Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Fed Up with “Fed Up”

I saw the food documentary “Fed Up” the other day and have a lot to say.  “Fed Up” is a film about diet, health, and the epidemic of obesity and its complications.  Made by executive producers Katie Couric and Laurie David, and directed by Stephanie Soechtig, the film chronicles the struggles of a handful of overweight kids and intersperses their stories with interviews of politicians, scientists, and practitioners explaining how we got here and how to fix it. 

If you have not heard of this film, you will soon.  “Fed Up” was one of the hardest tickets to get at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.  Apparently food and diet are very potent topics.  And this film is potent.  It has all the right elements for a successful documentary:  a scary health story everyone can relate to, a big name narrator - Katie Couric, big name cameos, good production, plus all the right villains, heroes, and victims. 
  • Villains:  big sugar, big corporations, lobbyists, venal politicians (mostly Republicans), Fox News, Sarah Palin, George W Bush. 
  •  Heroes:  concerned professionals - doctors, scientists, nutritionists, do-gooder politicians (almost all Democrats), Bill Clinton, Tom Harkin, George McGovern.
  • Victims:  kids, minorities, the poor.
Unfortunately, “Fed Up” is deeply flawed.  While the movie does do a good job of telling the sugar story, it misses the carbohydrate forest for the sugar trees.  It also has an overt political agenda which blinds it from seeing the true culprits.  Along the way it glosses-over and misrepresents some key elements and ultimately alludes to the wrong solutions.  When all is said and done, “Fed Up” is the equivalent of a jumbo tub of popcorn ladled with salt and trans-fats -  you will enjoy it while it lasts, but it will leave you worse-off in the end.

Here’s the movie in summary: 
  • Too much sugar in our diets has led to an epidemic of obesity, which has led to a host of health problems, and ultimately will lead to premature death for millions.  Children are most at risk. 
  • Greedy big corporations and lobbyists threw money at venal politicians, and got them to conspire against our health interests, which caused it all. 
  • Therefore, the cure is for big government to step in and stop the greedy corporations from harming us for profit. 
According to the movie, a key turning-point which led to our obesity epidemic was a 1977 government report titled “Dietary Goals for the United States”, aka The McGovern Report.  This was the first time the federal government officially weighed-in on diet.  Here are the report’s six goals: 

In the  “Fed Up” version of the story, The McGovern Report and subsequent government efforts had the science right, but big greedy corporate interests twisted the findings, put pressure on politicians, and got them to water-down the goals.   

It makes a great story, but this is pure nonsense.  The government has never gotten the science right.  Governments don’t do science, they do consensus.  Sure enough The McGovern Report was a turning point, but that’s because the report was based on a flawed consensus!

In 1977 the biggest health issue of the day was thought to be heart disease.  A consensus had formed among health professionals that this malady was largely due to a diet high in meat, eggs, and dairy.  Fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol were our main enemies with sugar and salt bringing up the rear.  The government accepted the consensus and mistook it to be settled science. 

When government mistakes consensus for science, it doesn’t just print a flawed report.  A cascade of bad decisions and policies result with untraceable negative consequences.  Subsidies, taxes, penalties, regulations, etc. all can be employed to support the consensus, and if that consensus is wrong, real damage results.

The late author Michael Crichton (“Jurassic Park”, “Andromeda Strain”, etc) had some choice words about the difference between consensus and science: 

I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you’re being had.
Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science, consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.
There is no such thing as consensus science. If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.

Science is particularly elusive when it comes to diet.  One of the big challenges is the chronic nature of bad eating habits - there is often no immediate negative effect, and it can take years for health problems to emerge.  Another challenge is the fact that people are all unique in their level of activity, genetic make-up, and medical history.  Animal studies do not always correlate well with humans when it comes to diet.  And finally, controlling variables when humans are involved over long periods of time is nearly impossible.  Nevertheless, science has been putting a dent in the consensus.

For instance, we now know that McGovern’s first goal – to increase carbohydrate – was a monumentally bad one.  Since the consensus was that we should eat less meat, eggs, and dairy - all sources of protein and fat - we therefore had to increase the only thing left - carbohydrates.  The text of the report stresses increasing primarily "complex carbohydrates like whole-grains, fruits, and vegetables”.  Sounds harmless right?  Eh, not so much.

We now know that many of the so-called complex carbohydrates, like the ones The McGovern Report told us to eat for 60% of our diet, are just as bad as sugar!  There is no metabolic difference between a modern whole-wheat bagel and a can of Coke.  In fact, according to William Davis, MD author of  “Wheat Belly”, modern whole-wheat flour is more glycemic (blood sugar spiking) than even table sugar!

