THE Brookings Institution fellow and co-creator of America's 1996 welfare reform discusses how the system should work and its response to the 2008 recession
NO ONE wants poor people to starve, so most governments provide a safety net of some kind. Yet if a safety net is too generous, it discourages work. Striking a balance is hard: an ideal welfare state would look after those who cannot help themselves or are temporarily down on their luck, while at the same time pushing anyone who can work to do so.
America took a giant step in that direction in 1996. President Bill Clinton and a Republican-led Congress, following the lead of states such as Wisconsin, made cash welfare payments temporary and conditional. When claimants were told they had to find work, many did. The number of people receiving benefits from the programme that is now called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families fell by two-thirds between 1996 and 2012. The triumph of welfare reform was not that it saved money, though it did. It was that it jostled millions of people into jobs, thus giving them self-respect and a shot at upward mobility.
Some Americans now worry that the gains of welfare reform are endangered (see our report in this week's issue). Other programmes, such as food stamps, have grown rapidly since the recession. Since it became harder for the able-bodied to draw jobless benefits, the...Continue reading
“ON SOME days even if we shut down the entire state, we would be in violation of some health standards because of pollution coming over from other states.” Thus the late Senator Frank Lautenberg griped about foul air blowing into New Jersey. For years, upwind states could dump part of the cost of pollution onto their neighbours, while reaping all the benefits of the factories that caused it. Though banned by the Clean Air Act, such smother-my-neighbour policies persist.
The Supreme Court may soon weigh in, however. It has accepted appeals by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the American Lung Association concerning the agency’s 2011 Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR), which controls interstate emissions that cause ozone and fine-particle pollution.
Under the law, states are responsible for cleaning their own air. They must also reduce emissions that “contribute significantly” to another state’s dirty air. The CSAPR is the latest attempt to give teeth to this “good neighbour” requirement. The rule’s scope is vast, covering 28 eastern and midwestern states. Power plants there were found to emit...Continue reading
LIKE Jonathan Bernstein, I think John McCain is wrong when he says that it would set a "catastrophic" precedent for congress to vote down Barack Obama's request for authorisation of the use of military force in Syria. As Mr Bernstein says, "Congress and the president are co-equal. That’s true in general, and it’s true of 'national security matters' in particular." Whether or not to drop bombs on another country with which we're not at war is a pretty darn significant decision, and in a democratic country, it's perfectly normal for the legislature to have an equal say. But then Mr Bernstein goes on to say something that isn't true at all (my emphasis):
A defeat for Obama’s plans will not set any sort of terrible precedent. All it will tell us is some combination of the president having a fairly weak case at this point, or the president having done a bad job of selling his...Continue reading
WITH his proposed military strike against Syria on hold, our correspondents discuss the strategy behind Barack Obama's decision to consult Congress
WASHINGTON has emptied for the Labor Day weekend: the politicos have obeyed the eternal demand that they should see something of life beyond the Beltway, while those who stayed behind are mostly concerned with such important matters as the state of the ligaments holding together the right knee of the Redskins’ star quarterback. One thing that had been thought immune to this general torpor was America’s response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria, where 1,429 people were killed in a single attack on August 21st. The aircraft carriers and submarines were in place, the Tomahawk missiles readied and the president would, rumour suggested, give the order to go before Sunday turned into Monday. Instead, Barack Obama stood in the Rose Garden on August 31st and explained that he was going to wait until Congress had its say, which means that America’s response will not come before the recess ends on September 9th.
Mr Obama’s speech was both powerful and characteristically Obama-ish. He began by echoing his...Continue reading
LESS than two months ago, Anthony Weiner was the ascendant candidate in the New York City mayoral race. Bill de Blasio (pictured), the city’s public advocate, was one of several contenders wallowing in single digits in the polls. Today, a few weeks after Mr Weiner’s second sexting scandal broke his momentum, Mr de Blasio leads his rivals by a comfortable margin. A new Quinnipiac poll shows that he is preferred by 36% of likely voters, outdistancing Christine Quinn, the city council Speaker, and Bill Thompson, the comptroller, by 15 and 16 points, respectively. Mr de Blasio’s surge is edging him close to the 40% threshold that would give him the Democratic nomination without a run-off.
In the New Republic, Marc Tracy Continue reading
“THIS is probably controversial to say, but what the heck,” said Barack Obama on August 23rd. “[L]aw schools would probably be wise to think about being two years instead of three.” Mr Obama once taught constitutional law; his proposal could put many of his former colleagues out of work. Yet he has a point.
For most of the 1800s, would-be lawyers (such as Abraham Lincoln) learned the trade as apprentices. Law schools sprouted up late in the century, in two main flavours. Elite universities set up legal departments for posh students; night schools catered to the sons of immigrants.
To stop the proles from sullying the image of the bar—ahem, to provide sufficient instruction in the intricacies of the law—the snootier institutions convinced the American Bar Association (ABA) to limit its accreditation to schools that offered only a costly three-year degree.
