Tobias Latest Evidence of Bush Hypocrisy

Jodi Jacobson

The latest sex scandal to rock DC underscores the hypocrisy of the Bush Administration's global HIV-prevention policies, as the man enforcing the anti-sex work provisions has been a client of a DC Madame.

In the final moments of the Washington work day last Friday evening, emails began shooting across my screen announcing the immediate resignation of Randall Tobias as Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance and Administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The official press release cited "personal reasons," and this was clearly important news, so I passed it on to colleagues right away. One immediately wrote back asking for the "back story," on suspicion that a late-Friday release always means something fishy. I offered that Mr. Tobias might have a family emergency, and while I've long been a critic of the policies over which he has presided both as Global AIDS Coordinator and in his current capacity, I nonetheless felt compassion for him in what appeared to be a serious personal matter.

Boy was I wrong. Little did I realize that this was in fact a "back" story….Tobias's had been inviting some "gals" over to his condo for personal massages. Problem is those "gals" were employed by Pamela Martin and Associates, described in court papers by owner Deborah Palfrey as a "high-end adult fantasy firm offering legal sexual and erotic services across the spectrum of adult sexual behavior." Palfrey, now dubbed the DC Madam, is under investigation for running a "prostitution ring," a no-no last time I understood Administration policy. Tobias's personal cell phone number was found among thousands of other customers, many of them reportedly high-level Washington officials, on a list kept by Palfrey now being used in her defense.

Tobias, of course, claims he "did not have sex with those women" (let's call them "les gals"), and just invited them over for a bunch of friendly massages. Let's put aside whether Tobias simply lusted in his heart while receiving massages from women employed by a firm offering "legal sexual and erotic services," and ask: If tight muscles were the only problem, why didn't he open the yellow pages and hire a certified massage therapist? Is the concierge at his condo on vacation? And does the fact that some of the women were from Central America—immigration status unknown—hint at a new kind of guest worker program supported by the Administration?

Let me be clear: I personally do not care about, nor is it my business to know about, the sexual habits, practices or relationships of consenting adults, and in any case sex between mature, consenting individuals is normal and healthy. But religious fundamentalist self-righteousness and hypocrisy both send me up the wall. And as you may know, Bush and his supporters are really big on abstinence. From sex. Always. In the far-rights anti-science, always fiction world, you should never have sex, unless you are a married heterosexual willing to do so only at risk of getting pregnant. Others—sexually active unmarrieds, gay, lesbian and transgender persons, and anyone else outside the "norm"—are subject to reprogramming. So since the Bush Administration wants a video cam in every bedroom and uterus (and I have no idea whether Tobias was taping his masseuses but that is another story), it is fair to ask if these guys are practicing what they preach. Apparently not.

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This might in fact just have been one more "thank-god-its-Friday" "what next?" Washington story if it weren't for the irony of Tobias' recent career path, in which he was previously the Global AIDS Coordinator, responsible for overseeing the $15 billion President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and now, as Director of all U.S. Foreign Assistance, ultimately responsible for all foreign assistance including HIV/AIDS, reproductive health and family planning and other areas having to do with sex, reproduction, and women's rights.

Abstinence is big in U.S. global AIDS policy, which one colleague dubbed the "Americans for Stopping Sex in Africa League." Billions of dollars have been spent in a fruitless effort at home and abroad to spread a hyper-moralistic and ideological message to everyone and sundry. Programs teaching people sexual negotiation and safer sex methods have become as scarce as rubbers in Uganda. Even sex workers in Asia and Africa are being told to abstain. (Don't ask me…..it's in the program guides.)

Never mind that unprotected sex is the single greatest factor in the spread of HIV infection worldwide in a global epidemic of unprecedented proportions, and never mind that, as a long list of cell phone numbers from Washington officials indicates, others share my contention that sex is a fundamental part of human life and everyone is trying to get some somewhere.

So enter Tobias who, in both his past and current position, has been and is the ultimate defender and enforcer of some of the most highly controversial policies, including the so-called "ABC" (abstain, be faithful, use-condoms-if-you-are-a-sex-worker-or can't-control yourself) approach to HIV prevention, the prostitution pledge, and the anti-trafficking policies of the Bush Administration. He has repeatedly testified before Congress supporting these policies, regularly using faulty data to support his claims.

Under the "ABC" policy as developed under Tobias' watch, some 11 million people in sub-Saharan Africa have been subject to abstinence-only-until marriage programs, receiving no information, training, or methods to practice safer sex, despite the fact that unprotected sex is responsible for 80 percent of new infections in that region. Condoms have been re-stigmatized and in some programs paid for by your tax dollars teens actually are told they will go to hell for having sex.

