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The skinny on the patent ruling

Vie, 20/06/2014 - 23:19

MOST coverage of the decision by the United States Patent and Trademark Office to cancel five patent registrations for the Washington Redskins football team has focused on the impact of the ruling. Some think the loss means it’s only a matter of time before Dan Snyder, the Redskins’ owner, reneges on his pledge “never” to change the team’s name. Others point out that the 2-1 decision will be Continue reading

Herd mentality

Vie, 20/06/2014 - 21:30

REGISTERING newly-minted American citizens to vote is a fine and worthy activity. In a nation of immigrants, it is good for politicians to hear the voices of fresh arrivals so that they have a sense of the hopes and aspirations of constituents. And in a melting-pot democracy, different communities understandably stick together as voter blocks, at least for a little while. So by rights Lexington should have found it uplifting to spend time this week watching canvassers from Dominicanos USA, a campaign group, as they looked for Dominican-American voters in Upper Manhattan and reminded them to cast ballots in a Democratic primary election on June 24th. After all the primary, in New York’s 13th congressional district, has a chance of going down in modern political history.

At stake is the seat held by Charles Rangel (pictured), one of the last Lions of Harlem—Democratic barons who turned the upper reaches of Manhattan island into a cradle of black political power. In his 43 years in Congress Mr Rangel navigated the civil-rights era and survived dark decades of urban...Continue reading

On the cheap

Vie, 20/06/2014 - 01:37

MORE than nine months after the disastrous launch of the Affordable Care Act's health exchanges, officials this week released new data that show the exchanges worked well after all. In the 36 states where the federal government ran the exchange, shoppers could choose from an average of five insurers. Nearly 90% of those who signed up qualified for federal subsidies, which brought down their average premium from $346 a month to $82. Health officials hailed the data as proof that Obamacare had expanded access to good, affordable insurance.

This will ring true to many Americans who signed up for coverage, particularly those who have subsidies. However there are many millions more who were deterred from buying insurance this year because of the cost. Obamacare's success was never going to be determined in its first year. Much depends on...Continue reading

The vain search for a third way

Jue, 19/06/2014 - 22:17

IN Graham Greene's novel "The Quiet American" Alden Pyle, a CIA operative in Vietnam in the early 1950s, is convinced that the country could be saved if only there were a "third force" in the conflict besides the French and the communist Viet Minh. He picked this idea up from a globetrotting political theorist he worships named York Harding, who thinks third-world countries can be rescued from communism by promoting "national democracy". "Harding had been here once for a week on his way from Bangkok to Tokyo," says the novel's narrator, a sceptical British journalist. "Pyle made the mistake of putting his idea into practice. Harding wrote about a Third Force. Pyle formed one—a shoddy little bandit with two thousand men and a couple of tame tigers. He got mixed up."

Alden Pyle was a fictional character, but Greene was a perceptive guy, and the American desire to create a non-existent democratic-nationalist third force in...Continue reading

Guns and lies

Mié, 18/06/2014 - 07:12

“PANTS on fire” is the lowest rating on PolitiFact’s "Truth-O-Meter". Alas, this badge of shame has done little to deter politicians and their acolytes from stretching the truth now and again. So some states have decided to take matters into their own hands. In Ohio, for example, anyone making a false statement about a candidate during a campaign risks jail time and a $5,000 fine. But does this violate the First Amendment rights of all citizens, including the deceitful?

In a Supreme Court ruling on Susan B Anthony List v Driehaus on June 16th, the justices unanimously furrowed their brows at Ohio’s ban without resolving whether it violates anyone's freedom of speech. The constitutional challenge to the state’s law came from two advocacy groups, and the justices gave them permission to press on. Lower-court rulings had found that the groups lacked standing to sue, since they did not face any imminent injury under the law. The Supreme Court, however, held that the “threat” of criminal prosecution for dubious campaign literature “suffices to create an...injury under the circumstances of...Continue reading

Identifying the disadvantaged

Mié, 18/06/2014 - 03:04

AFTER the Supreme Court in April upheld Michigan’s ban on race-based affirmative action in university admissions, some have begun wondering what alternatives are available to institutions seeking diversity. Indeed, affirmative action as we know it is probably doomed: voters have banned it at universities in at least eight states, and four more look likely to follow suit. 

This newspaper has argued against race-based admissions policies. Instead, we encourage selection procedures that offer modest preferences to economically disadvantaged students. This is the plan set out...Continue reading

So who is David Brat?

Lun, 16/06/2014 - 20:05

THE 49-year-old political neophyte who improbably toppled Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, in Virginia's Republican primary on June 11th is still something of a mystery. But one thing is certain: David Brat knows how to work a crowd. Unlike Mr Cantor, who earned a reputation for seeming aloof and distant in his 14 years in Washington, Mr Brat is friendly and animated. At barbecues and church gatherings he can be seen bounding about like a Labrador puppy, glad-handing old folks and kissing babies. Mr Cantor, on the other hand, preferred invitation-only events and was often seen plying his district from the comforts of a massive black SUV driven by a plain-clothes police officer. (Read here why Mr Brat’s victory is bad for both the Republicans and America.)

