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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


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


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

A shocking defeat

the economistMié, 11/06/2014 - 07:18

DURING his rapid ascent in the House of Representatives, Eric Cantor, the Republican majority leader (ie, the number two Republican in the House, after the Speaker), seemed more interested in getting ahead than getting things done. This view, nursed especially by Tea Partiers and libertarians furious with Washington, finally caught up with Mr Cantor in a primary election on Tuesday, when he lost the nomination to the Virginia seat he first won in 2000.

With this shocking defeat, Mr Cantor has become the biggest casualty this year of what has been dubbed a civil war within the Republican party, between business-friendly centrists and right-wing insurrectionists. He is also the first House majority leader to be defeated for nomination since the office was created 115 years ago.

Mr Cantor had openly angled to become the next Speaker of the House, and was not above undercutting John Boehner, who fills the job now. Yet he was defeated by David Brat, a slightly goofy Tea Party-backed economics professor. Mr Brat's victory was convincing, albeit on a typically low primary turnout. Mr Cantor's supporters may not have realised that he...Continue reading

End of the age of dinosaurs

the economistMié, 11/06/2014 - 00:02

DESPITE the earthquakes of reform that have rattled public education in recent years, there are parts of the system that still resemble “The Lost World”, where prehistoric creatures still roam. A long-standing demand of education reformers has been that it should be easier for schools to fire bad teachers. The terms in many teacher contracts forbid this. Most schools when making cuts are forced to fire the newest teachers rather than the worst ones—a policy is better known as "last in, first out". The result is that a lot of bad (and often expensive) teachers linger in the system. 

Having lousy teachers is terrible for children and their future prospects. Pupils assigned to better teachers are more likely to go to college and earn decent salaries, and are less likely to be teenage mothers, according to work published in 2011. If teachers in grades 4 to 8 are ranked according to ability, and the bottom 5% are replaced with teachers of average quality, a...Continue reading


Tom PetersMar, 10/06/2014 - 19:11

Today, Tom spoke at the Gulf International Convention & Exhibition Center in Bahrain. His topic: The Search for Personal & Business Excellence. He offers participants (and anyone else) three PowerPoint presentations: Bahrain Final Bahrain Long 34 BFOs (Blinding Flash of the Obvious)

The post Bahrain appeared first on Tom Peters.


the economistMar, 10/06/2014 - 08:26

CONSERVATIVES complain that "Obamacore" is just another federal-government takeover, this time of public education. Leftists wring their hands over yet more standardised testing and greater scrutiny of teachers. The Common Core educational standards have become so politically fraught that it is easy to forget why so many states decided to adopt them in the first place. Six years ago school academics were a mess, the Washington Post reminds us. Different states had different standards, and high-school diplomas had lost all meaning; as many as 40% of college freshmen needed remedial classes, and American students were falling behind their foreign competitors. America's fragmented education system also "stifled innovation", according to Gene Wilhoit, director of a national group of state school chiefs, and David Coleman, a school-standards evangelist, as textbook publishers and software developers could cater to many small markets...Continue reading

Who's your daddy

the economistVie, 06/06/2014 - 21:57

YOU'LL SEE him in art classes with his toddler. Or in the playgrounds on weekday mornings. He cuts a lonely and gently rumpled figure among clots of easily gossiping mothers in their Pilates gear. The stay-at-home dad is a rapidly growing phenomenon among America's parents. The number of fathers who do not go to work has risen markedly in recent years and stood at 2m in 2012, up from 1.1m in 1989, according to new data from a Pew survey.

Part of the story is the recession. Peak Dad was actually reached in 2012 when 2.2m were at home, which was 16% of primary carers. Since then many have returned to paid work. Nonetheless, the long-term trends show stay-at-home dads are increasing. Only 21% say their main reason to be at home is to care for...Continue reading

Binge blues

the economistVie, 06/06/2014 - 17:48

IS COLORADO'S bold experiment with marijuana legalisation going wrong? It certainly went a little hazy for Maureen Dowd, a columnist whose opinions have enlivened the pages of the New York Times for nearly 20 years now. Back in January Ms Dowd found herself holed up in her room at the Denver Four Seasons, with only a marijuana-infused "caramel-chocolate flavored candy bar" for company. Visiting Colorado to report on its "social revolution", Ms Dowd, laudably committed to the cause of immersive journalism, had decided to get high. She then proceeded to make what some readers will recognise as a classic schoolboy error. 

"I nibbled off the end," she writes, "and then, when nothing happened, nibbled some more... What could go wrong with a bite or two?" The question, of course, answers itself, and sure enough Ms Dowd soon finds herself "curled up in a hallucinatory state" for hours. Like an extra from a Cheech and Chong movie, she becomes...Continue reading

Food fight

the economistJue, 05/06/2014 - 22:08

ON THE face of things, school meals are one of a few success stories in modern American policymaking. Five years ago it was clear that children, like grownups, needed to eat less sugar, salt and fat in their diets. Given that many children consume half of their daily calories at school, these meals seemed a good place to start.

So in 2010, Congress passed the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which set higher nutritional standards for meals, based on recommendations from scientists. With the help of the School Nutrition Association (SNA), which represents "school nutrition professionals", the act demanded healthier meals in exchange for an increase in federal spending on school lunches. Now, however, the SNA has changed its tune. It says the rules are expensive and difficult to implement, and it wants temporary waivers to the rules for any school-meals programme that has been losing money for six months. The SNA adds that school canteens...Continue reading

Disruption! Disruption!Dis-Rup-Tion!New! New! New!Phew! Phew! Phew!Hold Onto Your Hat!Katy Bar the Door!

Tom PetersJue, 05/06/2014 - 18:56

I admire—and have learned from—Clay Christensen. He brought us news of a constant state of “disruption.” We now live in a state of perpetual breathlessness. Every day brings news of a new disruption. Wow! But something was nagging at the back of my mind, And I finally figured out what it is. Namely, constant disruption—at […]

The post Disruption! Disruption!
New! New! New!
Phew! Phew! Phew!
Hold Onto Your Hat!
Katy Bar the Door!
appeared first on Tom Peters.

Claws in the dirt

the economistMié, 04/06/2014 - 19:55

WHAT would life in America be like if the Clean Air Act of 1970 had never been passed? In terms of breathing, an activity that's easy to overlook until it becomes difficult, it would probably resemble life in many of today's developing countries, where factories and cars are multiplying unhindered by environmental regulations. In Hanoi, where I lived in the mid- to late 2000s, the importance of breathing really started to make itself felt five or six years ago, and at that point a number of my friends decided to leave. By the time my wife and I left too, at the end of 2010, our then 8-year-old daughter had a persistent thick yellow slime in her throat that she would periodically cough up (it went away after about a year living in the clean air of the Netherlands). Things are even worse in large Chinese cities, where coal fumes, auto exhaust, smog and particulate matter are so coruscating that most Americans would consider raising a family there an act of child abuse. Rich people send their children to private schools with pressurised domes over the sports fields. Every well-off family owns an air purifier. Poor people cannot...Continue reading

Can the GOP woo black voters?

the economistMié, 04/06/2014 - 15:30

QUICK: what is a bigger waste of time, playing the New York Lottery or trying to persuade African Americans to vote for Republicans? Looking at the odds, you have a 1 in 14.71 chance of winning a prize in the Mega Millions drawing (no, not the jackpot, silly). Compare this to data from the 2012 presidential election, when only 5% of black voters (1 in 20) pulled the lever for Mitt Romney, and you have your answer. The lottery is the decidedly better bet.

Republicans are undeterred. Reince Preibus, chair of the Republican National Committee, is pouring time and resources into rescuing his party from its awful showing among racial minorities in recent elections. Here is a report from McKay Coppins of BuzzFeed:

After...Continue reading

Ogle like Vogel

the economistMar, 03/06/2014 - 23:53

KEN VOGEL, a reporter for Politico whose working method involves sneaking into political fundraisers and seeing how long he can mooch around before being thrown out, has a book out today. Much has been written already about the effects of Citizens United, a decision made by the Supreme Court in 2010 that unleashed a lot of electoral spending by outside groups (ie, entities not directly connected to candidates). “Big Money” is a highly entertaining account of the adventures of billionaires in politics. In Mr Vogel's hands, this obscure world seems both vivid and a little mundane, full of powerpoint presentations, hotel conference rooms and business-casual shindigs where politicians flirt with rich donors. Indeed, it would all seem rather tedious if there were not so much money involved.

Worries about the influence of rich people on democracy are as old as elections. Athenian olive oil moguls surely tried to fix the occasional ostracism. And the last few presidential cycles have provided...Continue reading


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