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Donald Trump takes Nevada

Mié, 24/02/2016 - 10:01

MANNING with a few colleagues the front desk of the gleaming Trump hotel, where even the wallpaper and drinking fountains are gilded and the exterior windows are dripping with gold, Gabriel says he will get off work early to vote for his boss at the Republican caucuses on February 23rd. Nataly, who is standing at the entrance of the restaurant on the ground floor to welcome diners, says she didn’t even know that the caucuses were taking place, though in the morning she had glimpsed the blond chevelure of Donald Trump himself, who sometimes stays in his hotel. A waitress in the café next to the swimming pool (with a big yellow “T” on its submerged floor), explains diplomatically that she needs to do more research before deciding for whom to vote.

An unrepresentative survey of staff members at Mr Trump’s five-star extravaganza, each of them of Hispanic extraction, reveals that Mr Trump didn’t put any pressure, however subtle, on his employees to vote for him. He possibly felt he didn’t need to. A member of the Trump team, who was sitting next to the hotel pool in a blue T-shirt emblazoned with the Trump campaign slogan, “Make...Continue reading

Obama asks Congress to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay

Mar, 23/02/2016 - 22:52

FOURTEEN years ago, in January 2002, the first twenty men were brought to the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba to be detained as “enemy combatants” of the United States. Eventually nearly 800 suspected terrorists would be housed in the facility, with reports later emerging of wretched conditions, Koran desecrations, aggressive interrogations and torture-induced suicides. When Barack Obama took office in 2008, he sought to fulfil a campaign promise to close Guantánamo, issuing an executive order to that effect on January 23, 2009. But he was soon forced to backtrack on the plan when paperwork on the detainees was found to be missing or incomplete, and the closure was put off indefinitely.

On February 23rd, Mr Obama renewed his push to close the detention facility, calling on Congress to finally shut it down. Guantánamo “does not advance our national security”, he said at a press conference held in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. “It undermines it.” The facility serves as a recruiting tool for terrorists, hurts America’s relationship with other countries and is a “stain” on the country’s “broader...Continue reading

How many homeless people are there in America?

Lun, 22/02/2016 - 20:42

MANY city dwellers do their best not to see the homeless people who share their streets and pavements. Donald Trump once famously insisted that his security guards clear all tramps and panhandlers from the pavement in front of Trump Tower. Even when the homeless aren’t being chased away, they can seem invisible. In 2014, the New York City Rescue Mission, a shelter, conducted a social experiment, Make Them Visible, in which they filmed participants walking past relatives disguised as homeless people. None of the participants noticed their relations sitting on the street. “We don’t look at them. We don’t take a second look,” said Michelle Tolson, director of public relations for the organisation.

Every two years, however, American cities make a huge effort to take note of their homeless populations as part of the federally mandated “point-in-time” survey. Volunteers and shelter workers search pavements, parks, and tunnels to count how many of their city’s residents are living without shelter on a given night. The data is combined with a tally of shelter beds to gauge the success of the previous year’s service efforts and to...Continue reading

Donald Trump wins again in South Carolina

Dom, 21/02/2016 - 10:54

SOUTH CAROLINA has spoken, and what it had to say wasn’t pretty. Donald Trump won by about ten percentage points, repeating his success in New Hampshire. His victory speech was a familiar, gleeful rant about how “Mexico is killing us”, and about the wall along the southern border that the Mexican government will obligingly pay for once he is elected. There is a risk of becoming desensitised to Mr Trump because he has been saying the same stuff for months. This victory speech, though, had something new. Mr Trump called for a big win in Nevada in a week’s time and then again on Super Tuesday (March 1st). “Let’s put this thing away,” he added. For once this did not sound particularly boastful, which is worrying for the Republican Party and for the country.

In one sense the party’s mainstream wing, the bit that occupies 34 governors’ mansions and has majorities in both houses of Congress, got what it wanted from South Carolina. Before the primary, the best hope for stopping Mr Trump or Ted Cruz was as follows: John Kasich and Jeb Bush drop out, allowing Marco Rubio to...Continue reading

Why Donald Trump is now heaping praise on Pope Francis

Sáb, 20/02/2016 - 02:13

IT IS probably unprecedented in American electoral history for the world’s most influential religious leader and the world’s most powerful political leader both to criticise a presidential candidate in the same week. On February 17th President Barack Obama said at a press conference in California that he continues to believe that Donald Trump would not become president, because it’s “a serious job”, not a bit like hosting a talk or reality show. And on February 18th, Pope Francis, on his way back from a six-day visit to Mexico, said in reply to a question about how voters should react to Mr Trump's plans to expel undocumented immigrants and to fortify America’s southern border with a wall, that “a person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not of building bridges, is not Christian”.

