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Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

Medical Marijuana & The Justice Department

Perhaps someone in the Justice Department read our article Drug Prohibition Is A Failure. Perhaps a bit of pragmatism is at work since as more states establish laws permitting the use of marijuana for medical purposes the Justice Department has to use increasingly limited resources without the help and cooperation of local law enforcement agencies.

“It will not be a priority to use federal resources to prosecute patients with serious illnesses or their caregivers who are complying with state laws on medical marijuana,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a statement accompanying the memo. “But we will not tolerate drug traffickers who hide behind claims of compliance with state law to mask activities that are clearly illegal.”

The Attorney General seems to still be confused on an important fact born out by this unfolding drama:

In emphasizing that it would continue to pursue those who use the concept of medical marijuana as a ruse, the department said, “Marijuana distribution in the United States remains the single largest source of revenue for the Mexican cartels.” Going after the makers and sellers of illegal drugs, including marijuana, will remain a “core priority.”

It is a fact that the single greatest destructive force on the profits from the sale of marijuana lining the pockets of Mexican drug cartels are the mom and pop operation now in business in 14 states. If something as simple as decriminalization for medical purposes can have such a profound impact on such a reliable source of profit for murderously violent criminal gangs, it stands to reason that full nationwide legalization of would eliminate marijuana as a source of income entirely.

Current small operation in states with medical marijuana laws have increased the nationwide supply of marijuana which is both high quality and cheap. Since the overall scale of operations is still small, Mexican drug cartels take advantage of breaks in crop cycles when supplies are low to flood the market with their product. Such lulls would not exist if marijuana was grown in a large scale corporate fashion, the way we do with other crops, like wheat and corn.

There is another factor at work here. Many states are now facing tremendous amounts of debt coming due at a time when the economy is depressed and tax receipts are at an all time low. Although prohibition has proven to be a failure, full legalization has not yet happened because states have had a perverse incentive to continue fighting this futile war. Congress allocates money to the states based on their efforts in combating illegal drug use. If those funds were to dry up because of the bad economy, states desperate for revenue may do the one thing they have been fighting so hard against – legalize it and tax it.

Here is a list of the states which have laws permitting marijuana for medical purposes:

  1. Alaska
  2. California
  3. Colorado
  4. Hawaii
  5. Maine
  6. Maryland
  7. Michigan
  8. Montana
  9. Nevada
  10. New Mexico
  11. Oregon
  12. Rhode Island
  13. Vermont
  14. Washington

This story is far from over. A memorandum is a suggestion, nothing more, and prosecutors ultimately have discretion over which cases they choose to take on. Prosecutorial misconduct along with laws which make everyone a felon is the real problem. Someone should write a book about it or something.

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There are many sad tales appearing on the internet which present people who are angry because they feel mistreated by their insurance company. Those personal anecdotes are designed to raise an individual’s ire and natural desire to do something about it. The reader may notice that conveniently attached to such stories are mentions of a solution to the problem: healthcare reform as being debated into law by Congress.

The setup seems almost too easy. David, the little man (or woman, or child, or family) gets beaten on by a Goliath (big insurance company) who treats them as mere numbers in a soulless quest for ever increasing profit, only to have Congress and others swoop in to save the day. Someone should create a comic book about that story because it would be entertaining – and fictional.

Yes, we are cynical and skeptical at heart and are willing to wager that many of our readers who come across such saccharine tales of heartache also immediately think “what are they selling?“. Being cynical and skeptical to a degree one notch below annoying is a trait commonly found in scientists because it is an important part of the scientific process. Not all of you are like that (yet), so for those of you who are new to all this, buckle up and hang on for an interesting ride.

Why would insurance companies do silly things, like deny coverage to an unusually heavy baby, if the bad publicity is so damaging to their reputation?

The answer is because insurance companies use statistical tables to make decisions, and anyone caught at the tail end will have a rough time. Here is the most interesting quote from the story of baby Alex Lange:

The frustrated parents said their child was the odd infant out in a cruel numbers game. A chart by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention used by insurers puts Alex in the 99th percentile for weight and height for babies his age.

The BMI chart is an example of flawed statistics being used, but it is also not entirely inaccurate for a population wide assessment. In general, someone who has a BMI above 30 is far more likely to be unhealthy than to be an athlete. The problem is for those in the middle, in between normal and obese, who are merely considered overweight.

One flaw in the system is that while most people in the obese range are unhealthy, the same cannot be said for those in the overweight range. Pay close attention the next time you are at the park or the gym to those chunky guys who can outrun you. In fact, someone with low body fat who is athletic in that range between casual Frisbee player and professional athlete can often be classified as overweight.

Insurance companies can get away with using the BMI to classify people into broad categories, which then affects their premiums or if they are eligible for insurance at all because the government continues to use it, even though it is flawed. According to the CDC:

BMI is a fairly reliable indicator of body fatness for most people.

If the BMI chart is based on an illogical formula concocted over 200 years ago and can only give a general assessment of obesity in a population while failing on an individual level, why is it still in use by the government?

The answer is because government loves to create problems for which it is the solution. Pay close attention to what is happening here because this is a pattern that repeats over and over again.

First, the CDC called more than one million people between 2006 and 2008 and collected their information. The fact that the data are suspect because people routinely lie about their height and weight should be obvious even to a non-scientist. Second, after the data was gathered and processed, a conclusion was reached:

Experts believe there are several reasons for the differences. People with lower incomes often have less access to medical care, exercise facilities and more expensive, healthier food. In many places, minorities are disproportionately poor.

“Poverty is a very strong driver of obesity,” said Kelly Brownell, director of Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity

The differences being referred to are the differences between the African-American communities and other communities in terms of obesity. We already know the reason for those differences, and it is the reason the BMI chart is racist. So, where does that conclusion lead to?

The only way to deal with our “obesity epidemic” is to address the “poverty epidemic” — of course, as measured by yet another government psuedo-science statistic called the “poverty line”. And how do we deal with that? You guessed it, create more entitlement programs, programs to be run by the very same government that is funding the study, a study based on a statistical measure that is meaningless, where the statistics are unreliable and unverifiable but all point to the same convenient conclusion — the government needs more of your money.

And the media will now happily play along, running b-roll footage of some fat dude at Disney shoving ice cream in his pie hole or a fat mother and her fat kids waddling along through Frontierland, their butts bouncing up and down, as they stroll through the theme park in too-tight shorts and too-short t-shirts.

Laugh if you want but this is the same government that wants to ration your health care. Guess what? Fat people move to the back of the line under such a government-run health care system. Still laughing?

Although baby Alex Lange’s story inspires outrage, it is the insurance company taking all the heat, rather than the government. If the government banned the use of the BMI chart because of its flaws the insurance companies would be forced to evaluate everyone on an individual basis leading to fairer premiums. Individualized healthcare is one result of a market based system because a fair market needs to distinguish between a healthy 200 lb. person and a 200 lb. couch potato. Currently, they are both considered equally risky to insure and such a system does not foster individual responsibility.

People are even angrier today according to newspapers because a report which concluded that the healthcare reform bill recently approved by the senate finance committee would end up costing everyone more money is false – at least according to certain members of Congress and economist from MIT.

After an insurance industry report said that premiums would rise sharply with the passage of comprehensive health care legislation, Jon Gruber, a health care economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said he evaluated the report Monday at the request of Senate Democrats and found it deeply flawed.

Coming from a prestigious academic institution does not guarantee that Jon Gruber is telling the truth but it does lend him a lot of credibility, so he will be taken seriously. We are skeptics and our site is geared towards teaching non-scientists, so how can a non-expert determine if someone with fancy credentials is telling the truth when what they are saying goes against logic and common sense?

In this instance the answer is amazingly simple.

Mr. Gruber, who helped Massachusetts with its effort to provide universal health insurance coverage, said that the industry report failed to take into account administrative overhead costs that he said will “fall enormously” once insurance polices are sold through new government-regulated marketplaces, or exchanges.

We need to examine the situation in Massachusetts since they implemented universal health insurance in a way very similar to the proposals in the Baucus bill. Depending on how the situation turned out, it will either serve as a model for the current bills in Congress or a dire warning against them and will establish the reader establish Mr. Gruber’s real level of credibility.

