Thursday, July 07, 2016

Agricultural subsidies are bad for your pocket but are they also bad for your health?

Agricultural subsidies are the despair of libertarians and economists worldwide.  When politics gets into farming, vast idiocies arise -- often ending in governments paying farmers not to farm at all. And the subsidies come out of the taxpayer's pocket so one would hope that some benefit comes to someone other than the farmer with his hand out.  It's hard to see it.  And now we see a possible indication that the produce that subsidies encourage is actually bad for your health.  The study is far from conclusive due to a lack of controls and the mechanism is unclear but it should create some doubts

The U.S. government spends billions of dollars each year on subsidies to farmers, but consuming too much food made from those subsidized farm products can boost people's risk for heart disease, researchers say.

The more people eat of foods made with subsidized commodities, the more likely they are to be obese, have abnormal cholesterol and high blood sugar, according to a report in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Current federal agricultural subsidies help finance the production of corn, soybeans, wheat, rice, sorghum, dairy and livestock, which are often converted into refined grains, high-fat and high-sodium processed foods, and high-calorie juices and soft drinks (sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup), the authors write.

“We know that eating too many of these foods can lead to obesity, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes,” said lead author Karen R. Siegel of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

But the subsidies help keep the prices of those products down, making them more affordable.

“Among the justifications for the 1973 U.S. Farm Bill was to assure consumers a plentiful supply of food at reasonable prices,” Siegel told Reuters Health by email. “Subsidized food commodities are foods made from federally funded crops to ensure the American population has an adequate supply of food, thus they tend to be non-perishable, or storable, e.g., corn, wheat, rice, to reduce the risk of spoiling.”

The researchers used National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey responses obtained from more than 10,000 adults between 2001 and 2006. Each person reported everything they had eaten in one 24-hour period.

The researchers gave each individual a “subsidy score” based on the percentage of their total calories than had come from subsidized foods.

At the same time, participants had their body mass index, abdominal fat, C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation), blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels measured.

On average, people were getting about 56 percent of their calories from subsidized food commodities. When the total group was divided into four smaller groups based on their subsidy score, those with the highest scores were more likely to be obese, have a larger waist circumference, more C-reactive protein, more “bad” cholesterol and higher blood sugar than those in the lowest subsidy score, as reported in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The study itself can't prove that a diet higher in subsidized foods causes poor health, Siegel said. But foods that are high in fat, sugar and sodium are known to increase the risk for chronic health problems, particularly when paired with other factors such as smoking and inactivity, she added.

U.S. dietary guidelines recommend emphasizing fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk products, lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts, Siegel said.

The government subsidies were a strategy to support rural communities and to manage hunger in the 1970s, said Raj Patel of the University of Texas at Austin, who wrote a commentary on Siegel’s report.

But “we rarely buy these foods raw,” Patel told Reuters Health by email. “These commodities are grown to be processed.”


The journal article is Association of Higher Consumption of Foods Derived From Subsidized Commodities With Adverse Cardiometabolic Risk Among US Adults


Are polls understating Donald Trump’s support?

In days leading up to the UK’s historic June 23 vote to leave the European Union, almost every single opinion poll had the Remain side winning.

Populus gave Remain a 55 to 45 percent lead. YouGov gave Remain a 51 to 49 percent edge. Ipsos Mori had it at 49 to 46 percent with 1 percent undecided.

Yet when referendum day came, it was Leave which had the distinct advantage, winning 52 to 48 percent — stunning prediction markets and pollsters alike, who were left to wonder what had just gone wrong.

The usual variety of explanations, like greater than expected turnout in Leave areas or less than expected turnout in Remain areas, or sampling error have been offered.

But perhaps a significant percent of people polled lied to the pollsters about their true intentions, or simply those who were intent on voting Leave were more likely to opt out of the poll.

Which after a year of a media and political establishment barrage against the Leave campaign as racist, xenophobic, and the like, and they would crash the economy and send the UK into a depression. Significantly, supporters of Leave were even blamed for the assassination of an MP in the closing days of the campaign.

None of it happened to be true. But who wants to be called a racist for not wanting open borders or unbridled trade policies that ship jobs overseas? Or crashing the economy? Or worse, blamed for the murder of members of Parliament?

A similar situation could be emerging across the pond in the U.S., where Donald Trump trails Hillary Clinton in national and statewide polls.

Here, the media and political establishment here consistently characterize Donald Trump as racist and xenophobic, and portray his supporters as violent — even as Trump supporters are being assaulted by protesters on television. They are told Trump’s trade and immigration policies will kill the U.S. economy and those who support them are economically illiterate.

Sound familiar?

Maybe Trump supporters are less likely to want to be identified. Not necessarily out of shame, but out of fear of being physically bloodied or damaged professionally. Perhaps that is being reflected in the polls.

UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage told CNBC on June 28 that is exactly what happened in the UK with the Brexit polls failing to predict the final outcome, and may be what is happening in the U.S., too. “There’s kind of this consensus that has made people feel slightly embarrassed, ashamed to be patriotic, to believe we should control immigration, and so when pollsters ring them they tend to shy away a little bit,” Farage suggested.

He may be on to something. Consider just how wrong the polls were in Republican presidential primary when it was still competitive a few months ago. The Real Clear Politics average of polls in Indiana had Trump at 43 percent to 32 percent. Instead, Trump got 54 percent of the vote.

In Pennsylvania polls said Donald Trump up 48 percent to 27 percent. Instead, he won 58 percent to 22 percent.

In Maryland, the average had Trump up 47 percent to 26 percent. Instead, he won 56 percent to 23 percent.

In Connecticut, the polls said Trump was at 54 percent, but then he over performed again at 59 percent.

In Rhode Island, the polls had Trump at 52 percent. Wrong again, he came in at 65 percent.

In Delaware, the polls said 55 percent. Voters said 63 percent.

In New York, the polls had said Trump would get 53 percent, but instead he hit 60 percent there.

Trump beat the poll estimates by up to 13 points in some states when election day finally came around. Simply incredible.

So perhaps Trump supporters are keeping quiet, and that is what is consistently turning up in the polls. You may not see their bumper stickers or lawn signs. Perhaps they don’t want their windows smashed. But they intend to vote for him all the same.

In Pittsburgh on June 28 Trump told voters, including disaffected labor Democrats, that “America became the world’s dominant economy by becoming the world’s dominant producer. The wealth this created was shared broadly, creating the biggest middle class the world had ever known. But then America changed its policy from promoting development in America, to promoting development in other nations. We allowed foreign countries to subsidize their goods, devalue their currencies, violate their agreements, and cheat in every way imaginable. Trillions of our dollars and millions of our jobs flowed overseas as a result.”

Trump added, “Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s time to declare our economic independence once again.”

We’ll know soon enough if a silent majority follows Trump’s call and puts him in the White House. Trump is running a Brexitonian style campaign of restoring U.S. sovereignty, stopping illegal immigration and securing better trade agreements. It is this pitch that Trump hopes will transcend traditional party loyalties, and throw off the conventional calculations that typically predict the final outcome of presidential elections.

But one cannot deny that 2016 is already shaping up to be a year that defies the expectations of the political and media establishment — all over the world.

The only people who have a clear idea of which way things are actually going are voters — and they might not be cooperating with pollsters.

Think Hillary Clinton has this in the bag? Ask outgoing British Prime Minister David Cameron if he still believes the polls.



More Proof that the Fix is in for Crooked Hillary

If today's revelation that the FBI won't recommend the prosecution of Hillary Clinton despite the admission that she was "extremely careless," more information suggests that the fix was in from the getgo. The Obama State Department has done everything in its power to avoid turning over documents related to Hillary's tenure as Secretary of State. Per the AP:

Just five months before the presidential election, the State Department is under fire in courtrooms over its delays in turning over government files related to Hillary Clinton's tenure as secretary of state.

In one case, the agency warned it needed a 27-month delay, until October 2018, to turn over emails from Clinton's former aides, and the judge in another case, a lawsuit by The Associated Press, wondered aloud whether the State Department might be deliberately delaying until after the election.

"We're now reaching a point where there's mounting frustration that this is a project where the State Department may be running out the clock," said U.S. District Court Judge Richard J. Leon. The judge said he was considering imposing penalties on the agency if it failed to meet the next set of deadlines he orders. Leon wondered aloud at one point whether he might impose penalties for again failing to deliver records on time. He mused about "a fine on a daily basis" or "incarceration."

"I can't send the marshals, obviously, out to bring in the documents, at least they wouldn't know where to go, probably," Leon said.

Secretary of State John Kerry and other officials have said they are committed to public transparency, vowing that the State Department will improve its practices under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act. Last year, after an inspector general's audit harshly critical of the agency, Kerry appointed a "transparency coordinator," Janice Jacobs, and said the agency would "fundamentally improve our ability to respond to requests for our records."

But in three separate court hearings last week, officials acknowledged that their records searches were hobbled by errors and new delays and said they need far more time to produce Clinton records. In other cases where the agency has already reached legal agreements with news organizations and political groups, the final delivery of thousands of records will not come until months after the November election — far too late to give voters an opportunity to analyze the performance of Clinton and her aides.

The delays loom even in the wake of FBI Director James Comey's announcement Tuesday that he has decided not to refer criminal charges to the Justice Department in Clinton's use of her personal computer server and private email accounts to conduct government business when she was secretary of state. Comey criticized Clinton's use of the private system and "careless" handling of classified materials, and also said the State Department was "generally lacking" in its handling of sensitive records.

It's not uncommon for government agencies to be extremely delayed when it comes to producing infromation, but this is ridiculous. It is clear that the Obama Administration has gone above and beyond to use the justice system to protect the presumptive nominee and prosecute her enemies. Expect more of the same if Crooked Hillary is victorious in November.



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