anaemic than those announced last month. In October 106,185 people chose a health plan, with just 26,794 signing up through the troubled federal exchange. The new numbers are a two-month tally—health officials say this is to avoid double counting. In October and November nearly 365,000 people chose an insurance plan through the state (227,478) and federal exchanges (137,204). Enrolment will likely surge still higher this month. Shoppers have until December 23rd to choose a plan that kicks in January 1st.
The new data reveal a few interesting trends. First, relatively few shoppers on the exchanges qualify for subsidies. Of those who have applied for insurance in October and November, just 41% qualify. The Congressional Budget Office had expected subsidised shoppers to comprise 86% of the exchanges’ enrollees in the first year.
Second, in November there still seemed to be obstacles that prevented shoppers on Healthcare.gov from choosing a plan. Over the two-month period, more than 1.5m people were deemed eligible for insurance on the federal exchange, but just 137,204 chose insurance. In states that run their own exchanges, fewer shoppers were deemed eligible, 781,875, but more chose insurance, 227,478.
Perhaps most...Continue reading
A DUSTING of snow, which soon turned to rain, shut down much of Washington, DC on December 10th. Grey slush on the sidewalks made the buildings that house those government agencies not blessed with familiar acronyms look even more Soviet than they usually do. The wonkishly minded waited for news from the budget conference headed by Senator Patty Murray for the Democrats and Congressman Paul Ryan (pictured) for the Republicans, which was rumoured to have reached a deal. At around six o’clock it came, a seemingly impossible mix of modest deficit cuts, spending rises and revenues magically raised without corresponding tax increases. There looks to be enough in it to keep all parties happy, reducing the possibility of a man-made government shutdown in January and holding out the promise of a Congress that functions a little better.
When this round of budget talks began, I asked a congressman what there was to talk about given that each side already knew the other’s position line by line. The negotiation, he explained, would turn on the meaning of words like “revenue”, “spending” and “tax”—it would be a kind of high-stakes...Continue reading
MORE than two months after Barack Obama’s health exchanges opened, most are working, up to a point. Shoppers on Healthcare.gov, the federal website for 36 states, can now compare insurance with greater ease. Some, however, do not like what they find.
They have two complaints. First, many health plans offered on the exchanges come with high co-payments and deductibles (the money a patient must spend before his insurance kicks in). Second, many plans offer only a narrow choice of doctors and hospitals. Unlike the software gremlins that have made the exchanges so hard to use, these features were intended.
Obamacare’s design all but guaranteed limited choice and high out-of-pocket expenses. The insurance sold on the exchanges must comply with many rules: plans must cover a long list of “essential health benefits”, must not charge more to sick patients and must have a set “actuarial value”. (An actuarial value of 60% means that, for an average person, the health plan will cover 60% of health costs. The patient will have to cover the rest from his own pocket.) Obamacare plans are classified as bronze (60% actuarial...Continue reading
THE tentative budget deal being worked out by Paul Ryan and Patty Murray will probably not include an extension of long-term unemployment benefits, reports Greg Sargent. And while much of the brewing tea-party anger over the deal is driven by opposition to government spending tout court, the specific opposition to long-term unemployment insurance has a theory behind it. That theory conforms to Albert Hirschman's classic "perversity, futility, jeopardy" model of conservative rhetoric: as Rand Paul (pictured) put it on Fox News on Sunday, conservatives think that offering unemployment insurance...Continue reading
In 2000 I moved to the West African country of Togo for a few years, and it helped me figure some stuff out. While I lived there, I noticed that I, a white guy, was rarely feeling the sort of caution and anxiety during conversations with black people that I'd grown used to in America, particularly during my childhood in the highly segregated city of Washington, DC. To be more precise, I noticed consciously, not for the first time but certainly in a much clearer fashion, that I'd had this anxiety, now that I suddenly wasn't feeling it. It's not a huge anxiety. It sits in the background. It is impossible to pinpoint it. If you are an American, certainly an American of roughly my age, and you don't think you have this anxiety, it is very, very likely (though not impossible) that you are kidding yourself. There is a reason why they call it the "subconscious".
