DrRich’s Top Ten of 2011

DrRich | December 30th, 2011 - 9:33 am

After extensive analysis by a committee of hand-picked experts, with much debate and with some dissension, the following have been identified as DrRich’s Top Ten Posts of 2011.

Ten: The Right To Bear Salt

Nine: About Those Doctor-Nurses

Eight: The Four Ways To Reduce Healthcare Spending

Seven: On Killing The Elderly

Six: The Real Utillity of “Never Events”

Five: Who Writes Those Clinical Guidelines, Anyway?

Four: DrRich Explains The Right To Healthcare

Three: It Is Your Duty To Maintain Wellness

Two: Primary Care Is Dead: Part I – The Obituary;  Part II – Moving On

One: Why People Think Obamacare Has Death Panels

Read them and weep.

Let Us Shun the Obese This Holiday Season

DrRich | December 20th, 2011 - 7:54 am

Podcast:

In the tradition of “Yes, Virginia, &c.,” DrRich once again reprises his classic holiday message.

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‘Tis once again that time of year when we Americans gather together with our extended families and friends to celebrate the Season. It is a time for catching up – renewing acquaintances and making new ones, sharing in good news and commiserating in bad, welcoming our new arrivals and mourning our losses. It is a time for giving thanks, counting our blessings, and putting our sundry individual problems into perspective. Indeed, it is perhaps most importantly a time for each of us to remind ourselves that – despite the trials and tribulations that may cause us to become relatively self-absorbed in our daily lives – we are all part of something much greater than ourselves.

So, in a way, it’s a shame we must now cull out our obese relatives and friends, and disinvite them from these joyful and fortifying reunions.

It’s not something we should do lightly, as the obese are people, too. They enjoy the holiday gatherings as much as anyone else (more, some would say, given the abundance of sugary foodstuffs which are typically provided there). But alas, excluding the obese is now something we must do – for our own sake, of course, but more importantly, for the sake of our social networks, and indeed, for America itself. For, to allow the obese to continue participating in our traditional seasonal gatherings is something we now know (as DrRich will shortly explain) to be simply too dangerous and too counterproductive to our collective interests. We can no longer permit it.

Before demonstrating why, DrRich ought to digress for just a moment to address the burning question many of his kindly and generous readers must already be asking, namely, What about Diversity?

On the surface at least, it would seem that the exulted goals of Diversity – the uber virtue, from which all the other, more subsidiary virtues must necessarily spring – would be well-served by our including the entire panoply of body types in our holiday celebrations, from the very thin to the very fat. Must we really exclude from our table our obese family and friends, whom we know and may love, while at the same time, in the name of Diversity, welcome into our collective bosom, say, self-declared Islamist terrorists who openly aim to kill us?

In a word, yes.

For the terrorist, as much a danger to our persons as he or she may pose, is merely a fervent adherent to a minority (and therefore oppressed) religious sect, whose fundamental beliefs (though they center around the utter destruction of Western Civilization) we may not legitimately place ourselves in a position to judge, and therefore, whose tolerance by us, and proximity to us, greatly enriches our appreciation of the wondrous diversity of the human experience.

In contrast, obese people are just fat.

They have no redeeming qualities whatsoever which ought to merit their protection under the beneficent umbrella of Diversity. In this way, fat people resemble Sarah-Palin-lovers, global warming skeptics, tea party fanatics (at least 40% of whom, by the way, are overweight or obese, judging from photos of their rallies), and other groups of narrow-minded or otherwise inferior people the benign tolerance of whom would quite obviously do material harm to the true goals of Diversity. But the obese pose a greater threat to us than even these other unworthies do.

And unfortunately, as we approach that charitable season in which our natural inclination would be to temporarily overlook the sins of our obese friends and relatives, to allow ourselves to fraternize with these individuals – even if only for a few brief hours during this one time of year – is to place ourselves, our non-obese loved ones, and our nation itself, in immediate and immeasurable peril.

This sad fact came to light just a few years ago when a landmark study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine proving that obesity is contagious. Merely having fat friends (and not necessarily living with or near them, or even interacting with them regularly, but merely enumerating them among your friends at a distance) can make you fat as well.

The study came from the studios of the famous Drs. Christakis and Fowler, who have embraced a software package, comprehensible only to themselves, that churns out complex images of “social networks,” from which they can derive all manner of heretofore unimagined associations. These academic stars have turned their shop into a veritable factory of peer-reviewed publications, thereby solidifying their scholarly reputations and (doubtless, now that they have done so much good for the anti-obesity movement) their ability to secure NIH grants, and other favors from government agencies.

