There’s no doubt that “Fed Up” is a jarring documentary that will make you re-evaluate your eating choices. “Fed Up,” produced by Katie Couric and Laurie David, takes a look at the alarmingly-high obesity rate in America, and points fingers at the food industry to take the brunt of the blame. But even though the documentary has stirred up a lot media attention (and guilt for our potato chip purchases), the film doesn’t lack for critics, many of whom claim that the facts presented in the movie are fabricated or poorly-researched.
There’s an even an entire website, run by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, called “Fed Up Facts,” which disputes many of the claims in the movie, stating that according to the Center for Disease Control, the obesity rate has actually gone down in recent years. A non-profit organization, (unrelated to GMA), called the International Food Information Council, also released a fact check of the movie, refuting some of the film’s basic information like, “this year, for the first time, more people will die from obesity than starvation.” The International Food Information Council has claimed that through numbers from the World Health Organization, 2.8 million people die every year from obesity-related illnesses, while more than 10 million die every year from starvation.
“There are a few central claims in the film that we dispute, the notions that sugar uniquely contributes to obesity, that energy balance is nonsense, and that people with an overall balanced diet containing limited amounts of sugar, along with appropriate levels of physical activity, are still essentially powerless against obesity,” Matt Raymond, a representative from the International Food Information Council, told The Daily Meal.“’Fed Up’ never, to my knowledge, has cited or linked to a single source for any of their claims.”
Both the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the International Food Information Council are supported and funded by the very companies that “Fed Up” is attacking, including Coca-Cola, Kraft, Kellogg, General Mills, Nestle and McDonald’s, so their perspective may be colored.
In response to these critiques, especially those released by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Union of Concerned Scientists has written a blog post picking apart these attacks on the film’s validity. General Mills (a member of the Grocery Manufacturers Association), has even claimed that “sugar intake has not been shown to be directly associated with obesity.”
To see both sides of the story, check out the International Food Information Council’s critiques, as well as the Union of Concerned Scientists’ responses to the “Fed Up” backlash here.
Joanna Fantozzi is an Associate Editor with The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @JoannaFantozzi
Bailout runs into a populist backlash
Walter Howard was living in Corona a few years ago, he said, when he realized that the country’s financial system was being run by crazy people.
How else to explain the working-class folk he kept encountering who were receiving loans of $800,000, $900,000, even $1 million to buy homes they couldn’t possibly afford?
Howard, 50, a computer programmer who now lives in upstate New York, told me he felt vindicated in having bailed out of the California housing market while the getting was good. But he’s deeply upset with the government’s plan to spend more than $700 billion bailing out financial institutions saddled with increasingly rancid mortgage debt.
This week, Howard decided to channel his displeasure by joining an online grass-roots movement called Fed Up USA, which opposes spending even a nickel of taxpayer money on rescuing financial firms.
“These are the same geniuses who got us into this mess,” he said. “They can get themselves out.”
Many people, myself included, have come to grudgingly accept that a massive bailout of the financial sector is necessary to stave off greater calamity, such as a collapse of the global banking industry or a worldwide economic depression. The stakes, by most accounts, are that high.
But as the scope of the bailout takes shape, a populist backlash is emerging, with some people concluding that the only fair outcome would be for failed firms to fail.
“To some extent, it’s economic Darwinism,” said Todd Zywicki, a law professor at George Mason University who believes the bailout concocted by Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson and Federal Reserve chief Ben S. Bernanke goes too far. “That’s the nature of a free economy.
“I have no problem with someone making a lot of money if they take risks and all goes well,” he added. “The downside of that, however, is that they have to eat any losses.”
Like many bailout bashers, Zywicki is a libertarian who prefers less government in virtually all aspects of life. He said federal authorities had no business handing money to companies that, through misfortune or mismanagement, got themselves in trouble.
This is a fair point. In fact, it cuts to the very heart of capitalism.
But as I wrote in Sunday’s column, market forces can’t always be relied upon to determine winners and losers in the marketplace. In the absence of strong regulation, businesses can and will easily go astray amid their constant search for profit.
“It’s too easy to think that the market will take care of everything,” said Leon Panetta, director of the Panetta Institute for Public Policy at Cal State Monterey Bay and former Clinton White House chief of staff. “That’s how we’ve gotten into the crisis we face today.”
Still, there is something inherently unfair about the nation’s roughly 138 million taxpayers having to foot the bill for an industry’s recklessness. No one told these guys to invest billions in ill-conceived mortgages, and they did so for no better purpose than to make themselves richer.
Similarly, no one told thousands of home buyers to take out mortgages they had no hope of repaying. Why should the rest of us have to subsidize a rewriting of their terms so these knuckleheads can keep their homes?
I know: The answer is that sometimes the greater good is served by sucking it up and doing what’s best for society. And in this case, there’s a strong case to be made that society benefits over the long run by helping Wall Street and distressed homeowners get back on their fiscal feet.
That’s not how Fed Up USA sees it, though. The group’s website ( www.fedupusa.org) says taxpayers “have been subjected to the biggest con job ever in this country.”
Fed Up USA grew out of a financial blog called The Market Ticker (market-ticker.denninger.net), run by financial pundit Karl Denninger, who previously headed Chicago Internet service provider MCSNet. The blog hosts an online forum that claims 4,500 registered users.
“The solution that Ben Bernanke and Henry Paulson have put forward is to flood the market with money,” Denninger told me. “That’s like giving a drunk a bottle of whiskey for what ails him.”
I can certainly sympathize with the frustration Denninger and others in the let-'em-fail crowd are feeling.
But I also heed the words of the late Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, who asserted that the Great Depression wasn’t caused by the stock market crash of 1929. Rather, he said, it resulted from the government not doing enough to provide liquidity for financial markets, depriving banks of the cash they needed to conduct business.
Bernanke has said he agrees with that assessment, and that’s precisely what he’s trying to avoid this time. I’m no economist, but I suspect he’s right.
I do have one small suggestion, though. The White House and Congress were dickering Tuesday over whether the government should receive an equity stake in firms that receive bailout funds. It should.
But since this is our money at work -- about $5,000 per taxpayer -- we should benefit directly from any rescue of the financial system. Some sort of mutual fund should be created to invest in troubled companies, and every taxpayer should get a share of the fund.
President Bush has spoken of the virtues of an “ownership society.” Fine. Wall Street can have my money. In return, I want my piece of the rock, crumbling though it may be.
When: Any time, starting Friday, March 6
Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)
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Lorraine Ali is television critic of the Los Angeles Times. Previously, she was a senior writer for the Calendar section where she covered culture at large, entertainment and American Muslim issues. Ali is an award-winning journalist and Los Angeles native who has written in publications ranging from the New York Times to Rolling Stone and GQ. She was formerly The Times’ music editor and before that, a senior writer and music critic with Newsweek magazine.
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Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), the libertarian-leaning congressman and failed 2008 GOP presidential candidate, has been suspicious of the Federal Reserve since before first entering Congress in 1976. In a 1981 article that mentioned the then-obscure legislator, United Press International reported that Paul "has proposed abolishing the Federal Reserve, repealing laws which make the dollar legal tender, and switching to currency issued by banks, 100 percent backed by gold."
That was the year Paul first proposed a bill to audit America's central bank. He recruited 44 cosponsors, but the bill never made it out of committee. The congressman introduced another bill to audit the Fed in 1983 and got less than half as many colleagues to sign on.
On another six occasions, Paul introduced bills that would have abolished the Fed entirely. Those acts of legislative defiance accomplished nothing much besides giving the congressman a reputation as an eccentric gold obsessive, hectoring an institution that was seen by almost everyone, critics and supporters alike, as foundational to the functioning of the modern world. Roll Call, a newspaper covering Capitol Hill, chided Paul after he won reelection to Congress in 1996 for his "idee fixe" of "a return to the gold standard," which it described as a "rallying cry that hasn't been a real issue since 1971."
What a difference an economic crisis makes. In 2007 and 2008, as Paul ran for president, the candidate found to his own surprise that his young-skewing crowds reacted to trash talk about the Federal Reserve more than any other element of his small-government, anti-war agenda. So in 2009, with many economists blaming the Federal Reserve at least partly for inflating a housing bubble whose crash continues to inflict the most economic damage seen in the U.S. for a quarter century, Paul started pushing another version of his "audit the Fed" bill, this one numbered H.R. 1207. And as of press time, the bill has attracted a remarkable 282 co-sponsors, more than a majority, giving it a nontrivial shot at passing through the House of Representatives.
H.R. 1207 would lift existing restrictions on what auditors from the Government Accountability Office are allowed to look into when examining the Fed's books. Specifically, the bill would allow investigators to report on the Fed's dealings with foreign banks and nations, its "actions on monetary policy matters," and the operations of its Federal Open Market Committee, the wing whose decisions most directly affect the U.S. money supply. The legislation is cosponsored by every single Republican in the House as well as 105 Democrats.
For the first time in Paul's long career of tilting at Alan Greenspan's windmills, popular sentiment against the Federal Reserve has its chairman, currently Ben Bernanke, running scared. Last summer Bernanke launched an unprecedented public relations campaign, explaining himself in venues from 60 Minutes to town-hall-style meetings broadcast on PBS. In July testimony to the House Committee on Financial Services, Bernanke warned that H.R. 1207 would damage global trust in the Fed's political independence and "could raise fears about future inflation, leading to higher long-term interest rates and reduced economic and financial stability."
Paul, after shepherding his idea from fringe to mainstream, is almost giddy. "Now the Federal Reserve is less popular than the IRS!" the congressman told a July gathering of Young Americans for Liberty in Washington, D.C. "This issue is never going to go away. Who would have thought a politician could talk about Austrian economics and get applause?"
The Austrian Opposition
With its power over interest rates and the supply of U.S. dollars, the Federal Reserve System is the most influential economic institution on the planet. That influence comes surrounded by an impenetrable aura of mystery. Hardly anyone, citizen or congressman, completely understands what the Fed does, how it operates, or what the effects of its actions will be.
Here is a highly simplified outline. The Fed is a set of 12 regional banks under the command of a seven-member board of governors appointed by the president and approved by the Senate. Its 12-member Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC)—the board of governors plus five regional bank chiefs—is responsible for adjusting the federal funds interest rate, which is the rate banks charge each other for loans. The FOMC does this through "open market operations," buying and selling securities to affect the amount of money in the economy and thus the interest rate paid by banks to get more cash.
This process is hard enough to describe, let alone comprehend, and previous Fed chairmen have found it useful to keep their public pronouncements about the central bank's operations maximally vague and obscure. A classic from Paul Volcker, chairman from 1979 to 1987: "We did what we did, we didn't do what we didn't do, and the result was what happened." Volcker's successor, Alan Greenspan, who enjoyed the longest stretch of low-inflation prosperity in Fed history (now widely seen as possibly laying the groundwork for the crash), helped reinforce both the central bank's reputation for effectiveness and the expectation that its actions would remain inscrutable.
But these days the Federal Reserve faces challenges to both its power and its mystery, thanks to both hot public opinion and cold academic analysis. Politicians are demanding a peek behind the curtain, and holdovers from Paul's 2008 presidential campaign have kick-started an "End the Fed" movement. Even within the central bank's natural fanbase of economists and financiers, many are complaining about its appetite for regulatory power and its massive expansion of the money supply. During the last year the Fed has nearly doubled the monetary measure over which it has the most direct control, the "monetary base" (defined as circulating currency plus the reserves that commercial banks keep with Federal Reserve banks).
Signs abound that public sentiment is turning against the bank. Meltdown, an anti-Fed tract by the historian Thomas Woods, sat on the New York Times bestseller list for more than a month. Woods, like Paul, embraces the "Austrian" school of economic thought, which sees central banking as a recipe for endless inflation and constantly growing government. Paul has invited him to Capitol Hill to brief a growing unofficial caucus of Republicans attracted to Paul's hardcore anti-statism. Fed bashing has been a prominent component of Tea Party gatherings nationwide. The largely Paulite movement Campaign for Liberty has organized "contact your congressman" campaigns to get H.R. 1207 on representatives' radar screens, and the results are pouring in.
"The bill has received as many cosponsors as it has in part because Dr. Paul's presidential campaign really brought the Fed into the spotlight, opened people's eyes," Paul Martin-Foss, a legislative aide for Paul, writes in an email. "There was also a lot of grassroots support, with numerous offices telling me that they had received a lot of mail about the bill and wanted more information." Colorado Democrat Betsy Markey specifically credits Tea Party pressure for getting her interested in the bill, which she decided to cosponsor. "There's a lot of anger from both sides of the aisle towards the Fed, not necessarily coming from the same position or working towards the same goals," Martin-Ross writes. "But everyone wants to be seen as being in favor of transparency."
Paul recognizes that the growing support for auditing the Fed does not indicate similar enthusiasm for his more radical goal of abolishing the central bank. He has introduced another bill to do just that, and it has yet to attract a single cosponsor. H.R. 1207 supporters, by contrast, "sign on because it doesn't do" anything like that, Paul says. "It doesn't direct policy changes. I did that on purpose."
Paul's beef with the central bank is a by-product of his longstanding interest in the works of Austrian school economists, most prominently Ludwig von Mises and Nobel laureate F.A. Hayek. Paul was a fan of Mises and Hayek before he entered politics in the mid-'70s, largely as a result of his reading the publications of the libertarian Foundation for Economic Education.
Paul, like the economists he admires, thought it a mistake to have a giant government-run institution trying to fix prices—in this case, interest rates, or the price of loaned money, which is the Fed's main mechanism for pursuing its stated goals of economic growth, high employment, and relatively stable prices. As a critic of state power, Paul also worries that once a government has total control over paper money that it can create at will, it becomes too easy and too tempting for the state to spend at will. Cash unbacked by gold will flow to help the government out of its jams, pay for its wars, and appease its most powerful private constituents.
To Austrian-leaning libertarians like Paul, this danger makes the Federal Reserve, central banking, and "fiat" money the key libertarian issue. If the government can manufacture all the money it wants, the fight for limited government is over before it begins.
Central to this critique is the Austrian business cycle theory, which helped win Hayek his Nobel Prize for economics in 1974. Hayek, Mises, and contemporary economists such as Roger Garrison of Auburn University and Steve Horwitz of St. Lawrence University argue that low interest rates set by the Fed fool investors and builders into thinking that consumer demand for future goods is higher than it actually is. Cheap money makes producers more likely to launch long-term projects and take on long-term expenses. When low rates are a product of government intervention, rather than a market expression of people's desire for long-term goods as reflected in their willingness to save now in order to consume more later, those long-term projects—for example, building and buying homes—will turn out to be unsustainable "malinvestments." Prices in those areas will plunge. Everyone will start to realize that resources were funneled to unprofitable ends. An exaggerated boom will turn into a catastrophic bust.
