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The House Benghazi report uncovers some new facts, but finds nothing to nail Hillary Clinton

Mié, 29/06/2016 - 23:32

FOR nearly four years, it has been the same. Ask pretty much any Republican voter what they think of Hillary Clinton—whether at a political rally or emerging from a poll booth—and when they list the biggest reasons why they loathe and distrust her, the word “Benghazi” will come up. At its simplest, the name of that Libyan port city stands for a terrible night in September 2012, while Mrs Clinton was Secretary of State, when four Americans were killed in a terrorist attack on a diplomatic compound and a secret CIA annexe. Among them was the American ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens.

But the anger that the word generates speaks for something larger: a belief that Mrs Clinton lied about the attacks as she sought to escape responsibility for deaths on her watch. Specifically, the charge is that Mrs Clinton and other Obama administration officials tried to cover up the fact that the attacks in Benghazi were the work of an al-Qa’eda linked group, because with a presidential election just weeks away it was politically inconvenient to admit that the Islamic terrorist group was not “on the run” as Mr Obama liked to claim....Continue reading

For America, a frustrating lack of clarity from Britain

Mié, 29/06/2016 - 08:15

THE last thing that America needs is more economic turmoil and political navel-gazing in Europe, a continent which—for all that it disappoints and maddens officials in Washington—remains a major trading partner and indispensable ally when the “free West” needs to act as one, for instance by sanctioning Russia over its actions in Ukraine. Turmoil in Britain is especially unwelcome, because, though Germany may be more powerful and France more gung-ho during recent foreign-policy crises, no other big European nation so often shares America’s basic instincts about the world and how to keep it prosperous and safe.

For that reason American leaders of both parties have hastened to play down the shock of the Brexit vote. Visiting London in April, Barack Obama urged the British not to leave, and offered a blunt (and in the end, probably counter-productive) warning that if they did, an independent Britain would find itself at the “back of the queue” when it came to striking free-trade deals with America. All efforts in Washington, he argued, are focused on expanding trade with whole blocks of countries, in Asia and in the European...Continue reading

Why the Supreme Court upheld the University of Texas’s affirmative action programme

Mar, 28/06/2016 - 19:47

UNTIL last week, Justice Anthony Kennedy, a 28-year veteran on the Supreme Court bench, had never voted to uphold a race-based affirmative action policy. But on June 23rd, he did just that, writing an opinion that disappointed the supporters of Abigail Fisher (pictured), a white woman who felt she was the victim of discrimination when the University of Texas (UT) rejected her application for a place at its flagship campus in 2008. For years, Ms Fisher’s case bobbed up and down the federal courts, with two visits to the 5th circuit court of appeals and two more to the Supreme Court. Last week, her legal saga finally came to an end when the justices voted 5-3 to uphold UT’s admissions scheme and to reaffirm a principle it established nearly four decades ago: public universities in America may give limited consideration to race when admitting their student bodies. 

The admissions protocol at issue in this case is complex, and, as Mr Kennedy writes, “sui generis”. For nearly two decades, UT has filled some 75% of its seats with Texas public-high-school students who finished in the top 10% of their graduating...Continue reading

The Supreme Court strikes down abortion limits in Texas

Lun, 27/06/2016 - 18:30

IT CAN be hazardous to read too much into the tenor of Supreme Court oral arguments: the justices often seem to lean one way and then end up ruling the other way. But in Whole Woman’s Health v Hellerstedt, the most significant abortion ruling the justices have handed down in a generation, there were no great surprises. Anyone who watched the Texas solicitor-general struggle to defend his state’s restrictive abortion law before the justices on March 2nd would have been hard-pressed to predict a win for the Lone Star state. Sure enough, by a 5-3 vote, the court ruled on June 27th, the final day of its fraught term, that a Texas law that would have reduced the number of abortion clinics in the state from over 40 to the single digits ran afoul of a woman’s constitutional right to end her pregnancy.

