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Rand Paul's libertarian street cred

the economistMar, 02/06/2015 - 01:02

IN A panel discussion at Harvard University on Saturday, Viet Dinh, who served as assistant attorney general in George W. Bush’s administration and was the chief architect of the USA Patriot Act, was asked whether it was true that Barack Obama’s national security policies were largely a continuation of Mr Bush’s. Yes, he replied, but not because of the choices Mr Obama or any other politician had made. The continuities existed because of a consensus in the law-enforcement, intelligence, and prosecutorial agencies regarding the tools they wanted in order to conduct the war on terror. “Even if Rand Paul becomes president, we won’t see a significant, seismic shift,” Mr Dinh said.

On Sunday night, Mr Paul did his best to put the lie to that claim by single-handedly forcing the expiration of parts of the Patriot Act. Mr Paul's filibuster will certainly burnish his credentials with libertarians. But the provisions of the act that have expired are limited. The most important of these regards the ability of the FBI or other agencies to collect and search bulk metadata on electronic communications without obtaining a warrant. Such...Continue reading

Lessons from the Rock

the economistSáb, 30/05/2015 - 16:21

IN THE 1978 film “Superman”, Lex Luthor, Superman’s tenacious villain, launched a nuclear missile at the San Andreas fault, which runs north to south through California. He hoped to trigger an earthquake so large that it would sink everything west of the fault into the Pacific. The resulting carnage would have handsomely benefited the rather conspicuously named Lex Luthor Incorporated, which had just purchased large swathes of land east of the fault. The missile did ultimately hit its mark, but Superman was able to prevent catastrophic damage by flying into a crevasse and personally stabilising the tectonic plates with his sheer brawn, Atlas-style.

In the newly released film “San Andreas” (pictured), the fault once again threatens to destroy the Golden State. The apocalyptic drama begins when a previously unknown fault near the Hoover Dam ruptures, triggering massive quakes along the San Andreas fault, reaching magnitudes of 9.1 in Southern California and 9.6 in Northern California. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson stars as Chief Ray Gaines, a rescue-helicopter pilot for the Los Angeles fire department. When “the Big One” hits,...Continue reading

A laboured exemption

the economistJue, 28/05/2015 - 23:51

THE Los Angeles city council voted last week to raise the city's minimum wage from $9 to $15 per hour. Trade unions fought hard for the increase in the city's wage floor, which takes full effect by 2020. Now they're lobbying for a last-minute change to the law that would exempt unionised firms from the new proposals. On the surface, this is a puzzling development, and one that perhaps smacks of hypocrisy.

Rusty Hicks, head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labour and a leader of the group pushing for the minimum-wage increase, justifies the exemption for union firms on the grounds that the unionised labour-force is already covered by collectively negotiated agreements, which are, presumably, already satisfactory to workers. According to Mr Hicks, a negotiated employment agreement "allows each party to prioritise what is important to them". Exempting unionised...Continue reading

Sydney World Business Forum

Tom PetersJue, 28/05/2015 - 09:00

Tom's halfway around the world from home once again. In Sydney, he's one of the speakers at the World Business Forum 2015, along with movie director Oliver Stone, former Fed chairman Ben Bernanke, and other excellent company. Presentations: Sydney, World Business Forum 2015 | Sydney, WBF, Long Version

The post Sydney World Business Forum appeared first on Tom Peters.

Barriers ahead

the economistJue, 28/05/2015 - 06:49

A FEDERAL appeals court ruled on Tuesday against the Obama administration’s executive order to shield millions of immigrants from deportation. This decision is most immediately a blow to migrants who must continue to live in the shadows. Pundits add that this is a big setback for Barack Obama, as the president now may not see his big immigration plans take effect while he is in office. Republicans may be celebrating, as many have come out against the president’s policies for immigration reform. But for the many GOP candidates who are jockeying for position in the 2016 presidential field, the appeals-court ruling is bad news. Immigration will now be squarely on the agenda.

Candidates running for the White House...Continue reading

Love is in the air

the economistMié, 27/05/2015 - 18:52

LAST weekend Ireland became the first country in the world to approve same-sex marriage by a national vote. Next month, when the Supreme Court rules on whether state bans on gay marriage are constitutional, America may become the 20th nation to legalise gay nuptials. Will the historic referendum in a country with a large Catholic majority have any effect on what the Supreme Court decides?

