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Marco Rubio’s tax plan is efficient. It is also expensive and regressive

Jue, 26/11/2015 - 18:02

FEW policy choices bring the trade-off between efficiency and equality into sharper view than taxes on capital. On the one hand, capital taxes harm the economy by discouraging productive saving and investment; many economists argue that capital should not be taxed at all. On the other hand, capital owners tend to be rich—if you are struggling, you are unlikely to have much of a stock portfolio. Capital taxes, then, are progressive. Marco Rubio’s tax plan places him squarely in the efficiency camp—and at great cost to the federal budget.

Mr Rubio would eliminate all personal capital taxes, whether on interest, dividends or capital gains. This would encourage Americans to invest, in property, stocks, and by starting small businesses. In the long-run, that would be welcome. Americans typically do not save enough, and productivity growth could do with a fillip from investment. Capital taxes encourage jam today rather than jam tomorrow; choose to spend your earnings, and there is no tax to pay, but choose to invest them and the returns are taxed again before they can be cashed out. If you invest in a business, it typically must pay a levy...Continue reading

Obama "deeply disturbed" by death of black teenager

Jue, 26/11/2015 - 06:14

THE IMAGES, released by Chicago police on November 24th, are appalling. A young man, 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, jogs along the middle of a road at night and slows to a brisk walk as he sees two police cars that have stopped ahead of him. He swerves away from the two policemen who emerge from one of them, then briefly turns to them; whereupon one fires, and the young man staggers and falls to the ground.

Spasmodic clouds of dust rise as more bullets—making 16 in all—are pumped into his writhing body. Having emptied his entire magazine, Officer Jason Van Dyke, it has since transpired, made to reload. His partner suggested he stop firing. Mr McDonald, who was black and had been spotted earlier that evening trying to break into parked cars, and was carrying a small knife, died in an ambulance soon after.

Mr McDonald was killed on October 20th, 2014, barely two months after the explosion of protest that followed the killing of another black teenager, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri. His death was less widely publicised, partly because investigators in Chicago had sought to delay release of the video, which was filmed from...Continue reading

John Roberts reflects on leadership at the Supreme Court

Mar, 24/11/2015 - 22:20

IN A rare public appearance on the evening of November 20th, John Roberts, the chief justice of the United States, gave a talk at the New York University School of Law. The subject of the chief’s presentation was one of Mr Roberts’s predecessors: Charles Evans Hughes, the white-bearded, aquiline-nosed figure who steered the Supreme Court through the fraught New Deal era in the 1930s. Though the programme’s sponsors promised an exploration of Mr Hughes's "impact on our legal history", nary a word was heard about doctrine or jurisprudence. Specific cases were mentioned only in passing. The focus of the evening was on the whiskers and spirit of the man Teddy Roosevelt once called a “bearded iceberg” and whose career included stints as associate justice of the Supreme Court, governor of New York, secretary of state and Republican nominee for president before he was tapped by Herbert Hoover to return to the Supreme Court to take the chief's gavel in 1930.  

Though clean-shaven and undoubtedly perkier than his stiff forebear, Chief Justice Roberts offered a jaunty analysis of...Continue reading

Obama asks the Supreme Court to act fast to save his immigration orders

Mar, 24/11/2015 - 18:36

FIVE months ago, the Supreme Court turned back a challenge to the Affordable Care Act that would have scuttled Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement. On November 21st, the president’s solicitor general, Donald Verrilli, asked the Supremes for another favour. Mr Verrilli urges the justices to step in to save Mr Obama’s immigration plan before the president bids farewell to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue on January 20th 2017.

The president announced the policy changes a year ago via a series of executive orders. Since Congress had failed to pass an immigration package, Mr Obama explained, he would do what he could within the boundaries of existing law to ease the plight of some of America’s 11m undocumented migrants. But Republicans cried foul. By unilaterally delaying the deportation of some 4.4m...Continue reading

Louisiana gets its first Democratic governor in more than a decade

Lun, 23/11/2015 - 17:19

EVEN If all the polls predicted it, this election result was a stunner by any measure. On November 21st, Louisiana, among the reddest of all American states, became the first in the deep South to elect a Democratic governor in more than a decade. The last time the Pelican state elected a Democrat to statewide office was in 2008.

And yet here was John Bel Edwards—a little-known state representative from a rural area best known for bequeathing Britney Spears to the world—positively thumping his GOP opponent, Senator David Vitter. His margin of victory was 56-44, a landslide by most definitions. But the major story line of this election was not the ascent of Mr Edwards, who, even after his surprising win remains something of a mystery to most Louisianians. It was the epic crash-and-burn of Mr Vitter, once the state’s dominant Republican, now on his way to Palookaville.

