Archive for the “Government Foolishness” Category

Waaaaay back in 2009, I wrote a post about the Los Angeles City Council’s ban on new fast-food restaurants on the city’s south side – a poor area with a high level of obesity. Here’s part of what I wrote:

The ban hasn’t done diddly, of course — and won’t — but it did serve one important purpose: it satisfied the congenital need of politicians to do something! whenever they see a problem.

Before getting into the economic and nutritional stupidity of this ban, I’m going to risk receiving some hate mail by actually acknowledging the elephant in the room: racism. South Los Angeles is populated almost exclusively by African-Americans and Hispanics. Telling them they can’t have any more fast-food restaurants in their neighborhoods is paternalistic and insulting. It’s rooted in the notion that they can’t make smart decisions for themselves, and therefore need a government nanny to hide the cookie jar.

When I wrote that post, I hadn’t yet read Thomas Sowell’s terrific book The Vision of the Anointed, so I didn’t describe the Grand Plan Fast-Food Ban as an example of The Anointed at work. But boy howdy, that’s exactly what it was. Here’s a quick recap of how Sowell describes The Anointed imposing their vision (which I recounted in more detail in my speech Diet, Health and the Wisdom of Crowds):

1. The Anointed identify a problem in society.

Yeah, okay, there’s a high rate of obesity on the south side of Los Angeles. It’s a problem.

2. The Anointed propose a Grand Plan to fix the problem.

Let’s ban new fast-food restaurants from opening on the south side! Very grand indeed.

3. Because they are so supremely confident in their ideas, The Anointed don’t bother with proof or evidence that the Grand Plan will actually work.

As I pointed out in the 2009 post, the Rand Corporation had already produced a study showing there were more fast-food restaurants per capita on the west side of Los Angeles – a mostly-white area where obesity isn’t a problem. So that would suggest proximity to fast-food restaurants wasn’t the cause of obesity. There were zero studies demonstrating that limiting fast-food restaurants would do diddly squat. But hey, we’re talking about The Anointed here. They don’t need proof or evidence. All they need are good intentions.

4. If possible, The Anointed will impose the Grand Plan on other people (for their own good, of course).

I’d say not allowing people to open new restaurants (which would fail if they didn’t have willing customers) pretty much qualifies as imposing a plan. That’s the thing about those Grand Plans: they almost involve confiscating and spending other people’s money or limiting other people’s freedoms – or both for a truly Grand Plan.

5. The Anointed assume anyone who opposes the Grand Plan is either evil or stupid.

In this case, I’d say the City Council idjits probably view the fast-food restaurants as evil and the people who eat there as stupid – which of course means they need The Anointed to (ahem) help them by limiting their choices.

6. If the Grand Plan fails, The Anointed will never, ever, ever admit the Grand Plan was wrong.

Fail? Now why in the heck would a Grand Plan based on zero evidence and a healthy dose of economic illiteracy fail? But I predicted in 2009 that it would:

Fast-food restaurants are convenient target, but shooting at the wrong target doesn’t get the job done. Banning McDonald’s and other fast-food joints from poor neighborhoods won’t make poor people any leaner. But it will create another tribute to the economic stupidity of legislators … namely, it will deprive a lot of unskilled but work-minded teenagers of their first job opportunities, with at least the possibility of moving into management someday.

It’s been seven years since that ban was imposed. That ought to be enough time for the positive effects of limiting other people’s freedom to manifest, eh? An article from the Los Angeles Times describes the results:

Seven years ago, Los Angeles made national headlines with a novel attempt to reduce obesity in South L.A. by banning new fast-food restaurants.

A “novel” attempt. If you saw my speech, you may recall that Sowell says The Anointed are attracted to ideas that are new, bold, or exquisitely expressed. New and bold are substitutes for supported by evidence they’ll actually work.

But a new study found the effort has not achieved its intended goal.

Well, I am shocked.

A Rand Corp. report released Thursday says that from 2007 to 2012, the percentage of people who were overweight or obese increased everywhere in L.A., but the increase was significantly greater in areas covered by the fast-food ordinance, including Baldwin Hills and Leimert Park.

The study also found fast-food consumption went up in South L.A. as well as across the county during that time.

Now, the logical response would be to admit that the ban was a bad idea and stop curtailing other people’s freedoms to make their own decisions – such as the decision to open a restaurant. But we can’t expect logic from The Anointed. They never admit a Grand Plan was a bad idea. If anything, they insist that we need to do the same thing again – only bigger.

Which is why these quotes shouldn’t surprise any of us:

Councilman Bernard C. Parks, who co-wrote the zoning restriction with former Councilwoman Jan Perry, said he wasn’t surprised that the Rand report says it didn’t have any health effect. But he maintained that it was a vital first step in reducing the number of fast-food restaurants and breaking unhealthy eating habits in the region.