Have the pope and Mr Obama, who have maintained a cordial relationship since the pontiff helped to bring about talks between the American and Cuban government, hurt Mr Trump’s presidential ambition with their remarks? Or have they inadvertently done him a favour? Mr Trump thrives on confrontation. Shortly after Mr...Continue reading

Trump's papal problem reopens some old fault lines

Vie, 19/02/2016 - 17:51

IN MEDIEVAL England, quarreling with the pope was a game with high stakes for anyone who wanted to wield earthly power. King John (1199-1216) was punished with a papal interdict, suspending all religious services in his realm, and then excommunicated; he finally yielded to the pope's will and to make amends his successors had to pay tribute to the Vatican for another 150 years. John is remembered as a terrible king; but 300 years later, when Henry VIII defied papal authority over his marital status, he earned a place as one of England's national heroes.  

Whatever his political destiny, Donald Trump is unlikely to pay as high a price as bad King John for incurring the disapproval of the bishop of Rome. But at the very least, the public spat between the billionaire Republican presidential candidate and Pope Francis has rather painfully re-exposed some old fissures in the world of religious conservatism. 

Here is what Pope Francis said (in Italian), when asked by a reporter on the papal airliner returning from Mexico, about how voters should respond to Mr Trump and his proposal to expel illegal immigrants and...Continue reading

Bernie Sanders’s obsession with Glass-Steagall is misplaced

Jue, 18/02/2016 - 21:27

A CENTRAL part of the Sanders economic plan is to break up big banks by reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act. Until its repeal in 1999 Glass-Steagall separated supposedly staid deposit-taking banks from riskier investment activities. Today, large “universal” banks like Citigroup and Bank of America both take in customer deposits and trade in risky global markets. Breaking up the banks has some merit as an idea; it is more realistic than many of Mr Sanders’s other proposals (see article). This week, Neel Kashkari, President of the Minneapolis Fed, said it was worth considering (among other policies). Nonetheless, a focus on Glass-Steagall—to the exclusion of other ideas for making banking safer—is misplaced.

The root problem with banking is simple; that some banks are “too-big-to-fail”. The problem has two parts. First, the government feels obliged to bail out a large financial institution if it fails. Second, the probability of a bank failing is large enough to be worth worrying about....Continue reading

Hillary Clinton courts the black vote in Chicago and New York

Mié, 17/02/2016 - 22:56

AFTER a resounding defeat by Bernie Sanders in the primaries in New Hampshire and only a razor-thin victory in the caucuses in Iowa, two largely white states, Hillary Clinton is doubling down on her courtship of black and Hispanic voters. After three days of intense campaigning in Nevada, where Democrats will vote in the next caucuses on February 20th, she visited Chicago on February 17th for three fundraisers and a rally in Bronzeville, a neighbourhood on the largely black south side of the city.

Flanked by a group of black women, Mrs Clinton was introduced at the rally by Geneva Reed-Veal, the mother of Sandra Bland, who died in a Texas jail of apparent suicide after a routine traffic stop. Ms Reed-Veal recited a poem about Mrs Clinton whom she described as “selfless” and as someone with staying power after so many years in politics. “Now is the time and this is place / Now we are ready and Hillary is the face,” she read.

Mrs Clinton comforted Ms Reed-Veal when she teared up talking about her daughter, and praised her as an advocate of police reform. She vowed to change police practices so “no one is pulled over in their...Continue reading

A deplorable evening for the Republican party

Dom, 14/02/2016 - 07:59

THE new conventional wisdom about Donald Trump is that none of the old conventional wisdom applies to him. Have his gaffes, prejudices and profanities hurt him in the race for the Republican nomination? “Gimme a break”, as Mr Trump might put it in one of his more temperate asides. Last night’s debate in Greenville—a comic but also disgraceful evening for the Republican Party—may test that proposition to destruction. Then again, perhaps it won’t.

Ahead of the primary in South Carolina on February 20th, a do-or-die ballot for several of the six remaining candidates, the debate was billed as a knife-fight, and it became one. But it began as a wake for Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court justice whose death was announced earlier in the day. There was a moment of silence, and several of the candidates offered brief obsequies—before, for the most part, arguing that Barack Obama should disavow his constitutional responsibility to nominate a replacement to the bench. Subscribers to that view included Senator Ted Cruz, the devoted constitutionalist and avowed opponent of subjective readings of it. Only Jeb Bush stood out against that...Continue reading

A judge’s death starts a political battle

Dom, 14/02/2016 - 04:44

IT HAS been 11 years since an American Supreme Court justice has died while on the bench. And the death of that judge, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, had much narrower political and legal repercussions than the surprise demise of Antonin Scalia, the court’s longest-serving justice and most acerbic conservative, who has died in his sleep, promises to.

