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Food fight

the economistJue, 05/06/2014 - 22:08

ON THE face of things, school meals are one of a few success stories in modern American policymaking. Five years ago it was clear that children, like grownups, needed to eat less sugar, salt and fat in their diets. Given that many children consume half of their daily calories at school, these meals seemed a good place to start.

So in 2010, Congress passed the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which set higher nutritional standards for meals, based on recommendations from scientists. With the help of the School Nutrition Association (SNA), which represents "school nutrition professionals", the act demanded healthier meals in exchange for an increase in federal spending on school lunches. Now, however, the SNA has changed its tune. It says the rules are expensive and difficult to implement, and it wants temporary waivers to the rules for any school-meals programme that has been losing money for six months. The SNA adds that school canteens...Continue reading

Disruption! Disruption!Dis-Rup-Tion!New! New! New!Phew! Phew! Phew!Hold Onto Your Hat!Katy Bar the Door!

Tom PetersJue, 05/06/2014 - 18:56

I admire—and have learned from—Clay Christensen. He brought us news of a constant state of “disruption.” We now live in a state of perpetual breathlessness. Every day brings news of a new disruption. Wow! But something was nagging at the back of my mind, And I finally figured out what it is. Namely, constant disruption—at […]

The post Disruption! Disruption!
Dis-Rup-Tion!
New! New! New!
Phew! Phew! Phew!
Hold Onto Your Hat!
Katy Bar the Door!
appeared first on Tom Peters.

Claws in the dirt

the economistMié, 04/06/2014 - 19:55

WHAT would life in America be like if the Clean Air Act of 1970 had never been passed? In terms of breathing, an activity that's easy to overlook until it becomes difficult, it would probably resemble life in many of today's developing countries, where factories and cars are multiplying unhindered by environmental regulations. In Hanoi, where I lived in the mid- to late 2000s, the importance of breathing really started to make itself felt five or six years ago, and at that point a number of my friends decided to leave. By the time my wife and I left too, at the end of 2010, our then 8-year-old daughter had a persistent thick yellow slime in her throat that she would periodically cough up (it went away after about a year living in the clean air of the Netherlands). Things are even worse in large Chinese cities, where coal fumes, auto exhaust, smog and particulate matter are so coruscating that most Americans would consider raising a family there an act of child abuse. Rich people send their children to private schools with pressurised domes over the sports fields. Every well-off family owns an air purifier. Poor people cannot...Continue reading

Can the GOP woo black voters?

the economistMié, 04/06/2014 - 15:30

QUICK: what is a bigger waste of time, playing the New York Lottery or trying to persuade African Americans to vote for Republicans? Looking at the odds, you have a 1 in 14.71 chance of winning a prize in the Mega Millions drawing (no, not the jackpot, silly). Compare this to data from the 2012 presidential election, when only 5% of black voters (1 in 20) pulled the lever for Mitt Romney, and you have your answer. The lottery is the decidedly better bet.

Republicans are undeterred. Reince Preibus, chair of the Republican National Committee, is pouring time and resources into rescuing his party from its awful showing among racial minorities in recent elections. Here is a report from McKay Coppins of BuzzFeed:

After...Continue reading

Ogle like Vogel

the economistMar, 03/06/2014 - 23:53

KEN VOGEL, a reporter for Politico whose working method involves sneaking into political fundraisers and seeing how long he can mooch around before being thrown out, has a book out today. Much has been written already about the effects of Citizens United, a decision made by the Supreme Court in 2010 that unleashed a lot of electoral spending by outside groups (ie, entities not directly connected to candidates). “Big Money” is a highly entertaining account of the adventures of billionaires in politics. In Mr Vogel's hands, this obscure world seems both vivid and a little mundane, full of powerpoint presentations, hotel conference rooms and business-casual shindigs where politicians flirt with rich donors. Indeed, it would all seem rather tedious if there were not so much money involved.

