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Posted by on Jun 25, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 2 comments

The Foreign Invasion We’re Powerless to Stop

 

 

There are lots of bad guys in the world.

Many of these bad guys pose a serious danger.  They aim to invade our shores.  They try to infect our people.  They even want to kill us.

These bad guys have no allegiances.  They don’t respect borders.  They don’t discriminate as to who they target.  They go after everyone.  People of all ages, races, and genders are vulnerable.  Rich and poor are equally at risk.  No one is safe.

Constructing expensive border walls can’t stop them.  Neither can immigration bans — illegal or otherwise.  Planes and tanks can’t stop them.  Whether we approve or not of their arrival, swarms of uninvited guests are coming to America, by the trillions and trillions.

They aren’t just headed to our cities and neighborhoods.  They’re not only living right next door to you.  They’re inside your home.  Many could even be inside your body.  At this instant.

 

Trump: Slash the Budget for CDC and NIH

Let’s talk more about defending ourselves against these dangerous invaders.

President Donald Trump’s first federal budget intends to cut funding for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) by 17 percent.

What does this mean?  Well, that’s 17 percent less people and less time we would dedicate to studying an array of different viruses and other harmful pathogens which can potentially kill us.  Cutting the CDC’s budget means picking and choosing which diseases to fight, while ignoring others — at our peril.

Trump’s budget also aims to slash the National Institute of Health (NIH) — by 18 percent.  This is a federal agency that receives about the same amount of money each year in all of its funding as it takes to build one single aircraft carrier (about $16 billion).  Yet, odd as it seems, NIH may be one of the best returns on investment in all of government.  Various studies have shown a rate of return of up to 40 percent per year — by reducing the economic cost of illness inside the United States.  Studies have also found that 15 of the 21 drugs with the highest therapeutic impact on society were discovered, in part, via NIH and/or its research grants.  As of 2015 NIH-supported research discovered more than 160 new FDA-approved drugs and vaccines.  That’s one hell of a good return on “government spending.”

But this is pale in comparison to the draconian cuts the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is about to endure.  The federal agency in charge of keeping our food safe to eat, and prescription drugs safe to take, could become all but paralyzed as protector of the peoples’ health and welfare.  Consider this — the FDA is the policeman against snake oil salesmen.  Their job is to go after snake oil salesmen and put them in jail.  Cut its budget by a third, and well — we can expect lots more snake oil salesmen.

 

If You Think CDC and NIH are Expensive, How Much Will a Pandemic Cost Us?

There is no debate among those in the know.  Cuts to the CDC, NIH, and FDA are unsafe, unwise, and economically unsound.  They could even be catastrophic.

Do you think funding science is costly?  Imagine what it would cost to contain the outbreak of an infectious disease in this country.  Isn’t it wise to spend relative pennies now in order to save billions of dollars later, if the worst happens?   [READ MORE BELOW]

Even some conservative Republicans are disturbed by President Trump’s proposals.  Consider the voice of Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who serves as Chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee overseeing the CDC.   Rep. Cole said, “What CDC does is probably more important to the average American than, in a sense, the Defense Department.”

By the way, defense spending will increase under Trump’s budget by a whopping $54 billion.

Cutting budgets to CDC, NIH, and the FDA isn’t just a war on science.  It’s a war on knowledge.  It’s a war on all Americans.

 

Those Who Ignore History Are Condemned…

A few years ago, everyone was terrified — not by North Korea or ISIS — as much as an invisible alien known as the Ebola virus.  We were all so scared that several elected officials proposed quarantining entire regions of the world to stop the spread of the disease.  It was like a horror movie.

Then, wise people spoke up and our government stepped in.  World health organizations answered the call and became the heroes of humanity, every bit as brave as those men and women in uniform who go off to battle and wage war for the preservation of our way of life.  Ebola might not have been eradicated.  But it certainly isn’t the threat to us now, as it was back in 2014.

To all those who disparage the noble functions of government — be thankful.  Temper your criticism.  We’re probably still alive right now because of the good deeds of government and the many extraordinary people who have put their own lives on the line to learn more about the deadly invaders who want to attack us.

Now, facing yet another intruder — this time something called the Zika virus — President Trump aims to cut the federal agencies and international programs best suited to fight this serious threat.  We are cutting our first line of defense.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is madness.

Intentional or not, humankind continues to meddle with the natural forces of the universe.  On occasion, this cannot but accelerate evolutionary pathways to our self-destruction.

For every Ebola or Zika case out there, there are millions more metastasizing, including viruses that we haven’t even identified yet.  Unfortunately, this will remain a perpetual conflict.  We simply can’t afford to take a year, or a month, or even a day off.  There’s no such thing as a vacation.  While we sleep, they evolve and grow.  While we slash government budgets designed to fight them, they continue to form new colonies that are increasingly stubborn and resistant to known remedies.

