Lock Them Up! Lock Them Up!

There is no need to amend or eliminate the Second Amendment to protect us from the mass shootings, or even the single shootings, that proliferate around the country year after year after years. The amendment is perfect as is; it’s the people who cite only part of it who are imperfect. In fact, as written and interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court until several years ago, the nation’s maniacal gun problem should never have existed.

The Second Amendment reads: “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” The first half would not have been included if the drafters of the Constitution intended the second half to stand alone, as the gun nuts wish.

The militias still exist as the state National Guards that have armories where weapons are kept. Guard members are allowed to use those weapons for training, practice and for use when the guard is mobilized. Since the Second Amendment exists only for the sake of maintaining militias, all guns (personal and state-owned) could be required to be kept in the armories and checked out only under conditions and circumstances established by the guard. It could even allow them to be checked out for hunting purposes.

Strictly enforced, guns eventually would no longer be available to those who would shoot a child. It may be too late to fix global warming, but there’s still time to make the NRA society’s friend instead of its enemy.

Lock them up!

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The Drug Problem Bigger than Opioids

The problem of over-prescribed opiods has received a lot of attention of late—justifiably so—but there is a much bigger drug-prescribing problem that affects just about all of us. The federal government subsidizes much of it, and your doctor, pharmacist and health-insurance company are complicit.

In 2016, the American public spent $374 billion on prescription drugs. That figure is projected to nearly double in the next four years to $610 billion, more than half a trillion dollars.

Why? As demonstrated to us by now-jailbird Martin Skreli, the man without a moral cell in his body, the pharmaceutical industry will charge whatever the market will bear, and that appears to be an awful lot.

This problem, however, is closer to home.  You can’t dictate what others in the prescription chain should or will do, but you can reduce your own costs—along with risks of side effects that all drugs have, even aspirin—at least for drugs for treating non-life-threatening conditions. That includes just about all of those opioids.

It’s called pill-splitting, and the beauty of it is that if a quarter of a pill, or half of one, doesn’t do the job for you, you can always return to taking the entire pill as prescribed. But, at least you will find out what dosage is right for your condition.

You may ask that if a quarter of a pill works for your condition, why don’t drug makers make one in that dosage instead of four times as much.

We may attempt to answer.

All drugs sold in the United States must meet the approval of the Food and Drug Administration. It’s one of those regulatory agencies that libertarians and other conservatives love to hate, almost always without realizing the good it produces.

To get FDA approval, a drug maker must put its pills through excruciating clinical trials at great expense, quite often the expense shared by the National Institutes of Health.  Understandably, the pharmaceutical company will want to try a dosage big enough to demonstrate early that it is efficacious and that is big enough to justify its production and by-the-way bigger profit margin.

That’s why you rarely will see a pill marketed in a dosage level under five or 10 milligrams. Yet, if you give it a try, again especially with opioids, you may find that 2.5 milligrams or even 1.25 milligrams will do the trick. Do the math. Splitting your pills in half means you save half the cost, by quarters means you save three quarters of the cost.

Why shouldn’t that be a no-brainer? Because no one in the chain of your drug’s distribution tells you so. Obviously, the pharma company isn’t going to tell you because it will lose profits. But, how about your prescribing physician? Is it the fear of getting sued if he or she strays from the well-trodden path and gives you a sane suggestion? Probably not, it’s just habit, perhaps even laziness.

Your pharmacist could tell you, but that would mean interfering with the physician’s prescription, and that could mean lost business. The insurance company, for whom the doctor and the pharmacist often work, could tell you, and that would make all of the sense in the world, because the insurer usually pays more for the pills than you do.

That last part of the prescription chain, we don’t understand. Insurance companies usually have committees of physicians they employ to advise on their formulary, so perhaps it is that old fear of being sued that takes place. We can understand that it also may fear being sued by a patient whose pill-splitting went wrong, but that threat shouldn’t include advising a patient of the option—again, for non-life-threatening drugs only.

But, you can take the situation into your own hands, damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead, and split those pills until you find the least amount of dosage that works for you. Especially if you are taking opioids.

We do add one caveat here. Particularly with habit-forming drugs such as opioids and other pain-killers, you may have been taking them long enough that you have built up a dependence on those dosages, and splitting the pill will not work for you. But, it doesn’t hurt to try it, as long as the condition is not life-threatening.

There is an added reason why you may wish to consider pill-splitting. As we write this the U.S. government is investigating dozens of makers of generic drugs—most generics makers are in India—for likely price-fixing collusion. You may have noticed that some of your generics drugs have gone way up in price recently. Apparently, the government knows why and is taking action.

General John Kelly Major Disappointment

You could have knocked us over with a four-star feather. It turns out there is no white knight in the White House riding herd on the moron in chief after all. It appears he is of the same stripes and may even be the person after whom the idiot in chief patterns himself.

We started out thinking that Chief of Staff John Kelly foolishly offered to give advice to the fool in chief, not realizing how he was likely to muck it up. It all began with the mucker in chief’s condolence phone call to the family of a soldier killed in Niger (don’t ask why the hell we have soldiers in Niger).

According to Kelly, a retired four-star general, the dumpster with a mouth without an empathic bone in his body wanted to make a condolence call to the pregnant widow of one of the four slain soldiers. Kelly said he advised against making the call, saying “Sir, there’s nothing you can do to lighten the burden on these families.” Write a letter instead, he said. But Trump insisted and asked for advice for what to say.

That’s when the train began leaving the rails. Kelley responded that when he lost his own son in Afghanistan (don’t ask why the hell we’re still in Afghanistan), a higher-ranking general told him that Roger Kelly “was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed. He knew what the possibilities were because we we’re at war.”

Calls from the White House are not made out of the blue. First, the White House operators must track down the person to be called, and they seem to have an ethereal way of doing so, and they advise the person the president would be calling.

As I turned out, one of those operators reached the widow as she rode in a car with her congresswoman on the way to the airport to receive her husband’s body. The widow politely engaged her speakerphone so the occupants of the car could share the call.

In the call, the condolence in chief said, drawing on Kelly’s words, said, “you know that this could happen when you signed up for it.”

The congresswoman, a Democrat given to wearing clownish cowboy hats, disclosed that the tweeter in chief had disrespected the widow, and the widow confirmed that she also believed he had been disrespectful.

It was at this point the world found out that Kelly was not the adult in the room, reining in the mouth that roars. Kelly is an aider and abettor, and may even be presenting the pattern that the aper in chief is following.

In the fallout that followed the flub of the flubber in chief, he lashed out at critics, lashed out at the congresswoman, lying in the process, revealing that he may just be the pattern for the groper in chief, not the calm, reasoned fellow behind the scenes that we all prayed that he was.

And that, just when there was some hope he could help marshal at least eight of the cabinet members to write a letter to Congress declaring the twitter in chief unfit to serve as president, the first step on the path to the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Congress to save not just the country, but it would appear the world.

We’re doomed. There is no restraining presence in the White House.

Will Scotus End Gerrymandering?

The computer age offers a perfect solution to the problem of gerrymandering, an issue the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to issue an opinion on in January. We are betting the court will fail to use that solution.

The case before it is Gill v. Whitford, which reached the high court after an appeals court ruled Wisconsin’s 2010 redrawing of congressional districts in the state amounted to “unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering.”

In this case, it was Republicans who used a convoluted method to ensure that Democrats did not gain a congressional seat in the 2012 election even though President Obama got 53 percent of the vote. It worked better than that. Before that election, the eight-member delegation was split evenly. After the gerrymandering following the 2010 census, the delegation was five Republicans to three Democrats.

The court’s previous venture into the gerrymandering morass came in 2004 when the deciding vote again was that of Justice Anthony Kennedy. He bailed on ruling against a gerrymandering case then, but suggested he might vote against the practice next time if someone could come up with workable standards.

Well, a very workable standard is sitting in a huge building in suburban Maryland, with all the information, computers and cartographers necessary to satisfy Kennedy that the bureau could easily redraw the congressional maps for each state. The overall standard to be sure there is no prejudice in the drafting would program the computer to draw the districts in squares as much as possible.

Only Wyoming is square, of course, but its population of 565,000 is nowhere near the current 711,000 per congressional district, so it only has one House representative, ergo no map to draw. Colorado is more a rectangle than a square, and most of the rest are defined by those pesky rivers at least on one side.

For our example, then, let’s take Colorado. It was just over 5 million in 2010, so it gets seven seats. Below is the map the 2011 state legislature came up with.

SR-Colorado

It is obvious from the map that Colorado legislators had a prejudice in mind—they wanted to keep from splitting counties as much as possible.  Thus, district three, composed mostly of the sparsely populated Rocky Mountains is an odd shape, and district four, composed most of the mostly rural prairie area of the state, is almost a mirror image of three. The other five divide up the rest of the population, 3.5 million people jammed into about a fifth of the state.

Census data is house by house so if programmed to create squares of 711,000 people each, it probably could do exactly that.  We don’t have the wherewithal to divide the census data thusly, but a computer-generated district map drawn without the prejudice of respecting county borders might cleave the third district horizontally by a straight line just above the number 3 and into the northwestern quarter of five and up along the eastern border of Park County straight up to the Wyoming border.

Don’t try this at home; let the computer do it, or you’ll either spend a year at it or go mad, even if you had all the house-by-house census data at hand. But, you get the picture. Not only would counties get sliced and diced, so could cities with fewer than 711,000, again because not dividing them is a built-in prejudice.

The court could order such a computerized system be required not only in Wisconsin, but in the rest of the country, ending noxious partisan gerrymandering forever.

Mostly like, however, Kennedy and the rest of the court will miss their big chance.

Yellen Into the Wind

If history tells us anything (it tells us just about everything), heavy investors in the stock market and the rest of society should be preparing for a repeat of 2007-2008 economic meltdown.

We cite none other than the chairwoman of the Federal Reserve (the FED), Janet Yellen, who said recently, “Would I say there will never, ever be another financial crisis? No, probably that would be going too far. But, I do think we’re much safer, and I hope that it will not be in our lifetimes, and I don’t believe it will be.”

Normally, we could accept that as a rather benign statement. She sits at the head of the table of the U.S. financial prognosticators, deciding when to raise interest rates and when to lower them, usually solely as a response to the threat of inflation.

But, Yellen was preceded in her job by the man widely accepted for years as a financial guru whose tortured and turbid statements probably sold more dictionaries and thesauruses than any other government official. He once said, “If I turn out to be particularly clear, you’ve probably misunderstood what I’ve said.”

Alan Greenspan, believed the big banks didn’t need added regulation and although the already scary derivatives trading was a bubble that had to burst at some point, he believed the banks would not do anything against their own self-interests.

The guru blew it on a massive scale, the incoming Obama administration in 2008 had to deal with the massive task of re-righting not just the domestic, but the international economies.

In October of that year, Greenspan told Congress, “I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms.” He had sworn by “the presumption of neoclassical economics that people act in rational self-interest.”

And now, the 70-year-old woman who sits in the chair where he once presided over the economy assures us that “not in our lifetimes” will there be another financial crisis.

This, despite the efforts to repeal the regulations put in place after 2008 to prevent a repeat, and a failure to replace the regulations removed in the Reagan through Clinton administrations that originally were put in place to prevent another Great Depression.

Perhaps the mattress market would be a good investment right now.