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Why it makes sense to raise the age of juvenile courts

Mar, 17/11/2015 - 19:32

WHEN RALPH Bonano was 17 years old, he was on the wrong road. He had dropped out of school, joined a gang, been arrested several times—and he regularly sold drugs. When your correpondent spoke to him three years later, in 2014, he was on a better path. He had given up breaking the law, passed his high-school exams and and had a steady job in south Boston making helmets for the military. He credited Roca, a programme in Chelsea, Massachusetts, for helping him stay out of trouble. Roca specialises in helping young people aged between 17 and 24 stay out of jail and find work.

Criminal justice experts are increasingly of the opinion that 18, the age at which law-breakers enter the adult criminal justice system in most states, is too young. In a recent paper, three academics at Harvard Kennedy School—Vincent Shiraldi, Bruce Western and Kendra Bradner —wrote a paper recommending that “the age of juvenile court justice be raised to at least 21 years old, with additional, gradually diminishing protections for young adults up to age 24 or 25.” They point out that neurobiological and developmental research has shown that the...Continue reading

Governors seek to exclude Syrian refugees

Mar, 17/11/2015 - 17:12

SLAMMING the door on Syrian refugees would be a betrayal of America's values, declared Barack Obama on November 16th. Refugees should not, he said, be conflated with terrorists. “The people who are fleeing Syria are the most harmed by terrorism, the most vulnerable as a consequence of civil war,” he said, speaking at the G20 summit in Turkey, days after attacks in Paris that killed 129 and wounded more than 350. We must “not close our hearts to the victims of such violence”. Then, without naming them, he chided “political leaders” back home who want to give preferential treatment to Christian refugees. “That's not American. That’s not who we are. We don’t have religious tests to our compassion.”

Powerful words from the president who was at his oratorical best. Yet in spite of his exhortations, 22 Republican governors declared on the same day that they would not accept any Syrian refugees in their state, in defiance of Mr Obama’s plan to resettle 10,000 Syrians in America over the next year. There were reports that some were asking leading Republicans to insert a provision in December's speding bill that...Continue reading

The Supreme Court agrees to hear the biggest abortion case since 1992, in the middle of the presidential election

Lun, 16/11/2015 - 14:06

TWO and a half years ago, Wendy Davis (pictured above) stood in pink running shoes for 11 hours on the floor of the Texas Senate to speak against a bill that would shutter most abortion clinics in her state. “The alleged reason for the bill is to enhance patient safety,” Ms Davis said early in her presentation, but it “treat[s] women as though they are not capable of making their own medical decisions.” The bill violates “women’s constitutional rights to control their bodies,” she argued.

On November 13th, the Supreme Court announced that it will decide whether House Bill 2—which withstood Ms Davis’s extraordinary filibuster and passed the Senate 17 days later—is indeed unconstitutional. Continue reading

Clinton, Sanders and O'Malley talk national security

Dom, 15/11/2015 - 05:12

IF CLAP-O-METERS decided presidential elections, then a convincing case could be made that national security—and notably the struggle against the murderous fanatics of the Islamic State (IS)—is the biggest obstacle standing between Hillary Clinton and the White House. Mrs Clinton and the two other Democrats seeking their party’s presidential nomination met in Des Moines, Iowa, on Saturday night for a televised debate. It had been billed as a discussion of economic policy but was revised to begin with discussion of the horrifying attacks in Paris.

For 20 minutes Mrs Clinton, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland, talked about how America needed to show leadership and wisdom and build alliances and share intelligence with foreign partners and generally pondered how “complicated” and “difficult” it would be to defeat IS. There were moments of chin-jutting near-bombast, as when Mrs Clinton said that IS “cannot be contained, it must be defeated.” Mr Sanders, who is running to Mrs Clinton’s populist left, chided his rival for supporting the invasion of Iraq in 2003 when she...Continue reading

The Donald rips into his rival, and Iowa's voters

Sáb, 14/11/2015 - 04:01

DONALD Trump’s astonishing political ascent has been fuelled by his reputation for telling it like it is. But there must surely be a limit to how much truth (or Mr Trump’s version of it) voters want to hear. Over the course of a rambling, vitriolic rant in Iowa on November 12th, he may have touched that limit.

Speaking at Fort Dodge, Mr Trump derided Ben Carson, his mild-mannered, closest rival; voters, especially Iowans, whose intelligence he questioned; and the beliefs of evangelical Christians, who are largely for Mr Carson. On the face of it, this might seem par for the course. Among his many previous gaffes, Mr Trump has shamefully slandered Mexicans as rapists. His political demise has been predicted often—yet he has led the Republican field for three months. Here, though, are three reasons why his latest rant could have crossed a fatal line.

