Archive

December 6th

Let techies help solve Europe's refugee crisis

    What if tech-savvy millennials could help solve the world's refugee crisis? How would they approach it?

    In modest offices on the 29th floor of a lower Manhattan high-rise, Daniel Lizio-Katzen, recently showed me a migration wizard. It's a software program that his company, Migreat, developed to help economic migrants and is now adapting to help refugees. The wizard detects the IP address of the user and then communicates in one of 12 different languages. The interface couldn't be more user-friendly: Based on answers to a list of questions, it produces a personalized migration checklist and advice, stripped of jargon, about national laws.

    This goes far beyond what governments or non-governmental organizations offer, and not just because of the multilingual platform. If you want to reach Iranian immigrants, it helps to know that they prefer to use the Viber app for mobile messaging, while Syrians tend to use WhatsApp and Russians use the St. Petersburg-based social network VK.

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December 5th

The dumbest way to fund America's infrastructure

    Writing in Fortune in January 2004, Bloomberg View columnist Justin Fox wrote that the Interstate System "was heralded as the greatest public works project ever. That it was. And it did, as promised, lead to an America that is more mobile, less plagued by regional differences, and vastly wealthier than before."

    I'm not very happy about the decrepit state of our roads, highways and bridges, especially when you consider that the cost of financing all of this is the lowest it has been in our lifetimes. It perplexes me that the nation that developed the world's first interstate highway system cannot seem to find an adequate way to finance basic maintenance, repairs and improvements.

    Today, I bring you the proverbial good news and bad news on this issue.

    The good news: Congressional negotiators have agreed on a bipartisan deal for a five-year, $300 billion transportation bill. It earmarks badly needed money for the maintenance of the deteriorating transportation infrastructure. The deal also reopens the Export-Import Bank, but let's save that bit of congressional stupidity for another column.

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In his 12th national address, Putin looks homeward

    Russian President Vladimir Putin's 12th state of the nation address Thursday showed that he understands the need to refocus on domestic issues after two years of grandiose and traumatic external expansion. It also showed that he still has no idea what to do to pull Russia out of its economic quagmire.

    Last year's annual address was heavy on biting remarks about Ukraine's attempts to leave the Russian sphere of influence, revisionist history to justify Russia's annexation of Crimea and sarcastic anti-Western rhetoric. This time around, Putin cut his mentions of foreign policy in half. Ukraine was not mentioned once. Criticism of the U.S. was limited to a couple of contemptuous sentences about its role in the Middle East. Even Turkey, the latest enemy of the many Putin has made since his return to the presidency in 2012, got just three minutes of Putin's time, out of a total of exactly an hour.

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How Clinton can shake Wall Street

    Hillary Clinton comes under lots of attacks. Most of the charges leveled at the former secretary of state range from the far-fetched (her alleged complicity in the Benghazi tragedy, for instance) to the hard-to-discern-what-the-issue-is (her "damn e-mails").

    However, the one line of attack that is substantial, and that she's had the most trouble dispelling, is her closeness to Wall Street. Many of the economic policies of her husband's presidency - the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, the refusal to regulate derivatives - were formulated by top aides who'd spent their lives on Wall Street, who were instrumental in the explosive growth of the financial sector and who were trusted consiglieres to both Bill and Hillary.

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Drugmakers Add Insult to Injury

    It's one thing for Pfizer to renounce its U.S. citizenship, moving its official residence to Dublin, Ireland, as a tax dodge -- all the while continuing to run the business in the United States. That disgusting tactic happens to be disgustingly legal, thanks to our indolent Congress and its failure to fix the corporate tax laws.

    It's quite another to insult the public with blatant phoniness that avoiding billions in U.S. taxes gives the company "the strength to research, discover and deliver more medicines and therapies to more people around the world." Those are the words of Pfizer's chief executive, Ian Read, an accountant by training.

    The Pfizer deal involves a merger with a much smaller Allergan, an Ireland-based company that happens to do its business in New Jersey. Wall Street analysts scoffed at the notion that the deal had any purpose other than to let the company avoid billions in U.S. taxes -- billions that other American taxpayers will have to replace.

    Since Read took the helm in 2010, Pfizer has slashed its research and development budget.

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Capitalism can survive cutting back on carbon

    It has been a source of enormous pleasure for me during the past five years to see the solar power skeptics proven wrong. Back in 2010, I almost never saw articles about solar's potential to replace fossil fuels as our primary energy source. Then, in early 2011, futurist Ramez Naam posted one of the most important articles in recent history. The post, titled "Smaller, cheaper, faster: Does Moore's law apply to solar cells?", demonstrated how solar power prices had been declining exponentially at a steady clip for decades.

    Naam quickly brought media attention to the solar revolution, and the floodgates opened. Suddenly, everyone -- including me -- was writing starry-eyed pieces about how solar would not only save us from Peak Coal and usher in an era of energy abundance, but might even save us from global warming in the bargain.

    But many skeptics remained. In November 2011, economics blogger Tyler Cowen wrote: "Is there any reason, based in industry-wide market prices, to be optimistic about the near-term or even medium-term future of solar power? I don't see it."

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When It Comes To Race, No One Is Inferior -- Or Superior

    From sea to shining sea, college students seem determined to make us argue about race to the exclusion of all else. So here's something I learned in college: Virtually every ugly stereotype applied to African-Americans by white racists was applied to my Irish-Catholic ancestors as well. Their English oppressors caricatured Irish peasants as shiftless, drunken, sexually promiscuous, donkey-strong but mentally deficient.

    The Celtic race was good at singing, dancing, lifting heavy objects and prizefighting. Red-haired women were thought sexually insatiable. We Celts also had an appalling odor.

    Little historical imagination is required to grasp why slave owners needed to call their victims subhuman. Yes, I said slaves. During the 17th century, many thousands of native Irish were transported to the Caribbean and North America and sold into indentured servitude. During the Potato Famine of the 1840s, England sent soldiers to guard ships exporting food crops from Irish farms while the native population starved or emigrated.

    Feeding them, it was believed, would compromise their work ethic.

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Unreality TV: 'The Donald' meets 'the blacks'

    Awk-ward. Shortly after Donald Trump's presidential campaign team announced that he would be endorsed by a group of 100 black pastors, several pastors vigorously protested that they were not endorsing Trump after all.

    Team Trump scaled back their plans over the Thanksgiving weekend. The billionaire Republican candidate would have only a closed-door meeting with dozens of pastors for two hours Monday at Trump Tower in Manhattan.

    Welcome to another episode of the unfolding reality TV show that Trump calls a presidential campaign. I call this episode "The Donald and the Blacks," in honor of his often-repeated declaration: "I have a great relationship with the blacks. I've always had a great relationship with the blacks."

    And that's not all. "I have a great relationship with the Mexican people," he told NBC News after causing an international uproar over his characterization of illegal immigrants from Mexico as criminals, rapists and drug dealers. "I love them, they love me."

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The moral blame for Colorado Springs shootings

    Inflammatory rhetoric inflames. Words -- extreme language and overheated representations -- have consequences. The killer bears the ultimate responsibility for the carnage in Colorado Springs. But if initial reports of alleged gunman Robert Lewis Dear's comments about "no more baby parts" prove true -- and logic suggests that it was no coincidence the attack was at a Planned Parenthood clinic -- Republican politicians who fueled the overwrought and unsupported controversy over selling baby parts bear some measure of responsibility.

    That is a harsh accusation, so let me explain why I believe it is fair to lodge.

    The debate over abortion rights is unavoidably emotional. For those who believe that abortion is the taking of a human life, the fact of millions of abortions performed in the United States since the decision in Roe v. Wade is inevitably going to generate alarm and horror, with talk about bloodbaths and Holocaust comparisons.

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The Fishy Science Behind Mutant Salmon

    Americans have been eating genetically modified corn, soybeans, and other crops for nearly two decades. But thanks to the Food and Drug Administration, now you might find a salmon with genes spliced from two other fish species on your plate.

    It’s the first time the FDA has ever approved the sale of a genetically modified animal.

    Scientists created this creature by inserting genes from one species of salmon and an eel-like fish called an ocean pout into the DNA of an Atlantic salmon. The goal was to produce a salmon that grows faster, to make farming the fish more efficient.

    But they weren’t done after injecting the extra genes.

    After adding the foreign genes to salmon eggs, they fertilized the eggs with the irradiated sperm of yet another fish species, the Arctic char. Then they pressure-treated the fertilized eggs, ultimately creating fish with two sets of chromosomes from their salmon mothers and none from their Arctic char fathers.

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