Category Archives: Social Issues

Big Pharma vs Big Supplement

Right behind used car salesman and politicians, some of the most commonly distrusted people in our lexicon are large pharmaceutical companies—if people use the term “big pharma,” you can often assume that their thoughts are less than flattering.

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Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli

People like CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals Martin Shkreli, engaging in a clear example of what can only be called price gouging, and later arrested on securities fraud charges, certainly don’t help the public opinion of the pharmaceuticals industry. And the list of civil and criminal actions against some drug companies don’t help either. As with any industry, there are clearly some bad actors.

Off-Label Promotion/False Advertising

One look at that civil litigation list provided, and you start to see a common theme. Almost all of them are for an “Off-Label” promotion violation of the False Claims Act, originally enacted in 1863. Off-Label promotion is when a drug company promotes a particular drug for treatment of something that isn’t supported by clinical data and thus isn’t approved by the FDA based on that data.

As an example, for men with male pattern baldness (androgenetic alopecia), minoxidil, which is often sold under the brand name Rogaine® from Pfizer was tested on the back of the scalp, often referred to as the bald spot, and as this report from the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery after a 1-year post marketing study states:

In evaluating minoxidil effectiveness in stimulating hair regrowth, the investigators found the 5% solution very effective in 15.9% of patients, effective in 47.8%, moderately effective in 20.6% and ineffective in 15.7%.

Image result for rogaine

 

But it was not tested on a receding hair line near the forehead (bitemporal recession), so despite the fact that logic would seem to dictate it would be effective there also, it can only be marketed to restore hair at the scalp until studies confirm its efficacy for bitemporal recession as well.

This kind of false advertising is certainly inexcusable, and I don’t want to claim otherwise—the purpose of this article isn’t to argue that pharmaceutical companies are faultless and incorruptible. But instead, to promote skepticism as to whether they are to be trusted to a lesser degree than supplement companies.

Because of the life-and-death situations or general health implications involved when taking pharmaceuticals, that industry is far more heavily regulated than most—and arguably for good reason.

Image result for regulations

But such heavy-handed regulation has other implications. The more regulations an industry has, the greater the risk they’ll be prosecuted for violations, as their compliance is that much more complicated to achieve.

Said violation may be an intentional misrepresentation, an innocent mistake, or a subjective situation where they feel their claims are fair and accurate, but the courts ultimately disagree.

However, any industry has a list of civil litigation, so the argument that pharmaceutical companies are unique in this where supplement companies aren’t, or any other industry in general isn’t, is patently false logic.

Supplement companies have often been found to make equally false claims through the years, and  as this article from the New York Times shows, the federal government has cracked down on them also.

But it’s imperative to understand that pharmaceutical companies largely make testable and proven claims, where supplement companies almost never do. I don’t think one can fairly argue the people making testable and proven claims most of the time, are somehow less honest than the people who purposefully don’t, because they know they’ll get sued for false advertising if they do.

Profit Motives

There’s this notion that big pharma rakes in huge profits, while supplement companies are promoting all-natural products that work just as well at treating illness, and are being suppressed by the pharmaceuticals industry because they’re so cheap, so big pharma can keep you sick to maintain those huge incomes.

The problem with this argument is that it’s a patently false premise because the supplement industry is incredibly profitable too. As this PBS article from 2016 points out, they’re a $30-billion industry. By comparison, this US Trade Commission report shows that total pharmaceutical sales weigh in at a stout $333 billion.

Big supplement is 1/10th the size of big pharma, but they’re nothing to sneeze at, and at the end of the day, the profit-based-motive argument that decries big pharma is equally true for big-supplement. So one cannot fairly use that to attack big pharma against big supplement. But there’s more meat on this bone than you might think.

Why the Price Discrepancy?

As was noted earlier, the regulations around pharmaceuticals are based on the FDA requiring clinical trial data to support their claims. This is a good thing. But here’s a basic overview of how clinical trials work.

As this information from the FDA points out, (copied and pasted verbatim for accuracy) there are five steps in the drug development process.

  1. Discovery and Development
    Research for a new drug begins in the laboratory.
  2. Preclinical Research
    Drugs undergo laboratory and animal testing to answer basic questions about safety.
  3. Clinical Research
    Drugs are tested on people to make sure they are safe and effective.
  4. FDA Review
    FDA review teams thoroughly examine all of the submitted data related to the drug or device and make a decision to approve or not to approve it.
  5. FDA Post-Market Safety Monitoring
    FDA monitors all drug and device safety once products are available for use by the public.

If you click on the link above, each step is explained in great detail, and they’re incredibly complicated. Especially the Clinical Research portion, which has its own set of four phases within it.

  • Phase 1
    • Study Participants: 20 to 100 healthy volunteers or people with the disease/condition.
    • Length of Study: Several months
    • Approximately 70% of drugs move to the next phase
  • Phase 2
    • Study Participants: Up to several hundred people with the disease/condition
    • Length of Study: Several months to 2 years
    • Approximately 33% of drugs move to the next phase
  • Phase 3
  • Phase 4
Clinical Study Map. Click for more info

As you should easily understand from all of this, at a minimum, 2 years to 6 years of time and money will be spent by the pharmaceutical company, before they’ll ever see a dime of return-on-investment, nevertheless a profit.

But let’s do a little math here. Based on the FDA’s account of how many of those move all the way through the clinical trials process, 70 out of 100 move to phase 2 (70%), 23 out of 70 move on to phase two (33%), and 5-7 out of those remaining 23 move on to phase 4 (25% – 30%). Which means 93-95 out of 100 will not see the light of day, and will be money big pharma will have to write off as a loss. That doesn’t even include the ones that don’t make it through the other four steps that aren’t clinical trials.

So generally speaking, if one drug costs $5-$7 to manufacture, that means a drug company would have to charge, on average, $100 for that drug, just to break even.

When looking at the above, you can understand that since the supplement industry isn’t beholden to all of this, it makes sense that the average pharmaceutical would potentially be twenty times more expensive than the average supplement ($5 compared to $100). Not to mention, they don’t have to invest in all that pesky testing to verify their product does what they say it does either.

Image result for dsheaAs this article points out:

The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994, which was lobbied through Congress by the supplement manufacturers, exempted them from the FDA drug approval process.

How does that compute? Think of it this way. If you’re going to argue some chemical does something to your physiology or health (everything is a chemical, even all-natural supplements, so I’m not talking solely about man-made products), then you simply have to prove it.

If you’re able to prove it, and you want to make that claim, then your product is a pharmaceutical. You will market it as such, because there’s credibility associated with your product if you do so. Not all pharmaceuticals require a prescription after all, things like ibuprofen, NSAIDs (aspirin), and other OTC medications are still pharmaceuticals that make specific, testable, and proven claims. So there’s no harm in marketing your product as such.

However, if you can’t prove it, but you want to sell something anyway, you have to make vague claims that can’t be challenged in court because they can’t be falsified.

For instance, you might say something “promotes heart health.” If something has any dietary value whatsoever, it can fairly be argued it promotes heart health, because nutrients keep you alive. Your basic apple, a juicy steak, or a big fat cheeseburger could make a similar claim, even though the latter two actually can harm heart function too. However, if you want to say it reduces the risk of heart attacks, now you have a very specific claim that must be backed up with data.

The basic gist of the argument is that if your product works, it’ll be a pharmaceutical, and if it doesn’t really do anything, it can still be marketed as a supplement. However, this is not to say that supplements can’t help. If your doctor notes a particular vitamin deficiency, then taking that vitamin supplement is surely an advantageous course of action. But as this Scientific American article points out:

The new studies, published today (Dec. 16) in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine —including two new clinical trials and one large review of 27 past clinical trials conducted by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force — found no evidence that taking daily multivitamin and mineral supplements prevents or slows down the progress of cognitive decline or chronic diseases such as heart diseases or cancer.

So when comparing the two on the trustability scale, consider this:

With pharmaceuticals, you’re trusting a group who has to support their claims with clinical data under threat of civil action, and therefore spends the millions of dollars to prove their claims.

With supplements, you’re trusting a company who avoids such litigation by making ambiguous claims because they either didn’t want to make the effort to do such studies. Or worse yet, such studies were conducted, and no efficacy was shown for the claim they hoped to make, so they sell it under the guise of an ambiguous and often untestable claim instead.

The Overlooked Downfall of Supplements

With supplements, the reason they’re often unregulated and avoid the skeptical eye of the FDA, is often because the FDA deemed them innocuous, and therefore didn’t need regulated. Think about that for a minute. The FDA basically argued that when taken at their recommended dosages, these supplements do very little, if anything, so there was no need to regulate them.

