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Who wins when a politician wins

Mié, 13/04/2016 - 16:53

PUBLIC attention is inevitably swept up in presidential races—they are loud, ideologically contentious, and drenched in controversy over who might be quietly buying influence from whom. Meanwhile, the smart money may be flowing to where it really matters: the state house. A study by professors at three non-American universities concludes that firms whose directors are linked to winning governors gain significant advantages.

The study's authors say they have been able to quantify the benefits: a 4.1% increase in share price upfront (compared to companies tied to losers), and a 22% increase over three years. Contributing to these gains is a host of goodies: a 5.1% better chance of a state subsidy, 4.4% better chance of a state loan, 5.6% better chance of state tax credits. Other perks exist even if they can’t be so precisely assessed, notably access to bank credit in greater volume and a lower cost.

Evidence is particularly strong in the case of states that have large, heavily-regulated governments (based on academic survey data) and a long history of...Continue reading

A case of surprise unanimity at the Supreme Court over voting rights

Lun, 11/04/2016 - 21:32

PREDICTING Supreme Court rulings based on the tenor of oral arguments is notoriously hazardous, but journalists' hunches are rewarded often enough that they keep on coming. In December, this paper averred that Evenwel v Abbott, a challenge to the way the states draw legislative districts, was a close call that would turn on Justice Anthony Kennedy’s vote. Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick, one of the savviest Supreme Court journalists, also came away from the hearing thinking “it’s clear that...the justices will likely break along the usual partisan lines”. So it was a surprise last week when the eight justices—from Sonia Sotomayor on the left to Clarence Thomas on the right—voted unanimously to turn back a complaint about line-drawing that would have strengthened Republican gerrymandering efforts across the country.

The case was brought by Sue Evenwel and Edward Pfenniger, two Texas residents who charged that their state’s senate district map was watering down their votes. Ms Evenwel and Mr Pfenniger live in rural districts where most people are eligible to vote, in contrast to other Texas districts that are home to...Continue reading

Statehouses try to fend off local minimum wage increases

Vie, 08/04/2016 - 19:55

THE REPUBLICANS who control the Virginia legislature are fond of saying that less government is better government. But more government seems to be their solution to a supposed bane of industry: the requirement by some local governments that the contractors they hire pay workers more than the $7.25-per-hour minimum wage required by Virginia and federal law.

In mid-March, the state’s Democratic governor, Terry McAuliffe, vetoed a bill introduced by Republicans that sought to block local regions from mandating a so-called living wage. This was, he said, an unnecessary assault on local government which might, he suggested, succeed where the federal government has failed: helping reduce income inequality by pushing wages above a federal minimum wage that was last increased nearly seven years ago.

This is a hot topic in the American presidential campaign, touching on the resentments of both the haves and have-nots. It’s an issue that neither Hillary Clinton nor Bernie Sanders, both of whom favour raising the minimum wage (but to different levels) would be able to do much about if they faced a Republican Congress. Gridlock on such...Continue reading

Cheesed-off Wisconsinites dump Donald Trump

Mié, 06/04/2016 - 08:31

“WISCONSIN nice”, the local version of Midwestern civility and friendliness, had been on display at a town hall with Donald Trump the day before the primary elections of April 5th. The event was moderated by Scott Hannity of Fox News in the Pabst theatre, an opulent concert venue built in the late 19th century. There was none of the name-calling and fist-fighting that has become increasingly frequent at other Trump gatherings. A young man explained that he didn’t know yet who to vote for and wanted to find out what Mr Trump would do to help business. (He left early.) Christopher Handler, a handyman from Green Bay who sported a glittery golden headpiece emblazoned with “Fence Painter”, said that he had come because he wanted to ask whether he can paint Mr Trump’s fence. (He never managed to ask his question.)  A woman cried out “We love you, Donald” a few times, but it was more polite hollering than hysterical shrieking.

