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Could a Hollywood film about Benghazi damage Clinton?

Lun, 18/01/2016 - 17:57

HORDES of terrorists overrun the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, shoot holes in the American flag and set fire to diesel poured outside a safe room where the ambassador is hiding. Only a mile away, a group of tough and heavily armed American operatives is preparing to launch a rescue mission. But in "13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi" they are prevented from doing so by an effete and clueless CIA station chief. “Stand down!” he yells, to their incomprehension and fury. “Stand down!”

The first American blockbuster of the year, directed by Michael Bay and released on January 15th, tells the “true story” (as the opening credits have it) of the six American security contractors who were on duty when terrorists attacked the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya in 2012. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans died in the assault. But the film peddles a politically potent fiction. The order to “stand down” was never made, according to multiple investigations: seven of them congressional and one independent. Those investigations, most of them led by Republicans, multiplied as...Continue reading

Hillary Clinton harangues the Bern at the fourth Democratic debate

Lun, 18/01/2016 - 09:31

TWO weeks before the Iowa caucuses, the three surviving Democratic candidates had their first televised quarrel, in a debate held in South Carolina on January 17th. It was mostly started by Hillary Clinton at the expense of Bernie Sanders, whom she castigated for his history of flip-flopping over gun control—as an independent senator for huntin’-fishin’ Vermont, he once had little appetite for it—and for the uncertainty surrounding his health-care proposals.

“He voted to let guns go onto the Amtrak, guns go into national parks. He voted against doing research to figure out how we can save lives. Let’s not forget what this is about: 90 people a day die from gun violence in our country,” said Mrs Clinton, speaking less than a block from the church where nine black worshippers were massacred by a racist madman last June. Of the sketchy proposals Mr Sanders released, shortly before the debate, to replace President Barack Obama’s hard-won health-care reform with a new and expensive single-payer model, she said: “I have to say I’m not sure whether...Continue reading

A wasted vote for Jeb Bush

Vie, 15/01/2016 - 18:41

FAILING, disappointed, humiliated by six months of well-aimed taunts from Donald Trump, Jeb Bush has had a horrible six months. Once the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, he probably, it turns out, never stood a chance of getting it. He is measured, thoughtful, wonkish; Republican voters want rage. He could scarcely be more of the GOP establishment that they decry.

In the televised Republican debate held on January 14th Mr Bush argued against starting the trade war with China and levying the ban on Muslims that Mr Trump advocates. But the Republican front-runner’s response, lambasting Mr Bush for being “weak”, and the glum, bullied expression this elicited in President George W Bush’s brother, President George H. Bush’s son, were, sadly, more memorable. In a crowded field, Mr Bush is currently polling less than 5%; his main rival for the support of mainstream conservatives, Marco Rubio, is on 12%. Mr Trump has over a third of the Republican vote.

So the endorsement of Mr Bush by Lindsey Graham, a senator from South Carolina and early drop-out from the Republican contest, on January 15th was a rare splash of sunlight...Continue reading

Wikipedia celebrates its first 15 years

Vie, 15/01/2016 - 15:09

FIFTEEN years ago today, on January 15th, 2001, Wikipedia was founded by two internet pioneers, Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger, although neither had any idea how ambitious their online encyclopedia would become. Today Wikipedia is the tenth most popular website in the world, with versions available in some 280 languages containing around 35m articles. Like the ancient library of Alexandria and Denis Diderot’s encyclopedia published during the Enlightenment, Wikipedia is an ever-evolving manifestation of its creators’ desire to preserve and compile knowledge.

Wikipedia was early to anticipate three important digital trends. First, people are willing to participate in global forums for nothing. Wikipedia, which is written and edited by volunteers, was an early social network. Second, Wikipedia saw that the knowledge economy was heading online. In 2012 the “Encyclopedia Britannica” stopped printing and is now only available in digital form. Third, Wikipedia showed the importance of network effects to online ventures: the more people use Wikipedia and write entries, the more helpful it has become. Younger digital firms, like Facebook and...Continue reading

Candidates Cruz and Trump butt heads

Vie, 15/01/2016 - 08:53

THE gloves came off in the sixth Republican primary debate, held in North Charleston, South Carolina, on January 14th, especially during exchanges between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, the two front-runners, who until recently had enjoyed an unofficial alliance. “I recognise that Donald is dismayed that his poll numbers are falling in Iowa,” said Mr Cruz, in answer to a question about whether he might not qualify for the presidency because he was born in Canada, which, he said, was first raised by Mr Trump. An angry-looking Mr Trump retorted that Mr Cruz was “misrepresenting” how well he was doing. “I was all for you until you started that,” he said.

The exchange escalated when Mr Cruz suggested that, by Mr Trump’s standards, he himself might not be eligible to run for the presidency; his mother was born in Scotland. (“But I was born here—big difference,” was Mr Trump’s reply). It then turned almost comedic when the pair (sort of) offered each other the vice-presidency: Mr Trump said he would choose Mr Cruz as vice-president…but that the cloud of contestable nationality hanging over his head was a problem. Mr Cruz said...Continue reading

America's most famous jailer hangs up his keys

Jue, 14/01/2016 - 22:34

BURL CAIN, America's most famous jailer, has hung up his keys after nearly 21 years as the warden of Louisiana’s maximum-security Angola prison. Mr Cain, who has a strong belief in redemption and a way with words, has been a rockstar of the correctional world and the subject of documentaries, books, and countless newspaper and magazine articles.

He also ran the largest prison in the state that incarcerates a greater proportion of its citizens than any other—in the nation that leads the world in imprisonment. His stint as warden of the plantation-like prison located on 18,000 bucolic acres in a deep bend of the Mississippi River is the longest by far in Angola’s history.

Though Mr Cain is 73, his decision to call it quits wasn't because of old age. A few months ago, Mr Cain—who flirted with a bid to become Louisiana governor early last year—said he hoped to stay on regardless of who won the state’s recent election. His decision to quit came just as the new governor, John Bel Edwards, was deciding on key positions, and there had been speculation that Mr Cain may have been given some encouragement.

It seems more...Continue reading

Why Florida will have to rethink its approach to executions

Mié, 13/01/2016 - 20:24

LAST year, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a 31-page dissent to a 5-to-4 decision upholding Oklahoma’s controversial method of executing criminals. To rely on a drug cocktail with a track record of torturing prisoners to death, she wrote in Glossip v Gross, is “barbarous” and violates the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishments. This week, Justice Sotomayor wrote her first majority opinion in a death-penalty case, taking just ten pages to explain why Florida’s death-sentencing procedures are out of whack with the jury-trial guarantee in the Sixth Amendment. The vote was 8-to-1, with only Justice Samuel Alito in dissent.  

In nearly every state that executes criminals, the decision to sentence a convicted murderer to death lies with the jury. But in Florida, a hybrid sentencing scheme has given judges the final word. While juries are asked to issue an “advisory sentence” by a majority vote, and their recommendations must be given “great weight”, presiding judges are empowered to adjust the sentence based on their own assessments...Continue reading