Thoughts about...Science, Health, Technology
Reason Online logo
by Terry Michael, December 8, 2013
Mexicans and Medicine:
A Grand Bargain?

What if Republicans decide they dislike Mexicans less than
they despise Obamacare, and Democrats realize immigration liberalization
is more attractive than illusory healthcare "reform"?

Reason link here
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Medical science...
or vaccine propaganda?

by Terry Michael, November 30, 2013

A late November article in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) makes some pretty audacious claims about vaccines and childhood infectious diseases.

I haven't read the whole "study" from Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health. (I don't have an expensive NEJM subscription.) I have mixed views on benefits of, and problems with vaccines. But this seems like obvious propaganda masquerading as a "scientific" study. The “calculations” (a better descriptor) estimate that over 100 million cases (what a nice round number?) of serious childhood illnesses have been prevented in the U.S. since 1924 by vaccination programs, according to news reports about the NEJM article. And the dean of the graduate school has even extrapolated the possibility of 3 or 4 million fewer deaths from vaccines among those “cases.”........

Full Article Here

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Down the Health Care Wormhole

How ObamaPelosiCare will saddle future generations
with a public policy disaster

Terry Michael | April 20, 2010

If we can put a man on the moon, we can re-write the basic laws of supply and demand and get more quality health care, dispensed by fewer providers per patient, at lower prices for all Americans. Sure we can. Just like we ended poverty with the Great Society, and like we’ll impose liberal democracy on the corrupt oligarchy ruling a collection of tribes known as Afghanistan.

Landing humans on the lunar surface looks like an easily do-able dream when set beside many of the ideologically and anecdotally driven social, economic, and foreign policy nightmares cooked up by public officials in the last half-century of big government. That truth is explored in the appropriately titled book, If We Can Put a Man on the Moon...: Getting Big Things Done in Government (though, it should be noted, the book doesn’t advocate getting big things done by big government).

Published last year, it was co-authored by former Reason Foundation privatization analysts John O’Leary and William D. Eggers. Together, the authors bring experienced insight about how good, bad, and really awful public policy ideas are generated, and then how those ideas should be tested in terms of design, adoption, implementation, achievement of intended results, and periodic review.

And after deconstructing health care "reform" via the O’Leary-Eggers model, you’d have to be moonstruck to believe that ObamaPelosiCare is headed for anything but a crash landing.

When the Supreme Court was trying to define pornography in order to judge certain anti-obscenity statutes, Justice Potter Stewart famously said, “I know it when I see it.”  Therein lies the fatal flaw in trying to reform a sixth or seventh of the economy related to personal health. So-called health care reform fails at the very first stage posited by Eggers and O’Leary, ideation, because—like beauty and porn—reform is in the eyes of the beholder.

In the left-liberal imagination, health care reform means getting the greedy bad guys in private enterprise out of health care delivery and securing the “right” to health care with a “single payer” system. That euphemism, like most verbal obfuscations, is a tacit admission that there’s nothing remotely close to public consensus about changing health care delivery. In the free-market conservative imagination, reform would mean buying health care in the same way we purchase milk, whiskey, or a new Lexus, linking consideration of price to unlimited desire for stuff.

Of course, we already have both free-market and government-run health care, which is the other great obstacle to reform. We have the worst of both worlds, with government Medicare and Medicaid providing a big pile of increasingly deficit-financed dollars sitting aside another mountain of cash generated by mostly tax exempt, employer-provided insurance coverage. Both of these mounds of free moolah discourage any consideration of price while they encourage demand. Doctors, hospitals, and Big Pharma do their best to Hoover suck billions from both piles. And politicians facilitate the process by pandering to a 40-million-strong lobby of greedy geezers (“the folks who built this great nation”) and a free lunch-seeking middle class.

For the sake of argument, let us hallucinate that reform was a big idea whose time had come. Then let’s subject it to the second phase of the O’Leary-Eggers construct: design.

