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Donald Trump's brazen genius

Vie, 24/07/2015 - 04:27

WHEN Donald Trump began roiling the calm but crowded waters of the Republican presidential race with slanderous comments about Mexican immigrants, it was hard not to wonder what the rentier reality-TV star was up to. When someone runs for president, the safest inference is that he or she wants to be president. Even if it's a longshot, the attention is nice, and something good might come from having raised one's public profile. So if you have the money, why not run? Mr Trump's lust for attention, combined with his fortune, seemed to be all the explanation needed. "Do I look like I have a plan?" says the Joker in "The Dark Knight". "I'm a dog chasing cars. I don't know what I'd do if I caught it". Mr Trump's havoc-spreading run seemed to share this improvisational spirit.

But now that he's leading the Republican field in national polls, it seems that Mr Trump may have already caught the car, and always knew what he'd do with it: sell it for a...Continue reading

Employees can’t be sacked for being gay

Mié, 22/07/2015 - 20:54

“I HOPE you repent,” Peter TerVeer’s supervisor at the Library of Congress told him in 2010, “because the Bible is very clear about what God does to homosexuals.” Mr TerVeer, who was fired after a year of what he felt to be intense harassment for being gay, filed suit in 2013 against his employer for sex discrimination. But he couldn’t explicitly sue on the basis of an anti-gay bias because there is no nationwide bar on workplace discrimination against gays and lesbians.

The lack of protection for gays at their jobs may seem odd, in light of last month’s Supreme Court ruling that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right. By comparison, three years before state bans on interracial marriage were overturned by the Supreme Court in Loving v Virginia, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protected black Americans from discriminatory treatment at work and in public accommodations. But for gays, progress at the altar has arrived first. Bills to prohibit unfair treatment of gays in the workplace have languished in...Continue reading

John Kasich enters the race

Mié, 22/07/2015 - 04:37


“THE Lord will record what you have done for another in the Book of Life,” said John Kasich, the governor of Ohio, before an admiring crowd of a couple of thousand people at Ohio State University on July 21st. “The Lord wants our heart to reach out to have-nots.” Sounding rather more like a priest than a Republican candidate for president, the governor emphasised the importance of faith and empathy in a meandering, 45-minute address announcing his run for the White House.

Speaking without a teleprompter and with few glances at his notes, Mr Kasich told stories about his simple, hard-working family: his coalminer grandfather, mailman father and strong-willed mother, who inspired him to aim high. The American dream was pivotal for our country, said Mr Kasich. The problem is that today many are unsure whether it is still alive and possible.

The governor’s message was not always clear, but he consistently returned to the theme of morality. “I’m just a flawed man trying to be God’s messenger,” he said. Indeed Mr Kasich’s supporters say his faith is key to understanding the contradictions of...Continue reading

The moral failures of America's prison-industrial complex

Mar, 21/07/2015 - 17:25

BARACK OBAMA toured the El Reno Federal Correction Institution in Oklahoma last week, making him the first sitting president to visit a federal prison. He took the occasion to reiterate some points from his lengthy speech about criminal-justice reform, delivered earlier in the week before the NAACP in Philadelphia. He was philosophical, too, as he reflected on the way some young people end up in prison for mistakes "that aren’t that different than the mistakes I made." These actions, along with his decision to commute the sentences of 46 non-violent drug offenders last week, underscore his determination to do something about America's scandalous incarceration rate.

Mr Obama is starting small, calling for increased judicial discretion for non-violent drug...Continue reading

Must religious bakers bake cakes for gay weddings?

Jue, 16/07/2015 - 22:38

THANKS to the Supreme Court's decision last month in Obergefell v Hodges, which made same-sex marriage legal nationwide, gays and lesbians are now free to marry their sweethearts in Mississippi and other bastions of conservatism. But that doesn't mean religious florists and wedding photographers in Hattiesburg or Sioux Falls, South Dakota must now supply goods and services for gay weddings. Most conservative states don't prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. So same-sex couples who live in those states won't have legal grounds for an anti-discrimination complaint if they're denied flowers or photos by vendors of faith. The Christian photographer in New Mexico who refused to take snaps of a lesbian commitment ceremony, as well as the pious bakers in Colorado and Continue reading

