On the “Obesity Tax”

So, New York Governor David Paterson is proposing a tax on sugared soft drinks (among other things), and apparently calling it an “obesity tax.” (The NYT doesn’t call it that or imply that Paterson does, but the Daily News does; make of that what you will.)

I admit I’m not that fussed about the tax itself — just the name, if anyone but the Daily News is indeed calling it that — though Rachel over at Women’s Health News, who first sent me the link, makes a good case for the tax itself being bullshit.  Rachel can’t drink diet soda without getting sick, and she says:

Yes, I know, well if I were in New York, I could choose a beverage other than soda if the tax on non-diet soda is not acceptable to me. I just don’t really like the idea of punitive taxing for behavior control, especially when I perceive it as inconsistent and/or arbitrary. I can sort of understand it with something like cigarettes, where there is pretty strong evidence of inherent badness and there aren’t 800 other smokable tobacco products to choose from that are not being preferentially less taxed. However, will the Governor also be adding taxes to sweetened or just very naturally sweet fruit juices? Is there any evidence that the move would actually improve health, given the apparent endorsement of a particular choice?

That implied endorsement of a single alternative definitely bugs me, given that diet soda is loaded with sodium*, the carbonation can cause heartburn (I know from sad experience), and artificial sweeteners — while not necessarily as evil as your average e-mail forward would have you believe — can have nasty effects on people like Rachel and might not be especially good for any of us. If you want to tax pop, go ahead and tax pop — my wee libertarian streak is nowhere near wide enough to accommodate outrage over that. Nobody needs to drink pop, regular or otherwise, and as far as I know, there are exactly zero proven benefits of drinking it (other than helping people who work for big beverage corporations keep their jobs). If they were just slapping a tax on fizzy drinks, and calling it a tax on fizzy drinks, I’d shrug. But taxing only the kind that’s thought to make people fat — thereby implying that the kind not thought to make people fat is markedly healthier — and calling it a fucking “obesity tax”? I’ve got a problem with that. 

Liss says a lot of what I would have said if I’d gotten to this earlier, notably:

Resultingly, fat people are demonized, thin-but-unhealthy people are discouraged from thinking about whether regular soda is something they should cut out of their diets for any reason other than it now costs too much thanks to those damn fatties, and the simplistic associations between fat/unhealthy and thin/healthy are reinforced yet again.

The only thing I’d add is that calling this an “obesity” tax, as opposed to yet another “vice” tax, makes it quite literally about the punishment of fat bodies, rather than of “bad” habits that could be held by anyone. Not only are they once again conflating “fat” with “unhealthy,” they’re conflating “fat” with “vice” — reinforcing the message that fatness automatically equals a conscious decision to engage in (arguably) self-destructive behavior.

I mean, it’s basically the same thing, but I think the hair is worth splitting. Half the time, the “fat = unhealthy” camp promotes the idea that fat people are merely ignorant about proper nutrition, which is annoying enough. But the other half of the time, they’re promoting the idea that fat people bring fatness on ourselves because of emotional issues and/or addiction, which to my mind is even worse.

Fatness is not a behavioral issue. Choosing to drink soda is behavioral. Choosing regular soda over diet soda is behavioral. Overeating, among those who actually do it, is behavioral. (It should go without saying, but in case it doesn’t, labeling those things “behavioral” does not imply any judgment; I’m merely distinguishing between things people do and things people are.) Being fat is not behavioral; it’s existential. 

So saying you’re taxing “obesity” when you’re actually taxing a decision to purchase one kind of beverage over another is just so fucking wrong-headed, I don’t know where to begin. Apart from the behavioral/existential issue and the fat = unhealthy issue, here’s another one: A hell of a lot of fat people already drink diet soda, because we prefer the taste or, you know, because we’ve been told that regular soda is what’s making us fat. (I am constantly baffled by how people manage to reconcile the notion that fatties never restrict their calories or avoid sugar with the existence of a gazillion-dollar diet industry.) Personally, I haven’t had a sugared pop on purpose since about 1994; I find it way, way too sweet. I threw a party a couple of years ago and bought regular Coke in case anyone wanted any, and it sat in our kitchen for a year until we finally decided just to throw it out. (After, I might add, attempting to unload it on various friends, all of whom said, “Yuck, I don’t drink sugared pop.” ) Oddly enough, my obesity — you know, that attribute they’re proposing to tax? — did not actually make me forget that I hate regular pop and drink the whole case in one sitting. Nor did Al’s obesity make him forget he can’t handle caffeine, which is why he didn’t want it. Can you believe it?!?

