Baylen Linnekin on What the Documentary Fed Up Gets Wrong About the ‘Obesity Epidemic’

The
new documentary Fed Up bills itself as “the film the food
industry doesn’t want you to see.” But as Baylen Linnekin reports,
the film is so biased and misleading that most viewers will likely
rank it as a film they themselves didn’t want to see. As he
explains, while Fed Up purports to shine a critical light
on the food industry and the “obesity epidemic,” it mostly ignores
the real culprit: government subsidies and other handouts to
farmers who raise crops that are turned into sweeteners.

View this article.

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Uruguay’s Buttoned-Down Version of Marijuana Legalization

Last week Uruguay, the first country to
legalize
marijuana,
unveiled
its rules for getting high, which are notably stricter
in several respects than the regulations imposed by Colorado or
Washington. Every consumer has to register with the government and
pick one of
three options
for obtaining marijuana: growing it at home (up
to six plants per household), joining a club consisting of 15 to 45
people growing no more than 99 plants for their own use, or buying
up to 10 grams (about a third of an ounce) per week from a
specially licensed pharmacy. No matter which option you pick, you
may possess no more than 480 grams (about a pound) over the course
of a year, so if you grow at home or in a club you’d better hope
your plants are not too productive.

By comparison, Colorado and Washington both allow purchases of
up to an ounce at a time, with no registration and no weekly or
yearly limit. Colorado allows home cultivation (up to six plants
per person) in addition to retail sales, and you can keep whatever
those plants produce in the location where you grow them (or share
it, up to an ounce at a time, with other adults, “without
remuneration”). One way in which both states are stricter than
Uruguay: Their legal age for purchase and possession is 21, while
Uruguay’s is 18.

Uruguay is banning all marijuana advertising, an option that is
not available in the United States due to constitutional
protections for freedom of speech. Even the restrictions imposed by
Colorado and Washington
may be vulnerable
to challenge under the free speech guarantees
of those states’ constitutions, if not under the
First Amendment
. Uruguay’s constitution
does declare that “the expression of opinion on any subject by word
of mouth, private writing, publication in the press, or by any
other method of dissemination is entirely free, without prior
censorship.” That freedom, I gather, does not include opinions
like, “Our Kurple Fantasy is the best!” 

Over all, Uruguay’s version of marijuana legalization, which is
supposed to be up and running by the end of the year, is decidedly
more buttoned down than Colorado’s or Washington’s, and that is the
way President Jose Mujica likes it. In a recent interview with the
Associated Press, the former Marxist revolutionary criticized Colorado’s
approach as excessively loose, saying “it’s a complete fiction what
they do” to control consumption. “No addiction is good,” Mujica
said. “We aren’t going to promote smokefests, bohemianism, all this
stuff they try to pass off as innocuous when it isn’t. They’ll
label us elderly reactionaries. But this isn’t a policy that seeks
to expand marijuana consumption. What it aims to do is keep it all
within reason, and not allow it to become an illness.”

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Do the European Elections Matter?

Historically, elections to the European
Parliament haven’t mattered much, even to Europeans. Their main
role has been to give disgruntled voters a chance to deliver a good
shellacking to the parties in charge of national governments. Like
mid-terms, then, but with little potential to alter the balance of
power or sway the course of policy. The fundamental indifference of
Europe’s voters has been reflected in turnout percentages, which
have fallen at every election since the European Parliament was
established in 1979. Most expect turnout to reach a new low this
year, falling below the 43 percent figure from 2009.

To a certain extent, this lack of enthusiasm is hard-wired into
the structure of the European Union (E.U.). For starters, the
European Parliament has not traditionally had much power. It still
can’t initiate legislation, which is the sole preserve of the
European Commission, the EU’s permanent bureaucracy. What’s more,
the European Parliament—which houses representatives from more than
100 national parties, grouped into 12 European parties, and then
grouped again into seven different alliances—feels very remote to
most voters. What power the European Parliament does have is often
exercised through back-room deals concluded by politicians the
voters don’t know, on behalf of parties and alliances they’ve never
heard of. A vibrant democracy this most certainly is not.

