Gene C. Gerard's Journal
Two labor organizations have sued the Bush administration for failing to protect nearly 20 million workers from job injuries. In 1999 the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) proposed a rule requiring employers to pay for protective clothing, face shields, and other equipment used by workers. But before the proposal became a standard Mr. Bush was elected to office. Since then, the Department of Labor has neglected to enact the standard and has consistently failed to ensure the safety of America’s working men and women.
The personal protective equipment (PPE) rule would require employers to pay for safety items that protect workers from job hazards. Many workers in the nation’s most dangerous industries, including meatpacking, poultry, and construction, who have high rates of injury, are forced by their employers to pay for their own safety gear because of the failure of OSHA to implement the PPE rule. According to OSHA’s own figures, 400,000 workers have been injured and 50 have died owing to the lack of the PPE rule.
Under the Clinton administration, OSHA maintained that employers are in a better position than workers to select and pay for the equipment best suited to protect them from injury. Poultry workers wear specialized wire mesh gloves to protect their hands and arms from cuts. Construction workers wear hard hats and shoes made of sturdy materials to protect them from falling objects. Consequently, in 1994, OSHA maintained that the PPE rule was intended to require employers to provide and pay for personal protective equipment that enabled workers to perform their job safely.
In fact, James W. Stanley, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor under President Clinton, asserted in 1994 that “failure of the employers to pay for PPE that is not personal and not used away from the job is a violation and shall be cited.” But in April 2001, only four months into the Bush administration, OSHA discontinued listing a target date for formalizing the PPE rule into a standard. And it listed the rule on its regulatory agenda as simply “undetermined.” OSHA later announced that the rule would be implemented by March 2005, but that never happened.
That’s why the AFL-CIO and United Food and Commercial Workers sued the Department of Labor earlier this month. The lawsuit asks the federal courts to compel the Secretary of Labor to make the PPE rule an OSHA standard. It’s a sad turn of events when a government agency created to protect the health and welfare of the nation’s workers must be forced to do so. But the Bush administration has done little to help America’s working men and women since taking office.
In its first term the Bush administration withdrew dozens of safety and health rules from OSHA’s regulatory agenda. These rules dealt with indoor air quality, safety and health education programs, and dangerous industrial equipment. And in six years OSHA has only issued one major safety standard. In 2006, after being sued by a group of steelworkers, OSHA issued a standard regarding the potentially deadly chemical hexavalent chromium. But the standard was so weak that even OSHA admitted that it leaves workers at a significant risk of developing cancer.
Since 2001 OSHA’s budget has been cut by $14.5 million. Job safety programs have repeatedly been slashed. President Bush has consistently cut annual funding for safety training and education programs, and his fiscal year 2007 budget completely eliminated this funding. Not surprisingly, workplace fatalities and injuries have been on the rise. In 2004, the last year for which figures are available, there were 5,703 workplace deaths due to injuries. This was the first increase in the national workplace fatality rate in a decade.
Given the previous position by OSHA to require employers to pay for personal protective equipment, there’s no justifiable reason that the Bush administration should not have formalized this rule by now. OSHA was created by Congress to protect the health and safety of America’s working men and women. It’s unfortunate that workers now have to rely on litigation to ensure their basic safety. The federal courts should move quickly to hear this lawsuit and force the government to protect the nation’s workforce.
Gene C. Gerard has taught history, religion, and ethics for 14 years at several colleges in the Southwest and is a contributing author to the book “Home Front Heroes: Americans during Wartime,” by Greenwood Press. He writes a political blog for the world news website OrbStandard at http://orbstandard.com/GGerard .
The White House announced last week that President Bush issued pardons to 16 individuals. Their offenses included bank fraud, conspiracy to defraud the government, possession of marijuana and cocaine, and mail fraud. During his first term, Mr. Bush issued a mere 31 pardons and commutations. To date he’s issued 113 pardons and three commutations. That’s less than any two-term president in the modern era. In fact, you have to go back to George Washington to find a president who served two-terms and made fewer acts of clemency.
The president’s power to grant pardons was clearly enshrined in the United States Constitution, Article II, Section 2: “The President…shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.” Although the Framers of the Constitution debated clemency, it was not viewed as a controversial idea. There was some debate over making presidential pardons subject to the consent of the Senate, though this was quickly rejected.
As the Founding Fathers were hammering out the details of the Constitution in Philadelphia, they seem to have essentially agreed that the privilege to exercise mercy, on which the power to issue pardons was founded, could be most easily granted by a single person, rather than a legislative body or even judges. Alexander Hamilton, in Federalist Number 74, wrote “… one man appears to be a more eligible dispenser of the mercy of the government than a body of men.”
Over the years, presidents have issued pardons to and commuted the sentences of a motley band of crooks, criminals, and scoundrels. President George Washington gave amnesty to the instigators of the Whiskey Rebellion, while President Johnson did the same for Confederate rebels. President Harding pardoned fiery Socialist labor leader and convicted felon Eugene V. Debs. President Nixon issued a commutation to organized crime figure Jimmy Hoffa, only to be pardoned himself by President Ford following the Watergate fiasco.
President Carter gave amnesty to the Vietnam War draft resisters, and commuted the sentence of bank robber Patty Hearst. President Reagan issued a pardon to George Steinbrenner of the New York Yankees for illegal campaign contributions he made in the 1960s. President George Bush, Sr. pardoned Iran Contra scandal figure Caspar Weinberger. President Clinton infamously pardoned fugitive financier Mark Rich, whose wife had been a major contributor to the Democratic National Committee.
Franklin D. Roosevelt issued the most pardons and commutations of any president. Over the course of his four terms, he issued 3,687. By contrast, George Washington issued the least, only 16. Two presidents in American history, William Henry Harrison and James Garfield, chose not to use their power to pardon.
President Bush is now notable for issuing so few pardons and commutations. In comparison to his current record of 116, Mr. Clinton issued 456 during his two terms. Mr. Reagan issued 406. Mr. Eisenhower issued 1,157, while Mr. Truman issued 2,044 acts of clemency.
During his time as Governor of Texas, Mr. Bush issued fewer pardons than any other Governor in Texas since the 1940s. He issued only 16, compared to 70 for Ann Richards, his immediate predecessor. When questioned about his low number of pardons in an interview with the Star-Telegram newspaper, then Governor Bush suggested that it had less to do with any particular political philosophy and more to do with his experience with one pardon he issued. He pardoned an individual in 1995 for a marijuana conviction, and a few months later the individual was arrested for cocaine possession.
Today, it’s hard to think of President Bush apart from his political philosophy of “Compassionate Conservatism”. After all, he went out of his way to promote the concept. Given that the Founding Fathers gave the presidency the power to pardon as a means of demonstrating the government’s mercy, you would think that President Bush would make good use of it. While it’s difficult to think of compassion in numerical terms, issuing a paltry 116 pardons and commutations doesn’t seem very compassionate.
Gene C. Gerard has taught history, religion, and ethics for 14 years at a number of colleges in the Southwest and is a contributing author to the forthcoming book Americans at War, by Greenwood Press. He writes a political blog for the progressive world news website OrbStandard at http://www.orbstandard.com/GGerard
Last week President Bush appointed Dr. Eric Keroack to serve as the Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services for Population Affairs. This position is primarily responsible for overseeing the Office of Family Planning, which is charged with providing access to contraceptive information and supplies to low-income individuals. But Dr. Keroack has a long-standing opposition to contraception and abortion. Through this appointment, President Bush will severely limit contraceptive information and choices to many of America’s poorest women.
