Wednesday, July 11, 2007

When Even Republicans Reach a Breaking Point

Richard Carmona, who served as Surgeon General of the United States from 2002 to 2006 testified yesterday before a House Committee about his experiences as Surgeon General during those years. Hopefully, his story will be more than a blip in the news, as accounts of the Bush administration's abuses of power often have been.

Hopefully, people will not simply shrug their shoulders and treat huge and expanding quantity of such accounts as mind numbing. They should be as outraged as Carmona, whose record as a decorated Special Forces Vietnam Veteran, SWAT Team leader, Trauma Surgeon, a business leader would make him under most conditions a model Republican citizen, even a hero in an old John Wayne movie.

Carmona's testimony is shocking even by the standards of this administration. He was, he as testified under oath, ordered to mention President Bush at least three times on every page of his speeches, make speeches in support of Republican political candidates and attend political strategy sessions as if the duties of the Surgeon General of the United States were no different than those of Karl Rove or Scooter Libby. This sort of thing is what one usually finds in secular or clerical dictatorships.

But that is in some ways even less important than what Carmona, in his sworn testimony, claims that he was ordered not to do. First, he couldn't make statements or present scientific findings concerning stem cell research, which is a taboo for this administration. He couldn't deal with issues of sex education and contraception, because that also was not acceptable to the administration and its right-wing clerical supporters, for whom abstinence is the only real sex education (a point which Carmona, in his testimony contended was not a scientific position).

Carmona was also told by administration officials not deal with the public health implications of global warming because that was a "liberal cause." Furthermore his was ordered not to address the huge public health crisis in U.S. prisons (which house over two million people) because the administration had no desire to have any policy on this question.

Carmona also had to fight against administration censors who sought to block and then water down a study of the negative public health effects of second hand smoke, because it was an embarrassment to their tobacco industry supporters.

As a final, very petty indignity (again, one that might make sense in an open dictatorship) Carmona was ordered to have nothing to do with the Special Olympics (which supports the athletic activities and other issues
of handicapped people) because of the Kennedy family's longtime support for the Special Olympics.

Carmona was treated regularly as a stooge and he knows it. He was as he said brought in to talk about "science" to people who didn't know anything themselves about science and then ordered him to do or not to do things regardless of the scientific implications. While other former Surgeons General testified, including Reagan's Surgeon General, C. Everett Koop, and mentioned political interference, there was nothing in previous administrations that even approached this level of abuse of power against what is supposed to be a professional office in both quantity and quality.

There has been since the early 1960s a Surgeon General's warning on every cigarette package about the health dangers of smoking, but that doesn't mean anything to the presidential clique attempting to block a report on second hand smoke. That there are huge public health issues involved in global warming means nothing to an administration which rejects on ideological grounds the very concept of global warming, so in Bush think it makes sense that studying the issue should be forbidden.

While the administration is perfectly happy to spend more and more money to build more and more prisons and and put more and more people in them, it will not even address prison public health issues (even though
they may involve communicable diseases that constitute a threat to the general population) because that may constitute a move toward more "socialized medicine"(my conjecture).

To this administration everyone is either a political hatchet man or a political enemy. The cliques around Bush and Cheney and their allies in the various cabinet departments make no distinction between the functioning of the departments in enforcing existing laws and addressing questions of public health and welfare in all areas of life and the administration's immediate ideological dictates or the direct economic interests of its backers.

As a postscript, the administration showed its complete contempt for both Congress and their former Surgeon General by having a representative of the Department of Health and Human Services issue the following statement "it has always been the position of this administration that public health policy be rooted in sound science." Oh, Yeah. In what country, on what planet, and in what solar system?

Also, a White House spokesman, speaking as if she were a character in Heller's Catch 22 Orwell's 1984, contended that the Surgeon General was "the leading voice for the health of all Americans. It is disappointment to us if he failed to use this position to the fullest extent in advocating for policies that he thought were in the best interests of the nation."

Policies like support for sex education and contraception, investments in a huge upgrading of health facilities in the prison system, studies examining the health hazards that come from global warming and second hand smoke? Maybe even a yet unforeseen health hazard that may emerge from having to mention GW Bush three times on the page of every speech?

Carmona's testimony should be given very wide circulation. It should be used to further display the extent to which this administration has violated its oath of office. It should lead both the left and the center and even some who consider themselves "conservatives" but don't believe in the exercise of arbitrary power by presidential cliques to work together expose this administration and defeat all of its initiative today, which will pave the way for its general defeat and repudiation in the 2008 elections.

--Norman Markowitz

No comments: