Soda tax passes in Philadelphia — Who’s next in line?

sugary drinks

Forty times, city or state governments had proposed taxes on sugary soft drinks, failing each time. Then, in 2014, liberal Berkeley, Calif., passed such a tax, but most people saw it as an aberration. Several measures, including one in New York, never won much support.

But…a measure to tax sweetened drinks passed in Philadelphia, one of the country’s largest cities — and also one of its poorest. Indeed, raising revenue was the winning argument in Philadelphia.

Jim Kenney, the mayor, took a different tack from that of politicians who have tried and failed to pass sugary-drink taxes. He didn’t talk about the tax as a nanny-state measure designed to discourage sugar-saturated soft drinks. And he didn’t promise to earmark the proceeds for health programs. Instead, he cast the soft drink industry as a tantalizing revenue source that could be tapped to fund popular city programs, including universal prekindergarten…

The advocates who have pushed for the policy say the victory is a sign of growing public acceptance of soft drink taxes and presages more such measures around the country. Though city officials didn’t talk much about the health consequences of soda, experts said that sugary drinks’ increasingly bad reputation made it an appropriate political target.

Perish the thought Americans should support measures for better health. Mexico City succeeded recently using exactly that approach. Over a year later, purchases of sugary drinks are down 12% – and the tax wasn’t especially high.

Whatever. Good news is good news even when it’s subtle.

Arming your drone is legal according to the Feds

…The FAA is currently asking a court in Connecticut to compel Austin Haughwout, a teenager in Connecticut who put a gun and a flamethrower on his homemade drones, to comply with a subpoena that would give them more information about his armed drones. The FAA has not formally accused Haughwout of any wrongdoing.

Jim Williams, the former head of the FAA’s drone office between 2012 and mid 2015, told me that’s because it’s likely he hasn’t done anything wrong. In fact, while he was with the FAA, his team was unable to find any statute that would have allowed them to pursue a legal case against Haughwout or any other pilots who modify their drones to shoot guns…

In December 2015, the FAA’s Office of the Chief Counsel put out a fact sheet for state and local legislators that noted that “prohibitions on attaching firearms or similar weapons to UAS” are “laws [that] are traditionally related to state and local police power.” Williams says that Congress hasn’t given the FAA authorization to specifically prohibit armed drones

Anyone think Congress is up to useful legislation on armed anything?

Illegal abortions are killing women in developing countries and restrictions demanded by the USA make it worse

In developing countries, the maternal mortality rate is a staggering 239 per 100,000 women, with an estimated 303,000 women dying in 2015. One in 10 of all maternal deaths are caused by unsafe abortions; an estimated 20 million unsafe abortions are performed every year.

We know that providing access to legal terminations would stop women dying, but this remains an issue that provokes huge debate. Women who can’t access them legally still have abortions, but they have to pay bankrupting sums, often risking their lives.

Backstreet abortions are usually done in an unclean and unsafe environment. If they don’t kill women, they often put them in hospital with horrific complications, leaving them infertile, facing major abdominal surgery and enormous medical bills.

What is stopping women from accessing safe abortions? The first is restrictive laws in their own countries, which can extend to a ban…Ludicrously, this problem is compounded by the fact that countries with the most restrictive abortion laws often have the poorest family planning provision.

The second barrier is the tight regulation governing donor aid. The US has a ban on any of its funding being spent on terminations for women. The Helms amendment, a 43-year-old law, stipulates that abortions cannot be funded as a method of family planning. This means that no US foreign aid is spent on the provision of abortions or even advising or promoting abortion services for women. Recent headlines suggest that the US will not even allow its funds to be used to provide terminations for women who have been raped by Isis fighters…

We know that abortions, when performed legally, are cheap and safe. Yet the grim reality is that tens of thousands of women who die in the developing world each year from unsafe abortions do so because policymakers have decided their lives are not worth saving.

With changes in this policy, maternal mortality could be reduced for a low cost. The technology exists and is affordable. A misoprostol pill that induces an early stage abortion costs less than a dollar. This is not an issue of resources and funding, but a value judgment on what women may or may not do with their lives.

Another look back to the world of the Republican Party and the ideology of patriarchal religion held dear to the heart of 19th Century conservatives.

The United States still relies on a model generated by a religious bigot who hated equal rights for non-white Americans as much as he opposed reproductive rights for women. Jesse Helms was a racist thug kept in office beyond any reasonable function except to stand in opposition to the concept of equal opportunity for class after class of Americans. The Republican Party still honors his memory.