In closing, allow me to quote myself, not for the first time: 

Free fruits and veggies for everyone! Local, organic produce for all my friends! While you’re at it, bring back gym class and train future phys ed instructors to focus on encouraging the joy of movement instead of forcing everyone to move their bodies in exactly the same way, regardless of any pain (physical and/or emotional) it causes! Subsidize exercise facilities until they’re affordable for everyone! Create more bike paths! Clean up local bodies of water so everyone can swim for free! Build cities on the scale of human bodies instead of cars, and keep the streets safe enough for everyone to walk around! Ban high fructose corn syrup! Keep fast food and soda and junk food corporations out of the schools! Raise the minimum wage and shorten working hours so people have more time to cook and be active! KNOCK YOURSELVES RIGHT THE FUCK OUT creating an environment that makes it easier for everyone to eat a variety of fresh foods and get plenty of exercise!

But don’t tell me that’s going to make everyone thin — and really, really don’t tell me that making people thinner should be the main point of such a plan.

*I’ve been busted on this repeatedly in the comments, and rightly so. That was one of those old food myths I’ve been carrying around in my head for years, and I, of all people, should have known to fact check it.

And Now Back to Disappointing, Infuriating Reality

Arizona voted to ban gay marriage. Florida voted to ban gay marriage. California (most likely) voted to ban gay marriage. Arkansas voted to ban gay couples from adopting children. 

I can’t say Arizona and Arkansas surprised me, but California voting yes on 8, for me, is the kind of kick in the gut I got used to in the last couple of elections when, instead of celebrating giddily with massive throngs of people, I was sitting there with my jaw in my beer, going, “How? How the fuck did this happen?” (2004: “How the fuck did this happen again?”) 

Like Liss and Portly Dyke, I know how it happened, of course. I just still can’t fucking believe it. I saw the blogs starting to fret about Prop 8 last night, but I wasn’t listening to any analysis, and only about 35% of precincts were reporting when I went to bed, so I went to sleep thinking it could turn around. I listened to President-elect Obama say:

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer…

It’s the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled – Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America. 

and I thought it could turn around. He said gay! The future president included gay people! Has that ever happened before? Yes, we can, motherfuckers!

But it didn’t turn around. The out-of-state fundamentalist assholes who dumped money into making sure Californians’ brief taste of equality would be no more than that got their way. Well done, assholes.

Portly Dyke, who knows a lot more than me about nearly everything, but especially about waiting for change when it comes to gay rights, offers some small consolation

When I was 17, the thought of being accepted as a queer in my family, or in society at large — the idea of being “out” at a job — any job (except maybe a gay-bar) — simply did not exist.

At the time, I was pissed about this at some level — but it was a vague, subconscious kind of anger — and I would never have expected it to be addressed in the media or a topic of conversation outside of the secretive community that I inhabited as a queer.

Now, at 52, I’m pissed again — but this time, my anger is out in the open.

That may be bitter cause for Hope — but it is, for me, Hope, nonetheless.

Bitter hope is better than no hope, I guess. And generally speaking, the sea change that started last night is cause for a lot of hope, bitter and otherwise. But let’s not forget that the hope here relies on keeping our anger out in the open. As Shark-fu put it, “Elections give us tools that we call politicians. It is our job to use the hell out of them…to hold them accountable and to work with them to bring about change.” 

It’s incredibly hopeful to finally be thinking of my new president as a tool in the useful sense, not the slang one. But one big step forward for equality is just that. There’s still a long fucking way to go.

