Power to the People... In Power

By - January, 2014

Here are a few under-reported stories that caught my attention in the last few weeks. Read on for reports about arrests for smelly pot, New York's stop-and-harass policy, and other interesting and frightening examples of misused power.

Screwing the Consumer

It was recently reported on Reason.com that the FDA is trying to shut down 23andMe, a website-based company that does personal genome testing for $99. In fact, the FDA essentially ordered the company to cease sales because the tests are "intended for use in the diagnosis of disease or other conditions or in the cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease," which is not legal without FDA approval. It is noted in the reason article that the FDA has not mentioned or suggested that a single person has been harmed due to the test, but only that someone might be in theory be harmed (they speculate that someone might self-treat a condition based on what the test reveals).

Now, given that the test reports on 254 diseases and conditions, with categories such as "carrier status," "drug response," and "health risks," it seems likely that it would do more good than harm. It might prompt people to go to the doctor for further testing, for example. It is true that the information can be obtained without this simple and convenient home test, but most likely at a cost of thousands of dollars. That is probably why 23andMe is being targeted. We never get to know the real reasons why the FDA goes after this or that company or product or service, but it seems likely that those inside the medical professions would love to have greater control and therefore greater profits over testing of this sort.

So are we actually made safer by FDA actions like this, where there is no direct risk from taking the test itself? There is not much evidence to suggest so. We certainly can say we are less free when we have one less option as health care consumers. As for the larger questions raised about who the FDA and other government departments serve, an optimist might hope that in a democracy the people gain power and freedom through government. But in the system we have the wealthy and connected lobby for more power to make more profit, which is another way to say that power is bought from government by those who can pay the price -- and that doesn't include most of us mere voters. So the rich get richer and more powerful. Politics as usual.

The Smell Factor

Okay, now that marijuana is legal in Colorado, you might get a whiff of it in the air here and there, even if you do not partake of it yourself. Personally I am more offended by the occasional bad body odor of people I mix with on the street, but perhaps some folks just hate the smell of pot. So in the public interest, Denver has a new odor ordinance, and a person can be fined up to $2,000 for letting too much marijuana smoke seep out of their car or home, into public air.

How does a law like that get passed? Hmm... could it have been suggested by the makers of the "Nasal Ranger," a device that it sells to gimmick-happy police departments for $1,500? We'll probably never know, but given the lack of complaints that mowing a lawn produces, I really doubt there was a ton of public outcry about the smell of this other grass. I read about this story here: http://www.alternet.org/

Stop and Harass?

The now infamous stop-and-frisk policy in New York, was said by many to be crucial. I suppose, now that it has been stopped by the courts, that we will have to watch the crime rate to see what happens. But the 3% conviction rate of those stopped and frisked between 2009 and 2012 (according to the state attorney general) suggests it was more of a stop-and-harass policy. Less than 1-in-30 people stopped were convicted of anything, and I suspect that those who were criminals were probably suspected of crimes to begin with, and could have been stopped for more valid reasons.

But maybe I'm wrong, and those 3% would have been left to cause trouble until an arrest at a later date. That brings up the question of how much we should be harassing people, even if the net effect is a slightly safer society. And is it really right to do if people of certain races and/or income classes get the brunt of the harassment? Of course if police just stopped everyone on the street and checked them for weapons, and followed us all around randomly, and ransacked our cars daily, surely some crime would be prevented. But my guess is we don't want that kind of society. I read about this story here: http://www.alternet.org

Bush the Crusader

George W Bush recently spoke at a fundraising event for the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute. This organization wants to encourage the second coming of Christ by, wait for it... making Jews into Christians. Those Jews who accept Jesus as the promised Messiah are often called "Messianic Jews," and are not well-liked by many other Jews. In part this is because their position encourages anti-semitism among Christians. I don't know much about the movement myself, although I am suspicious of any group of people who hope to have a man from two-thousand years ago rise again and bring on Armageddon. I read about this story here: http://www.alternet.org/

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