Serious, politically engaged Wisconsinites didn’t take to Mr Trump like their Midwestern neighbours in Michigan and Illinois, where the Republican front-runner won by large margins. At a Trump rally an...Continue reading

How redistricting in Virginia changed part of its political landscape

Mar, 05/04/2016 - 22:08

OF 435 seats in America's House of Representatives, perhaps 36 are considered neither decisively red or nor blue. Another, in the pork-and-peanut belt of southern Virginia, joined them earlier this year, when a federal court re-drew its boundaries to favour a Democrat. The district's long-time Republican incumbent, Randy Forbes, decided that rather than risk losing, he would simply move: to an open, neighbouring seat friendly to the GOP.

Mr Forbes, the number 3 Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, has become a symbol of the down side of partisan redistricting, or gerrymandering. His hop from one district to another is being viewed with cynicism by an electorate that, as Donald Trump's victories suggest, is fed up with a party establishment that seems to look after itself.

Mr Forbes, who could face two others in June for the GOP nomination, may have fueled that wariness with another strange decision. He will not actually move to his new district, choosing, instead, to continue living in the old one—because he can. Efforts by some states to impose district-specific residency have failed. In 2000, a federal appeals...Continue reading

Why opposing free-trade agreements is a clever campaign strategy

Lun, 04/04/2016 - 22:45

LITTLE has united Democratic and Republican candidates during America's primary season. Their mutual suspicion of trade, however, is a rare exception, as our recent article describes. Donald Trump says China "wants our people to starve" and Mexico is "killing us on jobs". He has proposed eye-watering import tariffs. Bernie Sanders blames the North American Free Trade Agreement for the loss of almost 700,000 jobs. And in October Hillary Clinton decried the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal that she once supported. Promising to restore the rustbelt by doubling-down on cheap Chinese imports is, it seems, an easy, patriotic message to sell.

A new paper by J. Bradford Jensen, Dennis Quinn and Stephen Weymouth at the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that opposing free-trade agreements (FTAs) is indeed a smart campaign strategy. America has a comparative advantage in high-skill activities, such as the creation of computer software, but its low-skill activities are vulnerable to import...Continue reading

Flummoxed justices plead for a contraception compromise

Vie, 01/04/2016 - 20:36

HOURS after issuing its second tie ruling of 2016, a 4-4 decision on March 29th that gives public-sector unions an unexpected break, the Supreme Court issued a plaintive cry for help. The justices are apparently evenly split again in Zubik v Burwell, the birth control case they heard last week, but are loth to issue a ruling that sets no precedent and leaves in place a legal hodgepodge whereby women working at religious non-profits in most of the country enjoy cost-free birth control under Obamacare while their counterparts in seven southern and midwestern states do not.

No one is less excited about another tie vote in another landmark case than John Roberts, the chief justice. Mr Roberts wants the public to regard the court as an impartial body administering justice with a steady hand. He emphasised in his confirmation hearings in 2005 that a justice should think of himself as an umpire calling balls and strikes, not as a player with skin in the game. And he consistently assails the "partisan rancour" in Congress that makes life harder for judges trying to administer justice and uphold the rule of law. Shortly before Antonin...Continue reading

Donald Trump’s abortion comments haunt him ahead of Wisconsin primary

Vie, 01/04/2016 - 03:21

THIS may have been the worst week yet for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. The billionaire reality television star insulted Heidi Cruz, the wife of his main rival, Ted Cruz, by retweeting an unflattering picture of Mrs Cruz next to a photograph of his wife, Melania Trump, a former model. His campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, a former policeman, was charged with battery after an altercation with Michelle Fields, then a reporter for a pro-Trump publication. And on March 30th he caused outrage when he proposed “some form of punishment” for women who have abortions, if they are made illegal, at a town hall in Wisconsin moderated by MSNBC, a cable-television channel.