PRESIDENT-ELECT OBAMA!

Oh, sorry, am I yelling?

So. I went to Grant Park. Really glad I did — being with tens of thousands of other people screaming “WOOOOOOOOOO!” when Pennsylvania, then Ohio, then Iowa went blue was pretty fucking amazing. Even more amazing was the fact that I found Colleen and her lovely beau Brandon in the crowd, so I had company. (Al flatly refused to go anywhere near downtown.) 

However, I remain old and anti-crowd, and we were so far back that we were just going to have to watch Obama’s speech on the same Jumbotron we were watching CNN on. So, about 15 minutes before CNN called it, I decided to get out while the gettin’ was good. And I’m really glad about that, too. Got a cab instantly, which would so not have happened even half an hour later. I had to listen to McCain’s concession speech on Spillah’s TV via phone, but now I’m home on the couch, waiting to watch Obama’s speech on TV just like I would have at the park, only with Al, the dogs, 70,000 fewer people, and a flush toilet nearby. 

At a stoplight on Michigan Avenue, moments after the news became official, a car full of young African American guys pulled up next to my cab and started screaming and waving at us. I gave them a huge grin and a thumbs up, and the guy in the passenger seat threw back his head and laughed, then shouted, “MY PRESIDENT IS BLACK! MY PRESIDENT IS BLACK!” I had nothing to say but, “WOOOOOOOOO!” (Which kinda made the cab driver want to kill me.) (Update: Check this out!)

That’s the election-night moment I’m going to remember for the rest of my life, and that wouldn’t have happened if I’d stayed at the park. So glad I went, so glad I left when I did. 

Ooh, he’s speaking! Okay, shutting up now. Here are some crappy camera phone pics of me and Colleen and Colleen and Brandon. 

WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!

It’s Christmas!

Okay, no it’s not. But last night sure felt like Christmas Eve did when I was 6, except with more booze. Sadly, I can’t just go jump on every American still in bed and go, “IT’S VOTING DAY! GET UP!” so it’ll still be a while before we get to open presents.

Open election thread in the meantime. Try to keep it polite. I may or may not keep updating this post when A) there’s news and B) I’m near a computer. I will most likely be updating Twitter a lot from late afternoon on. 

Oh, and one more reminder: Call 866-OUR-VOTE or 888-VE-Y-VOTA if you see anything strange going down at your polling station.

Update: Just thought of something, while reading yesterday’s Question of the Day thread at Shakesville. This year was the first time I’ve ever gone into a booth and voted for President. In ’92, I was two months shy of my 18th birthday. In ’96, I lived in Canada and voted absentee for Clinton, because I didn’t want to miss the chance to cast my first vote. Then in 2000 and 2004, I still lived in Canada and didn’t vote (though I told some people I voted absentee to get them off my back — sorry about the lie, folks), ’cause A) I was registered in a safe blue state, and B) I’d started voting in Canadian elections by that point, and it felt weird (if not illegal) to vote in 2 countries. (I’m a dual citizen.)

So the 2006 mid-term was the first time I went to a polling place in the U.S. and voted for anything. My first-ever primary vote was for Hillary Clinton, and my first-ever vote for president cast on U.S. soil was for Obama 2 weeks ago. (Not to rub it in for those voting today, but can I just say I am so fucking glad I not only voted early, but really early? The whole process took about 20 minutes.) 

And to answer the Shakesville QOTD, no, I don’t regret any votes, even those not cast. When I’m right here, I can’t imagine not participating, but I’m not too bothered about having let Gore and Kerry take Illinois without my help. 

Update on the Grant Park decision: Still up in the air. You’ve all inspired me to really want to go, but now I’ve got a headache that keeps getting worse and is not responding to any amount of Advil, so I fear I’ve got a migraine brewing, not just a hangover from election eve imbibing. I’ll keep you posted.

2nd update on the Grant Park decision: Headache and nausea went away, so it probably was just a hangover. Oops. Planning on going at this writing. Can’t guarantee I’ll make it if the crowd gets me panicky.