Thursday, June 28, 2012

Impeach Antonin Scalia

Antonin Scalia's partly concurring and partly dissenting opinion in Arizona v. United States is not a simple prejudiced, racist misreading of the laws of the United States. It is as close to treason as one can get in the United States of America without actually, as the Constitution defines treason, "levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies."

Justice Scalia begins his argument by asserting "The United States is an indivisible 'Union of sovereign States.' Highlander v. La Plata River & Cherry Creek Ditch Co. 305 U.S. 92, 104 (1938)." That individual States are not sovereign is obvious from hundreds of Supreme Court Decisions, even infamous ones like Dred Scott. Scalia's argument is totally dependent on presenting careful selections from U.S. history as if they were strong precedents.

In fact the cases and historic examples he uses have been discredited, or have only minor significance. Given his attitude, it is surprising that Scalia did not cite the declarations of independence of the States that joined the Confederacy, and then forget to remind us that the Confederate States lost the Civil War and had no Supreme Court ever ruled that they had a right to declare independence.

Scalia even cites the (pre-Constitution) Articles of Confederation, neglecting that they were superceded by our Constitution, which created a nation with a federal system in which the national government, including its Supreme Court, are the supreme law of the land.

My opposition to Scalia's opinion is not meant to detract from the rights of States, and of the People, and of the limitations of the power of the central government outlined in the Constitution. It is not a problem for me when Scalia or any American argues for states rights when they actually exist. Scalia goes much further: he joins the rebels of the Confederacy, using their very arguments, and asserting boldly each individual State is sovereign.

Justice Scalia cites the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions to support his views, as did the rebels of the Confederacy. These Resolutions are part of our history, but they amount to an opinion that was not ultimately supported by our people or government. Not by most individual states most of the time, not by any Congress, never by a President (not even by their authors, Jefferson and Madison, once they became Presidents), and not by any Supreme Court justice except the rebel Scalia. States cannot judge laws passed by Congress (and signed by a President) to be unconstitutional. That judgment is a duty of the Supreme Court.

A Supreme Court judge is not supposed to cite the losing sides of arguments as precedents. True, the Supreme Court occasionally overrules precedent, as when Brown v. Board of Education began correcting prior decisions that had limited the human rights of non-white citizens. Scalia, in Arizona v. United States, is not simply re-interpreting the Constitution, straightening out some flaw in its prior application. He is attempting to re-write history, law, and the Constitution, and to break up the United States into 50 separate nations.

At the beginning of Section II Scalia writes "One would conclude from the foregoing that after the adoption of the Constitution there was some doubt about the power of the Federal Government to control immigration, but no doubt about the power of the States to do so." But one's conclusion would be based on Scalia's editing of history to distort the whole cloth of law.

Scalia only reluctantly accepts that the federal government can control immigration "not because of the Naturalization Clause but because it is an inherent attribute of sovereignty no less for the United States than for the States."

So we see the rebel's reasoning clearly: Sovereignty is Supreme, and Scalia and his gang of right-wind legal thugs are to be the interpreters of the meaning of Sovereignty. Does Sovereignty mean trampling on human rights? To Scalia it does. Does it mean trampling on the U.S. Constitution? That is apparent from Scalia's opinion.

After falsely declaring each individual state to be Sovereign (in which case there is no real need for a United States) Scalia claims the case was "about a federal law going to the core of state sovereignty: the power to exclude."

Scalia would exclude illegal immigrants from Arizona. That is not a radical opinion. The problem is the basis of his opinion. Scalia earlier stated who can be removed by a sovereign State: "certain persons, or for certain particular purposes, according as he may think it to the advantage of the state," "obnoxious aliens" (even perhaps bearing Green Cards), "paupers, vagabonds," "persons with contagious diseases," and "freed blacks."

In other words, Scalia would exile anyone Scalia did not like. And a State could exile anyone it did not like. Perhaps Jews, Arabs, Blacks, Hispanics, homosexuals, atheists and agnostics, or the unemployed. Perhaps a state ruled by the Republican Party would exile Democratic Party members. The sick and disabled might be cast out. It all depends on who controls a State.

This is madness. Preaching this poison, which is done all too much within the United States of America, is protected by our rights to freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Sitting on the Supreme Court trying to rule based on this poison is not protected.

Antonin Scalia has exceeded the bounds of his appointment. He should resign. If he does not resign, he should be impeached. If Congress fails to impeach him, human rights in this nation will be gravely in danger of disappearing.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Healthcare Where Everyone is Above Average

In this essay, above average is bad. Out of range is bad. It is there on black and white, on a piece of paper: you need drugs. And more frequent doctor visits. And frequent diagnostics, mostly involving sucking your blood out, to make sure there are no side effects to the pharmaceuticals and to monitor just exactly where you are in the range.

It is a scam worthy of such greats as Ponzi, Madoff, and Joseph Kennedy. Going to a doctor in the U.S. is like walking into a casino: the odds are against you, the house always wins. When every last penny has been drained from your pocket, they toss you out, to go an earn some more money or to die impoverished in the streets.

