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Can the GOP woo black voters?

Mié, 04/06/2014 - 15:30

QUICK: what is a bigger waste of time, playing the New York Lottery or trying to persuade African Americans to vote for Republicans? Looking at the odds, you have a 1 in 14.71 chance of winning a prize in the Mega Millions drawing (no, not the jackpot, silly). Compare this to data from the 2012 presidential election, when only 5% of black voters (1 in 20) pulled the lever for Mitt Romney, and you have your answer. The lottery is the decidedly better bet.

Republicans are undeterred. Reince Preibus, chair of the Republican National Committee, is pouring time and resources into rescuing his party from its awful showing among racial minorities in recent elections. Here is a report from McKay Coppins of BuzzFeed:

After...Continue reading

Ogle like Vogel

Mar, 03/06/2014 - 23:53

KEN VOGEL, a reporter for Politico whose working method involves sneaking into political fundraisers and seeing how long he can mooch around before being thrown out, has a book out today. Much has been written already about the effects of Citizens United, a decision made by the Supreme Court in 2010 that unleashed a lot of electoral spending by outside groups (ie, entities not directly connected to candidates). “Big Money” is a highly entertaining account of the adventures of billionaires in politics. In Mr Vogel's hands, this obscure world seems both vivid and a little mundane, full of powerpoint presentations, hotel conference rooms and business-casual shindigs where politicians flirt with rich donors. Indeed, it would all seem rather tedious if there were not so much money involved.

Worries about the influence of rich people on democracy are as old as elections. Athenian olive oil moguls surely tried to fix the occasional ostracism. And the last few presidential cycles have provided...Continue reading

Hardly a Bond villain

Mar, 03/06/2014 - 19:11

IF YOU are going to be impregnated by your best friend’s husband, better if that friend isn’t a microbiologist. That is the lesson Myrlinda Haynes of Norristown, Pennsylvania learned when a vengeful Carol Anne Bond tried to injure her at least two dozen times by spreading caustic chemicals on her car door, doorknob and mailbox. In all but one of the incidents, Ms Haynes avoided harm: the bright-orange potassium dichromate and the arsenic compound were easy to spot. Her only physical suffering was a minor chemical burn on her thumb, which she treated by rinsing her hand in water.

No one doubts that Ms Bond behaved badly. But she is not the sort of threat American lawmakers had in mind when they passed the the Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act of 1998, under which Ms Bond was charged with two counts of possessing and using a chemical weapon. In Bond v United States, the Supreme Court considered whether this law “deal[ing] with crimes of deadly seriousness” extended to “a purely local crime: an amateur attempt by a jilted wife to injure her husband’s lover.”

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Ms...Continue reading

Obama's green gamble

Mar, 03/06/2014 - 02:36

BARACK OBAMA'S determination to act on climate change has been clear to anyone watching the president's major speeches in recent years. In his state-of-the-union address last year, for example, Mr Obama urged Congress to pass a "market-based solution to climate change", warning that if it failed to do so he would act alone. A couple of years earlier a cap-and-trade bill had died in the Senate; by 2013 it was already clear that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives had no interest in passing new laws. Thus did Mr Obama turn to his executive toolbox.

Lurking inside was something rather useful: the Clean Air Act, signed by Richard Nixon back in 1970. Today Gina McCarthy, head of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, announced that by 2030 America's power stations must reduce their...Continue reading

The best campaign spot this year

Lun, 02/06/2014 - 11:47

ON JUNE 3rd Iowa holds its Senate primary elections. If a previously unknown state senator called Joni Ernst wins the Republican nomination, it will be because her campaign put out the best political ad of the year so far, propelling her to instant fame. 

"Squeal" is like a haiku (albeit about castrating hogs rather than watching the cherry blossoms fall). It crams a tonne of emotion into very few words. And it strokes Iowa voters on nearly all their sweet spots in a mere 30 seconds.