History has taught us what happens when pandemics rage out of control.  It’s not pretty.  A century ago, the last global plague known as the Spanish Flu ravaged across every continent.  The disease killed 55 million — three times the number of deaths in all of World War I, which preceded the Spanish Flu outbreak by a few years.  We may think of wars in terms of human conflicts.  But they can be between all of life’s forces.

Today, pandemics pose an even greater threat to us.  While science (when funded properly and allowed to enrich us with new discoveries) has made amazing advances in fighting many grave diseases, those which evade our control are even more dangerous.  Compared to the time of the Spanish Flu outbreak, the world’s population has since tripled.  We’re now packed closer together in densely-populated cities.  We exchange food and goods with far greater frequency.  International travel has become an everyday occurrence.  Before, a virus that might have taken weeks to spread, can contaminate another continent with hours.

 

Wasteful Military Spending Doesn’t Stop Viral Infections

Liberals and conservatives don’t agree on much these days.  But we do agree on one thing.  The government’s primary role should be providing for the national defense, against all enemies, both foreign and domestic.  Today, some of these enemies are on our own hands, inside the meats and the products we consume, or carried my common mosquitoes.

The federal government must assume this vital role in protecting us.  It might not be profitable (although the unintended consequences of increased research often lead to new inventions and discoveries).   The ultimate benefit to fighting something so tiny that it’s nearly invisible to the eye might not always be appreciated, nor even tangible.  Yet, this fight (I argue) is a Constitutional responsibility every bit at vital as maintaining an army and navy to protect the homeland.

President Trump’s proposed budget cuts to science, and particularly those critically important agencies which serve as our front line of defense against pandemic invasion is just the latest poorly conceived, reckless, anti-intellectual delirium by a White House gone totally haywire — by a leader so personally bereft of caring and compassion that we must wonder if brash defiance of all reason is yet another calculated Molotov Cocktail carefully tossed onto the giant bonfire of a burning nation.  Indeed, there are even some fears this could be the dirty work of key presidential adviser Steve Bannon, who has openly vowed to “deconstruct the administrative state.”  His fangs are all over this policy.  For President Trump to go along with such a deranged permutation which abandons one of the most basic functions government is treasonous.  This isn’t merely a deconstruction of bureaucracy.  It could be suicidal.

If and when the next deadly disease comes, and it will, we won’t look to the media, nor celebrities, nor corporations, nor the pretty and the wealthy, nor our elected officials, nor the military to protect us.  Instead, we will look to science.  

That’s right — science.  

We will look to those nerdy men and women wearing lab coats, the kids who were once the anti-life of the party.  We will hope and pray that when that deadly virus infects us or inflicts someone we know or love, that somehow while we were all busy with our own lives and distractions, that some scientist off somewhere working in anonymity for a paltry salary may have put in a little overtime and come up with the remedy that will save our lives.

President Trump’s proposed budget makes this less likely.

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From The Washington Post (May 26, 2017), written by Tom Frieden (CDC Director from 2009 to 2017):

 

The administration’s budget proposal for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is unsafe, unwise and fiscally irresponsible.

Unsafe.  The proposal undermines CDC’s ability to find, stop and prevent threats to Americans’ health.  I know what this looks like. When I joined the CDC in 1990, Congress had cut the tuberculosis control budget. TB came roaring back, costing billions and killing Americans. Since then we’ve responded to West Nile, H1N1, Ebola, Zika and more. This proposal cuts virtually every program needed to stop such risks.

Unwise.  A proposed block grant hides hundreds of millions of dollars of cuts to programs that protect Americans from cancer, diabetes, heart attacks, and strokes. Block-granting undermines the CDC’s ability to help states implement programs proven to save lives and eliminates the opportunity to support communities and states based on need, impact or effectiveness. The proposal also eliminates research centers critical to discovering new ways to prevent diseases that threaten all Americans.

Fiscally irresponsible.  Many CDC programs save $3 or more in health-care costs, and $10 in societal costs, for every dollar spent. Anti-tobacco ads prevent tens of thousands of deaths and reduce health-care costs by hundreds of millions of dollars. Cutting the CDC budget by $1.2 billion could cost Americans more than $15 billion over the next decade.

The CDC should not be a political football.  The CDC is the best buy — money that can be counted on to prevent illness, disability and death and save money.

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2 Comments

  1. To think that that level of calamity will not ever happen is to ignore both history, and your most hateful enemies. We have gutted the FDA, EPA, SEC, and every other regulator agency you can mention. Those wealth elite want a government they can drown in a bucket, and intend to do just that. Many people appointed to programs are against those very same programs.

  2. Best piece you’ve ever written, Nolan. Well done, on a critical subject.

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