April 13 – Volume 14, #4
“Pretty Hot And Tempting”
While I think that most of what the Republican Party stands for is an abomination, one subset of the GOP that I can actually find some common ground with is the civil libertarian wing of the party.
Civil libertarians believe that, for the most part, individuals should be left to their own devices and don’t need instruction from an overreaching government on how to live their personal lives. As someone who engages in a whole host of behaviors that I’m sure most decent folk wouldn’t approve of, this is a creed that I endorse enthusiastically.
As Republicans are apt to do, civil libertarians take this too far in suggesting that they should have the right to own 35 guns if they want, and that businesses should be free to discriminate if they like. So just like my real-life one, any marriage to the GOP isn’t sustainable. At best, I can flirt with the Republican Party. And only after I’ve had a little too much to drink.
Unlike many Republicans, I absolutely feel like the government has a responsibility to protect us from others so I expect them to keep me safe from gun violence, institutional discrimination and environmental risks. But I disagree vehemently with most government action that tries to protect people from themselves, or that involve defining morality for the masses.
I hold this belief so deeply that if I ruled the world I’d legalize not just harmless, recreational drugs like marijuana but also crack, crystal meth and heroin. I know, I know. This sounds crazy on its face, but let’s examine this matter fully before I’m sent to the funny farm. The War on Drugs hasn’t succeeded in reducing the nation’s proportion of addicts, it has only served to ruin many people’s lives. People who may not have broken any other law or caused any additional commotion than the harm they cause themselves with their drug use. And anyone who has spent even a short amount of time in a big city knows full-well that there is no force powerful enough to stop a determined crack head from getting his crack. You can lock a crack head up 20 times and that’s not going to deter him or her from feeding their addiction. And it is these individuals who have been most targeted by the drug war because it’s convenient. And it makes stupid people feel secure that something is being done, even if the real problem isn’t being addressed. Rehab is a far better option than prison if we’re serious about ridding the nation of its drug epidemic.
The last time that the nation tried to legislate morality, with Prohibition, it created similar problems that we have seen with the illegality of drugs. America’s 13-year prohibition of the sale of alcohol vividly displayed that if there is something that people want badly enough, there is absolutely nothing that the government can do to stop it. Prohibition also made instant criminals out of previously law-abiding citizens. And it actually made more people drink than may have otherwise. And without any regulation over the product, the alcohol that wets consumed was a lot more harmful. Furthermore, the public was often caught in the crossfire of the violent conflict resolution from businesses that could have previously settled their differences in court. But this was no longer an available option for an industry that had been driven underground in spite of insatiable consumer demand.
We have extensive historical samples; both with prohibition of alcohol and the War on Drugs, that lends strong support to the notion that penalizing average citizens for their vices isn’t going to solve anything. The only thing that the War on Drugs has accomplished is abducting millions of fathers, sisters and future executives from black and brown communities across the nation. And Prohibition’s greatest accomplishment was making legends of Al Capone, Lucky Luciano and George Remus.
Though absent some of the long-term, communal impacts of the drug war, similar political missteps seem to be under way in the war on obesity.
Dig it, I fully understand that obesity is major problem. And not only because some of you fat motherfuckers look totally repulsive. But more than that, our cash-strapped nation can’t afford the many health risks that come with so many people being overweight. It increases your chances of becoming a diabetic and getting high cholesterol. You’re more likely to develop gallstones, sleep apnea and coronary artery disease. Obesity greatly increases your chances of having a stroke.
Obesity is an epidemic in America with dire consequences for the nation if we don’t change our habits not now, but right now. In spite of this very real crisis, politicians like New York Mayor, Michael Bloomberg are risking considerable government overreach in trying to regulate how much people should be able to clog their arteries with his recently shot-down law that would have banned businesses from selling sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces.
While I know the mayor is well-meaning, his legislation opens up a very slippery slope because our legal system is based on precedent. And once a government begins to go down this path, whose to say that it will stop with limiting our currently unfettered access to high fructose corn syrup?
There are many things that I do on a regular basis that are not good for me. I understand that the Red Bull that helps me to shake off sleep each morning is a horrible health choice. Smoking anything certainly isn’t going to improve the lung capacity of an asthmatic. And in an era where STD’s of all varieties are on the rise, a monogamous lifestyle is the most sound way to avoid such a health hazard.
However, I came to the conclusion a long, long, long time ago that life is short and that each day there is a risk that you don’t wake up tomorrow. Given that, it just isn’t logical for me to deprive myself from things that I enjoy in moderation. And the government certainly is in no position to protect me from the risks involved with my choices anymore than they should prevent people from doing crazy stuff like skydiving, bungee jumping, participating in ultimate fighting or camping where there is a possibility of coming in contact with bears.