Dr. Keroack was previously the medical director of “A Woman’s Concern,” a non-profit organization operating crisis-pregnancy centers in Massachusetts. According to its literature, A Woman’s Concern works to encourage “abortion-vulnerable women” to go through with their pregnancies. The organization characterizes contraceptives as “demeaning to women.” Consequently, A Woman’s Concern doesn’t provide information regarding birth control at its clinics, and advocates sexual abstinence until marriage.
It appears as if Dr. Keroack’s chief qualification, in the eyes of President Bush, for his new position is his strong support for abstinence-only sex education. In a presentation at the 2003 International Abstinence Leadership Conference he indicated, “Pre-Marital Sex is really modern germ warfare.” And in 2004, while criticizing the American Medical Association’s support for comprehensive sex education, Dr. Keroack proclaimed, “For the first time, we have found a high quality sexual education that has actually begun to reverse these deadly trends – abstinence education. Why would we want to stop it?”
Since taking office the Bush administration has channeled more than $600 million into abstinence-until-marriage sex education programs. Yet no scientific study to date has demonstrated that curriculums that only promote abstinence actually curtail teenage sex. In 2001 the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development released a monumental study of approximately 100,000 teenagers who had taken an abstinence pledge. The study found that after 18 months most broke the pledge by engaging in sexual intercourse. And since they didn’t plan on doing so, the majority failed to use contraception.
Still, Dr. Keroack has maintained, “Abstinence education is the first mechanism that has actually made a positive impact on the devastation caused by the errant sexual education programs of the 1970s and 1980s.” But there’s simply no evidence to support this. Last year, the Texas Department of Health conducted a review of abstinence-only sex education programs in that state. The review concluded that the programs had “little impact” on teenagers’ behavior. In fact, the review found that girls in the ninth grade were actually five percent more likely to engage in sex after being exposed to an abstinence-only curriculum. And boys in the tenth grade were 15 percent more likely to engage in sex after participating in abstinence-only classes.
The Office of Family Planning is mandated to provide a broad range of acceptable and effective family planning methods and services. Given this responsibility it’s troubling that A Woman’s Concern, the pregnancy centers Dr. Keroack previously supervised, has repeatedly been accused of deceptive practices. The attorney general for Massachusetts has received numerous complaints in the past two years from women who maintained that they were misled by the pregnancy centers. The complaints indicate that women were told by A Woman’s Concern that they perform abortions, but once the women arrived for their appointments they were accosted and told that they were “killing
Dr. Keroack used the clinics to pioneer his technique of showing ultrasound images of fetuses to women to encourage them not to have abortions. He previously compared this technique to car repairs. In a letter written to the Massachusetts legislature in 2001 Dr. Keroack maintained, “Even Midas lets you look at your old muffler before they advise you to change it.” It’s difficult to believe that someone so biased can impartially oversee the federal government’s provision of contraceptive services.
Equally controversial, Dr. Keroack has compared teenage sexual activity to drug use. In 2001 he theorized that engaging in sex prevents teenagers from developing emotional relationships, owing to an overproduction of the hormone oxytocin. According to a paper co-written by Dr. Keroack, “Just as in heroine addiction, the person involved will experience sex withdrawal and will need to move on to a new sex playmate.” But the scientific community rejected his theory, largely because it was not based on research conducted on teenagers, but rather on small rodents found on the Great Plains.
The Office of Family Planning oversees a yearly budget of $288 million and operates a national network of approximately 4,600 clinics, providing reproductive health services to five million persons annually. For more than 30 years these family planning clinics have played an important role in ensuring access to contraceptive services for low-income and uninsured women at no cost or at a reduced cost. Under the direction of Dr. Keroack, the services and information provided by the clinics will substantially decrease. President Bush has demonstrated a calloused disregard for the nation’s poor with this appointment.
Gene C. Gerard writes a political blog for the progressive world news website OrbStandard at http://www.orbstandard.com/GGerard .
Since taking office the Bush administration has successfully lobbied Congress to budget $500 million for marriage education programs. Much of this money is slated to go to religious organizations, despite the fact that the First Amendment mandates separation of church and state. A recent lawsuit filed by Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) against the Department of Health and Human Services aims to force the Bush administration to cease violating the Constitution by funding marriage programs with an overtly religious slant. If successful, this lawsuit would have a profound impact on the ability of the Bush administration to continue funding religious organizations with taxpayer dollars.
The target of the AU lawsuit is the Northwest Marriage Institute, a Washington State organization that provides “Bible-based” marriage education and counseling services. In 2005 the Department of Health and Human Services distributed almost $100,000 to the institute. The organization describes itself as providing “faith-based education in marriage” as well as “faith-based premarital and marriage counseling.” And the organization’s goal is to “promote successful biblical principles for everyday life.” Obviously, this is a Christian organization that espouses a very specific religious viewpoint. All of which begs the question, why does it receive taxpayer dollars?
Only a month after taking office in 2001 President Bush promoted the idea of channeling taxpayer funds to faith-based organizations (FBOs). He even created the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives to oversee the process. In theory, FBOs provide welfare and community services without proselytizing. Under the rules of how they are required to operate, FBOs must hold religious activities at separate times or in separate locations from the community services they provide, and they must be voluntary.
But a report released this summer by the Government Accountability Office, the nonpartisan investigative office of Congress, found that many FBOs are failing to operate according to the requirements. The report noted that FBOs don’t always explain to participants that they have a right not to participate in religious activities. And FBOs “did not separate some religious activities from federally funded program services.” While the White House is supposedly monitoring FBOs for compliance, the report complained that the Bush administration wasn’t obtaining enough information from FBOs to know whether or not they were complying with the requirements.
The federal funding of the Northwest Marriage Institute glaringly indicates just how recklessly the Bush administration has been willing to use taxpayer dollars. The institute doesn’t even attempt to disguise itself as offering marital counseling and education programs that are apart from its religious objectives. To the contrary, they’re one and the same. According to the institute, a majority of the residents of Washington do not attend church; therefore, “the great need was to take biblical marriage education and biblical counseling to the communities.”
The institute is attempting to do this in part by offering something called “temperament therapy,” which consists of “discovering the way God made you.” This reportedly helps couples improve their marriage. The organization offers pre-marital and marriage-counseling programs that contain sessions entitled, “God’s Plan for a Healthy Marriage.” In the programs, couples “discover tools, embedded in God’s Word, that can be used in real life to resolve real life problems.” This may or may not be true. But what is most certainly true is that American taxpayers shouldn’t be promoting it.
The Northwest Marriage Institute is an evangelical Christian organization, and much of its counseling programs appear to be directed at women. According to the institute’s literature, women are encouraged to follow the example of the New Testament and influence their husbands by remaining quiet. Women are instructed to remember, “the Bible says that the husband is the head of the wife.” And the counseling programs advise women that, “the Bible says that the wife should submit to the husband.”
Conservative groups will no doubt accuse Americans United of attacking Christianity by filing this lawsuit. But the lawsuit was actually filed on behalf of 13 residents of Washington. A number of these individuals have identified themselves as Presbyterian, Protestant, Unitarian, and Baptist. These residents obviously aren’t anti-Christian, or even anti-religion. They’re simply pro-Constitution.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution stipulates, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” By funding the Northwest Marriage Institute, and other faith-based organizations, the Bush administration is violating the law. But this should come as no surprise, given the willingness of the administration in the last five years to skirt and ignore the Constitution. If successful, this lawsuit will force the Bush administration to uphold one of our core values, something it’s clearly unwilling to do on its own.