Austrians believe increases in the money supply don't always manifest in economy-wide rises in the consumer price index, the standard definition of inflation. The excess cash might instead flow into specific areas of the economy, depending on real-world factors that vary from case to case. In the housing boom and bust, those factors included mortgage lending standards, the actions of the government-created mortgage holders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and reckless securitization of mortgages. In the Fed skeptics' story about the last decade's economic expansions and contractions, the housing bubble was a deliberate effort by the Fed to stave off economic troubles that began when the tech-stock bubble burst in 2000.
Who Else Is Afraid of the Federal Reserve?
A small but enthusiastic audience, largely connected with explicitly libertarian institutions, has kept the Austrian theory of Fed culpability alive in the decades since Mises and Hayek left the scene. (Mises died in 1973, Hayek in 1992.) But the Austrians aren't the only opponents of the Fed's practices. Although history tends to craft auras of inevitability around what exists, the Federal Reserve would have seemed an exotic and dangerous change in American monetary practice in the 19th century.
According to a popular Fed creation myth, the bank, established in 1913, brought an end to a chaotic, boom-and-bust environment of unregulated banking, replacing it with managed economic stability. This story is widely believed despite the fact that America's most severe banking crisis and economic downturn, the Great Depression, occurred two decades after the Fed was created. As the popular historian (and no Austrian ideologue) Jack Weatherford wrote in his 1997 book The History of Money, "the final stripping of local banks of their power to control money came not because of financial failures but as a result of political movements to centralize power in Washington."
Opposition to central banks and paper money runs strong through American history. Many of the Founding Fathers came to despise paper currency after their experience with the quickly worthless Revolutionary War "continental." President Andrew Jackson crushed the Second Bank of the United States in 1832 in the name of the people. President James Buchanan noted after an 1857 bank panic that "our existing misfortunes have proceeded solely from our extravagant and vicious system of paper money." The Civil War "greenback," our first national government pure paper currency, was initially declared unconstitutional until a later Supreme Court bowed to political reality. And then there was the debate over establishing the Federal Reserve itself, in which opponents such as Sen. Elihu Root (R-N.Y.) noted the dangers of a potentially unlimited money supply.
In the postwar era of normality and economic centrism, noisy mistrust of the Fed was the province of gold fanatics, radical libertarians, and financial newsletter writers and readers who saw the bank as a machine the government used to debase the currency and steal from the thrifty. But the Fed also earned the ire of progressive leftists who saw it as the citadel of moneyed interests helping creditors at the expense of debtors by keeping inflation too low. The critique, which was especially audible from the Volcker era forward, is exemplified by the progressive journalist William Greider's best-selling 1987 book on the Fed, Secrets of the Temple. It follows the grand tradition of the three-time Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, who famously wanted to rescue indebted farmers through using cheaper and more abundant silver as money rather than crucifying them on a "cross of gold."
During a time when the Fed actually lived up to its much-vaunted, often spurious "independence from political pressure"—when Paul Volcker was using the shock therapy of high interest rates and lower money supply growth to crush inflation in the early 1980s—the Fed came under political pressure from across the ideological spectrum. Its critics included Sen. Robert Byrd (D–W. Va.) and Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.) as well as many members of the Reagan administration. But for most of the tenure of Alan "Maestro" Greenspan, the Fed was broadly seen as doing little wrong.
Yet Paul discovered during his presidential bid that anti-Fed feeling had somehow morphed into a popular youth phenomenon. At an Iowa campus stop in 2007, the candidate and I expressed mutual wonder at the fact that his biggest applause line was not about ending the war but about reining in the Fed. At other Paul events, I'm told, kids burned Federal Reserve notes (dollar bills to you) to show their hostility toward the unrestricted and damaging flow of fiat currency.
As that flamboyant gesture indicates, anti-Fed feeling has long overlapped with powerful populist passions. Sometimes that attaches itself to misleading history and misaimed anger. Conspiracy theorists often cite the fact that the Fed is officially owned by its 12 private member banks as evidence that the whole system is a means for private bankers to mulct the public. But in its creation, purpose, and function, the Fed is a branch of government. Its board of governors is selected by the president and approved by the Senate, and most of its income ends up in the U.S. Treasury. And contrary to claims that the law creating the bank was pushed through Congress in the dead of night before Christmas 1913 solely as a result of a banker's conspiracy forged on Jekyll Island, the Fed arose from long public and congressional debate.
Opposing something that has long been deemed as essential as air tends to attract eccentric people with eccentric beliefs. When I ask Ron Paul where this unexpected upsurge in youthful disdain for the Fed was coming from, he says the most important source was the website of the Mises Institute, an educational foundation for Austrian economics and libertarian political thought. But beyond the economic arguments against fiat currency, Paul says the biggest feeders of popular fear of the Fed are the conspiracy-minded documentary America: Freedom to Fascism and radio host Alex Jones, staunch opponent of the New World Order. In both cases Fed opposition is part of a general theory of sinister and subterranean forces struggling to keep Americans enslaved.
It certainly was no credit to the anti-Fed movement that Holocaust museum shooter James von Brunn had previously been arrested for attempting a "citizen's arrest" of the Fed's governors. And when the U.S. Army Reserve issued a "Force Projection Advisory" in November 2008 specifically targeting that month's anti-Fed protests for "situational awareness and recommended mitigation measures," it allowed those on the fringe to feel validation that they were not only right all along but a genuine threat to their enemies.
But the profound effects of the Fed's avowed purpose—manipulating interest rates and making paper currency—are damaging enough, at least for those who see its fingerprints all over the current crisis, to make more baroque conspiracy theorizing superfluous. And when it comes to mistrusting the Fed, the Alex Jones crowd is not alone.
We're All Austrians Now
Economists, pundits, and financial analysts are not exactly gathering by the hundreds in front of Federal Reserve buildings and chanting "End the Fed!" But it has become almost impossible to avoid respectable voices in respectable venues laying some of the blame for the economic crisis at the Fed's discount window.
The Berkeley economist Brad DeLong, a popular blogger and former Clinton Treasury Department official who once dismissed Mises' general monetary theory as "batshit insane," still told this story in the October 2008 issue of the liberal American Prospect: "The current financial crisis has its roots in Greenspan's decision to keep interest rates very low in 2002 and 2003 to head off the danger of a deflation-induced double-dip recession.&hellipSix months ago, I would have said that his judgment was probably correct. Today&hellip I can no longer state that Greenspan made the right calls with respect to the level of interest rates and the housing bubble in the 2000s."
Fed bashing in a roughly Austrian style has gotten so popular that the theory's opponents now feel embattled. Scott Sumner, a monetary economist at Bentley University who writes the much-cited blog The Money Illusion, thinks the Federal Reserve was and is too tight with interest rates and money for optimal economic performance. "As everyone knows by now," Sumner complained in June, "the once kooky and discredited Austrian business cycle model has now become conventional wisdom."
Blame-the-Fed sentiment now stretches across the spectrum of economic thought, from Keynesians such as DeLong to monetarists (who generally want the bank to maintain a fixed rate of money supply growth). In October 2008, the monetarist Anna Schwartz, co-author with Milton Friedman of one of the most important books of monetary economics, A Monetary History of the United States, told The Wall Street Journal: "If you investigate individually the manias that the market has so dubbed over the years, in every case, it was expansive monetary policy that generated the boom in an asset. The particular asset varied from one boom to another. But the basic underlying propagator was too-easy monetary policy and too-low interest rates that induced ordinary people to say, well, it's so cheap to acquire whatever is the object of desire in an asset boom, and go ahead and acquire that object."
