Opinion

The Great Debate

What should we eat to stay healthy? Why experts actually have no idea.

To match FOOD-GLUTENFREE/Have you ever wondered why nutrition experts so often change their minds about what constitutes a healthy diet? In the last six months, a variety of experts and nutrition organizations have issued at least as many major dietary guidelines proclaiming the next set of instructions on what to eat to prevent cancer, whether processed foods are really food, whether the type of fat you eat has any effect on developing heart disease, and how to control diabetes with diet. And the next set of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS) dietary guidelines, due out next year, are already creating a buzz.

These new guidelines have, like most dietary guidelines in the past, done little to solidify our understanding of the cause and effect relationship between diet and disease. Even worse, they’re likely to discredit nutritional science. Moreover, guidelines like these tend to suggest, without proper research as proof, that people have control over whether or not they develop certain diseases, and it is therefore their fault if they become ill.

A large part of the issue comes down to funding, and a lack of resources to do the kinds of studies that would help answer some of our most pressing questions. Our insistence on making recommendations — without having the proper research to back them up — has unintended, harmful effects.

Nutrition research, like all medical research, is extremely difficult and expensive. But nutrition research is even more complex than research in other areas of medicine. First, many well-designed studies have failed simply because the subjects couldn’t adhere to the diet: asking subjects to eat a diet lower in salt, for example, can initially make food seem tasteless.

Second, changes in diets have the potential to change dozens of other variables at the same time. When trying to determine whether a low-protein diet decreases cancer, for example, a study may involve reductions in grilled or processed meat — which may contain cancer-causing substances. To control for these coincidental effects, and subtle differences between the subjects, studies of dietary changes often require tens of thousands of participants.

Liberia’s poverty, skepticism of experts makes treating Ebola harder

Medical staff working with Medecins sans Frontieres prepare to bring food to patients kept in an isolation area at the MSF Ebola treatment centre in Kailahun

The media is focused on the horrors of Ebola, a disease with no known cure that is jumping across borders in West Africa, leaving more than 900 dead in its wake. Fears of the disease’s spread even traveled to the United States, where two Ebola patients are being treated at Emory University hospital in Atlanta, Georgia.

The virus first appeared in West Africa in March, but suddenly gained momentum in the past few weeks, making it the worst outbreak ever. The vast majority of cases and deaths have been in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, but Nigeria now confirms the presence of the disease.

The virus is spread through bodily fluids and has a relatively long incubation period of up to 21 days. At this point, roughly 40 percent to 90 percent who become infected eventually die.

Iraq airstrikes: You read the news, now get the context

Relatives mourn the death of a Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) fighter, killed during clashes with Islamic State fighters in the Iraqi city of Rabia on the Iraqi-Syrian border, during his funeral in Ras al-Ain

Once you read the latest news about the U.S. airstrikes and humanitarian drops in Iraq, turn to commentary for the context you need to fully understand what is happening and how we got here. Here is a quick tour:

You can start with incisive background from Spencer Ackerman, national security editor at the Guardian. He provides additional framework for the Obama administration’s decision to use air power. It’s about far more than protecting U.S. advisers in Irbil, Ackerman says. He lays out why the White House felt compelled to protect the pro-U.S. Kurds against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS). Ackerman then looks at the possible military hardware involved. His reporting continues today with Dan Roberts here.

While you’re on the Guardian site, read the explainer about the Yazidis, the Iraqi religious minority sect besieged atop Mount Sinjar.

Nixon’s showbiz legacy

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The 40th anniversary of President Richard M. Nixon’s resignation comes just as politicians of both parties increasingly say the words “President Barack Obama” and “impeachment” in the same sentence. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives, which has filed a lawsuit against the president, has also been quick to draw comparisons between the Nixon administration’s abuses of executive power and Obama’s use of executive orders.

Yet the critiques of Obama, which The Economist and CNN have dubbed “political theater,” recall another aspect of Nixon’s lasting legacy: the rise of an entertainment-driven politics that now defines the modern media landscape and the U.S. presidency.

nixon-&-elvis -- bestIt was Nixon who embraced “showbiz politics” in his efforts to salvage his political career, expand the electorate and rebuild the Republican Party. By capitalizing on a political tradition rooted in California politics and the Hollywood studio system, Nixon’s electoral successes convinced politicians across the ideological spectrum to deploy entertainment strategies from the Nixon media playbook.

Why energy exploration in North America has its own political risks

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Leading non-integrated oil and gas producer Apache Corporation found itself in the spotlight in recent weeks, as the latest company to grapple with the question of how big a commitment to make to North America’s shale gas and tight oil revolution. Jana Partners LLC, a leading investor in Apache, published a letter to investors July 21 urging the company to exit its international investments and focus on exploring US shale formations such as the Permian Basin in Texas and New Mexico. Just last Friday, Apache announced plans reflecting this advice, as they intend to divest completely from two liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects in Western Australia and Canada in an effort to reduce international assets.

Jana’s letter highlights a recent trend — driven by the technological innovations that have reversed decades-long declines in U.S. oil and gas production – in which traditionally globally-oriented oil and gas producers are “onshoring” back to their roots in North America.

Investors should be cautious of this trend, which trades one form of political risk for another. Instead of fears of sanctions, armed conflicts, or forced nationalization of the oil and gas industry, oil and gas producers may face opposition from local communities and others on environmental grounds. They’ll also have to contend with a growing risk of saturated domestic markets for light oil and natural gas, and the need to receive politically-sensitive regulatory approval in order to export overseas. While North America is safer for workers, and companies can launch public policy campaigns to address these challenges, investors should not underestimate the complexity of doing business in the region.

Why Nixon matters

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Forty years ago, on August 8, Richard M. Nixon made unprecedented constitutional history when he resigned the presidency amid the disgrace and scandal of Watergate. He cannot escape that legacy — for he left an indelible record of his deeds in a treasure trove of tapes and papers that continue to fascinate us with revelations.

Alas! Watergate is Nixon’s spot that will not out. The break-in, the ensuing revelation of what Nixon’s attorney general, John Mitchell, called the “White House Horrors,” the congressional and prosecutorial investigations that considered those travesties and Nixon’s eventual resignation laid bare unprecedented instances of presidential abuses of power and yes, criminality.

Watergate was a major constitutional crisis; the promiscuous use of the suffix “gate” only trivializes it. Alexander Butterfield, who revealed the existence of the White House taping system, described Nixon as a man always conscious, if not obsessed, with history and his role in it. How ironic then that he left rich historical documentation, a self-inflicted wound as it were, that has so sullied his record and reputation.

from John Lloyd:

The less well Muslims and Jews actually know each other, the more hatred grows

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In the small town of San Dona di Piave near Venice last Friday, an imam, Raoudi Albdelbar, asked Allah to, "Kill them all (the Jews), down to the last one; make poison of their food; transform the air that they breath into flames, and put terror in their hearts.” The imam was so proud of his sermon that he made a video of it and posted it on his Facebook page -- from where it went viral. Earlier this week, Italian antiterrorist police showed up and arrested the imam on charges of inciting violence, and began the process of expelling him to his native Morocco.

There's a doleful, five-century-old parallel to the iman’s prayer. In his “Trials of the Diaspora,” Antony Julius, a polymath British lawyer, has taken Shylock’s trial in the Merchant of Venice as the ur-trial of diaspora Jews, seeing in it a subtle re-imagining of the old blood libel. In Shylock's pitiless pursuit of a pound of flesh cut from the merchant Antonio's body, Julius detects another instance of Jews seeking Christian blood.

Shakespeare gave Shylock a speech that seemed to challenge the dehumanization at the heart of anti-Semitism – “Hath not a Jew eyes. ... If you prick us, do we not bleed?” -- even as the play drove inexorably to the ghastly humiliation of the Jew. But Shakespeare did not know any Jews; they had been expelled from England in 1290 after centuries of oppression and were not readmitted till the 1650s. Shylock was a composite, born of the normal anti-Semitism of a Christian Englishman but softened by the sympathetic insight of one who recognised common humanity even as he assumed uncommon Jewish malignancy.

from Breakingviews:

Ushering Eric Cantor to revolving door

By Rob Cox

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

The following is a fictional letter that could be circulated in the corridors of K Street, the canyons of Wall Street and the hedgerows of the Hamptons this summer:

From the desk of Rick Rooter, Executive Placement Specialist

Dear Sirs and Madams:

I am writing to you as the exclusive agent for a former high-ranking member of the House of Representatives who will soon be eligible for employment by your organization. My client has asked to remain anonymous until he has cleared all remaining business with the current Congress, though the following will provide you with sufficient information based on his voting record, extensive legislative experience and public statements to assist with your consideration of his candidacy as a senior adviser to your business, both in counseling executives on important public policy matters and engaging with your clients on the same.

Are too-big-to-fail banks being cut down to size?

Financial institution representatives are sworn in before testifying at the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington

The massive $16-billion mortgage fraud settlement agreement just reached by Bank of America and federal authorities — only the latest in a string of such settlements — makes it easy to lose sight of what good shape banks are in.

Banks are now far better capitalized, with tighter credit processes and better risk accounting. The bigger Wall Street houses have also jettisoned many of their most volatile trading operations. Yet most have still managed to turn in decent earnings. That is a tribute to the steady and generally thoughtful imposition of the new Dodd-Frank and Basel III regulations, the rules on “stress-testing” balance sheets and the controversial Volcker Rule that limits speculative proprietary trading operations.

And the feds are keeping on the pressure, as demonstrated by their rejection of almost all the “living will” plans submitted by the major banks, which are supposed to prevent the kind of disorderly collapse that Lehman Brothers went through in 2008.  These living will impositions are designed either to reduce the riskiness of bank holdings or to make the financial institutions post more capital and reserves to cushion against reverses.

Putin’s Ukraine invasion threat is more than a bluff — but not his preference

A Ukrainian serviceman uses a pair of binoculars as he guards a checkpoint near the eastern Ukrainian town of Debaltseve

Ukrainian troops have made huge headway routing the separatists in the east. They are in the process of choking off the cities of Luhansk and Donetsk, to which many of the separatists have retreated. The Ukrainian military appears primed to besiege the cities. As Ukraine has gained, Putin has prepared Russia for invasion: as of Monday, Ukraine says there are 45,000 combat-ready troops are amassed at the border. The chance that Russia invades is certainly going up.

But it’s still Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Plan B. Here’s why that’s the case … and what could change his mind.

At all costs, Vladimir Putin wants to keep Ukraine in Russia’s orbit. That requires two guarantees: 1) that Russian influence over southeast Ukraine will remain intact, and 2) that Russia has a de facto veto over Ukrainian NATO membership. The way he gets these guarantees is through deep federalization, where Ukraine’s eastern regions can set their own foreign economic policy and veto approaches to NATO. Of course, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is completely unwilling and unable to concede this. So Putin can get it the hard way (intervention), or the harder way (invasion).

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