Sympathy for Paranoia

cat in the tin foil hat

The moon landing was faked by the U.S. government for propaganda purposes to win the Cold War. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 was actually an inside job as a pretext to go to war. Space aliens landed in Roswell, NM but the government has been covering it up. The Sandy Hook massacre was faked to increase support for new gun control laws; the “victims” were actually actors who are all alive and well today. The Illuminati is the secret entity which actually governs the whole world…

The natural response to these statements is to say “these people are mad barking moonbats” and to keep ourselves as distant as possible from the people making them. Those of us in the liberty movement who want to be taken seriously are very quick to renounce anyone who is within six degrees of Alex Jones or anyone else who states any of the above. It’s difficult enough to be taken seriously about legalizing drugs, the non-aggression principle, free markets, and freedom of association; the last thing we need is to be lumped in with “those people.”

While it is very important to defend the “brand” of the liberty movement, it’s also important to recognize the reasons why people believe some rather nutty things.

[W]hen I say virtually everyone is capable of paranoid thinking, I really do mean virtually everyone, including you, me, and the founding fathers. As the sixties scare about the radical Right demonstrates, it is even possible to be paranoid about paranoids. – Jesse Walker, The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory, (p. 24) (Read my book review here)

Once one learns about some of the activities governments been proven to have been involved in, some conspiracy theories no longer seem as outlandish. I used to refer to conspiracy theories and wacky beliefs as “black helicopter” stories and I’m fairly certain that others used the same terminology. Once I learned that black unmarked helicopters were used in the assault by the FBI on the Branch Davidians in Waco, TX,(Napolitano, p.110) I stopped calling such ideas “black helicopter.”

Not everything that sounds crazy is.
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ACA Open Enrollment 2.0

healthcare.gov

The ACA open enrollment period for 2015 coverage ended on February 15.

Before the ACA, consumers could purchase health insurance 12 months out of the year. Now consumers are limited to an “open enrollment period.”

This is meant to increase access. Or something.

In any case, the federal exchange website continues to be pathetically bad.

It would not accept the login information I had recorded in my passbook. I tried the “forgot my password” options successfully implemented on thousands (millions?) of websites around the world. After hours of frustration over successive days of effort (it rejected all my answers to questions about my pet’s name, best childhood friend, favorite kind of food, etc.), I gave up and created a new account.

This did not end my problems. Every time I entered my Social Security Number, the system kicked me out. It knew, you see, that a person with that SSN already had an account (it just disagreed with me about that person’s favorite pet and best childhood friend). I was only able to create the new account when I skipped the first field asking for my SSN.

I then entered a mystifying cycle of being asked for my state, clicking the button to start the process, being delivered to a new screen where I was asked for my state, clicking the button to start the process, being delivered to a new screen asking for my state, etc. This went on, to the tune of “I Got You Babe,” until I made a snow sculpture with Bill Murray and started clicking random buttons to break the cycle.

After that, I answered a series of questions and viewed some options. Eventually, I was told that I had to enter a Social Security Number if I wanted to buy coverage. This seemed counter to what I know of the law, but I was simply grateful that I was able to enter the number at that point without getting kicked out for impersonating that other Sarah Baker with the same Social Security Number but a lesser predilection for Mexican food.

I successfully purchased (I think!) a health plan for 2015.

All in all, it took hours of effort over a series of months to complete this process. This is in sorry comparison to what could be accomplished on a website like ehealthinsurance.com before the federal government decided to “make things easier.”

I was not alone in experiencing continued glitches with this ridiculous website. Peter Suderman gets a money quote from a federal government employee who emailed him with frustrations over the process:

“Today’s some sort of deadline, they’re e-mailing me like mad,” he wrote. “I signed in to try and fix that and tell them that my [relative] already got insurance. I was able to log in, but that’s about all, there were buttons, I clicked them and nothing works. This is a solved problem, Amazon, Google, Facebook, hell every bank and probably 50% of small businesses have a more functional website than this.”

Anyway, now that we all have health insurance (except for the tens of millions who still don’t) let us not forget that having health insurance is not the same thing as getting health care. Being forced to buy the former in no way ensures the latter.