As a formal matter, foreign countries’ norms concerning individual rights have little bearing on the meaning of America’s constitution. Occasionally justices do make reference to international law in their decisions, however. Two relatively recent examples include Atkins v Virginia, in which the court ruled that mentally disabled offenders cannot be put to death, and Lawrence v Texas, a decision in 2003 that struck...Continue reading

Brewing trouble

the economistLun, 25/05/2015 - 20:10

CRAFT beer lovers wishing to sample the wares of the Sweetwater Brewery in Atlanta must go to strange lengths to do so when visiting. After purchasing a memento glass for $10, the thirsty are awarded ten tickets to swap for samples of Sweetwater ales. More alcoholic choices require more tickets, and visitors can sip their blueberry wheat beer in the sun while listening to live music. Tours of the facilities reveal the impressive size of the fermentation tanks. Apparently if someone drank a gallon of beer a day from the largest of them, they’d still be guzzling 85 years from now.

But unlike patrons of wine-tastings at vineyards, who then may spring for a bottle or two of a choice vintage, visitors to Georgia's breweries have long had to return home tipsy but empty-handed. A law has banned Georgians from buying brew directly from breweries to sip it at home. But this changed on May 5th: patrons can now enjoy up to 36 ounces of beer at a craft brewery, and take another 72 ounces to go as a “free” souvenir (the equivalent of a six-pack), as long as they have paid enough for a tour.   

The new law has earned toasts...Continue reading

Not persuaded

the economistVie, 22/05/2015 - 19:51

IT IS almost impossible to change people's opinions on divisive political issues by arguing with them. This is rather depressing for opinion journalists and others in the advocacy business, but the social-science research is fairly conclusive. There is even evidence of a "backfire effect" in which attempts to change people's minds only make them dig in deeper.

Last month, however, the radio programme This American Life reported on a technique that seemed to work. A gay-rights group in California had sent door-to-door canvassers to have open, non-confrontational conversations with opponents of gay marriage. A study by two political scientists found that after a single non-confrontational conversation with a gay canvasser, support for gay marriage among the 972 subjects rose several percentage points, and that this effect was lasting. The study was so striking that the journal Science immediately accepted it for...Continue reading

A taxing decision

the economistJue, 21/05/2015 - 14:50

IN THE 15 years since the nine members of the Supreme Court effectively picked the nation’s 43rd president in Bush v Gore, the justices’ decisions have increasingly been regarded as falling along ideological lines. With the retirements of Sandra Day O'Connor, David Souter and John Paul Stevens—three justices who proved to be more liberal than expected at the time they were nominated—today's court aligns rather neatly with the politics of the appointing presidents. Just over half of Americans perceive the court to be ideologically tilted in one direction or another—liberals tend to see it as conservative, while conservatives regard it as liberal. The justices are meant to transcend ordinary politics and base their rulings in law and logic, but many Continue reading

Waffling hawks

the economistMié, 20/05/2015 - 21:03

IT'S hard admitting a mistake. Over the course of four days last week, Jeb Bush, a former governor of Florida and Republican presidential hopeful, could not quite decide how to answer an obvious question about the war in Iraq, which his younger brother George W. Bush started in 2003. Knowing what we know now, Megan Kelly of Fox News asked, would he have authorised the invasion of Iraq? First Mr Bush said "yes". Then, a day later, he said he hadn't properly grasped the question. Then, at yet another event, he suggested that dwelling on "hypotheticals...does a disservice for a lot of people who sacrificed a lot". Finally, he said "no": in hindsight, he would not have invaded Iraq.

Marco Rubio, a senator from Florida, seemed to capitalise on Mr Bush's feckless inconsistency when he appeared last week at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and said, quite resolutely, "Not only would I have not been in...Continue reading

HOW Chicago and a Cool Friend

Tom PetersMar, 19/05/2015 - 16:58

Tom bumped into a Cool Friend at the HOW Design Conference in Chicago. Not surprisingly, John Maeda was among the speakers, and he and Tom got a chance to have a bit of conversation. We interviewed Maeda in 2006, when he was part of the Simplicity Consortium at the MIT Media Lab. From there he […]

The post HOW Chicago and a Cool Friend appeared first on Tom Peters.

A company town without a company

the economistMar, 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

the economistSáb, 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

the economistVie, 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

the economistVie, 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


the economistVie, 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

the economistMié, 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?

the economistMar, 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


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