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Urbane development

Vie, 01/08/2014 - 19:56

WITH lawmakers in Washington achieving precious little, cities and the suburbs are increasingly the places where things get done. This at least is the case put forward by Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley at the Brookings Institution in their book “The Metropolitan Revolution”, published last year. Local leaders have more real-world problems to contend with and more power to address them. They are also less hindered by political turf battles and relentless campaigns, so they are more likely to take on the kind of big challenges that daunt federal politicians. This means mayors and governors are busily working to kick-start their economies, invest in critical transportation infrastructure and reform education. They are also far more dynamic than the federal government in areas such as immigration, climate change and obesity.

Does this make local leaders less politically ideological? Anecdotally this seems to be the case. Michael Bloomberg, a former mayor of New York, consistently flip-flopped between the Democratic and Republican parties....Continue reading

Political theatre, political pain

Vie, 01/08/2014 - 00:13

IN A nearly party-line vote, the House of Representatives has authorised its speaker, John Boehner, to sue Barack Obama for flouting the constitutional limits of his executive authority. House Republicans have in mind the president's penchant for revising enacted legislation by ad hoc decree, such as last year's decision to delay enforcement of Obamacare's employer mandate until 2015. The mandate requires businesses that employ more than 50 workers to supply them with an authorised health plan. Republicans would like the courts to order the president to enforce the letter of the law. Mr Obama has responded by imploring congressional Republicans to "Stop being mad all the time. Stop, stop, stop just hatin’ all the time." With the mid-term elections only a few months away, one suspects they will decline his...Continue reading

A modest proposal

Mié, 30/07/2014 - 23:56

THE system for choosing candidates to run for Congress might have been designed with the welfare of journalists and lobby groups in mind. Primary elections begin in March and end in September, allowing reporters to travel the country eating barbecue with candidates for seven months. They attract relatively few voters (under 20% of those eligible turned up in 2010), meaning that well-organised lobby groups can hold disproportionate sway. Organised labour influences Democratic primaries more than ought to be the case given that only 11% of workers are union members. In Republican primaries, relatively small outfits like the Club for Growth, which campaigns for smaller government, can make a big splash because they need only sway a small number of people.

Sensing a problem, some states have tried to get more voters interested in primaries. One idea has been to open them up to members of either party, or none at all. Only 11 states now have primaries where Republicans pick Republicans and Democrats pick Democrats. California allows the two most popular candidates in the primary to run against each other in the general election, even if they are both from...Continue reading

Critical mess

Mié, 30/07/2014 - 22:23

LINDA GREENHOUSE went “out on a limb” last week and predicted that the Supreme Court will refuse to hear a challenge to an appeals court’s ruling upholding the affirmative action admissions policy at the University of Texas. “The opinion [in Fisher v University of Texas] so deftly threads the needle,” Ms Greenhouse wrote, and is such “a masterpiece of judicial craft,” that it makes Abigail Fisher’s complaint against race-conscious admissions “an unappealing candidate for further Supreme Court review.”

I agree with Ms Greenhouse that Judge Patrick Higginbotham, writing also for Judge Carolyn Dineen King, made the correct decision. The 41-page ruling issued on July 15th demonstrated convincingly that the University of Texas pursued its goal of educational diversity with holistic,...Continue reading

Second verse, different from the first

Mar, 29/07/2014 - 07:34

ASK liberals how to reduce poverty and they usually have a handful of policies ready to go, complete with spreadsheets suggesting their likely impact and a real-life example from a hitherto obscure province of Sweden. Compared with this, conservative proposals on tackling poverty can look thin. This is not necessarily because conservatives are a uniquely heartless bunch, but rather because what they propose is not an answer to the question but a process by which an answer might be reached. Paul Ryan’s recent thoughts on federal anti-poverty programmes, delivered in a report from the House budget committee and remarks to the American Enterprise Institute, fall into this category. Basically, the Republican congressman from Wisconsin wants to disrupt welfare. 

If this sounds like a mash-up of Silicon Valley and Detroit, that is no coincidence. Policy wonks are always glancing enviously at the private sector...Continue reading

A wake-up call

Vie, 25/07/2014 - 17:04

BACK in March, when Barack Obama visited The Hague and called on Europe to treat Russian intervention in Ukraine as a threat to the international order, he got a pretty sceptical response. Like most of Europe, the Netherlands went along half-heartedly with efforts to impose retaliatory sanctions on Moscow, and among the Dutch public there was a tendency to treat the Ukrainian conflict as an ethnolinguistic clash or a Russian-American power contest.

The "international order" is a hard thing to visualise, and there was little support in the Dutch political sphere for dramatic steps to punish Russia for violating Ukrainian sovereignty—not if such steps might cost Dutch companies a lot of money. It was an uphill struggle to persuade the citizens of a rich, safe country in the heart of western Europe that their security was threatened by trouble at Europe’s periphery, and that it was up to them to resist the advance of Vladimir Putin’s weird hybrid of authoritarian nationalism and mafia...Continue reading

Why nurses are the new auto workers

Vie, 25/07/2014 - 06:49

 

CAR manufacturing was the defining industry of the 20th century. In the 21st it is health care. Health spending comprised 17% of America’s GDP in 2012. About one in ten workers are employed in the health sector. These workers have the crucial job of making American health care more efficient, probably the country’s top domestic challenge. Those who are not doctors have a particularly important role—nurses and lesser-trained workers can monitor and care for patients out of hospital, which should result in better quality of life for patients and lower costs for everyone else. But just as the car industry was the 20th century’s main battleground for fights over labour, it is increasingly clear that health workers will be at the centre of the latest bitter conflict.

In the darkest days of the recession, health employment was a rare bright spot. But even then, all was not rosy. Take a new report on health workers from the Brookings Institution, a think-tank. Those without college degrees comprised 61% of the health...Continue reading

A message for "helicopter parents"

Jue, 24/07/2014 - 23:58

WELL-TO-DO parents worry about two things: the safety of their children and whether they will get into Harvard. They should relax, says our correspondent

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When a pastor is re-frocked

Mié, 23/07/2014 - 20:07

FRANK SCHAEFER, a Methodist preacher in Pennsylvania, officiated at his son’s same-sex wedding in 2007. This act of sacrilege earned him a suspension. When he couldn’t promise he wouldn’t do it again for another same-sex couple, the United Methodist Church decided to defrock him last year. But in June the church went ahead and re-frocked him. A panel of judges decided it was unwise to punish the minister for something he had not yet done. Mr Schaefer now has plans to resume his pastoral work in Santa Barbara, California, ministering to college students. “One day we will celebrate the fact that we have moved beyond this horrible chapter in our church’s life,” he said.

Same-sex marriage poses an existential problem for a number of religious groups in America. Now that these unions are legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia, faith-based leaders are left wondering how much they need to change with the...Continue reading

Hit the road, Jack

Mié, 23/07/2014 - 12:43

HEARTBREAK and happiness found their way into Georgia’s Republican strongholds in almost equal measure last night. After winning the party’s nomination for November’s US Senate contest David Perdue (pictured) tepidly thanked his opponent, congressman Jack Kingston, for running “a spirited race”. That is putting it nicely: Mr Kingston ran a series of ads that were as brutal as they were misleading. But bygones are bygones. Mr Perdue declared himself “humbled,” and suggested the outcome was part of “a mission from God”. Oh, and he also mentioned his mum. The cowboy-booted crowd were pleased.

Mr Perdue won the Republican primary runoff with 50.9% of the vote, carrying Atlanta and its surrounding counties. The two men’s support split across the “gnat line”, a part-proverbial, part-geological division separating north Georgia, which generally went for Mr Perdue, a former head of the sports brand Reebok, from south, which preferred Mr Kingston, a tried and...Continue reading

In doubt, once again

Mar, 22/07/2014 - 19:47

IN ITS Hobby Lobby decision in June, the Supreme Court ruled that some firms could refuse to offer their staff insurance that includes free contraception. This undermined a provision of the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, but had little impact on the broader law. A new ruling may deal a more serious blow.

In Halbig v Burwell on July 22nd a federal appeals court in Washington, DC, decided that the government could not issue insurance subsidies in the 36 states with federally-run health exchanges. Yet just hours after this opinion was issued, another federal appeals court in Virginia sided with the government in a similar case, King v Burwell. How all of this is sorted out will be hugely...Continue reading

Justice delayed

Mar, 22/07/2014 - 14:34

“A MAN is undone by waiting for capital punishment,” Albert Camus wrote, “well before he dies.” On July 16th a federal judge in California, Cormac Carney, ruled in Jones v Chappell that the machinery of death in the Golden State is so plagued by delays and arbitrariness that it amounts to a “cruel and unusual punishment” in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the federal constitution. Judge Carney struck down Ernest Jones’s 1995 death sentence for raping and killing his girlfriend’s mother, along with the capital sentences of 747 other convicts. Awaiting execution for decades “with complete uncertainty as to when, or even whether, it will ever come,” Judge Carney wrote, is a punishment “no rational jury or legislature could ever impose.”

Of the 900 people California has sentenced to death since 1978, only 13 have been executed. The last person to be put to death was in 2006. The same year, a federal court ruled that California’s mode of lethal injection carried a risk that “an inmate will suffer pain so...Continue reading

White night

Vie, 18/07/2014 - 22:54

SUNFLOWERS, marigolds and lavender grow outside houses in Cabbagetown, a neighbourhood a mile away from the birthplace of Martin Luther King. But residents there awoke in recent days to an ugly reality: recruiting flyers for the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) on their cars.

The leaflets are full of catchy slogans, such as “Save our land, join the Klan”, and a number to call for more information. Some came with a mint. Similar literature has been distributed in North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida. Most of it seems to come from the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, perhaps America’s largest chapter, based in North Carolina. Such distributions apparently happen three times a year according to Robert Jones, the group’s Imperial Klaliff. “A lot more have been joining since the immigration crisis,” he boasts.

The Ku Klux Klan was founded in 1865 as a club that targeted African-Americans, homosexuals and Jews in the wake of the civil war. Peak membership came in 1925, when these white-hooded crusaders numbered around 4m. But the KKK continued to be a lethal force through the 1960s, and is credited with killing...Continue reading

The death of diversity

Vie, 18/07/2014 - 20:13

GIVEN that members of the US House of Representatives must face voters every two years, you'd expect them to have a lot less job security than European monarchs. In fact, it is the other way around. One reason for the shocking lack of turnover of congressmen is gerrymandering: when they get the chance, both parties redraw electoral maps to favour themselves. But there is more to it than this. Conservatives and liberals have been gradually segregating themselves, with the former moving to spacious suburbs with lively churches and the latter crowding into cities where they can walk to the shops to buy tofu.

Since 1998, the number of solidly Republican or Democratic districts has steadily risen while the number of swing districts has roughly halved. Split districts—where voters back one party for Congress and the other for the White House—have all but disappeared. In 1996 there were 110, a quarter of the total. By 2012 there were only 26. Read the full article here.  

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Illusions of grandeur

Jue, 17/07/2014 - 06:01

“WE have never been a nation of haves and have-nots,” observed Marco Rubio back in 2011. “We are a nation of haves and soon-to-haves, of people who have made it and people who will make it.” For Mr Rubio, a Florida senator and possible Republican presidential contender in 2016, “the fundamental principle of America’s prosperity” is that “anyone from anywhere can accomplish anything...if you're willing to work hard, play by the rules and have the ability to do it.” Mr Rubio recently offered his own rags-to-Republican story as proof the American Dream is alive and well: “I was privileged to be born in a land of equal opportunity,” he said, “the one place on earth where the son of a bartender and a maid could achieve the same things as a son of a president or a millionaire.”

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Playing one last card

Mar, 15/07/2014 - 18:32

THE CARDS have been stacked against Atlantic City for years. This resort city in New Jersey lost its casino monopoly in the region when neighbouring states began legalising gambling a decade ago. Gaming revenues have been steadily falling ever since. In 2012 Pennsylvania, which opened its first casino in 2006, edged out Atlantic City to become the nation’s second-largest gambling market. New Jersey no longer holds all the aces.

The casino industry is the city’s biggest employer, and roughly a quarter of all jobs are now in jeopardy. Four of Atlantic City’s dozen casinos have already announced plans to close their doors. The Atlantic shuttered in January, leaving about 1,600 people jobless. The 2,100 employees at Showboat Casino on the iconic boardwalk may lose their jobs by the end of the summer, as could the 3,100 workers at Revel, which just entered its second bankruptcy. The latest stroke of bad luck came on Friday when Trump Plaza’s owners announced it may shut its doors in September. Notices went out to its 1,000 employees yesterday.

The city’s leaders have decided to shuffle the deck. In a press briefing on...Continue reading

They really love us

Mar, 15/07/2014 - 01:06

VOTERS, journalists and just about everyone paying some attention to politics all tend to over-estimate the power of the president. When Barack Obama swept into office in 2008, Americans were dazzled by his promises of change at home and a more judicious mix of strength and humility abroad. Indeed, it was hoped the president would rescue America’s image after eight years of George Bush's brand of ham-fisted, cowboy-booted diplomacy. But many worry President Obama has also managed to tarnish the country’s brand, either through too little intervention, which has made America look weak (see Syria, Iraq and Ukraine), or through too much, which has made the country seem callous (the use of drones, phone-tapping and the like).

But for all of this anxiety about what the rest of the world thinks, it seems America's star has not quite fallen, at  least according to the Continue reading

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