The Wall Street Journal talks about the situation in Massachusetts (and other states, so go read the whole thing):

Guaranteed issue alone, the argument goes, results in slightly more expensive premiums, which drives healthier individuals out of the risk pool, which in turn further drives up premiums. The end result is that many healthy people opt out, leaving a small pool of sick individuals with very high premiums. An individual mandate, however, would spread those premium costs across a larger, healthier population, thus keeping premium costs down.

The experience of Massachusetts, which implemented an individual mandate in 2007, suggests otherwise. Health-insurance premiums in the Bay State have risen significantly faster than the national average, according to the Commonwealth Fund, a nonprofit health foundation. At an average of $13,788, the state’s family plans are now the nation’s most expensive. Meanwhile, insurance companies are planning additional double-digit hikes, “prompting many employers to reduce benefits and shift additional costs to workers” according to the Boston Globe.

And health-care costs have continued to grow rapidly. According to a Rand Corporation study this year, the growth now exceeds state GDP by 8%. The Boston Globe recently reported that state health-insurance commissioners are now worried that medical spending could push both employers and patients into bankruptcy, and may even threaten the system’s continued existence.

That certainly paints a cheery picture. There is more wonderful news from The Boston Globe:

The state’s major health insurers plan to raise premiums by about 10 percent next year, prompting many employers to reduce benefits and shift additional costs to workers.

Increases will range from 7 to 12 percent, capping a decade of consecutive double-digit premium increases, according to a Globe survey of the state’s top health insurers. Actual rates for 2010 will depend on the size of the employer and the type of coverage, with small businesses and individuals expected to be hit hardest. Overall, premiums are more than twice as high as they were 10 years ago.

The higher insurance costs undermine a key tenet of the state’s landmark health care law passed two years ago, as well as President Obama’s effort to overhaul health care. In addition to mandating insurance for most residents, the Massachusetts bill sought to rein in health care costs.

The failure of the Massachusetts system is far from hidden. Who is Jon Gruber hoping to fool by flashing his academic pedigree? Is the general population reading the news so incapable of examining the issues in any depth such that Mr. Gruber can brag about the wonderful state of universal health insurance in Massachusetts without the rubes bothering to check and see how things actually turned out?

Many newspapers and other outlets reporting on this situation are in favor of universal healthcare becoming law, damn the facts, and so reports on the subject tend to be biased by omission of key details which would entirely change the outcome of the story. The real anger is by citizens who are frustrated at being ignored by their elected officials and maligned by some members of the media.

When a layperson expounds about a subject in a way that it is clear they are out of their depth, we excuse the ignorance or quickly sniff out the agenda. However, we must hang our heads in shame when a fellow scientist abuses their position of trust and respect to mislead the general public. Jonathan Gruber’s motivation for lying is not important, simply because such lying is unacceptable. Studying science is about shedding light on the world’s mysteries, and so we have fulfilled our responsibility by illuminating this situation with sunlight, the best disinfectant.

Exit question: What are you going to do about it?

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UPDATE: See below, at the end of the article.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Senate finance committee has approved a healthcare reform bill today.

The vote was 14-9, with Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine the only Republican to join the 13 Democrats on the panel. Ms. Snowe indicated earlier in the day that she would support the measure.

The Senate Finance panel, led by Chairman Max Baucus, becomes the last of five congressional panels to act on a health-overhaul bill, and it marks the biggest step forward yet for President Barack Obama’s top domestic priority. The Baucus-proposed 10-year, $829 billion plan would require all Americans to purchase insurance and aims to hold down spiraling medical costs over the long term.

The legislation that passed the other House and Senate committees did so without a single Republican vote.

Unfortunately for Congress, a non-partisan report has come to the conclusion that costs will go up if the proposed legislation is made into law.

On Monday, insurers ratcheted up concerns about the sweeping Finance Commitee bill. A report released Monday by America’s Health Insurance Plans, an industry trade group, said the Finance bill would impose stiff costs on consumers. Among other things, the report said a family health-insurance policy that costs $12,300 today would increase to $25,900 on average by 2019 under the bill, more than under current law.

The analysis in the report was conducted by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, certainly not a slacker, no-name entity without a reputation for accuracy on the line. Even though they did not release the underlying statistical data with the report, it does not take an advanced degree to understand the logical problems inherent in the bill’s design.

PWC is stating the issue politely, to say the least. What is meant by a “weak mandate” is that, in the current version of the Baucus bill, there is no requirement to buy health insurance at all until after 2013, and by 2017 the penalty for failing to buy health insurance still amounts to only about 15% of the cost of the insurance. Now, think about it: if you know that you don’t have to buy health insurance when you are young and healthy, but if you should get sick, or just get older, you can apply for health insurance at any time and it will be illegal for the insurance company to turn you down, what would you do? Obviously, you would defer buying insurance unless and until you get sick. This means that the pool of those who are insured will be lower quality, and the cost therefore higher for everyone who buys insurance. It is as though you could wait until you die, and then your heirs can buy life insurance on you.

This isn’t reform, it is stupidity.

Trying to force everyone to have health insurance in the manner proposed by this bill may technically solve the problem of millions of Americans being uninsured. It is also logically impossible to do so without lowering quality, increasing costs, or both.

Some people are skeptical, so we will present a current example to prove the point. In this case we will examine the healthcare system in Massachusetts.

So let’s look at the closest model we have for this system in the United States:  the state of Massachusetts.  Massachusetts has all the goodies in the Baucus bill:  subsidies, guaranteed issue, community rating, an individual mandate, and employer penalties.  Indeed, the Massachusetts program is probably to the left of where we’re going to end up, on things like empowering the exchanges to negotiate with insurance companies and the size of the penalties for failing to procure insurance, two measures which are supposed to be critical for holding costs down.

Instead, costs have exploded.

Go take a look, they have a few charts up and detailed analysis of the cost increases. This whole sordid affair raises plenty of good questions:

So I’ll turn it around on reformers:  why do you think that we can control costs, given that we couldn’t at the state level?  Massachusetts is a very liberal state, a very rich state, and it started out with a relatively low proportion of its citizenry uninsured.  Proponents of reform often say it has to be done at a national level because states can’t borrow money in downturns, but this doesn’t explain why the spending side is headed through the roof.

Some people would say that Congress is choosing the complicated and expensive way versus the simple and cheap way because the former presents opportunities for graft, unlike the latter. Here is one such simple reform idea:

All we have to do is allow insurance companies to compete nationally instead of state-by-state and eliminate all mandates that limit consumer choice. It has been estimated that these simple reforms–which are not part of any of the Democrats’ “reform” bills, for obvious reasons–would reduce health care costs by one-quarter to one-third. Instead of such common-sense reforms, the Dems are proposing Rube Goldberg measures that will make health care more expensive. Instead of eliminating mandates, their measures, including the Baucus bill, increase them–in effect making cheaper health insurance illegal.Once more: this isn’t reform, it is stupidity.

Thanks to the power of the internet you can now fax senators about the healthcare reform bill and let them know what you think. Now is a great time to let your voice be heard.

It’s important that this blast fax campaign reaches every citizen who is opposed to this irresponsible legislation, especially in the states of MT, IN, AK, CO, PA, ND, NC, SD, AR, FL, PA, VA, MO, UT, IA, NH, ME and OH. Our best chance to stop this government healthcare takeover is to let our legislators know, whether they are home or in Washington, we are watching closely.

The Washington Examiner has an interesting two part op-ed discussing The Truth About The Baucus Bill (Part one, part two):

There is another reason why the CBO’s preliminary analysis should be taken with a grain of salt, though this one wasn’t mentioned in the report. Whatever the content of the Baucus bill once it is voted out of the finance committee, it will disappear into a legislative black hole as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and their key aides do what they did on the economic stimulus package back in February — huddle together behind closed doors to write the final bill, which will then be presented as a fait accompli in the form of a conference report.

Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) clearly shows that the bill being brought forth is strange because there are good ideas for reform being ignored. He also lays to rest the popular misconception that there are no good ideas for healthcare reform being suggested other than what is present in the current bill:

There are many bipartisan ideas that would actually cut health care costs, like medical liability reform, allowing employees to keep their insurance when they switch jobs, standardizing health information technology, and allowing consumers to purchase insurance across state lines.  In Minnesota, we’ve passed reforms that made price and quality more transparent for patients, moving the health care system towards paying for and achieving better health care outcomes, and empowering patients themselves to help drive down costs.

You can read here how Governor Pawlenty is implementing those ideas for healthcare reform right now in Minnesota. Although we are proud of Governor Pawlenty putting his money where his mouth is on healthcare reform, we are not comfortable with him promoting creationism in public schools.

