Archive

September 10th, 2016

Washing Our Hands of Toxins

    Some people love to hate government regulations. Many believe they’re just bureaucratic barriers that waste our time. But the Food and Drug Administration just passed a new regulation that’ll actually protect us, and may save you a few bucks and an unnecessary purchase at the store.

    If you’re one of the millions of Americans who buys antibacterial soaps, you’ve been, at a minimum, duped. But more importantly, you’ve been exposed to harmful chemicals.

    Antibacterial soaps sound good. After all, no one wants to imagine their hands teeming with bacteria.

    We are utterly covered in microorganisms. That idea grosses us out, and some of that bacteria can make us sick. Kill them all, we think.

    But in reality, we couldn’t survive without beneficial bacteria, some of which help protect our immune system. And antibacterial soaps are no better at preventing disease than regular soap and water.

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Trump's campaign is a house of cards

    With Labor Day now behind us, the final drive for the presidency has begun. But there seems to be a kind of pause in the race as Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton circle each other before their first nationally televised debate at Hofstra University less than three weeks away.

    In terms of key policy issues, Trump continues to parade his plan to build a great wall across our southern border and have Mexico pay for it. Clinton, meanwhile, focuses on her wide governmental experience and his total lack of it.

    Trump offers little, however, on how that wall will be built, who will build it and how he will make Mexico pay for it. In a terse tweet after a meeting with Trump in Mexico City, President Enrique Pena Nieto flatly rejected the notion that his country would shell out for it.

    Trump's guarantee that the anti-immigration wall will be built comes in the form of his customary "Believe me" assurance. Presumably his oft-touted mastery of "the art of the deal" will somehow turn around the Mexican president.

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Trump’s Tall Tax Tales

    An old saying asserts that falsehoods come in three escalating levels: Lies, damn lies, and statistics. But now there’s an even higher category of lies: a Donald Trump speech.

    Take his recent address on specific economic policies he’d push to benefit hard-hit working families, including an almost-hilarious discourse on the rank unfairness of the estate tax.

    “No family will have to pay the death tax,” he solemnly pledged, adding that “American workers have paid taxes their whole lives, and they should not be taxed again at death.”

    But workers aren’t taxed at death. The first $5.4 million of any deceased person’s estate is already exempt from this tax, meaning 99.8 percent of Americans pay absolutely zero. And the tiny percentage of families who do pay estate taxes are multimillionaires — not workers.

    Of course, Trump knows this. He’s shamefully trying to deceive real workers into thinking he stands for them, when in fact it’s his own wealth he’s protecting.

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Trump and Clinton Take Up Arms

    There’s nothing like veterans’ issues to make politicians go a little loopy.

    It’s partly guilt. Most candidates for high office are grateful to veterans for their service, and a little uneasy if they didn’t serve themselves. That second part is not true of Donald Trump, who stressed that he had made “a lot of sacrifices” for his country during his fight with the parents of a slain military hero. Pressed on the nature of said sacrifices, he mentioned something about real estate development.

    Hillary Clinton has on occasion told a story about having gone to a Marine recruiting office when she was 26 or 27, and being rejected as too old to sign up. This was when she was teaching law in Arkansas, and about to get married. She’s never explained what was on her mind.

    Some of her friends thought she might have been testing the Marines to see how they’d treat a female applicant. Maybe she had a fight with Bill and was looking for a way out. It’s a strange story, one way or the other. However, there is no sign that Clinton went away feeling she had just made a lot of sacrifices for her country.

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The Fact Check

    Here's your presidential election coverage in a nutshell:

    Last week Donald Trump delivered his big immigration speech in Phoenix, uttering this inflammatory claim: "Hillary Clinton has pledged amnesty in her first 100 days, and her plan will provide Obamacare, Social Security and Medicare for illegal immigrants, breaking the federal budget."

    Suffice it to say that every word was categorically false. Clinton hasn't proposed "amnesty." Undocumented aliens aren't eligible for Social Security, Medicare or Obamacare. Period.

    Trump's statement is not merely a falsehood, but an inflammatory, hurtful one -- convincing low-information voters that their tax money is being misused.

    Something closer to the opposite is true. Many undocumented workers pay taxes without getting benefits.

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The Black Eyes in Donald Trump’s Life

    Once upon a time, in New York City in the 1950s, a little boy didn’t like his second-grade music teacher, Charles Walker. So, the boy later boasted, he slugged Walker, giving him a black eye.

    “When that kid was 10,” Walker recalled on his death bed, “even then, he was a ——” Oops, gentle reader, time to move on hurriedly with the life story of Donald Trump.

    Young Donald took on a newspaper route to learn the value of money, but this was not “Leave It to Beaver”: On rainy days, Donald avoided getting wet by delivering papers while being squired around in the family Cadillac.

    There are now more than 20 books out about Trump, and while I can’t claim to have read them all — I am not a masochist! — I have waded through his life story so that you don’t have to. You’re welcome! As a reader service, here are highlights.

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Phyllis Schlafly's influence lives on in Donald Trump's candidacy

    Rest in peace, Phyllis Schlafly. I respected her for her leadership skills, even when she campaigned against almost all of the causes that I supported.

    I also was often bewildered by her contradictions. In that I was not alone. Schlafly, who died Monday at age 92 in her home in St. Louis, was the quintessential anti-feminist leader in the 1970s, yet she lived a life that embodied in many ways the feminist dream.

    She was a proud wife and mother but also a lawyer who built her own media empire, wrote or edited 20 books, published a monthly newsletter, wrote a syndicated newspaper column (a colleague!), produced radio commentaries, anchored a radio talk show and maintained stardom on the college lecture circuit.

    To me she was the anti-feminist feminist. She founded the Eagle Forum, a potent social conservative group, denounced feminism as promoting "power for the female left" and called "oppression by the patriarchy," among other feminist arguments, a "ridiculous idea."

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One university has a fix for the culture wars

    Last month, the University of Chicago appeared to pick sides in the latest iteration of America's culture wars. But it was really announcing just how silly those culture wars are -- and how to get past them.

    The school informed incoming students that its "commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called 'trigger warnings,' we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual 'safe spaces' where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own."

    Conservatives saw the letter as a political intervention, a courageous stand against "political correctness" -- as if the University of Chicago shared the concern of Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and others about left-wing orthodoxy on campus, in the media and political debates. But the letter's real lesson lies elsewhere. It's a political intervention that doesn't involve contemporary political issues at all.

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National parks offer opportunity to next president

    The next U.S. president will face the challenge of bringing two parties together following a polarizing election campaign and years of partisan gridlock. It will be no easy task, but small victories are possible to achieve quickly, and our national parks offer a golden opportunity for the next president and Congress to get off on the right foot.

    The National Park Service just celebrated its 100th birthday last month. Democrats and Republicans alike extolled the virtues of our parks, which are in blue and red states, rural areas and big cities. But despite strong bipartisan public support, the parks are in trouble. They face two major challenges that both parties -- and the National Park Service itself -- have failed to address for too long.

    The first is funding. In 2015, the NPS employed fewer people than it did in 2000, even though Congress created more than two dozen new national parks and monuments during that time and the number of visitors increased by 21 million. The parks also face a $12 billion backlog in repairs. As many visitors can attest, roads and other critical infrastructure are crumbling, trails need maintenance, and facilities are neglected.

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Marijuana could replace tobacco as sin-tax jackpot

    Is marijuana the new sin-tax gusher for the states? It sure looks that way.

    In November, voters in five states will decide on whether to allow recreational use of the drug, while citizens in four other states have the option of legalizing medical marijuana.

    Unlike the fierce battles of the past over decriminalization, resistance by governors, law-enforcement groups and state medical associations is down (though not entirely gone). The ability to collect mountains of new taxes could be a reason, judging from the experience of Colorado, where voters approved medical marijuana in 2000 and legalized its recreational use in 2012.

    For the fiscal year ending June 30, Colorado collected $157 million in marijuana taxes, licenses and fees, up 53 percent from a year earlier and almost four times what it has collected in alcohol excise taxes this year. Thanks to marijuana smokers, Colorado's public schools will receive $42 million, and local governments will get $10 million of the amount collected.

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