Sunday, January 31, 2016

Doctors confused about medical marijuana

I've had occasion to interview several MDs as my wife and I search for doctors here in Portland, where marijuana consumption has been legal since last year. The situation is this: my wife has chronic pain in her legs, chronic insomnia, and bouts of depression. She has discovered that there is one and only one drug that can help her with these problems.

She has tried the drugs prescribed by doctors, but started having suicidal thoughts and stopped immediately. So when she goes looking for a doctor, the first thing she asks is, Do you prescribe marijuana for your patients? The answer is invariably, no.

Doctors seem perplexed. The young ones recently left medical school, where they learned absolutely nothing about the possible benefits of medical marijuana, while the older ones grew up in the days when we were all told that marijuana was incredibly addictive and useless for the treatment of any disease.

Now that marijuana is legal for medicinal purposes in many states, and likely soon will be legal in many more, doctors need to know more than just what the law says. They need to treat marijuana like any other drug that may possibly be helpful to their patients.

The problem here is akin to the problem with taking action on global warming. Millions of dollars are being spent to convince people that global is not real and that nothing can be done about it, or, worse, that it is a conspiracy to part them from their money. These millions of dollars have convinced a large segment of the population that scientists are dishonest charlatans who make millions from their lies.

These aren't the only cases of attacking scientists, who are frequently the messengers of truths that people don't want to hear. Tobacco companies spent millions fighting against claims that nicotine was addictive and caused cancer. The residual effects of this campaign are that some people still refuse to believe that smoking is bad for them. They also refuse to believe that second-hand smoke is also bad for them, despite numerous studies that show second-hand smoke is almost as bad as smoking itself.

This disbelief in science is a byproduct of capitalism. Corporations will spread propaganda (only they call it public relations) to keep their product from being outlawed and keep the money flowing into their bank accounts. They do not care how many people die as a result of their actions. They only care about the bottom line--the profits they make from the suffering of others.

Those who attack the Supreme Court for its Citizen's United ruling--that lets corporations and wealthy individuals spend as much money as they like to elect politicians to do their bidding--are missing the point. It's capitalism itself that permits the winning capitalists to impose their wills on the losers. Capitalism itself is causing the collapse of human societies all over the world.

We must find an alternative before it is too late. Or is it already too late?

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Rush Limbaugh Admits He Hates the Republican Party

It's true. On his syndicated show, of which I read a transcript, Rush attacked the Republican party for not impeaching Barack Obama, or at the very least stopping him from carrying out his program. Rush is a very persuasive talker, but he is uneducated about the law and politics. He makes it up as he goes along.

Rush criticized Paul Ryan for agreeing to a budget that includes several policies that Obama supports. Rush believes that the Congress should use any method they like, including ideas that may endanger the safety of the US, harm its allies, or damage its good faith and credit.

Let's get this straight: None of the tactics Rush supports are Constitutional within the broad meaning of the term. The Constitution assigns governmental power to three separate branches: Congress has the legislative power, the ability to design laws, debate them and pass bills to implement their policies. It does not have the power to enforce the laws or execute them. That power is assigned by the Constitution to the president. Any attempt by congress to circumvent this Constitutional design is, by definition, a violation of their oath of office, in which they, each and every one of them, swears to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.

None of these politicians is particularly intellectual; many of them may not realize that by trying to subvert their oath they are helping to undermine the Constitutional authority that they swore to uphold. They will never be called to answer for this dereliction of duty,  for there are no criminal penalties for failing to keep an oath.

That fact does not make their actions less foolish or less loathsome.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Why don't Chinese fight for democracy?

This question was asked on Quora and received hundreds of comments in response. Here is my response to one person's opinion:

If you can't find criticism of the Chinese government on the internet, you haven't been looking very hard. Perhaps the internet in China is censored so well that none of the stories get through. I found a story right away from Human Rights Watch that details many of the protests and individuals who have been persecuted for their views. I will post just one paragraph from that article here.

