America’s health is declining — and corporations are stoking this crisis

(CNN)America’s powerful corporations made a killing with the passage of the Republican tax cuts. The tax cuts will hand trillions of dollars to the companies and their moneyed owners following a massive corporate lobbying campaign.

And make no mistake — America’s health crisis is the result of greedy corporations and their reckless practices.
The US life expectancy is slipping further and further behind other high-income countries. According to the most recent comparative data of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, US life expectancy in 2015 (at 78.7 years) ranked 27th out of 35 OECD countries, more than five years behind the leader, Japan (83.9 years), and roughly four years behind the next three countries, Spain (83.0), Switzerland (83.0) and Italy (82.6).
    Yet Americans pay on average almost $10,000 per person per year for health care — twice or even three times the cost in Canada and many European countries. So, then, what accounts for America’s shorter life span?
    One problem is the low value for money in America’s healthcare spending. Unlike the highly regulated health systems abroad, America leaves much more of the pricing for drugs, procedures and hospital stays in the hands of the private sector, which exploits its market power by charging outrageous prices and leaving millions of Americans without coverage.
    Another cause of America’s lagging life expectancy is the nation’s rising inequality of income. America’s poor die much younger on average than America’s rich, with a discrepancy of up to 10-15 years on average. The combination of overpriced American health care and poverty is lethal.
    Two corporate-caused US epidemics — obesity and opioid addictions — add to the misery.
    America’s obesity epidemic is shortening the lives of Americans and burdening them with a range of chronic diseases, including coronary heart disease, type-II diabetes, hypertension and certain cancers. Obesity is also a risk factor for the onset of depression, while depression, in turn, contributes to the onset of obesity.
    America’s opioid epidemic is leading to soaring deaths from drug overdoses, and substance abuse more generally is contributing to soaring rates of suicide, addiction and suffering. The CDC calculates that there were 63,600 deaths from drug overdoses in 2016, and more than a tripling in the age-adjusted rate of drug-overdose deaths from 1999 to 2016.

      Why are opioids so addictive?

    While the obesity and opioid epidemics are sometimes written off as “bad life choices,” these epidemics are largely the handiworks of an irresponsible corporate sector. As University of California pediatric endocrinologist and neuroscientist Dr. Robert Lustig describes in his remarkable book, The Hacking of the American Mind, America’s soaring obesity reflects a fast-food diet that has been deliberately stuffed with high-fructose corn syrup and various processed meats and grains that cause obesity.
    American are being killed slowly and painfully by their own food industry. Yet instead of taking responsibility for the epidemic and doing something about it, most of the leaders of the food industry actively resist a change of direction and the needed changes in public-health regulation. The beverage industry, for example, is fighting strenuously against public health measures aimed at cutting America’s deadly over-consumption of sugar-packed sodas. Sad to say, things — human health, for one — do not go better with soft drinks.

    Join us on Twitter and Facebook

    The corporate hidden-hand is also present in the opioid epidemic. A recent expose in the New Yorker and lawsuits filed against Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, allege that the company pursued a marketing campaign that pushed OxyContin onto doctors. According to the article, Purdue allegedly did not adequately study the risks of OxyContin, paid off doctors to ignore them and pushed aggressive advertising despite growing concerns and evidence of an addiction crisis. While the company rejects this characterization and denies the allegations, drug makers — at the very least — failed to respond adequately to the growing alarm bells as the opioid epidemic soared. (Purdue has since issued a statement saying it is committed to helping in the fight against prescription opioid abuse and to supporting the recommendations of the Food and Drug Administration’s Opioid Action Plan.)
    Corporate power has run amok in American politics. Yet the mortality crisis is even worse. The health of the American people depends on restoring democratic oversight and regulation over powerful food and drug companies blinded by greed and arrogance.

    Read more:

    Trump’s global credibility is shot

    (CNN)No, the entire world is not obsessed with Donald Trump, but you have to travel far to reach a place where people are not following closely — and worrying deeply — about what’s happening in Washington.

