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Civil Rights: Unfit To Be America’s Doctor

The United States needs a surgeon general guided by sound scientific principles, not ideology.

JUNE 7, 2007 by Faiz Shakir, Nico Pitney, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, and Matt Corley
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CIVIL RIGHTS

Unfit To Be America’s Doctor

The Surgeon General of the United States is supposed to be “America’s chief health educator.” On May 24, President Bush nominated Dr. James W. Holsinger, Jr. to serve as the next Surgeon General, promising that he will provide “the best scientific information available on how Americans can make smart choices that improve their health and reduce their risk of illness and injury.” But unfortunately, it is unlikely that Holsinger will give the American public sound “scientific” advice. Holsinger has a long history of prejudice toward gays and lesbians, once writing that homosexual behavior is “intuitively” unnatural. Moreover, he believes that sexual orientation is an issue of “lifestyle,” a position that nearly every major medical association has denounced. The United States needs a Surgeon General guided by sound scientific principles, not ideology.

HOLSINGER BELIEVES HOMOSEXUALITY IS ‘INTUITIVELY’ UNNATURAL: Since 2000, Holsinger has been a member of the United Methodist Judicial Council, the church’s highest “court” that rules on “disputes involving church doctrine and policies in the nation’s second-largest Protestant denomination.” He has been that body’s president since 2004. During his tenure, Holsinger has “opposed a decision to allow a practicing lesbian to be an associate pastor, and he supported a pastor who would not permit an openly gay man to join the church.” In 1991, Holsinger wrote a document titled “Pathophysiology of Male Homosexuality” for the United Methodist Church’s Committee to Study Homosexuality. The graphic document concludes that such relationships are “intuitively” unnatural. “In fact, the logical complementarity of the human sexes has been so recognized in our culture that it has entered our vocabulary in the form of naming various pipe fittings either the male fitting or the female fitting depending upon which one interlocks within the other,” wrote Holsinger. Holsinger resigned from the committee in the early 1990s, when the church decided that gays are of “sacred worth” and should be welcomed. Holsinger was worried that the committee “would follow liberal lines” and warned “that acceptance of homosexuality would drive away millions of churchgoers.” [Arkansas Democrat Gazette, 5/26/07; Time magazine, 6/24/91]

HOLSINGER VIEWS HOMOSEXUALITY AS A ‘LIFESTYLE’ CHOICE: Holsinger and his wife also helped found the Hope Springs Community Church, which “ministers to people who no longer wish to be gay or lesbian.” Holsinger and his church take the scientifically-rejected position that sexual orientation is a “lifestyle” choice. “We see that as an issue not of orientation but of lifestyle,” said Rev. David Calhoun, the pastor at Hope Springs. “We have people who seek to walk out of that lifestyle.” But Holsinger’s treatment has been denounced by nearly every major medical association. The administration is already making excuses for Holsinger’s 1991 paper and his views on homosexuality. “It should be noted that in 1991, homosexuals were banned from the military and several years before that, homosexuality and Haitian nationality were considered risk factors for HIV/AIDS,” said Health and Human Services spokeswoman Holly Babin. “Over the last 20 years, a clearer understanding of these issues has been achieved.” But gays are still banned from serving openly in the military and are still disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS. Additionally, in 1990, the American Psychological Association already recognized “that scientific evidence does not show that conversion therapy works and that it can do more harm than good.” The American Psychiatric Association’s position is also that there “is no published scientific evidence supporting the efficacy of ‘reparative therapy’ as a treatment to change one’s sexual orientation.” Rev. Troy Plummer, Executive Director of Reconciling Ministries Network of United Methodists, called the reparative therapy promoted by Holsinger “nothing short of torture of gay and lesbian people.”

HOLSINGER IS UNFIT TO MAKE MEDICAL DECISIONS FOR AMERICANS: The Surgeon General is often called “Ameria’s doctor.” While the role is “primarily an educational one, it comes with public relations clout that can influence public policy.” For example, C. Everett Koop, who served as Surgeon General from 1982 to 1989, used the position to increase awareness of HIV/AIDS and the importance of condoms and sexual education. The need for such awareness and solid scientific direction from the Surgeon General is still essential, but as National Gay and Lesbian Task force Director Matt Foreman notes, Holsinger’s “record shows that his own biases will not allow him to look objectively at scientific information.” The Surgeon General has responsibility for a broad range of public health issues. His authority may be undermined by his discredited view of homosexuality. Being gay is not about what you do; it is about who you are. As every modern Surgeon General has understood, whether you are gay or straight, if you engage in risky sexual behaviors you have a responsibility to take appropriate precautions. The real danger of Holsinger’s mindset is that he doesn’t understand that such precautions are both necessary and efficacious.

