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The path of least disruption

the economistMié, 11/03/2015 - 15:15

HOW will the Supreme Court decide this term’s two biggest cases? One slightly cynical prediction floating around forecasts a split decision: the justices will announce a constitutional right to gay marriage, a huge victory for liberals, while voting to upend the Affordable Care Act, a dream of conservatives. According to some iterations of this hypothesis, the chief justice, John Roberts, will broker such a compromise—and vote accordingly—in order to maintain his image as the even-handed “balls-and-strikes” caller he claimed to be a decade ago in his Senate nomination hearing. By giving both liberals and conservatives something, but not too much, to cheer about, the chief will save the court from charges of an ideological tilt. As Noah Feldman wrote a few months ago at Bloomberg View, the chief seems loth to have “a court associated with his name...come to be seen as the most activist conservative court since the 1920s and...Continue reading

An enigmatic soul

the economistMié, 11/03/2015 - 03:47

SUNDAY services at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York featured a portrait at the altar of Edward Cardinal Egan, who died on March 5th. After the funeral today his body will be interred in a crypt at the cathedral. The ceremonies in tribute to his life and work have been fairly subdued. This is perhaps apt. Cardinal Egan, who presided over New York’s archdiocese from 2000 to 2009, may have had an imposing presence and a powerful baritone voice, but he kept a low profile. He was rarely in front of a camera. He hardly ever gave interviews. Indeed he was an enigmatic figure for many New Yorkers and a polarising leader among Catholics. He was not universally loved by his flock.

Cardinal Egan arrived in New York in 2000 with an impossible task: to fill the shoes of John Cardinal O’Connor, his beloved predecessor. New York’s cardinals tend to be a charismatic bunch, but Cardinal O’Connor was uniquely powerful. As the unofficial head of the Catholic Church in America, he was courted by presidents. He was not afraid to take on politicians, even well-known Catholics. He threatened to excommunicate Geraldine Ferraro, a vice-presidential...Continue reading

Poor judgment

the economistMar, 10/03/2015 - 23:30

GOVERNMENT technology is a pain. Anyone who works for the American government—or knows someone who does—knows that sending an official e-mail requires using an authorised device. Logging into Gmail, on the other hand, can be done from anywhere. So Hillary Clinton’s claim that she used a personal e-mail account instead of a government one for the sake of convenience rings true. 

The problem is that Mrs Clinton was no mere government employee, but Secretary of State. And instead of using Gmail, say, she maintained a personal e-mail server in her suburban home in Chappaqua, New York. 

This goes against federal rules that all official e-mails should be stored by government departments. It also means Mrs Clinton can choose which missives she turns over to authorities, which looks suspicious. Complaints of foul play, particularly from Republicans in the House, forced Mrs Clinton to plead her case in a hastily arranged press conference at the United Nations this afternoon. She argued, essentially, that she should be treated like any other minor bureaucrat, and that her secretive personal e-mail account is basically...Continue reading

Still marching

the economistLun, 09/03/2015 - 19:36

“OUR march is not yet finished,” declared Barack Obama from the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama on March 7th. The president had come to the small southern town, along with around 20,000 people from across the country, to commemorate the marches in Selma 50 years before, when Martin Luther King junior and other civil-rights luminaries protested for voting rights for black Americans.

The original marches were met with brutal violence from racist police, and ultimately pushed President Lyndon Johnson to send voting-rights legislation to Congress. A half-century later the atmosphere in Selma was more festive, complete with stalls selling souvenirs and smoked pig tails, and participants taking selfies. The president crossed the bridge with John Lewis, who helped lead the original march, and Amelia Boynton, a 103-year-old survivor of its violence. The following day, smiling marchers wore bright T-shirts announcing their churches and hometowns: Albuquerque, Atlanta, Gary, Memphis, Nashville and New York, among others. The only...Continue reading

Setting the record straight

the economistLun, 09/03/2015 - 15:38

AROUND 150 American citizens and residents have travelled, or attempted to travel, to Syria to fight for the Islamic State (IS). Three more men, residents of Brooklyn, recently joined this list of aspiring (though thwarted) jihadists. The number is quite small—in Europe, by contrast, more than 3,000 people are believed to have joined the ranks of IS fighters—but the allure of jihad among Westerners remains alarming nonetheless. The terrorist organisation uses social media to create what James Comey, director of the FBI, calls a “siren song” for troubled souls. The IS sales pitch, he says, goes like this: “Come to the caliphate, you will live a life of glory, these are the apocalyptic end times, you will find a life of meaning here fighting...Continue reading

Tweetstream:Leadership, Cognitive Biases, Etc.

Tom PetersLun, 09/03/2015 - 15:32

FYI: TP: Every day for every one of us—teen and octogenarian alike—offers numerous leadership opportunities. What are you waiting for? TP: Leadership's Big Four: Enthusiasm. Acknowledgement/intense listening. Helping others when you haven't got the time. Reading/learning. Michael St. Lawrence: Bonus Fifth: Lead to somewhere interesting and worthwhile. TP/My #5: "Be playful." I never trust anyone […]

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Leadership, Cognitive Biases, Etc.
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the economistJue, 05/03/2015 - 20:48

ANYONE who has followed the events in Ferguson, Missouri, over the past six months knows that residents and local police don’t see eye to eye. While in Ferguson in November, after a grand jury decided not to indict a white police officer for fatally shooting an unarmed black teenager, I heard plenty of stories of petty harassment and racial discrimination at the hands of local police. Even still, the Department of Justice’s report into policing and court practices in Ferguson, released yesterday, makes for shocking reading. The report offers countless cases of prejudicial mistreatment of the suburb’s mostly black and mostly poor residents. Many of the individual incidents are appalling. Taken together, they offer a powerful indictment of Ferguson’s justice system. 

For a sense of the report's findings, it is worth taking a moment to read a couple of these stories in full. Here is one...Continue reading

What Obama gets wrong

the economistJue, 05/03/2015 - 19:18

THE governor of Louisiana sits down with The Economist's United States editor to discuss standing up to Russia, calling radical Islam the enemy and fixing America's broken immigration system. An edited transcript of the parts of the interview that were not filmed is available below, and this week's paper considers Mr Jindal's (undeclared) pitch for the top job.

 Continue reading

Doomsday scenarios

the economistJue, 05/03/2015 - 05:46

IN A post last week at the National Review on King v Burwell, the case targeting Obamacare that the justices heard on Wednesday, Jonathan Keim noticed something about the briefs:

[T]he vast majority of the amicus briefs filed in support of the government’s position made roughly the same consequentialist argument: Congress was trying to do good stuff with Obamacare; striking down the subsidies means less good stuff; therefore the Court shouldn’t strike down the subsidies. But that isn’t really legal argument at all; it’s policy. Wrong branch of government, folks.

Mr Keim is right that courts are supposed to interpret the law, not make it (or remake it). And he’s right that the consequences of scuttling billions of dollars of tax subsidies are a major talking point of defenders of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). But we need to distinguish two arguments that Mr Keim conflates. One is the...Continue reading


the economistJue, 05/03/2015 - 00:12

“IT WAS him,” said Judy Clarke, referring to her client Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Unusually in a trial to determine guilt, she readily agreed with federal prosecutors that her client, along with his older brother, placed and detonated home-made bombs near the finishing line of Boston’s annual marathon in April 2013. Three spectators, including an eight-year old boy, were killed in the explosions and more than 260 were badly injured. The brothers also allegedly killed a police officer a few days later. The elder brother Tamerlan died in a police shoot-out four days after the explosions, leaving Mr Tsarnaev to defend himself on his own. In an opening statement that stunned the court room on March 4th, Ms Clarke, a shrewd attorney, declared that there is no denying her client did what he is accused of doing. “It is difficult to grasp, incomprehensible and inexcusable.”

At issue is not whether Mr Tsarnaev, together with his brother, aimed to kill and maim as many people as possible. That much is certain, Ms Clarke conceded. The question, then, is just how culpable Mr Tsarnaev is for his actions. Here Ms Clarke parted ways with the...Continue reading

Profit Through Putting People First(“Good Guys”) Business Book Club

Tom PetersMié, 04/03/2015 - 18:43

Most business books focus on what's broken. This selection focuses on organizations that work & shine—by (actually, far beyond lip service) "Putting People First." Why not a book club? I've known organizations where such groups had very high impact. Nice Companies Finish First: Why Cutthroat Management Is Over—and Collaboration Is In, by Peter Shankman with […]

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(“Good Guys”) Business Book Club
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The best of bad options

the economistMié, 04/03/2015 - 17:01

THE March 24th deadline for an agreement with Iran may be looming, but the parties to the talks have kept impressively quiet about the details being hammered out this week in Montreux, Switzerland. Despite speculation that a deal is imminent, significant gaps still remain which could yet scupper one.

Iran, unrealistically, is demanding the immediate removal of all sanctions. Barack Obama, America’s president, can suspend most of America’s, but only Congress can remove sanctions that it has legislated. The rapturous applause for the speech Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, gave to Congress on March 3rd suggests that suspension is the best the Iranians can get from America for the foreseeable future. The European Union and the United Nations Security Council could, however, remove their sanctions more permanently.

Iran also wants to be able to continue to develop more advanced centrifuges, which would allow the rapid ramp-up of uranium enrichment (and thus speed the path to a bomb) once the...Continue reading

The people v the constitution

the economistMié, 04/03/2015 - 02:37

IS AMERICA a democracy? It’s a favourite trick question posed by high-school history teachers. The official answer is no: in America the people do not themselves make, enforce or interpret the laws. Instead, they elect representatives to govern in their name. That makes America, in the nomenclature of the founding fathers, a “republic” and not a democracy. A republic, as James Madison famously explained, is “a government in which the scheme of representation takes place” rather than one in which the people “assemble and administer the government in person”.

But despite such clarifications, the republic-democracy dichotomy now feels a little phony. Few today associate the term “democracy” with its original Athenian definition. In a country this size, it is implausible for every citizen to have a personal role in every governmental decision. Democracy is, by necessity, indirect. It implies a structure whereby the people, protected by an array of liberal freedoms, select...Continue reading

Shot in the right direction

the economistMar, 03/03/2015 - 17:46

DID the recent outbreak of measles in California encourage more parents to vaccinate their children? Scientists have worried that the opposite may be true. This is because media coverage of the vaccination debate tends to lend credibility to sceptics, as both sides—scientists and nervous parents—are given their say in an effort to create “balance”. The matter is hardly helped by politicians vacillating on the...Continue reading

Lofty ideas, low politics

the economistLun, 02/03/2015 - 17:33

BINYAMIN NETANYAHU'S speech to Congress on Tuesday will tackle some large questions of foreign policy: how to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons, and how to manage the American-Israeli security alliance when the two countries’ governments disagree on strategies to keep Israel safe.

Alas, there are several reasons to suspect that this lofty speech from Israel's prime minister is happening at this specific time and in this setting for reasons of low domestic politics, on both sides.

The timing of the speech is unusual. Mr Netanyahu is a couple of weeks away from elections in Israel, prompting opposition parties back home to call his visit to Washington essentially a campaign rally in a foreign land.

On the American side, both Democrats and some Republicans think the speech inappropriate. Mr Netanyahu—a foreign leader, albeit of a close ally—was invited to address a joint sitting of Congress by John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, to give him a platform to denounce the way that President Barack Obama is conducting nuclear talks with Iran. Mr Boehner and Mr Netanyahu planned the...Continue reading


the economistSáb, 28/02/2015 - 05:02

THE countdown was a nail-biter. At midnight tonight, barring any sort of last-minute deal, around 30,000 employees of the Department of Homeland Security were going to be furloughed. Some 170,000 essential workers were nearly doomed to chug along without pay. A bill to keep the federal agency funded for another three weeks had died a grim death on the House floor earlier today. But with just two hours to go, John Boehner, the Speaker of the House, managed to corral enough votes to extend funding for the DHS for another week.

No one should call this a victory. Another ugly battle now looms just days away. But the last-minute deal does save Mr Boehner from the embarrassment he seemed destined for earlier today, when he failed to get enough House Republicans to back a bill that was created mainly to please House Republicans.

It is not that anyone has qualms with funding the DHS. Indeed, it is one of the few federal departments most politicians of both parties are keen to throw money at. This is why a number of Republican congressmen believed it would be a good strategy to use the department’s funding to unravel the president’s Continue reading

Getting Things (That Matter) Done

Tom PetersJue, 26/02/2015 - 21:03

In 2013 I wrote a paper titled "Getting Things (THAT MATTER) Done Against the Odds and in the Inky-black Shadow Cast by the Guardians of the Status Quo." It is based on my personal experience with big change projects such as the McKinsey project that led to In Search of Excellence, which "rebranded McKinsey" according […]

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Rahm, round two

the economistMié, 25/02/2015 - 19:44

“THANK you, Chicago. We have come a long way, and we have a little bit further to go,” said Rahm Emanuel at around 9:30pm last night. The results of Chicago’s mayoral election on Tuesday had indicated that he will be forced into a run-off with Jesus Garcia, a Cook County commissioner, to keep his job. In a short, gracious speech the mayor, still hoarse from a nasty cold, congratulated Mr Garcia for a “good race” and called him a “good man” with whom he is looking forward to debating in the weeks ahead.

Having earned 45.4% of the vote, Mr Emanuel fell short of the 50% plus-one-vote he needed to avoid a run-off on April 7th. Mr Garcia’s piece of the electoral pie was larger than expected, at 33.9%, with the rest split among three other candidates. Voter turnout was low, with only 34% making it to the polls on a frigid day.

The result is a big setback for Mr Emanuel, who swept into power four years ago with a comfortable 55% of the vote. A singularly gifted fund...Continue reading

Fuelling anger

the economistMié, 25/02/2015 - 17:09

BARACK OBAMA has vetoed only three bills in his time in the Oval Office: less than almost any president in recent history. His veto of a bill authorising the Keystone Pipeline yesterday suggests that number will be rising fairly swiftly. With Republicans now in control of both houses, Mr Obama will be faced with far more decisions like this. The politics is simple: the Republicans want to trap the president into rejecting as many popular ideas (or at least ideas that Republicans like) as possible.

The Keystone Pipeline makes for an odd case study. The amount of political energy expended on it far outweighs its economic significance. Republicans made it one of their first priorities in Congress. Democrats are also obsessed with it. In December Mary Landrieu near enough Continue reading

Baked Alaska

the economistMar, 24/02/2015 - 15:01

SMOKING cannabis becomes legal today in Alaska, the latest state to lift its prohibition of the drug after Colorado and Washington, which took the plunge last year. Alaskans over 21 can now grow up to six of their own plants, share up to an ounce (28g) of harvested pot, and smoke as much as they like in private without breaking the law. Selling the stuff commercially will become legal next year, once the state authorities have hammered out a set of rules to regulate the business. Alaska’s 750,000 residents aren’t going to turn the pot business on its head. But two things about the state make it an interesting case study for weed-watchers.

One is that it currently has some of the most expensive marijuana in America. The price of pot is closely linked to proximity to Mexico, which has historically provided most of America’s cannabis. That is bad news for Alaskan tokers, who live a very long way from the Rio Grande. According Continue reading


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