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The latest American mass killing

the economistJue, 18/06/2015 - 15:59

WE DO not yet know why a gunman entered a church in Charleston, South Carolina on Wednesday and killed nine people at a prayer meeting, but in a sense it does not matter. One searches for reasons in order to assign responsibility and to devise solutions, but in this case no one will accept responsibility, and no solutions will be devised. One might blame radical ideology; given that the gunman, who police suspect is 21-year-old Dylann Roof, is white and the victims black, it seems probable that the motives were rooted in racial hatred. But no modern American party, movement or politician embraces explicit racism. While some exploit more subtle forms of racial resentment, none would admit to any link to a mass killer. A South Carolina branch of the Ku Klux Klan has been on a last-ditch recruitment drive to save itself from extinction, but one expects even the KKK would dissociate itself from violence these days.

The massacre, then (like those in Continue reading

The 15-Second “Pep talk”(And more)

Tom PetersMié, 17/06/2015 - 22:33

Summary to a colleague of my recent 15-minute speech ("pep talk"): Don't worry about '21st century leadership' (my assigned topic). If you are just decent to people, listen instead of talk, respect and encourage them, are religious about 'managing by wandering around,' most things will work out. And I said that, in the end, taking […]

The post The 15-Second “Pep talk”
(And more)
appeared first on Tom Peters.

Choosing battles

the economistMié, 17/06/2015 - 17:24

EVER since the Supreme Court announced a limited right to abortion choice with its Roe v Wade decision in 1973, pro-life activists have fought to chip away at the decision. Efforts to curb abortion have accelerated and diversified recently, with an impressive 231 separate regulations coming into effect in just the past four years. The Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice organisation, notes that 15 years ago only 13 states had four or five abortion restrictions on the books, enough to be considered “hostile” toward abortion rights. Today, 27 states have this many curbs on abortion, and 18 of those have six or more restrictions, a legal framework that Guttmacher pegs as “extremely hostile” to a woman’s right to choose.

The past week has brought mixed news from Texas and North Carolina, two of these 18 “extremely hostile” states. A federal appeals court upheld regulations designed to curb abortion in Texas. Meanwhile a different appeals-court decision that Continue reading

Fight! Fight! Fight!

the economistMié, 17/06/2015 - 02:55

HILLARY CLINTON is a fighter. In a very long speech at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park in New York City, where she officially re-launched her presidential campaign this weekend, she declared that she is here to fight. She is ready for battle in "four fights" in particular. There is the fight "to make the economy work for everyday Americans"; the fight "to strengthen America's families"; and the fight to "maintain [America's] leadership for peace, security, and prosperity". Last, but not least, she will join the fight for "reforming our government and revitalising our democracy."

At an abstract level, this is all rather unobjectionable. But who, exactly, is Mrs Clinton fighting against? It's not America's external enemies she's itching to take on. She's not in a lather about the Islamic State. It's the Grand Old Party she's got a beef against, and if you're inclined to support it, Mrs Clinton has it in for you, too.

Mrs Clinton's combative partisanship is a far cry from Barack Obama's promises to heal the divisions of...Continue reading

Tightly scripted

the economistMar, 16/06/2015 - 07:22

TO WHOOPS and applause, Jeb Bush ran on stage in a college gymnasium near Miami on Monday afternoon and with an assured, unadventurous speech announced that he is running for president. Two flickers of spontaneity intruded on the well-rehearsed performance by the former governor of Florida. They were among the most interesting moments of the day.

The first lasted only a second. Trimmer than before (he is said to be following the faddish, low-carb Paleo diet), tieless and in shirt-sleeves, Mr Bush arrived at the podium and took in the scene at Miami-Dade College, one of the country’s largest and most diverse places of higher education. To one side he could see his Mexican-born wife, Columba, his mother Barbara Bush (the wife and mother of former presidents, who had previously said that America had had enough Bushes in the White House, but has since changed her mind) and his children, including George P., who last year became the land commissioner of Texas, giving the family dynasty a fourth generation in elected office.

All around him sat an impressively large and varied audience. Indeed, the general public at the rally was more...Continue reading

An antidote to blight

the economistLun, 15/06/2015 - 17:26

DEINDUSTRIALISATION, globalisation and technological advance have wreaked havoc in many cities in the Midwest. In Galena, a small town on the border of Iowa and Illinois, this disruption happened 150 years ago. The thriving lead-mining centre and Mississippi-river steamboat hub was then one of America's most important industrial cities. French settlers took over lead mines created by Native Americans, issuing the first leases in 1822. By the mid-19th century the town produced 85% of the nation’s lead and was bigger than Chicago. Industrialists built grand mansions and even miners lived in decent cottages. But the civil war changed everything, says Daryl Watson, a local historian. Zinc supplanted lead and railways trumped steamboats. With its impressive railway hub, Chicago swiftly surpassed Galena to become the biggest city in the region. 

In the last few decades, and in particular between 2000 and 2010, quite a few Midwestern cities have become notorious for post-industrial blight, but Galena hit this existential snag much earlier. How it managed to pull itself back from the brink offers a valuable lesson of how...Continue reading

Obama's agenda in the balance

the economistSáb, 13/06/2015 - 01:17

A FEW years ago a wise pollster—pondering how labels like left-wing and right-wing have been scrambled by globalisation—came up with a different way to sort voters in Western democracies. Electorates, he suggested, broadly divide into two groups, one of which sees change and the outside world as a threat, and a second which takes a more optimistic view, looking for opportunities to harness global forces and turn them to good ends. The pollster, Stefan Shakespeare of YouGov, calls these two camps “Drawbridge Up” and “Drawbridge Down” people.

Just after lunch on June 12th President Barack Obama was mugged by the Drawbridge Up bit of America, or at least by its elected representatives. A large majority of Democrats in the House of Representatives, joined by hard-right Republicans, voted to stall (and potentially kill) his hopes of reaching a big new free-trade pact between America and 11 other Pacific Rim nations, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The Senate has already passed a bill that would allow Mr Obama to press ahead with TPP, and the House may return to the question as early as Tuesday.

Reflecting how trade...Continue reading

Executive chutzpah

the economistVie, 12/06/2015 - 21:39

ON MONDAY, just as the Supreme Court handed Barack Obama a resounding victory in a turf battle with Congress over foreign affairs, the president criticised the justices at a press conference in Krün, Germany, site of the G7 summit. In response to a reporter’s question about King v Burwell, the challenge to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) set to be decided this month, Mr Obama said it would take a “twisted interpretation of four words in...a couple-thousand-page piece of legislation” for the court to eliminate tax subsidies for health insurance in the 34 states where the federal government operates health-care exchanges. King “should be an easy case,” he said. “Frankly, it probably shouldn’t even have been taken up.” The president’s defence of Obamacare (without specific mention of the case or the court) continued in a Continue reading

Doomsday machine

the economistVie, 12/06/2015 - 19:23

MY COLLEAGUE adheres to a theory about why the text of the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, clearly authorises federal subsidies for health insurance purchased through exchanges set up by state governments, but not for insurance from exchanges set up by the federal government. This is the question at issue in King v Burwell, the Supreme Court case that could strike down Obamacare's subsidies in 34 states and force millions of Americans to lose their health insurance. The failure to explicitly authorise subsidies for health insurance from federal exchanges comes from a four-word phrase in the 900-page law, which refers to subsidies for insurance from exchanges "established by the state". The theory, advanced by the plaintiffs in the case, is that the authors of the law intended to use the threat of denial of subsidies to pressure states to set up their own exchanges. "It was, I think, very much part of the law's strategy to induce states to establish exchanges," my colleague writes. "Advocates of Obamacare now deny...Continue reading

Shall the fabric be unwoven?

the economistVie, 12/06/2015 - 05:26

BARACK OBAMA spoke before an assembly of health-care administrators Tuesday in Washington, DC, but his remarks were aimed squarely at the Supreme Court justices who are busily deciding the fate of the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.

"Five years in, what we are talking about is no longer just a law. It’s no longer just a theory. It isn’t even just about the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare," Mr Obama said. "This is now part of the fabric of how we care for one another. This is health care in America".

The issue before the court in King v Burwell is whether the text of the legislation must be strictly or loosely observed. As it is written, the law authorises the Internal Revenue Service to offer tax credits to Americans who buy health insurance on "exchanges", or online marketplaces, “established by the state.” Awkwardly, 34 states declined to set one up, despite an array of federal incentives to do so. So the feds stepped in to create marketplaces in these states themselves. This is where the trouble comes in. The law...Continue reading

No-glow zone

the economistMié, 10/06/2015 - 19:43

“GIVING up smoking is the easiest thing in the world,” quipped Mark Twain, “I know because I’ve done it thousands of times.” Twain was hardly alone in struggling to give up tobacco. New legislation in California is designed to ensure that many of the state’s youngest residents don’t pick up the habit in the first place.

On June 2nd California’s Senate approved a bill that would increase the age at which youngsters can buy cigarettes from 18 to 21. Lawmakers in Hawaii, Washington and Oregon are taking similar steps, and smokers in New York City already need to be 21 to legally puff away. Advocates argue that raising the smoking age discourages the habit. The experiences of certain states seem to support this idea.

In New Jersey, where smokers must be at least 19 years old, only 16.9% of people admit to the habit, the fifth-lowest smoking rate, according to Gallup, a polling firm. Alaska saw its share of smokers drop by more than six percentage points between 2008 and 2013—the biggest decline in the nation—after raising the age to 19 in 2007. The lowest smoking rate in the country belongs to...Continue reading

The Caitlyn Jenner moment

the economistMié, 10/06/2015 - 03:20

IT CANNOT have escaped your attention that the gold-medalist decathlete American hero of the 1976 Summer Olympics, Bruce Jenner, now prefers to be known as Caitlyn. Ms Jenner's Vanity Fair cover is already, as they say, "iconic". Ravishing at the age of 65, her expression is shy, pleading and coyly hopeful, her athlete's arms held behind her back like a St Sebastian.

As Bruce, Ms Jenner in recent years had been little more than an awkward auxiliary member of the famous-for-being-famous Kardashian clan. Last week, however, Caitlyn Jenner was the most famous person in the world, according to Google at least. Searches for Ms Jenner outpaced those of her step-daughter, Kim Kardashian, by a factor of seven, despite the news that Ms Kardashian is now expecting her...Continue reading

Presidential prerogative

the economistMar, 09/06/2015 - 02:55

MENACHEM ZIVOTOFSKY, an American boy born in Jerusalem in 2002, would like to list “Israel” as his place of birth on his passport. It is a “matter of conscience,” he says. A law passed by Congress in 2002 grants Israeli-Americans this right. But implying that Israel is sovereign over Jerusalem goes against a long-standing policy of the state department, which has stayed neutral on the question of who controls the holy city since 1948. The government argues that permitting Jerusalem-born Americans to list Israel on their passports imperils efforts to broker a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians. Zivotofsky v Kerry was argued before the Supreme Court in November 2014. Though a line in a passport may seem trivial, this case touches on a particularly thorny issue of American foreign policy and considers a matter fundamental to America's constitutional structure: the balance of power between the legislative and executive branches of government.  

On June 8th the court sided with the executive. In a 6-3 ruling, the justices held that recognising foreign governments is the prerogative of the president and...Continue reading

Republicans go hog-wild in Iowa

the economistDom, 07/06/2015 - 00:57

POWERFUL, impressive and built around antique technology, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle is a complicated symbol of national pride. Add a hefty dose of conservative politics and it is no surprise that clouds of nostalgia hung around today’s first annual Roast and Ride—a barbecue- and Harley-themed patriotic festival organised by Iowa’s freshman senator, Joni Ernst, as a salute to military veterans and speechifying contest for 2016 presidential hopefuls. The senator, a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa national guard who served in Iraq, led a parade of over 300 vast, rumbling motorcycles from Des Moines to a country showground in Boone, in the heart of the state which will, early next year, hold the first nominating contest of the presidential season.

A lot of the bikers were military veterans, and the emotional legacies of war were on startlingly raw display as they set off. Riders wore t-shirts declaring “Freedom isn’t free”, or—in one case—comparing President Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler, while their baseball caps and jacket patches told of the units and campaigns in which they had served. They wrapped Senator Ernst, a small-framed but...Continue reading

In defence of Rick Perry's eyeglasses

the economistVie, 05/06/2015 - 23:58

RICK PERRY, a former Texas governor, yesterday threw his hat in the ring for the Republican presidential nomination. Mr Perry faces a steep uphill climb. In 2011 Mr Perry made a late but strong entrance into the GOP race, swiftly surpassing Mitt Romney to claim the lead in the polls. He was just as swiftly undone, however, by a string of gaffes culminating in his inability to recall, during a nationally televised debate, the third of three of government agencies he would shutter, should he be elected president. "Oops," he said, drawing a blank. That fateful moment, and the error-ridden campaign leading up to it, earned Mr Perry a reputation as a man of low cognitive wattage, unsuited to the intellectual rigours of the Oval Office. If Mr Perry is to stand a chance this election season, he must overcome not only an indictment on two counts of felony abuse of power, but his popular image as a swaggering airhead.