I see. It’s a total failure, but also a vital first step. Those next steps must be real doozies.

This is why it’s important to read books like The Vision of The Anointed. Sowell describes these people and how they think so perfectly, it’s like reading the script before you see a play. You know what’s going to happen next.

“We never believed it was going to be an overnight situation where all of a sudden the community was going to be healthy,” he said.

Riiiight.  Seven years — which I think we’d all agree is equivalent to “overnight” — wasn’t long enough. The fast-food ban will work … it will just take another 20 or 30 years to show real results.

I didn’t mention it in my speech, but Sowell explains in his book that The Anointed escape the blame for their failures because it often takes years for the failure to manifest. By contrast, if an engineer proposes a new, bold, exquisitely expressed plan to build a bridge and then the bridge falls down, he gets the blame – and nobody cares how exquisitely he defends his design. Bridge fell, your plan was bad, you’re fired. It’s the same with programming, by the way. My code either works or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, the results are immediate and I take the blame.

Anyway …

Parks said the ordinance was meant to be part of a larger strategy that includes bringing grocery stores and farmers markets to replace fast-food restaurants, but that part has been more difficult to accomplish.

In other words, the plan didn’t go far enough.  I”m guessing if I got Mr. Parks on the phone, he’d inform me that the “larger strategy” has been undermined by people who are evil or stupid.

Like reading the script before you see a play …

Over the last several years, more research has focused on the social factors that affect health, such as where people live, how much money they make, and how close they are to places that serve healthy food. Studies evaluating the increase in obesity have found that the food that is available in a neighborhood can directly affect what people eat.

The Rand study, however, shows how hard it can be to translate that research into effective policy.

Well, here’s a thought: MAYBE THE ANOINTED SHOULD STOP TRYING TO COME UP WITH “EFFECTIVE POLICY” AND LEAVE EVERYONE ELSE THE @#$% ALONE FOR A CHANGE.

Valerie Ruelas, director of the Community Diabetes Initiatives at USC, said that what people eat is based on a complicated mix of behavior, preferences, education, location, access and other factors. She was not surprised that the L.A. policy had little effect on people’s eating habits and obesity rates, according to the Rand study.

“You’re not going to find the one pill that’s going to solve all the problems,” Ruelas said.

A pill? Of course not. A pill is a little itty-bitty thing. If you want to solve a problem in society, you need a Grand Plan. Just ask The Anointed.

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Here’s another callback for you longtime Fatheads. It’s from the end of a two-parter I wrote on the State of Illinois’ attempt last year to regulate raw milk producers out of business, “The Older Brother’s notes from the sausage factory floor…” At the end, after over a hundred people showed up to politely but loudly protest the state’s heavy-handed actions, I noted:

“I’ve heard from a couple of folks who think the regulators got an education on raw milk… Maybe the bureaucrats would change things up substantially.  Maybe even remove impediments to raw milk while setting a few common-sense protocols, as it fits in with the buy local/real foods programs the state and others talk up.”

Feeling I had a better understanding of bureaucratic sausage-making than those good, honest people, I ended with…

“I’m guessing they’ll lay low for a few months or more, and then pass pretty much all of those rules as is, maybe without the 100 gallon limit.  Or maybe they’ll bump the limit to 500 gallons.  But they didn’t learn anything, and they’re there to pass those rules.

It’s what they do.”

… Well. Sorry to be right again, but really, it was an easy call.

Apparently, in the last week or so, the FDA-funded lickspittles at the Illinois Department of Public Health went ahead and promulgated new rules concerning raw milk because… well, because there were no rules and how can you just let people mind their own business without someone writing rules to give them permission to do their own business and regulations detailing how that business is to be minded.

This go-round, they’ve posted for comment regulations that will require anyone selling raw milk to gather the name, address, and phone number of anyone they sell raw milk to and turn it over to the state on request. They will also be prohibited from milking a cow with any dirt on its udder or belly, and be required to only milk cows in a building with floors and walls that can be cleaned. In other words, you can’t milk a cow outdoors, and you’ll have to build a building for several tens of thousands of dollars to do it in.

These are, of course, only a start. Once they get some regulations on the books, they can keep expanding them and “re-interpreting” them until they’ve driven all raw milk producers out of the market.  Mission accomplished!

I wouldn’t have known about this as my local paper — the one in the state capital and the middle of ag country — didn’t actually mention any of this. It did, however, helpfully print a letter to the editor from one of the FDA’s useful idiots – the (prepare to be impressed) president of The Illinois State Medical Society. Here’s a few of what the medical establishment’s public mouthpiece seems to think are compelling arguments on why educated, intelligent, health-conscious people shouldn’t be allowed to choose to consume milk in the way it’s been consumed for the last 7,500 years or so…

 

As the Illinois Department of Public Health advances rules governing the sale of raw milk, the Illinois State Medical Society remains opposed to the sale and distribution of “raw” or unpasteurized milk in any form. Federal law prohibits dairies from distributing raw milk across state lines in final package form and about half of U.S. states prohibit the sale of raw milk completely.

Correct answer: So what?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other medical and health organizations, raw milk that is not pasteurized may contain a wide variety of harmful bacteria, including Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria and other bacteria, that can cause serious illness and, in extreme cases, death. And studies show that children, particularly, are most susceptible to illness due to consuming unpasteurized raw milk.

You mean, there might be germs in milk? Like just about any other food out there. Only as the statistics show, not so much. The nice thing about raw milk is that, unlike pasteurized milk, it also contains all kinds of good bacteria that, in addition to controlling the baddies mentioned, also brings both documented and anecdotal benefits. Probably in about another twenty years, the adherents to the type of medicine practiced by the Illinois State Medical Society will discover the wonders of the gut biome. (Don’t tell them now – you’ll ruin the surprise!)

Pasteurization, simply put, is heating milk to a high temperature and then rapidly cooling it to eliminate harmful bacteria, yet maintaining the milk’s freshness for an extended period of time. Even the Illinois Farm Bureau advocates that individuals drink pasteurized milk.

Wow. You mean, the industry group representing the commodity dairy producers who keep their livestock in confinement pens, inject them with hormones and antibiotics, then mix milk from thousands of cows from different producers, to be shipped hundreds of miles, think people should only drink pasteurized milk? The ones who also put artificial coloring and aspartame in their products?

Now, if you’re going to drink milk from one of these producers, you damned well better want it to be pasteurized. That has nothing to do with the environment of healthy dairy cows raised on pasture with sales going to people within driving distance, who can walk around those fields if they want to see what conditions their food is being produced in.

(Don’t worry about that aspartame thing though. The FDA of which the guardian of our health at the Illinois State Medical Society speaks is engaged in an effort, at the behest of these same producers, to allow aspartame to not be listed in the ingredients of your store-bought, “healthy” milk.)

And these commodity producers, having seen milk sales drop over 20% to the lowest levels in thirty years, are more than happy to advise the FDA, the USDA, the Medical Society, and any other economic illiterates, on how to best put small farmers — who are producing a healthy, ethical, vastly superior product at premium prices — out of business.

I’d say that if the good doctor’s medical expertise is in line with his depth of understanding exhibited in the areas of epidemiology and economics, it would explain why there are over 90,000 medical malpractice-related hospital deaths a year.

That’s an interesting number, because coincidentally, according to an excellent breakdown of the real numbers done by Chris Kesser here, that’s about the odds (1 in 94,000) of a person even getting ill from raw milk (not dead – just a reportable tummy ache). The odds of being hospitalized due to raw milk are around 1 in 6 million, or about three times less than dying in an airplane crash. As for dying, well that’s hard to calculate, since the last reportable deaths associated with raw milk were in the late 1990’s, and those were from homemade “bathtub” queso cheese, which was assuredly contaminated by the maker.

Now, back in 1985, both the worst case of food poisoning deaths (52) and the worst case of salmonella poisoning deaths (possibly up to 12) since the CDC began keeping records in 1970 resulted from consuming dairy products. However, both of those cases involved pasteurized milk. You know — the safe kind.

In fact, there has never been a death reported from just drinking raw milk. That’s according to the CDC. But it took a Freedom of Information Act request to get that out of them, cause it tends to mess with their mission, which is to produce press releases that say “Majority of dairy-related disease outbreaks linked to raw milk.”

Not that food can’t kill you. Since that last death associated with raw milk products, people have died from spinach, green onions, cantaloupe, peanuts, drinking water, apple juice, various types of meats, and again, pasteurized milk products, among others.

If the sundry State Medical Societies worked on “physician, heal thyself” and “first, do no harm” instead of acting as the PR wing for the FDA, CDC, USDA and other Big Ag-owned agencies, they could save countless lives. Up to 90,000 just for starts. That’s without even touching all the havoc and suffering they create helping out their other good buddies over at the pharmaceutical companies.

NOTE: If you live in Illinois, you’ve got until October 20th to let your elected representatives know that you’re not interested in less freedom, crappier food choices, and putting small farmers out of business. Remember, nothing gets a bureaucrat’s attention like a lawmaker who’s getting an earful from irritated (but polite, please) constituents two months before an election.

Cheers,

the Older Brother

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This article about cigar smokers showed up in yesterday’s online edition of  MedPage Today:

Most cigar smokers in America are smoking cheaper, unfiltered versions cigarillos and mass market cigars, a government report showed.

Among the 7% of American adults reporting smoking cigars at least sometimes, 62% said they usually smoked cigarillos or mass market cigars, Catherine G. Corey, MSPH, of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products in Silver Spring, Md., and colleagues found.

