I went to public high school in Montana, where at least once a year we were shuffled into the gymnasium for lectures from abstinence-only educational speakers on how to make "good choices." Young, sprightly twentysomethings, who often resembled Ken and Barbie, would dance around the auditorium playing Christian rock and trying to convince us that having sex wasn't cool. In between all the jokes and music, I learned that condoms cause cancer and that sex is a bad deal for women. Turns out, I wasn't alone. Across the the United States, public schools—even ones that teach comprehensive sex education—invite religious abstinence speakers to come in to talk to students about sex, and sometimes spread information that is factually inaccurate in the process. Here are five such speakers, many of whom have generated local headlines for their controversial presentations. And they might be coming to a school near you—they're all still active on the sex-is-bad circuit.
Justin Lookadoo: "God made guys as leaders."
Lookadoo is a spiky-haired Christian lecturer who bills himself as a "professional Speaker who CONNECTS with the audience." He is on the road 200 days a year and on his website, he lists his age as "legal in every state." Lookadoo's presentations can be paid for "under many federal programs, including Safe and Drug Free Schools, Campus Improvement, Title I [and] Title IV." Last week, he caused controversy at Richardson High School in Texas when he gave a presentation for teenagers in which he said: "Girls, the reason it's so hard for you to succeed these days is not because of guys…You're doing it to yourselves," according to the Dallas Morning News. His online dating recommendations have also drawn ire from students and parents: "Men of God are wild…They keep women covered up" and "dateable girls know how to shut up." The Richardson High School principal apologized to students and parents, promising that "we will not invite this speaker back to RHS." Responding to the widespread media criticism, Lookadoo wrote on his Facebook page that "the complaints are based on relationship stuff [posted] on a website that I don’t even talk about in schools."
Jason Evert: "Girls...only lift the veil over your body to the spouse who is worthy."
Evert has two theology degrees and tours the country promoting abstinence with his wife, Crystalina Evert, with whom he runs the Chastity Project. According to Evert's bio, he speaks to over 100,000 teens each year. Evert tells Mother Jones he speaks to "lots of public schools" and his upcoming schedule shows that he's speaking next month at several in Texas. He says, however, that he removes all religious content from his public school presentations and is not paid personally for these events. Half of his honorarium for each event is spent on giving the students free copies of his pro-abstinence books and CDs.
Evert is passionate about women dressing modestly (or as he puts it, "Girls...only lift the veil over your body to the spouse who is worthy to see the glory of that unveiled mystery.") In this 2008 YouTube video, he says: "A culture of immodest women will necessarily be a culture of uncommitted men." He elaborated on those remarks for Mother Jones, saying that "true feminine liberation isn't about having the 'freedom' to dress like Miley Cyrus" and that that his views "could be judged as misogynist, but I think this would be an unfair assessment." He adds, "It's a joke to think the girl needs to be the chastity cop...but to reach [a] level of mutual respect in society, I don't think Daisy Duke shorts are going to expedite the process." Evert also maintains that birth control pills cause abortions. (In reality, they prevent conception, and if an egg is fertilized, they make the uterine lining inhospitable for implantation. The Code of Federal Regulations and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists define pregnancy as beginning at implantation.)
Pam Stenzel: "If you take birth control, your mother probably hates you."
Stenzel is a lecturer who, according to her bio, "provide[s] a structured and unambiguous message of abstinence that will mobilize and empower adolescents to make responsible choices" and claims to speak in-person to about 500,000 young people annually. She makes about $4,000 to $6,000 per appearance and has an extensive line of DVDs. She was also consulted for President George W. Bush's abstinence programs. This April, at George Washington High School in Charleston, West Virginia, a public school, she allegedly made some female students cry by "slut-shaming" them. According to the Charleston Gazette, she said, "If you take birth control, your mother probably hates you" and claimed she could tell which teenagers are promiscuous by looking at them. Stenzel told LifeSiteNews that she never said those things, but acknowledged that her presentation was "a little tough." In her YouTube videos, Stenzel tells students that sex is worse for girls (because they "are much easier to infect and easier to damage"). She also asserts that the HPV vaccine "only works on virgins," and that chlamydia—even when treated—is likely to make women infertile, with a 25 percent chance of infertility the first time it's contracted and a 50 percent chance the second time. Her HPV claim is 100 percent false, and her chlamydia statement is mostly false. (Of women with chlamydia who go untreated, about 10 percent will develop pelvic inflammatory disease, which in some cases may cause infertility.)