ObamaPelosiCare was most certainly not designed by Barack Obama or Nancy Pelosi or any other leader. In fact, it wasn’t designed by anybody. It was a Rube Goldberg contraption of bells, whistles, and trap doors tossed together by K Street representatives of insurers and providers, colluding with their congressional clients. In a lobbying orgy, they mostly succeeded in getting bigger pieces of what promised to be a hugely expanding pie, bringing millions into the private (though massively subsidized by the government) insurance pool, with largely unfunded mandates against insurance exclusion for pre-existing conditions, and deficit-funded new “services” like even more free drugs for old people.

By the summer of 2009, with the president of the United States engaging in sloganeering and finger-pointing at the enemy du jour (insurers and Big Pharma, mostly), an angry citizenry emerged to flail away at the Big Idea. Yet there wasn’t even a clear definition of what reform actually meant, which left the specifics up to the imagination. This in turn produced much angry howling and congressional town hall meetings and helped stimulate the amorphous, citizen-directed tea party movement.

By year’s end, reform seemed doomed, until Commanders Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi rammed it through the wormhole of Stargate, as O'Leary and Eggers metaphorically label the adoption stage of their construct. The Stargate is the sci-fi gateway from our apparently real world to parallel universes with alternate forms of reality, popularized in the military science fiction movie and TV series of the same name. Without a trace of bipartisan consensus, and with the opposition from the center of the electorate bordering on fury, Pelosi and her allies used brute political force to hurl "reform" cosmic distances ahead into the regulation-writing hands of future bureaucrats, who will have to square liberal hallucinations with real-economy conditions sometime far, far away.

It isn’t often a landmark law makes it though the Stargate given the fortunate Madisonian obstacle course that thwarts change. But when paradigm shifting legislation has cleared those hurdles, there almost always has been significant consensus—or at least some modicum of bipartisan cooperation. Not so with ObamaPelosiCare.

It doesn’t take much imagination to see the pitfalls that will occur when bureaucrats attempt to enter the implementation stage of an undesigned, unpopular public policy creation. The results are likely to be even worse than the 1000 percent error made in projecting eventual Medicare costs when that program was adopted in the 1960s. Today, Medicare is eating tax dollars like some hungry Godzilla. In a few years, ObamaPelosiCare will make that monster look like a little lizard.

Original Reason HTML Link  or  Reason PDF

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Washington Times logo

Going too far to battle AIDS
Drug experiment on blacks looms in Washington

by Terry Michael | March 17, 2010

A pharmaceutical experiment on hundreds of mostly black homosexual men and heterosexual women in Washington is about to be undertaken by U.S. AIDS czar Dr. Anthony S. Fauci with the enthusiastic backing of the District's black mayor, Adrian M. Fenty, voiced in a January announcement. The experiment radically departs from medical "best practices" of offering antiretroviral chemotherapy for life to HIV-positive persons only after they exhibit depressed levels of CD4 T-cells and are judged to be at significant risk of contracting opportunistic illnesses associated with AIDS.

The new effort, "test and treat," as it is called, will promote universal voluntary antibody testing of adults accompanied by immediate administration of the drugs despite a wealth of evidence that the chemicals often cause serious adverse side effects - potentially life-threatening effects. However, the experiment isn't focused on individual impact. Instead, it suggests that the goal is a benefit that might accrue to society if the chemicals decrease sexual retrovirus transmission.

One of the world's leading HIV-AIDS experts, Dr. Jay A. Levy of the University of California at San Francisco, responded, "No, I wouldn't," when asked for this article if he would take the drugs if he were a homosexual black man in Washington with a positive antibody test but with normal T-cell counts and no illness.

A conservative voice for years in the drug-intervention debate, Dr. Levy wrote in an article for the San Francisco Chronicle on Feb. 23, 2001: "The persistence of HIV in cells argues for a delay in initiating antiviral treatments. Unless the infected person is sick, the very real problems of long-term treatment must be considered: toxicity which may lead to damage of the pancreas, heart, kidney or brain, emergence of resistant viruses and suppression of the body's natural anti-HIV immune responses." With words presaging the suggestion that immediate drug intervention could have societal benefits with regard to transmission, Dr. Levy wrote, "The increased prevalence of resistant viruses in newly infected people reflects the widespread use of HAART [highly active antiretroviral therapy] and the misconception that this treatment will prevent HIV transmission."

Scheduled to start midyear, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), the experiment is based on a controversial Jan. 3, 2009 article in the British medical journal The Lancet by Dr. Reuben Granich of the World Health Organization, titled "Universal voluntary HIV testing with immediate antiretroviral therapy as a strategy for elimination of HIV transmission: a mathematical model."

Director of NIAID for a quarter-century, Dr. Fauci (MD) and his director of HIV programs, Dr. Carl W. Dieffenbach (PhD), announced the experiment with Mr. Fenty on Jan. 12 as part of a larger, $26.4 million study to combat what the District's HIV-AIDS agency claims is a "generalized epidemic" affecting 3 percent of adults and adolescents. Use of the word "epidemic" suggests widespread disease and mortality, though the vast majority of the agency's claimed cases have tested positive only for HIV antibodies and have experienced no illness from AIDS. Research shows "untreated" positives may not experience illness following an HIV test for 10, 15 or 20 years - or ever, in many documented cases.

Dr. Fauci and Mr. Dieffenbach published an article in the June 10, 2009 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association in laudatory response to Dr. Granich's article. "A recent modeling study... reaches provocative conclusions and provides the theoretical basis for a new and potentially important public health policy strategy," they wrote. "This approach, referred to as 'test and treat,' predicts that [with] implementation of an annual voluntary universal HIV testing program for persons older than 15 years and with immediate initiation of [antiretroviral therapy] for those individuals who test positive regardless of their CD4 T-cell count or viral load, the HIV pandemic could be reduced within 10 years."

Critical peer reviews of Dr. Granich's work were published March 28, 2009 in the Lancet, months before Dr. Fauci and Mr. Dieffenbach published their paper. One notable alarm was sounded by Dr. Harold Jaffe of the Department of Public Health at the University of Oxford: "Within the field of communicable diseases, we are aware of little precedent for the approach of 'treating for the common good.' Treatment of diseases such as tuberculosis might have the effect of decreasing transmission, but the primary goal is to decrease morbidity and mortality for the affected person."

Dr. Levy of UC-San Francisco, whose own research has received major funding from NIAID and is sometimes called the "third co-discoverer of HIV," did not directly criticize the Fauci initiative but warned that the test-and-treat theory should be reviewed by an appropriate "human subjects committee."

Statutes mandate such panels for federal projects, a reaction to the U.S. Public Health Service's infamous mid-20th-century Tuskegee study of black men and women intentionally untreated for syphilis.

The local NIAID initiative will be in collaboration with the embattled District HIV-AIDS administration, cited by a Washington Post investigation in 2009 for misallocating millions of dollars, colluding with HIV-AIDS nonprofits siphoning tax dollars for never-delivered services.

The new $26.4 million would be added to the $85 million currently spent annually by the District's HIV-AIDS agency, which employs about 160 people, up from 125 just two years ago, though the number who have died in recent years from broadly defined "AIDS" continues to decline and is little more than the few hundred annual cases of death from accidents in the District. The District HIV-AIDS administration reported that 226 people died in 2006 of AIDS or "AIDS-related" causes, which increasingly are heart, liver and other ailments from adverse effects of antiviral drug treatment. That contrasts with more than a thousand cancer deaths and a thousand who die of heart disease annually in the District.

Not only are there relatively few deaths from AIDS in the District, the number of new AIDS (not HIV) cases reported in 2007 [Page 35] was 648 in a jurisdiction with a total population of slightly more than a half-million. That contrasts with a total of 238 new cases of AIDS reported by Canada in 2007 [Table 16A in Section 3 of the report] for its entire population of 34 million. Somehow, there were about 128 new AIDS cases per 100,000 residents in the District, compared with 1.4 per 100,000 in all of Canada - a 9,000 percent difference.

