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LEVENTHAL: The Ineffective Paternalism of Soda Taxes

Attempts to control what consumers choose to consume are frequent, but taxing sugary drinks to push people to make healthier choices has been a more regular one. However, this paternalistic instinct has repeatedly failed to achieve its health goals. Instead, it imposes a regressive tax without improving people’s health and can even drive small grocery stores out of business.

More than 100 countries tax sugary drinks, which means for 51 percent of the world’s population, their soda is artificially more expensive. Despite it being a common practice, there is little evidence of health gains and strong evidence it hurts the local economy, especially lower-income households. Even in the face of limited benefits and large harms, many local governments in the United States have imposed sweetened beverage taxes. Even the World Health Organization recommends taxing sweetened drinks.

Like most “sin taxes,” soda taxes tend to fall on the poorest people the most heavily. Lower-income homes spend a larger proportion of their income on groceries, including sugary drinks. Thus, the tax takes a larger portion of their income. In 2015, came from households earning $50,000 or less annually. For reference, the average household income that year was $56,000. Close to half of the burden of a sugary drink tax would fall on the poorest consumers.

Philadelphia’s finance director acknowledged before it was passed that the soda tax would be regressive and hit poor neighborhoods the hardest.

Studies on the health effects of taxing sweetened drinks haven’t shown promising results. In Philadelphia, the reduction in consumption of sugary drinks was negligible. Instead of drinking less, people shopped somewhere else for soda to avoid the tax, drastically limiting its health effects. Mexico’s soda tax reduced calorie intake by less than 7 calories daily. The same effect happened in Denmark when it attempted to impose sin taxes on sugar, salt and fat. People started shopping in Germany and Sweden instead. Consumers are inevitably left with neighboring jurisdictions or other sweet drinks.

Soda taxes imposed on Philadelphia, Mexico and Denmark had unanticipated effects. In Philadelphia, the tax cost grocery stores $300,000 daily. According to one study, shoppers found it more convenient to buy their groceries in the neighboring communities while they were buying their soda, so sales of products other than sweetened drinks fell — but rose in neighboring communities. This cost Philadelphia 1,192 jobs, $80 million in economic output and $55 million in worker income. One grocery store owner blamed the tax for why it had gone out of business.

The effects in Mexico were more drastic. One estimate found that the tax forced 30,000 businesses to close, with 50,000 jobs lost, not including the soft drink industry itself and agricultural jobs that supported it. Denmark abolished its sugar, salt and fat tax because they lost 5,000 jobs due to it.

By 2019, sugar consumption in the United States consistently dropped from its peak in 1999. Consumers are already choosing to switch at the speeds that best meet their needs and desires. This trend is likely to continue as Gen Z consumers actively avoid sugar at just over twice the rate of Millennials. As consumers become more informed about the health risks of any activity, their behavior changes.

Instead of trying to control consumers, we should keep informing them of the health risks and healthier options they have, then let consumers continue to switch to less sugary drinks as best fits their lives.

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Fetterman’s ‘Borderline Incoherent’ Performance in Committee Hearing Raises Concerns

Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman’s stammering, unsteady delivery during a Senate Committee hearing — and media attempts to cover it up —  are raising questions once again about the Democrat’s ability to fulfill his duties, with one commentator labeling his performance “borderline incoherent.”

Fetterman was participating in a Senate Banking Committee hearing, where former Silicon Valley Bank CEO Gregory Becker was answering questions about his institution’s collapse.

According to The Washington Post’s Jeff Stein, Fetterman said at one point, “Shouldn’t you have a working requirement after we bail out your bank? Republicans seem to be more preoccupied with SNAP requirements for hungry people than protecting taxpayers that have to bail out these banks.”

But a video of Fetterman’s comments is transcribed as follows:

“Shouldn’t you have some kind of working required after we sail your bank us billions of your bank? Because you seem we were preoccupied, uh, when, uh, then SNAP us requirements for works for, uh, hungry people but not about pro, protecting the tax, tax papers you know that will bail them out of whatever does about a bank to crash it.”

