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Take Noble Action

By PAM BERNS
   I don’t have a medical lab in my basement. I doubt that you do either. That’s why we must depend so heavily on the knowledge of scientists to discover cures for the diseases that make the lives of most of us so difficult.
   We all know that cancer strikes either one out of two or three of us sometime in our lives. The majority of us are deeply affected by this illness. Many of us would like to be able to find a cure for cancer. Imagine how breathtaking that would be. Finding the cause of this terrible disease while trying to prevent and cure those suffering with cancer is the most important challenge of our time.
   But we can’t assume that we as individuals will be able to learn the science to be able to do medical research on our own. Research is rarely made by individuals who merely care deeply about cures and seek to discover scientific findings that will eventually lead to cures.  
   Research to produce cures will not necessarily just “happen” at corporations, either, because they are required to attempt to produce profits for their shareholders, not necessarily produce cures or relieve suffering. Fortunately, some not-for-profits have these missions. This is why it is so critically important that our government fund research with our tax dollars, and that charities that support research receive the funding they seek. We need “big government” and charities that support quests to cure disease to invest in this research.
   Meanwhile, some politicians are busy trying to slash social and “discretionary” programs, as though these are somehow less important than military excursions into countries where we seem to be focused on the priorities of just a handful of U.S. companies. The Department of Defense has been largely immune from budget cuts in the past few years, despite the critical cuts taken in most other departments. But under recent political pressure, the Pentagon is being forced to cut expenditures as we focus on cyberoffense and defense, unmanned aircraft (drones) and Special Operations forces, according to the New York Times.
   If you want to know how many military bases the United States supports throughout the world, you will have a hard time getting exact numbers. If you try to add up the various reports, you will find that there are approximately 820 military installations in about 135 countries around the world. Some of these will be closed as we exit Iraq. There are around 1600 U.S. Navy ships and approximately 2,278,896 U.S. military personel, including reserves. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, military expenditures in the U.S. will total $739,000,000,000 in 2011. The idea that the Bush administration funded the “War on Terror” off the books is beyond bizarre.
   According to the costofwar.com hosted by the National
Priorities Project, the cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq has been $1,275,161,287,815 and climbing. The site writes that due to the enormous size of the Department of Defense, it “is responsible for 39 percent of the net interest paid on the national debt in 2011.”
   Illinois, too, has been hit hard. According to the National Priorities Project, Illinois’ total war cost has been $68.2 billion, while 13.2 percent of our people are in poverty, 12.2 percent have food insecurity and 14,055 are homeless. These are heavy costs for our state to carry. Did we really choose to fight these wars? Do we want to continue to fund our presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan? Could we win their hearts and minds with economic “carrots,” instead of our military? Surely, with American creativity, we could invent ways to improve the lives of those in other regions of the world, as well as here in the U.S.
   Recent research into the development of cancer and several other diseases has been promising, reports the journal Cell. Several  science teams have found a regulatory network of regions of the human genome. This research has pointed to the importance of tiny molecules—microRNA—in the language of cancer development and tumor suppression. Obviously, this is the time to fund academic and scientific research, not cut budgets.
   In this time of trying to squeeze budgets, we need to think big. Franklin Roosevelt was facing similar economic problems in his day and it was only when he tried to balance the budget too soon in an economic-challenging time, did he face a setback. We must revive the economy and face budget problems later, after our economy has recovered and our citizens are paying taxes, not collecting unemployment. We also need to offer retraining to workers in some industries. If we provide opportunities in the health and technology fields, many workers could face more certain futures than they do now.
    There is deep dissatisfaction felt by many Americans with the lopsided promise of America’s future. When people are losing their homes, their children cannot afford to go to college, and they see how the top of the food chain is inordinately compensated for tanking their banks and other companies, who cannot understand the frustration?
   In our lifetime we have nearly always offered the American dream to the masses. We need to rekindle that spark and nurture it. This is a collapse of the dream. Is this a democracy or an oligarchy? It should be clear. We must stand for equal rights and opportunities. Why should a man who does a terrible job at his company earn 1000 times what another worker at the same company earns? There are very few Bill Gates. Creativity and excellence should be compensated, not the status quo earned by very few who ruin their companies and then are offered multi-million dollar golden parachutes for leaving. Shareholders deserve better.
   At this time of the year, we all need to look for the opportunities that we as individuals can take to change the world for the better. We can have a part in the discoveries that will lead to saving lives.   
   In this issue we list many charities to which we can give. Give generously to those who have the power to change the world. You will have a piece of that power and there is no more noble action that you can take.

Published: December 04, 2011
Issue: 2011 Philanthropy Issue