Joi Wasill: "According to your health textbook, and all of the medical textbooks, and science textbooks, and biology texts, conception is when life begins."
Wasill is the founder and executive director of Decisions, Choices & Options, Inc., a Tennessee-based organization with strong Christian and Republican ties that has provided educational programs that have reached about 40,000 high school students (her organization is currently available for public school bookings.) For speaking gigs outside of the Nashville area, the organization charges for travel fees and a per diem. In May, she spoke at Hillsboro High School, a public school in Nashville, Tennessee, along with Beth Cox, a presenter for Wasill’s organization. One student recorded her presentation and leaked it to the press. RH Reality Check, a daily publication covering sexual health, noted the talk included a host of inaccurate information.
The speakers claimed that condoms have holes in them and a failure rate of 14 percent (it's actually less than 3 percent); that first-trimester abortions can cause infertility (the National Abortion Federation says they're one of the "safest" medical procedures); and that the morning-after pill is a "chemical abortion" (nope, it delays and prevents ovulation). They also said that "according to your health textbook, and all of the medical textbooks, and science textbooks, and biology texts," life begins at conception. Wasil tells Mother Jones that her curriculum is "based upon information obtained from the Center[s] for Disease Control, SEICUS [Sexual Information and Education Council of the United States], National Center for Health Statistics, the health textbooks adopted by the state, and other sources such as these." Teaching "sexual risk avoidance" is in accordance with the law, she says, adding, "the avoidance of the risky behavior that leads to infection, disease, and teenage pregnancy is the best outcome for all students and enables them to live healthy, productive and successful lives."
Pro Life in TN
Shelly Donahue: "Girls are more feelings-oriented, and boys are more facts-oriented."
Donahue is a speaker for the Colorado-based Center for Relationship Education, an abstinence-only education program that works with students in 42 states and has received millions in federal funds. In 2006, Donohue caused controversy at Natrona County High School, a public school in Casper, Wyoming, when she gave a religious-themed abstinence presentation. According to the Casper Star-Tribune, she asked students, "Do you get closer to your God or do you get farther away when you have sex?" (The answer she wanted: "Farther away.") She also said that boys are "wired" to like math, science, and numbers, and girls are wired to be more feelings-oriented. She held up a bag of noodles to indicate that girls "are like spaghetti, with their feelings about parts of their lives entangled," according to the Star-Tribune. (She told the paper: "The outpouring and the positive was so much greater than this one kid's complaint.") In a training video posted by the Denver Westword in 2011, Donahue tells students that if a guy gets sperm anywhere near a girl's vagina, it will turn into a "little Hoover vacuum" and she will become pregnant. (No. Vaginas don't vacuum sperm off the couch.) In another 2011 video, she says, "the boys want to love and respect these girls, and the girls won't let them. The girls are backing up the booty, the girls are being assertive, these girls are emasculating these boys." She continues to conduct sex-ed training programs for teachers on public Title V funds and is holding one this month in Greeley, Colorado.
Not a month goes by without former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden dropping another explosive bombshell about the US government's vast surveillance programs. In response, lawmakers have proposed a flurry of bills that aim to clamp down on NSA spying. But tech companies aren't just sitting on the sidelines—the latest lobbying disclosure forms filed by Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and Twitter reveal that their lobbyists are keeping an eye on a number of these anti-NSA bills. And although most of the companies won't say which specific bills they support or oppose, some new bills have popped up on their lobbying forms just as the companies are publicly demanding surveillance reform.
The lobbying disclosure forms cover the period from July 1 to September 30, the months immediately following the first Snowden disclosure about the PRISM program in June. Bills introduced after those dates, such as the tech industry-backedUSA Freedom Act proposed by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), aren't included. There are also some bills that were introduced pre-Snowden.
In total, during this period, Facebook spent $1.44 million on lobbying, Yahoo spent $630,000, Google spent $3.37 million, and Twitter spent $40,000. The forms don't break down whether a company poured thousands of dollars into lobbying for one bill, or had one brief conversation about it with a lawmaker or an aide. Nor do the forms reveal whether companies have lobbied for or against a given bill. And for now, most US tech companies are keeping their positions about specific bills secret, so they can present a unified front against NSA spying and keep their options open.
Representatives of the most important tech companies have, however, made public statements indicating that they're likely to support bills that allow them to shed more light on government surveillance. "I was shocked that the NSA would do this—perhaps a violation of law but certainly a violation of mission," Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt told CNN last week, in response to an October 30Washington Postreport that the NSA was tapping into Google's servers without the company's consent. "From a Google perspective, any internal use of Google services is unauthorized and almost certainly illegal." Niki Fenwick, a spokesperson for Google, said that the company doesn't comment on whether it supports specific bills, but Bloomberg News reported last week that the company, which has bulked up its lobbying presence on Capitol Hill, "seeks to end National Security Agency intrusions into its data."
"Defending and respecting the user's voice [is] a natural commitment for us and is why we are so committed to freedom of expression," Colin Crowell, Twitter's vice president for global public policy, tells Mother Jones. A Twitter representative noted that the company is actively supporting two of the bills below, S. 607 and HR 1852, which require law enforcement to obtain a warrant before accessing private emails. "For the others, at any given moment, bills are in a state of change so it is rare to emphatically state that we formally support or oppose any given bill until it is nearer a point of final passage," the representative added.
Without further ado, here are eight pro-transparency bills that some of the biggest names in tech are watching:
"If you approve this pill, you surely will be signing a death sentence for thousands of people, especially young kids," Avi Israel, a father whose 20-year-old son committed suicide after becoming addicted to doctor-prescribed hydrocodone, told FDA officials at the December hearing.
The FDA's advisory board, an appointed group of medical experts who evaluate drugs used in anesthesiology and surgery, voted against Zohydro 11-2 last December. As several board members noted, most opioid painkillers on the market also include acetaminophen, the main ingredient found in Tylenol, a combination that is less likely to lead to addiction. But like OxyContin, the "Hillbilly Heroin" the Drug Enforcement Agency has blamed for hundreds of deaths in a single year, Zohydro includes a high dose of its main opioid ingredient undiluted by acetaminophen. That could lead to higher rates of abuse, the FDA's medical advisers warned.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released data showing that painkillers are essentially the worst drug epidemic in US history, killing 16,000 people in 2010 alone. Painkillers that include hydrocodone and its cousin, oxycodone, are widely abused by users who crush, snort, or inject the drugs, seeking a high. Zohydro is made from high-dose hydrocodone undiluted with acetaminophen; OxyContin uses undiluted, high-dose oxycodone. "Oxycodone and hydrocodone are very similar drugs and Zohydro (extended release hydrocodone) is similar to OxyContin (extended release oxycodone)," Andrew Kolodny, chief medical officer at the Phoenix House Foundation, a nonprofit drug and alcohol rehabilitation center, tells Mother Jones. "This drug will almost certainly cause dependence in the people that are intended to take it," Judith Kramer, a professor at Duke University Medical Center who voted against the drug, testified in December.
Among the advisory board's other objections: Zohydro's manufacturer, Zogenix, disregarded FDA recommendations that opioid painkillers include a gel-like plastic preventing them from being crushed and snorted; the drug is meant to be used by cancer patients, but was never widely tested on those patients; and during the study's trial run, 2 of 575 test subjects are believed to have committed suicide, one by hoarding the drug and overdosing after the study was over.
The FDA says that making painkillers less likely to be abused is a "public health priority." One such abuse deterrent, now standard in OxyContin, involves injecting the pills with a gel so that they can't be crushed and snorted. But Zohydro doesn't come with that measure. On November 4, Zogenix entered into a $750,000 agreement with a Montreal-based company, Altus Formulation Inc, to help it come up with an abuse-deterrent formula—but it's not clear how long that will take, or whether it will be ready before Zohydro hits pharmacy shelves in four months. Zogenix did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
"This is a colossal mistake on the FDA's part," David Jurrlink, a scientist with the Sunnybrook Research Institute at the University of Toronto, tells Mother Jones. "Because this isn't tamper-resistant like OxyContin, there is a real concern that it will be preferentially sought by people who want to abuse it. It boggles the mind." Liscinsky, a spokesperson for the FDA, confirmed to Mother Jones that Zohydro "is not abuse-deterrent," but noted that "FDA does not believe it is feasible at this time to require that all new solid oral-dosage form opioids have abuse-deterrent properties."
Before approving Zohydro, the FDA examined one study of the drug's effectiveness. In that, study, researchers gave Zohydro to about 1,500 patients. One phase of the study, which weighed the drug against a sugar pill, showed that subjects taking Zohydro for chronic lower back pain reported less pain than those who received the placebo over a 12-week period. The study definitively showed that Zohydro "was superior in controlling pain," Stephen Farr, the cofounder, president, and chief operating officer of Zogenix, told the FDA. But the results were not dramatic enough for some members of the FDA's advisory panel.
"I am concerned that there's a very modest change in the pain scores. With a lot of methodologic reworking, it is convincing as a study, but not that convincing," Jeanmarie Perrone, the director of the division of medical toxicology at the University of Pennsylvania, said during the December hearing. "I have my doubts." She went on to vote against the drug's approval.
In another part of the study, researchers gave Zohydro to with a variety of chronic pain conditions to test for possible side effects over a period of six months to a year. The main side effects reported by the test subjects were non-life-threatening symptoms like nausea, fatigue, headache, and dizziness. But a few subjects reported more serious side effects, including "mental impairment." According to Liscinsky, the FDA spokesperson, of 575 subjects in the chronic pain population who were given Zohydro, 5 died. The first four deaths—one of which was a completed suicide, by carbon monoxide poisoning, and another which was caused by drug toxicity from other painkillers—"were unlikely [to be] related to study medication." The fifth death was "an apparent suicide" by a patient who "hoarded study medication" during the study and died from an overdose of the drug about a year after the study was over, Licinsky says.
"If we had this issue arise of diversion and potential abuse in a closely monitored situation with multiple professionals, then how do we control this substance in the larger marketplace where we don't have the same controls underway?" Rodney Mullins, the national director for Community Health Advocates and the consumer advocate on the FDA advisory committee, asked at the December hearing. He, too, went on to vote against the drug.
Panel members also raised concerns about Zogenix's marketing strategy. Cancer patients will be eligible to take the drug, but only five cancer patients took it during testing. "You're asking us for an approval that will be used much more broadly," said Kramer, who also noted that Zogenix sales representatives will be compensated, up to a certain point, based on the number of Zohydro prescriptions they can convince doctors to write during the drug's first year on the market.
"In Texas, I have six pain clinics that in a 15-month period wrote between almost 24,000 and 43,000 scripts…Those guys are still in operation. So we need to be very aware that these people who are into making the money, just because you call [Drug Enforcement Agency] doesn't mean things are going to happen quickly," Jane Maxwell, a senior research scientist at the Addiction Research Institute who voted against the drug, said at the hearing.
Farr, Zogenix's president, testified at the hearing that the company believes it can control abuse of the drug by limiting its availability and focusing on the patients who need it. The FDA is not allowing any prescription refills with Zohydro, and notes that there will be stringent recordkeeping, reporting, and physical security requirements for the drug. But James Breitmeyer, the chief medical officer at Zogenix, acknowledged, "There's an unfortunate linkage between opioid abuse and suicide. And that will be an important part of the training that we do."
The two panel members who voted for the drug argued that Zogenix has met the FDA's safety standards and posed no greater risk than current painkillers on the market. The FDA agrees. "FDA has concluded that the benefits of Zohydro ER outweigh its risks when used as provided in the approved labeling," Licinsky, the FDA spokesman, tells Mother Jones.
But at the December vote, some doctors weren't willing to take that risk. "I happen to live in the real world," said Alan Kaye, a doctor who chairs the anesthesia department at the Louisiana State University School of Medicine, explaining why he was voting against the drug. "I certainly feel there would be quite a bit of morbidity and mortality that would result."
Update: Senate Republicans have blocked Nina Pillard, making her the third woman nominated to the D.C. Circuit to be blocked this year. Melanie L. Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, says, "We see this as an abuse of power by a group of Republican Senators when there no legitimate issues have been presented, and these candidates are highly qualified."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is expected to hold a confirmation vote today for Cornelia "Nina" Pillard, who was nominated by President Obama to sit on the second-highest court in the United States: the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. Pillard is a Georgetown University law professor and a magna cum laude graduate from Harvard Law School who has argued and filed briefs on dozens of cases that have come before the Supreme Court. She is also unabashedly feminist and pro-choice and supports access to contraception and comprehensive sexual education. As a result, she's attracting a wave of attacks from Republicans, who are waging a battle to make sure she never gets to join the conservative-dominated court.
"I have concerns about your nomination…[Your academic] writing, to me, suggest that your views may well be considerably outside of the mainstream," Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said during Pillard's July hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which in September voted to advance her confirmation to the full Senate. Conservative think tanks have been less diplomatic with their views: Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, wrote that Pillard promotes "militant feminism," and "America can't afford to give a lifetime appointment to a radical ideologue."