Mere months ago, Mr Vitter appeared a potent political force. He had raised more money than his three major opponents combined. He was considered a master strategist: he had never lost a race over more than two decades in office. And he had helped...Continue reading

An American mayor says no to Syrian refugees, flunks history

Jue, 19/11/2015 - 17:19

“THOSE WHO cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”, George Santayana, the philosopher, is famous for saying. David Bowers, the Democratic mayor of Roanoke, Virginia, showed yesterday that people who think they remember the past, yet recall it incorrectly, are equally doomed, and this can be especially problematic when the errant student of history occupies a seat of power.

Truth be told, Mr Bowers isn’t a particularly powerful man. He has one vote on a 7-person council that is tasked with hiring the city manager who conducts Roanoke’s day-to-day business. He apparently lacks the clout to determine his community’s policy regarding foreign refugees. But Mr Bowers’ limited authority did not stop him from issuing a statement on November 18th summoning the memory of the internment of Japanese Americans during the second world war to call for a halt to the settlement of Syrian refugees in Roanoke:

Continue reading

Bobby Jindal bows out

Jue, 19/11/2015 - 02:47

BOBBY JINDAL'S aim to become the Republican Party’s presidential candidate was always a long shot. The governor of Louisiana is not well-known outside his relatively small home state. He does not have deep pockets, especially compared to Donald Trump and Jeb Bush. His track record as governor is decidedly mixed. And he is no natural, back-slapping political performer.

On November 17th Mr Jindal became the third candidate to drop out of the Republican field, after Rick Perry, the former governor of Texas, and Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin. "I've come to the realisation that it is not my time," Mr Jindal said during an early evening interview with Fox News. This still leaves 14 in the running, including Mr Jindal’s nemesis, Mr Trump. When he was still in full campaigning mode, Mr Jindal had said that Mr Trump was “a madman who must be stopped” and called him a “shallow, unserious, substance-free, narcissistic egomaniac”.

Considering their recent altercation, Mr Trump was gracious today, responding to Mr Jindal’s decision to drop out. He said that Mr Jindal was ultimately a nice guy who was a little nasty [to...Continue reading

Why it makes sense to raise the age of juvenile courts

Mar, 17/11/2015 - 19:32

WHEN RALPH Bonano was 17 years old, he was on the wrong road. He had dropped out of school, joined a gang, been arrested several times—and he regularly sold drugs. When your correpondent spoke to him three years later, in 2014, he was on a better path. He had given up breaking the law, passed his high-school exams and and had a steady job in south Boston making helmets for the military. He credited Roca, a programme in Chelsea, Massachusetts, for helping him stay out of trouble. Roca specialises in helping young people aged between 17 and 24 stay out of jail and find work.

Criminal justice experts are increasingly of the opinion that 18, the age at which law-breakers enter the adult criminal justice system in most states, is too young. In a recent paper, three academics at Harvard Kennedy School—Vincent Shiraldi, Bruce Western and Kendra Bradner —wrote a paper recommending that “the age of juvenile court justice be raised to at least 21 years old, with additional, gradually diminishing protections for young adults up to age 24 or 25.” They point out that neurobiological and developmental research has shown that the...Continue reading

Governors seek to exclude Syrian refugees

Mar, 17/11/2015 - 17:12

SLAMMING the door on Syrian refugees would be a betrayal of America's values, declared Barack Obama on November 16th. Refugees should not, he said, be conflated with terrorists. “The people who are fleeing Syria are the most harmed by terrorism, the most vulnerable as a consequence of civil war,” he said, speaking at the G20 summit in Turkey, days after attacks in Paris that killed 129 and wounded more than 350. We must “not close our hearts to the victims of such violence”. Then, without naming them, he chided “political leaders” back home who want to give preferential treatment to Christian refugees. “That's not American. That’s not who we are. We don’t have religious tests to our compassion.”

Powerful words from the president who was at his oratorical best. Yet in spite of his exhortations, 22 Republican governors declared on the same day that they would not accept any Syrian refugees in their state, in defiance of Mr Obama’s plan to resettle 10,000 Syrians in America over the next year. There were reports that some were asking leading Republicans to insert a provision in December's speding bill that...Continue reading

The Supreme Court agrees to hear the biggest abortion case since 1992, in the middle of the presidential election

Lun, 16/11/2015 - 14:06

TWO and a half years ago, Wendy Davis (pictured above) stood in pink running shoes for 11 hours on the floor of the Texas Senate to speak against a bill that would shutter most abortion clinics in her state. “The alleged reason for the bill is to enhance patient safety,” Ms Davis said early in her presentation, but it “treat[s] women as though they are not capable of making their own medical decisions.” The bill violates “women’s constitutional rights to control their bodies,” she argued.

