Tag Archives: America

Great-power politics – The new game

A CONTINENT separates the blood-soaked battlefields of Syria from the reefs and shoals that litter the South China Sea. In their different ways, however, both places are witnessing the most significant shift in great-power relations since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In Syria, for the first time since the cold war, Russia has deployed its forces far from home to quell a revolution and support a client regime. In the waters between Vietnam and the Philippines,

America will soon signal that it does not recognise China’s territorial claims over a host of outcrops and reefs by exercising its right to sail within the 12-mile maritime limit that a sovereign state controls.

For the past 25 years America has utterly dominated great-power politics. Increasingly, it lives in a contested world. The new game with Russia and China that is unfolding in Syria and the South China Sea is a taste of the struggle ahead.

Facts on the ground

As ever, that struggle is being fought partly in terms of raw power. Vladimir Putin has intervened in Syria to tamp down jihadism and to bolster his own standing at home. But he also means to show that, unlike America, Russia can be trusted to get things done in the Middle East and win friends by, for example, offering Iraq an alternative to the United States (see article).

Lest anyone presume with John McCain, an American senator, that Russia is just “a gas station masquerading as a country”, Mr Putin intends to prove that Russia possesses resolve, as well as crack troops and cruise missiles.

The struggle is also over legitimacy. Mr Putin wants to discredit America’s stewardship of the international order. America argues that popular discontent and the Syrian regime’s abuses of human rights disqualify the president, Bashar al-Assad, from power. Mr Putin wants to play down human rights, which he sees as a licence for the West to interfere in sovereign countries—including, if he ever had to impose a brutal crackdown, in Russia itself.

Power and legitimacy are no less at play in the South China Sea, a thoroughfare for much of the world’s seaborne trade. Many of its islands, reefs and sandbanks are subject to overlapping claims. Yet China insists that its case should prevail, and is imposing its own claim by using landfill and by putting down airstrips and garrisons.

This is partly an assertion of rapidly growing naval might: China is creating islands because it can. Occupying them fits into its strategy of dominating the seas well beyond its coast. Twenty years ago American warships sailed there with impunity; today they find themselves in potentially hostile waters (see article).

But a principle is at stake, too. America does not take a view on who owns the islands, but it does insist that China should establish its claims through negotiation or international arbitration. China is asserting that in its region, for the island disputes as in other things, it now sets the rules.

Nobody should wonder that America’s pre-eminence is being contested. After the Soviet collapse the absolute global supremacy of the United States sometimes began to seem normal. In fact, its dominance reached such heights only because Russia was reeling and China was still emerging from the chaos and depredations that had so diminished it in the 20th century.

Even today, America remains the only country able to project power right across the globe. (As we have recently argued, its sway over the financial system is still growing.)

There is nevertheless reason to worry. The reassertion of Russian power spells trouble. It has already led to the annexation of Crimea and the invasion of eastern Ukraine—both breaches of the very same international law that Mr Putin says he upholds in Syria (seearticle).

Barack Obama, America’s president, takes comfort from Russia’s weak economy and the emigration of some of its best people. But a declining nuclear-armed former superpower can cause a lot of harm.

Relations between China and America are more important—and even harder to manage. For the sake of peace and prosperity, the two must be able to work together.

And yet their dealings are inevitably plagued by rivalry and mistrust. Because every transaction risks becoming a test of which one calls the shots, antagonism is never far below the surface.

American foreign policy has not yet adjusted to this contested world. For the past three presidents, policy has chiefly involved the export of American values—although, to the countries on the receiving end, that sometimes felt like an imposition.

The idea was that countries would inevitably gravitate towards democracy, markets and human rights. Optimists thought that even China was heading in that direction.

Still worth it

That notion has suffered, first in Iraq and Afghanistan and now the wider Middle East. Liberation has not brought stability. Democracy has not taken root.

Mr Obama has seemed to conclude that America should pull back. In Libya he led from behind; in Syria he has held off. As a result, he has ceded Russia the initiative in the Middle East for the first time since the 1970s.

All those, like this newspaper, who still see democracy and markets as the route to peace and prosperity hope that America will be more willing to lead.

Mr Obama’s wish that other countries should share responsibility for the system of international law and human rights will work only if his country sets the agenda and takes the initiative—as it did with Iran’s nuclear programme. The new game will involve tough diplomacy and the occasional judicious application of force.

America still has resources other powers lack. Foremost is its web of alliances, including NATO. Whereas Mr Obama sometimes behaves as if alliances are transactional, they need solid foundations. America’s military power is unmatched, but it is hindered by pork-barrel politics and automatic cuts mandated by Congress.

These spring from the biggest brake on American leadership: dysfunctional politics in Washington. That is not just a poor advertisement for democracy; it also stymies America’s interest. In the new game it is something that the United States—and the world—can ill afford.

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Understanding the racial bias you didn’t know you had

Barack Obama has been confused with a valet.  Teachers have lower expectations for black and Hispanic students. Jurors are more likely to see darker-skinned defendants as guilty.

Sure, you could throw all of these things under the broad category of racism. But some of these disparities are often perpetuated by people who insist that they believe with all their hearts in racial equality.

IT SEEPS INTO JUST ABOUT EVERY ASPECT OF LIFE

There’s a term for what’s happening when, despite our best intentions and without our awareness, racial stereotypes and assumptions creep into our minds and affect our actions:  implicit racial bias.

It seeps into just about every aspect of life, including areas like criminal justice that can have deadly consequences. Thirty years of neurology and cognitive psychology studies show that it influences the way we see and treat others, even when we’re absolutely determined to be, and believe we are being, fair and objective.

That’s why implicit racial bias has been called “the new diversity paradigm — one that recognizes the role that bias plays in the day-to-day functioning of all human beings.”

Here’s what you need to know about how it works.

What is implicit bias?

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The first step in understanding how implicit racial bias works is to understand the general concept of implicit bias, which can shape the way we think about lots of different qualities: age, gender, nationality, even height.

You can think of it generally as  “thoughts about people you didn’t know you had.”

Two of the leading scholars in the field, Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald, capture it well in the title of a book they wrote about the concept. It’s called “Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People

YOU CAN THINK OF IT GENERALLY AS  “THOUGHTS ABOUT PEOPLE YOU DIDN’T KNOW YOU HAD”

What do these “blind spots” look like, and how do they shape behavior?  Well, if you have a stereotype about Asian people that labels them as “foreign,” implicit bias means you might have trouble associating even Asian-American people with speaking fluent English or being American citizens. If you’ve picked up on cultural cues that women are homemakers, it means you might have a harder time connecting women to powerful roles in business despite your conscious belief in gender equality.

The effects aren’t always negative: if you have a positive attitude about your alma mater, implicit bias could mean you feel more at ease around someone who you know also graduated from there than you do around people who went to other schools.

But there are a couple of things make implicit bias especially fascinating and potentially insidious:

First, since our thoughts often determine our actions, implicit bias can lead to discriminatory behaviors (more on those below). Second, it is impossible to detect without taking a test. In other words, you can’t sit down and do introspection about your biases, and you can’t just decide not to let them affect your attitudes and actions. Implicit bias lives deep in your subconscious, and it is largely separate from the biases you know you have.

How does implicit racial bias affect the way we think about race?

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Implicit bias comes from the messages, attitudes, and stereotypes we pick up from the world we live in, and research over time and from different countries shows that it tends to line up with general social hierarchies.

Studies have shown that people have implicit biases that favor Germans over Turks (in Germany), Japanese over Koreans (in Japan), men over women (when it comes to career-related stereotypes), youth over elderly, and straight people over gay people.

So, it’s no surprise race is a prime area for implicit bias, and if you live in America, you can probably make an educated guess about some of the ways it tends to play out: among other things, there’s a widespread preference for light skinned over dark skinned and white over black.