In this video, The Economist explains how a great ad works:

Continue reading

Lies, damned lies and statistics

Dom, 01/06/2014 - 22:04

“DO YOU know what the ‘Hunger Games’ movies are about?” Rush Limbaugh asked his listeners earlier this week. “It’s teenagers killing other teenagers!” Elliot Rodger, the disturbed 22-year-old who went on a shooting rampage last week in California, using three semiautomatic handguns  guns he bought legally, was surely no stranger to the thrilling books and Hollywood franchise. His father, Peter Rodger, worked on the films. Indeed, while “everybody on the left” is using the murders to “advance their political agenda, in this case to get rid of the Second Amendment”, who is minding Hollywood’s little shop of horrors? “Why not blame Hollywood movies here?” Mr Limbaugh sneered.

The debate over the roots of America’s gun violence is sadly predictable. A big, tragic event ensures everyone takes their places and rattles off memorised lines. On one side are the folks who complain (rather convincingly, mind) that...Continue reading

No quick fix

Sáb, 31/05/2014 - 07:24

ERIC SHINSEKI, a brave man who did a poor job of running a government department that was already dysfunctional, has resigned. As others have noted, replacing the boss of the Department for Veterans Affairs (VA) is unlikely to fix the place. Nor will it do much to deflect blame from the president. Republican strategists around the country are surely eager to juxtapose clips of Barack Obama campaigning on promises to fix the VA with footage of patients committing suicide over delays in treatment and poor care (all collected on a useful map by the American Legion). This would be damaging for any president. For one whose biggest domestic achievement is health-care reform, it is damning.

Voters can expect to hear a lot about the VA scandal for the next two years. Together with Benghazi and Obamacare it will form an incantation chanted by GOP candidates, a short-hand for Obama's incompetence and federal mismanagement. Some may characterise it as...Continue reading

No, this is not what Obamacare will look like

Vie, 30/05/2014 - 00:36

AMERICA'S biggest experiment in government-run medicine has had a bad week. No, not the Affordable Care Act (ie, Obamacare), but the department of Veterans Affairs (VA). On May 28th the VA’s acting inspector-general, Richard Griffin, issued a damning report on allegations against a VA health centre in Phoenix. New patients waited an average of 115 days for their first appointment, and 1,700 veterans were not even on the centre’s official waiting list, leaving them “at risk of being forgotten”. Keeping veterans off the list was strategic, as it “significantly understated the time new patents waited for their primary care appointment... which is one of the factors considered for awards and salary increases” for the centre’s staff.

The scandal has prompted three types of responses: two of them sensible, one much less so. The first is justifiable outrage at the VA. Eric Shinseki, the head of the VA, said the actions described in the report were “reprehensible” in a defensive Continue reading

The waiting game

Jue, 29/05/2014 - 15:19

ON Tuesday, the Supreme Court told Florida it must reconsider whether Freddie Lee Hall, a man with an IQ in the 70s who killed a pregnant newlywed in 1978, is intellectually able enough to be executed. The justices ruled 5-4 that Florida’s rigid cutoff score of 70 on intelligence tests—with no accounting for measurement error or other evidence of impaired functioning—is incompatible with the Court’s ban on executing convicts with mental retardation. "[T]o impose the harshest of punishments on an intellectually disabled person,” Justice Anthony Kennedy (pictured) wrote in the majority opinion, “violates his or her inherent dignity as a human being."

The result in Hall v Florida was no surprise. Reporting on the oral argument in March, we wrote that “[t]he four liberal justices, along with the swing voter, Anthony Kennedy, were inclined to” reject Florida’s hard-line...Continue reading

Cutting through the nonsense

Mar, 27/05/2014 - 13:47

ONE of the most offensive critiques of the argument for paying reparations to African-Americans is the notion that black people are owed nothing because they are better off in America than they would be in Africa. The claim pops up all the time, and recently reared its head in our comments section in response to my colleague's post on Ta-Nehisi Coates's recent article on reparations in the Atlantic. It's an absurd response, but for moderately interesting reasons. People often employ counterfactuals when making judgments about history: would the world have been better off if the Soviet Union had remained intact? If the British Empire had not ruled India? If the atom bomb had not been dropped on Hiroshima? And so forth. Indeed, ever since David Hume, philosophers have treated counterfactuals as a key element of the very concept of causality: "A causes C"...Continue reading

Curious ambitions

Dom, 25/05/2014 - 18:15

CAN you be a national politician in America if you have no interest in running for the presidency? This question struck Lexington as he watched Senator Elizabeth Warren deliver a tub-thumping speech on May 22nd to a conference of trade-union organisers, leftish activists and allies in Washington, DC.

