Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Bloomberg's Soda Farce

Even the big-government left is lining up against the proposal

Just how bad an idea is the plan by the mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, to limit the size of sugary-drink cups (okay, pails? Buckets? Delivery devices?) to 16 ounces?

Even the big-government left is lining up against the proposal.

The Democrat who is speaker of the New York State Assembly, Sheldon Silver, told the New York Post, “We may be getting too close to Big Brother….I just think we ought to step back and look at the freedoms that we have been given in this country and reflect on them.”

The former governor and attorney general of New York, Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat, who wasn’t shy about using his powers against Wall Street banks and insurance companies, said on television, “This I just don’t think works,” and framed the issue as “Come on guys, let me lead my life.”

Donna Brazile, vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, said on ABC News’s This Week program that “Obesity is a national problem. I don't think you can solve it by banning one of many sugary things out there. And besides, people will just cross over the Hudson and get a Big Gulp over there.”

USA Today, not usually a font of libertarianism, had an editorial declaring “Bloomberg’s plan is short on logic and long on intrusion,” and asking, “what’s next? Will New York, home to the towering corned beef sandwiches, soon allow them to be piled only 3 inches high?” The New York Times ran its own editorial opposing the ban, describing it as “overreaching” and “too much nannying.”

On “The Daily Show,” Jon Stewart mocked what he called “a terrible idea” that “combines the draconian government overreach people love with the probable lack of results they expect.”

Before tilting back that lemonade and toasting the common sense of Eliot Spitzer, Donna Brazile, and the New York Times editorial writers, though, it’s worth pausing to examine just how we got here.

It’s President Obama’s fault.

That is not to absolve Mayor Bloomberg of all responsibility — we’ll get to him in a moment. But Bloomberg resorted to his portion-control power play only after the Obama administration, after ten months of deliberation, rejected an earlier, more sensible, Bloomberg plan to prevent food stamp recipients in the city from using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits to pay for soda or other sugary drinks.

It’s Mayor Bloomberg’s fault, too. More precisely, the whole episode is an example of how Bloomberg’s vast wealth, while a great political advantage, is also a liability. The fortune works in Bloomberg’s favor because it conveys the impression that he “can’t be bought.” It also helps pay for direct mail, campaign commercials, and other election-influencing tactics that increase Bloomberg’s clout. But the mayor’s money also can serve to exacerbate the “yes-man” dynamic that can be an unfortunate feature of boss-subordinate relationships even when the boss isn’t independently wealthy.

In this case, Bloomberg could have been saved a lot of embarrassment by having an aide with the stature and independence to tell the mayor that his idea was ridiculous before it was announced. But when the boss has the power to bestow a $400,000 bonus on a deputy mayor for campaign advice, as he did on Patricia Harris, or to install another deputy mayor, Daniel Doctoroff, as the president and CEO of his privately held financial information company, what underling is going to jeopardize a potentially lucrative future by saying “no”?

Friends who have gone to work for big grant-giving foundations have told me that all of a sudden, everyone laughs at their jokes. Bloomberg suffers from the same bubble-effect threefold — as the mayor, as a major philanthropist, and as a rich and successful businessman.

Bloomberg can try to adjust for his wealth and power by encouraging his staff to stand up to him when they think it is appropriate, the same way that even the lowliest Toyota employee can stop the assembly line if there is a problem. But the most dangerous effect of Bloomberg’s wealth is not on the mayor’s staff, but on his own personality. It breeds arrogance rather than humility. It doesn’t have to be that way; there are plenty of humble rich people and plenty of arrogant politicians who are not rich.

But imposing this regulation — which, the New York Times reports, applies to sweetened coffee but not to Venti cappuccinos, to “delis” but not “convenience stores” — is an act of arrogance, not only when it comes to the confidence in the ability to draw such apparently arbitrary distinctions, but when it comes to the role of government.

New Yorkers love energetic and ambitious politicians. If Bloomberg had confined himself to reforming New York’s public education system by expanding charter schools, to bringing the city’s crime rates to record modern lows with intelligent policing, and to rebuilding the city after September 11, 2001, and the financial crisis with a pro-business tone, he might go down in history as one of our greatest mayors. Now, he risks being remembered as a laughingstock: the scourge of the Big Gulp, the mayor who, in trying to teach self-control to obese New Yorkers, neglected the same virtue of restraint when it came to the use of his own public power.


Drinking four or more cups of tea can lower the risk of middle-aged related diabetes

How brainless can you get?  Is tea drinking the only way in which Britons differ from other populations?

The British habit of tea-drinking can help lower the risk of Type 2 diabetes - but only if you drink four or more cups a day. A study of European populations found that countries that drank four cups a day - the British average - had a 20% lower risk of developing the illness.  Tea drinking ranged from an average of none a day in Spain to four a day in the UK.

The study found that benefits seemed to be most obvious among heavy tea drinkers - drinking a mere one to three cups a day doesn't lower the risk.

A research team led by Christian Herder from the Leibniz Center for Diabetes Research at Heinrich Heine University Duesseldorf, Germany, said previous analyses showed tea consumption was associated with lower incidence of type 2 diabetes.

‘Obesity is a major risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes, but dietary factors may also play a role. One dietary factor of interest is tea consumption.

'Tea consumption may lower the risk of type 2 diabetes by influencing glucose digestion, glucose uptake, and by protecting beta-cells from free-radical damage. This beneficial effect may be due to the polyphenols present in tea.’

But it was unclear if tea is associated inversely over the entire range of intake.  He wrote ‘Therefore, we investigated the association between tea consumption and incidence of type 2 diabetes in a European population.’

It was done in 26 centres in eight European countries, and consisted of 12,403 incident type 2 diabetes cases plus thousands of others without the disease.

Tea drinking ranged from an average of none a day in Spain to four a day in the UK.

Herder wrote: ‘Increasing our understanding of modifiable lifestyle factors associated with the development of type 2 diabetes is important, as the prevalence of diabetes is increasing rapidly.

‘In line with this, no association was observed when tea consumption was studied as continuous variable. This may indicate that the protective effect of tea is restricted to people with a high tea consumption.


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