John Stossel

Stossel: The absurd hysteria around plastic straws

Want to sip a refreshing beverage this summer? If environmental zealots and sycophants get their way, you won’t be allowed to sip it through a plastic straw. Actress Nina Nelson and other celebrities made a video claiming that plastic straws kill sea life: “In the USA alone, over 500 million straws are being used every single day, most of which are going into our oceans.” “I will stop sucking,” vowed the celebrities. In obedient response, Seattle banned plastic straws, and other places plan to follow. Starbucks, Hyatt and Hilton are all abandoning straws. Katy Tang, of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors, says, “We are no longer going to allow for plastic straws here.” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio agrees: “Their time has come and gone.” But before politicians ban things in the name of saving the world, I wish they’d take the trouble to actually study what good the ban would do. Plastic garbage in oceans is a genuine problem. But most of the pollution comes from Asia. A small amount does come from America, but only a tiny fraction of that is plastic straws. Banning straws “might make some politicians feel good,” says the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Angela Logomasini in this week’s Stossel TV video, “but it won’t actually accomplish anything good.” But what about that scary “500 million” figure that celebrities, politicians and news anchors constantly cite? It turns out that number came from a 10-year-old who, for a school project, telephoned some straw makers. Because the boy is cute, the media put him on TV. Now the media, environmental activists and politicians (Is there a difference?) repeat “500 million straws used daily … many end up in oceans,” as if it were just fact. The real number is much lower. Still, activists like talk show host Ethan Bearman tell us, “If we can reduce something that easy — something that gets stuck in turtles’ noses and damages the environment — let’s do that. Sometimes, we do need a little gentle guiding hand from government.” But government’s guiding hand is neither “little” nor “gentle.” Government action is force. In this case, the politicians will either ban straws or order us to replace plastic straws with more expensive ones made of paper or bamboo. Bearman calls that an advantage, telling us, “Plastic doesn’t actually biodegrade, unlike paper, which breaks down into other components.” But that’s exactly the problem. Paper straws don’t only break down in dumps, they also break down while you’re using them. They get soggy. They leak. “That’s the beauty of plastic. It’s enduring,” says Logomasini. She also points out that paper and bamboo straws aren’t environmentally pristine. “Paper products take more energy and effort to produce. And paper doesn’t degrade in a landfill, either. Everything (in landfills) is essentially mummified.” Also, paper straws cost eight times more to make than plastic straws.

Exactly!!   For more of this outstanding op/ed by veteran libertarian journalist John Stossel, and to see a video, click on the text above.

John Stossel: Junk science locks up innocent people

On TV crime shows like “CSI,” “NCIS” and “Law & Order,” science gets the bad guys. In real life, “science” often ensnares the innocent. Former NYPD Detective Harry Houck gets annoyed when TV shows make forensic science look infallible. “You watch a detective get down and look at a body (and say), ‘He’s been dead for three hours now… (H)e ate dinner four hours ago,'” scoffs Houck. “I can’t do that.” On TV, experts identify killers by their bite marks. In real life, experts claim they can do that. The TV show “Cold Case Files” covered the trial of Alfred Swinton. He was convicted of murder because a bite-mark expert said his teeth matched a bite on the victim. “A perfect match!” said Dr. Gus Karazulas, the “forensic odontologist” whose testimony clinched the conviction. Karazulas sounded impartial and objective. “A forensic scientist is not on the side of the prosecutor or defense,” he said on “Cold Case Files.” “We look at the evidence.” But Swinton was innocent. Lawyer Chris Fabricant helped get him released from jail by doing a DNA test, a much more reliable, less subjective form of science. Fabricant scoffs at bite-mark testimony: “The doctor was just wrong. It’s an unreliable technique.” The more room there is for an expert witness’s unique interpretation of the data, the more that can go wrong, says Fabricant. “Bite mark is similar to you and I looking at a cloud. I say to you, ‘John, doesn’t that cloud look like a rabbit?’ And you say, ‘Yeah, Chris, I think that does look like a rabbit.'” That kind of junk science puts innocent people in jail. I told Fabricant that I assumed most people in jail are guilty. Also, many people say crime is down because aggressive law enforcement has locked so many people up. “If you think that maybe even 1 percent of convicted defendants may be innocent,” replied Fabricant, “we have 2.6 million people in prison today, (so) we are talking about tens of thousands of (innocent) people!” Fabricant works with the Innocence Project, a group that works to get innocent people freed from prison. Through DNA evidence, the project’s lawyers have helped free 191 people. That confident bite-mark expert who got Swinton convicted now admits he was wrong. “Bite mark evidence is junk science,” he told us via email. He resigned from the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. But police still trust bite marks. “Let’s say one tooth is missing in the front” of a bite mark, explains Houck. “You’ve got to go, well, our suspect’s got one tooth missing in the front. That’s pretty good!” Houck says he’d demand other evidence. But not all cops do — especially when scientific “experts” say someone’s guilty. Bite marks are just one dubious method police and prosecutors use.

For more, click on the text above.

John Stossel: The left’s war on science

We’ve been told conservatives don’t believe in science and that there’s a “Republican war on science.” But John Tierney, who’s written about science for The New York Times for 25 years and now writes for the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal, told me in my latest online video, “The real war on science is the one from the left.” Really? Conservatives are more likely to be creationists — denying evolution. “Right,” says Tierney. “But creationism doesn’t affect the way science is done.” What about President George W. Bush banning government funding of stem cell research? “He didn’t stop stem cell research,” Tierney reminds me. “The government wouldn’t fund it. It turned out that it really didn’t matter much.” Private funding continued and, so far, has not discovered much. “People talk about this Republican war on science, but if you look around, my question is, where are the casualties? What scientists lost their jobs?” asks Tierney. “I can’t find examples where the right wing stopped the progress of science, whereas you can look on the left and you see so many areas that are taboo to research.” Some research on genetically modified foods became taboo because of protests from the left. That may have prevented a second Green Revolution to feed Africa. Scientists can’t even talk about whether genes affect intelligence without being threatened by the left. Political scientists who continued to investigate the topic are screamed at on college campuses, the way Charles Murray, author of “The Bell Curve,” has been. Tierney adds, “The federal government stopped funding IQ research decades ago.” Likewise, researching gender differences is dangerous to your career. “You can’t talk about sexual differences between men and women, (although) it’s OK if they favor women,” laughs Tierney. “You can say men are more likely to commit crimes, but you can’t suggest that there might be some sexual difference that might predispose men to be more interested in a topic.” Google fired engineer James Damore merely for suggesting that sex differences might explain why more men choose to work in tech. “Damore just pointed out very basic scientific research about differences between the sexes,” argues Tierney. “The experts in this, as soon as he published that memo, said, yes, he basically got the science right.” It’s not as if women aren’t doing well in life, says Tierney. In universities, “women dominate virtually every extracurricular activity, but all the focus has been: ‘Why aren’t there more women physicists and mathematicians, and of course in the sports area, too?'” says Tierney. “There’s this idea that they’re being discriminated against, (but) there have been enormous studies of who gets grants, who gets tenure, who gets interviews for jobs, and women get preference.” However, one group does get discriminated against in colleges: conservatives. “In the social sciences, Democrats outnumber Republicans by at least eight to one. In fields like sociology it’s 44 to one. Students are more likely to be taught in sociology by a Marxist than by a Republican,” says Tierney. “It’s gotten worse and worse.” Why does this happen at colleges that claim they “treasure diversity”? Because people on the left believe diversity just means race and gender, not thought. And even schools that want some diverse thought reach a sort of political tipping point. “Once an academic department gets a majority of people who are on the left, they start hiring people like themselves, and soon the whole department is that way,” says Tierney. “They start to think that their opinions and that their interests are not only the norm, but the truth.” That’s how we get “scientific” studies that “prove” conservatives are stupid. One such study asked people if they agree with the statement “Earth has plenty of natural resources if we just learn how to develop them.” The researcher called a “yes” answer an “irrational denial of science.” But anyone who’s studied economics knows the statement has repeatedly been proven true. Finally, millions of people die of malaria today partly because many countries believed leftist junk science and needlessly banned DDT. Many were influenced by Rachel Carson’s scientifically challenged book “Silent Spring.” There is a war on science. But most of it doesn’t come from the right.

Agreed!  And well said, John.  Libertarian journalist John Stossel is responsible for that spot-on op/ed.  Excellent!!    🙂

John Stossel: The incredible threat to free speech that no one is talking about

A third threat to free speech at University of California, Berkeley has led to more censorship than political rioters or college administrators. It’s the Americans with Disabilities Act. Berkeley is expensive. Out of state students must pay $60,000 a year. But for five years, Berkeley generously posted 20,000 of its professors’ lectures online. Anyone could watch them for free. Then government regulators stepped in. The Americans with Disabilities Act stipulates, “No qualified individual with a disability shall … be denied the benefits of … services.” As with most laws, people can spend years debating what terms like “denied,” “benefits” and “services” mean. President Obama’s eager regulators, in response to a complaint from activists, decided that Berkeley’s videos violated the ADA. The Justice Department sent the school a threatening letter: “Berkeley is in violation of title II … (T)he Attorney General may initiate a lawsuit.” What Berkeley had done wrong, said the government, was failing to caption the videos for the hearing impaired. The ADA makes it illegal to “deny” deaf people services available to others. Equality is a noble goal, but closed captioning is expensive. Computers are learning to turn speech into text, but so far they’re not good at it. A speech-to-text program transcribed a Harvard lecturer’s comment “on our campus” as “hot Kampen good.” Captions that meet government’s standards must be typed out by a person who listens to each word. Captioning Berkley’s 20,000 lectures would cost millions. The school decided that, to be safe, it would just stop offering its videos. The administration even removed the existing videos from its website. So now, instead of some deaf people struggling to understand university lectures, no one gets to hear them. Politicians mean well when they pass rules like the ADA, but every regulation has unintended consequences. Most are bad. In this case, fortunately, an angry entrepreneur came to the rescue. Jeremy Kauffman hates to see valuable things disappear, so right before Berkeley deleted its website, Kauffman copied the videos and posted them on his website, called LBRY (as in Library). He says the Berkeley videos are just the start of what LBRY has planned. He wants the site to be YouTube — but without the content restrictions. LBRY uses a new technology that operates like Bitcoin. It’s “decentralized,” meaning videos posted are stored on thousands of computers around the world. That makes it nearly impossible for governments — or even Kauffman himself — to remove them. “LBRY is designed to be much more decentralized, much more controlled by users” and “absolutely freer,” Kauffman explains in a video I posted this week. He acknowledges that with no censorship, his invention may end up hosting videos of bad things — beheadings, child porn, who knows what else. But he argues that if he creates a system with censorship, “it allows us to keep the bad stuff out, which is great, but it also allows dictatorial regimes to keep content off. Do we want to make videos available to the people in Turkey, Iran and China? We say yes.” LBRY will let users flag videos depicting illegal actions. Those videos may no longer be shown on LBRY. However, other websites can show the illegal content using LBRY’s technology, and Kauffman can’t stop that. Kauffman says he won’t remove the Berkeley videos from his site even if he’s sued because there aren’t captions for deaf people. “Is that a reason that content shouldn’t be available to everyone?” asks Kauffman. Government is force whether it is deliberately doing something cruel or just trying to solve one group’s problems by imposing restrictions on others. “Do you want to put a gun to someone’s face and say ‘Caption those videos’? It’s absurd.” It is absurd. What government does is often absurd. Thank goodness for the internet and for people like Kauffman, someone willing to spend his own money to keep information free.

Libertarian crusader, and author of:  “No They Can’t!  Why Government Fails – But Individuals Succeed,” John Stossel wrote that op/ed.

