Thursday, March 22, 2012

Savings Lives Doesn’t Count If There’s No Profit!

Another example of the failure of American-style capitalism appeared recently in a New York Times report.  There is a generic drug, transexamic acid, which was shown in a large multi-country trial in 2010 to save the lives of hemorrhaging trauma patients by slowing their bleeding.

The British and American armies began using the drug immediately with great success, saving lives of badly injured soldiers.  It is used in British hospitals and is carried in British ambulances.

The drug could save an estimated 4,000 lives in the United States each year  … victims of car crashes, stabbings, and shootings. Yet American hospitals have been “slow” to begin using it.

Why? The drug is cheap.  So cheap that there is little profit in it for its manufacturer, and so it has not marketed the drug, hasn’t pushed it. And if a pharmaceutical company doesn’t push a drug, it doesn’t get used.

Finally, however, hospitals in several cities are now “debating” its use. But in most others, it is not being considered.

This is a scandal and yet another indictment of American-style capitalism. There’s nothing wrong with making a profit. But profit should never be a factor when it comes to providing health care.

If everyone in the health care field … from drug manufacturers to hospitals to doctors groups … were by law required to be not-for-profit organizations, we would not have many of the types of problems that we have with health care in the United States. 

To those who will say that taking away the profit incentive would negatively impact innovation, I say, “nonsense.” Three reasons. First, the people inventing drugs or delivering services do so because they are motivated and have professional pride. Second, drug companies would continue to innovate because new products and increased sales leads to greater security for its labor force. Third, it might actually increase innovation because a drug would not be deep-sixed because it wasn’t going to be sufficiently profitable.

Taking the profit motive out of American health care would more than likely greatly improve the entire system and the quality of care Americans receive, which contrary to the posturing of some politicians is consistently shown in international studies to rank rather low compared to the other industrialized countries.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Energy Policy Ignores the Elephant in the Room: Saving Us from Global Warming and Peak Oil

In current thinking, the issues presented by global warming concern using less fossil fuel and replacing that energy source with alternative”clean” energy.  We are all familiar with the options that are on the table: solar power, wind power, ethanol, and nuclear power. Oh and I suppose for accuracy one should add clean coal. There is also modest incremental talk of conservation.

However, there are problems with all of these “solutions.”  Clean coal, which requires the deep burial of carbon dioxide, will never be politically or economically viable.  For one, the energy companies want to be left off the hook legally if the gas should happen to escape its underground habitat and kill people.  Then there’s the problem of removing mountaintops and the resulting environmental degradation to access the coal.

Nuclear power, at least nuclear fission, has the inescapable and unsolvable problem of what to do with the nuclear waste product that will remain radioactive for thousands of years.  Nuclear fusion, which would be safer and produce less radioactive waste is still experimental; a test reactor is under construction in France.

The remaining “green” options are generally agreed not to have the capacity to provide anywhere close to our massive energy needs.  And even the green options, including electric cars, would need massive amounts of energy … generated by fossil fuels, of course … to be financially viable. Corn ethanol, which has only thrown world corn markets into a frenzy resulting in increased food costs for the poor, has been proven to be worthless as an energy saver.

If one is objective, one therefore has to say that all the talk about substantially reducing our carbon footprint through the use of alternative energy sources just is not very realistic, given our current  and future dependence on energy, which will just get worse as the world population grows and more of it experiences modern development.

And as one thinks about this issue, it is important to remember that there is another energy-related catastrophic event waiting to happen out there … it’s not just global warming. At some point in the future … whether it’s starting to happen already as some argue or will happen in 20 or 50 or 100 years … we will reach “peak oil.” The availability of oil then will be drastically reduced and the price of what oil is available will skyrocket to unimaginable heights.

So if one is trying to plan for the future, the inescapable question that must be addressed is how can modern man live, with a reasonable level of creature comfort (one must be practical), using only a fraction of the energy that is being used today. Only if that question can be realistically answered is there any hope for mankind’s future. If that question is not answered, sooner rather than later our economies will collapse, our standard of living will evaporate … the world will become a very ugly place, not all that different from the futuristic world depicted in “Mad Max.”  We will have destroyed ourselves, not by nuclear weapons, but through our insatiable greed.

I certainly do not have the answer.  What’s scary though, is that I am not aware of any great minds or think tanks that have addressed this issue and come up with various models for how we could live using only a fraction of the energy being used today. No one seems to be thinking or talking about this. This goes way beyond what could be achieved through conservation, energy-efficient appliances, green buildings, and the like. This would most likely require a massive change in the way we currently live.

To my mind, government and industry must join forces in a project even larger than the fabled Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb. The future of our children, and certainly our children’s children, will depend on whether and how this issue is addressed.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Rush Limbaugh, Have You No Shame, No Sense of Decency?

After many years of ruining peoples lives as part of his anti-Communist witch hunt, Senator Joseph McCarthy finally went too far in 1954 when he gratuitously exposed a young lawyer with a great future as having for a short time in the past been a member of what McCarthy termed a “Communist front organization” as a way of getting at, embarrassing, Joseph Welch, the lawyer for the Army, which was being attacked by McCarthy.

The response by Welch is famous.  After saying that, “Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty, or your recklessness,” he said, “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?

Today, Rush Limbaugh sunk to a far more unfathomable low.  He was commenting on a young woman who had testified before Congress supporting the provision of the Health Care Reform Act that requires health insurance, with the usual limited religious exemptions, to provide free access to contraception.

Although I think it bizarre, I have no problem with him being against that provision, as is the Catholic Church and many evangelical leaders. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. It’s the American way.

But Rush Limbaugh did not just speak out against this provision.  Instead, he lashed out in the most vile, misogynistic, cruel, and reckless manner at the young woman who testified.  Here is what he said:

First he called her a “slut” and a “prostitute.” Then added, “So Miss Fluke, and the rest of you Feminazis, here’s the deal. If we are going to pay for your contraceptives ... We want something for it. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.”

To which I, and I hope all of America will say, “Sir, have you no sense of decency at long last?  Have you left no sense of decency?”

I urge all the companies who sponsor his program to withdraw their support, thereby making a statement that such reckless vilification is not acceptable. It is against everything that America stands for.