So how then does one come to a conclusion that such things are better at treating a condition than something which was actually proven to do something, and specifically the something you needed it to do?

But it does get worse. Because there’s a saying in biology that states, “Everything is a poison, what matters is the dose.” In small amounts, most of these supplement compounds are harmless. But as this CBS News video points out, because many people take these supplements on the belief that they can’t harm you, the fact is, some can do harm if taken in excess.

Many people fail to realize that you get almost all the vitamins and minerals you need in your diet, assuming you eat reasonably healthy. So taking a vitamin pill when you don’t have a deficiency of that vitamin, is effectively an overdose. Most of the time, you’re body just sends it out your exhaust pipe, but they can in fact be harmful.

The Naturalistic Fallacy

One of the final arguments I like to address, is the “all-natural” argument. (If you want an explanation of the Naturalistic Fallacy, click the title above.)

Cancer, arsenic, snake venom, and a litany of other things that kill you are also all natural. Many drugs stem from extracting the thing that helps you from a plant for instance, without making you consume other parts of that plant that either don’t help you, or might harm you.

To give you a fictional example, imagine you had a panacea tree. You notice that when eating the panacea tree leaf, that you feel slightly better when you have a stomach ache. So you start eating a lot more panacea tree leaves next time you get an upset stomach, but then you get dizzy because the panacea tree also has a psychotropic substance in it.

So pharmaceutical companies will extract the compound that helps with the indigestion, produce a pull that contains just that, so the next time you have indigestion, you don’t have to eat panacea leaves. You can just take their drug, and not have to deal with the psychotropic side effects from eating the leaves.

That’s clearly an incredibly simplified generic example, but you at least hopefully understand the principle of what pharmaceutical companies might do, and why they should get the presumption of benefit, compared to just eating some random plant that may help somewhat, but harm in other ways.

Expanding on our fictional example, there’s another scenario to note as well. Some of these compounds from a natural source, are so low in that natural source, like 1 PPM (parts per million). But in order for that compound to cure your condition, you’d need a dosage that’s more like 100,000 PPM (or 10%), so you either take a pill that was made with 100,000 molecules of just that compound, or you eat 100,000 of the panacea leaves and blow up your stomach because you ate too much.

Purposefully Keeping You Sick

People argue big pharma only wants to keep you beholden to big pharma by stringing you out on a never-ending supply of drugs. But there’s a few things to note on this point.

If you have an infection, you might take an antibiotic for a week, then you’re done. If you have cancer, you might be treated by something like chemotherapy, be cured, and then you’re done. I’m sure almost every one of you reading this, at one point in your life, had a condition which required you to take a drug for a short period of time, the drug cured your condition, and now you no longer take that drug.

These are all instances where big pharma cured you and did not string you out. But most supplements expect you to take them for the rest of your life, because you’ll be healthier. So who’s stringing you out again?

Risk Mitigation

Many conditions people might have may require surgery. Surgery can be very dangerous and expensive. But there might be a drug that can manage your discomfort much more cheaply and less dangerously. If the condition isn’t life threatening, people will often choose not to have surgery, and just take the drug to manage the pain instead. Things like back surgery for lower back pain and such, come to mind. That’s not big pharma stringing you out, that’s you and your doctor choosing not to take a big risk.

Something May Be Better Than Nothing

Many conditions are degenerative in nature. If you lop a finger off, it won’t grow back. This is true for your bones for instance, as well. So with degenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease or osteoarthritis, you cannot cure what is no longer there, at least, not yet.

So sometimes pain medications are the only alternative to osteoarthritis relief. Again, that’s not big pharma stringing you out, that’s your own body falling apart and you managing the pain with pharmaceuticals.

Rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis are different types of arthritis. They share some similar characteristics, but each has different symptoms and etiology.

I say “not yet,” because regenerative medicine (the ability to regrow things on someone that aren’t regrowing naturally) is one of the biggest areas of new discovery these days.

It should also be noted that because researchers are working on regenerative cures, they’re also working to heal you in a short time, then stop treatment once you’re well. If we go back to the “stringing you out” argument, if that was their goal, they’d be pushing painkillers, not spending millions to find cures.

SYNOPSIS:

Both Big Pharma and Big Supplement are hugely profitable. Arguing one is better than the other based on profits is false.

Big Pharma is heavily regulated and backed by science. Big supplement is just a company trying to sell you something that is largely unregulated.

Most people who make pharmaceuticals studied years of biology to do what they do so they could make things that save lives. People who make supplements often don’t have such training, and are largely operating on guesswork, anecdotal evidence, false assumptions, and sometimes, outright lies and speculation which can genuinely be likened to magic and the supernatural in their outrageousness.

You should always be skeptical in life, and I would never promote not questioning big pharma, but if I’m dying and have to trust one of them, I’m going to trust the one with proven results, and I’m willing to pay them in a manner that makes them profitable to do it.

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A Skeptical Look at Kneeling During the National Anthem

By now, unless you live under a rock, you’ve no doubt seen the backlash of these tweets from Donald Trump.

But how did we get here?

Most know it started with former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who decided during the 2016 NFL preseason to kneel for the following reasons, as cited here on the NFL website.

I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.

Colin Kaepernick

If you are reasonably familiar with the situation, and on social media, you’ve no doubt noticed most people have an opinion on one side or the other, and it’s nearly as heated and divided as religion and politics infamously are.

Since most opinions I’ve read are pretty passionate instead of objective, I felt it was worth exploring the subject from a skeptic’s point of view. As an issue, between Trump’s position and Kaepernick’s, it’s pretty complicated with a lot of facets worth considering individually.

If we start from the beginning, Kaepernick opted to do this in the wake of a number of police involved shootings of young “black” men, some of which, were unarmed. It appeared to be excessive force by many, and potentially even manslaughter or murder. Yet no charges against said officers were filed in the immediate aftermath. (I’m not aware of whether charges were filed later.)

I’ve written several times about police behaving poorly, and that this issue needs to be addressed far better than it is currently. I’ve also stated in my post “Analysis of Race and Perspectives of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement” (post also explains why I use white and black with quotations), that we as a nation have a lot of room to educate ourselves, and revise our long-held beliefs on racism.

While I believe the deliberately hateful racists, whether they be white-on-black or vice versa, are an incredibly small minority; many more biases are simply ingrained, and a product of conditioning versus a deliberate intention to demean someone.

Respectful discussions between the two sides can help overcome both, if we’re willing to have them. So I encourage all people, no matter what their skin tone may be, to be open to such discussions. It’s surely the only way tensions will improve.

But moving on from whether Colin has a point or not, let’s discuss his tactics, since they’ve now overshadowed his initial concern he was trying to bring awareness to, which for him, is almost assuredly a tragedy.

Is Kneeling Effective Towards His Goal?
SANTA CLARA, CA – OCTOBER 02: Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers kneels on the sideline during the anthem prior to the game against the Dallas Cowboys at Levi’s Stadium on October 2, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Since this started over a year ago, can we honestly say that racism has gotten any better?

It should be noted that it’s virtually impossible to quantify racism, but it is possible to quantify how many police shootings of unarmed black men who weren’t directly witnessed to have committed a crime.

Nonetheless, those parameters aren’t part of any FBI data I’ve seen. So there’s little way to determine if he’s been effective in reducing them.

As such, no claims one way or the other, can be considered anything other than speculation until that data is available. But I will say that it does seem like there have been fewer of these in the news since these protests began.

I think it’s also safe to say that racism is part of many discussions in a meaningful way at a number that’s probably as high as it has been since the civil rights movement.

The media’s coverage of Colin’s actions and their coverage of the police shootings which instigated his actions are largely to blame for this. So it is fair to say that he’s at least helped start the discussions that needed to happen, and are hopefully helping to achieve his end goal.

Are His Actions Congruent With His Goal

On this issue, I have to say I feel Colin missed his mark.

The U.S. flag is generally something that’s attributed to represent our nation, and also the men and women who served our military to defend it. But Colin never insinuated he was mad at those people.

He directed his anger at what he felt were several corrupt law enforcement officers, and the system that seemed to defend that.

So yes, he created awareness, but the people he offended doing it, were largely not the people he was mad at in the first place.

Is Colin Kaepernick a Racist

I cringe when anyone tries to make claims about what’s in someone’s heart. You just can’t know that. So you often have to take people at their word or their actions.