Look at the nature of averages. Or more precisely, in this case, what the statistics boys call "median." Half of the population will be above the median, and half below it. The median is defined that way.

Now take some blood tests. Typically blood pressure, triglycerides, glucose, white blood cell count, and a couple of different kinds of cholesterol.

What are the chances, per the statistics boys, that you will have nothing above average, and therefore need no medication (if the average or below is the standard of health)?

Keep in mind this is not about sickness in the ordinary sense of people who feel sick or have obvious symptoms. This is a test that includes healthy people.

Each test is independent, so to get the answer, you just keep multiplying by 1/2. The order does not matter, but let's say it goes like this:

You have a 50% chance of having high blood pressure. 1 times 1/2 is 0.50.

You have a 50% chance of having high triglycerides. 0.50 times 1/2 is 0.25.

You have a 50% chance of having high glucose. 0.25 times 1/2 is 0.125.

And so forth: white blood cells, 0.0625. Cholesterol 1, 0.03125. Cholesterol 2, 0.015625. That is about 1.6%.

In other words, of 1000 people getting this set of tests from a doctor, only 15, maybe 16 will be fully healthy. Everyone else will need some help from the pharmaceutical industry to get "at the lower end of the risk factors."

Just to be sure to pick your pocket, they don't test you against your age class. Most people see a gradual increase in blood pressure as they age. The doctors don't say to you, "for a 60 year-old male, you are below average! See me again in five years." No, you get compared to the healthy 30 year olds. If you are 60 or older, the chances that you have average or better blood pressure are thin. In fact, there may be something wrong with you, like a weak heart.

The human body has been evolving for some 3 billion years. Modern medical science has been around for about a century. Who are you going to trust, Mother Nature or some gal or guy who went to medical school dreaming of making big money?

We don't need everyone to be below average for all health risks. We need to look at what is normal, and only treat conditions that are at least two standard deviations outside of normal. Which means only the roughly 2% of people who get extremely high results, and 2% of people who get extremely low results. May 4% at each end, just to be safe. [This would not apply to actual diseases like diabetes. Everyone with diabetes should get treatment. Almost everyone in the U.S. needs to eat less and exercise more.]

There is likely a good reason that blood pressure increases as we get older. Lowering the blood pressure to a pre-defined standard probably just insures that blood is not getting to where it is needed in our bodies. [This is my hunch, and if someone will grant me a few tens of millions of dollars, I would be happy to hire professionals to test it.] Someday some enterprising scientist will find that "normal" blood pressure causes senior dementia, or some other result worse than the slight increased risk of dying of a heart attack before your kidneys or liver or brain fails.

They never give you unbiased statistics. When have you ever seen a chart of how many people have heart attacks and strokes who don't have high blood pressure? In fact lowering blood pressure, unless you have really, really high blood pressure, is not likely to change your cause of death.

Scientists — real scientists, not the ones funded by industry — will tell you that even when you are trying to do totally honest, accurate science, there is a danger called selection bias. This amounts to rejected data that would prove your bet hypothesis is wrong.

Selection bias can happen even in an academic context. The reason is that certain results, interesting results, are publishable, but the negative results are not. Scientists like to publish. Their careers usually depend on it.
The pharmaceutical companies themselves have found that out when buying potential drugs that academic scientists claimed would be cures. One study by a major pharmaceutical company found that, for almost all of the drug candidates in a batch they bought, they could not replicate the "good" results.

I believe that doctors can help some people some of the time, and in good medical science. But you can't always believe the medical consensus.

Recently a panel of medical experts recommended against a test that has always been supposed to be indicative of prostate cancer, PSA. The knew that PSA results only correlate loosely with prostate cancer. Yet doctors turned high PSA results into a lucrative business of "cures." Looking at a broad range of statistics, the panel found that the negative results from all that expensive "curing," including death during surgery, more than washed away the occasional live saved. Cancer sounds scary, but most prostate cancers evolve slowly. Most men with prostate cancer die of something else, something unrelated. So the panel suggested stopping PSA tests unless there was a good, obvious reason for them. [New Data on Harms of Prostate Cancer Screening, New York Times, May 21, 2012]

Oh, the howls of the financially wounded. The oncologists and urologists, the main beneficiaries of the PSA scam, attacked the panel with vigor. They only care about Science when it is in their financial favor.
The average person is not in a position to argue knowledgeably with their physician about whether they really need a blood pressure or cholesterol pill. Half the American population does not believe in evolution. They don't believe the human body has evolved to optimize its own health and longevity. Sadly, the other half tends to believe in anything presented as science uncritically. In theory they know there is good science and bad science, but in reality they have to rely on their doctors.

We need to rethink medicine from the ground up. We need to ask ourselves how it fits into our other values. Do we let children live in poverty, or underfund our public schools or other important public while paying vast sums for cancer therapies for the over-80 set that, at best, extend miserable lives for a few weeks?
We have evolved a culture that has made us a nation of pill-popping hypochondriacs. Part of this is because costs are masked: for most people, someone else is paying the bill.

I am not against wonder drugs. I am not against necessary surgeries, or preventative medicine that really prevents disease. I want a science-based health system that takes into account economic realities. That is what we need, not what we have.