American Elephants

Prime Minister Netanyahu Goes to Congress. by The Elephant's Child

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave a magnificent speech before a truly supportive joint session of Congress this afternoon.  It is an excellent speech, the text is here. One very memorable passage:

Of the 300 million Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa, only Israel’s Arab citizens enjoy real democratic rights.  Now, I want you to stop for a second and think about that.  Of those 300 million Arabs, less than one-half of one percent are truly free and they’re all citizens of Israel.  This startling fact reveals a basic truth: Israel is not what is wrong with about the Middle East, Israel is what is right about the Middle East.

The Federal Fixation on Food. Haven’t They Got Something Useful to Do? by The Elephant's Child

Until the second half of the Twentieth Century, public medicine — that which is concerned with community-wide prescriptions — was largely focused on the germs that cause  infectious disease.  Advances in microbiology have led to the development of vaccines and antibiotics that eliminated or controlled diseases like Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis, Polio, Measles, Mumps, Rubella and  Hepatitis among others.

As the threat of communicable diseases declined. public health became more interested in the other killers like heart disease and strokes.  The death rates for those seemed to be increasing after World War II.  Some suggested that the rise was attributable to better diagnostic procedures, but one theory blamed the problem on the American diet, especially cholesterol, and we were off to the races.  Studies were inconclusive, and the influence of diet was not clear.  In 1969 the National Institutes of Health found no hard evidence that what people ate had a significant impact on heart disease.

In the 1970s Democrat senator George McGovern’s Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs (never underestimate the things that Congress wants to control) chose to make recommendations about what we should eat: less fat, less meat, fewer dairy products, more carbohydrate, less cholesterol. Arguments on the senate floor.  Complaints from the experts. The opposite of current recommendations. Typical.

The Population Bomb, Paul Erlich’s prophecy of mass starvation appeared in 1968; in 1971 Frances Moore Lappé’s Diet for a Small Planet extolling the virtues of vegetarianism appeared.  We had National Food Day, attacks on beef, and ongoing and increasing arguments about food. We are at present in a low carbohydrate phase, the reverse of government’s earlier recommendations.

Well, now they’re after the schoolchildren.  We may or may not have an “epidemic” of childhood obesity.  Australia had an “epidemic” of childhood obesity a while back, when common sense prevailed and they decided that the ‘epidemic” was nonsense and dumped all official attempts to address it. I haven’t seen a lot of fat kids, but I have certainly witnessed enormous amounts of hype about the horrors of obese children.  I’m suspicious. The government, however, is heavily invested.

Regulators at the U.S. Department of Agriculture assume that their new federal rules to make school lunches healthier will result in healthier kids.  Unnecessarily eliminating salt makes food taste bad, and meals that kids don’t like end up in school garbage cans. The total cost for the new rules is estimated to reach $6.8 billion.

The latest proposal is eliminating white potatoes (no tater tots or french fries which kids love), more sweet potatoes.  Good luck with that. Schools in Texas are spending $2 million to install cameras that will monitor the calorie intake of students. Lunch trays will have bar codes, so they know which kids are cheating? Schools have been struggling for years to find things that kids will eat.

I suspect that the national menu will turn out to be another failed effort that will not produce healthier kids, but simply waste tons of food.  Perhaps in the future, attention may turn to all the playgrounds which have eliminated any equipment or game that kids think is fun, in the name of safety and noncompetitiveness, insurance costs and world peace.  Playgrounds have become boring, vigorous games can no longer be played (no tag), public swimming pools have closed,  it’s hard for kids to be kids.

Thousands of Prisoners to be Released in California. by The Elephant's Child

Yesterday the United States Supreme Court ordered the State of California to release 46,000 convicted criminals.  These are prisoners whom a fair and impartial judicial system has decided  are either dangerous to society or deserve to be punished.  Justice Antonin Scalia, in a strong dissent called it “perhaps the most radical injunction issued by a court in our Nation’s history.

In Brown v. Plata, a 5-4 Court majority ruled that overcrowding in California prisons had led to inadequate health-care services and therefore violated the Eighth Amendment rights of prisoners, upholding a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.  The class of inmates who sued the state alleged no specific harms, merely that their conditions of incarceration were “systemic” and had the potential to be unconstitutional.

Justice Scalia, who was joined by Justice Thomas, wrote that the Justices are now decreeing how the political branches of government must be run, disregarding the core Article III checks on judicial authority.  The courts, he said, are neither qualified nor empowered to be policy makers and “long-term administrators of complex social institutions” such as schools or prisons.  Justice Alito and Chief Justice Roberts filed a dissent on technical grounds.

This is a big separation-of-powers violation. The Court-mandated population limits are sure to result in more crime among the lucky parolees, and what are they to do with parole violators?  The court’s liberal majority granted California “considerable latitude to find mechanisms and make plans” for the required reductions. California, already broke, is going to find it interesting to figure out how to deal with 46,000 prisoners, and still protect the public.

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