Colin Kaepernick with adoptive parents Rick and Teresa Kaepernick

I don’t recall seeing one instance where Colin said anything negative about Caucasians. It’s also important to note that Colin has a biological mother who is “white,” presumably a “black” father, and adoptive “white” parents who took him in and raised him.

The idea that he’s racist, seems pretty far-fetched, and not supported by any evidence I saw. But feel free to comment below, citing sources, if you’ve seen any statements he uttered against Caucasians in general.

Could He Have Chosen a Better Tactic?

Because Colin is famous, I believe he’d have done far more to improve these relations between the police and young urban minorities by doing community outreach with police. Maybe trying to start  a ride-along program with NFL stars, for instance.

Urging NFL players, especially those who were once urban minorities themselves, to go out with officers and start dialogues with them based on mutual respect between the police and many of the NFL players who were former at-risk kids themselves, would certainly help achieve his goal.

If police hear these stories from some of the NFL’s best, maybe it would make the officers see the young men in their community as potential greatness instead of potential criminal young men.

Community Outreach: Dajuan Howze, 13, battles for the ball against Pittsburgh Police officer Gino Perry while Zone 5 police commander Jason Lando waches. The officers played a pick up basketball game with local youth during the Homewood Community Day celebration.

I also believe that if a cop car rolls up in a bad neighborhood with a superstar like Colin riding along with them, it might incite those kids to get to know their local police; building better relationships in the process.

If you’re one of those kids, you’d love to meet an NFL star. And if you meet one thanks to a police officer who brought him to you, all of a sudden that police officer is more likely to be seen as a friend instead of a foe.

Is Colin Trying To Create Unity

On the face of it, a peaceful protest is certainly what Martin Luther King is famous for. And his kneeling is not that different from Rosa Parks sitting on a front bus seat.

Yet once Colin knelt, many took offense, and sadly didn’t see it that way, if that’s how he meant it.

Colin KaepernickIf he intended to be unifying however, wearing socks depicting police as pigs, all but ruined his message.

Even if he justifies it by saying that it was only directed at bad cops, I’ve heard multiple racist “white” people justify hateful speech by saying, “There’s black people, and then there’s n*****s”?

They assume because I’m white, I want to hear that nonsense. I assure you, I really REALLY don’t appreciate it. And I usually tell them so if I’m not in a position where I think I’ll be physically attacked for doing it. And Colin’s excuse for wearing those socks is pretty similar, in my opinion.

If rational people like me were apt to side with his peaceful protests, assuming he had nothing but the best intentions in his heart for all parties involved, this went a long way to burn that.

But nonetheless, I try to give him the benefit of the doubt that he was just angry, and did something ill-advised in his enraged state. Haven’t we all, in a moment of anger, said or done things we regret later?


Now let’s discuss Donald Trump’s actions.

Donald Trump Official Portrait

Love him or hate him, I think it’s fair to admit that Trump is open and honest about his opinions. His Twitter feed is laden with unrehearsed, unpolished, and uncensored opinions that clearly seem to be what he actually feels.

So let’s take a skeptical look at those.

Were Trump’s Tweets Divisive When We All Tend To Agree Unity is Needed?

Yes Trump’s comments were divisive. I frankly wish he’d just stop. But so were the people opting to kneel.

You cannot fairly condemn Trump for being divisive, if you won’t equally condemn the players who know it’s upsetting a very large portion of the country, without being hypocritical.

Should Trump Have Said What He Said and Tweeted What He Tweeted?

Trump is effectively two people. He’s a president, and an American citizen.

As president, I want him to be involved in Colin’s (and the NFL’s) actions absolutely zero.

Instead, I’d want to see him order the FBI to investigate police shootings to make sure local police aren’t effectively protecting their own during the investigations of officer shootings. Clearly, letting the San Francisco PD investigate one of their own is as big of a conflict of interest as one could imagine.

I’d also want federal prosecutors to handle any disciplinary actions, up to and including criminal trials.

As for Trump tweeting an official position on the kneeling, he should simply say it’s a private matter for the free market to sort out.

If it kills NFL ratings, then they’ll react accordingly. This is not the business of a government who’s first amendment guarantees free speech.

As an American citizen, he has a right to an opinion on anything, including this. In my opinion, he should have two different Twitter accounts: one for “the president” and one for “the citizen,” which he does (@POTUS and @realDonaldTrump). Then, keep his official positions on one, and his personal opinions on the other.

On this issue, he largely did exactly that. His @POTUS account retweeted the personal account’s tweet below, and that’s all I’ve found. The rest were on his personal account.

In general, I don’t feel Donald Trump has done a remotely admiral job at unifying a divided nation—quite the contrary. His business acumen is about winning, which means he’s often competitive by nature. That aggressiveness comes out in his behavior often, and I suspect it’s not likely to change.

He’s arguably the most divisive president in history, but it’s not like we didn’t know this prior to the election, and yet he still won. So this isn’t exactly an overpromise/underdeliver situation; no bait-and-switch transpired here.

But as much as I disagree with him on significant policy issues, I at least prefer his unfiltered nature. I find it far better than people who are polished and rehearsed yet come off as obviously fake. I’d just prefer to know instead of wonder where you stand, and whether you’re a person I wouldn’t like in real life or not.

Should The NFL/Team Owners Fire Players?


Well, the players work for the teams (franchises), not the NFL. The only people firing them will be the team owners.

The NFL has code-of-conduct policies, which they seem to strictly enforce. For instance, the Cowboys wanted to have a simple sticker in support of a slain officer, and the NFL specifically forbade it.

One can certainly argue that this is somewhat hypocritical to forbid a helmet like this, while allowing some other form of protest on the field, like kneeling for the national anthem.

But nonetheless, the NFL is a private company, and they have every right to be hypocrites if they so desire, and the free market will sort it out accordingly.

As for the teams, if they want to fire the players for representing their brand in a way that’s inconsistent with their team owner’s values, then they have a right to do so. One caveat though: only if they drafted a code-of-conduct clause is in the contract they have with that player, which specifically forbids such actions.

 


Now that we’ve covered the two actors in this play, let’s discuss the issue in general. Because there’s a lot of hypocritical and/or illogical behavior from the professional media and the John Q Pissed-Offs on social media.

Is This a Free Speech Issue?

This one’s pretty easy:

  • Is government stifling the action? – Free Speech Issue
  • Is private enterprise (NFL or team owners) stifling the action? – Not a Free Speech Issue

Since no one is proposing a law to prevent this, or that government intervene to stifle free speech, it’s not a free speech issue. It’s that simple. When such a law or government action is proposed, only then will it become a free speech issue.

Is It About Disrespecting The Flag

Many argue that it’s just a flag, and we shouldn’t get so worked up about it. But here’s the rub with that argument. 

Colin and his fellow kneelers aren’t attacking the idea that there’s too many stars and stripes on it, nor are they complaining the colors clash. They’re mad at a country that seems to allow racism and permit cops to kill “black” kids without recourse. The flag is just a representative icon of the country this occurs in, from their perspective.

Coincidentally, the people who are mad at disrespecting the flag aren’t really passionate about “the flag” either.

They’re passionate about all that the flag represents to them.

  • A country founded on liberty
  • A soldier who fought and died to protect them
  • A country they fought for if they are a soldier
  • The freedom it represents that they don’t have in other countries

That list goes on and on.

No different from you not caring about a piece of celluloid until there’s a picture of someone you love on it, the flag, as a piece of fabric, was never what anyone really cared about.

So when you make an argument that it’s “just a flag” to defend such actions, know that this argument isn’t relevant to this issue, since it wasn’t “just a flag” to either party. All sides would do well to understand that.

As a libertarian, I’m also fervent on the idea that thought-policing has absolutely no place in a free country. If it did, let’s be honest, Colin would be in jail, or worse, murdered by the state. Just ask many Iraqis who lived under the Hussein regime, North Koreans under the Kim Jong regime, or other dictator-run nations, who lost loved ones due to a government that didn’t take kindly to a lack of respect from its citizenry.

So to me, Colin should love America for the freedom it gives him to do these protests, and instead, direct his ire at the individual officers that commit heinous acts, a legal system that doesn’t seem to effectively prosecute them, and the racists who think it’s OK for officers to avoid prosecution for manslaughter of an innocent young man. Not the flag, and all the things that the flag represents to most Americans.

The Peaceful Protest

One of the most shining examples of hypocrisy in this is the people who lashed out at all the rioters after some of these controversial shooting (rightly so), and call for people to peacefully protest, then get mad at Colin and his peers for peacefully protesting.

