Gadfly: Russian Proverb: “A Pessimist Is A Well-informed Optimist”

Ed Raymond

In the race between education and disaster “The Best Congress Money Can Buy” seems bent on lowering its approval rating with the general public to less than nine percent. The evidence that disaster will win in a tsunami of legislative flotsam is piling up. We adults of the lower and middle classes are probably well on our way to hell in a handbasket. In a Congressional decision made last week our grand and great-children are also going to hell, riding a slippery, greasy school lunch tray loaded with french fries, ketchup, and pseudo pizza-vegetables.

If small investors had taken the advice of financial planners and played the part of free market capitalists by purchasing stocks on Standard & Poor’s 2001 list, every $100 invested  ten years ago would now be worth $98.46. That wouldn’t buy many school lunches for your kids. But even with odds at 1 in 195,249,054 in a recent Powerball, wasting money on a lottery ticket at least promotes some anticipatory dreams and fantasies. However, the millionaire in 1980 with $10 million, now has his vault filled with $30 million. I guess he knows how to play Monopoly in the Wall Street Casino.

I had some hope months ago that our Department of Agriculture would recommend the adoption of a new broccoli for school lunches developed by British scientists. Ordinary broccoli is excellent for your health, but this new Brit broccoli is positively sensational. It has two to three times the amount of glucoraphanin, a nutrient that works to unclog arteries and reduces cholesterol. It is heart disease “medicine.” But the potato and frozen pizza corporation lobbyists got to Congress first with potato sacks and large fryer baskets filled with greasy money.

Is Government Going Down For The Third Time In The Public Bathtub?

A millionaire dentist recently bought one of John Lennon’s stained molars for $31,000.  I guess he figured it was a better investment than Dow-Jones blue chip stocks. It’s not a good sign.

Why is it that Congress members can count campaign bribe money accurately in a lobbyist’s potato sack or pizza box but become math ignoramuses when it comes to “prevention” for many ills in society? A third of our kids, almost 13 million, are classified as obese. Even 20 percent of our four-year-olds are obese.  Chips and soda start fat early. Changing our school lunch menus as recommended by the Institute of Medicine to reduce the consumption of greasy, fatty foods and increase the intake of healthy vegetables and fruits would take about a $1 billion. 

We already spend over $3 billion a year on medical and other costs associated with child obesity. Caring for obese people adds $1,450 a year to our $7,500 a year per capita medical bill.  Wouldn’t $1 billion be a bargain?  That represents 2.5 F-22 fighters or 7.3 F-35 fighter planes being built by the military-industrial Mafia. That’s 5 percent of a new aircraft carrier or about 12 percent of a new nuclear submarine to patrol the back alleys in Kabul.

Do You know One Piece Of Pizza With Two Tablespoons Of Tomato Sauce Makes Up A Complete Noon School Lunch Under Congressional Guidelines?

The USDA and school nutritionists recommended that vegetables loaded with starch (corn, peas, potatoes, lima beans, etc.) be limited to one full cup a week to battle obesity. They also wanted to change the description of tomato paste so loved by the frozen pizza sellers and the American Frozen Food Institute. Minnesota-based Schwann Food Co. is  the darling of the frozen pizza industry. 

They exclaim how bountiful tomatoes are in potassium, fiber, vitamins A and C, and all kinds of miracle stuff. They also claim it takes six whole tomatoes (they don’t say how large) to make an eighth of a cup of tomato paste which transforms a sticky hunk of dough into a magical hunk of nutritious food fit for a king. (My father, after hearing such claims, would often say, “Here, King! Here, King!”) How do you get an eighth of a cup of paste from six tomatoes? With a 20-ton metal press and a blowtorch?  I would like to see that process. It certainly takes a helluva lot of tomatoes. We serve 43 million school children a day. Let’s see. At six “large” tomatoes a day for each kid, that comes to 258 million juicy red ones per day or 45.9 billion per school year. I’m impressed. 

The American Frozen Food Institute and Schwann’s pumped thousands of dollars of campaign contributions into the political bloodstreams of Minnesota Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota Republican Representative John Kline and other bipartisan pizza lovers in Congress to ensure that pizza, french fries, and other processed foods were served as often as possible. Fresh fruits and vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, green beans, spinach and other vegetables that attack obesity were relegated to vegans . I couldn’t find out how much tomato growers “contributed’ to their hired hands in Congress. Maybe the totals will be in next month’s campaign report. ConAgra, Schwann’s, and other food conglomerates spent over $5.6 million to keep fat, sugar, and sodium flowing into young hearts and arteries for the next five years.

Our Heaviest Export? Fat People!

In just 30 years we have become the fattest people in the fattest country in the world. It’s interesting that the fattest states are in the “conservative”  South. Real conservatives believe in “rugged individualism.” How can a viscous glob or mountain of belly fat be “rugged?” Is a Redneck long-haired sumo wrestler without muscles or neck “rugged?”  Mississippi adults have the highest rate of obesity at 34 percent, Colorado the lowest at 24 percent. The medical costs charged to Medicare and Medicaid because of the spread of diabetes helps make us spend twice as much for healthcare as any other industrialized country.

