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The perils of fast-tracking

Mié, 10/12/2014 - 17:27

LIKE Plato's early dialogues inquiring into the meaning of justice or piety, Monday’s oral argument at the Supreme Court ended with no clear answer to the central question: what, exactly, is Amtrak? In the case of Department of Transportation v. Association of American Railroads, for which oral arguments were heard on December 8th, the justices grappled with whether the nationwide passenger train service is or isn't part of the government, and whether it unconstitutionally steps on the toes of other train companies.

Amtrak, it appears, is an inscrutably indeterminate entity. But some facts are clear. With the rise of the automobile and commercial aviation in the 20th century, passenger rail service took a huge hit; by the late 1960s the Pullman Company and the Penn Central,...Continue reading

Crooning for votes

Mié, 10/12/2014 - 06:01

WITH the midterm elections done and dusted, everyone’s eyes are now on 2016. Aspiring presidential candidates are already jockeying for position—making bold speeches, raising big money and, lord help us, releasing campaign songs. “Stand With Hillary”, a political action committee (PAC) supporting Hillary Clinton, recently entered the fray with a YouTube video featuring what some are gleefully describing as the worst campaign song ever.

It’s “time to stand up with Hillary,” croons a dreamy young cowboy with a scruffy beard, soulful eyes and white Stetson. Wearing snug jeans and an unbelievably earnest expression, this sun-kissed rancher offers some down-home praise for the former secretary of state. “She’s a mother, a daughter and through it all she’s a loving wife,” he warbles, and then encourages listeners to “put your boots on and let’s smash this ceiling.” (To drive this subtle point home, our fair crooner dons a hard hat and swings a sledgehammer through a sheet of glass.) No American cliché goes unparaded: the video features fleeting images of farmers, a red barn, cattle, construction workers and the Statue of Liberty....Continue reading

A hard pill to swallow

Mar, 09/12/2014 - 23:14

JOHN MCCAIN, the senior Republican senator from Arizona, spent time in a Hanoi prison camp after fighting for his country in the 1960s and early 1970s. His speech, which followed the publication earlier today of the Senate intelligence committee’s report into torture by the CIA in the years after September 11th 2001, is thus worth paying attention to. Torture, he said, “compromises that which most distinguishes us from our enemies”; the CIA agents who used it “stained our national honor”.

That is a bold statement, but not necessarily a hyperbolic one. The Senate’s report, which looks into the use of torture roughly between the 9/11 attacks and the end of the Bush presidency in 2008, is devastating stuff for the agency. What is shocking is not only the sorts of things that CIA officers were apparently getting up to, but also the brazen way in which they recorded it, with limited oversight from either the Senate or the executive branch of government.

According to the report, which is based on thousands of internal CIA documents, the “enhanced interrogation techniques” (a...Continue reading

A referendum on Rahm

Mar, 09/12/2014 - 14:54

WHEN Rahm Emanuel announced his re-election bid as mayor of Chicago on December 6th, he avoided talk of violent crime and pension liabilities, two of the city’s most pressing problems. Instead he crowed about the Chicago’s rising minimum wage, which will reach $13 by 2019 (from $8.25), and he empathised with the squeezed middle class, whom he says he is trying the help. Speaking at a film-production studio on the city’s west side, and against the faint chants of some protesters beyond the crowd (a couple of whom were dressed as $100 bills), he touted a record that includes introducing city-wide recycling and full-day kindergarten, and placing more police officers on the street. Since he assumed the office in May 2011, more students have begun graduating from high-school, too.

Mr Emanuel faces nine challengers in the election on February 24th, including Jesus Garcia, a Cook county commissioner, and Bob Fioretti, an alderman. He is not popular. A poll in August by the Chicago...Continue reading