The Unsweetened Truth
With the aim of reducing childhood obesity, first lady Michelle Obama is working to ensure that sugary drinks are no longer served or sold in schools. Such beverages (whether sweetened with sucrose, glucose or high-fructose corn syrup) may not be addictive and when consumed sparingly pose few health risks. But despite an abundance of no-calorie alternatives, including flavored waters, Americans choose sugary drinks as their single major source of calories (7 percent of total daily calories for adults, up to 10 percent for children and teenagers). These beverages contribute to two dangerous and expensive national health problems: childhood obesity and diabetes.
In theory, government intervention should not be necessary. Parental guidance could have prevented this problem and could still solve it. But parents, forced to compete with producers and advertisers that market sweetened drinks to children, no longer hold sway. Nor have parents or public health advocates organized effectively to demand that producers reduce the sugars per serving or stop marketing to kids. Michelle Obama’s leadership might ignite such actions.
Meanwhile, the rates of obesity and diabetes among children are rising. With the health of the nation at stake and the escalating costs of health care borne by all taxpayers, government should intervene now by taxing sugary drinks. Though it would not single-handedly solve either problem, a tax would make parents and teenagers aware of what they eat and drink, and it would cause a decline in consumption. Some reduction of childhood obesity and diabetes would inevitably follow. The tax could be revisited in 10 years and its effects examined scientifically. Such a tax could deliver enormous benefits to society at minimal cost. And the billions the tax would raise should be spent solely on health care for children.
Turtles at Risk
Marine turtles around the world are facing extinction. Half a dozen species are listed as endangered. The situation is especially grim in the Pacific, where the number of leatherbacks is diminishing. The same is true of the green turtle in the Caribbean. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora lists endangered turtle species, and international trade in them is forbidden in the 166 member countries. Nevertheless, illicit trade in marine turtles is rampant. Fishing fleets take a further toll, trapping turtles in their nets, where they drown.
In some regions, though, conservation efforts have paid off. In the Gulf of Mexico, three decades of efforts have led to a slow comeback of the ridley turtle. While no easy solution exists, greater efforts to halt illegal trade in turtles through Traffic, the monitoring arm of the Wildlife Fund and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, would be at least a move in the right direction. The danger of extinction confronting turtles threatens many other species as well, including birds, plants and land-based animals like leopards. With human activities playing a larger and larger role in once isolated areas of sea and land, protections for threatened species are more needed than ever.
Swift-Boating the Church?
A small but vocal contingent of Catholic conservatives are calling for a “tea party” style revolution within the church in an effort to root out the dissent they see lurking within the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. The insertion of hyperpartisan, “Swift boat” style politics into an internal church dialogue that should be characterized by mutual respect and charity is probably the last thing the already discordant church in the United States needs.
In recent weeks a campaign of insinuation and guilt by association has been directed at the leadership of the U.S.C.C.B. and the Catholic Campaign. Hostility to the C.C.H.D.’s agenda has been longstanding within certain Catholic circles. What is new about these Web-based assaults is the attacks on specific individuals on the U.S.C.C.B. staff and the complete absorption of secular society’s noxious style of political mudslinging as a legitimate form of criticism within the church.
The ultimate goal of these attacks appears to be to discredit or intimidate employees perceived to be “liberal” Catholics; abortion has proved a handy rhetorical cudgel. Many actors in this drama appear intent on twisting clear church teaching on prudential judgment with an eye on the next election cycle. The irony is that the organizations leading the assault on the bishops’ staff are attacking the very people who have contributed the most to the pro-life cause in recent months with their efforts on behalf of the Stupak amendment in the health care reform negotiations.
The toxic quality of the nation’s political partisanship is clear in the gridlock it promotes, a source of frustration for all sides. Partisan bickering is a poor model for Christian interrelations from either a practical or spiritual perspective. If our faith does not require us to treat each other with basic civility and kindness, then what is it good for?