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April 30, 2010

And No, You Can’t Have Fries With That

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors has identified one of the primary causes of childhood obesity:

Inadequate involvement of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors in family restaurant decisions.

And they mean to do something about it.

A new ordinance passed this week would prohibit restaurants from offering children free toys with meals that are not as nutritious as the Santa Clara Board of Supervisors thinks they should be.

As Santa Clara Supervisor Ken Yeager explains, the government has a responsibility to keep our kids safe.

And don’t you trust his judgment in keeping your kids safe more than your own?  After all, he has degrees in political science, education, sociology, and education (again).

Part of the problem, according to Yeager, is that kids see commercials for the free toys and start “nagging their parents.” He hopes the ordinance will eliminate this by eliminating the toys.

Because what with all their other responsibilities, the last thing we want to do is to saddle parents with the additional burden of being parents.

And as Dr. Sara Cody, General Internist, Santa Clara County Public Health Department, points out:

“What we're trying to do is support children and their choices.”

By taking them away.

Specifically, the ordinance states:

A Restaurant may not provide an Incentive Item linked to the purchase of a Single Food Item or Meal if it includes any of the following:

(1) Excessive Calories. More than two hundred (200) calories for a Single FoodItem, or more than four-hundred eighty-five (485) calories for a Meal;

(2) Excessive Sodium. More than four-hundred and eighty milligrams (480 mg) of sodium for a Single Food Item, or more than six hundred milligrams (600 mg) of sodium for a Meal;

(3) Excessive Fat. More than thirty-five percent (35%) of total calories from fat, except for fat contained in nuts, seeds, peanut butter or other nut butters, or an individually served or packaged egg, or individually served or packaged low-fat or reduced fat cheese;

(4) Excessive Saturated Fat. More than ten percent (10%) of total calories from saturated fats, except for saturated fat contained in nuts, seeds, peanut butter or other nut butters, an individually served or packaged egg, or individually served or packaged low-fat or reduced fat cheese;

(5) Trans Fat. More than 0.5 grams of trans fat;

The first thing that comes to mind would be McDonald’s popular Happy Meals, however parents concerned about their children’s diet should consider other foods that Santa Clara would consider so unhealthy that they would be subject to a toy ban.

Take, for instance, a couple of slices from a medium Pepperoni Pizza from Domino’s.

Sure, that would fall under the ban.

Well, how about a “Fresco Crunchy Taco” from Taco Bell’s Drive-Thru Diet Menu. That certainly sounds like it would be okay.

Nope.

Okay, let’s try the children’s menu at Applebee’s. A grilled cheese sandwich? That’s pretty standard for…

Sorry, no.

Red Lobster has a good kid’s menu including grilled chicken. Grilling is okay, right?

Try again.

A 3" turkey breast mini sub from Subway?

Nope, still not healthy enough.

But don’t despair, there are still plenty of delicious kid-friendly meals that would pass muster with Santa Clara’s toy ordinance, such as a nice piece of broiled fish from Red Lobster!

Bet your kids won’t be nagging you about that!

And then there’s Subway’s Veggie Delite mini sub.

Side Salad on a Bun Because nothing says “this is a special treat let’s enjoy ourselves for one brief moment absent the cares and worries of an often difficult world” like a side salad on a bun!

Regardless of how you feel about the ordinance, Ken Yeager’s efforts to take toys away from kids should make for an interesting re-election campaign.

Yeager Bumper Sticker

J.

April 30, 2010 at 05:07 PM in Health & Fitness | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

April 29, 2010

Great Moments in Governance

Facebook’s policy of "instant personalization" in which your information is automatically shared with certain pre-screened third-party partners?

New York Senator Chuck Schumer:

It's vitally important that safeguards are in place that provide users with control over their personal information."

"Providing opt-in mechanisms for information sharing instead of expecting users to go through long and complicated opt-out processes is a critical step towards maintaining clarity and transparency.”

Proposed New York State legislation that automatically enrolls all New York drivers in the state’s organ and tissue donor registry?

New York State Assemblyman Richard Brodsky:

"The presumption is they intend to donate.”

If the applicant does not decline to be registered in the New York State organ and tissue donor registry they will be automatically enrolled.”

“…the applicant may opt-out of the New York State organ and tissue donor registry under section forty-three hundred ten of the public health law… Pursuant to paragraph (a) of subdivision one of section five hundred four of the vehicle and traffic law.”

This edition of “Great Moments in Governance,” brought to you by the City of Detroit: “Building the future by not actually building the future, but more by just bulldozing stuff into the ground.”

J.

April 29, 2010 at 05:12 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Great Moments In Understatement

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania is facing the very real prospect of bankruptcy having earlier guaranteed payments on $282 million in bonds on an ill-fated waste-to-energy incinerator project. The payments on the bonds and on a working-capital loan this year add up to four times the amount the city collects in property taxes each year.

Observed City Controller Dan Miller of the situation:

“It’s not good.”

This edition of “Great Moments In Understatement” brought to you by the people of Greece who wish to thank the industrious American taxpayer for all their hard work and generous support without which Greeks could never afford to retire comfortably at the age of 58, as is, of course, their obvious right as Europeans.

J.

April 29, 2010 at 12:16 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 28, 2010

Great Moments In The Advance Of Western Civilization: Part 1

Summer of 480 BC: In the face of near certain death, a small garrison of Greek soldiers hold off a vastly superior Persian army at Thermopylae, ultimately sacrificing their lives for the greater good of Greece and its peoples.

Spring of AD 2010: In the face of near certain pay cuts, Greek Air Force pilots try to hold off EU-imposed budget austerity measures by conducting a “sick-in”, claiming that "their morale is too weak."

This episode of “Great Moments In The Advance Of Western Civilization,” brought to you by the Illinois chapter of the Service Employees International Union: Because everyone should be willing to sacrifice, so they don’t have to.

J.

April 28, 2010 at 01:04 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 27, 2010

And Nowhere In Their “Contract With America” Do They Once Condemn Hitler…

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson wants to know why “the Tea Party crowd,” hasn’t commented on Arizona’s controversial immigration law. After all, he points out, “Isn't the whole premise of the Tea Party movement that overreaching government poses a grave threat to individual freedom?”

Sure, you could argue that a loosely knit confederation of protesters focused almost exclusively on the notion that the federal government is fiscally irresponsible and its unsustainable deficit spending threatens the future well being of our nation is under no obligation to comment on every local law that gets passed that is only of tangential interest to its main cause.

But then, as Robinson put it in his column, that sounds like maybe you don’t like people who “happen to have brown skin and might speak Spanish.”

Come to think of it, the Tea Party movement has dropped the ball on a number of important local issues.

Take for example, the silence that greeted the signing of “HB 46,” the “Virginia Defective Drywall Correction and Restoration Assistance Fund” that would provide financial assistance “to promote the correction and restoration of residential property affected by the environmental problems attributable to defective drywall used in new construction or renovation that occurred between 2001 and 2008.” 

Where were the big rallies?  Where was Sarah Palin?  After all, without walls we would have no privacy and the government could look at everything we’re doing. Aren’t the Tea Party people supposed to support less government intrusion into our lives?  What could be more intrusive than living in a house without walls? And yet, we hear nothing.

What are they so afraid of?

And then there’s “HB 1,” Virginia’s Electronic mail law that would narrow the scope of the existing spam statute so as to exclude speech that is otherwise protected under the first amendment. Where were the Tea Party people when this critically important modification to existing state law was being debated? 

Did it conflict with a previously scheduled Klan rally?

And have you seen a single press release from anyone representing the Tea Party movement speaking out against the designated hitter rule?  Is that the kind of “fairness” the Tea Party people support?  Do they think it’s okay that a pitcher not be required to learn to hit like the rest of the team in a kind of batter's box apartheid? 

And isn’t this a completely appropriate opportunity to note that a lot of baseball players these days speak Spanish?

We suppose Eugene Robinson could have merely argued against the Arizona law purely on civil libertarian grounds, making a clear, measured case against a law that very well may have serious constitutional shortcomings and cuts against the grain of American’s general sense of fairness.

