How We Failed Black Panther | Chadwick Boseman & Cancer

Cancer Sucks. Fundamentally, that’s what today’s video about. It’s absurd that a 43 year old should be dying of cancer in the 21st century, and honestly it’s absurd that anybody should. We have the technologies and principles we need to be moving much more quickly on cancer than we are today. The main thing holding us up today is a failure of political imagination and a dramatic mis-allocation of funding.

The death of Chadwick Boseman is significant for many reasons, but I don’t think this aspect has been covered enough. Today’s video is an attempt to correct that oversight.

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Video Transcript after the jump…

Hey there. I am not somebody who typically cares much about celebrity deaths. In a world where we seem to be closing in on Andy Warhol’s everybody gets to be famous for 15 minutes prediction, there simply isn’t enough time in the day to get emotionally involved in the deaths of celebrities. But the death of Chadwick Boseman hits me differently.

It could be the fact that he is just about my age. The Black Panther has died at just 43, with so much left to do. It could be the fact that his career was built on playing some of the most iconic characters in American history, from Thurgood Marshall to Jackie Robinson. He dies at a time when we are all being forcefully reminded how much black lives matter, and how little much of the country thinks they do. But the thing that hits me the most about this death, this year, is the fact that he died of cancer.

Weren’t we supposed to be done with this? All the way back in 1971, US President Richard Nixon famously declared War on Cancer. Almost every president since has come up with some new initiative or policy in cancer research. Obama and Biden put 6.3 billion dollars into a Moon Shot for Cancer program and a cancer survivor featured prominently in Donald Trump’s pitch for re-election at the Republican National Convention last week.

These government programs have been a very important part of cancer breakthroughs over the past half century. The National Cancer Institute has its own labs, and funds research and has partnerships at universities and private labs across the country. Other programs at the National Institutes of Health, especially those on genetics, feed into our war on Cancer as well. The NCI was instrumental in establishing the standard chemotherapy and radiation treatments available for cancer today, and it’s also leading the way with immunotherapy, the new treatment that’s having miraculous effects with too few types of cancer.

Now many will claim that this approach is working. Between 1991 and 2017 the overall cancer death rate in the United States has dropped by 29%. This is fantastic progress. But around 600,000 Americans still die of cancer every year. Let me say that again. 600,000 Americans die of cancer every year.

600,000 people is around the number of soldiers who died in our most costly war. And the US civil war went on for 4 years, not just one. 600,000 people is about 200 times as many as died on 9-11, a supposedly irreparable loss that we have spent trillions failing to do much about over the past 20 years.

And this is where it gets infuriating… this is where we failed Mr. Boseman. No matter how big and impressive our research architecture looks, no matter how much presidents like to congratulate themselves on working on cancer, we are basically spending nothing on defeating this scourge.

The National Cancer Institute gets about 13 billion dollars a year. The National Institutes for health, the organization responsible not just for cancer, but also for defending us from threats like Covid-19, gets about 42 billion dollars a year. Compare that to the Pentagon, which gets between 750 billion and 1.2 trillion dollars a year, depending on how you do the math. This imbalance between the NIH and the Pentagon has been bugging me all year. National defense is important. But disease kills vastly more Americans than terrorists or international rivals, by orders of magnitude. That’s always been true, but it’s especially true in 2020. If the NIH had had a few billion more dollars, and a little more respect, they probably could have stopped Covid-19 the way New Zealand and South Korea did, and the US economy would be a couple trillion dollars bigger than it is now.

If we doubled, or quintupled the amount of money we spend at the NIH and the national cancer institute, no doubt some money would be wasted. But would it be anywhere near as wasteful as the trillions we have spent in Afghanistan, or the trillion and a half dollars we are currently spending on the F-35, a fighter jet that famously has a lot of difficulty flying? Saving 600,000 lives a year, or even 50,000 would be worth a little government waste.

President Obama’s big moon shot program? That was 6.3 billion dollars over 10 years. So 630 million dollars a year? That’s like 4 or 5 fighter jets a year, before maintenance costs. This program has already done good work, but once the money was divided between all the agencies, 640 million a year really isn’t much more than a drop in the bucket. Trump’s biggest cancer program so far has been 500 million for childhood cancers. Again over 10 years. So that’s like 50 million dollars a year. I am not someone who thinks it is fair to complain about the ballooning secret service costs of protecting Trump’s family. Presidents need to be secure, and unlike Obama, Trump has adult children and grandchildren with separate lives that need to be protected. But the fact remains that the Trump administration spends dramatically more protecting the President’s family each year than they have spent on their signature cancer plan.

Our failure of Chadwick Boseman is very much a bipartisan affair. The tragedy of his death is that 5-10 years from now, it’s possible, if not likely that we will have a cure for his particular form of cancer. If we hadn’t pissed away all those trillions of dollars in the Middle East, we could have had that cure 5-10 years ago. Or at least something that could have kept the Black Panther fighting. Our idiotic foreign policy has consequences far beyond the destruction we see on the news.

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