Archive for the ‘Medicine and Health’ Category

Irradiated U.S. veterans to get help from Japan

July 11, 2017

Former diplomat Peter Van Buren reported on his web log how the U.S. Department of Defense rejected claims by U.S. troops who were irradiated during rescue efforts at the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster.   It has fallen to a former Japanese prime minister to come to their aid.

Junichiro Koizumi

The U.S. Navy rushed thousands of troops to the scene in 2011 to help Japanese disaster victims, after an earthquake and tsunami caused meltdown of the Fukushima plant.

A few years later, hundreds of them began to report symptoms of radiation disease—rectal and gynecological bleeding, thyroid problems, leukemia and testicular and brain cancers, Van Buren said.  Some had worked in the area of the nuclear disaster, some had flown over it and some had drunk desalinated sea water from the contaminated ocean.

The U.S. Department of Defense, relying on information from the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), said they couldn’t possibly have received high enough levels of radiation to be harmful.   Some 400 service members are suing TEPCO, but this lawsuit will take years to resolve, and seven of the plaintiffs already have died.

Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who left office five years before the disaster, has started a fund-raising appeal to raise $1 million to help the U.S. veterans pay medical bills.   Van Buren said Koizumi already has raised $400,000 through lecture fees.

As an American, I am grateful to Prime Minister Koizumi and ashamed of this example of U.S. government neglect of American veterans.

LINK

Abandoned by U.S. Government, Irradiated Servicemembers Turn to Japan for Help by Peter Van Buren for We Meant Well.

Republicans ready to kill Medicaid expansion

June 13, 2017

I hadn’t realized that more Americans are enrolled in Medicaid, the health-insurance program for low-income Americans, than in Social Security, Medicare or any other federal benefits program.

And the increase in the number of Americans with health insurance under Obamacare—the Affordable Care Act—is due more to the expansion of Medicaid than to signups of people under the health insurance exchanges.

But Senate and House Republicans have reportedly agreed on a plan to dial back the Medicaid expansion.

Kevin Drum of Mother Jones reported that there are 68 million Medicaid enrollees, making it a bigger program than Social Security (61 million), Medicare (55 million), food stamps (44 million), unemployment insurance (6 million at the height of the recession), the earned income tax credit (26 million) and temporary aid to needy families (about 4 million).

Medicaid was created to provide health insurance for Americans earning poverty-level wages.   Under Obamacare, eligibility was increased to Americans earning 138 percent of a poverty wage.  This would be $16,394 for an adult, according to CNBC News.

The program is administered by state governments.   President Obama’s plan pays states nearly all the costs added by the expanded plan, and then a progressively lesser amount sliding down to 90 percent.  The Supreme Court ruled that state governments cannot be compelled to accept the expanded plan, and 19 state governments, all with Republican governors, opted out.

CNBC reporter Dan Mangan reported that Medicaid has added 15 million enrollees since Obamacare went into effect, a figure which includes some people who would have been eligible under the old rules.   That’s nearly 4 million more than signed up for health insurance under the Obamacare exchanges.

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American optimism and deaths of despair

June 12, 2017

I always thought that optimism was a basic and unchanging part of the American national character.

My belief is shaken by the rise in “deaths of despair”—first among middle-aged (45-to 54) white Americans, more recently among prime working aged (25 to 44) Americans of all races.

“Deaths of despair” are suicide, drug overdoses and alcohol-related liver disease.  The rise is thought to be caused by the hopeless economic situation of many Americans and by the ready availability of addictive drugs.

But this can’t the whole story.   In earlier eras of American history, such as the 1890s, poverty was greater, inequality was more extreme and addictive drugs were more freely available than they are now.

Pioneer families struggling to survive in sod houses on the prairie, immigrants in ragged clothes getting off the boat on Ellis Island, let alone African-Americans and native Americans—they all were in more desperate situations than any American today.

The USA was in the midst of a depression, comparable to the Great Depression of the 1930s.  There was no social safety net.   It was possible to starve to death in New York City or any major city in the Western world.  If you couldn’t pay a doctor bill, you relied on charity or, more commonly, did without.

Opiates were sold legally.  Opium dens were found in every major city.  Heroin was a patented brand-name drug sold legally by the Bayer company.   Drunkenness was a serious social problem.

But this was an era of hope, not despair.  Workers formed labor unions and fought armed company police.   Farmers started organized the Populist movement.   Middle-class reformers started the Progressive movement.   They enacted reforms and social changes from which we Americans still benefit.

