But Can He Talk About Sex?

Kay Steiger

Where does future Surgeon General Dr. Sanjay Gupta stand on reproductive health? He has spoken out for emergency contraception, but reproductive health issues haven't gotten a starring role on "House Call."

Since the Obama administration
announced that CNN’s Sanjay Gupta, one of People magazine’s
men alive
" in 2003, might be the next surgeon general, reactions have ranged from
indifferent to outraged. Although Gupta is a neurosurgeon and has been
in the public eye for years – he started his "House Call" show on
CNN in 2004 – many have been scrambling to figure out what this man stands for. 

Two separate controversies
have already arisen since Gupta’s name has publicly been floated as
the next surgeon general. First, New York Times columnist
Paul Krugman lambasted Gupta’s critique of Michael Moore’s
2007 film Sicko, saying that Gupta’s accusation that Moore "fudged
the facts" was, well, just plain wrong. Then Rep.
John Conyers (D-MI) wrote a letter to his fellow Democrats urging them
to oppose Gupta as surgeon general. Conyers claimed that
Gupta would face a "credibility problem," given his lack of experience
in the National Health Service Corp and that "it is not in the best interests
of the nation to have someone … who lacks the requisite experience
needed to oversee the federal agency that provides crucial health care
assistance to some of the poorest and most underserved communities in

Many bloggers have already
written about Gupta’s lack
of administrative experience
his opposition
to marijuana reforms
and some of his biggest
medical reporting mistakes
But little is known about where Gupta stands on reproductive health.
(Rewire attempted to contact Gupta for an interview, but was
told he isn’t available for interviews at this time.) 

The biggest source on Gupta’s public
record, the transcript archives from "House Call," reveals little;
Gupta’s show has largely avoided the issue. In a 2004 special on the worldwide HIV/AIDS epidemic, Gupta discussed "prevention" abstractly without ever mentioning condoms
or even sex. In another
on the
spread of HIV a few months later, he quotes an HIV-positive man, Peter
Staley, saying, "You can’t stop the spread of HIV unless you talk
about sex." But Gupta’s show doesn’t talk about sex. Instead, it
cuts to an interview with former basketball star Magic Johnson. But the show’s ability to deal with HIV/AIDS improves over the years, and in 2007 "House Call" addressed the problems of transactional sex
in African countries that presents challenges to stopping the spread
of HIV. 

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Still, reproductive issues
specifically rarely grace the screen. An entire episode devoted
to "women’s health issues"

covered only the topics of breast cancer, smoking, and heart disease. In
a 2004
special on multiple births
he headed up the top of the news program with the news that pregnancies
among girls ages 10-14 were on the decline, which he attributed to "abstinence
programs and birth control," a fairly ambiguous and tentative statement.
Some have suggested that his ties to pharmaceutical companies are too
tight, and that he supported Gardasil while the jury was out on
its safety. 

But when Gupta
was consulted about emergency contraception’s then potential over-the-counter
sale, he confirmed that Plan B was a "high dose birth control pill"
and said that there wasn’t much controversy from the mainstream anti-choice
community because "they think it actually acts before – actually prevents
the insemination part of this and the creation of life," thus quashing
any claims that emergency contraception causes abortion. 

What a Bold Surgeon General Can Do

The public most commonly
knows the surgeon general as the person responsible for putting warnings
on cigarette packages. Yet the surgeon general really serves as
a public health advocate in a broad sense; his or her job is to relate
accurate scientific and medical information to the public to improve
public health. Sticking to that job description, however, might land
a surgeon general in trouble. President Ronald Reagan’s surgeon general,
C. Everett Koop, learned that lesson the hard way.  

Koop discovered that much of the information put forth
by anti-choice groups claiming abortion had negative psychological implications for women wasn’t backed up by science. He then released a statement
that "the available scientific evidence about the psychological
sequelae of abortion simply cannot support either the preconceived notions
of those pro-life or those pro-choice." His position, viewed by
many as an open rebuke to the religious right, cost him the position
of Secretary of Health and Human Services under President George H.W.

