Maybe the experts should stop making our kids fat and diabetic

[Submitted/published State Journal-Register]

Dr. Kemia Sarraf’s “In My View” column tells some truth by pointing out the evils of trans fats, but ignores the big lies in the current nutritional zeitgeist.

The innocuous explanation that trans fats were “once believed to be a more healthful alternative to saturated fatty acids” rings a bit hollow.  In reality, the government, nutritional “experts,” and professional nags (like the Center for Science in the Public Interest) stampeded everyone into adopting trans fats — based on exactly zero clinical evidence against saturated fat.

She lists several adverse effects of trans fats – high LDL, low HDL, inflammation, metabolic disruption, etc.  None of these have ever been linked to saturated fat, which in fact raises HDL and the harmless LDL (there’s more than one kind) while reducing small, dense, harmful LDL.  Your brain, cell walls, hormones – just about everything you’re made of – depend on fat, particularly cholesterol.  Many vitamins can’t be absorbed without fat.

There is another ubiquitous food group with the same adverse effects of trans fats.  It’s carbohydrates  — currently hailed as the foundation of the food pyramid based on solid… No, wait.  The food pyramid isn’t based on science.  It was spawned by a George McGovern Senate Committee.  Excess carbs elevate blood sugar, which in turn causes inflammation, insulin resistance, metabolic disorders, and degraded health.  Oh, and they make you fat and tired.  Even the “heart healthy!” whole grain kind.

The website of Dr. Sarraf’s organization has a recommended snack listing for parents that, besides a few low or zero fat dairy and lunchmeat items, consists almost entirely of carbs.

Removing trans fats is fine.  But why, during our children’s most important years of brain and physical development, do the experts continue to insist on removing the fats that their bodies need and replacing them with sugar?  We do in fact owe them better.

Posted in Diet & Nutrition | 2 Comments

Where there’s smoke, there’s Eric Holder

Obama’s Justice Department has been busily not pursuing voter intimidation cases, not pursuing pimps securing abortions for 12 year olds, not pursuing other departments repeatedly found in contempt of court orders, and not enforcing laws passed by Congress.

What exactly do they do these days when they’re not so busy not doing their jobs?  The answer appeared in “Justice Department, big tobacco in dispute over proposed ads” (2/25 State Journal-Register).

The DOJ is making tobacco companies buy ads stating that they weren’t exactly up-front with us about smoking.  Example: “…we denied that we controlled the level of nicotine in cigarettes.  Here’s the truth…We control nicotine delivery to sustain smokers’ addiction…”

Setting aside the clinically brain-dead, politicians and trial lawyers, is there really anyone in the country to whom this is news?  It doesn’t seem fair to force companies to explicitly advertise (as opposed to disclose) the downside of products legally sold to voluntary buyers.

How about we start with the government instead, since we don’t have a choice in buying their “product.”  Here’s a couple for starts:

“We said the CBO generates non-partisan, objective reports that proved Obamacare will reduce taxpayer costs.  Here’s the truth:  If we directed the CBO to assume flying monkeys would drop 112,950 gold bars on the White House lawn to pay for this, they’d have to use that assumption.”

“We said the Federal Reserve’s mission is to protect the currency and encourage job growth.  Here’s the truth: The dollar is worth 70 times less today than the day the Fed was created.  It has ‘inflation targets’ for destroying the value of your money.  You see how the jobs thing is working out.”

You get the idea – the possibilities are endless.  Take a little break and think of some of your own.  Smoke if you got ‘em.

Posted in Economics & Politics | 1 Comment

Why you should watch Fat Head

And now, for something completely different (no economics!):

On February 4, an AP article in the SJ-R pointed out global obesity rates have doubled since 1980.  A February 10 article noted the dramatic rise in strokes among young people.

In between appeared “Carb Conundrum,” stating that we “require” 300 carb grams a day to be healthy.  This is odd, because there are essential fatty acids (fats), essential amino acids (proteins), essential vitamins, minerals and trace minerals, but there is no such thing as an “essential carbohydrate.”

To consider this, pour about 1 ½ cups of sugar into a bowl.  That is about 300 grams of carbohydrates.  Of course, nobody is saying you should eat sugar for carbs.  Or are they?

You could fill up on green veggies, like broccoli.  However, at 6 carbs per cup, you’ll need 50 cups to meet your day’s quota.  You’ll get to 300 a bit quicker eating, for instance, “smart” whole wheat bread.  But, the glycemic index (rate carbs convert to blood sugar) of whole wheat bread is 67.  Table sugar is around 65.

Since 1980, when we first started hearing how awful fat is for our health, Americans have reduced the fat in our diets and increased the carbs while increasing leisure time physical activity and staying within the government’s recommended caloric guidelines.

Results?  An obesity epidemic, a type-2 diabetes epidemic (which had to be renamed from “adult onset diabetes”), increased heart disease, and all the kids seem to have ADD.  Oh, and some researchers are starting to refer to Alzheimer’s as “type-3 diabetes.”

Consider this, my friends:  what passes as nutrition science these days makes Al Gore and the climate change crowd look like Albert Einstein and the crew from the Manhattan Project.  Take that however you want, and then please pass the bacon.

(Want to start learning the truth about nutrition?  Start here: www.fathead-movie.com)

Posted in Diet & Nutrition | 1 Comment

No wait, let’s grow weeds and burn that instead!

[After my latest letter on ethanol was published, a local farmer took exception to my analysis and pointed out some information that wasn’t in the SJ-R article I referenced.  Then he got a little personal.  See it here.

So I checked his points out and replied.  Or, as one of my sons explained once as I untangled him and his brother — “he hit me back first!”

Anyway, I’m sure Mr. Niemeyer is a fine, hard working person and if I ever meet him I’d happily buy him a drink.  It’s a way better use for ethanol.]

Regarding Garry Niemeyer’s response to my ethanol energy policy letter, it’s always flattering to see someone’s paying attention.  And I enjoy a good ad hominem attack as much as the next person.  But I didn’t say the policy didn’t make sense to me — I said it’s detached from reality and incredibly stupid.

His letter did prompt me to read beyond the original SJ-R article I referenced, which led to an enlightening Congressional Research Service report. The situation isn’t as insane as I originally thought.  It’s more dumber!

Niemeyer correctly noted the 15 billion gallons cap on ethanol from corn starch.  Although corn ethanol has been subsidized since the 1970’s without even approaching economic viability, Congress has come up with something worse.  16 billion of the 36 billion gallon renewable fuel mandate for 2022 has to come from cellulosic biofuels.  Switchgrass is the current darling of that movement and is even more expensive.  As of 2010, no commercial-scale plants are on-line.

The EPA has had to revise the annual cellulosic mandates, making a minor adjustment from 100 million down to 6.5 million gallons for 2010, and a little tweak from a 250 million gallon requirement to “a range of 5 to 17.1 million” for 2011.  So, to make the 2022 mandate, we’ll only have to increase production 2,460 times current capacity.  Or maybe make more from corn.

I’m not sure how the Calculus, Statistics, and Quantitative Economics courses I took while completing an Accounting degree stack up against the elementary school gold star Niemeyer’s son awarded him, but I’m confident that as a taxpayer I understand the government’s ethanol policy better than a corn farmer.

Why?  Because, as Upton Sinclair observed, “It’s hard to get a man to understand something if his salary depends on him not understanding it.”

Posted in Energy & Environment | Leave a comment

Dismal Science? I’m laughing like a PIIGS

It’s really unfair that Economics got tagged as “The Dismal Science.”  If you just grasp some fundamental principles, it can be a source of constant entertainment.

For instance, on Saturday Reuters reported that Germany and France want Portugal to accept an international bailout to keep its debt crisis from spreading to other countries.  As detailed further — without any sense of irony — this is a followup to the recent international bailout of Ireland, which was undertaken to prevent its debt crisis from spreading to other countries.  That in turn had been preceded by a few months with the international bailout of Greece, which of course had to be done to — wait for it…

…prevent its debt crisis from spreading to other countries!  Get it?  HAR! HAR!

It will get funnier waiting to see how soon and in which order the remaining PIIGS — Italy and Spain — are “persuaded” to accept international bailouts to prevent their debt crises from spreading to other countries. And to which countries their debt crises will then spread. Guess where this train wreck is headed?  Hint: your tax dollars at work.  ROFL!

It just goes to show that though the situation is hopeless, it’s not just not serious.  With the intellectual titans running economies here and around the world, it’s downright hilarious.

Posted in Economics & Politics | Leave a comment

Here’s an idea — let’s burn food!

[Submitted/published State Journal-Register]

The article in the SJ-R on the decline in US gasoline consumption has an interesting bullet point illustrating how completely detached from reality our government energy policies have become.

To quote: “By 2022, the country’s fuel mix must include 36 billion gallons of ethanol and other biofuels, up from 14 billion gallons in 2011.”

I know people grow weary of me constantly harping on economics, so I’ll confine myself to some easy math. You can follow along at home with your calculator.  Here we go…

36 billion divided by 14 billion is 2.57 (rounded).

That’s the factor for how much more corn we’ll have to divert from food.

Estimates vary between one-third to just over forty percent of the United States corn crop is currently being sacrificed for ethanol production.  We’ll use thirty-five percent for this exercise.

2.57 times 35 equals 89.95.

Our result tells us that current regulations on the books dictate that within about a decade we’ll have to use ninety percent of the U.S corn crop to make a product that is so incredibly stupid that even Al Gore is running away from it.

But don’t worry.  Since this policy comes from government experts, I’m sure we’ll be importing corn from China long before that.

(If you’ll forgive me for a bit of economics, note that even at the current level, beef and pork producers are already talking about “herd liquidation” due to the rising cost of feed.)

So, just a little middle school algebra is now all it takes to prove what I’ve been saying all along:

The situation is hopeless, but not serious!

Posted in Energy & Environment | Leave a comment

Lies, Damnable Lies, and the CPI

[Submitted/published State Journal-Register]

There have been several letters lately from senior citizens questioning the government’s assertion of no inflation, which has resulted in no Social Security increases for two years.

The confusion is understandable, given that food costs are rising, gasoline is 25 percent higher than last year, gold and silver have jumped 30-plus percent, while commodities are going even higher.

The answer, however, isn’t particularly difficult. You just have to understand economists. (Not “economics.”  That’s another subject.)

Understand this:

More than half of all economists work for the government. Although there are competing schools of economic thought, the government doesn’t hire — and you’re not likely to hear from — economists from schools that teach concepts like “you can’t solve a debt crisis by borrowing and printing money.”

Government economists don’t really talk about inflation — the measurement of growth in overall prices. They talk about the Consumer Price Index.  It used to be the same thing, but that gets a little expensive if you’ve made commitments to, for instance, match Social Security payments to real inflation.

So the government economists have fixed the CPI formula a few times since 1990. One improvement is they now adjust for “substitution.” They assume that when the price of steak jumps, you’ll buy hamburger instead. Therefore, your cost of living didn’t really go up. If you already switched to hamburger last year, think “Alpo.”

Another adjustment is the CPI model assumes you make completely new living arrangements every year. So with the collapse of housing prices, your shelter costs have obviously dropped.

The latest strategy is to constantly refer to “core inflation” for official pronouncements. That’s the CPI, less food and energy increases. Very useful information, as long as you don’t eat, heat your house or have to drive anywhere.

Hope this helps. Welcome to the recovery!

Posted in Economics & Politics | Leave a comment

Christmas condolences for a local business founder

My condolences to the family of Ray Hoffman, who just passed away this week.  Mr. Hoffman and his family have spent decades in Springfield building a successful business (Wiley’s Office Furniture).  See if my experience corresponds with the image we get these days of small business people.

I worked in the Wiley warehouse as a temp in the mid 1980’s after returning to Springfield. I was taking night courses to finish the Accounting degree I’d been neglecting; besides my wife and daughter, we’d just added our first son to the budget.

I’d been there for several months by this time of year, and the guys I worked with were pretty excited about the upcoming annual Christmas party.  Besides closing early for a company feast in the warehouse, it also meant bonus checks.  They could be pretty substantial if it had been a good year for the business, and it had been a very good year.

When the invitations were passed out, I got one, too.  I thought it was awfully nice to include me since I was there through a temp agency.  That would’ve freaked a Human Resources Department manager out, but small business people do things like that.

The big day rolled around and everyone gathered for the feed.  It was good food and good company, and after a short review of the year, Mr. Hoffman started passing out the highly anticipated envelopes.  As he went around the room, he stopped at me and said “Here you go, Jerry,” and handed me an envelope.  I assumed they’d thoughtfully got me a Christmas card or something so I wouldn’t have to just sit while everyone else opened theirs.

I thanked him and opened it, and was surprised to see a check in the envelope (this is where that HR person would be clutching their chest).   Again expecting to see some nominal token of appreciation, I was stunned.  I don’t recall now exactly how much it was, but it did take care of a chunk of that month’s rent.  I know I made a point of thanking him later for the completely unexpected gift.  I believe he suggested that I use some of it to take my wife out for a nice dinner.  I believe I did.

Reading about Mr. Hoffman’s passing reminded me of that simple act of generosity, and I intend to thank him again by paying it forward to a couple of the charities his family named.

Maybe you’ve also been blessed like I have over the years with unexpected generosity and good luck.  Maybe you should consider doing a little something extra this year.  I hear there’s people that could use it.  If you don’t have a favorite charity, I’m sure Friend-in-Deed is still accepting donations.

Merry Christmas

Posted in Random Thoughts | Leave a comment

We can’t go bankrupt, silly. It’s called “default.”

[Submitted/published State Journal-Register]

Illinois continues to dominate among the states when it comes to fiscal mismanagement.

We still lead among all U.S. states in cumulative probability of default on our debts, with a 21 percent risk. Globally, Illinois debt ranks between Latvia and Romania in credit worthiness, and worse than Spain and Italy of the economic basket case PIIGS nations. Not company you want to keep.

Now, an Oct. 18 Business Insider article cites a Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University study awarding our state first place for the most jeopardized pension system.

In August, The State Journal-Register reported that the pension systems have begun selling assets to pay benefits to retirees — around 10 percent annually for some. You may have wondered like me how long that could last. The Kellogg report has the answer:

Eight years.

They predict the pension funds will run dry in 2018. In 2019, the state will have to find an extra $13.4 billion just to pay pension benefits.

I obviously never have much good to say about government in general or state government in particular. When I say the situation is hopeless, but not serious, I believe that’s an accurate economic model for most of us.

You would be wrong, however, to assume I have the same opinion of state workers as I do of what passes for our leaders. They’re my friends, neighbors, acquaintances and customers.

Yours, too. I even appreciate a few things they do, like issuing my fishing license.

It would be presumptuous of me to think these folks aren’t worrying enough about the future. But I’d like to urge anyone whose financial well-being depends on the state fulfilling its fiscal promises to strongly consider this proposition: The situation is hopeless, but also very serious.

You’ve got less than eight years. Please plan accordingly.

Posted in Economics & Politics | Leave a comment

More sustainable stupidity

With the state legislature located in Sangamon County, you’d think we’ve already filled our quota for hosting economic disasters.  Apparently not.  As outlined in the 10/09/2010 State Journal-Register, a U.S. subsidiary of a German outfit is working on siting a wind farm here.  Where’s the disaster?  Look at the economics.

Details aren’t firm for this project, but the article mentions a recently approved comparable project for a Spanish company to build 165 turbines for 300 Megawatts total capacity near Streator.  Construction costs are $2.3 million per MW ($694 million) — about five percent over CWLP’s spend for Dallman 4 [Springfield’s city-owned, coal-fired power plant].  Not bad.  Plus, the federal government gives subsidies (aka, prepaid bailouts) for 30% of  “green energy” construction costs.  Again, what disaster?

This:

Dallman’s 208 MW rated capacity actually means 208 MW whenever we need it, any time.  Wind farms only generate rated capacity with winds at optimal speed.   And — sorry to mix physics and economics – but wind turbine output is exponential; if wind is half of the optimum of around 30 mph, you only get one-eighth of the rated power.  Sangamon County averages less than 12 mph.  Average real annual output for wind farms is less than 30% of rated capacity.

As an added bonus, it’s also intermittent.  As a result, wind power has a very low “capacity credit.” That’s the ability to replace other sources of power.  It’s well under 20 percent.  Meaning, you can have a 300 MW wind farm as long as you also have a traditional plant with 240 MW to back it up.

To recap, we’re giving foreign companies billions of taxpayer dollars to build inefficient, unreliable, but politically correct blights on the landscape that can’t replace traditional power plants, but will substantially raise both consumer and manufacturing costs.

This should turn out well.

Posted in Energy & Environment | Leave a comment