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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

The inside of John Roberts's head

Sáb, 27/06/2015 - 01:19

JOHN ROBERTS, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, has conservatives vexed. To many of them, Mr Roberts' dissent to the majority's decision legalising gay marriage today seems flatly inconsistent with his reasoning in the King v Burwell case, which saved Obamacare. "Under the Constitution", Mr Roberts wrote in his dissent in the gay marriage case, "judges have power to say what the law is, not what it should be". But didn't the court effectively rewrite the text of the Obamacare just two days ago when it ruled that insurance exchanges established by the federal government should be counted among those "established by the states"?

"The inside of John Roberts's head must be a very interesting place," tweets John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary. "Kind of like the Civil War, only no Confederate flag". Mr Podhoretz vividly captures a common conservative sentiment about Mr Roberts today.

It is easy to see why Mr Roberts' two opinions may seem at odds. He seems both willing and unwilling to have the court say what the law should be. But Mr Roberts is in fact totally consistent. A closer look at his opinions on Obamacare...Continue reading

Expect more shouting

Vie, 26/06/2015 - 16:33

THE Affordable Care Act has survived another encounter with the Supreme Court. Now 7.5m Americans who might otherwise have lost subsidised health insurance can keep it. This is a good thing. Trying to disentangle the effects of the law, better known as Obamacare, from all the other changes affecting health care is like trying to count raindrops. The implementation of the law has coincided with a slowing in health-care inflation and a drop in unemployment. This suggests that the two main charges against the law—namely that it is a job killer and it drives up costs—are shaky. Given that the ACA has been blamed for all sorts unwelcome...Continue reading

A constitutional right

Vie, 26/06/2015 - 15:22

THIS morning, on the anniversary of two previous rulings expanding gay rights, and on the eve of gay-pride weekend in New York and San Francisco, America's Supreme Court announced a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

By a vote of 5-4, the justices ruled that the 14th amendment prohibits states from banning gay nuptials. The case, Obergefell v Hodges, was argued in April.

In his majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy began by noting that "[t]he centrality of marriage to the human condition makes it unsurprising that the institution has existed for millennia and across civilizations",...Continue reading

Hail to the chief

Jue, 25/06/2015 - 19:31

FOR the second time in three years, Chief Justice John Roberts has departed from his conservative colleagues and voted to keep Obamacare chugging. In 2012, he authored the majority opinion in a 5-4 ruling that turned back a constitutional challenge to the law’s requirement that most Americans buy a health insurance policy. This time, he wrote for six justices in scuttling an objection that the legislation, as written, is self-defeating. Mr Roberts is again being booed on Fox News and by opponents of the law. Michael Cannon, a director at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, says the ruling has “validated President Obama’s massive power grab” and is proof that the Supreme Court has “allowed itself to be intimidated”.

But to read his characteristically lucid 21-page opinion, there are few signs Mr Roberts has been cowed into submission. He seems, instead, rather to like Obamacare. The first...Continue reading

Speaking truth to obliviousness

Jue, 25/06/2015 - 00:34

If you're a white American, you're more likely than not to vote Republican, though it's a close call. If you're white and male, or white and religious, or white and from the South, or white and old enough to collect Social Security, your odds of a GOP affiliation go up a good deal. If you happen to be a 70-year-old white evangelical gentleman from Tennessee, you're either Republican or exceedingly odd. About as odd as a black Republican. Ben Carson, a black retired neurosurgeon running for the Republican presidential nomination, is odd—and valuable. Black Republicans aren't quite unicorns, but they are capable of working a rare magic. Unlike the president, Mr Carson, a staunch Tea Party conservative, is a black man white Republicans will pay attention to when he talks about race.

After a young white supremacist murdered nine black people in a Charleston church, another Republican doctor, Rand Paul, a Kentucky senator and presidential contender, Continue reading

A culture of violence

Mar, 23/06/2015 - 17:03

THE MURDER of nine black Americans in Charleston, South Carolina by a young white man hoping to start a "race war" has renewed calls for stricter gun control, as well as the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the South Carolina state house. It has also renewed a pressing question: why are mass shootings so common in America? One popular answer is that there are simply too many guns in America, and that it is far too easy to get one. But what can be done about this? As Lexington rightly noted, not much. But why not?

Joseph Heath, a philosophy professor at the University of Toronto, published a penetrating meditation last week on the ways ideology can distort sincere attempts at social-scientific explanation. He has nothing at all to say about gun control. But he does offer a series of insights about the follies to which experts are prone when attempting to analyse social problems. In particular, Mr Heath points to...Continue reading

Time for the museum

Lun, 22/06/2015 - 20:39

(Update: On Monday South Carolina's Governor, Nikki Haley, along with both state senators, Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, and a bipartisan group of other lawmakers called for the state to remove the Confederate battle flag from state grounds. "Our state is grieving, but we are also coming together," Ms Haley said.)

FOR nearly half a century Georgia’s state flag was three-quarters filled with the battle flag of the Confederacy, a symbol of the pro-slavery side in America's civil war. This state flag had been adopted in 1956, two years after the Supreme Court integrated America’s schools with its Brown v Board of Education ruling. But by the 21st century flying this loaded flag seemed awkward. Georgia had been home to some of America’s great black civil-rights leaders, including Martin Luther King junior, John Lewis and Andrew Young. Atlanta, the state’s bustling capital (and your correspondent’s hometown), had also spent the postwar decades striving to be the centre of a “new South”, “a city too busy to hate”.

In 2001 Georgia adopted a new flag, with the state seal on a plain blue background, below which were...Continue reading

The Republicans have a pope problem

Lun, 22/06/2015 - 20:11

IT WAS bad enough when Pope Francis began banging on about inequality. Worse still when he changed the church’s tone when it comes to addressing gay people (“Who am I to judge?”). Now the pope has issued a papal encyclical affirming the science of climate change and calling on leaders to phase out fossil fuels from the global economy. 

This puts the GOP’s presidential candidates in an awkward position. At least five of them—including frontrunners Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio—are practicing Catholics. Messrs Bush and Rubio have both questioned or denied the science of climate change and rejected policies to regulate the burning of fossil fuels. And they are both from Miami, a place seen as...Continue reading