“Bending the curve” may only lengthen the time we are suffering.

I don’t doubt the good intentions of our government leaders, including elected officials and public health regulators, as they tighten restrictions on our freedom of movement..  We are “bending the curve” and easing the pressure on our health care system.  But unless an effective anti-virus drug is found and administered to everyone very quickly, bending the curve will only delay the time before most of us will become infected, and will lengthen the time that we all suffer emotionally and economically.
Why is our response to this situation so dramatically different than our response to the flu or automobile accidents?  Both the flu and auto accidents kill tens of thousands of Americans each year and are preventable.  We could dramatically reduce those deaths if we used the same extreme measures that we are using against COVID-19.  But what is the point of living if we have to stay away from our family and friends?  For a few weeks, fine.  For several months or more, not acceptable.  Life has risks.  We need to balance the costs and the benefits of our efforts.  Soon, we need to once again let people decide for themselves how much risk they are willing to take.

Open letter to our federal legislators – please try to balance costs and benefits during this pandemic!

An open letter to our federal representatives  (I emailed this to my three federal representatives:
As you consider how much the federal government should spend in response to the current pandemic, please consider the following:
One trillion dollars equals about $3,000 per person for every man, woman, and child in the U.S., or about $12,000 per family of four!  Please be careful not to spend our tax money on anything that is not needed and not directly caused by the pandemic.  Specifically, there should be no money spent on the following:

  • Seniors and others on Medicare, disability, pensions, and other fixed incomes – they will continue to be paid.
  • People who have had no reported W-2 earnings during the past year – since they have been getting by on unearned income
  • People who have household earnings around or over $75,000 per year – they qualify for unemployment benefits.

Don’t give grants, but make low-interest rate loans available.  We can decide later whether or not to forgive any loans.  Don’t allow unrelated “riders” on any pandemic response bill.  For example, don’t’ forgive student loans, don’t add any permanent employer mandates such as child care, sick pay, paid family leave, etc.  Watch out for and deny other special-interest legislation trying to take advantage of this crisis.

Please try to balance costs versus benefits.  We have lived normally with the flu killing tens of thousands of U.S. citizens every year.  I am a senior – age 66 – and I don’t need any bailout.

Don’t add long-term care coverage under Medicare

Contrary to the Register Editorial on 12/1/2019, we should not add long-term care as a new benefit under Medicare.  (See link below to The Register’s Editorial urging Medicare coverage of long-term care.)  If we want to solve problems using the force of government, we should do the minimum needed to solve the problem.  In this case, the problem is making sure that people receive medically necessary long-term care, not making sure that money is left to people’s heirs.
We currently have a pretty good situation: Many people voluntarily purchase private long-term care insurance.  Many others who could afford insurance choose to take a risk and not buy it.  Taxpayer-funded Medicaid covers the cost of long-term care for those who are unable to pay.  For those in the middle – not on Medicaid, but who would struggle to pay for private long-term care insurance – Medicaid already goes a long way to help them qualify for long-term care coverage.   For example, if one spouse of a married couple needs long-term care, the other spouse gets to keep a house and a car and some income, even though Medicaid pays for the long-term care of the first spouse.
The best long-term, sustainable solutions to our problems is to give voluntary, free choice to people and then expect them to be responsible for their decisions.  To the extent that we allow our government to force everyone into one-size-fits-all welfare programs, there will be ongoing, unsustainable frustrations, disagreements, and dependency problems.

Don’t ban vaping!

It was like a breath of fresh air to read in The Des Moines Register that our Iowa Attorney General, Tom Miller, used logic in concluding that banning vaping by adults in Iowa would be a mistake.  (See link to Register article below.)   It does appear clear that almost all of recently rreported deaths and severe illnesses were the result of vaping black market products that contain THC, not nicotine.
While it may be true that no amount of vaped nicotine has been proven safe, we do know that vaping popular legal nicotine products has been going on for years without the type of health problems that have been reported recently.  We also know that nicotine vape products do not contain the tars and other substances in cigarettes that are known to cause cancer.
It’s reasonable to think that vaping nicotine is less harmful than smoking cigarettes, and that going from smoking cigarettes to vaping can be a good step towards quiting a nicotine habit altogether.  But, prohibition of vaping would only worsen the health problems, just like with opioids, where people who purchase their drugs on the street have no idea of the strength or purity of the products they are buying.