ANOTHER BUSH LOYALIST?: As Dr. Robert Garofalo, president of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Taskforce noted, “The Senate should take a hard look to make sure he isn’t another in a long line of ideologically driven Bush administration nominees.” Bush has consistently appointed conservative loyalists who push aside science to promote a partisan agenda. In 2006, Bush appointed Eric Keroack to be the new chief of family-planning programs at the Department of Health and Human Services. Previously, Keroack had “worked at a Christian pregnancy-counseling organization that regards the distribution of contraceptives as ‘demeaning to women.'” Similarly, former U.S. AID director Randall Tobias, who recently stepped down after admitting that he frequented a Washington escort service, oversaw a controversial policy advocated by the religious right that required any U.S.-based group receiving anti-AIDS funds to take an anti-prostitution “loyalty oath.”

UNDER THE RADAR

MILITARY — WAR CZAR CRITICAL OF IRAQ ESCALATION TO FACE CONFIRMATION HEARING TODAY: After an extensive search, President Bush announced last month he would appoint Gen. Douglas Lute to the position of deputy national security adviser, more commonly known as “war czar,” the chief overseer of U.S. strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan. Lute’s appointment was notable because of his long-standing criticism of the escalation and his advocacy for troop withdrawal. In Jan. 2006, Lute recommended withdrawal because “you have to undercut the perception of occupation in Iraq” in order to avoid “the dependency syndrome.” Today, Lute will testify in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee for his confirmation hearing. In written questions provided to senators, Lute confirmed yesterday that he was indeed skeptical of the escalation. “During the review, I registered concerns that a military ‘surge’ would likely have only temporary and localized effects unless it were accompanied by counterpart ‘surges’ by the Iraqi government and the other, nonmilitary agencies of the U.S. government,” Lute stated. But senators are curious as to how a general opposed to the escalation would implement Bush’s escalation strategy and how frank he would be with the President. “Lute’s past comments on the war have been ‘superficial,'” Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) said. “I think there’s a lot of questions that need to be answered as far as what his role is,” Levin added. “You have to ask, what is his base of authority?” said Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI). Some senators supportive of the escalation policy see Lute as a ready supporter of Bush. “I would say he’s totally supportive of what we’re doing now,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT). Watch the hearing HERE.

ETHICS — CHENEY BLOCKED PROMOTION OF JUSTICE OFFICIAL WHO QUESTIONED LEGALITY OF WIRETAPPING PROGRAM: On May 15, former Deputy Attorney General James Comey testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about his knowledge of the U.S. attorney scandal. During the testimony, Comey revealed a “shocking” account of a 2004 incident, in which then-White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card and then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales made a midnight visit to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft’s hospital bed, They went in order to get Ashcroft to sign off on the reauthorization of a NSA surveillance program, “after Comey and other Justice Department officials had said they would not certify the legality of the effort.” After Ashcroft refused to sign off on the program, the White House re-certified it without the department’s endorsement, which caused Comey, Ashcroft, FBI Director Robert Mueller, and other department officials to threaten to resign. Facing mass resignations, Bush reneged and altered the program to their approval. In written responses to questions from Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) released last night, Comey revealed that Vice President Cheney personally stepped in to prevent the promotion of Patrick Philbin, one of the Department officials who threatened to resign. “I understood that someone at the White House communicated to Attorney General Gonzales that the vice president would oppose the appointment if the attorney general pursued the matter,” Comey wrote. “The attorney general chose not to pursue it.” Philbin was also “one of two Justice Department officials who led a review of the classified program and provided some of the research that led Comey to refuse to endorse it.” On the night before the midnight hospital visit, Cheney had told Justice Department officials that he disagreed with their objections to the secret surveillance program.

ADMINISTRATION — CONSERVATIVES CONTINUE CALLS FOR LIBBY PARDON: Despite being convicted of obstructing justice, lying to federal investigators, and perjury — with what the presiding federal judge called “overwhelming” evidence — many prominent conservatives continue to suggest that Libby has been “unfairly railroaded,” that “no underlying crime was committed” and that President Bush has no choice but to pardon Libby of his crimes. Former Bush speech writer and current fellow at the American Enterprise Institute David Frum explained, “A lot of people in the conservative world are weighted down by the sheer, glaring unfairness here,” and added, “I don’t understand it.” Former Sen. Fred Thompson — who as the Los Angeles Times noted “plays a tough district attorney on ‘Law & Order'” — referred to Libby’s crimes as “some inconsistent statements that he made, allegedly” and said that “if he were president, he would pardon Libby.” Former Justice Department official Victoria Toensing derided special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald as “over-zealous,” called his prosecution of Libby an abuse of power and complained that Fitzgerald’s investigation had “no adult supervision.” Mel Sembler, who leads Libby’s defense fund asserted that there was only “one answer” to Libby’s guilt, saying Bush “has to step up and pardon him.” But such a pardon would, as one anonymous “former [Bush Administration] official” told the New York Times, “show a deep disregard for the rule of law.” Indeed, the “guidelines for pardon and clemency” provided by the Department of Justice explain that “a convict should generally have to wait five years after conviction or release from confinement before being pardoned.” Further, those seeking pardons are “generally expected to accept responsibility for their criminal conduct, and should be seeking forgiveness rather than vindication.” As of yet, the anonymous “former official” notes, “there has been no remorse shown,” and “no time has been served.”

THINK FAST

“Sen. Ted Stevens, the longest-serving Republican in the Senate, disclosed in an interview that the FBI asked him to preserve records as part of a widening investigation into Alaskan political corruption that has touched his son and ensnared one of his closest political confidants and financial backers.”

“Los Angeles residents were urged on Wednesday to take shorter showers, reduce lawn sprinklers and stop throwing trash in toilets in a bid to cut water usage by 10 percent” in the driest year “since rainfall records began 130 years ago.”

“Federal prosecutors are investigating the Kuwaiti company building the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, probing allegations that foreign employees were brought to work on the massive project against their will and prevented from leaving the country.” Former employees say they were told “they were being sent to Dubai, only to wind up in Iraq instead.”

“In what many view as a near deal-killer” to the immigration reform bill, the Senate voted last night to pass a controversial amendment to sunset guest-worker provisions in the measure. The deal is reportedly “on life support heading into today’s expected vote to close off debate.” 

Kenneth Krieg, the Pentagon’s acquisition chief, resigned Wednesday, “the latest in a recent string of high-level departures from the department.”

“Six human rights groups on Wednesday released a list of 39 people they believe have been secretly imprisoned by the United States and whose whereabouts are unknown, calling on the Bush administration to abandon such detentions.”

“Justice Department investigators looking into former Rep. Jim Kolbe’s (R-AZ) relationships with House pages found no wrongdoing and have closed their inquiry, Mr. Kolbe says.”

Global warming is “threatening cultural landmarks from Canada to Antarctica, the World Monuments Fund said Wednesday.” New Orleans’s historic neighborhoods, “the Church of the Holy Nativity under Palestinian control in Bethlehem, cultural heritage sites in Iraq and Machu Picchu Historic Sanctuary in Peru are among the top 100 most endangered sites.

And finally: Pols kicking Paris while she’s down. While arguing with a witness about soldier protection at a House Armed Services Committee hearing yesterday, Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-HI), buoyed his point with a harsh reference to the recently jailed celebrity heiress. “It is not an issue of contending with networks, who when they finish their discussion of the active protection system or the body armor, went on to their ads for…whether or not some celebrity slut was going to jail.”

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GOOD NEWS

Amnesty International will use satellite cameras to monitor Darfur and put the Sudanese government on notice that these and other areas in the region are being watched around the clock.

STATE WATCH

NEW YORK: Citizens elect the state’s first bisexual legislator.

OREGON
: “Two bills to boost voter registration among young people have cleared the Oregon Legislature.”

LOUISIANA: Much-needed public housing projects reopen in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans.

CONNECTICUT: Days after New Haven approved new ID cards to assist undocumented immigrants, federal agents arrested “at least a dozen” immigrants yesterday.

BLOG WATCH

THINK PROGRESS: U.S. Iraq Ambassador Ryan Crocker: “I don’t see an end game in sight.”

CLIMATE PROGRESS: NASA administrator Michael Griffin blames NPR for his remarks saying global warming isn’t a “problem.”

WAR ROOM: MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson thinks the Plame controversy is “bullsh*t.”

DAILY KOS: “Found: Karl Rove’s playbook for” politicizing the non-political parts of the federal government.

DAILY GRILL

“I’ve told the American people I’d like to get our troops out as soon as possible.”
— President Bush, 6/9/06

VERSUS

“I don’t see an end game, as it were, in sight.”
— U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, 6/6/07