The 2013 law that the justices gutted today was disingenuously framed by Texas Republicans as a measure to protect women’s health. By requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital and mandating that clinics be retrofitted as “ambulatory surgical centres” (renovations that are prohibitively...Continue reading

Brexit: America’s next headache

Vie, 24/06/2016 - 22:43

BY INSTINCT Americans cheer declarations of independence, especially when those going it alone claim to be throwing off the shackles of foreign tyranny. A certain note of piquant irony may intrude when the revolutionaries hail from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. But no matter: liberty is liberty, and conservative Americans in particular have reacted warmly to the news of the Brexit vote, praising what they hail as an act of understandable pluck, inspired by a familiar concern for national sovereignty.

Figures from several different wings of the American Right have claimed to recognise their specific brand of politics in the vote to leave the European Union. Donald Trump, a man always quick to detect his decisive influence on events, clattered from the skies in a helicopter to visit a Scottish golf course that he has been tarting up on June 24th, and informed the people of Scotland, Britain, America and the world that the referendum result of the night before echoed and vindicated his philosophy of rejecting “rule by the global elite”. “The British people had voted to reassert control over their own politics,...Continue reading

The Democrats’ “sit-in” could mark a change in the way Congress does business

Jue, 23/06/2016 - 22:38

TAKING an unorthodox stand against legislative intransigence, a cohort of Democratic lawmakers in the House of Representatives occupied the floor of that chamber at 11:25 am on June 22nd to demand action on gun control. Participants called their act a “sit-in”, a tactic of the civil-rights era whereby protestors plant themselves in a contested space to urge change. Unlike blacks occupying whites-only lunch counters, however, the House Democrats duffed on their own turf. It was more than 25 hours of stunning political theatre. 

The Democrats insisted that the House hold votes on expanded background checks and a “no-fly, no-buy” bill that would prevent people on the federal terror watch list from purchasing guns, two proposals that foundered on Monday in the Senate. But with only 188 members to the Republican’s 247, the Democrats had no tools at their disposal to wrangle a vote on either bill. In contrast to the Senate, where it is de rigueur for the party in the minority to stage a filibuster to delay a vote or force an issue onto the floor (as Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut did on Monday), nothing in the House rules...Continue reading

A split Supreme Court thwarts Obama’s immigration policy

Jue, 23/06/2016 - 21:08

FOR the fourth time since the death of Antonin Scalia February, a stymied Supreme Court has split 4-4 and failed to come to a decision. Of the four ties, today's deadlock over United States v Texas, a challenge to Barack Obama’s immigration orders, carries the highest stakes. Up to 5m undocumented immigrants who were the intended beneficiaries of Mr Obama’s 2014 executive actions have lost their chance to apply for a programme that would have given them temporary permission to work and relief from deportation.

The programme, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), sought to protect “hard-working people who have become integrated members of American society” and to keep families from being wrenched apart. DAPA did not confer legal status and was not a path to citizenship, but it gave people whose children were American citizens or permanent residents a chance to “come out of the shadows”, pay taxes and live without the constant fear of immigration agents knocking on their doors.

Before DAPA could get off the ground, a lawsuit from Texas and 25 other states claiming the...Continue reading

How the Orlando massacre affects the fight for LGBT rights

Jue, 23/06/2016 - 16:40

ONE YEAR ago this week, the Obama administration celebrated the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling on same-sex marriage by festooning the White House in the rainbow-coloured lights of the gay pride flag. Last week, the White House stars-and-stripes flew at half-mast to honour the 102 people who were killed or injured on June 12th while dancing in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. The attack was, in Barack Obama’s words, “an act of terror and hate” targeting young gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans, most of them Hispanic.

The Orlando shooting was unique in its lethality, but it is far from the only recent example of anti-gay violence in America. In 2010, a 30-year-old man and two 17-year-olds living in the Bronx were kidnapped and tortured by a group of men in their teens and 20s. The attackers, who called themselves the Latin King Goonies, beat the victims for being gay, sodomised them with a plunger and a plastic baseball bat and forced one of the teens to burn the older man’s genitals with a cigarette. Many of the gang...Continue reading

Senators fail the American people (again)

Mié, 22/06/2016 - 17:53

“GUN violence requires more than moments of silence. It requires action. In failing that test, the Senate failed the American people.” President Barack Obama didn’t mince his words in a tweet on June 21st, the day after the Senate failed to pass four proposals to tighten gun control. Ever since he came to power Mr Obama has tried his best to make it harder to get hold of a gun in a country where an estimated 300m guns (of which 20m to 30m are assault-style rifles) are in the hands of civilians. And with frustrating regularity his efforts have been thwarted by legislators.

