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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Did Michelle Obama, channeling Rev. Wright's racist paranoia, condemn south Chicago girls and young women to unnecessary and preventable STDs and cervical cancer?

Michelle Obama To stem the political hemorrhaging it was causing, Sen. & Mrs. Barack Obama have withdrawn from membership at the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. But to what extent did what they heard while they were members affect their activities outside the church over the last several years?

Recall these paranoid, racist statements of Rev. Wright, their former pastor, as he accused the United States government of developing and spreading HIV/AIDS specifically to commit genocide against the black population:

MODERATOR: In your sermon, you said the government lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color. So I ask you: Do you honestly believe your statement and those words?

WRIGHT: Have you read Horowitz's book, "Emerging Viruses: AIDS and Ebola," whoever wrote that question? Have you read "Medical Apartheid"? You've read it?

(UNKNOWN): Do you honestly believe that (OFF-MIKE)

WRIGHT: Oh, are you — is that one of the reporters?

MODERATOR: No questions...


WRIGHT: No questions from the floor. I read different things. As I said to my members, if you haven't read things, then you can't — based on this Tuskegee experiment and based on what has happened to Africans in this country, I believe our government is capable of doing anything.

In fact, in fact, in fact, one of the — one of the responses to what Saddam Hussein had in terms of biological warfare was a non-question, because all we had to do was check the sales records. We sold him those biological weapons that he was using against his own people.

So any time a government can put together biological warfare to kill people, and then get angry when those people use what we sold them, yes, I believe we are capable.

Now consider this segment from today's New York Times, in an article on the campaign's attempt to re-brand Michelle Obama (bold-face mine):

By 2001, Mrs. Obama, married for nine years and the mother of two daughters, had taken a job as vice president of community affairs at the University of Chicago Medical Center. She soon discovered just how acrimonious those affairs were....

She also altered the hospital’s research agenda. When the human papillomavirus vaccine, which can prevent cervical cancer, became available, researchers proposed approaching local school principals about enlisting black teenage girls as research subjects.

Mrs. Obama stopped that. The prospect of white doctors performing a trial with black teenage girls summoned the specter of the Tuskegee syphilis experiment of the mid-20th century, when white doctors let hundreds of black men go untreated to study the disease.

"She’ll talk about the elephant in the room," said Susan Sher, her boss at the hospital, where Mrs. Obama is on leave from her more-than-$300,000-a-year job.

The New York Times reports this without much comment, buried near the bottom of its article, as if it's not particularly revealing or controversial. But it made my jaw drop. Has yours yet?

If not, consider more carefully: Here's the wife of the Great Unifier, the Great Conciliator, the Great Educator who's going to bring America to a post-racial future. She's supposedly a community activist working for the benefit of poor neighborhoods whose teenagers are disproportionately at risk for sexually transmitted diseases. She has an opportunity to reverse, through education, decades of racial distrust and to simultaneously protect her teen-aged female constituents against "cervical cancer and other diseases in females caused by certain types of genital human papillomavirus (HPV)[, a class of viruses] ... which are responsible for 70% of cervical cancers and 90% of genital warts." So Mrs. Obama strikes a mighty blow to promote ignorance, to prevent vacination, and to permit preventable STDs and cervical cancer.

Yes, the Tuskegee Syphillis Experiments were awful. Yes, there is a huge amount of racial mistrust and misinformation lingering because of them, as evidenced by Rev. Wright's pronouncements. But Tuskegee isn't the rule, it's the awful exception from an era in which we no longer live.

What kind of Luddite is this Princeton and Harvard educated lawyer and mother of two young girls? All such modern vaccination programs are voluntary — there's at least an opt-out provision, even when legislation has been proposed to add this vaccine to the mandatory list of vaccinations for public school attendance — and they require the genuinely well-informed consent of the participants. Surely someone like Michelle Obama and her husband (with his commitment to community education, in coordination with people like Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn) could ensure that accurate information was provided in a meaningful format to promote informed choices. Indeed, it seems to me that she was uniquely positioned to strike a blow against bigotry, against ignorance, and in favor of education, science, and both racial and medical healing.

So: Why choose not to educate? Why not at least allow an opportunity for this scientific breakthrough to protect the health and the very lives of these at-risk girls and young women?

This is shameful behavior. I can't understand or explain it, other than as a function of the exact sort of racist paranoia that Rev. Wright has been preaching. It sounds as though Michelle Obama bought big-time into the very worst of Rev. Wright's screed — and that she actively practiced what he preached, to the detriment of the very people they were purportedly helping and protecting. I'm aghast.


UPDATE (Wed Jun 17 @ 6:00pm): Tom Maguire's reaction is very much like mine:

In a different and better world the community affairs director for a hospital would use her college education and neighborhood roots to educate and reassure the community that her hospital was not actually interested in recreating ghastly medical misadventures from the past. In this world, it looks like the Sister Grim is less interested in resolving these grievances and more interested in nursing them.

Tom also links this RAND news release from 2005 regarding the extent of conspiracy paranoia among blacks and its resulting deterrence of condom use and promotion of STDs.

Compare the more libertarian yet scientific and compassionate position of Dr. Ken Alexander of the Pediatrics Department of the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine:

Dr. Alexander, a proponent of the HPV vaccine in young women, cautions lawmakers about proposed legislation that would require the HPV vaccine in the sixth grade. While stating that he does believe that teenaged girls should be immunized, he expresses his belief that this view is one that should not be forced upon the public but rather decided on the family level.

Regardless of whether you support mandatory vaccination (with opt-out rights) or merely more widely publicizing the vaccination option to families, it's hard to deny that here, Michelle Obama, who's dogmatically pro-choice on abortion rights, acted to take away choices from these girls and young women and their families.

The question in my mind is: Does she believe Rev. Wright's paranoid, racist fantasies? Or is she simply exploiting and continuing their currency among her constituents? Either is unacceptable, but the latter would put her on, or at least very near, a moral plane with the initiators of the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments themselves.


UPDATE (Thu Jun 19 @ 5:15pm): When I picked up my middle two teens today, Sarah and Adam, I confirmed that both were familiar with the HPV vaccine, and that Sarah has been inoculated. I then told them the sad, sordid tale of the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments, a story they hadn't heard before, and that they reacted to with appropriate revulsion. But then I told them — as neutrally as I could — about what the NYT has reported on Michelle Obama's involvement in the HPV vaccination program at the University of Chicago hospital. My daughter's immediately reaction — unprompted by me — is that Michelle Obama's denial of medical prevention and treatment options to her hospital's patient population is as outrageous as the decisions made by the sponsors of the Tuskegee experiments. (Sarah will be a high school senior next year, and her politics in general much more closely match her mom's than mine: They were both Hillary Clinton supporters, for example.)

TIME magazine, June 2, 2008Barack Obama specifically pointed to Rev. Wright's comments about HIV/AIDS and Tuskegee when he disassociated himself from Rev. Wright, and he acknowledged that his pastor's views on those subjects were a legitimate topic of political interest. So what about his wife's views and actions on these subjects?

Ironically, the June 2 cover of TIME magazine is devoted to an article entitled "The Truth About Vaccines: Worried about autism, many parents are opting out of immunizations. How they're putting the rest of us at risk." (That story focused on childhood vaccines, not specifically on the HPV vaccine.) But another article touted on the cover is: "Will Michelle Obama hurt Barack in November?"

So when will the mainstream media put two and two together and realize that these questions are perhaps linked?


UPDATE (Thu Jun 20 @ 5:15pm): James Taranto'sBest of the Web column today includes some statistics on the dangers that the HPV vaccine can prevent, and also reads the facts reported in the NYT article as "suggest[ing] that girls in Chicago were denied potentially lifesaving vaccinations because Michelle Obama pandered to racial paranoia instead of standing up for the truth."

Posted by Beldar at 03:52 PM in 2008 Election, Current Affairs, Obama, Politics (2008) | Permalink


Other weblog posts, if any, whose authors have linked to Did Michelle Obama, channeling Rev. Wright's racist paranoia, condemn south Chicago girls and young women to unnecessary and preventable STDs and cervical cancer? and sent a trackback ping are listed here:

» Michelle Obama and HPV vaccines from blogs for industry

Tracked on Jun 21, 2008 12:55:43 PM


(1) Gregory Koster made the following comment | Jun 18, 2008 8:56:40 PM | Permalink

Dear Mr. Dyer: Nope, she doesn't buy the off-the-rack paranoias of Wright. She's a garduate (cum laude) of Princeton and or Harvard Law. I believe you when you say you don't graudate from those joints by gliding down the river. Ergo, she's not stupid. Ergo, the denying of consent for vaccination is just good old fashioned cynicism, something not alien to the Ivy League and its graduates. It could be rationalized this way:

"I don't KNOW that allowing young black girls to participate in these trials. But I do know the voters who will vote for Barack will buy it. So let someone else do it. Better yet, let them fool with white girls. If it works, they can use this to prove that there's a double standard of health care among the races. Perfect fit for national health care."

That explains it, I think. Michelle Obama is scarcely different from Hillary: cold-blooded, greedy, full of contempt for dam near everyone in the world but her own revolting self (she needs to do a better job concealing her contempt for hubby. Plays great with the feminists, but it's hell with the clingy gun nut religious types who need to be conned once more.) Should the Messiah cruise home to 1600 Pennsylvania, it'll be a swell show watching the constant attempts to slip a muzzle on the old battleaxe, and the bloody efforts to repulse said muzzle.

Sincerely yours,
Gregory Koster

PS---Wright doesn't buy his own bunkum. He's just pitching what he thinks, correctly, his audience of suckers will buy. Note that when asked, he never actually said he believed the govt invented AIDS, just that they were capable of doing so. That's good enough for his herd.

(2) John made the following comment | Jun 18, 2008 8:58:40 PM | Permalink

Are you joking here? A clinical trial is not education; in fact, a clinical trial happens when it's unclear whether the vaccine in question even works, or what the side effects will be. And given the prevalence of HPV infection in all socioeconomic groups, it's kind of hard to figure out why poor black girls are the logical choice for trials.

Of course, if she had steered the trial toward a poor black neighborhood, we'd probably have a blog post today about how she was condemning white girls to infection and cancer.

Seriously, this reads like something from Free Republic.

(3) Beldar made the following comment | Jun 18, 2008 10:55:21 PM | Permalink

John: I wouldn't joke about cervical cancer. I have two teenaged daughters; they've both been inoculated, and we've talked about the risks and benefits as part of a broad discussion of sex, STDs, and other health-related matters.

With the disclosures attending this program, there would indeed have been education. They don't just round up kids in cattle cars and forcibly inoculate them.

Moreover, these sound from the NYT's description like they may have been Phase III clinical trials, by which point there has indeed already been empirical findings made as to both safety and efficacy. (I wish there were more info in the article, including dates; given that it's later than 2001, it's very unlikely that it was earlier in the research stage.) It's also possible that the "research" was to be simply controlled follow-up and data reporting, after the vaccine had been FDA-approved.

I don't fault the Obamas for trying to work within their immediate community, whether that's defined in geographic, economic, or racial terms. But I'm genuinely shocked and dismayed that she'd torpedo a public health program that could do so much good, and on such a ridiculous basis — one which accepts, rather than challenges, racist paranoia like Rev. Wright's.

So tell me, John, if you're still reading: Do you agree with Rev. Wright's suggestions about the government using HIV/AIDS to accomplish a genocide among the black population of the U.S.?

(4) John made the following comment | Jun 19, 2008 6:25:43 AM | Permalink

Rev. Wright's suggestions are nuts. (And I'm glad your daughters have gotten the vaccine; it's a good precaution that may save them serious health problems in the future.)

It's sad that those sorts of suggestions have any kind of currency; but it's also worth asking why, and I don't think it's as simply solved as putting local girls into a clinical trial.

Was her call on this right? I don't know, and I think you can make a good case that it wasn't, but you haven't done that by ascribing the worst possible motivations to her via some hostile long-distance psychoanalysis, complete with some name-calling (battleaxe).

(5) qrstuv made the following comment | Jun 19, 2008 8:08:49 AM | Permalink

"Seriously, this reads like something from Free Republic."

Ah, but the money quote comes from the New York Times:

"The prospect of white doctors performing a trial with black teenage girls summoned the specter of the Tuskegee ..."

It seems that the editors of the NYT believe that her concern was indeed about appearances.

(For some reason, the NYT chooses to paint this as a good thing, but that's another story.)

Tell me again why it was a good idea for Ms. Obama to remove options for these people.

(6) charclax made the following comment | Jun 19, 2008 11:21:11 AM | Permalink

Can someone tell me who decided that all the doctors participating in the proposed trial would be white? I can't believe that Mrs. Unifier would deign to work at an outfit that wasn't suitably diverse. I mean, there are black doctors today. Really, there are. Therefore, the presumption that there is a Tuskegee correlation is stupid. A tale told by a fool, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

(7) willem made the following comment | Jun 19, 2008 1:34:42 PM | Permalink

Then again, I think Beldar's example may signify quite a bit. The compulsive racialism of this mindset has psychiatric implications, particularly as it relates to projection and the disordering of reason.

I worry Michelle's most positive benefit to her husband's campaign is to mask and somewhat normalize the profound racialist compulsions of her husband.

This is the significance of Reverend Wright. He is "normal" to them, as are Dorhn and Ayers.

Confiscation of our property is normal to them. We owe them. We are proven guilty before we say a thing; our guilt is "felt" and that alone is proof enough.

That they are students of due process and still think this way should be ringing alarm bells across the nation.

Their hunger for power is something to be feared, as these traits are shared with the despots of history.

What good is preventing racists from reaching elective office only to replace them with compulsive racialists obsessing over bigotries of their own.

(8) A.W. made the following comment | Jun 19, 2008 4:15:02 PM | Permalink


With respect (and I do respect you a lot) I think you have this all wrong. Picture you are Corporate Counsel for a hospital. Its easy for me to do it, because I am Corporate Counsel for a health care agency. You find out that doctors are performing experiments on black girls only. What should go through your head?

What would go through MY head is, “God help us if there were any side effects. Then the next thing you know, there would be lawsuits, civil rights investigations, maybe Al Sharpton or some other race hustler would be down here crying, ‘Tuskegee! Tuskegee!’”

I would say it flat out to those researchers: either do it colorblind, or not at all. I would be derelict in my duty not to.

Look, B.O., in my opinion is an out-and-out racist, who surrounds himself with people who actually hate this country and he probably shares their views. Michelle seems to belong in that category of America-haters, as attested by that “first time in my life I am proud of my country” comment. So I don’t carry no water for BO or anyone else in his camp. But this one doesn’t hunt with me. What she did was just good business sense. That hospital didn’t know the vaccine was safe back then, and therefore they were courting a civil rights and PR disaster.

(9) Beldar made the following comment | Jun 19, 2008 5:01:21 PM | Permalink

A.W.: Thanks for the suggestion, and for the input based on your personal experience. But as you probably know, major teaching hospitals like this participate day-in and day-out in clinical trials, 24/7/365. That's how almost all medical research gets done, and that's been true for decades. You're undoubtedly aware of how thorough and careful sophisticated researchers are in getting, and documenting, fully informed consent to minimize their potential legal liability.

I would bet you $10,000 that there are other clinical drug trials going on there within the same patient community. And I would also wager a substantial sum that this research wasn't really intended to "[perform] experiments on black girls only," although it is true that the University of Chicago is located in a predominately black part of the city. To the extent the NYT story suggests that the research would have excluded non-black participants, I suspect the NYT is simply wrong about that.

As I mentioned above, I wish the NYT article had been more specific about when the research proposal was made and exactly what it involved, but it's entirely possible that it came after formal FDA final approval of the vaccine. ("Research" continues even thereafter, especially at teaching hospitals associated with major medical schools.)

As a practicing lawyer, I have also indeed represented doctors and hospitals and insurance companies, as well as individuals, on both sides of virtually every kind of medical liability case. I had a substantial series of related cases involving a quack cancer remedy some years ago in which I learned the ins and outs of the FDA approval process, including not only the federal agency requirements, but the related issues regarding institutional review boards. My expert witnesses included the top cancer drug researchers at both of the major medical schools here in Houston (UT-Houston, with its M.D. Anderson cancer treatment center, and Baylor School of Medicine). Moreover, my ex was a graduate of and then an instructor at Baylor, and for the dozen-plus years of our marriage, some of our closest friends were MDs or MD/PhDs there who are doing this sort of clinical research. So, yes, I claim a considerable degree of competency on this subject — as in, I'm competent to be the outside litigation counsel advising in-house lawyers like those who work for the University of Chicago.

Whatever else were Michelle Obama's motivations, this was not about avoiding potential civil liability. And if there was a worry about a public relations problem, it's the kind of problem that Michelle Obama should have embraced and overcome, because it would have been based on the same sort of racist paranoia spouted by Rev. Wright about HIV/AIDS.

(10) Dave W made the following comment | Jun 19, 2008 6:17:28 PM | Permalink

Beldar, Your piece brought back to my mind a question that has been percolating since the Obamas first released their tax returns last spring. I keep hoping that when the senator finishes on of his stump speeches about the evils and inequities of the spiraling costs of healthcare. some enterprising newshound will ask whether perhaps one quick and easy way to cut the inflation of medical costs would be a federal regulation banning hospitals and other medical organizations from paying 6 figure salaries to people running phoney baloney diversity outreach programs. But what are the odds of that happening? The hypocrisy of these people was wonderfully exposed by Barack's commencement address at Wesleyan, where he implored the grads to forego their materialistic ambitions to pursue careers in community activism. If he were more honest he could have counseled them that if they can just learn to fake sincere concern for the poor and downtrodden they can achieve all their material fantasies and a wonderful self-righteous smugness at the same time. Just look at how well he and Michelle have done while, if the situation of the intended recipients of their service has changed for the better it's hard to see how any of it is traceable to the efforts of Barack and Michelle, except, of course, for quite a number of their Hyde Park neighbors.

(11) Carol Herman made the following comment | Jun 19, 2008 9:17:29 PM | Permalink

Heck, why not go whole hog, and claim Michelle is a Jewish name?

It's the worst approach to single her out. Worse yet, the racism bobs to the surface.

Won't help ya win.

Is there a tight race, ahead?

Funny thing is that Obama did the major thrusting in that he eliminated Hillary. And, for all the "hoopla" that Hillary was so mainstream, both democrats and republicans would vote for her because she's "competent" ... You might discover she lost her base. And, ya know something else? She doesn't walk on water.

If you're gonna be out there without your base. Without your ship. Without your keel and stern, you better hope you've got legs long enough so your feet can drop to the bottom, but you don't drown.

Ya know, I'd have thought the republicans would have learned their lessons "BIG TIME" ... when to defeat Ronald Reagan, no one had any trouble slapping Nancy around. (Her saving grace? Her husband really, really liked her.)

And, up ahead?

McCain will be blasted for being too old. True.

And, people will look for him to display his temper. Do they have pills that prevent that from happening?

If you think you win by painting Obama black, boy, have I got news for you.

Who knew charisma was an equal opportunity employer?

Don't look for high water marks when it comes to the candidates parading about. The American public just isn't in tune for intellectual debates. Though, ya know what? IF Lincoln came along, he'd look at Obama and he'd be the most polite man in town.

Lincoln did give a good lesson, there folks. When he said WITH MALICE TOWARD NONE.

You want to claim Michelle has malice? Better to tell the world her first name sounds Jewish. For all the good it will do ya.

(12) A.W. made the following comment | Jun 20, 2008 7:50:14 AM | Permalink

I think this makes it clear that there is a factual ambiguity here. Its not clear whether 1) the testing was limited to black girls or 2) the vaccination was considered safe by the time these trials were being conducted. And I think we both agree that the answer to those questions are significant factors in determining the line between justified concern and irrational paranoia.

All of which highlights another point for me: how much the bias in the media harms discussion. The truth is we can't judge her conduct in this incident because we don't have the facts, why? because the NYT is so liberal, they didn't even wonder about these issues.

(13) Jim Hu made the following comment | Jun 21, 2008 1:00:53 PM | Permalink

Just sent a trackback ping, but it hasn't shown up yet...

AW, the answer can be found via PubMed. By the time Ms. Obama was working for the U of C hospital, the current HPV vaccines were in at least 6 phase III trials with subjects that were mostly white, but included black women as well as hispanics and asians at other sites.

(14) Beldar made the following comment | Jun 21, 2008 1:53:51 PM | Permalink

Mr. Hu: Thanks for the comment, and the link and info! Your ping had gotten snagged by TypePad's spam filter (which isn't very accurate), but I've retrieved and published it.

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