Suppressing Votes - and Science
Two stories this weekend presented different faces on the unwavering - and perhaps criminal - zeal of the Bush White House to acquire and maintain power. On Friday, PBS Now reported how a massive Republican "vote caging" scheme targeted minority (read Democratic) voters in key 2004 battleground states. And today, the Washington Post revealed that Bush HHS appointee William R. Steiger blocked the release of Surgeon General Richard Carmona's 2006 global health report for purely political reasons. Suppressing votes and suppressing scientific truth will no doubt be among the sorry legacies of George W. Bush.
The PBS segment presented a picture of a far more expansive Republican voter suppression drive than sources such as Greg Palast and the Conyers 2004 Ohio report had exposed. Despite Monica Goodling's comical testimony that vote caging was merely a"direct-mail term," the future U.S. attorney replacement Tim Griffin led a sophisticated program to drive black, Hispanic, student - and perhaps worst, active duty military personnel - off the voter rolls in 2004. In Ohio, Florida, New Mexico and Nevada, the GOP's mass mailings to empty summer time dormitories, deserted military bases and other temporary addresses, designed to be undeliverable, produced a list of tens of thousands used to purge largely Democratic voters from the rolls.
It's no wonder David Iglesias, the fired U.S. attorney from New Mexico, said of the operation, "It's reprehensible. It's unethical, it's unlawful. It may very well be criminal." And it's even less surprising that Goodling tried, albeit feebly, to cover for Griffin during her May testimony to the House Judiciary Committee:
"I don't...I believe that Mr. Griffin doesn't believe that he, that he did anything wrong there and there, there actually is a very good reason for it, for a very good explanation."
Meanwhile, the Washington Post shed more light on the ongoing Republican war on science. In a follow up story to the revelations by former Bush Surgeon General Richard Carmona of undue political influence on his office, WaPo detailed the stonewalling of Carmona's 2006 report, "Call to Action on Global Health." On July 10, Carmona described how a Bush appointee, now identified as Steiger, refused to issue a report which linked poverty and poor health and called for the U.S. to ramp up its efforts to fight disease worldwide:
"You don't get it. This will be a political document, or it will not be released."
Steiger, a non-scientist and Bush family friend, is a specialist in education and a scholar of Latin American history. Steiger, who runs the Office of Global Health in the Department of Health and Human Services, admitted holding up the report, but adopted the usual Bush tactic of attacking his critic. As the Post reported:
He said in a written statement released by an HHS spokesman Friday that the report contained information that was "often inaccurate or out-of-date and it lacked analysis and focus." Steiger said that "political considerations" did not delay the report; "sloppy work, poor analysis, and lack of scientific rigor did." Asked about the report's handling, an HHS spokeswoman said Friday that it is still "under development."
This is far from the first time Team Bush has altered or suppressed scientific facts to further its radical political ideology. For example, the Bush FDA for years withheld its approval for over the counter sales of the Plan B emergency contraceptive, despite the broad scientific consensus as to its safety which was shared by the agency's career staff. Earlier, Philip Cooney of the White House Office of Environmental Quality, personally edited reports to make changes to conclusions regarding global warming and climate change approved by government scientists. (Cooney is now an oil industry lobbyist.) And just this May, Interior Department official Julie MacDonald resigned after allegations that she violated numerous federal rules in bullying scientists to modify decisions regarding the endangered species status of a range of animals and fish.
This weekend's stories, of course, are just the tip of the iceberg. Today's Republican Party seeks and maintains power through its "divide, suppress and conquer" strategy of mobilizing its base and driving down potential Democratic voter turnout. And once in office, Team Bush makes sure its extremist agenda never encounters opposition from the facts.
UPDATE: The Seattle Times notes the latest Bush administration of "burrowing in" political operatives into career positions in federal agencies. Here's more on Matthew McKeown, Interior Department colleague of the disgraced - and convicted - Stephen Griles.