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Trigger happy

the economistVie, 15/08/2014 - 18:31

THE shooting of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old African-American, by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, is a reminder that civilians—innocent or guilty—are far more likely to be shot by police in America than in any other rich country. In 2012, according to data compiled by the FBI, 410 Americans were “justifiably” killed by police—409 with guns. That figure may well be an underestimate. Not only is it limited to the number of people who were shot while committing a crime, but also, amazingly, reporting the data is voluntary.

Last year, in total, British police officers actually fired their weapons three times. The number of people fatally shot was zero. In 2012 the figure was just one. Even after adjusting for the smaller size of Britain’s population, British citizens are around 100 times less likely to be shot by a police officer than Americans. Between 2010 and 2014 the police force of one small American city, Albuquerque in New Mexico, shot and killed 23 civilians; seven times more...Continue reading

Guns, police and the people

the economistVie, 15/08/2014 - 14:03

FOR the past week the people have been in the streets of the St Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Most have been waving placards, raising their arms in the air and shouting, "Hands up, don't shoot!" A few have tossed rocks or Molotov cocktails, and in at least one instance some seem to have fired guns. The police have been in the streets of Ferguson, too. They have been firing tear-gas canisters and rubber bullets, and pointing assault rifles at protestors from atop their armoured vehicles. (They have also manhandled and arrested reporters.)

The cause of the conflict is the latest in a...Continue reading

Mind the gap

the economistJue, 14/08/2014 - 16:02

NOT only are black people in America more likely to lack employment, be poor, get arrested and serve time in prison than their white counterparts, but they also have less time on earth to enjoy such mortal frustrations. A new study published in Health Affairs by Sam Harper and Jay Kaufman of McGill University and Richard MacLehose of the University of Minnesota has found that the gap in life expectancy between blacks and whites in America persists, despite policies aimed at closing it. (Other racial groups could not feature in the study because records concerning them were too scarce for the period scrutinised, according to Mr Harper.)

This is not to say there hasn’t been some progress over the years. Between 1990 and 2009 the difference in average life expectancy for black and white men narrowed from 8.1 to 5.4 years, and for women from 5.5 to 3.8 years. But some places made more headway than others. Washington, DC had the largest gap between blacks and whites of both sexes in 1990 (14.4 years for men and 10.4 for women) and saw the least improvement overall (reducing the spread by just...Continue reading

Hillary's jab

the economistMar, 12/08/2014 - 20:59

HILLARY CLINTON is positioning herself to run for president in 2016 (you heard it here first!), so she needs to put some distance between herself and whatever aspects of Barack Obama's presidency voters are currently unhappy with. She made a move in that direction in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg over the weekend, obliquely criticising Mr Obama's failure to give military support to moderate rebels in Syria early on, which she claimed was one reason for the rise of the radical movement that used to call itself ISIS and now calls itself simply the "Islamic State". (These guys really know how to troll the international media. Imagine the conundrums editors would face if the rebels in eastern Ukraine had called their quasi-state "Democracy". "The Ukrainian army continued its offensive against Democracy today...")

Mrs Clinton's critique of Obama administration policy was not as harsh as Mr Goldberg and some other newspapers portrayed it. As Continue reading

A front-row view

the economistMar, 12/08/2014 - 17:29

WRITING about politics means spending a lot of time looking up from the front row of the auditorium as speakers on stage talk over your head. This in turn means becoming familiar with a place that most politicians keep hidden—the undefined region where the chin becomes the neck. I don’t know of a good word in English for this place: Russian has podbaradok, which translates as “under the beard” and could be borrowed if beards were not so rare at the top level of American politics. In a whole day of speeches at the Family Leadership Summit, a gathering of conservative Christians in Ames, Iowa on August 9th, the only person with any facial hair was Iowa’s governor, Terry Branstad, who has a neat moustache.

Processions of politicians giving stump speeches can prompt the mind to wander, partly because what is said is rarely original or changes anything very much. The exception to this norm is generally when a speaker challenges the assumptions of the audience and yet manages to win them over. Rick Santorum got closer to this than anyone else speaking inside the brutalist Stephens auditorium, which held the summit....Continue reading

The threat to the rule of law

the economistVie, 08/08/2014 - 19:12

ROSS DOUTHAT has been arguing for the past week that Barack Obama's unilateral immigration-policy changes pose a threat of "presidential caesarism". The power grab Mr Douthat is most vexed about involves the so-called DACA ("Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals") policy, whereby the president has directed authorities to postpone action against undocumented immigrants who arrived as children. 

Opinions as to whether this oversteps the president’s authority mainly break down along political lines. Defending Mr Obama's actions, Ezra...Continue reading

A time to act

the economistVie, 08/08/2014 - 16:07

OVERCOMING his deep wariness of overseas entanglements, President Barack Obama has authorised American generals to launch air strikes in Iraq against the fanatical jihadists of the Islamic State (IS). The first strike was carried out on August 8th within 12 hours of the president’s announcement, and involved the bombing of a mobile IS artillery piece near Erbil, capital of the autonomous Kurdish region in the country’s north.

Seeking to reassure a war-weary public, the president described two tightly defined missions that would trigger air attacks. First, the president told his public in a late-night address from the White House, warplanes would strike convoys of IS fighters if they threaten either American diplomats and troops stationed in Erbil or Baghdad.

Second, air strikes might be used to break an IS siege of thousands of civilians from the minority Yazidi sect, who have been trapped in mountains near the city of Sinjar without food and water, facing threats of mass slaughter from IS forces waiting below.

American transport planes dropped bundles of food and water onto the Sinjar mountains, with Kurdish...Continue reading

Girl trouble

the economistVie, 08/08/2014 - 02:37

JUSTICE Ruth Bader Ginsburg told Katie Couric last week that the Supreme Court has a “blind spot” when it comes to women’s issues. In contrast to the strides it has made in protecting the rights of gays and lesbians—overturning anti-sodomy laws a decade ago and gutting the Defence of Marriage Act last year, with more same-sex marriage litigation on the horizon—the Court has made little progress in protecting equality for women. Adam Liptak of the New York Times reports that in a recent talk, Justice Ginsburg said the court fails to recognise...Continue reading

Finishing the job

the economistJue, 07/08/2014 - 16:35

IN MARCH 1981, desperate to prove himself worthy of Jody Foster's love, John Hinckley junior tried to kill President Ronald Reagan with a handgun outside a hotel in Washington, DC. Reagan survived, but Mr Hinckley managed to shoot James Brady, then the White House press secretary, in the head, leaving him partially paralysed—and politically radicalised.

Thanks to Mr Hinckley, Mr Brady and his wife, Sarah, became staunch gun-control advocates. They founded Handgun Control Inc—an advocacy organisation now known as the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence—and spearheaded the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which established a system of federal background checks for Americans wishing to purchase firearms, which Bill Clinton signed into law in 1993. This system of background checks is the principal legacy of Mr Hinckley's irrepressible victim, James Brady, who died Monday at the age of 73.

Mr Brady's passing provides a natural occasion to examine the effects of his tireless efforts on behalf of...Continue reading

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

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