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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

Prayers and pistols

Vie, 11/07/2014 - 19:43

“O RIGHTEOUS God, who searches minds and hearts, bring to an end the violence of the wicked and make the righteous secure,” requests Psalm 7:9. Alas, God alone cannot be expected to ensure righteous folk are safe from violence. In the office of Keith McBrayer, the sheriff of Henry Country in Georgia, assembled church leaders yesterday were also asked to do their bit.

The Georgia Safe Carry Protection Act came into effect on July 1st. This means Georgians with certain licenses can now carry their guns to a whole host of new places: bars, parts of airports, some government buildings, schools (with special permission) and even churches. But the law is “vague”, according to Sheriff McBrayer. Many are confused over who is, and who is not, allowed to bring their weapons to church. And some, such as your correspondent, are moved to ask why a magnum might be welcome in church at all.

Faith-based organisations across the country are Continue reading

What are the costs of gun ownership?

Jue, 10/07/2014 - 22:31

I WASN'T sure what to expect from the Porcupine Freedom Festival, but I was delighted by what I found. At this annual gathering of libertarians, anarchists and jovial “freedom-lovers”, the conversations were thoughtful, the atmosphere festive and the bonhomie infectious. Sure, there was plenty of hyperbole about the “inevitable collapse of the state” (in the words of Jeffrey Tucker, Chief Liberty Office of Liberty.me). But I also met plenty of people running for local office with some good ideas for removing silly regulations and reducing official corruption. Many of these revellers have already pledged to move to New Hampshire in the hopes of making it the “most free” state in the union. “To have so many extremely thoughtful people moving to our state is really positive,” observed Jim Rubens, a New Hampshire Republican who was busily shaking hands and...Continue reading

Once more unto the breaches

Jue, 10/07/2014 - 07:29

AMERICA’s Congress has been struggling for years to come up with legislation to address cyber-security issues, without success. Now it is trying yet again. On July 8th a draft bill, known as the Cyber Information Sharing Act, or CISA, cleared the Senate’s intelligence committee and will now be debated by the full chamber. The proposed legislation is likely to face stiff opposition from privacy groups, who have already given warning about some of its provisions.

We have been here before. In 2012 another cyber-security bill, the Cyber Information Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), was heavily promoted by its supporters, but ended up being stymied because of concerns that it did not do enough to protect people’s privacy. Since then, Edward Snowden’s revelations about the mass surveillance activities of the National Security Agency (NSA) have made folk even warier of anything that could result in more information ending up in the hands of government.

That is why CISA faces an uphill struggle. The bill has provisions that would, among other things, encourage the government to share more classified information about cyber-threats with...Continue reading

Common ground

Mié, 09/07/2014 - 19:03

CORY BOOKER and Rand Paul hardly seem like natural bedfellows. Mr Booker, the former mayor of Newark and now a junior senator from New Jersey, has devoted himself to finding big-government solutions to seemingly intractable problems such as urban blight and poor schools; Mr Paul, a Republican senator from Kentucky, seems fairly certain that the government is at the root of most problems. Yet the two men share a disgust for America’s prison system, which locks up too many people for too many things, trapping millions of Americans in a cycle of poverty and incarceration.   

“Our criminal justice system is broken,” said Mr Booker this week. This is an understatement. America is home to 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of the world’s prisoners. More than 2m Americans are locked up at any given time, more than half of them in state prisons. This is costly, at $29,000 per federal inmate per year and more for state prisoners—about the price of sending each one to an Ivy...Continue reading

The pepper-mill principle

Lun, 07/07/2014 - 16:50

ROSS DOUTHAT thinks liberals should object less strenuously to the Hobby Lobby decision because religion often impels corporations to do things that liberals would consider morally praiseworthy. He points out that Hobby Lobby, a chain of craft shops, was itself lauded by the left-wing website Demos last year for paying its employees excellent wages and donating to charities, and that this sense of ethical responsibility flows from the Christian convictions of its owners.

Mr Douthat's argument is a mess. Liberals do not object to Hobby Lobby paying its employees higher-than-average wages out of a sense of Christian responsibility; they object to it trying to dictate the sexual and reproductive choices of its employees, whether out of a sense of Christian responsibility or not. They...Continue reading

Don't blame Justice Ginsburg

Vie, 04/07/2014 - 19:53

SO MUCH for the Supreme Court’s summer recess. Not 72 hours after they wrapped things up for the year, the justices had an emergency application to contend with. The plea came from Wheaton College, a Christian institution in Illinois. As a religious non-profit, Wheaton is one of the organisations with objections to paying for their employees’ contraceptives the Obama administration tried to accommodate a year ago with this compromise: fill out a form self-certifying to your objection, and you do not have to pay for the birth control. The third-party insurance company will provide the birth control at no cost. Wheaton, like dozens of other evangelical organisations, finds this alternative arrangement unacceptable because filling out the form “triggers” the delivery of contraceptives.

Yesterday, by a vote of 6-3, the justices gave Wheaton a temporary exemption from the accommodation. It need not fill out the form, pending resolution of its legal claim in court.

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Period piece

Vie, 04/07/2014 - 18:31

EVERYTHING in America has gotten bigger since 1776 but the sentences. Were Thomas Jefferson writing today, the baggy monsters with which he opens the Declaration of Independence would be hacked to bits by editors and spin doctors mindful of the need for quick sound bites. As tortuous as we think the Declaration's opening sentences are, though, one of them may have been even longer in the original, reports Jennifer Schuessler in the New York Times. Danielle Allen, a professor at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study, believes she has found a mistake in the current standard transcription of the Declaration: the period after "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness" was actually a comma.

The clause that follows the disputed punctuation states "that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." Ms Allen argues that by splitting the thought into two sentences, the period changes the meaning:

"The logic of...Continue reading

The men who lost America

Vie, 04/07/2014 - 12:04

ON INDEPENDENCE Day, Andrew O'Shaughnessy explains how Britain lost a war it should have won

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