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BACK in the 1980s the most annoying thing about walking into a guitar store was the certainty that some long-haired guy would be sitting in the back with a Stratocaster playing "Eruption". These days the most annoying thing about attending any tech, trade or "ideas" conference is the certainty that some short-haired individual will be strutting around a stage yammering about disruption. Entrepreneurs, business journalists and tech gurus have spent the past decade-plus claiming that whatever new gimmick they wanted people to read about or invest in constitutes a "disruptive technology"—by which they mean they have discovered something that will force existing businesses to radically rethink their very existence. Last month Jill Lepore, a professor of American history at Harvard, finally declared war on the term. In an article in the New Yorker she attacked the research and thinking behind the "The Innovator's Dilemma",...Continue reading
HOW broad is the ruling in Burwell v Hobby Lobby? To listen to Justice Samuel Alito, author of the majority opinion, letting some religious employers off the hook for providing no-cost birth control to their employees is quite modest. The decision applies only to “closely-held” corporations, he wrote, and it is “concerned solely with the contraceptive mandate”:
Our decision should not be understood to hold that an insurance-coverage mandate must necessarily fall if it conflicts with an employer’s religious beliefs. Other coverage requirements, such as immunizations, may be supported by different interests (for example, the need to combat the spread of infectious diseases) and may involve different arguments about the least restrictive means of providing them.
Justice Alito is a smart guy, so the weak and disingenuous arguments he strings together in this section of his opinion are...Continue reading
LAST November, as Barack Obama was delivering one of many speeches on immigration reform, a heckler shouted that the president "had the power to stop deportations for all." "Actually, I don't," replied a peeved Mr Obama, adding that he was obliged to follow the law of the land. But yesterday the president who has presided over more deportations than any other offered the biggest hint yet that just maybe, yes, he can.
In an 11-minute speech delivered outside the White House, Mr Obama acknowledged what has been clear to congressional observers for some time: that the prospects of the Republican-led House of Representatives passing an immigration-reform bill this year have dwindled to zero. Mr Obama chastised the Republicans for failing to take any sort of action on immigration a year after a bipartisan group of senators Continue reading
WHO counts as a state employee? One of the most important Supreme Court cases this year turned on the answer to this deceptively simple question. Pamela Harris, a mother in Illinois, says she is not a state employee. The state of Illinois insisted that she was. By five votes to four, the justices largely sided with Ms Harris.
Ms Harris looks after her severely disabled son at home. The government pays her to do this, via Medicaid. Because Ms Harris and other home-health assistants accept a cheque from the government, Rod Blagojevich, a former governor of Illinois, decreed in 2003 that they were public employees, and that therefore they could unionise. In effect, this meant that they all had to pay fees to the SEIU, the labour union that represents such workers in Illinois.
Ms Harris and others objected, saying they would rather keep their money. In a case filed in 2010 against the state and Pat Quinn, the governor, they said that being forced to subsidise the union amounted to a “pernicious form of compelled expressive association” that violated their First Amendment rights.
The state's argument...Continue reading
THE Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, has been battered again and again since its enactment in 2010. On June 30th it got its latest beating, this time from the Supreme Court. The justices ruled that a company can, indeed, bring religious objections against Obamacare.
In the case, Burwood v Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc, the court ruled that closely held companies can refuse to offer workers coverage of contraception without facing fines. The case was brought by two Christian families and their businesses: the Greens own Hobby Lobby, a chain of craft shops, and Mardel, a Christian bookstore; the Hahns own Conestoga Wood Specialties, a cabinet company.
Obamacare requires firms to offer their workers health coverage, including coverage of contraception at no extra cost to the employee. The Greens and Hahns believe that some of those contraceptives, which may keep a fertilised egg from implanting in the uterine wall, amount to abortion. Federal law defines pregnancy from implantation, not fertilisation. Nevertheless, the issue before the court was not...Continue reading
IT'S not every day that an old-school magazine makes a splash by interviewing an ageing character actor. But Playboy seemed to know exactly what it had on its hands when Gary Oldman unleashed a sweeping, unguarded commentary on everything from marriage and sobriety to Mel Gibson and, er, the Jews.