In February 2009 the Stanford economist John Taylor, a monetary whiz so influential that there is a rule for setting interest rates named after him, told The Wall Street Journal: "The Fed held its target interest rate, especially in 2003–2005, well below known monetary guidelines that say what good policy should be based on historical experience. Keeping interest rates on the track that worked well in the past two decades, rather than keeping rates so low, would have prevented the boom and the bust."
Even the Obama administration has gotten into the act. "Monetary policy around the world was too loose too long," Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner told PBS interviewer Charlie Rose in March. "And that created this just huge boom in asset prices, money chasing risk. People trying to get a higher return. That was just overwhelmingly powerful."
As with any issue in political economy, there's disagreement. There are a variety of arguments to parry or blunt the Austrian theory. Former Federal Reserve Board economist Arnold Kling, for instance, argues that the modern world of money and credit is so convoluted, with so many avenues for the creation of money-like instruments outside of direct Fed control, that the Fed shouldn't be seen as the main villain in any credit-driven collapse. At worst, Kling thinks, it's a hapless bungler pretending to power it can never have. Bryan Caplan, a libertarian economist at George Mason University, thinks people are generally too smart to be fooled enough by false interest rate signals that they precipitate an economic crisis.
And pinning even partial blame for the current economy on the Fed is different from questioning its legitimacy. By limiting his bill to the narrow question of transparency, Paul is making it possible to create a broad political coalition that can agree the Fed needs to be kept in check without necessarily agreeing on why, or on what the Fed ought to be doing.
The Fed Forever?
Despite the palpable momentum behind H.R. 1207, the idea of inconveniencing the Fed with anything more severe than an audit still seems like a far-off fantasy. Meltdown author Woods notes that, although many mainstream analysts are jumping on the Austrian bandwagon to explain the causes of the crisis, none of them are really embracing the Austrian solution of ending the Fed's power to manipulate interest rates at will. They just call for the power to be used more prudently next boomtime.
The Fed was an ideological and institutional response to a convincingly told story of crisis and solution—basically, that the 19th-century system of mostly private banks issuing their own mostly gold-backed paper was leading to too many small economic crises of the sort that used to be called "bank panics." Milton Friedman, a critic of central banking practice, at the same time dismissed attempts to return to a commodity standard such as gold. One of his reasons was that it was "not feasible because the mythology and beliefs required to make it effective do not exist." But with best-selling books, activists in the street, members of Congress, and economists across the ideological spectrum casting aspersions on Fed practice, we may see the crafting of a new set of myths and beliefs.
In this time of political ferment, Stephen Axilrod, a longtime Federal Reserve staff director and monetary policy guru, has issued a memoir from MIT Press titled Inside the Fed. Axilrod admits that Fed interest rate actions precipitated the crisis without letting that fact dent either his admiration for the institution or his belief in its necessity. Still, Axilrod notes something that should encourage Fed skeptics of all varieties: that "a country's monetary policy is almost necessarily limited by conditions generated from the political, philosophic, and social ethos of the time."
We are now seeing attempts to move the ethos in an anti-Fed direction. While it's hard to imagine an America without an institution that has become so central, it's interesting to contemplate something former Rep. Eldridge Spaulding (R-N.Y.) said in 1868, in the midst of the legal controversy over Civil War greenbacks: "No one would now think of passing a legal tender act making the promises of the Government&hellipa legal tender in payment of 'all debts public and private.' Such a law could not be sustained for one moment."
What anyone would think can change dramatically. Ron Paul, through his Fed audit bill, is trying to get his colleagues, and the American people, to change what and how they think about the central bank. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, told a Massachusetts town hall meeting in August that he believes the House will indeed pass H.R. 1207 in October.
All the anti-Fed agitation we've seen in the last couple of years may eventually feel like a footnote if the current binge of monetary expansion creates something Americans haven't seen for a quarter century: substantial and painful inflation in the consumer price index. For now, Bernanke is trying to assure Congress and the public that the Fed governors are skilled and knowledgeable enough to know when they need to "neutralize" the new money by, for example, selling bonds to the market and essentially swallowing the money back up before prices spike.
But the Fed doesn't have a stellar track record of timing monetary shifts with scientific precision, and any actions that rein in inflation, thereby cutting off the short-term stimulative effect that governments love, are bound to be politically dangerous both to the Fed and to the president who appoints its overseers. As Bernanke admitted at his televised town hall meeting in July, the Fed can maintain its independence only if it can "show that we are producing good results," and while he added lip service to independence, the people he must show those results to are Congress and the administration. Though he was appointed to a new four-year term in August, if he flubs inflation, Bernanke will be facing a whole new wave of political attacks.
More generally, the Fed's independence is threatened by a growing understanding that the Austrian interpretation of central banking's risks might be correct: Keeping interest rates too low for too long can precipitate severe economic busts. "It's hard to imagine the little spark that can make big change," says Austrian business cycle theorist Steve Horwitz, "but it can happen if the drumbeat stays going. The Fed was created by Congress, so we won't get major change until members of Congress perceive their constituents or people with political, cultural, and social power saying there's something really seriously wrong here."
A Demand for Changes
Ms. Winfrey said she took her concerns to the filmmakers with an ultimatum.
“We need to pull from Sundance until we can give ourselves a chance to retool this film,” Ms. Winfrey said she told them, “or I am going to have to take my name off.”
The filmmakers reassured Ms. Winfrey that they could address the issues she raised, and she remained on board.
“We know from working in the sexual assault field that changing any distribution plan after there has been an announcement is not a good idea,” said Ms. Ziering. “If we were to say we are not going to Sundance, people will infer that there is an issue with the credibility of the women in the film.”
On Dec. 18, the day after Ms. DuVernay viewed the film, Harpo sent the filmmakers a new set of requests.
According to people familiar with the chain of events, the two filmmakers addressed Ms. Winfrey’s concerns by conducting additional interviews with experts to contextualize the issue of misogyny in hip-hop. They also included a three-minute montage that introduced five more Simmons accusers with a technique that featured one woman’s line bleeding into the next woman’s story. The effect leaves viewers with a sense that Mr. Simmons is a serial predator who used specific, repetitive behaviors to lure women.
The new cut of the movie was delivered to Harpo on Jan. 8. Two days later, Ms. Winfrey sent the filmmakers a letter explaining her dissatisfaction and telling them she was withdrawing. The letter says in part: “I think it is a disservice to the women and this film to have their gut-wrenching disclosures reduced to a montage of sound bites and not give them the stature of elevating their stories.”
The film is still scheduled to show at Sundance, and the filmmakers have hired United Talent Agency to serve as its sales agents. It’s unclear whether the high-profile fallout between Ms. Winfrey and the filmmakers will harm its commercial prospects or make it an intriguing purchase for an eager distributor.
Ms. Dixon said she still looked up to Ms. Winfrey “as a business woman, as a fearless creative professional, and as a fellow survivor.”
But, she added, “Oprah Winfrey shouldn’t get to decide for any of the silence breakers in the film whether or not this movie is worth seeing and Oprah Winfrey shouldn’t get to decide for the whole rest of the world.”
“So all I hope,” she added, “is that somebody else will champion this film.”
