Liberals War on Freedom

After obesity rates in the United States began soaring in the 1980s, federal, state and local governments started to push back.

Calorie counts were mandated for food packages and in many restaurants. School lunches were made healthier. Unhealthful trans fats were phased out.

Yet American waistlines continued to swell, with two-thirds of adults and one-third of children now overweight or obese — a major factor in the country’s health-care crisis, because obesity can trigger expensive chronic illnesses, including diabetes and heart disease.

By the early 2000s, policymakers began focusing their energies on a new target: soft drinks. High in calories and with no nutritional value, sodas are a huge source of added sugar in the American diet. Study after study shows that people who drink the most non-diet soda are at the highest risk for obesity.

But in the face of intense lobbying from drinkmakers, efforts to tax and regulate soft drinks have foundered.

This past week, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) tried a new tactic: He proposed limiting sugary drinks sold by restaurants, cinemas, street vendors and stadiums in his city to 16 ounces. (Grocery stores would be exempt.)

“We know that portion size
influences consumption,” said Thomas Farley, New York’s health commissioner. “We know that portion sizes have risen dramatically. And we know that sugary drinks have this uniquely strong connection with weight gain.”

The move intensified the debate over how far government should go to steer individual behavior in the name of health and drew immediate scorn from the $75 billion-per-year soft drink industry.

“Here they go again,” said Chris Gindlesperger, spokesman for the American Beverage Association, an industry group. “The New York City health department has an unhealthy obsession with attacking soft drinks. It’s over the top. It’s overreach. The city is not going to address the obesity problem by attacking soda, because soda is not driving the obesity rate.”

A group funded by restaurants began running ads in New York branding Bloomberg — depicted in a dowdy dress with a scarf around his neck — as “the nanny.”

“You only thought you lived in the land of the free,” read the newspaper ad placed by the Center for Consumer Freedom, which sourcewatch.org says represents the restaurant, alcohol, tobacco and other industries.

Fast-food giant McDonald’s weighed in with a tweet to Bloomberg on Friday: “We trust our customers to make the choices that are best for them.”

But public health advocates contend that letting everyone make their own choices has led the country to $192 billion per year in medical bills for obesity-
related care. That’s a tab everyone ends up paying part of via Medicare, Medicaid and soaring rates for private health insurance.

“There is nobody on the face of the planet who needs a soda, let alone a 32-ounce soda,” said Robert Lustig, a pediatric obesity researcher at the University of California at San Francisco who is a vocal proponent of restrictions on sugary drinks.

Advocates of soda regulation point to a long list of government mandates — vaccines to prevent childhood diseases, seat belt laws and air bag rules for cars, high taxes and age restrictions on cigarette and alcohol use — that they say have improved public health and saved lives.

What sets New York’s proposal apart is that it addresses a new aspect of the obesity problem — portion size.

Opening ‘a new front’

“If New York City’s initiative succeeds, it really opens up a new front,” said Michael Jacobson, executive director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group. “I’m sure it will encourage other cities and states to seek similar measures to reduce portion sizes.”

New York’s Farley said the approach also offers a model for getting around the kind of political warfare that has impeded soda taxes.

The battle over sodas raged in 2009 after President Obama floated the idea of a national soda tax to reduce consumption and pay for health-care reforms. As top academics championed the idea, states and cities rolled out proposed taxes.

But sodamakers pushed back hard. They upped their lobbying expenditures eightfold from 2008 to 2009, to $40 million, according to records for the American Beverage Association.

PepsiCo threatened to move its headquarters out of New York state if an 18 percent tax passed there. (It didn’t.) Despite Obama’s rhetoric, a soda tax never even made it into drafts of the health-care bill, which was passed in 2010. And soda taxes were ultimately defeated in 30 states and several cities, including Philadelphia.

Sodamakers “have indicated they will spend as much money as it takes to kill a tax because tens of millions [of dollars] is nothing compared to the sales they would lose if a stiff tax were adopted,” said Jacobson.

By contrast, adoption of Bloomberg’s proposal is virtually assured. The only body that must sign off on it is the city’s health board — all Bloomberg appointees, with Farley as the chairman.