Using data from the venerable Framingham database, these pioneers combed through old records for information about the body weight, relatives, and social contacts of individuals who were enrolled in this famous study. They then used their esoteric computer modeling software to create various “animations” depicting the evolving social relationships of the subjects, and the development of obesity, over time.

To summarize their findings: A person is 57% more likely to be come obese if a friend becomes obese, even if that friend lives hundreds of miles away. (This finding is really quite remarkable, considering that the only other natural force that acts on bodies instantaneously and at a distance is gravity. This newly discovered force that produces obesity at a distance – shall we call it “obevity?” – will have to be incorporated, with great difficulty no doubt, into the Grand Unification Theory now being sought by physicists everywhere.) The same effect was not seen when close neighbors became obese, or even (to such a great extent) when family members became obese. Furthermore, if the friendship is mutual (that is, if the fat person considers you a friend in addition to you considering the fat person a friend), the odds of your becoming obese triples. And even worse, this study shows that, even if you wisely avoid the company of fat people yourself (in an attempt to remain acceptably svelte), fat people who are acquainted with your acquaintances may still have an impact on your BMI. That is, obesity is a contagion that tends to spread throughout the social network.

So clearly, if anyone within a given social network associates with fat people, then ultimately nobody in that network is safe.

(Here is an animation the authors have provided, to show a time-lapsed view of how obesity spreads. If this doesn’t convince you, nothing will.)

Now, to be sure, there have been critics of this study – individuals, DrRich thinks, who are nearly as dangerous as the obese themselves. Since this issue is so critically important, please allow DrRich a few brief paragraphs to debunk the debunkers.

Some have complained about this landmark study because the list of “friends” employed by the authors was determined decades after the fact, from administrative records that had been used in the Framingham study for follow-up purposes, in which subjects had been asked to list relatives and a “close friend” who would know their whereabouts at all times. Critics claim that somebody who can reliably provide your contact information may be a good friend; but perhaps not. Perhaps subjects were simply more inclined to give the name of a fat person as a round-the-clock contact. After all, it’s always easier to get ahold of an obese person who, being slothful, is likely to be parked in front of his TV, popping chocolates and munching chips, than it is to contact somebody who’s thin, and is likely to be out and about, probably jogging. The researchers, in other words, were not operating from a list of BFFs, but instead from a list of acquaintences judged by the subjects at the time to be most likely available by telephone. (The subjects, remember, had been enrolled long before the era of cell phones.) So, critics insist, the baseline assumption made in this study – that the researchers actually knew who the subjects’ close friends were – is highly suspect.

To which DrRich replies: These critics likely have fat friends, and are probably even fat themselves, and thus their complaints can be dismissed with a definitive, “Bunk!”

Moving on, critics have also complained because the kind of computer modeling used in this study is not for mere mortals to understand, and therefore amounts to a black box. And indeed, DrRich must admit that the authors’ description of their statistical maneuverings is enough to make your head spin – replete as they are with the running of numerous simulations, using differing assumptions along with a quite unembarrassed manipulation of all the variables (almost as if they were seeking the “right” combination of factors to yield the desired answer, reminiscent of the scientific techniques revealed in the emails of those global warming experts). Critics go on to complain that there are only a handful of humans who claim to understand this kind of complex computer modeling, the results of which, therefore, resemble “received knowledge,” akin to what the medieval clergy used to dole out to the unwashed masses, when most people were illiterate and there were no Bibles in the vernacular.

Bunk again, says DrRich. While the computer modeling used here is indeed unfamiliar to physicians, it is very familiar to a few theoretical economists, who have used similar modelings for years in the attempt to predict the behavior of markets within social networks. DrRich even found a formal critique of the Christakis/Fowler analysis, written by two such economists (Ethan Cohen-Cole from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, and Jason M. Fletcher of Yale University). And while this pair of economists, in fact, concluded that Christakis/Fowler bollixed-up their analysis of obesity to such a great extent that their conclusions are completely illegitimate, DrRich counters with this query to said economists: If you know so much about computer models, how’d your investments do during the big crash in ’08? Eh?

