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I give you Narendra Modi

Lun, 29/09/2014 - 04:06

“YEAH, go that way,” yells a frazzled cop guarding a security cordon outside Penn Station. Narendra Modi, India’s Prime Minister, is the pain-in-the-ass who is snarling traffic around Madison Square Garden, an arena normally graced by WrestleMania, the Knicks and the Rolling Stones. Inside are over 18,000 Indian-Americans, as prosperous and upstanding a diaspora as you will find from the Red Wood Forests to the Gulf Stream Waters. They are willing themselves into the kind of obedient hysteria they were meant to have left behind generations ago in the badlands of Asia, along with hunger and snakes. “Modi, Modi, Modi,” shout the massed oncologists, engineers and entrepreneurs, wearing T-Shirts bearing his face and the slogan “Unity, Action, Progress”. An Americanized Bollywood dance troupe wearing fluorescent military uniforms gyrates to Bruce Springsteen’s anthem “Born in the USA”. The cries reach a lustier pitch. “Modi, Modi, Modi!”

In the India of the last six decades, events like this were a reliable shambles of short-circuiting loudspeakers,...Continue reading

Who will replace him?

Jue, 25/09/2014 - 23:23

ERIC HOLDER has announced he is stepping down after six years as attorney general. Perhaps the most influential member of Barack Obama’s cabinet, Mr Holder has inflamed Republicans by advancing an agenda that is unusually progressive for the head of America’s justice department. Steve Benen of MSNBC lists the wide range of policy matters on which Mr Holder has inserted himself:

[He] has shown amazing leadership on the issue of LGBT rights. He’s challenged Republican restrictions on voting rights. He’s fought for...Continue reading

I dither

Mié, 24/09/2014 - 23:07

JANE AUSTEN’S characters took it for granted that men with money made more eligible mates. “A man like that is hard to find, but I can’t get him off my mind,” lamented the female vocalists of ABBA. A new study from the Pew Research Centre, a think-tank, finds that little has changed. Fully 78% of American women who have never been married say it is “very important” that their future spouse has a “steady job”. By comparison, only 46% of men mind much what their future spouse does for a living.

These ancient preferences, combined with wrenching changes in the labour market, have shaken up the marriage market. Women are much more likely to have jobs than they were half a century ago; men, somewhat less so. Women today find it easier to cope without a male breadwinner. At the same time, many find the pool of potential husbands less appealing.

In 1960 young, never-married women were spoilt for choice. For every 100 of them aged 25-34, there were 139 young, never-married men with jobs vying for their attention. In 2012 there were just 91. For some groups, the gap is much bigger. Young never-married black women outnumber young...Continue reading

Consensus, but for what?

Mar, 23/09/2014 - 22:01

WITH remarkable speed, a broad American consensus has formed in support of air strikes against the Islamic State, even if that means taking the fight across the Iraqi border into Syria. Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress have offered bipartisan support to a first wave of overnight strikes in Syria. This sends a “powerful” message of unity to the world, said President Barack Obama in a brief statement on September 23rd from the White House grounds.

The consensus involves the public, too. Since last year, Americans’ willingness to see air power used in Syria has doubled, a poll for the Washington Post shows. Support for arming the Kurdish forces battling IS in Iraq rose from 45% in August to 58% in the September survey. Yet if the new mood of unity is broad, it is also shallow. Americans know that they want to do something about IS. Air strikes currently fit the bill. But there is a striking lack of agreement about what this use of force is actually for. There is no consensus about whether America is projecting power to bring greater stability to the Middle East, or whether the mission is much narrower: a...Continue reading

Unprecedentedly dysfunctional

Lun, 22/09/2014 - 18:52

“IF I sponsor a bill declaring apple pie American, it might fall victim to partisan politics,” declared Barack Obama over the summer. His statement came in a speech on the border crisis, but could have been made about any number of recent issues. From the federal shutdown to gun control, stalemate is America’s political norm. Congress is more interested in playing politics than solving problems. Even discussions about congressional gridlock have come to resemble the gridlock itself, static and tired. Language, like politics, reaches an impasse.

