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20% 'Fat Tax' Needed to Fight Obesity

Food Choices
© Subbotina Anna | ShutterstockIf unhealthy foods packed with saturated fats were more expensive than healthy alternatives which would you choose?
It's a proposition some might find hard to swallow: a 20-percent tax on unhealthy food to improve the health of the nation.

Yet such a tax - spread across the food chain from manufacturer to consumer, coupled with changes in food policy to spur production of healthier food - is needed to reverse the pandemic of obesity and chronic diseases, researchers say.

Two articles published online today (May 15) in the British Medical Journal describe this course of action. These opinion pieces come one week before the 65th World Health Assembly, to convene on May 21 to 26 in Geneva, where diet-related diseases will be the primary topic.

Size of fat tax

One article, led by Oliver Mytton of Oxford University's Department of Public Health, looked at tax schemes worldwide to see what has worked, however marginally. Many countries are now using such "sin" taxes, which have curbed tobacco and alcohol use, to limit the consumption of unhealthy food, Mytton said. These taxes are based on the basic economic theory that, as the price of an item rises, the consumption of that item will fall.

But this theory isn't necessarily true with food, Mytton said. Just because the price of microwave-ready, deep-fried, gooey cheese sticks goes up doesn't mean the nation will switch to kale. People might continue eating deep-fried, gooey cheese sticks, because that's what they like to eat and that's all they know how to eat.

Mytton's group, however, found numerous cases in which a relatively high tax altered food consumption in a healthful way. One example comes from Denmark, where early assessment is showing that a new relatively high "fat tax" on oh-so-cherished saturated fat has prompted people to eat foods with a healthier fat profile. Another study comes from Boston, at the Brigham and Women's Hospital cafeteria, where a 35-percent increase in the price of sugary drinks led to a 26-percent reduction in consumption.

Analyzing such food tax schemes, Mytton's group eyeballed a 20-percent tax as the level at which changes on food consumption become noticeable.

Mytton is cognizant of unintended consequences of food taxes - for example, trading one evil for another, less sugar for more fat, or buying less healthy food for lack of money to buy any food. For this reason, he suggests introducing a sugary beverage tax, in which the alternative is usually drinking more tap water.

"A tax isn't going to fix obesity; it's not going to fix diet-related diseases," Mytton said. "There's no single solution. But it can have a role in moving people in the right direction" with their eating patterns. Mytton also would like to see subsidies for healthy foods, such as fruit and vegetables.


Obama financial forms show big JP Morgan account

Maybe it's a case of putting your mouth where your money is.

President Barack Obama praised JP Morgan Chase in an interview recorded Monday as "one of the best managed banks there is" and its CEO, Jamie Dimon, as "one of the smartest bankers we got." On Tuesday, the White House made public financial disclosure forms showing the president and First Lady Michelle Obama had between $500,001 and $1,000,000 in a "JP Morgan Chase Private Client Asset Management Checking Account."

The annual peek into the Obamas' finances showed that the president held between $1,000,001 and $5,000,000 in U.S. Treasury Notes, generating between $5,001 and $15,000 in interest. They also held between $500,001-$1,000,000 in Treasury Bills.


The JPMorgan debacle: Dictatorship of the financial aristocracy

Snake in a suit? JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon
The economic and political fallout from JPMorgan Chase's sudden announcement last Thursday night that it lost more than $2 billion from speculative bets on credit derivatives continued to grow on Monday. The biggest US bank announced the forced retirement of Ina Drew, who headed up the bank's London-based Chief Investment Office, which placed huge bets on the creditworthiness of a collection of US corporations. Other top executives and traders are expected to be sacked or demoted.

The bank's shares fell another 3.2 percent, bringing its two-day market capitalization loss to nearly $19 billion. The Wall Street Journal reported that JPMorgan was prepared for a total loss of more than $4 billion over the next year from its soured stake in credit default swaps - the same investment vehicle that played a central role in the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the government bailout of insurance giant American International Group (AIG) in September of 2008.

In an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press" program on Sunday, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon sought to present the loss as an innocent mistake, resulting from "errors, sloppiness and bad judgment." Only a month ago, Dimon, who has led the public campaign by Wall Street against even the mildest restrictions on speculative banking practices, dismissed warnings over the massive bets being made by his Chief Investment Office as "a complete tempest in a teapot."


Why JP Morgan's $2 Billion Gambling Loss at Will NOT Speed Financial Reform

American Casino
Among the more laughable features of commentaries on Jamie Dimon's recently revealed $2 billion (at least) gambling losses are earnest pronouncements that the debacle will stymie the efforts by Dimon and Wall Street in general to further deregulate the financial industry.

A scheduled vote this coming Thursday in the House Agriculture Committee should reassure Wall Street that nothing has changed.

Bad Guys

Best of the Web: Perverted Justice: The Rise of Secret Trials in America

One of the lasting challenges to America's federal judiciary will be addressing American complicity in the tortures and disappearances of the past ten years. Two recent appeals-court decisions show us how judicial panels are tackling these issues: by shielding federal officials and their contractors from liability, and even by glorifying the fruits of their dark arts. In the process, legal prohibitions on torture are being destroyed through secrecy and legal sleight of hand, and our justice system is being distorted and undermined.