On November 13th, the Supreme Court announced that it will decide whether House Bill 2—which withstood Ms Davis’s extraordinary filibuster and passed the Senate 17 days later—is indeed unconstitutional. Continue reading

Clinton, Sanders and O'Malley talk national security

Dom, 15/11/2015 - 05:12

IF CLAP-O-METERS decided presidential elections, then a convincing case could be made that national security—and notably the struggle against the murderous fanatics of the Islamic State (IS)—is the biggest obstacle standing between Hillary Clinton and the White House. Mrs Clinton and the two other Democrats seeking their party’s presidential nomination met in Des Moines, Iowa, on Saturday night for a televised debate. It had been billed as a discussion of economic policy but was revised to begin with discussion of the horrifying attacks in Paris.

For 20 minutes Mrs Clinton, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland, talked about how America needed to show leadership and wisdom and build alliances and share intelligence with foreign partners and generally pondered how “complicated” and “difficult” it would be to defeat IS. There were moments of chin-jutting near-bombast, as when Mrs Clinton said that IS “cannot be contained, it must be defeated.” Mr Sanders, who is running to Mrs Clinton’s populist left, chided his rival for supporting the invasion of Iraq in 2003 when she...Continue reading

The Donald rips into his rival, and Iowa's voters

Sáb, 14/11/2015 - 04:01

DONALD Trump’s astonishing political ascent has been fuelled by his reputation for telling it like it is. But there must surely be a limit to how much truth (or Mr Trump’s version of it) voters want to hear. Over the course of a rambling, vitriolic rant in Iowa on November 12th, he may have touched that limit.

Speaking at Fort Dodge, Mr Trump derided Ben Carson, his mild-mannered, closest rival; voters, especially Iowans, whose intelligence he questioned; and the beliefs of evangelical Christians, who are largely for Mr Carson. On the face of it, this might seem par for the course. Among his many previous gaffes, Mr Trump has shamefully slandered Mexicans as rapists. His political demise has been predicted often—yet he has led the Republican field for three months. Here, though, are three reasons why his latest rant could have crossed a fatal line.

First, Mr Trump is often at least entertaining, but this performance was dreadful. Normally punctual, he turned up late, looking exhausted, having campaigned in three states in three days, and then rattled on for...Continue reading

Betting on change in Atlantic City

Mié, 11/11/2015 - 16:40

CHRIS CHRISTIE, New Jersey’s governor, has had a tough few days. He was excluded from the fourth main Republican presidential debate on November 10th and instead relegated to the tier-two crew. Not only is he faring poorly in national polls: in his home state a recent survey put him fourth—well behind Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Mark Rubio. Indeed, most voters in the Garden state want Mr Christie to drop his presidential aspirations. More than half of voters there are unhappy with the job he is doing as governor. And now he has angered the state’s lawmakers and casino industry.

On November 9th, Mr Christie vetoed most of a five-bill legislative rescue package for Atlantic City, saying the package, which would have ended the city’s fight with casinos over property taxes, failed to “recognise the true path to economic revitalisation and fiscal stability”. The proponents of the package argue it would have injected badly needed funds into the former gambling mecca, which has a $101m deficit. It would have set up fixed payments instead of taxes based on property valuations. The city’s budget for the fiscal year ending in December...Continue reading

Marco Rubio rises above the rest in Milwaukee

Mié, 11/11/2015 - 09:23

A LOT was at stake at the fourth televised Republican debate in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on November 10th. Jeb Bush was fighting for his political life in posing himself as a credible contender of the presidency. Marco Rubio had to try matching his outstanding performance at the previous debate and to fend off a possibly harsh attack from his erstwhile mentor, Mr Bush. Ben Carson was in the uncomfortable position of having to defend the veracity of his inspiring life story, which he has made into a lucrative, folkloric vehicle over the years. And Donald Trump had to demonstrate that he is more than a bombastic showman with a shaky grasp of essential policy questions.

Eight candidates were on stage at the Milwaukee theatre after Mike Huckabee and Chris Christie, respectively the former governor of Arkansas and the governor of New Jersey, were relegated to the kiddies’ table: the one-hour “undercard” debate before the two-hour main debate. In addition to the two establishment candidates, Mssrs Bush and Rubio, and the two insurgent candidates, Mssrs Carson and Trump, there were Carly Fiorina, a businesswoman, Ted Cruz, a senator from Texas,...Continue reading

Can you sue a website that misrepresents you?

Mar, 10/11/2015 - 19:33

MOST employers turn to the web to help get the skinny on their job applicants. But what happens when the information they find is inaccurate? Looking himself up on Spokeo, a “people search engine,” Thomas Robins was surprised to read that he was a well-off man in his fifties with a wife, children and a graduate degree. In fact, Mr Robins is in his thirties, childless, unmarried, unlettered and unemployed.