The conference was entitled “The New Populism” and Mrs Warren delivered. A former Harvard professor, expert in bankruptcy law and long-time campaigner for tougher regulation of banks, she has developed a nationwide following among the Democratic Party’s grassroots since her election to the Senate in 2012 to represent Massachusetts. YouTube videos of her roughing up bankers and other bigwigs at Senate hearings have gone viral. She recently published a book of memoirs, “A Fighting Chance”, linking her upbringing by struggling middle-class parents...Continue reading

Why the sheriff should follow the law

Vie, 23/05/2014 - 23:45

VIETNAM is apparently seriously considering taking its maritime territorial dispute with China to an international court, which should please the United States. American diplomats scolded China earlier this month for starting the row by deploying an oil rig in disputed waters, leading to clashes between Chinese and Vietnamese ships; the diplomats said China's behaviour "undermines peace and stability in the region". Washington doesn't take a position on the territorial dispute itself, but wants it resolved according to international law, and it considers China's aggressive claims over nearly the entire South China Sea to be baseless. Just as in the conflict in Ukraine, where Barack Obama calls Russian intervention a threat "to our very international order", and in Syria, where America yesterday voted for Continue reading

What America owes

Vie, 23/05/2014 - 01:10

"AN AMERICA that asks what it owes its most vulnerable citizens is improved and humane," writes the indispensable Ta-Nehisi Coates in this month's Atlantic cover story. "An America that looks away is ignoring not just the sins of the past but the sins of the present and the certain sins of the future." Mr Coates's piece is entitled "The Case for Reparations". In it he does not directly argue that America's government (and, presumably, various state governments) ought to give money to descendants of slaves. Instead, he tries to show the hollowness of believing (his words again) "that a society can spend three-and-a-half centuries attempting to cripple a man, 50 years offering half-hearted aid, and then wonder why he walks with a limp."

Mr Coates roots his piece in North Lawndale, a once-thriving, now-blighted neighbourhood on Chicago's west side. The central figure is Clyde Ross, who like many black Americans in the mid-20th century,...Continue reading

Deceptive numbers

Jue, 22/05/2014 - 22:06

AT THE start of this year the Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, had good news on crime and violence. The murder rate was lower than it had been for decades. 2013 saw 415 murders, 88 fewer than in 2012, according to the Chicago Police Department (CPD). Overall crime was down too.

The news was a relief. The previous year had been nasty and bloody, with a resurgence of gang warfare fuelled by a long, hot summer. Yet 2013’s figures are now coming under scrutiny. Last month Chicago Magazine reported that it knew of ten people who were “beaten, burned, suffocated or shot to death in 2013” who were not included in the official count for “at best, unclear reasons”. The article raised similar concerns over the numbers reported for other crimes. Moreover a recent audit of crime figures from Chicago's Office of the Inspector General, and a sudden rise in reports of murders this year, have driven speculation that...Continue reading

Cyberspies and mincing rascals

Mié, 21/05/2014 - 21:43

THE e-mails sent to workers at five companies and one trade union appeared to come from their superiors, and contained files and links that looked important. In one case a board member seemed to be circulating the agenda for a shareholders’ meeting. Once opened, the e-mails allowed their actual senders, who were sitting in a tower-block in Shanghai, to install software allowing them to peruse confidential information. Some of the e-mails contained links to domains with a curious ring, like marsbrother.com or purpledaily.com. But the in-box of the office worker can be a chaotic place, and all that was required for success was for one person at each firm to be distracted or intrigued enough to click.