They did what you asked, and they did it in a forum where they’d get the most attention for doing it. If the NFL allows it, you don’t have to agree with it, but you at least should give them credit for being peaceful, even if you agree with me that it’s misguided and ill-advised.

Again, we have to stop with all the hypocrisy.

Summary

All parties in this have good intentions, even if their tactics are heinous. Throughout all of it, most people are calling for unity and peace. So let’s do the things that have a proven record of achieving those goals.

I’m willing to have a respectful discussion, give benefit of the doubt to those with good intentions, even if they aren’t acting like it, and show respect to those I disagree with.

I’d also suggest instead of standing with Trump or Kaepernick, you form your own opinions, while being your own worst critic. Come to a conclusion that you think is fair to both sides, and be honest when it’s obvious you’re being hypocritical. You have no right to demand others be better if you refuse to be better yourself.

 

A lesson In Skepticism: Assumptions Are Bad, but Great Discussions Can Ensue From Them Nonetheless

Recently, a friend shared this meme on Twitter. Like anyone who stands behind and supports our military, I couldn’t help but be a little put off by Lena’s supposed argument. So I quoted the tweet with “We all have our problems. Unless your problems are life and death, your problems don’t make you special, they make you normal.”

This meme appeals to those of us who feel a heavy debt of gratitude towards our military. Sadly I jumped to conclusions that I absolutely shouldn’t have, and neither should my friend I discussed this meme with shortly after.

While we took different positions, he and I both assumed that Lena was referring to her claims of assault/rape during college. Sadly for Lena, the accusations she made against a person she identified as “Barry” were deemed to be about someone who never met her, and she was forced to walk her statement back.

She later stated that “Barry” was a pseudonym she had given to her attacker. It just happened to coincidentally somewhat describe a man she went to school with named Barry, who was then sadly attacked in the media after many assumed he was her rapist. To her credit, Lena eventually confirmed he was not her attacker, but no doubt Barry endured a lot of unfair stress and insults to his character as a result.People will argue whether it was her exhibiting a Munchausen Syndrome type scenario, seeking attention by claiming to be a victim when she wasn’t. But unless you were there, or unless she ultimately admits no such attack happens, she should rightfully be taken at her word that she was assaulted. Rape is not so uncommon, especially when the parties are impaired (drugs and alcohol), as Lena admits to during the attack.

Being famous, she would also likely understand that she may open herself up to a slander claim if she identified her potential attacker by name, when that attacker has neither been indicted, nor convicted of such an assault. So her pseudonym claims are entirely plausible and even logical if true.

As I give her the benefit of the doubt, I also have nothing but sincerest sympathy for what she would have went through. While I think her literal words—as written in the meme—are effectively falsified by the meme, I absolutely understand and acknowledge that I have not known the fear of being raped, nor ever been the victim of any type of sexual assault. So while I absolutely sympathize—in that context—I cannot empathize.

It should be noted that there are many false rape accusations leveled at people for a myriad of reasons from later regret of a consensual tryst, to the aforementioned Munchausen Syndrome where people derive pleasure from playing the victim. But that being said, unless I am the accused and know I’m innocent, or witnessed the event with my own eyes and saw the consent, I will never claim a woman is lying when she says she was raped, and neither should you.

Because if they are telling the truth, how dare you make them feel like the villain in this equation when you have no knowledge of the truth. We have a presumption of innocence in this country. It’s based on the solid scientific principle of falsification, largely attributed to Karl Popper. Because of its greater likelihood of coming to a truth, it’s the moral way to approach such a claim as well.

So what was our mistake in the assumptions we made? There were actually a few.

  1. We both assumed that the text of the meme was what she said verbatim—it wasn’t.
  2. We assumed she was talking about herself—she wasn’t.
  3. We assumed it was about rape—it wasn’t.

My friend and I weren’t even in the same ZIP code.Lena Dunham endorses Hillary Clinton

As it turns out, Lena—being a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton—was supporting her campaign in an interview with Page Six (I could not find a reputable source to confirm what she said or where she said it, so I’m taking this with a grain of salt too). Lena is quoted as saying, “The other candidates are white men and they cannot understand, even if they can understand it intellectually . . . for what it’s like to be under that kind of attack, and I’m so impressed by the way she continues to soldier forth.”

Lesson learned, always be skeptical of memes, even if they’re shared by someone you trust. But nonetheless, there are many great discussions worth having about the assumptions we did make—even if they weren’t true—aside from the lesson we already learned about making assumptions.

So let’s take a couple of them on.


If she had been discussing women living in constant fear of being attacked by man, is that fair?

Well, yes and no.

From a purely literal sense, if you fear someone who is of no threat to you, that is effectively an irrational fear. But as famed psychologist and skeptic Dr. Michael Shermer explains, in man’s evolutionary history, we are prone to a phenomenon he calls patternicity: finding meaningful patterns in meaningless noise.

Dr. Michael Shermer

As he goes on to explain (click the link above for a more descriptive example), if you assume something is a threat that isn’t and flee the scene, you’ve endured no harm. But if you assume no threat when there is one, you are likely to be harmed. So it makes sense we’ve evolved to assume things are threats, even when that assumption may be false, as an effective method of self-preservation.

So for women to assume that some men are predators, even if those men are perfectly honorable in their intentions, is not entirely irrational, even though the feared assault is highly improbable (most men do not assault women). They have my sincerest sympathy that a small segment of the male population have implanted this fear in them, even if they have nothing to fear from me personally.

So men, while it’s easy to get mad at women for assuming the worst in us, understand that it’s a simple self-preservation instinct which is entirely natural and beneficial to their safety. Just make a sincere effort to make them feel as safe as possible if you wish to quash that fear and/or get to know them.


If we address my reply to the Tweet, I believe this is also a worthwhile discussion to have—not all problems are equal.

I get depressed about being single, or not reaching the level of success that I feel I should have attained in life. But I do have a job, I’m reasonably healthy, and have a wonderful family and friends. So I rarely openly share my issues, because I feel some level of guilt for complaining about these things when I see a baby with Leukemia, a soldier who lost limbs in battle, or homeless and/or jobless people whose lives are largely without hope.

It is important that we empathize where we can with people, and sympathize with them otherwise, no matter what they’re problems are. It helps to bring our community together, and it’s just the right thing to do in my opinion.

But for the person doing the complaining, it’s also important to keep your own problems in perspective. Problems aren’t that different from a hospital’s triage.

Society’s efforts should be focused on the most dire problems first, and we can address the less dire ones when the emergencies have all been dealt with. For instance, if I encountered both a drowning baby and a guy who’s depressed he broke up with his girlfriend and just wants to talk, I’m probably going to try to save that baby and leave the heartbroken dude to sort out his own problems. If my love-struck compadre were to complain about my choice, I think we all understand he’d be out of line.

My underlying point though, is that almost everyone has problems. We all love to believe we are unique in our pain—and somehow most others have a nearly perfect life.

But is this true?

No one was more loved or respected than Robin Williams, and with his portrayal of a homosexual cowboy, and then Batman’s The Joker, Heath Ledger had just solidified himself as Hollywood’s newest top shelf actor. Both of these men, by all accounts, were on top of the world.

Yet sadly both of these men, with so much love and respect heaped upon them, with none of the financial stresses many of us face either, could bear to live life another day.

And frankly, I defy you to ask anyone about their problems and find someone who responds that they don’t have any.

While someone may not know your specific pain, they almost assuredly have problems you don’t understand either. If you want sympathy and respect, don’t assume you’re the only one hurting. You’re dismissing the pain others around you are enduring—that’s pretty insulting.

I can’t emphasize enough how important I think it is that we be open about our problems, and discuss them with others. Bottling them up often ends in self-harmful or violent acts. So making the effort to not alienate those you’d like to sympathize with is something I think we should all strive for when we do reach out for help. I believe my approach would yield a more positive social interaction.


So now that we’ve covered our false assumptions, let’s address Lena’s actual claim.

A large portion of political arguments these days are hyperbole and hyper-partisanship. All sides of the aisle tend to overstate their strengths, while dishonestly ignoring their weaknesses. I’d be skeptical of anyone making a political argument on the campaign trail. But that being said, does Lena have a point?

On the face of it, no. History is littered with politicians attacking other politicians. Hillary Clinton was by no means the first to be the brunt of hateful political attacks. Some of hers are only unique in that she’s a woman, but most arguments were against her policy or character—not the fact she’s missing equipment down below.

America has never had a woman president, nor even a female vice-president. For a significant portion of American history, they wouldn’t have been allowed to do so. They weren’t even allowed to vote before 1920, with the passage of the 19th amendment.

The heinous acts toward the black community in American history dominate our culture. There are a multitude of movies, documentaries, and other media depicting the slavery era and civil rights movement—far more than there are about the hardships and atrocities women have endured as a group.

Yet I suspect many may be surprised to know that black men had the right to vote after the passage of the 15th amendment in 1869, over 50 years before woman had such rights in America.

So women have gotten pretty poor treatment throughout history (not just America) without nearly as much attention given to that fact, compared to others.

I readily admit it’s plausible that a large majority of men will vote for another man. And, since many women still claim to support the traditional notion of being subservient to their male counterparts, many women may not necessarily vote for a woman either. This makes Lena’s underlying point more than fair.

Much like Obama overcoming the racial barrier on the path to the presidency, our first female president will likely have higher hurdles to jump than her male counterparts do to get there too.

However, if I can pose a hypothetical situation for a minute, I don’t think I could be easily convinced that if Republicans had chosen a well-respected woman like Condoleezza Rice, and Democrats had chosen  someone who’s largely scandal-free like Tim Kaine as their nominees, I’m not convinced Condoleezza wouldn’t have gotten the same votes Trump did, and Kane gotten most of the votes Hillary did—yielding the same result.

I think if we’re honest, it would have been a far better election, with a better outcome, no matter who won, compared to the two highly-hated candidates the big parties actually picked.

Hillary most assuredly lost some votes solely by virtue of her pesky second X chromosome, but I am firmly convinced that she lost far more votes be virtue of being laden with a series of potentially immoral, corrupt, and even potentially criminal acts.

I’m of the opinion she got far more votes by virtue of being a Democrat from people who didn’t like her, than she lost by virtue of being a women from people who would have otherwise voted Democrat. Most heated political arguments are partisan in nature, not sexist.

So is Lena’s argument valid? Somewhat. Do I think it cost Hillary the election? No.

I think Hillary Clinton’s actions and persona cost Hillary Clinton the election. Trump was arguable one of the most beatable Republicans in recent history. Laying that defeat at the feet of her gender seems improbable to me.

But if you disagree, there’s a comment section below…have at it. Debate is good! Thanks for taking the time to read this.

Food For Thought: Facts and Myths About Mankind Being Omnivorous vs Herbivorous

Full disclosure

I’m a meat-eater and have never entertained going vegetarian/vegan. My passion level on the subject is pretty low, it’s just my curiosity that’s high. Unlike me, some are quite fervent on the subject however, so be wary of that if you intend to discuss the subject with those who have chosen to avoid animal byproducts. You may be in for a very heated debate.

While I do have a love for animals, especially my pets, and I understand (and largely agree with) all the arguments against the less-than-ethical treatment of animals, knowing that there are many natural meat-eaters in this world lends me to the conclusion that animals eating others is simply the natural order of things. So those are my biases in advance, and you should be fairly made aware of them.

IMPORTANT!

I would also like to point out that ALL decisions about your health and diet should involve consulting your physician (MD) and/or a registered dietitian (RD). I’m neither of those things. Do NOT consider my advice, or any other internet celebrity who isn’t an authority on the subject (aka The Food Babe, David Wolf, et al.) as a credible source.

I’m merely a skeptic providing food for thought, not giving any dietary advice above consulting your doctor or dietitian.

Unlike the aforementioned celebs, I will at least cite reputable sources where possible. All of them are chocked full of great information. They’re not just there for reference, I encourage you to read them individually. I’ve even reached out to a few registered dietitians as well, to be sure I don’t steer you down the wrong path (as you’ll see later).

On to the show…

To start, let’s break down veganism vs. vegetarianism. The short answer is that vegetarians don’t eat meat. Vegans take that one step further, and don’t consume anything that comes from animals, such as meat, dairy, eggs, and other such animal-derived consumables. For the long answer, click this article from Authority Nutrition.

There are two basic types of reasons for choosing to drop foods from the animal kingdom—opinion-based and factual. Only factual claims could be fairly subjected to criticism.

For instance, if you don’t want to be part of exploiting animals in any way, that’s a matter of opinion. While others can potentially find flaws in your reasoning, the bottom line is that opinions, by definition, are not right or wrong. So if that’s your only motivation, no one should be trying to argue you’re right or wrong, only that they agree or disagree.

The other reason one might do so, is for health reasons. That is a matter of fact, not opinion, and therefore is subject to scrutiny. No one has a right to their own facts, nor do facts care what someone believes. The best way to come  to know them, is via the scientific method. So this is why I stress above that someone trained in evidence-based science like an MD or RD should be consulted. It is your life, after all…so to you, it’s kinda a big deal.

Controlled studies are difficult on the subject, you have to rely on the subjects not only to stick to their respective diets, but if done properly, the study would take decades to test for longevity between the two groups, and other factors like changes in exercise and lifestyle, changes in diet within the framework of omnivorosity and herbovosity can all change the outcome and skew the data in such a study.

That being said, I was able to find this study from Oxford, which studied vegetarians against omnivores. As you can probably imagine, it’s complicated, for reasons I’ll get into in a bit. I’ll let you read it and come to your own conclusions, I’m not qualified to do so myself. (I keep pointing this out, not to demean myself, but so you don’t take advice from others who aren’t qualified either.)

So what started me down this path of inquiry? I had an exchange with a friend who is vegan, and she had suggested that dairy was not a natural food source for humans—I’ve heard this multiple times since. Me being the slightly sarcastic skeptic that I am, decided to share the response I gave her recently on Twitter for a laugh or two.

While I was of course being a little cheeky in my response, this brings me to my first point. There are a lot of clearly false claims out there that simple skepticism on your part can debunk—no biology degree required. Question everything, especially when your health is at stake. So let’s get to this claim.

Milk – It Does a Body Good?

All mammals are born eating milk. Mammals have mammary glands which supply…you guessed it…milk! And yes, I said eating—milk is technically a food, as much as it is a drink.

Why do we consume milk? Remember back to the days you were born; in case you don’t recall, you didn’t have any teeth.

Since our prehistoric ancestors didn’t have access to baby food or applesauce, it should make sense that milk was pretty much the only thing a toothless fecal factory can consume and get all the nutrients it needed. So, voila! We are in fact meant to eat dairy; or more to the point, the nutrients contained in dairy.

While it’s important to note that milk does vary slightly from animal to animal based on their needs (cow’s milk isn’t evolved for humans, for instance), there’s certainly no evidence it’s toxic in any scientific definition of the word. Click here for a good breakdown of the nutritional content of many animal milks from the University of Illinois. You’ll notice that it’s largely the same contents, just in varying amounts. This make sense, because we’re all mammals, and on the evolutionary tree, we’re all one big branch stemming from one common base, which means our needs are pretty similar as well.

Wisconsin milk board overstates dairy’s benefits to children, some experts say – Click Image for Article

As we grow older, and our teeth come in, we don’t need milk—we never technically did. We just need nutrients that milk provides, which many other chewable food sources also contain. Your body doesn’t care where protein, glucose (sugar), sodium chloride (salt), calcium, and other essential vitamins and nutrients come from, it just needs them wherever you can get them. So if one is to argue you need milk as you grow older and are able to consume a more normal diet, that’s also pretty false, despite what the National Dairy Council tells you. Milk does however have a good, natural combination of carbs, fat, and protein which is why it’s been deemed a great beverage for post-exercise recovery.​

Harvard has a phenomenal write-up on milk, including it’s effects on osteoporosis, one of many dubious claims about it. As you can probably imagine, as with most things, there are pros and cons—be skeptical of anyone telling you anything is all good or bad.

There’s a saying in biology “everything is a poison, what matters is the dose.” Bear that in mind, because many false arguments come from a zero-tolerance perspective (the idea that consuming any amount is dangerous), which is rarely if ever true. How much of something you consume is almost always equally important to what you actually consume. You can die from drinking too much water, while there is an acceptable amount of substances like mercury you can safely consume without incident. This is important for all those who think glyphosate and other potentially harmful chemicals used in food crops should learn before they assume what they’re eating is dangerous. The levels you get them in with a normal diet, make them almost entirely innocuous.

Since I’m a lover of science, and my interest level was getting high, I tweeted the following to two RDs I know from Twitter. Huge thanks to Amanda Kruse RD, CD (@Amanda_Kruse) for editing this post, and thanks to RD David from Science Based Nutrition (@SciBasedNutr), and Cara Harbstreet RD (@StreetSmartRD) for furthering the discussion on Twitter. I encourage you to follow them and join in the discussion.

Human Evolution

One of the arguments against eschewing meat, is that we evolved to eat it. It’s true humans have been eating meat for the entirety of our 200,000ish years on Earth. To argue we aren’t evolved to eat meat is clearly illogical. Veganism/Vegetarianism are fairly new concepts to our species.

The Cleveland Clinic

A very good short introduction to going meatless from the Cleveland Clinic shows what precautions one should take if going vegan/vegetarian to get nutrients they’ll be missing from a normal diet containing meat. If special caution needs to be taken if you ween yourself off of meat, this itself is a pretty strong argument that we are meant to be omnivorous. But if choosing this route, here’s a separate article from Cleveland Clinic (thanks Twitter RDs) outlining what you should consider—it can be a very good alternative for some if done right.

On the flip side, this article from Harriet Hall from Science Based Medicine is a pretty good account of the many pitfalls one might experience by going vegan. It’s a science-based review of a book from a woman who went vegan, only to realize she was experiencing health issues as a result.

Vegetarian Tostadas

But, as the articles from Cleveland Clinic point out, with some careful planning, you can easily substitute those missing nutrients with plant-based options. In doing so, you can fashion a diet that may in fact be even healthier. So while the evolution argument is compelling on the face of it, the fact remains that you can go meatless and be healthier for it. Take care though; if you think you’re not the type to stick to a carefully planned diet, veganism may not be for you.

So why would we be meat-eaters in the first place?

Evolution is the ability for a species to adapt to its environment. So they will thrive in locations that contain a rich supply of foods and nutrients those species need. If that species can eat just about anything, then that species has a greater chance of living on. So being omnivorous gave mankind the best chance of survival as we migrated all around the globe.

Mankind is also the one species (there may be others, but I’m not aware of them) that took evolution to a whole new level by customizing their environment to suit them. We build fires and air conditioning units. We farm and build shelter, too. All of these things make it possible for us to inhabit every continent on the planet. Take that, other species!

This ability to adapt our environment to suit us, changed the face of evolution in a meaningful way. It also brings us full circle to veganism, because it allowed us to do things like go vegan/vegetarian if we choose to, thanks to the knowledge of how we can modify our diet to supplement what we’ll miss from meat.

Bad Arguments

Because this issue is quite contentious, there are a lot of bad arguments out there from people who simply want you to see their side, and through confirmation bias, have come to their conclusions one way or the other—insisting their way is the only way to be.

Anecdotes – “I went vegan, and I feel great. So will you!”

As the BBC’s Dr. Karl Kruszelnicki often says…

So why should you ignore your vegan friend who swears by their diet? Because they are not a controlled study.

Imagine your friend does go vegan for health reasons. Many meat eaters eat fried meats like deep-fried chicken nuggets, and other friend foods like french fries. Maybe they’re feeling bad, and a doctor tells them to eat healthier and exercise.

So instead of entering into a controlled study, they start exercising, and go vegan, as well as other such “healthy” lifestyle changes.

Six months later, they feel great. But why do they feel great? We know that exercise makes you feel better, as long as you don’t overdo it. So maybe going vegan did nothing, and you’re just feeling better because of the exercise.

Also, maybe while going vegetarian, you also cut out those other fried foods as well, so you’re not only going vegetarian, you’re eating healthier in general. It’s quite possible that had you done all that, but instead switched your meat consumption to fish, chicken, bison, and other healthier low-fat meats, you’d be even better. How would you know? You didn’t control for all those variables. Instead, you went through a life change, and introduced a myriad of variables where you really can’t determine which, if any were effective.

So while your friend might mean well, this is a great example as to why scientists don’t consider anecdotes as evidence.

What is healthiest?

Another concern you should have, is when people claim one diet is healthier than the other.

The word healthy is incredibly ambiguous—how would you define it? It could mean not being obese or malnourished, disease free, heart-healthy, mobile, longevity of life, clear of mind with no dementia…the list is pretty endless as to how you could define it. (I refer you to the Oxford study above now, which broke down the areas that were better and worse). So for someone to claim one is healthier than the other as a blanket statement, is already a walk down the path of hyperbole and flawed logic.

Because of nearly entire lack of fat, if obesity is your concern, a vegan/vegetarian diet is almost certainly the better option than eating high-fat meats. But again, lean meats like chicken, fish, bison, etc., could achieve the same goal.

Why do I point this out? Because again, this is exactly why you should consult your doctor, or a registered dietitian. They will know better than anyone, how to determine your needs, and then guide you down the best path to achieve them.

Conclusion

Whether you choose to go herbivorous or carnivorous, there are healthy and unhealthy paths you can go down with either. Ignore anecdotal evidence, ignore hyperbolic claims that indicate one is clearly “healthier” than the other, ignore your well-intentioned friends who are eminently unqualified, and the myriad of internet celebrities selling you whatever they want to believe, too. With most things in life, there are pros and cons; anyone telling you there isn’t, is someone you probably shouldn’t listen to.

You can go vegan and be healthier. You can remain omnivorous and with small changes, still be healthier. While we did evolve to eat meat, at the end of the day, it doesn’t appear it’s necessary. The short answer seems to be, that the opinion reason is the only one that’s a firm reason to ditch meat. You can achieve most any health goals without going vegan by…say it with me…consulting your doctor or registered dietitian.

 

Is Health Care a Right?

If you’re a limited-government advocate, you’re almost guaranteed to be a detractor of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) colloquially known as Obamacare. The AHCA from the GOP designed to replace the ACA, has recently been passed by the House, but is largely believed to not have a chance in the Senate.

President Barack Obama delivers a health care address to a joint session of Congress at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., Sept. 9, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

If you’re old enough to recall the Clinton presidency, you may remember that Hillary Clinton was appointed by her husband Bill to the “Task Force on National Health Care Reform.” Her mission was to improve the state of health care in the United States, and her suggestion was a single-payer system similar to what many nations in Europe and Canada use.

This single-payer system was originally supported by President Obama as well, prior to becoming president. But the political climate in America is still one of limited government more often than not, so the ACA was a compromise Obama was willing to make to achieve his goal of every American having “basic access to health care.”

The bill being one of the larger in American history had a lot to it, and as such, had a lot of things people from many places on the political spectrum took issue with.

The extreme of the left, like self-proclaimed socialist Bernie Sanders argued for a universal plan, not a privatized option like the Affordable Care act. So in their estimation, the plan didn’t nearly go far enough.

Those on the right, felt the mandate requiring people to buy insurance was counter to American values, and challenged that, as well as several other facets, in the Supreme Court, ultimately losing their fight after Chief Justice John Roberts arguably rewrote the law to allow it to survive instead of casting the deciding vote to strike it down.

Supreme Court of the United States Chief Justice John Roberts

Many libertarians like myself, are left wondering why government should be involved in health care in the first place. I think our position is pretty consistent and straight forward, although I always cringe at the idea of speaking for other people. But I will try to state the libertarian position as I’ve consistently observed it.

Health Care is not a Right

The argument from those pushing for government-funded health care is the idea that it’s a right—some going so far as to say it’s an extension of your right to life. But let’s break that down for a second, as it depends on how you define rights in general.

The Constitution doesn’t mention health care, so there’s no honest metric one could use to say it’s a Constitutional right. However, most argue that it’s a basic human right.

The United States Constitution

If we compare health care to other well-understood basic human rights, it becomes fairly easy to understand how healthcare is different. Religious freedom, freedom of speech, freedom in general, life, air, etc., these things all have one thing in common. They do not require any action from another person.

Rights by definition, should not involve the action of another person, because otherwise, your right to have their labor or goods trumps their right to keep their labor or goods—therefore one person ends up having more rights than another.

Healthcare requires goods produced by the pharmaceutical industry and medical equipment from manufacturing companies, as well as the efforts of a medical practitioner like a doctor or nurse, it isn’t just something that exists in the ether for all to consume.

If we force those people to do such work through laws like EMTALA, which require emergency rooms to treat people, regardless of their ability to pay, this arguably violates the 13th amendment which states:13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Abolition of Slavery

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

Making a doctor save someone’s life versus giving them the option, even if they get paid to do so, is both immoral and potentially unconstitutional.

A quick internet search yielded no instance where SCOTUS has granted certiorari (agreed to hear) any petition challenging EMTALA, although the 11th Circuit upheld the law in BAKER COUNTY MEDICAL SERVICES INC v. ATTORNEY GENERAL, August 2014, The challenge there was not against the 13th amendment, it was against the 5th, which reads as follows. (The bold portion was what the challenge argued against.)