Alarmed by these discrepancies, Mr Robins sued Spokeo for violating the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), a law passed by Congress in 1970 to protect consumers from the dissemination of false information about them. The FCRA makes companies liable for “actual damages” resulting from their “willful violation” of the law. By skewing his personal details on their website, Mr Robins claimed, Spokeo had given potential employers the wrong idea about his identity, bringing him “anxiety, stress, concern, and/or...Continue reading

A man’s jail term turns on a comma

Vie, 06/11/2015 - 19:10

WE HAVE been suspicious for some time of laws imposing mandatory minimum sentences. Extending prison time for criminals who abuse children may be more justifiable than mandatory minimums for non-violent drug offences, but it seems that lawmakers were not particularly careful when, in the 1990s, they sat down to compose these tougher laws. A case in point: 18 U.S.C. § 2252(b)(2), a provision of the federal criminal code prescribing a 10-20 year prison sentence for anyone violating a child-pornography law who has also been convicted previously under state laws “relating to aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse, or abusive sexual conduct involving a minor or ward”.  

Avondale Lockhart was caught buying child pornography in 2010 and pleaded guilty to the charges. But when his prison sentence was extended...Continue reading

An old court case exposes the racist tricks used to ensure all-white juries

Mar, 03/11/2015 - 18:23

TIMOTHY TYRONE FOSTER, a black man, sits on Georgia’s death row for killing an elderly white woman in 1986. When jurors were being vetted to hear Mr Foster’s case, prosecutors struck all five African Americans from the jury pool. Four of those strikes came via “peremptory challenges”, tools by which lawyers can nix potential jurors without having to cite a reason. In his closing argument, the prosecutor told the all-white jury that sentencing Mr Foster to die would “deter other people out there in the projects”—public housing blocks populated mainly by African-Americans.

Overt racism in jury selection has been illegal in America since the Strauder v West Virginia ruling in 1880. But lawyers continue to strike blacks from juries at suspiciously high rates, as an amicus brief in Foster v Chatman—a Continue reading

How the law needles the poor

Lun, 02/11/2015 - 02:17

THE MOST revolting scene in Monty's Python's "The Meaning of Life" depicts a man succumbing to a putatively voluntary liver donation. Arriving at his front door, the authorities point to the liver donor’s card in his wallet. “Need we say more?”, they ask, before separating the man from the “glandular organ in [his] abdomen” over his screams and protestations. Nothing quite this grotesque or absurd is going on at a courthouse in Alabama, but coerced bodily invasions do not seem to be out of the question for Judge Marvin Wiggins. In fact, they are this jurist’s favoured means of getting indigent defendants to pay their dues to society.  

According to recent reports, Judge Wiggins has turned to blood donation as an alternative for people who are behind on their court debts. “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,” he told dozens of people in his...Continue reading

The latest battleground in transgender rights: the school changing room

Vie, 30/10/2015 - 12:39

A DISAGREEMENT about the treatment of transgender students is pitting the largest high-school district in Illinois against federal authorities. The bone of contention is the access to changing rooms for a transgender high-school student in one of the five high schools and two alternative schools of Township High School District 211 in Palatine, a suburb of Chicago. The student, who was born male but identifies as female, lived for several years as a girl and plays on the girls' sports team, demands that she is given full access to the girls' locker room.

Daniel Cates, the superintendent of district 211, denies her full access to that and instead offers her a separate room or the male locker room to change in. He argues that he has to balance the privacy rights of 12,500 students and the rights of a group with particular needs. In his view, the privacy of that vast majority of students is infringed if transgender students are allowed to change in the same locker room as the students of the gender they identify with.

The controversy began in 2014 when the student’s family, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), filed a complaint with the...Continue reading

Jeb Bush flops, Marco Rubio soars

Jue, 29/10/2015 - 07:41

THE third televised Republican primary debate, held in Boulder, Colorado, on October 28th, was supposed to be about the economy. Yet it featured hardly any discussion of America’s big economic problems, its shortages of skills, poor education standards or rotten infrastructure; nor, for that matter, of its economic strengths. It was a ragged, ill-focused affair, in which the ten participants traded mostly incredible tax-cutting pledges, bickered with one another, and griped about the moderators, who were representing the organiser, CNBC, and excruciatingly disorganised. Messy stuff, from which most of the candidates emerged more or less where they had started out—with a few important exceptions.

Two match-ups had dominated the run-up to the debate.  First, that between the two front-runners, Donald Trump, a real estate tycoon and braggart, and Ben Carson, a soft-spoken neurosurgeon who holds some eye-wateringly right-wing views (he recently suggested the Holocaust would not have happened had Nazi Germany had looser gun laws). This duel probably ended in a draw. Mr Trump provided a couple of the debate’s more comical moments: including a flamboyant dismissal of John...Continue reading