Dr. Jocelyn Elders, the surgeon
general under President Bill Clinton and only the second women to ever
hold the position, only served for 18 months. She resigned after a statement
she made before the United Nations about masturbation; she said it is
"part of human sexuality, and perhaps it should be taught." Today
Elders realizes that many of the challenges she faced have remained
the same. (The full transcript is available here.) 

Part of the job of surgeon
general for her, as it would be for Gupta, was  to sell health care
reform to the public. "You have to remember that we were trying to
get through the Clinton health plan at the same time," she said. And in this respect, she thinks Gupta would excel: "I
think Dr. Gupta has been out there working very hard trying to communicate
with the American people. I think he would be an excellent communicator." 

Elders had a very different
public perception when she was appointed than Gupta does. "Everybody
knew when I came to Washington that I was interested in reducing teenage
pregnancy, that I was very into reproductive health," she said. She
doesn’t know where Gupta stands on reproductive health, but "he
has 6,000 public health people who will be working for him who are the
best in the world."  

Still, Elders expects that
many of the reproductive battles ahead will be on the list of battles
she faced: combating thfe spread of HIV/AIDS, advocating for fully funding
Title X to ensure comprehensive family planning, and calling for public funding of abortion for women on Medicaid. "I think we need to get over our ideas
about how condoms will break. We know condoms will break, but the vows
of abstinence break far more frequently than latex condoms," Elders
said. Gupta, if confirmed, might do well to remember that.

Analysis Politics

Trump Pushes Voting Falsehoods as Anniversary of Voting Rights Act Approaches

Ally Boguhn

“Trump's remarks bear zero resemblance to facts on the ground," Allegra Chapman, director of voting and elections at Common Cause, told Rewire. "It's political bloviating.”

This week, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump spread falsehoods commonly used by conservatives suggesting the outcome of the presidential election might be affected by widespread fraud.

Speaking with the Washington Post’s Philip Rucker on Tuesday at the Trump National Golf Club, Trump tried to explain his repeated suggestion that the upcoming election has been “rigged” against him.

“I don’t like what’s going on with voter ID,” Trump said to Rucker, presumably referring to a string of recent court rulings in states across the country ruling against discriminatory voter identification laws. “I mean the voter ID situation has turned out to be a very unfair development. We may have people vote ten times. It’s inconceivable that you don’t have to show identification in order to vote or that that the identification doesn’t have to be somewhat foolproof.”

When Rucker tried to steer the conversation to discuss how the Republican nominee would handle a potential win by Hillary Clinton, Trump pivoted to again push that “there’s a lot of dirty pool played at the election, meaning the election is rigged.”

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“I would not be surprised. The voter ID, they’re fighting as hard as you can fight so that that they don’t have to show voter ID,” said Trump. “So, what’s the purpose of that? How many times is a person going to vote during the day?”

Trump is hardly the first Republican to make the argument. The 2016 GOP platform similarly claims that “voting procedures may be open to abuse. For this reason, we support legislation to require proof of citizenship when registering to vote and secure photo ID when voting.”

But wealthy white Republicans like Trump are not the people who have to worry about elections being stacked against them.

Trump made his comments the same week as the anniversary of the signing by President Lyndon B. Johnson of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965, a law designed to ensure that states did not pass laws specifically to prevent Black voters from accessing the ballot box. In Shelby County v. Holder, however, the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 gutted key sections of the act, eliminating the requirement that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) “pre-clear” laws passed by states with a history of voter discrimination and leading to the passage of voting restrictions throughout the country.

The protections offered by the VRA “used to require jurisdictions with the most troubling histories of discrimination to run new voting rules by the Justice Department or a federal court before those rules could be implemented,” explained Vanita Gupta, the head of the Civil Rights Division at the DOJ, in an op-ed for the Washington Post on Monday. In those protections’ absence, states were able to push through measures that disproportionately disenfranchised communities of color, those with low incomes, and the elderly.