How is this related to regular old racism?

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Implicit racial bias tends to work against the same groups that are the victims of the type of overt racism that you hear from white supremacists or the more subtle bigotry of people who believe that racial minorities suffer from cultural pathology or who actively defend racial and ethnic stereotypes.

But it can also affect the minds of people who would say — honestly — that they are horrified by these types of attitudes. That’s because the implicit associations we hold often don’t align with our declared beliefs.

THE IMPLICIT ASSOCIATIONS WE HOLD OFTEN DON’T ALIGN WITH OUR DECLARED BELIEFS

As Cynthia Lee, a professor at the George Washington University School of Law, has explained, “the social science research demonstrates that one does not have to be a racist with a capital R, or one who intentionally discriminates on the basis of race, to harbor implicit racial biases.”

In all areas touched by implicit bias, including race, we tend to hold biases that favor the group that we belong to (what researchers call our “ingroup”). But research has shown that we can also hold implicit biases against our ingroup. So yes, white Americans generally have implicit biases against other races, but racial minorities can hold implicit biases against themselves, too. These results are rarely reflective of conscious attitudes.

How do you figure out whether you have implicit racial bias?

To evaluate implicit bias, scientists mostly use tests that measure reaction time and rely on the idea that if we closely associate two concepts in our minds, they’ll be easy for us to sort together. And if we don’t associate them, they’ll be harder, and take more time, to sort together.

The most popular of these tests is the Implicit Association Test, or IAT. Anthony Greenwald and his colleagues invented it in the mid-1990s. An organization called Project Implicit, maintained by Greenwald, Mahzarin Banjai, and Brian Nosek, allows people to take it online. The test is basically a video game that you play on a computer, the object of which is to sort categories of pictures and words.

An image from an implicit bias test at Project Implicit

An image from an implicit-bias test at Project Implicit

Here’s an example of how it measures implicit racial bias: in the black-white race attitude test, test takers are asked to sort pictures of white and black people’s faces, and positive and negative words, by pressing one of two keys on the keyboard. It turns out that most people are able to do this more quickly when the white faces and positive words are assigned to the same key (black faces and negative words are assigned to the other key), compared with when white faces and negative words are assigned to the same key (and black faces and positive words are assigned to the other key). The difference in the time it takes a user to respond in different situations is the measure of implicit bias. Try a test yourself at Project Implicit.

“[M]Y HANDS WERE LITERALLY FROZEN WHEN I HAD TO ASSOCIATE BLACK WITH GOOD”

Here’s how Banaji explained the way taking the IAT feels, in a 2013 interview with the Boston Globe:

“So when I took the test … it was stunning for me to discover that my hands were literally frozen when I had to associate black with good. It’s like I couldn’t find the key on the keyboard, and doing the other version, the white-good, black-bad version was trivial. So the first thought that I had was: ‘Something’s wrong with this test.’ Three seconds later, it sunk in that this test was telling me something so important that it would require a re-evaluation of my mind, not of the test.”

How do the implicit racial biases the IAT reveals play out in reality?

Implicit racial bias can shape our beliefs and assumptions, color the way we treat other people, and even help decide what “feels true” for us when it comes to larger social and political issues.

Banaji explained that in one version of the IAT, researchers took famous Asian Americans such as Connie Chung and Michael Chang and Kristi Yamaguchi and picked white foreigners such as Hugh Grant, Katarina Witt, and Gerard Depardieu, and asked test takers to connect them to American symbols and foreign symbols. They found it was easier to associate Hugh Grant with American symbols than Connie Chung. “That shows how deeply the category ‘American’ is white” in many people’s minds, she said.

IT WAS EASIER TO ASSOCIATE HUGH GRANT WITH AMERICAN SYMBOLS THAN CONNIE CHUNG

She went on to explain what she said were the connotations of implicit bias when it comes to politics: “The reason I especially like that result is that in the first Obama election and since then, the issue has come up about these ‘birthers,’ and I think what we captured there was a little bit of a birther in all of us. I think this is where conscious attitudes matter. You and I say, ‘I consciously know Barack Obama was born in this country, and I believe this because the evidence is there.’ For some people who we might write off as the lunatic fringe, the association to be American is to be white. I can see for them that feels true.”

What are the main areas in which implicit racial bias affects our everyday lives?

Implicit biases are pervasive.  Researchers say everyone possesses them, even people like judges, who have avowed commitments to impartiality.

And they don’t just stay tucked away in our unconscious until they’re revealed by a computer game. They determine how we behave. There is increasing evidence that implicit bias — including implicit racial bias, which the IAT measures — predicts behavior in the real world. This behavior, of course, harms the people who are members of groups that are the subjects of negative implicit bias.

For example, research has shown that it can affect healthcare: in one study, despite self-reporting very little explicit bias, two out of three clinicians were found to harbor implicit bias against blacks and Latinos. And it turns out that this affected the care that black patients got: the stronger the clinicians’ implicit bias against blacks relative to whites, the lower the black patients rated them on all four sub-scales of patient-centered care. It’s also been connected to racial discrimination in hiring, performance evaluations, housing discrimination, and even perceptions of neighborhood crime.

How does implicit bias affect criminal justice?

(Shutterstock)

Criminal justice — from arrests, to police shootings, to juries’ perceptions of defendants — is such a rich area for implicit racial bias to operate that it deserves its own separate discussion.

To understand the gaping racial disparities in criminal justice, it helps to understand implicit bias. As Vox’s German Lopez has explained:

Part of the problem is outright racism among some judges and cops, socioeconomic disparities that can drive more crime, and drug laws that disproportionately affect black Americans. But the other explanation is that cops, like everyone else, carry this implicit bias, which experts agree affects how they police people of different races. Since these are the people who carry out the initial steps of law enforcement, this bias might launch a cascading effect of racial disparities that starts with simple arrests and ends in prison or death.

These are a few ways implicit bias has been found to operate at every level of the criminal-justice system:

Can you get rid of implicit racial bias?

The good news is that there is some evidence that implicit biases, including implicit racial biases, are malleable.

THERE ARE STUDIES THAT DEMONSTRATE THAT YOU CAN AT LEAST PRODUCE SHIFTS

Several different approaches have shown promise for getting rid of implicit bias, generally, which all apply to implicit racial bias, too.

  • Counter-stereotypic training: People can be trained, using visual or verbal cues, to develop new associations that contrast with the stereotypes they hold.
  • Exposure to individuals who defy stereotypes:  Being made aware of people who challenge the assumptions that fuel our biases — for example, male nurses, elderly athletes, or female scientists — has shown potential to decrease them.
  • Intergroup contact: Simply having contact with the people about whom you have bias can reduce it. But researchers have found the contact typically has to involve individuals sharing equal status and common goals, a cooperative rather than competitive environment, and the presence of support from authority figures, laws, or customs.
  • Education efforts aimed at raising awareness about implicit bias: the criminal-justice and health-care realms especially have embraced this approach.
  • Taking the perspective of others: considering contrasting viewpoints and recognizing multiple perspectives can reduce automatic implicit bias.
  • Mindfulness-meditation techniques: new research suggests that these can reduce implicit bias by short-circuiting negative associations.

While these methods are promising, implicit biases are really tough to shake. As Banaji told the Boston Globe, “I would say we should not be naïve about how easily we can change them. On the other hand, there are studies that demonstrate that you can at least produce shifts.”

Freestyle Gardening Movement: Putting Free Food Everywhere!

We’re spreading food gardens all over America and making food free, the way it used to be. We’re planting fruits, veggies, herbs, and wildflowers in and around your city, giving out free seeds, and funding community gardens and sustainability projects. This is a grassroots movement that involves you! Come plant with us anywhere along the tour, or reach out to us for free seeds or garden support in your area. Read on for more!