The reason...Continue reading
"WE WANTED to do better, but it turned out the way it always does," Viktor Chernomyrdin, then prime minister of Russia, famously said of the botched currency reform his government carried out in 1993. The line has gone down in history partly because it encapsulates the cynicism Russians have long felt towards their governments, a cynicism that has doomed one reform attempt after another and helped frustrate the country's transition towards democracy and the rule of law. There was a time when Americans had vastly more trust in government; Americans' high levels of trust in their fellow citizens and other social institutions spilled over into their attitudes towards the state. But that trust in government has steadily evaporated over the past five decades (with temporary recoveries during the Reagan and Clinton presidencies), and while Barack Obama came into office hoping to reverse the decline, he hasn't been able to. Continue reading
BILL BRATTON is from Boston, but his love affair with the New York Police Department (NYPD) goes back to 1956, when he first read the children's book "Your Police". He always carries it. He was clutching the book when Bill de Blasio, the mayor-elect, named him New York's new police chief on December 5th.
The announcement was not a surprise. Mr Bratton had been lobbying for the job. He is eminently qualified. He was New York's top cop in the mid-1990s under Rudy Giuliani and has headed police departments in Boston and Los Angeles. There was even talk of him heading London's Metropolitan Police, but his American citizenship got in the way. His influence is far-reaching. His former deputies have headed police departments in Chicago, Miami and Newark.
During Mr Bratton's 27 months as head of the NYPD, the city's police force was transformed. He is a believer in the "broken windows" theory of policing and put it into practice in New York by focusing on small infractions that...Continue reading
ARNE DUNCAN, America’s education secretary, drew complaints this month when he spoke of critics of the Common Core curriculum, a new set of educational standards all but a few states have adopted, this way:
It’s fascinating to me that some of the pushback is coming from, sort of, white suburban moms who—all of a sudden—their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were, and that’s pretty scary…
AT A lunch given by a Republican women's club outside Augusta, Georgia last month, Ralph Hudgens, Georgia's Insurance Commissioner, shared his thoughts on the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The subject of his ire, curiously, was the requirement that insurers cover pre-existing conditions—a provision of the ACA that even his fellow Republicans have little problem with. To Mr Hudgens, however, having a pre-existing condition and expecting insurers to cover you anyway is no different than getting into a car wreck that's "your fault". It's callous, cruel and, of course, wrong: the human body breaks down, and it breaks down in ways that are neither predictable nor fair. Mr Hudgens also shared his thoughts on the ACA a couple of months ago: to a round of applause he told his audience that "the problem is Obamacare", and reassured them that "we are doing...Continue reading
ANY reader would be forgiven for being tired of Healthcare.gov stories. Glitches with Obamacare’s insurance website surfaced in early October. The news got worse as the weeks dragged on. There were hundreds of software bugs, deficient hardware and little ability to tamp down problems as they popped up.
Now Barack Obama’s deputies say the website “works smoothly for the vast majority of users”—meaning that 80% of visitors to Healthcare.gov can complete an online application for insurance—as they promised it would by December. A health official told Politico that 29,000 people used Healthcare.gov to sign up for insurance on the first two days of December, more than did so in the entire month of October.
Mr Obama desperately wants the software problems to be over. On December 3rd he tried to shift attention to the law’s expansion of coverage, rather than the means for signing up. The main provisions of Obamacare, he said, had got lost in recent months. He urged people to sign up for coverage and benefit from the law’s insurance protections. “Spread the word”, he declared. Even some...Continue reading
THOMASVILLE, Alabama seems as far away from China as you can get. Fewer than 5,000 souls live there, and it sits more than 60 miles from the closest interstate highway. This October, though, its mayor was spotted sitting in a pipe-factory canteen in Dalian, a city in north China, eating lunch with the factory’s owners. Sheldon Day was there to drum up investment. Two years ago he convinced another Chinese company, which makes copper tubes, to build its first American factory in the county next door. The plant will create around 300 jobs when it opens next year. Mr Day wants more.
He plays up his town’s smallness. “If you want attention to your company, some real bang for your buck, Thomasville is on your side,” he declares. If an investor were to set up in town, he could walk into the local grocery and a granny would give him a pat on the back. “The community has been very supportive—they’ve accepted our Chinese friends with open arms.”
Mayors like him are streaming into China to tell potential investors how welcome they would be. In 2007, on average, an American mayor touched down every two months. By 2013, it was one every ten days. In October that average rose to one every three days as mayors from Kokomo, Indiana to Portland, Oregon flew in to sell their cities.
