Saturday, April 10

Voting for life. 10.5 Million Easily Preventable Infant Deaths Yearly.

[The brief introduction to this exchange is posted on April 19 as VOTING FOR LIFE: PREAMBLE. The following was written on April 9.]#8
Fanni: Let me quote the third part of your attempt at lumping me together with your pro-abortion foes on the basis of the claim that I, as they do, pull figures out of the air to satisfy ideological purposes, and which I promised I would return to, so as to substantiate my claims:

Robert: "A second possible example: You stated earlier that something like 10.5 million children died because Bush would not send them needed aid. Without documentation, this again sounds like a figure that someone pulled out of the air."

Fanni: Your strategy here has only been counter-productive for you. It has shown you to be engaged in the unsubstantiated assertion-making that you accused me of and has distracted us from the real issues I have been trying to get you to address. I have countered the first two parts of this tactic of yours and now will address the third. Here is the context in which are found the assertions that you have paraphrased simplistically above:

If it is true that you support life, then, I wonder, have you given any thought to the fact that 10.5 million children under the age of 5 died from easily preventable diseases last year, and that the institution - the World Health Organization - that has the potential to prevent these diseases has been severely under-funded by the Bush Administration? Does this sort of fact mean nothing to you? Or does it concern you? Or does abortion appear like the only life-and-death issue that is worth any trouble to you? And if so, why is this so? Do you generally resist seeing your emphasis on life in its broadest context, and focus exclusively on the destiny of fetuses? If so, why?

Of course, Bush has done some fine posturing with respect to the issue of AIDS. However, even here, his record concerning human life is horrific. In addition to the undeniable impression that Bush is more concerned with securing drug company profits than providing cheap drugs for sufferers of AIDS the world over, consider that President Bush promised $3 billion per year over five years for the AIDS initiative while the White House’s 2004 budget request ended up asking Congress for only $1.9 billion annually. But even that sum was a mirage, as it was partly based on a reshuffling of related accounts. For example, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, much of which is designated for Africa, received a $150 million cut from the previous year. Moreover, Congress mandated that even this money will not be spent unless the Europeans match the U.S. contribution. Immediate consequence: countless infant deaths that could have been prevented.
[source of the above information]
Before I address the source and substance of the number-related claim, let me note my perplexity at your having neglected the line of questioning to which it leads. The paragraph builds up to the following questions: Do you generally resist seeing your emphasis on life in its broadest context, and focus exclusively on the destiny of fetuses? If so, why? Did you feel that you could avoid these questions by discrediting the claim concerning the number of infant deaths cited before it? Or did you only mean to get to the essential questioning later? As I reread my italicized writing above, I think it is clear that, even if the number concerning 10.5 million deaths were a matter of pure ideological fiction concocted by some devilish liberal group in an attempt to demonize President Bush precisely because he is anti-abortion, the line of questioning would still stand and would still call for a reply. The possibility that a false or unsubstantiated number may have been employed in building the line of questioning does not render the questioning itself illegitimate and unworthy of a response. Perhaps, in asking, Does this sort of fact mean nothing to you? Or does it concern you?, I should have foreseen the possible temptation on your part to outmaneuver my line of questioning and so should have diffused this temptation from the get-go by writing, instead, Does this sort of factual claim – however debatable it may appear to you or anyone else – mean nothing to you? Or would it concern you, if you had reason to believe it might be accurate?

As far as I can tell, my line of questioning appears even more pertinent now in light of the fact that you have refused to respond to it other than by substituting for a response a cavalier attempt to try to discredit the factual nature of my figures. But perhaps you just haven't had time yet to respond to the essence of what I have been asking you, or have experienced the loss of a message that would have contained a reply? I suppose that is possible, but it doesn't explain why the quibbling over figures had to be put forth in your initial reply. Or perhaps you have found my main line of questioning to be perplexing and demanding of more effort and attention than did your hasty assertions concerning the supposedly false, ideological nature of certain factual claims that appear in the framing of my line of questioning?

I invite you to explain.

You also noted this, with respect to the same issue:

Robert: "Although even one child's death is a tragedy, Bush's 'complicity' in these deaths is indirect and remote. He was not responsible for the circumstances or actions which caused their illnesses, and other wealthy nations share in the responsibility to help them out."

Fanni: With respect to what you have written here, I find it to be a bad faith argument to assert that, because one who has the capacity to prevent diseases did not cause the diseases, or establish the conditions that initially led to the diseases, that person or institution cannot be held responsible for the failure to prevent the diseases. I argue the contrary. It is the preventable nature of the diseases and deaths that creates the responsibility, and not the fatal diseases themselves. (Certainly, you would agree with me on the issue of abortion that it is the preventable nature of abortions that makes abortion an issue of responsibility. And I doubt that you would say, in good faith, "Well, we don’t have to lift a finger in preventing abortions until the Europeans or other wealthy nations do the same.") Secondly, your point that other wealthy nations share this responsibility is valid, as I said in an earlier message but, as I indicated above, it is lamentable that the Republican-led Congress has exploited this valid point to justify inaction and that the President has done nothing to lead the way in addressing this responsibility. There is at least one candidate for the presidency who has made a large issue of this responsibility and who would certainly give a serious effort at leading the U.S. and other wealthy nations out of their corporate indifference to human suffering and to the preventable loss of human life the world over, but this is not the place to discuss Ralph Nader's platform for the presidency.

The figures relating to deaths in undeveloped nations are hard to establish not only because of the lack of infrastructure and of autonomous, investigative institutions within those nations, but because human lives as they exist outside of wealthy nations simply do not count for anything in the platforms of corporatized governments, just as the civilian lives in Iraq do not count for much in the corporate news engine called Fox News. (I sometimes try to imagine all those dashingly outfitted, bold, beautiful blonds and well-shaped figures of masculinity that Fox employs as its human face and voice, commenting compassionately on the unnecessary killing by U.S. forces of Iraqi civilians, and the scene appears so incongruous as to emit a cruel, hollow laugh from within me, despite all my efforts to master this cynical response.) So, you can always play a game of avoiding questioning and diminishing responsibilities by asserting that someone else's figures are not known to be entirely accurate or by trying to discredit the few institutions that do try to establish such figures by asserting that, on other issues – for you, this means, always, on abortion – that someone else, or that institution, has been on the wrong side. But even if you proceed in this manner, you will not have rendered my line of questioning irrelevant, illegitimate, or unworthy of a response because, precisely, as I have indicated amply before and do so here again, I am also interested in the hypothetical line that says: if you knew this many deaths to be at stake, and that, as President of the United States, Bush is directly or indirectly responsible for those that have occurred and those that are likely to occur, would this knowledge effect your support for Bush? Would it enter into your calculations concerning his merits as a leader in the "culture of life" debates? Or wouldn't it? And if not, why not? Why can't you address this line of questioning?

You do not need any factual report, or any number of credible reports by any number of credible institutions or individuals, to be able to address this line of questioning. And I am left wondering, today, why you have tried, deftly or not, to avoid it.

Lastly, you stated that, "although even one child's death is a tragedy, Bush's 'complicity' in these deaths is indirect and remote." I wonder, do you mean to imply thereby that a pro-abortion candidate such as Kerry is, by contrast, directly and immediately complicit in the deaths of the unborn? If so, on what basis have you made this distinction? Whereas Kerry is (implicitly, but unmistakably) deemed by you to be complicit directly and immediately, Bush is deemed "complicit" (in hedging scare quotes) only indirectly and remotely. As for me, nothing jumps out as being so dissimilar in these two cases. We are talking about politicians who have the power to effect legislation that, in turn, leads to such events as preventable abortions and deaths by preventable diseases. How, then, were you able to distribute your judgments so differently in the two cases? And how were you able to do it without having studied the question of preventable diseases worldwide and the neglect of the issue by both George Bush and the Congress of the United States?

Personally, I don't think the distinction between "direct" and "indirect" responsibility is satisfying. Your invoking it reminds me of Adolf Eichmann's trying to claim that he, and by implication other Nazi bureaucrats, were not guilty of their crimes because they were not directly involved in their application or their ordering. But it is still questionable of you to take my phrasing, which clearly puts Bush in an indirect (but I would still say, decisive) role, and flatten into a wacko assertion that makes Bush look like he is solely responsible for 10.5 million deaths of children with whom he bears a direct relationship – one as direct as the relationship between two correspondents, or acquaintances. I remind you both of (a) my statement and (b) your simplistic, distorting paraphrase thereof:

(a) If it is true that you support life, then, I wonder, have you given any thought to the fact that 10.5 million children under the age of 5 died from easily preventable diseases last year, and that the institution - the World Health Organization - that has the potential to prevent these diseases has been severely under-funded by the Bush Administration?

(b) "You stated earlier that something like 10.5 million children died because Bush would not send them needed aid."
This is not a fair manner of proceeding precisely because for you, and for reasons that you haven't explained, the distinction between direct and indirect, or immediate and remote, responsibility is both of prime importance and clearly at work in the cases of, for example, Bush's under-funding the campaigns against malaria and other preventable diseases and Kerry's lack of support for the anti-abortion campaign. The basis on which you make this distinction remains a mystery to me.

Finally, I reach the point concerning the claim of 10.5 million deaths annually. When I present these sources, keep in mind that whether one can link the Bush Administration's policies, directly or indirectly, either to only 10 deaths or to 700 million infant deaths would, strictly speaking, be irrelevant to the substance of our discussion because you have not yet said that, if a figure larger than, say, the most generous estimate of fetuses aborted annually were substantiated – this is a hypothetical – that, in such a case, you would shift your support away from the anti-abortion Bush and to a candidate who has the insight and will-power to address the problem of life loss and human suffering more generally, but who is not anti-abortion.

The only point of my having to substantiate this claim is that it prevents you from obscuring the line of questioning that is central to our dialogue. That avoidance tactic was apparently supposed to make you appear like you are rightfully suspicious of statistics and therefore able to discredit my arguments on that basis alone.

The tactic hasn't worked. It has provided a temporary diversion to our discussion, which obstacle I have, I hope, in this message, conclusively removed.

Here, finally, are sources for the claim I made concerning preventable infant deaths:

a) An article from the Boston Globe, from December 2003, in which are found the following sentences:

"In 1970, an estimated 17 million children under 5 died around the world; last year, that number was 10.5 million. In Oman, the success of improving health systems has been striking: in 1970, 242 out of 1,000 children died before age 5, but today its rate is just 15 deaths out of 1,000.
But in 14 African countries, child mortality rates are higher than they were in 1990.
Of those 10.5 million child deaths, 98 percent were in the developing world. The leading causes of child deaths remain complications at birth, lower respiratory tract infections, diarrheal diseases, and malaria, with malnutrition contributing to all of them. All such conditions and diseases are easily preventable, the report noted."
b) An article that assesses the World Health Organization report to which I alluded, and in which the following assertions are found, showing only slight variation from the above assessments:

"Some 10.5 million children in poor nations die every year before they turn five, 70 percent from infectious diseases. Leading child killers in 2002 included respiratory infections, which caused 1.9 million deaths. Diarrhea killed 1.6 million and malaria 1.1 million.
"Around 9.5 million of the deaths easily could be prevented, said WHO expert Dr. Robert Beaglehole. 'We can make a difference, right now,' with things like oral rehydration treatment for diarrhea and anti-mosquito bed nets to fight malaria, he said."
You will note, with respect to the second piece, the "immediate and direct" influence that Dr. Beaglehole says can be made in eradicating this suffering and death. This emphasis should impress you since the categories of immediacy and directness are precisely what animate your fight against abortion and because you have tried to diminish these categories with respect to Bush's responsibility in world health issues.

To conclude, you can continue, at this point, to try to cast doubt on my figures, or on the sources which I have used to substantiate them, but that would only expose a willing ideological blindness on your part because, whatever the nature of the facts or precise numbers of these claims (which nonetheless I feel I have convincingly substantiated), you will have refused once again to address my line of questioning and instead opted for nit-picking and resentful, baseless attempts at discrediting the assertions that support that line of questioning.

Thanks for reading. I look forward to your response.