    I must admit, after months of a Trump-heavy news diet, it was startling to look at the morning newspaper and see an entire front page without a single mention of the word “Trump.”
    Before driving off to the provinces, I scanned the bustling skyline of Colombo, with its multiple, ambitious projects, many of them built, financed and largely owned by China, which sees in this country a strategic point of influence in its expanding global footprint. It’s hard to avoid the impression that while Americans are understandably focused on what’s happening at home, the rest of the world is moving fast to make gains on the distracted superpower.
      And yet, it’s not only Americans who are fascinated with US politics. A year ago, as I informally surveyed people in a number of countries about the US election, Sri Lanka was the only place where I found Trump supporters. But what about now?
      Along my way to the north, Suranga Fernando, who lives in the town of Negombo, not far from Colombo, commented, “Trump is crazy, no?”
      And Fernando isn’t alone in his sentiment. The troubling phenomenon is far reaching. Pew research surveyed 37 countries and found a widespread collapse of trust in the US president and in the United States. A median of just 22% said they have confidence in Trump to do the right thing in world affairs, a jaw-dropping collapse from the 64% who trusted the US president at the end of the Obama presidency.
      A stunning 74% said they have little or no confidence in Trump, up from just 23% who didn’t trust Obama. Mistrust in the US leader extended to confidence in the United States, with favorable views of the United States plummeting around the world from 64% to 49% since Trump became president.
      The President’s Wednesday announcement that the United States would now acknowledge Jerusalem as the capital of Israel isn’t likely to improve his ratings. Allies across Europe and the Middle East — from the United Kingdom to Saudi Arabia — warned Trump against it. And yet, Trump ignored them, choosing to make an announcement they said would prove harmful.
      And though Sri Lanka wasn’t included in the Pew survey, I found many Sri Lankans shared similar concerns to Fernando’s. In Jaffna, the North’s capital, Jathu Jathurshan, a local businessman, told me he hasn’t made up his mind about Trump, but he worries, especially regarding North Korea. “The way he’s talking is not the proper way,” he said, “I think he wants a war.”
      In a country divided by ethnic and religious differences, some value Trump’s strong words against Muslims and his vow to defeat terrorists. Rukshan Kasthuri, a marketing expert, admires Trump’s own marketing prowess, which led to electoral victory, and he likes Trump’s goal to “eradicate Muslim terrorists from the world.” But Kasthuri admits he has not heard about the Russia investigation or the controversial tweets that came after the election. Others have.

