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#Oops

Mar, 13/01/2015 - 05:24

IT MAY have been a coincidence, but it was still highly embarrassing. On January 12th Barack Obama called for new federal laws that would tighten up how students’ personal data is protected and force companies whose systems have been breached to notify their customers promptly. Yet it seems America’s military needs a reminder to keep its own data safe, too. The same day, hackers calling themselves the “CyberCaliphate” briefly took over the Twitter and YouTube channels of the country’s military command that oversees operations in the Middle East.

American officials scrambled to downplay the severity of the attack, with a Pentagon spokesman describing it “as little more than a prank or as vandalism”. Before the channels were shut down by the Americans, the hackers had time to post a few propaganda messages about their “CyberJihad”, including one telling American troops fighting Islamic State’s advance to “watch your back”. They also posted a number of military documents, such as a list of generals and maps that appeared to show maritime defences along China’s coastline and the location of missile sites and nuclear...Continue reading

Rand Paul's troubled triangulation

Lun, 12/01/2015 - 18:24

RAND PAUL, the junior senator from Kentucky, is probably running for president. In very early polls, Mr Paul is running fourth in a crowded field of potential contenders, lagging behind Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and Paul Ryan. He faces an uphill climb and, as the son of the former libertarian-ish Texas congressman and perennial presidential candidate, Ron Paul, he faces some unique challenges. In order to become a viable candidate for the Republican nomination, Mr Paul needs to draw in a significant portion of his father's unusually enthusiastic supporters, to whom he owes his political existence, while appealing simultaneously to mainline Republican voters, to whom the elder Paul's anti-interventionist foreign policy is anathema. It's a tough trick, and it is doubtful Mr Paul will be able to strike the necessary balance. That said, in Mr Paul's Thursday comments on Sean...Continue reading

Drawing blood

Jue, 08/01/2015 - 00:10

MASKED gunmen killed 12 people today in an assault on the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satire magazine famous, and infamous, for skewering nearly everything, but especially sacred cows. Their targets included religious fanatics of every kind, and they did not hesitate in publishing images of Mohammed, a practice considered blasphemous by some Muslims. The murderers remain at large, so their motive cannot be established with certainty, though a fleeing gunman was heard to shout "Allahu akbar", Arabic for "God is great". In this context, it is very easy to jump to conclusions, for it is very hard to imagine what might have inspired a killing spree targeting humour magazine staffers, including a handful of France's best-known cartoonists, other than the violent Islamic fanaticism that has scourged Charlie Hebdo for years. In 2011, for example, the magazine's office...Continue reading

Still strong

Mié, 07/01/2015 - 22:48

BOSTON'S Old South Church has been a steady fixture throughout the city’s history. During an outbreak of pox in 1677, the church’s minister published what was said to be the first patient information brochure in the colonies. The church’s old meeting house was a recruiting station for the Union army during the civil war, and it is where Sam Adams, a congregation member, launched the Boston Tea Party. The church stands at Copley Square, steps away from where home-made bombs exploded near the Boston marathon finish line in April 2013.

For many in Boston that day is still raw. It was Patriots Day, a local holiday, which families usually spend watching the marathon or attending a baseball game. Three spectators were killed, including an eight-year-old boy, and more than 260 people were badly injured. Many lost limbs. A police officer was apparently shot by the suspects a few days later. It was the deadliest act of terrorism in America since the September 11th attacks. Resiliency is a point of pride for the...Continue reading

Bracingly, bitterly windy

Mié, 07/01/2015 - 18:07

WHEN your correspondent moved to Chicago at the end of October, her friends gave her a thermal blanket, her godmother two pairs of gloves (one for cold and one for even colder weather) and her mother sent her to The North Face, a retailer, to get the warmest winter boots they make. “Is it very cold?” they asked every time they called the newly arrived Chicagoan. “Do you have the right kit?” For all of December I laughed about their well-meaning concern. “Piece of cake, it’s like London, only sunnier and windier.” I wasn’t sure what the fuss was all about.

This changed with the onset of the first real snow—and the first real cold of the winter this week. Temperatures started to plunge in the evening of January 4th—and have gone down ever since. On January 6th residents of the greater Chicago area woke up to between two and five inches of snow, a pretty sight, best enjoyed in a warm room with a cup of cocoa in hand. By then the temperature had gone down to minus 12 degrees Celsius (10 Fahrenheit), which felt much colder thanks to the ever present wind. Today temperatures are forecast to go down...Continue reading

Just like Airbnb

Mar, 06/01/2015 - 20:34

IN A hospital emergency room, patients with the most urgent problems are usually treated first. It makes little sense to mend a broken finger if someone is waiting with a heart attack. Yet this one-size-fits-all approach has long informed the way the country handles homelessness. Housing subsidies and assorted services are often doled out on a first come-first served basis, regardless of need. With wait times measured in years, and little co-ordination between agencies, the homeless who are best served tend to be the easiest to treat, as they are the most capable of navigating—and tolerating—a Byzantine bureaucracy. The most critical cases often end up slipping between the cracks. 