Worries about the influence of rich people on democracy are as old as elections. Athenian olive oil moguls surely tried to fix the occasional ostracism. And the last few presidential cycles have provided...Continue reading

Hardly a Bond villain

the economistMar, 03/06/2014 - 19:11

IF YOU are going to be impregnated by your best friend’s husband, better if that friend isn’t a microbiologist. That is the lesson Myrlinda Haynes of Norristown, Pennsylvania learned when a vengeful Carol Anne Bond tried to injure her at least two dozen times by spreading caustic chemicals on her car door, doorknob and mailbox. In all but one of the incidents, Ms Haynes avoided harm: the bright-orange potassium dichromate and the arsenic compound were easy to spot. Her only physical suffering was a minor chemical burn on her thumb, which she treated by rinsing her hand in water.

No one doubts that Ms Bond behaved badly. But she is not the sort of threat American lawmakers had in mind when they passed the the Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act of 1998, under which Ms Bond was charged with two counts of possessing and using a chemical weapon. In Bond v United States, the Supreme Court considered whether this law “deal[ing] with crimes of deadly seriousness” extended to “a purely local crime: an amateur attempt by a jilted wife to injure her husband’s lover.”

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Ms...Continue reading

Medtronic

Tom PetersMar, 03/06/2014 - 11:00

Medtronic is a premier world-wide purveyor of medical devices and therapies. Tom’s speaking to their EMEAC FY-15 Annual Kickoff Meeting in Frankfurt today. To get the PPT from his presentation, see below. Also attached is his additional offering to this group, “Systems SECOND.” (Tom tells us that perhaps he’ll depart from his normal “pull no […]

The post Medtronic appeared first on Tom Peters.

Obama's green gamble

the economistMar, 03/06/2014 - 02:36

BARACK OBAMA'S determination to act on climate change has been clear to anyone watching the president's major speeches in recent years. In his state-of-the-union address last year, for example, Mr Obama urged Congress to pass a "market-based solution to climate change", warning that if it failed to do so he would act alone. A couple of years earlier a cap-and-trade bill had died in the Senate; by 2013 it was already clear that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives had no interest in passing new laws. Thus did Mr Obama turn to his executive toolbox.

Lurking inside was something rather useful: the Clean Air Act, signed by Richard Nixon back in 1970. Today Gina McCarthy, head of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, announced that by 2030 America's power stations must reduce their...Continue reading

The best campaign spot this year

the economistLun, 02/06/2014 - 11:47

ON JUNE 3rd Iowa holds its Senate primary elections. If a previously unknown state senator called Joni Ernst wins the Republican nomination, it will be because her campaign put out the best political ad of the year so far, propelling her to instant fame. 

"Squeal" is like a haiku (albeit about castrating hogs rather than watching the cherry blossoms fall). It crams a tonne of emotion into very few words. And it strokes Iowa voters on nearly all their sweet spots in a mere 30 seconds.

In this video, The Economist explains how a great ad works:

Continue reading

Lies, damned lies and statistics

the economistDom, 01/06/2014 - 22:04

“DO YOU know what the ‘Hunger Games’ movies are about?” Rush Limbaugh asked his listeners earlier this week. “It’s teenagers killing other teenagers!” Elliot Rodger, the disturbed 22-year-old who went on a shooting rampage last week in California, using three semiautomatic handguns  guns he bought legally, was surely no stranger to the thrilling books and Hollywood franchise. His father, Peter Rodger, worked on the films. Indeed, while “everybody on the left” is using the murders to “advance their political agenda, in this case to get rid of the Second Amendment”, who is minding Hollywood’s little shop of horrors? “Why not blame Hollywood movies here?” Mr Limbaugh sneered.

The debate over the roots of America’s gun violence is sadly predictable. A big, tragic event ensures everyone takes their places and rattles off memorised lines. On one side are the folks who complain (rather convincingly, mind) that...Continue reading

No quick fix

the economistSáb, 31/05/2014 - 07:24

ERIC SHINSEKI, a brave man who did a poor job of running a government department that was already dysfunctional, has resigned. As others have noted, replacing the boss of the Department for Veterans Affairs (VA) is unlikely to fix the place. Nor will it do much to deflect blame from the president. Republican strategists around the country are surely eager to juxtapose clips of Barack Obama campaigning on promises to fix the VA with footage of patients committing suicide over delays in treatment and poor care (all collected on a useful map by the American Legion). This would be damaging for any president. For one whose biggest domestic achievement is health-care reform, it is damning.

Voters can expect to hear a lot about the VA scandal for the next two years. Together with Benghazi and Obamacare it will form an incantation chanted by GOP candidates, a short-hand for Obama's incompetence and federal mismanagement. Some may characterise it as...Continue reading

Herein a 737-page “Freebie”:EXCELLENCE. NO EXCUSES.74 Ways to Launch Your Journey. Now. (And Then There’s Also “MOAP”)

Tom PetersVie, 30/05/2014 - 15:41

Last October I wandered across a little item on the topic of “overcoming resistance to change.” As happens in life, that phrase turned out to be the innocent trigger for a 9-month exercise which has resulted in the 100K-word, 737-page “collection” presented herewith. “Resistance to change” conjures up images of “battles” and “conflict” and “winners” […]

The post Herein a 737-page “Freebie”:
EXCELLENCE. NO EXCUSES.
74 Ways to Launch Your Journey. Now.
(And Then There’s Also “MOAP”)
appeared first on Tom Peters.

No, this is not what Obamacare will look like

the economistVie, 30/05/2014 - 00:36

AMERICA'S biggest experiment in government-run medicine has had a bad week. No, not the Affordable Care Act (ie, Obamacare), but the department of Veterans Affairs (VA). On May 28th the VA’s acting inspector-general, Richard Griffin, issued a damning report on allegations against a VA health centre in Phoenix. New patients waited an average of 115 days for their first appointment, and 1,700 veterans were not even on the centre’s official waiting list, leaving them “at risk of being forgotten”. Keeping veterans off the list was strategic, as it “significantly understated the time new patents waited for their primary care appointment... which is one of the factors considered for awards and salary increases” for the centre’s staff.

The scandal has prompted three types of responses: two of them sensible, one much less so. The first is justifiable outrage at the VA. Eric Shinseki, the head of the VA, said the actions described in the report were “reprehensible” in a defensive Continue reading

The waiting game

the economistJue, 29/05/2014 - 15:19

ON Tuesday, the Supreme Court told Florida it must reconsider whether Freddie Lee Hall, a man with an IQ in the 70s who killed a pregnant newlywed in 1978, is intellectually able enough to be executed. The justices ruled 5-4 that Florida’s rigid cutoff score of 70 on intelligence tests—with no accounting for measurement error or other evidence of impaired functioning—is incompatible with the Court’s ban on executing convicts with mental retardation. "[T]o impose the harshest of punishments on an intellectually disabled person,” Justice Anthony Kennedy (pictured) wrote in the majority opinion, “violates his or her inherent dignity as a human being."

The result in Hall v Florida was no surprise. Reporting on the oral argument in March, we wrote that “[t]he four liberal justices, along with the swing voter, Anthony Kennedy, were inclined to” reject Florida’s hard-line...Continue reading

Cutting through the nonsense

the economistMar, 27/05/2014 - 13:47

ONE of the most offensive critiques of the argument for paying reparations to African-Americans is the notion that black people are owed nothing because they are better off in America than they would be in Africa. The claim pops up all the time, and recently reared its head in our comments section in response to my colleague's post on Ta-Nehisi Coates's recent article on reparations in the Atlantic. It's an absurd response, but for moderately interesting reasons. People often employ counterfactuals when making judgments about history: would the world have been better off if the Soviet Union had remained intact? If the British Empire had not ruled India? If the atom bomb had not been dropped on Hiroshima? And so forth. Indeed, ever since David Hume, philosophers have treated counterfactuals as a key element of the very concept of causality: "A causes C"...Continue reading

Curious ambitions

the economistDom, 25/05/2014 - 18:15

CAN you be a national politician in America if you have no interest in running for the presidency? This question struck Lexington as he watched Senator Elizabeth Warren deliver a tub-thumping speech on May 22nd to a conference of trade-union organisers, leftish activists and allies in Washington, DC.

