War on salt

I’ve read enough here and there through the years to be very skeptical of all the “you’ve got to reduce your sodium intake” messages out there.  For some small subset of the population, reducing sodium is probably important, but for most healthy Americans– even for many with high blood pressure– you are probably just wasting your time worrying about your salt intake.  Thus, I was very pleased to see this excellent Scientific American article about the lack of evidence for harmful effects of dietary sodium (and another shout-out to facebook and my interesting lot of FB friends for bringing me an article I would have otherwise never known about).  Anyway, here’s the gist:

This week a meta-analysis of seven studies involving a total of 6,250 subjects in theAmerican Journal of Hypertension found no strong evidence that cutting salt intake reduces the risk for heart attacks, strokes or death in people with normal or high blood pressure. In May European researchers publishing in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that the less sodium that study subjects excreted in their urine—an excellent measure of prior consumption—the greater their risk was of dying from heart disease. These findings call into question the common wisdom that excess salt is bad for you, but the evidence linking salt to heart disease has always been tenuous.

Given what we know about the inflated threat of saccharine from my youth, I was especially intrigued to see the evidence based on animals studies:

Worries escalated in the 1970s when Brookhaven National Laboratory’s Lewis Dahl claimed that he had  “unequivocal” evidence that salt causes hypertension: he induced high blood pressure in rats by feeding them the human equivalent of 500 grams of sodium a day. (Today the average American consumes 3.4 grams of sodium, or 8.5 grams of salt, a day.)

It’s not that there’s no studies that say salt is bad for you, it’s just that there’s just as many well-designed studies that suggest it is basically harmless.  It also may be that extreme hyper-sensitivity to salt among a small portion of the public leads to a statistically significant effect even though the vast majority of the population is unaffected.  So, pull out that salt shaker.

Which law will Obama break?

I don’t want to get too into the debt ceiling follies that are consuming everybody, but there’s one other point I want to make today, going back to Bruce Bartlett’s excellent explanation of the key issues last week.   If no debt ceiling increase is passed by August 2, no matter what Obama does, he is breaking the law:

Republicans believe they have the president over a barrel. But their hand may be weaker than they think. A number of legal scholars point to Section 4of the 14th Amendment, which says, “The validity of the public debt of the United States . . . shall not be questioned.”

Some scholars, including Michael Abramowicz of George Washington University Law Schooland Garrett Epps of the University of Baltimore Law School, think this passage may make the debt limit unconstitutional because by definition, the limit calls into question the validity of the public debt. Thus Treasury may be able to just ignore the debt limit.

Other scholars, such as Michael McConnell of Stanford Law School, say the 14th Amendment will force Obama to prioritize debt payments and unilaterally slash spending to pay bondholders. But this would involve the violation of laws requiring government spending.

Either way, a failure to raise the debt limit would force the president to break the law. The only question is which one.

I know which one I think he should break in that scenario.  Will be very interesting to see, as we get closer to the deadline, if Obama signals that he’s willing to take this approach.  I certainly hope he is.

Quote of the day

Mitch McConnell (via Chait):

In that light, pay attention to this very interesting quote from Mitch McConnell:

“Nobody is talking about not raising the debt ceiling; I haven’t heard that discussed by anybody,” the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said on “Fox News Sunday,” adding that he had an unspecified “contingency plan” to raise the ceiling if the talks fell apart.

Does McConnell actually have a secret contingency plan? I dunno. The important thing is that he feels bound to claim he does. That’s not a message for the GOP base or the broader public, neither of which see the need to raise the debt ceiling at all. It’s a message for business. That McConnell feels compelled to say that he won’t allow default suggests he faces real pressure .

In a see of depressing blog posts from my usual sources about the debt ceiling today, that strikes me as encouraging.  Of course, McConnell is a smart guy and wants to make a deal.  Business needs to put some pressure not on McConnell and Boehner, who clearly want to get a deal done, but on all the Tea Party idiots in the House who are holding things up.

chart of the day– NYT

Alright, two of them from Dave Leonhardt:

A huge part of our unemployment problem is that we’ve been firing public sector workers right and left.  It’s important to note that there are negative multiplier effects from that as well.  When a school-teacher or State park ranger loses her job, she’s not spending money on a new car, an addition to the home, etc.  Leonhardt:

In all kinds of ways — consumer demand, the federal deficit, even the weather — the medium-term future is highly uncertain. But this uncertainty, while the main problem, is not the only problem. We are also committing an unforced economic error. We’re cutting government at the same time that the private sector is cutting.

It is the classic mistake to make after a financial crisis. Hoover and even Roosevelt made a version of it in the 1930s. The Japanese made a version of it in the 1990s. Now we are making it.


Halperin is an idiot

Okay, if you are familiar with Mark Halperin, you know the post title is redundant.  That said, when you look at the influence and respect Halperin receives as a political journalist, it’s important to emphasize the fact.  Seriously, it’s really sad and pathetic that a 20-something philosophy major turned blogger is so much more astute about the American political system than a long-time and highly-respected political journalist.  Yet, that’s the case.  Here’s Yglesias on Halperin:

Mark Halperin’s long speculative post about the debt ceiling endgame ends as follows: “And then it will fully dawn on Boehner and McConnell at the White House signing ceremony (likely as Obama is handing them their souvenir pens) that they were part of history, including part of the part where Obama was able to take off the table the single most damaging issue that could be used against him in 2012.”

This kind of thinking seems dangerously prevalent in Washington. Like voters are standing around here in the summer of 2011 saying to themselves, “well life is pretty good in America under Obama, but I’m really concerned about the long-range CBO projections so I might vote against him.” But that’s nuts. Obama’s vulnerable because conditions in the country right nowaren’t very good. The unemployment rate is high, real wages are flat, lots of people have negative equity in their homes, lots of near-retired people have seen their savings vanish, etc.

Yep.  To make it more clear, nobody is going to care about this budget deal in Fall 2012 if we have a double-dip recession.  The potential single most dangerous issue for Obama in 2012 is the state of the economy in 2012.  For Halperin to suggest otherwise, is just ludicrous.  If by some stroke of amazing luck, the economy were to seriously rebound for 2012 but Obama went ahead and unilaterally ignored the debt ceiling, he would be all good for the election.  It truly never ceases to amaze me how lame the respected inside-the-beltway talking heads are compared to the bloggers I read.

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