SCHOOL vouchers are a divisive subject in America. Proponents claim that vouchers not only grant parents the opportunity to send their children to a private school, but also raise the quality of all education by creating more competition between schools. Critics complain that these subsidies divert necessary resources from public schools, and rarely cover the full cost of a private education. To settle this debate, many have looked to Sweden, where vouchers were introduced in 1992. The results there have been cited as both a case for and against vouchers. So, what has been the actual effect of this Swedish...Continue reading
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PLENTY of weighty cases await the justices on October 6th when the Supreme Court opens its 2014 term (as we cover here). But no one yet knows if this is the year the court will determine whether same-sex marriage is a constitutional right.
As John Roberts begins his tenth year as Chief Justice, the court has no lack of opportunities to tackle the lightning-rod matter of gay nuptials. Three federal appeals courts have struck down same-sex marriage bans in five states over the past 15 months. The Supreme Court has received seven petitions challenging these rulings. But as we explain, the justices have thus far been mum on whether they will grant any of them.
IN APRIL a parent at East Wake High School in North Carolina was distressed to discover Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” on the school’s advanced English reading list. She submitted a complaint to Wake County, arguing that the book was inappropriate for teenagers. It includes depictions of sexual violence and child rape as well as poverty and racism. In July the review committee decided to remove “The Bluest Eye” from the school’s curriculum; it also made “The Colour Purple”, another classic novel about racial injustice in America, accessible only to students who have received parental consent. (Both novels are still available in the school’s library.)
For Banned Books Week in late September the American Library Association released a list of the top ten most challenged books of 2013. A book is challenged when a formal complaint is made to a library or school requesting the removal of “inappropriate” material. “The Bluest Eye”...Continue reading
GLOBALISATION is usually taken to be a bad thing for the environment: as more people around the world consume more goods that have travelled greater distances to their shopping baskets, pressure on resources increases and the planet suffers. Sometimes, though, globalisation has the opposite effect. The creation of the world’s largest marine reserve, done with a squiggle of Barack Obama’s pen on September 25th, is one such example.
The Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument is roughly the size of Texas, California and Florida combined. Its importance lies not just in its vastness. “It is as close to a pristine ecosystem as it is possible to get on this planet,” says Jane Lubchenko of Oregon State University. The sea mountains that lie below the surface of its waters throw up all sorts of delicious things for sharks, manta rays and turtles to feast on. Though the reserve’s distance from heavily populated land means its fish are not currently threatened by trawlers’ nets, that might not have been the case for long.
The tale of how the reserve came about involves the unlikely intersection of George W. Bush, a...Continue reading
Bob Sutton returns to talk with tompeters.com about his new book, Scaling Up Excellence: Getting to More Without Settling for Less, which he coauthored with fellow Stanford professor Huggy Rao. Filled with impressive case studies, the book describes what works as well as common pitfalls. One of our favorite ideas is characterizing two models for scaling […]
ON SUNDAY the Tigers, Detroit’s baseball team, qualified for the World Series playoffs (pictured). Fans hope this could be the Tigers’ year. Some see this as yet another sign that things are taking a turn for the better in this otherwise beleaguered, bankrupt city.
On September 25th the city council voted unanimously to transfer power for all day-to-day decisions back to the city’s elected officials—ie the city council and Mike Duggan, Detroit’s mayor. Police and fire departments are now back under mayoral control. In a promising move, the mayor and the council agreed that Kevyn Orr, the state-appointed emergency manager for the past 18 months, should stay put until a federal judge approves the city’s restructuring plan.
When Mr Orr took office, the city was on its knees. Detroit lacked the money to pay its bills, much less to cover pension liabilities or healthcare obligations for retirees. In July 2013 Mr Orr filed the biggest municipal bankruptcy in American history....Continue reading
AMONG the "manifestly silly and occasionally harmful positions" espoused by libertarians, "the idea of spontaneous order might be the silliest and most harmful of all", says Damon Linker in a much-read post at the Week.
