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People don't connect with horses. That is the reason some people say horse racing is failing. Horse racing needs a hero to revive the sport, they say. And that is why all eyes on Saturday will be on California Chrome, the favorite going into the Belmont Stakes, the last and most grueling leg of the Triple Crown.

Columnist Frank Deford writes:

"Horse racing thrived when a lot of people still had a connection with horses, and when it was not legally possible to bet on much of anything but horses. But, of course, in America today, gambling is wide open. And horses are so much out of our daily lives that we rarely even have Western movies anymore; films based on true stories rarely involve horses. ...

Americans would rather play slot machines and point spreads and watch automobiles race, because they grew up with cars and can relate to them."

Not so long ago, while enjoying a libation in a decorous saloon, the proprietor — who happened to hail from the fabled Windy City — suddenly jarred the genteel assembled by turning on the Cubs game. Just at that moment, a Cubby was heading toward the plate when the throw came in, and the runner (spoiler alert!), being a Cub, was tagged out.

Visualize the tableau: The runner. The catcher. But also a third figure: the umpire. And see him now: feet spread well apart, solidly grounded, mask off in his left hand, and his right arm flies up, thumb to the heavens. You don't even have to hear him shout, "Yer out!"

It made me think how sometimes the action of an official is every bit as memorable and as stylish as what a player does. Like the soccer referee presenting — presenting! — a yellow or red card. He flips it, like a magician finishing a trick. Soccer officials always stand so upright then, don't they?

Or, the other extreme: a wrestling referee, flush down on the mat with the two competitors as one tries to pin the other's shoulder. And then, in a flash, the ref slaps his hand down. No player ends any kind of game as decisively as a wrestling ref does — better than a walk-off.

By contrast, my favorite action from a boxing referee is almost dainty: those times when he gently touches both boxers simultaneously to break up a clinch. And then, subtly, he drifts away. It's always called backpedaling — where else but in a boxing ring does anybody backpedal?

Football officials are the least distinctive, because they just throw flags, then let the head ref explain later. I do like the symmetry, though, when two officials, side by side under the goal posts, throw up their hands in unison to signal a successful field goal. Who would ever think that football could remind you of synchronized swimming?

Basketball officials are the most expressive, though. That hands-slapping-the-hips business –– blocking! Or the scraping motion across the top of the ball to indicate that the defender didn't touch his man, only the ball. Beautiful stuff — better than most dunks that mere players do.

The most expressive ref I ever saw was basketball hall-of-famer Mendy Rudolph. When it was time out, he'd take his stance, put the ball in the crook of his left arm and, with his right hand, wipe his brow. Whether there was sweat there or not, he'd flip the drops away. With disdain. You had to see it.

Referees always say it's best not to be noticed, but the fact is that an official who makes his call with vigor and elan is really a beautiful part of the game. OK, let's watch that Cubs game again. The runner, the throw, the tag –– but the arm up, the thumb high. 'Yer out ... and 'yer terrific.

There's a man whose name is part of millions of lives, but many of us don't know his story. This Memorial Day weekend may be a good time to hear about him.

Butch was the son of a lawyer who worked for Al Capone. The father wound up testifying against the legendary gangster in a 1931 tax evasion trial that sent Capone to prison.

Butch was in military school, and won an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy. He was fascinated by flying, and was learning to take off and land in tricky ocean winds when he got word that his father had been shot to death, just a few days before Al Capone was released from prison in 1939.

Like a lot of young men in uniform, Butch took on grave responsibilities in the days following Pearl Harbor; he became leader of a flight squadron. On Feb. 20, 1942, Butch's fighter was alone in the air when a wave of nine Japanese bombers swooped down on the USS Lexington. As the Medal of Honor citation put it:

"Without hesitation, alone and unaided, he repeatedly attacked this enemy formation, at close range in the face of intense combined machine gun and cannon fire ... one of the most daring, if not the most daring, single action in the history of combat aviation."

The U.S. economy reached a milestone this week: The country finally recovered all the jobs it lost during the Great Recession. But some states still lag behind when it comes to job creation — including New Jersey.

The Garden State's stalled economy may be an even bigger problem for Gov. Chris Christie than the scandal over lane closures at the George Washington Bridge.

When Christie took office in 2010, the state had just lost more than 100,000 jobs. Christie was undaunted. He talked about the "Jersey Comeback" at town hall meetings, on TV and at ground-breaking events.

"The noise that you hear around us is the greatest noise I could hear as governor of New Jersey," he said at one groundbreaking in early 2012. "It's the noise of construction. We have ended our decade of joblessness, and we're back to letting businesses know that they're welcome to grow here."

For a while, it seemed like the Jersey comeback was a real thing, says James Hughes, dean of Rutgers' public policy school and an expert on the region's economy.

