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High times in Amsterdam and Boulder

the economistMar, 05/08/2014 - 14:07

IN MY personal experience, smoking pot in Boulder, Colorado, is more enjoyable than doing so in Amsterdam. It is an extraordinary pleasure to be able to write that sentence in a respectable mainstream publication without any suggestion of having done anything criminal, and for this I thank the Colorado referendum voters who legalised marijuana in their state as of this year.

To judge by the boomlet of reports from pundits, the novelty value of toking up legally (in Colorado at least) seems to have replaced the frisson once associated with doing so illegally. This is no doubt a temporary effect that will wear off as it becomes more familiar. In the Netherlands, where a policy of official tolerance towards smoking weed was established in the 1980s, puffing now feels about as subversive as shopping for lingerie.

In fact, smoking pot in the Netherlands feels so old-hat that despite living there for the past three...Continue reading

So sue me

the economistLun, 04/08/2014 - 08:25

BARACK OBAMA is taking a somewhat irreverent approach to the lawsuit House Republicans voted to wage against him for exceeding the constitutional bounds of the presidency. “We could do so much more if Congress would just come on and help a little bit,” he said on Wednesday, scolding GOP lawmakers during a speech in Kansas City. “Stop just hatin’ all the time.” Chuckling, Mr Obama betrayed no anxiety about being sued. “I know they’re not that happy I’m president, but that’s OK,” he said. “I’ve only got a couple years left. Come on! Let’s get some work done.”

The irony of the lawsuit is lost on no one. Republicans cite a number of unilateral executive actions in their criticism of Mr Obama’s "imperialism", but the lawsuit concentrates on delays he has ordered in the implementation of several provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Yes, that Affordable Care Act: the one that House...Continue reading

Urbane development

the economistVie, 01/08/2014 - 19:56

WITH lawmakers in Washington achieving precious little, cities and the suburbs are increasingly the places where things get done. This at least is the case put forward by Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley at the Brookings Institution in their book “The Metropolitan Revolution”, published last year. Local leaders have more real-world problems to contend with and more power to address them. They are also less hindered by political turf battles and relentless campaigns, so they are more likely to take on the kind of big challenges that daunt federal politicians. This means mayors and governors are busily working to kick-start their economies, invest in critical transportation infrastructure and reform education. They are also far more dynamic than the federal government in areas such as immigration, climate change and obesity.

Does this make local leaders less politically ideological? Anecdotally this seems to be the case. Michael Bloomberg, a former mayor of New York, consistently flip-flopped between the Democratic and Republican parties....Continue reading

Political theatre, political pain

the economistVie, 01/08/2014 - 00:13

IN A nearly party-line vote, the House of Representatives has authorised its speaker, John Boehner, to sue Barack Obama for flouting the constitutional limits of his executive authority. House Republicans have in mind the president's penchant for revising enacted legislation by ad hoc decree, such as last year's decision to delay enforcement of Obamacare's employer mandate until 2015. The mandate requires businesses that employ more than 50 workers to supply them with an authorised health plan. Republicans would like the courts to order the president to enforce the letter of the law. Mr Obama has responded by imploring congressional Republicans to "Stop being mad all the time. Stop, stop, stop just hatin’ all the time." With the mid-term elections only a few months away, one suspects they will decline his...Continue reading

A modest proposal

the economistMié, 30/07/2014 - 23:56

THE system for choosing candidates to run for Congress might have been designed with the welfare of journalists and lobby groups in mind. Primary elections begin in March and end in September, allowing reporters to travel the country eating barbecue with candidates for seven months. They attract relatively few voters (under 20% of those eligible turned up in 2010), meaning that well-organised lobby groups can hold disproportionate sway. Organised labour influences Democratic primaries more than ought to be the case given that only 11% of workers are union members. In Republican primaries, relatively small outfits like the Club for Growth, which campaigns for smaller government, can make a big splash because they need only sway a small number of people.

Sensing a problem, some states have tried to get more voters interested in primaries. One idea has been to open them up to members of either party, or none at all. Only 11 states now have primaries where Republicans pick Republicans and Democrats pick Democrats. California allows the two most popular candidates in the primary to run against each other in the general election, even if they are both from...Continue reading

Critical mess

the economistMié, 30/07/2014 - 22:23

LINDA GREENHOUSE went “out on a limb” last week and predicted that the Supreme Court will refuse to hear a challenge to an appeals court’s ruling upholding the affirmative action admissions policy at the University of Texas. “The opinion [in Fisher v University of Texas] so deftly threads the needle,” Ms Greenhouse wrote, and is such “a masterpiece of judicial craft,” that it makes Abigail Fisher’s complaint against race-conscious admissions “an unappealing candidate for further Supreme Court review.”

I agree with Ms Greenhouse that Judge Patrick Higginbotham, writing also for Judge Carolyn Dineen King, made the correct decision. The 41-page ruling issued on July 15th demonstrated convincingly that the University of Texas pursued its goal of educational diversity with holistic,...Continue reading

Second verse, different from the first

the economistMar, 29/07/2014 - 07:34

ASK liberals how to reduce poverty and they usually have a handful of policies ready to go, complete with spreadsheets suggesting their likely impact and a real-life example from a hitherto obscure province of Sweden. Compared with this, conservative proposals on tackling poverty can look thin. This is not necessarily because conservatives are a uniquely heartless bunch, but rather because what they propose is not an answer to the question but a process by which an answer might be reached. Paul Ryan’s recent thoughts on federal anti-poverty programmes, delivered in a report from the House budget committee and remarks to the American Enterprise Institute, fall into this category. Basically, the Republican congressman from Wisconsin wants to disrupt welfare. 