First, Mr Trump is often at least entertaining, but this performance was dreadful. Normally punctual, he turned up late, looking exhausted, having campaigned in three states in three days, and then rattled on for...Continue reading

Betting on change in Atlantic City

Mié, 11/11/2015 - 16:40

CHRIS CHRISTIE, New Jersey’s governor, has had a tough few days. He was excluded from the fourth main Republican presidential debate on November 10th and instead relegated to the tier-two crew. Not only is he faring poorly in national polls: in his home state a recent survey put him fourth—well behind Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Mark Rubio. Indeed, most voters in the Garden state want Mr Christie to drop his presidential aspirations. More than half of voters there are unhappy with the job he is doing as governor. And now he has angered the state’s lawmakers and casino industry.

On November 9th, Mr Christie vetoed most of a five-bill legislative rescue package for Atlantic City, saying the package, which would have ended the city’s fight with casinos over property taxes, failed to “recognise the true path to economic revitalisation and fiscal stability”. The proponents of the package argue it would have injected badly needed funds into the former gambling mecca, which has a $101m deficit. It would have set up fixed payments instead of taxes based on property valuations. The city’s budget for the fiscal year ending in December...Continue reading

Marco Rubio rises above the rest in Milwaukee

Mié, 11/11/2015 - 09:23

A LOT was at stake at the fourth televised Republican debate in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on November 10th. Jeb Bush was fighting for his political life in posing himself as a credible contender of the presidency. Marco Rubio had to try matching his outstanding performance at the previous debate and to fend off a possibly harsh attack from his erstwhile mentor, Mr Bush. Ben Carson was in the uncomfortable position of having to defend the veracity of his inspiring life story, which he has made into a lucrative, folkloric vehicle over the years. And Donald Trump had to demonstrate that he is more than a bombastic showman with a shaky grasp of essential policy questions.

Eight candidates were on stage at the Milwaukee theatre after Mike Huckabee and Chris Christie, respectively the former governor of Arkansas and the governor of New Jersey, were relegated to the kiddies’ table: the one-hour “undercard” debate before the two-hour main debate. In addition to the two establishment candidates, Mssrs Bush and Rubio, and the two insurgent candidates, Mssrs Carson and Trump, there were Carly Fiorina, a businesswoman, Ted Cruz, a senator from Texas,...Continue reading

Can you sue a website that misrepresents you?

Mar, 10/11/2015 - 19:33

MOST employers turn to the web to help get the skinny on their job applicants. But what happens when the information they find is inaccurate? Looking himself up on Spokeo, a “people search engine,” Thomas Robins was surprised to read that he was a well-off man in his fifties with a wife, children and a graduate degree. In fact, Mr Robins is in his thirties, childless, unmarried, unlettered and unemployed.

Alarmed by these discrepancies, Mr Robins sued Spokeo for violating the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), a law passed by Congress in 1970 to protect consumers from the dissemination of false information about them. The FCRA makes companies liable for “actual damages” resulting from their “willful violation” of the law. By skewing his personal details on their website, Mr Robins claimed, Spokeo had given potential employers the wrong idea about his identity, bringing him “anxiety, stress, concern, and/or...Continue reading

A man’s jail term turns on a comma

Vie, 06/11/2015 - 19:10

WE HAVE been suspicious for some time of laws imposing mandatory minimum sentences. Extending prison time for criminals who abuse children may be more justifiable than mandatory minimums for non-violent drug offences, but it seems that lawmakers were not particularly careful when, in the 1990s, they sat down to compose these tougher laws. A case in point: 18 U.S.C. § 2252(b)(2), a provision of the federal criminal code prescribing a 10-20 year prison sentence for anyone violating a child-pornography law who has also been convicted previously under state laws “relating to aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse, or abusive sexual conduct involving a minor or ward”.  

Avondale Lockhart was caught buying child pornography in 2010 and pleaded guilty to the charges. But when his prison sentence was extended...Continue reading

An old court case exposes the racist tricks used to ensure all-white juries

Mar, 03/11/2015 - 18:23

TIMOTHY TYRONE FOSTER, a black man, sits on Georgia’s death row for killing an elderly white woman in 1986. When jurors were being vetted to hear Mr Foster’s case, prosecutors struck all five African Americans from the jury pool. Four of those strikes came via “peremptory challenges”, tools by which lawyers can nix potential jurors without having to cite a reason. In his closing argument, the prosecutor told the all-white jury that sentencing Mr Foster to die would “deter other people out there in the projects”—public housing blocks populated mainly by African-Americans.