"[In] 2011, job growth accelerated," Hughes says. "It accelerated again in 2012, so it looked like it was for real. But then somebody hit the economic pause button in the summer of 2013, and the economy has really been stumbling since then."

New Jersey has recovered less than half of the jobs it lost in the recession. A report by the Star-Ledger found the state is tied for 48th in private-sector job creation since 2010. Wall Street ratings agencies have slashed the state's credit rating six times.

The grumbling from Garden State residents is getting louder.

Kelly Conklin had hoped that Christie, a Republican, would make life easier for small businesses like his. Conklin, who owns a company that builds cabinets and architectural woodwork in the north Jersey suburbs, says rising state fees, and tolls he has to pay to get to job sites in New York City, are hurting his bottom line.

"That falls heavily on small business," he says. "I got a bill from state of New Jersey for $1,500 for fire safety. That's just outrageous, and it's a hidden tax. We're out here on our own, struggling every day."

The governor's economists predicted that tax revenues would go up by a very optimistic 5 percent this year. That didn't happen.

Christie was forced to plug the budget gap by cutting $2.4 billion in payments to an already under-funded pension system last month.

"I'm going to pledge to make the payments that we need to make to not dig the hole any deeper," Christie said. "But in a time when we're confronted with this type of challenge, I cannot also pay for all the sins of my predecessors."

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While White House officials are keeping a brave face, President Obama and his top aides obviously have a political firestorm on their hands, owing not only to the particular details of the prisoner exchange involving Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and five senior Taliban officials but how they informed Congress and the public.

Not that the president is yet willing to admit that publicly.

During Obama's European trip on Thursday, a journalist asked him if "in retrospect, do you think you could have done more to confer with Congress or announced the deal in a way that might have spared [Bergdahl] and his family being caught up in the political crossfire?"

The president didn't really say what he and his aides might have done differently. Instead, he said: "We had a prisoner of war whose health had deteriorated and we were deeply concerned about. And we saw an opportunity and we seized it. And I make no apologies for that."

There was nothing in the president's answer suggesting that he thought he and his team could have done a better job handling what has indisputably become an election-year mess.

But some aspects of how Obama and his team told the world about the Bergdahl trade have raised eyebrows, even among congressional allies, prompting questions like: What were they thinking? And that's without even going into the national security substance of releasing top Taliban officials.

"They've done a pretty poor job," says James Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University. "It just seems like error after error after error. In a communications strategy, you've got to anticipate who's going to criticize you and why and have some strong arguments for it and they didn't even have that."

What makes this even more surprising is this is a presidency in its sixth year, not its first.

Here are just three ways the administration has hurt its case.

The Rose Garden: Obama's appearance with the parents on Saturday quickly became problematic, to put it mildly. By standing with the Bergdahls at the White House, Obama wrapped the freed soldier and his parents in the presidency's prestige.

Unfortunately, given the dubious circumstances of the sergeant's disappearance, that quickly raised questions in many minds about what White House officials were thinking. That Bob Bergdahl, the soldier's father, spoke some words in Pashto, the language of his son's captors, only added to the head-scratching.

It turns out, there was an element of serendipity to the Bergdahls' winding up in the Rose Garden. They had been in touch with White House officials over the years and were in Washington for the Memorial Day weekend. The deal that resulted in their son's release came together while they were still in town. It was Obama's personal decision to have them at the White House event, which may tell us everything we need to know. When a president wants his staff to make something happen, they tend to get it done though it might not be the wisest course.

Susan Rice: The problems here can be summed up in six words: "Benghazi talking points ... honor and distinction." The national security adviser, who for conservatives became the face of an alleged administration coverup of the facts behind the 2012 attacks in Libya, is in a familiar tight spot. Her credibility was widely questioned again because of her claim, again on a Sunday news show, that Bergdahl served honorably despite White House officials' awareness that members of Bergdahl's unit were saying otherwise. Given that, how could she make that claim and leave the impression of an Obama White House disconnected from reality?

Shifting rationales: Obama and White House officials have given various explanations for why they felt forced to move so quickly to trade Bergdahl for the five Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo Bay without first telling Congress as required by law. They were afraid of a leak that could harm the deal. Bergdahl's health was rapidly deteriorating. They had made Congress aware of negotiations taking place as far back as 2011.

Little of that was cutting it with the president's allies on Capitol Hill, let alone his Republican opponents. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., for instance, the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, wasn't buying the excuses that Congress was notified early in the process or that there wasn't enough time to tell key members right before the deal was announced.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, she said: "I think that they expected everybody just to fall in line. A lot could have been avoided had we been called and advised and talked with."

How badly has the administration damaged itself? "On the Bergdahl thing, it's going to be very hard to recover," Thurber said. "It's going to be hard to build trust with Feinstein and [Michigan Democrat Sen. Carl] Levin and other people he needs to be close to on the Senate side."

If there's some other part of the deal with the Taliban that only Obama knows about, and that Americans will eventually learn of, that serves the nation's security interests, that could help, Thurber said.

"But it's going to be very hard, especially just before an election; it's pretty tough," he said. "There are a lot of Democrats in the Senate who are going to run away from this. And from him."

Congratulations Class of 2014! You are entering a labor market that offers a record number of paychecks.

On Friday, the Labor Department said the U.S. economy now has 138.5 million jobs, slightly more than the previous high set in early 2008 — just as the Great Recession was tightening its grip.

The post-recession peak came after employers added 217,000 jobs in May. That marked the fourth straight month when payrolls increased by at least 200,000. That kind of hiring streak has not happened since late 1999.

But the unemployment rate held steady at 6.3 percent — a rate that remains elevated because the number of jobs has not grown as fast as the population over the last six years.

"The economy has recaptured all the jobs that were lost during the recession, and is now beginning to show incremental employment growth from over six years ago," said Doug Handler, chief U.S. economist for IHS Global Insight.

That growth, however slow, is nudging up pay. In May, wages rose by a nickel an hour, helping earnings rise 2.1 percent from last year.

May's data on jobs and wages fits with earlier predictions of brighter prospects for the 1.8 million Americans graduating from college with bachelor's degrees this year.

A survey done this spring by the National Association of Colleges and Employers showed companies plan to hire nearly 9 percent more college graduates compared with 2013. And the survey also showed employers are boosting starting salaries by 1.2 percent over last year.

For those graduates who studied science or engineering, this hiring season looks particularly encouraging. One NACE survey showed petroleum engineers are getting starting pay of more than $95,000 a year.

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The financial crisis of 2008 caused such an enormous upheaval that future historians will long be asking: Who caused it? Who fixed it? Could it have turned out better?

Recently, two key players looked back: Former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner wrote Stress Test, Reflections on Financial Crisis, and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren wrote A Fighting Chance.

The two reached opposite conclusions. Geithner believes the bank bailout proved its worth. Warren remains outraged that wealthy bankers have not been jailed.

So should the financial system's "rescuers" get our thanks for preventing a Second Great Depression, or our disdain for allowing a heist to go unpunished?


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President Obama appeared in Normandy today to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. It's his fifth trip to France since becoming president, tying it with Mexico as the country Obama has visited most frequently.

We Americans love our fried shrimp, our sushi and our fish sticks. And a lot of other people around the world count on fish as a critical part of their diet, too. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, fish now accounts for almost 17 percent of the world's intake of protein — in some coastal and island countries it's as high as 70 percent.

To keep up with the world's growing population and its appetite for seafood, we can't just rely on wild fish. Already, we're getting more of it from aquaculture.

And that farmed fish production will have to more than double by 2050 to meet demand, according to a report by the World Resources Institute. The potential environmental implications of that are pretty daunting.

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Wearing a red Union Bank polo shirt, high school senior Jerry Liu politely helps a peer with a bank deposit. With a waiting area and even a decorative plant on the table, this could be any bank branch — but right outside this island of adulthood are the hallways of Lincoln High School in Los Angeles.

This is one of three student-run Union Bank branches in California. They're all located in low-income, immigrant-heavy neighborhoods. You can only bank here if you're a student, teacher or parent, but these are real accounts handling real money.

“ You have some parents who say, 'Well, why would we allow that particular bank branch? Aren't we granting them, essentially, a monopoly on these relatively nave, unsophisticated children?'

Peak tomato season — July through September here on the East Coast — is almost upon us, and the anticipation is palpable. Before we know it, those super sweet, juicy fruits, grown outdoors under the hot sun, will be back in abundance.

We tend to fetishize summer tomatoes, especially heirloom varieties like Brandywine and Cherokee Purple, and regard them as the pinnacle of tomato flavor.

But according scientists who specialize in growing food in hydroponic greenhouses, some tomatoes bred for the indoors are now just as flavorful as the ones grown outdoors in perfect summer conditions.

"Heirloom tomatoes [are] full of flavor and taste and color and nutritional value," says Gene Giacomelli, who directs the Controlled Environment Agriculture Center at the University of Arizona. "But we can do that in the greenhouse with new varieties."

Good tomato flavor, as we've noted, is a complex combination of sugars, acids and gasses we experience as smell. And it depends on a variety of factors, including breeding and temperature, Neil Mattson, co-director of Cornell University's Controlled Environment Agriculture program, tells The Salt.

More tomatoes are being bred to thrive indoors, and the environmental conditions that make for a perfect outdoor tomato can now be replicated in greenhouses, too. That's becoming increasingly important now that global warming is making outdoor farming less predictable.

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