President Obama for the prisoners

Jue, 16/07/2015 - 07:11

“LET'S get something out of the way up front,” said a firm President Barack Obama at the start of his speech to the NAACP’s national conference in Philadelphia on Tuesday. “I am not singing today.” His heartfelt eulogy in Charleston last month, which he closed with a soulful rendition of "Amazing Grace", was still fresh in the minds of his audience, but the president had come to talk about policy, not faith. In a mostly serious, occasionally moving and ultimately sprawling 45-minute speech, Mr Obama held forth on the state of criminal justice in America. It is an aspect of American life that remains, in his words, “a source of inequity that has ripple effects on families and on communities and ultimately on our nation.”

After rattling off disturbing statistics about the country’s incarceration rate,...Continue reading

The view from Washington

Mié, 15/07/2015 - 22:05

SOME of the most dramatic reactions to President Barack Obama’s nuclear diplomacy with Iran come from Republicans hoping to become the next American president. In many cases their attacks began before they had read the deal. That haste reflects a mood of seething distrust towards Mr Obama on the right. Both in Congress and among the party grassroots, Republicans call the president’s deal as fresh proof of his naivety, his willingness to sell American interests short and his hostility to Israel, an ally that conservatives hail as a bastion of Western resistance to radical Islam. (We consider the merits of the deal in full here.)

Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, one of a handful of top-tier candidates in a crowded Republican field, vowed to “terminate” the deal on his first day in the Oval Office, put in place “crippling” sanctions on Iran and convince allies to do the same. Jeb Bush (pictured), a former governor of Florida and another front-runner, charged that...Continue reading

Jailers in chief?

Mié, 15/07/2015 - 03:39

AMERICA'S criminal-justice system is riddled with flaws. For a stark illustration of its problems, look no further than the country’s crowded prisons. The stats are now uncomfortably familiar: America has 5% of the world’s population but a quarter of its prisoners—more per capita than any developed country. Incarceration rates have quintupled since 1970, ensuring around one in three black men can expect to spend time behind bars. And it ain’t cheap: the annual bill comes to about $80 billion, or roughly the yearly budget of the Department of Education.

In this uniquely polarised moment in American politics, politicians of all stripes recognise the problem: we incarcerate too many people, likely for too long, certainly at too great an expense. Some real bipartisan federal reform is even brewing. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, and Bobby Scott, a Virginia Democrat, for example, have introduced legislation meant to address waste and injustice in the federal corrections system. Two even unlikelier bedfellows, the American Civil Liberties Union and Koch Industries, recently Continue reading

The kitchen sink

Lun, 13/07/2015 - 22:56

HILLARY CLINTON had probably hoped to avoid the usual rollercoaster of American presidential campaigns, in which candidates must first swing towards the party base in primary elections only to veer back towards the centre for the general election. Yet the Democratic frontrunner has had no such luck, owing in part to a tenacious challenge from Bernie Sanders, a self-described socialist senator from Vermont. Judging by her speech on the economy on July 13th, Ms Clinton is feeling the pressure to lean leftward.

Ms Clinton says her economic priority is to raise wages. That is welcome. The real median household income is lower than in 1996 (see chart). Wage growth, says Ms Clinton, is the best barometer of economic success. In a dig at Jeb Bush, a Republican frontrunner who wants to raise the country’s growth rate to 4% per year, Ms Clinton said boosting wages is better than an “arbitrary” growth target­­—especially when the link between GDP and wages has been weak since the recession.

Continue reading

What's his electoral magic?

Lun, 13/07/2015 - 21:52

SCOTT WALKER is in and he’s sounding regal. “We fought and we won,” he says in his first promotional spot. “We won four elections in three years in a blue state ... We did it by leading; now we need to do the same thing for America.” The use of the first-person plural may be intended to convey modesty, a generous sharing of credit by a politician accustomed to personal triumph. Yet it also suggests that Wisconsin's governor would like you to think of him not as a mere man, but as a movement. From where he stands, at the top tier of contenders for the GOP nomination, there are good reasons for him to hope that you will. 