Gene C. Gerard has taught history, religion, and ethics for 14 years at several colleges in the Southwest, and is a contributing author to the forthcoming book “Americans at War,” by Greenwood Press. He writes a political blog for the progressive world news website OrbStandard at http://orbstandard.com/GGerard/
Last month the Bush administration announced that Marine Corps Individual Ready Reservists are being recalled to duty. This is due to a shortage of soldiers who are willing to serve additional tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are similar shortages in the Army and the National Guard. Yet the Armed Forces saw an 11 percent increase last year in the number of soldiers who were discharged simply because they were gay. Perhaps never since the inception of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has there been a more glaring reason to abandon this misguided military policy.
According to newly released Pentagon figures a total of 742 service members were discharged last year for being gay. That’s an increase over the 668 soldiers discharged under the policy in 2004. Since 1993, when the policy was implemented, approximately 11,000 military personnel have been discharged for being gay. There’s little doubt that this has served only to weaken our Armed Forces, and endanger our national security interests.
Last year the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the nonpartisan investigative office of Congress, released a report on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The report found that the military had discharged more than 300 language specialists who “had…skills in a foreign language that DOD had considered to be especially important.” And the GAO report determined that nearly 800 military specialists, including those in intelligence, analysts, divers, and combat controllers were discharged, despite holding “an occupation identified as critical.” While the discharge of all soldiers since 1993 is troublesome, this is particularly the case regarding Arabic language experts.
The report by the 9/11 Commission acknowledged that the government’s inability to translate Arabic communications quickly and efficiently contributed to the terrorist attacks of 2001. Yet no less than 55 Arabic language specialists have been discharged because they were gay. This summer, Army sergeant Bleu Copas, a decorated and well respected Arabic language expert, was discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Discharging Arabic language specialists during a period in which, as the Bush administration frequently remind us, we are engaged in a global war on terrorism, is counterproductive.
It takes years of intensive study to master Arabic languages. Given these demands, it’s not surprising that few service members are willing to commit themselves to learning these languages. For the military to fire 55 of these dedicated specialists is foolish. It places our military personnel serving in Iraq and Afghanistan in greater danger, because they lack sufficient translators. And it’s a threat to our national security, because the various military intelligence agencies lack adequate language specialists to translate Arabic communications.
Many Americans no doubt agree with C. Dixon Osburn, the executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Fund, an organization that advocates on behalf of gay soldiers, when he recently said, “No American cares if the person who thwarts a plot to blow up an airplane is gay. We care that our nation is secure.” In fact, most Americans do agree. A Gallup poll taken earlier this year found that a whopping 79 percent of Americans favor allowing gays to serve openly in the military.
And although Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is unwilling to reconsider the policy, an increasing number of former defense and military officials support reversing the ban. Former Secretary of Defense William Perry, Former Assistant Secretary of Defense Lawrence J. Korb, Admiral John Hutson, USN (Retired), and Claudia Kennedy, the first woman in Army history to achieve the rank of Lieutenant General, have all called for an end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Former Lt. General Kennedy called on Congress this summer to end the ban on gays serving in the military. She argued that, “The Army teaches its soldiers to live by seven values: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and courage. Tell me: which is only found in the heterosexual population?” If a young man or woman wishes to serve his or her country, and defend this nation, they shouldn’t be barred from doing so simply by virtue of their sexual orientation. And we certainly shouldn’t be stopping them at this time in our history.
Our military now needs competent and experienced personnel more than at any time since World War II. According to Pentagon figures, the Army is bracing for a shortage of 2,500 captains and majors this year, and the shortage is expected to grow to 3,300 by 2007. The Department of Defense has attempted to overcome recruitment shortages in the last year by relaxing enlistment requirements concerning age, physical fitness, education, and even criminal history. Clearly, we cannot afford to continue to prevent men and women from serving our nation in the military simply because they are gay.
Gene C. Gerard has taught history, religion, and ethics for 14 years at several colleges in the Southwest, and is a contributing author to the forthcoming book “Americans at War,” by Greenwood Press. He writes a political blog for the progressive world news website OrbStandard at http://orbstandard.com/GGerard .
It’s well known that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld failed to protect the nation’s soldiers during the invasion of Iraq. Numerous news accounts and Congressional reports have established that soldiers in Iraq fought without sufficient body armor, armored vehicles, bullets, and even food. But a multi-million dollar settlement last week between the federal government and American Amicable Life Insurance Company glaringly demonstrates that Secretary Rumsfeld failed to protect soldiers on the home front, too.
American Amicable agreed to pay $70 million to settle federal and state government complaints that it engaged in deceptive sales practices to sell questionable life insurance to thousands of young soldiers. As part of the settlement, the company was banned from selling its products on military bases for five years, which is one the lengthiest suspensions ever imposed in the military market. At issue was the company’s “Horizon Life” insurance product. The product required payment over a period of 20 years, and its value didn’t surpass the total premiums until near the end of the policy, at which point a large number of the policies had lapsed.
Last November the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the nonpartisan investigate office of Congress, released a report detailing how six insurance companies were selling a high-cost insurance policy to thousands of young service members at military bases across the country. The policies combined life insurance with a savings fund that supposedly had high returns, but included clauses that actually reduced the chance that soldiers would ever benefit. As a result, the GAO found that soldiers “were left with little or no savings in exchange for a small amount of expensive insurance coverage.”
What’s really troubling is that the report disclosed that Secretary Rumsfeld’s Defense Department allowed these companies to sell their products on military bases in violation of Pentagon policies. And although many soldiers complained after purchasing the life insurance policies, the Defense Department never informed the Securities and Exchange Commission or state insurance regulators. Young soldiers, no doubt fearing death in Iraq, and not realizing that they received $400,000 in life insurance as part of their military benefits, wanted a life insurance policy to leave behind for their families. The Defense Department aided insurance companies in their efforts to profit from the fear of these newly enlisted service members.
The GAO found that some of the companies selling the insurance policies had been subject to previous disciplinary actions for violations of Defense Department regulations. Yet the Pentagon continued to give these companies access to military bases. Also, the report noted that the Defense Department didn’t inform insurance regulators of the problems, so regulators didn’t know that these dubious policies were being sold. Yet the GAO “found evidence that concerns over inappropriate sales to service members exist widely at various military installations.”
GAO investigators surveyed 175 Defense Department managers who supervise personal financial management offices on military bases. These offices provide soldiers with financial literacy and counseling services. They found that 25 percent of the managers believed that insurance companies were making misleading sales presentations on their bases. In some instances, the companies were pitching insurance policies to captive audiences in military housing or barracks. Yet this was a flagrant violation of Pentagon policy.
The Defense Department is required to protect soldiers from deceptive sales by its directive on commercial solicitation on military bases. Department of Defense Directive 1344.7 places various restrictions on financial corporations who market products on bases. Among other provisions, the directive explicitly prohibits sales from occurring as part of group meetings and requires that sales presentations be made by appointment with individual service members. If a company is found to be in violation of this policy, Defense Department officials can temporarily suspend solicitation privileges, or even ban the companies from operating on a base.
The life insurance companies selling these products were clearly in violation of the directive. Yet Defense Department officials were unwilling to stop them. If fact, rather than disciplining the companies, most were rewarded. Last summer, five of the six companies selling the dubious policies were approved by the Defense Department to begin conducting business on military bases overseas.
In recent years many new recruits to the military have come from financially strapped, if not poor, circumstances. Joining the armed services has been a way to provide for their families and pay their bills. Yet these young and financially inexperienced recruits have been the very soldiers that Mr. Rumsfeld, as the head of the Defense Department, helped unscrupulous insurance companies take advantage of. The nation certainly doesn’t need another reason to ask for Secretary Rumsfeld’s resignation, but it has one.
Gene C. Gerard has taught history, religion, and ethics for 14 years at several colleges in the Southwest, and is a contributing author to the forthcoming book “Americans at War,” by Greenwood Press. He writes a political blog for the progressive world news website OrbStandard at http://www.orbstandard.com/GGerard .
Unions representing thousands of scientists and other specialists employed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently complained that EPA officials are ignoring science. The unions indicated that agency administrators are allowing numerous toxic substances to be used in agricultural pesticides. This revelation comes on the heels of a survey of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) scientists which found that the agency has become so political that it’s no longer protecting public safety. While all presidential administrations, by their very nature, are political, it’s increasingly clear that the Bush administration is using politics to corrupt science.
Nine unions comprised of 9,000 EPA scientists maintained that multiple agricultural pesticides are dangerous for pregnant women, children, and the elderly. In a letter to EPA administrator Stephen L. Johnson, union leaders indicated that agency officials seem to believe that “the concerns of agriculture and the pesticide industry come before our responsibility to protect the health of our nation’s citizens.” An EPA scientist warned that the agency often ignores scientific studies that disagree with industry-funded studies. This isn’t surprising, given that the EPA’s own inspector general acknowledged earlier this year that the agency had failed to protect children from pesticide exposure.
Late last month the Union of Concerned Scientists released the disturbing results of its survey of FDA scientists. The survey was sent to almost 6,000 FDA scientists, of whom about one-fifth responded. The responses revealed that 20 percent had been asked explicitly by FDA administrators to provide incomplete, inaccurate or misleading information to the public. And 60 percent of the scientists reported that commercial interests have inappropriately induced or attempted to induce the reversal, withdrawal or modification of FDA actions.
Almost 20 percent of FDA scientists in the survey indicated that they had been asked, for non-scientific reasons, to inappropriately exclude or alter technical information or conclusions in a scientific document. There was ample evidence of this in 2004 when the FDA prevented an agency scientist from publicly criticizing antidepressants. In February of that year agency officials prevented Dr. Andrew Mosholder from testifying at a public hearing on the increased risk of suicide among children who take antidepressants. Dr. Mosholder conducted an FDA review of 22 studies on children and antidepressant medication.
He concluded that these children were twice as likely to become suicidal. After being slated to present his findings at a public hearing, FDA officials removed him from the agenda. In the fall of 2004 a Congressional committee discovered that agency administrators forced Dr. Mosholder to delete data regarding the risks of antidepressants from documents he submitted to Congress. Essentially, FDA officials put the health and safety of America’s children at risk by promoting the interests of the pharmaceutical industry. But that shouldn’t be shocking, given that drug makers spent $158 million in 2004 to lobby the Bush administration, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Almost half of the FDA scientists in the survey indicated that the agency isn’t effectively protecting public health. The FDA’s involvement in the now discredited drug Vioxx is glaring proof of this. Dr. David Graham, the associate director of the FDA Office of Drug Safety, complained in 2004 that officials attempted to suppress the results of his study on Vioxx. He found that as many as 139,000 people had suffered heart attacks or strokes and approximately 55,000 people died as a result of taking the drug.
Ironically, late in 2004 the manufacturer of Vioxx, Merck, removed the drug from the marketplace after clinical studies demonstrated an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. According to Dr. Graham, the FDA is “virtually incapable of protecting America.” Merck made almost half a million dollars in political contributions in 2004, with 70 percent going into Republican coffers. It seems likely that the FDA’s actions toward Vioxx were attributable to politics.
More than half of the agency’s scientists who participated in the survey reported that the FDA doesn’t routinely provide complete and accurate information to the public. The agency was certainly guilty of this concerning its involvement with the drug Ketek. In 2001 an FDA panel recommended its approval to treat pneumonia, although the panel had concerns about potential liver damage. Consequently, the drug’s manufacturer, Sanofi-Aventis, agreed to conduct a study of the drug’s effect on the liver. It was later discovered that the study was fraudulent.
However, FDA officials continued to cite the study as proof that Ketek was safe, and in 2004 the drug was approved. Earlier this year the agency’s Office of Drug Safety found 110 cases of liver problems related to Ketek, including cases of liver failure and death, and recommended that it be withdrawn from the market. And agency scientists estimated that the drug caused liver failure at approximately four times the rate of other antibiotics. Despite all these warnings, FDA administrators approved of clinical trials using the drug on children as young as six months old.
The complaints of scientists at both the EPA and the FDA are serious and troubling. And there seems to be little doubt that their accusations are valid. The Bush administration is consistently placing political and industry interests ahead of sound science. As a result, the health, safety and welfare of the nation are being compromised.
Gene C. Gerard has taught history, religion, and ethics for 14 years at several colleges in the Southwest and is a contributing author to the forthcoming book “Americans at War,” by Greenwood Press. He writes a political blog for the progresive world news website OrbStandard at http://www.orbstandard.com/GGerard .
The New York Times reported this week that the Bush administration is eliminating almost half of the lawyers at the Internal Revenue Service who audit the tax returns of the wealthiest Americans. These lawyers specialize in auditing the returns of those who are subject to gift and estate taxes. Since taking office in 2001 President Bush has consistently lobbied Congress to repeal the estate tax, but he hasn’t been able to get Congress to go along with him. Instead, the Bush administration has now decided to force the IRS to backpedal and circumvent the tax laws.
The IRS will cut 157 of the agency’s 345 estate tax lawyers and 17 of the support staff personnel assigned to them. Six of the IRS lawyers who are likely to be laid off acknowledged that the cuts were simply the latest moves behind the scenes at the IRS to protect people with political connections and complex tax-avoidance schemes from detailed audits. Kevin Brown, an IRS deputy commissioner, says the agency is auditing enough returns to catch cheaters. But during the Clinton administration, the IRS stated that cheating by affluent Americans was one of its biggest problems.
In April 2000 the IRS released the results of a study on gift tax evasion. When an individual gives gifts exceeding $675,000 in their lifetime, a tax must be paid on each additional gift worth more than $10,000 per person per year. The study determined that more than 80 percent of the 1999 gift tax returns in excess of $1 million that were audited reported an inaccurate value of the gift. On average, the gifts were undervalued by $303,000, depriving the treasury of an additional $167,000. This evasion cost the government $275 million in 1999.
The study also found that IRS lawyers, owing to staffing shortages, only spent about 31 minutes auditing each gift tax return, which typically consisted of dozens of pages. John Dalrymple, then director of IRS operations, admitted that the agency lacked the resources to identify those who were falsifying the value of their gifts, or failing to file their returns. Consequently, the IRS announced that it was hiring three additional lawyers to audit gift tax returns. Yet now the IRS says it has too many of these lawyers.
While auditing fewer gift tax returns will certainly help those of Mr. Bush’s affluent ilk, auditing fewer fraudulent estate tax returns will be the real bonus from the IRS layoffs. Currently, only couples with an estate valued at more than $4 million are subject to the estate tax, and the first $4 million they pass on to their heirs is completely tax-free. Mr. Bush has lobbied Congress for the last four years to spare the 0.5 percent of Americans who are subject to the tax by repealing it. But since the Republican-led Congress, surprisingly enough, hasn’t been willing to go along with him, the administration will now simply layoff estate tax lawyers. After all, Deputy IRS Commissioner Brown says additional audits aren’t worthwhile.
