Archive

December 26th

Clinton cleans up in Democratic debate

    The Democrats -- Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O'Malley -- put on another spirited debate. Granted, hardly anyone was watching on a Saturday night before Christmas.

    Sanders did what he's in the contest to do: Make the case for the most liberal wing of the Democratic party. For him, it really does come down to the rich vs. the rest. His most telling moment was turning a question about domestic terrorism and ethnic profiling back to income inequality, saying, "I believe we stand together to address the real issues facing this country, not allow them to divide us by race or where we come from."

    Sanders is knowledgeable in many areas, but the reason he's not in sync with his party isn't so much specific differences on policies as it is that he seems to be saying that other concerns -- ISIS, race, immigration and so on -- aren't "real issues."

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After San Bernardino, the pendulum may swing back toward more surveillance

    Two days after the horrendous shootings in San Bernardino, California, White House press secretary Josh Earnest was asked by a reporter during his daily briefing, "Are we at the point where the administration is ready to, if not concede, become concerned about the possibility of a major intelligence failure on these individuals on the West Coast?"

    How quickly people forget. It was little more than two years ago that reporters were questioning whether intelligence collection to discover terrorists had gone too far.

    National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden had distributed highly classified documents related to the National Security Agency's collection of information related to terrorism at home and abroad, and White House press secretary Jay Carney had to deal with reporters asking such things as, "Is the government striking the right balance between privacy and security."

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December 25th

Bad genes weren't your parents' fault, until now

    We are all unwitting players in a genetic lottery. Take a gene called APOE. It comes in three flavors - APOE2, APOE3 and APOE4. All three are considered normal human genes, but people who were dealt an APOE4 face three to five times the average risk of getting Alzheimer's disease. Since we inherit a copy of the gene from each parent, a few unlucky people will be stuck with two copies of the APOE4 version and face an even higher risk.

    To put it in perspective, by age 75 about 3 percent of people get Alzheimer's. For those with double APOE4, that rises to about 30 percent.

    Now a technology called gene editing could allow us to rig the game. Geneticists say that with a particularly effective new editing tool called CRISPR, it would a relatively simple matter to change one form of the APOE gene into another. That means prospective parents could take their sperm or eggs in for editing, thereby banishing the high-risk version of the gene from their offspring.

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Incorrect Language And More

    A recent headline boldly announced that Donald Trump's xenophobic comments of banning all Muslims from this nation disqualified him as President. What do they mean? Let us shout loudly and clearly he was never qualified for President of this nation in the first place. For emphasis let us repeat: He was NEVER QUALIFIED for PRESIDENT in "any way, shape, form or fashion."

    Speculation continues about his intent in running. Did he really think he could get elected? Is he as surprised as we are that he got this far? Surely he doesn't believe all the garbage spilling out or his mouth. Does he care at all about the nation or is it pure ego?

    One writer has suggested that it was to prove to his father that he could accomplish on his own. Some of us have had some of the same wonder regarding George W. Bush: that he had to show the family he was as important as Brother JEB!, the family's anointed one. Haven't we had enough of that? Don't we wish they would just see a psychiatrist? All of them.

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Often Pandering to Bias and Ignorance

    The Texas board of education didn’t find anything wrong with a world geography textbook that said slaves from Africa were workers, but that immigrants from northern Europe were indentured servants.

    This is the same school board that five years ago demanded that textbooks emphasize that slavery was only a side issue to the cause of the civil war, and that Republican achievements be emphasized in political science and civics textbooks.

    For good measure, the officials also wanted a “fair and balanced” look at evolution versus intelligent design or creationism, and that global warming is only a theory, overlooking substantial and significant scientific evidence.

    Because Texas adopts textbooks for the entire state, and there is minimal local choice, publishers tend to publish what Texas wants. The geography book had a 100,000 sale in Texas alone. However, McGraw-Hill, under a firestorm of protest from educators and parents, is modifying the text—African slaves will no longer be “workers” but slaves in the next printing.

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Books that make sense of the presidential race

    For insight into the presidential election of 2016, I can't say I found anything exceptional among political books this year, with the exception of Jon Meacham's biography of George H.W. Bush. This was certainly true of the plethora of self-serving campaign memoirs.

    Maybe if you're into narcissism, you'll like Donald Trump's "Crippled America," and how to make it great again. Why should we be surprised at an insensitive title from a man who recently imitated a reporter with a disability?

    There is also "A Time for Truth," where Ted Cruz chronicles the left-wing conspiracies against him at Princeton and Harvard Law School. And we got the paperback edition of Hillary Clinton's State Department memoirs, "Hard Choices," in which she still made it seem as if Libya was a success.

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An immigrant isn't going to steal your pay raise

    Immigration is one of the most contentious topics in American politics. It's also a case study in how empirical economics is coming to dominate public policy debates. Instead of theories about how immigration should affect labor markets, people are turning to the evidence. And the most powerful evidence we have comes in the form of quasi- experimental studies.

    The most important and widely cited such study is a 1990 paper by economist David Card of the University of California- Berkeley. Card studied the impact of the Mariel boatlift, in which Fidel Castro suddenly sent thousands of immigrants to the United States in 1980. Most of those immigrants stayed in the Miami area.

    Standard Econ 101 theory says that a big increase in labor supply should reduce wages for local workers, especially for those who are in direct competition with immigrants. Since most of the Cubans who came in 1980 had little education, we would expect low-skilled Miamians to suffer the biggest wage drops from the labor shock. We might also expect the Mariel boatlift to raise unemployment levels, especially for less-educated Miamians.

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Five myths about gluten

    When I founded our celiac center nearly 20 years ago, writers couldn't spell "celiac," and very few people had ever heard the word "gluten." One of our primary goals has been to advance awareness of celiac disease to improve the quality of life for people with gluten-related disorders, and I've been amazed to see what has happened in 20 years. Most people have now heard of gluten, but many have a pretty poor understanding of what it is and how it fits into a healthy diet. An ancient and complex protein, gluten is a major component of wheat. It helps bread to rise and gives it a characteristic chewy texture. Similar proteins called secalin and hordein are found in barley and rye. We lump the three together as the only proteins we can't digest and call this gluten. For people with celiac disease, a lifelong disorder, these proteins wreak havoc on the small intestine. For the rest of us, it's a different story.

 

    1. Our bodies are not meant to process gluten, so no one should eat it.

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A newborn king does not want the gift of drum music. Trust me.

    Sure, "Baby It's Cold Outside" is uncomfortable on the subject of consent, "Merry Christmas/War Is Over" is saccharine and cloying, and "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" is laying the groundwork for a surveillance state.

    But for my money, the worst Christmas song of all is "Little Drummer Boy."

    The Little Drummer Boy is a bigger villain than the Grinch. The Grinch at least has some sort of heart-size condition and soul-gunk problem that he can blame for his lack of basic compassion. What excuse does the Little Drummer Boy have for his behavior? None.

    The Little Drummer Boy is just a plain old jerk. Specifically, the kind of jerk who insists on telling us about a time he showed up at a party without a gift and made everyone there miserable by playing what he thinks was a sick drum solo.

    But he cannot just tell us. Instead, he constantly interrupts his own narrative with twee drum noises so that it takes longer.

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The price of neglecting North Korea

    With so many foreign policy challenges to address - including the threat of terrorist attacks, the tenuous security situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, a revanchist Russia and an expansionist China - the Obama administration has paid only limited attention to North Korea's expanding nuclear and missile capabilities. This could prove a costly and dangerous mistake.

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