Mr Walker’s pitch, to primary voters at least, is that he is the candidate who can win elections without compromising conservative values. Like Ted Cruz, the junior senator from Texas and another condender for the Republican nomination, Mr Walker has correctly identified that conservative primary voters are fed up...Continue reading

Not here to cause trouble

Vie, 10/07/2015 - 21:20

IN AN attempt to lend empirical heft to his assertion that America has become "a dumping ground" for Mexico's criminal element, Donald Trump, a billionaire landlord and Republican presidential candidate, pointed to the case of Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez, an undocumented Mexican national, who is accused of murdering a 32-year-old white woman last week in San Francisco. "This senseless and totally preventable act of violence committed by an illegal immigrant is yet another example of why we must secure our border immediately," Mr Trump said.

It ought to be unnecessary to say that Mr Sanchez is not representative of Mexican immigrants, documented or undocumented. However, in light of the startling success of Mr Trump's message of fear, it seems many still...Continue reading

The case for monogamy

Jue, 09/07/2015 - 21:56

Stephen Macedo is Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Politics and the University Center for Human Values at Princeton University and the author of, Just Married:  Same-Sex Couples, Monogamy, and the Future of Marriage (Princeton University Press, 2015)

MANY progressives are signing on to a central plank in Chief Justice John Roberts’s dissent in the recent same-sex marriage case. As W.W. put it in a recent post here, now that same-sex marriage has “blasted open” the “libertarian door,” liberals need “more rationally compelling arguments” to shut polygamists out. Indeed, the author asserts that accounts of polygamy’s social harms, including mine, have “the same speculative character as some conservative arguments against legal gay marriage.” And if...Continue reading

Those "activist" judges

Mié, 08/07/2015 - 22:25

IT WAS “the best term for the left in at least a quarter century,” says Tom Goldstein, a Supreme Court litigator and publisher of SCOTUSblog. In the dramatic final days in June, the justices refused to undermine Obamacare or undercut civil-rights protections under the Fair Housing Act. They rebuffed a plea from Republican legislators in Arizona that would have nixed a fix to partisan gerrymandering. And they decided that marriage equality for gays and lesbians is a constitutional right. There were twin consolation prizes for conservatives on the final opinion day, but Mr Goldstein counts liberal wins in eight of the ten most...Continue reading

Divide and conquer

Mié, 08/07/2015 - 19:16

STANDING in the marbled lobby of one his Manhattan skyscrapers, Donald Trump, a real-estate magnate and television personality, announced his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination last month by traducing Mexican immigrants in carelessly general terms. They are "bringing drugs, bringing crime, they’re rapists," he said in a blasé tone of imperious certitude well-known to viewers of "The Apprentice", Mr Trump's recently cancelled reality show.

Americans of Hispanic descent, who now make up over 17% of the population, were incensed. Macy's, Univision and NBC, among others, were swift to sever business ties with Mr Trump. Piñatas of the improbably coiffed Mr Trump are now available to those keen to whack "the Donald" with a stick. Meanwhile, more credible Republican presidential contenders, whose West Wing dreams hang on refurbishing their...Continue reading

Packing heat

Mié, 08/07/2015 - 03:39

“I USED to love the summer,” says Elizabeth Dozier in the CNN documentary “Chicagoland”, which aired last year. “Then, once I became the principal of the school, I just started to hate summer. I have lost kids over the summer. I have had kids hurt and shot over the summer….I can't wait for the fucking summer to be over.” Ms Dozier is the principal of Christian Fenger Academy High School in Roseland, a troubled neighbourhood on the South Side of Chicago, where violence flares up as soon as temperatures rise.

The mayhem gets especially bad on public holidays, and this year was no exception. Mayor Rahm Emanuel made sure more police officers were on the streets over the long July 4th weekend, but ten people still died and at least 55 were wounded in shootings between the evening of July 2nd and the early morning of July 6th. Among the dead was Amari Brown, a sweet-faced seven-year-old African-American boy, who was gunned down in Humboldt Park on the West Side, and 17-year-old Vonzell Banks, who was shot while playing basketball with his cousin in a park in Bronzeville on the South Side. "I am...Continue reading

Stuck on the wrong side

Sáb, 04/07/2015 - 00:33

A NEW advertising campaign, “Not Alone”, is making the rounds on social media. It flashes through a conspicuously diverse array of Americans brought together by a shared feeling of alienation. “I’m a little bit nervous about people hearing I’m this way, and then thinking, uh well, she’s not welcome here,” a woman begins. Another cuts in: “I would say I’m different; we’re all different.” A man confesses, “Pretty scary… You wonder, how many people can I really, truly, honestly be open with?”