Another 30 million have received "abstinence and be faithful messages"—whatever that means. And whatever it means, either it doesn't work in high-literacy settings in Washington or Tobias, a married man, has not been reading his own literature. I mean, even if no "actual sexual activity" was involved (and in some abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula in the United States even touching constitutes an unforgivable act, so unless Les Gals were using retractable devices for those massages, I am suspicious) do you qualify as "being faithful" when you have private exotic dancers prancing through your apartment? Rick Warren please advise.

But the irony does not stop there. Under the "prostitution pledge," U.S. policy forbids organizations from receiving U.S. global AIDS funding if they refuse to sign a pledge stating that they will not in any way promote or support prostitution. Violating this pledge means loss of funding. This policy, vaguely written and defined as is the pattern of the far right, has led to the closure of drop-in centers, classes, and health clinics serving the needs of sex workers in several countries in Asia, and has turned health professionals into snitches for the Administration. As a result, the trust built up over many years between the public health community and disadvantaged and marginalized groups like sex workers has been demolished, the basic human rights of sex workers abrogated, and efforts to stem the spread of HIV infection grossly undermined.

I may be missing something, but does hiring gals from an organization that promotes itself as selling sexual services contradict this policy? Does the fact that this involved women from another country, thereby possibly violating the anti-trafficking policies of the Bush Administration mean that the USAID uber-Administrator himself is in violation of the laws he is supposed to be upholding, however deeply misguided these are? Does this mean that USAID should de-fund the Administrator's office and do we need a State Department Trafficking in Persons report on the activities of individuals within the Administration? And what about the "end-demand" policies of the Administration that wants to put all "johns" in jail? Does Tobias serve time for his gal-pal flings?

In a saner world, U.S. global AIDS policies (and all those having to do with reproductive and sexual health) would be based on the promotion of individual rights, public health, and collective responsibility. In a saner world, the U.S. government would not be known for its fundamentalist "tighty-whities-in-a-twist" approach to sex.

But we don't live in that world. In our world, people with wealth, money, and power get away with "special massages," they make unrealistic rules for other people and set their own for themselves. And those at greatest risk of life-threatening infections and engaged in a fundamental daily life struggle to survive are punished in the interest of moralism. Give me some real science fiction any day.

News Health Systems

Anti-Choice Group Files Lawsuit Over Newly Signed Law That Protects Illinois Patients

Michelle D. Anderson

The policy, which is an amendment to the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act, requires physicians and medical facilities to to provide patients upon request with information about their medical circumstances and treatment options consistent with "current standards of medical care," in cases where the doctor or institution won’t offer services on religious grounds.

CORRECTION: This piece has been updated to clarify the scope of SB 1564 and which groups are opposing it.

A conservative Christian legal group has followed through on its threat to use litigation to fight against a new state policy that protects patients at religiously-sponsored hospitals in Illinois.

The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) on Friday filed a lawsuit in the Circuit Court of the 17th Judicial Circuit in Winnebago County against Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner and Bryan A. Schneider, the secretary of the Illinois Department of Financial & Professional Regulation.

Rauner, a Republican, signed the contested policy, SB 1564, into law on July 29.

The ADF, which warned Rauner about signing the bill in a publicized letter and statement in May, filed the complaint on behalf of several fake clinics, also known as crisis pregnancy centers. These included the Pregnancy Care Center of Rockford and Aid for Women, Inc. Anti-choice physician Dr. Anthony Caruso of A Bella Baby OBGYN—also known as Best Care for Women—was also named as a plaintiff.

“Alliance Defending Freedom is ready and willing to represent Illinois pro-life pregnancy centers if SB 1564 becomes law,” the group said in May. The ADF wrote on behalf of several anti-choice groups, claiming SB 1564 violated the Illinois state law and constitution and risked putting federal funding, such as Medicaid reimbursements, in jeopardy.

In February 2015, state Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Skokie) introduced the policy, which is an amendment to the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act.

The revised law requires physicians and medical facilities to provide patients upon request with information about their medical circumstances and treatment options consistent with “current standards of medical care,” in cases where the doctor or institution won’t offer services on religious grounds.

The new policy also gives doctors and medical institutions the option to provide a referral or transfer the patient.

Unlike an earlier version of the legislation, the version passed by Rauner does not require hospitals to confirm that providers they share with patients actually perform procedures the institutions will not perform; they must only have a “reasonable belief” that they do, Rewire previously reported.

As previously noted by Rewire:

Catholic facilities often follow U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops religious directives that generally bar treatments such as sterilization, in vitro fertilization, and abortion care. The federal Church Amendment and some state laws protect these faith-based objections.

The plaintiffs, which are also being represented by Mauck & Baker LLC attorney Noel Sterett, argued in a statement that the Illinois Constitution protects “liberty of conscience,” and quoted a passage from state law that says “no person shall be denied any civil or political right, privilege or capacity, on account of his religious opinions.”

Illinois Right to Life and the Thomas More Society joined the ADF in protesting the bill. The Catholic Conference of Illinois (CCI) and the Illinois Catholic Health Association (ICHA) initially protested the bill after it was introduced early last year. However, the two groups later negotiated with the ACLU to pass a different version of the bill that was introduced.

In support of the bill around the time of its introduction in early 2015, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois pushed its Put Patients First initiative to help stop the use of religion to deny health care to patients. The advocacy group noted that patients who are miscarrying or facing ectopic pregnancies, same-sex couples, and transgender people and persons seeking contraception such as vasectomies and tubal ligations are particularly vulnerable to these harmful practices.

A new study, “Referrals for Services Prohibited in Catholic Health Care Facilities,” set to be published in Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health in September, suggested that Catholic hospitals often “dump” abortion patients and deny them critical referrals as result of following religious directives outlined by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

Recent figures from an ACLU and MergerWatch advocacy group collaboration suggest Catholic hospitals make up one in six hospital beds nationwide.

Culture & Conversation Media

From ‘Mouseburger’ to Media Icon: Bio Traces Rise of Cosmo Editor Helen Gurley Brown

Eleanor J. Bader

Helen Gurley Brown was a publishing giant and pop-culture feminist theorist. But according to her latest biographer, she was a mass of insecurities even as she confidently told single people, especially women, to take charge of their sex lives.

Like all of us, Cosmopolitan magazine’s longtime editor Helen Gurley Brown lived with conflicting drives and desires. But Gurley Brown’s ideas and insecurities had a public platform, where she championed sex for singles while downplaying workplace sexual harassment and featured feminist voices while upholding the beauty ideals that made her own life difficult.

A workhorse who played hard, Gurley Brown, who died in 2012, is presented as an often contradictory heroine and an unexpected success story in journalist Gerri Hirshey’s new 500-page biography, Not Pretty Enough: The Unlikely Triumph of Helen Gurley Brown.

Helen Gurley Brown’s life and example—almost a classic Horatio Alger “rags to riches” tale—affirms that the American idea of surmounting humble origins is sometimes possible, if improbable. But Gurley Brown’s story also illustrates both personal grit and endurance. Wily, willing to take risks, and sexually audacious, she might be a questionable role model for 21st century women, but her amazing story, as told by Hirshey, will nonetheless inspire and entertain.

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Born in 1922, Gurley Brown led Cosmopolitan for 32 years. She moved the magazine, which had been published continuously since 1886, from relative obscurity into the limelight. Known for its brash cover chatter and how-to articles on heterosexual man-pleasing, Cosmo is the world’s highest-selling women’s magazine, with 61 print editions. Its long history—alongside Helen Gurley Brown’s personal story—offers a fascinating window into the intersection between U.S. publishing and burgeoning 20th-century feminist ideologies.

Hirshey (whose earlier books include Nowhere to Run: The Story of Soul Music and We Gotta Get Out of This Place: The True, Tough Story of Women in Rock) presents Gurley Brown as a mess of pushes and pulls: insecure, brilliant, bold, self-effacing, loyal, independent, jittery, and frugal to the point of deprivation. Indeed, Hirshey’s revealing and detailed biography describes the pioneering editor as someone hungry for experiences; a sophisticated New Yorker with deep roots in rural America; and a writer of guidebooks who had trouble taking advice. In short, Helen Gurley Brown was limited by a host of personal issues, but that did not stop her from trying to push societal boundaries and shatter sexual propriety.

A native of small-town Arkansas, Helen’s childhood was marred by tragedy. Her father died in an accident when she was 10; several years later, her older sister, Mary, contracted polio, which left her partially paralyzed. Helen’s mother, Cleo, was overwhelmed and often depressed. Nonetheless, she scrambled to keep the creditors at bay, and the family lived in numerous decrepit rentals during Helen’s childhood.

Poverty was not the only obstacle Helen faced. According to Hirshey, “By the time Mary and Helen were school age, Cleo had begun her steady warnings that pretty girls got the best in life.” While Cleo never used the word “plain” to describe her offspring, it was clear that she did not think them comely. Helen was devastated. What’s more, the fear of being unattractive dogged her for her entire life and she had multiple surgeries to correct “flaws.” She also starved herself and exercised compulsively—and would likely now be labeled as having an eating disorder—to keep her weight at an unwavering 105 pounds.

Her success, Hirshey writes, was the result of luck, tenacity, and sheer chutzpah.

It started in the 1940s, shortly after she finished high school and secured the first of a string of secretarial jobs. During her tenure as a typist and stenographer, Helen cozied up to her male bosses and slept with some of them.

“It was the first time she truly observed and understood that sex is power,” Hirshey writes. “Helen had come to realize that sex was a surprising and thrilling equalizer between the sheets.” Gurley Brown pooh-poohed the idea that people should wait until marriage to have sex and had no problem dating men who were cheating on their wives. The same went, Hirshey writes, for racists and overt anti-Semites. Since she was giving a large part of her earnings to her mother and her sister, it was the size of a man’s bank book, rather than his politics, that evidently curried her favor.

Nevertheless, being a mistress had a downside, and Helen’s diary reveals that she felt like a “little bird … expected to stay in her cage, always available yet always alone.”

Her fortunes turned shortly after her 26th birthday, when she became secretary to Don Belding, chairman of the board at prestigious ad agency Foote, Cone, and Belding. Belding paid Helen $75 a week and treated her like a long-lost daughter; she considered him a surrogate father.

Alice Belding, Don’s wife, took a particular interest in Helen and, after reading something she’d written, persuaded her husband to give Helen a chance as a copywriter. He did, making her one of the first women to break into the field.

Meanwhile, there were men. Lots of men. “Certainly, men love beautiful women,” Hirshey writes. But Helen realized that when “the lights went out, Miss Universe might just as well be the poor, sooty match girl if she couldn’t make him shout hallelujah.” She loved the power sex gave her, but was hurt during a group therapy session when another participant dubbed her a slut. “Spoken with venom, it had the effect of a gut-punch,” Hirshey writes.  Still, it proved clarifying for Helen, allowing her to formulate the idea at the heart of her 1962 book, Sex and the Single Girl: There is nothing shameful about unmarried people having sex as long as it’s consensual.

Helen met David Brown, a high-profile movie executive, in 1958, when she was 36. David was 42, twice married and twice divorced, and had no interest in returning to the altar anytime soon.  This was fine with Helen. Nonetheless, as they spent more and more time together, they formed a strategic partnership. Yes, there was love, but Helen Gurley craved financial security, which David could provide. They wed in September 1959.

At that point, David suggested that Helen take a professional detour and write “a guidebook of sorts for single women.” Hirshey reports that he envisioned “something along the lines of ‘How to Have a Successful Affair’” and ticked off possible subjects, including how to snare a guy and dress for conquest. He also wanted the manual to include concrete sex tips. Helen loved the idea and the pair began to work on it, she as writer, he as editor.

Sex and the Single Girl told the truth as Helen saw it. Hirshey notes that the book was meant as a practicum, “and was never intended as an overtly feminist tract. Systemic change was not at all on her radar; she addressed herself to bettering the small, quotidian lives toiling within the status quo, of those, herself included, she would come to call ‘mouseburgers.’ Sexism was not even in her vocabulary.”

Her message was quite simple: Sex needed to be decoupled from marriage. As for gender roles, she was fine with women playing coy. In fact, she explicitly advised women to go out with men only if they could pay for everything, from dinner and drinks to “prezzies.”

There were of course, detractors, but Sex and the Single Girl sold millions of copies and made Helen Gurley Brown a household name. She appeared on countless TV talk shows and was the first woman featured in Playboy’s famous centerpiece interviews.

In the throes of her success, however, David was offered a job in New York and the couple decided to leave California, where they’d both lived for decades. David, Hirshey reports, knew that Helen needed to work, “that Helen unemployed would be Helen unhinged.” Together, they developed a prototype for a monthly women’s magazine that would popularize and expand upon the ideas in Sex and the Single Girl. They called it Femme and floated the idea to every publisher they knew. No one liked it.

Eventually, Hearst Corporation suggested “superimposing” the format on one of the corporation’s least successful publications, Cosmopolitan, with Helen Gurley Brown at the helm.

It worked, not only boosting sagging sales but catapulting “The Cosmo Girl” to prominence. Sexual freedom, Gurley Brown enthused, was in–but apparently only for heterosexuals, since the magazine rarely acknowledged the existence of same-sex relationships or bisexuality.