On June 20th four proposals were up for a vote in the Senate. The Democratic Party’s two proposals included a “no-fly, no-buy” draft law, which would bar anyone on terrorist watch-lists from buying a gun; the other draft law would expand background checks of gun buyers from shops to online sales and gun shows. The Republicans proposed a 72-hour delay before people on watch-lists can buy guns, to give the government an opportunity to prove, through the court system, that the purchaser is a terrorist threat; their second proposal was to redefine mental...Continue reading

Donald Trump fires his campaign manager

Lun, 20/06/2016 - 23:53

Donald Trump has abruptly fired his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski (pictured), a short-tempered, grudge-bearing schemer reportedly blamed by the Trump family for the rackety state of their patriarch’s presidential campaign. Soon after the crewcut-haired former New Hampshire state police officer was escorted from campaign headquarters on June 20th, one of his former underlings gleefully tweeted out a snatch of “Ding, Dong, the Witch is Dead”, from “The Wizard of Oz”.

But in truth Mr Lewandowski did not bewitch anyone. Nor was he a tyrannical figure whose toppling will transform the Trump campaign, instantly, into a Technicolor land of dancing, liberated Munchkins. He was a ferocious loyalist, an over-promoted henchman-type whose avowed guiding principle was: “Let Trump be Trump”. Until now, that has been Mr Trump’s guiding principle, too—and therein lies Mr Lewandowski’s real significance. His sacking, now, will matter greatly if it means that the property tycoon has finally understood that the primary period of this election season is over, and with it the months of heady, screw-the-experts, instinct-led,...Continue reading

The Supreme Court weakens the guarantee against unreasonable searches

Lun, 20/06/2016 - 23:10

FANS of television shows such as “Law and Order” are familiar with the so-called “exclusionary rule”: when police obtain evidence of a crime through illegal means, the evidence is usually inadmissible in court. This rule, an outgrowth of the Fourth Amendment bar on “unreasonable searches and seizures”, deters police from violating citizens’ constitutional rights when undertaking criminal investigations. But the rule just became something closer to a suggestion: on June 20th, the Supreme Court divided along gender lines in a 5-3 ruling that introduces a loophole in rules for obtaining evidence that were developed more than 50 years ago.  

The case, Utah v Strieff, involves a dodgy drug bust. Responding to an anonymous tip that narcotics were being sold out of a house in South Salt Lake City, Utah, detective Doug Fackrell started keeping an eye on the property. He didn’t see much from his unmarked car, but he did notice—in the several hours he spent watching over the course of a week—people visiting the home and then quickly...Continue reading

Bernie drops out, without dropping out or endorsing Hillary

Vie, 17/06/2016 - 07:27

“THE major political task that we face in the next five months is to make certain that Donald Trump is defeated and defeated badly,” said Bernie Sanders in a 23-minute address live-streamed across the country from his hometown of Burlington, Vermont on June 16th. But rather than conceding defeat and focusing his energy on helping his rival, Hillary Clinton, to inflict that defeat, the combative senator stood pat on his principal mission: “We must continue our grassroots efforts to create the America that we know we can become. And we must take that energy into the Democratic National Convention on July 25th in Philadelphia.”

The speech was a disappointment to those who hoped that Mr Sanders would at last rally behind Mrs Clinton, who needs the support of his young and enthusiastic troops. But he does not seem to trust her to keep the flame of his revolution alive. “It is no secret that Secretary Clinton and I have strong disagreements on some very important issues,” he said. He vowed to continue discussions between his campaign and hers, to make sure that his supporters’ voices are heard and that the Democratic Party passes...Continue reading

Are there signs in the courts of a tipping point on gun control?