The Freestyle Gardening Movement- “Putting free food everywhere”

We are on a mission to make food simple, free, and growing everywhere – in the cities and the countryside, at our homes and in our schools, in vacant lots and on open rooftops, down the streets and up the walls. And once that fresh, healthy food is grown we want it to end up in your mouth! Freestyle gardening is free of boundaries, business, and budgets. Growing your own food and sharing with others puts the power back where it belongs, in your hands. Quite simply the Freestyle Gardening movement is going to put free and healthy food everywhere!

We’re kicking off the movement with a grassroots coast-to-coast tour and we’re making it easy for you to grow the solution with us. Rob Greenfield is cycling across America on his bamboo bicycle planting seeds along the way and Michael Scalli is creating gardens and planting with people like you in select cities on the tour. This summer we aim to create 5+ community gardens, plant millions of wildflowers, freestyle plant tens of thousands of fruit and veggie seeds, and give away funds to help others take action.

We want you to plant something! Here’s how you can get involved!

Come plant with us – join up with us along the tour to plant some seeds of goodness in your community! We’ll be hosting some seed planting parties, community bike rides, and group gardening events. Contact us to get involved or get something started in your city!

Plant on your own– If you want to grow food now your seeds are on us! Get a packet of fruit and vegetables to grow for yourself and your community, or wildflowers to help the bees.

Start a Goodfluence Garden– A Goodfluence Garden is a place where food is free, healthy, organic, and sustainably grown. Goodfluence Gardens create a culture that is less dependent on money and the industrial agriculture system that is currently harming our people, animals, and natural resources. These gardens use recycled materials and are lead by resourceful people wanting to be a part of positive change in America. Goodfluence Gardens can be at homes, schools, public spaces, businesses, basically anywhere that food will grow. We’re eager to collaborate, gather motivated groups, organize quickly, and catalyze some good, sustainable gardening.

We want to help you grow food and we’re going to give you the information, inspiration, and money to do so. Get in touch with us to plant with us or on your own. EmailMichael@Goodfluence.com to get started!

Goodfluence-Tour1tour-with-Michael4

Also… Goodfluence The Social Network – Coming Fall 2014

Goodfluence is the new social network where you do good and influence others to do good too. By good we’re talking actions that are beneficial to the earth, your community, and yourself. Simply through leading by example and sharing a photo of yourself in action you can create viral goodness using the power of social media. Imagine a news feed that inspires you and makes it easy for you to do good for the world. Goodfluence is a community of positive thinkers and more importantly positive doers brightening each others day.

Let Syrians Settle Detroit

Detroit, a once great city, has become an urban vacuum. Its population has fallen to around 700,000 from nearly 1.9 million in 1950. The city is estimated to have more than 70,000 abandoned buildings and 90,000 vacant lots. Meanwhile, desperate Syrians, victims of an unfathomable civil war, are fleeing to neighboring countries, with some 1.8 million in Turkey and 600,000 in Jordan.

Suppose these two social and humanitarian disasters were conjoined to produce something positive.

Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan, a Republican, has already laid the groundwork. In January 2014 he called for an infusion of 50,000 immigrants as part of a program to revitalize Detroit, and signed an executive order creating the Michigan Office for New Americans.

Syrian refugees would be an ideal community to realize this goal, as Arab-Americans are already a vibrant and successful presence in the Detroit metropolitan area.

A 2003 survey by the University of Michigan of 1,016 members of this community (58 percent of whom were Christian, and 42 percent Muslim) found that 19 percent were entrepreneurs and that the median household income was $50,000 to $75,000 per year.

(JOSHUA LOTT / AFP)

What confidence can we have that traumatized war refugees can be transformed into budding American entrepreneurs? We cannot know for sure. But recent evidence of recaptured children from the clutches of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda and victims of violent crime across five continents reveals that they become more active citizens than similar compatriots who have not suffered from these traumatic events.