Nonetheless, the first few issues tackled then-risqué themes, as these titles suggest: “The Bugaboo of Male Impotence”; “I was a Nude Model (and This is What Happened)”; “Things I’ll Never Do with a Man Again”; “The Astonishingly Frank Diary of an Unfaithful Wife”; and “How to Make a Small Bosom Amount to Something.”

As the “sexual revolution” of the 1960s took hold, Cosmo flourished, albeit steering clear of covering racial unrest, the Vietnam War, or the counterculture and anti-militarism movements. Likewise, if Gurley Brown had any thoughts about the civil rights or peace movements, Hirshey neglects to mention them. She does note that for Helen, “readers of color scarcely registered.” It’s too bad this is not probed more deeply in Not Pretty Enough, and why the editor remained above the fray—was it fear, disinterest, or hostility?—remains unclear.

The women’s movement of the 1960s and 1970s did capture Helen’s interest, though, and she considered herself a devout feminist, with a particular passion for promoting reproductive rights. She wrote numerous articles about the need to overhaul abortion policies pre-Roe v. Wade, openly declaring that “it’s a shame that girls have to go to Mexico or Europe to be operated on.” At Cosmo, she cheered the arrival of the birth control pill in 1960; hailed the 1965 Supreme Court decision in Griswold v. Connecticut that gave married heterosexuals access to birth control; and was exuberant when Eisenstadt v. Baird gave unmarried couples the same right to control their fertility in 1972.

Sexual harassment, on the other hand, was befuddling to her. Remembering her days as a secretary, she dubbed slaps on the ass and sexually suggestive comments to be harmless fun. “When a man finds you sexually attractive, he is paying you a compliment,” she wrote in a monthly Cosmo column. “When he doesn’t, that’s when you have to worry.”

Small wonder that Kate Millett picketed Cosmo for its “reactionary politics” or that Betty Friedan slammed it for its sexism and preponderance of inane articles on keeping men happy.

Despite disagreeing with these thinkers, Helen Gurley Brown marched down New York City’s Fifth Avenue to celebrate the 50th anniversary of women’s suffrage in August 1970 and published articles written by prominent feminists as the 1970s unfolded.

Then, at the height of the AIDS crisis, Gurley Brown stepped in it. In early 1988, Cosmo ran an article that minimized the possibility of heterosexual transmission of HIV and made it sound as if straight women were immune from infection. Equally horrifying, the author, psychiatrist Dr. Robert E. Gould, was overtly racist. “Many men in Africa take their women in a brutal way,” he wrote, “so that some heterosexual activity regarded as normal by them would be close to rape by our standards.”

Oy. Readers were aghast, and Gurley Brown was roundly and deservedly criticized. Even Surgeon General C. Everett Koop weighed in, saying the article did “such a disservice” by suggesting that the risk of contracting the virus was low for heterosexual women. Hirshey reports that, inexplicably, the article was never retracted or corrected.

By this point, however, Helen was showing signs of dementia—she had periodical temper tantrums in public and was becoming less reliable and sharp—so Hearst Corporation brought in several new editors, albeit without firing Helen. She continued going into the office until shortly before her 2012 death. She had done paid work for 71 years.

Hirshey’s sources range from primary documents and in-person interviews with people who knew Gurley Brown, including Gloria Vanderbilt and Barbara Walters. Correspondence and recorded talks between her and friends such as Jacqueline Susann and Joan Rivers provide incisive, funny, and poignant anecdotes. These interviews give the book reportorial gravitas and intimacy. And although Hirshey had only a passing acquaintance with her subject—she had interviewed Gurley Brown decades earlier for an article about marriage proposals—she nonetheless manages to show Gurley Brown as a regular Jane who spoke openly about her nagging doubts.

Many readers will feel as if they can relate to Gurley Brown’s struggles and triumphs. Throughout the book, I felt sad for her, but also wished we’d met.

In fact, I closed the book wanting more; among other things, I wanted to better understand what it was like for her to move between near-poverty and the upper crust. Did she feel like an impostor? Did her lifelong conviction that she was not pretty enough or smart enough keep her from feeling connected to others? Did she ever feel truly secure?

Perhaps Gurley Brown’s self-doubts are what kept her from becoming arrogant or abusive to others; even those who hated Cosmopolitan or were frustrated by her racial and political blind spots admired her kindness. Similarly, these doubts did not prompt her to disguise her eccentricities—among them, pilfering from petty cash and always taking public transportation rather than cabs. Indeed, whatever Gurley Brown felt about her own appeal, Hirshey’s biography presents Helen Gurley Brown the woman as quirky, humble, and utterly fascinating.

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