“New ideas are often more controversial and are more likely to be passed by a group of experts than by a group of people who have to get elected every couple of years,” Farley said.

The beverage industry’s only recourse appears to be a lawsuit, which Gindlesperger said the beverage association is considering.

He also said regulators could achieve more meaningful results if they “came to the table” and negotiated voluntary changes with the industry.

But the sodamakers’ interests are “in complete conflict with public health needs,” said Kelly Brownell, a Yale professor who is a proponent of soda taxes and restrictions.

Read more here.

Furious Fight Over Raising Cigarette Tax

California has some of the toughest antismoking laws in the country — it is illegal, in some places, to smoke in your own apartment — and boasts the second-lowest per capita smoking rate in the 50 states. But for all the disdain toward smoking, it has been 14 years since California raised its cigarette tax, a tribute to the power of the tobacco industry here and the waning of this state’s antitobacco dominance.

That may be about to change. An array of health and anticancer groups has rallied behind a ballot initiative to impose a $1-a-pack cigarette tax to finance cancer research. And that has provoked a $47 million storm of advertisements, overwhelmingly financed by the tobacco industry, which is outspending proponents by nearly four to one to defeat the biggest threat it has faced in California in over a decade.

An independent poll conducted May 14 to 20 signaled the power of the assault: while a majority of voters in California, where the average price of cigarettes is $5.71 a pack, still say they support Proposition 29, as it is known, the percentage has dropped markedly since the campaign began, according to the poll by the Public Policy Institute of California.

In the recent poll, 53 percent said they would support the measure, down from 67 percent in March. The vote is Tuesday.

The latest frontier in the fight against smoking is a very unlikely place: a state that has long been identified with championing restrictions on smoking. The battle has drawn national attention — Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York contributed $500,000 to the initiative, and Lance Armstrong, the bicycling champion and cancer survivor, has become its chief public advocate — reflecting the frustration of antismoking groups on their defeats here. The Legislature has voted down over 30 attempts to raise cigarette taxes in 30 years.

“You think of California as a healthy, progressive state leading in tobacco cessation,” said Chris Lehman, one of the organizers behind the initiative. “It’s just not. And it’s not for lack of trying.”

California’s dominance as a leading antismoking state has declined significantly since it passed, in 1998, what was at the time the toughest antismoking bill in the country, according to the American Cancer Society. Since then, 23 states have passed tougher laws. The American Cancer Society has contributed more than $7 million to get Proposition 29 passed.

“California has been a leader, not only in the country but in the world, in efforts to curb smoking,” said John R. Seffrin, the chief executive of the society. “They are overdue.”

The tax, which would raise an estimated $735 million, is being voted on as California is reeling from a new wave of bad budget news. Gov. Jerry Brown announced last month that the state was facing a deficit of $16 billion, and he proposed a round of severe spending cuts to deal with it.

Read more here.

Chuck Norris enters 2012 political ring

Legendary action star Chuck Norris says he’s entering the political ring in Tuesday’s recall election for the governorship of Wisconsin, to offset the influence of Democrat powerhouses looking to oust Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

Norris himself is not seeking office, but he’s throwing his name and weight behind Walker.

“When I saw [Democrats] also send in the big guns, former President Bill Clinton himself, against Gov. Walker, I knew I had to enter the ring, too,” Norris says in a brand-new column on WND.

“There’s one primary reason that Clinton came out to Wisconsin to engage in the battle to recall Gov. Walker,” he explained.

“Democrats, liberals and progressives like him know that as Wisconsin goes on Tuesday, so possibly goes the nation in November. They fear that a win for Gov. Walker will contribute to conservative momentum that will ultimately lead to President Obama’s defeat in his campaign for re-election. And they’re right.

“While the fight for conservatives doesn’t start and stop in Wisconsin, it’s an OK Corral of sorts for Democrats and liberals. When their groundless recall of Gov. Walker is shot down, a potent statement will be sent across our land about the type of government We the People want.