It turns out that overeating bad carbohydrates is what is making us obese.  It’s not fat, and it’s not just sugar as “Fed Up” would have us believe.  Some of those bad carbohydrates are the very ones our government has been pushing on us for nearly forty years!

I call all the bad carbohydrates GLUE.   Any carbohydrate is GLUE if it meets these criteria:

  •           GLycemic (blood sugar, and/or insulin spiking)
  •            Un-nutritious (low in nutrients)
  •            Energy-dense (highly caloric) 
GLUE includes all sugars and sweeteners, refined fruit and fruit juice, refined grains including anything made from flour, and refined starches.  (In general, the less a carbohydrate looks like its original form, the more likely it is GLUE.)     

This puts many so-called complex carbohydrates in the GLUE category, including pasta, crackers, bread, cereal, and some rice.  Even if it says “whole-grain” on the label, it is likely GLUE.  These are the things our government has been telling us to eat more of for nearly forty years.  Of course, when Americans are told to eat these things, most of what they buy is not whole-grain.  Americans have developed a taste for refined, bleached, white flours and starches, and this was the case before The McGovern Report.  Knowing this, and then telling Americans to eat more GLUE, is downright insane.

Below is a USDA graph showing how The McGovern Report actually influenced our food supply:

According to the USDA, fat trended down and carbohydrate skyrocketed shortly after The McGovern Report in 1977.  The graph also shows a similar availability of carbohydrates prior to the 1950s, but prior to WWII, USDA data was at best a guess.  Either way, back then we ate much less GLUE, and hence obesity and its complications were not epidemic.

(If you are wondering how I can make all these claims and not provide footnotes and citations, remember this is first and foremost a movie review.   And I'm a blogger not a scientist, Jim!  Suffice it to say my wife is a nutritionist, and she makes me read all these books.  If you’re interested in reading some too, a good one to start with is Gary Taubes' “Good Calories, Bad Calories”.  Taubes appears briefly in the film too.  I'll link more sources at the end.)  

The second, third, and fourth goals of The McGovern Report were concerned with reducing fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol.  We now know that fat does not make us fat, that saturated fat does not cause heart disease, and that ingested cholesterol does not raise our bad cholesterol (LDL), but does raise our good (HDL). We now know that the consensus was wrong about all this too. 

One of the unintended consequences of The McGovern Report, as the movie does point-out, was the substitution of sugar for fat in processed foods. Thanks to the report’s recommendation that fat be reduced, food companies responded by replacing the flavorful fat with sugar and other sweeteners like HFCS (High Fructose Corn Syrup).  After all, sugar was the lesser of evils according to the report!  Moreover, HFCS was thought to be healthier then sugar according to the consensus.  Plus it was cheaper thanks in part to corn subsidies and sugar import restrictions.  This made it economical to put it in practically everything. Yay!  Thus the report shot itself in the foot - twice.

Another unintended consequence of the report was the substitution of trans-fats for saturated fats.  The report singled-out saturated fats, so corporations replaced them with man-made trans-fats.  We now know trans-fats are a proven health threat.  We also know that the generic recommendation to reduce saturated fat was irresponsible.  “Fed Up” does not mention this.  (See this from just the other day: "Study Questions Fat and Heart Disease Link")  

In short, the consensus was dead wrong on many levels.  Ergo, the premise of “Fed Up” is wrong:  Our obesity epidemic was not caused by greedy big corporations, but rather by big government do-gooder hubris, mistaking consensus for science, and incompetently engineering the diets of three hundred million unique individuals.  This is the real story behind our obesity epidemic.

I’m not suggesting that we could have entirely avoided this had the federal government not issued dietary goals based on a bad consensus.  We were well on our way to a crisis, downing Coca-Cola, Wonder Bread, and Mary Janes long before government got involved.  But the government managed to exacerbate and prolong the situation by repeatedly instructing us to eat more GLUE, and that continues up to this day!

There never was a unanimous consensus on diet.  Dr. Robert Atkins, a NY cardiologist, became famous for popularizing the low carbohydrate diet.  His 1972 book, “Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution” chronicled his observation that his patients did better eating low carbohydrate diets.  The consensus was dead wrong according to him.  Carbohydrate was the culprit, not fats, saturated fats, cholesterol, or just sugar.  He went on to correlate the emergence of our obesity epidemic with the advent of a diet high in refined carbohydrate.  From the 1960’s, until his death in 2003, and continuing today, he is called a denier, ridiculed, ostracized, demonized, and was even sued. Atkins may have not been right about everything, but it turns out he and the many others who came before him were onto something.

(Consensus sometimes behaves like religious fanatics - it burns its heretics at the stake.  Say, is that a torch-bearing mob coming my way?)

Now that the flaws in the consensus have been exposed and millions are dying, the do-gooders and their apologists, like those who made this movie, are trying to pin the blame on their favorite scapegoats – greedy corporations.

The movie makes a huge point of showing how the lobbyists and big food corporations pressured politicians to tweak the government recommendation in their favor. Admittedly, these parties had their own economic interests in mind, and they did put pressure on politicians who predictably folded.  But in the end, none of it had any effect because the consensus was wrong in the first place!  The McGovern Report’s very first goal was for us to consume more carbohydrate, much of it from GLUE.  Blaming this epidemic on efforts to water-down government reports is like blaming a butterfly for a hurricane!

That’s not to say that corporations do not play a role.  They make our food after all.  But corporations only make the products we demand.  We were instructed by the consensus and our government to eat more carbohydrate first, avoid fat second, avoid saturated fat third, avoid cholesterol fourth, and finally to reduce sugar and salt.  We demanded that corporations supply us with foods meeting those priorities.  And that’s just what they did.  The fact that we went on to consume way too much of the sugary stuff is not their fault.  It’s our fault.  The movie gets this basic cause and effect backwards.

Overlooked entirely in the movie is the role of the 1992 FDA Food Pyramid, which doubled-down on the faulty consensus from The McGovern Report.  It’s hard to find a more recognizable and influential symbol of our dietary trend the last quarter century. Bread, cereal, rice, and pasta, all GLUE, were to be the very foundations of our diet.  Again we were told to eat the wrong things by our government.

Ironically, Bill Clinton is one of the film’s heroes.  He was elected president the year the Food Pyramid debuted.  He along with his administration bought into the consensus and irresponsibly promoted The Food Pyramid for eight years.

The federal government is still at it today.  As I’m writing this, I became aware that the USDA has published a children’s book, and is urging grandparents to read it to their grandkids as a bedtime story.  The book features cute kittens explaining the current version of the Food Pyramid, which is called “My Plate”.  The first food group on My Plate, and the largest, is - “The Grains” – bread, crackers, rice, and noodles.  Big government is still mistaking consensus for science, still pedaling GLUE, and still puzzled by the ongoing obesity epidemic! 

Finally, there are the movie’s solutions. The main suggestion is to compare the diet caused epidemic to the smoking caused one, and learn from the successful campaign against smoking.   On this basic point I concur.  But the movie implies more. 

The good guys are all big government types:  Mike Bloomberg, Bill Clinton, Tom Harkin, for example.   While the bad guys all lean (relatively) smaller government:  Sarah Palin, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush.  As I have shown, big government has exacerbated and prolonged this epidemic.  How likely is it that even bigger government can solve it?

NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg is featured near the end of the movie.  He famously banned salt, big sugary drinks, and trans-fats from restaurants and stores in New York City.  Not just for kids, but for adults too.  This is the problem with Bloomberg-ism, and the movie’s implications:  there is no distinction between children and adults.  We are all children in the eyes of the nanny state. 

In the most blatantly disingenuous edit of the movie, Sarah Palin is shown speaking about how parents should be responsible for feeding their own kids and making the right choices.  In the very next clip she is seen sipping a Big Gulp.  The implication is clear:  the filmmakers are painting Palin as irresponsible and they do not believe she is capable of making responsible choices for her kids.  Therefore Palin and all parents need big government to do that for them.   Of course, the Big Gulp was a prop Palin employed in defiance of Mike Bloomberg’s attempted ban on big drinks.  Shamefully, the filmmakers don’t reveal that.  The courts agreed with Palin in the end.

Surely, government can play a role as it did with cigarettes and kids.  Advertising GLUE and unnatural food to kids could and should be barred, as should selling GLUE and unnatural foods to minors without adult permission.  That would be a big help.  But “Fed Up” is too busy covering for big government’s mistakes and demonizing big corporations to ever get that helpful.  The movie suggests a ban on sales and ads for "junk food", which according to it's own definition would include such items as cheese, egg yolks, and a hamburger patty!  

If government wants us to change our eating habits, they should start by admitting the errors of the consensus for the last forty years.  The McGovern Report has been proven wrong about fats, meat, eggs, cholesterol, dairy, and now even salt.  Those are not the things that are killing us.  Too much GLUE and unnatural foods are what's killing us.  The government mistook a consensus for science, focused on the wrong culprits, and has been giving us bad advice for forty years. 

“Fed Up” misses this incredible story of government hubris, mistaking consensus for science, misinformation, and tragic unintended consequences.  Instead, it preaches more consensus – corporations are evil and big government can save us. 

Further Reading
The real solution cannot come from a government prone to confusing consensus with science.  Nor can it come from politicians who sell policy to the highest bidder (from either party).  It has to come from people educating themselves.  Many people have adopted low-carb, “paleo”, whole-food, and no grain eating habits without the government telling them to, and they are getting thinner and healthier. 
Here are some book suggestions which may help you:
Gary Taubes
"Wheat Belly"

Robb Wolf
"The Paleo Solution"

Mark Sisson
"The Primal Blueprint"

Liz Wolfe, NTP
"Eat The Yolks"

And of course, Dr. Robert Atkins
"Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution"

(*Many thanks to my lovely nutritionist wife Pam for her help in writing this piece, making me read these books, and for keeping me healthy despite myself!)

Friday, March 14, 2014

Understanding The Modern Liberal Mind

Who amongst us has not pondered the question of what makes the other side tick?  Regardless of which side you are on, how can you not be fascinated by the fact that half the world is convinced you are insane?  And how can you tolerate the fact that in your own gene pool, half of what you hear at the Thanksgiving table comes from people who sound like morons?

Here are a couple of formidable theories which explain the modern Liberal mind:

1.  I've been hearing a lot about Evan Sayet's theory lately.  He has an excellent book, "The Kindergarden of Eden", which explains his theory.  Here is the speech that spawned the book: 

2.  Jonah Goldberg is a fave.  Here he weighs-in explaining that Liberals just want to create a society based on the one utopia they've all known - the college campus:  


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Why Does Obama Hate J&J, Toyota, and Gibson Guitars So Much?

(Bumped in light of the recent news that Obama may have protected UAW/GM from a major recall.)

The unfolding IRS scandal is chilling, historically so.  As is the Justice Department’s spying on journalists.  But, we are likely only seeing the tip of two icebergs, and there are other entire icebergs.   One such iceberg concerns Barack Obama's use of myriad federal agencies to persecute, bully, and harass corporate symbols of non-union success.  Federal agencies as diverse as The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Food and Drug Administration, The National Labor Relations Board, the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, and The FBI, have been thuggishly targeting corporations in support of Obama's big labor union agenda.  President Obama has redefined the “bully pulpit” and marshaled every tentacle of federal power to do his bullying.

Labor unions are Obama’s largest support system.  Unions supplied billions in the last three election cycles, practically all of it to Democrats.  More importantly, unions supplied the boots-on-the-ground and the muscle for Obama’s vaunted ground-game (1). The labor union agenda is Obama’s agenda according to Obama himself (2). The most frequent visitors to the oval office are labor union bosses and labor union lobbyists.  Government is unionized five times more than the private sector: 36% vs 7% and growing rapidly (3).  In essence, when government agents knock down your door, union members are knocking down your door.  When the IRS audits you or demands to know the "content of your prayers", those are union members doing that.  The IRS’s own labor union boss, Colleen Kelly, was at the White House the day before the IRS abuses started.   (This is particularly worth noting in the context of the cases below.)  

These corporate/union bullying cases are similar to the IRS scandal in that government agencies were selectively targeting opponents of Obama’s political agenda.  But, there are significant differences too.  The IRS scandals broke because the targeted parties, non-profits and individuals, made a big stink.  In these corporate cases, the targets are for-profit corporations who will never make a stink.  Unlike individuals and non-profit groups, corporations have a huge incentive to keep quiet when being targeted by their government.  Corporations answer to their shareholders, and shareholders care about one thing only - share value.  Confronting abusive government is never a shareholder priority.  Corporations are also easily painted as villains.  When corporations get unjustly targeted by governments, they usually suck it up, pay their fines, settle the lawsuits, and quietly get back to work.

Moreover, these corporations were occasionally bi-partisan targets.  That’s not surprising; The Code of Laws of the United States runs over 200,000 pages making virtually every corporation, individual, or group in violation of something and probably many things at any given time.  According to author Harvey Silverglate, who wrote a book on the subject, everyone in the US likely commits “Three Felonies A Day” (4).   What makes these corporate cases conspicuous is the over-the-top way they were handled, the timing, and the symbolic existential threat they posed to Obama’s labor union agenda.   Taken one at a time, each case is curious, puzzling; however, taken together and in the light of the IRS cases, the picture becomes clear.

The curious case of Tylenol and Johnson & Johnson: 

In 2011, the FDA took over three J&J/McNeil/Tylenol plants, shut one of them down, recalled a bunch of products, and started a criminal investigation claiming poor quality on several fronts (5). The infractions cited were various:  musty odors, poor quality, bacteria, imperfect doses, and dangerous containers.   Headlines were written, criminal violations alleged, reputations shot, management shuffled, mea culpas issued, fines paid, and tons of money lost to J&J.  How many people did these deficient products kill?  How many were maimed?  In all cases…none.  Yet, to this day, it is difficult to find brand named Tylenol and many other J&J products in a store.

This is not to say J&J products are perfect.  No company, much less a pharmaceutical company, can make that claim.  Every drug has side-effects, is prone to misuse, and has impurities.  But, J&J was severely punished for routine issues.  This all has the distinct air of a witch hunt.  Why the harsh treatment? 

J&J is one of the countries largest pharmaceutical companies and one of its most revered workplaces.   J&J consistently gets awards for being one of the best workplaces in the country (6).  One reason J&J is such a great place to work is its founding ideology, and that is precisely why Obama and the unions have singled it out. 

Robert Wood Johnson, a founding member of the company, immortalized J&J’s ideology in 1943 in a document he called “Our Credo” (7).   Line two, paragraph two, of the J&J Credo states:

“Everyone must be considered as an individual.”

This is anathema, inimical, to the concept of a labor union!  A synonym for labor union is “collective bargaining agreement”.  Unions seek to be considered as a collective, not as individuals.  The J&J Credo is a symbolic existential threat to the very idea of labor unions.  Considering J&J’s perch at the top of the prestigious pharmaceutical industry and their reputation as one of the best places to work, it is easy to see how they were a threat to unions.

The Credo also made J&J vulnerable when the federal government decided to bully them.  The Credo states: 

“…everything we do must be of high quality.”

Barack Obama’s tactical bible, “Rules for Radicals” by Saul Alinsky, teaches:

“Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.”

No company could endure the scrutiny of the FDA when determined to find things like bacteria (which is everywhere), and odors (which are everywhere).  Whole J&J plants have been shuttered for such nebulous infractions.

Today, J&J does employ some union workers.  Unionization at J&J runs about 5%,  leaving  95% of J&J workers non-union.   This compares to about 7% unionization for the entire private sector (8).   Public sector unionization is seven times higher averaging 36% (3).  Not only was J&J a possible target due to their prominence and Credo, they were also unionized at well below average rates.

Side bar:  In the 1980s, seven people died after ingesting cyanide tainted Tylenol.  The case was never solved, but the investigation did narrow the source of the cyanide to the Tylenol distribution network around Chicago.  Chicago in the 1980s would have been the perfect place if a union had wanted to frame a corporate enemy with poisonings and get away with it.  Organized crime and organized labor controlled everything including local law enforcement and politicians.  (Not sure much has changed.)  Moreover, unions in Chicago had control of the packaging and distribution of Tylenol.  Tylenol was shipped from J&J’s plants in bulk containers to independently owned distribution centers where it was put into capsules, then into jars, and finally boxed and shipped to retailers.  The cyanide was introduced somewhere in that union distribution network (9).

One person, James Lewis, was convicted for extortion related to the Tylenol case and is still considered a suspect, but he has never been charged.  Following the murders, J&J took their packaging away from the independent contractors and the unions and began doing it in-house.  Unions may have had nothing to do with those murders, but they did have the means, the motive, and the opportunity.

The curious case of Toyota and unintended acceleration:  

On August 28, 2009, four people were tragically killed in a Lexus with a stuck accelerator.  The tragedy properly led to further inquiry, and at the end of it all:

·   NHTSA had taken several Toyota models off the market (an unprecedented move)
·   Obama’s Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, instructed Americans to not drive Toyotas (also unprecedented)
·   Toyota’s top leadership, including President Akio Toyoda, was compelled to testify before congress
·   There were numerous congressional hearings
·   There was a 1.1 billion dollar lawsuit settlement
·   Toyota was ordered to pay about $15 million in fines to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration
·   Millions of cars were ordered recalled
·   Toyota lost its spot as the number one autmaker in the world
·   Billions were lost in value and profit.
·   Toyota’s reputation was seriously damaged.

What caused the unintended acceleration and what was the fix?  In the case of the tragic Lexus accident that triggered it all, it turned out to be errant floor mats installed by a dealer.  No other cause was ever definitively found (10).  Toyota did eventually recall millions of cars and replace some parts, but the whole issue faded with a whimper. 

Unanticipated acceleration is a ubiquitous charge against all automakers.   It is nearly impossible to prove or disprove.  In short, the case against Toyota was a giant witch-hunt which seriously hurt Toyota and helped GM.  Why would the government want to hurt Toyota and help GM? 

Not only is Toyota non-union while its rival GM is unionized, the UAW union owns GM along with the federal government who is the majority shareholder.  That makes Barack Obama the overlord of GM, Toyota’s main competitor.

Consider the following timeline: 

2008 - Union support of Barack Obama helps him win the Presidency of the US
Non-union Toyota surpassed unionized GM as the world’s largest automaker
2009 - GM and Chrysler go bankrupt and get bailed out by the US government, which hands a huge chunk of GM to the UAW union
Toyota is accused of unanticipated acceleration
Toyota cites floor mats and issues warning.
2010 – The ubiquitous complaints persist and the US government insists on recalls
Toyota is forced by the US government to cease selling several models, unprecedented in automotive history.
GM offers $1,000 checks to Toyota owners who switch to GM cars
Toyota sales are flat for the year.
GM sales rise 21% for the year.

But there’s more.  The unions had other reasons to have Toyota in the crosshairs.  While Toyota is non-union, they did have one plant in California that was a joint venture with GM staffed by UAW workers.  The partnership was called NUMMI, New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc.  GM pulled out of that partnership in 2009 after the government take-over.  Obama and the unions apparently had no interest in a partnership with non-union Toyota now that they owned GM.  Toyota was then stuck with UAW workers who had an inherent conflict of interest; while they worked for Toyota, they were also part owners of its largest competitor.  Toyota chose to close the plant and the unions responded with a fatwa:

 "You are going to see an attack on Toyota that is unprecedented." said Rome Aloise, a top Teamsters official.

"We will take this fight to every Toyota dealership in California." Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, said via a videoconference link. "Our message is that Toyota kills American jobs. This comes at a time when Toyota can ill afford another black eye."

"If they close the NUMMI plant, we union people will not buy another Toyota." said Bob King, UAW vice president.

The source of the above quotes is a definitive piece on the subject, “Firestone Revisited: Was Toyota a takedown target in the name of NUMMI?”  by Mandy Nagy (11)

Despite all that and the tsunami in Japan, Toyota recently regained their position as world’s largest automaker surpassing GM in global sales.  Their cars still do not accelerate unexpectedly.

Side bar:  If you were around in the ‘80s when Audi was practically forced out of the US based on a similar charge of unintended acceleration, this may all sound familiar. In the Audi case, like the Toyota case, the whole thing turned out to be nebulous at best, and at worst, a coordinated attempt to take-down Audi complete with a scary "60 Minutes" story.  At the time, Audi of Germany was having unprecedented success in the US with its Audi 5000 model and eating into the lucrative UAW made Cadillac and Lincoln markets.

The curious case of Gibson Guitar Corp: 

On August 2nd, 2011, armed federal agents from The US Fish and Wildlife Service raided Gibson Guitar Corp. in Nashville Tennessee.  They stormed-in like a swat team, frightening workers, shutting down production, and confiscating computers, raw materials, documents.  This was the second time Gibson had been raided since Obama took office, the first having occurred in 2009.  At the time, the reasons given had to do with some alleged violation of an obscure statute having to do with foreign laws and exotic wood.  This made no sense.  Other guitar makers were using the exact same wood, but they weren’t raided.  Why Gibson?

Some suggested Gibson was targeted because CEO and owner, Henry Juskiewicz,  gave donations to Republicans while Martin Guitars, Gibsons rival in the acoustic guitar market, donated to Democrats.  This suggestion has re-emerged in the wake of the IRS scandal, but this also makes no sense.  Lots of CEOs give to Republicans and don’t get raided by armed federal swat teams. 

No, Gibson, like J&J and Toyota, symbolized an existential threat to Obama’s union agenda: Gibson had relocated from a forced-union state to a right-to-work state.

Gibson was founded in Kalamazoo, Michigan, right smack in-between union strongholds Chicago and Detroit.  But, Gibson moved production to Tennessee in the 80’s, fleeing a forced-union state for a right-to-work state.  This is a cardinal sin for Obama and the unions.  Obama has called the right-to-work “the right to work for less money” (12).  Unions hate right-to-work laws because it makes future unionization less likely and less lucrative for them.

Side bar: Gibson’s two major competitors in the domestic-made guitar market, Martin and Fender, both manufacture primarily in forced-union blue states, Pennsylvania and California respectively.  Fender Musical Instruments, Gibson’s rival in the electric guitar market has historical ties to media giant CBS, which owned the company until the mid ‘80s.  (Meanwhile, Michigan became a right-to-work state in 2012, and the conversion did not please Obama or the unions (13).)

The curious case of Boeing:

Another curious case which relates to Gibson is the case of Boeing’s South Carolina plant.  When Boeing tried to relocate some production to right-to-work South Carolina, Obama and his NLRB tried to block Boeing from operating the plant which had already been built at the cost of a billion dollars.  The whole thing was an outrageous and obvious attempt to both intimidate others from relocating to right-to-work states, and blackmail to get Boeing to reach agreement with its machinists union in Washington State.  It likely succeeded on both fronts (14). In light of the Gibson case and the question of motive,  the Boeing case highlights the extent to which Obama will go towards bullying corporations to achieve his ends.

Whenever Barack Obama acts in a puzzling way, it is best to consult his tactical mentor, Saul Alinsky, for therein usually lies the answer: 

“The Radical may resort to the sword but when he does he is not filled with hatred against those individuals whom he attacks. He hates these individuals not as persons but as symbols representing ideas or interests which he believes to be inimical to the welfare of the people.” Saul Alinsky, 1946 (emphasis added)

The unifying theme in all the above cases is that the targets are all “symbols representing ideas or interests” which Obama believes to be inimical to his political agenda.  All four companies are leaders in their industry and they threaten unions in symbolic ways:  J&J because it is so successful and has a Credo to treat employees as individuals, Toyota because it is non-union and is UAW/GM/Obama’s top rival, Gibson because it fled Michigan’s forced-unionism to relocate in a right-to-work state, and Boeing because it was a twofer: leverage for the machinists and a message about right-to-work.  

Unfortunately, these are not the only cases.  Unions have a long history of playing dirty and dangerous when threatened.  What makes all this so remarkable and chilling is that, in Barack Obama, the unions have a new thuggish partner capable and willing to use the full force of the federal government to harass their mutual enemies.   Individually, each case could be dismissed as plausibly due to some overzealous agency, but when taken as a whole, there can be no benefit-of-the-doubt.

(8) According to sources at J&J.  J&J declined to comment on their labor relations or union relations.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Philo T. Farnsworth, The Forgotten Man

I always thought it was a bit of hyperbole when Rush Limbaugh would refer to the mainstream media as the “state controlled media”.  That is, until I started reading about Philo T. Farnsworth.  “Farnsworth” you say, “who the heck was he?”

If there was ever a parable exhibiting the power of mainstream media and it’s statist roots, it is the amazing story of Philo T. Farnsworth, the greatest American inventor you likely never heard of. 

Farnsworth was the inventor, among other things, of electronic television.  He was the first person to conceive, build, and demonstrate a television and camera pair, broadcasting over the air with no moving parts.  Oh, and he invented all this when he was 14 years old.  Oh, and he won a patent challenge against RCA, so this history is not in dispute.  Oh, and he died broke and depressed, largely denied his legacy and place in history. 

But you remember learning about this amazing story in school, right?  What’s that?  You never heard of him?  How can that be?  I’ve made it a point to quiz every millennial, gen-xer, and boomer I come across to see if they are even aware of this amazing story.  So far, crickets. 

Fascinated by Farnsworth, I’ve begun reading everything I can on him and have been trying to understand how this incredible man and his story could have been largely erased from history.  It didn’t take me long to figure it out.  It was deliberate. 

Farnsworth’s rival for the title of “inventor of television” was essentially GE/RCA/NBC embodied at the time by engineer Vladimir Zworykin and RCA head David Sarnoff, both major contributors in their own right towards modern television.  GE/RCA/NBC had a near monopoly in the early days of broadcasting, beginning with radio and continuing into TV.  Today, they still embody the mainstream media with their flagship NBC network, it’s subsidiaries, and tentacles in government. 

Turns out, GE/RCA/NBC became a media monopoly the old fashioned way;  they got it by government fiat.  A federal mandate essentially created the media giant from the patents and assets of Marconi America, which was a division of the London based company founded by the first person to demonstrate signal transmission over the air, Guglielmo Marconi.  The US government was concerned that such a powerful industry as broadcasting should not be foreign owned, so they created what became NBC by diktat.  This embarrassing detail has also been effectively scrubbed from history.

In other words, the mainstream broadcast media was created by the state and granted an absolute monopoly during its early days.  Sarnoff was tireless in his efforts to control every related patent and extend his monopoly in broadcasting to the recievers (radios and TVs) as well.  Thus, David Sarnoff, the first king of this new media, could create any narrative he wanted both about himself and the invention of television.  He chose to erase Farnsworth, and elevate himself and Zworykin.  It worked beautifully and enduringly despite losing in the courts.

The rest, as they say, is history (ish). 

(Update - Further reading led me to learn of a screenplay, intended to be a movie, which was eventually made into a Broadway play called "The Farnsworth Invention".  The production did not succeed.  One of the reasons critics found fault with the play is that it actually misrepresented the outcome of Farnsworth's successful patent defense against RCA!  How could someone tell the Farnsworth story and get one of the most important facts backwards?  The play was written by Alan Sorkin, who among other things, is the creator of "The West Wing".  The network that aired "The West Wing" was of course...NBC.)     

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Access of Evil

Re: FCC to Monitor Newsrooms

Is there a more dangerous word in the statist’s lexicon than “access”?  OK, maybe you could make a case for “fairness” or “right”, but I’d wager that lurking not far from either of those words would be a plethora of accesses too. 

The subprime boom that crashed financial markets in 2008 was built on a mountain of access.  Access to affordable housing, access to affordable mortgages, access to credit, access to the McMansion of your dreams, etc.  In short, access to stuff you could not possibly afford.  Ergo, access to other people’s stuff. 

Obamacare is built on a mountain of access too:  access to healthcare, access to affordable insurance, access to top hospitals, access to contraception, and on and on.  This is working out so well that now it is providing - access to unemployment lines, access to a lame website, access to a doctor shortage, access to higher premiums, access to higher deductibles, access to higher copays, access to fewer drugs, etc. 

Today we learned about a new threat from the “access of evil”.  The FCC is planning on placing monitors in TV, radio, and print newsrooms to insure that their audiences have “Access to Critical Information”.  Gee, this sounds an awful lot like what the East German Stasi and the Soviet KGB did.  I wonder which broadcasters and networks will be found lacking in providing this "critical information" access?  Would this not be a great way to provide access to a monopoly state-controlled media?    

From the first page of the FCC plan:  “the purpose of this Study of Critical Information Needs (CINs) is to provide a comprehensive analysis of access/barriers to CINs in diverse American communities.”  If this sounds a bit too Orwellian and unbelievable, here is the link to the actual document (assuming they haven’t taken it down yet).        

The word “access” appears 21 times in the document. 

(Update: Apparently the daughter of Democrat Congressman James Clyburn is a key player in all this.)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The War On Women Backfires

Kathleen Willey recently said, "Hillary Clinton IS the war on women".  I cannot let that go without reposting my cartoon on the subject, which must be watched to the end to get the full relevance.  

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Subprime Nation

(This graph is a modified version of one I posted earlier.  I think it is worth revisiting as I get back to actively blogging after a hiatus.)

Since the financial crisis in 2008, we have known that one of the key reasons for the collapse was that the new breed of subprime mortgages and their derivatives were completely misunderstood and assumed to be as safe as mortgages had historically been.  (There's an old joke about what happens when you assume...)  Rather than treat these new subprime beasts as risky and different, the prevailing assumption was that they would behave just like the old 30 year fixed rate mortgages had, when borrowers had real income, real assets, real down payments, and real equity.  Big mistake.

We may be living a repeat of this kind of error, only this time it has to do with government spending.  Since 2008, Ben Bernanke's Fed and Barack Obama's government have presided over an historical explosion in government spending as a percent of the private sector.  Like subprime mortgages and derivatives back in 2007, we have no historical basis for understanding this kind of explosion in peacetime spending.  Even during the Great Depression nothing like this happened.

Two other times in history reveal large bursts in government spending - WWI and WWII.  The difference is, after both those wars the US enjoyed an unchallenged perch atop the world economy - Europe lay in ruin as did Japan after WWII. China was yet to be a world economic power.  That's not the case now.

Another issue:  What has been achieved by all the spending?  In WWs I and II,  we achieved something of lasting value - survival, peace, victory.  Today we are spending at world war levels and achieving little more than an illusion of prosperity.  The politics make sense if not the economics.  By delaying the effects of runaway spending, politicians are shielded from ever being associated with the borrowing and money creation catastrophes they've created.    

What all this means is that we are in uncharted waters.  Just like subprime mortgages in 2007, the conventional assumption is that there is nothing dangerous about peacetime spending at this level and we will be able to taper or unwind without incident.  I was a skeptic back in 2007 during the subprime boom.  I'm a skeptic now too.

(Note on the graph:  Quantitative Easing is included as government spending in the years it occurred, 2008 - 2013.  That's because it is government spending!)