Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Major U.S. Health Problems

Thursday, October 20th, 2011
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


Americans continue to become less healthy and less productive, mainly because of lifestyle. That’s the conclusion of a new Gallup study released this week. More than 30% of American workers are overweight and have one or more chronic health problems. And the economic cost is staggering. The American economy now suffers annual lost productivity costs of more than $153 billion. In addition, the Gallup survey says that U.S. workers with weight and health issues miss more than 450 million days of work each year. So is there a national outcry? Not really.

With such staggering and detrimental figures continuing to grow, one would think that this current campaign season would offer ample opportunities for a robust debate for encouraging a healthier work force that would lead to a healthier economy. My home state of Louisiana is in the final days of a statewide election. Health issues haven’t even scratched in the local rhetoric. Nor have health related economic concerns been mentioned in the current presidential debates.

Republican presidential candidates flocked to Sin City this week, for another debate at the lush Venetian Hotel. Las Vegas was the site for the Western Republican Leadership Conference, and all presidential aspirants were in attendance with the exception of former Utah Governor John Huntsman. Finding a fix to make workers healthier would seem to be a good step towards greater American productivity, and a way to strengthen the current lagging economy. But there was nary a mention of the issue by any Republican presidential wanna be.

Not only is the health of American workers a major drag on the economy, there is a direct correlation to the increase costs of Medicare. Yes, we are living longer. In the past, someone obese just didn’t live as long. But new technologies and drugs allow even the less healthy to live a much longer life. Yet the medical costs of those more obese is 42% greater than for the average Medicare recipient because of their greater susceptibility to a number of life threatening diseases, including cancer, dementia, diabetes and heart disease. As columnist David Stipp recently wrote: “From the economist’s point of view, tens of millions of pot-bellied boomers entering their Medicare years is not a pretty sight. If our society is serious about trimming future budget deficits, we’ll first have to trim our swelling waistlines.”

But don’t look to Hollywood for good and healthy role models. About the last thing one would expect from Stage 4 throat cancer survivor Michael Douglas is to see him smoking. But he was spotted during a recent family vacation on a yacht off the coast of Italy -- that’s right -- lighting up! Remember a few years back when his wife, actress Catherine Zeta-Jones, was photographed smoking when she was pregnant with one of their kids?

It appears that the U.S is on a direct path to being a country that is inactive, overweight, over-stimulated, and sallow-skinned. The dramatic increase in the number of obese Americans is, or should be, alarming. A new study just out by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reports that Colorado has the lowest obesity percentage at 19.8 %. But get this -- just 16 years ago, with this same percentage, Colorado would have been the most obese state in America! In my home state of Louisiana, one third of the population is now obese, and the numbers continue to grow.

New studies have found that the old adage of eating in moderation and exercising more has proven to be a bust when it comes to curbing weight gain. A new Harvard study, that followed healthcare professionals for 20 years, zeroed in on the dangers of what you eat. One of the studies’ authors, Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, warned: “The notion that it’s O.K. to eat everything in moderation is just an excuse to eat whatever you want.”

What’s the bad stuff? Dr. Mozaffarian lists the obvious culprits. At the top of the list? French fries. According to the study, French fries, alone, on any regular basis, led to an average weight gain of 3.4 pounds in each four year period. Also on the pound laden list were potato chips (1.7 pounds), red meats and processed meats (.95 pounds) all forms of potatoes (.57 pounds), sugar-sweetened drinks (1 pound) fried foods (.32 pounds), refined grains (.39 pounds), sweets and desserts (.41 pounds), and butter (.3 pounds).

Yogurt and nuts lead the top weight loss list, and the study reinforced the age old adage of eating fruits, vegetables and whole grains. My basic rule is stay away from anything white -- white rice, white bread, sugar, etc.

Of course, to increase your odds of a longer, healthier life, you can take the whole food choice option scenario to an extreme. Former President Bill Clinton was on the David Letterman show last week, and talked about how healthy he is, and how good he feels following a vegan diet. (For the interview, go to Basically, Clinton sticks to all fruit and veggies, with no dairy, or meats from any living creature, which includes fish, chicken and meat. Talk about a commitment! But it works, if you can learn to live with tofu. Remember that Clinton has had two heart operations, so he has a lot more reason and motivation to stick to an extreme diet for a longer life. Nevertheless, for a man who has enjoyed many a Big Macs in his day, his discipline is admirable.

Recent proposals to deal with the growing obesity problem include a “fat tax” on foods with questionable nutritional value. Some have also suggested that those who are obese, yet make no effort to deal with their problem, should pay higher Medicare costs. But the naysayers to such ideas say government should have no such invasive role, and any taxes on unhealthy food products is an invasion of one’s personal freedom of choice.

The counter argument is that when you and I have to pay the medical costs of others who are irresponsible in their eating choices, are they not are infringing on our freedoms to be left alone and not have to foot their bill? The public cost of obesity continues to rise and is projected to hit $344 billion by 2018. And 60% of this cost, dear reader, is born by taxpayers. Make no mistake, that’s you and me.

Obesity in America is not a new problem, but its continuing increase makes it a more urgent problem by the day. A major disappointment is that here is no focus or leadership on this critical issue coming from either political party or any presidential candidate. And when the campaigns are over and gone, you and I will be the losers -- we’ll be stuck with the bill.


“In this time of financial crisis, it’s now clear that Americans can improve the economy as well as their own health prospects by giving up a few pounds.”
Dr. Jonathon Lord

Peace and Justice.

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the South and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

When Can the Government Kill Americans?

Thursday, October 13th, 2011
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


By any measure, Anwar Awlaki was a bad apple. In speeches, and over the internet, he preached hate and violence against his country, the United States. He was a well know terrorist who, for years, has been accused of scheming to kill Americans. He wasn’t indicted or convicted in a court of law, but the justice department gave the green light to have him assassinated. The U.S. has a long history assassinating foreign nationals. But Awlaki was an American citizen. So was his killing legal? And if so, are we headed down a new slippery slope that goes way beyond the law enforcement practices of a free nation?

Awlaki was born in Las Cruces, New Mexico, but was living in Yemen at the time of his killing. From press reports, we can assume this was the first instance when a U.S. president has given the OK for the killing of an American citizen abroad. The justice department supposedly prepared a secret memorandum justifying the assassination, and put Awlaki, on a “targeted list.” Another American citizen, Samir Khan, who was not on the list, was also killed. Collateral damage?
There is a whole host of constitutional issues that such an assassination raises. As an American citizen, was Awlaki entitled to the Fifth Amendment guarantee of not depriving an accused of life, “without due process of law?” And there are a number of federal statutes prohibiting the assassination of an American abroad. Any proper analysis goes to both sides of the argument.

Constitutional scholar Justin Raimondo writes that America has now given up the moral high ground. “In targeting and killing an American citizen, without going to the bother of indicting and convicting him in a court of law, we have stripped all Americans of what little protection they have left against the depredations of a tyrannical government. The authorities can read our emails, listen to our phone calls, and rifle through our garbage – all in the name of our endless “war on terrorism” – and now they can kill us, too, without even a nod to legality. Nor do they have to reveal the reasons for our summary execution: it’s all “secret,” because, after all, they have to protect their “sources and methods.” Their methods, though, are coming to resemble those of the Gestapo and the KGB, as opposed to the law enforcement practices of a free people.”

But his strong assertions are dismissed by well known foreign policy analyst Walter Russell Mead, writing in The American Interest. Mead says the whole complicated issue is reduced to one basic argument: “Al-Awlaki and his buds are at war with the people of the United States and that in war, people not only die: it is sometimes your duty to kill them. That the Al-Qaeda groupies are levying war against the United States without benefit of a government does not make them less legitimate targets for missiles, bullets and any other instruments of execution we may have lying around: the irresponsibility, the contempt for all legal norms, the chaotic and anarchic nature of the danger they pose and the sheer wickedness of waging private war make them even more legitimate targets with even fewer rights than combatants fighting under legal governments that observe the laws of war.”

I am inclined to side with Mead in this one particular case. The evidence, at least that slim amount available to the public, paints Awlaki as an embattled warrior at war with the United States on a foreign battlefield. But there are some questions that should be answered by the justice department.

First of all, what was the process used to justify this killing of an American citizen? Apparently, there was a secret memo by two justice department lawyers prepared to specifically justify the assassination of Awlaki. But what was the basis of the memo? What are the legal principles on which it was based? Did the president personally authorize the killing? Press reports point only to the two justice department lawyers. Is this enough to justify the killing of an American citizen? And what are the checks and balances?

If the justice department wants to put a wiretap on your home, they are supposed to obtain judicial approval. Should not a process at least equally protective be applied to the taking of the life of a U. S. citizen?

I was in the nation’s capitol last week participating in a seminar on ideas for the country’s future, and listened to Supreme Court Justice Anton Scalia talk about the uniqueness of America. He said most people feel the bill of rights makes us special. But what really sets our democratic system apart, Scalia noted, are this three branches of government that are unique and that serve as a check and balance on any abuse of an individual’s rights and freedoms. So the question is, should the justice department have the power to make a unilateral decision to kill an American citizen? Should another branch, in this case the judiciary, have to sign off on such a life and death decision? Should not the President himself be involved?

Secondly, what precedent has the U.S. set by using drones to kill Americans on foreign soil? The attack didn’t take place in Iraq or Afghanistan where we are in continuing warfare. It was launched and exploded in Yemen, a friendly country. So where are lines drawn? If a Mexican citizen is a murderer wanted in Mexico, but hiding out in Arizona, is the Mexican military justified in sending a drone missile over the border and into U.S. territory to kill the accused? This is not all that farfetched. Just last December, a drone was launched by Mexican police, and ended up crashing in an El Paso neighborhood.

As The New York Times recently reported, “American defense analysts count more than 50 countries that have built or bought unmanned aerial vehicles, or U.A.V.’s, and the number is rising every month. Most are designed for surveillance, but as the United States has found, adding missiles or bombs is hardly a technical challenge.” Again, what is the process? We have set precedents that other countries will point to in the use of drones for what they will argue is in their own defense.

In the case of Awlaki, maybe there was justification to take him out. But when government takes a life, even in times of war, there should be rules of engagement. There should be a process under which any attack, particularly on an American citizen, should be spelled out. It was all too secret. Americans need and deserve a better explanation.


“Everything secret degenerates, even the administration of justice; nothing is safe that does not show how it can bear discussion and publicity.” Lord Action

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the South and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at