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The spread of deaths of despair in the USA

June 12, 2017

Americans in the prime years of life—aged 25 to 44—are dying at an increasing rate, and the increase is mainly due to “deaths of despair”—drug overdoses and alcohol-related disease.

I recently wrote a post about the Case-Deaton study, which shows a rise in “deaths of despair” among white Americans, especially those age 45 to 54, since 1999.

Now reporters for the Washington Post have done their own study which shows a rise in the death rate since 2010 among Americans of all races in the prime of life—age 25 to 44.

As in the Case-Deaton study, the increase is due to “deaths of despair”—drug overdoses and alcohol-related diseases.

Since 2010, death rates have risen

  • 16 percent for young white American adults.
  • 18 percent for young native American adults
  • 7 percent for young Hispanic American adults
  • 4 percent for young African-American adults
  • 3 percent for young Asian American adults.

Why is this happening?

The majority of Americans are doing badly economically.  Wages are stagnant.  Good jobs are scarce.  Many have educational, medical or other debts they never will be able to pay.

Except for the professional classes and the ultra-rich, few expect to do better economically than their parents, and few expect their children to do better than themselves.

In the past generation, some of us have been sold in the idea that medications, such as Prozac, are the solution to our psychological and personal problems.   A journalist named Robert Whitaker did a good job of documenting this in his book, Anatomy of an Epidemic, and his book and website, Mad in America.

This new respectable drug culture made it easy for Purdue Pharmaceuticals to market Oxycontin, an addictive pain killing prescription drug, and widespread use of Oxycontin made it easy for illegal drug traffickers to sell heroin as a cheap substitute.  For some, drugs provided an easier escape from dead-end lives than individual initiative or political struggle.

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Why is the Hispanic death rate lower?

June 6, 2017

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Compared to non-Hispanic whites and blacks, Hispanic Americans are survivors.

Why?

The Case-Deaton study and its new update showed that the death rate is rising among non-Hispanic white Americans while it is falling among citizens of every other important industrial nation.   Anne Case and Angus Deaton attribute this to the rise “deaths of despair”—from alcohol, drugs and suicide.

The study showed something else that I think is equally interesting.  The death rate among Hispanic Americans has always been lower than among non-Hispanic whites, and it continues to fall, in line with trends in other industrial nations.

In the chart above, the bright red line is the death rate among non-Hispanic white Americans and the bright blue line is the death rate among Hispanic Americans.

The death rate among non-Hispanic American blacks is higher than among whites, but it is falling, not rising.

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Heroin addiction comes to West Virginia

June 5, 2017

As a boy and well into adulthood, I thought of heroin addiction as a product and problem of big city slums—a world completely alien to me.

My old friend Steve called my attention to a harrowing article in The New Yorker about heroin addiction in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia, just across the river from western Maryland where the two of us grew up.

The Eastern Panhandle as I remember it

I am shocked, although I know I shouldn’t be, that heroin addiction could capture so many people with the same small-town white Protestant background as me.  But in fact rates of drug addiction are higher among non-Hispanic white people than among Hispanic or black people.

Like much of Appalachia, as well as the Rustbelt along the Great Lakes, the city of Martinsburg, W.Va., lost its main manufacturing employer, the Interwoven textile mill, and nothing has ever taken its place.

Citizens of Martinsburg today are thinking of converting part of the old Interwoven plant into a drug rehabilitation center.

Margaret Talbot, the author of the New Yorker article, gives harrowing descriptions of how drug addition has become normalized.  She opens with a description of a mother and father suffering a drug overdose while attending a Little League game.

She reported on how marketing of painkillers such as Oxycontin enabled West Virginians to self-medicate for physical and psychic pain, and then how heroin was introduced as a cheaper substitute.  She went on to write:

Michael Chalmers is the publisher of an Eastern Panhandle newspaper, the Observer. It is based in Shepherdstown, a picturesque college town near the Maryland border which has not succumbed to heroin.

Chalmers, who is forty-two, grew up in Martinsburg, and in 2014 he lost his younger brother, Jason, to an overdose.

I asked him why he thought that Martinsburg was struggling so much with drugs.

“In my opinion, the desperation in the Panhandle, and places like it, is a social vacancy,” he said. “People don’t feel they have a purpose.”

There was a “shame element in small-town culture.” Many drug addicts, he explained, are “trying to escape the reality that this place doesn’t give them anything.”

He added, “That’s really hard to live with—when you look around and you see that seven out of ten of your friends from high school are still here, and nobody makes more than thirty-six thousand a year, and everybody’s just bitching about bills and watching these crazy shows on reality TV and not doing anything.”

Source: The New Yorker

As I see it, large numbers of Americans think that what gives meaning to life is economic success, or at least being able to pay your way and be a breadwinner for others.  When that meaning is no longer available, they feel worthless and fall into despair.

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Poverty is hazardous to your health

April 5, 2017

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Mortality rate change, 1992-2006.  Click to enlarge.  Source: Daily Mail

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She uses dance to help repair her brain

February 20, 2017

Clara Ooyama, once a corporate lawyer for Eastman Kodak Co., suffered serious impairment of brain function as a side effect of chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer in 2006.

Over a two-year period, she lost basic mental capacities, including the ability to read and to multi-task.   Her doctor sent her to a brain rehabilitation clinic, but she was dismissed because she was too-high functioning.

With heroic determination, she worked to rebuild her neural pathways.  She at first worked six to eight hours a day on the controversial Lumosity brain training exercises, carefully keeping note of mental speed, memory, flexibility and ability to pay attention.

In 2013, her husband Steve Searles reached out to the Expressive Arts program of the Hochstein School of Music and Dance here in Rochester, N.Y.    Instructors helped her use dance and music as a way to do multiple tasks and hold multiple thoughts at the same time, and to integrate mind and body function.

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Trump moves fast to strike at Obamacare

January 21, 2017

President Donald Trump, in his first day in office, issued an executive order to cripple the administration of the Affordable Care Act.

trumppositionThe order (1) forbids administrators to issue any new order or regulation that imposes new costs on states and (2) authorizes administrators to suspend any order or regulation that imposes undue costs on individuals or states.

The limitations are that the change has to be permitted by law and that there have to be advance note and public comment on the changes if the law requires it.

That may sound relatively harmless, but the ACA is so complicated that it is hard to make it work and easy to make it cease functioning—like removing a couple of bolts from a highly complex machine.

Here are some of the things reporters said could happen under Trump’s executive order:

  • Delay indefinitely enforcement of all the individual and state mandates to buy or provide health insurance.
  • Expand hardship exemptions under the individual requirement to buy health insurance so that they cover virtually everybody.
  • Extend the option of state governments to approve health insurance plans that don’t meet all the requirements of the ACA, including refusal to refuse insurance to people with pre-existing conditions.

Another thing the Trump administration could do is to stop defending a lawsuit by the House of Representatives challenging the legality of a program to reimburse insurers for providing subsidies for low-income patients.   The program was authorized by law, but no money was ever specifically appropriated for it.   The U.S. District Court agreed the program is illegal; the case is now on appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals.

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White people dying faster in Trump country

January 20, 2017

Angus Deaton, co-author with Anne Case of a study of a rising mortality rate among white American working people, has found an interesting correlation.

He told Business Insider in an interview at the World Economics Forum in Davos that there is a 0.4 correlation between US counties with elevated mortality rates for white people and counties that voted for Trump.

“If you take county-by-county in the US, and you look at what we call deaths of despair — suicides, opioids and liver disease — that it correlates by 0.4 with votes for Trump.  That’s a big correlation.  There are 3,000 counties in the US. 0.4 with these things is a very strong relationship,” Deaton told us.

In stats, 1 is a perfect correlation and 0 is no correlation at all; 0.4 is a fairly strong relationship in a dataset that size. The stats suggest that Trump somehow tapped into white despair among voters.

There are caveats, of course.

“You can put almost anything in that picture, smoking, lack of exercise … but I do think there is a lot of malaise going on here.  Whatever it is these people are unhappy, they’re left behind, some of their jobs have gone away, they’re worse off than their parents were, they’re worried about opportunities for their kids.”

Source: Business Insider

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Will the GOP repeal the Affordable Care Act?

January 18, 2017

Update 1/19/2017.  It seems that in fact the Congressional Republicans do have an alternative of sorts to Obamacare.  A link has been added to this article.

The top video from Vox is about Kathy Oller, who lives in southeastern Kentucky and has a job signing people up for the Affordable Care Act.  It tells why many people in her area think the cost of the ACA is too high, and why they voted for Donald Trump.

The bottom video is about an interview of President Barack Obama by Vox reporters on the topic of health care.  Kathy Oller came along.  Her question to President Obama and his answer begin at the 37th minute and take about eight minutes.

President Obama is right in saying Republican leaders are irresponsible in proposing to repeal the ACA without having a replacement plan in place, and in challenging them to come up with a better plan.

