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The R-word

the economistMié, 25/06/2014 - 11:19

PROFESSIONAL wrestlers are not known for being arbiters of good taste. The arena-filling bouts of "WWE Raw" feature beefy men in often bedazzled leotards calling each other names before engaging in dramatically choreographed fumble sessions. (All spectator sports go best with beer; professional wrestling also needs spoonfuls of salt and an appetite for camp.) But at Monday night’s "WWE Raw" event in Washington, DC, an English wrestler by the name of Bad News Barrett got a little righteous. In his pre-match trash-talking, he had a go at the city for its “racist, constantly losing NFL team”—otherwise known as the Washington Redskins. Some in the audience booed him, others cheered. Many were simply chagrinned.

The controversial name of the local football team has been kicked around a lot lately, owing to the recent decision by the US Patent Office to cancel the team’s trademark registrations “because...Continue reading

Belching a dirge?

the economistMar, 24/06/2014 - 23:58

“WAS it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbour? Hell no!”, thundered John "Bluto" Blutarsky in the 1978 film "Animal House", one of the highest-grossing comedies of all time. Bluto (played by the now immortal John Belushi) was rallying the beleaguered brothers of Delta Tau Chi, victims of the censorious Dean Vernon Wormer and his campaign to obliterate the fraternity of debauched misfits. Jump forward to 2014 and Dean Wormer has real-life company. A glut of new reports about excessive underage drinking, sexual assaults and otherwise dangerous behaviour in college fraternities has put university administrators on the defensive. Across the country, and particularly at elite institutions in the north-east, many are starting to crack down on these all-male and historically quite-white societies. 

Amherst College in Massachusetts, which had already formally banned Greek groups three decades ago, announced in May it would suspend or expel any student joining an underground group deemed “fraternity-like [or] sorority-like”. JP Morgan Chase stopped managing an investment account of the charitable foundation run by Sigma...Continue reading

The squeezed devout

the economistMar, 24/06/2014 - 22:48

AMERICANS are giving more to charity than ever before—but a smaller proportion of this money is going to religious organisations. Though the amount given to religious charities has risen from an inflation-adjusted $89 billion in 1987 to $105.5 billion in 2013, that represents a fall from 53% to 31% of the total, according to research released by Giving USA, a non-profit that researches philanthropy in America, and the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. 

There are several possible explanations. One is that religious charities are not as good at fundraising as secular ones. A typical church, synagogue or mosque tends to shy away from having a proper fundraising strategy, says David King, chair of Giving USA’s founding organisation The Giving Institute. Mr King suggests that churches may think of professional fundraising as a “dirty secret” and rely on people to donate out of a sense of spiritual obligation.

Another factor may be that Americans are becoming less devout. The 2013 General Social Survey found that the proportion of Americans with no religious affiliation had risen from 8% to 20% in...Continue reading

Surprising Oldie Stats

Tom PetersMar, 24/06/2014 - 20:46

These few snippets are from my slide deck. (Post occasioned by tweetstream on the topic, 06.23-24.14.): USA 1996-2007, Entrepreneurial Activity (firms founded):Highest rate: Ages 55-64Lowest rate: Ages 20-34 (Source: Dane Stangler, Kauffman Foundation, reported in the Economist.) “The average age of a start-up founder is 40. And high-growth start-ups are nearly twice as likely to […]

The post Surprising Oldie Stats appeared first on Tom Peters.

Just how dodgy?

the economistLun, 23/06/2014 - 16:18

SCOTT WALKER'S brand of fiscal conservatism has made him a divisive figure in Wisconsin. Soon after entering office in 2011 the Republican governor riled voters with a plan to limit the collective bargaining rights of state workers (ie, teachers, firemen, police officers). This move sparked protests and a nasty recall election, but he emerged victorious in 2012, and his name is often mentioned among possible contenders for the 2016 Republican nomination. But in recent days his name has been bandied about for less savoury reasons: state prosecutors suspect him of flouting campaign-finance laws in the run up to the 2012 recall election.

On Thursday a federal appeals court released hundreds of pages of documents from a secret investigation into the governor. State prosecutors propose that Mr Walker was at the centre of a “scheme to violate campaign law by...Continue reading

The skinny on the patent ruling

the economistVie, 20/06/2014 - 23:19

MOST coverage of the decision by the United States Patent and Trademark Office to cancel five patent registrations for the Washington Redskins football team has focused on the impact of the ruling. Some think the loss means it’s only a matter of time before Dan Snyder, the Redskins’ owner, reneges on his pledge “never” to change the team’s name. Others point out that the 2-1 decision will be Continue reading

Herd mentality

the economistVie, 20/06/2014 - 21:30

REGISTERING newly-minted American citizens to vote is a fine and worthy activity. In a nation of immigrants, it is good for politicians to hear the voices of fresh arrivals so that they have a sense of the hopes and aspirations of constituents. And in a melting-pot democracy, different communities understandably stick together as voter blocks, at least for a little while. So by rights Lexington should have found it uplifting to spend time this week watching canvassers from Dominicanos USA, a campaign group, as they looked for Dominican-American voters in Upper Manhattan and reminded them to cast ballots in a Democratic primary election on June 24th. After all the primary, in New York’s 13th congressional district, has a chance of going down in modern political history.