War Whore

Best of the Web: Vote for Endless War: In 2012, whoever gets elected, its the Pentagon that wins

US troops
© Getty

Let's start with this: according to the Pentagon, the production and acquisition costs of Lockheed Martin's F-35 fighter jet, the military's most expensive weapons program, have risen yet again, this time by 4.3% since 2010 to $395.6 billion. If you're talking about the total cost of the system, including maintenance and support for the nearly 2,500 planes that will some (endlessly delayed) day be produced for the military, that has now reached an estimated $1.51 trillion, a 9% rise since 2010. All this for a plane that some experts doubt has any particular purpose in the future U.S. arsenal.

Bad Guys

The Corruption of Science: How Corporations Like Monsanto Have Hijacked Higher Education

mortarboard money
© Shutterstock/mostafa fawzy
Academic research is often dictated by corporations that endow professorships, give money to universities, and put their executives on education boards.

Here's what happens when corporations begin to control education.

"When I approached professors to discuss research projects addressing organic agriculture in farmer's markets, the first one told me that 'no one cares about people selling food in parking lots on the other side of the train tracks,'" said a PhD student at a large land-grant university who did not wish to be identified. "My academic adviser told me my best bet was to write a grant for Monsanto or the Department of Homeland Security to fund my research on why farmer's markets were stocked with 'black market vegetables' that 'are a bioterrorism threat waiting to happen.' It was communicated to me on more than one occasion throughout my education that I should just study something Monsanto would fund rather than ideas to which I was deeply committed. I ended up studying what I wanted, but received no financial support, and paid for my education out of pocket."

Unfortunately, she's not alone. Conducting research requires funding, and today's research follows the golden rule: The one with the gold makes the rules.

War Whore

Best of the Web: Meet the 'new normal': Fordham University to give Honorary 'Doctorate in Humane Letters' to Kidnap, Torture and Drone Killings Advocate John Brennan

john brennan
White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan
In this season of graduations - and the rush to bestow honorary degrees on the "great and powerful" - one ironic moment will play out at Fordham University, where Jesuits are giving top billing among its honorees to White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan, notes Fordham grad (and ex-CIA analyst) Ray McGovern.

Since even readers of the New York Times are aware of deputy national security adviser John Brennan's open identification with torture, secret prisons and other abuses of national and international law, Fordham University's invitation to him to give the commencement address on May 19 brought, well, shock and awe to many Fordham students, faculty and alumni.

It now turns out we didn't know the half of it. Piling outrage upon indignity, Fordham announced this week that Brennan will enjoy pride of place among the "eight notables" on whom it will confer honorary degrees at commencement. The others receiving a Doctorate in Humane Letters, honoris causa, include Timothy Cardinal Dolan (Archbishop of New York), and Brooklyn congressman Edolphus Towns.

Unlike his co-recipients, Brennan is widely known for his advocacy of kidnapping-for-torture (aka "extraordinary rendition") and killing "militants" (including U.S. citizens) with "Hellfire" missiles fired by "Predator" and "Reaper" drone aircraft.


Henry Kissinger Receives Full TSA Pat-Down at Airport

© The Associated Press/Andy WongKissinger at a summit in Beijing, June 25, 2011.
Henry Kissinger was searched by the Transportation Security Administration at New York's LaGuardia Airport on Monday.

Matthew Cole, a freelance reporter for The Washington Post, recognized the former secretary of state, who was in a wheelchair, at a security checkpoint. The 88-year-old Kissinger, Cole said, got a "full pat-down."

"He stood with his suit jacket off, and he was wearing suspenders," Cole told the Post's "In the Loop" blog. "They gave him the full pat-down. None of the agents seemed to know who he was."

In March, the TSA said it would begin testing a program that would allow passengers 75 and older to keep their shoes and light jackets on as they pass through security. But the TSA said that older passengers may still be subject to normal screening procedures if the full-body scanners detect any anomalies.


Conservatives End Four Years of Denial, Plead Guilty to Illegal Campaign Spending

Stephen Harper
As court orders maximum fine of $52,000, Liberals ask: Did Tories buy their victory?

It was a case that dragged on for years amid rumour, speculation and finally formal charges that accused Stephen Harper's Tory party of a financial sleight-of-hand that allowed it to illegally overspend on campaign advertising.

Now, after four years of denying that it broke the rules on election spending during the 2006 campaign, the federal Conservative Party has admitted that it overspent on ads in the vote that brought Harper to power.

On Thursday, the party and its fundraising arm pleaded guilty of spending more than the $18.3-million legal limit and of filing an election return that failed to report all the expenses it incurred.

The court levied the maximum fine possible: $52,000. Tory spokesmen dismissed the whole mess as an "administrative dispute." The NDP said the ruling party had undermined democracy and it demanded an apology; the Liberals called it an "administrative scam" and speculated that Harper's party may have bought him an election.

The Canadian Press has the latest details:

Ottawa -- The Conservatives are being accused of buying victory in the 2006 election that brought Stephen Harper to power, after pleading guilty Thursday to exceeding their campaign spending limit and failing to report all advertising expenses.

The Conservative party and its fundraising agency both pleaded guilty to two counts of violating the Elections Act and agreed to pay maximum fines totalling $52,000.