These people are ready to come out. After a few more suspense-building displays of vulnerability and hand-wringing, they finally confess: they believe that “marriage is between a man and a woman.”

In the week since the Supreme Court recognised a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, many Americans have celebrated the expansion of freedom and civil rights. But some, predictably, are uncomfortable with the change, and a few are...Continue reading

Three's company, too

Vie, 03/07/2015 - 00:24

ANTHONY KENNEDY, in his majority ruling legalising same-sex marriage nationwide, tried to allay the concern that polygamy would be next. John Roberts, in his dissent, said he couldn't see a principled way of opening the door to same-sex couples without also letting polygamists through. Who's right? Is legal polygamy next? Should it be?

Jonathan Rauch, who wrote this newspaper's ahead-of-the-curve 1996 cover piece advocating same-sex marriage, has plenty of experience in keeping people off this slippery slope. According to Mr Rauch, the problem with a man marrying two women (we don't see many real-world examples of polyandry, a woman with multiple husbands) is that it leaves another, usually lower-status man without a match. As higher-status men hoard wives, lower-status men are "denied access to life's most stabilizing and civilizing institution," he writes, and thus "are unfairly disadvantaged and often turn to behaviors like crime and violence". It's bad...Continue reading

Jersey Boy

Mié, 01/07/2015 - 04:18

BOB TOWEY is the president of Livingston High School, a position held by Chris Christie some 35 years ago. Like any good politician, Mr Towey knows a good opportunity when he sees it. He and his fellow student officers agreed it was a “real honour” to have New Jersey’s governor back at the school to launch his run for president of the United States. Mr Christie joins 13 others in the very crowded race to be the Republican pick for 2016.

“He’s like the hometown hero,” cooed Michael Ciccone, a high-school junior. Mr Christie’s old school gymnasium was packed with local politicians, some fans and scores of school chums (many greeted each other with back-slaps and bellows of “class of ‘82” or “class of ‘79”). Banners boasting state and regional championships adorned the gym and flanked the enormous American flag. The atmosphere felt more like a reunion than a political rally.

This modesty was reinforced by the subdued pomp: a mere two people introduced the governor, rather than the gaggle most candidates seem to prefer (Jeb Bush’s launch featured a full roster and a Cuban band). The first, a Democrat...Continue reading

Legal prophylactics

Mar, 30/06/2015 - 17:11

IN 2010 Jacob Szafranski and Karla Dunston decided to undergo in vitro fertilisation (IVF) to create and freeze embryos together. After the couple broke up, Mr Szafranski sued Ms Dunston to prevent her from using their three frozen embryos. Ms Dunston, rendered infertile from chemotherapy treatments, filed a counterclaim seeking sole custody and control over the embryos so that she may one day have children. This month an Illinois state appeals-court affirmed a circuit-court ruling in favour of Ms Dunston. Because the couple never signed a contract specifying who controlled the embryos, the court found Mr Szafranski agreed to allow Ms Dunston to have his child when he provided his sperm to fertilise her egg. 

“Had Jacob wanted to preserve his ability to later veto Karla's use of the pre-embryos,” writes Justice Laura Liu, an appellate judge, “the time for expressing that condition was when he accepted Karla's offer. All he would have been required to say is:...Continue reading

Last gasps

Mar, 30/06/2015 - 05:37

WHEN Oklahoma executed Clayton Lockett by lethal injection in April 2014, the state used an untested sedative. The drug apparently failed to bring on the coma-like state that is meant to precede the introduction of drugs to stop his breathing and then his heart. Lockett spent 43 minutes writhing in pain on the gurney. “This shit is fucking with my head,” he said before finally dying. 

Of the 35 people who were executed in America in 2014, at least three died grisly deaths. The problem is that states are having trouble getting the drugs they need to ensure these deaths are painless. European companies will not sell drugs to be used in executions, and American companies are increasingly squeamish about having their brands linked to lethal injections. So Oklahoma and other states have been tinkering with the three-drug protocol, in some cases using a drug called midazolam, which apparently botched Lockett’s execution...Continue reading