Top Six Things Congress would do if they Cared if we are Healthy

Health care is essential, and no American should be without insurance to pay for it. But prevention of diseases and injuries is as important as treating them. Since Americans live in a big company town where their banks keep them indebted and paying debt servicing and Big Agro uses them as storage bins into which to pour fatty foods, no one is really looking out for their health. Here are some obvious steps that would increase Americans’ life expectancy and enjoyment of life:

1. Make processed tobacco illegal. Smoking cigarettes gives a lot of people lung cancer. Cigarette companies spray extra nicotine, an addictive drug, on the processed leaves to hook people on the habit. It is like lacing heroin with small amounts of arsenic and then putting it out for teenagers. The US not only allows cigarette corporations to kill Americans with their filthy product, they actually export it abroad to kill other countries’ population with it. No government that actually cared about its people would allow such a deadly product to be sold to them.

2. Ban coal. It causes air pollution, lung diseases, and climate change. Recent research shows that generating electricity from coal imposes more costs on the US than the electricity is worth.

3. Allow cities to impose restrictions on hand guns. Almost all hand guns are manufactured by just four companies, and are sold in cities where they contribute to America’s world-beating murder rate (murdering people with bare hands and knives is much, much harder and they tend to run away or fight back).

4. Regulate the food industry and make them always put calorie counts for their food on the menu. Restaurants and fast food joints that plop 2500 calories or as much as 4000 calories down in front of patrons for a single meal are dooming them to obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and early death. Why would a government that cared about its people let them do that?

5. Go green. Climate change is bad for our health. It will cause heat waves and consequent strokes. It will cause extreme weather events that will injure people. It will endanger land species and cause acid to form in the oceans, killing the fish we eat. The US government spends, if you count everything, on the order of a trillion dollars a year on war and war materiel and the infrastructure of war. Cut it back to $200 billion, which would still be far more than every other country in the world, and spend $800 billion a year on a crash program to implement green energy and move rapidly away from hydrocarbons, and to redo the national electricity grid, and to move to electric vehicles.

6. Insist on safer vehicles and a safer road transportation system. Put in ignitions that are hard for someone to start when they are drunk. Put in mandatory computer slowing mechanisms when a car approaches the one in front of it too fast. Automobile collisions (they are not accidents) [pdf] kill 30,000 Americans a year and injure 150,000 a year, many of them seriously. At least 30,000 of the injuries are owing to drunk driving and probably more like 75,000 if you count the tipsy drivers as well. I have never understood why Americans are so willing to sacrifice up 30,000 lives a year to the bloodthirsty Automobile God, and to see a sixth of a million people injured annually by these clearly unsafe contraptions. They are at the same time absolutely intolerant of even one airplane crash that kills 100 people, and there is an outcry, and investigations, etc. But mowing the same passengers down on the highway is just fine with them. It is bizarre.

If the US didn’t let our corporations fatten us for the kill and then slaughter us in these ways, health care wouldn’t be as expensive for the country.

But all this is utopian, because the corporations promoting illness are spending millions of dollars to lobby Congress and have hired an army of lobbyists to ensure that they get their way. Our Congress in allowing itself to be so bribed is betraying us and killing us in the hundreds of thousands a year.

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26 Responses

  1. Juan, you produce one of the very best blogs anywhere, I am amazed at the quantity of top notch commentary you share with us. Do you ever sleep?

    Reading the extraordinary list of suggestions above is kinda like having a beautiful dream, but then I wake up and realize I am still stuck in this troubled world that is being fucked over daily by the greed bags. But I certainly appreciate your input.

  2. Under point 4.
    Biggest health issue is NaCl= salt.
    A cheap flavor enhancer. Go to your cereal aisle at the grocery store and look at how much they added. Long-term exposure to excess NaCl greatly impacts your health. Decreasing salt intake is more important than decreasing calorie intake (and easier done). See “Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) report on Salt and Health” (made in UK). It was recommended that salt intake should be decreased from 9.5g to 6g per day.

  3. And these same unidentified corporations are running the pony show called the Presidential race just to keep us distracted from anything that really matters.

  4. Hi Brilliant Professor,
    I think one thing you perhaps missed out is the way Drug Industry & the Medical Care Industry works,Operates and prices itself. The pricing needs to be looked into, perhaps by a senate committee. The generic drugs which cure a lot of people cost, may be 1% or 2% of the patented formulations. Once a Drug Company has received enough compensation for their efforts & development cost they ought to be available to a large cross section of people without eye gouging prices. Just a thought! Mohammed Rizvi

  5. The solutions to (especially) 1 and 4 are not government fiat. The solution is better education. However, people should be allowed to make their own decisions on how to kill themselves like that. I won’t ever smoke, and I eat quite healthily, but I respect everyone’s right to eat Triple Bypass Burgers if they want to.

  6. Juan,

    Great ideas but in terms of what’s actually fattening us up, it’s mainly High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) — excellent videos on UCvideo by Robert Lustig of UCSF

    link to uctv.tv

    (also, google, Sugar, The bitter Truth)

    He makes the point — and convincingly — that people ***cannot*** reasonably be expected to stop eating this stuff — about 80% of processed food contains HFCS and, in poor areas, this may be 100% of what’s actually available. The notion that people should be free to eat Triple Bypass Burgers is effectively debunked by Lustig. It’s basically the same argument as saying “let children start smoking at 8 and then it’s up to them whether they stop as adults.”

    We are force fed poison from childhood and then told it’s our own fault. Not too many fat 1%-ers.

  7. Re: James

    All the cases Prof. Cole cites impose costs (or significant risks) on me regardless of how well I take care of myself or how carefully I drive (since I actually do need to go out in the world in order to make a living). I wouldn’t be all that concerned if people made “their own decisions on how to kill THEMSELVES”. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work quite that way…

    • You’re not very good at accounting.

      Coal imposes the cost on you, not me.

      Climate change imposes the cost on you.

      Handing out guns like candy imposes the cost on you.

      Killing and maiming all those people in automobiles imposes higher insurance costs on you (you are in the same pool with them).

      Having poor people treated at emergency rooms imposes the cost on you.

      My suggestions if implemented would save you loads of money.

  8. I think much of our exasperation comes from seeing things inconsistent with assumptions: such as we are all the same once you get past the superficial. The reality is that people tend to be greedy and selfish unless cultivated past their inherent baseness. As it is, the more greedy and selfish, and the fundamentally sociopathic (without feeling for others), meet and breed with their own, further refining a certain class of people who are increasingly powerful.

    The argument that healthcare should be a right and not a privilege carries no weight unless there is an over-riding moral dimension; speaking to Enlightened Best Interests in general should also be useful. But these things work only when there is a deeper sense of trans-generational responsibility, and only with more deeply-schooled elites with the freedom to do what is right is there a chance for more prudent and thoughtful policy making.

    We come up against the downside of modern democracy, which allows for the predominating influence of short-sighted sociopaths and arrivistes with no deeper sense of broader and longer-term responsibility. What’s needed is a re-balancing of power and authority. Here I’m less than enthusiastic about further empowering democratic participation, except for the need to take power away from the oligarchs who have now effectively cornered it.

  9. Indeed, if Congress cared that we are healthy. I think it was Matt Taibbi who observed that Congress isn’t there to protect the people from the special interests, Congress is there to protect the special interests from the people.

  10. I’d be interested in a list of things Congress could stop doing that would make the population healthier. First up, stop subsidizing corn. The subsidy results in very cheap high fructose corn syrup, which is used as a sweetener in an astonishing variety of foods, adding empty calories. Its the reason why fast food joints can price a 32 oz soda cheaper than a 16 oz bottle of water.

  11. #4 is already at the end stage. There is so much more the US can and should do to provide safe, affordable, and healthy food to the general population. The demise of family farms and the concurrent rise of Big Ag in the 1970s directly contributed to many of the issues we now face. Then there are the issues of GMOs and food labeling as well as sugar (whether HFCS or sucrose) being in just about every product out there – including “healthy” things like yogurt. While I’m not opposed to calorie counts on menus, it seems a better use of time and resources to overhaul the source and the end product (with some help) will follow.

  12. Gun violence is a huge problem in Brooklyn, NY (especially in Brownsville). Kids as young as 14 y/o are joining gangs and getting guns. A new robbery trend involves taking people’s iPhones/Android phones to finance these activities. Go to http://www.spotcrime.com and signup for crime alerts in Brooklyn and you’ll get the daily digest of shooting and armed robbery.

  13. The drawback is that the longer people live the more health care they consume. The guy who smokes like a chimney, eats like a hog and dies at 62 uses less social security and medicare than if he lived to 85 or 90 (although I think longevity is mainly genetic).

    • Not necessarily. A better model could be that health & social care needs are a function not of age but of proximity to death. On that basis while people who live longer might need the same total amount of care over the course of their lives, on average the cost per year will be lower. (Assuming their care needs are met, of course.)

  14. Bravo, Professor. Standing O. All excellent suggestions and do-able. But first, we the people need to vote-out the GOPTea and Blue Dog Dems and vote-in Progs/Libs/Dems/Indys across the land; including delivering a Blue obstruction-proof congress so POTUS can get on with all of it, which I know in my heart he would very much like to do.

    The USA cannot go forward until the GOPTea are voted-out. It’s that simple. And it would be simple if we had a good education system and a fair and balanced MSM that actually informed we the people of the truth!

    “Educate and inform the whole mass of the people.
    They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”
    ~ Thomas Jefferson

    • Note that Jefferson founded a state university. His self-proclaimed libertarian heirs want to privatize everything. Yet his actual heirs, the Southerners, will privatize the entire school system EXCEPT the universities. Why?

      Football.

      They’re so deep into the culture of their football arms race against each other that they’d never risk disrupting on-field activities by removing the backstop of state support, no matter how Kentucky-Fried Randian the rest of their dogma is. The libertarians in turn prove their hypocrisy by not challenging their grass-roots benefactors on this. Even that douchebag Scott Walker up north in Wisconsin will privatize the branches of the state university, but not the main branch that plays big-time Big 10 football.

      Doesn’t it seem that this hypocrisy about state support is applied to both football and war? George Carlin long ago demonstrated the similarities of the two. It’s as if football is the state-sponsored tribal indoctrination ceremony that keeps the warrior tribe’s fresh blood receptive to the biggest state-sponsored activity of all. All this Southern talk about individualism and personal responsibility, and then they pound their sons’ brains into damaged mush to loyally serve the most authoritarian and hierarchical of all sports (and yes, my favorite, along with war).

      Don’t forget all those stadiums that even Tea Partiers vote tax money to rather than lose their NFL teams. No wonder there’s no money for health care or education. Priorities.

  15. Speaking to the underlying religion of the Pocketbook.

    According to the Congressional Research Service, pasted below:

    “The United States spends more money on health care than any other country in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The OECD consists of 30 democracies, most of which are considered the most economically advanced countries in the world. According to OECD data, the United States spent $6,102 per capita on health care in 2004 — more than double the OECD average and 19.9% more than Luxembourg, the second-highest spending country. In 2004, 15.3% of the U.S. economy was devoted to health care, compared with 8.9% in the average OECD country and 11.6% in second-placed Switzerland”.

    On this link is a fuller article with a graphic showing vividly THE HORRIBLE return on investment the US gets for its healthcare dollars. link to prwatch.org

    That alone ought to bring serious participation from the greedy and selfish, but I kinda think that with Obama representing any sort of improvement that isn’t really the issue.

  16. “Make processed tobacco illegal.”

    Yes, banning psychoactive plants that people like to smoke has worked so well. /sarc

    In many communities, it is easier for teenagers to illegally purchase marijuana than it is for them to buy tobacco. Struggles for control of the smokeable cocaine (crack) and marijuana markets regularly escalate into gun battles between heavily armed dealers and cartels; “price wars” over alcohol and tobacco are waged, OTOH, by store clerks putting up signs announcing slight, transient discounts.

    Do we really want to expand the War on Drugs to include nicotine? Whatever happened to “my body, my choice”?

    • He’s not saying ban tobacco. He’s saying ban the practice of adding additional nicotine to it.

  17. One man’s rational analysis is another man’s loudly proclaimed cultural oppression.

    If we want to understand the incredible resistance of Red State America to restrictions on their self-destructive behavior while they vote like crazy to oppress gays and Latinos, we have to figure out what the priorities of their culture are. Problem is, we might discover something so ugly and primitive that even announcing the findings would get us smothered by angry denunciations, even from liberals. Christian extremists keep claiming that THEY’RE oppressed if gays are not being oppressed. If gays even protest at anti-gay rallies, the Santorums claim that this exercise of free speech is oppressive intolerance. If scientists dare to find the world is getting warmer or that fat and sugar are unhealthy, it’s communistic oppression. If poor folks demand that their children not have to share their victimization due to inability to afford health insurance, that’s oppression.

    What do they consider freedom? In every case it is to go back to the infallible and morally superior past. Except, of course, when it comes to getting handouts that we see going to groups disproportionately composed of right-wingers: the elderly, veterans, and “entrepreneurs”/war profiteers.

    So how do we boil this down?

    We’re not free unless we see people different than us suffer for that sin while the government rewards us for our superior virtue with war/police/prison jobs and cheap oil and subsidized junk food and our better-off relatives fix us up with jobs with health plans.

    That’s why rational analysis breaks down, Prof. Cole. Their absolute well-being means less to them than seeing that inferiors are kept worse-off. There is no other ideology. If you look at American history, it has always been this way in the hinterlands, among the gullible henchmen of the oligarchs. In Plato’s Republic, Socrates asks a young aristocratic bully the meaning of justice, and he responds it is to help your friends and harm your enemies. 2400 years later, much of America still embraces this bigoted formula behind their contradictory bullshit about big government.

    • I agree, to keep relatively better off (and preferably to extend that lead), is deeply ingrained in the lizard brain that really drives things. (Its part of why I think the so-called abolition of slavery is a blip in terms of history, and stands to be reversed by neo-slavery in some form).

      Politicians and elites who hope to guide society have to manage these tendencies. The Right does this wonderfully because they relate to them so well; the rationality of progressives flounders.

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