Though the laws can be challenged—and many have been, such as those recently overturned by courts in North Carolina and Texas—the cases ”can take years to litigate” and “elections don’t stop in the meantime,” wrote Gupta.

As they have begun overturning these restrictions, some courts, such as the Fourth Circuit concerning North Carolina’s law, have noted the discriminatory nature of the laws that are made to “impose cures for problems that did not exist,” such as voter fraud.

Similarly, in Wisconsin, U.S. District Judge James Peterson wrote in his decision striking down a stringent voter ID law, “The Wisconsin experience demonstrates that a preoccupation with mostly phantom election fraud leads to real incidents of disenfranchisement, which undermine rather than enhance confidence in elections, particularly in minority communities.”

“To put it bluntly, Wisconsin’s strict version of voter ID law is a cure worse than the disease,” Peterson continued.

That’s because, as the Nation’s Ari Berman, who covers voting rights, pointed out during a recent appearance on Democracy Now!, “You’re more likely to be struck by lightning than you are to impersonate another voter.”

“Trump’s remark [about people voting ten times] is both irresponsible and completely off-mark,” Allegra Chapman, director of voting and elections at Common Cause—a nonpartisan organization “dedicated to upholding the core values of American democracy”—told Rewire via email Wednesday. “Several studies have been conducted across the country showing that in-person voting fraud is exceedingly rare. It just doesn’t happen on a basis that’s any way significant. Photo ID laws are a cure to a problem that doesn’t exist; we heard the courts say that in both” Wisconsin and Texas cases.

“Trump’s remarks bear zero resemblance to facts on the ground. It’s political bloviating,” added Chapman.

Brennan Center for Justice President Michael Waldman similarly dismissed Trump’s suggestion in a statement posted to the organization’s website. “When courts across the country step up to protect voting rights, that hardly amounts to ‘rigging’ an election,” said Waldman. “The notion of massive fraud is a pernicious myth. It’s irresponsible to peddle it if the goal is to pre-undermine an election outcome.”

And as Rewire has previously reported, “study after study has found little to no evidence” of the existence of voter fraud. When Justin Levitt, a professor at the Loyola Law School, analyzed instances of voter fraud in 2014 for the Washington Post, he uncovered just 31 instances of it in the more than one billion ballots cast between the years 2000 and 2014.

Another layer of nonsense is added to both Trump’s statement and the party platform, given that many Republicans have been nothing but transparent about what their push for voter ID laws has really been about: suppressing the votes of those less likely to vote for their party. Take, for example, Rep. Glenn Grothman’s (R-WI) April admission that the state’s voter ID law could make “a difference” in electing members of his party.

As the Associated Press reported, the Republican nominee’s claims that the election could be “rigged” for his loss, “could be an effort by Trump to lay the groundwork of an excuse if he goes on to lose the general election.”

Roger Stone, a noted conspiracy theorist and Trump ally, also sounded the alarm that voter fraud could be at play in November and recommended that the Republican nominee start telling media outlets about it. “I think we have widespread voter fraud, but the first thing that Trump needs to do is begin talking about it constantly,” said Stone in an interview for conservative news outlet Breitbart. “He needs to say for example, today would be a perfect example: ‘I am leading in Florida. The polls all show it. If I lose Florida, we will know that there’s voter fraud. If there’s voter fraud, this election will be illegitimate, the election of the winner will be illegitimate, we will have a constitutional crisis, widespread civil disobedience, and the government will no longer be the government.’”

Stone went on to warn of impending chaos should Trump lose: “I think he’s gotta put them on notice that their inauguration will be a rhetorical, and when I mean civil disobedience, not violence, but it will be a bloodbath,” said Stone. “The government will be shut down if they attempt to steal this and swear Hillary in. No, we will not stand for it. We will not stand for it.”

