The Free Press, Mankato, MN

September 15, 2013

Lesson from Cuban crisis

The Mankato Free Press

---- — The president was in a bind. He had laid down a clear “red line” — which his enemies had flouted. Now he faced an unenviable choice: Take action to enforce his red line, or suffer a catastrophic blow to his political credibility at home and abroad.

“I should have said we don’t care,” the commander in chief mused in the privacy of the White House. “But when we said we’re not going to (tolerate it), and then they go ahead and do it, and then we do nothing ... “ Doing nothing was not an option.

The date was Oct. 16, 1962, the day John F. Kennedy discovered that the Soviet Union had sent nuclear missiles to Cuba, triggering the most serious crisis of the Cold War. A month earlier, the president had publicly warned the Soviets that “the gravest issues would arise” if they developed a “significant offensive capability” in Cuba. He now doubted the wisdom of his earlier statement.

In 1962, nearly all of the president’s top advisers were calling for airstrikes against Soviet missile sites on Cuba. Kennedy was leaning in that direction himself but was restrained by fear of tit-for-tat escalations that could result in all-out nuclear war. Instead of airstrikes, Kennedy decided to buy time for back-door negotiations with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev by imposing a naval blockade on Cuba. The crisis ended, 13 days later, with Khrushchev agreeing to pull his missiles out of Cuba in a verifiable manner in return for a promise by the United States to refrain from attacking the island. Patience, plus firmness, paid off.

Henry Dobbs, a former Washington Post reporter, is the author of “One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War.”

Peril and opportunity

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently announced that the number of youth who have tried e-cigarettes doubled between 2011 and 2012. One-tenth of high school students inhaled the devices’ vapor last year. About three-quarters of those who admitted using e-cigarettes currently also smoked traditional cigarettes. But roughly 160,000 students in the National Youth Tobacco Survey last year said they had tried only e-cigarettes.

E-cigarettes contain small amounts of liquid that an atomizer vaporizes for inhalation. They aren’t regulated heavily, so there isn’t much public information available on what’s in them, and the contents probably vary widely by brand. But they clearly contain nicotine, which is highly addictive. Public health advocates warn that e-cigarette makers are using the same strategies that tobacco companies employed to attract young people to start smoking — candy flavorings such as “Atomic Fireball,” for example.

Public health advocates also should appreciate the other side of e-cigarettes — their potential value to those already struggling with addiction. If the FDA asserts its authority over e-cigarettes, it can ensure that they are a less unhealthy tobacco alternative, at least as far as that’s possible.

Washington Post

Labor embraces new America

Having banged its head against a wall for years with nothing to show for it but a headache, the American labor movement is devising a plan to bypass the wall altogether. The AFL-CIO has acknowledged that the laws protecting employees who seek to join a union have been rendered so ineffectual that labor must come up with new ways to advance workers’ interests.

With just 6.6 percent of the private-sector workforce enrolled in unions in 2012, traditional collective bargaining has all but vanished from the economic landscape — taking raises, benefits, job security and much of the American middle class with it as it goes.

Unable to build traditional unions the traditional way, the AFL-CIO has committed itself to building the kinds of coalitions that won expanded health care and affordable lofts in San Francisco. For several decades, unions have aligned with other key liberal constituencies on a host of discrete battles — immigration reform, voting rights (again), financial regulation, universal health coverage — but now it wants to cement these alliances in permanent coalitions.

Harold Meyerson, editor-at-large of The American Prospect.

Keep allergens in classrooms

With the start of the new school year, classrooms all over the country have no doubt been declared nut-free zones. As the parent of a child in elementary school, I’m familiar with the warnings: “Please, no nuts due to allergies!” As the mother of a child with severe allergies, I’d like to suggest a different approach: Don’t restrict allergens at all.

School, even elementary school, is a place of preparation. By that I mean not just academics but also learning to behave as a member of a community. And my 6-year-old’s community is not always going to be allergen-free.

I take her health seriously. I also realize that she will not always have me there to watch what she touches or eats.

It is important to teach her to function in a world filled with things that make her very sick. It is unrealistic to think that, years from now, my child will be able to tell her co-workers they cannot eat flour in the office. Although well-intentioned, making classrooms allergen-free zones doesn’t teach children how to make safe choices or otherwise manage their health.

Rather than placing restrictions on entire populations of students, let’s have open conversations about food allergies. Children with allergies should be armed with the skills to navigate our complex world. I want the adults in my child’s life to listen to her needs and then trust her to make the appropriate decisions to keep herself healthy.

Linda Hooper-Bui, special to The Washington Post