Stossel: Hospital bureaucracy is toxic for patients. Here’s my solution

President Obama’s proudest accomplishment is increasing the number of Americans with health insurance. A better idea would be to help people escape government care altogether. As I wrote after my recent surgery, hospital bureaucracy is toxic for patients. Unfortunately, calls for reform usually come from people who want more of the same — more health insurance coverage, more Medicaid, more layers of government oversight. Our likely next president will push for more government-run health care. “Single payer would have lower costs,” she claimed when pushing HillaryCare. Progressives love that phrase, “single payer.” It suggests that medical costs will be covered not by you but by some benign other, without the nastiness of profit. I reminded him that under Canada’s government-run system, patients wait in line for care, often for months. He replied, “That’s the line where they live three years longer than we do! That’s the line I want to be in!” It’s true — Canadians and Europeans live longer. Progressives cite that to plug single payer. But it’s deceitful. Canadians live longer not because their health care system is better, but because they behave differently. They drive less often and so have fewer accidents. They murder each other less often. They’re less likely to be fat, or as I said to Moore, to “look like you.” I give him credit for laughing, but then he claimed Canadians live longer “because they never have to worry about paying to go see the doctor.” Give me a break. It’s nice not to worry, but it won’t save your life. Some Canadians worry so much about not getting treatment that they travel to the U.S. to see doctors. In Canada, we do find one pocket of free-market medicine: clinics that offer cutting-edge, life-saving technology without waiting lines. But you need four legs to get that treatment. If Canadians want a CT scan, the waiting list is a month. But a private veterinary clinic will scan your dog today. When government is in charge, you get long lines and someone else deciding if you get treatment. I don’t claim that America’s partly private system is great. I wrote about bureaucracy and indifferent customer service. Some of you mocked my “whining”: “What a jerk. They save his life and he complains.” You have a point. I’m now back at work, and playing beach volleyball, less than four weeks later. I’m grateful that I got good medical care. But I’m a consumer reporter. I don’t see why the rest of the experience can’t be good, too. On my TV show this week, my guests describe real reform: free-market medicine. David Goldhill, author of “Catastrophic Care: Why Everything We Think We Know About Health Care Is Wrong,” points out that, “Unfortunately, the customer of the hospital isn’t the patient, it’s the insurer, it’s Medicare, it’s Medicaid … (T)hat difference explains a lot of the things that we are dissatisfied with in American health care.” But Goldhill points to one favorable trend. “Increasingly, people have high deductible (insurance) plans … (I)t’s the most promising thing in health care.” Many patients hate high deductibles. But they are useful because they make us realize that care is not “free.” Patients with high deductibles and Health Savings Accounts ask important questions: “Doc, do I really need that test? What does it cost?” They shop around. Suddenly, there’s the beginning of an actual market. When patients shop, doctors strive to please patients rather than distant bureaucrats. More doctors give out their email addresses and cellphone numbers, and shorten waiting times. Their bills are easier to read because the providers want customers to pay them! Government and insurance companies don’t make health care free. Such third-party payments just hide the cost, which increases the costs and makes payment more complicated. Even the fact that medical mistakes are now the third leading cause of death barely makes the bureaucracy sit up and take notice. All politicians care about is that you vote for them before you expire. -John Stossel is the host of “Stossel” (Fridays at 9 PM/ET), a weekly program highlighting current consumer issues with a libertarian viewpoint. Stossel also appears regularly on Fox News Channel (FNC) providing signature analysis

Stossel: Lung cancer and me

Last week’s column on my lung surgery struck a nerve. Many of you wished me well. Others said I deserve to die. “He likes free markets?” sneered one Internet commenter. “In a truly free market, society wouldn’t subsidize the cost of his smoking. In a truly free market, he’d be dead.” No, I wouldn’t be dead. In a real free market, I would pay for my own care and that Also, I’ve never smoked cigarettes. Some people who don’t smoke get lung cancer too. The angriest comments were in the Washington Post: “Stossel should ask for his money back and the doctors should put cancer back into his lungs. That’s what happens in a consumer-driven market, right?” People can get very unhinged when libertarians argue that markets work better. “HOW would that work? WHO would pay the nurses and the staff that keep a hospital running?” Who do they think pays now? Government and insurance companies paying doesn’t make care “free.” Government has no money of its own; it takes it from us. Such third-party payments just hide the cost. “Is John Stossel’s life worth more than the guy who collects my trash? … (T)urn healthcare over to his jackboot crew, only the rich will live to old age.” But it’s the shopping around — including shopping by the rich — that fuels the innovation and discounting that extends everyone’s lives, not just the rich. Charity will help the very poor. “Let’s see him negotiate the price of chemo vs surgery when he’s in the ambulance on way to hospital … Medical care is not amenable to usual market forces.” But it is. Patients wouldn’t need to negotiate from the ambulance because such decisions would have already been made for them by thousands of previous patients, especially the 2 percent who pay closest attention. Word would get around that hospital X is a rip-off but hospital Y gives better treatment for less. Doctors would advertise prices. Rating agencies would evaluate them for quality. Everyone will know more. A hospital worker complained about this “customer mentality. A hospital is NOT a restaurant. It is not Burger King. You don’t get to have it your way.” Why not? Must we just passively take what we’re handed when it comes to medicine, even though we’d never accept that with hamburgers? Medical patients tolerate indifferent service the way people tolerate waiting at the post office. The Postal Service, we were told, can’t possibly make a profit, get it there overnight, etc. Then came UPS and FedEx. Competition showed what is possible. “Stossel may think he’s getting ‘excellent medical care’,” writes Cato Institute health care analyst Michael Cannon. “But he doesn’t know it, and neither do his doctors, because there is no market system to show how much better it could be … In a market system, competition would push providers to strive to keep patients from falling through these cracks … In our system, there is no such pressure on providers … because the real customer is government. As a result, few patients know how unsafe American medicine is.” Cannon warns, “Without that information, patients — even when they are smart, skeptical and wealthy like Stossel — are constantly consenting to inferior care.” A few extra-savvy consumers might be aware that my hospital got a “B” rating on Leapfrog Group’s Hospital Safety Score, and, says Cannon, it rates New York-Presbyterian “below average” in nine categories, including collapsed lungs and surgical site infections. “Did Stossel know about these safety measures before he chose New York-Presbyterian?” No, I didn’t. I am grateful for my hospital’s lifesaving technology and the skills of some of my caregivers. But it would be better if hospitals were as efficient as FedEx and most of what’s offered by the private sector. My local supermarket is open 24/7. They rarely make me wait, prices are low, there’s plenty of choice and they rarely poison me. That’s what competition brings — if people pay with their own money. -John Stossel is the host of “Stossel” (Fridays at 9 PM/ET), a weekly program highlighting current consumer issues with a libertarian viewpoint. Stossel also appears regularly on Fox News Channel (FNC) providing signature analysis