Living has risks. Government should not prohibit things that are not proven safe.

The Des Moines Register recently published a report about Madison County Boar of Supervisors considering a requirement that wind turbines be setback 1.5 miles from the nearest home.  Ben Johnson, a cardiologist who lives in Madison County was quoted as saying, “Industrial wind turbines have never been proven to be safe, nor free of adverse health effects,”

It is difficult, if not impossible, to prove that anything is safe or free of adverse health effects.   For example, driving or riding in a car at any speed has never been proven to be safe. No amount of second-hand barbeque smoke has been proven safe.  Eating chocolate has never been proven free of adverse health effects. We live in a risky world. It would be impossible to live our lives if we were prohibited from doing anything that was not proven safe or free from adverse health effects.

We should not have policies that prohibit things until they are proven safe or free of adverse health effects. Unless something is proven to be unreasonably dangerous, it should be allowed.

Need to end Iowa’s excessive Drug Stamp tax.

Thanks to Lee Rood for her expose’ in The Des Moines Register about the financial devastation of an Iowa citizen that was caused by Iowa’s drug tax.  As Rood reported, Stephanie Hilgenberg was arrested in 2016 after police found about $5,000 worth of meth in her purse.  She was convicted and served time in prison.  She is now free and working to support heself and her two kids.  But she still owes the Iowa Department of Revenue about $150,000 in tax, penalty and interest!  She had failed to pay the “drug stamp tax” required in order to avoid the penalties and interest.
Iowa’s Constitution prohibits excessive fines, but this is technically a tax, not a fine.  Again as Rood reported, part of the strategy of the tax was to use as a negotiating lever to get small time dealers to give up their suppliers.  In our failed drug wars, the little guy is often sacrificed as a means to what drug warriors consider  more important ends.
Drug addiction is a terrible thing.  But we will be better served as a society by treating addiction under a medical model rather than a criminal model.  Education works better than punishment.  One step in the right direction would be to repeal the punitive stamp tax that is added to the injury caused by drug prohibition.  State legislatiors should take that up next session.

Big marijuana bust in Iowa – Mayor found growing pot!

As the Des Moines Register reported yesterday, the Mayor of Jamaica, Iowa and her husband were busted two days earlier at about 4:20 p.m. (no joke) for growing 18 marijuana plants inside their home.   The various related charges include a Class “D” Felony for the manufacture and possession with intent to deliver less than 50 kilograms of marijuana.

It’s a shame that our laws in Iowa still make it a crime to do something that is peaceful, voluntary, and uses no force or fraud against others. Marijuana prohibition laws do little to make our state safer, and yet do great harm to people who are victimized by them.  In this case, if these two people are found guilty of the felony, they could be sentenced for up to 5 years in prison, be required to pay up to $7,500, lose their voting rights, be disqualified for military service or student loans, and more.  Compare that to the fact that nothing happens to a person in her home who is found to be brewing 5 gallons of beer – a standard home-brew batch – and possessing, say, 10 to 20 more gallons that were brewed earlier.

Marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol, and yet today we see the same unintended consequences resulting from drug prohibition that we saw from alcohol prohibition in the 1920s and early 1930s: violence, deaths from impure products, and the arrest and punishment of people who are otherwise honest and peaceful.  Make no mistake, the violence associated with the illegal drug trade is caused by prohibition laws.  If Walgreens moves into a community, CVS doesn’t send out a gang to kill them.  When drugs are delivered to a pharmacy, both parties don’t carry weapons to protect themselves.  Instead, they call the police if someone uses violence against them.  But you can’t can’t call the police for help if you’re dealing in illegal drugs.

We need to follow the trend in other states and around the world:  Legalize recreational marijuana and treat addiction using a medical model, just like alcohol.  Let your elected representatives know your feelings.  That is the way to get these unjust laws changed.

Link to Register article: https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/crime-and-courts/2019/01/17/jamaica-mayor-ladonna-kennedy-pot-weed-gurthrie-county-crime-marijuana-search-ames-shooting-suspect/2606455002/