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At the half victory moment

Lun, 03/11/2014 - 19:55

AMERICA'S mid-term elections on Tuesday could throw the balance of power to Republicans in Congress. Our correspondents analyse the battles ahead

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Unions on the march

Lun, 03/11/2014 - 14:27

ON A recent Saturday morning, a couple of hundred union members—car workers, labourers, and teachers—gathered at a local hall in Dearborn, Michigan. Richard Trumka (pictured), the head of the national arm of the AFL-CIO (America’s largest trade-union group, with 12m members) had flown in to fire them up. He warned that the upcoming mid-term elections would be close. “Every additional vote you get out could be the difference between us winning and losing. And I gotta tell you, we are behind.”

Over the past few years union-curbing legislation has been introduced in a host of Republican-led states, mainly in the Midwest. Wisconsin, for example, passed a law that ended collective bargaining for public-sector workers. Indiana and Michigan became the 23rd and 24th states to pass “right-to-work” legislation, which prevents unions from forcing workers to be members, and keeps dues out of politics.

Unions, whose influence has Continue reading

Mumbo Gumbo

Vie, 31/10/2014 - 05:32

ON SUNDAY scientists and physicians from around the world will be descending on New Orleans for the annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH), the world's leading convention on tropical diseases. The auspiciously timed gathering will include a number of high-profile sessions about Ebola, which promise to aid efforts to contain the disease. So it seems rather odd that an e-mail sent to participants only days before the event warned that anyone who has travelled to Ebola-affected countries within the last 21 days should best stay away. "We see no utility in you travelling to New Orleans to simply be confined to your room," said an e-mail from representatives of the state of Louisiana. 

This restriction will affect scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organisation (WHO). They include Piero Olliaro, a tropical-disease expert from WHO, who had been scouting in Guinea for sites to run clinical trials of Ebola drugs. He was supposed to be co-chairing a session, giving two talks and presenting six posters. He is now racing to find someone to replace him.

This is only the latest—and perhaps most egregious—example of...Continue reading

They have a dream

Vie, 31/10/2014 - 00:41

PAPA JOE, owner of a namesake barbecue restaurant in Decatur, loves political rallies. It’s “a whole lotta fun,” he says, to serve up pulled pork and ribs to hungry Democrats, as he did in a mall’s car park on October 27th. The festive, party-like atmosphere was for Michelle Nunn, a candidate for the Senate seat vacated by Saxby Chambliss, a retiring Republican. She may be the party’s greatest hope for turning a red seat blue next Tuesday. And in Georgia, where the last Democratic Senator took office in 2001, that is a big deal.

Excitement fizzed in the largely black crowd in Decatur. One woman said she couldn’t “remember a rally like it in Georgia.” An outdoor stage, food trucks and early voting booths filled a fenced-off area. Busloads of supporters endured long journeys and aggressive mosquitoes to be there because Ms Nunn’s odds against David...Continue reading

Still making waves

Mié, 29/10/2014 - 22:57

BILL DE BLASIO, New York City’s mayor, spent some of today painting a room in the Coney Island home of Margurie Batts, an octogenarian. Two years to the day after Hurricane Sandy battered her Brooklyn neighbourhood, Ms Batts’s home is still in need of repair. The invading storm waters almost reached the second floor of her row-house. The first floor is still in bad shape. She is not alone. Many neighbourhoods and thousands of houses in New York are still being rebuilt or reinforced, and there is much work to do.

Sandy’s impact was devastating. Forty-four lives were lost in New York City alone, 23 on Staten Island. Around 150,000 homes were damaged in the five boroughs, and many more along the north-east coast. The surge covered 17% of the city’s land and flooded road and subway tunnels. One train tunnel connecting Manhattan to Brooklyn only recently reopened; others need more work. The storm blanketed much of the city in darkness for days; some lacked electricity for nearly a month.