“These findings underscore the importance of public health interventions to reduce cigar smoking among U.S. adults,” Corey and colleagues argued. “Evidence-based tobacco control interventions such as increased taxes, smoke-free policies, and public education campaigns should also address non-cigarette tobacco products.”

“Regular cigar use is estimated to be responsible for approximately 9,000 premature deaths and almost 140,000 years of potential life lost annually,” according to a conservative estimate, Corey’s group noted.

Cigarillos are little cigars (think Swisher Sweets) made with tobacco filler, and from what I’ve seen, people tend to smoke them like cigarettes – one after another, sometimes even inhaling.  Bad idea. Premium cigars, on the other hand, are larger and made from rolled tobacco leaves.  Try inhaling one of those, you’d probably pass out.

When we lived in suburban neighborhoods with streets and sidewalks, I used to take long walks three or four nights per week and smoke a premium cigar while listening to a podcast or audiobook.  Now that we live in the sticks, I don’t take those late-night walks.  So I smoke maybe a couple of cigars per month, usually sitting outside at night after Chareva and the girls have gone to bed.  I’ve never smoked them indoors.

By pure coincidence, I happened to stop at a cigar shop the day before the MedPage Today article ran.  Even though this particular shop only sells premium cigars, there was a big sign (no doubt mandated by law) on the door to the humidor, warning me that according to the Surgeon General, cigars cause cancer.

Hmmm … I’ve been hearing that one for years.  I’ve had people inform me that smoking cigars doubles my risk of mouth and throat cancer.  So a couple of years ago, I looked up the actual data.  In honor of the MedPage Today article, I thought I’d dig up the data and share it.  This isn’t exactly diet-related, of course, but it illustrates how government officials have no qualms about exaggerating risks when they want to discourage us from a habit they don’t find acceptable.

The data I’m quoting here comes from something called the Smoking and Tobacco Control Monograph.  I have a PDF that doesn’t specify the publisher, but from what I can find online, it was apparently produced by the National Cancer Institute.  The paper is a meta-analysis of multiple observational studies on smoking, mortality and disease.   So let’s dig in.

The risks of smoking in the paper are expressed as risk ratios.  In case you’re not familiar with what those mean, here’s the lowdown:  Suppose in a control population of non-smokers we want to use for comparison, 10% of all people end up with heart disease.  That’s what we’d consider normal, so we assign that a risk of 1.0.  Now suppose that among cigar smokers, 12% of them eventually end up with heart disease.  That’s 20% higher, so we’d say their risk ratio is 1.2.  Or we could say for every 1,000 non-smokers, 100 will end up with heart disease, while for every 1,000 cigar smokers, 120 will end up with heart disease — 20 additional cases per 1,000 cigar smokers.

Got the idea?  Good.  On to the data.

We’ll start with the big one: all-cause mortality.  Everyone dies, so I assume they’re talking about premature death.  Cigar smokers as a group have a risk ratio of 1.12.  So that looks kind of bad, doesn’t it?  (Among cigarette smokers, it’s far worse.  The premature-death risk ratio for them is 1.66.)

But who are these cigar smokers?  If it’s the people puffing away on a dozen cigarillos per day, I’d say we can partly blame the cigars, but we might also be looking at people with bad health habits in general.  Not a lot of health-conscious people make a habit of smoking Swisher Sweets.

On the other hand, there are plenty of people like me out there too — health-conscious people who smoke a premium cigar now and then.  In fact, based on the fellow cigar smokers I’ve known, I’d say most people who smoke premium cigars smoke one per day, if that.  After all, we’re talking about a $10 cigar.  Unless you have money to burn (literally), you’re not going to smoke your way through five or 10 of those per day.

The paper doesn’t distinguish between good cigars and cheap cigars, but fortunately it does split out the data by the number of cigars smoked per day, and also by age group.  And that’s where it gets interesting.

For all-cause mortality, here are the risk ratios by age group for men who smoke 1-2 cigars per day:

35-49: 0.70
50-64: 1.10
65-79: 1.02
80+: 0.97

Holy smokes, Batman, look at that low risk ratio among the 35-49 age bracket!  If we saw that result in a study of whole grains, there would be headlines splashed all over the media telling us that A DAILY SERVING OF WHOLE GRAINS REDUCES RISK OF DEATH IN MIDDLE AGE BY 30%!

But we’re talking about cigars, and the Surgeon General doesn’t want us to smoke cigars, so this interesting bit of data remains in the research closet, so to speak.

I’m not suggesting cigars prevent early death, of course – and I’m certainly not encouraging anyone who doesn’t already smoke cigars to start.  My guess is that people in the 35-49 age bracket who smoke a cigar or two per day are more well-to-do, and people with higher incomes tend to have better health outcomes for all kinds of reasons.  But I think we can safely say that smoking a cigar now and then isn’t killing people in that age bracket – and probably not in any age bracket.

