There was this Bush appointee, someone who had absolutely no experience in an area, who...
A surgeon general's report in 2006 that called on Americans to help tackle global health problems has been kept from the public by a Bush political appointee without any background or expertise in medicine or public health, chiefly because the report did not promote the administration's policy accomplishments, according to current and former public health officials.
I would have classified this one under the "Anti-Science" heading, but what was going on here was more than just the continuing Republican war on science. This was a fight over facts that run counter to the whole philosophy of the right.
The report described the link between poverty and poor health, urged the U.S. government to help combat widespread diseases as a key aim of its foreign policy, and called on corporations to help improve health conditions in the countries where they operate.
That correlation between being poor and being sick, and the idea that corporations have responsibilities to the communities where they operate, was enough to draw the ire of William Steiger, who runs the Office of Global Health Affairs. Steiger's qualifications? A degree in Latin American History and a long standing friendship with Dick Cheney. His total lack of education or experience in health care didn't keep Steiger from being the Brownie in charge of Global Health Affairs, and also allowed him to label the report "inaccurate" without presenting any evidence.
The focus of the report was one that should sound familiar to anyone who has followed the conversation on energy issues: the actions we are taking may seem to be limited to some distant area, but actually put our own nation at risk.
The hunger, disease, and death resulting from poor food and nutrition create social and political instability . . . and that instability may spread to other nations as people migrate to survive.
Despite all the concern we express over issues of politics and religion providing "safe havens" for terrorism, nothing provides as much opportunity for people to be radicalized as the effects of poverty. Even ignoring the political effects, having a huge pool of people poorly served by health care provides a massive incubator for disease that could spread rapidly in our highly-connected world. However, while it's permissible to point the finger at other reasons for disorder in the world, the idea that economic effects are a primary cause of problems, and that the application of plain old money can help solve these problems, is now so unthinkable we have to hide the evidence.
The UN has estimated that the costs of providing basic social services to the poor would run about $40 billion a year. This means that spending on the Iraq War has now surpassed more than a decade of the cost of providing these services to the poor world wide.
The report calls on the administration to consider spending more money on global health improvement, for instance. And it warns that "the environmental conditions that poison our water and contaminate our air are not contained within national boundaries. . . . The use of pesticides is also of concern to health officials, scientists and government leaders around the world."
It's ironic that, four years into the disaster in Iraq, we continue to act as if we can set narrow limits on what does or does not affect our country. We're willing to sell $20 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia, playing the same game of balance and counterbalance that we played in arming Saddam Hussein. But we're unable to open our minds and our wallets to the idea that taking bold action on both poverty and energy might be much better investments for our own national security.
If the side effect of such a policy was a planet where people enjoy better health, less poverty, and a cleaner environment... well, I could live with that.
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