Tuesday, February 28th, 2017


The American Scheme

I don't think The New Yorker's Sheelah Kolhatkar set out to write a story that, to a great extent, explains modern day America. But she may have done just that. Her absorbing look at a hedge fund's repeated attempts to make big bucks by short-selling Herbalife (a company it viewed as a pyramid scheme) has it all. Big money financiers pulling economic and social levers like slot machine handles. Consumers determined to believe in the health benefits of products despite evidence to the contrary. An army of salespeople selling to other salespeople, all of them so desperate for a glimpse of the American dream that a joining multilevel marketing company seemed like a good a career move. And through it all, a trail of money that changes hands over and over until eventually landing in the bank accounts of those at the top of the food chain. On the surface it's a Wall Street story about a short sale gone wrong and the near impossibility of bringing down a company that makes money for investors. But, if you read between the lines, it's a Main Street story about a lot more than that. Financiers Fight Over The American Dream.


Adam Raised on Cane

"It's no accident that sugar has been a fixture in food since around 10,000 years ago. Historians trace the first use of sugarcane to New Guinea. By 500 BC, some farmers in India were transforming the cane into raw sugar. Sucrose, as it's known to scientists, is a nearly perfect compound. It preserves. It ferments and caramelizes. It provides viscosity and mouthfeel, texture, and bulk. It enhances the flavors of other ingredients. As even a toddler could tell you, it is the gold standard of sweetness." But consumers increasingly view sugar as the new tobacco, and they're demanding a replacement. Unfortunately for big food companies, they also view sugar-substitutes as unnatural and unhealthy. From Fortune: The Hunt for the Perfect Sugar.


Don’t Bogart That Joint Session

"So audacious was Miller's performance that it became an internet meme. But he was really playing to an audience of one, and he scored a rave. Afterward, Trump tweeted: 'Congratulations Stephen Miller -- on representing me this morning on the various Sunday morning shows. Great job!'" To understand President Trump's Tuesday night address to a joint session of Congress, you have to understand the role of the guy who usually has a big hand in writing such speeches, and defining some of the policies included within them. Courtesy of Bloomberg, meet the 31-year-old driving force behind the White House's policies. Does Stephen Miller Speak for Trump? Or Vice Versa?

+ Too soon? NPR: Why Trump's Speech To Congress Is Not A State Of The Union.

+ One of the key themes of the speech will be Trump's plans to cut foreign aid and State Department spending to free up dough for the Pentagon. According to a letter sent to lawmakers from 120 retired generals (who cited quotes from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis) now is not the time to slash U.S. foreign aid. Generals urging the White House to fund diplomacy over defense? Yup.

+ Trump is also expected to bolster his case for school choice. Hopefully he doesn't repeat Betsy DeVos' claim that historically black colleges are "pioneers" of school choice. Uh, yeah. And slavery is a pioneer of job creation...

+ Meanwhile, here's Trump's latest political assertion: Obama is somehow behind the protests and leaks. (Wow. It's not like Trump to make up stories about Obama...)


First World Problems

"What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today? The answers that Americans give to that question has changed dramatically over time. Those answers both drive political messaging, and are driven by political messaging. The NYT looks back at what's bothering us the most these days, and how today's answers compare to the ones we given in years and decades past.


Shell Games

By now, we know that Takata "manipulated safety data to hide a deadly defect" in the airbags they continued to sell to carmakers. But a new class action lawsuit claims that at least four automakers were more than unwitting victims. From the NYT: Automakers Knew of Takata Airbag Hazard for Years, Suit Says.

+ "Shell Oil Company has spent millions of dollars lobbying against measures that would protect the planet from climate catastrophe. But thanks to a film recently obtained by The Correspondent, it's now clear that their position wasn't born of ignorance." Here's the 1991 documentary Shell made to warn about climate change.

+ WaPo: Hundreds allege sex harassment and discrimination at Kay and Jared jewelry company.

+ The Guardian: Female engineer sues Tesla, describing a culture of pervasive harassment.


Wasabi or Not to Be

"Until the 1970s, bluefin tuna was a literal trash fish. If it wasn't put into cat food, sport fishermen paid to have it hauled off to dumps (after taking a smiling photo next to their strung-up carcasses). Until the mid-1900s, tuna's reputation was so bad in Japan that it was referred to as neko-matagi, food too low for even a cat to eat." Sadly for bluefin, they got a lot more popular. And now bluefin tuna is endangered. Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you could soon run out of fish.


Not in Kansas Anymore

"The shooting last week sparked unease in Kansas and across the globe, after witnesses said that the accused gunman had told the two men to 'get out of my country' before opening fire." The FBI is now investigating the shooting of two Indian men in Kansas as a hate crime. One of the victims died. And his funeral in India made clear some of the changing views of America. From The Guardian: "Crowds who gathered for the funeral of an Indian man killed in an apparently racially motivated shooting in Kansas last week have shouted: 'Down with Trump' and held up placards that read: 'DownWithRacism.'"

+ "At some point, embarrassingly late begins to verge on something more disquieting." The Kansas City Star wonders about Trump's silence on the issue.


You’re On

In Wired, Gerald Sauer examines a murder case in which Alexa might be a witness. "Amazon's effort to protect the data your Echo collects by invoking the First Amendment is commendable, but the company has failed to address the real problem: Why is all that data just sitting in Amazon's servers in the first place?"

+ The teddy bear that leaked 2 million parent and kids message recordings.


Never Out of Outrage

Go to a hyperpartisan right wing 'news' site, and they're selling one message. Go to a hyperpartisan left wing 'news' site, and they're selling another message. But in the end, both of the sites are selling one thing in common. Outrage. So it shouldn't surprise you all that much that some of these opposing sites are actually owned by the same company.


Bottom of the News

The envelope snafu has overshadowed several other stories from the Oscars. For example, remember Gary from Chicago? Well, he was released from prison just three days before appearing on the show.

+ My take: Can we stop pretending the envelope snafu at the Oscars was a tragedy? In fact, can we stop pretending it was even a negative? While we're at it, can we admit what it really was: An incredible several hours of social media fun.

+ "The police were happy to oblige, and drove to Annie's home last week, where they picked her up, put her in a police car and drove her straight to the pokey." A 99 year-old women got arrested ... because it was on her bucket list.

+ Rihanna was just named Harvard University Humanitarian of the Year.

+ Ever wanted to read a brutally honest obituary? Here's your chance.