Part of the cost of living in a free society is that sometimes people are going to make incredibly dumb decisions with their free choices. People are going to drink more than they should. People are going to do bad things with guns to others and to themselves. People will exercise their free speech in a manner that is offensive to many on occasion. But the cost of losing these freedoms is far worse than what we bear currently.
And besides, Bloomberg’s measure is not going to fix this problem. If someone wants a big gulp of Pepsi bad enough, they’ll buy two 16-ounce drinks. Or they’ll buy one and have a friend buy another for them. And if they can’t get all the calories that they want from soda and fruit punch, that still won’t stop them from eating Krispy Kremes for breakfast, Taco Bell for lunch and KFC for dinner.
What the American people need is not more regulations of their personal behavior, they need more information and economic fairness. Too often the capitalist beast has made it where the cheapest choices are the unhealthiest. In this no-holds-barred, Reaganomic capitalism of the late 20th century, the profit motive overrides all choices. How can this be any different for consumers? Especially those who have the least amount of income to spend on food. Heart disease and hypertension are problems for tomorrow that not everyone has the luxury of worrying about. Today’s concern is fending off starvation and still being able to keep the lights on.
The government can’t stop people from doing shit that they like. Not in China. Not in Cuba. Not in Saudi Arabia. And especially not in America.
What the government can do –in addition to keeping the public informed- is to regulate the consumer market to where it costs more to engage in unhealthy behaviors than it does to indulge in healthy ones.
A model for what I’m suggesting already exists with cigarettes. Although companies like Phillip Morris and other warlocks tried to deny the harmful effect of cigarettes for generations, ultimately science & truth won out and showed what most sensible people already knew before an insider blew the whistle like Too Short. Since 2009, not only have cigarettes been highly taxed bringing in much needed revenue to federal and state governments, but a massive public relations campaign spearheaded by Truth.com has advertised at a level that rivals major corporations.Truth.com has pulled no punches in explicitly showing the many harmful effects of long-term cigarette smoking. Seeing motherfuckers with holes in their throat sure left an impression on me. The messages won’t convince everyone, but they allow people to make informed choices unlike the world that J.R. Reynolds and Philip Morris would have us live in.
Similar actions can be taken with the foods we eat. Tax the shit out of Coca Cola and Hardees. As we do with large agri-businesses and oil companies, we can subsidize companies that produce broccoli and asparagus which would allow the price to come down. If that single mom with three kids sees that it costs too much to get her shorties a happy meal compared to preparing some fish, brown rice and carrots, only then will you see mass changes in people’s dietary choices.
Fewer people smoke cigarettes today than they did a generation ago. There is almost no price too high for those who continue to be addicted to nicotine. But as the public has gotten more information, they have made healthier choices. And these collective choices are actually more profitable for the government who get to save money from the elimination of all the health care costs that come from the inevitable failed health of smokers. But the feds still get to profit from people who make bad choices to continue smoking by making it so much more expensive. Both capitalism and freedom win out. A rarity in a society where capitalism usually curb-stomps freedom at every turn.
Again, there are some responsibilities that come with freedom, but this responsibility is better checked by nature than by vice-filled politicians trying to police the vices of others. Drinking a 48-oz of coke isn’t something to be celebrated like this stupid bitch, Sarah Palin, has done. But let our penalty for these choices be a massive stroke or a triple bypass, not a fine or consumer inconvenience.
Bloomberg’s actions continue a disconcerting pattern in federal and local governance of picking on the little guy on the totem pole. In dealing with illegal immigration we target the exploited worker, not the corporate exploiter. In protecting the sanctity of marriage, we target gays not adulterers like Newt Gingrich, Bill Clinton, or Kareem Muhammad. In tackling obesity we don’t require that sugar and salt pushers are forced to clean up their act, the onus is placed on the consumer.
No doubt, consumers bear some of the responsibility but if we’re truly serious about attacking obesity in this country, let’s put more pressure on companies like General Mills, Procter & Gamble and Cargill rather than put all of the weight (no pun intended) on the individual consumer. The Food and Drug Administration can rid us of some of these poisons that Bloomberg is right to target. But they won’t because these corporations are too profitable for government officials. These are the corporations that contribute to their campaigns and their political action committees. This targeting of the truly disadvantaged is the same reason why the War on Drugs has been shortsighted, because going after the real culprits when it comes to our nation’s drug epidemic would lead the government to some very uncomfortable places. I reckon that a serious path to tackling American obesity would leave a similar crumb trail.
Peace and God bless,