This took me by surprise. It's true that Friedrich Hayek, whom Mr Linker shamelessly abuses, is the most prominent 20th-century intellectual behind the concept of spontaneous order—the theory that systems, such as markets, naturally correct, and function best without human meddling. It's true that Hayek is commonly lumped in with libertarians. It's true that spontaneous order is an idea libertarians tend to promote. Yet spontaneous order is not a libertarian idea. Crystals, the organisation of neurons in...Continue reading
“YEAH, go that way,” yells a frazzled cop guarding a security cordon outside Penn Station. Narendra Modi, India’s Prime Minister, is the pain-in-the-ass who is snarling traffic around Madison Square Garden, an arena normally graced by WrestleMania, the Knicks and the Rolling Stones. Inside are over 18,000 Indian-Americans, as prosperous and upstanding a diaspora as you will find from the Red Wood Forests to the Gulf Stream Waters. They are willing themselves into the kind of obedient hysteria they were meant to have left behind generations ago in the badlands of Asia, along with hunger and snakes. “Modi, Modi, Modi,” shout the massed oncologists, engineers and entrepreneurs, wearing T-Shirts bearing his face and the slogan “Unity, Action, Progress”. An Americanized Bollywood dance troupe wearing fluorescent military uniforms gyrates to Bruce Springsteen’s anthem “Born in the USA”. The cries reach a lustier pitch. “Modi, Modi, Modi!”
In the India of the last six decades, events like this were a reliable shambles of short-circuiting loudspeakers,...Continue reading
ERIC HOLDER has announced he is stepping down after six years as attorney general. Perhaps the most influential member of Barack Obama’s cabinet, Mr Holder has inflamed Republicans by advancing an agenda that is unusually progressive for the head of America’s justice department. Steve Benen of MSNBC lists the wide range of policy matters on which Mr Holder has inserted himself:
JANE AUSTEN’S characters took it for granted that men with money made more eligible mates. “A man like that is hard to find, but I can’t get him off my mind,” lamented the female vocalists of ABBA. A new study from the Pew Research Centre, a think-tank, finds that little has changed. Fully 78% of American women who have never been married say it is “very important” that their future spouse has a “steady job”. By comparison, only 46% of men mind much what their future spouse does for a living.
These ancient preferences, combined with wrenching changes in the labour market, have shaken up the marriage market. Women are much more likely to have jobs than they were half a century ago; men, somewhat less so. Women today find it easier to cope without a male breadwinner. At the same time, many find the pool of potential husbands less appealing.
In 1960 young, never-married women were spoilt for choice. For every 100 of them aged 25-34, there were 139 young, never-married men with jobs vying for their attention. In 2012 there were just 91. For some groups, the gap is much bigger. Young never-married black women outnumber young...Continue reading
I’ve already made a non-trivial update of my Annotated Master. It’s now 736 slides long—including about 200 annotation slides. Thinking about slides per se, I wrote this note—on an early slide in the presentation: The worst feedback I can get on some slide is, “That was a great quote.” Well, I think some of them […]
WITH remarkable speed, a broad American consensus has formed in support of air strikes against the Islamic State, even if that means taking the fight across the Iraqi border into Syria. Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress have offered bipartisan support to a first wave of overnight strikes in Syria. This sends a “powerful” message of unity to the world, said President Barack Obama in a brief statement on September 23rd from the White House grounds.
The consensus involves the public, too. Since last year, Americans’ willingness to see air power used in Syria has doubled, a poll for the Washington Post shows. Support for arming the Kurdish forces battling IS in Iraq rose from 45% in August to 58% in the September survey. Yet if the new mood of unity is broad, it is also shallow. Americans know that they want to do something about IS. Air strikes currently fit the bill. But there is a striking lack of agreement about what this use of force is actually for. There is no consensus about whether America is projecting power to bring greater stability to the Middle East, or whether the mission is much narrower: a...Continue reading
“IF I sponsor a bill declaring apple pie American, it might fall victim to partisan politics,” declared Barack Obama over the summer. His statement came in a speech on the border crisis, but could have been made about any number of recent issues. From the federal shutdown to gun control, stalemate is America’s political norm. Congress is more interested in playing politics than solving problems. Even discussions about congressional gridlock have come to resemble the gridlock itself, static and tired. Language, like politics, reaches an impasse.
In a recent study for the Brookings Institution, Sarah Binder seeks to place the discussion on firmer empirical ground. Her study examines America’s history of legislative dysfunction in order to contextualise the contemporary stalemate. Part of the challenge involves measuring legislative success: what’s the baseline against which to compare output? At what point does a system designed to encourage healthy...Continue reading
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my last two presentations—to an HR assemblage in Indianapolis and to an entrepreneurial gathering in Edmonton. I was moved to combine the two presentations, add a bit from hither and thither, and then go on an annotation binge. (Something I haven’t done for quite a while.) You’ll find the end result here—a […]
EVERY once in a while, often with no prompting whatsoever from Scotland, people in some area of America start talking about secession. The most famous recent instance of secession talk involved comments made by Rick Perry, the Republican governor of Texas, in 2009. Mr Perry did not actually endorse the idea of Texas seceding, but said he understood why some Texans were considering it. Texas's ultra-conservative railroad commissioner took things further in 2013, lauding the state's progress in "becoming an independent nation", which he said was important in case the rest of America falls apart. There are also active, if tiny, secessionist movements in Vermont and in the South, both of which found the Scottish...Continue reading
ACTIVISTS on warring sides of the abortion debate rarely take the same position when it comes to Supreme Court cases involving women’s rights. But pro-choicers and pro-lifers have found common cause in Young v United Parcel Service, a pregnancy discrimination case the justices will take up on December 3rd. Yet the ideological overlap, while intriguing, is no guarantee that justices will reach consensus.
Peggy Young was working part-time as the driver of a delivery truck for UPS when she became pregnant in 2006. Ms Young’s midwife, frowning on the requirement in her job description that she haul 70lb boxes, wrote a note to UPS recommending that “she not lift more than 20 pounds." On this basis, Ms Young requested a few months of a lightened load. Other UPS employees were eligible for such an accommodation, she reasoned, so she wasn’t asking for anything out of the ordinary. Workers who were injured on the job, who were disabled under the terms of the Americans With...Continue reading
GOFUNDME bills itself as a crowdfunding site where visitors can discover “Amazing Stories from Incredible People”. A swift scroll through the projects does yield some impressive stories—a special-needs teacher who got hit by a car trying to save her students; a retired pilot who is battling a debilitating illness—alongside noble efforts to raise money for these people. So perhaps it is not surprising that some visitors were taken aback by the fundraising page created for Bailey (pictured), who needed money to help pay for her abortion.
Bailey’s GoFundMe page let users know that she is 23, “unemployed, completely broke, in debt, and in no position to hold down a job due to severe symptoms of a rough, unplanned and unexpected pregnancy.” Though the page had earned a lot of nasty attention from online commenters, it also raised more than $2,100 towards its $2,500 goal—until the site’s administrators took it down earlier this month. In an...Continue reading
NO pastime unites America like the National Football League (NFL). During the 2013 autumn season, 34 of the 35 most-watched shows on television were NFL games. Though non-Americans may puzzle over the game’s allure, football offers advertisers one of the last chances to reach huge, real-time audiences. Unlike golf (whose fans tend to be old, white and well-off), or NASCAR racing (whose fanbase lies in the white South), football spans racial, class and partisan divides. It is all the more striking, then, that football finds itself mired in so many divisive debates.
On September 8th Ray Rice, a running back, was fired by the Baltimore Ravens and dropped indefinitely by the NFL after video footage emerged showing him punching his future wife unconscious in a casino lift. Mr Rice had initially received only a two-game suspension after being indicted in March for the assault (charges were suspended after he agreed to counselling). The NFL has hired a former FBI director to probe allegations that it knew of the damning footage earlier than it...Continue reading
THE economic recovery since the Great Recession has been subdued by historic standards. Typical families have born the brunt of this sluggish growth, thanks to rising inequality. But there are signs that even if things aren’t getting better for these families, they have stopped getting worse. On September 16th the Census Bureau reported that real (that is inflation-adjusted) median household income rose 0.3% in 2013 from 2012, the first increase since 2007. Poverty also fell for the first time since 2006: 14.5% of families lived below the poverty line, defined as $24,028 for a family of four, down from 15% in 2012.
The gains aren’t much. In fact, the 0.3% increase is statistically insignificant and barely begins to dig the typical family out its post-recession hole. The median income is still 8% lower than in 2007.
The report doesn’t get into why median incomes rose. There two likely causes. One is a decline in inflation thanks to falling energy prices, which helps bolster real incomes. Inflation...Continue reading
THE central branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia is an impressive building—its neoclassical facade looming over most of a block. But inside, though chandeliers still hang from the ceilings and the floors are of polished marble, there is a feeling of neglect. A musty taste hangs in the air; many of the books are rather battered. “The building opened in 1927 and we’ve really not touched it since then,” says Siobhan Reardon, the library’s president and director. “And you can tell.”
That, happily, is now changing. On September 11th Philadelphia announced it had secured a $25m grant from the William Penn foundation to update its old libraries. Yet libraries in general are struggling. Americans tell pollsters they love them, but fewer use them. In June the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), a federal agency, published data showing that library visitor numbers have declined in recent years. Polling published on September 10th by the Pew Research Center, a think tank, revealed that more people say they are going to the library less than going more, with a sharp gap among the young.
This is not...Continue reading