Two years on, the storm’s impact is still felt. Hundreds of coastal homes in Staten Island and the Rockaways, in Queens, have been...Continue reading

Wishing upon a star

Mié, 29/10/2014 - 17:57

NO ONE yet has invented a time machine. But Barack Obama is trying. At a rally in a poor, largely black district of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, he did his best—and it was an excellent effort–to make it feel like 2012 or even 2008 again. A huge crowd chanted his name, and that of Mary Burke, the Democrat candidate for Wisconsin governor he was here to support. “The folks on the other side, they’re counting that you won’t vote, you’ll just go along with the status quo”, the president riffed, before turning to an older theme. “Cynicism is a choice and hope is a better choice… Hope is what built America, and I am telling you Wisconsin, there are better days. Now go out there and vote.” The crowd exploded in cheers. 

Elsewhere in America, it is hard to imagine such a euphoric reception. Even before the rally began, the atmosphere outside the high school where the president spoke resembled a festival. Children wore Obama 2008 and 2012 baseball caps; bullish-looking men strode around confidently in whip-smart pin-stripe suits, ties and hats. A man in dressed as Superman did a roaring trade in hotdogs. Traffic jammed up and...Continue reading

All hell may break loose

Mié, 29/10/2014 - 16:03

AT THE height of the protests in Ferguson in August, Dan McMullen, the owner of a local insurance company, was already thinking about the future. A grand jury trial weighing what happened the night that Darren Wilson, a white police officer, shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year old, had not even been convened yet. But Mr McMullen told The Economist he feared things would get worse if no one was indicted. He is not alone.

In the weeks and months since the riots erupted after Brown was fatally shot, a semblance of calm and order has returned to the St Louis suburb. Protesters were quieted by the launch of an official investigation and the prospect of an indictment for Mr Wilson. But leaks released last week from the grand jury trial, a supposedly secret procedure, suggest that an indictment looks unlikely.

The official Continue reading

Who’ll put the spring in Springfield?

Mar, 28/10/2014 - 23:18

“I HAVE come to save the day. And I won’t leave until I’m done,” sang the voice of Lenny Kravitz as a tour bus pulled into a factory belonging to Dial Machine, an industrial components firm. The crowd, made up of factory workers and people in their Sunday best, greeted the bus with cheers. They were there to see Bruce Rauner, the Republican running for governor in Illinois. The loudest cheers, however, were for his opening act: Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, who has been to the state three times in as many weeks to support him.

Pat Quinn (pictured), the incumbent Democratic governor, has had his own party’s rock stars campaigning for him. Michelle Obama has stumped for him, as has Bill Clinton, who said the election was about jobs, education, health care and stronger families and communities. “The rest of it is all background music,” he added.

The race has been brutal, even for Illinois. Although it is a blue state and the home of Barack Obama, the polls are tied. Both sides have aired kidney-punching attack ads. Republican ads link Mr Quinn with Rod Blagojevich, Illinois’s former Democratic governor, who is...Continue reading


Mar, 28/10/2014 - 17:40

THE battle for control of the United States Senate may well come down to how Iowans vote on November 4th. As we reported last week, their choices for replacing veteran Senator Tom Harkin are Joni Ernst, a telegenic Republican state senator and Iraq war veteran, and Bruce Braley, a liberal Democratic congressman and something of a bungler. The candidates have been locked in a dead heat since June, but Ms Ernst has opened up a small lead in recent weeks.

The latest political adverts from the candidates (below) capture the contrasting campaigns they have been waging, and portend a good showing for Ms Ernst next week. The Republican candidate,...Continue reading

Celebrity Cruz

Mar, 28/10/2014 - 16:35

“THREE weeks ago a man was stopped climbing the fence of the White House,” Senator Ted Cruz of Texas (pictured) tells an enraptured audience early on October 25th. “The Secret Service ran up to him and said ‘I’m sorry Mr President but you’ve got two more years!’” The joke went down mighty well with the 400-odd Republicans gathered at the New Life Church in Canton, Georgia. Nearly everyone was middle-aged, white and sporting stickers with the names of either Nathan Deal, Georgia’s incumbent Governor who is seeking re-election in November, or David Perdue, a Republican vying for a seat in the US Senate (pictured below). Zealous volunteers slapped these badges on anyone who passed through the church’s doors; not even your correspondent could escape being branded.

