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Clinton and Sanders are polite but pointed in Milwaukee

Vie, 12/02/2016 - 06:28

A HARD political problem faces Hillary Clinton, as she works out how to defeat Senator Bernie Sanders, the left-wing populist running against her for the Democratic presidential nomination. Her most powerful argument is that Mr Sanders is peddling fantasies to his millions of adoring, mostly young supporters, as when he says that he knows how to make Congress and the American public accept a European-style health system that would expand the size of the federal government by 40% in a stroke (though not one Republican member of Congress voted for the far less ambitious health law that is Obamacare).

Here is why making that argument is hard: making it really stick requires convincing those same Sanders supporters that they are naïve and deluding themselves about how American politics works. It is not enough to challenge Mr Sanders’s facts and figures, or quibble with his tactics. For Mr Sanders’s claims and calls for political revolution would not matter a bit if they did not make so many Democratic hearts sing. On February 9th those singing hearts gave Mr Sanders a thumping win over Mrs Clinton in New Hampshire’s presidential primary,...Continue reading

Obama urges "a better politics" during a visit to a historic spot

Jue, 11/02/2016 - 19:08

ON A freezing morning on February 10th 2007, Barack Obama declared his intention to run for the presidency on the steps of the old state capitol in Illinois, the very place where Abraham Lincoln gave his “A House Divided " speech against slavery 150 years earlier. His bid for the White House was a long shot: the young senator from Illinois was relatively young, unknown and inexperienced. America had never elected a black president. In Hillary Clinton, an experienced, well-known insider, Mr Obama was facing a formidable opponent.

Nine years later, on an equally icy morning on February 10th, Mr Obama came back to Springfield, the second term of his presidency now coming to an end. He returned to his old stomping ground, according to the White House, to reflect on “what we can do, together, to build a better politics — one that reflects our better selves”. In 2007 Mr Obama proclaimed loftily that “this campaign must be […] the vehicle, of your hopes, and your dreams […] This campaign has to be about reclaiming the meaning of citizenship, restoring our sense of common purpose, and realising that few obstacles can withstand...Continue reading

Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina drop out

Mié, 10/02/2016 - 23:20

IN AN election season full of upsets and surprises, some old rules still seem to apply. One is that those running for president under false pretences will be found out. Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey and Carly Fiorina, the former boss of Hewlett-Packard (HP), a technology firm, learned this lesson and dropped out of the Republican race for the White House on February 10th, after suffering drubbings in the New Hampshire primary of the night before. Both had attempted the same trick: posing as outsiders in a vain bid to harness this election’s mood of anti-establishment rage.

In a different year, and with a different campaign strategy, Governor Christie could have made an interesting contribution to a Republican primary contest. He is a larger-than-life, pugnacious conservative elected twice to run a Democratic state, after convincing New Jersey’s “Oh yeah? Says who?” citizens that he would bring order to public finances left in chaos by years of mismanagement, including generous pensions and other benefits for public officials. Mr Christie became legendary for public slanging matches with everyone from trade union bosses to...Continue reading

Trump and Sanders win New Hampshire

Mié, 10/02/2016 - 11:11

ICY New Hampshire on February 9th was supposed to be where America’s convoluted primary contest got simpler. On the Republican side, Donald Trump was expected to win in a state where he has led in over 70 straight opinion polls. But in Marco Rubio, who almost pipped him to second place in Iowa and had high hopes for New Hampshire, the Republican establishment was hoping to have found an able adversary for the rabble-rousing tycoon. Similarly, among the Democrats, Bernie Sanders, a septuagenarian left-wing populist had looked likely to beat Hillary Clinton—for New Hampshire is packed with the white liberals who love him, and borders his own Vermont. Yet Mrs Clinton, buoyed by her narrow victory in Iowa, hoped to limit the damage—then advance with confidence to the more diverse states of the West and South. In the event, however, Mr Trump and Mr Sanders simply won huge victories. Mr Rubio and Mrs Clinton did horribly. If New Hampshire has simplified the contest, it is not in any way that Republican or Democratic party leaders will relish.