From mid-2013, the Chinese government and the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have issued directives insisting on “correct” ideology among party members, university lecturers, students, researchers, and journalists. These documents warn against the perils of “universal values” and human rights, and assert the importance of a pro-government and pro-CCP stance. (Human Rights Watch. World Report: 2015. China.)

Your statement that "Majority of Chinese people don't care much about democracy" is impossible to verify objectively, since speaking out about lack of democracy could land you in prison in China. Take the case of Cao Shunli, who was imprisoned for trying to participate in the 2013 Human Rights Council in NYC. She died in prison after her jailers denied her medical treatment.

Democracy is not just a way to make free speech and freedom of association possible in a country. It is the only way. Many of the problems facing China involve a lack of concern for the environment, which leads to deaths from pollution. These kinds of problems can only be addressed by using freedom of the press (to publish stories critical of the government), freedom of speech (to let others know the truth about government policies), freedom of assembly (so that people may gather together and discuss alternative solutions), and freedom to elect the leaders of your choice instead of being forced to vote for the party's choice.

All of these freedoms are only available under a democracy. China will never be able to address its problems without them.

Friday, September 25, 2015

What Democracy?

Although Republicans assure us we live in a republic, not a democracy, since the people elect our representatives, we are still a democracy. If that is the case, why can't our representatives pass the laws we want?

A recent PPP poll asked wide-ranging questions about controversial issues and came up with the following results:

  • 71% of Americans polled favor raising the minimum wage to $10 per hour or higher.
  • 63% favor proposed EPA regulations that limit carbon pollution from power plants.
  • 85% favor getting a criminal background check for every gun purchaser.

Other public opinion polls have shown similar results. The American people support these three policies by overwhelming margins.

Why doesn't Congress or the states change the laws in accord with the wishes of the American people?

There is only one possible answer to this question and it's a very simple one: Our democracy is broken.

Results like these suggest we need to abandon our wars on drugs, abortion, and crime and replace that effort with a single movement, the movement to bring back democracy.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

JEB! promises to grow the economy at 4% using the same tired Republican proposals.

The promises JEB! has made with his latest tax proposals amount to a great big hill of beans that means nothing. In the first place, lowering taxes to increase economic prosperity has been tried before, by Reagan, George Bush Sr., & George Bush Jr. Each time the result was the same. Reduced taxes led to reduced revenues which led to reinstating the taxes that had been cut. George W. Bush's taxes have not been entirely repealed, but the result of the initial tax reduction is painfully obvious to all: years of trillion dollar deficits in the federal budget.

JEB! clearly has some new ideas. He figures that he can push 15 million people who currently pay taxes into the non-taxpayer category. That means that more people should be willing to vote Republican, perhaps enough of them to make him the President.

JEB! thinks he can also cut the deduction that lets hedge fund managers treat their incomes as capital gains. But wait a minute. How is he going to get that one through the all-Republican congress?  which has sworn never to raise taxes, ANY taxes? Answer: He cannot. So add $6 billion annually to the amount that will have to be cut from other programs to pay the hedge fund managers, or $60 billion over the next ten years.

There's another big hole dug in the treasury by JEB!'s budget. It's a switch from taxing multinational companies for their world-wide income to taxing them only for their income in the US. As you might imagine, the big corporations are all in favor of this change. But economists estimate it will cost the US Treasury $13 billion a year in lost taxes, or $130 billion over the next 10 years.

Another tax reduction JEB! proposes is to cap all deductions at 2% of a tax filers income. This proposal also runs afoul of the Republican promise not to raise taxes because, for those guys, fewer deductions means higher taxes and thus a tax increase.

This whole tax plan is a lie, like most Republican plans. Even if all the provisions were passed, the government would still lose $1.2 trillion over 10 years. That means the Republican Congress will be looking to cut $150 billion from the federal budget every year--under a best case scenario. Under a more reasonable scenario, where the economy grows at 2% instead of the 4% JEB! is praying for, the government would lose $3.4 trillion over 10 years, or $340 billion a year. Add to this the cost of failing to raise taxes on hedge fund managers ($60 billion) and the underestimate of the cost of territorial corporate taxation ($130 billion), and the total amount the Republicans will have to cut from the federal budget every year will be...$360 billion.

