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Harper's Publishes AIDS Denialist

The latest issue of Harper's Magazine contains a stunning 15-page article by well-known AIDS denialist Celia Farber (formerly of Spin magazine) that extensively repeats UC Berkeley virologist Peter Duesberg's discredited theory that HIV does not cause AIDS. Among the claims that Duesberg makes (and Farber recounts approvingly) are:

AIDS is actually a "chemical syndrome, caused by accumulated toxins from heavy drug use."

"Many cases of AIDS are the consequence of heavy drug use, both recreational (poppers, cocaine, methamphetamines, etc.) and medical (AZT, etc.)"

"HIV is a harmless passenger virus that infects a small percentage of the population and is spread primarily from mother to child, though at a relatively low rate."

"75 percent of AIDS cases in the West can be attributed to drug toxicity. If toxic AIDS therapies were discontinued...thousands of lives could be saved virtually overnight."

"AIDS in Africa is best understood as an umbrella term for a number of old diseases, formerly known by other names, that currently do not command high rates of international aid. The money spent on anti-retroviral drugs would be better spent on sanitation and improving access to safe drinking water."

The best rebuttals to Duesberg's hypothesis are here, here and here. Over at Slate science writer Jon Cohen has a piece examining the wave of "pharmanoia" afflicting mass media. As Cohen and others point out, conspiracy theories like Duesberg's warp and exploit some of the best political interventions made by AIDS activists: that patients should be engaged with their medical diagnosis and treatment, that clinical drug trials should be grounded in sound ethical practices, that the emphasis on virology has circumvented immunological approaches to AIDS and that attention to the effects of poverty, malnutrition and other diseases is vital to preventing and treating AIDS.

It's a shame that a magazine as well respected as Harper's has shirked its duty to report on these issues and instead published Farber's article. South Africa's Treatment Action Campaign has put together a comprehensive rebuttal of Farber's article documenting over 50 errors. I also post here a statement from HealthGAP and a letter to Harper's from Gregg Gonsalves of GMHC.

 

HealthGAP:"Harper's Magazine has stooped to new lows in publishing a lengthy article that rehashes old distortions by a writer who does not believe that HIV causes AIDS. Harper's should immediately publicly retract this article, and devote the same space to an accurate piece of news about the global AIDS crisis. We are very concerned that this inaccurate article will be used to fuel government inaction outside the US, where some heads of state, such as the South African President and the Minister of Health, have invoked AIDS denialist rhetoric rather than prioritizing antiretoviral treatment access for the 800 South Africans with HIV who are dying unnecessarily each day."

 

 

Gregg Gonsalves:"Dear Editors,I have been a long-time Harper's Magazine reader. I am sorry that the March 2006 issue is the very last that I will read.

 

 

With Celia Farber's article "Out of Control, AIDS and the Corruption of Medical Science," your magazine has managed to destroy its 156 year-old reputation in 15 pages.

 

 

Farber is a well-known AIDS denialist and publishing her work is akin to giving the folks at the Discovery Institute a place to expound upon the "science" of intelligent design, Charles Davenport a venue to educate us about the racial inferiority of the Negro or Lyndon LaRouche a platform to warn us about aliens, bio-duplication, and nudity.

 

 

If Harpers was some fringe publication or supermarket tabloid then we could all laugh at Farber's weird conspiracy theories and pseudo-science. The sad thing is that unlike the hoaxes perpetuated on the New Republic by Stephen Glass several years ago, Ms. Farber's reputation as a crank is widespread. Thus, it seems that your editors, after careful research and despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, decided that Ms. Farber was a serious journalist with a real story to be told.

 

 

If you choose to report falsehoods as truths when it comes to HIV/AIDS, how can I trust the veracity of the rest of what appears in your pages?

 

 

Yours truly,
Gregg Gonsalves

 

Feingold on Patriot Act: "The Fight Is Not Over"

As the U.S. Senate moved Thursday to reauthorize the Patriot Act in a form that fails to address essential concerns about the protection of civil liberties, Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, the chamber's most ardent critic of reauthorization along the lines demanded by the Bush administration, admitted temporary defeat. But, in final remarks to his colleagues on the eve of the vote, Feingold declared, "This fight is not over Mr. President. The vote today will not assuage the deep and legitimate concerns that the public has about the Patriot Act. I am convinced that in the end, the government will respond to the people, as it should. We will defeat the terrorists, and we will preserve the freedom and liberty that make this the greatest country on the face of the earth."

