Convergence

Amartya Sen had observed that a Free Press is the very best weapon against hunger. There has never been, he asserts, a famine in a modern nation that has both a Free Press and multi-party democracy. I had wondered a while back (in this post: The Free Press, Famines, and Disease Outbreaks) whether a free press might also play a similar role in the prevention of disease outbreaks, especially after observing that China (not free press and and not multiparty democracy) kept SARS under wraps for quite a while, and who knows what else they might be hiding, too (Public Health Issue in China Glossed over (again)?)

It’s clear that I am not the only one thinking about the connection between a free press and disease prevention and their role in politics; both the current US and Chinese administrations have been doing quite a bit of thinking along those lines, too. Only their thinking isn’t the most constructive, they are both suppressing information about public health issues.

First, from the New York Times, a story about the massive political interference by the Bushies with the Surgeon General’s office, including suppression of reports about Global Health, Second Hand Smoke and the public health dangers created by poor prisoner health care infrastructure. In fact, I wonder if it isn’t criminal—when that interference reaches a certain level it kills people. Any experts in public health law out there? So here are my out-takes, stolen without remorse at all* from the New York Times article:

Surgeon General Sees 4-Year Term as Compromised

WASHINGTON, July 10 — Former Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona told a Congressional panel Tuesday that top Bush administration officials repeatedly tried to weaken or suppress important public health reports because of political considerations….

Top officials delayed for years and tried to “water down” a landmark report on secondhand smoke, he said. Released last year, the report concluded that even brief exposure to cigarette smoke could cause immediate harm….

Dr. Carmona said he was ordered to mention President Bush three times on every page of his speeches….

Dr. Carmona is one of a growing list of present and former administration officials to charge that politics often trumped science within what had previously been largely nonpartisan government health and scientific agencies….

Dr. Carmona, 57, served as surgeon general for one four-year term, from 2002 to 2006, but was not asked to serve a second. Before being nominated, he was in the Army Special Forces, earned two purple hearts in the Vietnam War and was a trauma surgeon and leader of the Pima County, Ariz., SWAT team. ….

He described attending a meeting of top officials in which the subject of global warming was discussed. The officials concluded that global warming was a liberal cause and dismissed it, he said….

Dr. Carmona said drafts of surgeon general reports on global health and prison health were still being debated by the administration. The global health report was never approved, Dr. Carmona said, because he refused to sprinkle the report with glowing references to the efforts of the Bush administration.

“The correctional health care report is pointing out the inadequacies of health care within our correctional health care system,” he said. “It would force the government on a course of action to improve that.”
Because the administration does not want to spend more money on prisoners’ health care, the report has been delayed, Dr. Carmona said.

“For us, the science was pretty easy,” he said. “These people go back into the community and take diseases with them.” He added, “This is not about the crime. It’s about protecting the public.”

And so there was a co-ordinated, sustained effort to control the flow of information on Public Health Issues. The issue of increased numbers of anti-biotic resistant bacteria, arising because of the the heavy use of anti-biotics by the mega-food industry wasn’t discussed in the New York Times article, but there is no reason to think that it wasn’t part of the same suppression of information (See Stupid question, but at least my cow is well….) Or the non-mentioning of really significant stories, such as Roger Brent’s concerns about bio-terrorism going nearly un-reported.

In any case, let’s get to the convergence part, after all it was the title of this post. By the way, this is just one of several times I have noted convergence between the communist (or ex-communist) powers and the present day corporate power advocates. See: Microsoft copies an old playbook from Pravda, and Progress & Freedom Foundation and IP Central’s role model: the Fascist Police State.)

Here we have here the fact that China worked very hard to suppress the fact that 750,000 Chinese citizens died last year prematurely because of pollution, a fact which was about to be released in a report by the World Bank, but this part of the report was eliminated from the report by the World Bank, at China’s request. (So much for the World Bank being an instrument of progress!) 750,000 is a lot. One way to think of it: it is, in terms of the death toll, like having a 9/11 every 35 hours, for a whole year. So what does the Chinese government do: sweep it under the rug, of course!

Great reporting by the Financial Times of London, which was first to break the story.

Pollution facts suppressed by China
Mary-Anne Toy Herald Correspondent in Beijing Mary-Anne Toy July 5, 2007

THE World Bank reluctantly censored a report revealing that 750,000 people died prematurely every year in China from pollution-related disease because Beijing officials feared it would provoke “social unrest”.

Almost a third of the report, Cost of Pollution in China, produced in co-operation with several Chinese Government ministries, was cut, including a detailed map showing where the deaths were concentrated.

China’s State Environment Protection Agency and the Health Ministry asked the World Bank to cut the calculations of premature deaths from the report together with the map when a draft was completed late last year, the Financial Times reported, citing World Bank advisers and Chinese officials.

“The World Bank was told it could not publish this information. It was too sensitive and could cause social unrest,” one adviser to the study said.

The report has yet to be officially launched, but the version omitting the most sensitive sections was released at a conference in Beijing in March.

I am reminded of an interview on ABC’s This Week With George Stephanopolous, during which Secretary of State Colin Powell said “Halabja is a city in northern Iraq, where, and on a Friday in March of 1988, Saddam Hussein gassed the people with VX, with sarin, nerve agents, and it killed 5,000 people in one day; ” Or in others words, Saddam was about twice as effective as the present alliance of global corporations and the Chinese government have been. Of course, Saddam did not keep it up for 365 days every year either, so just perhaps my metric is a little off.

* Actually quoting for purposes of review is Fair Use! So it’s not stealing at all.

Convergence

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