Since the election campaign seems to be so centered on the dangers posed by terrorism, I’ve decided to take a look at what dangers we really face. According to the U.S. State Department, the average number of deaths per year from terrorism from 1995 to 2003 is 775. How does this compare with some of the other dangers we face? How about the failing health care industry that Bush is so interested in protecting?

The John Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health estimates there are approximately 250,000 deaths per year from iatrogenic causes (causes induced by a physicians activity, manner or therapy). Broken down into specific catagories and compared to deaths caused by terrorism, this is how the numbers stack up…

The cause, according to the Institute of Medicine, is not so much recklessness on the part of doctors, nurses and other health providers as it is basic flaws in the way hospitals, clinics and pharmacies operate.

For instance, doctors are notorious for poor handwriting, too often leaving pharmacists squinting to decipher the dosage, the terminology makes things worse, “milligrams or micrograms?” And too many drug names are confusingly alike. Consider the painkiller Celebrex and the anti-seizure drug Cerebyx; or Narcan, which treats morphine overdoses, and Norcuron, which can paralyze breathing muscles.

To read more: (Doctors Are Third Largest Cause of Death in the US…)

The article also discusses how the US health statistics rate poorly compared to other developed nations – 12th out of 13 compared. the article also dispells the myth that this poor performance is due to the personal choices Americans make by presenting the data that reveals that Americans, on average, make better choices than people in many of these other countries. So it comes down to a system that should really be fixed. It seems that these studies are not only spitting out disappointing statistics, but they are indicating that the system can be fixed and how it can be fixed.

But what kills me, is how the Bush administration is trying to fix health care by limiting our ability to file lawsuits. What – are we relying on bean-counters to solve medical problems now? Sure, frivolous law suites are a cost that can and should be reduced but you can’t call a law suite frivolous simply because the financial claim is above a certain limit.

If 250,000 Americans die every year from a sub-standard health care system compared to only 775 from terrorism, wouldn’t it make sense to assume that we could be saving many more lives by putting money into the health care system instead of funding a war in Iraq?

Continuing with my analysis of the National Security Strategy document…

http://www.whitehouse.gov/nsc/nss.html

In my last post on this subject,

National Security Strategy (part 1),

I got only as far as the first paragraph and was struck by the rhetorical use of the word “freedom” so I dedicated the post to this opening paragraph alone. I questioned the liberal but unqualified use of the term in defining a critical policy that effectively serves as license to use the most powerful forces in the world to achieve it’s objectives. The burning question is – freedom for who? As far as I can tell, the National Security Strategy makes no attempt to answer this question.

The paragraphs that follow, making up the rest of the strategy overview, contain more buzzwords designed to evoke emotional support for the policy while being vague enough for clever interpretations should any party of influence decide to bend the document to suit their desires. The overview introduces the notion that this is a new century requiring new rules, but already the document uses questionable language to set the stage.

“For most of the twentieth century, the world was divided by a great struggle over ideas: destructive totalitarian visions versus freedom and equality.”

Obviously, this line was meant to build up sympathy for the side we commonly associate with freedom and equality – us. Still, this battle of ideas, or as many refer to it, the battle of “isms” was actually a little less clear on issues of freedom and equality. As Bill Emmott, Chief Editor for the Economist, in his book 2020 Vision puts it, “Marxism and its adaptations, Leninism and Maoism were said to be up against liberal, democratic capitalism in it’s various forms.” Emmott continues to explain, “An egalitarian ideology, rejecting private property and the profit motive and enforced by totalitarian methods, confronted an ideology of inequality made acceptable by freedom, democracy and private property.” Already you can see the discrepancies. Did the US fight for freedom AND equality or just the freedom that makes inequality acceptable?

This question pops up before we even move beyond the realm of ideas and into the real events of the 20th century where the inequalities of democratic capitalism were often enforced by US supported dictators and industrial protectionism and the visions of Marxism were most often replaced by whatever policies, suited the totalitarian authorities of communist states. In reality, the battle was between power centers and the ideas were mere symbols, good for rhetoric but otherwise inherit. Really, this line in the National Security Strategy document is no more informative than if it referred to the great struggle as one between the “good guys” and the “bad guys”.

The overview continues with a description of the current situation where, the “good guys” have won the battle of ideas, but there are still the “embittered few” – “bad guys” that continue to pose an unacceptable threat.

“We are menaced less by fleets and armies than by catastrophic technologies in the hands of the embittered few. We must defeat these threats to our Nation, allies, and friends.”

The comparison between old threats presented by fleets and armies and new threats presented by the potentials of WMD seem very straightforward and hard to argue with, but this is a time where internally our nation seems more divided than ever and externally, our ties with our allies and friends seem more stressed than ever. Again, my point being that this language is very generalized and open to interpretation. When the authors and supporters of this strategy refer to the threats to our nation, are they referring to the threats to the people of our nation or do they really mean something else? The document continues…

“The U.S. national security strategy will be based on a distinctly American internationalism that reflects the union of our values and our national interests…”

Maybe a good idea to understand then, what our values and our national interests are. With any luck, they may have something to do with American people. OK so I’m being a little cynical, but why do I get this feeling that our national interests and values are determined more by lucrative agreements than by moral integrity? In any case, these values and national interests don’t seem to be defined anywhere in the document and leaving it up to our interpretation may be a problem considering our national incoherency. Just take a look at American voters as we draw close to the 2004 elections. As a nation, we can’t seem to agree on what our national interests and values are. I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing. In fact I think quite the opposite – disagreement is a privilege enjoyed only by democracies with a reverence for freedom. All the more reason to be specific about what values and interests a national security strategy is designed to support.

“The aim of this strategy is to help make the world not just safer but better. Our goals on the path to progress are clear: political and economic freedom, peaceful relations with other states, and respect for human dignity.”

That’s the aim? …To make the world “not just safer but better”? Safer for who? Better in what way? Political and economic freedom for who? Are these unreasonable questions to ask? After Indonesians in the province of Aceh protested the Mobil Oil Corporation’s economic freedom to destroy their environment, literally destroying their homes, crops and water supply, Mobil asked their commercial partner, the Indonesian government to suppress their protests, which the government did by literally slaughtering them**. Does that count as part of the struggle for “economic freedom”?

Is our warning to all the sovereign nations of the world that they should choose sides in a global war an example of “peaceful relations with other states”? And are the prisoners locked up without trial in Guantanimo or humiliated in Abu Ghraib an example of “human dignity”? Are all of these things necessary? I’m not saying they are – I’m not saying they aren’t. I’m just saying the language of the document is too vague and from my humble perspective it doesn’t really seem to reflect our actions either.

This document can easily be described as a license for our government to attack anyone it wants to. The qualifications are vague and interpretive and the reasoning is just as vague. Personally, I think we should insure our national defense and as the most powerful nation in the world we should make efforts to protect the liberties and welfare of people around the world. I think most Americans feel this way.

* Indonesia’s state-owned oil monopoly, Pertamina, holds a controlling 55 percent stake of Arun while Mobil owns 35 percent.

**
http://acehnet.tripod.com/mobil.htm

 

What was the reason for invading Iraq..? Oh, yeah – they were developing and stockpiling weapons of mass destruction – well, we haven’t found any yet, but we are pretty sure they hid them somewhere and it’s better to be safe than sorry, after all, just because there has never been a single incident during the 24 years that Hussein was in power where Iraqi WMD was used against Americans, doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen… Especially if Hussein is willing to put these weapons in the hands of international terrorists, such as the type that killed 3,000 people on American soil on the morning of 9/11/01… Not that we have any proof that he did, or even that he had the intention to do so, but again, better safe than sorry. It seems then that with all these precautions and pre-emptive strikes, that Bush is doing a great job at keeping us safe from the danger of such weapons.

Doesn’t it seem ironic then how Bush is intentionally unleashing tons of toxic chemicals directly on Americans at home? Yes, this is an environmental appeal, but that doesn’t change the bottom line. Unnecessary toxins, approved by the Bush administration, is killing many more Americans every year than terrorism has ever killed in our entire history.

Power plants are emitting tens of thousands of tons of toxic air pollution like arsenic and lead, and will be allowed to keep doing so thanks to a giveaway buried in the fine print of the controversial Bush administration “mercury rule” under the Clean Air Act. In addition to weakened and delayed limits on mercury, the rule is written specifically to ignore more than 60 other power plant air toxics that threaten public health. The EPA estimates that 8,000 Americans will die every year as a direct result of this rule, which is only a small fraction of the 70,000 Americans that die every year from air pollution in general. But what makes the 8,000 significant is that this number comes directly from Bush’s command decision to allow these avoidable deaths to occur. That’s like allowing terrorists two-and-a-half 9/11’s every year. Here are just a few of the chemicals that the Bush administration is creating a release valve for and what they can do to us besides killing us.

Arsenic. Can result in nausea, diarrhea and abdominal pain, central and peripheral nervous system disorders, irritation of the skin and mucous membranes, lung cancer, skin cancer, cancer of the bladder, cancer of the liver, anemia, and kidney damage.

Dioxins. Chlorinated chemicals that cause toxic effects at very low levels causing damage to the immune system, learning behavior, and the reproductive system. Dioxins can also cause certain types of cancer. A well-known effect of dioxin is chloracne, a severe acne-like condition that develops within months of an exposure to high levels of dioxin. Dioxin-like compounds are one of the most well-known endocrine disruptors, potentially lowering human and animal fertility.

Acid Gases. Such as hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid, and hydrofluoric acid can cause damage to the respiratory tract. They are corrosive and can cause acute respiratory problems, as well as aggravate chronic respiratory ailments such as asthma and emphysema.

Lead. A very toxic element, causing a variety of effects even at low doses including brain damage, kidney damage, gastrointestinal distress reproductive effects, such as decreased sperm count in men and spontaneous abortions in women, effects on the blood, central nervous system, blood pressure, and kidneys. Children are particularly sensitive to the chronic effects of lead, with slowed cognitive development, reduced growth and other effects reported. The developing fetus is at particular risk from maternal lead exposure, with low birth weight and slowed postnatal neurobehavioral development noted.

Chromium. Certain forms of chromium can be very toxic to the respiratory tract. resulting in shortness of breath, coughing, and wheezing, perforations and ulcerations of the septum, bronchitis, decreased pulmonary function and pneumonia and lung cancer.

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) can damage the immune system and cause developmental and reproductive effects; many are known carcinogens in animals, and studies indicate a risk for people as well.

n-Hexane can cause polyneuropathy with numbness in the extremities, muscular weakness, blurred vision, headache, and fatigue observed.

Formaldehyde can result in respiratory symptoms and eye, nose, and throat irritation; limited human studies have reported an association with lung and nasopharyngeal cancer.

trimethylbenzene can affect the blood’s clotting ability and may cause bronchitis.

The Bush administration’s mercury plan was first leaked to the press in early December 2003 and formally released by EPA later that month. It became clear that the EPA had ignored its own stringent findings and also scuttled the recommendations of a years-long expert task force comprised of industry, environmentalists, and state officials. Then reports surfaced that utility industry lawyers had literally written portions of the rule that would affect their own clients.

How is it that we can be so stupid? To allow our government to take our money and our children to fight a war against a threat that has claimed roughly 3,000 souls on American soil over the last 250 years while actually approving the deaths of 8,000 on American soil every single year?