Mié, 15/06/2016 - 20:08

DESPITE today's Democratic filibuster in the Senate to protest inaction on gun control, prospects for new measures to rein in guns seem to be close to nil. After the nation mourned 20 first-grade children who died in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012—and 80-90% of Americans favoured expanded background checks for gun buyers—the Senate, buckling under pressure from the National Rifle Association (NRA), rejected a rather mild bill in April 2013 by a 54-46 vote. The gun lobby was powerful enough to overwhelm public opinion, fuelled by fresh memories of a deranged man slaughtering 6-year-olds with an assault weapon, and make a compromise measure disappear.

Three years later—despite some defections from the gun-rights orthodoxy, like the evolution of Bob Dold, a Republican congressman from Illinois—the NRA is still one of the most formidable lobbying groups in Washington. But in the wake of the Orlando massacre in which Omar Mateen murdered 49 people in a gay nightclub and injured 53 more, there are some signs that the tide may be turning against America’s culture of liberal access to guns. By themselves, public opinion...Continue reading

Clinton and Trump make clashing speeches after Orlando attack

Mar, 14/06/2016 - 02:36

SPEND any time on the campaign trail, and before too long a cynical voter will complain that there is no difference between candidates on the ballot paper. Let nobody make that claim ahead of the 2016 presidential election. On June 13th Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump gave duelling speeches in response to the murder the day before of 49 people at a gay club in Orlando, Florida by a rifle-wielding 29-year-old who dedicated his hate-filled evil to the Islamic State terrorist network. The two speeches were polar opposites, giving a glimpse of a general election campaign that will offer America its starkest choice in decades.

Mrs Clinton set out to sound practical, even wonkish, offering a three-part plan for tackling IS and other “radical jihadist groups” that includes all arms of the government, the brightest minds in Silicon Valley and community groups. Her to-do list included such tasks as disrupting money transfers between terrorists, and tracking extremist social media postings. She was detailed, citing a pilot programme she had visited in Minneapolis that helps “parents, teachers, imams, mental health professionals and others”...Continue reading

Nightclub shooting in Orlando is the worst in American history

Lun, 13/06/2016 - 01:26

THE MURDER in the early hours of June 12th of at least 50 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, apparently by a 29-year-old American-born Muslim wielding an assault rifle and handgun, was swiftly and loudly seized upon by political partisans as a vindication of everything that they already believe about Muslims, the fight against terrorism and the exceptional prevalence of private gun ownership in America.

The slaughter—the deadliest mass shooting in American history and the worst terrorist attack since September 2001—will not lead to tougher federal gun controls. It will not pave the way for even the most modest step advocated by Barack Obama and other gun-safety advocates each time that the country endures a fresh massacre by firearm: namely, more consistent screening of gun buyers against existing watch-lists of those with serious criminal histories or severe mental illness. If public horror were ever going to have pressured Congress to pass new legislation making it harder for dangerous people to own powerful weapons, it would have done so after the Newtown, Connecticut, school shootings of December 2012 when a deranged...Continue reading

Barack Obama endorses Hillary Clinton

Vie, 10/06/2016 - 05:30

IN A  TOPSY-TURVY way, Bernie Sanders has been setting the agenda in Democratic circles in recent weeks. Though it has for weeks been apparent that the Vermont senator had lost the party’s primary battle to Hillary Clinton, his determination to fight on has prevented Mrs Clinton getting stuck into her Republican opponent, Donald Trump, as she would have liked, while at the same time providing liberal commentators with an irresistible soap opera—an exhibition of gritty commitment or delusion, depending where they stand. It has also prevented Barack Obama putting his weight behind Mrs Clinton—but on June 9th, in a sign of Mr Sanders’s rapidly fading relevance, the president did so. 

