Tuesday, July 06, 2010

How Sweet It Is!

Last week the NY Times analyzed the successful lobbying effort to defeat the soda tax: "New York’s proposed penny-an-ounce tax on soda and other sweet drinks has been a model for similar, though largely failed, proposals across the country. Now that it has been dropped from the state revenue bill, it has become a case study in the power of the antitax message. It is too early for a final tally of the money spent on advertising and lobbying by either side in New York. But by most accounts, the beverage industry has outspent the pro-tax side and has succeeded in painting the soda tax as a naked money grab cleverly disguised as a health policy."

So, what is it, the money spent or the anti-tax message itself? Perhaps, it is both-and the sense that New Yorkers are beginning to get that, "Enough is enough!" And the Times, quoting the legendary Feathers, gets to the heart of the tax fatigue: "I think Senator Savino probably capsulized it fairly early on brilliantly,” James D. Featherstonhaugh, a longtime lobbyist for Pepsi bottlers, said this week, speaking of State Senator Diane J. Savino, a Democrat who represents parts of Brooklyn and Staten Island, the latter of which is home to a Coca-Cola distribution center. “She called it a dubious health policy wrapped in a really regressive tax,” Mr. Featherstonhaugh said, “and that resonated pretty well across Albany.”

And dubious it is-since the revenue enhancement that's wrapped in the tax package is predicated on poor folks disregarding the health message and spending the extra cash-and few folks were buying the tobacco analogy of the NYS health commissioner "The governor also deputized Richard F. Daines, the state health commissioner, to tour the state stumping for the tax. Dr. Daines argued that it would be good for society, especially children and teenagers who would be deterred from a lifelong soda habit. He often equated the campaign against sugary drinks to the campaign against tobacco. (The Legislature apparently did not see the parallel, because while it turned down a 12-cent tax on a can of Coke, it added $1.60 to the cost of a pack of cigarettes.)"

Our good friend Triada Stampas understood the dubiousness of the tax: "The idea that the soda tax would cut into the income of poor New Yorkers while doing nothing to improve their access to exercise or fresh, affordable, healthful food was echoed by some advocacy groups for the poor. For example, Triada Stampas, the director of government relations for the Food Bank of New York City, testified against the tax before a Senate committee."
But there are many things that are necessarily good for us-and one of them is government bureaucrats telling us how we should live our lives. And Philadelphia's well named mayor kinda gets this: "The beverage industry takes the position that you can’t allow this to happen anywhere at any time, based on the slippery-slope theory,” Michael A. Nutter, Philadelphia’s mayor, who has proposed a 2-cents-an-ounce tax, said this week. “They’re successful the old-fashioned way. They pay for it.”

Old fashioned in the quaint notion sense that every one has a right to petition the government-and the nannies were all out in force on the other side. But the Times can't resist a dig against the industry's success: "Ignoring academic studies showing that sugar-sweetened beverages are a big source of excess calories in the American diet, the antitax forces argued that the tax was based on dubious science, because obesity is a matter of how many calories people consume, not where those calories come from."

But the fact remains that there are many Americans who enjoy a Coke or a Pepsi without getting fat-and a hot fudge sundae as well. So  the answer to the obesity problem lies in the lifestyles and choices of the country's citizens-and it is this area that the nanny has right in his cross hairs. Put simply, for the public health scolds, the world of American consumption is right out of the Marxist false consciousness playbook-and the people-particularly the poor-can't be trusted to make wise decisions on their own behalf.

And it is here where the slippery slope really manifests itself-in the heart of the public health ideology. The end game lies within the core of the national health care initiative; for once the government pays for-and controls-individual health decisions, it will not be long, a nanosecond in political terms, before our most personal choices cease to belong to us.