Tall, square-jawed and bespectacled, the Tea Party-backed Mr Brat is a college...Continue reading


Sáb, 14/06/2014 - 21:13

THE spectacle of American-trained Iraqi Army troops dropping their weapons and fleeing in the face of an offensive by the radical Sunni ISIS militia evokes memories of the collapse of South Vietnam's American-trained military in 1975. In both cases, weak, nominally democratic but corrupt and factionalised American-built states discovered, after the departure of their American patron, that they could not count on large elements of their own military to fight. Deploying force to control territory is the most basic function of any state, and any government that cannot do so is through. Fox News finds an anonymous "US intelligence official" predicting a Saigon-like endgame: "Baghdad is going to be overrun. The Green Zone is going down." That would certainly be a major headache for the Obama administration; as in 1975, the collapse of a former American proxy state and the victory of America's bitter enemies would project an image of American weakness in both international and domestic politics.

How much blood and...Continue reading

Cool calculations

Vie, 13/06/2014 - 21:24

AVOIDING aggressive questions is a hallmark of the White House press corps. So it should be no surprise that reporters watching President Barack Obama make an emergency statement on Iraq on June 13th  failed to pelt him with the queries that lurk at the centre of the debate over America’s role in the Middle East. Namely: Mr President, did you help to bring these horrors about when you rushed to pull American combat troops out of Iraq as quickly as possible? And, Mr President, does any part of you regret ignoring pleas to arm and train non-extreme opposition forces across the border in Syria over the past two years?

Instead reporters allowed Mr Obama to explain why American involvement in Iraq would be limited, would take “several days” to be sent, would not involve any return of ground troops and was conditional on Iraq’s central government coming up with a “sincere” political plan to resolve sectarian divisions. “We can’t do it for them,” Mr Obama said severely.

"Nobody has an interest in seeing terrorists gain a foothold inside of Iraq and nobody is going to benefit from seeing Iraq descend into...Continue reading

Polar vortex

Vie, 13/06/2014 - 00:50

IT'S hard to see what it is that congressional Republicans have done in this session of Congress to anger Tea Party supporters, mainly because it's hard to see what it is that congressional Republicans have done in this session of Congress. Eric Cantor's primary loss Tuesday was clearly a full-throated rejection of immigration reform, but Republicans haven't actually passed an immigration reform bill, or even made any serious effort to do so. As Fred Barnes writes in the Weekly Standard, Mr Cantor's offence comes down to the fact that John Boehner, the speaker of the House, "from time to time this year, talked vaguely of enacting an immigration reform bill. What that legislation might contain, he didn’t say. But this allowed opponents of any immigration measure to shout 'amnesty.'" The mere whisper of a rumour that Republicans might someday enact some sort of immigration reform, and Mr Cantor's occasional hints that he might back...Continue reading

Losing while winning

Jue, 12/06/2014 - 21:45

Our correspondents discuss the defeat of Eric Cantor in Virginia by a Tea Party candidate, and whether winning the Senate could be harmful to Republicans in the long run

Continue reading


Mié, 11/06/2014 - 22:31

DAVE BRAT, the Tea Party candidate (pictured) who surprised everyone on Tuesday by handily defeating Eric Cantor, the house majority leader, is not the only aspiring Virginia politician with a new lease on life today. Jack Trammell, Mr Brat’s Democratic opponent, suddenly has something approaching a shot of winning a seat in the House of Representatives.

The race may not be the first battle of academics for a seat in Washington, but it is almost assuredly the first time two faculty members at the same small liberal-arts college are going toe-to-toe to represent Virginia’s 7th congressional district. Mr Brat is an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College outside Richmond, while Mr Trammell teaches sociology and heads up the college’s disability-support services. 

A glance at Mr Trammell’s personal website betrays no political ambitions. The Democratic candidate is an intrepid writer, with Continue reading

Zeal and hypocrisy

Mié, 11/06/2014 - 19:58

ALABAMA'S Women’s Health and Safety Act sounds innocuous enough. The new law, which takes effect July 1st, requires doctors at abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. This will protect women and make abortions safer, claims the state attorney general's office. Actually, this is bunk. In fact the law will simply force several abortion clinics to close, as it is practically impossible for the doctors on staff to gain the relevant privileges, owing to either residency requirements (most doctors travel from out of state and work one or two days a week) or hospital prejudice (few care to be associated with abortion providers). Fewer clinics—along with other barriers to access—will only serve to make the procedure less safe, by creating longer wait times and potentially forcing women to delay abortions until later in their pregnancies.