It still requires accredited schools to offer three years’ worth of courses. Yet most of the basic principles of law can be learned in a year, and law schools are reluctant to teach practical skills, so students tend to fill their final year with classes on curious or obscure topics.
Over the...Continue reading
- A young NAACP volunteer distributes fliers announcing the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom to passersby Source: Getty Images
- The march was planned by a group of civil-rights, labour and religious groups. Organisers hired buses to bring thousands of participants to Washington Source: Everett Collection
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SAM LEITH, author of "Are You Talkin' To Me?: Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama", reveals the influences that combined to produce one of the greatest speeches of the 20th century
THE case for America to intervene in Syria's civil war is rather straightforward. Barack Obama has repeatedly said that the use of chemical weapons crosses a “red line” for America. The regime of Bashar Assad seems to have used such weapons. As we argue in the paper, America “will no longer be much of a force at all” if it sits on the sidelines while its red lines are crossed. Responding to the use of chemical weapons with only finger wagging will do nothing to discourage their further use, either within Syria or outside her borders.
Yet there are also strong arguments against unleashing America’s military might too casually. The tactical picture is tricky. According to Juan Cole of the University of Michigan, “Syria has stockpiles of chemical weapons, the exact position of which is unknown; indiscriminate bombing raids on Syrian military facilities could release those chemicals on civilian populations.” Even the Continue reading
AMERICA is going to attack Syria, it seems, and it is going to do it because of gas. As reasons to attack a murderous dictatorship go, punishment for the use of chemical weapons to kill hundreds of civilians isn't a bad one. For anyone inclined to see America as an avenging angel of international justice, however, this fascinating scoop from Shane Harris and Matthew M. Aid at Foreign Policy will come as a bit of a downer. It seems the American government was well aware of the chemical-weapons attacks carried out by Saddam Hussein in the late 1980s, both against the Iranian army and against his own people, and not only did nothing to stop him, but in fact supplied him with the coordinates of Iranian force concentrations in full knowledge that he would use that information to poison them with nerve and mustard gas.
Now, the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) barring nations from possessing chemical arms Continue reading
ERNEST GREEN, raised in segregated Arkansas, remembers August 28th 1963
IN JULY 2012, nearly a year before Edward Snowden escaped to Hong Kong with their secrets, America's spies made a brief and tantalising confession. Under pressure from Ron Wyden, a senator from Oregon, the country's spymaster admitted that the panel of judges that supervises the spooks had "on at least one occasion" halted a surveillance programme on the grounds that it was unconstitutional. Since then the government has battled a lawsuit brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a lobby group, demanding it declassify the court's decision.
On August 21st the government gave up the fight. The ruling, dated October 2011, was among a bundle of secret documents the government released. It shows that each year between 2008 and 2011 the National Security Agency (NSA) wrongly collected nearly 60,000 emails and other online communications sent and received by American citizens. These messages were hidden among the 25m pieces of correspondence related to foreign intelligence targets that spies suck directly from America’s fibre-optic cables each year.
The judges allowed the programme to resume after the NSA’s geeks demonstrated smarter ways of filtering out...Continue reading
WHEN Obamacare comes into force early next year, it could affect more than just America’s health-care infrastructure. We assess the reforms' potential impact on the labour market
BEFORE the recession, Richard Clark’s cleaning company in Florida had 200 employees, about half of them working full time. These days it has about 150, with 80% part-time. The downturn explains some of this. But Mr Clark also blames Barack Obama’s health reform. When it comes into effect in January 2015, Obamacare will require firms with 50 or more full-time employees to offer them affordable health insurance or pay a fine of $2,000-3,000 per worker. That is a daunting prospect for firms that do not already offer coverage. But for many, there is a way round the law.
Mr Clark says he is “very careful with the threshold”. To keep his full-time workforce below the magic number of 50, he is relying more on part-timers. He is not alone. More than one in ten firms surveyed by Mercer, a consultancy—and one in five retail and hospitality companies—say they will cut workers’ hours because of Obamacare. A hundred part-timers can flip as many burgers as 50 full-timers, and the former will soon be much cheaper.
Opinions are furiously divided as to whether the unintended harm caused by health reform will outweigh its benefits. Republicans, who have always hated...Continue reading
WHEN a judge last month convicted Bradley Manning of violating the Espionage Act, she seemed to be siding with those who view the army private as a duplicitous traitor, rather than a patriotic whistle-blower. Sure, she cleared him of the gravest charge—having aided the enemy—but Mr Manning still faced up to 90 years in prison.
Mr Manning had admitted to indiscriminately leaking reams of secret files to Wikileaks, a website that publishes such revelations. As punishment prosecutors sought a sentence of at least 60 years, in part to discourage future would-be leakers. But the defence, portraying Mr Manning as naive and confused, pleaded for "a sentence that allows him to have a life".
On August 21st the judge obliged the defence, sentencing Mr Manning, who is 25, to 35 years behind bars and a dishonourable discharge from the army. He will likely spend only a fraction of that time in prison. With three years under his belt, and after receiving a credit of 112 days for abusive treatment (while in the brig he was kept in solitary confinement and forced to strip), he will be...Continue reading