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Ezra Klein's strangled Vox

Vie, 11/04/2014 - 14:33

LAST weekend saw the launch of Vox, a new own online news site founded by the one-time wunderkind political blogger, Ezra Klein. For the happy occasion, Mr Klein, Vox's editor-in-chief, has produced an interesting think-piece, "How politics makes us stupid", in which he provides a diverting overview of recent experimental work on the hardy human propensity to shield tribal political faith from rational scrutiny. That Mr Klein's essay ultimately runs aground, tangled in its own question, may shed some light on the promise of Vox and its aspiration to help readers really understand the news.

Mr Klein's essay is chiefly dedicated to explaining the work of Dan Kahan, a professor at Yale Law School. Mr Kahan and his colleagues have conducted a spate of experiments that show how our ability to reason soundly, particularly about political subjects, is undermined by the need to protect our core beliefs. Mr Klein writes:

Kahan calls this theory...Continue reading

Shots fired

Jue, 10/04/2014 - 23:07

A POSTSCRIPT to this week's print piece on police violence in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This morning, after The Economist went to press, the Department of Justice published the results of its 16-month probe into the conduct of the city's police department, and they weren't pretty. The review, published in the form of a 46-page letter to Richard Berry, the mayor, said that most of the 20 deadly police shootings between 2009 and 2012 it investigated were unconstitutional; officers, the report said, "used deadly force against people who posed a minimal threat". In some situations these officers acted in a manner that "heightened the danger" and made the use of force more likely. They were also found to have used non-lethal force, such as Tasers, unlawfully.

This excessive use of force, the...Continue reading

By the numbers

Mié, 09/04/2014 - 22:28

APRIL has been a cheerful month for the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. More than 7m Americans have signed up for private coverage through the law’s exchanges and, by the end of February, more than 3m people had enrolled in Medicaid, the health programme for the poor. According to the latest Gallup poll, America’s share of uninsured has fallen to its lowest level since 2008. These figures are good news for anyone keen to expand health coverage. They may not be so helpful for the Democrats’ election prospects.

To understand why, consider another set of figures. The Rand Corporation, a think-tank, estimates that 9.3m adults acquired insurance through mid-March. But more than 40m older Americans are enrolled in Medicare, the public-health programme for those aged 65 and older, with more than 15m of them in private Medicare plans. These are reliable voters in mid-term elections. And Republicans are telling them, again and again, that Democrats are raiding their benefits to pay for Obamacare.

Democratic politicians are desperate to convince them otherwise. On April 7th health officials provided some help: after proposing in...Continue reading

Imposter anxiety

Mié, 09/04/2014 - 18:26

DEFENDERS of North Carolina's new voter-ID law have been crowing this week. "Hundreds of cases of potential voter fraud uncovered in North Carolina," declared a recent Fox News headline. "Study finds 765 cases of NC voter fraud in 2012 election" echoed the Daily Tar Heel. North Carolina's State Board of Elections recently announced they had discovered 35,750 records of voters whose names and date of birth matched people who had voted in other states. More damningly, 765 North Carolina voters in 2012 had the same last four Social Security digits as people who voted in other states, and dozens more had apparently voted after they had died. Local conservatives have hailed these numbers as evidence that the state's strict new voter rules are essential safeguards against dodgy voter behaviour. “These findings should put to rest ill-informed claims that problems don’t exist...Continue reading

Noise and clamour

Mar, 08/04/2014 - 23:54

WHEN same-sex marriage activists force an ideological opponent to quit his job, are they violating liberal principles? Andrew Sullivan, a steadfast advocate for gay rights, thinks so. I do too, and John Locke, the great 17th-century theorist of liberalism, would probably agree.

In 2008 Brendan Eich gave $1,000 to support Proposition 8, a ballot initiative to ban same-sex marriage in California. When this detail emerged last month, some web developers boycotted Mozilla to protest its promotion of Mr Eich, one of the company’s co-founders and the developer of JavaScript, to CEO. OKCupid, a dating website, joined the anti-Eich campaign a few days later. "Mozilla’s new CEO, Brendan Eich, is an opponent of equal rights for gay couples,” read the site's default screen for Firefox users. “We would therefore prefer that our users not use Mozilla software to access OKCupid." On April 3rd Mr Eich resigned,...Continue reading

Cash rules everything around us

Vie, 04/04/2014 - 16:38

AS A foreign journalist covering politics in America, I have learned to interpret the manoeuvrings of politicians in financial as well as political terms. A candidate for governor says something crazy about guns. Why? To shore up his position with voters ahead of a close-run primary, perhaps. But it could also be because he's running out of money and needs to gee up the fat-walleted second-amendment crowd. If you wondered, as I did, why the Democrats seemed to have got a bee in their collective bonnet over Nate Silver's GOP-friendly Senate predictions, you'll find the answer in their fundraising e-mails, which leverage the bad news to squeeze donors for more cash. Money Continue reading

You can lead a horse to the wadi

Vie, 04/04/2014 - 00:35

JOHN KERRY has spent much of his first year as Secretary of State on a quest to bring about a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority through sheer relentless diplomacy. As of this week, his effort seems to be on its last legs. As Mr Kerry put it, "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink." If the nine-month negotiations process reaches the end of April with no significant agreement, it will be strong evidence that negotiations are simply never going to succeed in producing the long-sought two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. We have been around this block over and over for more than 20 years now. There seems little reason to believe that another American could succeed where Mr Kerry has failed, or that future political developments in Israel and Palestine will push their leaders closer to a peace deal rather than further away.

For Americans, this will intensify an ever-worsening problem of cognitive dissonance: we support Israel in the belief that it is moving towards ending its occupation of the...Continue reading

Come up to the lab

Jue, 03/04/2014 - 21:50

FASHIONS change fast in foreign-aid policy. Ten years ago, when George W. Bush launched the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), the priority was to find governments in poor countries that could be trusted to spend aid money wisely. Now the focus is on forming partnerships between rich country government aid agencies and the private sector, especially those private businesses, foundations and universities that try to use science and technology to develop innovative ways of helping people in poor countries escape poverty. To that end, on April 3rd Rajiv Shah (pictured), the head of USAID, the international development arm of America’s federal government, unveiled the biggest change to aid policy since the MCC: a new agency called the US Global Development Lab.

The Lab will start with a staff of 150, 65 of them scientists, many seconded from some 32 private-sector partners ranging from universities to companies such as Microsoft, Nike and Walmart, as well as charities including Care and Catholic Relief Services. From its base in Washington, DC, it will work with seven labs in universities across the country. Its aim will be to find new...Continue reading

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