In 2005, Mr Bush was simply able to nominate John Roberts, another conservative, to succeed Mr Rehnquist. Barack Obama, now in the last year of his presidency, would love to nominate a justice in the mould of Mr Scalia’s fellow opera-lover, liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Such an appointment could tip the balance on the court decidedly toward the left for a generation or more. But any nominee must be confirmed by the Senate, and with an intransigent Republican majority there, there is no chance Mr Obama would try to do that.

Moments after news of Mr Scalia’s death broke on February 13th, Ted Cruz tweeted that the Ronald Reagan nominee “was an American hero. We owe it...Continue reading

Presidential candidates compete over their embrace of torture

Sáb, 13/02/2016 - 19:27

“YOU BET your ass I would”, Donald Trump said in November, addressing whether he might, if elected, bring back waterboarding, the interrogation technique used during the Bush administration in the early 2000s and abandoned, for its brutality and ineffectiveness, in 2009. Mr Trump declared he’d embrace waterboarding “in a heartbeat” because “it works”. The GOP presidential candidate then mused that the practice serves nicely as a punishment even if it fails to loosen suspects’ lips: “If it doesn’t work, they deserve it anyway for what they do to us”.

On February 6th, at the most recent Republican presidential debate, Mr Trump repeated his support for waterboarding and upped the ante on what George Bush’s advisers euphemistically called “enhanced interrogation” techniques 15 years...Continue reading

Clinton and Sanders are polite but pointed in Milwaukee

Vie, 12/02/2016 - 06:28

A HARD political problem faces Hillary Clinton, as she works out how to defeat Senator Bernie Sanders, the left-wing populist running against her for the Democratic presidential nomination. Her most powerful argument is that Mr Sanders is peddling fantasies to his millions of adoring, mostly young supporters, as when he says that he knows how to make Congress and the American public accept a European-style health system that would expand the size of the federal government by 40% in a stroke (though not one Republican member of Congress voted for the far less ambitious health law that is Obamacare).

Here is why making that argument is hard: making it really stick requires convincing those same Sanders supporters that they are naïve and deluding themselves about how American politics works. It is not enough to challenge Mr Sanders’s facts and figures, or quibble with his tactics. For Mr Sanders’s claims and calls for political revolution would not matter a bit if they did not make so many Democratic hearts sing. On February 9th those singing hearts gave Mr Sanders a thumping win over Mrs Clinton in New Hampshire’s presidential primary,...Continue reading

Obama urges "a better politics" during a visit to a historic spot

Jue, 11/02/2016 - 19:08

ON A freezing morning on February 10th 2007, Barack Obama declared his intention to run for the presidency on the steps of the old state capitol in Illinois, the very place where Abraham Lincoln gave his “A House Divided " speech against slavery 150 years earlier. His bid for the White House was a long shot: the young senator from Illinois was relatively young, unknown and inexperienced. America had never elected a black president. In Hillary Clinton, an experienced, well-known insider, Mr Obama was facing a formidable opponent.

Nine years later, on an equally icy morning on February 10th, Mr Obama came back to Springfield, the second term of his presidency now coming to an end. He returned to his old stomping ground, according to the White House, to reflect on “what we can do, together, to build a better politics — one that reflects our better selves”. In 2007 Mr Obama proclaimed loftily that “this campaign must be […] the vehicle, of your hopes, and your dreams […] This campaign has to be about reclaiming the meaning of citizenship, restoring our sense of common purpose, and realising that few obstacles can withstand...Continue reading

Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina drop out

Mié, 10/02/2016 - 23:20

IN AN election season full of upsets and surprises, some old rules still seem to apply. One is that those running for president under false pretences will be found out. Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey and Carly Fiorina, the former boss of Hewlett-Packard (HP), a technology firm, learned this lesson and dropped out of the Republican race for the White House on February 10th, after suffering drubbings in the New Hampshire primary of the night before. Both had attempted the same trick: posing as outsiders in a vain bid to harness this election’s mood of anti-establishment rage.

In a different year, and with a different campaign strategy, Governor Christie could have made an interesting contribution to a Republican primary contest. He is a larger-than-life, pugnacious conservative elected twice to run a Democratic state, after convincing New Jersey’s “Oh yeah? Says who?” citizens that he would bring order to public finances left in chaos by years of mismanagement, including generous pensions and other benefits for public officials. Mr Christie became legendary for public slanging matches with everyone from trade union bosses to...Continue reading

Trump and Sanders win New Hampshire

Mié, 10/02/2016 - 11:11

ICY New Hampshire on February 9th was supposed to be where America’s convoluted primary contest got simpler. On the Republican side, Donald Trump was expected to win in a state where he has led in over 70 straight opinion polls. But in Marco Rubio, who almost pipped him to second place in Iowa and had high hopes for New Hampshire, the Republican establishment was hoping to have found an able adversary for the rabble-rousing tycoon. Similarly, among the Democrats, Bernie Sanders, a septuagenarian left-wing populist had looked likely to beat Hillary Clinton—for New Hampshire is packed with the white liberals who love him, and borders his own Vermont. Yet Mrs Clinton, buoyed by her narrow victory in Iowa, hoped to limit the damage—then advance with confidence to the more diverse states of the West and South. In the event, however, Mr Trump and Mr Sanders simply won huge victories. Mr Rubio and Mrs Clinton did horribly. If New Hampshire has simplified the contest, it is not in any way that Republican or Democratic party leaders will relish.

In a windy victory speech, Mr Sanders promised his victory would send a message that “will echo...Continue reading

The Supreme Court puts the Clean Power Plan on hold

Mié, 10/02/2016 - 03:52

AMERICA’S most ambitious effort to cut carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants is in danger. On February 9th the Supreme Court, divided 5-4 along partisan lines, put the brakes on the Clean Power Plan: a move that surprised many. Barack Obama’s flagship environmental policy, the Clean Power Plan forms the core of America’s recent commitments to cut emissions made at UN climate talks in Paris. By staying the rule, the court heeded the concerns of more than two dozen mostly red states and energy companies that oppose it. It is now on hold until the Supremes decide on the legal merits of the case this summer.

Power plants are America’s largest source of greenhouse gases, accounting for just under a third of all emissions. The Clean Power Plan, under the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), gives orders to each state that, when considered together, should amount to removing 870m tonnes of CO2 from emissions by power stations by 2030 (as measured against 2005 levels). The regulations give states some flexibility over how and when to cut emissions. But each one is required to submit plans by 2018 and to show some...Continue reading

How much do presidential candidates’ policy positions matter?

Mar, 09/02/2016 - 21:39

DONALD Trump has thus far put forward unusually sketchy policy proposals. His website offers an overview of his stances on only five issues. Other candidates for president have floated more specific proposals. Bernie Sanders has a small raft of them, ranging from a single-payer health-care system to free tuition at all public universities and a $15 per hour minimum wage. Hillary Clinton and others have criticised Mr Sanders for trumpeting ideas that are as realistic as proposing that unicorns dance a jig on the White House lawn.

Mr Sanders’ stock defence of his agenda is the stuff of inspiration or delusion, depending on your point of view. “A future to believe in”, his campaign slogan, is Barack Obama’s “Change we can believe in”—minus the smidgen of realism. When pressed to explain how his ideas could plausibly come to fruition, Mr Sanders invokes the need for a “political revolution”. Here are his closing words from his Continue reading

New Orleans society and history are on display at Carnival

Mar, 09/02/2016 - 18:03

IN NEW Orleans, they call Carnival “the greatest free show on earth”—a three-week season of parades full of satirical floats, high-school marching bands, dance troupes and walking clubs. It’s the only place in America that does the pre-Lenten celebration on such a scale. Besides being a fantastic spectacle, Carnival, which culminates with Mardi Gras on February 9th this year, offers a fascinating glimpse into the city's society. Almost every New Orleans resident participates in some way, except for a few grouches who flee when the parading season starts. 

There are the blue-blood organizations—“krewes,” in Carnival parlance—that have been parading since the late 1800s, when the festival was introduced to the city by French settlers, and whose membership is generally limited to those born into the right (always white) families. There are many less-snooty krewes, which are larger and more diverse. Joining might require an invitation from a friend, membership money and plenty of “throws”: plastic trinkets to chuck from floats, which might total $3,000.

Fat Tuesday is ushered in by the city’s oldest...Continue reading

The former mayor of Providence helped lift his city only to fall himself, repeatedly

Lun, 08/02/2016 - 22:13

LINES of police officers and firefighters; a horse-drawn carriage led by a bagpiper; a service in the cathedral celebrated by the bishop: the funeral of Vincent "Buddy" Cianci, the former mayor of Providence, on February 8th, was big, like the personality that had dominated the city for decades. Mr Cianci's escapades (often thuggish and sometimes illegal) and his quips (which also became famous) frequently overshadowed his accomplishments. But the city's renewal in the 1990s can be largely attributed to the leadership of Mr Cianci, who died on January 28th aged 74. 

When he took office in 1975, Providence, once known as "the beehive of industry", was in decline. The city's once vibrant textile industry had all but disappeared. “On the night of my inauguration the police got an emergency phone call that several monkeys were escaping from our zoo. You know you’re in trouble when your monkeys are trying to get out of town,” wrote Mr Cianci in his memoir “Politics and Pasta”.

During six terms in office, over two separate stints, Mr Cianci did much to revitalise the city. Struggling neighbourhoods were rehabilitated...Continue reading

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