13 Food Documentaries That Will Change the Way You Eat
1. Forks Over Knives (2011)
Why you should watch it: This is the insta-classic documentary your BFF watched before she decided to go vegetarian. But it’s not just a preachy “don’t eat meat” fest. Instead, Forks Over Knives advocates a whole foods, plant-based diet that’s devoid of processed foods and oils. (Check out our complete rundown of the diet here.) And while that may seem like a no-brainer idea today — or at least one that might make you consider Meatless Mondays — it was slightly more shocking when it debuted in 2011. That could be in part because it doesn’t hold back. The film takes an aggressive — and at times graphic — stance on the meat and dairy industries. It asserts that most degenerative diseases can be controlled or reversed by ditching animal-based and processed foods.
2. Sugar Coated (2015)
Why you should watch it: Got a sweet tooth or two? This “I Quit Sugar” documentary wants to forcefully remove it. Like its friends Fed Up and That Sugar Film, this doc addresses the politics surrounding the sugar industry and its claims that the white stuff isn’t toxic. Sugar Coated wants the industry to take responsibility for America’s growing health issues, and compares the sugar industry’s tactics to Big Tobacco’s. There’s no denying it now — a recent New York Times piece reported on how the sugary industry paid scientists in the 1960s to play down the link between sugar and heart disease and to shift the blame on saturated fat.
Photo: Courtesy of Participant Media
3. Food, Inc. (2008)
Why you should watch it: The food we eat today is drastically different than the food people consumed 50 years ago. And Food, Inc. says that has less to do with human behavioral habits and everything to do with the food and agricultural industries. The no-holds-barred doc exposes the way many common foods are produced, and reveals the laws that are in place to protect the food industry.
4. Cooked (2016)
Why you should watch it: Acclaimed food writer Michael Pollan takes a compelling look at the four natural elements — fire, water, air and earth — and how they are all represented in the history of the way we make and enjoy food. Throughout the four-part docuseries, Pollan draws a connection between various cultures and how each element is celebrated in their cooking techniques. And unlike other food documentaries that make meat — and gluten — the villain, Cooked strives to show balance in a diet. For example, the episode “Air” shows just how much the bread making process has changed over the decades, and why more people are becoming more sensitive to gluten.
5. Fed Up (2014)
Why you should watch it: The film’s tagline alone packs a punch: “Congress says pizza is a vegetable.” (And that’s true: In 2011, Congress passed a bill that said two tablespoons of tomato paste was a vegetable, thereby qualifying pizza as a school-lunch-approved meal. Yikes.) The Katie Couric-backed documentary specifically hones in on staggering rates of obesity in the United States and puts much of the science-backed blame on the sugar industry. Remember when fat-free products were taking over grocery shelves in the 90s? As weight loss diets pointed the finger at fat, the food industry removed fat from their products and actually replaced it with sugar.
6. Hungry For Change (2012)
Why you should watch it: Most people don’t know a ton about commercial food production, which is precisely why Hungry For Change was made. The film’s agenda includes debunking common diet and weight loss myths. It also offers up little-known facts about the food we’re all eating. The film suggests a few ways to kick bad habits to the curb — and move toward the much healthier perimeter of the grocery store.
7. That Sugar Film (2014)
Why you should watch it: Filmmaker Damon Gameau was in great shape, had a healthy life, and hadn’t eaten sugar in nearly four years. That all changed when he set out to prove that eating too much sugar — 40 teaspoons a day — for a two-month period will have detrimental effects on the body. Instead of going the Super Size Me route, Garneau opts for foods that are marketed as being healthy. Foods like low-fat yogurt, granola bars and cereal helped him reach his 40-teaspoon per day goal. The result? He packs on 19 pounds his skin breaks out and he adds four inches to his waist. But that’s not all. Just 18 days into the project, he developed fatty liver disease. (Think Fed Up, but from a strictly personal and experimental perspective.)
8. Super Size Me (2004)
Why you should watch it: Some credit this film with McDonald’s discontinuation of its Super Size option just six weeks after the movie’s premier. Regardless of the impetus, it’s not to be missed. Imagine being asked, “Would you like to Super Size that?” and having to accept the offer each time. That’s exactly what Morgan Spurlock had to do — for 30 days. Spurlock embarked on a 30-day McDonalds-only challenge to show the damaging effects of fast food on your health. If it doesn’t get you to kick your Big Mac habit and say, “No, I don’t want fries with that,” then it’ll definitely make you think twice about it.
9. Food Matters (2008)
Why you should watch it: Cost of healthcare on your mind this election season? You’re not alone. Take a look back at Food Matters, which asserts that Americans’ poor diets have something to do with that. The film argues that the over-industrialization of food production is making us all sicker. (And that there are way too many chemicals being added to our foods with bogus claims like “healthy” and “natural.”) Directors James Colquhoun and Laurentine ten Bosch were inspired to create Food Matters when Colquhoun’s father was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, depression and anxiety. To convince him to change his ways, Colquhoun and ten Bosch interviewed the top health experts around the world. When Colquhoun brought the footage to his dad, he took the advice to heart. You’ll want to see the transformation that followed.
10. Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead (2010)
Why you should watch it: It’s the documentary that helped spark the fresh-pressed juice revolution. At 100 pounds overweight and with a debilitating autoimmune disease, Joe Cross set out on a mission to take back his health. His plan? Thirty days with just some fruits, vegetables and a juicer. Yup, imagine doing that three-day Blue Print juice cleanse for another 27 days — all day, every day. And that excuse that whipping up your own juices is “too much work?” Cross managed to do so while traveling across the country, keeping his veggie haul and juicer in the trunk of his car. NBD.
11. Vegucated (2011)
Why you should watch it: Because we’ve all wondered what it might be like to go vegan, right? Hey, even Beyonce and Jay-Z have tried it. This doc follows three New Yorkers — who love meat and dairy — as they attempt to follow a totally vegan diet for six weeks. So did they graduate to the “high” life? You’ll have to see to find out.
Photo: Courtesy of Cargo Film & Releasing
12. King Corn (2007)
Why you should watch it: Two college friends decide to move from Boston to Iowa to grow and farm an acre of corn. Think it sounds boring? Corn is a big-time staple of fast-food meals and packaged foods. The duo discovers firsthand the government’s role in the mass industrialization of the corn farming industry. And if high fructose corn syrup is on the ingredient list of your 3 p.m. snack — which it probably is — you may want to take notes (and trade that snack for something less, well, corn syrupy).
Photo: Courtesy of GMO OMG
13. GMO OMG (2013)
Why you should watch it: You’ve heard the world buzzing about Monsanto, but you’re still not entirely sure what it is or why it’s potentially scary. GMO OMG is here to break it down for you — and maybe scare you a bit in the process. The filmmaker begs the question: If workers have to wear fully protective masks and gloves to protect themselves from the chemicals they’re spraying on crops, how are those chemicals possibly safe enough for us to eat?
Fat Fiction review: A message of hope
The new documentary, Fat Fiction, has many moments that had me cheering: Dr. Brian Lenzkes hugging his patients registered dietitian Alyssa Gallagher puzzling over her patients’ past lack of success Dr. Sarah Hallberg, an obesity expert, emphatically refusing to accept the idea that diabetes is inevitably a progressive, irreversible disease.
These moments support the movie’s strong underlying message, which is that low-carb diets are powerful interventions for improving health. But this message is often lost in the film.
As a registered dietitian with a background in nutrition, public health, and communication, here’s my breakdown of Fat Fiction’s successes and mistakes.
Key takeaway from Fat Fiction: transforming lives with diet
The film shines when it follows healthcare practitioners who are using low-carb nutrition to improve their patients’ persistent health problems. In those moments, we get an inside look at a persuasive and compelling reality: These patients and their healthcare practitioners have transformed their lives with a simple dietary intervention.
Patients beam as they report on their progress: reduced or eliminated medications, weight loss, and excess hunger and cravings gone. The doctors and dietitians smile broadly as they describe the deep satisfaction that comes from seeing their patients heal.
For these patients, the usefulness of low-carb diets in tackling obesity and type 2 diabetes is clearly established. For these clinicians, low-carb nutrition has them loving their jobs once again.
Carbohydrate restriction returns
These individual successes are reflected in the movie’s message of hope: Awareness of how dietary carbohydrate reduction can benefit those with obesity and diabetes is slowly being reinstated into the clinical aspects of mainstream nutrition.
As the movie notes, one huge step forward came in 2019: the American Diabetes Association acknowledged carbohydrate reduction is the key to blood sugar control — without any negative caveats about low-carb diets.
Changes within the low-carb community reinforce that progress. The filmmakers interview Doug Reynolds, founder and CEO of Low Carb USA, who recently led a project to create clinical guidelines for low-carb nutrition (full disclosure: I assisted with this project).
According to Reynolds, the clinical guidelines have given many doctors the confidence to take up low-carb diets as an option to offer their patients. Diet Doctor’s new continuing medical education course on low carb and metabolic conditions serves a similar purpose.
“Eating less and enjoying it more”
As Dr. Mark Hyman, the film’s narrator, says: “Nutrition is actually pretty simple. Your body needs protein, and protein comes first. That’s essential. But then you can choose to run your body on carbohydrates … or fats. And it’s your choice.”
The movie shows how low-carb diets can be a godsend for those who find that their bodies work better running on fat. These diets dramatically limit the hormonal response from insulin that often comes with running your body on carbohydrates, an important quality for people with metabolic conditions that involve insulin, like obesity and diabetes.
Furthermore, as the film demonstrates, although any well-designed diet can lead to weight loss, a low-carb diet isn’t just about cutting calories. Carbohydrate reduction can also help lower insulin levels, improve blood sugar, and prevent the hunger pangs that go with reducing overall caloric intake.
One patient sums it up this way: “I’m eating less and enjoying it more.” This is no surprise: Low-carb diets focus on getting adequate protein and high-fiber veggies — both known to promote feelings of fullness — at nearly every meal.
As for fat, it adds flavor to food and, in a low-carb diet, contributes the calories needed to feel full. On a low-carb diet, fats — even the saturated kind — are not restricted.
But fat itself isn’t magic. The real magic comes from restricting carbohydrates. Despite what Dr. Hyman says, eating fat doesn’t “speed up your metabolism.”
Moments like that, when the movie stretches facts to fit the “if low carb is good, then low fat must be bad” narrative, trouble me.
A critical take on Fat Fiction’s claims
As someone who dreams of low-carb nutrition being restored to its rightful place as a dietary intervention for chronic disease, I wanted this movie to be the last, best word on the subject. I have to confess, there was a lot of discussion at Diet Doctor about whether I should offer any strong criticism about a film that the low-carb community has embraced.
But too many moments in the film made me squirm as yet another inaccuracy about dietary guidelines and “the low-fat diet” was repeated as “fact.”
In some ways, the filmmakers are not entirely to blame for this. Many of these inaccuracies get passed around low-carb forums without question. For most of us, there’s a strong human tendency to ignore nuances that don’t fit a desired narrative.
The most pervasive example of this tendency is the movie’s take on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the public health nutrition policy that defines what the US government considers to be a “healthy diet.”
The last 40 years of dietary policy in the US have undoubtedly made it difficult for healthcare providers to use low-carb diets to help patients. But when the movie shifts away from real-life patient-provider interactions to the abstract notion of a national nutrition policy, it goes astray.
A policy is not a diet populations are not patients
At no point does the movie try to explain how public health nutrition policy and clinical nutrition care are alike, different, or related to each other. Maybe you’ve never considered it yourself. But this missed opportunity is central to the problem the film is trying to untangle and to the current distressing state of nutrition guidance in general.
Case in point: The documentary indicates that, in 1961, the American Heart Association (AHA) began “telling people to cut back on saturated fat and cholesterol in order to prevent a heart attack.”
But, it fails to note that this recommendation was strictly for a clinical population, specifically those who needed to lose weight, had a family history of heart disease, or had suffered a heart attack or stroke.
This 1961 AHA recommendation states, “significant changes in diet should not be undertaken without medical advice” and that reduction or control of dietary fat should be done “under medical supervision.”
Problems arose when the AHA’s dietary guidance, initially intended for a clinical population, became part of public health nutrition policy. A diet that calls for reduced fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol may have been appropriate for some identifiable individuals, but this clinical intervention should never have been repackaged as national dietary guidelines.
Dietary guidelines are guidance for food manufacturers
Many of the film’s participants seem to understand how public health nutrition policy differs from a diet. Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist, gets it right when he points out that dietary guidelines serve as guidance for the food industry. Food manufacturers can make cheap, tasty, nutrient-poor food products and, with the backing of the guidelines, market them as “healthy.”
But the movie claims, “Not only did the low-fat diet not work, it did us harm and resulted in greater obesity and disease.”
By placing the blame on “the low-fat diet” (as if there is only one), the movie perpetuates the mistaken notion that the escalating rates of chronic disease in America exist because America, as a nation, carefully followed the advice of national nutrition policy. But it’s not that simple.
Low-fat, but also low-sugar
Fat Fiction blames the low-fat focus of the guidelines on Ancel Keys, a physiologist and epidemiologist — mistakenly identified by the film as a pathologist. But Keys’s theory was just one of those represented in the guidelines. Also featured is John Yudkin’s work, which makes the case that sugar consumption is at the root of many chronic diseases.
McGovern’s 1977 Dietary Goals did urge Americans to reduce total fat from 42% of calories to 30%. The Goals also recommended that “refined and processed sugars” be cut, from 18% to 10% of calories, the same low level as the recommendation for saturated fat.
But America never actually ate “the low-fat diet” that Fat Fiction thinks is to blame for current high rates of chronic disease. Nor did America lower its intake of sugars as recommended.
Getting the guidelines wrong
Instead, beginning around 1980, Americans ate more calories, much of which came from increased consumption of starchy carbohydrate foods. But not because “the first Dietary Guidelines recommended seven to 11 servings of bread every day,” as the movie claims. (Read them for yourself and see. The “Food Pyramid’s” recommendation of seven to 11 daily servings of starch emerged over a decade later, in 1992.)
Why conflate the Food Pyramid with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans?
Perhaps that accuracy was sacrificed for the sake of preserving the narrative that reducing our intake of fat is what caused, beginning in 1980, a rapid increase in many chronic diseases. But this misconception doesn’t hold up to close examination.
Yes, Americans ate more starchy carbohydrate foods as directed. This means that when fat intake is viewed as a percentage of total calories, the increase in overall calories makes it look like Americans lowered their intake of fat. But in terms of absolute amounts, on average, Americans did not eat less fat.
Further research could have clarified that matter and perhaps also alerted the filmmakers to the fact the guidelines stopped using the term “low-fat” 20 years ago and switched to the term “moderate-fat.”
On the other hand, it’s hard to blame the movie’s creators for reporting that the most recent edition of the guidelines “removed the cap on dietary fat consumption.” Even nutrition experts such as Walter Willett get this wrong.
