Archive

April 3rd, 2016

Don't save British steel, help its workers retool

    With the announcement that Tata is looking to sell its British plant in Port Talbot, South Wales (a decision which also affects its plants in three other British cities) the great rebalancing project for the British economy looks in danger. The temptation will be to find some way to rescue the steel plants in the name of the broader goal; but that would be a mistake.

    Since the financial crisis, the British government has been hoping to see some of Britain's output move from finance to manufacturing, from the prosperous south of the country to the ailing industrial north, from consumption to investment and from imports to exports. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne noted back in 2014 that "the recovery is not yet secure and our economy is still too unbalanced." Britain, he argued, was not investing enough and not exporting enough. "We can't be passive observers of the forecasts. We need to roll up our sleeves, get to work and make it happen."

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Colleges have become hypersensitive to racial prejudice. Why not anti-Semitism?

    It has seemed to me that a vast double standard regarding what constitutes prejudice exists on American college campuses. There is hypersensitivity to prejudice against most minority groups but what might be called hyper-insensitivity to anti-Semitism.

    At Bowdoin College, holding parties with sombreros and tequila is deemed to be an act of prejudice against Mexicans. At Emory, the chalking of an endorsement of the likely Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, on a sidewalk is deemed to require a review of security tapes. The existence of a college named after a widely admired former U.S. president has been condemned at Princeton, under the duress of a student occupation. At Yale, Halloween costumes are the subject of administrative edict. The dean of Harvard Law School has acknowledged that hers is a racist institution, while the freshman dean at Harvard College has used dinner place mats to propagandize the student body on aspects of diversity. Professors acquiesce as students insist that they not be exposed to views on issues, such as abortion, that make them uncomfortable.

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What’s ‘Processed’ Food?

    If you’ve read any nutritional advice lately, you’ve probably encountered one hard-and-fast rule: Avoid processed foods.

    But what does “processed” mean?

    On one level, anything humans do to food — slicing fruit, cooking beans, fermenting cabbage into sauerkraut — constitutes processing. It’s obviously silly to say that an apple eaten whole is healthy, while the same apple sliced isn’t.

    And even if you can call the ingredients “processed,” there’s nothing unhealthy about a good, crusty sourdough bread made with whole wheat flour or cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil. Why should a diet forbid them?

    Another school of thought says that if cooking and chopping are benign and even healthful, then any other form of processing is good, too. But what rational person would say that a roasted chicken is nutritionally equivalent to a Chicken McNugget?

    Here’s what you really need to avoid: ultra-processed fare. Ultra-processed foods are made with ingredients not normally found in a household kitchen, such as artificial flavors, colors, and emulsifiers.

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What an open convention could cost Republicans

    Over the last 30 years, every national party convention has been a fully scripted, multiday advertisement for the presidential ticket, which was determined weeks or even months before the delegates gathered.

    This time could be different, at least for the Republicans, who could have a real fight on their hands if neither Donald Trump nor Ted Cruz has 1,237 bound and loyal delegates before the convention begins in Cleveland on July 18. In that case, there will be an "open" or "contested" convention, in which the delegates will have to select the nominee -- perhaps after extended fights over the rules, the platform and even which delegates were legitimately elected in some states.

    Ed Kilgore, who knows the nuts and bolts of the infomercial-style national party conventions of the past, has a terrific piece detailing the mechanics of an actual deliberative, decision-making party convention.

    Or, to put it another way: Imagine hours of second-tier Republican politicians speaking unvetted on national television about whatever they want. What could go wrong?

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Trump and Abortion

    Just when you thought Donald Trump couldn’t say anything more shocking, he suggested that women who get abortions should be punished.

    On MSNBC, he said abortion must be banned and then “there has to be some form of punishment” for women who manage to get abortions.

    He declined to say what the punishment should be, dodging a question about whether it should be “10 years” in prison or something milder. But his comment raised the possibility of following the lead of countries like El Salvador, where women can be dragged off from a hospital to prison for getting an abortion. Indeed, rights groups say that women were wrongly imprisoned in El Salvador simply for having miscarriages.

    Trump doesn’t seem to have thought deeply about the issue — what a surprise! — and he departed from the mainstream anti-abortion position of targeting not women but abortion providers. As one person said on Twitter: “He’s a walking cartoon parody of every leftist accusation against Republicans.”

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The next steps in nuclear security

    Of all the threats to global security and peace, the most dangerous is the proliferation and potential use of nuclear weapons. That's why, seven years ago in Prague, I committed the United States to stopping the spread of nuclear weapons and to seeking a world without them. This vision builds on the policies of presidents before me, Democrat and Republican, including Ronald Reagan, who said "we seek the total elimination one day of nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth."

    Thursday in Washington, I'll welcome more than 50 world leaders to our fourth Nuclear Security Summit to advance a central pillar of our Prague Agenda: preventing terrorists from obtaining and using a nuclear weapon. We'll review our progress, such as successfully ridding more than a dozen countries of highly enriched uranium and plutonium. Nations, including the United States, will make new commitments, and we'll continue strengthening the international treaties and institutions that underpin nuclear security.

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April 2nd

Belgian Awful

    The ISIS supporters who attacked Brussels killed more than 30 people and injured hundreds more. Bombings at the city’s airport and a subway station blew up the notion that measures taken after the Paris siege were keeping Europe safe.

    The scariest part of this story is something that hasn’t happened yet and hopefully never will: an act of nuclear terrorism.

    World leaders and the experts who track the whereabouts of fissile material should see Belgium’s ordeal as a wakeup call. Nuclear reactors — as the Fukushima disaster proved five years ago in Japan — aren’t worth the risks they pose based on operational safety considerations alone. But security questions also render them unacceptably perilous.

    Consider this news out of Europe that you may have missed.

    Didier Prospero, a security guard at a Belgian reactor, was murdered in his own home two days after the March attacks. The killers shot the slain man’s dog too. After Prospero’s children found his body, authorities determined that his security pass was missing.

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Obama Outclasses Trump And Cruz

    An old friend recently told me about a remarkable conversation she'd had with her mother, who is 95. A white resident of the Deep South from birth, she'd shown a lifelong indifference, if not aversion, to politics. Her daughter describes her racial attitudes as being characteristic of her generation -- never a hater, but also no dissenter from how things used to be.

    And yet she found herself in front of the TV watching Barack and Michelle Obama disembarking from Air Force One in Havana last week with tears streaming down her face. He's such a great man, she told her daughter, and he tries so hard to do the right thing for the country.

    And Michelle. Has any first lady ever exhibited more grace and class?

    Why can't more people see that? She'd asked her somewhat astonished daughter, who said that she personally wished Obama could run for another term -- even if the president himself clearly does not.

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NBA: The National Billboard Association?

    Billboards must be living creatures, for they appear to propagate like breeding rabbits.

    They spread everywhere, growing to enormous sizes while shouting corporate messages at us. Some even watch and track us with their digital eyes.

    Now, though, rather than billboards becoming human, we humans are becoming billboards. Literally.

    For the love of money, the National Basketball Association is transforming its chief human asset — basketball players — into advertising placards that run, dribble, leap, twist, and dunk.

    While individual golfers and racecar drivers have long splattered themselves with their sponsors’ logos, NBA teams are now planning to become the first major U.S. sports crews to sell ad space on their players’ game-day jerseys.

    Chintzy? Well, yes — but not cheap. Team owners expect brand-name corporations to pay $10 million or more to have their logo plastered on the chests of basketball stars.

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Fixing our schools: An essential combination of education and infrastructure policy

    We can argue all day about the role of government in our economy, but there are two areas where that role is widely agreed to be essential: education and public infrastructure. Well, there's a great way to roll those roles together: a deep investment in the quality of our public school facilities.

    Here are some facts to get you thinking about the scope of the problem, from a careful and timely new study by three groups that brought some heavy analytic firepower to this question of the state of our schools:

    -- Every school day, 50 million students and 6 million adults (mostly teachers) meet at the 100,000 K-12 public schools nationwide. These buildings, along with supporting areas, such as bus lots and storage areas, comprise 7.5 billion square feet, the equivalent of half the total commercial space in the country. After highways, this is the biggest piece of our public infrastructure.

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