MR. BROKAW: In the vast scientific community, do you think that Creationism has the same weight as evolution, and at a time in American education when we are in a crisis when it comes to science, that there ought to be parallel tracks for Creationism versus evolution in the teaching?

GOV. PAWLENTY: In the scientific community, it seems like intelligent design is dismissed — not entirely, there are a lot of scientists who would make the case that it is appropriate to be taught and appropriate to be demonstrated, but in terms of the curriculum in the schools in Minnesota, we’ve taken the approach that that’s a local decision. I know Senator Palin — or Governor Palin — has said intelligent design is something that she thinks should be taught along with evolution in the schools, and I think that’s appropriate. My personal view is that’s a local decision —

MR. BROKAW: Given equal weight.

GOV. PAWLENTY: — of the local school board.

MR. BROKAW: And you would recommend it be given equal weight?

GOV. PAWLENTY: We’ve said in Minnesota, in my view, this is a local decision. Intelligent design is something that, in my view, is plausible and credible and something that I personally believe in but, more importantly, from an educational and scientific standpoint, it should be decided by local school boards at the local school district level.

In conclusion, as we have discussed here before at length, there are many very good ideas for healthcare reform which should be given a chance to succeed, especially because mandatory government healthcare runs contrary to American principles of liberty. As always, when it comes to Congress (or any government officials for that matter) judge them based on their actions, not their words. Ok, sometimes by their words.

UPDATE: Recent news reports are publicizing claims by MIT economist Jon Gruber that the PWC report is false. Unfortunately, Mr. Gruber is lying. We discuss the issue at length here.

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The New York Times has a lengthy article which begins with the story of Stephanie Smith, who became paralyzed after contracting a deadly E. coli O157:H7 infection, and continues by detailing the flaws in the way ground beef is processed which allows contaminants to spread.

Meat companies and grocers have been barred from selling ground beef tainted by the virulent strain of E. coli known as O157:H7 since 1994, after an outbreak at Jack in the Box restaurants left four children dead. Yet tens of thousands of people are still sickened annually by this pathogen, federal health officials estimate, with hamburger being the biggest culprit. Ground beef has been blamed for 16 outbreaks in the last three years alone, including the one that left Ms. Smith paralyzed from the waist down. This summer, contamination led to the recall of beef from nearly 3,000 grocers in 41 states.

Since meat preparation is supposed to be under the supervision of federal food safety inspectors, where are the potential sources of contamination?

Federal inspectors based at the plant are supposed to monitor the hide removal, but much can go wrong. Workers slicing away the hide can inadvertently spread feces to the meat, and large clamps that hold the hide during processing sometimes slip and smear the meat with feces, the workers and inspectors say.

Greater Omaha vacuums and washes carcasses with hot water and lactic acid before sending them to the cutting floor. But these safeguards are not foolproof.

“As the trimmings are going down the processing line into combos or boxes, no one is inspecting every single piece,” said one federal inspector who monitored Greater Omaha and requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

The E. coli risk is also present at the gutting station, where intestines are removed, the inspector said

Every five seconds or so, half of a carcass moves into the meat-cutting side of the slaughterhouse, where trimmers said they could keep up with the flow unless they spot any remaining feces.“We would step in and stop the line, and do whatever you do to take it off,” said Esley Adams, a former supervisor who said he was fired this summer after 16 years following a dispute over sick leave. “But that doesn’t mean everything was caught.”

Another problem is that processors do not want to get the individual slaughterhouses in trouble, or they will lose them as a supplier.

The food safety officer at American Foodservice, which grinds 365 million pounds of hamburger a year, said it stopped testing trimmings a decade ago because of resistance from slaughterhouses. “They would not sell to us,” said Timothy P. Biela, the officer. “If I test and it’s positive, I put them in a regulatory situation. One, I have to tell the government, and two, the government will trace it back to them. So we don’t do that.”

Although some processors may not be carrying out enough inspections, the problem is really that the final ground product is what gets inspected in most cases, not the batch of trimmings coming in from any particular supplier. Meat from different suppliers are mixed together. A contaminated batch of ground beef can therefore be traced to a processor, but not to a specific supplier.