But the real danger here may be in the threat to democracy presented by the claims of Trump and Stone. “If Trump protested the results of the election in this way after losing in November, he could exploit a potentially destructive strain in the electorate that would undermine public confidence in elections,” explained the New York Times’ Brendan Nyhan in a Friday article on the long-lasting dangers of Trump’s claim. “Even if he contests a loss, Mr. Trump will not undermine American democracy by himself. The institutions and norms of the system are strong enough to withstand such a challenge. But questioning the integrity of the electoral system could encourage other losing candidates to challenge their own defeats, creating the risk of a more serious crisis of legitimacy in the future.”

Commentary Politics

On Immigration, Major Political Parties Can’t Seem to Agree on What’s ‘Un-American’

Tina Vasquez

As far as immigration is concerned, neither the Democrats nor Republicans are without their faults, though positions taken at the conventions were clearly more extreme in one case than the other.

Read more of our coverage of the Democratic National Convention here.

Immigration has been one of the country’s most contentious political topics and, not surprisingly, is now a primary focus of this election. But no matter how you feel about the subject, this is a nation of immigrants in search of “el sueño Americano,” as Karla Ortiz reminded us on the first night of the Democratic National Convention (DNC). Ortiz, the 11-year-old daughter of two undocumented parents, appeared in a Hillary Clinton campaign ad earlier this year expressing fear that her parents would be deported. Standing next to her mother on the DNC stage, the young girl told the crowd that she is an American who wants to become a lawyer to help families like hers.

It was a powerful way to kick-start the week, suggesting to viewers Democrats were taking a radically different approach to immigration than the Republican National Convention (RNC). While the RNC made undocumented immigrants the scapegoats for a variety of social ills, from U.S. unemployment to terrorism, the DNC chose to highlight the contributions of immigrants: the U.S. citizen daughter of undocumented parents, the undocumented college graduate, the children of immigrants who went into politics. Yet, even the stories shared at the DNC were too tidy and palatable, focusing on “acceptable” immigrant narratives. There were no mixed-status families discussing their deported parents, for example.

As far as immigration is concerned, neither the Democrats nor Republicans are without their faults, though positions taken at the conventions were clearly more extreme in one case than the other. By the end of two weeks, viewers may not have known whether to blame immigrants for taking their jobs or to befriend their hardworking immigrant neighbors. For the undocumented immigrants watching the conventions, the message, however, was clear: Both parties have a lot of work to do when it comes to humanizing their communities.  

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“No Business Being in This Country”

For context, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his running mate Mike Pence are the decidedly anti-immigrant ticket. From the beginning, Trump’s campaign has been overrun by anti-immigrant rhetoric, from calling Mexicans “rapists” and “killers” to calling for a ban on Muslim immigration. And as of July 24, Trump’s proposed ban now includes people from countries “compromised by terrorism” who will not be allowed to enter the United States, including anyone from France.

So, it should come as no surprise that the first night of the RNC, which had the theme of “Make America Safe Again,” preyed on American fears of the “other.” In this case: undocumented immigrants who, as Julianne Hing wrote for the Nation, “aren’t just drug dealers and rapists anymorenow they’re murderers, too.”

Night one of the RNC featured not one but three speakers whose children were killed by undocumented immigrants. “They’re just three brave representatives of many thousands who have suffered so gravely,” Trump said at the convention. “Of all my travels in this country, nothing has affected me more, nothing even close I have to tell you, than the time I have spent with the mothers and fathers who have lost their children to violence spilling across our borders, which we can solve. We have to solve it.”

Billed as “immigration reform advocates,” grieving parents like Mary Ann Mendoza called her son’s killer, who had resided in the United States for 20 years before the drunk driving accident that ended her police officer son’s life, an “illegal immigrant” who “had no business being in this country.”

It seemed exploitative and felt all too common. Drunk driving deaths are tragically common and have nothing to do with immigration, but it is easier to demonize undocumented immigrants than it is to address the nation’s broken immigration system and the conditions that are separating people from their countries of originconditions to which the United States has contributed. Trump has spent months intentionally and disingenuously pushing narratives that undocumented immigrants are hurting and exploiting the United States, rather than attempting to get to the root of these issues. This was hammered home by Mendoza, who finished her speech saying that we have a system that cares more about “illegals” than Americans, and that a vote for Hillary “puts all of our children’s lives at risk.”

There was also Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a notorious racist whose department made a practice of racially profiling Latinos and was recently found to be in civil contempt of court for “repeatedly and knowingly” disobeying orders to cease policing tactics against Latinos, NPR reported.

Like Mendoza, Arpaio told the RNC crowd that the immigration system “puts the needs of other nations ahead of ours” and that “we are more concerned with the rights of ‘illegal aliens’ and criminals than we are with protecting our own country.” The sheriff asserted that he was at the RNC because he was distinctly qualified to discuss the “dangers of illegal immigration,” as someone who has lived on both sides of the border.

“We have terrorists coming in over our border, infiltrating our communities, and causing massive destruction and mayhem,” Arpaio said. “We have criminals penetrating our weak border security systems and committing serious crimes.”

Broadly, the takeaway from the RNC and the GOP nominee himself is that undocumented immigrants are terrorists who are taking American jobs and lives. “Trump leaned on a tragic story of a young woman’s murder to prop up a generalized depiction of immigrants as menacing, homicidal animals ‘roaming freely to threaten peaceful citizens,’” Hing wrote for the Nation.

When accepting the nomination, Trump highlighted the story of Sarah Root of Nebraska, a 21-year-old who was killed in a drunk-driving accident by a 19-year-old undocumented immigrant.

“To this administration, [the Root family’s] amazing daughter was just one more American life that wasn’t worth protecting,” Trump said. “One more child to sacrifice on the altar of open borders.”

It should be noted that the information related to immigration that Trump provided in his RNC speech, which included the assertion that the federal government enables crime by not deporting more undocumented immigrants (despite deporting more undocumented immigrants than ever before in recent years), came from groups founded by John Tanton, a well-known nativist whom the Southern Poverty Law center referred to as “the racist architect of the modern anti-immigrant movement.”

“The Border Crossed Us”

From the get-go, it seemed the DNC set out to counter the dangerous, anti-immigrant rhetoric pushed at the RNC. Over and over again, Democrats like Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-CA) hit back hard against Trump, citing him by name and quoting him directly.

“Donald Trump believes that Mexican immigrants are murderers and rapists. But what about my parents, Donald?” Sánchez asked the crowd, standing next to her sister, Rep. Loretta Sánchez (D-CA). “They are the only parents in our nation’s 265-year history to send not one but two daughters to the United States Congress!”

Each speech from a Latino touched on immigration, glossing over the fact that immigration is not just a Latino issue. While the sentiments were positiveillustrating a community that is thriving, and providing a much-needed break from the RNC’s anti-immigrant rhetoricat the core of every speech were messages of assimilation and respectability politics.

Even in gutsier speeches from people like actress Eva Longoria, there was the need to assert that her family is American and that her father is a veteran. The actress said, “My family never crossed a border. The border crossed us.”

Whether intentional or not, the DNC divided immigrants into those who are acceptable, respectable, and worthy of citizenship, and those—invisible at the convention—who are not. “Border crossers” who do not identify as American, who do not learn English, who do not aspire to go to college or become an entrepreneur because basic survival is overwhelming enough, what about them? Do they deserve to be in detention? Do their families deserve to be ripped apart by deportation?

At the convention, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), a champion of immigration reform, said something seemingly innocuous that snapped into focus the problem with the Democrats’ immigration narrative.

“In her heart, Hillary Clinton’s dream for America is one where immigrants are allowed to come out of the shadows, get right with the law, pay their taxes, and not feel fear that their families are going to be ripped apart,” Gutiérrez said.

