Tuesday, January 20, 2004

The Fatted Calf: Fast food the next cash cow.

By Robert Wolf

Now that the AMA has finally noticed that Americans are portly; it comes as no surprise that their avaricious brothers at the ABA have noticed as well. With tobacco company veins running dry, and nightfall approaching, it is time to select another victim.

It can not be denied that many Americans are overweight, but the solution is self-control not government control. There is nothing wrong that a little moderation wouldn’t cure, and if Aristotle was correct, moderation is a virtue. Fast food is certainly no worse for us than Mom’s proverbial apple. As with smoking, when the danger became clear, smokers were faced with a choice and the free will to make it, that same self-determination should apply to what we eat.

Unfortunately, in Washington the argument that free people should be permitted to assess their own risk falls on deaf ears. Politicians have decided that since they are ‘kind’ enough to ‘provide’ our health care, they feel justified in telling us what to eat, so we face a double whammy of taxes on ‘bad’ food and law suits related to fast food industry’s failure to warn us that Mcmeals are fattening. Only those who believe in government’s magical ability to provide free stuff will be surprised to learn that there is a cost in terms of personal freedom.

The catalyst for this brouhaha is the nation’s slouch toward socialized medicine. Rep. Richard Gephardt wants $2 trillion over 10 years to cover health care for 40 million people. Other Democratic candidates suggest between $500 million and $700 million to cover 30 million, principally children or "working poor families." Majority Leader/heart surgeon Bill Frist, R-Tenn. recently called on senators to support a $60 million bill (the Improved Nutrition and Physical Activity Act (IMPACT)) funding demonstration projects in health and fitness education.

Frist tells us obesity is a national problem (not a personal one) and that it is getting worse every year. "Sixty percent of Americans today are overweight," he said. "There are 300,000 deaths a year that can be directly attributed to fat," he added. Unless trends change, Frist said, "one in three Americans born in the year 2000 will develop diabetes in their lifetime" and the rate will be one in two for African-Americans and Hispanics. His bill examines whether food aid programs for the poor, including school lunches, contribute to health or obesity, and it promotes obesity as a priority condition in federal training programs for health professionals. It also creates a fund for local demonstration projects and an evaluation system to see what works.

According to Mort Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call, [blockquote] “Congress should give states an incentive (money) to restore physical education programs to their schools and institute other anti-obesity programs, such as the "weight report cards" a program instituted in Arkansas, and the bans on soda machines being considered in Maine. Fiscal crises have forced some school districts to install vending machines containing snacks and sodas as money-raising devices.” [/blockquote] He thinks the federal government ought to “subsidize banning them,” and concludes, “… a real attack on obesity requires making people pay — both those who serve up fatty foods and those who consume them to excess.”

Dr. Gifford-Jones, contributor to C-Health writes [blockquote]
What is the best way to solve the medical crisis? The health chest once full of money is bare in Canada. Even the U.S wonders how it can finance people's voracious appetite for medical treatment. There's one sure solution: Tax the obese. [/blockquote]Uncle Sam figures a hefty tax will discourage consumption, and recover some of the billions that obesity-related illnesses cost the government in Medicare and Medicaid outlays.

But speaking of taxes, it could be that obesity has as much to do with overtaxing as it does with poor dietary habits. It might be argued that in order to keep the bloated federal government afloat, both mom and dad are required to work outside the home, and haven’t time for home cooked meals. Parents who get too little quality time with their kids don’t have the time and energy it takes to recreate Martha’s Sunset Surprise, which is why the convenience foods industry is thriving. Some families pick up Selle D’Agneau Rote Persillade or Mousselines de Poisson a la Marechale prepared by their supermarket at megabucks a pop, but most open a can, order a pizza or go to a fast food joint. When the lawyers lay hold of it, perhaps they should name the IRS in their suits.

Taking victimization to its logical conclusion, this could be a big bonanza for the lawyers. They could name the movie and television industries, claiming we were not warned that passive snacking, for hours on end in front of a screen, was a sure way to put on weight. Then there’s that popcorn at the movie theatre dripping with something akin to suntan lotion. Or, how about suing the ad agencies? We are bombarded by scores of commercials pitching snacks with nary a warning about obesity. Nor, should the shylocks overlook IBM, Apple, Microsoft and the various and sundry software manufacturers. If it weren’t for computers, we’d be out skipping rope or playing hopscotch collectively shedding tons of ugly fat, wouldn’t we? And last but not least, let’s not forget to sue our parents who urged us to ‘clean our plates because the people in China were starving’ (It seemed to make sense to them.)

Has the ABA overlooked these possibilities? Probably not, since nothing is too absurd in product liability. I’m sure they’ll get around to it, and the Oreo will go the way of the Dodo or be transmogrified into something inedible and grotesque.


Laying Blame: Conservative anguish over the Health Care plan.

By Robert Wolf

There is a flaw in the American psyche that inclines us to perceive presidents as, if not saviors, kings. It may be man’s inchoate longing for a strong ruler or for immediate gratification, but whatever the reason it is a flaw, and a tendency one should curb.

For too long, too many have looked to a new President to solve every perceived problem. With every new administration there is the great expectation of revolutionary change, which within a year or two transforms itself into the disappointing realization that nothing much has changed.

Executive Orders not withstanding, a president is not very powerful. The bureaucracy marches on no matter who is in power and the country changes very little from one administration to another. Even when the president’s party controls both houses of Congress, truly monumental measures are often thwarted because the checks and balances built into the system prevent smooth sailing. Not many presidents accomplish great things, and if one does, he is unpopular during his lifetime. Only in hindsight is his greatness recognized or credited.

That said, there is a lot of talk in Republican circles that George Bush is not ideologically pure because he spends too much money on social issues. But, did he have a choice in the matter of health care? I don’t think so. He could not have been elected or reelected without action on Prescription drugs. It was an issue, as pundits say, whose time had come.

Democratic droning on the issue for years produced Medicare, a plan supposedly devised for the elderly, but which lacks coverage for hearing aids, glasses, or false teeth, the three things old people need the most. That foray into socialized medicine emboldened the left to try again resulting this year in an augmented plan with prescription drug coverage (but still no provision for eyes, ears or teeth). One wonders if it was truly designed for the elderly.

Public interest engendered in favor of the plan was overwhelmingly more enthusiastic than interest in feeble Conservative arguments against it. It is as if, when Medicare passed in 1965, they threw up the hands and surrendered. So, if anyone should be castigated it is Conservative pundits who are unable to convince the public that socialized medicine is a bad idea. They lost the battle against socialized health care, not Bush.

Yes, the Medicare bill is a large one, but Bush deserves credit for introducing the Trojan horse that affords us the opportunity to return the program to fiscal sanity or even reverse course when competition from the private sector kicks in. If personal investment accounts become part of Social (in)Security, as Bush has promised in his second term the beginning of the end of the nanny state could be in sight. History will let us know.

As for ideological purity, how many conservatives, on principle, forego government handouts for which they qualify? Conservatives should be less shrill. Only the virtuous should demand virtue of others.
©Robert (Davison) Wolf. All Rights Reserved.

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