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

The reason the law was upheld, is because the law only applies to hospitals which voluntarily work with Medicare. So the court ruled that their participation was voluntary, while the plaintiffs argued not taking Medicare is an undue financial burden, and therefore not really a choice. (Almost all hospitals accept medicare, because they’d have a hard time making a profit if they rejected all those who are on it). Government often gets so involved, that they create the problem by virtue of their intrusiveness in the marketplace.

The Supreme Court Of The United States

Moving past EMTALA, if we assume that the doctors help someone voluntarily, and expect to get paid by government, then the second issue arises that the taxpayer and/or fellow healthcare consumers, end up footing the bill.

What logical argument can one make to indicate that person A is responsible for person B? While it’s certainly altruistic in its intent, and I understand the idea that if we all band together to help those in need, society is potentially better off because of it; that’s still a moral judgement you’re making that others may not share with you.

There’s also a rather large hypocrisy in play for these beliefs. Speaking to a doctor who promotes a single-payer system, my argument was that at some point, that doctor expects to retire. While my taxes help pay for health care, my dollars don’t cure anyone. My dollars pay a doctor who then cures someone.

So if a doctor chooses to take a day off, or retire, they have opted to not help someone who could have used help. If I were to tell those doctors that now the government gets to dictate how many hours they work, and what time they may take off, they’d be apoplectic. Yet I do not get to choose how much of my paycheck funds the health care of another.

Much like mass and energy are interchangeable because one can be transformed into the other, so are labor and money for the same reason. Forcing someone to give up their money to pay for services they’re not receiving is no more moral than forcing them into servitude for the same purpose.

As much as it may seem heartless not to do it, you cannot divorce that fact from the equation.

This brings me to the “are you just going to let them die” argument, that is often bandied about as justification for forced medical care.

The number of visits to a doctor that are life threatening vs just quality of life issues are very small. Even Emergency Room visits, according to one government study puts the number of visits that could have been treated by a normal doctor or Urgent Care facility vs the emergency room at somewhere between 13.7 and 27.1%. That doesn’t include all the times people just went to their doctor, or an Urgent Care facility. So it is more than fair to assume that less that 10%, maybe even less than 1% of all medical care required is non-life-threatening.

If that’s true, then most of the time care may be refused, it is not about letting someone die at all.

But also, if we go back to labor and money are interchangeable, arguing that myself or anyone else is “just letting someone die” assumes that we owe them their life. Which again means that the government would get to decide when a doctor may retire or otherwise not work.

Waiting in Emergency department

While it’s easy for those of us who aren’t medical doctors to sit at home, and say “someone should help those people” (referring to those who can’t afford to pay for health care), the fact is that any government requirement for them to be helped requires violating the actual enumerated constitutional rights and largely accepted human rights of a number of people, in order to preserve a non-enumerated right of one person.

If you want to help people, you should volunteer to help. Go to school to learn medicine, and do the good deeds you want done. But the moment it becomes compulsory for you or anyone else, it is no longer moral.

With the number of charities that were doing great work to help the less fortunate before laws like this were passed, the idea that such people didn’t get help, is misguided. While there were some people who did not receive care, there were a good number who did. But more importantly to libertarians like me, liberty remained in tact, and not one right was violated.

The Best Intentions Are Not Justification For Intervention

One of the biggest false narratives coming from people on the right, are that those on the left are trying to ruin America. Whether it be political correctness, socialized health care (Single-payer) and/or retirement planning (Social Security), business regulations, social engineering, anti-discrimination laws…the list is a mile long of ways that these folks want to improve America in a very meaningful and altruistic way.

It’s easy to just attack their positions if you look at it from the view of the people they’re trying to change. Political correctness stifles free speech. Socialized health care and retirement planning takes money involuntarily and by force from the earner, and often gives to someone who didn’t earn it. Business regulations cost entrepreneurs money, making it difficult for small businesses to compete when their funds are diverted from inventory, research, and development to compliance attorneys who do absolutely zero, from a return-on-investment scenario.

I’ve always staunchly argued that for something to be fairly deemed moral, one person cannot be remedied by wronging another, especially through force. So while I applaud the left for wanting to help promote compassion, tolerance, and general well-being for all Americans, it is my firm opinion, they’re severely misguided in many of their arguments.

While I could speak about the issues above ad nauseam, I want to discuss the anti-discrimination efforts specifically in this post.

From a scientific perspective, diversity (specifically genetic diversity) is paramount to our ecosystem. Having organisms with different genetic makeup insures that natural selection will continue to evolve past challenges that face all life on Earth. So attacking our differences as if they’re a flaw, is quite the fallacious argument. As such, I would never argue that somehow discrimination is a good or productive thing.

But that being said, there are varying types of discrimination. Instinctive discrimination for instance, is where a person subconsciously puts one person over another without even thinking about it, and with no ill will meant towards the person being discriminated against.

There’s also conscious discrimination, where people purposefully segregate themselves or others, but not through hate, just through a desire to associate with others like themselves. For instance an exercise club that’s only for women, or a golf club that only allows men. While I think there’s no benefit that really comes from that, it’s wrong for someone else to impose upon you that you may not do it.

There’s altruistic discrimination, such as organizations that help a particular race, sex, religion, etc., like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), The National Organization for Women (NOW), or a myriad of different religious organizations. Such groups aim to help advance their own cause, while not working to degrade anyone else doing so. Typically, they argue that they’re not given the same opportunities as others, and therefore only want to level the playing field, not put themselves above anyone.

Then of course, there’s the ugly side—hateful discrimination like the KKK, Neo-Nazis, Westboro Baptist Church, and other groups whose intent is to advance their own kind at the expense of another. While all forms of discrimination can have unintended bad consequences, this one is by far the worst. Its negative consequences are precisely intended—being the only one specifically intended to denigrate others.

While there can be no doubt that hateful discrimination should be quashed in all it’s forms to the betterment of society, there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about it.

When you try to force someone out of that mindset, you may publicly suppress it, but you’re also quite likely to just make those folks even more hateful deep down inside. Occasionally, such oppression drives those with little self-control into a rage that leads to an act of violence. Such unintended consequences are the worst possible outcome, and the polar opposite of what helps the cause.

The other issue this often brings up, is that if it’s not your cross to bear, maybe those you’re trying to help don’t want your help. You have no right to dictate when someone else should be offended, nor to anoint yourself the arbiter of what is offensive to others.

For instance, several years ago, a movement to get the Washington Redskins NFL football team to change their name started brewing. Many people were altruistically trying to help end an example of what they saw as racism. But as it turned out, as shown in this poll published in the Washington Post, nearly 90% of the people these caring crusaders were fighting for felt it was much ado about nothing. If they aren’t bothered by it, then no one outside their community should be dictating that somehow they should be.

On a side note, I’d also like to argue that something meant as a compliment should not be considered an insult. The Redskins organization has never shown an ounce of ill will towards the Native American community. While those tribes certainly have a right to not like the name, and even speak out if they find it offensive, one should at least draw a distinction between something that might offend someone versus something that was meant to be an insult. It’s like the difference between manslaughter and murder.

While ending discrimination is a lofty goal to pursue, there are a couple of points people should keep in the back of their mind.

First: Are you the one being discriminated against? If not, feel free to support those who are. However, if they don’t ask you to fight alongside them, fighting for them anyway, is disrespectful instead of helpful. It effectively argues, “You don’t know what’s best for you, but I do.”

Most people neither appreciate, nor respect that. So you’re not helping anyone. Although your intentions are good, it’s discriminatory and disrespectful nonetheless to be a busybody fighting someone’s battle for them when they didn’t ask you to, nor want you to.

Second: Was the person doing the discriminating trying to harm someone else at the expense of helping themselves? If not, then it’s not worth starting a fight over. You can certainly engage in a conversation about why you think it might be a bad thing to do, but it’s important to remember that the reason we try to prevent discrimination is to prevent someone being harmed. So if no one is in fact harmed or feels like they were wronged, then there’s no reason to go on the attack.

Jungle Gym

Three: Gauge whether the person that said or did something you might find offensive actually meant offense. If you’re not sure, ask questions instead of assuming the worst. You might find that they just misspoke, meant well, or are just asking questions. Being easily offended isn’t helping anyone.