At stake is the seat held by Charles Rangel (pictured), one of the last Lions of Harlem—Democratic barons who turned the upper reaches of Manhattan island into a cradle of black political power. In his 43 years in Congress Mr Rangel navigated the civil-rights era and survived dark decades of urban...Continue reading

On the cheap

the economistVie, 20/06/2014 - 01:37

MORE than nine months after the disastrous launch of the Affordable Care Act's health exchanges, officials this week released new data that show the exchanges worked well after all. In the 36 states where the federal government ran the exchange, shoppers could choose from an average of five insurers. Nearly 90% of those who signed up qualified for federal subsidies, which brought down their average premium from $346 a month to $82. Health officials hailed the data as proof that Obamacare had expanded access to good, affordable insurance.

This will ring true to many Americans who signed up for coverage, particularly those who have subsidies. However there are many millions more who were deterred from buying insurance this year because of the cost. Obamacare's success was never going to be determined in its first year. Much depends on...Continue reading

The vain search for a third way

the economistJue, 19/06/2014 - 22:17

IN Graham Greene's novel "The Quiet American" Alden Pyle, a CIA operative in Vietnam in the early 1950s, is convinced that the country could be saved if only there were a "third force" in the conflict besides the French and the communist Viet Minh. He picked this idea up from a globetrotting political theorist he worships named York Harding, who thinks third-world countries can be rescued from communism by promoting "national democracy". "Harding had been here once for a week on his way from Bangkok to Tokyo," says the novel's narrator, a sceptical British journalist. "Pyle made the mistake of putting his idea into practice. Harding wrote about a Third Force. Pyle formed one—a shoddy little bandit with two thousand men and a couple of tame tigers. He got mixed up."

Alden Pyle was a fictional character, but Greene was a perceptive guy, and the American desire to create a non-existent democratic-nationalist third force in...Continue reading

Guns and lies

the economistMié, 18/06/2014 - 07:12

“PANTS on fire” is the lowest rating on PolitiFact’s "Truth-O-Meter". Alas, this badge of shame has done little to deter politicians and their acolytes from stretching the truth now and again. So some states have decided to take matters into their own hands. In Ohio, for example, anyone making a false statement about a candidate during a campaign risks jail time and a $5,000 fine. But does this violate the First Amendment rights of all citizens, including the deceitful?

In a Supreme Court ruling on Susan B Anthony List v Driehaus on June 16th, the justices unanimously furrowed their brows at Ohio’s ban without resolving whether it violates anyone's freedom of speech. The constitutional challenge to the state’s law came from two advocacy groups, and the justices gave them permission to press on. Lower-court rulings had found that the groups lacked standing to sue, since they did not face any imminent injury under the law. The Supreme Court, however, held that the “threat” of criminal prosecution for dubious campaign literature “suffices to create an...injury under the circumstances of...Continue reading

Identifying the disadvantaged

the economistMié, 18/06/2014 - 03:04

AFTER the Supreme Court in April upheld Michigan’s ban on race-based affirmative action in university admissions, some have begun wondering what alternatives are available to institutions seeking diversity. Indeed, affirmative action as we know it is probably doomed: voters have banned it at universities in at least eight states, and four more look likely to follow suit. 

This newspaper has argued against race-based admissions policies. Instead, we encourage selection procedures that offer modest preferences to economically disadvantaged students. This is the plan set out...Continue reading

So who is David Brat?

the economistLun, 16/06/2014 - 20:05

THE 49-year-old political neophyte who improbably toppled Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, in Virginia's Republican primary on June 11th is still something of a mystery. But one thing is certain: David Brat knows how to work a crowd. Unlike Mr Cantor, who earned a reputation for seeming aloof and distant in his 14 years in Washington, Mr Brat is friendly and animated. At barbecues and church gatherings he can be seen bounding about like a Labrador puppy, glad-handing old folks and kissing babies. Mr Cantor, on the other hand, preferred invitation-only events and was often seen plying his district from the comforts of a massive black SUV driven by a plain-clothes police officer. (Read here why Mr Brat’s victory is bad for both the Republicans and America.)