But the agency had a very different opinion under President Clinton. In December 2000 the IRS announced that a study found that cheating on estate taxes was more common than cheating on individual income taxes. And the biggest cheaters were the very rich, those who left $20 million or more to their heirs. The study determined that the actual value of the taxable estates audited was on average 13 percent higher than what was reported on tax returns. Consequently, the government was being shorted $1.5 billion in taxes annually.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt is almost certainly pleased that there will soon be fewer IRS estate lawyers. He recently admitted that his family has received millions of dollars in tax deductions through a so-called charitable organization it founded. Mr. Leavitt’s parents created the charity, worth $8 million, in 2000. But in 2002 and 2003 the charity donated only $100,000, a mere one percent of its total value. Yet Secretary Leavitt has claimed $1.2 million in tax deductions from the charity. And the charity loaned more than $300,000 to the family’s own real estate investment firm, which gave an interest-free loan to Secretary Leavitt in 2002 worth at least $250,000.
Since President Bush has failed to coerce Congress to abolish the estate tax, his administration is doing the next best thing. It’s forcing the IRS to layoff the very lawyers responsible for catching affluent Americans who cheat. But according to the IRS’ own studies six years ago, this is a widespread problem. Perhaps never before in American history have we had a government so completely of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich.
Gene C. Gerard has taught history, religion, and ethics for 14 years at several colleges in the Southwest and is a contributing author to the forthcoming book “Americans at War,” by Greenwood Press. He writes a political blog for the progressive world news website OrbStandard at http://orbstandard.com/GGerard /
Two recent studies have shown that prescription drug prices rose significantly during the first quarter of the year. AARP, an advocacy organization for older Americans, found that the prices charged by pharmaceutical companies for brand-name drugs increased by almost four percent. A similar study by Families USA, a healthcare advocacy group, found a nearly identical increase. Given the vast sums that the pharmaceutical industry has spent lobbying against price controls, the dramatic increase in the cost of drugs isn’t surprising.
The AARP study determined that brand name drug prices increased at more than four times the rate of inflation during the first three months of this year. This was the largest quarterly price hike in six years. Older Americans take an average of four prescription drugs a month; this increase means that the cost of these prescriptions rose by almost $240 between the first quarter of 2005 and the first quarter of 2006. The study by Families USA confirmed the AARP’s findings.
It’s no coincidence that there was a surge in drug prices earlier this year. The pharmaceutical industry purposefully raised the prices shortly before the new Medicare part D drug program, which provides prescription drug benefits to seniors, took effect. When the Bush administration lobbied the Republican-controlled Congress to pass the Medicare Prescription Drug Improvement and Modernization Act, it ensured that the act contained a provision barring Medicare from negotiating price discounts with pharmaceutical companies. This was a huge windfall for the drug companies. A Boston University study found that 61 percent of Medicare funding spent on prescription drugs becomes profit for the pharmaceutical companies.
The pharmaceutical industry has spent vast amounts of money to ensure that drug prices remain high, according to a recent analysis by The Center for Public Integrity. The center found that in 2003 and 2004 prescription drug companies and their trade organization, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), spent more than $44 million lobbying against measures in numerous states to regulate drug prices. And the industry donated more than $8 million to politicians in various states. State governments are some of the pharmaceutical industry’s largest customers; they purchase 16 percent of all prescription drugs in America.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 33 states have attempted to enact programs aimed at cutting the cost of prescription drugs since 2003. In response to these efforts, PhRMA’s top priority has been to “advocate against any attempts to impose price controls.” And PhRMA has enjoyed considerable success. Massachusetts State Senator Mark Montigny was the 2005 chairman of the National Legislative Association on Prescription Drug Prices, a consortium of legislators from many states that champions price restrictions. According to Mr. Montigny, “We are being squashed by the pharmaceutical industry money. They have killed lots and lots of legislation across the country.”
The success of the pharmaceutical industry in subverting price controls has allowed drug companies to dramatically increase prices. Earlier this year Ovation Pharmaceuticals bought the right to manufacture and market the cancer drug Mustargen from Merck. In less than a month the cost of a two-week prescription of Mustargen jumped from $77.50 to $548.01. And when Ovation bought the rights to Panhematin, a drug used to treat a rare enzymatic disease, it raised the price from $230 a dose to $1,900.
Similarly, Genentech recently announced plans to raise the price of its colon cancer drug Avastin. The drug currently costs about $50,000 per year for treatment. It has shown some promise in treating other forms of cancer, so its use is expected to increase significantly. Consequently, Genentech indicated that the drug will cost $100,000 per year when used by patients with breast and lung cancer. Last year, Genentech raised the price of Tarceva, a lung cancer drug, by almost 30 percent, to $32,000 for a year’s treatment.
Although the Food and Drug Administration oversees the drug industry, it doesn’t have the authority to regulate drug prices. But there’s ample evidence that the federal government can successfully control drug prices when it wants to. Although Medicare is forbidden from negotiating prices with drug companies, the Department of Veterans Affairs is required to negotiate the best prices possible. Consequently, the VA is paying 46 percent less for many popular brand-name drugs than the average prices available under the Medicare plans for the same drugs.
If the Democrats are looking for a moral values issue to campaign on in the fall elections, they need look no further. We need a Congress and a president who are willing to take on the pharmaceutical industry, and authorize the FDA to regulate drug prices on behalf of the American public. If we fail to do so, the nation’s health will continue to suffer. And access to prescription drugs will increasingly be a luxury only for the affluent.
Gene C. Gerard has taught history, religion, and ethics for 14 years at various colleges in the Southwest, and is a contributing author to the forthcoming book “Americans at War,” by Greenwood Press. He writes a political blog for the world news website OrbStandard at http://www.orbstandard.com/GGerard .
In the wake of the Senate’s failure to approve a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, conservatives are now coalescing around what amounts to their runner-up option. Various conservative and evangelical Christian organizations are now championing the “We the People Act.” The act would prohibit the Supreme Court and all other federal courts from ruling on the constitutionality of state laws, especially those concerning sexual orientation. If passed by Congress, this act would severely limit some of the most basic legal principles of the Constitution.
The act was introduced in the House of Representatives in November of last year. But it remained dormant while conservatives waited to see how the amendment banning gay marriage played out. With its rejection last month, the act’s principal sponsor in the House, Republican Congressman Ron Paul of Texas, has now resurrected House bill 4379, known as the We the People Act. According to Representative Paul, the act is needed because, “The only way to resolve controversial social issues like abortion and school prayer is to restore respect for state and local governments to adopt policies that reflect the beliefs of the citizens of those jurisdictions.”
Congressman Paul shares the delusional belief of many conservatives that federal judges are undermining democracy by imposing their preferences on state and local governments, especially regarding issues of sexual orientation. In an effort to counter this presumed threat, the We the People Act declares that, “The Supreme Court of the United States and each Federal court shall not adjudicate any claim…related to any issue of sexual practices, orientation or reproduction.” This would essentially allow state legislatures to have immunity from the Constitution when they pass laws regarding sexual orientation. And for all practical purposes, gays and lesbians would loose their constitutional rights.
Evangelicals believe this act is needed to prevent the federal courts from continuing to strike down state laws discriminating against gays and lesbians. They point to the 2003 case of Lawrence v. Texas as a prime example of activist federal judges who are imposing liberal jurisprudence on state laws. Lawrence v. Texas dealt with two adult men who were arrested for having consensual sex in the privacy of their home. Both men were convicted of violating Texas’ sodomy laws. But in 2003, in a six to three ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that sodomy laws affecting consensual adults were unconstitutional.
The chief proponent of the We the People Act is the Traditional Values Coalition (TVC.) Founded in 1980 by Reverend Louis P. Sheldon, TVC claims to represent the views of more than 43,000 churches. The executive director of the coalition, Andrea Lafferty, worked in both the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. According to TVC, its mission is “to defend what is morally right.” As such, it’s asking churches to force Congress to vote on the We the People Act. A press release by TVC claims that the act is needed because, “Federal judges have shown themselves to be irresponsible, out-of-control, and politically-motivated in their decisions dealing with marriage, religion, and sexual orientation.”
TVC has a long history of homophobia. A book written by Reverend Shelton entitled The Agenda amounts to a laundry list of old urban myths surrounding homosexuality. The book claims that homosexual activists are attempting to recruit children, undermine traditional marriage, and criminalize any public criticism of homosexual conduct. And it warns that, “The homosexual agenda is an attack on everything our Founding Fathers hoped to give us.”
While it’s troubling that the We the People Act would usurp the constitutional rights of gays and lesbians, the act is actually far more dangerous. It stipulates that the federal courts may not issue any ruling that “interferes” with state legislatures or courts. In effect, the federal courts would be prohibited from ruling on state laws and legal decisions made by state courts. A state’s supreme court would have complete and total legal authority, without regard to the federal courts.
While evangelicals view this as an answer to their prayers (literally), the act would end all constitutional oversight by the federal judiciary. But many of the significant legal achievements since the 1950s, especially regarding civil rights, have been the result of federal courts overturning discriminatory rulings by state courts. The Montgomery bus boycott of 1955 catapulted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks to national prominence, but it didn’t end segregation on the city’s buses. It was the Supreme Court, which ruled that the city’s municipal bus system was unconstitutional, that did so. This act seeks to prevent similar actions, under the guise of morality.
Congressman Paul has indicated that he intends for Congress to vote on the act by the end of summer. Given the upcoming election, it’s likely that conservative Republicans will use this to rally their base. The GOP seems all too willing lately to trample the constitution as a get-out-the-vote maneuver. Perhaps the name of bill should be changed to the “We the (Evangelical) People Act.”
Gene C. Gerard writes a political blog for the world news website OrbStandard.Com at http://orbstandard.com/GGerard /
The Senate is expected to vote within the next two weeks on a constitutional amendment to ban desecrating the flag. Last summer the House of Representatives, in a vote of 286 to 130, passed a resolution that would create a new amendment to the Constitution allowing, “The Congress shall have the power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States.” This was the sixth time since 1990 that the House had approved a flag desecration amendment, only to have the Senate reject it or simply fail to vote on it. But the Senate now appears poised to erode our Constitutional right to free speech and expression by approving it.
Efforts to protect the flag at the expense of the First Amendment have been a common occurrence during wartime. In the Civil War, when Union military commanders took control of Confederate areas they prohibited the desecration of the flag. In 1862 New Orleans became the first Confederate city to be occupied by Union forces. General Benjamin Butler was commander of the Union army for southern Louisiana. He issued an order that no flag other than the national flag could be displayed, and that “the American
William Mumford tested this order when he removed the flag atop the New Orleans branch of the U.S. Mint. He dragged the flag through the streets before tearing it into pieces and handing it out to his fellow Confederates. General Butler had him arrested and subsequently hanged for his act of desecration.
Congress twice violated the First Amendment while attempting to protect the flag during World War I. In 1917 Congress passed a law making it a misdemeanor to publicly desecrate the flag in the nation’s capital. A year later, Congress passed a law requiring the termination of any federal employee who “when the United States is at war…in an abusive or violent manner criticizes…the flag of the United States.” Many state legislatures also passed flag desecration laws.
The Kansas Supreme Court ruled in 1918 that insulting the flag was a crime. Montana passed one of the strictest flag desecration laws during World War I. Over 200 residents of Montana were convicted of disrespecting the flag during the course of the war. E.V. Starr, after refusing to kiss the flag as a sign of his patriotism, was convicted and sentenced to ten years of hard labor.
Congress passed the first flag desecration law during the Vietnam War, in the wake of anti-war demonstrations. In 1968 Congress passed the Federal Flag Desecration Law that criminalized anyone who “knowingly casts contempt upon any flag of the United States by publicly mutilating, defacing, defiling, burning, or trampling upon it.” Shortly thereafter, Sydney Street burned a flag after learning that a prominent civil rights activist had been shot. Street told the crowd who gathered around him as it burned, “…we don’t need no
A year later the Supreme Court overturned his conviction in the case of Street v. New York. The Court didn’t specifically address Street’s burning of the flag. However, it ruled that his verbal comments were protected under the First Amendment right to free speech.
The Supreme Court finally addressed constitutional issues concerning burning the flag in 1989. In the case of Texas v. Johnson, the Court ruled on a Texas law that criminalized the mistreatment of the flag, to include setting it on fire. The Supreme Court upheld a Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruling that the law was unconstitutional. This effectively defined burning the flag as a protected form of free speech.
Congress was offended by this ruling and later that year passed the Flag Protection Act. The legislation made a criminal out of anyone who “knowingly mutilates, defaces, physically defiles, burns, maintains on the floor or ground, or tramples upon any U.S. flag.” The Supreme Court responded to the new law in 1990 in the case of U.S. v. Eichman. In a five to four ruling the Court found that the act violated the First Amendment right to free speech and expression.
The current effort by Congress to pass a flag desecration amendment is largely attributable to the war in Iraq. Supporters, which include such strange bedfellows as Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein and Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, insist that it’s needed in order to show respect to veterans. They hope that the two-thirds majority needed to forward the amendment to the states for ratification will be too fearful to vote against it and run the risk of being labeled “unpatriotic” or “un-American” during an election year. But the Senate should reject it.
The flag represents all that is noble about America. It symbolizes our rights and freedoms, and it should be treated with respect. But it’s merely a symbol. To outlaw the right to free speech and expression, especially regarding desecration of the flag, would be a mockery of the freedoms and liberties our veterans fought for and defended.
In 2001 the Bush administration joined 188 other governments in adopting the United Nations Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS. This committed each government to improving their response to its domestic AIDS epidemic and establishing targets for financing, policy and programming. Last week, in an address before the United Nations commemorating the 25th anniversary of the AIDS epidemic, Secretary General Kofi Annan warned, “The epidemic continues to outpace us. There are more new infections than ever before.” While we expect third world nations to have difficulties coping with the epidemic, a new report suggests that the Bush administration is failing to adequately combat the crisis in America.
The Open Society Institute, a public policy research organization, recently released a comprehensive report on the state of HIV/AIDS in America. It suggests that President Bush has failed to effectively handle this devastating epidemic. Although the Office of National AIDS Policy, located in the White House, is responsible for domestic efforts to reduce new infections, it has a tiny staff and little if any authority. Because the nation lacks a single AIDS authority, the government hasn’t been able to implement a national plan to combat the epidemic.
AIDS funding has been hamstrung under President Bush. The CARE Act, the government’s major AIDS initiative, had its funding cut this year. HIV prevention funding for 2006 at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) was slashed by $12 million. Last year, the administration cut $14 million from the Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS program, which provides housing subsidies for the poor. Dr. Jim Curran, a former CDC director, has warned that the nation’s HIV/AIDS policy is “hampered by insufficient funding.”
Recent estimates seemingly indicate that one in four infected with HIV is unaware of their condition. But this is merely an educated guess, because the Bush administration has never bothered to conduct annual, nationally representative surveys. Consequently, policymakers don’t know the full extent of infection. And the CDC can’t identify pockets of infection where concentrated interventions are necessary.
The administration, in an effort to pander to the religious right, has failed to promote policies to reduce HIV transmission. Billions of taxpayer dollars have been poured into abstinence-until-marriage programs. Yet studies repeatedly show that comprehensive sex education programs help teenagers delay the onset of sexual activity, increase condom usage, and reduce their number of sexual partners. Research has also shown that needle exchange programs help to reduce transmissions. Yet the Bush administration requires states receiving HIV prevention funding to agree not to promote drug use, which is defined to include the exchange programs.
Although the United States is the world’s leader in AIDS treatment, approximately half of those infected with HIV are not receiving regular care. This is partly due to the high cost of health insurance, which many can no longer afford. Although President Bush has been in office for six years, he has yet to deal with the skyrocketing cost of health insurance. Low Medicaid reimbursement rates, which discourage physicians from treating the poor, have also contributed to the lack of treatment. And Medicaid’s eligibility requirements prevent most of those in the early stages of AIDS from receiving treatment, because they don’t meet the definition of “disabled.”
Federal law prohibits discrimination against those with HIV/AIDS, yet the Bush administration has done little to enforce the law. As a result, discrimination is a pervasive problem. A 2003 study demonstrated civil rights violations against people living with HIV/AIDS in employment, medical care, and housing. This has also inhibited access to care and treatment.
In recent years AIDS deaths have declined due to new drug therapies. Yet less than half of those who need drugs are receiving them. The federal government funds AIDS medication for the poor through AIDS Drug Assistance Programs (ADAP). But owing to budget cuts, 26 states that receive ADAP funding announced earlier this year that they were forced to impose waiting lists or take other steps to curtail distribution of the drugs. At least 20 states don’t receive enough ADAP funding to cover all AIDS medications, and 11 can’t cover the only drug approved to inhibit HIV.
While those infected with HIV are far better off in America than many other countries, it’s clear that the Bush administration should be doing much more to defeat AIDS. In a 2005 speech President Bush said, “HIV/AIDS is a daily burden for our families and neighbors and friends.” Mr. Bush has two more years to demonstrate that he truly understands this. But many of those living with AIDS do not.
Late last month a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel unanimously recommended approval of a vaccine for the human papilloma virus (HPV). The vaccine appears to be 100 percent effective at protecting against the most prevalent viruses that cause cervical cancer. While public health professionals view the vaccine as miraculous, many conservative organizations opposed it on the grounds that it might encourage promiscuity among adolescent girls. Now that it appears certain that the FDA will approve the vaccine, conservatives are attempting to discourage its use.
The pharmaceutical giant Merck produced the vaccine known as Gardasil. It will be nothing short of a lifesaver for many women. Cervical cancer is the second most prevalent cancer killer among women in America, striking nearly 14,000 women each year. Of those, nearly 4,000 die annually. Poor women and women of color will benefit the most from the vaccine, as Latino and black women have the highest rates of cervical cancer. Lower-income women typically lack the funds and health insurance necessary to have regular screenings for HPV.
Despite the benefits of the vaccine, conservative organizations began to rally against it last year. One of the most vocal opponents was the Family Research Council. The council “promotes the Judeo-Christian worldview as the basis for a just, free, and stable society.” Last October the council’s president, Tony Perkins, spoke decidedly against the vaccine. Mr. Perkins proclaimed, “Our concern is that this vaccine will be marketed to a segment of the population that should be getting a message about abstinence. It sends the wrong message.” He even stated that he would not vaccinate his 13-year-old daughter.
Another organization that promotes abstinence is the Physicians Consortium. The head of the consortium, Dr. Hal Wallis, was also critical. In his opinion, “If you don’t want to suffer these diseases, you need to abstain, and when you find a partner, stick with that partner.” The founder of the National Abstinence Clearinghouse also opposed the vaccine. This organization was formed “to promote the appreciation for and practice of sexual abstinence (purity) until marriage.” Leslee Unruh, the organization’s founder, stated firmly, “I personally object to vaccinating children against a disease that is 100 percent preventable with proper sexual behavior.”
Now that FDA approval is all but certain, conservative organizations are strategizing to blunt acceptance of the vaccine. Much of this effort is directed toward the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). This committee is a part of the Centers for Disease Control, and is responsible for establishing the classification of vaccines that the government recommends. This recommendation prompts states to require a particular vaccination, typically guarantees that insurance companies will cover it, and determines the level of public funding.
In 2003 President Bush appointed a medical doctor, Reginald Finger, to the ACIP. Until last fall, Dr. Finger was also the medical affairs analyst for Focus on the Family, the nation’s largest and most powerful evangelical Christian organization. In an effort to gain the support of this group, Merck has been forced to aggressively lobby Focus. Merck has admitted to holding numerous meetings with Dr. Finger at Focus’ headquarters. It’s troubling that a vaccine manufacturer has to be concerned with securing the backing of a conservative Christian organization. And Merck will likely have an uphill battle.
Although children are required to have various vaccinations before attending public schools, conservatives are against the ACIP recommending this for the HPV vaccine. The Christian Medical & Dental Associations is an organization that “exists to glorify God by advancing Biblical principles in bioethics and health to the Church and society.” The group’s executive director, Dr. Gene Rudd, has stated, “While accepting HPV vaccine is morally acceptable, it should not be mandatory.”
And the Family Research Council has gone even farther. While testifying before an ACIP conference the council’s spokesman informed the ACIP that, “Because parents have an inherent right to be the primary educator and decision maker regarding their children’s health, we would oppose any measures to legally require vaccination. There is no justification for any vaccination mandate as a condition of public school attendance.” And Focus on the Family issued a formal statement declaring that it “supports widespread (universal) availability of HPV vaccines but opposes mandatory HPV vaccinations for entry to public school.”
But in most instances, parents can’t pick and choose what vaccinations they want their children to receive in order to attend public schools. Children are required to be vaccinated against measles, mumps, chicken pox and various other diseases. Public health experts recommend that the HPV vaccine be administered to children between the ages of 11 and 12, before sexual activity commences. And there’s no scientifically defensible reason that it shouldn’t be universally administered.
Of course, there’s the rub. The only objection to the HPV vaccine is based on religious principle. But religious values and beliefs shouldn’t effect FDA approval or recommendation by the ACIP. From a public health perspective, we can’t continue to allow conservatives to depict science as a cultural bogeyman.
Earlier this month the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) held a conference on sexually transmitted diseases. The conference was slated to include a panel discussion entitled “Are Abstinence-Only Until Marriage Programs a Threat to Public Health?” However, Indiana’s Republican Congressman Mark Souder complained to the Health and Human Services Department about “the controversial nature of this session and its obvious anti-abstinence objective.” Consequently, the title was changed to “Public Health Strategies of Abstinence Programs for Youth,” and advocates of abstinence-only sex education replaced two members of the panel. It’s troubling that a conservative Republican was able to wield so much influence over a federal agency at the expense of science.