Mr Trump tends to attack when on the defensive. Justifying his treatment of Mrs Cruz, he claimed his retweet was his revenge for Mr Cruz’s alleged involvement in the publication of naked pictures of Mrs Trump in an anti-Trump advertisement under the headline: “Meet Melania Trump. Your next First Lady”. (The Cruz campaign denies any involvement in the ad.) His other act of revenge was to threaten on Twitter “to spill the beans” about Mrs Cruz. He refused to...Continue reading

Efforts grow to tackle America's heroin crisis

Jue, 31/03/2016 - 22:08

ROB DEMEO underwent multiple hand surgeries after he was injured in a car accident. His doctors prescribed powerful painkillers during recovery, but by the time they wanted to take him off the drugs, Mr Demeo was addicted. He turned to dealers for pills, became addicted to heroin, and moved in and out of a treatment centre 14 times in his attempt to get clean. As America’s heroin crisis has grown, stories like Mr Demeo’s have become disturbingly common.  

Overdoses from heroin, prescription drugs, and opioid painkillers have overtaken car accidents to become the leading cause  of injury-related deaths in America. In 2014, they were responsible for 28,647 deaths.  Between 2001 and 2014, deaths from heroin overdoses alone increased six-fold, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. On average, 125 people a day die from drug overdoses, 78 of them from heroin or painkillers. These numbers have been compared to deaths from HIV in the late 1980s and 1990s. Heroin use, which used to be concentrated among low-income men in urban areas, now cuts across regions and demographic groups. It is rampant in rural and suburban...Continue reading

Political badges are selling well in this emblematic primary season

Mié, 30/03/2016 - 11:25

CONTACT with this year’s presidential politics leaves many Americans hankering for a scrub with carbolic soap. But a hefty minority are enjoying the contest so much that the traders who sell political souvenirs outside campaign rallies are enjoying their best election in memory. The most lucrative rallies are those hosted by Donald Trump, the businessman whose blend of celebrity, populism and snarling chauvinism has made him the Republican front-runner.

Mr Trump’s official campaign symbol is a red baseball cap bearing the slogan “Make America Great Again.” But the most revealing sales are of something humbler: political badges, or buttons. These have been a staple of presidential races since 1896, when the first examples were mass-produced from metal and plastic-covered paper.

A Trump rally on March 29th in Janesville, Wisconsin, drew dozens of itinerant traders. Ron Hillyard, a factory worker from Buffalo, New York, was using his annual leave to sell badges to rally-goers for $5 each, or $10 for three. The most popular featured an unusually benign portrait of the candidate, in a red cap, captioned “Trump...Continue reading

A pious hijacking at the Supreme Court

Lun, 28/03/2016 - 12:00

WHEN abstractions fuzz the mind, one tends to grope for a handy metaphor to make sense of it all. And when judges hear a case in which dozens of Christian charities and schools say that filling out a form designed to protect them actually constitutes a mortal threat to their beliefs, a skilled lawyer is wise to supply the berobed ones with a conceptual crutch. This is just what Paul Clement did last week during the oral argument in Zubik v Burwell, the latest challenge to Obamacare to reach the Supreme Court. Mr Clement twisted reality rather impressively when he said that the government’s aim was to “hijack” the health plans of religious organisations in order to provide their female employees with contraceptives. But two conservative members of the court who, some thought, might join the four liberal justices in ruling against the groups, seemed rather taken with the idea.

First, a little context. Regulations stemming from the Affordable Care Act require most employers to provide free birth control to the women who work for...Continue reading

Why Ted Cruz triumphed in Utah

Jue, 24/03/2016 - 01:55

A REHEARSAL of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is unlike any other church-choir practice. The 360-member choir rehearses every Thursday evening for two hours, with a complete orchestra in a fully-fledged concert hall dominated by a glorious organ with gilded, cylindrical pipes. Visitors are not only allowed, but encouraged to come in and listen to pre-paschal bits of Handel’s “Messiah”, which the choir is performing this weekend. Foreigners are made especially welcome.