Overt racism in jury selection has been illegal in America since the Strauder v West Virginia ruling in 1880. But lawyers continue to strike blacks from juries at suspiciously high rates, as an amicus brief in Foster v Chatman—a Continue reading

How the law needles the poor

Lun, 02/11/2015 - 02:17

THE MOST revolting scene in Monty's Python's "The Meaning of Life" depicts a man succumbing to a putatively voluntary liver donation. Arriving at his front door, the authorities point to the liver donor’s card in his wallet. “Need we say more?”, they ask, before separating the man from the “glandular organ in [his] abdomen” over his screams and protestations. Nothing quite this grotesque or absurd is going on at a courthouse in Alabama, but coerced bodily invasions do not seem to be out of the question for Judge Marvin Wiggins. In fact, they are this jurist’s favoured means of getting indigent defendants to pay their dues to society.  

According to recent reports, Judge Wiggins has turned to blood donation as an alternative for people who are behind on their court debts. “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,” he told dozens of people in his...Continue reading

The latest battleground in transgender rights: the school changing room

Vie, 30/10/2015 - 12:39

A DISAGREEMENT about the treatment of transgender students is pitting the largest high-school district in Illinois against federal authorities. The bone of contention is the access to changing rooms for a transgender high-school student in one of the five high schools and two alternative schools of Township High School District 211 in Palatine, a suburb of Chicago. The student, who was born male but identifies as female, lived for several years as a girl and plays on the girls' sports team, demands that she is given full access to the girls' locker room.

Daniel Cates, the superintendent of district 211, denies her full access to that and instead offers her a separate room or the male locker room to change in. He argues that he has to balance the privacy rights of 12,500 students and the rights of a group with particular needs. In his view, the privacy of that vast majority of students is infringed if transgender students are allowed to change in the same locker room as the students of the gender they identify with.

The controversy began in 2014 when the student’s family, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), filed a complaint with the...Continue reading

Jeb Bush flops, Marco Rubio soars

Jue, 29/10/2015 - 07:41

THE third televised Republican primary debate, held in Boulder, Colorado, on October 28th, was supposed to be about the economy. Yet it featured hardly any discussion of America’s big economic problems, its shortages of skills, poor education standards or rotten infrastructure; nor, for that matter, of its economic strengths. It was a ragged, ill-focused affair, in which the ten participants traded mostly incredible tax-cutting pledges, bickered with one another, and griped about the moderators, who were representing the organiser, CNBC, and excruciatingly disorganised. Messy stuff, from which most of the candidates emerged more or less where they had started out—with a few important exceptions.

Two match-ups had dominated the run-up to the debate.  First, that between the two front-runners, Donald Trump, a real estate tycoon and braggart, and Ben Carson, a soft-spoken neurosurgeon who holds some eye-wateringly right-wing views (he recently suggested the Holocaust would not have happened had Nazi Germany had looser gun laws). This duel probably ended in a draw. Mr Trump provided a couple of the debate’s more comical moments: including a flamboyant dismissal of John...Continue reading

Will Carly Fiorina shine again?

Mié, 28/10/2015 - 16:08

ON OCTOBER 28th, the ten leading Republican presidential candidates will gather for their third primary debate in Boulder, Colorado. While current front-runners Donald Trump and Ben Carson will probably garner much of the attention, it is Carly Fiorina, one of the best debaters of the candidates, who has the most to gain.

Ms Fiorina, a former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, has polled in the single digits for most of the campaign. But after strong performances in each of the last two debates, her popularity spiked. Data from Google Trends show that during the weeks of the first and second debate, search interest in Ms. Fiorina increased 20- and 50-fold, respectively (see chart).

Ms Fiorina’s debating skills have also attracted the attention of Republican donors. In the two weeks following the first Republican debate in Cleveland, Ohio, Ms Fiorina saw her itemised campaign contributions—those over $200—grow from $1.2 million to $2.2 million, a 72%...Continue reading

Is Ben Carson overtaking Donald Trump?

Mar, 27/10/2015 - 20:39

WHEN THE Republican Party’s presidential candidates assemble for their third debate on October 28th in Boulder, Colorado, Donald Trump will again be standing, braced for a fight, centre-stage. But the poll ratings that determine the candidates’ lecturn order no longer look quite as rosy as they did for the billionaire reality-television star.

On October 27th, the day before the debate, Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, overtook Mr Trump in a national poll, albeit by a squeak. In a survey by CBS/New York Times of Republican primary voters, Mr Carson was on 26% of the vote and Mr Trump on 22%. The two are way ahead of their closest rivals. Marco Rubio, a Florida senator, was on 8%; Jeb Bush, a former two-term governor of Florida, was on 7% (as was Carly Fiorina, a former chief executive of Hewlett Packard). The others—Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee and John Kasich—each won 4%.