Here is the text of the speech Feingold -- the only senator to oppose the initial version of the Patriot Act in 2001 and one of the few to consistently oppose it throughout the reauthorization process -- prepared for delivery to the Senate:

Mr. President, in a few minutes, the Senate will conclude a process that began over a year ago by reauthorizing the Patriot Act. I will have a few closing remarks but first I want to take this opportunity to thank the extraordinary staff who have worked on this bill for so long. These men and women, on both sides of the aisle, have worked extremely hard and they deserve to be recognized. I ask unanimous consent that a list of their names be printed in the Record after my remarks.

Mr. President, beginning in November when we first saw a draft of the conference report, I have spoken at length about the substance of this bill. I hoped that when we started the task of reauthorizing the Patriot Act at the beginning of last year, the end product would be something that the whole Senate could support. We had a real chance to pass a bill that would both reauthorize the tools to prevent terrorism and fix the provisions that threaten the rights and freedoms of innocent Americans. This conference report, even as amended by the bill incorporating the White House deal that we passed yesterday, falls well short of that goal. I will vote no.

Protecting the country from terrorism while also protecting our rights is a challenge for every one of us, particularly in the current political climate, and it is a challenge we all take seriously. I know that many Senators who will vote for this reauthorization bill in a few minutes would have preferred to enact the bill we passed without a single objection in July of last year. I appreciate that so many of my colleagues came to recognize the need to take the opportunity presented by the sunset provisions included in the original Patriot Act to make changes that would better protect civil liberties than did the law we enacted in haste in October 2001.

Nevertheless, I am deeply disappointed that we have largely wasted this opportunity to fix the obvious problems with the Patriot Act.

The reason I spent so much time in the past few days talking about how the public views the Patriot Act was to make it clear that this fight was not about one Senator arguing the details of the law. This fight was about trying to restore the public's trust in our government. That trust has been severely shaken as the public learned more about the Patriot Act, which was passed with so little debate in 2001, and as the administration resisted congressional oversight efforts and repeatedly politicized the reauthorization process. The revelations about secret warrantless surveillance late last year only confirmed the suspicions of many in our country that the government is willing to trample the rule of law and constitutional guarantees in the fight against terrorism.

The negative reaction to the Patriot Act has been overwhelming. Over 400 state and local government bodies passed resolutions pleading with Congress to change the law. Citizens have signed petitions, library associations and campus groups have organized to petition the Congress to act, numerous editorials have been written urging Congress not to reauthorize the law without adequate protections for civil liberties. These things occurred because Americans across the country recognize that the Patriot Act includes provisions that pose a threat to their privacy and liberty -- values that are at the very core of what this country represents, of who we are as a people.

In 2001, we were viciously attacked by terrorists who care nothing for American freedoms and American values. And we as a people came together to fight back, and we are prepared to make great sacrifices to defeat those who would destroy us. But what we will not do, what we cannot do, is destroy our own freedoms in the process.

Without freedom, we are not America. If we don't preserve our liberties, we cannot win this war, no matter how many terrorists we capture or kill.

That is why the several Senators who have said at one time or another during this debate things like, "Civil liberties do not mean much when you are dead" are wrong about America at the most basic level. They do not understand what this country is all about. Theirs is a vision that the founders of this nation, who risked everything for freedom, would categorically reject. And so do the American people.

Americans want to defeat terrorism, and they want the basic character of this country to survive and prosper. They want to empower the government to protect the nation from terrorists, and they want protections against government overreaching and overreacting. They know it might not be easy, but they expect the Congress to figure out how to do it. They don't want defeatism on either score. They want both security and liberty, and unless we give them both – and we can, if we try – we have failed.

This fight is not over Mr. President. The vote today will not assuage the deep and legitimate concerns that the public has about the Patriot Act. I am convinced that in the end, the government will respond to the people, as it should. We will defeat the terrorists, and we will preserve the freedom and liberty that make this the greatest country on the face of the earth.

I yield the floor.

SF's For Impeachment, But Not Nancy Pelosi

San Francisco's Board of Supervisors is not the first local government body to pass a resolution calling for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney, nor will it be the last.

But because San Francisco is one of America's best-known and best-loved cities --unless you're Fox News bloviator Bill O'Reilly, who last fall went on air to suggest landmarks there that terrorists might want to strike -- the news has drawn wider attention to the burgeoning movement for impeachment. It has also exposed another embarrassing rift between top Democrats and grassroots party activists and elected officials around the country.

Tuesday's 7-3 vote by San Francisco's Board of Supervisors for Democratic Supervisor Chris Daly's resolution urging California's Congressional representatives to pursue impeachment pushed no new limits. The bill of particulars discussed by Daly and other supervisors echoed concerns raised by U.S. Representative John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, and the 26 House members currently cosponsoring Conyers' call for creation of a select committee to investigate administration preparations for war with Iraq before obtaining congressional authorization, manipulation of pre-war intelligence, encouragement and countenancing of torture, and retaliation against critics. That committee would be charged with, among other things, making recommendations regarding grounds for possible impeachment.

While a number of Bay Area representatives are among the cosponsors of the Conyers resolution -- including Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairs Barbara Lee and Lynn Woolsey -- the most powerful member of the House from region, and the primary representative of the city of San Francisco, is not on board. Indeed, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi seems to be almost as frightened by the word "impeachment" as the right-wing talk radio hosts who doth protest too much whenever it is mentioned.

Pelosi was confronted at a January town hall meeting in San Francisco by constituents who detailed administration misdeeds and chanted: "Impeach! Impeach!" Her response, according to a San Francisco Bay Guardian report, was initially a political one: "For those of you concerned about these issues, I urge you to channel your energies into the 2006 elections," she told the crowd.

Pressed on whether she would join senior Democrats in the California delegation -- such as Pete Stark and Maxine Waters -- in backing the House resolution to investigate matters related to impeachment, Pelosi answered that, "I do not intend to support Mr. Conyers's resolution."

Seeking to quiet the ensuing chorus of boos, Pelosi said, "We have a responsibility to try to bring this country together." According to Guardian report, one of the San Franciscans in the audience shouted back, "You have a responsibility to uphold the Constitution!"

That response is no longer just a shout from the crowd. It has been endorsed by the board of supervisors of the city Pelosi supposedly represents.

Guess Who Was Advising the Emirates?

Guess who just bobbed to the surface smack dab in the middle of the Dubai ports deal? Why, none other than Slick Willie. That's right, we now learn that Big Bill Clinton was on the phone a couple of weeks ago offering the monarchs of Dubai some free advice on how to slip their ports management deal by a rather skeptical, if not dumbfounded, American public.

Clinton was offering his sage counsel in private at the time that his wife, in public, was denouncing the deal. American politics hasn't seen such a cynical duo since the advent of the Carville-Matalin spectacle.

The former president's paid flacks are now trying give this all an innocuous spin: "President Clinton is the former president of the US and as such receives many calls from world leaders and leading figures every week," said his official spokesman. And, we're further told, Clinton was a good Boy Scout and earnestly advised the Emirs to submit to any and all reviews that might be asked of them. (There's no report he was biting his lip or crossing his fingers behind his back as he chatted up our royal buddies).

What Clinton didn't say, obviously, is that the whole thing stinks and that the Emirates should simply withdraw the deal.

How will any of this play out politically? Guess it depends on what your definition of a schmo is.

 

Support the Troops? Start by Listening to Them

According to the military newspaper Stars and Stripes, a new poll shows that 72 percent of U.S. troops serving in Iraq favor complete withdrawal from that country within a year.

Despite the claims of the armchair strategists in the White House and its amen corner in the media, who suggest that calls for withdrawal represent a failure to "support the troops," the troops themselves are ready to come home.

Only 23 percent of the soldiers surveyed in January and February for the Zogby International/Le Moyne College poll echoed the administration line that the U.S. presence in Iraq should be maintained for "as long as needed."

According to the pollster's analysis, there is remarkably broad support among the troops for immediate withdrawal.

"Of the 72 percent (who support withdrawal), 22 percent said troops should leave within the next six months, and 29 percent said they should withdraw 'immediately.' Twenty-one percent said the US military presence should end within a year," according to Zogby's review of the results of the survey, which was conducted before the recent explosive of sectarian violence in Iraq.

Around the country this spring, opponents of the war are promoting local resolutions and referendums -- particularly in Wisconsin, where more than two dozen measures will be on April 4 local election ballots in cities, villages and towns around the state -- that are intended to give citizens an opportunity to call for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

Critics of these initiatives suggest that it is unpatriotic and anti-military to talk about bringing the troops home. They don't like the idea of letting citizens play a role in establishing foreign policy priorities.

There are plenty of appropriate responses to this anti-democratic tendency on the part of those who are more loyal to George Bush and Dick Cheney than they are to their country's Constitution and its best political traditions -- beginning with: "When we fought that revolution back in 1776, your position lost."

But the best response of all might well be to say: If you really want to support the troops -- as opposed to the Bush-Cheney administration's warped policies -- why not listen to the troops? Indeed, why not let them vote in an advisory referendum of their own on whether they think the occupation of Iraq should continue?

Of course, the administration's apologists -- along with many more pragmatic players -- would respond to such a proposal with all the reasons why it is dangerous and unwise to treat the military as a democracy.

But if citizens are not supposed to advocate for withdrawal because doing so represents a failure to "support the troops," and if the troops who want to withdraw are not allowed to weigh in for all the practical reasons that might be cited, then what are we left with? No debate. No democracy. And no chance to set right what this administration and its neoconservative gurus have put wrong.

Ultimately, that's a fine scenario for George Bush and Dick Cheney, but its the wrong one for citizens at home and troops abroad. The right one is to recognize that, when citizens advocate, petition and vote for withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq they are supporting the troops.

Go FOIA Yourself

The folks at People For the American Way have set up this handy website that practically writes a FOIA request for you. All you have to do is print and fax. Of course, whether and when the feds get back to you is another matter. The Justice Department maintains that simple requests take an average of 19 days, while complex ones can take up to a year -- though I've heard of journalists waiting much longer for their results.

Speaking of FOIA requests, Tom Hayden gave a talk up here in Saratoga Springs on Monday. While I quibbled with his choice of title Democracy or Empire: You Choose -- since US imperialism past and present may well go by the slogan Democracy AND Empire: No Choice -- he did launch into a fascinating digression on the contents of his voluminous FBI file. The most chilling words contained within: "How do we neutralize Hayden?" (At which point a colleague mumbled, "Give him a tenure track job.")

If anyone comes up with similar results let us (and your lawyer!) know.

"Stare" at that Decisis

Walking up to my office on Capitol Hill today, I noticed an usually large amount of people milling around. Big crowds were standing outside the Senate buildings on a chilly February day. Cabs kept dropping visitors off. You could barely stand on the crowded sidewalks. Sure, Congress was back in session after yet another week-long recess (do these guys ever work?), but surely that wasn't the reason why.

Then I noticed camera crews lingering outside the Supreme Court steps, along with a mass of spectators. A particularly important case to be heard, I surmised. I went into the office and asked my two colleagues, "what's the hell is going on outside?"

They responded with three words, "Anna Nicole Smith."

Clinic Clash : Right to Protest v. Right to Choose

Ruling on an issue that had divided progressive groups for the better part of two decades, the Supreme Court on Tuesday issued an 8-0 decision that federal extortion and racketeering laws cannot be used to ban demonstrations outside abortion clinics.

The decision is being portrayed as a victory for anti-choice groups such as Operation Rescue and the Pro-Life Action Network. That is surely the case, as the court has conclusively rejected arguments for an on-and-off nationwide injunction that had been used to prevent anti-abortion groups from protesting outside clinics in a manner that, by all reasonable evidence, was intended to prevent the clinics from operating.

Effectively, the high court has rejected arguments, formulated by lawyers for the National Organization for Women in the 1980s, that civil provisions of the 1970 Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which was adopted as a tool to combat organized crime, and the Hobbs Act, an older anti-extortion measure, could be used to bar protests by groups that clearly intend to prevent clinics from operating.

But from the beginning of the long fight over clinic protests, some progressive groups have argued that, even if the anti-choice organizations involved were noxious players, broader issues of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly were also in play.

It is for that reason that the AFL-CIO, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the position of the anti-choice groups, will see itself as having secured a sort of victory with this particular court ruling. While they disagree officially, and often passionately, with the anti-choice groups on fights over court nominations and other issues, labor organizations weighed in on the side of the clinic protesters because of honest fears that lawsuits and injunctions based on a broad interpretation of racketeering and extortion laws could be used to undermine strikes, anti-sweatshop protests and similar agitations on behalf of social and economic justice that target businesses.

Bob Blakey, a former Congressional aide who drafted the RICO Act has argued that its use in litigation against anti-choice groups "will unconstitutionally chill social protest." Many anti-choice activists have cynically echoed Blakey's line, while conveniently failing to stand up for the rights of labor, environmental and anti-war groups to engage in protests of the sort they defend.

NOW President Kim Gandy countered Blakey's argument by writing that, "As a national officer of NOW, I know that the National Organization for Women has a strong interest in preserving free expression. As former counsel in this case, I know that we have been scrupulous in addressing issues of violence, not speech or peaceful demonstrations.

"NOW's marches, informational pickets and sidewalk demonstrations are effective and legal. Anti-abortion activists have the same right to distribute pamphlets and display signs and make their voices heard. But no group has a right to use violence or threats of violence to force others to give up their constitutional rights.

"Racketeering is not free speech. Marching in front of a clinic, carrying signs and distributing literature is free speech. When that picket becomes a brutal blockade . . . when those signs are used as weapons . . . when prayers change to overt threats . . . then the "protest" has crossed the line into violence and lawlessness, and has left the First Amendment behind."

But that line of reasoning did not convince the AFL-CIO, which historically has eschewed taking an official stand on abortion rights but has worked closely with pro-choice organizations such as Emily's List in recent years, and AFL affiliate unions and groups -- some of which, such as the Coalition or Labor Union Women, are ardently pro-choice. The AFL's lawyers argued against the broad interpretation of racketeering and extortion laws, on the grounds that unions could be targeted by similar civil suits in efforts by corporations to restrict pickets by labor unions.

Justice Stephen Breyer picked up on the AFL's arguments. Noting that there is a specific federal law that bars the use of force, threats or blockades to interfere with access to reproductive health care -- the 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act -- the justice suggested at one point during the long deliberations on these issues that allowing the use of racketeering and extortion laws to restrict protests would "transform virtually every threat of violence anywhere in the United States into a serious federal crime."

To Breyer's view, that would "make a major change in (how) threats of violence (are handled) on the picket line."

The Supreme Court's ruling will not eliminate differences of opinion on where exactly protests enter into the space where they have "left the First Amendment behind." But the unanimous ruling would appear to put an end to the practical legal debate, as the broad interpretation of these laws has been broadly rejected.

In matters of this kind, it is usually best to err on the side of dissent and dissenters. NOW made a credible argument for an exception, but the AFL and other groups made what many considered toi be an equally credible argument that a good exception could become a bad rule. The legal fight, for all intents and purposes, is now done. Unfortunately, with the recent appointments of John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the high court and with the move by South Dakota legislators to effectively ban abortion in that state, the national political fight over reproductive rights is heating up. And it is certainly reasonable to suggest that labor organizations, which split with pro-choice groups in the battle over clinic access, citing concerns about protecting the right to protest, have a greater responsibility than ever to work with those pro-choice groups to defend another endangered right -- that of women to make the most fundamental of all choices.

BMD (Bike of Mass Destruction)

Today's question: What's more dangerous -- hunting with Dick Cheney or bike riding with George Bush?

For background, we offer this report from Murdo MacLeod, the able political correspondent for Edinburgh's Scotland on Sunday newspaper:

US LEADER CRASHED BY TRYING TO 'PEDAL, WAVE AND SPEAK AT THE SAME TIME'

He may be the most powerful man in the world, but proof has emerged that President George Bush cannot ride a bike, wave and speak at the same time.

Scotland on Sunday has obtained remarkable details of one of the most memorably bizarre episodes of the Bush presidency: the day he crashed into a Scottish police constable while cycling in the grounds of Gleneagles Hotel.

The incident, which will do little to improve Bush's accident-prone reputation, began when he took to two wheels for a spot of early-evening exercise during last year's G8 summit at the Perthshire resort.

After a hard day's discussion with fellow world leaders, the president was looking for some relaxation. Instead, he ended up the subject of a police report in which the leader of the free world was described, in classic police language, as a "moving/falling object".

It was "about 1800 hours on Wednesday, 6 July, 2005" that a detachment of Strathclyde police constables, in "Level 2 public order dress [anti-riot gear]," formed a protective line at the gate at the hotel's rear entrance, in case demonstrators penetrated the biggest-ever security operation on Scottish soil.

The official police incident report states: "[The unit] was requested to cover the road junction on the Auchterarder to Braco Road as the President of the USA, George Bush, was cycling through." The report goes on: "[At] about 1800 hours the President approached the junction at speed on the bicycle. The road was damp at the time. As the President passed the junction at speed he raised his left arm from the handlebars to wave to the police officers present while shouting 'thanks, you guys, for coming'.

"As he did this he lost control of the cycle, falling to the ground, causing both himself and his bicycle to strike [the officer] on the lower legs. [The officer] fell to the ground, striking his head. The President continued along the ground for approximately five metres, causing himself a number of abrasions. The officers... then assisted both injured parties."

The injured officer, who was not named, was whisked to Perth Royal Infirmary. The report adds: "While en-route President Bush phoned [the officer], enquiring after his wellbeing and apologising for the accident."

At hospital, a doctor examined the constable and diagnosed damage to his ankle ligaments and issued him with crutches. The cause was officially recorded as: "Hit by moving/falling object."

No details of damage to the President are recorded from his close encounter with the policeman and the road, although later reports said he had been "bandaged" by a White House physician after suffering scrapes on his hands and arms.

At the time Bush laughed off the incident, saying he should start "acting his age".

Details of precisely how the crash unfolded have until now been kept under wraps for fear of embarrassing both Bush and the injured constable. But the new disclosures are certain to raise eyebrows on Washington's Capitol Hill.

Jim McDermott, a Democrat Congressman, last night quipped: "Not only does he break the law over here on eavesdropping and spying on our own citizens, but it seems he can't even keep to your law when it comes to riding a bike. It's another example of how he can't keep his mind on the things he should be thinking about."

Bush often takes to two wheels for exercise, after pain in his knees forced him to give up running. He regularly rides at secret service training facilities near Washington, and the G8 accident is just one in a long list of mishaps. In May 2004, he fell off his mountain bike, grazing his chin, upper lip, nose, both knees, and his right hand, while riding on his ranch in Texas. In June 2003, he fell off his hi-tech Segway scooter.

In Scotland, an accident such as the one at Gleneagles could have led to police action. Earlier this year, Strathclyde Police issued three fixed penalty notices to errant cyclists as part of a crack-down on rogue riders. Legal experts also suggested lesser mortals could have ended up with a fixed penalty fine, prosecution, or at least a good ticking-off from officers.

John Scott, a human rights lawyer, said: "There's certainly enough in this account for a charge of careless driving. Anyone else would have been warned for dangerous driving.

"I have had clients who have been charged with assaulting a police officer for less than this. The issue of how long the police officer was out of action for is also important. He was away from work for 14 weeks, and that would normally be very significant in a case like this."

No-one was available for comment from the White House.

Mr. MacLeod's only error was to contact the White House. For an official response to an incident of this sort, he should have called the woman who owns the Armstrong Ranch in Texas. Notably, she got the story out within 24 hours. This tale of executive excess did not come to light for six months. Still, considering recent developments, the timing could not be better to set Bush and Cheney up for the great bikes vs. bullets debate.