In the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan, Syrians, despite psychological scars and limited resources, have set up 3,500 shops, stores and other businesses.

Refugees resettled from a single war zone have helped revitalize several American communities, notably Hmong in previously neglected neighborhoods in Minneapolis, Bosnians in Utica, N.Y., and Somalis in Lewiston, Me.

Resettling Syrians in Detroit would require commitment and cooperation across different branches and levels of our government, but it is eminently feasible. President Obama and Congress would have to agree to lift this year’s refugee ceiling by 50,000.

The State Department, which handles overseas processing of refugees, would need to open offices at the camps in Jordan and Turkey, determine eligibility and administer a lottery for resettlement.

Homeland Security, which controls the borders, would have to carry out accelerated security checks, as has been done in the past for Vietnamese and for Iranian religious minorities. Health and Human Services would need an expansion in the $1.5 billion it budgets for refugee resettlement.

The Treasury Department and the Department of Housing and Urban Development could also help. The Home Affordable Modification Program, part of the 2008 federal bailout of financial institutions, was meant to help places hardest hit by home-price declines.

But the program has not been fully utilized, in part because of stringent oversight requirements. Cities like Detroit have gotten permission to use funds from the program to demolish abandoned properties and create parks and green spaces. But it would be better to spend the money on helping refugees renovate once-abandoned homes.

Finally, grants from the federal government and from philanthropic foundations would be needed to help the local Arab-American community supply social services for the newcomers.

Of course, local buy-in is a sine qua non. Refugees are by no means the only source for the regeneration of Detroit. Its more settled populations, including African-Americans and Latinos, are bringing great energy and resources to the city’s renewal. But Syrians would bring new vigor and catalyze its nascent recovery.

Some skeptics will point to the difficulties of assimilation, noting past concerns in the Detroit area about the integration of Iraqi refugees. But there is no evidence to suggest that the Detroit area is a powder keg of anti-immigrant sentiment. Quite the contrary: From its original Native Americans to the Great Migration of Southern blacks to the infusion of Hispanic and Arab immigrants, Detroit has been a melting pot of religions, ethnicities and cultures.

In 2013, the city, which has a higher proportion of black residents than any large city in America, elected its first white mayor in more than 40 years. The following year, the city showed remarkable resilience and unity in emerging from municipal bankruptcy, with a reorganization plan that, among other things, preserved the collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts and gave the city space to invest in long-neglected public services.

Other skeptics will say that the plan would fail because the most ambitious Syrians would leave the city once they achieved economic security. There would be no legal way to prohibit this, of course. But the Syrians would be in the region with one of the most established Arab populations in America, surely an incentive to put down roots. Moreover, if small business and home-ownership loans were extended, the refugees would have a financial incentive to remain.

Finally, some will call this plan politically dead on arrival, given skepticism toward immigration, particularly in the Republican Party. But it’s worth noting that the 2003 study of the community found that two-thirds of respondents said they had voted for George W. Bush in 2000; refugee populations with traditional social views and a knack for entrepreneurship are not going to make Michigan less of a campaign battleground.

More important, both parties can agree that resettling destitute, innocent refugees is consistent with America’s moral and ethical commitments; it would send a powerful message to President Bashar al-Assad, the Islamic State and the world about American compassion and ingenuity.

Are the benefits to Detroit, to a devastated Syrian population, and to American ideals worth overcoming the expenses and administrative complexity of this proposal? We think so.

Distorting Nutrition Facts to Generate Buzz

AVOCADO

In mid-February, the government released a scientific report that will shape its 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Think of it as America’s basic nutrition policy. Most people who read the report would have viewed it as a snore; not much has changed.

Yes, the report lifted the longstanding advice to limit cholesterol in foods. That boils down to dropping advice to limit egg yolks. Liver is high in cholesterol, but rarely eaten. Shrimp is high in cholesterol, but so low in saturated fat — the prime driver of high blood cholesterol — that its cholesterol hardly matters.