Either Canada is really bad at collecting numbers for an apparently sexually transmitted disease, District residents are hypersexually active, or the District's HIV-AIDS "epidemic" is grossly overstated by an agency charged with ineptness for years and always interested in sustaining its mission and budget.

Original Washington Times Link here.
PDF version here

Read more about "HIV-AIDS" anomalies here.
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Washington Times logo

An Obit for Health Care Reform

Poor guy wasn't killed by conservative
Tea Party, he drowned in liberal Kool-Aid

HealthCareReform R.I.P.

by Terry Michael | January 22, 2010
(in The Washington Times)

Health Care Reform (HCR) died Jan. 19 in Massachusetts, shortly before his 19th birthday. He was a victim of a mass suicide pact by economic left-liberals swilling Kool-Aid they've been drinking for years to satisfy a thirsty obsession for replacing marketplace accountability with government mandates.

Though he lived a short and troubled life, HCR captured the imagination of the Media and Democratic Political Consultants throughout the land for almost two decades.

"Reform," as he was known in the popular press - usually without the quotes - was born in 1991, the son of Medicare and Medicaid, who survive (barely), both children of the '60s. Also surviving (and sucking up tax dollars like mother's milk) is Reform's baby sister, DOPE (Drugs for Old People Everywhere), the one-night-stand, 2003 love child of a menage a trois that included Medicare, Medicaid and the oxymoronic hustler Big Government Conservative Republican Karl "W." Rove.

The unfortunate victim of Democratic hubris was pre-deceased by his grandfather, Mr. Tax Exempt Health Insurance, born around 1947, the bastard child of Wage Price Controls and Big Labor Unions. (Though both great-grandparents are dead, their ghosts haunt the fruited plains, from sea to shining sea, leading the gullible to believe you can have a free health care lunch if you divorce Mr. Price from Mrs. Choice.)

Reform was reared in Pennsylvania during the 1991 special election for the U.S. Senate seat that opened when Sen. John Heinz died in a helicopter crash. The appointed Sen. Harris Wofford, a liberal Democrat, adopted Reform on the advice of his consultants, skilled politicized medicine practitioners, James Carville and Paul Begala. Dressing little Reform in populist clothes, the pair had Mr. Wofford kiss baby Reform at every whistle-stop while railing against the evil insurance companies and Big Pharma firms who stood in Reform's way.

Mr. Wofford went from 30 points down to a 10-point victory, which made the baby Reform famous throughout the Democratic populist land. Overnight, Reform became a sensation and was readopted by William Jefferson Clinton and his bride, Hillary, when Professor Carville and Dr. Begala took their populist protege to the 1992 Clinton campaign, in which the child competed with his cousin Welfare Reform for national attention.

To make a long story short, Hillary loved that child Reform so much that she persuaded Bill to let her bring him to the White House. But after an awful first year, Reform became ill in 1993. A tough little guy, he survived on life support for years, while cousin Welfare was embraced by Bill as the new-and-improved Reform after a little political unhappiness for the nation's First Political Couple occurred in 1994.

But Reform, by then a teenager, got his second big break. The presumptive presidential nominee for 2008, Ms. HillaryCare, trotted out her stepchild and made him the centerpiece of her campaign for Leader of the Free Health Care World! That left the self-appointed trial lawyer to the underclass, John Edwards, and the upstart from Illinois, Barack Obama, no choice. They had to produce their own Health Care Reform babies (which Mr. Edwards took a little too literally, it was later learned).

Hope prevailed, and Mr. Obama won the race. And Reform got a new daddy, who declared he loved Reform so much, he would stake his political life on the boy.

Alas, the rest is history. Crazy Tea-Partiers all but smothered the teenager in the summer of his 18th year, and then some Cosmo centerfold came out of nowhere to seal Reform's fate shortly before his 19th birthday, when angry voters in a state made famous by a tea party dumped the Democrats overboard. Reform drowned in a sea of left-liberal Kool-Aid.