In a windy victory speech, Mr Sanders promised his victory would send a message that “will echo...Continue reading

The Supreme Court puts the Clean Power Plan on hold

Mié, 10/02/2016 - 03:52

AMERICA’S most ambitious effort to cut carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants is in danger. On February 9th the Supreme Court, divided 5-4 along partisan lines, put the brakes on the Clean Power Plan: a move that surprised many. Barack Obama’s flagship environmental policy, the Clean Power Plan forms the core of America’s recent commitments to cut emissions made at UN climate talks in Paris. By staying the rule, the court heeded the concerns of more than two dozen mostly red states and energy companies that oppose it. It is now on hold until the Supremes decide on the legal merits of the case this summer.

Power plants are America’s largest source of greenhouse gases, accounting for just under a third of all emissions. The Clean Power Plan, under the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), gives orders to each state that, when considered together, should amount to removing 870m tonnes of CO2 from emissions by power stations by 2030 (as measured against 2005 levels). The regulations give states some flexibility over how and when to cut emissions. But each one is required to submit plans by 2018 and to show some...Continue reading

How much do presidential candidates’ policy positions matter?

Mar, 09/02/2016 - 21:39

DONALD Trump has thus far put forward unusually sketchy policy proposals. His website offers an overview of his stances on only five issues. Other candidates for president have floated more specific proposals. Bernie Sanders has a small raft of them, ranging from a single-payer health-care system to free tuition at all public universities and a $15 per hour minimum wage. Hillary Clinton and others have criticised Mr Sanders for trumpeting ideas that are as realistic as proposing that unicorns dance a jig on the White House lawn.

Mr Sanders’ stock defence of his agenda is the stuff of inspiration or delusion, depending on your point of view. “A future to believe in”, his campaign slogan, is Barack Obama’s “Change we can believe in”—minus the smidgen of realism. When pressed to explain how his ideas could plausibly come to fruition, Mr Sanders invokes the need for a “political revolution”. Here are his closing words from his Continue reading

New Orleans society and history are on display at Carnival

Mar, 09/02/2016 - 18:03

IN NEW Orleans, they call Carnival “the greatest free show on earth”—a three-week season of parades full of satirical floats, high-school marching bands, dance troupes and walking clubs. It’s the only place in America that does the pre-Lenten celebration on such a scale. Besides being a fantastic spectacle, Carnival, which culminates with Mardi Gras on February 9th this year, offers a fascinating glimpse into the city's society. Almost every New Orleans resident participates in some way, except for a few grouches who flee when the parading season starts. 

There are the blue-blood organizations—“krewes,” in Carnival parlance—that have been parading since the late 1800s, when the festival was introduced to the city by French settlers, and whose membership is generally limited to those born into the right (always white) families. There are many less-snooty krewes, which are larger and more diverse. Joining might require an invitation from a friend, membership money and plenty of “throws”: plastic trinkets to chuck from floats, which might total $3,000.

Fat Tuesday is ushered in by the city’s oldest...Continue reading

The former mayor of Providence helped lift his city only to fall himself, repeatedly

Lun, 08/02/2016 - 22:13

LINES of police officers and firefighters; a horse-drawn carriage led by a bagpiper; a service in the cathedral celebrated by the bishop: the funeral of Vincent "Buddy" Cianci, the former mayor of Providence, on February 8th, was big, like the personality that had dominated the city for decades. Mr Cianci's escapades (often thuggish and sometimes illegal) and his quips (which also became famous) frequently overshadowed his accomplishments. But the city's renewal in the 1990s can be largely attributed to the leadership of Mr Cianci, who died on January 28th aged 74. 

When he took office in 1975, Providence, once known as "the beehive of industry", was in decline. The city's once vibrant textile industry had all but disappeared. “On the night of my inauguration the police got an emergency phone call that several monkeys were escaping from our zoo. You know you’re in trouble when your monkeys are trying to get out of town,” wrote Mr Cianci in his memoir “Politics and Pasta”.