Tall, square-jawed and bespectacled, the Tea Party-backed Mr Brat is a college...Continue reading

Un-disentanglement

the economistSáb, 14/06/2014 - 21:13

THE spectacle of American-trained Iraqi Army troops dropping their weapons and fleeing in the face of an offensive by the radical Sunni ISIS militia evokes memories of the collapse of South Vietnam's American-trained military in 1975. In both cases, weak, nominally democratic but corrupt and factionalised American-built states discovered, after the departure of their American patron, that they could not count on large elements of their own military to fight. Deploying force to control territory is the most basic function of any state, and any government that cannot do so is through. Fox News finds an anonymous "US intelligence official" predicting a Saigon-like endgame: "Baghdad is going to be overrun. The Green Zone is going down." That would certainly be a major headache for the Obama administration; as in 1975, the collapse of a former American proxy state and the victory of America's bitter enemies would project an image of American weakness in both international and domestic politics.

How much blood and...Continue reading

Cool calculations

the economistVie, 13/06/2014 - 21:24

AVOIDING aggressive questions is a hallmark of the White House press corps. So it should be no surprise that reporters watching President Barack Obama make an emergency statement on Iraq on June 13th  failed to pelt him with the queries that lurk at the centre of the debate over America’s role in the Middle East. Namely: Mr President, did you help to bring these horrors about when you rushed to pull American combat troops out of Iraq as quickly as possible? And, Mr President, does any part of you regret ignoring pleas to arm and train non-extreme opposition forces across the border in Syria over the past two years?

Instead reporters allowed Mr Obama to explain why American involvement in Iraq would be limited, would take “several days” to be sent, would not involve any return of ground troops and was conditional on Iraq’s central government coming up with a “sincere” political plan to resolve sectarian divisions. “We can’t do it for them,” Mr Obama said severely.

"Nobody has an interest in seeing terrorists gain a foothold inside of Iraq and nobody is going to benefit from seeing Iraq descend into...Continue reading

Polar vortex

the economistVie, 13/06/2014 - 00:50

IT'S hard to see what it is that congressional Republicans have done in this session of Congress to anger Tea Party supporters, mainly because it's hard to see what it is that congressional Republicans have done in this session of Congress. Eric Cantor's primary loss Tuesday was clearly a full-throated rejection of immigration reform, but Republicans haven't actually passed an immigration reform bill, or even made any serious effort to do so. As Fred Barnes writes in the Weekly Standard, Mr Cantor's offence comes down to the fact that John Boehner, the speaker of the House, "from time to time this year, talked vaguely of enacting an immigration reform bill. What that legislation might contain, he didn’t say. But this allowed opponents of any immigration measure to shout 'amnesty.'" The mere whisper of a rumour that Republicans might someday enact some sort of immigration reform, and Mr Cantor's occasional hints that he might back...Continue reading

Losing while winning

the economistJue, 12/06/2014 - 21:45

Our correspondents discuss the defeat of Eric Cantor in Virginia by a Tea Party candidate, and whether winning the Senate could be harmful to Republicans in the long run

Continue reading

Untrammelled

the economistMié, 11/06/2014 - 22:31

DAVE BRAT, the Tea Party candidate (pictured) who surprised everyone on Tuesday by handily defeating Eric Cantor, the house majority leader, is not the only aspiring Virginia politician with a new lease on life today. Jack Trammell, Mr Brat’s Democratic opponent, suddenly has something approaching a shot of winning a seat in the House of Representatives.

The race may not be the first battle of academics for a seat in Washington, but it is almost assuredly the first time two faculty members at the same small liberal-arts college are going toe-to-toe to represent Virginia’s 7th congressional district. Mr Brat is an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College outside Richmond, while Mr Trammell teaches sociology and heads up the college’s disability-support services. 

A glance at Mr Trammell’s personal website betrays no political ambitions. The Democratic candidate is an intrepid writer, with Continue reading

Zeal and hypocrisy

the economistMié, 11/06/2014 - 19:58

ALABAMA'S Women’s Health and Safety Act sounds innocuous enough. The new law, which takes effect July 1st, requires doctors at abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. This will protect women and make abortions safer, claims the state attorney general's office. Actually, this is bunk. In fact the law will simply force several abortion clinics to close, as it is practically impossible for the doctors on staff to gain the relevant privileges, owing to either residency requirements (most doctors travel from out of state and work one or two days a week) or hospital prejudice (few care to be associated with abortion providers). Fewer clinics—along with other barriers to access—will only serve to make the procedure less safe, by creating longer wait times and potentially forcing women to delay abortions until later in their pregnancies.

Planned Parenthood, an abortion provider, filed a lawsuit against the state last year contending the law would force clinics in the state’s three biggest cities to close. Critics of the law say it conflicts with the Supreme Court’s 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v....Continue reading

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