And yet the 2014 elections—which begin on Thursday in the UK and
the Netherlands—may be different. For one thing, the 2009 Libson
Treaty extended the European Parliament’s power to approve, amend,
or block legislation to 40 additional areas of policy. It also gave
the European Parliament a greater say on the EU budget, as well as
a range of international agreements (including, for example, the
proposed U.S.–E.U. trade deal). Legislators have not been shy about
exercising their new powers: The Financial Times
notes
that they now wield more influence than their limited
constitutional role would suggest.

The latest power-grab involves each parliamentary group
nominating a “lead candidate” in the elections, and demanding that
the victor be made president of the European Commission. It remains
to be seen whether the European Council—consisting of the heads of
the E.U.’s 28 national governments—will accept this usurpation of
its authority, but if it does, the consequences for E.U. policy
could be significant. The European Commission has traditionally
been a force for liberalization and market competition; the
European Parliament, by contrast, tends to prefer regulation and
protectionism.

This matters because the E.U. is at an important crossroads in
policy terms. The eurozone crisis may have abated for now, but
growth remains sluggish, unemployment is shockingly high, and a
Japanese-style “lost decade” looms on the horizon. And that’s to
say nothing of renewed geopolitical instability in the E.U.’s own
backyard. Europe desperately needs to liberalize its labor and
consumer markets, strengthen its trade links with other economies
(not least the U.S.), and develop an energy policy that doesn’t
leave it reliant on the Kremlin to keep the lights on. For better
or worse, the European election results will go some way to
determining whether any of this is possible.

One crucial factor will be the electoral performance of Europe’s
insurgent populist parties, which may end up controlling more than
a quarter of the seats in parliament. These parties do not
constitute an homogenous political force—Italy’s anti-establishment
but relatively liberal Five Star Movement has little in common with
Greece’s neofascist Golden Dawn, for instance. But for the most
part, Europe’s populists are skeptical of European integration,
suspicious of globalization, and hostile to immigration. The most
extreme among them can be downright nativist. Their rise to
prominence gives libertarians precious little to cheer: The result
can only be a Europe that is more illiberal and less free
market.

So do the European elections matter? In so far as they give some
indication of the economic prospects of the world’s biggest market,
the fate of the U.S.–E.U. trade deal, and the future complexion of
a political union serving more than 500 million people, the answer
to that question must be “yes.”

Tom Clougherty is managing editor at Reason
Foundation.

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The NewDEAL: Dark Money, Democrat Style

Over at
Vice, Lee Fang, an investigative fellow with The Nation
Institute,
looks at some of the “dark money”
flowing around Democratic
political circles. Turns out some secret sources of Democrat
campaign funding are the very mega-companies many progressives rail
against, especially when they’re donating to Republican
causes. 

From Fang: 

“While much of the talk about a progressive revival revolves
around populist figures like New York City Mayor Bill de
Blasio and Senator Elizabeth Warren, there are other, better funded
efforts afoot. Corporate titans from finance to natural gas to big
retail and telecom are attempting to steer the party, and as the
midterms shape up, these interests are pushing to ensure they
continue to have wide sway over America’s only viable outlet for
center-left expression at the polls. Which brings us to the latest
venture in corporate-centered party-building and the group hosting
a chat in (the America’s Natural Gas Alliance’s) headquarters: The
NewDEAL.”

The NewDEAL was
created
 by Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Sen. Mark
Begich (D-Alaska) to support pro-business progressives (DEAL stands
for “Developing Exceptional American Leaders”). Led by Sen. Cory
Booker (D-New Jersey) and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, the NewDEAL is a 501(c)(4) issue
advocacy non-profit, allowing for campaign activity without
disclosure of donors. But
Vice claims to have
uncovered a NewDEAL donor list:

“VICE has obtained a ‘supporter list’ showing donors of the
NewDEAL, which reads like a who’s who of corporations seeking
government access: Comcast, Fluor, Merck, Microsoft, New York Life,
Pfizer, Qualcomm, Verizon, Wal-Mart, the Private Equity Growth
Capital Council, among others, including, of course, the host of
Tuesday’s event, ANGA.

[…] the same corporate forces that Democrats are leaning on
are propping up the far right tilt of the Republicans as well. On
the local level, meaning state legislative races, there are two
competing committees, the RSLC for the GOP and DLCC for Dems. A
VICE review of recent campaign filings show that the two committees
share many of the same top 25 donors: Wal-Mart, Pfizer,
tobacco giant Reynolds America, PhRMA (a drug industry trade
group), AT&T, and Comcast cut the biggest checks for both the
RSLC and the DLCC.”