During six terms in office, over two separate stints, Mr Cianci did much to revitalise the city. Struggling neighbourhoods were rehabilitated...Continue reading

The Republican primary contenders have a big televised dust-up

Dom, 07/02/2016 - 09:45

SUCCESSFUL in Iowa and surging in New Hampshire, Marco Rubio went into the televised Republican debate on February 6th knowing two things. He was due a pasting—especially from the three governors, Chris Christie, John Kasich and Jeb Bush, who are vying with him for the mainstream conservative vote. Second, if he could cope with their attacks well, he would have a gilded opportunity to impress both New Hampshire voters, ahead of the state’s primary election on February 9th, and the Republican moneymen looking anxiously for an antidote to Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. In the event, Mr Rubio flunked his chance.

In the predicted pile-on it was Mr Christie, also predictably, who landed the most stinging blows on the fresh-faced senator from Florida. “You have not been involved in a consequential decision where you had to be held accountable. You just simply haven’t,” he harangued Mr Rubio—and the senator’s response to Mr Christie’s onslaught was toe-curlingly bad.

Accused by the New Jersey governor of too easily resorting to a “memorised 30-second speech where you talk about how great America is at the end,” Mr...Continue reading

Angry squabbling about Wall Street and progressivism

Vie, 05/02/2016 - 10:07

IT WAS the fifth face-off between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in a series of Democratic primary debates, but their first one-to-one after their last remaining rival, Maryland’s former governor Martin O’Malley, dropped out on February 1st. And it was a last-minute decision, taken this week, to hold a debate on February 4th, just five days before voters cast their ballots in first New Hampshire’s primary. Having come under fire for not organising enough debates, the Democratic National Committee hastily scheduled four additional encounters between the two candidates for the nomination.

Mrs Clinton was in a more vulnerable position than usual. Still the front-runner, until not long ago she seemed a shoo-in to be the Democratic candidate for the presidency. She only just avoided humiliation at the caucuses in Iowa, eking out the narrowest of victories: 49.9% of the votes, compared with 49.6% for Mr Sanders. She now faces a tough contest in New Hampshire where Mr Sanders, a senator from neighbouring Vermont, is extremely popular. A Wall Street Journal poll, taken after the Iowa caucuses, found that Mr Sanders...Continue reading

Are the Supreme Court justices too old?

Jue, 04/02/2016 - 18:36

WHO will guard the guardians? When Juvenal, the Roman poet, asked this question twenty centuries ago, he was worried about cheating wives. Today, the query is being posed to the elderly judges of America’s highest court. David Garrow, a law and history professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, reminds us in an op-ed at the Los Angeles Times that the Supreme Court has never been older. The baby on the bench is Justice Elena Kagan at 55, now serving her sixth Supreme Court term. Her fellow Barack Obama appointee, Sonia Sotomayor, is 61—as is the chief justice, John Roberts. Conservative justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas are 65 and 67. From there the bench turns decidedly geriatric. Stephen Breyer is now 77 and Anthony Kennedy is 79. The ideologically incompatible opera-loving buddies Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg are the oldest justices. Both are celebrating birthdays next month; he is turning 80, she 83.

The constitution says that federal judges hold their...Continue reading

New Orleans says goodbye to its Confederate statues

Mié, 03/02/2016 - 16:00

SIXTY FIVE years ago, one of the South’s most celebrated writers, William Faulkner, wrote that “the past is never dead. It’s not even past.” A one-time denizen of New Orleans, Faulkner might have been foretelling the public debate that played out in the city after Mitch Landrieu, the mayor, proposed to take down four civic monuments with roots in white supremacy last summer.

The issue is finally settled; sort of. After more than seven months of acrimonious discussion, capped by a council vote and a couple of last-ditch legal challenges, the path is finally clear for the monuments to come down.

Getting to this point has not been easy. Somehow, a series of stone markers that most people in the city paid little heed to before the mayor’s proposal have been transformed—depending on one’s politics—into outrageous symbols of fascism that have to go; or vital pieces of city history that must be defended against the forces of political correctness.

The dust-up began after a racially motivated mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina in June last year, when a young white man killed nine black parishioners at the...Continue reading

Mr Trump tastes defeat in Iowa, Mrs Clinton avoids disaster

Mar, 02/02/2016 - 09:39

THE Iowa caucuses—the first electoral contest of the 2016 presidential cycle—saw the race’s two loudest populists suffer setbacks. Donald Trump was pushed into second place in the Republican field, leaving him standing on a stage in a hotel ballroom in Des Moines, flanked by his family like a conventional politician, ploughing his way through a flat-sounding speech of congratulations to the victor, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. On the left, Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed democratic socialist from Vermont, had to settle for a tie with the Democratic front-runner, Hillary Clinton, after some of his ardent young supporters failed to turn out in quite the numbers he had hoped.

Yet even if individual populists suffered disappointments, the same Iowa caucuses showed that this election continues to be powered by forces of populist anger and contempt for those with governing experience. Mr Cruz is hardly a mainstream moderate. The first-term senator won in Iowa by campaigning among evangelical Christians like a fire-and-brimstone preacher, by denouncing Republican Party leaders as traitors to the conservative cause and by adopting...Continue reading

How much of a socialist is Sanders?

Lun, 01/02/2016 - 19:04

BARACK OBAMA spent his first campaign for president explaining why he was no socialist. Bernie Sanders, the out-of-nowhere candidate who has constituted an unexpected challenge to Hillary Clinton, bravely embraces the label. Yet while Mr Sanders has built his campaign on a jeremiad against wealth inequality and corporate greed, he isn’t, properly speaking, a socialist—or even a democratic socialist. The better term encapsulating Mr Sanders’ positions is “social democrat”, a label that jibes with his rather mainstream embrace of “private companies that thrive and grow in America” and belief that “the middle class and the working families who produce the wealth of America deserve a fair deal”. To clarify matters, Mr Sanders flatly disavows the...Continue reading

From the archives: the open society and its enemies revisited

Dom, 31/01/2016 - 02:57

In 1988 The Economist invited the philosopher Karl Popper to write an article on democracy. It appeared in the issue of April 23rd that year and made the case for a two-party system. As America’s presidential race begins, with the Iowa caucus on February 1st, we are republishing it, below.

The first book in English by Professor Sir Karl Popper was accepted for publication in London while Hitler’s bombs were falling, and was published in 1945 under the title “The Open Society and its Enemies”. The book was well received, but in this article Sir Karl questions whether his central theory of democracy (which he does not characterise as “the rule of the people”) has been understood.

MY THEORY of democracy is very simple and easy for everybody to understand. But its fundamental problem is so different from the age-old theory of democracy which everybody takes for granted that it seems that this difference has not been grasped, just because of the simplicity of the theory. It avoids high-sounding, abstract words like “rule”, “freedom” and “reason”. I do believe in freedom and...Continue reading

The reason for Trump’s Fox News tantrum

Vie, 29/01/2016 - 08:27

IN THE run-up to the last Republican primary debate before the start of the presidential voting contest in Iowa, Donald Trump once more dominated the news cycle. It wasn’t another of his provocative statements about Mexican rapists or banning Muslims from entering America that made headlines, but his refusal to participate in the debate moderated on January 28th by his bête noire, Megyn Kelly, and other Fox reporters. Mr Trump fell out with Ms Kelly when she challenged him during the first Republican debate about his misogynistic treatment of women (“fat pigs, dogs, slobs, disgusting animals”), a relevant question given that the most likely presidential candidate for the Democratic Party is a woman.

Many thought that either Fox News would replace Ms Kelly as moderator at the last minute or Mr Trump would capitulate and join the other leading GOP candidates on stage at the Iowa Events Centre in Des Moines. Neither side blinked. Instead Mr Trump decided to host a fundraiser for war veterans at the nearby Drake University in Des Moines, at precisely the same time as the GOP debate. Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee, two of the weaker...Continue reading

The Trump-sized elephant not in the room

Vie, 29/01/2016 - 07:21

“HAMLET” without the prince—or perhaps, more aptly, a circus without its elephant, or a pantomime without its villain: without Donald Trump, the other Republican candidates essayed the odd internecine spat in their latest debate, in Des Moines, Iowa, but their hearts didn’t really seem in it. In that respect it was, as Mr Trump might have put it, a low-energy affair, the drama seeping from the marathon debate schedule (this was the seventh) even as the actual voting begins. But it did offer some potentially telling moments.