It’s apparent that the Republican leadership doesn’t have such a plan..

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Health care costs ate your pay raises

October 4, 2016

hcc

Hourly compensation for American workers has increased 60 percent since 1970.  Hourly take-home pay has barely increased at all.

What’s the difference?  Financial analyst Barry Ritholtz said it is the rising cost of health insurance—which is most certainly not the same thing as a higher level of medical care.

Most American workers are probably better off taking their employer-based health insurance than they are taking their entire compensation in cash and trying to buy insurance on the open market.

Either way, we’re paying more for medical care, and getting less for our money, than citizens of other industrial countries.

LINK

Why Better Wages Are Tied to Healthcare Costs by Barry Ritholtz for The Big Picture.

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Health care costs and the U.S. middle class

September 2, 2016

Economics professor David Ruccio points out that, since the previous recession, the American middle class has been cutting back on spending—on everything except medical care.

healthcare.na-cl366_medspe_16u_20160825163913

The Affordable Care Act was supposed to not only make medical care more widely available, but to make it affordable.   This hasn’t happened.  I think this is partly due to opposition by Republican governors and congressional representatives, but largely due to flaws in the law itself.

It’s a well-known fact that we Americans pay more for medical care and get less benefit than citizens of any other industrial nation.

ftothealthexp_pc_usd_long-1

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An argument for medical marijuana

July 20, 2016

imrs

On average, physicians in states where medical marijuana is legal prescribe fewer drugs, especially painkillers, than in other states.   The implication is people who smoke pot have less need for painkillers or other prescription drugs.

Addiction to opioid painkillers, such as OxyContin, is a serious problem.  Overuse of psychiatric drugs is another serious problem.  Marijuana can be abused, too, but it is by far less dangerous.

LINK

One striking chart shows why pharma companies are fighting legal marijuana by Christopher Ingraham for The Washington Post.  (Hat tip to Mike the Mad Biologist)

Opioid abuse and the white American death rate

July 12, 2016

I wrote blog posts some time back about the Case-Deaton study of the rising death rate in the 21st century among middle-aged white people without college educations—a strange trend because the death rate continues to fall for all other demographic groups and also for Europeans.

OXYCONTINI also reviewed a book, Dreamland, about over-prescription of optoid drugs and how this has led to a heroin epidemic specifically among white people.  I didn’t make the obvious connection with the Case-Deaton study.

A blogger who calls himself Lambert Strether pointed out that the body count from opioid overdoses approaches the number deaths from AIDS.  If you think of opioid overdose as a disease, the vector of the spread is not a microbe and not unsafe sex, but the marketing strategies of certain drug companies—especially Purdue Pharma, manufacturer of OxyContin.

I accept that there are deeper reasons for the rise in drug abuse than the unethical marketing of one drug by one company.  Purdue Pharma would not have been so successful if there hadn’t been a big potential demand for its product.  I still think drug prohibition hasn’t worked, just as alcohol prohibition didn’t work and gun prohibition wouldn’t work.

This is another question for which I don’t have good answers.  What do you think?

LINKS

Genocide by Prescription: The ‘Natural History’ of the Declining White Working Class in America by James Petras and Robin Eastman Abaya [added 7/14/2016]

Credentialism and Corruption: The Opioid Epidemic and the Looting Professional Class by Lambert Strether for naked capitalism.  Very much worth reading.

Poison Pill by Mike Mariani for Pacific Standard.

Drug abuse and suicide: Why death rates have spiked among middle-aged white Americans, an interview of Angus Deaton, one of the authors of the study, by Christina Cauterucci for Slate.

Opioid Addiction 2016 Facts & Figures by the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

If Bernie Sanders doesn’t have a chance …

January 26, 2016

If Bernie Sanders doesn’t have a chance of winning, why is Wall Street so afraid of him?  As well as the Democratic establishment?  Also, don’t believe everything Hillary Clinton supporters say about Sanders’ health care plan.

What is killing Southern white women?

January 26, 2016

 

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Two researchers at Princeton University published a study last November indicating that the death rate for middle-aged white Americans was on the increase.

Statistical blogger Andrew Gelman analyzed the figures and concluded that the increase is concentrated among white women in the South.

Double click to enlarge.

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One thing he did was to adjust the figures according to age.  Not everybody in an age group, such as 55 to 64, is the same age, and changes in age distribution can skew the figures over time.

The top chart shows the results of Gelman’s adjustment and analysis.

