Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Is we made America safer?

“Today, we are safer, but we are not yet safe.”

That was the quote from President Bush on the 5th anniversary of the Sept 11th attacks, in which 2973 Americans died… 11 days later, the death toll for American soldiers killed in combat due to the undeclared war on an idea that has existed for over 2 millenia crept over that mark.

Yet, even discounting the deaths of those centurions on the far edge of the Empire, how factual was the President’s statement?

America is not a safe place, but the real threats are far more insidious than any martyr-bound jihadist, and could have been largely eradicated over the course of the last five years for a fraction of the cost of the debacle in the Middle East.

If David Letterman had done a ‘top ten threats to American safety’ list in 2001, it would have read like this:

1. Heart Disease - 700,142
2. Cancer - 553,768
3. Stroke - 163,538
4. Respiratory Disease - 123,013
5. Accidents - 101,537
6. Diabetes - 71,372
7. Influenza and pneumonia - 62,034
8. Alzheimer's disease - 53,852
9. Nephritis, nephrosis - 39,480
10. Septicemia - 32,238

That’s right, terrorists weren’t a measurable threat to US safety in 2001. Didn’t make the top ten… didn’t make the top 15… In fact, you were more likely to drown while engaging in watersports than to become a victim of a terrorist attack.

If the Bush Administration had really sought to make America a safer place, here’s what they could have spent their 486 billion dollars on, and which civil liberties might have been better sacrificed to make America safe.

Money: The National Institute of Health has spent about 2 billion dollars on all medical research over the past 7 years; less than 0.4% what we’ve spent in Iraq. And while no American has died as a result of an Iraqi attack in the US during that period, about 7.2 million Americans have died just from heart disease, cancer, and stroke. How many of those deaths could have been prevented if we had even merely doubled our spending on research and education? The fact is that we could have increased our research spending by 10 times, spent an additional 8 billion dollars on accident prevention, and still had enough money to give a $1000.00 grant to every man, woman, and child in the United States – all 300 million of them.

Civil Liberties: We’ve done away with the right to a fair trial, habeas corpus, and privacy, none of which can be empirically linked to a decrease in American mortality. If government was really going to interfere for the benefit of the people, all it had to do was ban the sale and use of tobacco products (a causal factor in 435,000 deaths annually), ban the private ownership of firearms (28,000 fewer deaths per year) and require all obese people to undergo a strictly regimented routine of diet and exercise, administered by the National Guard. That would save an additional 494,921 lives each year, according to a study in 2000.

Safer today than on 12 Sept, 2001?

It’s safe to say you’re not, but it didn’t have to be that way.

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