The sad part of this whole tale is the conclusion presented by the New York Times reporter:

Dr. Petersen, the U.S.D.A. official, said the department had adopted additional procedures, including enhanced testing at slaughterhouses implicated in outbreaks and better training for investigators.

“We are not standing still when it comes to E. coli,” Dr. Petersen said.

The department has held a series of meetings since the recent outbreaks, soliciting ideas from all quarters. Dr. Samadpour, the laboratory owner, has said that “we can make hamburger safe,” but that in addition to enhanced testing, it will take an aggressive use of measures like meat rinses and safety audits by qualified experts.

At these sessions, Felicia Nestor, a senior policy analyst with the consumer group Food and Water Watch, has urged the government to redouble its effort to track outbreaks back to slaughterhouses. “They are the source of the problem,” Ms. Nestor said.

We find it curious that a major newspaper can publish a lengthy story which is clearly the result of careful research and somehow come to a conclusion which is exactly the same as it would be if Food and Water Watch wrote the entire article. Please note that no other possible solutions to the problems are written about in the article.

As we have previously revealed, the best kind of advocacy pieces masquerading as journalism or science do not commit crimes of commission, rather, they simply omit pertinent data which the average, non-expert reader would otherwise be unaware of.

In this particular case, there are two simple answers which can deal with the problems posed by the article simply and effectively without the need for more government regulation, inspectors, and taxes.

The first answer comes from Reason:

What solution? Irradiation. That is, treating foods with gamma, electron beam or X-ray radiation to kill bacteria that might be found on food before it is offered to the consumer. It is no more dangerous than pasteurization of milk and would prevent tens of thousands of food poisoning episodes if widely adopted.

According to research by the CDC, irradiation works and is safe:

Treating raw meat and poultry with irradiation at the slaughter plant could eliminate bacteria commonly found raw meat and raw poultry, such as E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella, and Campylobacter. These organisms currently cause millions of infections and thousands of hospitalizations in the United States every year. Raw meat irradiation could also eliminate Toxoplasma organisms, which can be responsible for severe eye and congenital infections. Irradiating prepared ready-to-eat meats like hot dogs and deli meats, could eliminate the risk of Listeria from such foods. Irradiation could also eliminate bacteria like Shigella and Salmonella from fresh produce. The potential benefit is also great for those dry foods that might be stored for long times and transported over great distances, such as spices and grains. Animal feeds are often contaminated with bacteria like Salmonella. Irradiation of animal feeds could prevent the spread of Salmonella and other pathogens to livestock through feeds.

Reason’s conclusion is markedly different than the one reached by the New York Times:

Why should Americans be forced to trust their health chiefly to the good will of politically well-connected corporations and a bunch of bureaucrats when applying a simple elegant inexpensive technnology can go a long way toward solving the problem?

The second solution is: get to know your butcher. Go and visit a local butcher shop that makes their ground beef on the spot. It will cost more than the premade patties you can find in major supermarkets because it is made fresh on the spot with higher quality ingredients. As we have found, making friends with the butcher can also help you snag really high quality cuts of meat which are rarely available outside of high end steakhouses.

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Eric at Classical Values brings up an interesting point – veterinary care is a pretty good example of the free market at work in a healthcare system.

Under our “system” of veterinary health care, there’s generally little or no wait, they’re invariably friendly (because you could always grab your dog or cat and take it to another vet), and as to the prices?

He gives a personal example involving a visit to the vet for his dog which actually cost $950, whereas a comparable operation on a person would likely cost upwards of $20,000. It is possible to quibble about the details, but undoubtedly the same operation on person would cost many times more.

Differences in liability insurance is part of it. Bear in mind that it is more difficult to get into veterinary school than medical school.

It strikes me that there is a giant, overarching difference between veterinary care and regular medical care, and that is that the former is barely regulated by the government, while the latter is so regulated that even now — without socialized health care — many doctors feel as if they spent most of their time being bureaucrats. Is that it? I’m sure my vet kept records for Puff, but I’d be willing to bet they consisted of little more than a couple of paragraphs summarizing the diagnosis, the procedure, and his recovery. And I’d also be willing to bet that for the same procedure on a boy, if all of the records were all printed out they’d be a stack of documents inches thick.