The Tabernacle Choir’s musical tradition is like the Mormon religion itself: inclusive and open to outsiders. It is also staunchly conservative. It has constituted perhaps the most reliably Republican group of voters in the country—until now. With his incendiary talk about undocumented immigrants and Muslims, Donald Trump is testing the loyalty of Mormons, who represent around 60% of voters in Utah, to the GOP. If Mr Trump were to become the Republican Party’s nominee, as seems increasingly likely, a majority of people in Utah would do what might once have seemed unthinkable: vote for the Democratic Party’s nominee, whether it is Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders,...Continue reading

What Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin have in common

Mié, 23/03/2016 - 18:20

DONALD Trump may well be comparisoned out. Juan Perón, Huey Long, Mussolini, Hitler, Silvio Berlusconi—name a vicious European nationalist, Latin American strongman or power-grabbing tycoon and, by now, Mr Trump has been compared to him. An article in the Washington Post likened him to Napoleon, the curse of Oedipus and Frankenstein’s monster in the same breath. This struggle to comprehend and categorise the Trump phenomenon has already taken in Vladimir Putin. The Financial Times, for example, remarked on their joint preference for foreign policies based on the ruthless promotion of narrowly defined national interest; their political reliance on—or invention of—external threats (and internal ones, for that matter); and their common penchant for earthy language. 

Still, there is more to say about this last...Continue reading

Mormons against the Donald

Mié, 23/03/2016 - 09:59

Outpost of common sense

THE Republican primary contest, for so long overcrowded, has been reduced to a single main contest: between Donald Trump and those trying to stop him bagging the 1,237 delegates he needs to win the party’s presidential nomination. Besides Ted Cruz and John Kasich, Mr Trump’s bruised but surviving competitors, his opponents include most elected Republicans, most conservative journalists, perhaps half of Republican voters—and on March 22nd the tycoon caused them further dismay by winning the Arizona primary. Its 58 delegates are a handsome prize and Mr Trump, having won the “winner-takes-all” state with 46% of its vote, got the lot.

With 739 delegates overall, he is the only candidate with a serious chance of securing the Republican nomination before the party’s convention in July. It looks awfully tight; a reckoning of his prospects in the states still to vote suggests he might just fall short. For that, his opponents can now thank Mr Cruz’s coterminous success in Utah, where the Texan senator won a massive 71% of the vote—the first statewide majority of the Republican...Continue reading

Little Sisters of the Poor take aim at Obamacare's contraceptive mandate

Mar, 22/03/2016 - 19:17

NO PIECE of modern legislation has spent as much time in the cross-hairs of Supreme Court litigation as the Affordable Care Act, the 2010 health-care overhaul better known as Obamacare. The latest litigants aiming to take a bite out of the law are a coalition of religious non-profit organisations including Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of nuns who care for the impoverished elderly by running a few dozen nursing homes in several states. Other litigants include the University of Notre Dame, Catholic Charities and a host of religious hospitals, seminaries and colleges.

The lawsuit, known as Zubik v Burwell, will be argued on March 23rd in a special 90-minute hearing. It consolidates seven cases from around the country attacking the law’s requirement, as implemented by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), that employers offer no-cost birth control to female employees. The law originally released houses of worship from the so-called “contraceptive mandate” but did not exempt religiously affiliated organisations with broader missions and more religiously diverse staffs. When these non-profit groups griped about...Continue reading

Donald Trump reveals his isolationist foreign-policy instincts

Mar, 22/03/2016 - 11:28

CONVENTIONAL candidates for the American presidency signal how they might deal with the world in three main ways. First, they are expected to issue detailed foreign policies, though—in truth—few of these plans are robust enough to survive a brush with actual events. Next, by choosing advisers known for strong views or special expertise, candidates nod to their own priorities. The third signalling mechanism is the most nebulous but the most useful, and happens when contenders let slip some remark that betrays their deepest prejudices and gut instincts.

To date Donald Trump, an unconventional candidate, has come a long way without revealing very much at all about his worldview. He has offered such bumper sticker slogans as “Bomb the shit out of ISIS”, and dodged questions about his preferred sources of geopolitical advice, recently declaring: “I'm speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain.”

