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Feds v flutes

the economistJue, 09/01/2014 - 19:15

A STEAMSHIP pulled into New York’s harbour 87 years ago, whereupon customs officials seized a long, sinuous bronze object. It looked to them like a manufactured piece of metal, subject to stiff duties—they classified it, eventually, with “kitchen utensils and hospital supplies”. The object’s creator protested that it was a work of art, and therefore exempt from such tariffs. At trial the judges took a shine to the shiny lump, calling it “beautiful”, “symmetrical” and a “work of art”. Today Constantin Brancusi’s “Bird in Space” sculptures are displayed in museums across the world.

Boujemaa Razgui, alas, received no trial. On December 22nd Mr Razgui, a reed-flautist who plays with several ensembles including the Boston Camerata, returned from his native Morocco to Boston, where he lives. According to Mr Razgui—whose account was first reported by Slipped Disc, a classical-music blog written by Norman Lebrecht (an occasional critic in our pages)—he carried in his checked baggage 13 flutes he had carved...Continue reading

Everything was political

the economistJue, 09/01/2014 - 14:12

ALWAYS keep an eye on the quiet ones. Robert Gates, a Washington veteran who served as George W. Bush’s final defence secretary and stayed on as Barack Obama’s first, has written an incendiary memoir that belies his reputation as an inscrutable, unflappable team player (Team Obama even nicknamed him “Yoda”, after the Jedi master from “Star Wars”).

As a rare bipartisan figure in a polarised capital, who served eight presidents in his day, Mr Gates has startled Washington by revealing the passions beneath his poker face. He betrays real loathing for Congress (most members are parochial, incompetent, rude, thin-skinned, self-serving and hypocritical, is his verdict). He talks of congressional hearings turned into kangaroo courts by members “in a permanent state of outrage”. At the same time, Mr Gates, CIA chief during the presidency of the elder George Bush, confesses to the almost-debilitating grief that he came to feel over military casualties.

His book, entitled, simply, “Duty”, shows contempt for many in Mr Obama’s inner circle. Special disdain is reserved for Vice-President Joe Biden, who was “wrong on...Continue reading

A bridge too far?

the economistJue, 09/01/2014 - 02:12

CHRIS CHRISTIE, New Jersey’s Republican governor, revels in his reputation as a bully. Fans praise his habit of picking fights as “straight talk”. And New Jersey, home to “The Sopranos”, tends to favour grit over guff. So new evidence that staff in his office vindictively schemed to snarl traffic in a rival’s district has something of a ho-hum quality. A scandal without sex or blood? Could this really hurt a politician who won re-election in November by 22 points? Yes, it could.

The story is water-cooler ready, which does not help the governor. In September the Port Authority closed two lanes of traffic on a bridge that links New Jersey with Manhattan for a so-called “traffic study”. The weeklong traffic jam that resulted was hardest on commuters in Fort Lee, a nearby suburb run by Mark Sokolich, a Democrat who refused to endorse Mr Christie in the election. Besides being a nuisance, the gridlock also reportedly kept ambulances from reaching an unconscious 91-year-old woman, who later died. State Democrats cried foul. On January 8th they found their smoking gun: e-mails from Bridget Anne Kelly, a senior Christie staffer, to the...Continue reading

End of the party?

the economistMié, 08/01/2014 - 18:07

FOR two decades, American voters have hankered to proclaim themselves Independent, even as the two mainstream parties have felt little risk of being pushed aside. Indeed, Michael Bloomberg—who was a Democrat until he ran for office as mayor of New York in 2001, then a Republican from 2001 to 2007 and now considers himself an Independent—explored the idea of running for president as an Independent only to conclude it was folly. But a survey today from Gallup shows the astounding degree to which Americans are losing interest in classic party affiliations.

A record 42% of people consider themselves Independent, compared to Democrat (31%) or Republican (25%). That's a huge shift from just a decade ago, when affiliations were divided around a third for each. The chart below shows how Americans' dissatisfaction with the parties is nothing new. (Note the surge in independents around the time of Ross Perot's 1992 presidential campaign.) The spike in Independents is eating more into the GOP, which has seen party moderates sidelined by extremists. The data suggest that there may be a place for a Bloomberg presidential bid after all.

Continue reading

The other shoe

the economistMié, 08/01/2014 - 16:17

ANTONIN SCALIA pens his irascible, shoot-from-the-hip dissents “for law students”, but apparently judges sometimes read them too. One wonders whether the longest-serving justice on the Supreme Court is piqued or pleased by this pronouncement from Robert Shelby, a federal judge in Utah, who last month struck down as unconstitutional that state’s ban on same-sex marriage:

The court agrees with Justice Scalia’s interpretation of Windsor and finds that the important federalism concerns at issue here are nevertheless insufficient to save a state-law prohibition that denies the Plaintiffs their rights to due process and equal protection under the law.

What, you ask? A liberal ruling on same-sex marriage drawing on a view from uber-conservative Antonin Scalia? To be clear, Justice Scalia is no...Continue reading

Slow and steady, for now

the economistMar, 07/01/2014 - 22:44

BESIDE the riotous, relentless battle over Obamacare, a more tempered debate over health has been underway. Since the recession, health spending has grown slowly. On January 6th the number crunchers at the Centres for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released their newest annual figures. In 2012 spending rose by just 3.7%, to $2.8 trillion. That compares with growth of 9.7% in 2002. Importantly, America’s health spending in 2012 grew more slowly than its economy. The debate is whether the slowdown is merely a cyclical blip. 

This seemingly dry question is hugely important. Health spending threatens America’s long-term economic health, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Trends in spending will also shape the fate of an industry that accounts for nearly one-fifth of the world’s biggest economy. If the sector has seen structural changes in how individuals buy care and how doctors and firms sell it, that would be a big deal.

