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The inside of John Roberts's head

Sáb, 27/06/2015 - 01:19

JOHN ROBERTS, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, has conservatives vexed. To many of them, Mr Roberts' dissent to the majority's decision legalising gay marriage today seems flatly inconsistent with his reasoning in the King v Burwell case, which saved Obamacare. "Under the Constitution", Mr Roberts wrote in his dissent in the gay marriage case, "judges have power to say what the law is, not what it should be". But didn't the court effectively rewrite the text of the Obamacare just two days ago when it ruled that insurance exchanges established by the federal government should be counted among those "established by the states"?

"The inside of John Roberts's head must be a very interesting place," tweets John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary. "Kind of like the Civil War, only no Confederate flag". Mr Podhoretz vividly captures a common conservative sentiment about Mr Roberts today.

It is easy to see why Mr Roberts' two opinions may seem at odds. He seems both willing and unwilling to have the court say what the law should be. But Mr Roberts is in fact totally consistent. A closer look at his opinions on Obamacare...Continue reading

Expect more shouting

Vie, 26/06/2015 - 16:33

THE Affordable Care Act has survived another encounter with the Supreme Court. Now 7.5m Americans who might otherwise have lost subsidised health insurance can keep it. This is a good thing. Trying to disentangle the effects of the law, better known as Obamacare, from all the other changes affecting health care is like trying to count raindrops. The implementation of the law has coincided with a slowing in health-care inflation and a drop in unemployment. This suggests that the two main charges against the law—namely that it is a job killer and it drives up costs—are shaky. Given that the ACA has been blamed for all sorts unwelcome...Continue reading

A constitutional right

Vie, 26/06/2015 - 15:22

THIS morning, on the anniversary of two previous rulings expanding gay rights, and on the eve of gay-pride weekend in New York and San Francisco, America's Supreme Court announced a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

By a vote of 5-4, the justices ruled that the 14th amendment prohibits states from banning gay nuptials. The case, Obergefell v Hodges, was argued in April.

In his majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy began by noting that "[t]he centrality of marriage to the human condition makes it unsurprising that the institution has existed for millennia and across civilizations",...Continue reading

Hail to the chief

Jue, 25/06/2015 - 19:31

FOR the second time in three years, Chief Justice John Roberts has departed from his conservative colleagues and voted to keep Obamacare chugging. In 2012, he authored the majority opinion in a 5-4 ruling that turned back a constitutional challenge to the law’s requirement that most Americans buy a health insurance policy. This time, he wrote for six justices in scuttling an objection that the legislation, as written, is self-defeating. Mr Roberts is again being booed on Fox News and by opponents of the law. Michael Cannon, a director at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, says the ruling has “validated President Obama’s massive power grab” and is proof that the Supreme Court has “allowed itself to be intimidated”.

But to read his characteristically lucid 21-page opinion, there are few signs Mr Roberts has been cowed into submission. He seems, instead, rather to like Obamacare. The first...Continue reading

Speaking truth to obliviousness

Jue, 25/06/2015 - 00:34

If you're a white American, you're more likely than not to vote Republican, though it's a close call. If you're white and male, or white and religious, or white and from the South, or white and old enough to collect Social Security, your odds of a GOP affiliation go up a good deal. If you happen to be a 70-year-old white evangelical gentleman from Tennessee, you're either Republican or exceedingly odd. About as odd as a black Republican. Ben Carson, a black retired neurosurgeon running for the Republican presidential nomination, is odd—and valuable. Black Republicans aren't quite unicorns, but they are capable of working a rare magic. Unlike the president, Mr Carson, a staunch Tea Party conservative, is a black man white Republicans will pay attention to when he talks about race.

After a young white supremacist murdered nine black people in a Charleston church, another Republican doctor, Rand Paul, a Kentucky senator and presidential contender, Continue reading

A culture of violence

Mar, 23/06/2015 - 17:03

THE MURDER of nine black Americans in Charleston, South Carolina by a young white man hoping to start a "race war" has renewed calls for stricter gun control, as well as the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the South Carolina state house. It has also renewed a pressing question: why are mass shootings so common in America? One popular answer is that there are simply too many guns in America, and that it is far too easy to get one. But what can be done about this? As Lexington rightly noted, not much. But why not?