But why do that when you can just condemn it, and everyone who fails to specifically point out they don’t support it, as “racist.”

Which is what makes for his “eloquent columns,” “showcasing graceful writing and grasp of the larger historical picture.”

Hey, maybe we can win a Pulitzer Prize too, now that we better understand the criteria.

Our next piece: “The Tea Party Movement: Nazi Sympathizers or Merely Bigoted Xenophobes – We Cover All The Angles…”

J.

April 27, 2010 at 05:14 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 26, 2010

Top Ten Reasons You Should Support The Government In Its Attempt to Vastly Expand Its Regulation Of The Financial Industry

As Republican intransigence seeks to derail efforts to reform our financial sector, we thought you should consider all the reasons why we should all support this important initiative:

10) Expanding the government's regulatory workforce will give a much needed shot in the arm to the struggling porn industry.

9) Chris Dodd needs to refinance his mortgage.

8) Goldman Sachs likes it, and what’s good for Goldman Sachs is good for the country.  And by “the country,” we mean, “Barack Obama’s fundraising efforts.”

7) Will likely be just as successful as the auto bailouts in which GM paid back taxpayer money using other taxpayer money.

6) Will be particularly convenient as Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein can just drop off required regulatory filings on one of his frequent visits to the White House.

5) Will ensure plenty of employment opportunities for former administration officials.

4) Will finally do away with the concept of “too big to fail” by specifically identifying firms that are too big to fail.

3) Creating a permanent bailout mechanism will ensure we finally put an end to bailouts.

2) Granting the FDIC broad authority to guarantee private debt means the taxpayer will never again be on the hook for funding the bailouts we’re putting an end to.

1) Allowing the FDIC to pay creditors more money than they would normally be entitled to ensures those fat cat lenders won’t get sweetheart deals from the taxpayers who will never again be on the hook for funding the bailouts we’re putting an end to.

Supporting the government’s financial reform legislation: It’s just common sense.

J.

April 26, 2010 at 01:33 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 23, 2010

Capitolism Vs. Capitalism

Who is most responsible for our financial crisis?

1) The people who bought houses they couldn’t afford.

2) The banks that gave the mortgages to the people who bought houses they couldn’t afford.

3) The government-backed agencies and policies that enabled the banks that gave the mortgages to the people who bought houses they couldn’t afford.

4) The people on Wall Street who traded the mortgages.

Naturally, you said the people on Wall Street are the most responsible which is why we need to concentrate our regulatory reform efforts there. As President Obama said Yesterday in remarks he made not far from New York's financial center:

“We need to enact a set of updated, commonsense rules to ensure accountability on Wall Street."

“We‘ve produced a proposal that by all accounts is a commonsense... approach"

"I urge all of you to join me, to join those who are seeking to pass these commonsense reforms."

You want to kill a weed, what do you do?  You clip off the leaves at the top.  That root will probably take care of itself.

It’s just common sense.

However, it’s not all Wall Street’s fault.  The President admits that Washington shoulders some of the blame, saying: 

“But let’s face it, we also need reform in Washington.” 

And by “reform in Washington,” he means:

“The debate over these changes is a perfect example. I mean, we have seen battalions of financial industry lobbyists descending on Capitol Hill, firms spending millions to influence the outcome of this debate."

So, not only is it Wall Street’s fault, it’s also Wall Street’s fault.

What if you disagree? You’re in luck as the President invites vigorous debate:

“Now, there’s a legitimate debate taking place about how best to ensure taxpayers are held harmless in this process.  And that’s a legitimate debate, and I encourage that debate.”

Say, for example, you debate the wisdom of layering on even more regulation on an industry that is already one of the most heavily regulated sectors of the economy and creating additional agencies with resolution authority which might actually institutionalize the notion of “too big to fail” and all but guarantee future bailouts while at the same time pursuing government policies very similar to the ones that led to the last crisis? According to the President:

“But what’s not legitimate is to suggest that somehow the legislation being proposed is going to encourage future taxpayer bailouts, as some have claimed… it’s not factually accurate.  It is not true… a vote for reform is a vote to put a stop to taxpayer-funded bailouts.  That’s the truth.  End of story.”

In other words, the President encourages debate, as long as you agree with him.

At least we know that President Obama is every bit as committed to free speech as he is to free markets.

J.

April 23, 2010 at 01:14 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 21, 2010

These Aren’t The Droids You’re Looking For…

As part of the federal government’s ongoing effort to not take over our health care system, members of Congress are working on legislation to control how much health insurance companies may charge for premiums.  As Iowa Senator Tom Harkin points out:

“Currently, about 22 states in the individual market and 27 states in the small group market do not require a review of premiums before they go into effect — and perhaps even more. This is a gaping hole in our regulatory system, and it is unacceptable.”

In order to close this gaping hole in which prices are unacceptably determined by an authority other than the government, the proposed legislation would grant the government the power block “any rate increase found to be unreasonable.”

However, as a check on the government’s power, the determination of what constitutes “unreasonable” would be made by the government.

This follows passage of the Obama administration’s "Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act" which did not take over our health care system by granting the government the power to determine precisely what plans insurance companies will be allowed to offer along with a mandate that everyone be required to purchase at least one of them.

This has created a surprising amount of confusion among the population at large, most of whom probably did not attend Harvard. 

To help allay their fears, White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer explained in January:

The legislation would create a marketplace where private insurance companies would compete for business… That's not a ‘government takeover’"

This is obvious to anyone who has taken the time to read the law.  For example, after laying out what must be included in the plans, “Sec. 1302. Essential Health Benefits Requirements,” helpfully describes the precise manner in which the plans must be structured:

(1) LEVELS OF COVERAGE DEFINED- The levels of coverage described in this subsection are as follows:

(A) BRONZE LEVEL- A plan in the bronze level shall provide a level of coverage that is designed to provide benefits that are actuarially equivalent to 60 percent of the full actuarial value of the benefits provided under the plan.



(B) SILVER LEVEL- A plan in the silver level shall provide a level of coverage that is designed to provide benefits that are actuarially equivalent to 70 percent of the full actuarial value of the benefits provided under the plan.



(C) GOLD LEVEL- A plan in the gold level shall provide a level of coverage that is designed to provide benefits that are actuarially equivalent to 80 percent of the full actuarial value of the benefits provided under the plan.



(D) PLATINUM LEVEL- A plan in the platinum level shall provide a level of coverage that is designed to provide benefits that are actuarially equivalent to 90 percent of the full actuarial value of the benefits provided under the plan.

None of this can be considered a “takeover,” it’s just “heavily regulated.”  As Senator Diane Feinstein of California explains:

“Water and power are essential for life. So they are heavily regulated, and rate increases must be approved. Health insurance is also vital for life. It too should be strictly regulated so that people can afford this basic need.”

Given that one could plausibly make the argument that food is also essential for life, we look forward to legislation that would create a marketplace where private food producers would compete for business, kind of like a grocery store, only the government will determine what’s on the shelves, how much you’ll pay, and require that you purchase vegetables.

That’s not a takeover, it just addresses an unacceptable regulatory hole.

J.

April 21, 2010 at 02:35 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 19, 2010

You Have A Right To Free Speech. Just Make Sure You Run It By A Media Person First.

What better opportunity than “Patriots’ Day,” the anniversary of the first battle of the American Revolutionary War at Lexington-Concord, to have our opinion leaders celebrate the ideals we all hold so dear:

The right to not be too critical of our wise and benevolent leaders.

As Bill Clinton pointed out in comments he made marking the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombings:

“…But we also have to take responsibility for the possible consequences of what we say. We shouldn’t demonize the government or its public employees or its elected officials. We can disagree with them. We can harshly criticize them. But when we turn them into an object of demonization, you know, you — you increase the number of threats.”

Who gets to determine what is merely “disagreement” and so a perfectly acceptable exercise in free speech and what is “demonization” for which you must take responsibility for the possible consequences? Those most clearly qualified to do so:

The opinion leaders.

For example, according to Time Magazine's Joe Klein, if you criticize Barack Obama, well, that sounds a little bit seditious to him.

However, if you criticize George Bush and go so far as to suggest he start implementing parts of Barack Obama's agenda before he steps down as the duly elected President of the United States?

That’s perfectly legitimate criticism.

How about the use of the word “regime?”  Well, according to MSNBC's Chris Matthews:

"I've never seen language like this in the American press, referring to an elected representative government, elected in a totally fair, democratic, American election -- we will have another one in November, we'll have another one for president in a couple years -- fair, free, and wonderful democracy we have in this country…. Regimes are tyrannies. They're juntas. They're military coups. The use of the word 'regime' in American political parlance is unacceptable."

It is unacceptable, except for all the times he and others used the term to describe the Bush Administration.

And the Obama Administration

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman is also deeply troubled by all the incendiary talk he hears:

“The Republican National Committee put out a fund-raising appeal that included a picture of Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, surrounded by flames, while the committee's chairman declared that it was time to put Ms. Pelosi on "the firing line." And Sarah Palin put out a map literally putting Democratic lawmakers in the cross hairs of a rifle sight."

This violent, menacing imagery, particularly employing firearm metaphors, is certainly disturbing and totally unlike President Obama saying:

"If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun, because from what I understand folks in Philly like a good brawl.”

As you can see, it’s vitally important that we not be too critical of our wise and benevolent leaders.

And by “wise and benevolent leaders,” we mean, “Democratic Party Officials.”

The rest of you?  Hey, tone it down a bit, okay? And just be thankful for the gifts that have been bestowed upon you and grateful that President Obama finds you "amusing."

J.

April 19, 2010 at 03:49 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 16, 2010

Sometimes You Feel Like A Nut... Unless You Work At The FDA.

Which one of these is such a hazard to your health that it is considered “illegal,” and subject to “seizure or injunction?”

Lays Potato Chips Walnuts If you said “clearly the bag of walnuts,” you just might have what it takes to work at the Food and Drug Administration (“Protecting pharmaceutical industry interests for over 70 years!”) which sent a letter of warning to Diamond Foods, the producer of Diamond walnuts pointing out that:

“Your walnut products are drugs within the meaning of section 201 (g)(1)(B) of the Act [21 U.S.C. § 321(g)(B)]," and as such are not generally recognized as safe and effective.”

Well, sure, anyone could see that.

And isn’t it really just common sense that a bag of potato chips would be healthy as compared to a bag of walnuts? As Frito-Lay points out of their snack food products:

Our all-natural sunflower, corn and soybean oils contain good polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, which help lower total and LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol and maintain HDL ‘good’ cholesterol levels, which can support a healthy heart.”

Contrast this with the outrageous claims made by the makers of Diamond walnuts, (or should that be, “deadly walnuts”):

"[T]here's good evidence that omega-3s can increase HDL (good cholesterol), further reducing the risk of stroke and heart disease."

Whoa, you can’t just go around spreading lies like that.

Well, not lies in the traditional sense of the word, but more like lies in the sense of things the government hasn’t given you permission to say yet.

Which is pretty much the same thing.

Frito-Lay knew this, which is why they heavily lobbied presented sound evidence to the FDA to get permission to promote potato chips as heart healthy. 

However, as with Cheerios last year,  the folks at Diamond Foods made the mistake of providing factual information to consumers without first heavily lobbying presenting evidence to the FDA so as to secure permission ahead of time to point out things that are true.

For example, the FDA notes that this information appears on Diamond's walnut package in clear violation of regulations:

"OMEGA 3 2.5 g per serving."

Where do they get off thinking they can just go around telling consumers what is in their product?  Who do they think they are?  God?  Or possibly Roberta Wagner,
 Director
, Office of Compliance
 Center for Food Safety
and Applied Nutrition at the FDA?

Either, or.

So, the next time you reach for a snack, consider what the people from the government say is healthy.

And grab that bag of Doritos!

J.

April 16, 2010 at 02:48 PM in Health & Fitness | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack