Wednesday, January 28, 2004

If you do not already use an aggregator of some kind for sifting through the blogosphere, you might want to try using Bloglines.  It only works if the blogs you want to read has an XML feed.  Today I was using Bloglines, and ran across this post on the Volokh Conspiracy, written by Tyler Cowen.  Mr. Cohen refers to an editorial by Peter Feaver in the Washington Post, making the point that the editorial contains some “rare common sense.” Indeed, there is some common sense embodied in the editorial. Even so, I would like to take issue with one of Feaver's statements

Democrats have gleefully claimed that since the Iraqi WMD program was (apparently) not as advanced as the Bush administration claimed it to be, the neoconservatives in the Bush administration must have deliberately lied. Despite its popularity on the campaign primary trail, this conspiracy theory is so nutty Bush defenders have just as gleefully avoided tougher questions and contented themselves with knocking it down: How could even the all-powerful neocons have manipulated the intelligence estimates of the Clinton administration, French intelligence, British intelligence, German intelligence and all the other "co-conspirators" who concurred on the fundamentals of the Bush assessment?

Mr. Feaver's refutation actually misses the point. The point is not whether the intelligence assessments were correct or not. The point that Democrats make is that it appears that Mr. Bush distorted the intelligence reports when he presented the public with an argument for going to war. This is a matter of interest to me, but since it will be a long time before we know the truth, I will not belabor the point. There is, however, a point that I would like to make regarding this excerpt from Mr. Feaver's op-ed piece.

The question I would like to raise is this: is it “so nutty” to think that Mr. Bush might have “deliberately lied”? Let us take the hypothesis that Mr. Bush always tells the truth, then try to reject the hypothesis. If Bush always tells the truth, then there should not be evidence, from his statements and actions, that indicates a tendency to distort the truth. We should not find any evidence that he makes systematic efforts to repress the truth. We should find evidence that he has a value system such that he will not tolerate departures from the truth.

In looking for pertinent evidence, I came across an article on Newsday.com. The article originally came from the Washington Post.

Why Is HHS Obscuring a Health Care Gap?H. Jack Geiger
By H. Jack Geiger
Tuesday, January 27, 2004; Page A17
Over the past four years my colleagues and I have read and reviewed more than a thousand careful, peer-reviewed studies documenting systematic deficiencies and inequities in the health care provided for African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and members of some Asian subgroups. The evidence is overwhelming. Unfortunately, the Department of Health and Human Services seems intent on papering it over. This is the only conclusion that can be drawn from HHS's recent treatment of the first national report card on disparities in the diagnosis and treatment for this country's most vulnerable populations. The department edited and rewrote the report's summary until it reflected nothing close to reality...
The AHRQ did its job well. Its draft report was a clear and massive presentation of the data on disparities in care associated with race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status. Its summary was blunt, noting that such disparities are "national problems that affect health care at all points in the process, at all sites of care, and for all medical conditions," affecting health outcomes and entailing "a personal and societal price."
After "review" by HHS, those truthful words are gone, as are most references to race and ethnicity, now described as problems that existed "in the past." Prejudice is "not implied in any way." Disparities are simply called "differences," and -- incredibly -- "there is no implication that these differences result in adverse health outcomes."
What of the thousand or more studies to the contrary? The new summary says: "Some studies and commentators have suggested that a gap exists between ideal health care and the actual health care that Americans sometimes receive." Worse, the new summary begins with a short list of relatively minor health areas in which minority and poor populations do slightly better than the majority (because, an AHRQ spokesman said, "Secretary [Tommy] Thompson likes to focus on the positive.")

Dr. Geiger's article does not tell us anything directly about Bush, but it does demonstrate that one of his agencies does engage in deliberate distortions of the truth. I interpret this as circumstantial evidence that Mr. Bush does not have a value system that opposes departures from the truth. If I am wrong about this, then Mr. Bush should, in the next few days, make a public statement addressing the distortions in the HHS report. He will come forth and announce that he is taking action to make sure that no such distortions occur again in his Administration. If he does not make such a pronouncement, it will reinforce the notion that he does not have a truth-based value system.

Is the any evidence that is contrary to this? What about the recent OMB Bulletin that address the possibility of misleading evidence being used in the formation of government policy? I read this Bulletin and at first thought that is sounded like a good thing. Then I came across an article on Rep. Henry Waxman's website. The article is short enough to reproduce in full:

Peer Review and OMB
Under the guise of promoting sound science, the Office of Management and Budget is advancing a far-reaching policy that will impede efforts to protect health and the environment and open the door to conflicts of interest in the regulatory process. Under the OMB proposal, agencies must develop a process for peer review of "significant regulatory information" and they must conform to an extensive prescribed peer review of "especially significant regulatory information" -- an unprecedented attempt by OMB to exert control over federal agencies.
On Dec. 15, 2003, calling the proposal a "wolf in sheep's clothing," Rep. Henry A. Waxman, Rep. John F. Tierney, Rep. Sherrod Brown, Rep. Eddie Bernic Johnson, Rep. Mark Udall, Rep. Brian Baird, and Rep. Michael M. Honda wrote OMB Administrator Joshua Bolten to urge the White House to substantially revise or drop this sweeping proposal to regulate scientific information.

Rep. Waxman

By the way, Rep. Waxman has many, many additional examples of systematic distortions by the Bush Administration. I was curious about the apparent discrepancy between my own reading of the Bulletin and Rep. Waxman's portrayal. I found a collection of reviews on this issue at the Center for Progressive Regulation website. Most instructive was an article by Sidney Shapiro, published in the January 2004 Environmental Law Reporter. The article shows how the OMB Bulletin actually weakens existing regulations pertaining to peer review of scientific reports. This can be taken as evidence that Mr. Bush, or at least the Administration that he leads, in fact does make systematic efforts to repress the truth.

In a previous article, I discussed Mr. Bush's many statements concerning regulation of carbon dioxide emissions. Since then, I have encountered a press release from the Bush administration addressing the issue of “climate change,” which is the term he uses to avoid saying “global warming.” The odd thing about the press release is that, after reading it, I still have no idea what his position was (in 2001) on the problem of carbon dioxide emissions. Given the fact that carbon dioxide has been a hot topic for years, it is odd that he would release a paper on the topic of global warming, yet not state his position on the control of this greenhouse gas. It is a fair assumption that this is a deliberate avoidance of the issue. There are other instances of repression of the truth regarding environmental issues. The following article is from the REP America website; shortly after it was released, the New York Times published an article claiming the EPA would not analyze its own data on air pollution.

Withholding Environmental Information Getting to Be a Bad Habit
July 2, 2003Contact: Jim DiPeso, (253) 740-2066
Withholding of vital environmental information is getting to be a bad habit with the Bush administration, REP America, the national grassroots organization of Republicans for environmental protection said today.
REP America reacted to published reports that the administration withheld an analysis showing a Senate bill to clean up power plant pollution would be significantly more effective and cost only marginally more than the administration's "Clear Skies" plan.
"First, the administration watered down language about global warming in EPA's recent state-of-the-environment report. Then, the administration dismissed federal scientists' concerns in declaring that Yellowstone National Park is in no danger. Now, we see that senators were not given vital information about cleaning up unhealthy power plant emissions. The administration should treat the American people and their congressional representatives like adults and give them the unvarnished truth about the environment," REP America President Martha Marks said.

NATIONAL DESK | July 14, 2003, Monday
Critics Say E.P.A. Won't Analyze Clean Air Proposals Conflicting With President's Policies
By JENNIFER 8. LEE (NYT) 938 words
Late Edition - Final , Section A , Page 9 , Column 1
ABSTRACT - Critics say Environmental Protection Agency has delayed or refused to do analysis on proposals that conflict with Pres Bush's air pollution agenda; EPA employees say they have been told either not to analyze or not to release information about mercury, carbon dioxide and other air pollutants; this has prompted inquiries and complaints from enviromental [sic] groups, as well as Democrats and Republicans in Congress; Sen Joseph I Lieberman says agency refuses to analyze bill that he and Sen John McCain sponsored to limit emissions of carbon dioxide, main greenhouse gas implicated in global warming; EPA spokeswoman denies charge

REP American spokesperson stated “withholding of vital environmental information is getting to be a bad habit with the Bush Administration.” Is there more evidence of systematic prevarication? How about the following two pieces. The first is from Sen. John Edwards; the second, from Rep. Edward Markey.

July 14, 2003
WASHINGTON-Senator John Edwards called Monday for the resignation of Jeffrey Holmstead, a top Environmental Protection Agency official who reportedly delayed scientific research on environmental proposals that conflict with President Bush's pollution agenda.
"Jeff Holmstead is an extreme example of this administration's problem with telling the truth when it conflicts with its political agenda," Senator Edwards said. "Instead of protecting the air, Mr. Holmstead is protecting the energy industry by hiding the truth. He needs to go."Sen. Edwards
The New York Times reported Monday that Holmstead, assistant EPA administrator for air and radiation, blocked studies of bipartisan clean air proposals because they would undercut support for President Bush's weaker Clear Skies initiative. Holmstead, referring to a study about competing legislation by senators Thomas Carper and Lincoln Chafee, reportedly told staff members, "How can we justify Clear Skies if this gets out?"
Senator Edwards clashed with Holmstead last year over Holmstead's refusal to provide scientific evidence that proposed rollbacks to the Clean Air Act would not harm human health. Holmstead, who has taken a higher profile role since EPA Administrator Christie Whitman stepped down last month, had championed the rollbacks which would make it easier for old factories and power plants to increase their pollution levels.
Turning Lead Into Gold
October 8, 2002Rep. Markey
...Rep. Markey said, “it makes you wonder, if the Bush Administration was seeking advice on whether the sun revolved around the earth or vice verse, would it take Galileo off the committee and replace him with the Inquisition? Since the key issue for this advisory committee is whether low-dose exposure to lead will adversely affect childhood development, I am concerned that noted academic experts are being replaced by individuals who have conflicts of interest that could prevent them from providing advice that will lead to the most protective health standards for our children.”

To elaborate on Rep. Markey's point, it turns out that the CDC rejected the reappointment of one pediatrician and the nominations of two others; all three have solid credentials. Instead, the CDC nominated four other scientists; three with known industry connections; the fourth already was on record as disagreeing with the current lead toxicity standard.

All of this evidence is well-documented in open sources. What bugs me the most is the last one. Now the Administration is proposing new rules regarding the peer-review process, yet it clearly engages in manipulation of the very process it supposedly is trying to improve. Although none of these bits of evidence provides direct proof that Mr. Bush has “deliberately lied,” which Feaver claims is a “nutty” idea, they do present a picture of systematic subversion of the truth. This is so pervasive, and has been reported so frequently in prominent sources, that Mr. Bush either does not read any newspapers at all, or he has heard of at least some of these incidents, and has failed to do anything about them.