Fox News, the hosts, introduced a new tactic of confronting some of the candidates with clips of old remarks—a ruse that might have embarrassed Mr Trump had he turned up. In particular, both Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz had to face down evidence that their positions on immigration had evolved, albeit in opposite directions: Mr Rubio vowing to oppose amnesty for illegal immigrants then supporting it; Mr Cruz seeming to entertain it, but subsequently insisting that he never had. “You’ve been willing to say or do anything in order to get votes,” Mr Rubio told Mr Cruz, as the Texan senator—in Mr Trump’s...Continue reading

Things are going eerily well for Steven Fulop

Mié, 27/01/2016 - 17:08

 

AT THE topping out ceremony held on the upper floors of the first of three towers being built in a hitherto unloved corner of Jersey City, Steven Fulop, the mayor, gazed across the water at Manhattan’s skyline, New York Harbour, the Statue of Liberty and bits of his home state. He shook his head and said to himself, “this is crazy, this is crazy”.

In a city once notorious for political corruption, Mr Fulop sometimes sounds like a character in a Frank Capra film. He is the son of Romanian immigrants who owned a delicatessen in nearby Newark. Mr Fulop is the grandson of Holocaust survivors. After the September 11th attacks, he left his job at Goldman Sachs, a bank, to join the marines. He served in Iraq in the war’s early months. After his deployment he returned to finance and to Jersey City. After an unsuccessful run for Congress, he was elected to the city council in 2005. He had little party backing and was outspent. His 2013 victory over Jerramiah Healy, the sitting mayor, represented a break from the city’s history of political patronage.

The tower, in Journal Square—a neglected commercial and residential...Continue reading

The Supreme Court may have a smidgen of judicial modesty after all

Mar, 26/01/2016 - 21:58

LIFE and death issues often reach the Supreme Court, and this year is no exception. In recent weeks the justices issued countervailing decisions concerning the death penalty, both by 8-1 votes: they rapped Florida on the knuckles for giving judges, not juries, the final word on whether convicts should be executed and restored death sentences for three Kansas inmates who complained that their juries were given faulty instructions. On March 2nd, the justices will hear a challenge to a Texas law that effectively shuts down up to three-quarters of the state’s abortion clinics.    

These are big, particularly the abortion case, and they jostle with pending cases involving public-sector unions, religious liberty, voting rights and affirmative action. It’s going to be another heated June, when the justices tend to release their most-talked-about decisions. (Last year, Obamacare and same-sex marriage were the two blockbusters.) But on January 25th, the justices quietly turned down two opportunities to revisit...Continue reading

Bloomberg mulls a presidential run

Lun, 25/01/2016 - 21:44

A PRESIDENTIAL campaign season that is already a trifle too far-fetched for a movie script may soon get even more interesting. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, two men who were widely dismissed as novelty candidates when they announced their bids last year, are poised to do surpassingly well in the opening contests of the 2016 primary season. Mr Sanders and Mr Trump have narrow leads in the polls in Iowa, where voters caucus one week from today, and both are set to wallop their competitors in the New Hampshire primary on February 9th.

The unexpected rise of a self-avowed socialist and a bellicose billionaire who can’t seem to shake supporters no matter how outrageous his comments have the Republican and Democratic establishments worried. One notable moderate, business tycoon and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, is concerned enough that he is reportedly exploring the idea of jumping into the race himself. According to the New York Times, Mr Bloomberg “was galled by Donald J. Trump’s dominance of the Republican field, and troubled by Hillary Clinton’s stumbles and the rise of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont on the Democratic side”. His advisers...Continue reading

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