Later in the hearing, Fetterman said to Becker, “Is. Is it staggering? Is it a staggering a, res, uh, responsibility that ju— that a head of a bank could literally, could literally crash our economy? It’s astonishing.”

Fetterman only recently returned to the U.S. Senate after spending six weeks at Walter Reed Military Medical Center being treated for clinical depression. The depression is believed to be a consequence of a major stroke Fetterman suffered during last year’s U.S. Senate race.

Trending Politics co-owner Collin Rugg called Fetterman’s remarks “the most painful 90 seconds you will watch all month.”

Fox News reporter Houston Keene wrote Fetterman was “borderline incoherent” during his remarks, claiming the senator “appeared to struggle through his opening statement.”

“We are told we are to salute him for his bravery,” said John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary magazine, “but if his aphasia is so severe he cannot speak… he obviously can’t perform his duties in the way that he should.”

Fetteman’s performance has been compared to that of fellow Democrat Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), the 89-year-old senator who has missed months of votes in the Senate due to extreme age and illness.

When asked about her absence, Feinstein told a writer with, “No, I haven’t been gone.”

When asked whether she meant that she’d been working from home, Feinstein responded, “No, I’ve been here. I’ve been voting,” she said. “Please. You either know or don’t know.”

Even progressives are now urging Feinstein to step down due to her inability to do her job.

“If you’re a Democratic senator and you’re not at least privately urging Feinstein to resign and urging Schumer and Durbin to take action, you have failed the people who sent you to Congress. You’re lying to yourselves that this is *okay*,” tweeted MSNBC Host Mehdi Hasan.

But elected Democrats in Congress are standing by Feinstein.

“I don’t have a medical degree, so I’m not going to comment on how she’s feeling or what she looks like,” said House Caucus Chair Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.), though he added, “We expect Senate Democrats to have our backs on some of these votes and discussions … I appreciate the fact that she’s back working and we wish her nothing but the best.”

Fetterman’s staff acknowledge Fetterman has problems, but they insist all is well.

“We have been clear for literally months and months that John continues to have auditory processing issues due to the effects of his stroke,” Fetterman spokesman Joe Calvello told Fox News.

“If sickos on the internet want to keep making fun of John for recovering from a health challenge, that’s between them and their consciences.”

Studies Show Chester County Healthiest, Wealthiest in PA

Looking for a healthy place to live?  Chester County may be it.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation deems Chester County the healthiest in the Commonwealth. And a survey conducted by U.S. News and World Report ranked Chester County’s life expectancy at 81 years, about four years above the national median.

The apparent promise of a healthy life may be a factor in Chester County’s continued population growth. Census data indicate that the county has continued to grow even as other Delaware Valley counties have lost residents.

Chester County Health Director Jeanne Franklin said the county is focused on “a multi-sector commitment to health and safety.”

“That’s at the county government level,” she said. “The number of topics we approach from a multi-sector perspective (varies) from human services to the (criminal justice system), drug and alcohol, health, and planning.

“We’re always working together to address a need, a gap, an opportunity, all angles, and it’s having an impact.”

The county promotes good health through its interactions with school districts, relationships with community leaders, and connections to the county’s nonprofit organizations. Franklin estimates there are some 3,500 nonprofits in the county.

The county has been successful in its efforts, she said, “because there’s such an integrated approach to many, many, many topics.”

Chester County is the wealthiest county in Pennsylvania. Americans in upper-income brackets theoretically have access to a better quality of health care.

But the county also includes a sizable population of migrant workers, a demographic that can skew poorer. Franklin emphasizes it’s important to meet their needs as well.

“In southern Chester County,” Franklin said, “we have a portion of the population that is migrant farm workers, or from other Spanish-speaking countries coming here to make a living, or to find the American dream, whatever that may be, or support their families.

“And they don’t know how to have a voice for themselves, being so new in the country. So even though we’d love for them to make those healthy decisions, they don’t know enough necessarily, and they don’t have a voice.

“So we rely on the non-government organizations that are already serving them and can speak on their behalf. They’re the boots on the ground that become the ears and the voice for pockets of the population that either can’t or won’t speak out.”

One such organization is the Kennett Library, which for decades has been serving immigrants with adult literacy programs. Since 1979 the program has assisted immigrants from 55 countries on five continents.

Amanda Murphy, the library’s marketing director, said the literacy program “means a lot” to the immigrant community.

“Not only are folks coming and getting an education or learning English, but they’re also getting their U.S. citizenship,” she said, “and they’re also finding a connection where they feel welcome, they feel accepted, and they are understood.

“We try our best to see that most of our important messaging is bilingual.”

Murphy notes that programs like the adult literacy effort enhance participants’ mental health and self-esteem.

“I don’t think that’s talked about enough and what that means,” she said. “I don’t think many people know what that’s like, to come to a place that is not your home. And you’re coming there with your good intentions. It’s a big life change, no matter what the transition or what someone’s story might be.”

Franklin said that since the start of the pandemic, county officials have become more attuned to mental health issues.

“People just outright lost their jobs,” she said. “After years of being productive, working individuals, they lost their jobs and realized they needed help obtaining food, shelter, etc. COVID-19 put mental health on our kitchen tables and forced us to talk about it.”

The county is paying attention to other health issues, including those affecting the school-age population.

Franklin said the goal is to encourage students to make informed and positive life choices.

“Instead of just talking about tobacco, we talk about healthy relationships, healthy decision making when you go off to college, or when you don’t get your first job that you apply for,” she said. “Encouraging them to be stronger growing adults. We have a very educated county, but it doesn’t come automatically.”

Franklin said the county’s effort is intended to promote both physical and mental health.

“It’s not all about the physical body,” she said. “It’s about educational attainment, the exposure to trauma, skill sets to maintain so you can keep a job.

“There are so many factors in health that are never about someone’s physical body. It’s about everything else around them.”


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Video of Fetterman’s Struggles in Senate Committee Goes Viral

The video of Pennsylvania U.S. Senator John Fetterman struggling to speak during a committee hearing went viral on Wednesday, once again raising questions about the first-term Democrat’s ability to do the job.

It was Fetterman’s first time to chair a Senate subcommittee, and his performance repeatedly revealed the lingering effects of the stroke he suffered while on the campaign trail last year.

“I call to this hearing of the U.S. Senate subcommittee and food and nutrition and specialty crops, organics and research, to order,” the Democrat said.

Fetterman spoke haltingly, struggling to pronounce simple words. He used a child-like, sing-song voice as he read pre-prepared questions to those giving testimony to the committee.


State Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-Franklin), who may be eyeing a run for the U.S. Senate in 2024, called the video “heartbreaking and difficult to watch.”

“Sadly, he has been unfit to serve since last May. Last year, he was unable to preside over the state Senate (as lieutenant governor) due to health reasons. Yet there is silence from the mainstream media, who would be daily demanding his resignation if he were a Republican.”

Fetterman was recently released after spending six weeks at Walter Reed Military Medical Center receiving treatment for severe depression. “My message right now isn’t political,” Fetterman said after his release. “I’m just somebody that’s suffering from depression.” Depression is a common after-effect of strokes, medical experts say.

His absence, coupled with the inability of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D- Calif.) to serve due to her age (she turns 90 in June) and health issues, denied Democrats a majority and brought work on several key committees to a halt.

Fetterman’s decision to remain in the 2022 Senate race despite his debilitation at the time generated criticism and questions. His poor performance in his one televised debate with Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz was widely viewed as a fiasco at the time. But Fetterman handily defeated his GOP opponent, possibly because of the large number of ballots that had already been mailed in.