Joseph Heath, a philosophy professor at the University of Toronto, published a penetrating meditation last week on the ways ideology can distort sincere attempts at social-scientific explanation. He has nothing at all to say about gun control. But he does offer a series of insights about the follies to which experts are prone when attempting to analyse social problems. In particular, Mr Heath points to...Continue reading

Time for the museum

Lun, 22/06/2015 - 20:39

(Update: On Monday South Carolina's Governor, Nikki Haley, along with both state senators, Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, and a bipartisan group of other lawmakers called for the state to remove the Confederate battle flag from state grounds. "Our state is grieving, but we are also coming together," Ms Haley said.)

FOR nearly half a century Georgia’s state flag was three-quarters filled with the battle flag of the Confederacy, a symbol of the pro-slavery side in America's civil war. This state flag had been adopted in 1956, two years after the Supreme Court integrated America’s schools with its Brown v Board of Education ruling. But by the 21st century flying this loaded flag seemed awkward. Georgia had been home to some of America’s great black civil-rights leaders, including Martin Luther King junior, John Lewis and Andrew Young. Atlanta, the state’s bustling capital (and your correspondent’s hometown), had also spent the postwar decades striving to be the centre of a “new South”, “a city too busy to hate”.

In 2001 Georgia adopted a new flag, with the state seal on a plain blue background, below which were...Continue reading

The Republicans have a pope problem

Lun, 22/06/2015 - 20:11

IT WAS bad enough when Pope Francis began banging on about inequality. Worse still when he changed the church’s tone when it comes to addressing gay people (“Who am I to judge?”). Now the pope has issued a papal encyclical affirming the science of climate change and calling on leaders to phase out fossil fuels from the global economy. 

This puts the GOP’s presidential candidates in an awkward position. At least five of them—including frontrunners Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio—are practicing Catholics. Messrs Bush and Rubio have both questioned or denied the science of climate change and rejected policies to regulate the burning of fossil fuels. And they are both from Miami, a place seen as...Continue reading

Why gun control is doomed

Vie, 19/06/2015 - 23:37

NO NEW laws restricting access to guns will be passed as a result of Wednesday’s racist shooting rampage, which left nine dead at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Americans can be confident this is true for several reasons. For starters, Barack Obama more or less admitted it.

Americans need to reckon with the fact that other advanced countries do not have to face this sort of mass violence, the president said in a sombre statement at the White House on Thursday. “It is in our power to do something about it. I say that recognising the politics in this town foreclose a lot of the avenues just now. But it would be wrong for us not to acknowledge it,” he said, with visible frustration.

The president knows that if it were politically possible to pass new gun laws in Washington, it would have happened after the December 2012 massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. It is hard to imagine a tragedy more calculated to shock American consciences: 20 small children and six staff were...Continue reading

Charleston’s terror

Vie, 19/06/2015 - 06:10

“I HAVE to do it,” explained the gunman to those gathered at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston on the evening of June 17th, “you rape our women and you’re taking over our country.” The shooter, allegedly a 21-year-old white supremacist named Dylann Roof, then killed nine of the people he had sat in prayer with for the previous hour. “Even in this day and age people are so trusting,” says one local resident, “if only they hadn’t let him in. This is the kind of thing that happens elsewhere. Not in Charleston.”

But in the haze of a sweltering Southern day, proceedings in the city began to mirror those seen after past shootings in other places. The governor and the mayor expressed their pain and shock. Journalists and photographers swarmed about the bright white church on Calhoun Street. Lilies, roses and carnations lay by its entrance; cameramen stalked those trying to leave others. Barack Obama encapsulated the scene’s morbid familiarity in a condolence speech: “I’ve had to make statements like this too many times,” he said wearily. Indeed, the president has spoken on such occasions 14...Continue reading

Blurred lines

Jue, 18/06/2015 - 23:20

RACHEL DOLEZAL was, until very recently, the president of the Spokane, Washington chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People. She gave up the leadership post a couple days after her parents, who claim European ancestry (with, perhaps, a dash of Native American), outed their daughter as white. Ms Dolezal, who grew up alongside four adopted black siblings, says she connected with the experience of black Americans early on. It's hard to doubt her commitment. In addition to presenting herself as black, she married (and divorced) a black man, attended Howard University, America's most prestigious historically black college, and became president of an NAACP chapter. Though she admits to dabbling in some "creative nonfiction" about her racial background, Ms Dolezal continues to insist that she is not white. "I definitely am not white," she told Savannah Guthrie on NBC. "I'm more black than I am white. That's the accurate answer from my truth".