Funeral services will be private, as the family now wishes to keep Reform to itself. In lieu of flowers, they request donations be made to the Democratic House and Senatorial campaign committees.

Original Washington Times Link or PDF File

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by Terry Michael | January 3, 2010

Climate and AIDS Denialists,
and Politicized Junk Science.

Losing a debate about one of your most cherished beliefs? There’s a handy way to shut down such discourse, to discredit intellectual enemies employing pesky reading-and-fact-based arguments. Just call them out as deniers or denialists, as in the epitome of earthly evil, Holocaust Denialism.

Demonize your critics, to stop them from criticizing your demons. It works really well for talking heads, like New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, observed in December on Cable Noise Network putting down the global warming “deniers,” as he called them (while hawking the tree-killing paperback version of his latest opus magnum, “Hot, Flat, and Crowded 2.0: Why We Need a Green Revolution.”)

Not convinced? Then consult preachers at The Al Gore Church of Greenhouse Gas Bags, or medical science experts in The HIV-AIDS Industrial Complex. Listen to them shout about the apocalyptic meltdown being wrought by global warming denialists. Hear them exhort against the killer AIDS denialists.

The “tricking” of tree ring “data” revealed in the Climategate emails should be instructive to all free minds. Many scientists are just politicians with advanced degrees. They play their expertise card to propagandize for less-than-fully-baked theories--just like the best and the brightest domino theory’d us into Vietnam, those brilliant neo-con-artists WMD’d us into Iraq, and our super smart president fooled himself (and us) into the Afghan abyss.

As I tell my political journalism students, accept no received wisdom, especially when it comes from figure-ers who lie, and liars who figure.

For the past quarter century, the “denialist” epithet has been hurled at credible, well-motivated biologists, bio-chemists, physicians, epidemiologists, investigative science-and-health journalists, and other intelligent outliers with the temerity to question the scientific consensus behind the single pathogen theory of what caused AIDS.

Acquired immune deficiency syndrome, as it was labeled after first being called Gay Related Immunodeficiency Syndrome or GRID, really was--no denying it--killing thousands of gay men for about a decade, from the early 1980's to the beginning of the 1990's, when its incidence started to decline. But most of the interpreters of our reality, the science-and-math-challenged Main Stream Media, who wouldn’t know a biology lab from a Labrador Retriever, believe the drop in what has become known as “HIV disease” was a function of miracle drugs peddled by the pharmaceutical industry, the Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Therapies--that benign-sounding but highly toxic “side”-affecting HAART, introduced in 1996, three or four years after AIDS began to subside.

AIDS “denialists,” the first of whom was biologist Dr. Peter Duesberg of the Univ. of California at Berkeley, have been shunned from the free market of ideas. They have been denied entry to scientific and medical peer review journals. They are much like the “deniers” who dare question the received wisdom of The Gore-acle of Global Warming.

Having spent the past three years studying mysteries of the HIV=AIDS paradigm, I am ready to admit I am a full-fledged, out-of-the-closet, HIV-AIDS denialist. After some pretty intense book reading, almost daily internet-assisted document research, and considerable old-fashioned journalistic interviewing of knowledgeable sources, I have concluded there is not now, there never was, a “human immunodeficiency virus.” The single pathogen theory was wrong. A controversial view, to be sure, but one for which I can cite facts and fact-based arguments.

AIDS among gay men was of multi-factorial causation, from an unusually intense exchange of old pathogens in the aftermath of the mid-20th Century sexual revolution; an unprecedented ingestion of toxins, in the form of recreational drugs; and the psychogenically health damaging effects of being a hated minority group--all of which were immuno-suppressive in a subset of gay men who ghetto-ized themselves in urban America after the late 1960's.

And heterosexual AIDS in Africa? It’s just the name given by western medicine men to health harm from old immuno-suppressive malnutrition and unclean drinking water, and a high incidence of old diseases like tuberculosis and malaria--not the result of a wily retrovirus that never caused a heterosexual epidemic of AIDS in the white West.