Attention began to focus on China when America’s economy slumped in...Continue reading
FOR A city as indebted as Detroit it may seem surprising that a judge would have to decide whether it is eligible for bankruptcy. Nonetheless this is what Judge Stephen Rhodes has been obliged to consider since the city filed for Chapter 9 protection in July. On December 3rd he decided that Detroit was insolvent and could move ahead with its bankruptcy filing. That is good news for the city, but bad news for its over 100,000 creditors, among whom are pensioners, bondholders and even those awaiting payouts in lawsuits against the city.
In his ruling, Mr Rhodes turned away arguments that the bankruptcy violated the federal constitution. The use of federal mechanisms for resolving municipal debts does not violate the tenth amendment, he said, citing the Supreme Court case of US v Bekins. Then he turned to the state constitution, which protects the pensions of public workers, except in the case of bankruptcy. Mr Rhodes ruled that those...Continue reading
HEALTHCARE.GOV is now basically sort of pretty much working in terms of the user experience, though it still fails to interface properly with insurers. Ultimately, as Ezra Klein says, the website will work, and the many-geared machinery of Obamacare will heave, wheezing and clacking, into steady motion. But at this point it is probably too late for even a stellar repair job on Obamacare to entirely undo the political damage its catastrophic debut has done to the Obama administration and the Democrats. The next question, then, is how Republicans will take advantage of this situation. Hard-liners like Charles Krauthammer think Republicans should wait for Democrat senators to panic in January, at which point the Holy Grail of repeal will at last come within reach. This is a fantasy. Reformers like Continue reading
THE pitted stretch of road just north of Gramercy Park between Lexington and Fifth Avenues was recently repaved. Roads are a quintessential public good, and though New York City’s leave much to be desired, their condition has vastly improved under Michael Bloomberg, the city's soon-to-be-departing mayor. But something was lost in this specific improvement: the painted strip of bike lane. Were Mr Bloomberg continuing in office, there is little doubt that the bike lane would be restored. It could still happen, but the fate of bike lanes and bicycling in New York is now in question with the election of Bill de Blasio as mayor.
Mr Bloomberg did not enter office as an advocate of cycling. Early questions about bikes were referred to Iris Weinshall, Mr Bloomberg's first transportation commissioner (a holdover from the Giuliani administration). The number of bike lanes increased during Ms Weinshall's tenure, but the execution was sloppy. Even obvious problems, like routing cyclists away...Continue reading
AT SOME point between now and those penitential days of early January, you may find yourself eating caramel popcorn, but rest assured you will be eating neither Caramel nor Popcorn. They are the two turkeys that Barack Obama pardoned yesterday. The White House set up a nifty website with pictures of both birds, their vital statistics and recordings of their gobbles. They took votes on which to make the National Thanksgiving Turkey. It was all in good fun, and holidays should be fun—especially Thanksgiving, which my friend Mike Schaffer correctly notes is America's greatest holiday. Far be it from me to put you off your fourth helping of stuffing or your third gravytini.
But this would be a better Thanksgiving for thousands of people if Mr Obama showed as much concern for Americans languishing in an unjust criminal-justice system as he did for bland, overfed poultry (honestly, Danny Bowien is...Continue reading
THE $180m raised last year by Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies included 50 donations of at least $1m. No one knows who those generous people were. Crossroads, co-founded in 2010 by Karl Rove (pictured), a Republican strategist, does not have to reveal its donors because it is registered as a non-profit “social welfare organisation” under section 501c(4) of America’s tax code. Chief among the groups receiving grants from Crossroads was Americans for Tax Reform, a group founded by Grover Norquist, which during last year’s elections extracted pledges on taxing and spending from Republican politicians.
To its critics, this made Crossroads the most egregious example of “dark money”: anonymous donors financing political campaigns under the guise of traditional social-welfare charity. The volume of dark money has soared in recent years (see chart). Last year some $256m was spent on political ads, phone calls and mailings by around 150 501c(4) non-profits. Most of this was by conservative groups; almost 15% was from the left and centre, such as Organising for America, which raises funds for Barack Obama.
On November...Continue reading
IN 2010 the Supreme Court held that corporations had a right to free speech that the first amendment protects. Next year they look set to decide whether corporations also have religious freedoms that the first amendment similarly protects. This morning the court granted certiorari to two linked cases: Conestoga Wood Specialities Corporation v Sebelius (about which my colleague has written before) and Sebelius v Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. Both cases ask fundamentally the same question: can secular, for-profit corporations refuse to provide their employees with insurance coverage for contraceptive methods that violate their religious beliefs, in violation of the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) mandate that employer-provided health...Continue reading