Coming on the heels of Continue reading

Pick your poison

Jue, 18/06/2015 - 21:51

BY THE end of the oral argument in Walker v Sons of Confederate Veterans on March 23rd, the justices seemed caught between a Scylla and Charybdis. If they sided with the state of Texas, which had refused the Sons’ application to issue a special licence plate bearing the Confederate flag, the justices may be seen as giving state officials the green light to engage in official censorship. But a ruling in favour of the Sons would seem to force Texas to grant requests for licence plates with racial epithets, swastikas or paeans to terrorism, which may ultimately force the state to shut down its speciality plate programme altogether and forfeit the millions of dollars it collects from drivers each year.

Slippery slopes whichever way you turn.  

Today, a closely divided court took its chances with the Scylla. In a 5-4 ruling, the thoroughly pragmatic Justice Stephen Breyer Continue reading

The latest American mass killing

Jue, 18/06/2015 - 15:59

WE DO not yet know why a gunman entered a church in Charleston, South Carolina on Wednesday and killed nine people at a prayer meeting, but in a sense it does not matter. One searches for reasons in order to assign responsibility and to devise solutions, but in this case no one will accept responsibility, and no solutions will be devised. One might blame radical ideology; given that the gunman, who police suspect is 21-year-old Dylann Roof, is white and the victims black, it seems probable that the motives were rooted in racial hatred. But no modern American party, movement or politician embraces explicit racism. While some exploit more subtle forms of racial resentment, none would admit to any link to a mass killer. A South Carolina branch of the Ku Klux Klan has been on a last-ditch recruitment drive to save itself from extinction, but one expects even the KKK would dissociate itself from violence these days.

The massacre, then (like those in Continue reading

Choosing battles

Mié, 17/06/2015 - 17:24

EVER since the Supreme Court announced a limited right to abortion choice with its Roe v Wade decision in 1973, pro-life activists have fought to chip away at the decision. Efforts to curb abortion have accelerated and diversified recently, with an impressive 231 separate regulations coming into effect in just the past four years. The Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice organisation, notes that 15 years ago only 13 states had four or five abortion restrictions on the books, enough to be considered “hostile” toward abortion rights. Today, 27 states have this many curbs on abortion, and 18 of those have six or more restrictions, a legal framework that Guttmacher pegs as “extremely hostile” to a woman’s right to choose.

The past week has brought mixed news from Texas and North Carolina, two of these 18 “extremely hostile” states. A federal appeals court upheld regulations designed to curb abortion in Texas. Meanwhile a different appeals-court decision that Continue reading

Fight! Fight! Fight!

Mié, 17/06/2015 - 02:55

HILLARY CLINTON is a fighter. In a very long speech at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park in New York City, where she officially re-launched her presidential campaign this weekend, she declared that she is here to fight. She is ready for battle in "four fights" in particular. There is the fight "to make the economy work for everyday Americans"; the fight "to strengthen America's families"; and the fight to "maintain [America's] leadership for peace, security, and prosperity". Last, but not least, she will join the fight for "reforming our government and revitalising our democracy."

At an abstract level, this is all rather unobjectionable. But who, exactly, is Mrs Clinton fighting against? It's not America's external enemies she's itching to take on. She's not in a lather about the Islamic State. It's the Grand Old Party she's got a beef against, and if you're inclined to support it, Mrs Clinton has it in for you, too.

Mrs Clinton's combative partisanship is a far cry from Barack Obama's promises to heal the divisions of...Continue reading

Tightly scripted

Mar, 16/06/2015 - 07:22

TO WHOOPS and applause, Jeb Bush ran on stage in a college gymnasium near Miami on Monday afternoon and with an assured, unadventurous speech announced that he is running for president. Two flickers of spontaneity intruded on the well-rehearsed performance by the former governor of Florida. They were among the most interesting moments of the day.