The Princeton study said the main causes for the increased death rate were drug-related (overdoses), alcohol related (liver disease) and suicide—all indicators of despair.   An earlier study said higher mortality among white women was correlated with lack of education and heavy smoking.

Why would this affect Southerners, whites or women more than other Americans?  I don’t know.  I’m pretty sure, however, that southern white women, like other Americans, would be healthier and happier in a high-wage, full-employment economy.

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25 percent of fatal police encounters

December 21, 2015

About 2 percent of Americans have untreated severe mental illness.

Those 2 percent of people account for 10 percent of police responses, 20 percent of those behind bars, and 25 percent of fatal police encounters.

Source: Cop in the Hood

The healthy Hispanic life style

December 19, 2015

Hispanic_Poverty_Longevity400

Hispanics in the United States are nearly as poor, on average, as African Americans.  Yet they live longer, on average, than non-Hispanic whites.  What’s their secret?

Jasmine Aquilera, writing for Yes! magazine, says it is a combination of close community and family bonds, a healthier diet and la cuarentena, a Latin American tradition in which a new mother rests for the first 40 days after giving birth, not lifting a finger except to breastfeed and bond with her child.

A life in which community and family take priority would certainly be less stressful than a life in which priority is given to climbing the ladder of success—particularly in an economy in which so many people are moving down the ladder rather than up.

The traditional Mexican diet, based on corn, beans and rice, is indeed a healthy one.  It should not be confused with the Tex-Mex diet, with its big gobs of ground meat and melted cheese.   I think that the Tex-Mex diet may be a big reason Hispanics suffer disproportionately from obesity and diabetes.

I was especially interested in Aquilera’s report on the custom of cuartena. It reflects a culture that is profoundly pro-life in a way that goes beyond mere opposition to abortion and contraception.

I’ve read international surveys of happiness, which in general is proportional to the level of material well-being in various countries.  The exceptions are the former Communist countries of eastern Europe, where people are less happy than the statistics would indicate, and the Latin American countries, where people are more happy than the statistics would indicate.

I think Latin Americans have something to teach us Anglo Americans about how to live.

LINKS

Latinos Live Longest Despite Poverty.  Here’s Their Secret by Jasmine Aquilera for Yes!

Midlife death rate up more for U.S. white women

November 13, 2015

focus_group_3-1024x878Source: Andrew Gelman.

Last week I posted my thoughts about a study indicating a rising death rate among white American men age 45 to 54. Statistics expert Andrew Gelman writes that, if you make an apples-to-apples comparison, it is white American women we should be most concerned about.

He said the study did not take into account that the composition of the age 45 to 54 age group changed from 1999 to 2013. There was a higher proportion of white Americans in their early 50s and fewer in their late 40s.

If you make an age-adjusted comparison—45-year-olds to 45-year-olds, 46-year-olds to 46-year-olds and so on—the chart above shows what the trend looks like over time.

The age-adjusted death rate for middle-aged white American men is in fact higher than in 1999, but Gelman said it is white American women age 52 and under that should be the main concern.

LINKS

Rising morbidity and mortality in midlife among white non-Hispanic Americans in the 21st century by Anne Case and Angus Deaton of Princeton University.

Death rates have been increasing for middle-aged white women, decreasing for men by Andrew Gelman for Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference and Social Science.

Correcting statistical biases in “Rising morbidity and mortality in midlife among white non-Hispanic Americans in the 21st century”. We need to adjust for the increase in the average age of people in the 45-54 age category by Andrew Gelman for Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference and Social Science.  (Hat tip to Mike the Mad Biologist)

To Understand Climbing Death Rates Among Whites, Look to Women of Childbearing Age by Laudan Aron, Lisa Debray, Elaine Waxman and Steven Martin for Health Affairs Blog.  (Hat tip to naked capitalism)

More American White Women Are Dying Prematurely by Stephanie Mencimer for Mother Jones.

What’s Killing Poor White Women? by Monica Potts for American Prospect (2013)

What is killing middle-aged white men? Despair

November 4, 2015

imrs

We take it for granted that, in scientifically advanced countries, the death rate will decline.  But since 1999, there has been a dramatic increase in the death rate among non-Hispanic American white men aged 45 to 54, especially those without education beyond high school.

No such increase occurs among middle-aged white people in other countries or among other American ethnic groups.  Although the death rate for African-Americans is higher, it is not increasing, and, as the chart shows, the death rate for middle-aged Hispanic Americans (USH) is decreasing.