Republicans say they are opposed to a “nanny state that sticks its nose into what people choose to eat.” But Republicans stick their noses in and vote for farm subsidies that make unhealthy foods very profitable to produce. Beet and corn sugar, for instance. Good for taste but very addicting. They vote against informational and medical programs that would inform consumers why they weigh 20 pounds more than last year. They consistently vote against regulating the power of huge marketing forces such as the soda and candy industries.

There are powerful forces trying to maintain our nutritional model which pedals epidemics of obesity and diabetes with foods that are cheap and tasty, while overloaded with salt, sugar, and fat. Corporations don’t have any sense of community anymore because the world is their community. The bottom line mantra is the only God corporations pray to, even if the Republican Supreme Court has given them “personhood.” Can a corporation establish a PAC and give campaign contributions the second it is fertilized-conceived? Maybe that’s another Supreme Court case.

My Countrymen Are Older And Wiser

There are countries that are doing something about obesity and “fat” diseases such as diabetes. French government dieticians control what French students eat at school and what the lunchroom climate is. To learn what a proper nutritious diet is all French students must eat at school. They are not allowed to bring lunches to school. If they don’t eat a school lunch they must go home to eat at noon.  In their school lunch menu they can have french fries and ketchup only one day of the week. They must have a combination of five fruits and vegetables each day. 

They learn to socialization and eat their nutritious meal slowly, too. French parents are not allowed to eat lunch with their students. The French government is saying school lunches are important to teach proper diet and nutrition. Our Congress is saying: ”To hell with kids. Profitable corporations are more important.”  The French obesity rate for children is less than half of ours, and they are very serious about improving that rate because of medical costs. The French, recognizing that soda is a main culprit in the diabetes battle,  place a two-cent tax on each can or bottle of soda. Half of the revenue is used in programs to fight obesity. American Corporations have doubled soda ads aimed at children between 2008 and 2010. That’s after the companies said they would impose self-regulation. You betcha. A University of Minnesota study reports that half of the 12-17 aged kids who participate in athletic programs are overweight. Not only are 34 percent of adults obese, 34 percent are also overweight.

Soda May Be More Costly To Public Health Than Alcoholic Drinks

A Tribune article by Roger Feldman discusses the ravages of sugar-sweetened, carbonated soda on young and old bodies. Feldman suggests that, like the French, we should place a two-cent tax on every 12-ounce can and bottle of this heart and artery destroyer.  Each day Americans consume 6.16 billion ounces of the stuff, or an average of 20 ounces per person. The Japanese are relatively healthy compared to us, consuming only an average of two ounces of soda per day. Soda now accounts for 11 percent of our daily caloric intake. American children have increased their intake of soda 500 percent over the last 50 years.

Besides diseases such as diabetes and heart, Americans who consume two or more sugary sodas per week are twice as likely to develop pancreatic cancer! Feldman claims obesity causes a 36 percent increase in medical costs.  He estimates from what has happened to other food items which have been taxed that each Minnesotan would pay an additional tax of $6.86—if they continued to drink “pop” at their present rate.  This money would be used to fight obesity. Taxing soda has been discussed for years. Only the  state of Washington managed to pass a temporary two-cent tax on 12 ounce cans in 2010. The American Beverage Association, representing the soda manufacturers in the U.S., then spent $16.7 million recalling the law. Because high-fructose corn syrup is the main ingredient in soda, Americans now consume 37.8 pounds of it on average each year. That amount represents a lot of fatty deposits and artery-clogging chunks.

Why Not Ban Ads For Soda Pop?

The French require that each ad pushing soda must also contain statements regarding the importance of eating fresh fruits and vegetables and exercising daily.  Make sense? Recognizing that diabetes and nutritional diseases are costing their universal health care program fortunes, the French have allocated $200 million to obesity-related research.

Great Britain is also way ahead of us. The Brits ban ads featuring foods high in      sugar and fat that are aimed at children under the age of 16. Prime Minister David Cameron, a conservative, has thought of a “fat tax” to help the nation’s obesity problem.  Cameron says: “Things have gotten bad in America.” Can we Americans afford 14 cents more per school lunch to provide fresh fruit and vegetables for obese kids? Or should we buy more F-35 fighter planes?

Another  Reason For Pessimism For Winning Voltaire’s  Race

I see the Scottsdale, Arizona Gun Club is providing a real service to its members by offering a Christmas photo shoot to use as a Christmas card. The family poses with Santa, who is embracing a $80,000 Garwood minigun. Family members choose to hold their favorite shotguns, pistols, machine guns, and other firearms. I wonder if they have a line about “Peace On Earth, Goodwill To Men” on the card...