The first lasted only a second. Trimmer than before (he is said to be following the faddish, low-carb Paleo diet), tieless and in shirt-sleeves, Mr Bush arrived at the podium and took in the scene at Miami-Dade College, one of the country’s largest and most diverse places of higher education. To one side he could see his Mexican-born wife, Columba, his mother Barbara Bush (the wife and mother of former presidents, who had previously said that America had had enough Bushes in the White House, but has since changed her mind) and his children, including George P., who last year became the land commissioner of Texas, giving the family dynasty a fourth generation in elected office.

All around him sat an impressively large and varied audience. Indeed, the general public at the rally was more...Continue reading

An antidote to blight

Lun, 15/06/2015 - 17:26

DEINDUSTRIALISATION, globalisation and technological advance have wreaked havoc in many cities in the Midwest. In Galena, a small town on the border of Iowa and Illinois, this disruption happened 150 years ago. The thriving lead-mining centre and Mississippi-river steamboat hub was then one of America's most important industrial cities. French settlers took over lead mines created by Native Americans, issuing the first leases in 1822. By the mid-19th century the town produced 85% of the nation’s lead and was bigger than Chicago. Industrialists built grand mansions and even miners lived in decent cottages. But the civil war changed everything, says Daryl Watson, a local historian. Zinc supplanted lead and railways trumped steamboats. With its impressive railway hub, Chicago swiftly surpassed Galena to become the biggest city in the region. 

In the last few decades, and in particular between 2000 and 2010, quite a few Midwestern cities have become notorious for post-industrial blight, but Galena hit this existential snag much earlier. How it managed to pull itself back from the brink offers a valuable lesson of how...Continue reading

Obama's agenda in the balance

Sáb, 13/06/2015 - 01:17

A FEW years ago a wise pollster—pondering how labels like left-wing and right-wing have been scrambled by globalisation—came up with a different way to sort voters in Western democracies. Electorates, he suggested, broadly divide into two groups, one of which sees change and the outside world as a threat, and a second which takes a more optimistic view, looking for opportunities to harness global forces and turn them to good ends. The pollster, Stefan Shakespeare of YouGov, calls these two camps “Drawbridge Up” and “Drawbridge Down” people.

Just after lunch on June 12th President Barack Obama was mugged by the Drawbridge Up bit of America, or at least by its elected representatives. A large majority of Democrats in the House of Representatives, joined by hard-right Republicans, voted to stall (and potentially kill) his hopes of reaching a big new free-trade pact between America and 11 other Pacific Rim nations, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The Senate has already passed a bill that would allow Mr Obama to press ahead with TPP, and the House may return to the question as early as Tuesday.

Reflecting how trade...Continue reading

Executive chutzpah

Vie, 12/06/2015 - 21:39

ON MONDAY, just as the Supreme Court handed Barack Obama a resounding victory in a turf battle with Congress over foreign affairs, the president criticised the justices at a press conference in Krün, Germany, site of the G7 summit. In response to a reporter’s question about King v Burwell, the challenge to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) set to be decided this month, Mr Obama said it would take a “twisted interpretation of four words in...a couple-thousand-page piece of legislation” for the court to eliminate tax subsidies for health insurance in the 34 states where the federal government operates health-care exchanges. King “should be an easy case,” he said. “Frankly, it probably shouldn’t even have been taken up.” The president’s defence of Obamacare (without specific mention of the case or the court) continued in a Continue reading

Doomsday machine

Vie, 12/06/2015 - 19:23

MY COLLEAGUE adheres to a theory about why the text of the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, clearly authorises federal subsidies for health insurance purchased through exchanges set up by state governments, but not for insurance from exchanges set up by the federal government. This is the question at issue in King v Burwell, the Supreme Court case that could strike down Obamacare's subsidies in 34 states and force millions of Americans to lose their health insurance. The failure to explicitly authorise subsidies for health insurance from federal exchanges comes from a four-word phrase in the 900-page law, which refers to subsidies for insurance from exchanges "established by the state". The theory, advanced by the plaintiffs in the case, is that the authors of the law intended to use the threat of denial of subsidies to pressure states to set up their own exchanges. "It was, I think, very much part of the law's strategy to induce states to establish exchanges," my colleague writes. "Advocates of Obamacare now deny...Continue reading

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