On May 19th the FBI charged five members of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) with breaking 31 laws, from relatively minor counts of identity theft to economic espionage, which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years. This is the first time the government has charged employees of a foreign government with cybercrime. The accused are unlikely ever to stand trial in America. Even so, the Justice Department produced posters with mugshots...Continue reading

Gnat-line scuffle

Mié, 21/05/2014 - 19:35

ESTABLISHMENT Republicans can breathe easy after last night's results in Georgia. The candidate who said that Todd Akin was "partly right" that a woman's body "has a way of shutting down so the pregnancy would not occur" from a "legitimate rape" did not finish in first or second place, and so will not compete in the July 22nd runoff. Nor will the candidate—the only black candidate in the Republican field, by the way—who defended Cliven Bundy's musings that perhaps black Americans were better off enslaved. Neither will the candidate who raffled off an AR-15 (the gun used in the Sandy Hook massacre) to one of his supporters, and called embryology, evolution and the Big Bang Theory "Continue reading

Good stories, strong campaigns

Mié, 21/05/2014 - 18:12

“I STARTED out driving a forklift,” said Tom Wolf, running as a Democrat for governor of Pennsyvania, in his first campaign ad. The ad went on to show his two daughters gently mocking him, while also bragging about his achievements: service in the Peace Corps, a doctorate from MIT, and a beat-up Jeep Cherokee in the driveway.

Mr Wolf launched this self-funded, multi-million-dollar advertising blitz back in January. Many said it was too early, but it worked. By February, the little-known businessman was leading in the polls, and on May 20th he won Pennsylvania’s Democratic primary with 58% of the vote.

He beat strong candidates who did not run good campaigns. Allyson Schwartz, an affable congresswoman, hoped to be the state’s first woman governor. But she and Rob McCord, the state treasurer, who had union backing, were unable to catch the white-bearded, bespectacled Mr Wolf.

Tom Corbett, the unpopular Republican incumbent, is now running scared. Mr Wolf is proving difficult to attack. He runs a successful kitchen-cabinet business and he shares 20-30% of the profits with his employees. When he served as state...Continue reading

You're not hearing me

Mar, 20/05/2014 - 18:47

APPELLATE courts are charged with correcting errors of legal interpretation in lower-court rulings; they are not supposed to meddle with the facts. Yet America’s final court of appeal, the Supreme Court, finds itself sorting through facts quite regularly, particularly in religion cases where "fact-sensitive" analyses are the norm. The justices do not always acquit themselves very well.

Over the past few decades, in sussing out violations of the constitution's ban on religious establishments, the court has found meaningful distinctions between a menorah and a nativity scene in a public holiday display (both are okay) and a stand-alone creche (verboten); it has said that the Ten Commandments violate the constitution when placed in a courthouse but are perfectly fine when installed outside a state capitol. In the ruling Continue reading

A fitting tribute

Vie, 16/05/2014 - 22:06

  • The National September 11 Memorial Museum opens on May 21st. Two tridents, steel supports from the original World Trade Centre, can be seen inside the museum Source: Jeff Goldblum
  • One World Trade Centre, formerly the Freedom Tower, rises above and behind the new museum and the memorial pools Source: Jeff Goldblum
  • Continue reading

Gowdy-amus igitur

Mié, 14/05/2014 - 20:52

CHRISTOPHER STEVENS had been ambassador to Libya for three months when he was killed on September 11th 2012 in Benghazi. His death, on the anniversary of the worst terrorist attack on America, was a reminder that the government cannot keep all of its people safe all of the time. 

For an ambassador to be killed while serving is rare, but attacks on embassies and consulates are not, and they have often resulted in deaths. Mr Stevens’s murder also coincided with the closing stages of a presidential campaign in which Barack Obama claimed to have al-Qaeda “on the run”. In the following days, White House officials said that Ambassador Stevens’s death was the result of a spontaneous protest, which is what the initial intelligence reports suggested, rather than a planned terrorist attack. They stuck to this line for longer than they should have. Security at the consulate was not as robust as it might have been.

Such are the facts of the case that is known in American politics simply as Benghazi. There have already been several investigations, as well as a bipartisan report issued by the Senate intelligence committee, which...Continue reading

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