Monday, December 17, 2012

Why did God make those kids die?

This was the question I was greeted with when I woke my 7-year-old daughter this morning.

“What makes you say that?” I asked, trying to disguise my irritation at whatever or whoever placed that idea in her head. I fully expected her to tell me that she heard it on TV, and that the perpetrator would be Mike Huckabee or Pat Robertson, or perhaps someone from the Westboro Baptist Church claiming it was God's retribution on the people of Connecticut for allowing gay marriage.

“Obama said so,” was her answer.


“Honey, I'm pretty sure that whatever he said, he didn't mean that God wanted them to die.” I decided that this may be a good learning moment, and that we could research online exactly what Obama said and figure out what he meant.

When we found details from the speech he gave at the Newtown prayer vigil, I was speechless. After reading the names of the murdered children, Obama clearly stated:

“God has called them all home.”

Really? The horrifying slaughter of 20 young children by a disturbed individual is the will of God?

I struggled for words... suppressed my nausea (and an urge to unleash a string of expletives)... and searched for an explanation that would not cause further fear and confusion.

I'm still searching.

Thank you President Obama. Thank you for perpetuating and reinforcing the same pathological ideas espoused by those who blame disasters on “fags” and long for a theocracy.

And thank you, sincerely, for providing me with another learning opportunity - as soon as I figure out the best way to explain to a 7-year-old that our President is a self-serving panderer, and that she doesn't need to live in fear that God may “call her home” the next time she goes to school.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

California dodges a bullet: Prop 37 voted down

In a rare display of common sense, California voters defeated the mandated GMO labeling law, Proposition 37. The final tally, with 100% of precincts reporting, was 46.9% in favor and 53.1% against. Californians can be thankful that this ill-concieved expansion of governmental interference has been laid to rest, for now.

There has been an enormous amount of disinformation coming from both sides during the campaign, and I'd like to try insert a little reason into the debate.

GMO labeling might make a little sense if: 1. People understood genetic engineering, and 2. We labeled ALL FOOD with information about how it is produced.

To be consistent, we'd need a warning label on anything that was fertilized with fecal matter: "May contain Ecoli, which is a dangerous bacteria that can cause severe illness and death."

Organic Super Sweet Corn would need this label: "Carries a genetic mutation induced by radiation mutagenesis." Organic produce treated with the natural pesticide rotenone would be labeled: "May contain trace amounts of rotenone. Chronic exposure can cause liver and kidney damage."

All of the above are true, but none of these agricultural techniques present a significant health risk. To the uninformed though, the labels would make them seem like they do. The point is that labeling a food product with all of the scary sounding production techniques does no good without an understanding of those techniques. 
We definitely need more education about genetic engineering, but labeling is not education.

Another consideration is the cost, not just for the companies required to do the labeling, but the bureaucracies in charge of enforcing labeling laws. By conservative estimates, between 60% and 70% of all processed foods in our super markets contain GMOs. Not only would labeling increase food prices as food growers and suppliers are forced to comply with the mandate, but taxes would increase to administer the new policy.

Say you're OK with the increased cost or reject that argument altogether. Consider the lesson of Prop 65, another California ballot initiative approved by voters in 1986. That measure ostensibly required warnings on products known to cause cancer or birth defects. Sounds like a good thing on the outside, but a deeper look will find that it has done nothing but line the pockets of lawyers to the tune of tens of millions of dollars.

Prop 65 requires restaurant owners to warn customers that they sell "cancerous products" because they sell olives, bread, chicken, and hundreds of other food items because they contain trace amounts of some substance that caused cancer in a rat at high doses. Never mind that the substances in question occur naturally in those foods. Prop 65 has created the practice of over warning customers just to avoid being sued, so much so that the warnings have become meaningless.

Perhaps the biggest problem with mandated GMO labeling is that it's yet another government mandate. For those who believe in a free market, this should be a no-brainer. If you believe in the free market and reject the nanny state, there is a much better option.

The real obstacle to consumers' right to know is the result of FDA policies that severely restrict how non-GMO products can be promoted and labeled. And the real solution is to require the FDA to allow non-GMO labeling. If there truly were a market for non-GMO products, they would be labeled as such if allowed. As it is now, a certified organic label is a reasonable assurance that the product is GMO free, but that is not enough. Consumers would benefit from non-organic non-GMO foods being labelled as such.

The whole movement to label GMOs is really just a canard anyway. If GMOs are dangerous, they should be banned, not labelled. Considering that we've all been eating them for a couple decades, all insulin is GMO, there is not a single documented death or negative health effect, and the bulk of scientific evidence supports GMO safety, a ban is not in the cards.

Labeling GMOs would provide no positive benefit for the vast majority of people. It will increase food prices, increase taxes, increase headaches for food sellers, and line the pockets of lawyers. Most importantly, labeling without education only encourages fear and ignorance, and decisions based on fear and ignorance are rarely good decisions.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Who Does the Affordable Health Care Act Actually Benefit?