Cities can save a lot of money if they swiftly place these needy cases in supportive permanent housing—a plan known as Housing First—while offering fewer services to those...Continue reading

Home of the unbrave

Lun, 05/01/2015 - 23:30

THE ominously named "Winter Storm Gorgon" is set to dump scads of the white stuff across a broad swathe of America, from the Rockies to the Poconos. Law-abiding families mustn't rush to break out the toboggans, however, for there is a trend afoot to outlaw sledding

[F]aced with the potential bill from sledding injuries, some cities have opted to close hills rather than risk large liability claims.

No one tracks how many cities have banned or limited sledding, but the list grows every year. One of the latest is in Dubuque, Iowa, where the City Council is moving ahead with a plan to ban sledding in all but two of its 50 parks.

"We have all kinds of parks that have hills on them," said Marie Ware, Dubuque's leisure services manager. "We can't manage the risk at all of those places."

Other wholesome locales, such as Des Moines, Iowa and Lincoln, Nebraska have also restricted sledding to certain hills posted with sled-at-your-own-risk warnings. This crackdown on unregulated sledding seems of a piece...Continue reading

Hamlet on the Hudson

Sáb, 03/01/2015 - 22:54

DAYS before Christmas in 1991, a private plane at Albany’s airport stood ready to take off at a moment’s notice to carry Mario Cuomo, then New York’s governor, to New Hampshire to meet the filing deadline to run in the presidential primary. At the time there were already six Democratic candidates ready to take on George Bush senior, the Republican incumbent, but no one stood out—not even Bill Clinton, the eventual President. Many Democrats were hoping Mr Cuomo would step up to the plate. He had impressed the nation with his spell-binding keynote speech during the Democratic National Convention in 1984, when he described the country as a tale of two cities, a rich one and a poor one filled with mounting despair. The Democratic candidate that year, Walter Mondale, went on to lose every state, bar his home-state of Minnesota, to Ronald Regan; many on the left wondered aloud if they had backed the wrong Democrat. Liberals urged Mr Cuomo to run in 1988, to little avail. Surely he would run in 1992, and put an end to his party’s losing streak.

But that aeroplane never did take off. Instead, Mr Cuomo stayed in New York to battle the state...Continue reading

Baby talk

Mié, 31/12/2014 - 04:09

A NORTH CAROLINA law enacted in 2011 requires every woman seeking an abortion to submit, between four and 72 hours before the procedure, to an ultrasound of her developing foetus. The Woman’s Right to Know Act (which, in less Orwellian terms, might be called the North Carolina Right to Harangue Act) relies on a 1992 Supreme Court decision upholding an "informed consent” rule whereby doctors were required to offer patients a state-issued pamphlet describing the risks of abortion procedures. North Carolina ups the ante considerably with its recent law, adding a so-called “Display of Real-Time View Requirement.” In the words of a judge on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which issued a ruling against the law on December 22nd, this requirement

obligates doctors (or technicians) to...display the sonogram so that the woman can see it and describe the foetus in detail, “includ[ing] the presence, location, and dimensions of the unborn child within...Continue reading

Good lord, don't shoot

Lun, 29/12/2014 - 18:26

MASS on Christmas evening at St Sabina, a Catholic church in Auburn Gresham, a largely African-American neighbourhood on the south side of Chicago, is a three-hour extravaganza. There's a soul and rock band, floating dancers dressed in white, a cartwheeling redeemer dressed in glittery pink, and a tableau vivant of young black men with placards around their necks bearing the names of Eric Garner and Michael Brown (two black men killed by police in 2014) and Trayvon Martin (a black teen killed by a vigilante in 2012). In “A Mother’s Cry to God”, a woman bewails the fate of black Americans in a 20-minute monologue about the police, poverty, unemployment, the lack of adequate health care and foreclosures, all of it interspersed with cries of “I can’t breathe!”, Eric Garner’s dying words.

This performance is the warm-up act for the sermon of Father Michael Pfleger, an outspoken anti-gun activist who has been at St Sabina, one of Chicago’s poorest and most-rundown neighbourhoods, for 33 years. (Outside of the church is a Christmas tree decorated with pictures of children killed by guns.) “Invade!” shouts Father Michael...Continue reading

Breaking the habit

Sáb, 20/12/2014 - 17:14

WOMEN entering religious life in the Catholic church take, among other vows, the vow of obedience. This vow demands deference to both God and church doctrine; in other words, to the men who set and uphold Catholic teaching. But the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), an organisation representing 80% of American nuns, hasn’t always been so keen on meek deference. Members in the past have publicly dissented with the Vatican on issues including gay rights, abortion and the ordination of women. More recently, the group has been criticised for concentrating too much on social justice, rather than championing the church’s teachings on abortion and sexuality.

In 2008, under Pope Benedict XVI, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith initiated an investigation of American nuns, citing concerns about “a certain feminist spirit.” As Reverend Paul Sullins at the Catholic University of America explained, these women “have suggested that the church’s teachings are wrong or dated or need to be changed, and it wants to enter into some sort of conversation… It’s a huge arrogance.” The investigation continued under Pope Francis and...Continue reading

A partisan cha-cha

Mié, 17/12/2014 - 20:43

THE American political world offered two rather different responses to the White House’s announcement on December 17th that full diplomatic relations with Cuba are to resume within months. One take was noisily partisan, with talk about what this might mean for the 2016 presidential contest, and complaints that the policy offers further proof that President Barack Obama is an “appeaser-in-chief”, as one Cuban-American Republican congressman ventured. The other response, which was relatively more muted, considered the merits of the policy itself. Some now wonder whether the American embargo with Cuba can be said to have worked, given that the Castro brothers remain in charge in Havana more than half a century after the two sides closed their respective embassies.

Renewed diplomacy with Cuba follows 18 months of secret talks hosted by Canada and the Vatican. It will be accompanied by the largest easing of travel bans and trade embargoes in 50 years. It was made possible by Cuba’s release of Alan Gross, a subcontractor for the US Agency for International Development. Mr Gross has spent five years in prison in failing health,...Continue reading

Joy division

Mar, 16/12/2014 - 20:06

JEB BUSH, the former Florida governor, presidential son and brother, once said that he would only mount his own White House bid if he could do it “joyfully”. After months of speculation, on December 16th Mr Bush announced his decision to “actively explore the possibility” of running for president in 2016.

That half-entry into the race will trigger a torrent of analysis about what sort of Republican Mr Bush is. Those who remember his time running Florida from 1999 to 2007 recall a stern fiscal and social conservative, who cut billions of dollars from state tax receipts and passed a welter of pro-gun laws. More recently he has been a spokesman for his party’s pragmatic, pro-business wing. He is known for two positions, above all, that enrage conservative hard-liners: his support for the nationwide education standards known as Common Core (seen on the right as a liberal plot), and his belief that Republicans must embrace comprehensive immigration reform with enthusiasm and compassion, or face long-term irrelevance (many migrants arrive unlawfully in “an act of love” for their family, he said in April 2014,...Continue reading

Driving while nervous

Mar, 16/12/2014 - 14:59

IN AN unusual 8-1 split, with Justice Sonia Sotomayor as the lone dissenter, the Supreme Court issued a ruling on Monday that whittles away at the Fourth Amendment protection against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” The case, Heien v North Carolina, involves a questionable traffic stop. Chief Justice John Roberts, the author of the majority opinion, lays out the facts with characteristic crispness:

On the morning of April 29, 2009, Sergeant Matt Darisse of the Surry County Sheriff’s Department sat in his patrol car near Dobson, North Carolina, observing north-bound traffic on Interstate 77. Shortly before 8 a.m., a Ford Escort passed by. Darisse thought the driver looked “very stiff and nervous,” so he pulled onto the interstate and began following the Escort. A few miles down the road, the Escort braked as it approached a slower vehicle, but only the left brake light came on. Noting the...Continue reading

Unequally enforced

Vie, 12/12/2014 - 15:49

MERE hours before the midnight deadline last night, the House narrowly passed a $1.1 trillion federal budget agreement to fund the government through most of next year. The plan now heads to the Senate, where it is expected to pass in a matter of days. But this budget has a few questionable odds and ends lurking in its 1,600 pages (which we will cover in more depth in the coming week). One provision in particular has many in Washington, DC, wondering whether the city’s plan to legalise small amounts of marijuana—which seven out of ten voters backed in November—is about to go up in smoke.  

Pot is “potent stuff,” argues Continue reading

The perils of fast-tracking

Mié, 10/12/2014 - 17:27

LIKE Plato's early dialogues inquiring into the meaning of justice or piety, Monday’s oral argument at the Supreme Court ended with no clear answer to the central question: what, exactly, is Amtrak? In the case of Department of Transportation v. Association of American Railroads, for which oral arguments were heard on December 8th, the justices grappled with whether the nationwide passenger train service is or isn't part of the government, and whether it unconstitutionally steps on the toes of other train companies.

Amtrak, it appears, is an inscrutably indeterminate entity. But some facts are clear. With the rise of the automobile and commercial aviation in the 20th century, passenger rail service took a huge hit; by the late 1960s the Pullman Company and the Penn Central,...Continue reading

Crooning for votes

Mié, 10/12/2014 - 06:01

WITH the midterm elections done and dusted, everyone’s eyes are now on 2016. Aspiring presidential candidates are already jockeying for position—making bold speeches, raising big money and, lord help us, releasing campaign songs. “Stand With Hillary”, a political action committee (PAC) supporting Hillary Clinton, recently entered the fray with a YouTube video featuring what some are gleefully describing as the worst campaign song ever.

It’s “time to stand up with Hillary,” croons a dreamy young cowboy with a scruffy beard, soulful eyes and white Stetson. Wearing snug jeans and an unbelievably earnest expression, this sun-kissed rancher offers some down-home praise for the former secretary of state. “She’s a mother, a daughter and through it all she’s a loving wife,” he warbles, and then encourages listeners to “put your boots on and let’s smash this ceiling.” (To drive this subtle point home, our fair crooner dons a hard hat and swings a sledgehammer through a sheet of glass.) No American cliché goes unparaded: the video features fleeting images of farmers, a red barn, cattle, construction workers and the Statue of Liberty....Continue reading

A hard pill to swallow

Mar, 09/12/2014 - 23:14

JOHN MCCAIN, the senior Republican senator from Arizona, spent time in a Hanoi prison camp after fighting for his country in the 1960s and early 1970s. His speech, which followed the publication earlier today of the Senate intelligence committee’s report into torture by the CIA in the years after September 11th 2001, is thus worth paying attention to. Torture, he said, “compromises that which most distinguishes us from our enemies”; the CIA agents who used it “stained our national honor”.

That is a bold statement, but not necessarily a hyperbolic one. The Senate’s report, which looks into the use of torture roughly between the 9/11 attacks and the end of the Bush presidency in 2008, is devastating stuff for the agency. What is shocking is not only the sorts of things that CIA officers were apparently getting up to, but also the brazen way in which they recorded it, with limited oversight from either the Senate or the executive branch of government.

According to the report, which is based on thousands of internal CIA documents, the “enhanced interrogation techniques” (a...Continue reading

A referendum on Rahm

Mar, 09/12/2014 - 14:54

WHEN Rahm Emanuel announced his re-election bid as mayor of Chicago on December 6th, he avoided talk of violent crime and pension liabilities, two of the city’s most pressing problems. Instead he crowed about the Chicago’s rising minimum wage, which will reach $13 by 2019 (from $8.25), and he empathised with the squeezed middle class, whom he says he is trying the help. Speaking at a film-production studio on the city’s west side, and against the faint chants of some protesters beyond the crowd (a couple of whom were dressed as $100 bills), he touted a record that includes introducing city-wide recycling and full-day kindergarten, and placing more police officers on the street. Since he assumed the office in May 2011, more students have begun graduating from high-school, too.

Mr Emanuel faces nine challengers in the election on February 24th, including Jesus Garcia, a Cook county commissioner, and Bob Fioretti, an alderman. He is not popular. A poll in August by the Chicago...Continue reading

Lessons from Camden

Jue, 04/12/2014 - 19:35

“I CAN’T breathe!” chanted hundreds of people throughout New York and around the country yesterday. The peaceful protests were in response to a grand jury decision not to indict Daniel Pantaleo, a Staten Island police officer, for killing Eric Garner after placing him in a chokehold in July. The chant is a reference to Garner’s final words before he died. The chokehold—recorded on the mobile phones of bystanders—is a manoeuvre that is banned by New York police. For many protesters, Garner’s death and Mr Pantaleo’s freedom simply reinforce the view that America’s criminal justice system is racially biased.

The timing of the verdict, less than two weeks after a grand jury decided not to indict a white police officer for killing an unarmed black man in Ferguson, Missouri, only burnishes this belief. Eric Holder, the attorney-general, has promised that the Department of Justice will investigate the Garner case....Continue reading

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