        British politicians lash out at Trump

      But Trump’s reposting of racist anti-Muslim videos last week made an impression in a country that endured nearly three decades of a civil war pitting the separatist terrorist group known as the Tamil Tigers, mostly-Hindu and ethnic Tamil, against forces of the central government, mostly Buddhist and ethnic Sinhalese, a conflict whose full tally will likely never be known. Some detailed accounts put the number of dead above 100,000 even before the final government offensive, which the United Nations says left another 40,000 dead.
      Writing in Sri Lanka’s prominent Daily Mirror, Ahilan Kadirgamar, a Tamil activist and researcher, described the “lunatic tirades of Trump,” along with the rise of nationalism in Europe, and the muscular projects of China as a warning sign. “Nationalism requires an enemy,” he noted, as Sri Lankans have seen, with “disastrous consequences.”
      Gehan Gunatilleke, a Sri Lankan human rights lawyer and research director at Verité Research, an independent Sri Lankan think tank, told me Trump’s retweet of the racist videos “amounts to advocacy of racial/religious hatred,” adding that “the Trump presidency has delegitimized the US among Sri Lankans in an unprecedented way.”
      Observers here are weighing the implications of Trump’s words. Harinda Vidanage, director of a local think tank, says Trump is “systematically undoing” the achievements of a liberal world. His feud with the United Kingdom after posting the vile videos undermines the until-now impregnable “special relationship” between the United States and Britain. As a result, he said, countries that had relied on the United States will “rethink or even recalibrate their own alignments.” Trump’s “scathing attack on its ultimate friend,” he notes, “harms the United States and its global standing.”
      And news of Trump’s tweets of false information are traveling the world.
      The Dutch quickly rejected Trump’s tweet of a video that was supposed to be a Muslim attacking a Dutch boy in crutches. “Facts do matter,” said the Dutch Embassy. The attacker was not Muslim. He was born and raised in the Netherlands, and was arrested over the attack.
      Brazil’s O Globo, in multiple articles, said plainly that the President of the United States tweeted videos with false information, “inciting prejudice against Muslims.” A similar message spread in the rest of the continent and beyond.
      In India, just north of Sri Lanka, the tweetstorm, including Trump’s aggressive retort against British Prime Minister Theresa May, received widespread attention. Trump, explained the Hindustan Times, stoked the same anti-Islam sentiments he had fanned during the campaign, turning away from important items of his agenda (including North Korea) to promote videos from a British hate-monger.
      Does it matter that far-away nations are looking at the American President, noting his assaults on the truth, on the media, on his allies — and on tolerance and coexistence?
      Without a doubt, it does. It matters that nation-states now view the United States as an increasingly unreliable country, with an untrustworthy president. That emerging image of America will affect US influence in the world, eroding its strategic positing and diminishing the strength of American values, weakening those fighting to create more democratic societies where they live and simultaneously strengthening the hand of America’s authoritarian rivals.

      Join us on Twitter and Facebook

      Consider Nigeria, pondering whether it should ally itself economically, strategically and politically with a rising China or with the US.
      The words and actions of an America president are working their way across vast distances, slowly seeping across oceans, jungles, languages and cultures. Trump may claim people now respect America, but the truth is very different. The more people hear about a president who promotes discord and distorts the truth, the less they respect and trust the United States.
      Correction: The original version of this piece misidentified Suranga Fernando as female. The piece has been corrected to reflect he is male.

      Read more:

      GOP, to govern you need to make friends with Democrats

      (CNN)This was far more than a routine legislative flub. It is a warning to congressional Republicans and the Trump White House.

      The embarrassing collapse of the Republican effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act makes clear the limits of the GOP’s unwise, unworkable insistence on shutting Democrats out of lawmaking. The refusal to move any piece of legislation forward without Democratic votes will bedevil Ryan and Trump as they attempt to rewrite the tax codes, immigration laws and the nation’s multi-trillion-dollar budget.
      For decades, success in Congress depended on an alliance between Republicans and conservative, so-called Blue Dog Democrats. The result was a string of centrist deals that marginalized ultra-liberal and super conservative members and allowed legislation to move forward.
        That system broke down in the 1990s. Election after election, conservative Democrats got wiped out in the South, while liberal Republicans were rendered extinct in New England and other Northeastern districts.

          Schumer: Trump to blame for failed bill

        MUST WATCH

        But having more conservatives in the GOP conference doesn’t always help the party get things done. By making every vote a matter of securing a near-unanimous Republican majority — and by shunning any possibility of working with conservative Democrats on select issues — Ryan, like his predecessor, John Boehner, has placed himself in thrall to the most hard-line conservatives in his conference, the so-called Freedom Caucus.
        The parliamentary math is brutally simple. Ryan’s self-imposed requirement to pass legislation by relying exclusively on Republicans means that any group of 23 or more GOP members can hamstring the speaker by denying him a majority — or threatening to do so, an effective power play in its own right.
        And that is precisely what the Freedom Caucus, a loose collection of 30 to 40 ultra-conservatives, has chosen to do. Prominent members of the caucus defected from the Ryan bill, with one, Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, calling the Ryan bill “the largest welfare program ever proposed” by Republicans and calling for Congress to simply eliminate Obamacare with no replacement.
        “It’s not a repeal. It’s a marketing ploy,” he said of the Ryan bill.
        While Brooks and other hard-liners were threatening to jump ship unless Obamacare was eliminated, powerful moderate Republicans like Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, chair of the Appropriations Committee, wanted to keep some protections in for the most vulnerable of his constituents.
        “Unfortunately, the legislation before the House today is currently unacceptable as it would place significant new costs and barriers to care on my constituents in New Jersey,” Frelinghuysen said shortly before the vote, explaining why he could not support it.
        Trump and Ryan say they have no plans to revive health care reform anytime soon. But as they move on to other topics, they should remember the health care debacle — and the folly of putting their agenda at the mercy of extremists.