The criticisms were revived when Fetterman was forced back into treatment soon after being sworn into the Senate.

Delaware County GOP Chairman Frank Agovino said that while he supports “compassion and resources” for the disabled, “Sen. Fetterman is over his head and current ability level. It’s not fair to him, and every day he serves in the U.S. Senate, we are a little less safe.”

Pat Poprik, Bucks County GOP Chairwoman said, “It is so sad to see him struggle to read prepared remarks like this. It appears that he is unfortunately still dealing with the effects of his stroke, and I believe it raises questions about his ability to effectively serve in the United States Senate.”

Political pundits immediately reacted to the new video.

Christine Flowers, who often writes for DVJournal, said, “The senator is clearly still suffering the effects from the debilitating stroke he experienced almost a year ago. Listening to him speak in a halting, stilted manner elicits sympathy for him as an individual, but deep concern for his ability to fulfill his duties as a public servant. It is also an example of just how much his supporters, including his family and support staff, lack candor, as well as respect for his constituents.”

Townhall’s Matt Vespa wrote that his speech troubles indicate Fetterman “cannot serve a full term.”

Hannah Nightingale at the Post Millennial reported the senator “struggl[ed] with his words” during the speech.

And longtime Trump ally Jenna Ellis put it bluntly: “Fetterman is not okay.”

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New Children First Report Paints Mixed Picture of Delco Kids’ Condition

It took Delaware County Council Chairwoman Monica Taylor Ph.D. a year to find childcare for her nearly 2-year-old-daughter.

“Last year we were on a waiting list for quite a while and she got in,” said Taylor. “We were going to start in September…And they had to close the baby room and the young toddler room because they did not have enough staff. And our daycare was not able to re-open that room. She did not get back into daycare until the end of May of this year.

“During that time we were on several other waiting lists and we were not able to get into any other daycare center,” said Taylor. She and her husband cobbled together childcare, relying on her mother, mother-in-law, other family members, and friends.

The problem is a dire shortage of childcare workers, according to Donna Cooper, Children First executive director, discussing the child advocacy organization’s new report about how Delaware County’s 123,94 children fared during the COVID-19 epidemic and its aftermath. There are 52 fewer childcare programs and 540 fewer staff members than before the pandemic.

Childcare workers typically make 23 percent less money than people employed in stores, such as Wawa, she said. And the lack of childcare is a factor keeping women from returning to the workforce.

The report found that while 1,900 adults succumbed to COVID in the county, no children there died of COVID. And many families took advantage of the federal child tax credit and other government funds so that more than 3,000 children were no longer in poverty. Some 29,000 Delaware County families received over $50 million because of the child tax credit.

However, many students fell behind or further behind in school, more are suffering from mental health issues such as suicide and anxiety, and fewer children are vaccinated against communicable diseases.

”Pennsylvania’s statewide Safe2Say hotline fielded more suicide-related calls from students across the state during COVID, yet the number of these calls from youth in Delaware County jumped by 43 percent,” the report said.

“The children faced extraordinary anxiety,” Cooper explained. The closure of the Crozer-Chester Health System left a big hole in mental health services, she said, “so entirely new networks have to be built in the county. Estimates are that 14,000 teenagers in Delaware County still are suffering from some remnants of the stress, the anxiety, and the isolation and depression that COVID imposed on their lives.”

Students in some school districts fared better than others, the report said. But some 38 percent of the kids were not testing at grade level before the pandemic.

“The higher a school district’s poverty level is, the more the kids were behind,” Cooper said. “As your poverty rate goes up your assessment score goes down. Not because the children aren’t smart enough. But they are the same school districts that have the least amount to spend per child, so they have swollen class sizes, they have less instructional support…We have a gap of $150,000 per classroom between Radnor and Upper Darby or between Radnor and William Penn.”

Schools that have the greatest risk of children falling behind are the schools that were closed the longest, she said.

“They were also the schools that had the least resources,” Cooper said.