In a recent study for the Brookings Institution, Sarah Binder seeks to place the discussion on firmer empirical ground. Her study examines America’s history of legislative dysfunction in order to contextualise the contemporary stalemate. Part of the challenge involves measuring legislative success: what’s the baseline against which to compare output? At what point does a system designed to encourage healthy...Continue reading

The secessionist temptation

Vie, 19/09/2014 - 15:08

EVERY once in a while, often with no prompting whatsoever from Scotland, people in some area of America start talking about secession. The most famous recent instance of secession talk involved comments made by Rick Perry, the Republican governor of Texas, in 2009. Mr Perry did not actually endorse the idea of Texas seceding, but said he understood why some Texans were considering it. Texas's ultra-conservative railroad commissioner took things further in 2013, lauding the state's progress in "becoming an independent nation", which he said was important in case the rest of America falls apart. There are also active, if tiny, secessionist movements in Vermont and in the South, both of which found the Scottish...Continue reading

Special delivery

Jue, 18/09/2014 - 19:17

ACTIVISTS on warring sides of the abortion debate rarely take the same position when it comes to Supreme Court cases involving women’s rights. But pro-choicers and pro-lifers have found common cause in Young v United Parcel Service, a pregnancy discrimination case the justices will take up on December 3rd. Yet the ideological overlap, while intriguing, is no guarantee that justices will reach consensus.

Peggy Young was working part-time as the driver of a delivery truck for UPS when she became pregnant in 2006. Ms Young’s midwife, frowning on the requirement in her job description that she haul 70lb boxes, wrote a note to UPS recommending that “she not lift more than 20 pounds." On this basis, Ms Young requested a few months of a lightened load. Other UPS employees were eligible for such an accommodation, she reasoned, so she wasn’t asking for anything out of the ordinary. Workers who were injured on the job, who were disabled under the terms of the Americans With...Continue reading

Seeking change

Jue, 18/09/2014 - 11:00

GOFUNDME bills itself as a crowdfunding site where visitors can discover “Amazing Stories from Incredible People”. A swift scroll through the projects does yield some impressive stories—a special-needs teacher who got hit by a car trying to save her students; a retired pilot who is battling a debilitating illness—alongside noble efforts to raise money for these people. So perhaps it is not surprising that some visitors were taken aback by the fundraising page created for Bailey (pictured), who needed money to help pay for her abortion.

Bailey’s GoFundMe page let users know that she is 23, “unemployed, completely broke, in debt, and in no position to hold down a job due to severe symptoms of a rough, unplanned and unexpected pregnancy.” Though the page had earned a lot of nasty attention from online commenters, it also raised more than $2,100 towards its $2,500 goal—until the site’s administrators took it down earlier this month. In an...Continue reading

The politics of outrage

Mié, 17/09/2014 - 23:30

NO pastime unites America like the National Football League (NFL). During the 2013 autumn season, 34 of the 35 most-watched shows on television were NFL games. Though non-Americans may puzzle over the game’s allure, football offers advertisers one of the last chances to reach huge, real-time audiences. Unlike golf (whose fans tend to be old, white and well-off), or NASCAR racing (whose fanbase lies in the white South), football spans racial, class and partisan divides. It is all the more striking, then, that football finds itself mired in so many divisive debates.

On September 8th Ray Rice, a running back, was fired by the Baltimore Ravens and dropped indefinitely by the NFL after video footage emerged showing him punching his future wife unconscious in a casino lift. Mr Rice had initially received only a two-game suspension after being indicted in March for the assault (charges were suspended after he agreed to counselling). The NFL has hired a former FBI director to probe allegations that it knew of the damning footage earlier than it...Continue reading

Slowly, slowly

Mié, 17/09/2014 - 18:17

THE economic recovery since the Great Recession has been subdued by historic standards. Typical families have born the brunt of this sluggish growth, thanks to rising inequality. But there are signs that even if things aren’t getting better for these families, they have stopped getting worse. On September 16th the Census Bureau reported that real (that is inflation-adjusted) median household income rose 0.3% in 2013 from 2012, the first increase since 2007. Poverty also fell for the first time since 2006: 14.5% of families lived below the poverty line, defined as $24,028 for a family of four, down from 15% in 2012.

The gains aren’t much. In fact, the 0.3% increase is statistically insignificant and barely begins to dig the typical family out its post-recession hole. The median income is still 8% lower than in 2007.

The report doesn’t get into why median incomes rose. There two likely causes. One is a decline in inflation thanks to falling energy prices, which helps bolster real incomes. Inflation...Continue reading


Mié, 17/09/2014 - 17:03

THE central branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia is an impressive building—its neoclassical facade looming over most of a block. But inside, though chandeliers still hang from the ceilings and the floors are of polished marble, there is a feeling of neglect. A musty taste hangs in the air; many of the books are rather battered. “The building opened in 1927 and we’ve really not touched it since then,” says Siobhan Reardon, the library’s president and director. “And you can tell.”

That, happily, is now changing. On September 11th Philadelphia announced it had secured a $25m grant from the William Penn foundation to update its old libraries. Yet libraries in general are struggling. Americans tell pollsters they love them, but fewer use them. In June the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), a federal agency, published data showing that library visitor numbers have declined in recent years. Polling published on September 10th by the Pew Research Center, a think tank, revealed that more people say they are going to the library less than going more, with a sharp gap among the young.

This is not...Continue reading

Analysts and evangelists

Mar, 16/09/2014 - 21:50

A RECENT article by Ezra Klein on the theme of "How political science conquered Washington" has sent Thomas Frank, a progressive firebrand and author of "What's the Matter with Kansas", into a tizzy. "Nearly every aspect of this argument annoyed me", Mr Frank confesses. Mr Klein's piece heralds the rising influence within Washington of academic political science and, by implication, the rising influence of Ezra Klein (pictured), who trucks in punched-up popularisations of the otherwise dry stuff. Mr Frank is not impressed. "The characteristic failing of D.C. isn’t that it ignores these herds of experts," he writes, "it’s that it attends to them with a gaping credulity that they do not deserve."

As an example of gaping credulity, Mr Frank points to the...Continue reading

Once more unto the breach

Lun, 15/09/2014 - 05:45

THE one thing about Hillary Clinton that currently excites Iowa Democrats is the idea that she might seek the presidency. For the moment, it probably does not matter that her return to Iowa on September 14th—her first visit after her shock third-place finish in the state’s 2008 Democratic caucus, behind Barack Obama and John Edwards—felt a little underwhelming. But the former secretary of state will soon need to start exciting people with more than the simple thought of her candidacy. Voters can't help but be a little curious about what she might actually do with the country’s highest office.

The former senator and first lady’s return took place on a fine, fresh autumn afternoon. The setting was carefully controlled and studiously welcoming—a gentle return to a state that had wounded her (Lexington describes the tricky semiotics of the event here).

Mrs Clinton was the guest star at the 37th and final “Harkin Steak Fry”, a combined outdoor picnic, political fundraiser and gathering of the clans for...Continue reading

Riling the juggernaut

Lun, 15/09/2014 - 00:00

HERE'S a simple question: would Barack Obama have gone on prime-time TV to announce a new military campaign in Iraq and Syria had Islamic State (IS) not distributed savvily-produced videos depicting the beheadings of two American journalists?

I doubt it. Mr Obama's political opponents were quick to put the IS propaganda videos to use as evidence of the sort of terrifying monsters that flourish under the president's feckless foreign policy. Without this publicity, the nefarious activities of IS in Syria and Iraq would have remained a minor news story for most Americans, and Mr Obama would not have felt the political pressure to spell out an aggressive plan to combat it.

As the Washington Post reported on...Continue reading

She's in harness now

Dom, 14/09/2014 - 01:50

“WE WANT to alternate ‘Ready’ and ‘Thank You Tom!’ signs all the way down,” volunteers were told by a staffer for Ready For Hillary, the shadow presidential campaign machine being built by fans of Hillary Clinton, should she decide to seek the White House in 2016. The instruction was well-advised. The scene was a lovely, sun-dappled field outside Indianola, Iowa. The time was lunchtime on Saturday, September 13th, a day before the annual “Harkin Steak Fry”, a giant festival of steak grilling and political fundraising hosted by the Democratic senator for Iowa, Tom Harkin. 

Senator Harkin, who is retiring this year, has gently lobbed a rock into the swirling waters of 2016-speculation by inviting Mrs Clinton and her husband to speak. For the former secretary of state, senator and First Lady, it marks Continue reading

High anxiety

Sáb, 13/09/2014 - 22:07

AN NBC News/Wall Street Journal opinion poll this week revealed a collapse in American public confidence that the country is safer than before the September 11th attacks. Analysts traced that collapse directly to news reports of the beheading of two American journalists by the murderous fanatics of the Islamic State (IS).

The shift in sentiment was dramatic enough when viewed as rows of numbers on a pollsters’ table. Unexpectedly, Lexington was then able to see that mood of alarm in the flesh. While in Texas researching a piece about long-term trends on the southern border, your columnist was able to tour Customs and Border Protection (CBP) stations on the bridges between El Paso and its Mexican neighbour, Ciudad Juárez, on September 11th. Travelling to each of the four bridges, it became clear that something was up. Each crossing was all but deserted (pictured above). The cause, it turned out, was an internet-fuelled panic that IS terror cells are hiding in Juárez and planning attacks, possibly to coincide...Continue reading

Let the right ones in

Vie, 12/09/2014 - 18:38

LATINO immigration advocates are furious at Barack Obama for reneging on his pledge to take executive action on immigration before the end of the summer, reports Dara Lind at Vox. The question is how to get Democrats to pay attention to Latino demands for immigration reform, when doing so could alienate white voters in crucial Republican-leaning constituencies, and Latino voters already tend to vote for Democrats. The most effective model America has seen in recent years of how an already-committed minority constituency can drive its party's policies is that of the Tea Party, which staged rallies, won media attention, and (most importantly) ran right-wing candidates in primary elections to force concessions from incumbents. But some immigration activists are looking to a different model: the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transexual (LGBT) movement. Frank Sharry of America's Voice, an...Continue reading

Suicide attacks changed everything

Jue, 11/09/2014 - 22:47

PEOPLE seem to be having trouble figuring out how to commemorate September 11th this year. I spent the morning thinking about George Packer's piece on the new documentary "Last Days in Vietnam", in which he reflects on how different America's response to the near-disintegration of its former client state in Iraq has been from the way it handled the collapse of its client state in South Vietnam. In April 1975 Congress rejected the appeals of president Gerald Ford for a package of last-ditch military aid to the Saigon regime in the face of the advancing North Vietnamese Army. In Iraq, in contrast, Barack Obama just committed to an indefinite military campaign to destroy the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and Congress seems likely to approve that intervention if it comes up for a vote. Yet, as Mr Packer writes, in Vietnam America frantically evacuated tens of thousands of locals who had helped during the war as the Communists advanced. In Iraq, however, America has left many collaborating locals to suffer violent...Continue reading

Still clouded by dust

Jue, 11/09/2014 - 19:01

NOT all of the victims of the September 11th attacks died on the day the towers fell. The collapse of the World Trade Centre buildings spewed a deadly mix of glass fibres, pulverised cement, asbestos, lead and a host of carcinogens from oil and petrol into the air. Around 400,000 people who worked and lived in Lower Manhattan were exposed, including many students attending nearby Stuvesant High School. Some 30,000 first responders and volunteers who raced to the area are now sick. Their ailments include respiratory disease, pulmonary illnesses and gastro-oesophageal reflux disease.

In the days after the attacks, Congress created a compensation fund for the families of those lost and for the injured. But it took years for symptoms of illnesses caused by the cloud of toxins to appear, long after the compensation fund closed in 2004. Many are sick or disabled, and can no longer work. Some are already dead.

James Zadroga was a police officer who worked for more than 450 hours in the rubble. Within weeks he had developed a cough, and was eventually unable to live without an oxygen tank. In January 2006 he became the first person to die from exposure to the Ground Zero dust, when he succumbed to respiratory disease. Since then, more than 130 firefighters and police officers have died from 9/11-related illnesses. Last week the fire department added 13 new names to its...Continue reading

Back to Iraq

Jue, 11/09/2014 - 09:16

BARACK OBAMA’s prime-time address of September 10th, bracing America for an open-ended campaign against Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria, marked a stunning turnaround for a cautious president, a once-again-hawkish Republican Party and—most strikingly—for a public galvanised by the beheading of two American journalists, after ignoring soaring death tolls in the Arab world (see chart). Mr Obama’s presidency is on the line, as critics ask whether he knows how to keep Americans safe.

When he proudly declared in 2011 that America's war in Iraq would soon be over, Mr Obama can hardly have imagined that, three years later, public opinion would oblige him to deliver an address from the White House, assuring the country that almost 500 American troops will head to Iraq to join hundreds already there, where they will support Iraqi and Kurdish forces with advice, training, intelligence and equipment. New Iraqi national guard units in Sunni towns will also receive support, he said. Allies on the ground would be backed by “systematic” air strikes against IS in Syria as well as Iraq. American combat troops would not fight on foreign soil,...Continue reading