Dublin Saab

Cars, politics, sports and what not from my view. (Closed Sundays and Holidays)

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Nader and the Nannies

Ralph Nader wasn't the first nanny and unfortunately he certainly won't be the last but between his anti GM screed Unsafe at any Speed, the founding of the Center for Auto Safety, Center for Study of Responsive Law, the Public Interest Research Group, Public Citizen, the Clean Water Action Project, the Disability Rights Center, the Pension Rights Center and the Project for Corporate Responsibility he sure ranks at the top of the totem pole of nannyism. Now Nader doesn’t have any direct link to the following story but this kind of “public protection” is right up his alley and it has me wondering something about him that’s never been answered. In Unsafe At Any Speed he rips GM for the tendency of the rear swing-arm suspension of the early Corvairs to “tuck” in tight corners but he never once mentions or acknowledges that at the same time the Corvair was using the swing-arm setup so was Mercedes, Porsche and VW. Why? I guess it’s only unsafe when it made by GM.

This poor woman could have been saved from a long horrible death at the hands of GM if only Ralph Nader had published his book earlier.Posted by Hello

In the spirit of Naderite nannyism the wonderful Center for Science in the Public Interest is again suing the US government to force the FDA to regulate salt. These people are fascists plain and simple. They are willing to force their views on the rest of the populace by creating new laws in the court system. I hope these jerks lose their law suit… again.


At February 25, 2005 10:30 PM, Blogger The Evil Jeremy. said...

So pushing for things like the (successful) Clean Air Act of 1987 and the (unsuccessful, and for which I campaigned [ha, never knew I worked for Ralph Nader, didja?]) Clean Water Act of 1993 are by nature nannyism? That's what the PIRGs were about. I agree that Nader (and liberalism in general) oversteps his bounds by presently fighting wars that have already been won. But the NHTSA needed to be created, as automobile manufacturers were doing little to protect the safety of their consumers. He was at one point, GM unfairly singled out or no, the seminal liberal figure in the debate between right-of-profit for corporations versus right-of-knowledge and right-of-safety for consumers. Everybody likes to kick him while they drive to work safe vehicles that came about as a direct result of his "nannying."

So all government regulation of the private sector equates to nannying? I know you don't think that, so please elaborate your definition.

At February 26, 2005 7:29 PM, Blogger Dublin Saab said...

I think you may be reflexively attempting to deconstruct my post. You asked be to elaborate but I think clarity will be better reached by paraphrasing. So to paraphrase my post I said that Nader is the top nanny, I then wondered why he only chastised GM, I then linked to the salt people who remind me of Nader’s nannyism. That’s it. I’m a wannabe engineer not an accomplished writer. If I met to say the Clean Air act was bad I’d have written that it was bad. If I thought that everything Nader touched was bad I’d have said so. There is no hidden meaning. The definition of being a nanny should be obvious. Telling someone wearing a t-shirt they should put a coat on before going out when it’s 20° outside is clearly not being a “nanny” while forcing someone to bundle up in many layers and be outside for no more than a few minutes when it’s 65° certainly is. I look at your post and I’m confused. It’s as if you have written 2+2= Orange. You asked me, “So all government regulation of the private sector equates to nannying?” What the fuck are you talking about? Is this Crossfire? Currently as I write Heidi is facing west. Now form that will you infer that I pulled her nose first into the garage and thus she is facing west or will you think I lent her to someone and they are driving to California? You would probably say the latter to prove that it “could be” inferred that she was being driven to CA and in that you’d be correct. So, I pledge to make more effort in clearly stating the scope of the post so you don’t get lost trying to dig for the meaning.

At February 26, 2005 10:54 PM, Blogger The Evil Jeremy. said...

Hey, easy there, testy.
I didn't feel your stream of consciousness to be too clear and I said so. No big deal. Anyway, I went and read the actual article. My problem is this: I feel lawsuits are the worst way possible to proceed regarding issues of individual responsibility; I also am concerned that restaurants are by and large unwilling to self-regulate gratuitous sodium content in their foods. MacDonald's could preemptively shut most of these people up by switching to low sodiam dressings and allowing people to salt their own fries instead of doing it for them. But they don't. Now, the best argument in response to this is of course: don't eat at MacDonald's or Chinese places. Fine; I don't. But childeren get no say in the matter--and MacDonald's and Burger King have made billions by spending millions specifically advertising to children. Should they be allowed to? Of course; it's a free country. But compare the number of times you've seen a MacDonald's (or White Castle, or Wendy's, or KFC, you get the point) promoting high-sodium products versus the number of times you've seen public service ads telling you about the danger of sodium consumption. Since children watch more TV than anybody, they are given a steady education from birth on just why they should eat Fritos, which is of course about the single most unhealthy thing a person could eat this side of straight mercury. As a result, we have children consuming enough sodium to retain a keg of water and enough fat that we now have the most obese generation of children in all of the known history of humanity.

How to fix it? Well, I for one like to pine for the good old days when people actually knew how to cook. Fresh fruits and vegetables have little to no sodium, and most poultry and fish is naturally rather low. Hence, how much salt is in that kind of meal can be determined mostly by the question "how much salt did I add?" Whatever the reasons, though, those days are gone and don't seem to be coming back any time soon. So that's no good. Do you spend more money on public education campaigns? I'm not sure I've ever really known one of those to be effective unless, as is the case with smoking, the government gets all of the airtime and the industry gets none. (And even then, I'm not sure how effective it is.) Plus, unless you wring a settlement out of the restaurant industry, that's taxpayer dime, and people probably want it spent elsewhere.

So the original problem remains. Millions of people, a certain percentage children who don't get to choose, are consuming far too much sodium. Their health is suffering as a result. The problem is getting worse. None of these facts, as far as I can tell, is in serious dispute. There are, in a basic way of looking at the matter, two options: something can be done about it, or nothing can be done about it. If the former is chosen, then we go on to who the doer is.

Truth in advertising on behalf of the industry would be a good way to go. But they never do it on their own (who, after all, wants to spend money to tell the consumer their product is bad for them?). And when laws are proposed to force them to comply, they lobby massively against them and refuse to comply whenever possible. Just how prominent are those signs in Micky D's telling you that their food is saturated-fat and salt drenched shit?

I for one favor the a stick/carrot approach from the FDA putting the processed food industry on notice: you can fix this yourselves in a five or ten year time frame, or we can fix it for you. No regulation would eventually be necessary, because you'd be telling corporations to reduce an (admittedly minute, unless we count stolen shakers) cost, while losing no competetive advantage, because everyone else would be lowering sodium content at the same time. Unless there's a lame-duck Democrat as President (and probably not then), that of course won't happen, as Congress (both sides of the aisle) is firmly in the pocket of the food industry.

So here's what we're left with. The food industry is contributing to a public health crisis by putting too much salt in their products. They refuse to stop doing this. The restaurant industry refuses to educate consumers that their products are high in sodium. Congress bends over backwards to accomodate the industry. Public education campaigns have no chance against the advertising might of the food industry.

What option does that leave, pray tell?

At the end of the day "nanny state" is a meaningless bit of conservative propoganda hauled out virtually whenever government proposes to value the safety of the public over profit rights of industry. The term is itself bewildering, as at the end of the day, what is government if not a nanny? If policing our neighborhoods, housing our criminals, educating our children, paving and plowing our roads, defending our borders, and providing relief in times of disaster are not inherently protective (and hence nanny-like) functions, then what exactly would qualify? At what point has ensuring the safety of its citizens not been within the mission of our government?

But if the term "nanny" must be used pejoratively, let me draw a distinction. Government requiring that Campbell's send less salt into your kitchen and Macdonald's put less on your fries is not nannying; government taking the salt shaker out of your kitchen and off your table is. And if government refuses to address a situation, then somebody sooner or later has to file a lawsuit compelling it to do so. I believe it should be an option of last resort, when other avenues of recourse have failed. That standard looks suspiciously close to being met here. Labels have been measuring sodium in foods for 22 years. There has been a steady increase in that time. People will continue to be free to add as much salt as they want to offset any reductions caused by regulation. I think this lawsuit might just be right on target.

At February 27, 2005 3:26 AM, Blogger Dublin Saab said...

We are in complete agreement up until the very end. The last two paragraphs are nothing less than an excuse for intrusion into every aspect of your life. If a group of people can force a restrictive salt diet upon you then they can enforce a restrictive alcohol intake upon you as well. And remember we live in a world where Monday “A” is bad due to “X” and then another study comes out on Friday and that shows “A” is good cause of “Y”. Do you want to live in a country that creates new laws restricting your freedom of choice for every whim that comes along? And remember this important fact; nannies are by no mean restricted to liberals. In both your posted you mentioned “lib v. con” but I never did. Why? It’s because there are as many “conservative” nannies as “liberal” nannies. So be careful defending nannies that spout things you may be sympathetic to because if you allow nannies room to operate then you are allowing all nannies the power to dictate your life, including the ones spouting ideas you don’t like. The choice is between a Jeffersonian liberty and a totalitarian government that is out to “save the children” (or whatever the current Raison D'etre is).

At February 27, 2005 4:49 AM, Blogger The Evil Jeremy. said...

I've taken my long post, and am tinkering with it to add some factual citation and round out the argument a bit, over to my house. You are correct that I'm making a silly and unnecessary lib. vs con. out of this, as the single biggest legislative piece of nannying in our lives, The (spit) Highway Funds Act was written by Elizabeth Dole. But I don't see the "slippery slope toward totalitarianism" argument applying here. People would still be free to add salt to any foods they wanted. Salt would not become a contraband substance. There would be no salt tax. And if the numbers CSPI are arguing are wrong, we have a judicial system to rectify that. What I am suggesting is that they have identified a real and worsening public health concern, one that is not being addressed responsibly by the industry propogating it. I would be more than happy to join a panel discussing ways in which this concern can be alleviated within the dictates of the market, rather than through government intervention. However, the FDA already lists trillions of things that are regulated in food, (mercury, lead, chlorine) which were probably all thought harmless at one point. The link between excess sodium and hypertension is hardly fad or junk science; it's well established and accepted by the AMA, the heart folks, just about all reputable medical professionals. And, unlike sturated fat and other nasty qualities that should not be regulated, exercise does nothing to combat the effects of high sodium. I understand that yesterdays A is tomorrow's Q, but by and large the food we consume is safer because of FDA approval, and no one is arguing that a lot of salt is good for you. And last time i checked, Mr. Tree of Liberty, alcohol, tobacco, and the other bogeymen that the tyrranical state wants to take away already were regulated. So I fear not the Gestapo coming for my Fire Salt. So if a lawsuit is bad, what do you propose is better? I'm not being flippant. Is standing pat better? You could make an argument that it is. I don't think so. Poor diet is probably the single greatest factor in Americans' disgracefully low (relative to other wealthy societies, of course) life expectancies. You would say people need to make better choices. I agree completely. But they need those better choices to be widely available to them, which at present they are not. If we agree that that is a point we need to head toward, then what does the map look like? Let's start there.

At February 27, 2005 12:50 PM, Blogger Dublin Saab said...

Japan - 80.8
Austrailia - 79.9
Sweden - 79.7
Canada - 79.6
Italy - 79.1
France - 78.9
Spain - 78.9
Norway - 78.8
Netherlands - 78.4
Belguim - 78.0
Austria - 77.8
United Kingdom - 77.8
Finland - 77.6
Germany - 77.6
United States of America - 77.3
Luxembourg - 77.3
Ireland - 77.0
Denmark - 76.7
Portugal - 75.9
South Korea - 74.7

The murder rate in the US is 4 to 5 times western Europe. In the United States a premature baby that dies outside the womb is considered a death while in the rest of the world it is considered a still birth. How much higher would our LE be if we could drill out those numbers? I think it’s safe to say your use of the phrase “disgracefully low” is off target. Also using the LE numbers to justify government intervention is very much a slippery slope. Government wants nothing more than more power and once a precedent is set, once the door is opened, even if for arguably good aims, government power and nannism will leak through. (For a perfect illustration of this mechanism at work please take note of your example of Liz Dole and the Highway Funds Act). Yet we do eat too much salt.

How does this sound? Large car manufacturers (GM, Honda, VW) must obey safety and CAFÉ rules while small “mom and pop” shops (kits cars, Boyd Coddington) do not. So how about large chains that have an excessive amount of salt in their foods must pay into a fund. The money in that fund is in turn used solely for the purpose of consumer education on good diet. Once consumers are educated then the market will correct itself as Wendy’s, McDonalds and Burger King fight over who can make the healthiest foods.

At February 27, 2005 5:19 PM, Blogger The Evil Jeremy. said...

"Disgracefully low" hyperbole correction accepted; overstatement withdrawn. I believed there were more countries ahead of us on that list, but my stats and hence memory of them are ten years old. Do keep in mind though that while homicide rates are significantly higher here, (mostly due to a massive armed underclass of urban poor that Republicans ignore because they don't vote Republican and Democrats ignore because they, er, don't vote Republican. They're no incentive to the former and no threat to the latter)smoking rates are, I believe, significantly higher in Japan and somewhat higher in Western Europe. Also, per capita alcohol consumption is preumably higher in the UK, Ireland, and Germany, and probably South Korea and Japan.

I'm generally amenable to "pay to play" solutions like the above. I want to see progress on the issue without putting #1 Chinese out of business. And now that I think about it, consumer education seems to work better with the cooperation of the target industry. If we can avoid lawsuits and regulation, of course we should--who needs more red ink for a problem that is correcting itself? Plus, legally, the "educated consumer" defense goes a long way with judges. No one can successfully sue MacDonald's for making them fat anymore, in part because it is generally assumed that only willfully stupid people don't know that MD's is high in fat and calories. (Oh, yeah, and because MD's successfully lobbied Congress in 2003 to outlaw suing them on such grounds; see what I mean?) Same deal with suing sex partners for contracted diseases (prior to the present administration's medieval "abstinence only" nonsense); it is assumed everyone knows at this point that unprotected sex puts people at substantially higher risk for STD's. At that point, we are talking liberty issues. You can't regulate away human stupidity; a certain percentage of people will always make knowingly poor choices. But when your national average sodium intake is 180% of what is considered healthy: a) everyone is ignorant; b)there is too much salt in most food; c)a combination of the two; or d) we're all low-key suicidal. That's not a handful of dimwits making bad choices.

And that's what I want, really. I want an educated consumer populace that, if it makes a dumb choice, does so by free election (and many still will) and with no one to blame. Like I hinted at earlier: if you don't know Fritos are bad for you, you probably live in a cave. But many people are not aware of how high in sodium most canned soups, restaurant meals, canned vegetables, hot dogs, deli meats, salad dressings, frozen dinners, pasta sauces, and condiments are. If they did, we could assume that, slowly to be sure, their behaviors would change, and their choices for their children (my original key concern) would grow wiser.

But that all said, I'd like to read the briefs and hear the arguments in this case. Can this group's facts and legal team successfully demonstrate that sodium in an inherently questionably safe substance that should be considered an additive and not an ingredient? I think they have a right to have that argument heard.

At February 27, 2005 8:07 PM, Blogger Dublin Saab said...

Well then it seems we are in a general agreement and can have our underlings work out the details.


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