Friday, March 3, 2017

Cancer kills over half-a-million Americans every year. Yet, we devote 120 times more money to national defense than to the National Cancer Institute and the research it supports.

Above: Franklin Roosevelt, 1930. When President Roosevelt dedicated some new buildings at the National Institute of Health, in Bethesda, Maryland, 1940, he said: "We cannot be a strong nation unless we are a healthy nation… Among the buildings of the National Institute of Health to be dedicated here today stands the National Cancer Institute… The work of this new Institute is well under way. It is promoting and stimulating cancer research throughout the nation; it is bringing to the people of the nation a message of hope because many forms of the disease are not only curable but even preventable... In dedicating this Institute, I dedicate it to the underlying philosophy of public health; to the conservation of life..." Roosevelt and his fellow New Deal policymakers had started the National Cancer Institute in 1937. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.

The National Cancer Institute works with a $5 billion dollar annual budget. This supports their own research, as well as their grants to universities and medical centers. This sounds like an awful lot of money. Yet, we spend 120 times more than that on national defense & military provocation, about $600 billion per year.

Today, President Trump is pushing for even more defense spending - even though the United States already accounts for 35-45% of the world's total military spending (depending on what source of information you use); and even though it was recently revealed that we waste tens of billions of defense dollars every year (see "Pentagon buries evidence of $125 billion in bureaucratic waste," Washington Post, December 5, 2016). 

I've spent a lifetime listening to right-wingers scream, "You can't solve problems by throwing more money at them!!" But, strangely, the political right isn't making that same argument here. They're just drooling, "spend more, more, more..."

Now, consider this: Well over half-a-million Americans die every year from cancer. In 2014, for example 591,699 of us died from various forms of cancer (see "Leading Causes of Death," Centers for Disease Control). That's far more than are killed by foreigners. In fact, none of the top 10 leading causes of death--which range from heart disease (about 600,000 per year) to suicide (40,000+ per year)--have anything to do with foreign threats. To put it another way: Since the 9/11 terrorist attack, about 8 million Americans have died from cancer.

Does any of this make sense to you? Does it makes sense that cancer causes far more death and sadness in America than foreigners do, yet we spend 120 times more protecting ourselves from foreign threats? To me, that sounds like the policy priorities of a lunatic. Now, some might say, "well, if we didn't spend so much on national defense, then there would be far more danger coming from those other countries." Hey, I get it, I completely agree with the notion that we need a very strong military; but couldn't we get by on, let's say, $300 billion per year, and spread that other $300 billion around on domestic needs, for example, tripling or quadrupling the National Cancer Institute's budget? I mean, what good is national defense if you're diagnosed with terminal cancer? (And remember, $300 billion is still far more than any other nation spends.)

In my opinion, our national priorities make no sense whatsoever - and hundreds of thousands of Americans are paying the price for that, with their lives.

Above: A WPA public information poster. During the New Deal, WPA workers assisted universities and medical centers with their cancer research, and funds from the Public Works Administration (PWA) facilitated many thousands of additional hospital beds across the nation, for cancer patients and others. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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