Here are the risk ratios for lung cancer among men who smoke one or two cigars per day, divided by the age brackets available in the data tables:

50-64: 0.83
65-79: 1.27
80+: 0.66

CIGARS PREVENT LUNG CANCER IN MIDDLE AGE, OLD AGE, STUDY SHOWS

Okay, just kidding.  That spike in the 65-79 group is interesting, but again, given that cigar smokers in the other two groups have lower rates of lung cancer than non-smokers, I think we can safely say smoking a cigar per day doesn’t cause lung cancer.  The combined risk ratio for all groups, by the way, was 0.90, which means we could say that smoking cigars lowers your risk of lung cancer by 10% — which again is what we’d see in the media if we were talking about whole grains or soy milk.

Here are the risk ratios for coronary heart disease – once again, these are only for men who smoke 1-2 cigars per day, not people who puff away on a dozen cigarillos.

50-64: 0.72
65-79: 0.97
80+: 0.99

Another media headline you’ll never see:  A CIGAR PER DAY PREVENTS HEART DISEASE IN MIDDLE AGE

You get the idea.  But let’s look at the big one, the disease several people (including my mom) warned me about after learning I smoke an occasional cigar: cancer of the esophagus.  We’re talking about men who smoke 1-2 cigars per day, and I smoke maybe two per month now, but for the sake of argument I’ll assume these risk ratios apply to me:

50-64: 1.86
65-79: 2.62

So that’s why I’ve been warned that those Macanudos are doubling my risk of throat cancer.  But as I pointed out in my Science For Smart People speech, whenever you’re presented with a relative risk, the question you want to ask yourself is: What’s the absolute difference?  In other words, how many actual extra cases of esophageal cancer are we talking about?

I found some data on esophageal cancer in another paper put out by the National Cancer Institute.  In the U.S., the incidence rate of esophageal cancer for white males is 8 per 100,000 per year. That number, of course, includes smokers of all kinds, including heavy cigarette smokers.  The NCI didn’t list the rate among non-smokers, but from what I can find elsewhere online, it appears to be around 1.5 per 100,000 per year.  Smoking 1-2 cigars per day more or less doubles that risk.

So here’s the absolute difference:  Among non-smokers, 3 in every 200,000 will develop cancer of the esophagus in a given year.  Among men who smoke 1-2 cigars per day, 6 in 200,000 will develop cancer of the esophagus in a given year.  That’s one extra case of cancer per year for every 67,000 men who smoke a cigar or two per day.

I think I can live with those odds … no matter how many signs the Surgeon General tries to make me read as I walk into the humidor.

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Head.  Bang.  On.  Desk.

Thought I’d go ahead and get that out of the way before proceeding.  You may want to do likewise.  Go ahead and bang your head on your desk (or any nearby hard surface if you’re reading this on a tablet) while you’re calm and can control the momentum.

Okay, good.

Now, let me begin this post by quickly reviewing how The Anointed react when one of their Grand Plans fails:  they never, ever blame the plan.  The plan was, of course, brilliant and should have worked … after all, it was designed by The Anointed.  So if the plan fails, it can only mean that:

  • People didn’t implement the plan correctly because they’re stupid
  • People undermined the plan because they’re evil
  • The plan didn’t go far enough

The USDA’s Grand Plan to improve the nation’s health by telling us what to eat began with the Food Pyramid – you know, base your diet on 6-11 servings per day of grains, cut way back on fats, switch to vegetable oils, etc.  Strangely, the launching of the Grand Plan coincided with a decades-long rise in rates of obesity and diabetes.  So the USDA reached the only logical conclusion:  the Food Pyramid must be too complicated.  In other words, people didn’t follow it correctly because they’re stupid.

So the USDA took pretty much exactly the same dietary advice and repackaged it as MyPlate.  Much simpler, you see, because it’s shaped like a plate.  All the stupid people have to do is put grains on the brown section of the plate marked “grains,” vegetables on the green section marked “vegetables,” etc.

The “protein” section of MyPlate is purple, which I admit might be a problem.  Stupid people could end up wandering all over the store looking for purple foods, then end up eating unpeeled eggplants for protein.  In fact, the USDA appears to have zeroed in on grocery-shopping as the weak link in the whole plan.  After all, how are you supposed to properly fill all the sections of your MyPlate at home if you didn’t buy the correct foods in the first place?

Never fear … The Anointed at the USDA have a new plan to help the stupid people fill their shopping carts with MyPlate-approved foods.  Here are some quotes from an article in the U.K. Daily Mail:

Talking shopping carts, free movie tickets and supermarket cooking classes are just a few of the latest recommendations the government is proposing to trim America’s waistband.

