On the outskirts of conspiracy theories has been the claim that the US government created HIV in a laboratory, always with nothing supporting it other than the fact that it makes the US look bad. A few weeks ago I ran across a report, possibly the original Jakob Segal report from the '80s, which raised the quality of these claims by bringing verifiable (or debunkable) facts to the discussion. The report identified HIV as being a combination of two known viruses, identified the leading researcher of one of these two viruses as the head of an "anti-cancer" program at Fort Detrick, and proposed that HIV was introduced accidentally through hepatitis vaccine tests in prisoners in San Francisco and New York, with observation of the subjects ending when no symptoms showed after six months. These claims have a high barrier to validation. You would have to be a bioresearcher with access to a laboratory and/or have access to the classified program records at Fort Detrick to be able to debunk any of them. Let's say the people at Fort Detrick do look at their records and say it's not true. If you are disinclined to trust anything the government says, are you going to believe them?
As it turns out, the Segal report was part of a Communist disinformation campaign known as Operation Infektion. The bulk of this Wikipedia article was written by one SilverJade10, who created an account just for it, and cites Thomas Boghardt's report on Opertation Infektion and two US government reports, "Soviet Influence Activities: A Report on Active Measures and Propaganda 1987-1988" and "Soviet Active Measures in the Era of Glasnost". Wikipedia being Wikipedia, there is already an objection that the sources are unreliable because they are American. In addition, a few sites on the web say that DNA sequencing of HIV disproves the core claim of it being a combination of the two known viruses. I believe it. Time and technology have been sufficient to settle this question.
Side note: one reporter on the Segal claims was one Ian Johnson of the Baltimore Sun. I suspect he may be the same person as Ian Denis Johnson, author of "A Mosque In Munich", a history of al-Qaeda in Europe that I have not gotten around to reading but have heard is good.
Interesting reading: The CIA reviews several instances of Russia planting stories in the media from 1957-1959. Anyone who thinks this sort of thing stopped happening in the 1950s is an idiot.
Raymond Ibrahim alleges that American universities have rewritten history to portray Mohammed's warriors as a leftist liberation force. Where I will agree with him is in seeing a general pattern in society of reliance on recently published secondary sources combined with ignorance of both primary sources and older secondary sources that may be better informed by being less distantly removed from events than a modern publication. I place the majority of the blame on the fact that old books do not have marketing agencies.
Times change: Rhode Island's Brown University, which in 1966 reluctantly allowed a speech by Nazi Party leader George Rockwell in the name of free speech, has now forbidden a speech by New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.
A quick note on US politics: If Americans want less extremist Republicans, Americans will need to elect less extremist Republicans. What would happen if the Republicans ran a pro-choice, pro-marijuana liberal who speaks out against the Tea Party and the other extremists on his side? This is not a hypothetical scenario. It is the NYC mayoral race. The last time I looked at the polls, the liberal Republican was down by more than 50 points.
Another quick note on US politics: Obamacare is looking bad, and I'm not talking about the website. The website is a distraction. A website can be fixed. The system itself seems to be resulting in higher costs for everyone for exactly the reasons Republicans have been claiming it would, but everyone treated their talk about the wonders of market economics with a Reaganesque dismissal of "there you go again". Horror stories include people seeing their insurance costs doubling when they are allowed to keep their insurance, their work hours cut to save their employers the cost of insuring them, and deductables so high they get literally no benefit from being insured. Whether the Republicans will see any political benefit from correctly predicting this mess will depend on who the public blames for these features: the newly enacted legal system or the "it's the system, man!" of all rich corporations except for the Democratic-donor insurance companies who are going to be making a bigger fortune from this. From my perspective, the right-wingers who tried to stop it by blocking the budget are starting to look like heroes.
That's not even getting into my concerns about the "health care markets" where I've been predicting that the finance capitalists are going to do to your insurance costs what they did to California's energy costs twelve years ago when we had an energy market that was supposed to lower our energy costs.
How much is a human life worth? Among the many problems of the United States is the escalating value of damages in civil cases for death, injury, and emotional distress. I don't know of any study on the issue, but judging from headlines the change in jury valuation of these woes far exceeds the rate of inflation. Some headlines report claims as much as ten times what the average man will make in a lifetime. People are beginning to perceive lawsuits as a combination winning the lottery, a rare opportunity to bring sudden wealth to someone in your social class, and a form of punishment rather than a means of rebalancing society after a harm has been committed. A small city or business can be bankrupted by an accidental death claim if it is not insured, resulting in the cost of insurance going up and public services going down. Individuals used to be safe from these lawsuits until the second OJ trial. Now, the only reason they are not being sued is that they don't have enough money to go after. A related issue is that the lives of some people are valued more than others in awarding damages for lost wages, as if it were known for certain that the victim would not have been downsized or hit by a bus the next day.
One of the most celebrated foundations of civilization is the Code of Hammurabi which was largely a table of damages for claims for death and injury, literally written in stone. Medieval Germany had the concept of Weregild, literally Man-Gold, the value of a life. Anybody who took a life could make amends by paying a value of gold equivalent to about $50,000 USD. Is this something our modern civilization needs? If we were to set a limit on claims for wrongful death or injury, it would benefit most the rich who would be less harmed by a fine than the poor. Most importantly, would it work? I believe that California does have a liability limit on medical claims, but it has not had a significant effect on medical insurance costs. There is some evidence against, from experience.
I'm working from memory of something I read a few years ago and can't find a link to, so I can't guarantee accuracy here.
Did you ever notice how in almost any old town in the United States you will see a prominent building from the turn of the 20th century that was built by a strange social club like the Moose Lodge, Elks, Odd Fellows, etc? Did you wonder how these social clubs got enough money and power to build these buildings? Did you ever wonder why they were so popular, why so many people joined them, and why they all lost popularity?
They were health care companies. In addition to the attraction of being a social club, these social clubs would contract with young doctors, fresh out of college and looking for work, to give free/cheap on-demand basic health service to their membership for a bargain rate. These doctors would then get flooded with work to the point that they were working well over 40 hours a week. The doctors formed a political action group, and Congress outlawed the practice in the 1910s or 1920s. People had joined the clubs to get cheap health care, and people stopped joining without that incentive.
Apparently there is still a law somewhere on the books that forbids these arrangements. Otherwise the unions would be doing it. There's low chance of getting a repeal through Congress because it would increase competition, and the health care industry has enough sway over both parties to halt reform on this issue.
I've heard from a trustworthy source that Kaiser is now robodialing its past patients with anti-union propaganda.