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A company town without a company

Mar, 19/05/2015 - 15:55

“DID you like it?” asks Cecil Klopfenstein, a bearded volunteer at the information desk of the Studebaker National Museum. The 85-year-old is noticeably proud of the museum’s permanent exhibition, which retraces the glorious, 100-plus-year history of Studebaker, a wagon-maker turned carmaker. Mr Klopfenstein worked for Studebaker from 1949 until the South Bend factory closed in 1963, and he is still the happy owner of two Studebaker cars.

Indiana's South Bend used to be a company town, hosting the headquarters of one of world’s most popular makers of carriages and wagons in the 19th century and one of the big four American carmakers in the 20th. The company was founded by five Studebaker brothers—Henry, Clement, John, Peter and Jacob—the sons of German immigrants who came as blacksmiths and foundrymen to South Bend. The Studebaker brothers' big breakthrough came when they supplied wagons for the Union army during the civil war. Ulysses Grant, the leader of the Union army, used a Studebaker carriage during his term as America’s president in the 1870s. Abraham Lincoln drove a Studebaker to the Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC,...Continue reading

A death sentence

Sáb, 16/05/2015 - 18:17

DZHOKHAR TSARNAEV was sentenced to death on May 15th by a federal jury for setting off bombs that killed three spectators and injured scores more at the 2013 Boston Marathon. The verdict was a surprise. Capital punishment has been banned in Massachusetts since 1987, and polls show that few in the state support the practice. But because Mr Tsarnaev was charged under federal law, not state law, execution was always a possibility.

There was little doubt of Mr Tsarnaev’s guilt. “It was him,” declared Judy Clarke, his acclaimed defence attorney, in her shocking opening statement in March. In April the jury found Mr Tsarnaev guilty of all 30 federal counts related to the attacks, including detonating a weapon of mass destruction. Seventeen of the counts were punishable with death. Most of Ms Clarke’s energy was devoted to the sentencing phase, when jurors were left to decide whether to send Mr Tsarnaev to his death or to life in prison without parole. She and the rest of the defence team worked to convince the jury that Mr...Continue reading

A choice, not an echo

Vie, 15/05/2015 - 21:36

WILL Elizabeth Warren run for president? The question is worth asking because Ms Warren (pictured), a senator from Massachusetts, rebuffs fans with the phrase "I am not running"—that is, she prefers the present tense, leaving open the possibility that this could change. Well, she ought to consider it. Her star is rising, especially in light of her momentous, if short-lived, victory in getting Senate Democrats to deny Barack Obama the "fast track trade authority" he needs to move forward with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a huge trade deal with 12 Asian nations.

Ms Warren has argued, plausibly enough, that the secrecy of these trade negotiations flout the rules of upstanding democratic conduct. She has also argued, less plausibly, that...Continue reading

Tribal loyalties

Vie, 15/05/2015 - 19:52

ON TUESDAY my colleague wrote a post criticising the "Boycott, Divest, Sanction" (BDS) movement on American campuses for making unrealistic demands of Israel that can only lead to more rancour and retard a peaceful solution. I agree with much of the post, but I think it suffers from a misplaced lack of pessimism. My colleague writes that meeting the BDS movement's demands would require a one-state solution to the conflict, which in most versions entails Israel incorporating the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza and granting them full citizenship (possibly along with the Palestinian refugees who fled Israel's founding in 1948, and their descendants). He then characterises this as a programme “born of fantasy, not of pragmatism”. It is true that the one-state solution is hopelessly implausible. Any government attempting to incorporate two ethnically, religiously and linguistically exclusive communities, each thinking of themselves as a separate nation, who have come to hate each other passionately over the course of 70 years of war and...Continue reading


Vie, 15/05/2015 - 05:24

WHEN allies demand the impossible from Barack Obama, it is rarely enough for him to say no. Something deep within him makes him explain—often in public—why foreign partners are mistaken about their own interests. On Thursday the six Gulf monarchies—Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates—were the latest allies to endure such a teachable moment at the hands of America’s president.

Mr Obama gave his lecture in a press conference at the end of a summit at Camp David, the presidential retreat, with leaders and envoys from the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC). The foreign-policy establishment in nearby Washington had spent days forecasting disappointment. It was predicted that the GCC would receive only vague security promises, offers to sell them yet more weapons, and assurances that America’s negotiations with Iran would limit the country's pathways to a nuclear arsenal. This would not be enough, was the consensus, because what the Sunni Arab leaders of the GCC really want is to hear is America agree that—even without nuclear weapons—Shia Iran is a dangerously expansionist power that needs to be...Continue reading

Edward Snowden in the primaries

Mié, 13/05/2015 - 20:31

LAST week a federal appeals court panel ruled that the NSA's indiscriminate hoovering of phone-call metadata, first revealed by the leaks of Edward Snowden, is not authorised by the Patriot Act. The pertinent section of the anti-terror bill, Section 215, is set to expire on June 1st, so the 2nd Circuit's ruling comes at a opportune time for congressional opponents of the NSA's bulk data-collection programme. "How can you reauthorise something that’s illegal?” asked Harry Reid, the Senate minority leader. "You can’t. You shouldn’t".

The development also clarifies the stances of several GOP presidential hopefuls, and the stakes of the primaries. Marco Rubio, a Florida senator, and Continue reading

Are calls to boycott Israel anti-Semitic?

Mar, 12/05/2015 - 21:44

DEBATES over Israeli policy, and particularly over the country's treatment of Palestinians, have long been fixtures on college campuses. But it seems these intellectual tussles are growing both more frequent and more fraught, according to a recent article in the New York Times. Jennifer Medina and Tamar Lewin write that it is not uncommon for discussions now to “stretch from dusk to dawn, punctuated by tearful speeches and forceful shouting matches, with accusations of racism, colonialism and anti-Semitism.” At the centre of these disputes are calls by campus activists for colleges to boycott Israeli businesses, owing to what they characterise as Israel’s unjust treatment of Palestinians.

The petitions are part of a broader campaign for boycotts, divestments and sanctions (BDS) against Israel in protest against what critics call “Israeli Apartheid”. The decade-old movement calls on Israel to withdraw from the territories acquired after the 1967 six-day war; to...Continue reading

Spend, spend, spend

Sáb, 09/05/2015 - 19:34

BILL DE BLASIO, New York’s mayor, has had a somewhat fraught relationship with the city’s police department. At a time when public trust in the NYPD has been flagging, many officers have accused him of throwing them under the bus. Nerves still jangle over the way he seemed to side with the street protestors in December, when New Yorkers decried a grand jury’s decision to not indict a cop who choked an unarmed black man to death. So it is surprising—some even say shocking—that the mayor did not try to undo some of this damage with his new budget...Continue reading