Archive

May 21st, 2016

How the world feels about LGBT people

    One of the major human rights stories of the past decade in the United States has been the astonishing progress toward equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. The advance of marriage equality across the states before the Supreme Court made it the law of the land; the narratives of bullying and suicide that aroused public sympathy; and the swift rise in the visibility of transgender people have been tremendously gratifying and exciting to witness.

    But while the United States can be awfully myopic, it's impossible to ignore that this progress hasn't been global. Sexual minorities in Uganda have been attacked with greater frequency since the country passed a law creating a new range of offenses related to sexual orientation, pairing them with correspondingly harsh penalties. Russia criminalized so-called "gay propaganda" as part of widespread government efforts to clamp down on free speech supposedly in defense of traditional Russian culture. And earlier this year, two gay rights activists were killed in Bangladesh.

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Hedge fund bosses make too much? Get used to it

    Hedge funds are back in the headlines, thanks mainly to the release of Institutional Investor's Alpha magazine annual report on the earnings of top hedge fund owners and managers. The Hedge Fund Rich List includes such well-known luminaries as Citadel's Ken Griffin, Bridgewater's Ray Dalio and Renaissance Technologies' Jim Simons. Together, the top 25 are reported to have taken home about $13 billion last year.

    As AQR Capital Management chief Cliff Asness points out, this list isn't a good guide to the fortunes of hedge-fund managers in general, because it selects only the top earners. Since hedge fund returns can vary a lot, and since performance fees are a substantial piece of hedge fund owners' earnings, there will always be some names to fill out an eye-popping Top 10 list.

    But what the list clearly does show is that hedge-fund moguls' earnings are often divorced from the performance of their funds. Kevin Drum of Mother Jones alerted me to a particularly striking example:

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Grappling with science that makes us squirm

    Science has a way of making people uncomfortable. Sometimes that's because it seems likely to produce agents of harm; think of nuclear weapons research. Sometimes, though, for reasons less obvious, it just feels weird.

    That's what happened nearly 20 years ago when scientists cloned a sheep named Dolly, and again last week when word got out that a group of biologists held a closed meeting at Harvard to talk about using laboratory chemicals to create a complete set of human DNA - a human genome. Both ideas freaked people out because they called into question the imagined boundaries between the living and the non-living, the natural and the artificial.

    Critics questioned what should be done with a set of artificial human DNA, and even broached the notion that someone might try to recreate Einstein. Similar concerns came up after Dolly.

    The ethical issues surrounding synthetic human DNA are similar to those raised by cloning. The cloned sheep wasn't made of artificial parts but violated what many people were taught about the facts of life, since it came from an udder cell instead of the union of egg and sperm.

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Dumping patients because they haven't seen the doctor enough

    As the mother of three children under age 6, I don't always make my health a priority. It's been years since I saw a doctor for anything other than pregnancy, my crow's feet have multiplied due to my squinting to see the TV in the evenings, and I've canceled my dental appointment at least three times this year. But I always assumed that my doctors would be there for me if I ever needed them. However, I recently stumbled upon an unadvertised policy among some health-care clinics that requires patients to be seen by their primary-care doctor at least once a year in order to remain under their care.

    I was informed by my doctor that since I had not visited his office in the past year, he could not make an appointment to see me for any health concerns until I re-established myself as his patient, a process that would take at least six months because of overbooking. I had been a patient of this clinic for nearly five years and had never been informed of this condition, but they insisted that it was their policy. I phoned the only other clinic in my town and received the same response: It would be several months before I could be seen by any doctor.

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May 20th

Donald, Save Your Golf Greens, and the Planet

    MEMO TO: DONALD TRUMP

    FROM: TOM FRIEDMAN

    SUBJECT: GOLF COURSES 

    Dear Donald,

    It’s been a while since we talked on the practice tee at Doral. (Nice course you built.) I am only going to do this once, but I am going to offer you some free advice — and it’s about all the things you love most: yourself, your kids, winning, money and golf. Have I got a deal for you ...

    You see, Donald, I was looking at all the golf courses you own. Some of them are real gems, like Doral, Turnberry, Doonbeg, Palm Beach, Aberdeenshire. But you know what else I noticed? How many of them are on or near coastlines. And do you know what’s going to happen to those golf courses, Donald, if the climate scientists are even half right? They’re going to go from oceanfront property to ocean-floor property. Because ice melt and sea level rise are going to threaten all of them. Here’s a July 21, 2015, story from Weather.com:

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Clinton plans to use Iran playbook on N. Korea

    One of Hillary Clinton's top priorities as president would be to use sanctions to pressure North Korea to negotiate limits on its nuclear program, according to Clinton's top foreign policy adviser. The strategy would mimic the Obama administration's approach to Iran.

    Jake Sullivan, the head of the Clinton campaign's foreign policy advisory team, was one of two officials who began secret negotiations with Iran in 2012 that eventually resulted in the nuclear agreement that Iran struck last summer with six world powers. He told an audience Monday evening at the Asia Society in New York that Clinton is planning a similar strategy to deal with North Korea's nuclear program.

    "This is a paramount security challenge of the United States. It will have to be right at the top of the agenda for the next president to deal with," he said. "It's hard for me to underscore how important it is that we place urgency behind this."

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‘Bathroom Bills’ Don’t Help Women at All

    The time has come for me to play my Woman Card.

    A male Republican politician in my state of Wisconsin has introduced a “bathroom bill” like the one passed in North Carolina, which requires transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender they were assigned at birth.

    He says it’s to “protect women and children.”

    Oh, knight in shining armor, thank you for trying to protect me and my fellow women. But I fear you misunderstand the real issues women have in restrooms.

    Here are a few laws you might propose instead to help us out:

    - Ban men from leaving the toilet seat up, so we don’t fall in.

- Mandate that public restrooms never run out of toilet paper, so we’re not left stranded in stalls, fishing through our purses on the off chance we’ll find some tissues.

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A No-Trump Column

    What do Genghis Kahn, William the Conqueror, and Geronimo all have in common? Mighty warriors, they died not in battle, but by falling off horses. The list of historical notables who got killed on horseback includes kings, queens, prime ministers, Pope Urban VI and Emperor Theodosius of Rome.

    I've long insisted that my plan was to die in a fall from a horse at age 88 -- suitably remote as to make it a joke. A smug, stupid joke. I've also argued -- as friends' broken shoulders and fractured pelvises accumulated -- that riding bicycles in traffic is a damn fool thing for mature citizens to do.

    Challenged, I'd say I never rode horses in traffic or on pavement. One virtue of our Arkansas farm is that it's river bottomland. There's not a rock on the place. Besides, I hadn't been dumped in 15 years.

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Where Republican Dreams Die?

    Ohio and Florida. Florida and Ohio. What a pair of election-year divas, always preening for the pundits. Enough. There are other comely swing states on the stage.

    Let’s gawk at North Carolina.

    If Donald Trump drags down Republicans across the board, this is one of the places where they’ll flail. Its Republican governor, nearing the end of a tumultuous first term, is in trouble. One of the state’s two Republican senators is facing a tougher re-election battle than was predicted just months ago. Democrats are circling. Make that drooling.

    Although purple, North Carolina turned deceptively red over the last few years, and Republican lawmakers have behaved with a potentially suicidal swagger. In the process they’ve managed to enrage corporate America, exposing a newly profound tension in the GOP between its business-minded wing and the religious right.

    Some of the most interesting crosswinds of American politics blow through this state.

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U.S. rig numbers say growth can't keep on truckin'

    A couple of months ago, I looked through the data on goods being shipped across the world's oceans and reached the conclusion that the various indexes were signaling bad news for the global economy. A reader suggested taking a similar look at what's happening on the highways of North America, particularly with regard to demand for trucks used to haul goods around the country. The numbers suggest hauliers in the world's biggest economy aren't exactly bursting with optimism about the outlook.

    The website truckinginfo.com says U.S. fleet operators have "no additional need for capacity, and that "the market may not have bottomed out yet as activity is expected to remain soft during the slower summer order season."

    Orders for Class 8 trucks -- vehicles with gross weight ratings exceeding 33,000 pounds (15,000 kilograms) -- slumped to their lowest level in six years in April, after dropping 16 percent in the month and by 39 percent in the past year. Operators ordered just 13,500 new vehicles last month, down from a peak of almost 46,000 in October 2014.

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