Which brings us to the subject of Mr Perry's eyeglasses. Mr Perry first appeared in...Continue reading

Crippling

the economistJue, 04/06/2015 - 21:44

THIS week health insurers have begun revealing proposed rate increases to their health-care plans for 2016. These potential hikes, which in some cases exceed 30%, can be partly explained by the fact that insurers low-balled their prices in the early days of the Affordable Care Act in order to gain market share. But there is another reason: higher drug prices. Prescription drug spending increased 13.1% in 2015.

This rise is partly explained by some new drugs for Hepatitis C. More trouble is on the horizon. At the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) in Chicago this week, scientists announced that new immuno-oncology drugs work in a wider range of cancers, and even better when given in combination. The problem is that these drugs are some of the most expensive the country has ever seen. 

“These drugs cost too much,” said Leonard Salz, an oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre, in a high-profile speech at the meeting. At $295,000 a year, the price of combination therapy is unsustainable, he explained. At a big drug-sponsored conference, this was like swearing at a...Continue reading

Bias unveiled

the economistJue, 04/06/2015 - 05:04

SAMANTHA ELAUF was refused a job at Abercrombie & Fitch, a clothing retailer, in 2008. She claims this decision was motivated by religious discrimination, as she was rejected only because she arrived at the interview wearing a hijab, or Muslim headscarf. On Monday the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in her favour. The case, Justice Antonin Scalia mused from the bench, was “really easy”.

But a closer look at the decision in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v Abercrombie & Fitch shows that the ruling is a little more complicated than Justice Scalia let on.

Abercrombie says Ms Elauf was denied a job because her headscarf violated the company’s "cap"-banning dress code, but claims the company did not know the scarf was religiously inspired. The 10th Circuit Court agreed that the onus was on the applicant to inform Abercrombie of her need for an exemption from the company dress code. But the Supreme Court saw things differently. As Justice Scalia explained, because Title VII of the Civil Rights Act forbids employment decisions informed by religious discrimination, “an applicant need only show that his...Continue reading

Let a little sunshine in

the economistMié, 03/06/2015 - 05:54

AFTER missing its deadline on Sunday, the Senate met on June 2nd to pass the USA Freedom Act, which replaces and reforms a lapsed provision of the Patriot Act, the law that regulates America’s snooping. Lawmakers largely avoided debate over sundry amendments, ensuring the same bill passed by the House last month went straight to Barack Obama, who swiftly signed it into law. This was a blow to hawks such as Mitch McConnell, the majority leader and a Kentucky Senator, who argue that the changes come at the expense of national security. Before the final vote on the bill, Mr McConnell took to the Senate floor to lament that it will “take one more tool away from those who defend our country every day.”

The USA Freedom Act will stop the indiscriminate harvesting of phone-call records by the National Security Agency (NSA), America’s signals intelligence branch. Under the revamped rule, call metadata records would be kept by phone companies, not the government. Federal officials will be required to request records using “a specific selection term” on the basis of “reasonable articulable suspicion” that the call information is linked to...Continue reading

Putting a cork in Common Core

the economistMar, 02/06/2015 - 14:39

“WE’RE doing Common Core in New Jersey and we’re going to continue. And this is one of those areas where I’ve agreed more with the president than not,” said Chris Christie, New Jersey’s Republican governor, in August 2013. The potential 2016 presidential candidate went on to criticise the “Republican opposition” to national education standards, calling it a “knee-jerk reaction” to anything the president likes. 

Alas, less than two years after Mr Christie’s refreshing break with his party on education reform, he seems to have had a change of heart. On May 28th he lambasted Common Core for bringing “only confusion and frustration”. Though the programme is still getting started, the governor seems inclined to shut it down, complaining that “instead of solving problems in our classrooms, it is creating new ones. And when we aren’t getting the job done for our children, we need to do something different.”

Backed by Bill and Melinda Gates and sponsored by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Common Core education standards were...Continue reading

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