If this sounds like a mash-up of Silicon Valley and Detroit, that is no coincidence. Policy wonks are always glancing enviously at the private sector...Continue reading

A wake-up call

the economistVie, 25/07/2014 - 17:04

BACK in March, when Barack Obama visited The Hague and called on Europe to treat Russian intervention in Ukraine as a threat to the international order, he got a pretty sceptical response. Like most of Europe, the Netherlands went along half-heartedly with efforts to impose retaliatory sanctions on Moscow, and among the Dutch public there was a tendency to treat the Ukrainian conflict as an ethnolinguistic clash or a Russian-American power contest.

The "international order" is a hard thing to visualise, and there was little support in the Dutch political sphere for dramatic steps to punish Russia for violating Ukrainian sovereignty—not if such steps might cost Dutch companies a lot of money. It was an uphill struggle to persuade the citizens of a rich, safe country in the heart of western Europe that their security was threatened by trouble at Europe’s periphery, and that it was up to them to resist the advance of Vladimir Putin’s weird hybrid of authoritarian nationalism and mafia...Continue reading

Why nurses are the new auto workers

the economistVie, 25/07/2014 - 06:49


CAR manufacturing was the defining industry of the 20th century. In the 21st it is health care. Health spending comprised 17% of America’s GDP in 2012. About one in ten workers are employed in the health sector. These workers have the crucial job of making American health care more efficient, probably the country’s top domestic challenge. Those who are not doctors have a particularly important role—nurses and lesser-trained workers can monitor and care for patients out of hospital, which should result in better quality of life for patients and lower costs for everyone else. But just as the car industry was the 20th century’s main battleground for fights over labour, it is increasingly clear that health workers will be at the centre of the latest bitter conflict.

In the darkest days of the recession, health employment was a rare bright spot. But even then, all was not rosy. Take a new report on health workers from the Brookings Institution, a think-tank. Those without college degrees comprised 61% of the health...Continue reading

A message for "helicopter parents"

the economistJue, 24/07/2014 - 23:58

WELL-TO-DO parents worry about two things: the safety of their children and whether they will get into Harvard. They should relax, says our correspondent

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When a pastor is re-frocked

the economistMié, 23/07/2014 - 20:07

FRANK SCHAEFER, a Methodist preacher in Pennsylvania, officiated at his son’s same-sex wedding in 2007. This act of sacrilege earned him a suspension. When he couldn’t promise he wouldn’t do it again for another same-sex couple, the United Methodist Church decided to defrock him last year. But in June the church went ahead and re-frocked him. A panel of judges decided it was unwise to punish the minister for something he had not yet done. Mr Schaefer now has plans to resume his pastoral work in Santa Barbara, California, ministering to college students. “One day we will celebrate the fact that we have moved beyond this horrible chapter in our church’s life,” he said.

Same-sex marriage poses an existential problem for a number of religious groups in America. Now that these unions are legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia, faith-based leaders are left wondering how much they need to change with the...Continue reading

Hit the road, Jack

the economistMié, 23/07/2014 - 12:43

HEARTBREAK and happiness found their way into Georgia’s Republican strongholds in almost equal measure last night. After winning the party’s nomination for November’s US Senate contest David Perdue (pictured) tepidly thanked his opponent, congressman Jack Kingston, for running “a spirited race”. That is putting it nicely: Mr Kingston ran a series of ads that were as brutal as they were misleading. But bygones are bygones. Mr Perdue declared himself “humbled,” and suggested the outcome was part of “a mission from God”. Oh, and he also mentioned his mum. The cowboy-booted crowd were pleased.

Mr Perdue won the Republican primary runoff with 50.9% of the vote, carrying Atlanta and its surrounding counties. The two men’s support split across the “gnat line”, a part-proverbial, part-geological division separating north Georgia, which generally went for Mr Perdue, a former head of the sports brand Reebok, from south, which preferred Mr Kingston, a tried and...Continue reading

In doubt, once again

the economistMar, 22/07/2014 - 19:47

IN ITS Hobby Lobby decision in June, the Supreme Court ruled that some firms could refuse to offer their staff insurance that includes free contraception. This undermined a provision of the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, but had little impact on the broader law. A new ruling may deal a more serious blow.

In Halbig v Burwell on July 22nd a federal appeals court in Washington, DC, decided that the government could not issue insurance subsidies in the 36 states with federally-run health exchanges. Yet just hours after this opinion was issued, another federal appeals court in Virginia sided with the government in a similar case, King v Burwell. How all of this is sorted out will be hugely...Continue reading

Justice delayed

the economistMar, 22/07/2014 - 14:34

“A MAN is undone by waiting for capital punishment,” Albert Camus wrote, “well before he dies.” On July 16th a federal judge in California, Cormac Carney, ruled in Jones v Chappell that the machinery of death in the Golden State is so plagued by delays and arbitrariness that it amounts to a “cruel and unusual punishment” in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the federal constitution. Judge Carney struck down Ernest Jones’s 1995 death sentence for raping and killing his girlfriend’s mother, along with the capital sentences of 747 other convicts. Awaiting execution for decades “with complete uncertainty as to when, or even whether, it will ever come,” Judge Carney wrote, is a punishment “no rational jury or legislature could ever impose.”

Of the 900 people California has sentenced to death since 1978, only 13 have been executed. The last person to be put to death was in 2006. The same year, a federal court ruled that California’s mode of lethal injection carried a risk that “an inmate will suffer pain so...Continue reading


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