Who’s Going to Pay the Piper?

December 16, 2010

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Thursday, December 16th, 2010

Baton Rouge, Louisiana



It’s the holiday season, and we always talk a good bit about watching our weight and curtailing our appetite.  We just cannot pass up all the tempting finger food at holiday parties, washed down with too much to drink and desserts galore.  Wait till the New Year, right? That’s the message we received from Democrats and Republicans alike in the final days of the 111th congress.  Both parties are supporting a second stimulus package that will blow another $1 trillion hole in the budget. Forget the ever growing deficit.  It’s just not the right time.What a well worn phrase.  It never seems to be the right time in Washington. 

 After all, we are continually told, the economy is fragile and the recovery is halting.  But when is the “right time?”  It wasn’t that long ago when the economy was churning.  So instead of planning a reduction of the deficit, both parties joined the fray by adding massive entitlement programs, cutting taxes, and entering two wars that cost several trillion dollars. Who cares about the debt?  The mantra to follow is Mark Twain’s — “never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.”

 It should be obvious to Republicans in congress that the president was wrong to believe that the United States could fight a war, cut taxes and increase federal spending all at once. Yet here they are, embracing Keynesian economic arguments they have denounced for years.

When I was on the radio in New Orleans on WRNO a few years back, I enjoyed my regular economic policy arguments with Rob Couhig, a lawyer friend who preceded me on the early morning time slot. Rob would often stay over for my show, and it was a standing joke that he would constantly bring up the theories of Nobel Prize economist Milton Friedman, working Freidman’s thoughts in to any and every conversation. Friedman’s ideas were embraced by President Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, and lauded by many in the business world. But they were also controversial because of the deep cuts in government spending and the more restricted role they entailed for government in buffering citizens from economic forces.

 To most Republicans, Friedman’s views represented the “holy grail” of how government spending policy should be implemented. But we sure have seen an about face by Republicans and conservative Democrats alike. Now, Republicans have joined hands with Democrats in a Kumbaya embrace of the Keynesian arguments that they have denounced for years.  As Time economist Fareed Zakaria points out: “John Maynard Keynes argued that when private demand weakens, the government should pick up the slack.  He advocated either of two paths: government spending or tax cuts.” 

 Republicans and democrats alike have irresponsibly embraced both options with no one around to pay the bill.And what’s all this ballyhooing for bipartisanship?  Both parties are so proud of themselves for “reaching across the aisle” to find the middle ground.  But how does this really get the best result?  Does this, “I’ll take a half a loaf if I can’t get the whole loaf” theory really benefit anyone?  Voters want solutions that work, and problems to be solved.   Not so much “bipartisanship,” but more “post partisanship.”

It’s not easy for a new congressman arriving in Washington not to be seduced by the swarm of vested interests licking their chops to bring the new lawmaker into the partisan fold.  Platoons of Wall Street bankers, 13,000 corporate lobbyists, corporate media flacks, Demodon’ts, Republican’ts, war machine promoters, tea party yackety-yackers, and other powerful forces of business-as-usual politics are not so easy to resist.

  I wrote last week about the throng of Tea Party candidates who ran against the Washington establishment – and that within weeks of their election victory they were jumping at the chance to have these same lobbying interests pony up at one big money Washington fundraiser after another. The early lesson is to stay in lock step with your respective party leadership, and, from the very start, gather up campaign dollars.  No time here for post partisanship solutions.

State governments are not immune from the Washington mentality of spending with little regard for cutting back. In my home state of Louisiana, the governor is proposing the selling off of state buildings and other state properties to fill the current year’s budget shortfall.  This means doing away with an asset to pay for years worth of debt.  Huey Long would be rolling over in his grave on the front lawn of the state capitol, except for the fact that he might be part of the onetime fire sale. Any way you look at it, this is an irresponsible way to pay stare expenses.Louisiana Treasurer John Kennedy, who is a dwindling voice of reason in state government, put it this way, “A junkie can go sell his television and sell the radio and pay for a fix,” Kennedy said. “But sooner or later… he’s got to face his addiction. I would prefer to have us face our addiction.”

Louisiana workers, by the way, will see significantly less help in the new proposal than most of the rest of the country because of the greater number of low wage earners.  Any employee making $20,000 or less will not get the benefit of a $400 tax credit, and state employees, who are exempt from payroll deductions will also see a tax increase compared to those who make significantly higher wages.Americans are borrowing more and spending more.

And they are running up a higher personal and national debt.  We keep hearing that our national debt is now above $13 trillion dollars. But when you include Baby Boomer demographic demands that include Social Security, union, pension and health-care obligations that all end up drawing on the public purse, the national debt  skyrockets.China lends us cash so that we can give ourselves one more big tax break. So when all is said and done in Washington, Democrats and Republicans alike, find it much easier to give away $ one trillion, than to make any meaningful effort to curtail spending. Congress is merely buying time.  Sadly, that’s not what leadership should be about.


Govern a great nation as you would cook a small fish.  Do not overdo it.

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the South.  You can read all is past columns and see continuing updates at www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com. The show is televised at http://www.justin.tv/jimbrownusa.  

TASTING; Are Reduced-Sugar Cereals Worth It?