Is the Affordable Health Care Act the best solution to our health care problem, a good start, the best we could do at the time, or something else altogether?

A quick history: In the late 1980s, members of the right leaning Heritage Foundation proposed the individual mandate, which would eventually become the lynchpin of Obamacare. In 1993, Republicans included the mandate in their alternative to “Hillarycare.” Hillary was against the individual mandate at the time. After becoming Senator (and after becoming the second largest recipient of health industry contributions in the Senate) she reversed her stance and argued FOR an individual mandate.

You see, getting the government to pass a law so everybody has to buy your product is pretty savvy business. In Jersey we call it "pay to play" and it's ill-freaking-legal.

In 2008, Senator and Presidential candidate Barack Obama also argued against the individual mandate - quite eloquently. “If a mandate was the solution, we  could solve homelessness by mandating everybody to buy a house.” Bazinga! Obama was right (before he was wrong) – against it before he was for it (just like Hillary). And in a wonderfully amusing twist, his opponent Mitt Romney was for it before he was against it.

A few months later, after becoming President, Obama included the mandate in his healthcare plan. Coincidentally, the healthcare industry had become Obama's third largest source of campaign contributions (right behind lawyers and big banks).

But what do healthcare industry donations have to do with it? Isn't Obama fighting against the big corporations?

Written primarily by corporate lobbyists, the Affordable Health Care Act provides nearly a half a trillion dollars in subsidies for the insurance, health care, and pharmaceutical industries, and forces citizens to purchase a product from those same corporations. The Affordable Health Care Act is really just more corporate welfare hiding behind the facade of providing universal healthcare.

What the health care issue has highlighted is that very few of our politicians have a core. Republicans are against everything Obama is for, even if it's the same Patriot Act they were FOR when Bush was President. Democrats support everything Obama supports, even if it's spying on, and even assassinating U.S. citizens, forgetting how loudly they protested when Bush was only torturing suspected terrorists. Personal integrity hasn't survived the onslaught of political division any more than governmental integrity has.

But wait! We were talking about health care.

There are three basic methods of health care delivery:
  1. Free market
  2. Single payer
  3. Corporate/Corporatist
I'm a free market guy, so I like #1. Before the 1960s, the US had a semi-free market health care system, but it's always been manipulated to some extent - either by government or by corporations that had become monopolies. While I like the theory, I don't think this method has any foreseeable political momentum... so next.

The option we've been implementing since the 1960s is #3. It's kind of a hybrid of the first two, but it uses the worst components of each. The AHCA is a continuation of this method. Corporations give money to politicians, who then make laws that favor those industries that gave them money (it used to be called bribery). I think it's safe to say that this method should be ruled out as a reasonable option.

What about the single payer option? Now I know I may get some heat from my libertarian friends, but I wouldn't fight a single payer system for a New York minute. There are far worse things that our government does, and far more important issues to get worked up over like... oh, I don't know... never ending war, and the imminent collapse of our economic system.

While I would have serious concerns about cost, efficiency, and availability under a single payer system, we could figure it out, especially if we retired the chin deep fecal pile of regulations and programs that we currently live under, and started from scratch. The simpler an engine the less oil it needs. Likewise, the simpler a health care system, the more efficient it will be.

What we have now is an enormous tangle of government regulations, reimbursement programs, advisory boards, employer mandates, corporate welfare, investigative panels, and backroom deals - and it's got to go!

Ask yourself what is the only part of our current medical system that actually functions with a modicum of efficiency? Medicare. And guess what folks, it's single payer.

Public healthcare advocate, Dr. Margaret Flowers, makes the point much more eloquently than I ever could, “If the U.S. Congress had considered an evidence-based approach to health reform instead of writing a bill that funnels more wealth to insurance companies that deny and restrict care, it would have been a no-brainer to adopt a single payer health system much like our own Medicare. We are already spending enough on health care in this country to provide high-quality, universal, comprehensive, lifelong health care.”

Regarding the goodies in Obamacare: requiring insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing conditions is fine by me, and I'm happy as a clam in a pool of rum that my 17 year old daughter will be able to remain on my insurance plan for another decade. There is a shiny object or two in this plan for almost every crow, but sadly, like most things that come out of Washington, the cost/benefit ratio would make any business owner either laugh out loud, or fire whoever proposed it.

Perhaps Chris Hedges, journalist and self-described socialist, said it best, “It is the very sad legacy of the liberal class that it proves in election cycle after election cycle that it espouses moral and political positions it will not pay a price to defend. And since we will not punish politicians like Obama who betray our core beliefs, the corporate juggernaut rolls forward with its inexorable pace to cement into place our global neofeudalism.”

Similar admonishments could be made of the conservative class. After all, Republicans and Democrats are all cut from the same cloth, the only difference is some is wearing red and some is wearing blue.

~ Bob Akimbo