In a three-minute-long video published on Mrs Clinton’s Facebook page, Mr Obama praised the “judgement…toughness… commitment to our values” of his former secretary of state and sometime bitter rival.  “I don’t think there’s ever been someone so qualified to hold this office,” he said. “I’m with her, I am fired up, and I cannot wait to get out there to campaign for Hillary.” He will do so on June 9th, it  emerged,...Continue reading

Hillary Clinton declares victory, and takes California too

Mié, 08/06/2016 - 10:13

“WE ARE all standing under a glass ceiling right now,” said Hillary Clinton in her victory speech on June 7th at a rally in Brooklyn. “Thanks to you, we have reached a milestone.” Clad in bridal white, she took to the stage shortly after the announcement of her commanding win in the primary election in New Jersey, where she won 63% of the vote compared with 37% for Bernie Sanders, her rival. “Tonight’s victory is not about one person. It belongs to generations of women and men who struggled and sacrificed and made this moment possible.”

As California, New Jersey, Montana, New Mexico, and North and South Dakotas went to the polls in the last stretch of the primary-election season, Mrs Clinton was finally able to declare herself the first woman to become one of the two major party’s nominee for the presidential election. Later in the evening she won New Mexico, South Dakota and California. She lost North Dakota, a sparsely populated state in the Midwest where Mr Sanders received 64% of the vote, and Montana, where Mr Sanders got 51% of the vote. She graciously congratulated Mr Sanders for generating so much excitement with his...Continue reading

A snapshot of one moment at a polling station in California

Mar, 07/06/2016 - 19:06

IN EARLIER primary contests and in more sheltered places, from sleepy midwestern college towns to hipster neighbourhoods in New York, a note of self-indulgence could be heard as Democrats weighed whether to follow their heads, and choose the experienced Hillary Clinton, or their hearts, and back the rumpled advocate of revolution, Bernie Sanders.

As primary day dawned on June 7th in a working-class, overwhelmingly Hispanic neighbourhood of Santa, Ana, California, realism was the dominant mood. Santa Ana lies in Orange County, the once solidly Republican birthplace of the Reagan revolution, now fast being transformed by racial and ethnic diversity. Polls opened at seven o’clock at the James Monroe Elementary School, where more than 92% of pupils are Hispanic and more than half qualify for special help with learning English. The streets around are lined with sun-faded bungalows, some home to more than one family. Planes landing at John Wayne Orange County, nearby provided a constant background roar.

The very first voter was Anita Hernandez, a retired school secretary, and her choice of Hillary Clinton for the Democratic...Continue reading

The Supreme Court will hear two death-penalty appeals

Mar, 07/06/2016 - 18:44

ON JUNE 6th, the Supreme Court agreed to hear two cases involving recurring concerns about the administration of the death penalty in America. Moore v Texas revisits the question of intellectual disability to ask whether Texas used an outdated method of measuring a man’s mental capacity before condemning him. The other case, Buck v Stephens, is also out of Texas. It looks into a psychologist’s racist testimony in sentencing Duane Buck to death in 1997. It’s no accident that the Lone Star state figures in both appeals: Texas dwarfs its nearest rival, Oklahoma, in total executions (537 to 112) and carried out nearly half of America’s 28 death sentences in 2015.

The courtroom proceedings in Buck were bizarre. The first brow-furrowing aspect of the case is the blatantly racist message Walter Quijano, a psychologist, delivered while on the stand. When pressed to list “statistical factors or environmental factors” that increase the...Continue reading

What does Donald Trump see in Muhammad Ali and his legacy?

Mar, 07/06/2016 - 03:01

WHAT political lesson should Americans draw from the death of Muhammad Ali, an event so large that it united such figures as Barack Obama and Donald Trump in public mourning? As news broke of the boxer’s passing at 74, the Republican businessman tweeted that the former heavyweight was “a truly great champion and a wonderful guy” who will be “missed by all!”

For his part the president noted that in his private study, just off the Oval Office, he keeps a pair of Mr Ali’s gloves on display, just under an “iconic photograph” of the young champion “roaring like a lion over a fallen Sonny Liston”.

Some will see nothing more than opportunism by two politicians pandering to popular grief. Though Mr Ali provoked much fury in his youth by refusing to serve in Vietnam and by converting to Islam, ditching his “slave name” of Cassius Clay along the way, he died a national treasure, his explosive reputation made safe by time, suffering and stoicism—and above all his long fight with Parkinson’s disease and the damage caused by years in the ring.

Critics of Mr Trump see pure hypocrisy in his praise for a boxer...Continue reading