The poll reinforces the extent to which most Republicans want a candidate with no political experience. A recent study by Pew of Republicans who will probably vote in the primaries found that 65% want a candidate who offers “new ideas and a different approach”; the figure was...Continue reading

It's a jungle in Louisiana

Vie, 23/10/2015 - 15:56

ON OCTOBER 24th voters in Louisiana will send two men to a run-off that will determine the state’s next governor. That vote will take place in November, but it is the first election—known as an open or “jungle” primary—that really counts. This year, anyway.

In a jungle primary, candidates compete in a scrum, regardless of party, and the top two move on. The effect of such a system can be unpredictable, varying with the size of the field and the politics of each candidate. Sometimes, it can boost those at the fringes. In 1991, much to Louisiana’s embarrassment, former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke and a flamboyantly corrupt governor, Edwin Edwards, managed to capture so many of the votes at the margins that the two of them met in a run-off, spawning a raft of rueful bumper stickers. (Among them: “Vote For the Lizard, Not the Wizard.”) The unfortunate centrist squeezed out that year was the incumbent governor, Buddy Roemer, who had become increasingly unpopular—but whom most Louisianians still probably wished they could have picked when it came to it.

This year, the fringes are not so extreme, but there is a similar dynamic at play, to the...Continue reading

Grilling Hillary Clinton

Vie, 23/10/2015 - 08:20

SHORTLY before 10pm on September 11th, 2012, around 150 Islamic militants swarmed into the lightly defended American consulate in Benghazi. After blasting a way inside, with grenades and vehicle-mounted machine-guns, they poured diesel onto the compound and set fire to it, unleashing a cloud of noxious smoke into the safe-room where Chris Stevens, the American ambassador to Libya, and Sean Smith, a junior colleague, were hiding. Both died of asphyxiation. Later that night the militants launched a second attack, on a nearby CIA compound, where they killed two Americans agents with mortar rounds.

The ten-hour grilling Hillary Clinton was subjected to in Congress on October 22nd was, said her Republican interrogators, necessary to uncover the truth of how and why those four Americans died. But this was nonsense. The Benghazi select committee, launched by the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives, has spent 17 months and, by a conservative reckoning, $4.5m shining little more light on those questions than seven previous enquiries. And indeed, the truth of the matter does not seem terribly elusive.

By the night of the attack, the US-backed effort to...Continue reading

Nebraska’s ban of the death penalty is on hold

Jue, 22/10/2015 - 03:34

EARLIER this week the “Daily Show” sent one of its correspondents to Lincoln, the capital of Nebraska, to tape one of the comedy show's daily acerbic segments on current affairs. The topic? The death penalty, and Nebraskans' rather messy attempts to repeal it.

In May, the Midwestern state’s unicameral parliament overrode the veto of Pete Ricketts, the new Republican governor of Nebraska, of a bill to ban the death penalty. Governor Ricketts is a vocal opponent of the abolition of capital punishment, but he was obliged to sign the bill into law. Nebraska thus became the 19th state, and the first conservative state in more than four decades, to ban the death penalty.

The repeal stunned pro-death penalty Nebraskans. They immediately launched a well-organised and well-funded counter offensive. All across the state they stood with big clipboards in parking lots, supermarkets, country fairs and knocked on doors to collect enough signatures to bring about a state-wide vote on reinstating capital punishment. Their effort was bankrolled by “Nebraskans for the Death Penalty”, a lobby group partly financed by Governor Ricketts and his wealthy father, to the tune of a...Continue reading

Google Books wins a court battle

Mar, 20/10/2015 - 16:52

IN “THE LIBRARY OF BABEL”, a story by Jorge Borges, a man loses himself in a gargantuan repository of every possible book in the universe. Google Books is not quite that vast, but it is big. Since 2004, Google has teamed with libraries to scan over 20m titles—including many that are out of print—and put them on the web for anyone to access. Users cannot read entire books, unless they are in the public domain. But unlike the sad hero in Borges’s dystopian tale, who never locates the catalogue to the collection, Google Books browsers can search for specific phrases and, without paying, read snippets of countless tomes.

A decade ago, a group of authors sued Google, claiming the service cut into their copyrights. After years of legal machinations, a federal district court ruled in favour of the internet giant in 2013. The plaintiffs—including Jim Bouton, author of “Ball Four”, and Betty Miles, who wrote “The Trouble with Thirteen"—appealed to the Second Circuit Court in New York and on October 16th, they Continue reading