Saturday, 22 January 2011

Execution Drug

There's a story in this morning's WaPo that the company, Hospira, that makes sodium thiopental, the drug of choice for lethal injection in the US, has decided that they will stop manufacturing it.  Hey, good for them, a refreshing example of a company doing the right thing and acting ethically in spite of government pressure rather than because of government pressure.   Right? 

Well, okay, it's not quite that simple.  It seems that the final push for this came when the company went to move its production facility from the US to Italy and the Italian government demanded evidence the "company ensure the drug would be used only for medical purposes".  Realizing they couldn't give such guarantees so long as the US was using it to perform executions, the company stopped making it.  But this wasn't simply a case of the company doing what the Italian government asked of it.  It had made its objections to the use of the drug clear in a March 2010 letter written to the Ohio correctional facilities in which they expressed their wishes that the product not be used for executions, it always could have resumed or maintained production of the drug in the US. 

But what I found interesting is the objections that "some blasted another country's interference in the U.S. criminal justice system". It's unclear to me how another country is interfering in the US criminal justice system. By my reading, they're insisting that the company not actively contribute to executions by providing drugs used in this act.  It's a bit of a leap to call that "interfering".   Refusing to knowingly contribute to carrying out a morally objectionable action is not, at all, the same thing as interfering in the carrying out of the action.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Debt Worries

Arguments about why we don't need to worry about the fact that China holds so much of the US debt re reminiscent of the old Mutually Assured Destruction arguments about the USSR.  The arguments  in the case of China are something like, "sure, China could badly hurt the US economy, but they'd hurt themselves in the process".  The arguments are reasonable, but they both make the troublesome assumption of rational behaviour on the part of the counterpart.  It may be reasonable to assume rationality, but one would rather not be in a position such that the nation's well-being depends on that rationality.  But more notable here is the fact that we're talking about something well short of total destruction. in the debt case  China could conceivably convince itself that the damage the US would incur is far more substantial than that which China would incur should they decide to use their US debt holdings to hurt the US.  Should that be the case, China might deem it reasonable to take the hit.  Incurring deep losses in order to impose deeper ones on your enemy is a fairly common practice in warfare.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

2nd Amendment Reductio?

I read an interesting story this morning about a man in Massachusetts, of all places.  To summarize, some loon commented on the Tucson shooting saying, among a few other things,  "1 down and 534 to go" and for that reason had his gun license revoked.  But couldn't we argue that this in violation of the man's second amendment rights if one insists that the second amendment guarantees an individual's right to bear arms?  The whole point of the second Amendment if we're to believe defender's of the "individual right to bear arms" interpretation is that each individual may (should?) be carrying what amounts to an implicit threat to do harm to members of the government should they decide that they don't like what the government is doing.  Surely, the Second Amendment means nothing at all if it allows for the government to remove the arms should they gain any sort of evidence that the individual is considering acting on that threat.

I think this illustrates an odd tension in the Second Amendment as interpreted by the likes of the NRA. It's presented as a tool provided to individuals to help facilitate the overthrow of tyranny, but then we also seem to say, "but if we ever get a hint that you might actually be planning to use the right for its intended purpose,we'll take it away immediately".  And, of course, that makes perfect sense -- we wouldn't expect the government to sit idly by whilst people plot and threaten to do government members harm. But doesn't that suggest a fundamental flaw in the individual right to bear arms interpretation of the 2nd Amendment? Why would you grant someone the means to accomplish X but insist that you reserve the right to take away the means should they ever indicate a plan to use it for its intended purpose? Isn't that a bit like distributing fire extinguishers with the understanding that they'll all malfunction in smoky or warm conditions?

Saturday, 15 January 2011

How I learned to stop worrying and love the HOV lane violators

I'm always inclined to feel moral outrage towards people illegitimately using the high occupancy vehicle (HOV)/car pool lanes on the freeway, i.e., those failing to have 2 or 3 occupants in their car (or failing to drive a Prius or motorcycle or other local variants, etc).   But,  if they use the HOV lanes when overall traffic is heavy while HOV lane traffic is light, they're decreasing the traffic load in the non-HOV lanes while also not impeding traffic flow in the HOV lane(s).  So, they're doing the non-HOV traffic a favour while failing to hurt the car poolers.   Of course, the natural concern is that the system would fail if everyone were to behave as they were behaving.  Indeed it would; but if the system is enforced with fines, our anger and disdain is not required to function as the disincentive to using HOV lanes -- the fines can stand in and probably accomplish it more effectively.  Insofar as the fines succeed in keeping the number of HOV violators low, we actually owe those violators gratitude.  They're improving overall traffic flow at no cost to us.  So, cheerio, Escalade driver cruising alone in the HOV lane at 5  pm, I apologize for that obscene gesture I made yesterday.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

WTF, Arizona

I often find myself defending the Canadian healthcare system to misinformed Americans.  But, to be fair, Canadians are often also misinformed about the American healthcare system, the largest misnomer being that poor people in the US have no access to any sort of medical care and are just left to  die on the streets should they become ill.  That perception is not entirely fair because emergency rooms are obligated to provide care regardless of ability to pay (although recipients of such care will be obligated to pay for it it) and the Medicaid program exists for very poor people.  But, it seems that the Canadian impression of the draconian nature of the US system is becoming increasingly accurate.   Two people have died recently in Arizona for reasons that can be traced back to the state's decision to have its Medicaid program stop funding transplants for non-relatives.   The state will save about $3-4 million by cutting this program and it will probably affect about 100 people.   We don't know details about the second person affected, but the first man was only 37 years old.  

I acknowledge that containing health care costs will likely require declining to perform any and all medical treatments.  I just find it mind boggling that we make a person's wealth, rather than life expectancy, cost and likelihood of success, a main criterion for making those kinds of assessment.