Those keen to vote early can do so now in Georgia, so party bigwigs are descending on the state to get out the vote. Besides appearing with Mr Cruz, Mr Perdue also attended an early morning rally the day before with Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, both former presidential candidates, will arrive in the coming week. Michelle Nunn,...Continue reading

A costly choice

Lun, 27/10/2014 - 21:29

FOR women living in large swathes of the American South, it is increasingly difficult to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. Onerous new rules and regulations are forcing abortion clinics to shut down in states across the region. A Texas law passed last year has already forced nearly half of the state’s 40 clinics to close. Only eight would still be in service had not the Supreme Court intervened on October 14th to block temporarily parts of the law. Remaining clinics are reporting longer waiting lists, with women travelling greater distances (and sometimes across state lines) to get the procedure. Similar rules threaten clinics in Alabama, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Virginia and Wisconsin. 

Lawmakers claim these regulations make abortions safer, as they often require doctors who perform abortions to have hospital admitting privileges. But few believe these changes achieve anything other than make it harder to get an abortion, which also happens to be a...Continue reading

Silent treatment

Mié, 22/10/2014 - 20:31

THE SUPREME COURT’S weirdly busy October brings to mind an old Cadillac commercial showing a sedan gliding silently down the highway, driver calm and confident in a hermetic, leather-appointed cabin, while the announcer intones, “quietly doing things very well.” Whether the justices are doing their jobs well depends on your point of view. But there is no disputing that they have been doing their most consequential work in uncharacteristic silence in recent weeks. The justices' moves on gay marriage, abortion and voting rights have been delivered all but wordlessly, as Dahlia Lithwick of Slate recounts. The notable exception to the rule is Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the justice who refused to hold her tongue over the weekend, when six of her colleagues permitted Texas to enforce its new photo...Continue reading

Drama, drama

Mar, 21/10/2014 - 19:19

NEW YORK is a tough town. An unpredictable one, too. The city has hosted any number of musical dramas that brim with controversy, courtesy of John Adams, an American composer, and Peter Sellars, an American theatre director. One humanised Richard Nixon, a Republican President with a tarnished reputation; another considered the life of Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atom bomb. Both of these operas and others earned polite applause from audiences and indifferent shrugs from nearly everyone else. On Monday night, however, the Metropolitan Opera in New York presented “The Death of Klinghoffer”, a new production of an opera first staged in 1991, with a score from Mr Adams, original direction from Mr Sellars and a libretto by Alice Goodman. The show is about a self-made man from Manhattan’s Lower East Side who makes a fateful voyage on an Italian cruise ship in 1985. Now everyone is up in arms.

The opera takes its name from one Leon Klinghoffer, a successful appliance manufacturer who took his ailing wife of 36 years on a Mediterranean cruise in 1985. The Klinghoffers had the misfortune of boarding the Achille Lauro, along with hundreds...Continue reading

Uneasy rider

Mar, 21/10/2014 - 05:25

THE most improbable bike path in the world is surely on the MacArthur causeway, a road connecting Miami Beach with the city of Miami proper. The road–more a motorway really–has six wide lanes of traffic and a maximum speed limit of 50mph. This being Florida, and speed limits apparently only loosely enforced, in light traffic people travel far faster. And yet driving across it today, your correspondent spotted a lonely cyclist working his way up the road against the traffic. Along the road’s right-hand side, unseparated from the traffic by any physical barriers, was a thin cycle path.

Your correspondent in his day-to-day life cycles everywhere. In Washington, DC, turning left on a main road can be dicey if drivers are not patient. In London, racing lorries at the Elephant and Castle roundabout and the Vauxhall interchange both provided daily adrenaline rushes. Yet he would no more cycle along the MacArthur causeway than he would take up bullfighting. It would be utterly insane.

In 2012 some 120 cyclists were killed in traffic accidents across Florida. That is as many as were killed in Britain in the same year–a country with three times as...Continue reading

Pageants faded

Lun, 20/10/2014 - 22:28

IT IS in my power | To o’erthrow law, and in one self-born hour | To plant and o’erwhelm custom,” declares Time in “The Winter’s Tale”. Alas, such fortitude was missing from Georgia Shakespeare, a 29-year-old theatre company dedicated to the bard, which was forced to close its doors on October 8th.