A Princeton University study indicates that the main reasons for the increased death rate are an increase in alcohol-related disease (liver disease), in drug overdoses (heroin and opioids) and in suicide—all diseases associated with depression and despair.

[Note added 11/13/2015: Some experts say the increase is primarily among middle-aged white women.]

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The passing scene – October 9, 2015

October 9, 2015

Welcome to a New Planet: Climate Change, “Tipping Points” and the Fate of the Earth by Michael T. Klare for TomDispatch.

How the Trans-Pacific Partnership Threatens America’s Recent Manufacturing Resurgence by Alana Semuels for The Atlantic.

Harvard’s prestigious debate team loses to New York prison inmates by Laura Gambino for The Guardian.

10 Stories About Donald Trump You Won’t Believe Are True by Luke McKinney for Cracked.com.  Donald Trump is notable not as a business success, but as a promoter with the ability to distract attention from failure.

Can Community Land Trusts Solve Baltimore’s Homelessness Problem? by Michelle Chen for The Nation.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

The Second Amendment’s Fake History by Robert Parry for Consortium News.  (Hat tip to my expatriate e-mail pen pal Jack.)

The Afghan hospital massacre: Snowden makes a brilliant suggestion by Joseph Cannon for Cannonfire.  Why does the United States not release the gunner’s video and audio?

Ask Well: Canned vs. Fresh Fish by Karen Weintraub for the New York Times.  Canned fish is probably better.  (Hat tip to Jack)

Shell Game: There Is No Such Thing as California ‘Native’ Oysters, a book excerpt by Summer Brennan in Scientific American.   The true story behind Jack London and the oyster wars.  (Hat tip to Jack)

The truth about Planned Parenthood

October 3, 2015

abortion_chart_2.0

It is not the case that abortion services are either a major part or a fast-growing part of the work of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

politifact_photos_mega-center-release-graphicAs the chart above shows and the chart at the side hides, the major activities of Planned Parenthood are providing knowledge and means of contraception, and screening and treatment for sexually-transmitted infections and diseases.

I understand that if you think abortion is equivalent to murder, not even one abortion should be allowed.  But it is up to you to make that case.  It does not justify distorting the facts about the work of Planned Parenthood.

According to my reading of the Constitution, the move to de-fund Planned Parenthood may be contrary to Article One, Section 9, which forbids bills of attainder.   A bill of attainder is a law to punish a particular individual or organization rather than a particular action—in this case, to de-fund Planned Parenthood rather than to de-fund abortion service providers in general.

I think that planned parenthood in its broad meaning—knowledge and use of contraception—is the best way to reduce the number of abortions.  I think a lot of those who want to de-fund Planned Parenthood object to planned parenthood in its broad meaning.

I think such people object to anything that would shield a woman from pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease or any other bad consequence of having sex outside marriage.  Or anything that would enable a married woman to prevent pregnancy.

LINKS

Whatever you think of Planned Parenthood, this is a terrible and dishonest chart by Timothy B. Lee for Vox.

The continuing Republican war on gynecology by Amanda Marcotte for Pandagon.

How a fake scientific study made the world sicker

September 28, 2015

vaccines-and-autism-89a95934a2e5e6433d229e2f44ee4b8fHat tip to Upworthy and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

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The limited criminal liability corporation

September 21, 2015

The modern corporation is a structure that allows investors to maximize profit while limiting their individual losses.  The Volkswagen emissions scandal shows that it also is a structure that enables lawbreakers to limit their individual accountability for their crimes.

Because the corporation is treated by law as a person separate from its owners, the individual investors can’t lose anything more than what they put in.  Any debts over and above that are swallowed by the creditor or absorbed by somebody else.

vwWhen executives of a corporation break the law, it usually is the corporation, most of whose employees and owners may be completely innocent, that is penalized and not the individuals actually responsible.

Volkswagen since 2009 installed software in 482,000 diesel vehicles to turn on emissions control systems when approaching an inspection station, but leave them off the rest of the time, which improved fuel economy and engine performance.

Dirty-burning fuel sickened many people and made already-sick people worse.  By one estimate, it caused the deaths of from 5 to 26 people in southern California alone.

Installing such software is no easy task.  Corporate executives would have had to sign off on it.

News stories say that Volkswagen could be liable for up to $37,500 per vehicle, which would mean a penalty of $18 billion.  That would be a big fine.  Last year Volkswagen reported a net profit of $12 billion on $226 billion in revenue.  I would be surprised if VW wound up paying this amount.

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