In fact, the guidelines still limit fat to 35% of total calories. In this case, it would have been in the movie’s best interest to get this point right because the mistake undermines the film’s argument that America’s nutrition policy continues to promote “the low-fat diet.”
Fat and fiction
The movie does make a persuasive case that there is virtually no evidence for these limits on total dietary fat — and the even stricter limits on saturated fats. But at the same time, the film makes scientifically unsupported claims about “refined vegetable oils,” which the movie warns are “known to cause heart disease and cancer.”
Diet Doctor has done a full review of the evidence on vegetable oils and health. We recognize that it is a contentious topic in the low-carb community and suggest you come to your own conclusions about it.
The film goes on to feature Dave Asprey, the founder of Bulletproof Nutrition Inc., who wants you to add his Bulletproof-branded “purified coconut oil” to your morning coffee. Ironically, this oil is also “highly refined” (check the label), yet presented as safe.
In a cringe-worthy moment that should have ended up on the film’s cutting room floor, Asprey explains that grass-fed animals produce “high quality poop,” which makes “high-quality vegetables,” leading Asprey to assert that “vegetables … that don’t come from farms that work like this are vegetables devoid of nutrients.”
Better research — or editing — would have spared us these claims. The recurring shots of “headless” fat people each time “the obesity crisis” is mentioned are another unfortunate editorial choice, which is only partly softened by the fact that individuals with similar body shapes are allowed their full humanity at other points in the movie.
I’ll end the critique with one final style note. Most healthcare providers typically avoid terms like “type 2 diabetics,” in favor of phrases like “people with type 2 diabetes.” This is an oversight we have done in our own content at Diet Doctor, and we vow to be more mindful of it moving forward. Individuals are not their health conditions.
“It’s your health”
To be clear, these missteps take nothing away from the stories of the individuals for whom low carb has been a life-changing experience. There’s no need to beat up “the low-fat diet” to show that low-carb diets can be incredibly beneficial for many.
Low-carb diets were valuable for treating obesity and diabetes long before the dietary guidelines decided that all Americans should limit fat and lifestyle gurus told us to dump it in our morning coffee.
Ultimately, it’s well worth stepping around the movie’s “high quality poop” to hear directly from the clinicians and patients whose lives have changed dramatically through low-carb nutrition.
Despite the fact that America, as a population, did not lower its fat intake, that doesn’t mean a national nutrition policy that recommends a low-fat diet for everyone is a good idea. Many individuals did valiantly try to follow a low-fat, low-calorie diet — only to find that it left them hungry and tired, with health problems that got worse instead of better.
Virtually every clinician who works in low-carb nutrition has had a patient like this. Some clinicians, like Dr. Lenzkes, have been down that road themselves.
But for the population as a whole, maybe the problem isn’t “the low-fat diet,” as the movie suggests. Maybe the problem is that, in 1980, nutrition policy took dietary guidance about metabolic health out of the hands of clinicians and created a one-size-fits-all approach that profoundly affects both our food environment and our ideas about what is “healthy.”
The individuals we meet in the movie demonstrate how misguided this approach is. With dietary advice that is right for them, they are — slowly, steadily — getting their lives back.
At Diet Doctor, we aim to provide a trustworthy alternative to the one-size-fits-all message of the dietary guidelines. Our job is to help people learn about the power of low-carb nutrition and make it simple to incorporate into their lives.
As Dr. Lenzkes counselled his patient in Fat Fiction, “It’s your health. We can do it as individuals.”
Please let us know what else we can do to help you succeed.
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Trump Won Because Leftist Political Correctness Inspired a Terrifying Backlash
J. Conrad Williams Jr./TNS/Newscom
Many will say Trump won because he successfully capitalized on blue collar workers' anxieties about immigration and globalization. Others will say he won because America rejected a deeply unpopular alternative. Still others will say the country is simply racist to its core.
But there's another major piece of the puzzle, and it would be a profound mistake to overlook it. Overlooking it was largely the problem, in the first place.
Trump won because of a cultural issue that flies under the radar and remains stubbornly difficult to define, but is nevertheless hugely important to a great number of Americans: political correctness.
More specifically, Trump won because he convinced a great number of Americans that he would destroy political correctness.
I have tried to call attention to this issue for years. I have warned that political correctness actually is a problem on college campuses, where the far-left has gained institutional power and used it to punish people for saying or thinking the wrong thing. And ever since Donald Trump became a serious threat to win the GOP presidential primaries, I have warned that a lot of people, both on campus and off it, were furious about political-correctness-run-amok—so furious that they would give power to any man who stood in opposition to it.
I have watched this play out on campus after campus. I have watched dissident student groups invite Milo Yiannopoulos to speak—not because they particularly agree with his views, but because he denounces censorship and undermines political correctness. I have watched students cheer his theatrics, his insulting behavior, and his narcissism solely because the enforcers of campus goodthink are outraged by it. It's not about his ideas, or policies. It's not even about him. It's about vengeance for social oppression.
Trump has done to America what Yiannopoulos did to campus. This is a view Yiannopoulos shares. When I spoke with him about Trump's success months ago, he told me, "Nobody votes for Trump or likes Trump on the basis of policy positions. That's a misunderstanding of what the Trump phenomenon is."
He described Trump as "an icon of irreverent resistance to political correctness." Correctly, I might add.
What is political correctness? It's notoriously hard to define. I recently appeared on a panel with CNN's Sally Kohn, who described political correctness as being polite and having good manners. That's fine—it can mean different things to different people. I like manners. I like being polite. That's not what I'm talking about.
The segment of the electorate who flocked to Trump because he positioned himself as "an icon of irreverent resistance to political correctness" think it means this: smug, entitled, elitist, privileged leftists jumping down the throats of ordinary folks who aren't up-to-date on the latest requirements of progressive society.
Example: A lot of people think there are only two genders—boy and girl. Maybe they're wrong. Maybe they should change that view. Maybe it's insensitive to the trans community. Maybe it even flies in the face of modern social psychology. But people think it. Political correctness is the social force that holds them in contempt for that, or punishes them outright.
If you're a leftist reading this, you probably think that's stupid. You probably can't understand why someone would get so bent out of shape about being told their words are hurtful. You probably think it's not a big deal and these people need to get over themselves. Who's the delicate snowflake now, huh? you're probably thinking. I'm telling you: your failure to acknowledge this miscalculation and adjust your approach has delivered the country to Trump.
There's a related problem: the boy-who-cried-wolf situation. I was happy to see a few liberals, like Bill Maher, owning up to it. Maher admitted during a recent show that he was wrong to treat George Bush, Mitt Romney, and John McCain like they were apocalyptic threats to the nation: it robbed him of the ability to treat Trump more seriously. The left said McCain was a racist supported by racists, it said Romney was a racist supported by racists, but when an actually racist Republican came along—and racists cheered him—it had lost its ability to credibly make that accusation.
This is akin to the political-correctness-run-amok problem: both are examples of the left's horrible over-reach during the Obama years. The leftist drive to enforce a progressive social vision was relentless, and it happened too fast. I don't say this because I'm opposed to that vision—like most members of the under-30 crowd, I have no problem with gender neutral pronouns—I say this because it inspired a backlash that gave us Trump.
My liberal critics rolled their eyes when I complained about political correctness. I hope they see things a little more clearly now. The left sorted everyone into identity groups and then told the people in the poorly-educated-white-male identity group that that's the only bad one. It mocked the members of this group mercilessly. It punished them for not being woke enough. It called them racists. It said their video games were sexist. It deployed Lena Dunham to tell them how horrible they were. Lena Dunham!
I warned that political-correctness-run-amok and liberal overreach would lead to a counter-revolution if unchecked. That counter-revolution just happened.
There is a cost to depriving people of the freedom (in both the legal and social senses) to speak their mind. The presidency just went to the guy whose main qualification, according to his supporters, is that he isn't afraid to speak his.
Idle No More: Canada's indigenous people are demanding a better deal
I told my mother once that I was envious, because my friend had such a clear path laid out in front of him: his father and uncles were traditional Native American artists, and therefore he would be too. "I wish I had something like that, where I just knew what I was supposed to do," I said. My mother replied that I did: my father, uncle, grandfather and great-grandfather all were Native chiefs. I thought this idea was ludicrous, since I'd never shown any interest in politics.
That has since changed. Not because of a sudden interest in parliamentary affairs, but simply because of the Idle No More (INM) movement which is growing by the day in Canada. Since December 11 there have been more than 685,000 tweets using the hashtag #IdleNoMore. INM's goals are to build indigenous sovereignty, to repair the relationship between indigenous peoples of Canada (First Nations, Métis, and Inuit), the crown, and the government of Canada from a grassroots framework, and to protect the environment for all Canadians to enjoy for generations to come.
Who can argue against honouring culture, creating peaceful relationships, and ensuring our waters are clean? Well, many Canadians can. There has been a significant backlash against the movement by political pundits, mainstream media, and settler Canadians alike. Many claim that the best route for indigenous people is to assimilate and to be "just like every other Canadian." But since the 15th century nothing has worked, and indigenous peoples are fed up of being told what to do, where to do it and how to do it.
The imprint of colonialism has left land claims, treaty negotiations, reserve infrastructure, indigenous poverty, and indigenous education equality in total disarray. Let's not even mention the intergenerational impact of the residential school system, which forcibly removed indigenous children from their homes and stripped them of their language and culture and left many vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse.
According to the 2006 census, there are 1.17 million First Nations, Inuit and Métis people in Canada. A recent ruling affecting over 600,000 people gave Métis and non-status First Nations people equal recognition with First Nations status individuals. That means both increased accountability for the Canadian government and increased support for the INM movement. Idle No More was started in Saskatchewan by four women (Jessica Gordon, Sheelah McLean, Sylvia McAdams and Nina Wilsonfeld), who are lawyers, academics, and professionals. They were concerned about Bill C-45, the omnibus bill, which they saw as important for indigenous peoples and treaty rights, as well as for all Canadians concerning laws affecting the environment. They began "teach-ins" to inform and educate about these bills.
On 4 December, the Assembly of First Nations (the governing body of First Nations communities) chiefs were denied entry into the House of Commons in Ottawa when they collected to peacefully discuss Bill C-45. The news spread rapidly across Facebook and Twitter, and rallies were created in the name of solidarity with the INM movement.
Attawapiskat chief Theresa Spence began a hunger strike the following day, and has vowed to continue until there's a nation-to-nation discussion between AFN chiefs, the governor general and the prime minister Stephen Harper. Although Spence has been touted as the face of INM, founders state that she is unconnected to the movement that they've started. A meeting was scheduled on Friday between Harper and AFN delegates, but Spence has refused to attend unless the governor general David Johnston also attends (he is key to Spence's demands, since he represents the crown, which negotiated the original treaties with aboriginal people). Participants from all over the world will have peace marches, round dances and other events in solidarity.
"Idle No More is going to be around for a very long time, until we see the changes that we know are necessary," says Ojibwe comedian and activist Ryan MacMahon during a teach-in. "We aren't in this until Chief Spence eats, we aren't in this until Stephen Harper commits to some sort of timetable. This is a long-term bigger goal and vision rather than just waiting to see what happens on Friday."
My social streams remain inundated with political news, protest photos, and pipeline updates. I can feel a seismic shift happening among indigenous people in Canada – unlike anything I've ever seen before. Consistent and constant education, information sharing and support are all helping keep this movement strong. Here's to change.
This article was commissioned following a suggestion made by Oroklini. If there's a subject you'd like to see covered on Comment is free, please visit our You tell us page
Climate sceptics attempt to block Merchants of Doubt film
But behind the scenes, Fred Singer has lobbied fellow climate deniers to try to block the film, Merchants of Doubt, and raised the prospect of legal action against the filmmaker.
“It’s exactly what we talk about in the film. It’s a product of a playbook which is to go after the messengers and attack and try and change the conversation, and try to intimidate, and it is very effective,” said Robert Kenner, the filmmaker.
Since the film’s release, Kenner, and Naomi Oreskes, a Harvard professor and co-author of the book on which the documentary is based, have come under attack in climate denier blogs, and in email chains.
The backlash appears to have been initiated by Singer, 90, a Princeton-trained physicist who has a cameo in the film.
Singer dismisses the dangers of secondhand smoking. He also denies human activity is a main cause of climate change. “It’s all bunk. It’s all bunk,” a seemingly jovial Singer says in the film.
By last autumn however Singer appeared to be having second thoughts about his participation in the project.
In a series of email exchanges with a global network of climate deniers from Christopher Monckton to the Harvard-Smithsonian scientist Willie Soon, Singer raises the prospect of blocking the film’s release.
“Gents, Do you think I have a legal case against Oreskes? Can I sue for damages? Can we get a legal injunction against the documentary?” Singer wrote last October. “I need your advice.”
In another email, Singer asks the group: “Has she finally gone too far. Maybe this is the right time for legal action. What say you?”
The cry for help got an immediate response. Monckton offered to help draft a legal complaint against Oreskes.
James Enstrom, an epidemiologist who dismisses the public health dangers of air pollution, advised Singer he had “a very strong case” for complaining to Oreskes’s employers.
“I suggest you attack Oreskes by filing short grievances with Harvard and Stanford,” Enstrom wrote.
By 6 March, Singer had moved on to challenging Kenner directly, raising the prospect of legal action. In a letter, he claimed he was called “a liar for hire” in the documentary.
The phrase does not appear in the film, Kenner said. However, it does appear in media coverage of the film.
“I have some experience with libel suits,” Singer writes in the letter. “I would prefer to avoid having to go to court but if we do, we are confident that we will prevail.”
He goes on to criticise Kenner for basing his film on the Oreskes book, saying: “It is rather too bad that you got mixed up with Naomi Oreskes. She claims to be a historian of science unfortunately, she has only demonstrated that she’s a great polemicist with a rather well-defined bias.”
On 9 March, Enstrom also wrote to Kenner, echoing Singer’s claims. “I am concerned that your film makes statements about Dr Singer that could be considered defamatory,” he wrote. “Because your film is based on the book ‘Merchants of Doubt’ by Naomi Oreskes, PhD, you need to know about her contentious and controversial background.”
Enstrom called on Kenner to arrange a debate between Oreskes and Willie Soon, the Harvard-Smithsonian researcher exposed for taking industry funding, when his film is screened in Boston later this month.
Singer did not respond to requests for comment. Oreskes said such attacks were typical of Singer. “This is what he does.” she wrote in an email. “We are not intimidated because we know that our work is factual, based on years of research, and backed up by extensive documentation. And we never used the term he accuses us of using, so there is no basis for complaint.”
On Tuesday, meanwhile, Steve Milloy, a blogger who denies the existence of climate change published a blogpost about Kenner’s brother, a 60s era radical.
“I am really just coming on their radar as the film is coming out, and the attacks are just heating up,” Kenner said.