CSPI knows what you really want

By Laura Hamilton

Wednesday, Michael Jacobson, director of the Center for Senseless Policy Ideas (CSPI), released a victory statement following the conclusion of contra-soda litigation. Apparently Jacobson, the CSPI, and their pack of plaintiff-lawyer friends succeeded in cowing soda manufacturers into removing caloric sodas from school vending machines. Worse, they did it in the name of the public.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest is really somewhat unfortunately named. It does not do science, and what it does (brilliant litigation, apparently) is hardly in the public interest. Perhaps it should be renamed the “Center”? Or if that’s not specific enough, the “Center for Suing People on Behalf of the Innocents”? John Edwards and his attractive hair could have a board position.

In his victory release, Jacobson declared, “Soft drink companies have been using schools to market empty-calorie beverages to children, a practice that many parents and nutritionists have deplored.” Theft, fraud, bribery, bunny-torture…these things are deplorable. Lying and swearing, maybe, running with scissors, possibly, but soda?

At any rate, Jacobson boasts that the plan—which is supposed to counter childhood obesity—includes decreasing the serving size and capping calories of sugary drinks. I’m assuming price will be held constant, though if they were to halve both the serving size and the price-per-serving simultaneously, it would be a win-win solution.

Fun with math aside, the CSPI statement is truly ominous. (Like Griswold v. Connecticut, it is not the immediate result but rather the sweeping language that is so dangerous.) “This voluntary agreement is certainly good enough that CSPI will drop its planned lawsuit against Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Cadbury Schweppes, and their bottlers” (emphasis mine).

Have we become so accustomed to Orwellian double-talk that levying a lawsuit against a company and making various threats for half a year constitutes a “voluntary agreement”?

After the obligatory plug for the “Heideman, Nudelman & Kalik law firm in Washington,” Jacobson ominously concludes that this victory demonstrates that “the judicial system can play an important role in spurring public health advances.”

This is an important concept. In the event that the legislative branch and the executive branch—that is, the sections of government that represent the public—fail to spur public health advances, it’s up to a handful of appointed-for-life judges to play the important role of suing the public.

In 1949, Orwell tried to warn us about “for your own good” laws with his 1984. I am hardly the first person to repeat his warning. However, I feel our cries are muffled by the clamor of the righteous. Are liberals too caught up in the momentum of the movement, victory after victory, “advance” after “advance,” that they will forget to stop?

I harbor the hope that there will be a point at which liberals will halt, reevaluate, and say, “Maybe we cannot trust the public to choose what to eat, what to drink, whether to smoke, or whether to employ trained professionals for the birthing of babies or the removal of brain tumors, but there do exist choices which the public ought to be able to make.”

Is it too much to ask that this occur after all the trial lawyers have finished bankrupting each other?