A spokesman for Rep. Souder said he was concerned that the panel would promote nothing positive about abstinence-only education. Apparently, that was because one of the panelists was scheduled to address the evidence linking abstinence-only education and rising rates of sexually transmitted diseases. This panelist and another individual were removed from the panel and replaced by Dr. Patricia Sulak and another physician, both of whom are proponents of abstinence-only programs. Although the other panelists went through a peer-review screening process, neither of these individuals did. And while the other panelists had to pay their own way to attend, the CDC used taxpayer dollars to pay for both abstinence proponents.
Dr. Sulak is the director and author of a pseudo sex education program entitled “Worth the Wait.” This program is used in grades six through high school in 31 school districts in Texas. According to a review of the program by the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, Worth the Wait relies on messages of fear, discourages contraception, and attempts to make students feel guilty rather than educating them.
The Worth the Wait program discourages any meaningful discussion of contraception. An entire lesson is entitled “Why Contraceptives are not the Answer for Teens.” Dr. Sulak apparently believes that if contraception is presented as improper, teens will simply choose not to have sex. Yet studies suggest that almost half of all teenagers are sexually active. By refusing to discuss contraception, this program leaves teenagers more likely to engage in sex without contraceptives, making them susceptible to pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
And the program provides misleading information by encouraging students to take so-called virginity pledges. Students are asked to sign a pledge that they will not have sex until marriage. And it advises students, “Research has shown that teenagers who sign abstinence pledges are much less likely to have intercourse.” This has been proven false many times over. Studies have shown that at best, abstinence pledges simply delay the onset of sex. And studies have demonstrated that teenagers who take such pledges are less likely to use contraceptives when they become sexually active.
A 2005 study of abstinence-only sex education programs in Texas, where Worth the Wait is used, found that they had “little impact” on teenagers’ behavior. The study by the Texas Department of Health determined that girls in the ninth-grade were five percent more likely to engage in sex after taking abstinence-only programs. And boys in the tenth grade were 15 percent more likely to engage in sex after participating in abstinence-only classes. The study’s lead researcher concluded, “We didn’t find strong evidence of program effect.”
Ironically, the day before the CDC panel on abstinence-only programs was held, Harvard University released the results of a comprehensive study on abstinence pledges. The National Institute of Child Health and Development conducted the government-sponsored study. Over 14,000 teenagers were interviewed between 1995 and 2001. The study found that 52 percent who took the pledge had sex within one year of doing so.
Conservative Republicans have aggressively funded abstinence-only education programs since President Bush took office. Over 100 such programs have been funded in recent years. Congress allocated $168 million for abstinence programs in last year’s budget. This year, $182 million was funded for abstinence-only education, and $204 million has been allocated for 2007. But it isn’t benefiting our nation’s teenagers.
In 2004 the House of Representative’s Government Reform Committee issued a report on federally funded abstinence-only sex education programs. The report determined that out of the 13 most popular programs, 11 contained “unproved claims
It was inappropriate for Congressman Souder to exert so much influence over a federal agency. And it’s offensive that the Bush administration allowed him to do so. Science should remain free from political persuasion and ideology. The health and welfare of the country’s teenagers depend on abstaining from sex education politics.
The Senate will soon vote on the nomination of Terrence Boyle to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. President Bush nominated Mr. Boyle, who has served as a federal district court judge in North Carolina for the last 20 years, in 2001. But Democrats have blocked his nomination since that time, owing to his poor judicial record. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has recently said that he will force a vote on Judge Boyle, even if it requires triggering the so-called “nuclear option” of abolishing the longstanding tradition of the filibuster. But a new report revealed that Judge Boyle has repeatedly ruled on litigation in which he had a financial interest.
A review of Judge Boyle’s judicial record suggests that he has a racial bias when it comes to Congressional redistricting. In Cromartie v. Hunt, Judge Boyle sided with white voters who alleged that their district had been illegally drawn to create a black majority district. But the Supreme Court unanimously reversed his ruling. In another case, Judge Boyle issued a ruling in favor of white voters in a lawsuit that wasn’t even assigned to his court. An appeals court rejected this ruling.
He also has disdain for protections against sexual and racial discrimination. After North Carolina was found guilty of discriminating against women employed or seeking employment as correctional officers, Judge Boyle refused to consider a settlement agreement on the grounds that North Carolina’s “culture” was different from the rest of the nation. An appeals court ruled that in doing so, Judge Boyle committed an “abuse of discretion.” And in Ellis v. North Carolina, he rejected a lawsuit on the grounds that North Carolina was not subject to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Not surprisingly, both an appeals court and the Supreme Court rejected this position.
Judge Boyle also appears to have contempt for the disabled. In lawsuits in 1998 and again in 2001 he argued that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) gives the disabled “special treatment” instead of merely equal treatment, and is therefore unlawful. He has also argued that Congress did not have the Constitutional authority to approve the ADA, despite rulings to the contrary by the Supreme Court. And an appeals court severely criticized Judge Boyle for insisting that employment for the disabled was not a “major life activity.”
Equally disconcerting is that an appeals court has reversed a high proportion of his rulings. Approximately 12 percent of Judge Boyle’s rulings have been overturned, which is twice as high as any other federal district court judge nominated by President Bush. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has found that his rulings have threatened the “fairness, integrity or public reputation of judicial proceedings.” Perhaps this explains why the American Bar Association gave Judge Boyle its lowest approval rating of any district court judge nominated by President Bush.
Salon.Com is now reporting on an investigation that has uncovered that since his nomination five years ago, Judge Boyle has seemingly violated federal law prohibiting conflicts of interest by ruling on nine cases in which he had a financial stake. The Code of Conduct for U.S. judges specifically prohibits them from serving on cases where they have a financial conflict of interests. And a judge is required to “inform himself about his personal and fiduciary financial interests” in order to avoid financial conflicts of interests under federal law.
In 2001 Judge Boyle gave a written statement to the Senate in which he affirmed, “I will avoid any conflict of interest, potential conflict of interest, or appearance of conflict of interest. I am disqualified from presiding over, or being involved with, any litigation involving any party with whom I might have any financial interests.” Yet at the time he was issuing rulings in favor of Quintiles Transnational, a pharmaceutical services company in which he owned stock. A year later, he ruled in a case involving America Online, despite owning stock in AOL Time Warner, the parent corporation of America Online.
In 2002 he ruled in favor of Midway Airlines, a company in chapter 11 bankruptcy. If the airline had come out of bankruptcy favorably, its stock would have been worth more. Judge Boyle owned stock in the company when he ruled that the North Carolina labor department couldn’t sue Midway in state court for money owed its workers. In 2004 Judge Boyle bought stock in General Electric, despite the fact that he had been presiding over a lawsuit against it since 2002. Two months after purchasing the stock, he ruled that General Electric did not illegally deny disability benefits to a former employee.
Despite all these failings, President Bush is sticking with his nomination. A White House spokesman late last month stated that Judge Boyle has a “distinguished record” and should be confirmed immediately. It’s difficult to understand how his record could conceivably be regarded as distinguished. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist recently stated that Judge Boyle needs to be confirmed because, “We need judges on our courts who are qualified, who demonstrate the highest integrity and will respect the rule of law and the Constitution.” If he truly believes that, Senator Frist should insist that the president rescind Judge Boyle’s nomination.
Gene C. Gerard
I've taught history, religion, and ethics for 14 years at a number of colleges in the Southwest and am a contributing author to the forthcoming book Americans at War by Greenwood Press. I write a political blog for the world news website OrbStandard.
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