I published the results of my study in an 8,000-word piece at my web site on the internet, about the only place we denialists can give voice to our dissent, and even there it’s difficult. I learned that December 7, when a guest commentary I wrote on AIDS and Big Pharma was erased Soviet-style from the popular Wall Street web site founded by CNBC’s Jim Cramer, TheStreet.com, after being up only four hours. I made the mistake of mentioning one of the powerful purveyors of anti-retrovirals, Gilead Sciences, Inc.

You can read my thoughts on the mysteries of HIV-AIDS here: End to AIDS Nearer Than We Think? Re-appraising HIV in its 25th Anniversary Year. And you can see the trailer for a new documentary film here: "House of Numbers," which raises questions about the single pathogen theory of AIDS.

"Give the people a new word and they think they have a new fact," Willa Cather wrote. The acronym HIV-AIDS is not even a word, let alone a fact.
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Gay, 62 and living for 35 years in Washington, DC, Terry Michael is a former reporter and political press secretary. He directs the non-partisan, non-ideological Washington Center for Politics & Journalism, which he founded in 1989. His opinion writing, separate from his work at the Center, is at his personal web site: www.terrymichael.net

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TheStreet.com logo

Nobel Curse for AIDS, Big Pharma


( Also linked at Fidelity.com )


by Terry Michael | December 7, 2009

Editor's Very Special Note

How CNBC's Jim Cramer
Kremlin-ized my article
on AIDS and Gilead Big Pharma

The above piece by me was taken down from The Street.Com, a site founded by CNBC's Mad Money Jim Cramer, after it was up for only about 4 hours on Monday, December 7, from 11:53 a.m. EST to about 4 p.m. The Big Pharma company mentioned in the piece, Gilead (GILD) Sciences, Inc. of Foster City, CA, seems to have gotten to Cramer, who himself posted a comment to my piece--a highly unusual act by such a busy guy.

In his Comment--the very first of what were eventually 16 comments--Mr. Cramer immediately went to work for Gilead, little more than 90 minutes after my piece went up on TheStreet.com. Gilead's p.r. operation and Mr. Cramer (whose journalistic practices, along with CNBC's, were questionned by The Daily Show last March, see below) worked very fast. Cramer's comment was posted at 1:31 p.m.

This was Soviet-style disappearing of history. The column, to which you can go by clicking on the headline for the piece above and here, is a PDF file, made from a cached file of the original.

This is a lesson in the power of The HIV-AIDS Industrial Complex, heavy handedly shutting down debate about the highly toxic chemotherapies it purveys to gay men and black Africans. It certainly is a lesson in journalistic ethics and practices, recalling a story Comedy Central's Jon Stewart did about Mr. Cramer and CNBC several months ago.

In a JPG image of my biography (as a special contributor to the Opinion section of TheStreet.Com) you can see the now broken link to the piece I wrote. [As of 1 a.m. December 10, the biography with the broken link was still at TheStreet.com site, on this page.]

See my 8,000 word Special Report on HIV-AIDS, from which my TheStreet.Com piece was drawn, if you'd like to learn more about The HIV-AIDS Industrial Complex. And see another important recent article that informed my censored opinion column, at New York Magazine: Another Kind of AIDS Crisis, published November 9, 2009 (the magazine's video on that story includes, near the beginning, a victim of Gilead's "Truvada.")

Finally, this incident has a larger message. In the old days, a publisher bowing to corporate or political pressure could not send his minions out to confiscate all the ink-stained dead trees thrown on your porch by the paperboy. Today, the digital deliveryboy--the web master--can be ordered to erase content when an unscrupulous publisher decides to withdraw some inconvenient truth.

--Terry Michael

Correction: In my TheStreet.Com piece, I cited Donald Rumsfeld as former "CEO" of Gilead Sciences, Inc. That should read former "Chairman of the Board." And I added a "c" into the name of Gilead Board member, former Sec. of State George Shultz. We all make mistakes--some a little bigger than others.