“Walker’s recall is not just about Wisconsin; it is about national reform. It’s about living within our means. It’s about taking back our republic. It is about saving our nation and posterity, one election and state at a time.”

Norris says Walker has consistently and adamantly opposed big government and special interest solutions to fix Wisconsin.

He writes Wisconsin’s economy is stronger and more fiscally solvent because of Gov. Walker’s leadership, and points out a new Marquette University Law School poll revealed that citizens – 50 percent to 43 percent – believed Walker would do a better job with the economy than his opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

Read more here.

Thousands March in New York to Celebrate and Support Israel

Thousands of Israel supporters took to Fifth Avenue Sunday for the annual Celebrate Israel Parade, marking Israel’s 64th anniversary, including New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Senator Charles Schumer. NY1 reports:

Organizers call the parade the world’s largest public gathering to celebrate Israel, and many city and state officials took part.

“Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. We have the right to practice our religion and say what we want to say because young men and women have always answered the call, and that’s true in Israel and true in America,” said Bloomberg.

“Israel faces probably the greatest threat she has ever faced, which is a nuclear Iran,” said Schumer. “And today we are urging all of the western powers, including our own government, not to budge on the sanctions until Iran fully gives up nuclear weapons.”

Last week, The Blaze reported on complaints that progressive groups, including the New Israel Fund (NIF), who have in the past supported or funded organizations promoting boycott Israel efforts had planned to march in the parade. This is just the latest chapter in the larger debate within the Jewish community over what constitutes support of Israel, and how far one can go in criticizing the policies of Israel’s democratically elected government and still be considered an Israel supporter.

Read more here.

5 Bodies Found Inside Torched SUV in Ariz. Desert, Drug Cartels Suspected

An Arizona sheriff says five bodies found burned beyond recognition inside the shell of a charred SUV are likely the result of drug cartel violence.

The bodies and vehicle were found in the Vekol Valley, a rugged, mountainous desert area that’s a well-known smuggling corridor for drugs and illegal immigrants headed from Mexico to Phoenix and the U.S. interior.

The bodies were so severely burned that investigators couldn’t even determine their gender or ethnicity. While it remains uncertain whether the victims were from Mexico, the sheriff’s department has notified the Mexican Consulate.

“Given all these indicators, you don’t have to be a homicide detective to add up all this information,” Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu said Saturday.

A Border Patrol agent first spotted the white Ford Expedition driving at around 4:30 a.m, however, the SUV disappeared and federal and local law enforcement were unable to track it down. It is not clear why the vehicle drew attention from authorities in the first place.

At daybreak, an agent spotted tracks leading from Interstate 8 into the desert. The vehicle that left the tracks had apparently launched off the highway, going airborne for a short distance before landing in the desert. The tracks continued on for a couple of miles.

Agents could see the smoldering vehicle from a distance through binoculars.

Equipped with fire extinguishers, they approached the vehicle and found the charred corpses inside – one in the rear passenger seat and four lying in the back cargo compartment. The driver and passenger seats were empty. The sheriff‘s office didn’t say whether they got a look at the person driving the vehicle.

Babeu said investigators will try to determine whether the victims were dead before the SUV was set ablaze or whether they were alive when the fire was started.

“Clearly these people were murdered, but we don’t know the manner of death,” he said.

Babeu also said the extent of the violence, particularly in the western part of the country – roughly 35 miles south of Phoenix – is more evidence that drug cartels are still operating north of the Mexico border.

Read more here.

Pot-Smoking Mom Arrested After Driving Off With Baby on the Roof of Her Car

A marijuana-smoking woman was arrested Saturday in Phoenix after driving off with her one-month-old baby still on the roof of her car, according to local media reports.

The infant, strapped into a safety seat, fell off the vehicle in the middle of the street but was unhurt, a Phoenix police spokesman told Reuters.

Catalina Clouser, 19, was booked on child abuse and aggravated assault charges. According to KTVK-TV, she had been smoking marijuana with her boyfriend and others in a park Friday evening. Clouser and her boyfriend reportedly went to go buy beer around 11 p.m. when he was arrested for driving under the influence with a baby in the vehicle.

Read more here.