Finally, critics say, all the reports appearing in the popular media (which often have included provocative quotes provided by Christakis and/or Fowler themselves), seem to have exaggerated the conclusions of the study way beyond what the published study actually says. For instance, all media reports stress the general contagious nature of obesity. But when one reads the study itself, one finds that the highly-publicized ability of obesity to “spread” from friend to friend actually did not hold up for the following combinations of friends: man-woman, woman-man, and woman-woman. It only reached statistical significance when both friends were men. So while the results of this study have been mercilessly generalized, in fact only one real finding was actually suggested by this data. If either you are a woman or your friend is a woman, then your friend’s obesity is not contagious to you – even if you buy the results of this study.

To this criticism DrRich responds thusly: Having fat friends makes you fat, OK? So get over it. If you choose to believe only the details of the study, instead of its spirit (as clearly expressed by the media and by the public utterances of its authors), then go ahead and enjoy your obese female friends, and see where that gets you.

The real beauty of this study is that, since it comes from a completely unique database that will never be duplicated, the data we have is the only data we’re ever going to get. So, the quibbling of the critics aside, the very best study ever conducted or that ever will be conducted on this issue shows definitively – to the satisfaction of the people that matter – that obesity is contagious.

Since the obese are rapidly becoming the witches of the 21st century, we are obligated to do everything in our power to stop them while we can. (DrRich points out that burning witches is an evil act only if you don’t believe that witches are real. If you, supported by all the respected authorities of the day, believe that real witches are present in the community, and that they indeed are capable of producing extreme harm to innocent individuals, surreptitiously and at a great distance – kind of like the obese – then burning them is at least reasonable, if not the only responsible thing to do.)

DrRich of course is not advocating burning fat people at the stake. He is already on record as saying that committing such an act would be a crime against the environment, just based on the carbon emissions alone.

But, my goodness, why would you befriend a fat person – let alone invite one into your home for a holiday supper – when doing so will put you and your family, all the way down to the second-and-even-third-degree acquaintances in your social network, at grave risk? Until the day comes when our leaders develop the courage to do what needs to be done about the menace of obesity – perhaps gathering up all the fat people and concentrating them, say, in special camps – we must do our bit to keep them from contaminating our own social networks.

As our President says, our new healthcare reforms, to be successful, will rely utterly on the straightforward and unprejudiced application of the very best medical science available, rather than on emotions, on biased opinions, or on unsupported traditions.

Until our leaders grow the teabags to begin following their own advice, let us regular folks do what needs to be done in our own homes, especially during this very special holiday season.

May God bless you and keep you – thin.

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DrRich wishes his readers a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year – whatever their BMIs – and will return here to the CRB shortly after the holidays.

How the NTSB Can Really Meet Its Goals

DrRich | December 15th, 2011 - 1:55 pm

Podcasts:

DrRich wants to record his sympathy for the recommendation, made by the National Transportation Safety Board this week, that all cell phone use by automobile drivers be banned at the federal level. When our government gives us new rules that are for our own good, we should be thankful and not critical.

The caterwauling we’re hearing from some Conservatives over this issue is a gross overreaction, and entirely unreasonable. For one thing, the carnage being produced by cell-phone-using drivers has exploded beyond all reason, and we simply cannot be expected to wait for each of the state governments to act, each at its own leisurely pace.

Furthermore, we should all recognize that regulating the cell phone usage of Americans, especially while Americans are behind the wheel, is now well within the purview of the federal government. This is because, under Obamacare, the Feds are ultimately on the hook to pay for all the extra medical care being generated by the automobile accidents caused by these thoughtless drivers. Indeed, Obamacare ultimately gives the Feds the authority to regulate all human activity that impacts the likelihood that people will need to engage the healthcare system – from what you eat to what hobbies you take up.

The recommended ban on cell phones was based entirely on scientific data, and certainly cannot be assailed from that aspect. The case that reportedly prompted the NTSB to take up this issue was that of the Missouri man who apparently caused a fatal accident whilst texting. We cannot ask the perpetrator himself about it, since he died in the accident, but all the news reports say that he had sent 11 text messages in the 10 minutes prior to the accident. That, to the uninformed, is an actual statistic. Evidence like that certainly constitutes all the justification the Feds could ever be expected to provide for a ban on all cell-phone usage, both texting and talking, both hand-held and hands-free.

Some, of course, have questioned the recommendation that even hands-free cell phones should be banned. If you are among these sadly uninformed individuals, DrRich points you to a report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette addressing this very issue, in which Carnegie Mellon University neuroscientist Marcel Just explains, “listening to someone on the other end of the phone reduces the brain activity associated with driving by more than one-third.”

So there you go. The message from neuroscience is clear.  Just the act of listening to a conversation while you are behind the wheel increases your risk by 33%.  And unlike Conservatives (who always seem to fight against the logical application of scientific fact for reasons of practicality, ethics, tradition, religion or out-and-out denial), the Progressives on the NTSB simply followed the science. Cell phones should be banned, whether hand-held or hands-free.

Indeed, one can argue that the NTSB was too timid with their recommendations.  Obviously, this 33% increase in risk will not depend on whether the conversation you are listening to is being piped through your car speakers by some sort of Bluetooth arrangement, or whether it is being generated by the person in the passenger’s seat.  Listening, after all, is listening. And settled science says: no listening while driving.

Earlier today DrRich and his beloved spouse of some 37 years, Mrs. DrRich, were driving somewhere for some purpose or another that was none of DrRich’s doing, and he decided to test out this proposition. So when she started in with her deadly habit of talking to him while he was driving, thus attempting to engage him in a potentially fatal listening process, DrRich politely invited her to immediate silence for the duration of the trip, admonishing, “Don’t be such a menace to our society! You’ll have the FBI upon us in minutes!”  This tactic worked out so well that not only did she remain silent for the entire trip, but has maintained that silence to this very moment, and seems to be willing to continue it for quite some time. At least we were not killed in a traffic accident.

Undoubtedly the NTSB will be greatly disappointed, a few years from now, when they re-do their statistics and find out that a lot of people are still dying in automobile accidents despite the ban on cell phones. DrRich knows this because he can remember way back to the day when there were no cell phones, and can recall that our highways were every bit the charnel house they are today.  Presumably, this is at least partially because conversations took place in automobiles even before cell phones were invented.

But fear not, for there will be plenty of other things for the Feds to ban to make our highways safer. For instance, if listening to a simple conversation while driving is a deadly act, then surely one must ban listening to talk shows, which just get everybody mad anyway. It must also be true that radios themselves, and MP3 players, and all in-car entertainment systems ought to go, for just think how very distracting it all is. And children. They definitely ought to ban children from ever riding in cars.

You see, dear reader, as scientifically pure and as well meaning as our Central Authority is,  and however much we may sympathize with their intent, the government is going about this all wrong. If the Feds want to limit the healthcare expenses they are shelling out for people injured in traffic accidents, the best way to do this will not be to try to come up with regulations to prevent drivers from being distracted. Drivers will always be distracted, even if you strip the cockpit of automobiles down to a steering wheel, accelerator and brakes. They will be distracted by a hangnail, or by a song coursing through their heads, or by rehearsing an apology to (say) an angry spouse, or by something they see out the window. Regulating away all driving distractions is impossible.

Once again, the Progressives’ program for societal perfection smacks up against human nature.  Getting the great unwashed to always act for the good of the collective – to put aside their propensity to become distracted while driving, say, or to stop trying to accumulate personal wealth -  quickly becomes an extremely frustrating endeavor for Progressives leaders, and it is what invariably seems to lead them to purges and pogroms, or at least to sundry exercises in eugenics. In the case of regulating distracted driving for the benefit of the collective, Progressives might as well take a lesson from history and just cut right to the chase.

For if the Feds really want to save all that money they’re now spending patching up survivors of automobile accidents, there’s a way that is guaranteed to work, and it’s not that far removed from where Progressives always seem to wind up anyway:

1) Remove seat belts and airbags from all cars.
2) Eliminate the speed limit on US highways.
3) Make sure tethered cell phones are installed as standard equipment in all cars.
4) Several times each day, announce over the radio a contest in which the Federal government will award $5,000, tax free, to the next 100 callers.
5) Use a different call-in number each time, to require manual dialing.

There will be few survivors.

Call it self-selected eugenics. And since Obamacare does not offer to pay for funerals, it will all be good.

Why Crying Doctors Are A Good Fit For Obamacare

DrRich | December 12th, 2011 - 6:44 am

Podcast:

DrRich has written a lot on this blog about the intentional destruction of the classic doctor-patient relationship. That relationship, of course, was a fiduciary one, under which the patient was encouraged and expected to place full trust in the doctor’s sacred duty to put the patient’s own best interests above all other considerations.

Obviously, such a thing is incompatible with a healthcare system in which doctors are expected to covertly ration healthcare at the bedside. Indeed, it was the ethical tension between what the classic doctor-patient relationship required and the new duties of physicians in the real world, that led professional medical organizations to formally re-define medical ethics in 2002.

And today, of course, under these New Age medical ethics, doctors are no longer expected to place the needs of their individual patient first. Rather, they are required to make the needs of the collective – that is, social justice – their chief consideration.

When the needs of the individual and the needs of the collective coincide, of course, so much the better. But when they do not – and they frequently do not – the needs of the collective take precedence. And “the needs of the collective” are now being determined by panels of experts created under Obamacare, which are busily devising the “guidelines” for treatment that physicians must follow to the letter, or risk their careers, life savings, and freedom from incarceration.

Lest you think DrRich is making this up, allow him to remind his readers of this excerpt, from the ominously-titled book, “New Rules,” co-authored by none other than Donald Berwick MD, who has run CMS for the past 18 months:

“Today, this isolated relationship [between doctor and patient] is no longer tenable or possible. . . Traditional medical ethics, based on the doctor-patient dyad, must be reformulated to fit the new mold of the delivery of health care. . . The primary function of regulation in health care. . .is to constrain decentralized individualized decision making.”

Having thus terminated the classic doctor-patient relationship with extreme prejudice, the same political and medical leaders who conducted this assassination immediately realized they had to fill the void – for how can you have no such thing as the doctor-patient relationship? The solution to this problem, of course, was easy. Just as you can create a New Age medical ethics to fit modern exigencies, you can create a new doctor-patient relationship that will do the same thing.

So, what medical students are being taught today about the doctor-patient relationship has nothing to do with fiduciary responsibilities or ethical obligations. Rather, the New Age doctor-patient relationship is all about the interpersonal relationship between doctor and patient. Doctors are admonished: Be compassionate, be empathetic, be nice. And there’s nothing wrong with crying in front of your patients.

Not being an asshole, of course, has always been a useful trait for physicians. Doctors who can relate to their patients, displaying and actually feeling a certain amount of compassion and empathy, have always been more effective at communicating with their patients – and thus have been more effective physicians – than those who are arrogant, self-centered, aloof, or just plain mean*.

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*DrRich has already pointed out the following irony: many of the doctors who washed out of clinical medicine, possibly because they were too arrogant, self-centered, rigid, and/or aloof to be effective physicians, are now populating the expert panels which are writing the guidelines which will dictate the behavior of doctors who might otherwise be actually useful.
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The benefits of being a nice person are not exclusive to the medical profession. The same rules hold for anyone who makes his/her living by engaging in personal interactions with fellow humans. And so, until recent years, the medical profession categorized this fact (that doctors ought to have decent interpersonal skills) within the realm of common sense, common decency, and common knowledge – and the idea of the doctor-patient relationship meant something else entirely.

Every medical school now has formal training on the doctor-patient relationship, under which young physicians are taught to be compassionate, empathetic, and nice. To the extent that such traits can be taught – and DrRich has his doubts – there’s nothing inherently wrong with emphasizing interpersonal skills. There are, however, two problems that come to mind when emphasizing interpersonal skills becomes a substitute for emphasizing the real and true obligations of a professional.

First, teaching young doctors that a good doctor-patient relationship simply means being nice will result in newer generations of physicians having no concept of any fiduciary obligation to their individual patients. They will address the needs of the collective first, as a matter of course. (But as they withhold information on available treatments about which their patients are not to be informed, we can count on them to be extremely nice about it.)

Second, there is a growing school of thought, amongst those who are responsible for teaching this New Age doctor-patient relationship, that not only should doctors avoid stoicism at the bedside, but they also ought to openly display their emotions, so as to further reinforce their compassion, empathy, niceness, &c. By graphically displaying the deep empathy the physician has for his (or more likely, her) patients, he or she can really bond with them, and thus establish a really strong doctor-patient relationship.

And what better way to openly display one’s emotions than to cry?

Just as a general proposition, DrRich is against crying in front of patients. Certainly, there may be rare occasions when emotions rise up unexpectedly at the bedside – when a patient relates a particularly affecting personal story for instance. But in general, DrRich is convinced that doctors should not make a habit of expressing their emotions too frequently or too luxuriously to their patients.

Empathy and compassion are fine, but what sick patients really need is a doctor who can maintain some sense of composure even when things are the bleakest, some sense that, as bad as things are, this situation is not beyond the doctor’s experience. Even if the outcome is destined to be very bad, the patient deserves a doctor who acts like he or she has been there before, and who they can trust to remain at their side and help guide them through the ordeal that remains.

But DrRich is concerned that the faculty of our medical schools, who are busily training America’s Obamacare Doctors of Tomorrow, have reached the following epiphany: A particularly wonderful way to repair the failing doctor-patient relationship would be to indoctrinate young future physicians (most of whom these days, once again, are said to be women – not that there’s anything wrong with that) that crying at the bedside – indeed, openly displaying their every emotion at the bedside – is a marvelously therapeutic act. Such an open display of the doctor’s emotions conveys a powerful message to the patient, namely, “I care.”

Perhaps. But DrRich thinks crying at the bedside actually conveys two powerful messages to patients:

First Message: I empathize with you. I feel your pain.

Second Message: Your medical condition is so unbelievably dire that not even I can face it with any amount of composure. You, my friend, are well and truly screwed. I cannot imagine the agony you’re in for, without falling apart myself.  May God help you.

It is the conveyance of this latter message that, in the opinion of DrRich, ought to make most doctors on most occasions relatively circumspect about crying in front of their patients.

It is also this latter message that offers to make crying doctors a convenient tool for covert rationing.

When the doctor is reduced to tears (thus graphically demonstrating to the patient that the game’s about up; that there’s pretty much nothing, really, that’s going to change this bleak outcome; and how very sad it all is) – well! Talk about reducing your patient’s expectations!

A chief tenet of covert rationing is that patients who can be made to expect little will be satisfied with little. In most cases this is accomplished by simply coercing doctors to withhold from their patients all of their medical options. But if they can be encouraged to cry when delivering bad news, doctors can destroy patients’ expectations in a much more definitive fashion.

Furthermore, the traditional role of the doctor when a patient’s outlook is poor is to take charge of a very bad situation, and with great empathy, patience and fortitude attempt to guide the patient through that situation with as much skill and courage as possible, even if the final destination looks very bleak. If the doctor instead becomes just one more of the people who gather about the bedside crying about it, then the patient immediately perceives themselves to be abandoned and alone, placed into a position irremediably desolate, with no sense of direction, and no sense of control over their own destiny. Patients fighting illness from such a position do more than merely lose their expectations; they will also die much sooner and in greater despair than necessary.

So obviously, our modern healthcare system under Obamacare will see immediate advantages to encouraging emotional outbursts on the part of doctors. In the name of advancing empathetic physicians and fixing a broken doctor-patient relationship, we could, more easily and more often, get those folks who are in the infamous last six months of life to simply stop striving for a medical miracle – or even for non-miraculous but expensive therapies that actually exist, and that (alas!) might actually extend their survival – and thus effect the sick patient’s demise more quickly and more economically.

Certainly, now that medical schools are teaching forms of alternative medicine that in former years would have made real doctors blush, for courses on the doctor-patient relationship to encourage young doctors to let their emotions free is a good and natural fit.

Young doctors should not be taken in by such ploys. They should empathize with their patients, but remain strong, and lead their patients gently and resolutely through their medical ordeals. They should try to avoid allowing a free display of their emotions to break their patient’s spirit. Their job, instead, is to use their expertise to fortify their patient’s spirit, even in the worst of times. And above all they should not allow themselves to become the trained tools of an ultimately cynical healthcare system, that uses every ploy at its disposal to covertly ration medical care.

Why President Obama Let The Birther Question Fester

DrRich | December 7th, 2011 - 8:29 am

Podcast:

A few years ago, one of the Ladies on the View (DrRich does not recall whether it was Rosie or Whoopie or Joy or Daisy May) “proved” that George Bush was responsible for the collapse of the World Trade Center (and not the heat generated by all that burning jet fuel), when she proclaimed that “steel does not melt.” The audience went wild with approval.

DrRich, however, was puzzled. All those years ago, when America still had lots of steel mills and DrRich used to work in one of them, he could swear that once every six hours a massive door would open on the open hearth furnace, and molten steel would flow out of it. In fact, one of DrRich’s jobs was to advance a long-handled ladle into that molten stream of new steel to acquire a sample for analysis. He would be willing to attest under oath (say, to a Federal grand jury) that the steel in his ladle was in liquid form. So, unless DrRich’s Old Fart memory fails him, steel actually does melt, as long as you can make it hot enough.

The thing about conspiracy theorists, however, is that they are never deterred by facts. And if DrRich had actually sent Whoopie (or whoever) a letter explaining her mistake, as he had thought about doing, it would not have caused her to say, “Oopsie.” She simply would have shifted to another “fact” proving that Republicans (and not Islamists) had knocked down those buildings.

The other thing about conspiracy theorists is that their methods know no party lines. Whatever their political affiliation they are usually whack-jobs. And on the opposite side of the political spectrum, the birthers – who are convinced that President Obama was not born in the USA, but instead was born in Indonesia, or Kenya, or Mars – have displayed no more reasonableness than the Ladies on the View.

So, when one thinks about it, the truly puzzling thing about the birther controversy is not that the birthers won’t give up, no matter what evidence is placed before them. That’s just what conspiracy theorists do. What’s really puzzling is why President Obama and his legal team fought them for so long before they actually produced definitive evidence of his American birth.

Astute readers might respond, “You just answered your own question, DrRich. Conspiracy theorists don’t go away just because you have the facts on your side. Even a time machine that deposited them into the birthing room in Honolulu would not have deterred them. And indeed, when Obama finally produced his birth record, the birthers immediately found six ways to show it had been Photoshopped. Giving conspiracy theorists the real facts does not end the conspiracy theory.”

Very true. (DrRich is proud to have readers like you.) The President had no hope of making the birthers go away by releasing his birth documents. But by not releasing these right away, and instead letting the matter fester for several years, he just made more problems for himself. By fighting the birthers all that time, and running up hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal bills doing it, all he accomplished was to waste a lot of money, and to raise questions among millions of more reasonable Americans who are not given to conspiracy theories.

DrRich believes he has a possible answer to why Mr. Obama stonewalled for so long on his birth records. It may be that he was signalling to his Progressive followers his baseline contempt for the Constitution.

The birthers, as misguided as they were, were raising a constitutional question. For, if Mr. Obama had been born outside the U.S., he could not legally serve as President under the Constitution*.

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*DrRich, for one, thinks this is a rather silly feature of the Constitution, which he believes Mr. Madison inserted into the document for the sole purpose of disqualifying Alexander Hamilton for the job.
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Typically, therefore, inasmuch as a constitutional question is by definition an important one, one might expect that President Obama would have produced the definitive documentation right away, to resolve the matter once and for all. And, as it turns out, he easily could have done so.

But he chose not to. He chose to let the question fester and grow, for several years, before finally putting an end to it. It’s almost as if he was saying: It’s just a constitutional question. I will actively fight against having to acknowledge the legitimacy of my presidency under the Constitution, because to do so would be to acknowledge the importance of the Constitution. And that would be beneath me, and would be at odds with my real agenda.

This message must have offered much succor to nervous Progressives, who had watched him solemnly take the Oath of Office, and had listened to his public words.

Very few Progressives – much less the President of the United States – are willing to say publicly that the Constitution is a major impediment to their program, and that one of the absolute requirements for achieving the Progressive program is to nullify the underlying thrust of the Constitution.

For indeed the Constitution is an impediment, since it firmly establishes the primacy of the individual, and severely limits the government’s ability to control the property or the behavior of individuals – both of which are critical to the Progressive program.

Mr. Obama has said so himself, publicly, before he became President. He has indicated that the chief flaw of the Constitution is that it places limits on the power of the government, and thereby prevents the government from acting to assure redistributive justice.

You can listen to him say it himself on You Tube, here.

Mr. Obama is right about the Constitution, of course. For indeed, if the Constitution granted the government the power to affect redistributive justice, it would have had to make the government all-powerful, and to make all property communal property, controlled by that government. But the founders, having just fought a war with the world’s greatest power to guarantee the autonomy of individual Americans, were disinclined to write a Constitution that immediately nullified their great victory for mankind. So the Constitution simply does not suit the Progressive agenda.

After just two years, President Obama apparently found that he had no further need to continue the charade with the birthers. He has by now, of course, amply demonstrated that the Constitution will not be an impediment to him. He has created scores of hand-picked, unelected Czars who began setting national policy and running much of the government, in independent fiefdoms, answerable only to him; he has unilaterally cancelled contractual obligations to bondholders when “negotiating” with car companies; in addition to the auto industry, he has essentially nationalized the banking industry, the insurance industry, and student loans (and thus, colleges), and of course, the healthcare industry; he went to war in Libia without even a nod to Congress; he allows his DOJ to selectively enforce or ignore laws depending on who has broken them; and he inserted an individual mandate into his healthcare reform plan, which, if upheld by the Supreme Court, will give the government unlimited authority to control the economic activity of individual Americans.

And that’s why it eventually became OK for the President to release his birth records. American Progressives, by that time, had been suitably reassured regarding his stance on the Constitution.