Academics have written extensively on the subject. In May David Cutler and Nikhil Sahni of Harvard Continue reading

Should the government guarantee work for everybody?

the economistMar, 07/01/2014 - 19:29

THE other day Jesse Myerson wrote a piece in Rolling Stone laying out "Five Economic Reforms Millennials Should Be Fighting For". The first proposal was "guaranteed work for everybody", and it continued from there. The reaction from many conservatives was roughly what one might expect if the Soviet Union announced it was re-forming and heading out on a reunion tour. In response to the furore, Matthew Yglesias patiently explained that total state ownership of the economy plus a repressive totalitarian one-party political apparatus is not the same thing as providing state jobs for the unemployed. Josh Barro chimed in, explaining that many of the ideas are pretty good ones, and Continue reading


Tom PetersMar, 07/01/2014 - 18:39
I continue to revise and update "Some (Very) (Important) Stuff." I have done so again, adding Sections XIX and XX.... Tom Peters

The end of an era

the economistLun, 06/01/2014 - 23:49

“WE ARE a city upon a hill,” said Marty Walsh, Boston’s new mayor, during his inaugural address this morning, referencing a famous speech by John Winthrop, a founding father of the Massachusetts colony. Mr Walsh went on to say that the city is not just the shining light of Beacon Hill. “It’s Savin Hill, where I live. It’s Bunker Hill, Bellevue Hill and Fort Hill. It’s Pope’s Hill, Jones Hill and Telegraph Hill. it’s Copp’s Hill, Mission Hill and Eagle Hill.”

With each hill, the listening crowd cheered. The litany of neighbourhoods recalled the local pride of Tom Menino, Boston’s longest-serving mayor and Mr Walsh’s predecessor. For two decades Mr Menino tirelessly worked the city’s streets, pressing flesh at school plays and ribbon cuttings alike. Mr Menino once bragged to your correspondent that he had met half the city’s population in person, a claim polls appear to back up. Still popular, he decided not to seek a sixth term. Now 71, he said his poor health meant he no longer able to be in “in the neighbourhoods all the time” as was his way.

It is not yet clear what Mr Walsh’s way will be....Continue reading

Benchmarking,Problems Therewith

Tom PetersLun, 06/01/2014 - 16:38
Bottom line 1: "Best practices" are to be learned from, NOT mimicked/treated as dogma. "Best practices" must ALWAYS be adapted... Tom Peters

Sort of in defence of David Brooks

the economistSáb, 04/01/2014 - 00:29

I FIND today's collective meltdown over David Brooks's bland column on marijuana slightly baffling. My colleague (along with most of the rest of the internet today) is absolutely right to note that Mr Brooks fails to account for the great harms of prohibition, not least the vast racial disparities in arrest and incarceration rates, and the subsequent difficulties for the victims of that injustice in finding work or public housing. It is shameful that a toot of a pipe can trigger consequences like these, and that is why it is such a relief to see parts of America (and other places) taking steps to wind down the war on drugs.

But let's not pretend that relaxing prohibition is cost-free. Legalising...Continue reading

The butterfly effect

the economistVie, 03/01/2014 - 20:34

IT HAS not been a relaxing 2014 for Donald Verrilli, the solicitor-general. On Tuesday, nine hours before she pressed the crystal button initiating the ball-drop in Times Square, Sonia Sotomayor gave Mr Verrilli a holiday-week assignment: by Friday the government had to respond to a Catholic charity's objections to the Obamacare provision requiring employers to cover birth control in their health plans. The Little Sisters of the Poor, a home for the elderly in Colorado, claimed that its religious liberty was unduly burdened by the mandate, and Justice Sotomayor granted a temporary injunction on the provision.

This morning, Mr Verrilli duly submitted his 37-page memorandum responding to the injunction. It is a persuasive document.

To begin, the Little Sisters of the Poor and several dozen similar religious organisations are not actually bound by the contraceptive mandate. In February 2012, the Obama administration responded to complaints from...Continue reading

Reefer madness

the economistVie, 03/01/2014 - 18:47

EVER since Colorado and Washington announced their intent to legalise recreational marijuana, there has been a lot of really smart writing speculating about the effects of those policy changes, both for the people of those two states and for broader federalism questions. In fact, the general level of political discussion surrounding Colorado, Washington and cannabis has been so elevated that at times I've wondered: where has all the other discussion gone? You know what I mean: where's the condescending paternalism, the blindness to unintended consequences, the zeal to punish, and the Puritan hostility...Continue reading

Unhappy New Year

the economistVie, 03/01/2014 - 15:57

THE Grinch came late last year. Thanks to congress, extended unemployment benefits expired the weekend after Christmas, leaving 1.3m Americans resolving in the new year to find work or get by with less. Of course, work is not easy to come by these days, especially for the long-term unemployed. Matthew Yglesias of Slate writes

The result is a morally scandalous situation that will start playing out in the new year. People who've been out of work for a long time obviously really need some money to get by, and they're going to lose their money.

And they're not going to make up for it by getting...Continue reading

2014: Getting Started

Tom PetersVie, 03/01/2014 - 14:45
As you know, I've been translating subject matter tweetstreams into organized and slightly edited text. We have now accumulated over... Tom Peters

Radical Personal Development

Tom PetersJue, 02/01/2014 - 13:31
I launched the new year at 9AM 1/1/14 with a tweetstream on personal development: Accelerating tech changes/etc. = Middle class... Tom Peters

Topics Of Current Interest

Tom PetersMar, 31/12/2013 - 15:26
In the week between Christmas and New Year's a series of topics made their way into my tweetstream: New Year's... Tom Peters


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