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Reason Online logo

Michelle Obama

The Case for MichelleCare

Why Obama should let his wife
handle health care reform

Terry Michael | July 29, 2009

It didn't go so well the first time around, when a president assigned his wife to reform health care. But instead of mucking things up with intrusive, expensive health care "reform," President Barack Obama could do a lot worse than putting Michelle in charge of wellness promotion. Michelle Obama understands wellness, choosing to grow fruits and vegetables—not just roses—on the White House lawn.

"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." That admonition, the first words of Michael Pollan's enlightening In Defense of Food, could be the bumper sticker promoting MichelleCare. Pollan makes it clear that America's high levels of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes—which trigger the heavy medical care costs of late-life sickness—are the result of the "western diet," with its food-like processed products, much of which is synthesized from cheap corn and soybeans. We are obsessed with "nutritionism," but the sum of the unpronounceable substances on content labels don't equal the benefits of real food, like grains, nuts, fresh fruits, and vegetables. Don't eat anything your grandmother wouldn't recognize as food, Pollan counsels. I haven't done justice to the 200 pages of Pollan's cleverly-written wisdom. Read it yourself. In fact, a free copy to every American who wants it (or DVDs for those averse to books) should be a part of MichelleCare.

The political stand-off certain to develop between cost cutting on the one hand, and expanding coverage to the 47 million uninsured Americans on the other, will make reform a chimera sure to please no one. The resulting legislation is likely to be a grab bag of unfunded government goodies spawning bigger deficits, just as Medicare and Medicaid have done over the past four decades.

To understand why "reform" is more an exercise in political theater than a serious attempt to cut costs and improve care, consider how we got here. It started during World War II, when wage and price controls led to a labor union-government agreement allowing tax exempt employer-paid health care to act as a substitute for pay raises. That tax exemption was the genesis of much of the problem we now face; it divorced decisions about consuming care from consideration of price, making doctor and hospital visits appear free.

The next big step was Medicare and Medicaid, which have grown like fat kids, especially with George W. "LBJ" Bush's free prescription drug benefit, a Karl Rove legacy of big government conservatism.

But the most important development in the politicization of health care came in 1991 in the special election of Sen. Harris Wofford (D-Penn.), an interim appointee after the helicopter crash death of Sen. John Heinz. Two little-known consultants took charge of Wofford's seemingly hopeless challenge.

The fast-talking pair was Paul Begala and James Carville. When they signed on, Wofford was 40 points down—he won by 10. Begala and Carville became the geniuses-du-jour among hired political guns, landing them jobs as gurus to the faltering 1992 Clinton campaign. Their formula: Focus on "the economy, stupid" and create a populist clamor for "health care reform," tapping into resentment of big bad insurance companies, over-charging hospitals, rich doctors, and evil pharmaceutical companies.

This eventually came back to bite the Clintons after the election, leading to the "HillaryCare" that pegged Clinton—a "New Democrat"—as another big spending liberal. That begat Republican control of the House in 1994. The wily Clinton dropped health care and took up another issue from his campaign, welfare reform, signed a House GOP bill, and took credit for it.

Health care reared its head again in 2008, when initial presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton made it her signature issue, forcing competitors—including Obama—to come up with their own "reform" plans. The rest is (contemporary) history. With a disastrous recession and two wars to contend with, Obama still allowed himself to be maneuvered into "reforming" health care.

Like McCain-Feingold campaign finance "reform," something called health care reform may pass Congress and get signed into law. But it won't be effective reform, anymore than attacks on free political speech managed to suppress the influence of political money. Whatever gets past the phalanx of insurance and provider lobbyists—not to mention liberal politicians ready to federalize more health care as another free lunch—will bloat the budget like the processed foods that have added tons to the American waistline.

So give Michelle Obama a bigger platform to promote health and wellness-producing meals. That's reform we can live with. And our lives will be longer, healthier, and we'll be billions richer, too.

___________________________
Executive Director of the Washington Center for Politics & Journalism (WCPJ), Terry Michael writes from his perspective as a "libertarian Democrat." His opinions here and at his personal web site, www.terrymichael.net , are his own, and not those of WCPJ or its board.