It takes a special kind of skill at interviewing to guide a celebrity on a publicity tour toward statements like “we’re up shit creek without a paddle or a compass”—and then to nudge him into detailing exactly why, and how, and who is to blame.
In the ensuing avalanche of disregard, Mr Oldman critiques helicopter parents, reality television and a high-school coach who talked two students into going undercover to bust a pot deal. He slams Hollywood and the media for manufacturing superficially uncontrollable “little monsters” like Miley Cyrus.
Woven in between thoughtful reflections on life, art and his work, Mr Oldman’s pointed attacks leave few of America’s sacred cows left standing. But, in a kind of poetic irony,...Continue reading
UNANIMITY is rarely a hallmark of the Supreme Court’s final few days of the term, when the most contentious rulings come down. But with only two cases left to be decided this year—a religious objection to Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate and a challenge to public-sector unions—the Court has issued 9-0 rulings in a surprising 48 of its 71 cases. The past two weeks have produced four blockbusters without a single dissenter: Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus (raising doubts about an Ohio law banning lies in politics), Riley v California (all but prohibiting police searches of cell phones conducted without a warrant), McCullen v Coakley (striking down an abortion clinic buffer zone law in Massachusetts)...Continue reading
THE framers of America’s constitution knew nothing about mobile phones, but they knew a thing or two about unreasonable searches. In Riley v California, the Supreme Court considered “whether the police may, without a warrant, search digital information on a cell phone seized from an individual who has been arrested.” Unanimously on June 25th, the justices said no—or, to be more precise, very rarely.
David Riley, a member of the Bloods street gang who was sentenced to 15 years to life for attempted murder, and Brima Wurie, serving 262 months on a drug charge, will be happy to hear this. Except in true emergencies where searching a mobile phone could, say, avert a terrorist attack, police prying without a warrant violates the Fourth Amendment’s bar on “unreasonable” searches, the justices decided. Since both Mr Riley and Mr Wurie’s convictions were based on evidence gleaned from such searches, they will be freed earlier than expected.
Chief Justice John Roberts began by observing how attached...Continue reading
BOU BOU PHONESAVANH does not look like a drug dealer. For one thing, he is only three feet tall. For another, he is only 19 months old. Nevertheless, Bou Bou was injured during a botched SWAT raid in Habersham County, Georgia, last month. Police were hoping to catch a dealer at the house where the Phonesavanhs were staying (the home of the wanted man’s mother). They burst in using a “no-knock” warrant, which authorises them to enter unannounced. A “flash-bang” grenade, designed to deafen and blind temporarily, landed by the baby and blew up parts of his face and chest.
His parents were then told that their son needed to visit the hospital for “a broken tooth”, says Mawuli Davis, the family’s lawyer. They were not allowed to ride there with him for the 90-minute journey. Mr Davis says 24 other Georgians have called his firm to discuss harmful police raids since he started representing the Phonesavanhs.
“Our neighbourhoods are not war zones, and police officers should not be treating us like wartime enemies,” fumes Continue reading
THE REPUBLICAN Party civil war between purists and pragmatists is not over: the viciousness of the 2014 party primary season proves that. But defeats for Tea Party-backed populists on June 24th confirm a big development. The party’s business-backed “governing” wing has remembered how to fight, and fight rough.
Not for the first time in history, the lowest blows flew in Mississippi. Senator Thad Cochran—a genteel, big-government Republican and four-decade Washington veteran—broke every rule of Deep South politics and asked black Democrats and union members to cross party lines and cast votes in a Republican Party run-off contest. (Under Mississippi law party primaries are effectively open to all registered voters, though the Republican run-off of June 24th was not—in theory—open to anyone who had voted in an earlier Democratic primary on June 3rd.) It worked, just: Mr Cochran won by about 6,400 votes, or less than two percentage points. A hefty turnout in mostly-black counties helped Mr Cochran beat off Chris McDaniel, a compromise-scorning state senator and former radio talk-show host.
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
“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
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
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 […]
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
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
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
It’s a long(ish) story—and not relevant. Let’s just say that a conversation I had earlier today led me to pull together the 9-page paper attached. In the main, I think it speaks for itself—or I hope it does. The Moral Bedrock Of Management PDF
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