Indeed, most of the report’s advice — to eat less saturated fat, sugar, and salt, and to eat more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables — has not changed since the first guidelines were issued in 1980.

But that didn’t stop some critics from using the report to drum up publicity for their own fringe views on diet and health. A case in point: Nina Teicholz, author of The Big Fat Surprise, wrote an op-ed in The New York Times entitled “The Government’s Bad Diet Advice.” Unfortunately for Times readers, the op-ed was packed with errors and distortions.

Teicholz: “Last fall, experts on the committee that develops the country’s dietary guidelines acknowledged that they had ditched the low-fat diet.”

Fact: The Dietary Guidelines last recommended a “low-fat” diet in 1995. (And that diet got up to 30 percent of its calories from fat — which is just slightly less than what Americans have eaten for years.)

The new report wisely emphasizes not just nutrients, but foods. It recommends diets that are “rich in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in low- and non-fat dairy products and alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meat; and low in sugar sweetened foods and beverages and refined grains.”

Teicholz: “How did experts get it so wrong?…The primary problem is that nutrition policy has long relied on a very weak kind of science: epidemiological, or ‘observational,’ studies in which researchers follow large groups of people over many years.”

Fact: The new report, like its predecessors, relies on both observational studies and clinical trials. (Note: It is rather presumptuous for anyone to brand the entire field of epidemiology as “weak.”) What’s more, Teicholz’s book cites observational studies that support her views.

Teicholz: “In 2013, government advice to reduce salt intake (which remains in the current report) was contradicted by an authoritative Institute of Medicine study.”

Fact: The 2013 IOM report found insufficient evidence showing that very low sodium intakes prevent cardiovascular disease to recommend lowering sodium to 1,500 milligrams a day, but it did not contradict advice to reduce salt intake.

Teicholz: “Several recent meta-analyses have cast serious doubt on whether saturated fats are linked to heart disease, as the dietary guidelines continue to assert.”

Fact: Meta-analyses can be flawed. For example, one of Teicholz’s favorites concluded that saturated fats do not cause heart disease, but that was only because it included a study in which people replaced saturated fats with a margarine high in trans fat instead of heart-healthy oils. That’s why the public is wise to rely on advice from expert panels that sort through the details. In 2013, experts convened by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology did that. Their conclusion: we should cut saturated fat even further than earlier guidelines had recommended.

Teicholz: “In clearing our plates of meat, eggs and cheese (fat and protein), we ate more grains, pasta and starchy vegetables (carbohydrates).”

Cleared our plates? Since 1970, cheese consumption has tripled, eggs have dropped just 20 percent, pork has held steady, and we’ve replaced only a third of our beef with chicken. Yes, refined flour increased, but that’s because we’ve been eating oversized portions of pizza, cheeseburgers, sandwiches, burritos, bagels, wraps, cookies, cupcakes, scones, muffins, doughnuts, waffle cones, soft pretzels, and more. We can thank our food companies and restaurants — not any government dietary advice — for that.

Teicholz: “Over the past 50 years, we cut fat intake by 25 percent and increased carbohydrates by more than 30 percent, according to a new analysis of government data.”

Fact: According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the average American ate as much fat (about 80 grams a day) in 2010 as in the early 1970s, when the survey started. Because we’re eating more calories overall (largely from refined flour and sugar), a slightly smaller percentage of our calories (33 percent instead of 37 percent) comes from fat.

At least that’s what people say they eat. According to USDA data, which estimates how much we eat by tracking data on how much is produced (after adjusting for waste),consumption of “added fats and oils and dairy fats” climbed since 1970. That should come as no surprise. French fries, fried chicken, potato chips, nachos, and movie theater popcorn haven’t exactly gone out of style.

Teicholz: “The committee’s new report also advised eliminating “lean meat” from the list of recommended healthy foods.”

Fact: Eliminated? The report recommends a diet “lower in red and processed meat” and noted that “lean meats can be a part of a healthy dietary pattern.”