The Washington Post February 23, 2005 | Bonnie S. Benwick Conscientious parents, or guilt-ridden ones, sent the word to major cereal manufacturers not too long ago: Make our kids’ favorites with half the sugar, please.

Kellogg, General Mills and Post Cereals responded last year by reformulating a few of their most popular sweetened brands in two basic ways: They each cut back on the amount of sugar per serving, and some began using sucralose, with the trade name Splenda, the newest sugar substitute.

With the words “reduced sugar” blaring on the boxes, a relatively small, high-profile wave of breakfast options has been rolling onto store shelves since last May. You can find the new counterparts with similar packaging parked near their original versions. A.C. Nielsen data show that sales in the “ready-to-eat cereals with less-sugar claims” category were down as of Jan. 22, compared with a similar time period ending in October 2004. go to website cinnamon toast crunch

Did moms and dads get the nutritional upper hand they were looking for? A study released last month confirms that the more added sugars young children consume daily — like those found in sweetened cereals and sodas, as opposed to natural sugars in fruit — the less they tend to eat foods with the nutrients they need.

Given the importance of the question, we invited some young people and a nutrition expert to breakfast for a taste test. We wondered whether kids could spot the difference between cereal types. We looked at what’s in the manufacturers’ reduced-sugar cereals and at their comparative costs.

With the results in, we’re not so sure.

No. 1 cereal manufacturer Kellogg found that the taste and texture of its reduced-sugar Frosted Flakes and Froot Loops could be maintained with one-third the sugar, along with fillers and binders that count as added carbohydrates. General Mills managed “75% Less Sugar” versions of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Trix and Cocoa Puffs by using Splenda. Post Cereals’ reduced-sugar Fruity Pebbles has one- half the sugar per serving, using sucralose and added carbohydrates as well.

While the new cereal versions succeed in cutting back on sugar, they do not come with the benefit of fewer calories. (Check the side label. To measure the number of teaspoons of sugar in your cereal, see “How Big Is Your Cereal Bowl?” at right.) Reduced-sugar cereals also do not come cheap. The cereals we tested cost more per ounce than their original versions, although that fact is not obvious. Watchful shoppers will notice that original and reduced-sugar cereals come in the same-size boxes, but those boxes can differ in total weight by as much as six ounces. And reduced-sugar cereals don’t seem to go on sale.

Nothing beats the bottom line of a young palate, however.

So we asked five KidsPost readers, and University of Maryland nutrition professor Mark A. Kantor, to help us out. Madeline Cuddihy, 11, and Michael Kramer, 9, are both from Silver Spring; Thomas Lam and Jennie Yun are 8 years old, from Springfield. Dave Timothy Sharp, 9, lives in Washington. On a Monday holiday morning not too long ago, without the benefit of milk or parental input, the testers munched their way through 12 sweetened, ready-to-eat cereals — five examples of original brands and their reduced-sugar versions, and two new Kellogg’s “lightly sweetened” brands. The cereals were dispensed from plain brown lunch bags.

Among Frosted Flakes, Cocoa Puffs, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Trix and Fruity Pebbles, there was no clear favorite. Half the testers correctly identified which of the five sets of cereals had less sugar, and two of the kids decided that the reduced-sugar cereals tasted the same as their originals.

The majority of the testers favored the regular sweetened cereals in our blind test. In all the testers’ written comments, the original cereals tasted “good,” “natural,” “sweet and great,” “better” and “the bomb.” Two young testers said they preferred the reduced-sugar versions of Cocoa Puffs and Trix, but they noted those samples’ comparative lack of crunch or sweetness. Another couple of kids described those same cereals as “too fruity” or “too weird.” Kantor, the lone adult member of the panel, says that “the kids are absolutely correct that cereals made with ‘real’ sugar are better- tasting. Even manufacturers agree that no artificial sweetener tastes exactly like sugar.” Sucralose comes closer than some others, he says, because its chemical structure is similar to sugar and it does not leave an aftertaste, like saccharin and acesulfame-K.

The panel also tasted, for the first time, Kellogg’s two brand- new cereals aimed at the preschool crowd: Tiger Power, whose primary sweetness comes from brown sugar, and Hunny B’s, which are made with the ingredient its name suggests. They have fewer grams of sugar per serving than most regular sweetened cereals. Five of our six testers were not favorably impressed with either selection. go to site cinnamon toast crunch

At the end of the morning, none of the testers would say they’d rather eat the reduced-sugar cereals on a regular basis.

As of last week, Jennie was eating a “good for you” brand at her house. Thomas and Dave were enjoying their usual bowls of original Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Michael and his family hadn’t tasted Cocoa Puffs before, so the panel provided an opportunity that, as it turns out, they won’t re-create at their Silver Spring kitchen table: “I actually was glad to try them in that setting — and not in our house,” says Michael’s mom, Jill. (In truth, Michael and his 5-year- old brother, David, aren’t big cereal eaters anyway.) Maddy had obviously reconsidered, though, and asked her parents to put reduced-sugar Cocoa Puffs on the family’s grocery list late last month.

“I’m probably going to get another box when this one’s finished, too,” she says. “Now that I have them at home, I can’t tell they taste different from the regular ones.” Bonnie S. Benwick


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