Planned Parenthood, an abortion provider, filed a lawsuit against the state last year contending the law would force clinics in the state’s three biggest cities to close. Critics of the law say it conflicts with the Supreme Court’s 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v....Continue reading

A shocking defeat

Mié, 11/06/2014 - 07:18

DURING his rapid ascent in the House of Representatives, Eric Cantor, the Republican majority leader (ie, the number two Republican in the House, after the Speaker), seemed more interested in getting ahead than getting things done. This view, nursed especially by Tea Partiers and libertarians furious with Washington, finally caught up with Mr Cantor in a primary election on Tuesday, when he lost the nomination to the Virginia seat he first won in 2000.

With this shocking defeat, Mr Cantor has become the biggest casualty this year of what has been dubbed a civil war within the Republican party, between business-friendly centrists and right-wing insurrectionists. He is also the first House majority leader to be defeated for nomination since the office was created 115 years ago.

Mr Cantor had openly angled to become the next Speaker of the House, and was not above undercutting John Boehner, who fills the job now. Yet he was defeated by David Brat, a slightly goofy Tea Party-backed economics professor. Mr Brat's victory was convincing, albeit on a typically low primary turnout. Mr Cantor's supporters may not have realised that he...Continue reading

End of the age of dinosaurs

Mié, 11/06/2014 - 00:02

DESPITE the earthquakes of reform that have rattled public education in recent years, there are parts of the system that still resemble “The Lost World”, where prehistoric creatures still roam. A long-standing demand of education reformers has been that it should be easier for schools to fire bad teachers. The terms in many teacher contracts forbid this. Most schools when making cuts are forced to fire the newest teachers rather than the worst ones—a policy is better known as "last in, first out". The result is that a lot of bad (and often expensive) teachers linger in the system. 

Having lousy teachers is terrible for children and their future prospects. Pupils assigned to better teachers are more likely to go to college and earn decent salaries, and are less likely to be teenage mothers, according to work published in 2011. If teachers in grades 4 to 8 are ranked according to ability, and the bottom 5% are replaced with teachers of average quality, a...Continue reading


Mar, 10/06/2014 - 08:26

CONSERVATIVES complain that "Obamacore" is just another federal-government takeover, this time of public education. Leftists wring their hands over yet more standardised testing and greater scrutiny of teachers. The Common Core educational standards have become so politically fraught that it is easy to forget why so many states decided to adopt them in the first place. Six years ago school academics were a mess, the Washington Post reminds us. Different states had different standards, and high-school diplomas had lost all meaning; as many as 40% of college freshmen needed remedial classes, and American students were falling behind their foreign competitors. America's fragmented education system also "stifled innovation", according to Gene Wilhoit, director of a national group of state school chiefs, and David Coleman, a school-standards evangelist, as textbook publishers and software developers could cater to many small markets...Continue reading

Who's your daddy

Vie, 06/06/2014 - 21:57

YOU'LL SEE him in art classes with his toddler. Or in the playgrounds on weekday mornings. He cuts a lonely and gently rumpled figure among clots of easily gossiping mothers in their Pilates gear. The stay-at-home dad is a rapidly growing phenomenon among America's parents. The number of fathers who do not go to work has risen markedly in recent years and stood at 2m in 2012, up from 1.1m in 1989, according to new data from a Pew survey.

Part of the story is the recession. Peak Dad was actually reached in 2012 when 2.2m were at home, which was 16% of primary carers. Since then many have returned to paid work. Nonetheless, the long-term trends show stay-at-home dads are increasing. Only 21% say their main reason to be at home is to care for...Continue reading

Binge blues

Vie, 06/06/2014 - 17:48

IS COLORADO'S bold experiment with marijuana legalisation going wrong? It certainly went a little hazy for Maureen Dowd, a columnist whose opinions have enlivened the pages of the New York Times for nearly 20 years now. Back in January Ms Dowd found herself holed up in her room at the Denver Four Seasons, with only a marijuana-infused "caramel-chocolate flavored candy bar" for company. Visiting Colorado to report on its "social revolution", Ms Dowd, laudably committed to the cause of immersive journalism, had decided to get high. She then proceeded to make what some readers will recognise as a classic schoolboy error. 

"I nibbled off the end," she writes, "and then, when nothing happened, nibbled some more... What could go wrong with a bite or two?" The question, of course, answers itself, and sure enough Ms Dowd soon finds herself "curled up in a hallucinatory state" for hours. Like an extra from a Cheech and Chong movie, she becomes...Continue reading

Food fight

Jue, 05/06/2014 - 22:08

ON THE face of things, school meals are one of a few success stories in modern American policymaking. Five years ago it was clear that children, like grownups, needed to eat less sugar, salt and fat in their diets. Given that many children consume half of their daily calories at school, these meals seemed a good place to start.

So in 2010, Congress passed the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which set higher nutritional standards for meals, based on recommendations from scientists. With the help of the School Nutrition Association (SNA), which represents "school nutrition professionals", the act demanded healthier meals in exchange for an increase in federal spending on school lunches. Now, however, the SNA has changed its tune. It says the rules are expensive and difficult to implement, and it wants temporary waivers to the rules for any school-meals programme that has been losing money for six months. The SNA adds that school canteens...Continue reading