Sunday, June 27, 2004

Who Cares About Michael Moore
This is Really Serious

While everyone is preoccupied with "The Lies of Michael Moore," let's not forget about the lies and squandered opportunities of George W. Bush.  

Waxman: U.S. Imposes New Limits on Scientists
Reuters: UK
Fri 25 June, 2004 05:32

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government is making it harder for scientists to speak to their global colleagues and restricting who can attend an upcoming major AIDS conference, a congressman charged on Thursday.

Rep. Henry Waxman said he has a letter showing that the Health and Human Services Department has imposed new limits on who may speak to the World Health Organization.

Under the new policy, WHO must ask HHS for permission to speak to scientists and must allow HHS to choose who will respond.

"This policy is unprecedented. For the first time political appointees will routinely be able to keep the top experts in their field from responding to WHO requests for guidance on international health issues," the California Democrat wrote in a letter to HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson.

"This is a raw attempt to exert political control over scientists and scientific evidence in the area of international health," Waxman wrote.

"Under the new policy the administration will be able to refuse to provide any experts whenever it wishes to stall international progress on controversial topics."

An HHS spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

Waxman also complained that HHS had cut back a list of scientists planning to attend the International AIDS Society conference in Bangkok, Thailand, next month. The conference is considered the premiere meeting for AIDS experts.

Waxman said that 40 presentations scheduled for the conference were withdrawn after HHS decided that only 50 U.S. scientists could attend.

"The scientific community was outraged by this pullback," he wrote.

"I ask you to rescind this ill-advised policy until it can be adequately reviewed and justified," Waxman wrote of the restrictions on WHO requests.

He also urged Thompson to review his decision on the Bangkok conference

(Also see the LA Times article  for more details)

These two developments, namely, the requirement that government scientists receive clearance before consulting with WHO, and the withdrawal of scientific presentations at the International AIDS Society conference, are highly worrisome developments.  It would be nice to know why these things were done, but our dear leaders in Washington apparently do not see fit to tell the people who elected them why they are doing what they are doing.

Just a couple of weeks ago, Bush was boasting about his commitment to the worldwide effort to eradicate polio, as well as playing up his pledge to spend 15 billion dollars to fight the AIDS epidemic.  From the President's press briefing on June 8, 2004:

A couple of context statistics. Since 1988, the U.S. has worked hand in hand with the WHO. We've worked to pledge -- we have pledged or contributed some $981.3 million for the Polio Eradication Initiative, including $180 million for the years 2004, 2005. Of the $3.48 billion total pledge worldwide since 1988, the U.S. has pledged or contributed 28.2 percent. And the U.S. has also provided approximately $38 million in additional bilateral assistance since 1988. [...]

And from June 10, 2004:

President Bush led the G-8 Leaders today in endorsing a series of initiatives to address some of the most pressing challenges facing developing countries in Africa and elsewhere. Specifically, the G-8 committed to:

* Launch a G-8 Action Plan on Expanding Global Capability for Peace Support Operations to train 75,000 peacekeepers over 5 years;

* Establish a Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise to accelerate HIV vaccine development;

* Launch an initiative to End the Cycle of Famine in the Horn of Africa and help 5 million food insecure people attain food security by 2009;

* Ensure full funding for the final stage of the Polio Eradication Initiative [...]

Now, we learn that he is preventing 28 CDC experts  from attending an important AIDS conference.  Yet, when HHS is asked about this, what are we told?

Lawmakers say Bush administration forced 28 CDC researchers out of AIDS conference
from: The Advocate
July 26, 2004

HHS spokesman Bill Pierce says the United States will be "well-represented" at the conference, adding that telephone conference calls, e-mails, and media reports will help distribute important information presented at the conference to researchers and AIDS advocates around the world.

The Secretary of Health and Human Services said:

Thompson claims the reduced number is part of cost-cutting moves at the department

Fine, we all are in favor of cost-cutting.  But after pledging 15 billion dollars to fight AIDS, they can't afford to send 28 scientists to a conference???  If it costs $2000 per scientist, that would be 3.7333x10-8% of the 15 billion dollar budget.  (Sorry about the use of scientific notation.  My calculator can't display enough zeroes to present the number in a more familiar format.)

Bush and his spokespersons have denied repeatedly the allegations that he plays politics with science.  They trumpet his commitment to pressing health issues at every opportunity.  But the facts tell a different story.

By the way, the polio eradication effort has hit some snags.  President Bush should be mobilizing an army of scientists and diplomats to deal the final blow to this terrible disease.  Other than read a few prepared statements, written by someone else, he has done almost nothing.  As reported on Foreign Dispatches  and Winds of Change,  the Kano state governor, Ibrahim Shekarau, had pledged to restart the polio vaccination program, after it had been stopped due to allegations that the polio vaccine contained a contraceptive.  This was part of a rumor that Western forces wanted to decrease the Muslim population in Nigeria.  But a report in The Economist  indicates that he has not yet taken any action on his pledge.


Another health disaster in Africa
Jun 23rd 2004
From The Economist Global Agenda

[...] The new outbreak is a triumph of superstition over science. The polio cases have spread from the state of Kano, in the mainly Muslim north of Nigeria. There, clerics have preached nonsense about the polio vaccination, claiming it was a western plot to depopulate Africa by rendering girls infertile, or even giving its recipients AIDS. Kano’s state government, under pressure from the militant clerics, has suspended vaccinations.

[...] In May, Kano’s government announced that vaccination would begin again, but this has not yet happened.
 An African child receives polio vaccine

This is an unprecedented opportunity for the leader of the Free World to take decisive action, in an effort that literally could change the course of history for the better.  With more principled action, not only could Bush help with the eradication of a major disease, he could help improve the worldwide reputation of the United States of America.  Mobilizing Muslim clerics and scientists, as well as truly cooperating with WHO, we could stamp out this disease forever.  It would take a massive public relations campaign to convince the Nigerian public that the vaccine is safe.  Using supplies from an Indonesian vaccine manufacturer, certified by prominent clerics, supported volunteers from Médecins Sans Frontières,  or perhaps the Peace Corps, President Bush could really make a difference. 

(Note: The Rest of the Story/Corpus Callosum has moved. Visit the new site here.)
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