Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Things That Piss Me Off Tuesday - the welfare drug testing, NFL bans and medical research edition

Seems like there is a lot to be pissed off about this week. Could just be me I guess.

I do generally avoid the internet during the weekends, and even with a few days of that, I still have a very long list.

I guess we should just get to it.

All The Wasted Money
It never ceases to amaze me that there are all these states filled with all these people who are hell bent on drug testing welfare applicants even when the evidence keeps coming back very clearly that it is a waste of money. 

These programs are failing miserably to reveal what those who advocate for them seem so sure they will...the testing isn't at all allowing programs to refuse aid to people on the basis of drug use. It's revealing that welfare applicants use drugs at a far lower rate than the general public and the amount being spent on the testing programs is vastly more than any savings that can be identified.

The naysayers are quick to find some fatal flaw with the programs. That people are cheating on the tests or lying or they're all smuggling in clean urine or whatever. Why? I don't know. I honestly think it is because people have become so convinced that those in need are mooching off the system and abusing it that they can't wrap their heads around the truth that might not be the case at all.

Are there people who abuse drugs on welfare? Of course there are. Are there people who abuse the welfare system? Of course there are. Are those people enough of a reason to humiliate every person who comes into the system? Hell no.

We'll forget for the moment all the constitutional arguments that render these testing systems illegal, we'll forget for the moment that the vast majority of adults on welfare are caring for hungry kids, we'll ignore the fact that many of the elected representatives pushing for these tests can't keep their own noses clean....let's just rely on assumptions that keep being proven incorrect to embarrass those in need. Sure. That makes sense. While we're at it, let's waste tons of money too.


Profiling is a real thing.
The events in Ferguson and St. Louis have placed the issue of profiling and how race is handled by the police in the spotlight again. A story that I first saw a few days ago is picking up more traction now, and it's one that everyone who tries to claim that profiling doesn't happen needs to read.

Seriously, go read this.

How mental illness is handled (or not) by the police
There was a shooting in St. Louis that brought up not just profiling but how mental illness should be handled by police last week. If you've not seen the video, I have to tell you that it is tremendously disturbing. In it Kaijeme Powell is seen behaving erratically. He'd been stealing from a small store in the vicinity. Police showed up on scene, shot him to death and released statements about what happened. They initially said that he was coming towards them in a threatening way with a knife over his head and that he was within a couple feet when the shots were fired.

Then the video came out. It did not line up with that story at all. His behavior was unusual to say the least. His arms were not raised over his head. He was at least 6 feet away from the officers. They shot him ten times.

It seemed pretty clear to me that something was "off" about Powell. The unfortunate reality, though, is that in cases like this one, the police don't seem to be equipped to try and diffuse the situation without the use of lethal force. What happened to tasers or disarming suspects? Why are they just being killed?

The issue isn't something that is happening only in Missouri, either. It happens far more often than most people realize, mostly to young men, all over the country. It happened again in Kansas this week when police shot an unarmed white suicidal teenage boy 16 times.  

My personal opinion here, one that I don't believe anyone has to agree with, is that these incidents are being exacerbated by the militarization of the police. I have friends and family in law enforcement, many of them in the generation ahead of us. They were trained to use their voice as their first weapon. They were trained to take down suspects. They were trained to diffuse situations. They were trained that for every action taken by a potential suspect, there was probably a reason.

They weren't trained to shoot first and ask questions later. Some of them, with decades of experience, almost never drew weapons. Ever. Even working in some of the most violent areas of the country.

As a society, we need to figure out how to stop these gut reactions and start talking to people again. We need to diffuse volatile situations instead of making them worse...and it's not just the police I am talking about anymore.

There is absolutely a time and a place for police force. There are absolutely situations where there is no other option, but I refuse to believe that those times and places exist as often as we are seeing them.

Medical Research Funding
One of the unintentional side effects of the ice bucket challenge has been that it revealed the drastic cuts in federal funding to the NIH. Budgets have been slashed year after year. The ugly truth is that we'd need ice bucket challenges to be this successful constantly to even have any hope of making up for the amounts cut.

I shared a story about this harsh reality, and realized that I needed to write a little bit more about research funding because it is something that I don't think most people really understand. Some think that we can reasonably rely on the private sector and the goodwill of people like those involved in the ALS fundraiser to adequately fund medical research.

We can't, and I'll tell you why.

There are several reasons.

The first is that biotech companies, pharmaceutical companies, and all the related incarnations, are only going to bother doing research on conditions they have a chance to churn a profit from. Meaning, they want to make a profit because that is their ultimate goal. We may want to believe that they are do-gooders and want to cure disease to save the day, but it couldn't be further from the truth. They want to make a pill, preferably a really expensive pill that they can score a patent on, that they can sell to a lot of people and make a boatload of money on.

The profit incentive is what makes the industry go around, which is why it is so rare to see any research in the areas of rare disease. There aren't enough people with ALS or (insert any other rare disease here) for them to bother. So they don't. There has been ONE cancer medication approved for children in the last 30 years. ONE. There have been an abundance of drugs for all kinds of lifestyle issues and for conditions that people live for decades with, though.

Diabetes is one of the areas that hits home for me, because every time someone shares a story about possible cures, I read up on it. It's not usually a cure, but some new treatment or medication, possibly something that can buy T1 kids a few years at a time without insulin. It would be huge progress, but it's not a cure. Because no one has a financial incentive to find a cure. They have a financial incentive to manufacture new treatments and drugs for all the patients with these conditions because they make a fortune off of us caring for ourselves and our kids.

Remove the profit incentive, and you get essentially no research at all for most rare diseases, which is exactly why the federal government needs to do the underwriting of it. And, for a long time, the federal government did just that. They sponsor what is primarily known as basic research, or huge undertakings that have multiple applications. Think human genome project stuff...and there is a huge wealth of information as a result of that program, which is then made available to all those who want to take that basic research further to find treatments, discover causes, etc. It was an insanely expensive undertaking that no private company could have or would have ever underwritten...and if they had, they would have tried to protect proprietary rights to that information.

Pull that basic funding, and all that is left are the profit motivated conditions.

So, we get meds to grow longer eyelashes while people dying of ALS get nothing.

Before you get mad at anything about the ice bucket challenge, email your representative and tell them to go back to funding research. We ALL need the basic research to be funded adequately and we absolutely cannot rely on private industry to do it.

The NFL and it's assbackwardsness
Matt Prater, kicker for the Denver Broncos, was suspended by the league for four games this week. The reason? He violated their substance abuse policy...tenuously. He has a prior DUI and they found out he'd had a few beers on vacation. (oh! the horror!) Apparently, the powers that be wanted to suspend him for the entire season, but settled on four games as a compromise.

Prater is pissed, and rightfully so.

Most of the suspensions handed down so far this year have been for substance abuse violations, but most of which have to do with off field behavior, not use of banned performance enhancing ones. That's a whole new can of worms, and they just don't want to go there...

What has people like me the most upset right now, though, is the fact that Prater is being forced to sit for four games for reasons that don't actually seem to make that much sense. I mean, yeah, he's had problems in the past. He didn't this time. He was on vacation.

Meanwhile, Ray Rice was forced to sit only two games, in a suspension that actually generated MORE controversy when he was charged with domestic violence. Rice was seen on video dragging his then-girlfriend out of an elevator, arrested and charged.

Let's just make this clear.

Drinking a few beers on vacation is worse than beating your girlfriend.

Bangs head on wall again.

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