The conference was entitled “The New Populism” and Mrs Warren delivered. A former Harvard professor, expert in bankruptcy law and long-time campaigner for tougher regulation of banks, she has developed a nationwide following among the Democratic Party’s grassroots since her election to the Senate in 2012 to represent Massachusetts. YouTube videos of her roughing up bankers and other bigwigs at Senate hearings have gone viral. She recently published a book of memoirs, “A Fighting Chance”, linking her upbringing by struggling middle-class parents...Continue reading

Why the sheriff should follow the law

the economistVie, 23/05/2014 - 23:45

VIETNAM is apparently seriously considering taking its maritime territorial dispute with China to an international court, which should please the United States. American diplomats scolded China earlier this month for starting the row by deploying an oil rig in disputed waters, leading to clashes between Chinese and Vietnamese ships; the diplomats said China's behaviour "undermines peace and stability in the region". Washington doesn't take a position on the territorial dispute itself, but wants it resolved according to international law, and it considers China's aggressive claims over nearly the entire South China Sea to be baseless. Just as in the conflict in Ukraine, where Barack Obama calls Russian intervention a threat "to our very international order", and in Syria, where America yesterday voted for Continue reading

What America owes

the economistVie, 23/05/2014 - 01:10

"AN AMERICA that asks what it owes its most vulnerable citizens is improved and humane," writes the indispensable Ta-Nehisi Coates in this month's Atlantic cover story. "An America that looks away is ignoring not just the sins of the past but the sins of the present and the certain sins of the future." Mr Coates's piece is entitled "The Case for Reparations". In it he does not directly argue that America's government (and, presumably, various state governments) ought to give money to descendants of slaves. Instead, he tries to show the hollowness of believing (his words again) "that a society can spend three-and-a-half centuries attempting to cripple a man, 50 years offering half-hearted aid, and then wonder why he walks with a limp."

Mr Coates roots his piece in North Lawndale, a once-thriving, now-blighted neighbourhood on Chicago's west side. The central figure is Clyde Ross, who like many black Americans in the mid-20th century,...Continue reading

Deceptive numbers

the economistJue, 22/05/2014 - 22:06

AT THE start of this year the Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, had good news on crime and violence. The murder rate was lower than it had been for decades. 2013 saw 415 murders, 88 fewer than in 2012, according to the Chicago Police Department (CPD). Overall crime was down too.

The news was a relief. The previous year had been nasty and bloody, with a resurgence of gang warfare fuelled by a long, hot summer. Yet 2013’s figures are now coming under scrutiny. Last month Chicago Magazine reported that it knew of ten people who were “beaten, burned, suffocated or shot to death in 2013” who were not included in the official count for “at best, unclear reasons”. The article raised similar concerns over the numbers reported for other crimes. Moreover a recent audit of crime figures from Chicago's Office of the Inspector General, and a sudden rise in reports of murders this year, have driven speculation that...Continue reading

Cyberspies and mincing rascals

the economistMié, 21/05/2014 - 21:43

THE e-mails sent to workers at five companies and one trade union appeared to come from their superiors, and contained files and links that looked important. In one case a board member seemed to be circulating the agenda for a shareholders’ meeting. Once opened, the e-mails allowed their actual senders, who were sitting in a tower-block in Shanghai, to install software allowing them to peruse confidential information. Some of the e-mails contained links to domains with a curious ring, like marsbrother.com or purpledaily.com. But the in-box of the office worker can be a chaotic place, and all that was required for success was for one person at each firm to be distracted or intrigued enough to click.

On May 19th the FBI charged five members of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) with breaking 31 laws, from relatively minor counts of identity theft to economic espionage, which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years. This is the first time the government has charged employees of a foreign government with cybercrime. The accused are unlikely ever to stand trial in America. Even so, the Justice Department produced posters with mugshots...Continue reading

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