Critics of the extended closed-classroom policies say these numbers add to the evidence that the approach taken by many public schools in Pennsylvania and across the U.S. was flawed. A report released earlier this year by the left-leaning Brookings Institute found nationwide “test-score gaps between students in low-poverty and high-poverty elementary schools grew by approximately 20 percent in math and 15 percent in reading primarily during the 2020-21 school year. Further, achievement tended to drop more between fall 2020 and 2021 than between fall 2019 and 2020, indicating that disruptions to learning have continued to negatively impact students well past the initial hits following the spring 2020 school closures.”

The Delaware County report recommends the county prepare for a future public health emergency by having a person whose job is to think about kids and to create a manual of lessons learned from the COVID pandemic. County districts received substantial federal support in pandemic funding and the state also put $1.1 billion toward education this year, according to Cooper. But they need to do more to make sure the kids caught up.

To make sure there is not a spike in poverty, the Senate needs to reapprove the child tax credit, she said.

Upper Darby High School student Tanveer Kaur said many of her friends had trouble with mental health problems. She joined a support and affinity group at her school and also volunteers as an assistant teacher at one of the elementary schools.

Those students have “missed out on crucial learning blocks that build up,” Kaur said. “And that missing of crucial education has really impacted them.”

“Because class sizes are so big even at the elementary level, it’s hard to have that one-on-one time,” Kaur said, even with two adults and a teenager in the classroom.

Seda Gok, a middle school counselor in the William Penn School District, said she supported students online during the pandemic. They felt isolated, had trouble with the virtual curriculum, and were falling behind, leading to anxiety. Some students were helping younger siblings with their schoolwork. And they worried about their parents getting sick.

“Now we’re in our first semi-normal school year…They’re so behind now. They’re just now starting to play catch-up. There was that anxiety of (taking the) PSSAs (standardized tests) that was a big concern, too.”

She said it was hard for them to learn math in virtual learning.

The students need access to more mental health support staff, she said. She is responsible for 355 8th grade students “so it’s really hard to give each student that time.”

There are also “huge waiting lists” to see an outside therapist.

While William Penn has 25 to 30 students in a class, for kids to need remedial help, class sizes should be no more than 17 to 30 percent, said Cooper.


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FLOWERS: Telling the Truth About Fetterman’s Health Isn’t A Partisan Attack

Before he became president, John F. Kennedy was a U.S. senator from Massachusetts, serving despite his debilitating chronic back pain and suffering from Addison’s disease. JFK still got the job done, well enough to become president of the United States.

And to paraphrase the late Texas Sen. Lloyd Benson, “Lt. Gov. Fetterman, you’re no JFK.”

A politician can serve despite struggling with health conditions. Ronald Reagan was called The Great Communicator, and yet by most credible accounts, he was already in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease by the end of his second term. Franklin Roosevelt’s polio, while not a complete secret from the public, was cleverly hidden from view during his dozen years in office with the tacit complicity of the news media who rarely photographed or filmed him sitting in a wheelchair.

John Fetterman differs from them in some important ways. The most important is this: FDR, JFK, and Reagan were all elected while still in good health (at least as far as the public knew). The former mayor of Braddock is asking voters to give him their trust despite an illness that he acknowledges is impacting his mental acuity, an illness we, the people, can see impacting him right now.

It’s not a political attack or personal criticism to acknowledge a fact: Democrats have nominated a man to hold one of our two U.S. Senate seats who barely survived a near-death experience less than five months ago.

I find the attempts of his campaign and supporters to cover for his health unforgivable for several reasons.

First, and most importantly, voters deserve a full explanation of his current medical condition, not the rosy press releases regurgitated about how he’s “improving.” I’ll readily admit I’m not a doctor and I won’t play one on TV (or the interwebs). But you don’t need to be Dr. House — or even Dr. Phil — to wince as Fetterman fumbles for his words, appearing detached and disconnected, looking confused when asked questions and moving more slowly than the average man his age.

One of my friends, a nurse with decades in rehabilitative care, told me that while she obviously hadn’t examined Fetterman and doesn’t know the specifics of his stroke, “In general, I know that once someone has a stroke, the risk of having a second significantly increases.”

How will this impact Fetterman’s ability to represent Pennsylvania? To represent us? Fetterman attacks his opponent for being “from NJ;” but if given the choice, I think most of us would prefer a healthy Jersey boy to an impaired native son.

Another issue is the callousness of Fetterman’s team. They (and he) seem to be so focused on winning that they’re putting political ambitions ahead of his family obligations as a husband and a father to young children.

He’s ill. It’s obvious. And it’s inconceivable to me that the people who are supposed to care about him would allow him to push forward under those conditions.

As I wrote on Facebook, “I can’t stand the man and I have compassion. No one on the left will believe this, but it’s not purely about politics. Put in Conor Lamb, he could be a formidable Oz opponent. This is about simple human decency. The man is sick. Is the left selling its soul for a Senate win? Is that what matters? They could still win honorably, with a healthy candidate.”

Despite what some on the left are saying, it is not below the belt to question Fetterman’s health. It is legitimate. It is also compassionate. The physical and mental abilities of Pennsylvania’s junior senator must be at the highest levels.

We deserve competence. John Fetterman deserves attention. I’m glad that, slowly, people are coming to that realization.

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Chester County Named One of the Healthiest in U.S.

From a press release

Chester County has been recognized as one of the 500 healthiest counties in the nation by U.S. News & World Report in collaboration with CVS Health.  Chester County ranks number 92 overall, based on 10 categories that drive community health, and is a top county in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  There are more than 3,000 counties and county equivalents across America.

This accolade follows news in April of Chester County’s number-one health ranking in Pennsylvania as determined by the University of Wisconsin and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation County Health Ranking report.

Commenting on the U.S. News & World Report national health ranking, Chester County Commissioners’ Chair Marian Moskowitz said, “This additional health recognition demonstrates that Chester County is a community ahead of the curve.

“The commitment of our Health Department leadership and staff, our healthcare providers, hospitals, clinics, social service-related non-profit organizations, and our environmental stewardship and recreational resources all add up.  They are partnerships that reap so many benefits for our residents, and I thank them all for their contributions,” said Commissioner Moskowitz.

Chester County also ranked in the Top 100 High Performing Urban Communities nationwide, scoring in the top 10 percent in the “Economy” category.

Chester County Commissioner Josh Maxwell noted, “We understand how important it is to review all the conditions that impact the well-being of our residents – from treatment and prevention of, and education on physical and mental health issues, to the impact of jobs, housing, schooling, transportation, and exercise.

“This ranking indicates that we’re doing many things right, and much of this is down to our community partners. We will continue to work with those partners to address the areas where we know we can improve,” added Commissioner Maxwell.

Healthiest Communities is an interactive platform developed by U.S. News & World Report, in collaboration with CVS Health. Accompanied by news, analysis and in-depth reporting, the platform features rankings drawn from an examination of nearly 3,000 counties and county equivalents on 89 health and health-related metrics in 10 categories. Population health and equity are the most highly weighted factors in the methodology, followed closely by education and economy. Data were gathered and analyzed by the University of Missouri Extension Center for Applied Research and Engagement Systems (CARES).

Separate from the rankings, the site offers COVID-19 tracking tools that report case numbers, death rates, unemployment rates, vaccine data and more. These tools complement the rankings data to reveal multiple correlations between the coronavirus pandemic and community health.

“Chester County’s inclusion in this nationwide study is no coincidence,” said Chester County Commissioner Michelle Kichline.

“For years, we have focused on, and invested in the health and safety of our residents, taking into account physical, emotional, mental and environmental health needs.  We were one of the first counties in the Commonwealth to fund our own health department, which, especially over the past two years, has proved to be very valuable.”

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