Obviously, corporate-funded Democrat activists are nothing new.
And I guess you could say this highlights the influence of
corporations on the political process, but that’s a point already
pretty well illuminated. So, mostly, I just find this news
delightful because the recent push from Democrats to paint the
Republicans as somehow uniquely influenced by secret corporate
money is so sickeningly disingenuous.

Read the whole
thing here
.

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General Motors Fined over Problems, Christian Woman Faces Death Sentence in Sudan, Camels Declared Possibly Racist: P.M. Links

  • Maybe we should just declare Wednesdays to be racist and get rid of them, too.General Motors has been

    fined $35 million
    by the feds for failing to report in a timely
    fashion problems with ignition switches in 2.6 million of its
    cars.
  • A news editor for CNN’s London bureau has been fired for

    repeated plagiarism offenses
    in about 50 published
    stories.
  • Students at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota won’t get
    to
    celebrate “Hump Day” with a live camel
    because somebody worried
    that might be racist somehow.
  • A pregnant woman in Sudan is
    facing a death sentence
    for refusing to recant her Christian
    faith.
  • This weekend
    marks 10 years
    since Massachusetts became the first state to
    legally recognize same-sex marriages.
  • The Swiss head to the polls this weekend to vote on whether to
    institute the
    world’s highest minimum wage
    , the equivalent of $25 dollars per
    hour.

Follow us on Facebook
and Twitter,
and don’t forget to
sign
up
 for Reason’s daily updates for more
content.

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David Harsanyi on Marco Rubio’s Alleged Appeal

Marco Rubio seems a plausible option for
Republicans in 2016. Falling somewhere between Jeb Bush-Chris
Christie and the purportedly unelectable Rand Paul-Ted Cruz, Rubio
is the sort of comfortable choice Republicans tend to decide on.
He’s a proven conservative with a moderate demeanor. He’s
comparatively youthful with a strong presence. And he has the
ability to engage in Hispanic outreach. Hailing from an important
state doesn’t hurt, either.

But the promise of Rubio seldom corresponds with the reality,
argues David Harsanyi. It’s not that he’s off-putting. It’s that he
never really generates the sort of excitement or displays the sort
of political acumen his reputation might have you believe he can,
should, or will.

View this article.

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Obama Administration Promises to Shift Money Around to Make Obamacare’s Health Insurer Bailouts Work, If Need Be

Obamacare’s defenders have responded to charges
that the law creates a system of bailouts for health insurers by
arguing that the bailouts may not actually be bailouts. After all,
the law’s risk corridors create a system of symmetrical payments in
which insurers that spend somewhat more than expected on health
claims get paid by the administration, but those spending somewhat
less than expected must pay in. In theory, it all balances out,
with some insurers paying in and others getting paid. And it’s even
possible that, overall, insurers will pay in more than they are
paid.

Possible, yes, but far from certain. What happens if most or all
of the insurers participating in Obamacare’s exchanges end up with
higher than expected claims, and the administration owes them
all? 

Well, in that case they’ll find the money to pay. Somehow. As
Philip Klein reports in
The Washington Examiner

Bowing to an aggressive lobbying effort by insurers,
the Obama administration announced Friday it would use
“other sources of funding,” if needed, to finance a bailout for
insurance companies if the industry racks up excessive losses
through President Obama’s health care law.

The news, buried in a 435-page regulatory
filing
 by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid
Services, undermines prior assurances by the administration that
the program would be budget-neutral.

There’s a bit of a catch, which is that the regulation says it
will use those other funding sources “subject to the availability
of appropriations. And
according
to a recent Congressional Research Service memo, the
law doesn’t actually appropriate any funds for the risk corridors
program. And it’s a pretty safe bet that Republicans in Congress
aren’t going to appropriate funds any time soon (not that the
administration has felt particularly constrained by the finer
details of the law in the past). This could get
complicated. 

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Tonight on The Independents: Failed Cities

From Detroit to Harrisburg, Pa., Chicago to San Berdoo,
America’s cities are teetering on the verge of dysfunction and even
bankruptcy, as municipalities and counties sag under the weight of
bloated public-sector pension obligations and economically reckless
governance. Tonight’s episode of The
Independents
(Fox Business Network, 9 p.m. ET, 6 p.m. PT,
repeats three hours later) visits all these cities and more, to
confront the horror stories and point the way forward toward a
better tomorrow.

The show starts in
Detroit
, appropriately, with a tour by Kennedy and a discussion
with local boy and former Michigan congressman Thaddeus McCotter. Then we
show some of Jim Epstein’s gobsmacking Reason TV reporting from
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, which you can watch in full below:

Next, John
Tillman
, president and CEO of the Illinois Policy Institute,
will explain why he thinks Chicago might be the next Detroit (hint:
rhymes with “tensions”). Then Kennedy visits the California basket
cases of Vernon and

San Bernardino
, and solicits Reason.com columnist Steven Greenhut
for analysis. Fox Business Network Washington Correspondent
Rich Edson turns the
corner into more positive territory by talking about a new study
that highlights the best big cities in which to start a business,
which transitions into an interview with Mayor Rusty Paul of Sandy
Springs, Ga., “The
City That Outsourced Everything
.”

Joining Kennedy and Matt Welch in the guest-hosting chair for
the full hour is none other than beloved Reason Senior
Editor Peter
Suderman
, who is tasked with telling America what we’ve all
learned by the end of the show. It’s a packed episode of reportage
and analysis, doom and glimmers of hope, and you should watch it on
your television set.

Related Reason content: “How
to Break an American City
,” “Anarchy in
Detroit
,” “Reason
Saves Cleveland
,” and the Reason Foundation’s Pension Reform
Newsletter
.

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CDC Official Condemns E-Cigarettes As an ‘Egregious Experiment’ on ‘Our Children’

During a
Senate hearing
yesterday, Tim McAfee, director of the Office on
Smoking and Health at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC), described the marketing of electronic cigarettes
as “a huge experiment” and argued that “it is not fair to our
children to ask them to pay a potential price…for a hypothetical
benefit to adult smokers.” In fact, he said, “it is egregious
to suggest that we need to have kids do this in order for adults to
quit.”

McAfee was referring to the fear that e-cigarettes will
encourage teenagers to smoke, both by getting them hooked on
nicotine and by “renormalizing tobacco use” through ads
presenting a safer, less irksome, noncombustible alternative.
Implicitly recognizing the weak empirical basis for that claim,
McAfee said, “We’re not saying it
is a
gateway.”

But they are. Last fall McAfee’s boss, CDC Director Tom Frieden,

claimed
“many kids are starting out with e-cigarettes and then
going on to smoke conventional cigarettes.” Frieden frequently
raises the possibility that e-cigarettes will “get another
generation of kids more hooked on nicotine and more likely to smoke
cigarettes,” as he put it in an
interview
with the Los Angeles Times last month.
Yet as Boston University public health professor Michael Siegel

notes
, “there is no evidence that e-cigarette use leads to
cigarette smoking among adolescents.”  

McAfee,
like Frieden
, presents that scientifically unsubstantiated
worry as more believable than the “hypothetical benefit to adults
smokers.” But as Siegel points out, those benefits are in fact
quite real, since we know that smoking is much more dangerous than
vaping and that many people have switched from the former to the
latter. A
survey
reported last month in the International Journal of
Environmental Research and Public Health
, for example,
collected information from more than 19,000 e-cigarette consumers
around the world, 81 percent of whom had completely stopped
smoking. The former smokers reported significant improvements in
overall health and in specific functions such as breathing,
endurance, smell, and taste. The researchers, led by Greek
cardiologist Konstantinos Farsalinos, concluded that
e-cigarettes “can be effective even in highly dependent
smokers,” that “side effects are minor,” and that “health benefits
are substantial.”

The sample used in that study was drawn mostly from people
who participate in online e-cigarette forums, who may not be
representative of vapers in general. You would expect e-cigarette
enthusiasts to include a disproportionate number of people who had
successfully substituted vaping for smoking. These are nevertheless
actual people who have experienced actual benefits, in contrast
with the entirely hypothetical group of teenagers who never would
have smoked if they had not vaped first, none of whom has been
identified so far. Notably, only 0.5 percent of the e-cigarette
consumers in Farsalinos et al.’s survey said they were not smokers
when they first tried vaping.

Mitch Zeller, director of the Center for Tobacco Products
at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), testified at the same
hearing as McAfee, but his comments about e-cigarettes were more
temperate and evenhanded. That is encouraging, since the FDA is
charged with
regulating
e-cigarettes, which gives it the power to determine
whether they stay on the market and, if so, in what form and on
what terms. But Zeller’s testimony also highlighted the extent to
which the FDA plans to substitute its judgment for that of
consumers.

E-cigarettes “have the potential to do
good, and they have the potential to do harm,” Zeller said.
It really depends on who is using them and how
they’re being used.” For instance, he said, “If we look at a subset
of smokers who are otherwise unable or unwilling to quit,” and “we
could get all of those people to completely switch all of their
cigarettes for one of these noncombustible products, that would be
good for public health.” Then again, he said, some vapers might
continue smoking and “start to become less interested in quitting,”
which “might not be good for public health.”

Even that way of framing the issue is too categorical. In
Farsalinos et al.’s survey, about a fifth of the respondents did
not quit smoking completely, but they did cut back, on average from
20 to four cigarettes today. Like the former smokers, they reported
health improvements, although the impact was not as big. Hence dual
use could, on balance, reduce tobacco-related disease and death,
even if some of those smokers might have quit completely had they
never tried vaping.

More fundamentally, the FDA’s approach makes sense only if you
agree that the government should strive to minimize morbidity and
mortality for the population as a whole, as opposed to letting
individuals make their own choices. As Zeller explained, “our
job as the regulator is to figure out what is going on at the
population level.” In other words, it’s not enough to show that
e-cigarettes are safer than the conventional kind, or that
individual smokers can dramatically reduce the hazards they face by
switching. You also have to show that the resulting reduction in
morbidity and mortality is greater than any possible increase in
morbidity and mortality among people who start or continue smoking
because e-cigarettes are available. “I would absolutely concede
that any of these products at an individual level can do good,”
Zeller said, but “the decisions that we have to make are not going
to be made about what might be good for the theoretical
individual.” And that, in a nutshell, is what’s wrong with the
collectivist logic of “public health.”

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Ukraine: Civilians Chase Off Militants, Kittens Promote Peace

Thousands of Ukrainian civilian laborers came
together in patrol groups and tore down blockades set up
pro-Russian militants in the eastern region of Donetsk yesterday.
At the same time, a train car adorned with images of cats set off
from the western end of the country with a message of peace to the
east.

Around 18,000 steelworkers and miners are taking action against
the so-called “People’s Republic of Donetsk.” The New York
Times 
highlights their
small success in the city of Mariupol:

The workers, who were wearing only their protective clothing and
hard hats, said they were “outside politics” and were just trying
to establish order. Faced with waves of steelworkers joined by the
police, the pro-Russian protesters melted away, along with signs of
the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic and its
representatives. Backhoes and dump trucks from the steelworkers’
factory dismantled the barricades that separatists had erected.

It remains possible that the separatists could regroup and
challenge the industrial workers, though few were to be found in
and around Mariupol on Thursday, even in the public administration
building they had been occupying.

The Associated Press
reports
seeing no separatists in the city this morning.

Many of the laborers work at plants owned by Ukraine’s richest
man, Rinat Akhmetov. He has been critical of the western-leaning
interim leadership in Kiev, but recognizes the importance of
keeping peace for the sake of his business. If these types of
civilian patrols work, he
intends
to initiate them in other cities.

In the last week, much attention has turned to the standoff in
Mariupol, the second largest city in Donetsk. Exact numbers are
hard to come by as the opposing sides contradict each other, but
estimates indicate that
several dozen
people have been injured or killed and a few have
been
kidnapped
. The situation is grisly. One parliamentarian claimed
that the separatists took the dead body of a brigade commander and

cut off his ears and gouged out his eyes
.

Throughout the crisis, Russian media has been
pouring out
anti-Ukrainian propaganda, such as
filming a
construction site and calling it a concentration camp
, to
persuade people that Ukraine is run by neo-Nazis.

On this front, Ukrainians are now fighting back with kindness.
An activist group called the Public Sector of the Lviv Maidan
plastered pictures of cats on the outside of a train car that
yesterday began a journey to Odessa, where violent clashes between
pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian protesters led to the death of
48 people.

Public Sector states on its
Facebook page that it hopes to initiate dialogue among the
politically polarized regions of Ukraine and restore the “long
forgotten feeling of confidence tomorrow.” As tokens of good will,
they are bringing donations, such as children’s diapers, and
medical supplies, to the battle-scarred city.

Read more Reason coverage of Ukraine here.

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