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Drs. Jack L. Paradise and Richard H. Michaels: A bad diagnosis for the state of our union

Monday, January 27, 2003

President Bush will deliver his State of the Union message tomorrow. As physicians concerned with health and with the preservation and protection of human life, we are deeply troubled by the union's current state. Here are some of the reasons why:

 
  Jack L. Paradise, M.D., and Richard H. Michaels, M.D., are professors of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and members of the Pittsburgh chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility. 
 

Life on Earth is vulnerable. But the Bush administration has systematically assaulted the laws and regulations that protect the air we breathe and the water we drink.

Global warming is a reality (despite the current cold spell!) and the potential consequences are horrendous. Continued melting of polar ice caps will raise ocean levels and coastal areas will be inundated. But the Bush administration refused to sign the Kyoto global warming protocol.

Nuclear weapons pose the gravest danger to human survival. Long ago, as a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, our country pledged to work in good faith to eliminate all nuclear weapons. But the Bush administration's Nuclear Policy Review calls not only for creating new nuclear weapons but also for using nuclear weapons pre-emptively. Morality aside, from a practical standpoint it is a policy calculated to drive non-nuclear nations to develop their own nuclear weapons as deterrents. Albert Einstein wrote: "The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe."

Scientific evidence should be judged on its merits, not on whether it conforms to a particular policy opinion. But the Bush administration has instituted a wholesale reorganization of the scientific advisory panels that guide federal public health policy -- ousting scientists whose conclusions are not what the president wants to hear, and replacing them with handpicked candidates more likely to parrot his pro-industry views.

Open government and citizens' right to know are critical in a free society. But the Bush administration recently tried to classify test results of its National Missile Defense System, which show that the system is unable to distinguish warheads from decoys. Not only will this system poison disarmament efforts and risk igniting a new arms race, but its $7.8 billion price tag for just the current year helps guarantee that needed domestic programs -- for example, health insurance for the uninsured -- continue to go begging.

We are trustees of this planet for our children and our grandchildren and for generations to come. But the Bush administration has promoted mining and oil and gas drilling in public lands and along our coastlines, has stalled wildlife restoration plans, has failed to protect endangered species, has approved a cyanide leach gold mine in sacred Native American lands, and has lobbied vigorously to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

War kills people. War with Iraq would kill unknowable numbers of Iraqi men, women and children, and would likely kill or injure more American military personnel than has been discussed publicly. War costs estimated in the trillions of dollars will further prevent dealing with urgent domestic health, educational and environmental needs. And in this era of suicide bombers, war will only increase, not decrease, the likelihood of anti-U.S. and anti-Israel terrorist strikes.

But despite the fact that Iraq appears to be complying with the inspection process, and in the face of extensive worldwide opposition, the Bush administration drives relentlessly toward war. If indeed the Iraqis don't have weapons of mass destruction, how are they to prove that they don't, other than by complying with the inspection process? Although the administration has found no "smoking gun," President Bush has announced himself to be "fed up" and "sick and tired." It is costly impatience indeed, and our country and the world at large may pay the price.

In our view, United States is being led, in Einstein's words, to unparalleled catastrophe -- and on many fronts. We see the state of the union as perilous. We hope urgently that the American public will recognize the dangers and will act to protect all that we hold dear.

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