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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

The Republican primary contenders have a big televised dust-up

Dom, 07/02/2016 - 09:45

SUCCESSFUL in Iowa and surging in New Hampshire, Marco Rubio went into the televised Republican debate on February 6th knowing two things. He was due a pasting—especially from the three governors, Chris Christie, John Kasich and Jeb Bush, who are vying with him for the mainstream conservative vote. Second, if he could cope with their attacks well, he would have a gilded opportunity to impress both New Hampshire voters, ahead of the state’s primary election on February 9th, and the Republican moneymen looking anxiously for an antidote to Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. In the event, Mr Rubio flunked his chance.

In the predicted pile-on it was Mr Christie, also predictably, who landed the most stinging blows on the fresh-faced senator from Florida. “You have not been involved in a consequential decision where you had to be held accountable. You just simply haven’t,” he harangued Mr Rubio—and the senator’s response to Mr Christie’s onslaught was toe-curlingly bad.

Accused by the New Jersey governor of too easily resorting to a “memorised 30-second speech where you talk about how great America is at the end,” Mr...Continue reading

Angry squabbling about Wall Street and progressivism

Vie, 05/02/2016 - 10:07

IT WAS the fifth face-off between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in a series of Democratic primary debates, but their first one-to-one after their last remaining rival, Maryland’s former governor Martin O’Malley, dropped out on February 1st. And it was a last-minute decision, taken this week, to hold a debate on February 4th, just five days before voters cast their ballots in first New Hampshire’s primary. Having come under fire for not organising enough debates, the Democratic National Committee hastily scheduled four additional encounters between the two candidates for the nomination.

Mrs Clinton was in a more vulnerable position than usual. Still the front-runner, until not long ago she seemed a shoo-in to be the Democratic candidate for the presidency. She only just avoided humiliation at the caucuses in Iowa, eking out the narrowest of victories: 49.9% of the votes, compared with 49.6% for Mr Sanders. She now faces a tough contest in New Hampshire where Mr Sanders, a senator from neighbouring Vermont, is extremely popular. A Wall Street Journal poll, taken after the Iowa caucuses, found that Mr Sanders...Continue reading

Are the Supreme Court justices too old?

Jue, 04/02/2016 - 18:36

WHO will guard the guardians? When Juvenal, the Roman poet, asked this question twenty centuries ago, he was worried about cheating wives. Today, the query is being posed to the elderly judges of America’s highest court. David Garrow, a law and history professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, reminds us in an op-ed at the Los Angeles Times that the Supreme Court has never been older. The baby on the bench is Justice Elena Kagan at 55, now serving her sixth Supreme Court term. Her fellow Barack Obama appointee, Sonia Sotomayor, is 61—as is the chief justice, John Roberts. Conservative justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas are 65 and 67. From there the bench turns decidedly geriatric. Stephen Breyer is now 77 and Anthony Kennedy is 79. The ideologically incompatible opera-loving buddies Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg are the oldest justices. Both are celebrating birthdays next month; he is turning 80, she 83.

The constitution says that federal judges hold their...Continue reading

New Orleans says goodbye to its Confederate statues

Mié, 03/02/2016 - 16:00

SIXTY FIVE years ago, one of the South’s most celebrated writers, William Faulkner, wrote that “the past is never dead. It’s not even past.” A one-time denizen of New Orleans, Faulkner might have been foretelling the public debate that played out in the city after Mitch Landrieu, the mayor, proposed to take down four civic monuments with roots in white supremacy last summer.

The issue is finally settled; sort of. After more than seven months of acrimonious discussion, capped by a council vote and a couple of last-ditch legal challenges, the path is finally clear for the monuments to come down.

Getting to this point has not been easy. Somehow, a series of stone markers that most people in the city paid little heed to before the mayor’s proposal have been transformed—depending on one’s politics—into outrageous symbols of fascism that have to go; or vital pieces of city history that must be defended against the forces of political correctness.

The dust-up began after a racially motivated mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina in June last year, when a young white man killed nine black parishioners at the...Continue reading

Mr Trump tastes defeat in Iowa, Mrs Clinton avoids disaster

Mar, 02/02/2016 - 09:39

THE Iowa caucuses—the first electoral contest of the 2016 presidential cycle—saw the race’s two loudest populists suffer setbacks. Donald Trump was pushed into second place in the Republican field, leaving him standing on a stage in a hotel ballroom in Des Moines, flanked by his family like a conventional politician, ploughing his way through a flat-sounding speech of congratulations to the victor, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. On the left, Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed democratic socialist from Vermont, had to settle for a tie with the Democratic front-runner, Hillary Clinton, after some of his ardent young supporters failed to turn out in quite the numbers he had hoped.

Yet even if individual populists suffered disappointments, the same Iowa caucuses showed that this election continues to be powered by forces of populist anger and contempt for those with governing experience. Mr Cruz is hardly a mainstream moderate. The first-term senator won in Iowa by campaigning among evangelical Christians like a fire-and-brimstone preacher, by denouncing Republican Party leaders as traitors to the conservative cause and by adopting...Continue reading

How much of a socialist is Sanders?

Lun, 01/02/2016 - 19:04

BARACK OBAMA spent his first campaign for president explaining why he was no socialist. Bernie Sanders, the out-of-nowhere candidate who has constituted an unexpected challenge to Hillary Clinton, bravely embraces the label. Yet while Mr Sanders has built his campaign on a jeremiad against wealth inequality and corporate greed, he isn’t, properly speaking, a socialist—or even a democratic socialist. The better term encapsulating Mr Sanders’ positions is “social democrat”, a label that jibes with his rather mainstream embrace of “private companies that thrive and grow in America” and belief that “the middle class and the working families who produce the wealth of America deserve a fair deal”. To clarify matters, Mr Sanders flatly disavows the...Continue reading

From the archives: the open society and its enemies revisited

Dom, 31/01/2016 - 02:57

In 1988 The Economist invited the philosopher Karl Popper to write an article on democracy. It appeared in the issue of April 23rd that year and made the case for a two-party system. As America’s presidential race begins, with the Iowa caucus on February 1st, we are republishing it, below.

The first book in English by Professor Sir Karl Popper was accepted for publication in London while Hitler’s bombs were falling, and was published in 1945 under the title “The Open Society and its Enemies”. The book was well received, but in this article Sir Karl questions whether his central theory of democracy (which he does not characterise as “the rule of the people”) has been understood.

MY THEORY of democracy is very simple and easy for everybody to understand. But its fundamental problem is so different from the age-old theory of democracy which everybody takes for granted that it seems that this difference has not been grasped, just because of the simplicity of the theory. It avoids high-sounding, abstract words like “rule”, “freedom” and “reason”. I do believe in freedom and...Continue reading

The reason for Trump’s Fox News tantrum

Vie, 29/01/2016 - 08:27

IN THE run-up to the last Republican primary debate before the start of the presidential voting contest in Iowa, Donald Trump once more dominated the news cycle. It wasn’t another of his provocative statements about Mexican rapists or banning Muslims from entering America that made headlines, but his refusal to participate in the debate moderated on January 28th by his bête noire, Megyn Kelly, and other Fox reporters. Mr Trump fell out with Ms Kelly when she challenged him during the first Republican debate about his misogynistic treatment of women (“fat pigs, dogs, slobs, disgusting animals”), a relevant question given that the most likely presidential candidate for the Democratic Party is a woman.

Many thought that either Fox News would replace Ms Kelly as moderator at the last minute or Mr Trump would capitulate and join the other leading GOP candidates on stage at the Iowa Events Centre in Des Moines. Neither side blinked. Instead Mr Trump decided to host a fundraiser for war veterans at the nearby Drake University in Des Moines, at precisely the same time as the GOP debate. Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee, two of the weaker...Continue reading

The Trump-sized elephant not in the room

Vie, 29/01/2016 - 07:21

“HAMLET” without the prince—or perhaps, more aptly, a circus without its elephant, or a pantomime without its villain: without Donald Trump, the other Republican candidates essayed the odd internecine spat in their latest debate, in Des Moines, Iowa, but their hearts didn’t really seem in it. In that respect it was, as Mr Trump might have put it, a low-energy affair, the drama seeping from the marathon debate schedule (this was the seventh) even as the actual voting begins. But it did offer some potentially telling moments.

Fox News, the hosts, introduced a new tactic of confronting some of the candidates with clips of old remarks—a ruse that might have embarrassed Mr Trump had he turned up. In particular, both Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz had to face down evidence that their positions on immigration had evolved, albeit in opposite directions: Mr Rubio vowing to oppose amnesty for illegal immigrants then supporting it; Mr Cruz seeming to entertain it, but subsequently insisting that he never had. “You’ve been willing to say or do anything in order to get votes,” Mr Rubio told Mr Cruz, as the Texan senator—in Mr Trump’s...Continue reading

Things are going eerily well for Steven Fulop

Mié, 27/01/2016 - 17:08


AT THE topping out ceremony held on the upper floors of the first of three towers being built in a hitherto unloved corner of Jersey City, Steven Fulop, the mayor, gazed across the water at Manhattan’s skyline, New York Harbour, the Statue of Liberty and bits of his home state. He shook his head and said to himself, “this is crazy, this is crazy”.

In a city once notorious for political corruption, Mr Fulop sometimes sounds like a character in a Frank Capra film. He is the son of Romanian immigrants who owned a delicatessen in nearby Newark. Mr Fulop is the grandson of Holocaust survivors. After the September 11th attacks, he left his job at Goldman Sachs, a bank, to join the marines. He served in Iraq in the war’s early months. After his deployment he returned to finance and to Jersey City. After an unsuccessful run for Congress, he was elected to the city council in 2005. He had little party backing and was outspent. His 2013 victory over Jerramiah Healy, the sitting mayor, represented a break from the city’s history of political patronage.

The tower, in Journal Square—a neglected commercial and residential...Continue reading

The Supreme Court may have a smidgen of judicial modesty after all

Mar, 26/01/2016 - 21:58

LIFE and death issues often reach the Supreme Court, and this year is no exception. In recent weeks the justices issued countervailing decisions concerning the death penalty, both by 8-1 votes: they rapped Florida on the knuckles for giving judges, not juries, the final word on whether convicts should be executed and restored death sentences for three Kansas inmates who complained that their juries were given faulty instructions. On March 2nd, the justices will hear a challenge to a Texas law that effectively shuts down up to three-quarters of the state’s abortion clinics.    

These are big, particularly the abortion case, and they jostle with pending cases involving public-sector unions, religious liberty, voting rights and affirmative action. It’s going to be another heated June, when the justices tend to release their most-talked-about decisions. (Last year, Obamacare and same-sex marriage were the two blockbusters.) But on January 25th, the justices quietly turned down two opportunities to revisit...Continue reading

Bloomberg mulls a presidential run

Lun, 25/01/2016 - 21:44

A PRESIDENTIAL campaign season that is already a trifle too far-fetched for a movie script may soon get even more interesting. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, two men who were widely dismissed as novelty candidates when they announced their bids last year, are poised to do surpassingly well in the opening contests of the 2016 primary season. Mr Sanders and Mr Trump have narrow leads in the polls in Iowa, where voters caucus one week from today, and both are set to wallop their competitors in the New Hampshire primary on February 9th.

The unexpected rise of a self-avowed socialist and a bellicose billionaire who can’t seem to shake supporters no matter how outrageous his comments have the Republican and Democratic establishments worried. One notable moderate, business tycoon and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, is concerned enough that he is reportedly exploring the idea of jumping into the race himself. According to the New York Times, Mr Bloomberg “was galled by Donald J. Trump’s dominance of the Republican field, and troubled by Hillary Clinton’s stumbles and the rise of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont on the Democratic side”. His advisers...Continue reading

The Republicans and climate change

Lun, 25/01/2016 - 05:17

SNOW was the subject of a discussion on climate change in the US Senate last February; it was nothing serious. To help make his case that people cannot be influencing the climate, Jim Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma, cited archaeology and scripture. Then he produced a snowball, and said, “I ask the chair, do you know what this is? It’s a snowball, just from outside here. It’s very, very cold out.” Glorying in his idiocy, Mr Inhofe, who was chairman of an important environmental committee at the time, then tossed the snowball at his Republican colleague.

With Washington currently under two feet of snow, this episode is worth remembering for two reasons. First, because the ignorance, wilful or otherwise, many Republicans display on global warming is not dissipating. The frontrunner for the GOP nomination, Donald Trump, claims global warming is a conspiracy cooked up by the Chinese to destroy American industry. His closest challenger, Ted Cruz, a senator from Texas, also says it is a hoax , but reckons the “liberal left” is to blame. Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon and former front-runner, had this to say: “There is no overwhelming science that the things...Continue reading

Shots in the dark

Vie, 22/01/2016 - 16:26

THE WAR against cancer, launched by Richard Nixon in 1971, is increasingly regarded as a failure. Although the risk of dying from cancer has declined by 23% since 1991, deaths from cancer have risen relentlessly—even as medicine has made great progress in averting heart attacks and strokes. About 1.7m new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in 2016, and almost 600,000 will die. One of the reasons for this failure is that the “war” was based on a misconceived notion that cancer is one disease amenable to a single cure.

Today the fundamental science is better understood and cancer is seen to be many diseases, more closely connected by the molecular faults that drive them than the location in the body they are found. Can the science be advanced further? A better idea than lobbing billions at government research agencies in another broad-based onslaught might be something more focused, an attempt to answer some key questions on a set timeline. This approach is more like a moon shot.

It came as some surprise, then, that not one but two cancer moon shots were announced recently. On January 11th, a group calling itself the...Continue reading

Does the constitution fix everything?

Jue, 21/01/2016 - 21:15

THE TALE of Jeffrey Heffernan, a police officer in Paterson, New Jersey, lends support to the adage that no good deed goes unpunished.

In 2006, Mr Heffernan’s bedridden mother asked him to pick her up another yard sign (the first had been pinched) supporting her preferred candidate in the town’s mayoral race. In carrying out his mum’s wishes, Mr Heffernan was spotted with the sign and word quickly spread through the police department. The chief of police, James Wittig, was supporting the incumbent, as was his boss, and did not look kindly on Mr Heffernan’s apparent activism in favour of the challenger. Mr Wittig quickly took action against Mr Heffernan, then a 20-year veteran in the department who had been promoted to detective just a year earlier. The dutiful son would pay for his political sin by giving up the keys to his cruiser and assuming the duties of patrol cop with a walking beat.

Nobody involved in Heffernan v City of Paterson seems to think Mr Wittig’s retribution was in the least bit noble. The lawyer...Continue reading

Sarah Palin endorses the Republican front-runner

Jue, 21/01/2016 - 04:10

SARAH PALIN been absent from the spotlight for many months and is derided by many in her party. But her endorsement of Donald Trump, announced at a raucous rally at Iowa State University on January 19th, less than a fortnight before the state holds its curtain-raising caucuses on February 1st, could prove handy for the Republican

“Are you ready for the leader to make America great again?” asked the former governor of Alaska and 2008 GOP vice-presidential candidate, with Mr Trump by her side. “Are you ready to stump for Trump?”

The big loser from her endorsement is Ted Cruz, whom Mrs Palin had backed in his 2010 senate race, and who is now running neck-and with Mr Trump in Iowa. Earlier in the day, he had posted a tweet in homage to Mrs Palin: “Without her support, I wouldn't be in the Senate. Regardless of what she does in 2016, I will always be a big fan.” Perhaps not if Mrs Palin has just swung Iowa for Mr Trump, however. And in a close race—in 2012 the Iowa contest was won by Rick Santorum by a mere 34 votes—she just might...Continue reading

Is health insurance a fundamental right?

Mié, 20/01/2016 - 20:51

HEALTH-care policy has become one of the most glaring areas of disagreement between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in the campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. In last week’s debate, the two leading contenders laid out starkly different visions, with Mr Sanders taking a pie-in-the-sky approach while Mrs Clinton cemented herself as a pragmatic incrementalist. After a Republican debate a few days earlier in which the discourse over health-care amounted to the rather empty mantra of “repealing and replacing” Obamacare—without a single detail from any of the contenders on what a replacement might entail—the Sanders-Clinton exchange was refreshingly substantive.

The first mention of health-care came in the candidates’ opening statements, when moderator Lester Holt of NBC News asked which “top three priorities” the candidates would pursue in their “first...Continue reading

Obama’s immigration orders to be scrutinised by the Supreme Court

Mar, 19/01/2016 - 20:41

FOR THE third straight year, the Supreme Court will ask whether Barack Obama overstepped his executive authority under the constitution. In 2014, the justices slapped Mr Obama on the wrist for taking liberties in making unilateral appointments to federal agencies while the Senate (which is supposed to give its “advice and consent”) was in session. Last year, they evened the score, siding with the White House in a tussle with Congress over who gets to recognise foreign governments. This spring, Mr Obama’s controversial moves with regard to immigration face a major challenge at the nation’s highest court. The Supreme Court agreed on January 19th to review lower-court decisions blocking the president’s actions to make life easier for nearly 5m illegal immigrants. A year away from his departure from the Oval...Continue reading