The Democratic Party is participating in an all-too-convenient erasure of the progress undocumented people have made through sheer force of will. Immigration has become a leading topic not because there are more people crossing the border (there aren’t) or because nativist Donald Trump decided to run for president, but because a segment of the population has been denied basic rights and has been fighting tooth and nail to save themselves, their families, and their communities.

Immigrants have been coming out of the shadows and as a result, are largely responsible for the few forms of relief undocumented communities now have, like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allows certain undocumented immigrants who meet specific qualifications to receive a renewable two-year work permit and exemption from deportation. And “getting right with the law” is a joke at this point. The problem isn’t that immigrants are failing to adhere to immigration laws; the problem is immigration laws that are notoriously complicated and convoluted, and the system, which is so backlogged with cases that a judge sometimes has just seven minutes to determine an immigrant’s fate.

Becoming a U.S. citizen is also really expensive. There is a cap on how many people can immigrate from any given country in a year, and as Janell Ross explained at the Washington Post:

There are some countries, including Mexico, from where a worker with no special skills or a relative in the United States can apply and wait 23 years, according to the U.S. government’s own data. That’s right: There are people receiving visas right now in Mexico to immigrate to the United States who applied in 1993.

But getting back to Gutierrez’s quote: Undocumented immigrants do pay taxes, though their ability to contribute to our economy should not be the one point on which Democrats hang their hats in order to attract voters. And actually, undocumented people pay a lot of taxes—some $11.6 billion in state and local taxes last year, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy—while rarely benefiting from a majority of federal assistance programs since the administration of President Bill Clinton ended “welfare as we know it” in 1996.

If Democrats were being honest at their convention, we would have heard about their failure to end family detention, and they would have addressed that they too have a history of criminalizing undocumented immigrants.

The 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, enacted under former President Clinton, have had the combined effect of dramatically increasing the number of immigrants in detention and expanding mandatory or indefinite detention of noncitizens ordered to be removed to countries that will not accept them, as the American Civil Liberties Union notes on its site. Clinton also passed the North American Free Trade Agreement, which economically devastated Mexican farmers, leading to their mass migration to the United States in search of work.

In 1990, then-Sen. Joe Biden introduced the Violence Against Women Act, which passed in 1994 and specifically excluded undocumented women for the first 19 of the law’s 22 years, and even now is only helpful if the victim of intimate partner abuse is a child, parent, or current/former spouse of a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident.

In addition, President Obama is called by immigrant rights advocates “deporter in chief,” having put into place a “deportation machine” that has sent more than two million migrants back to their country of origin, more than any president in history. New arrivals to the United States, such as the Central American asylum seekers coming to our border escaping gender-based violence, are treated with the same level of prioritization for removal as threats to our national security. The country’s approach to this humanitarian crisis has been raiding homes in the middle of the night and placing migrants in detention centers, which despite being rife with allegations of human rights abuses, are making private prison corporations millions in revenue.

How Are We Defining “Un-American”?

When writing about the Democratic Party, community organizer Rosa Clemente, the 2008 Green Party vice president candidate, said that she is afraid of Trump, “but not enough to be distracted from what we must do, which is to break the two-party system for good.”

This is an election like we’ve never seen before, and it would be disingenuous to imply that the party advocating for the demise of the undocumented population is on equal footing with the party advocating for the rights of certain immigrants whose narratives it finds acceptable. But this is a country where Republicans loudly—and with no consequence—espouse racist, xenophobic, and nativist beliefs while Democrats publicly voice support of migrants while quietly standing by policies that criminalize undocumented communities and lead to record numbers of deportations.

During two weeks of conventions, both sides declared theirs was the party that encapsulated what America was supposed to be, adhering to morals and values handed down from our forefathers. But ours is a country comprised of stolen land and built by slave labor where today, undocumented immigrants, the population most affected by unjust immigration laws and violent anti-immigrant rhetoric, don’t have the right to vote. It is becoming increasingly hard to tell if that is indeed “un-American” or deeply American.


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