On March 21st, however, the real estate tycoon and Republican presidential frontrunner visited Washington, DC for a day of traditional foreign policy chin-stroking and speechifying. While in the capital Mr...Continue reading

How the Republicans can stop someone like Trump getting this close again

Jue, 17/03/2016 - 21:13

AND then there were three. The winnowing of the Republican presidential field has not proceeded as anyone would have expected last summer. Now that Marco Rubio has suspended his campaign following his disastrous showing in his home state of Florida, all the pre-primary favourites, including Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, have bowed out. Instead, the finalists are Donald Trump, a joke candidate turned dominant front-runner; Ted Cruz, the “most hated man in the Senate”; and John Kasich, a mild-mannered Midwestern governor who looked doomed (and probably still is) to a Jon Huntsman-style also-ran finish. It can be hard to see what, if anything, these candidates have in common. But upon further review, it is the yawning chasms between them that are the most revealing about the current state of the nomination process.

Mr Rubio was an on-and-off Continue reading

Barack Obama nominates Merrick Garland to fill Antonin Scalia’s seat

Mié, 16/03/2016 - 20:57

ON MARCH 16th, in a move that may test the mettle of recalcitrant Senate Republicans, Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland, a widely respected and politically moderate judge, to fill the late Antonin Scalia’s Supreme Court seat. Mr Obama presented Mr Garland as a “serious man and exemplary judge” who is “uniquely prepared” for the job. He is one of “America’s sharpest legal minds...who brings to his work a spirit of decency, modesty, integrity, even-handedness and excellence”, the president said. The nominee, who has been vetted but passed over for the Supreme Court bench by Mr Obama twice before, said that his nomination was, next to his engagement to his wife, “the greatest honour of my life”.  

According to expert court-watcher Tom Goldstein, Mr Garland is a choice “from Hollywood central casting”. He earned undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard, worked as a clerk for Judge Henry Friendly and Justice William Brennan, was made partner in an elite law firm in a blazing four years and, during a mid-1990s stint in the Justice Department, was involved in prosecuting the Unabomber and the masterminds of the...Continue reading

A refreshing break from ideology at the Supreme Court

Mié, 16/03/2016 - 15:59

IN THE wake of Justice Scalia's death last month, America's Senate finds itself embroiled in a debate over the nature of its constitutional duty to provide “advice and consent” on Barack Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland to replace him. But as a spotlight is trained on the judiciary as a central issue in the presidential campaign, the eight sitting justices are keeping their heads down and quietly doing their jobs.

In the past two weeks, we have seen several signs that the Supreme Court may be keen to tamp down the blaring partisanship that has been casting a cloud over its work. First was a nearly-unanimous order blocking a 5th-circuit court decision that would have radically curtailed abortion access in Louisiana. Next was a unanimous back-of-the-hand summary reversal of an Alabama Supreme Court decision rejecting a gay parent’s adoption. And in a 6-2 decision issued last week, an ideological hodgepodge of justices coalesced around a ruling that will lengthen the prison sentence of a...Continue reading

A big night for Trump, Clinton and Kasich is Rubio’s last

Mié, 16/03/2016 - 08:10

VOTER turnout in Illinois appeared to have beaten the record set in the primary elections of 2008, when Barack Obama, who had adopted Chicago as his hometown, and Hillary Clinton, who was born in Chicago, were opponents on the Democratic Party’s ballot. In other election years both parties had pretty much settled on their candidate by the time Illinois—as well as Ohio, Florida, Missouri, North Carolina and the Northern Mariana Islands’ commonwealth—got to vote. This time was different, because voters realised how much was at stake. The vote on March 15th would determine whether Donald Trump could be stopped as Republican nominee and whether it would make sense for his rivals, John Kasich, the governor of Ohio, and Marco Rubio, a senator from Florida, to stay in the race. It was also to decide whether another insurgent, Bernie Sanders, has a realistic chance to wrest the Democratic crown from Mrs Clinton. 

In the course of the evening it became clear that one of the most controversial candidates for the presidency in Republican history will probably be the party’s nominee. Mr Trump won Florida, which netted him 99...Continue reading