Original Reason HTML Link or Reason PDF

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Reason Online logo

Swine Flu Fantasies
A testing epidemic, spread by media ignorance

by Terry Michael | June 2, 2009

Two very unfortunate realities explain the recent frenzy of public mask wearing, cable TV fear marketing, and the waste of probably a billion tax dollars worldwide in flu virus surveillance. First, there are the tunnel-visioned infectious disease prevention bureaucracies, which tout their epidemiological monitoring as the frontline protecting human health. Then there are their half-witted media propagandists, who wouldn't know the inside of a biology lab from a Labrador Retriever, and who avoided Statistics 101 like the plague.

I write while traveling late May in the South Pacific, where tens of thousands of passengers like me are greeted daily by an army of health ministry workers in New Zealand and Australia, collecting special health report forms from generally healthy passengers, and even video-capturing each face that passes by their airport control points. Late May. That's over a month since it should have been obvious to anyone with elementary logic skills that the pig flu is no uglier than hundreds of its viral cousins.

What separates H1N1 or "swine flu" (pity the poor pork producers) from other genetic code written in nucleic acid and wrapped in a little protein—the definition of a virus—is not an epidemic of illness or death. It's an epidemic of testing.

If you do a Google search for news from the first week of the "epidemic," you will find that Mexican health authorities counted 159 deaths as of April 28, as reported in The New York Times. A month later, when you might expect that number to be appreciably higher, the Associated Press listed the death toll in Mexico at 89—with the AP conveniently forgetting to report the nearly 100% disparity from the earlier statistic. That same AP story noted that the "world's death toll" was 108.

By April 29, Mexican health authorities were triumphantly heralding the discovery of "patient zero," a little boy in the town of La Gloria, who had suffered some flu-like symptoms a few weeks earlier and had fully recovered—again, according to the Times. In the same story, however, the Times also reported that, "Before Édgar fell ill, another person in San Diego may have been affected, said Dr. Miguel Ángel Lezana, Mexico's chief government epidemiologist." So much for patient zero.

Within a couple of weeks of that triumph of Mexican epidemiology, we learned no virus had been detected by testing swine at the pig farm near little Édgar Hernández's home. (Pity the poor little boy and his tearful mother, who lamented the world's fingering her son as the source of the Great Swine Flu of 2009.)

A few more than 100 deaths in the past month would be no more than a fraction of those who die each day in the U.S., Mexico, and the rest of the world from the amorphous disease described by the medical term of art, "the flu."

Indeed, the New York school children who tested positive for it in late April yet suffered nothing more than sniffles and tummy aches, provided early confirming anecdotal evidence that H1N1 was no killer bug.

So why the pig flu panic? Thanks to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO)—and all the health ministries they influence, like those in New Zealand and Australia—the world was subjected to frenetic surveillance of a single "new" flu strain.

If similar resources were used to check for other strains of virus causing other cases of flu-like illness during the same time period, mothers around the globe would have been panicked by some other viral code, though perhaps one with a less scary and dirty-sounding name.

But the well-funded CDC and WHO, not to mention those health ministries in New Zealand and Australia, wouldn't have had the necessary threat to yield them even bigger budgets from politicians pandering to a panicked public. And that panic, of course, has been provoked by science-challenged "news" organizations that propagandize for the virus-obsessed health agencies.

Epidemiologists studying communicable diseases are not the first or even second line of defense for our health. Strong immune systems are. It was their immune systems—not the CDC and WHO, not doctors, not drug peddling pharmaceutical companies—that protected those school children in New York, a few of whom had been to Mexico, where, like much of the developing and third world, poor nutrition and exposure to drinking water polluted by old bacterial pathogens weakens natural immunities to disease.

But proper nourishment and clean water don't have public relations advisors like the CDC and the WHO. So what we might call "flu-ism" spreads, a psychological phenomenon that can make us stupid as pigs, but not actually very ill.
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