Like Colin Powell a few weeks before him, Health and Human Services chief Tommy Thompson resigned recently, his reputation having been shredded like cabbage. As governor of Wisconsin, Thompson had won the respect of some AIDS activists in the state, particularly for his expansion of Medicaid coverage for people with HIV. He leaves the Bush White House having overseen the most kooky, dangerous sex-education programs the government has ever promoted -- including telling teens that pregnancy can occur from heavy petting and that abortion leads to sterility and suicide.
Like Powell, who sold the administration's lies on WMD, Thompson continued to back the madness, though we're now told he wanted to escape sooner. He waited until after the election, giving Bush some cover. As in the case of Powell, he'll likely be replaced with someone far more to the right and completely loyal to Bush.
In a bizarre parting shot -- an attempt, perhaps, to save whatever was left of his integrity -- Thompson issued a dire warning regarding the threat from a human flu pandemic, which he called a "really huge bomb."
He then offered terrorists some ideas about how to attack us next time. "For the life of me," Thompson said, "I cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply, because it is so easy to do."
It would have been nice if the HHS secretary had told us earlier how he has not been able to sleep "every single night" because the food supply is not thoroughly inspected. If Thompson had a spine, he'd have stepped down before the election and announced his fears, putting the country and American lives ahead of his own and Bush's career. But like Powell, Thompson is just another hack looking out for himself.
Meanwhile, Thompson's HHS had claimed it would "break the back" of the AIDS epidemic and would cut new HIV infections in half, but as of World AIDS Day 2004, the HIV infection rate in the United States remained the same, at 40,000 per year. In less than five years, the U.S. has spent $900 million on abstinence-only education, and Bush proposes to spend $170 million more on these programs, even as he cut spending on other vital AIDS programs.
There are no government education programs telling teens that using a condom goes a long way toward protecting people from sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. The only government-funded education tells young people to abstain from sexual intercourse until they get married. For gay teens, who still represent a huge number of new HIV cases -- most notably among blacks and Latinos -- that means die and go to hell or go into some religious "conversion therapy" to control your homosexual desire. How, after all, can you abstain until marriage if you're not allowed to be married?
Of course, that's if you make it through high school at all without getting bludgeoned by students who've been fed twisted myths about gays and AIDS. Under Thompson, the government told kids in 69 abstinence-only programs in 25 states -- programs that reached millions of teenagers -- that HIV can be spread through tears and sweat, a vicious untruth that harkens back to the darkest days of AIDS in the early '80s.
The programs, flagged in an analysis by Representative Henry Waxman (D-Fla.) that was made public last week, also taught students that half of all gay male teens are infected with HIV, a number that has no basis in fact. The effect of telling kids in elementary and high school that they can get HIV from the sweat dripping from homos in gym class is a recipe for gay-bashing. But that's what happens when morality masks as science.
In the revelation last week about the abstinence-only programs, The Washington Post reported that some of the programs told kids that women who have abortions "are more prone to suicide," with 10 percent of them becoming sterile -- a claim in complete opposition to the 2001 edition of a standard obstetrics textbook, which says abortion does not affect fertility.
They also told students that touching genitals "can result in pregnancy" and that condoms were ineffective 31 percent of the time. (Most studies show a failure rate of three percent for condoms.) Lying to kids about sex puts them at greater risk of getting pregnant or infected with HIV and other diseases. How many young people became infected with HIV under Tommy Thompson's reign because of government-dispensed misinformation? Like Colin Powell, he's got a lot of explaining to do. •
Michelangelo Signorile writes a weekly column for the New York Press.