Premiums spent on high-deductible policies sap funds available to pay for actual care. Having insurance at all results in higher charges per visit, even when the patient is paying out-of-pocket for the deductible.[1] Narrow networks sometimes mean people cannot see the doctors they want or need unless they come up with the money on their own. Compounding the problem, providers are increasingly opting out of the lower reimbursement rates and higher headache rates associated with the plans.

The doctor shortage is not just an abstract problem. It is a real-world problem with real-life consequences for patients like Julie Moreno, who needed cataract surgery:

For three months after her November 2013 diagnosis, the 49-year-old Mountain View resident said, she tried to get an appointment, but each time she called, no slots were available. Desperate and worried, she finally borrowed $14,000 from her boyfriend’s mother to have the procedure done elsewhere last February.

When Noam Friedlander needed back surgery, she found that the surgeons who were covered by her insurance operated out of hospitals that were not—or vice versa:

Unable to match a hospital and a surgeon that were both covered, Friedlander started haggling between doctors for a cash price for the surgery. She chose a surgeon who wasn’t covered by her insurance but who operated in a hospital that was covered. … In the end, she had to take out two credit cards so she could pay $16,000 out of pocket.

The ACA’s defenders will argue that however flawed it may be, the system is an improvement over what came before. No one disputes that reform was needed. But the ACA fails to address the root cause of outpaced inflation at the point of service. It fails to address the medical school cartel and doctor shortages that push prices higher. It fails to repeal expensive employer mandates that drive health insurance (and health care) costs higher and incomes lower. It fails to deliver better tax treatment for out-of-pocket expenses or equal tax treatment for individual and employer plans.

In many cases it instead exacerbates these problems.

In short, it fails to take advantage of the myriad free market alternatives that might remediate the root causes of high health care costs and result in a truly better—and not just different—system.

_________________________

[1] I discovered this strange phenomenon in 2014. For the nine years prior to that, I had the same plan, which I had purchased myself in the individual market. It was cancelled at the end of 2013 due to the passage of the ACA. For several reasons (the unworkable website and my rebellious nature among them), in 2014, for the first time in my adult life, I went without heath insurance. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that office visits were $50-$60 lower once I had no insurance, and more expensive procedures, such as mammograms, were hundreds of dollars lower.

An Article V Convention Is A Great Idea……If You Want To Destroy The Republic

USC3a

Article V to the U.S. Constitution lays out two methods for amending the Constitution:

  1. Congress passes an amendment by two-thirds vote and sends it to the states for ratification
  2. Two-thirds of state legislatures pass a resolution call for a convention to propose amendments, that would be sent to the states for ratification.

Amendments proposed either way have to be ratified by three-fourths of the states. All 27 amendments to the Constitution have been proposed by the first way. However, many conservatives are calling for an Article V Convention of The States to curb what they see is a Federal government that refuses to deal with a debt crisis, regulatory overreach, infringements upon state sovereignty, and Federal government overreach. Other Article V proposals include the “liberty amendments” that were proposed in 2013 by conservative talk show host and constitutional attorney Mark Levin.

However, without dealing with the specifics of the proposals laid out by those who are supporting an Article V convention, I believe that an Article V convention is a terrible approach to amending the constitution and in fact will likely result in a less free America.

The first problem with the Article V convention is that it’s never been tried before, with good reason. Matthew Spalding wrote this for the Daily Signal:

The requirement that amendments proposed by such a convention must be ratified by three-fourths of the states is a significant limit on the process and would likely prevent a true “runaway” convention from fundamentally altering the Constitution. But we don’t think it is at all clear, for instance, that two-thirds of the states calling for an amendments convention can limit the power of all the states assembled in that convention to propose amendments to the Constitution. Other questions include the many practical aspects of how an amending convention would operate and whether any aspects of such a convention (including going beyond its instructions) would be subject to judicial review.

 

 

Which leads to the second problem with an Article V convention, which is that everything will be on the table. The New American magazine reports that at least one progressive PAC is calling for an Article V convention in order to pass an amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision. In addition, progressive Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has released a wish list of amendments. In an Article V convention, all of these things can be considered and what may result if a series of proposed of amendments reflecting a populist smorgasbord of proposals designed to cobble together the support of 37 states.

The third reason why an Article V convention should be rejected is that all of these proposed changes can be accomplished through the normal Congressional amendment process. An Article V convention should be reserved just for national emergencies given all the inherent unknowns that would be involved. No one in their right minds can credibly argue that any issue we’re facing right now that an Article V convention would remedy is truly a national crisis that needs to be solved with the dramatic step of a constitutional amendment, let alone one passed in this measure.

The final reason why liberty-lovers should reject an Article V convention is that it essentially is a shortcut to doing the hard work of persuading fellow Americans and our representatives that we need to make these changes. What the Article V proponents are essentially trying to do is to overturn 80 years of election results without actually putting in the hard work of persuading fellow Americans that they should make the changes. If they could not convince the American people to endorse this agenda in an election, how are they going to convince 37 states to endorse these ideas?

An Article V convention is a radical measure that will, unfortunately, provide a platform for populist demagogues to promote their agenda to the detriment of liberty. Need I remind everyone that the original mandate of what became the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787 was merely to revise the Articles of Confederation. Instead, it produced a brand new governing document. It’s just as likely that an Article V convention will produce a constitution that will radically different than what its proponents advocate.

In the end, there’s just simply too much risk and too many unknowns surrounding the Article V convention to go down that road.

The Glass Houses of the Anti-Science Left

Image retrieved from RiseEarth.com on February 6, 2015.

The enlightened left loves to mock anti-science on the right. But guess what?

The pot is every bit as sooty as the kettle.

The political left in the U.S. harbors junk- and anti-science tendencies running strong as anything found on the right. From glass houses (recycled, natch!) in solid blue crunchvilles around the country, the left’s anti-science factions scoff at global warming “deniers,” blissfully blind to the power of their own superstitions.

It is not merely the chemophobia or the illogical fixation on things “all natural.” Never mind that everything on earth is made of chemicals—including kittens, oxygen, that homemade soap on Etsy, and every essential oil. Never mind it would take 14 bottles of store-bought shampoo to amass the amount of formaldehyde in just one apple (and cauliflower has even more). Never mind that arsenic, lead and hemlock are all natural.

I can overlook the dangerous predilection for “natural remedies,” the susceptibility to mythical conditions like “candida overgrowth,” or the willingness to pay extra for meat without nitrates that is actually more dangerous. All of these are largely phenomena of Prius-driving, Whole Foods-shopping raw pecan lovers. Regardless, the externalities these superstitions impose, while greater than zero, are within a range acceptable in a free society.

Let them buy all-natural snake oil from salesmen savvy enough not to incorporate.

The problem is that not all their superstitions are quite so harmless.

Genetically Engineered Food

Consider GMO foods. As compiled by Reason’s Ronald Bailey:

A 2004 report from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) concluded that “no adverse health effects attributed to genetic engineering have been documented in the human population.”

In 2003 the International Council for Science, representing 111 national academies of science and 29 scientific unions, found “no evidence of any ill effects from the consumption of foods containing genetically modified ingredients.”

The World Health Organization flatly states, “No effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved.”

In 2010, a European Commission review of 50 studies on the safety of biotech crops found “no scientific evidence associating GMOs with higher risks for the environment or for food and feed safety than conventional plants and organisms.”

At its annual meeting in June, the American Medical Association endorsed a report on the labeling of bioengineered foods from its Council on Science and Public Health. The report concluded that “Bioengineered foods have been consumed for close to 20 years, and during that time, no overt consequences on human health have been reported and/or substantiated in the peer-reviewed literature.”

The science is in. The safety of GMO foods is as well established as evolution and clearer than man-made global warming.

Wonderful news! We can move forward with ameliorating hunger and saving lives around the world using foods like Golden Rice, genetically altered to carry a gene from carrots and intended to prevent the Vitamin A deficiency that kills 670,000 children under the age of five every year.

But superstitious anti-GMO activists have succeeded in escalating the testing requirements necessary to bring it to market and backed a campaign of vandalism against farmers with limited licenses to use it in the meantime. A study published in the Cambridge Journal of Environment and Development Economics calculated that delayed deployment of Golden Rice has cost 1,424,000 life years since 2002 in India alone.

Compared to that, young-earth creationism seems almost…science-y.

Renewable Energy

Fracking is safe, fossil fuels are efficient, and there is no credible path to replacing them without nuclear, the greenest of them all.

Biofuel contributes to global warming and would require stripping the planet. As for all the rest, the resources necessary to manufacture the components are about equal to the energy the technology is capable of producing. They never manage to do much more than break even in producing the amount of energy consumed in their own manufacture.

In other words, trying to replace fossil fuels with renewables “simply won’t work” because the energy requirements for manufacturing and maintaining solar panels, windmills and electric cars are too high.

Even if one were to electrify all of transport, industry, heating and so on, so much renewable generation and balancing/storage equipment would be needed to power it that astronomical new requirements for steel, concrete, copper, glass, carbon fibre, neodymium, shipping and haulage etc etc would appear. All these things are made using mammoth amounts of energy: far from achieving massive energy savings, which most plans for a renewables future rely on implicitly, we would wind up needing far more energy, which would mean even more vast renewables farms—and even more materials and energy to make and maintain them and so on. The scale of the building would be like nothing ever attempted by the human race.

In reality, well before any such stage was reached, energy would become horrifyingly expensive—which means that everything would become horrifyingly expensive… This in turn means that everyone would become miserably poor and economic growth would cease (the more honest hardline greens admit this openly).

“The most honest hardline greens” openly admitting that ending our reliance on fossil fuels would necessitate ending civilization as we know it? They’re the ones who understand the science.

The rest are just crossing their fingers while imposing “astronomical” costs on the rest of us.

Recycling

Reusable diapers are not more environmentally friendly than disposables. Curbside recycling doubles the number of fossil-fuel burning trucks required to pick up the same amount of garbage. There is no shortage of landfill capacity. Whether for the purpose of preserving sand or to prevent glass from returning to sand, there is no sound reason for spending $90 a ton recycling glass into other, different glass that can be sold for $10 a ton. For every remanufactured product that achieves net energy savings, there is another that results in a net energy loss.

There are recyclers who take the time—in between washing their garbage and line-drying those disposable diapers—to research each potential recyclable, investigate the programs in their locales, and reach reasonably scientific conclusions about which recycling efforts net a savings of natural resources. the-craft

Most don’t.

They’re not interested in scientific answers to these questions. They’re practicing a religion.

So while Democrats gaze down their all-naturally moisturized noses and snicker at the anti-science right, let us not forget that Democrats are more likely to believe in ghosts, significantly more likely to believe in fortune telling, and almost twice as likely to believe in astrology.

The walls of their recycled glass houses might be kept shiny with organic, handmade, all-natural, chemical-free, locally-sourced, artisan household cleaning products.

But those who live there still ought not throw stones.

Rand Paul Sees Anti-Vax Fire, Adds Gasoline

needle

Does Doctor Rand Paul believe vaccines cause autism? Well, let’s see exactly what he said on the topic (video after the fold):

I’ve heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking, normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines.

Really, Rand? You’ve heard of cases. Seems like you and my wife have something in common. As I like to say, I believe in evidence-based medicine, while she believes in anecdote-based medicine.

Of course, it’s not all that dangerous that my wife has this blind spot. She’s neither a doctor NOR a US Senator. You, however, should think before you open that hole on the front of your face and let words fall out. The world holds you to higher standard.

90% of your interview was extolling the virtues of vaccines. You make a great point about freedom. Vaccines ARE voluntary, which seemed to be a surprise to the anchor. We as parents must carefully weigh evidence and do what we believe is right for our children. I’ve argued as such here on this blog.

But this one sentence is going to be used as evidence that vaccines cause autism. Your position as a Senator and as a doctor are going to be used to give this idea credibility. Oh, and if you now come out and publicly try to distance yourself from this, the conspiracy-minded anti-vaxxers out there will view that as only damning you further.

And you base this on what? Anecdotes? Anecdotes from parents who are reeling from the emotional sting of realizing their perfect little child is facing a neurological disorder and the terror of what that will mean? Parents who wonder “why” life is unfair–and who is to blame? These parents are vulnerable, and some of the subcultures in the autism community will have them quickly believing that vaccines, antibiotics, and frankly anything sold by a pharmaceutical company is evil, and delivering them into the hands of pseudoscience hucksters selling hyperbaric oxygen treatments, chelation, and homeopathy as the solution. As the father of a child with autism, I’ve watched it happen. I don’t tend towards hyperbole in this area, but the behavior of many of these groups is remarkably cultlike.

I’m not sure what Sen. Paul truly believes as it relates to vaccines and autism. But he’s now entered the debate, and on the wrong side. He did so without evidence; merely anecdote.

I lost some respect for Rand Paul today.
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