The new proposals were detailed in an 80-page report released this month by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and is focused on the 42 million Americans receiving food stamps.

The problem isn’t that 42 million Americans are receiving food stamps, you see.  Nope, the problem is that they’re buying the wrong foods.  So we need talking shopping carts to tell them what to buy while they’re buying.  Can’t trust them to remember all that good USDA advice once they get past the greeter in the big-box store.

The new recommendations are designed to reward healthy eating and change supermarket layouts and programs to highlight more nutritional foods.

A shopping cart telling you what to buy and a reward if you comply … if you didn’t already believe The Anointed in government view people who don’t follow their advice as ignorant children, this should convince you.

‘Most Americans, including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants, do not purchase enough whole grains, dark green and orange vegetables, and legumes, and purchase too many items with excess calories from fats and added sugars,’ the report said.

The USDA first recommends that SNAP shoppers be rewarded for their healthy food choices with movie tickets or discounts.

And if that doesn’t work, we’ll threaten them with a spanking.

So let’s see … first we have the taxpayers pony up for food stamps, then we have them pony up for movie tickets if the people on food stamps buy foods approved by The Anointed.  Meanwhile, we’re $17 trillion in debt.  Is this a great country or what?

At least by offering bribes, The Anointed have indicated that they don’t believe everyone buying the (ahem) wrong foods is stupid.  Some of them are just mildly evil — gluttonous, undisciplined, whatever you want to call it — and are therefore willing to buy vegetables and whole grains if there’s a reward in it.  So let’s give them free tickets to a movie theater.  It’s not as if they’d buy a big tub of popcorn and a Coke or anything.

These so-called ‘MyCarts’ will be color-coded and physically divided by differently healthy food groups and notify when the shopper has enough to qualify for a reward.

‘You achieved a MyCart healthy shopping basket!’ it will say.

Well, that is inspiring.  Perhaps the cart can also print out little smiley-face stickers for the shoppers to stick on their report cards.

Other recommendations detailed in the report cooking classes held in grocery stores and employees who would act as ‘ambassadors’ to explain the different rewards programs.

‘In this role, floor staff has the ability to re-direct consumer purchase towards more healthful choices by explaining the incentive or the nutrition labeling system,’ the report said.

I see.  So if an electronic nanny doesn’t convince people to buy more whole grains, we’ll go with the human touch.

The USDA hopes to implement these programs in order to ‘change the choice architecture of the food retail environment’.

Allow me to interpret that:  The Anointed don’t like the choices people are making, so now they’re considering a big, stupid, expensive program to change the “choice architecture.”

How expensive?  Glad you asked.  Here’s the headline for article:

Will grocery stores be forced to install $30,000 talking carts that help shoppers make better food choices?

Forced?  Nawww, The Anointed would never use force to implement a new “choice architecture.”  All those Americans over age 50 who are now buying expensive insurance policies that cover infertility and maternity really wanted that extra coverage.

The headline gives the impression that the MyCart carts would cost $30,000 each.  That’s not true.  The report estimates that as the average cost to each grocery store.  (And we all know how accurate government cost estimates are.)  I know that because I read some of the USDA report.  I read some of the USDA report because this Grand Plan is so absurd – even for The Anointed – I thought the article must be a joke.

Nope.  It’s real.  Like I’ve said before, it’s difficult to separate comedy from reality when The Anointed in government start cooking up Grand Plans.

Now if you’ll excuse me, one head-bang on my desk wasn’t enough.

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In his books The Vision of The Anointed and Intellectuals and Society, Thomas Sowell wrote that the intellectuals who consider themselves part The Anointed place great value on what he calls “verbal virtuosity” – i.e., the ability to explain their cockamamie ideas in a way that sounds convincing to us stupid people. The Anointed are always right, you see, so if we’re not on board with their ideas and Grand Plans, it just means we haven’t been properly educated. If our betters can only explain their ideas clearly, we’ll see the light.  Heck, we’d probably even believe those godawful-looking school lunches I featured in my previous post are nutritious.

If you have any lingering doubts that the dietary dictocrats at the USDA view most of us as ignorant yahoos who need proper educating, take a look at this page from the USDA site that offers advice to grandparents on how to help their grandchildren develop healthy eating habits. Here are some quotes:

From time to time during grandchildren’s young lives, grandparents may have the pleasure of being their caregiver. Show them how to be healthy, including how to make healthy food choices–an important way grandparents show how much they love and care about their grandchildren.

They mimic everything you do, so be a healthy role model by taking care of yourself and they will learn to value healthy habits. Use ChooseMyPlate.gov to guide your food choices and better understand the nutrition needs of young children in your life. Take your grandchildren shopping at a farmer’s market and the grocery store. Talk about the choices you are making—choosing the juicier oranges or the fresher vegetables. Help them learn cooking skills, which will benefit them throughout their lives. Encourage them to be active throughout the day.

Show your grandchild games, activity sheets and other fun ways to learn about good nutrition at MyPlate Kids’ Place. For a bedtime story, read The Two Bite Club.

Yup, the good folks at the USDA are actually encouraging grandparents to read government propaganda to their grandchildren at bedtime. Here’s the official description of The Two Bite Club:

This educational storybook, available in English and in Spanish, was developed to introduce MyPlate to young children. Parents or caregivers read the book to children and encourage them to try foods from each food group by eating just two bites, just like the characters in the story. The back of the book contains a MyPlate coloring page, a blank certificate for the Two Bite Club, fun activity pages for kids, and Tips for Growing Healthy Eaters.

Boy, I bet kids would just love having that story read to them …

“And after the boys and girls started eating their mutant semi-dwarf wheat as one-quarter of every meal, they all got healthy and lived happily ever after.”

“Oh, Grandma, what a wonderful story! Can I hear it again – after we eat some whole-wheat crackers together?”

I don’t have to express more opinions on the USDA’s laughable arrogance, because several people did so on the site. The USDA views us a bunch of ignorant yahoos, but here’s what the ignorant yahoos have to say about the USDA’s advice. (Each paragraph is from a different commenter.)

I don’t think I need the government to tell me how to treat grandkids. The government has already ruined the future of millions of grandkds by spending and creating a very “unhealthy” debt.

I love my country so much I’m not going to finish reading this. I am teaching my grandchildren to be self sufficient, and eat whatever you choose, whenever you choose, and however you choose. You see, my kids have raised my grandchildren well, and they don’t need the government to tell them how to think.

Get the HELL out of my kitchen and my family! I served overseas to protect this???

Are you also going to recommend that the members of Congress read the Constitution at night? It seems their education needs some education just like the little children.

Are you people insane? Despots and totalitarian regimes use state propaganda to direct the public. You don’t need to worry about the children who spend time with their grandparents, that’s usually a sign that they live in a good family.

QUIT SPENDING OUR GRANDKIDS’ FUTURE AWAY BY FUNDING THIS CR@P!

This one was my favorite:

This article was parallel to the information I’m looking for but not quite the thing: specifically, I need to know the government regulations for healthy and politically correct toilet training, and I need access to government resources – maybe picture books featuring people who live and work in the White House teaching racially and ethnically diverse toddlers by example how to make important, environmentally sensitive choices while learning to “go” on the “potty”.

Careful there, buddy. The trouble with parodying The Anointed is that eventually the parody becomes reality.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go feed my daughters a high-fat meal that doesn’t include any grains.  Then I’m going to mail my tax returns … after all, I wouldn’t want the government to run out of money for such wonderful education programs.

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In a couple of recent posts, including part six of Character vs. Chemistry, I wrote that the Grand Plans designed by The Anointed to battle obesity will fail because those plans are based on the belief that weight loss is about character, not chemistry.  Well, in the interest of fairness, I feel obligated to point out that not every Grand Plan imposed on us by The Anointed fails because of biochemical ignorance.  Most fail because of economic ignorance.

In fact, to believe that the typical Grand Plan proposed by The Anointed will actually work, you pretty much have to be an economic illiterate.  You have to believe, for example, that young people who already refuse to buy inexpensive health insurance will flock to buy insurance that costs three times as much if you just run some cute ads encouraging them to spend the holidays wearing pajamas and drinking hot chocolate and #GetTalking with their parents about insurance.  That’s how The Anointed believe it should work, so by gosh, that’s how it will work.

Which brings me another Grand Plan to battle obesity:  spending taxpayer money to make sure plenty of fruits and vegetables are available in poor neighborhoods.  That’s why so many poor people are fat, ya see … they don’t have access to the magical fruits and vegetables that guarantee weight loss.  And of course, if we just make the magical fruits and vegetables available, poor people will flock to buy them (elbowing young people flocking to buy expensive insurance out of the way in the process), eat those vegetables, and then lose weight.  That’s how The Anointed believe it should work, so by gosh, that’s how it will work.

If you’re a long-time reader, you may recall that I’ve pointed out the economic fallacies in that Grand Plan before.  Here’s what I wrote in a post three years ago:

Here’s a simple economics lesson:  businesses don’t determine what consumers will buy.  Consumer behavior determines what businesses will produce and sell.  If fast food restaurants thrive in poor neighborhoods while stores that sell fresh fruit and vegetables don’t, there’s a good reason for it.  Using tax dollars to bring more fruits and vegetables to areas where people don’t buy fruits and vegetables isn’t going to reduce childhood obesity.  It’s just going to lead to a lot of rotten fruits and vegetables.

In fact, one corner-store owner in Philadelphia agreed, at the urging of The Anointed, to sell 15-cent bags of apple slices so poor kids would eat more fruit.  He ended up throwing most of them away – at a loss of $500 to his business.

Here’s what I wrote in another post two years ago:

Even if we’re talking about neighborhoods where there truly aren’t as many vegetables being sold, people get the causality backwards.  The local residents aren’t fat because they don’t have access to vegetables.  The vegetables aren’t available because people don’t buy them.

… Here’s what people like Mrs. Obama can’t seem to grasp:  if enough people in those neighborhoods wanted lettuce and fruit in their kids’ lunches, plenty of greedy capitalists would happily move in to sell them.

… No problem then.  The government’s on the job and planning a comprehensive response.  That of course means a really expensive and ultimately futile response.

Well, I guess that depends on your definition of really expensive.  Since I don’t work in the federal government, a figure of, say, $500 million sounds to me like a huge waste if some comprehensive response doesn’t work.  (I mean, geez, imagine if you spent nearly double that on a crappy web site that didn’t work and then had to go spend even more to get it fixed.)

But of course, part of what makes it so awesomely wonderful about being a member of The Anointed is that you get to spend other people’s money to institute your Grand Plans.  No need to start small to test your theory.  No need to try opening Uncle Sam’s Cheep Fruits and Veggie Stand in a few poor neighborhoods to see if people eat more vegetables and lose weight.  No need to stock some existing grocery stores with cheap fruit and track the sales.  Nope, if you’re a member of The Anointed, you may as well go whole-hog and plunk down $500 million in taxpayer dollars.

So here are the latest results:

With the obesity epidemic in full swing and millions of American living in neighborhoods where fruits and vegetables are hard to come by, the Obama administration thought it saw a solution: fund stores that will stock fresh, affordable produce in these deprived areas.

But now, three years and $500 million into the federal Healthy Food Financing Initiative, there’s a problem: A study suggests it’s not working.

Adding supermarkets to areas with short supplies of fresh produce does not lead to improvements in residents’ diets or health outcomes, according to a report published Monday in the February issue of Health Affairs.

So The Anointed in government thought they saw an untapped market for fruits and vegetables that the greedy capitalists somehow missed, but it turns out they were wrong.  Boy, I’ll bet nobody saw that coming.

When a grocery store was opened in one Philadelphia food desert, 26.7 percent of residents made it their main grocery store and 51.4 percent indicated using it for any food shopping, the report found. But among the population that used the new supermarket, the researchers saw no significant improvement in BMI, fruit and vegetable intake, or perceptions of food accessibility, although there was a significant improvement in perception of accessibility to fruits and vegetables.

Well, if people perceive that they have more access to fruits and vegetables without actually buying them, that’s certainly worth $500 million … although it would have been cheaper to just run TV ads telling them that fruits and vegetables were in great supply.

The report was authored by a team of researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Penn State University’s departments of sociology, anthropology, and demography. The study was funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences with support from the Population Research Institute, although neither had a hand in the research design, collection, or analysis.

Awesome.  So we’re spending taxpayer money to study why spending taxpayer money on yet another Grand Plan didn’t work.  Is this a great country or what?

The study needs to be replicated in other neighborhoods and other parts of the United States to confirm or refute these findings, said lead researcher Steven Cummins, professor of population health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. The results do, however, mirror findings in the U.K., where researchers created a similar comparison of two neighborhoods in Scotland and observed no net effect on fruit and vegetable intake.

Wow.  It’s almost as if the laws of economics apply all over the world.  But we don’t know that for sure, so we really need to spend more taxpayer money to confirm that spending taxpayer money on yet another Grand Plan didn’t work.

And if the conclusion is borne out, it would suggest that policymakers rethink the Healthy Food Financing Initiative if they want to promote healthier eating and healthier citizens.

Hmmm, let’s see if I can remember what The Anointed conclude when a Grand Plan fails … okay, it came to me:

  • The plan was good but people didn’t implement it correctly because they’re stupid.
  • The plan was undermined by people who opposed it because they’re evil.
  • The plan didn’t go far enough – we need to do same thing again only bigger.

Cummins said in an email that lawmakers ought to consider policies that will change community behavior to incorporate healthy food into everyday diets.

“These might include economic initiatives such as taxes on unhealthy foods and subsidies on healthy foods, marketing initiatives that focus on in-store promotion of healthy food, and programs that focus on skills related to buying and cooking components of a balanced diet,” Cummins said.

Yeah, what we need to do is spend even more taxpayer money trying to tell people what to eat – because it’s worked so well so far.  Then if that doesn’t work, we can spend more taxpayer money to study why spending taxpayer didn’t work.  Oh, and let’s tax the unhealthy foods too.

Anyone care to bet that The Anointed would correctly identify the “unhealthy” foods?

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