Archive

November 5th, 2015

Is It Time to Put Down the Bacon?

    By now you’ve probably heard the sobering news: Red meat may cause cancer. And bacon and other popular processed meats definitely do, the World Health Organization says.

    Does that mean we all need to quit eating processed meats — no pun intended — cold turkey?

    For nutrition-obsessed dorks like me, this pronouncement wasn’t news: Bacon’s been suspect for decades. Yet I still occasionally eat the stuff, and I have a weakness for a particular variety of overpriced salami sold at Whole Foods. (It’s great for camping trips, because it stays good outside the fridge.)

    Despite my mostly vegetarian diet, when I have bad days I head to a favorite local restaurant and order up a hot ham sandwich with melted cheese, homemade pickles, and whole grain mustard. It’s my comfort food. It always hits the spot.

    From the data, my occasional indulgences aren’t as bad as smoking the occasional cigarette. As far as cancer is concerned, it’s much less risky.

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Iran, Saudi Arabia clash inside Syria talks

    Iran and Saudi Arabia clashed repeatedly last week inside the diplomatic talks on Syria, with Iran accusing Saudis of terrorism. Their tension threatened to end the new negotiations just as they began in Vienna on Friday.

    Inside the nine-hour meeting, according to two Western officials briefed on it, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir got into a heated argument, during which Zarif blamed Saudi Arabian nationals for the 9/11 attacks. The comments startled the participants, who included Secretary of State John Kerry, and the room went quiet after Zarif's remark.

    Zarif confirmed to me that he made the remark and pointed out that he was not blaming the Saudi government for the 9/11 attacks, just Saudi nationals. Fifteen of the 19 attackers were Saudi citizens.

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Fox News's Megyn Kelly mocks Republicans' debate demands

    The front offices of major TV news outfits have been quiet in the face of a draft document from Republican campaigns outlining a number of requests - demands, even - targeted at networks that host Republican presidential debates, following a widely criticized CNBC debate last week. Among the requests: below 67 degrees on the debate stage; opening and closing statements; no "yes/no" questions without time to elaborate; preapproval of graphics and bio information to be used on the broadcast, among others.

    That last one sounds like a non-starter, considering that TV networks have, you know, editorial prerogatives and the like. Monday night on her Fox News program, host Megyn Kelly riffed through the requests-cum-demands and couldn't resist poking fun at them. "Approval of any on-screen graphics aired during the debate - yeah, that's gonna happen," said Kelly, mockingly. She returned to the outrage later: "Can you imagine having to submit our graphics for approval to the candidates? Good luck with that," she said to Fox News's Chris Stirewalt. "I can't, and we won't," responded Stirewalt.

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Facing the Robot Tsunami

    Robots make the perfect employee. They don't complain, they don't get sick, and, as of this writing, they don't have babies. When robots can do the job in today's economy, they get the job.

    When they can't, a human must suffice. You still need a human to make the perfect latte, ask security questions at the airport and, for the time being, drive a taxi.

    That hasn't stopped many employers from trying to robotize the people they can't do without. Many have built business models in which they can, in effect, dust off a human when its labor is required and ignore all its other needs.

    This is the famous gig economy. It's app-based cab services insisting that their drivers are private contractors not entitled the traditional benefits of employment. It's national chain stores calling employees to duty at a moment's notice, the heck with any schedule.

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Drugs, Greed and a Dead Boy

    Andrew Francesco was a rambunctious, athletic and joyful child, but also a handful. When he was 5 years old, a psychiatrist prescribed Ritalin. As he grew older, he disrupted classes and was given a growing number of potent antipsychotic and other medications.

    These didn’t work, so he was prescribed more. Pushed out of one school after another, Andrew grew frustrated, unhappy and sometimes alarming. His parents hid the kitchen knives. Then his mother died at 54; the family believes that the stress of raising Andrew was a factor.

    When Andrew was 15, the medications caught up with him and he suffered a rare complication from one of them, Seroquel. One Friday he was well enough to go to school; on Sunday he was brain-dead.

    That’s the story that Steven Francesco, a longtime pharmaceutical industry executive and consultant, tells in “Overmedicated and Undertreated,” his harrowing memoir of raising Andrew, his son. He makes clear that the larger problem — even from his view as an industry insider — is a sector that sometimes puts profits above public well-being.

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Congress finds a slush fund

    Americans in 2014 were 75 percent less likely to be victims of violent crime than in 1993, and 66 percent less likely to be victims of property crime. These figures, from a Justice Department survey, do not include homicide - but murder, too, is down significantly despite a recent uptick in some cities.

    So if there are fewer and fewer victims, why is the Justice Department setting aside more and more money for their exclusive benefit? Between 2000 and 2014, the Crime Victims Fund's balance grew from zero to $11.8 billion, about equal to Nicaragua's entire economic outputlast year.

    This incongruity is the subject for today's lesson in How Washington Really Works. Along the way, you'll also learn why the Republican Congress and President Obama slapped together their budget deal as they did.

    Mass incarceration is our criminal justice issue du jour. In the tough-on-crime days of 30 years ago, however, "victims' rights" was all the rage.

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Can Jeb Bush Even Spell Integrity?

    If you’re a presidential aspirant and you have to tell people you’re a person of integrity, chances are you’re not.

    Those odds get worse if you have to hire someone else to attest to your honor. How intriguing, then, that Kristy Campbell — a spokeswoman for Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign — felt moved to tell us that “Jeb’s record” is “one of integrity.”

    This testimonial from a paid flack follows the still-evolving news story that Bush immediately cashed in on his name and state government contacts after leaving the Florida governor’s office in 2007. Jeb became a richly paid legislative consultant and board member to major corporations that had received lucrative benefits from his own administration.

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Can Ben Carson really be a Barry Goldwater?

    No, the Republican presidential nomination fight this year is nothing like 1964, despite the speculationof veteran pollster Peter Hart and others. And while it's possible, it isn't especially likely the general election will wind up like 1964, either.

    Hart raised the possibility of such a connection in commenting on Ben Carson's rise in the polls (including a survey conducted by Hart's outfit) and on how enduring those gains might be. "What if the cake is baked?" he said. "This is not a status-quo electorate."

    But back in 1964 the Republican Party was a coalition of conservatives, moderates and liberals. Republicans of all ideological stripes were elected to Congress then. The conservatives opposed the foreign policy of engaging with the world through multinational treaties and organizations such as the United Nations. They opposed what would become the Great Society and, though they were nowhere near as explicitly bigoted as Democratic conservatives were on civil rights, they nevertheless opposed most civil-rights legislation.

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Big Oil Can’t Go On Like This

    Ensuring that our planet remains hospitable requires leaving about three-quarters of all oil, gas, and coal deposits underground or beneath the sea floor. And forgoing all those fossil fuels to avert a climate catastrophe means that loads of companies need to change the way they do business — or go out of business.

    So it’s a relief to see Big Oil begin to scale back. But BP, Shell, ExxonMobil, and their competitors aren’t doing that because they’re worried about the climate. They’re just scrambling to keep the industry’s relatively high dividends flowing in this era of cheap oil.

    “By the end of the year there will be about 4,000 fewer BP employees than at the start,” BP chief executive Bob Dudley said when he announced the company’s lousy performance between June and September. In addition to firing workers, the London-based company has slashed spending on new exploration and drilling to adjust to what this CEO calls a “new price environment.”

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A harsh sentence for statutory rape

    Owen Labrie behaved despicably. As a senior at St. Paul's, the elite New Hampshire prep school, he lured a 15-year-old freshman into having sex with him, as part of a repulsive tradition known as "senior salute," in which graduating boys compete to "slay" the greatest number of girls.

     And yet, I find myself unsettled over the harshness of Labrie's sentence. Not so much the year in jail -- about that I remain hopelessly conflicted -- but about his lifetime branding as a sex offender. The laws used to prosecute his actions and land him on the sex offender registry were not intended for such situations, nor does the punishment fulfill the statutes' intended purpose.

     Labrie was charged with raping the freshman, but acquitted of that crime -- correctly so, in my view. The evidence was muddled about whether the girl clearly communicated her lack of consent. She seemed flattered by attention from the soccer captain on his way to Harvard on a full scholarship, and reluctant to protest because "I didn't want to come off as an inexperienced little girl. ... I was trying to be cool."

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