5 Best Monday Columns
On snowflakes, obesity, and Obama's 2012 chances
Fred Hiatt on De-Politicizing Heath Food Michelle Obama's campaign against childhood obesity has received a lot of flack from partisan opponents who believe the First Lady is trying to take over a parent's role in controlling what their children eat. One day, predicts The Washington Post's Fred Hiatt, we'll be amazed that anyone ever denied the necessity of curbing unhealthy eating. However, Hiatt adds that given the many interests affected by the crusade against obesity--the fast food and soft drink industries, suburban real estate developers, advertisers, oil and gas--he's not surprised that Obama's seemingly admirable mission has become controversial. But, Hiatt argues, "obesity is not a Democratic or Republican issue. Obama has merely extended and amplified a campaign that began under President George W. Bush; Bush's last acting surgeon general, Steven K. Galson, made obesity a signature issue, calling it 'a national health crisis...[that] is driving up healthcare costs and crippling the fabric of our communities.'"
Michael Barone on Obama's 2012 Chances The end of the lame duck session proved that Obama's defeat in the midterms was not the all-out end of his influence over Congress as predicted. Still, it's unclear what the 2012 election will hold for the President. Michael Barone at National Review lays out the factors that Obama will have going for and against him in the next election. He points out that Presidents Clinton and Reagan were re-elected after experiencing major partisan losses in the midterms, and that the demographics that essentially elected Obama in 2008--black voters and young people--are more likely to turn out in 2012 than they were in this year's midterms. Barone also notes that Americans are motivated by a desire to see their presidents succeed, and he predicts that most voters will probably be reluctant to oust the first African-America
n president. Despite all of these reassurances, Barone concludes with a cliff-hanger, reminding us of "the substantive issues working against Obama"--e.g. Obamacare, big government, "spreading the wealth." Are these issues "enough to make the differencein 2012?" he asks. "Not clear."
Paul Krugman on Raw-Material Ceilings Why are commodity prices rising? Why do corn, copper, oil, cotton, and wheat all cost more than they did six months ago? It's not because of speculation or inflation, writes Krugman in The New York Times. Rather, it's a sign of recovery in developing nations. "The rapid growth of emerging economies is placing pressure on limited supplies of raw materials, pushing up their prices," Krugman writes. "As more and more people in formerly poor nations are entering the global middle class, they're beginning to drive cars and eat meat, placing growing pressure on world oil and food supplies." In other words, says Krugman, we don't need to cower at the specter of runaway inflation, a favorite shouting point of Glenn Beck and his like. "Commodity prices are set globally, and what America does just isn't that important a factor," Krugman writes. "This is a global story; at a fundamental level, it's not about us."
Holman Jenkins on Net Neutrality Messiness Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Jenkins casts a skeptical eye on the FCC's new network neutrality policy, which he suspects will be rendered unworkable by the ever-more complex nature of wireless communication. "In two years time video of all kinds, including virtual meetings and business collaboration, will account for 90% of Internet traffic, much of it delivered wirelessly," Jenkins writes. "And total traffic will be five times what it was last year ... Hard to envision is how the cloud's promise will be fulfilled without a dramatic shakeup in the way broadband is priced and prioritized (i.e., forget net neut)." Jenkins goes on to note, dryly, that "luckily we have an alternative principle, called a 'competitive marketplace,' which has already shown its bona fides in practice."
Adam Gopnik on the Snowflake's Journey "With the weather this cold, can the snow be too far off?" wonders Adam Gopnik in what turns out to be a prescient print piece for the The New Yorker. The winter chill has Gopnik wondering about snowflakes: "How different are they, really?" Some research reveals that the vast majority of snowflakes don't resemble the iconic, six-pointed crystal we've all seen. Rather, "they're irregular, bluntly geometric. They are as plain and as misshapen as, well, people. The Fifth Avenue snowflakes are the rare ones, long and lovely, the movie stars and supermodels, the Alessandra Ambrosios of snow crystals." But Gopnik discovers another truth about snowflakes: while they start out looking pretty much identical in the clouds, their fall to earth gives them shape and character. With that in mind, Gopnik proposes a new, scientifically correct holiday aphorism--"Friends are like snowflakes: more different and more beautiful each time you cross their paths in our common descent."