This is a follow up to John’s earlier article where revealed that he had cancer.  We were very sorry to hear about this, and hope that John makes a full recovery.

Stossel: I have lung cancer. My medical care is excellent but the customer service stinks

I write this from the hospital. Seems I have lung cancer. My doctors tell me my growth was caught early and I’ll be fine. Soon I will barely notice that a fifth of my lung is gone. I believe them. After all, I’m at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. U.S. News & World Report ranked it No. 1 in New York. I get excellent medical care here. But as a consumer reporter, I have to say, the hospital’s customer service stinks. Doctors keep me waiting for hours, and no one bothers to call or email to say, “I’m running late.” Few doctors give out their email address. Patients can’t communicate using modern technology. I get X-rays, EKG tests, echocardiograms, blood tests. Are all needed? I doubt it. But no one discusses that with me or mentions the cost. Why would they? The patient rarely pays directly. Government or insurance companies pay. I fill out long medical history forms by hand and, in the next office, do it again. Same wording: name, address, insurance, etc. I shouldn’t be surprised that hospitals are lousy at customer service. The Detroit Medical Center once bragged that it was one of America’s first hospitals to track medication with barcodes. Good! But wait — ordinary supermarkets did that decades before. Customer service is sclerotic because hospitals are largely socialist bureaucracies. Instead of answering to consumers, which forces businesses to be nimble, hospitals report to government, lawyers and insurance companies. Whenever there’s a mistake, politicians impose new rules: the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act paperwork, patient rights regulations, new layers of bureaucracy… Nurses must follow state regulations that stipulate things like, “Notwithstanding subparagraph (i) of paragraph (a) of this subdivision, a nurse practitioner, certified under section sixty-nine hundred ten of this article and practicing for more than three thousand six hundred hours may comply with this paragraph in lieu of complying with the requirements of paragraph (a)…” Try running a business with rules like that. Adding to that is a fear of lawsuits. Nervous hospital lawyers pretend mistakes can be prevented with paper and procedure. Stressed hospital workers ignore common sense and follow rigid rules. In the intensive care unit, night after night, machines beep, but often no one responds. Nurses say things like “old machines,” “bad batteries,” “we know it’s not an emergency.” Bureaucrats don’t care if you sleep. No one sues because he can’t sleep. Some of my nurses were great — concerned about my comfort and stress — but other hospital workers were indifferent. When the customer doesn’t pay, customer service rarely matters. The hospital does have “patient representatives” who tells me about “patient rights.” But it feels unnatural, like grafting wings onto a pig. I’m as happy as the next guy to have government or my insurance company pay, but the result is that there’s practically no free market. Markets work when buyer and seller deal directly with each other. That doesn’t happen in hospitals. You may ask, “How could it? Patients don’t know which treatments are needed or which seller is best. Medicine is too complex for consumers to negotiate.” But cars, computers and airplane flights are complex, too, and the market still incentivizes sellers to discount and compete on service. It happens in medicine, too, when you get plastic surgery or Lasik surgery. Those doctors give patients their personal email addresses and cell phone numbers. They compete to please patients. What’s different about those specialties? The patient pays the bill. Leftists say the solution to such problems is government health care. But did they not notice what happened at Veterans Affairs? Bureaucrats let veterans die, waiting for care. When the scandal was exposed, they didn’t stop. USA Today reports that the abuse continues. Sometimes the VA’s suicide hotline goes to voicemail. Patients will have a better experience only when more of us spend our own money for care. That’s what makes markets work. -John Stossel is the host of “Stossel” (Fridays at 9 PM/ET), a weekly program highlighting current consumer issues with a libertarian viewpoint. Stossel also appears regularly on Fox News Channel (FNC) providing signature analysis

John got his national tv start on ABC, and is now over at FoxNews with his own show. We’re very sorry to hear John has cancer, and wish him a speedy recovery!