Teicholz: “Since the very first nutritional guidelines to restrict saturated fat and cholesterol were released by the American Heart Association in 1961, Americans have been the subjects of a vast, uncontrolled diet experiment with disastrous consequences.”

Fact: Between 1968 and 2008, heart disease deaths plummeted by 75 percent. Those gains — which were due to better diet, better drugs, and better treatment — are hardly a disaster.

True, we are now faced with an obesity epidemic and the ensuing rise in diabetes rates. But where’s the evidence that diet advice is to blame?

Americans did not gain weight because of advice to eat less fat. We can blame the obesity epidemic on a diet of super-sized cheeseburgers, fries, shakes, pizza, fried chicken, burritos, cheese nachos, chocolate-dipped waffle ice cream cones, movie theater popcorn (by the bucket), cookies, muffins, cupcakes, doughnuts, and more. And, of course, soft drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks, fruit drinks, and other sugar-sweetened beverages deserve special recognition for expanding the average American’s waistline.

Surely, no one would argue that advice from the government had more impact than multi-million-dollar campaigns for Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Gatorade, McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut, Domino’s, Dairy Queen, Sonic, Dunkin’ Donuts, and more.

And it’s not just fast food. A typical entrée at most sit-down restaurant chains like Applebee’s, California Pizza Kitchen, Chili’s, Maggiano’s Little Italy, Outback Steakhouse, T.G.I.Friday’s, Romano’s Macaroni Grill, and Uno Pizzeria & Grill has about 1,000 calories. At chains like The Cheesecake Factory, many entrées have 2,000 calories. And that doesn’t include another 1,000 or so calories each for the appetizer and dessert.

Here’s the kicker: If the guidelines were powerful enough to prompt increased consumption of high-sugar foods, why wouldn’t the guidelines’ advice (since 1980) to eat less sugar have halted the rise in sugar consumption?

This map shows how the rest of the world doesn’t even come close to the US’ military spending

International Institute for Strategic Studies map budget

The US continues to hold the indisputable top spot in defense spending, designating more than the combined expenditures of the top 15 nations according to an annual report from the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

The IISS’ Military Balance, published earlier this month, assesses the military capabilities and national trends in defense spending of 171 countries.

According to the report, America allocated a cool $581 billion in 2014, surpassing the total combined Chinese, Saudi Arabian, Russian, British, French, German, Japanese, Indian, and South Korean military budgets by $15 billion.

China is the closest nation to follow the US at $129 billion — which is only 22% of America’s overall spending. The remaining 156 surveyed nations account for $342 billion or 21% of the world’s defense spending.

12 Motorcycles That Trace the Evolution of the All-American Chopper

The art critic Robert Hughes called the custom motorcycle a distinctive form of American folk art, but “I would go further,” Paul d’Orléans writes in the introduction to The Chopper: The Real Story.

He calls the Chopper “the ultimate American folk art movement, a culturally explosive mashup of particularly American traits; the cowboy/outlaw,

free of family, property, or history, free to explore endless highways, free to express one’s individuality through dress and choice of transport.”

Distinguished by its extended forks, lack of rear suspension, and tall sissybar, the Chopper was preceded by styles like the bob-job

and cut-down, and grew out of efforts to make Harley-Davidsons and other bikes lighter, faster, and more agile.

But in d’Orléans’ telling, it was more than a question of mechanics. It was the culmination of decades of motorcycle culture, spurred on

by American societal shifts brought on by World War 2, changing race relations, and the explosive counterculture of the 1950s and ’60s.

The Chopper, published by Gestalten, tells the story of that evolution, from the 1904 bike believed to be the first “truly custom motorcycle”

and the bike gangs that terrified America in the 1950s, to Easy Rider and the 21st century takes on the iconic style.

Here’s a selection of bikes and riders, photographed over a stretch of 110 years, that helped lodge the Chopper firmly in the American public consciousness.

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