Buckling under accumulated debt of $343,000, Georgia Shakespeare has been in dire need of a Duke Theseus. “We really needed a lead donor,” explains Jennifer Bauer-Lyons, the company’s managing director. A campaign to save the company in 2011 raised more than $500,000 from local arts patrons. But donors—who are regularly squeezed to compensate for the state’s pitiful cultural funding—failed to come up with enough ducats this time around. The Georgia Council for the Arts set aside just $750,000 in total grants for the 2015 fiscal year; at the height of its generosity in 2002 it gave $4.5m. The state ranks 50th in the nation for spending per capita on the arts.

Such stinginess seems amiss in one of the South’s richest cities—particularly one with such a long love affair with Shakespeare. As...Continue reading

Childish arguments

Vie, 17/10/2014 - 16:24

A FEW weeks ago I was talking with an advertising professional who had been discussing potential campaigns with Greenpeace, the environmental group. We both admitted that these days, our reactions to people scaling buildings and unveiling banners range from apathy to mild annoyance. Those tactics seem to belong to another era, before the mass institutionalisation of flash-mobs; they lack the hook needed to achieve virality. Over the past few months, however, Greenpeace has staged a wickedly clever campaign that feels entirely of this moment: a part-online, part-meatspace twist on memes from "The Lego Movie", aimed at convincing the Danish toymaker to cut its longstanding promotion deal with Shell, an Anglo-Dutch oil company, in protest against the company's drilling in arctic waters. On October 9th Lego gave in, announcing it...Continue reading

Seizing some control

Jue, 16/10/2014 - 18:55

ON JANUARY 1st 29-year-old Brittany Maynard (pictured) was diagnosed with brain cancer. On November 1st she plans to end her life by ingesting a lethal medication prescribed by her physician. Only five states (Vermont, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and New Mexico) recognise the right to die, so Ms Maynard relocated from California to Oregon to secure this right. This is a move that many Americans are unable to make.

Assisted suicide has been legal in a few European countries for years. But progress in America has been halting: in 1997 the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the constitution does not include the right to suicide. Aid-in-dying has ideological affinities with other issues where personal autonomy and liberty are at stake—same-sex marriage, for instance, or a woman’s right to an abortion. Yet many Americans have long been uncomfortable with sanctioning suicide. This seems to be changing. Now more than two-thirds of Americans support aid-in-dying laws for the terminally ill and mentally competent. Death with dignity legislation is now pending in seven states.

But why have Americans held out for so long? And what...Continue reading

A shifting power balance

Jue, 16/10/2014 - 14:53

OUR correspondents discuss what might happen if Republicans win the Senate in November’s mid-term elections.  Will America find common ground or succumb to political paralysis?

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Do unto others

Mié, 15/10/2014 - 16:39

IN THE 1930s Father Charles Coughlin was among the most popular figures in America. Roughly 30m listeners, at his peak, tuned in to hear his weekly radio broadcasts, which were carried by CBS—then among the biggest American radio networks. Though he began by broadcasting his weekly sermons, he quickly moved into politics. I suppose you would call him an economic populist: he advocated, among other things, unionisation, shrinking government and reducing taxes, abolishing the Federal Reserve, nationalising resources and seizing private wealth during wartime. Yet as war drew nearer, he returned to one subject again and again: Jews. He held them responsible for communism and the war; he reprinted "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion", a classic anti-Semitic text; and he warned: "When we get through with the Jews in America, they'll think the treatment they received in Germany was nothing." Eventually, his broadcasters grew tired of him, the Church warned him away from politics...Continue reading

Wake us up when it's over

Lun, 13/10/2014 - 19:30

IOWA’S Senate race is a knife-edge contest between two sharply differing candidates that could well decide which party controls the United States Senate after November. As a key swing state in presidential elections, Iowa also plays host to aspiring candidates in trip after trip. Local voters ultimately have the power to affect the lives of hundreds of millions of Americans and indeed billions of people worldwide.

That is the view from Washington anyway. In Iowa, the importance of the imminent Senate race is not so obvious. Of a dozen or so people quizzed by your correspondent in a park in Davenport, on the western banks of the Mississippi river, just a couple could name both of the candidates. A couple more had formed an opinion from the attack ads that air continuously on every local television station. A few expressed the (arguably reasonable) view that Washington is broken, and politicians never represent their constituents, so why bother. Across Iowa, as across most of the United States, the reaction to these elections seems to be an enormous collective shrug.

After watching both Democrat and Republican candidates debate...Continue reading