Decades ago, I remember reading a story about an older teacher in her sixties (light-skinned) who was supervising her elementary school class on recess. The playground had a jungle gym, and the kids were playing on it. The teacher, engaging with one of the kids who was dark-skinned, commented to that child that the child was “swinging on the jungle gym like a little monkey.”

Word of this got to the parent, and offense was taken. It was assumed the teacher was using a racial slur against the child. While we cannot know what was in the teacher’s heart, the fact is, swinging from trees is a pretty common practice for monkeys, and the comparison made by the teacher could have been 100% about what the kid was doing, and 0% about what the kid looked like. She may have said the same thing to a light-skinned child and this would have never been a story. If so, it wasn’t discriminatory in any way, and now the teacher being made to look bad, is the only victim in the above scenario.

Juvenile Borneo Orangutan Pongo pygmaeus swinging from tree branches Tanjung Puting National Park Kalimantan Indonesia

To be fair, it could also be true, the teacher was an incredibly racist person. I’ve met more than one sweet old lady, that felt comfortable saying some awful racist things because we shared a common skin tone. So I’m not arguing it wasn’t possible the teacher didn’t mean anything bad, I’m only arguing she could have meant nothing bad, and maybe asking questions about her intentions were more in order than assuming the worst of her.

(I tried to find a link to the story, but I think it’s too old, and not living on the internet. But as I recall, she was not noted as having any history of bigoted actions.)

We should all want to end discrimination, but it should be done through education, reasonable discussion, and sometimes, maybe even public shaming if combatting intentionally offensive behavior. But always remember that fighting for someone else must be done at the request of, or along side of the person being discriminated against. You may mean well for taking on the cause yourself, but you’re often being bigoted doing so, and don’t even know it.

Exploring the Hyperbole, Myths, and Inaccuracies of Gun Legislation Politics and Discourse

Gun laws are a pretty sensitive subject in America, regardless of which side of the issue you’re on. But it shouldn’t be.

Indeed they are our constitutional right, and I support that right whole-heartedly. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be fair, and debate respectfully on the subject with those who may hold a different view. After this last election, I hope we can all agree civility in political discourse has a lot of room for improvement.

People who argue with logic and reason, are far more likely to encourage more to side with them than people who insult, lie, yell, and behave anything but adult-like.

So with that being said, let’s break down a few of the common myths often bandied about regarding guns.

MYTH #1: They’re trying to take our guns

Any time Democrats propose new gun legislation, Republicans immediately go on the defensive and rile up the base by insinuating their opponents are trying to entirely disarm the populace.

Armalite AR-15
Armalite AR-15 Semi-Automatic Rifle

But the base is already on their side, there’s no need to get them riled up. Not to mention, it’s entirely dishonest, and most who do it already know that.

Not a single law was proposed in recent history to remove all guns from private citizens, nor did anyone propose repealing the second amendment. If you feel the need to lie about your opponent’s argument to defeat them, think about what that says about you. It says you’re incapable of winning your argument on its merits. When you do this, you’ve already lost the moral and logical high-ground.

The effort should be focused not on the straw man argument that “they’re trying to take our guns,” but instead on the specific regulation being proposed.

A large majority of Americans have a pretty shallow opinion of Congress. In April 2016, this Gallup poll shows that only 17% thought they were doing a good job, 79% however thought they were doing anything but.

President Barack Obama delivers a health care address to a joint session of Congress at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., Sept. 9, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
President Barack Obama delivers a health care address to a joint session of Congress at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., Sept. 9, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

This less than favorable opinion is often due to the constant infighting between the two parties, that is largely full of myths, hyperbole, misdirection, and occasionally bold-faced lies. Neither come off looking like professionals, or even reasonable people.

So the party that strives to be amenable to finding common ground, and deemed as the most civil and honest will win this fight.

The Republicans owned Congress at the time, so a 17% approval rating should be a clear message they’re missing their mark.

Most Democrat-proposed ideas are around more stringent background checks, or limiting certain types of weapons, the latter of which, I think is misguided, but I’ll save that for another time.

Both parties agree that guns shouldn’t be in the hands of violent felons, or those with a diagnosed mental disorder.Firearm sale

But the problem for Republicans often arrives when Democrats propose what might be reasonable background checks, the bill is only one page of such reasonable checks Republicans might be open to agreeing to, but then a myriad of other pages of pork-like special favors for their district or other provisions that have nothing to do with the issue at hand.

Republicans are just as guilty of doing the same on other issues, so no one party is innocent of this. But if both just stuck to passing simple single-item bills on the issues where they agree, they’d be far more effective and win over the American people.

The best tactic for Republicans would be to first loudly proclaim that they’re willing to look at effective background check legislation and pass the background check attributes both agree on. Propose counter legislation that includes those, and only those, and let the Democrats justify why they won’t vote for it.

Show that you’re willing to find common ground publicly, and emphatically, leaving the Democrats looking like the only ones not willing to work towards progress. If Democrats argue, “these provisions don’t go far enough,” Republicans can simply put it back on them by saying, “This is what we already agree on. So let’s pass this first, and if it doesn’t help, we can discuss further measures later.”

Myth #2: The Gun Show Exemption for Background Checks

Democrats often cite the gun show exemption to background checks as a big problem, and frankly, they’re partly right, even if they’re disingenuous in their presentation of the issue.

The fact is that gun dealers at gun shows do in-fact do background checks. However, if you’re a private person who has a .22 caliber pistol for instance, and you’d like to upgrade to a 9mm pistol, you can take it to the show with you, and if some other private person like you who’s there (not a dealer or vendor) has a 9mm but wants a .22, then you can legally make a private citizen trade. This is just like you would do if your neighbor decided they wanted to sell or trade with you, it just happens on the premises of a gun show.Gun Show

Instead of just shooting down every idea Democrats have, Republicans could admit that maybe there are things that could be done, that aren’t an undue burden on law abiding citizens, to help clean up this “loophole.”

It could be something as simple as having people fill out a background check upon entering the show, if they’re considering buying or trading, and let them shop to their heart’s content from there. If they don’t pass the test, there’s really no reason for them to enter the premises of a gun show in the first place.

While I’m not saying that’s the answer, things like that can certainly be deemed a reasonable measure to prevent guns getting into the wrong hands, and are at least worth discussing in earnest.

Myth #3: Guns are the biggest problem

This well put together bit of data, and rather insightful graphic from the math geniuses at 538 points out that there are approximately 33,000 gun deaths in America each year, and this number is often used to denounce guns in general. But let’s put that in perspective as well as break those numbers down.

As this image from the CDC document found here shows, in 2014, there were 2,626,418 deaths in the United States that year, making 33,000 just above 1.2% of the reasons for death attributable to guns.CDC Cause of Death info from 2014

By comparison, more than double died from diabetes, nearly three times as many from Alzheimer’s (which took my father last month), and nearly twenty times more died from heart disease.

As the 538 article also shows, nearly two-thirds of those gun deaths were suicides, and a small percentage were self defense, or police shootings of criminal suspects.

While I think we all agree suicides are tragic, as a libertarian, I believe that you own your own body, and have the right to end it whenever you like.

My own grandfather was quite ill when he shot himself, and having already lost my grandmother years earlier, he didn’t want to burn through what little he had saved for his kids by chasing a terminal disease. While you may not agree with it, that was his choice and you should respect it.

But no matter what side of suicide you are on, it cannot be fairly called an act of violence, nor the fault of a gun. So those acts should not be considered when discussing gun violence, and I think those with an anti-gun position should be fair when presenting such arguments, no not cite 33,000 number, but instead, the 10,000 or so that were potential murders or manslaughter, versus suicides and justifiable homicides.

All that being said, 10,000 wrongful deaths is still a large number of people, and is incredibly tragic. It is a small percentage, but certainly statistically significant, and Democrats have fair cause to want to do something to lessen that number. Even if we disagree on their proposed methodology, their altruistic intentions should be evident and respected.

Conclusion

These are three of many arguments from both sides that are the first that came to mind to me. But I’m sure you can think of many more.

The bottom line is that Democrats should know most Republicans don’t want to put guns in the hands of bad people. They just don’t want law-abiding citizens to have their rights violated and disagree on how to go about preventing it.

Republicans should know that most Democrats don’t want to disarm America, they want to prevent wrongful deaths, and they think less guns will achieve said goal.

Until both parties in congress, and the party-faithful voters who make their voices heard on social media learn to understand, then be understood, these immature and dishonest tactics will continue to ensure that America doesn’t advance in any meaningful and constructive way.

We’re all smart enough to know better, it’s time we acted like it.