The bureaucracy adds to the costs in many different ways, from ordering unnecessary tests to increased personnel costs merely to deal with mountains of paperwork. The lack of tort reform with regards to medical malpractice insurance is also responsible for a large portion of the higher costs.

While I realize technology has added many tools to the medical arsenal since the 1940s, the same tools have been added to the veterinary arsenal, so that can’t be all there is to it. I have not seen any vet bills from the 1940s, but I am sure that a cursory examination would reveal that the rate of increase has risen in a normal manner that we would expect, while the rate of increase for human medical care has skyrocketed. (Of course, in those days, far fewer people had health insurance. Might the “blank check” from the big pocket have something to do with it?)

Should we allow vets to treat humans? Why not? If a woman can consent to an abortion, why can’t I consent to having a veterinarian cut a tennis ball out of my intestines?

Why can’t we be consenting adults?

As long as members of Congress remain cozy with trial lawyers, tort reform will not be implemented. Please note that simple things can be written into law which would have an effect on the system without drastically overhauling it in the worst way possible. For example, when we hear that there are potentially billions of dollars being wasted in Medicare/Medicaid programs, why wouldn’t that get taken care of immediately and independently of any healthcare reform bill?

There are viable solutions. Unfortunately recent current events such as the problems with ACORN[1] and the NEA[2] only further the notion in most citizens minds that more government is very clearly not the answer.

[1] In case you’ve been living under a rock, ACORN is under fire for promoting child prostitution. They’ve received millions of federal dollars.

[2] The NEA is in trouble, having been caught allowing the White House to push a partisan agenda during a conference call, which is very likely against the law.

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Drug Prohibition Is A Failure

The politics and policies of drug prohibition are a failure primarily because they are not effective in actually prohibiting people from obtaining and using drugs, and also because the evidence supporting those policies are weak.

Here are a few rebuttals to the main arguments used in favor of prohibition.

Argument 1: The fact that drugs are illegal keeps many people from trying them, and out of harm’s way. Legalization now would contribute to many more people using drugs.

In the UK, as in many countries, the real clampdown on drugs started in the late 1960s, yet government statistics show that the number of heroin or cocaine addicts seen by the health service has grown ever since – from around 1000 people per year then, to 100,000 today. It is a pattern that has been repeated the world over.

Argument 2: If current policies are not successful at prohibition, stricter policies should be enacted.

A second approach to the question is to look at whether fewer people use drugs in countries with stricter drug laws. In 2008, the World Health Organization looked at 17 countries and found no such correlation. The US, despite its punitive drug policies, has one of the highest levels of drug use in the world (PLoS Medicine, vol 5, p e141).

Argument 3: A halfway approach, which would decriminalize possession of drugs, is doomed to fail since the lack of effective punishment will encourage more people to try drugs.

While dealing remains illegal in Portugal, personal use of all drugs has been decriminalised. The result? Drug use has stayed roughly constant, but ill health and deaths from drug taking have fallen. “Judged by virtually every metric, the Portuguese decriminalisation framework has been a resounding success,” states a recent report by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank based in Washington DC.

The Law Of Unintended Consequences comes into play as a result of prohibitionist policies. Black market items are generally very profitable, and young people may get sucked in with dreams of fast cash. Ironically, prohibition is often sold as being “for the children”.

Most drug trafficking happens through large criminal enterprises, which are also involved in murder, corruption, and kidnapping. Nearly 4,000 people have been killed this year (so far) in Mexico’s drug wars.

So what’s the alternative? There are several models for the legal provision of recreational drugs. They include prescription by doctors, consumption at licensed premises or even sale on a similar basis to alcohol and tobacco, with health warnings and age limits. If this prospect appals you, consider the fact that in the US today, many teenagers say they find it easier to buy cannabis than beer.

Accusations of evidence suppression happen everywhere, from Big Tobacco to Big Pharma, and it is rightly shocking when lives are at stake. Why are citizens willing to elect and re-elect politicians who enact policies running contrary to evidence sometimes composed by Big Government itself? Aren’t lives at stake here too?

In 1944, Mayor LaGuardia commissioned a report which was titled “The Marihuana Problem in the City of New York”. The report was written up by the New York Academy of Medicine.

