Thursday, May 19, 2011

Missing the Target

1 - (ad absurdum) Where in the Constitution does it say the federal government should have a working bathroom in the Capitol Building? It doesn't. Where in the Constitution does it say the federal government should make use of electricity? It doesn't. Where in the Constitution does it say the federal government should do ANYTHING with the internet? It doesn't. There many things not mentioned by name in the Constitution that are perfectly legitimate because they fall under the principles enumerated in it.

2 - (missing the point) From a debating standpoint, the fact that she argues against regulating potatoes without questioning the existing of a system of federal schooling, she yields the point. From a Tea Party/Libertarian standpoint, it's missing the point completely. When, for the sake of a silly but illustrative example, Mr. Banks tells Mary Poppins that the outings she has taken the children on "have little use, fulfill no basic need," he surrenders the point of their reality, tacitly admitting that it is possible that the children have been "popping in and out of chalk pavement pictures, consorting with race horse persons," and "having tea parties on the ceiling."

3 - (she's also wrong) In our current system, whose validity she has surrendered, the school system is run by the federal government and our food system is heavily reliant on interstate commerce. As such, I actually have very little problem believing that school lunches fall under a reasonable interpretation of the interstate commerce. They could even mandate that all school lunches be sourced locally, which would have so blatantly much to do with interstate commerce (specifically, forbidding it) that I doubt any conservative who thought about it could argue against it on Constitutional grounds anyway.

Yglesias, who points me to this, attacks it on very different grounds, mostly attacking self-serving right-wing politicians who suffer from two problems:
Obviously the federal government has the authority to specify for what purposes federal grant money can be used. Obviously. How else could it work? The other is the tendency to regard any existing profit stream as a form of property. Banks are entitled to their federal subsidies to offer student loans. For-profit colleges are entitled to their own student loan subsidy stream. Health care providers are entitled to unlimited wasteful spending at federal expense. Potato growers are entitled to their school lunch money.
The thing is (counter Yglesias), this isn't just regulating the use of federal grant money for the federal school lunch program. It also regulates what private citizens (students) are allowed to purchase at a federal building (school) by limiting students to 0 potatoes at breakfast and 1 cup per lunch per week. More specifically, "Under the USDA proposal, school cafeterias would have to limit starchy vegetables such as potatoes, corn, peas and lima beans to a total of one cup per week for lunch."

Notice that we are not mobilizing to protect corn, peas, or lima beans. I am quite surprised at the lack of outrage about removing corn because of the political strength of King Corn. I am mildly surprised that the people arguing that potatoes are healthy are ignoring the benefits of corn and peas. I am not at all surprised that they are arguing this will shut down potato bars and not that it threatens our national supply tater tots, french fries, and other good sources of partially-hydrogenated vegetable oil (also known as trans fats). The fact is, if students are limited to one cup a week, it will be dipped in fat unless the regulation makes a specific loophole preferring potato bars and whole corn to anything fried or processed. I think that would be a very reasonable compromise that would do more to support the notion of potatoes as "gateway vegetables."

Other interesting commentary from the article below the fold.

Last year, the government said participants in the USDA's program for low-income pregnant women and their children [WIC] couldn't use federal money to buy white potatoes. The Institute of Medicine, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, made the recommendation, arguing most people already eat enough potatoes and should be encouraged to eat other vegetables.
Please notice the comparison to the effort to change SNAP requirements on buying sugared sodas.
The white potato was the only veggie excluded ..."Potatoes are really nutritious," says Heidi Kessler, school nutrition project manager for Let's Go!, a Portland, Maine, childhood-obesity prevention program that encourages schools to eliminate fries or serve them once a week. "It's the preparation that causes the problem."
Indeed, much is heaped on the potato. At the annual Eastern State Exposition last fall, the state-run "Maine Building" served up 47 tons of baked potatoes, smothered with 10,500 pounds of sour cream, 8,040 pounds of cheddar cheese, 4,670 pounds of butter and 560 pounds of bacon bits over 17 days. 

1 comment:

  1. My father comments: "The question she raises is whether or not we have a limited government. If you believe that the government has only limited powers (the powers specifically enumerated) then you end up questioning the constitutionality of many items. If you believe the government is limited only by the proscriptions in the constitution (thou shalt not abridge freedom of religion), then you believe the government has much broader authority. You may find justification for regulating potatoes under the authority to regulate interstate commerce. You have a more difficult time with the school lunches, unless that is part of the power to spend money (if a state wants our money, it comes with our strings)."