That $360 billion will be coming out of our social security, Medicare, and Affordable Health Care payments. If you like the idea of getting less for medical care and social security, by all means vote for JEB! and the Republicans. If you think the wealthy and the corporate elite already have a big enough slice of the national pie, vote for the Democrats. Then, at least, you will have a chance to stop losing ground to the wealthy!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Judge rules Christians must obey the same laws as everyone else

Judge David Bunning of the Federal District Court of Eastern Kentucky has ordered Kim Davis, Clerk of Rowan County, to be held in jail for contempt of court. Even some Republicans--mostly the lawyers--are saying the judge did the right thing. 

Courts have very little power to enforce their rulings. They can issue warnings, they can assess fines, and they can jail those who disobey court orders. The judge warned this woman more than once. He probably assumed that any fine he assessed would be paid by right-wing Christian groups, not by her. So he had no choice but to put her in jail for contempt.

If this woman can get away with breaking the law because she says her god told her to do it, then everyone in the country can use that defense. The Christian right would like to substitute Mosaic law for the US Constitution and common law, no doubt. But a Federal judge can't permit them to do it.

The law operates on the basis of treating everyone equally. The motto above the US Supreme Court entrance reads, "Equal Justice Under Law". If the judge allows the defendant to use Christian law (or some form of it that was never written down or recognized in any court, as in this case), then he, or another judge, would have no choice but to permit defendants to be judged under Sharia law, or the laws of some other country of their choice. I can just see Justice Scalia's eyes rolling as he considers that possibility, strong defender of American jurisprudence that he is.

From the viewpoint of a fundamentalist Christian, this ruling probably makes no sense. But their position on whether or not they should be required to obey the same laws as everyone else is absolutely untenable.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

$52 trillion: That's how much denying climate change may cost the world

Charles Koch believes in the free market. His objections to government regulations are always the same: "They distort the free market". But what if the market itself is distorted? Economists call this "failure of the market".

One example of market failure is the dust bowl on the American Great Plains in the 1930s. Farmers pursued practices that destroyed the topsoil until it was blown away. This market failure happened because short-term profits (cash crops) kept farmers from using sustainable methods until the soil was ruined and people had to abandon their farms.

A similar market failure led to the collapse of the Sumerian civilization, which was based on advanced farming using irrigation. The civilization thrived until the soil became too salty to produce crops. Then the Sumerian civilizations failed, big-time.

Is this the destiny in store for us? Will our civilization, so large and impressive, be destroyed by market failure?

Climate change is the biggest failure of the market in the history of the world. It is the first one we know of that affects the entire planet. It is also the first market failure caused by polluting the atmosphere as opposed to being produced by destroying the ecosystem.

Scientists have studied the current climate change for the last 50 years. They have become aware of what is happening and why. Economists have only recently begun to study the possible effects of climate change. Since economists are well-versed in making predictions about the future, their predictions should be taken seriously, no matter how extreme they may sound to our ears. This is especially true when the economists in question work for citi, one of the Big Four banks of the US. Citi has just produced an extensive study of the economic effects of Climate Change. Their conclusions are eye-opening.

The report issued by citi economists measures the economic effects of ignoring climate change as opposed to doing something about it right away. The effects of ignoring it, as you might imagine, are horrendous. The report uses three scenarios of action. In one, the green path, the planet is able to keep the temperature from rising more than1.5 degrees Centigrade. In that case, the global GDP will be reduced by 0.7% or $20 trillion by 2060. In the worst-case scenario, the temperature will rise 4.5 degrees Centigrade and global GDP will be reduced by $72 trillion.

In brief, the citi report predicts that doing nothing would cost the world $52 trillion more than spending the money now to reduce our fossil fuel use and take other steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But here again, we may run into the problem of market failure, because the people who make money by producing CO2--primarily fossil fuel producing companies--will not be the ones who will have to pay for the mess they are creating. Instead, those who pay will be our children and grandchildren.

There will be a summit meeting in Paris in December to decide what actions to take globally to avert such a catastrophe. We will all need to take action.