But thanks to the birthers, the President had a convenient way of signalling his attitude toward the Constitution, well before he had had the opportunity to demonstrate it overtly through his Presidential actions.

DrRich will only remind his conservative friends that, once a President has taken over private industry, made the Congress (the people’s branch of government) nearly irrelevant, promulgated the individual mandate, &c., the fact that the Constitution has in it some verbiage about the Presidency being limited to two-terms ought not to be given much weight.

More On The Potential Dangers Of Salt Restriction

DrRich | December 2nd, 2011 - 7:13 am

Podcast:

This past summer, DrRich wrote a post on the utter arrogance of the public health experts who are urging the FDA – and international bodies of busybodies – to mandate a policy of strict sodium restriction across the globe.

DrRich attempted to show how such a broad-based salt restriction at this juncture is ill-advised for three reasons. First, the conclusion that a population-wide salt restriction would actually do any good is not based on any actual prospective studies, but on a contrived extrapolation of observational data. Second, there is some evidence that a salt restriction would be harmful to at least a substantial minority of people, even if the overall effect on the population turns out to be positive. And third, there is good reason to believe that the degree of sodium restriction which is being recommended by the public health experts is below the level which is dictated by human physiology.

Perhaps salt restriction for the entire population will turn out to be a good idea. But perhaps not. So in his previous post, DrRich was advocating a prospective, randomized controlled trial to test this proposition before just going ahead and inflicting it upon hundreds of millions of Americans.

And now, as it happens, in recent weeks new studies have been published which question the safety of salt restriction for the whole population. In fact, five studies have been published just this year suggesting that salt restriction might be unsafe.

The latest, published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association,  suggests that when you compare cardiovascular events (such as heart attack and stroke) to sodium intake, the incidence of those events follows a “J” curve. That is, cardiovascular events are lowest at an “optimal” level of sodium intake. But if sodium intake goes above that optimal level – or if it goes below it – the incidence of cardiovascular events increases.

According to this study, the “optimal” level of daily sodium intake is 4000 – 5999 mg of sodium per day. Cardiac outcomes worsen for those with sodium intakes above or below those values.

And, of course, the public health experts are recommending sodium intakes far below the 4000 mg threshold. They recommend (and urge world governments to enforce) sodium restrictions of 1500 mg per day for the people they consider to be at high risk (which amounts to about half of us), and restrictions of 2300 mg per day for the rest of us.

This kind of restriction would place everyone on an unenviable portion of the J curve, according to this new study, and would risk exposing all of us to an excess of cardiovascular disease.

The public health experts, of course, will not take this slander lying down, and accordingly have been quick to respond. Interestingly, their response sounds a lot like the response of the global warming experts whenever someone has the audacity to introduce new evidence that questions some of their conclusions.

Heartwire quotes Dr Graham MacGregor of London’s Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine (and a major sodium restriction guru) as saying, “[These new studies] are a minor irritation that causes us a bit of aggravation, and we have to talk to journalists about it, because they are not interested in news saying salt is dangerous.” MacGregor insists that the need for global sodium restriction (like global warming) is a settled issue.  “What [these irritating investigators] fail to understand is that the FDA is not asking for evidence about why salt should be reduced, they are asking how it should be reduced.” So apparently, new data need not apply.  It is neither being sought, nor will it be accepted.

Other experts have pointed out that these new studies urging caution on restricting salt were not the kind of prospective, randomized controlled trials that are so valued in medicine, so their results should not be taken too seriously.

DrRich might be more inclined to agree with this admonition if the studies that suggest we ought to employ severe, widespread salt restrictions were randomized, controlled trials. But they, also, are not.

What we have is two sets of very confusing observational data that can be interpreted to say different things. It may be true that a severe population-wide salt restriction would be a huge boon to mankind. But it may also be true that it would harm more people than it would help – or that it would harm and help about the same number, so the overall results would be the same.

The fact is, we just don’t know.

We have already seen the harm that can be done when we allow public health experts to launch major population-wide dietary changes, without adequately studying what their effects will be. Especially given the increasing evidence of the harms that might be done by it, we are nuts if we allow the arrogant expert class to enforce a salt restriction program on all of us, before we adequately study its likely results.

Of course, the whole thrust of our new healthcare system is to allow the experts to practice medicine on the whole population.  So urging caution or even a certain amount of circumspection on this newly-empowered expert class is destined to be a futile exercise.