5 Best Wednesday Columns

On labor unions, healthy eating, childhood innocence and the Egyptian military

This article is from the archive of our partner .
  • Ken Stier On Egypt's 'Military-Industrial Complex'  Writing today in Time, Stier points out the centrality of Egypt's military to its economy and doubts that this arrangement will change. "It's hard to overstate how entrenched the military is," Stier says, describing the military as not only  "mysterious and veiled," but "powerful and untouchable." The military is heavily involved in the country's commercial affairs: "Military-run firms hold strong positions in a wide range of key industries," he says, "including food (olive oil, milk, bread and water); cement and gasoline; vehicle production"--all to the tune of between 10 and 15 percent of Egypt's $210 billion economy. Western-style economic democracy seems an unlikely prospect, he says. "It is all but certain that the military will remain at the core of whatever regime emerges from the current confused impasse."

  • James P. Hoffa on Why Public Employee Unions Are Unfairly Vilified  Hoffa, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and son of the Teamster icon Jimmy Hoffa, points out that union members aren't the ones who caused the financial crisis or scuttled the economy. Nevertheless, the "scapegoating of public employees has almost become a sport." Public-employee union workers, Hoffa writes in The Detroit News, are repeatedly painted as financial burdens who can only be rallied to compromise when governors like New Jersey's Chris Christie threaten to beat them with baseball bats. These attacks, Hoffa writes, are distractions. The real aim, he says, is to build a case for dismantling unions--look at Ohio's governor John Kasich, who wants to end collective bargaining, and Wisconsin's Scott Walker, who wants to ban government worker unions. Hoffa says that it's not hard to see where this line of thinking can lead. "I hope my brothers and sisters in private-sector unions don't fall for [these attacks on unions]. Because after they've finished with government workers, they'll be coming after you, too."

  • Jonathan Bernstein on How to Fight for Judges  In today's New York Times, Jonathan Bernstein addresses the issue of judicial vacancies, recently reported by The Washington Post to be "reaching [a] crisis point"--there just aren't enough judges. Democrats blame Republicans for blocking their judicial nominations, and Bernstein agrees that Republicans' abuse of the hold process and overall dedication to filibustering every item on the president's agenda are most certainly responsible for the shortage of judges. But, he clarifies, Democrats can do more to fight back against the Republicans and push their nominations through. Obama has only nominated nine judges for the 17 open appeals court spots, and 41 for the 85 district court vacancies, Bernstein points out. And "unlike President Bush, President Obama has not used his bully pulpit to push for Senate confirmation of his nominations." He notes that Senate Democrats could utilize the rules more aggressively to their advantage and even encourages Democrats to try to reform the judicial nomination process altogether by banning the use of holds. Bernstein concludes that "without enough judges, cases are delayed, lives are disrupted and rights are violated." The bottom line? Democrats need to fill those vacancies and stop allowing Republicans to take advantage of them. 

  • James Bernard Murphy on Value of Childhood  Murphy, writing in The Wall Street Journal, would like to take a moment to recognize one particular argument made in the debate over Amy Chua's "tiger mothering." It was economist Larry Summers who pointed out that "part of the point of childhood is childhood itself. Childhood takes up a quarter of one's life, and it would be nice if children enjoyed it." Murphy agrees. The Dartmouth professor makes the case for childhood exceptionalism, in part because children are innocent of evil and open to new adventures. Children are not conscious of time or its scarcity, so for them it "cannot be wasted." Children are also uninhibited, meaning that it's the period of our lives when "most of us produced our best art, asked our deepest philosophical questions, and most readily mastered new gadgets." Murphy acknowledges that parents struggle with how best to prepare their children for a successful adulthood without depriving them of an enjoyable childhood. He offers some simple advice: "Many parents today would benefit hugely by taking a reflective time-out from teaching our children to discover how much we might learn from them."

  • Mark Bittman on Eating Real Food  The fastidious food writer for The New York times offers a blog post today about the USDA's new Dietary Guidelines for Americans. "Limited kudos go to the United States Department of Agriculture, whose Dietary Guidelines for Americans... are the best to date," he says. We're instructed to eat less food and more fresh foods. This is "wise advice," says Bittman, but the problem remains "that the agency's nutrition experts are at odds with its other mission: to promote our bounty in whatever form its processors make it." The agency tells us to avoid "Solid Fats and Added Sugars" (SOFAS), but doesn't go into specifics about which foods these typically come from. Bittman has a better acronym he'd like to see: "ERF: Eat Real Food."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.