This study is viewed by many experts as the best study of any drug viewed in its social, medical, and legal context. The committee covered thousands of years of the history of marijuana and also made a detailed examination of conditions In New York City. Among its conclusions: “The practice of smoking marihuana does not lead to addiction in the medical sense of the word.” And: “The use of marihuana does not lead to morphine or heroin or cocaine addiction, and no effort is made to create a market for those narcotics by stimulating the practice of marihuana smoking.” Finally: “The publicity concerning the catastrophic effects of marihuana smoking in New York City is unfounded.”

A primer on the issues at play here and a must read is The Consumers Union Report on Licit and Illicit Drugs, by Edward M. Brecher and the Editors of Consumer Reports Magazine.

The recommendations in this report included:

  • Stop emphasizing measures designed to keep drugs away from people.
  • Stop increasing the damage done by drugs.
  • Stop misclassifying drugs.
  • Stop viewing the drug problem as primarily a national problem, to be solved on a national scale.
  • Stop pursuing the goal of stamping out illicit drug use.
  • Consumers Union recommends the immediate repeal of all federal laws governing the growing, processing, transportation, sale, possession, and use of marijuana.
  • Consumers Union recommends that each of the fifty states similarly repeal its existing marijuana laws and pass new laws legalizing the cultivation, processing, and orderly marketing of marijuana-subject to appropriate regulations.
  • Consumers Union recommends that state and federal taxes on marijuana be kept moderate, and that tax proceeds be devoted primarily to drug research, drug education, and other measures specifically designed to minimize the damage done by alcohol, nicotine, marijuana. heroin, and other drugs.
  • Consumers Union recommends an immediate end to imprisonment as a punishment for marijuana possession and for furnishing marijuana to friends.*
  • Consumers Union recommends, pending legalization of marijuana, that marijuana possession and sharing be immediately made civil violations rather than criminal acts.
  • Consumers Union recommends that those now serving prison terms for possession of or sharing marijuana be set free, and that such marijuana offenses be expunged from all legal records.
  • There are many more major studies of drugs and drug policy like the above two available for free from the Schaffer Library of Drug Policy.

    Unfortunately, the idea that banning drugs is the best way to protect vulnerable people – especially children – has acquired a strong emotional grip, one that politicians are happy to exploit. For many decades, laws and public policy have flown in the face of the evidence. Far from protecting us, this approach has made the world a much more dangerous place than it need be.

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    Bundling services, such as having television, telephone, and internet from a single provider can be cost effective. However, should a problem occur all services may be lost simultaneously. Serious professionals who work from home will often have internet service from two different sources (one from the local telco, one from the local cable company) so they are never stuck with an outage.

    Here are a few cases from England which show how bundling, in this case having government in charge of both healthcare and social services, is a recipe for disaster.

    Case # 1:

    The mother of a 13-year-old girl who became partly paralysed after being given a cervical cancer vaccination says social workers have told her the child may be removed if she (the mother) continues to link her condition with the vaccination.

    Case # 2:

    A couple had all six of their children removed from their care after they disputed the necessity of an invasive medical test on their eldest daughter. Doctors, who suspected she might have had a blood disease, called for social services to obtain an emergency protection order, although it was subsequently confirmed that she was not suffering from the condition. The parents were still considered unstable, and all their children were taken from them.

    Case # 3:

    A single mother whose teenage son is terminally ill and confined to a wheelchair has been told he is to become the subject of a care order after she complained that her local authority’s failure to provide bathroom facilities for him has left her struggling to maintain sanitary standards.

    These problems have gotten the attention of at least some politicians.

    John Hemming, a Liberal Democrat MP, who campaigns to stop injustices in the family court, said: “Very often care proceedings are used as retaliation by local authorities against ‘uppity’ people who question the system.”

    Read all the details on the cases here.

    An important fact worth understanding clearly when reading about these cases is the fact that a significant majority of the people who receive healthcare services in England are happy with the care they get. However, the small minority which suffers mistreatment at the hands of this system have no recourse.

    Healthcare in the United States needs to be reformed, and there are plenty of excellent ways to do so which do not require more government – in fact, they require the opposite. The “public option”, which is a front for pushing a single payer system, does nothing to address the underlying fundamental problems with healthcare as it exists today, and will open up the system to abuses of the kind now being perpetrated in England.

    Offering many more people “free” health insurance does not equal healthcare reform.

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