        Read more:

        Donald Trump should protect this hidden export

        (CNN)President Donald Trump speaks often of the US trade balance and keeping jobs at home. International visitors to the United States are key to both.

        One most often thinks of “exports” as tangible goods transported via container ship — cars, textiles and agricultural products like corn and wheat. States that produce such items, and which have been among the hardest-hit by the shifting global economy, were difference-makers in the November election: North Carolina, Michigan and Wisconsin, to name a few.
        But one of the best-performing US exports largely flies under the radar: inbound international travel. Why does it count as an export if we’re not actually shipping anything abroad? Because it entails foreign currency being spent on goods and services produced in the United States — namely, visitors from abroad spending their money at US hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions.
          Travel is already our country’s No. 1 service export, and our second-largest export overall. At $246 billion, international travel accounted for 11.2% of all US exports in 2016. According to our analysis of data from the US Department of Commerce, we enjoyed an $87 billion international travel trade surplus in 2016, larger than any other sector of the US economy. Without travel, the country’s $500 billion trade deficit would be 17% larger.
          As for jobs, travel is a top-10 employer in 49 states and the District of Columbia, supporting 15.1 million total US jobs. The best part? Those jobs are 100% “un-exportable;” it’s simply not possible to outsource the role of a waiter, front-desk clerk or tour guide to a call center in Bangladesh.
          The United States welcomed more than 77 million international visitors last year, half of which came from overseas (all countries excluding Canada and Mexico) and spent an average of $4,337 per trip. Even a marginal decline in that momentum could send immediate ripples throughout the US economy.
          Admittedly, President Trump’s executive orders on visas and immigration have been perceived by many as at odds with the objective of bringing more visitors to our shores. Security is certainly a laudable aim; I often say that without security, there can be no travel, as most vividly evidenced by our industry’s utter collapse in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.
          But the administration has failed to make clear that legitimate international business and leisure travelers continue to be welcomed and valued by the United States. Data indicating softening demand for travel to the United States is likely attributable to the January 27 executive order on visas and immigration, according to multiple organizations that track travel statistics.
          The White House must move swiftly to correct negative perceptions of travel to the United States in order to have any hope of achieving its stated economic aims of improving the US trade balance and protecting quality domestic jobs.
          In addition to including more of a “welcome message” regarding legitimate travelers in its public rhetoric about national security, the Trump administration can help bolster the international travel market by taking concrete steps now to support some other policies outside the national security sphere. To wit:
          Protect Open Skies agreements. These agreements prevent governments — both ours and our treaty partners’ — from meddling with issues such as routes or pricing in the passenger aviation marketplace. They have inarguably been a huge boon to the US economy, bringing in more visitors and adding airline choices — often low-cost and high-value — for American consumers. For almost two years, the agreements have come under malicious attack from the Big Three domestic airlines (American, Delta and United) and their unions in an effort to suppress competition from foreign carriers. Rolling back Open Skies would be sheer economic madness.
          Continue to support Brand USA. The international travel market is brutally competitive, and before 2011 the United States had no national entity promoting it as a destination. That changed when Congress created Brand USA, which markets the United States abroad through advertising and offering traveler outreach and assistance. Brand USA spends no taxpayer dollars for this, relying instead on fees collected from international visitors. The organization has measurably increased the volume of inbound travel — and now, its mission of promoting the United States as a welcoming and unique destination is more critical than ever. If we let our marketing efforts flag, competitors such as France and China would happily snatch up our piece of the global travel pie.
          Keep up the clarion call for infrastructure investments. Our airports are notoriously lagging behind state-of-the art facilities in Europe, Asia and the Middle East — including many outstanding projects that are relevant to security efforts. President Trump’s emphasis on infrastructure issues is most welcome.

          Join us on Twitter and Facebook

          Any plan to address the US trade deficit and promote strong domestic job creation must necessarily include federal policy support for inbound international travel. I predict that we will see numerous elements of the blueprint above become part of the Trump administration agenda, which would be an acknowledgment of the reality that a healthy and growing US economy is one that remains connected to the world.

          Read more:

          The three things Donald Trump really cares about

          (CNN)Two weeks into his transition from President-elect to America’s commander in chief, Donald Trump has signaled his priorities and demonstrated the habits of mind he will bring to the most powerful position in the world. The clues tell us we shouldn’t expect this 70-year-old showman to be transformed into a genuinely sober, predictable leader, but this is not necessarily a bad omen.

          There are lots of things ordinary politicians care about — rules about what kinds of things can be said while in office or on the campaign trail, traditions that have been tested in the history of US government and politics — that Trump may not care about. But it’s clear from his career and evident from his period as President-elect so far that there are three things he does care about:

            He still cares about the media — a lot.

            Trump has attended two big gatherings in the days since he seized the presidency. Neither of these sessions brought him together with the campaign staff that served him so well or a large group of men and women who might serve in his administration.
            Instead Trump chose to spend hours with the key leaders of the major TV news networks and the writers and editors of The New York Times.
            No one in such a high position should feel compelled to respond to the rather mild types of commentary expressed on “SNL” or at the “Hamilton” performance. Barack Obama, to cite one very apt comparison, didn’t respond every time Donald Trump suggested inaccurately he might not be legitimately the president because he could have been foreign-born.
            Behind Trump’s resentful tweets, of course, resides his deeply felt insecurity and constant concern for his public image. He may be poised to accept the most powerful job in the world, but the comments prove he doesn’t really feel powerful. He remains needy and obsessed with making sure everyone recognizes his greatness.
            Complaint is Trump’s longstanding practice and in the transition period he has shown he remains vulnerable to insult. Sometimes he sees insult when it isn’t even present. The “Hamilton” tweet is a case in point. As the cast member gave his brief speech, the object of it, Pence, told his children that the moment demonstrated what freedom looks like.

            Trump still cares about personal profit

            Although he has referred to the arrangements he is making for his businesses as a “blind trust,” Trump is keeping his holdings intact and will put his kids in charge. To expect them to do anything inconsistent with his wishes is like expecting lion cubs to turn vegetarian. We should, instead, assume that they will not only inform him of their activities but they may also exploit his status as president.
            No one elected president has carried into office the complex and far-flung interests Trump has built over his many decades of entrepreneurial activity. Trump partnerships and branded projects can be found across the United States and around the world. Trump has already been subject to reports that in post-election contacts with leaders in Argentina and the United Kingdom he may have mixed business with affairs of state.
            Despite the demands of the transition, Trump made time to meet with business partners from India.
            Worse, in terms of the image it conveyed, was the effort by one of Ivanka Trump’s businesses to market the bracelet she was seen wearing during an interview with the TV news program “60 Minutes.” Priced at $10,800, the Ivanka Trump Fine Jewelry piece is made of gold and diamonds. A “style alert” her company sent to the media noted it is her “favorite bangle.” (An executive of the brand said a marketing employee had sent the alert to the media and that the company was still adjusting to the post-election reality. The company said it is considering new policies about how it sells her products.)

            Join us on Twitter and Facebook

            As he moves between business and government, President-elect Trump has made the point that “the law’s totally on my side” and a president “can’t have a conflict of interest.” That is consistent with his lifelong practices of equating what is “legal” and what may be the right thing to do. It is also not entirely accurate. Presidents have long been given the benefit of the doubt by those who assume they will avoid conflicts and they are exempt from regulations covering other government officials. However the US Constitution bars officeholders, arguably including the president, from receiving “foreign emoluments.” This clause of the Constitution indicated the Founders concern about undue influences and could provide the basis for a challenge to Trump’s practices should he indicate a conflict.
            Although one can imagine a legal challenge if Trump mixes business and his role as president, the true counterweight to his more risky impulses is his desire for approval. Here the time he spent at The New York Times is most illuminating.
            On position after position, from climate change to the use of torture against terror suspects, Trump offered the editors and reporters more nuanced and flexible attitudes than he ever showed during the campaign. On a personal level, though, his comment about Republicans who rejected him during the campaign but want to be in his good graces now showed where his heart tends to go. “Right now, they’re in love with me,” he said at the meeting.
            In his candid references to critics who now love him, and new policy positions that would reassure those who worry about a future with Trump in the White House, the President-elect reminded us that he wants, more than anything else, the security that comes when admiration is added to his wealth. He wants love to go with his money and he’s willing to behave more like a responsible politician if it means he will get it.

            Read more:

            The judge who saved Trump’s campaign

            (CNN)During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump relentlessly attacked Gonzalo Curiel, the judge in a lawsuit charging that Trump University defrauded thousands of consumers. Trump complained that because Judge Curiel is “Mexican,” he “is giving us very unfair rulings.”

            The first claim is indisputably false: Judge Curiel is a US citizen born in Indiana. But the second claim was also false. Indeed, one of Judge Curiel’s rulings was probably crucial in helping Trump become president.
              Months before Trump became the Republican Party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Judge Curiel signaled that he would schedule the trial in the case during the summer or early fall of this year — right in the midst of the presidential campaign. Among his reasons was the fact that the lawsuit had been filed in 2010, and after six years of pretrial litigation and discovery, the plaintiffs — many of whom are elderly — were entitled to have their claims tried in court.


              This ruling may have played a crucial role in clearing the way for Trump’s election. If the trial had occurred as originally scheduled, Trump would have been forced to defend against charges that he defrauded thousands of people during the height of the presidential campaign.
              The plaintiff’s trial evidence would almost certainly have been politically damaging. The plaintiff’s evidence includes marketing materials containing Trump’s promises to prospective students, together with other evidence including Trump’s own deposition testimony, that appears to belie those promises.
              For example, in a variety of documents, Trump promised prospective students that he would hand pick their instructors and mentors. Likewise, in a promotional video, Trump declared that “We’re going to have professors and adjunct professors that are absolutely terrific. Terrific people. Terrific brains. Successful. The best. We are going to have the best of the best. And…these are all people that are handpicked by me.”
              Despite promising that he would handpick the instructors, Trump admitted during his deposition that he did not select either the instructors or mentors. The deposition suggests that Trump knew nothing of the instructors’ names, faces or qualifications.
              Moreover, because many class members were over the age of 65 when they purchased Trump University products and services, plaintiffs will try to prove that Trump violated a California statute prohibiting “Financial Elder Abuse.” This type of “elder abuse” occurs, for example, when a person obtained the “real or personal property of an elder or dependent adult…with intent to defraud.”

              Join us on Twitter and Facebook

              The election’s close outcome might have been different if the campaign’s final weeks focused not on Hillary Clinton’s emails, but on testimony by appealing elderly plaintiffs accusing Trump of defrauding them of their life savings. News reports would have focused not on Trump speaking before thousands of adoring supporters at his rallies, but instead on Trump sweating under humiliating cross-examination.
              In the next couple of weeks, Trump may finally have to face in court the people who claim that Trump University defrauded them, although his lawyers are trying to convince Judge Curiel to postpone the trial yet again.
              But, as much as anyone else, Judge Curiel, the “Mexican” judge whom Trump attacked, is arguably responsible for Trump being President Trump — not just Donald Trump, fraud defendant.

              Read more: