Monday, April 29, 2013
Headlines like this one on the radio, TV or Internet should raise eyebrows and cause your defenses to go up. It sounds too good to be true, so it probably is. They make it sound like you can sit back with your feet up and watch the money roll in. What I always wonder is: If it’s that easy, why are they trying to sell CDs or starter kits instead of doing it themselves? If they know all the secrets to making money in the stock market or in real estate, why are they giving those secrets away? If I knew how to make money on my computer at home, why wouldn’t I pay a bunch of people to sit at computers in a big building and keep most of that money myself? Maybe it’s easier (and less risky) to sell books, CDs and kits than it is to actually make the money. Maybe if it sounds too good to be true, there’s a hidden catch.
Making easy money is not the only promise that lures unsuspecting citizens. Another magic answer many people are desperate for is how to lose weight easily. In the Federal Trade Commission’s recently released report, Consumer Fraud in the United States, 2011, fraudulent weight-loss products are cited as the number one issue. An estimated 5.1 million Americans over the age of 18 bought and used such products including nonprescription drugs, dietary supplements, skin patches, creams, wraps, and earrings that were found to deliver little or no benefit while promising easy, substantial weight loss or weight loss without diet or exercise. It was too good to be true!
Other areas for fraud included prize promotions, buyers' clubs, work-at-home programs, credit repair, debt relief, credit card insurance, business opportunities, mortgage relief, advance-fee loans, pyramid schemes, government job offers, counterfeit checks, and grants (see page 22 of the report). In some of these area there are legitimate organizations offering services. The best way to avoid possible fraud is to understand that the valid ones don’t sound too good to be true; they require effort.
The source that led me to this report suggests measures to combat fraud including: a task force of regulators, consumer advocates, and legislators to promote new laws and regulations; more accountability for media outlets and communication channels that "profit from the frauds responsible for the losses suffered by victims" and more government regulatory power. Do we really need (or want) more laws, penalties and advocates to protect us from too-good-to-be-true schemes? As long as we keep looking for the easy answers and abdicate responsibility by claiming to be victims, that becomes the commonly proposed solution. The real answers are changes in behavior, which require the discipline to get in physical and financial shape and the responsibility to own our problems instead of claiming to be victims.
Friday, April 26, 2013
This is posting number 200, Monday and Friday for 100 weeks. At this time I’d like to pause to tell everyone who reads Real American Solutions how much I appreciate your support. The Google people who provide me space on blogspot.com also provide a dashboard telling me the number of page views and country of origin. After an understandably slow start, I have gotten nearly 60,000 page views in the last year, running at a current pace of over 110,000 per year. (This happened with no advertising or publicity, spreading by just word-of-mouth referrals and Internet searches.) Readers come primarily from the US (95%), but every day there are a few from somewhere else in the world. Having so many people interested in my thoughts is part of what motivates me. Thank you very much.
My strongest motivation, however, comes from my belief in the behavioral model as a problem-solving tool. There is no advertising on the site to distract from the content. I am not writing for financial gain. Emphasis is on the message: that behavior has consequences and that both individual and group success rely on improving our decisions and actions.
I believe we must rethink our problems in a new way, a way that de-emphasizes politics, because our problems are ours to solve. For over 20 years I have seen multiple survey results consistently reporting how Americans think their country is headed in the wrong direction. We gave both political parties many chances and they let us down. Politicians tell us what we want to hear, that they can make everything better with programs involving no effort on our part with money requiring no sacrifice from us. That doesn’t work. Our behavior is the source of most of the problems causing our dissatisfaction; only changing behavior will fix it. (199 examples are available in the archives.)
My primary goal is to get people thinking and acting differently. Answers will come when enough people look at problems in this new way, recognize similar behaviors, insist that politicians or advertisers play it straight, and hold themselves and their fellow citizens to a higher standard.
How many is enough? You can help by continuing to read these postings. Then enroll your friends and family to do the same. Post a link on your social networks to spread the word. By each of us telling just two or three other people, we can slowly build to that critical mass where together we start America moving in the right direction.
Again, thank you.
Monday, April 22, 2013
Back when Congress and the pundits were debating the Affordable Care Act, some warned of the dangers of rationing of healthcare. The defense was that nothing was written into the law about rationing, implying that it would therefore never happen. This got me thinking.
During World War II, more so in the UK than in the US, rationing happened by allotment. Citizens were issued ration books allowing them a limited amount of certain resources, such as gasoline and food. This rationing was government imposed, and is what most people think of when they think of rationing, but it is not the only form rationing can take. Rationing comes not necessarily by law or decree. It may happen naturally in response to an imbalance of supply and demand.
When supply is small and demand is high, what normally happens in a capitalist economy is that the price goes up. Think about gold or diamonds or Super Bowl tickets. Supply is small and the demand is high. Fewer can afford to pay the price. Rationing by price solves the imbalance.
There is also rationing by first-come, first-served. Think about concert tickets. With a limited number of tickets, people line up, sometimes for days with tents and sleeping bags, to get a chance at the best seats. Those who care less might be shut out, even if they could afford the price of the tickets.
Sometimes goods or opportunities are rationed by a queue. You sign up and wait your turn. Waiting lists develop for season tickets, the newest smartphone, a popular book or an organ transplant. This has been reported as being the case for certain, more common healthcare procedures in Canada and the UK. People wait in line.
Rationing may occur by privilege or prestige. Not everyone is invited to the Inaugural Ball, the Academy Awards or other major celebrations. You must be on the list. Space is limited and many people would like to attend. Those who arrive uninvited are crashing the party and are asked to leave.
Finally rationing may be by qualification. Many more people apply to Harvard than are accepted.
Rationing happens in many ways every day and we don’t even notice. When you hear someone confidently declare about any product or service that rationing is not a possibility, don’t believe it. Most rationing doesn’t happen because we plan it or even want it; it results from an imbalance. The only way to avoid it is to make that imbalance go away, which is not always possible.
Friday, April 19, 2013
In line with Monday’s warning to keep current on medical advice, the news brings evidence that many people continue to be misinformed on a very important subject, immunization. It is incomprehensible that some parents still believe the discredited study from the 1990s linking vaccines with autism. It is simply not true, and I will provide many links to reputable sources to clarify this point.
Up to date information provides the following: “An investigation published by the British medical journal BMJ concludes the study's author, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, misrepresented or altered the medical histories of all 12 of the patients whose cases formed the basis of the 1998 study -- and that there was ‘no doubt’ Wakefield was responsible.” As a result in May 2010, “his license to practice medicine in Britain has been revoked. The General Medical Council found that Dr. Wakefield was guilty of serious professional misconduct.”
Why would a medical doctor, a professional, publicize and promote misinformation? The above article goes on to explain: “He gained an enormous amount of fame and money from being able to point to a cause for [autism]. He became a celebrity doctor” with celebrity friends. Fame and fortune are strong motivation, but the question is not why it was done, but how to repair the damage.
The study is once again in the news in the US because nearly one-third of parents still put some faith in it, withholding or reducing their children’s exposure to vaccines, and call on their social networks, friends and social media connections, seeking out like-minded people to reinforce their erroneous views. This article describes the problem while reinforcing that “experts recommend that babies and young children routinely receive vaccinations against a host of common (or once common) infectious diseases, such as measles, mumps, whooping cough, chickenpox and hepatitis.” Instead of listening to the experts, they rely on their friends to justify their decisions. Perhaps they don’t appreciate how serious these diseases are because we haven’t confronted them for a number of years – thanks to immunization. According to one study: “There’s no better tool than social media to spread information—and misinformation—about controversial topics quickly and efficiently,” and they found that negative opinions about vaccinations are more influential.
Where could this lead? It may lead to the very problems faced in the UK where the study originated. With a recent measles epidemic in Swansea, a debate arose as to whether the media is to blame for misreporting the original findings along with Dr. Wakefield for promoting his opinion in news conferences. The publicity caused the parents to make poor choices and now they are living with the consequences. This BBC video explains that there is no difference of opinion among scientists and medical experts on this subject. It was one “maverick” promoting his views for his own benefit.
Isn’t it sad that with so much emphasis today on protecting our children from gun violence, parents, through ignorance and misinformation, are exposing their children to serious illness by disregarding proven medical advice? Following advice of social networks rather than medical experts shows a failure in both critical thinking and parental responsibility.
Monday, April 15, 2013
With the state of healthcare in such flux, the most important thing we can do is try to stay healthy. Avoiding doctors and hospitals, except for routine check-ups is the best, and most economical, course of action.
Steps to accomplish this are outlined about once a week in news segments or on the Internet. They are not really news and not secrets. Because we’ve heard them so many times, most of us can easily recite them: exercise, eat more fruits and vegetables and less fatty foods, get enough sleep, use alcohol in moderation, avoid tobacco, and fasten seatbelts. There are a few more good pieces of advice about reducing stress and having a strong social network, but generally we know the answers. Constant reminders won’t do the trick. It takes discipline to break bad habits and adopt these.
Typically, though, when discipline is called for, it’s natural to look for shortcuts. In doing this, Americans make assumptions and develop new habits that are not necessarily effective or economical. Some of those habits and assumptions have also been in the news lately. It’s time to question them.
In one example, a recent, very large study “was abruptly terminated when the researchers determined that vitamin E supplements offered no protection against prostate cancer. In fact, data from the study hinted that taking vitamin E might actually increase risk for the disease.” According to this article, many men over 60 are taking high doses of vitamin E in hopes of fighting prostate cancer, but it may be having the opposite effect.
Another example involves the overuse of antibiotics. Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a study of antibiotic use by all Americans with findings published in New England Journal of Medicine. They found a disturbingly high number of antibiotic prescriptions in recent years. This overuse, along with a tendency to not follow the doctor’s instructions when they are properly prescribed, can lead to higher numbers of resistant bacteria, making treatment much more difficult. People who call their doctor insisting on antibiotics for each cough or cold, which are usually caused by a virus and not a bacteria, do a disservice to the rest by helping to make some of these drugs less effective.
Finally, America’s love affair with bottled water continues. Annual consumption of bottled water has doubled over the past 20 years to 21 gallons per person. This does not include flavored or vitamin water. While they buy water for supposed taste or health reasons, at least a couple of problems arise. First, bottled water is sometimes not as pure as we think. This article concludes: “one cannot assume on faith, simply because one is buying water in a bottle, that the water is of any higher chemical quality than tap water.” Second, while public water supplies add fluoride to promote dental health, only the bottled water that is drawn from another public water supply might contain any fluoride. Many studies have approved this use of fluoride and this latest study from Australia confirms its effectiveness even for adults. Many dentists have begun applying fluoride treatments during adult checkups since fewer adults are being exposed to it in their tap water.
These are three examples where people may be acting on erroneous assumptions, costing them more for little or even less benefit. They show how important it is to question our assumptions and common advice and to keep current on the latest reliable, science-backed information. The shortcuts and easy answers are variable and often unreliable. What is constant is that original list of behaviors that requires some discipline and a little hard work but is known to lead to a healthier overall lifestyle.