The two biggest Supreme Court cases that Pillard worked on helped affirm rights for both men and women in the United States. In 1996, her brief helped persuade the US Supreme Court to end the Virginia Military Institute's decades-old men-only policy. And in 2003, her argument led the Supreme Court to uphold the inclusion of men in the Family and Medical Leave Act. It's not these cases, but rather Pillard's academic writings on reproductive rights, that have sparked Republican fears of her "militant feminism."
At a September Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) went so far as to read Pillard's writings to another DC Circuit judicial nominee to see if he disagreed—without revealing that Pillard wrote them. A Democratic Senate aid told the Huffington Post he found the exchange "super weird." The writings Grassley quoted came from a 2007 Georgetown University Law Center paper, in which Pillard noted that "reproductive rights, including the rights to contraception and abortion, play a central role in freeing women from historically routine conscription into maternity." That insurance plans were not required to cover women's contraceptives was, she wrote, "emblematic of a much broader failure," and she expressed support for more comprehensive sex education in schools.
In a 2006 entry for the Encyclopedia of American Civil Liberties, Pillardwrote that"accurate health education can help to make abortion less necessary by teaching teens about reproduction and birth control." Republicans aggressively attacked this viewpoint. "You [have argued] that if a state decides to teach abstinence-only, that that decision…in your judgment, may be unconstitutional. Is that indeed what you were arguing?" Cruz asked at the July hearing.
Pillard replied: "I'm a mother. I have two teenage children, one boy and one girl…I want both of my children to be taught to say no, not just my daughter. I want my son to be taught that too. The article was very explicit. I don't see any constitutional objection [to] abstinence-only education that does not rely on sex-role stereotypes."
Cruz said that he found that to be "an extraordinary position," and Ed Whelan, writing in the National Review, accused Pillard of "false testimony" on the abstinence education issue. "No one who seeks to use the Constitution to impose and advance her own dogmatic belief…should be trusted with judicial power," he wrote. Pillard has said repeatedly that her personal views will have no place in her judicial decision-making, and Media Matters has called the National Review's attacks on Pillard "sexist, hypocritical, and flawed."
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) also brought up Pillard's writings at the July hearing, accusing Pillard of comparing anti-abortion protesters to white supremacists. "Do you believe that pro-life protesters are fairly analogous to Klu Klux Klan members who lynched African Americans?" he asked. Pillard disagreed, noting that the brief in question referred to why protesters shouldn't interfere with law enforcement, and, at the time, there wasn't a more relevant statute to cite. She said that after that case, Congress passed the Freedom of Access to Clinics Entrances Act in 1994, which made it illegal for protesters to obstruct people going to health clinics.
If Pillard's confirmation is blocked by Republicans, it will be because they can't handle an openly feminist, pro-choice federal judge—or because, as Reid has pointed out, they are stonewalling all of the Obama administration's nominees, no matter their background. Obama has nominated two others to the DC Circuit, one of whom has already been filibustered by Republicans. "While Senate Republicans are blocking President Obama's nominees to this vital court, they were happy to confirm several judges to the DC Circuit when Presidents Reagan and Bush were in office…Pillard is incredibly qualified and dedicated," Reid said.
At least one conservative legal scholar agrees: "I know well Professor Pillard's intellect, integrity, and temperament…I know her to be a straight shooter when it comes to the law and legal interpretation," wrote Viet D. Dinh, who served as the assistant attorney general for legal policy under President George W. Bush. "I am confident that she would approach the judicial task of applying law to facts in a fair and meticulous manner."
Most Americans assume that Silicon Valley, a shining beacon of US economic growth, will give a lot of dough back to Uncle Sam over the next few years. But thanks to a controversial loophole in US tax code, 12 tech companies—including Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin—are poised to avoid paying income taxes on their next $11.4 billion in earnings, netting the companies a collective savings of $4 billion, according to a report put out this week by the Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ).
The way the law stands now, US companies get big tax deductions when they pay their employees in stock options. For example, if an executive is given the option to buy a million shares of a company at five cents a share and later cashes those options in when they're selling for $20 a share, the company can deduct the price difference in tax breaks, even though they never actually paid that higher salary. This is especially profitable to emerging industries, like tech, where companies give stock options to young executives when they're still coding out of their parents' basements. These tech employees have an incentive to stay with the company over the long-term, and then cash in once the company is profitable. That means that companies get to store these tax breaks until—ta-da!—they're not paying income taxes for years. Here's how much these 12 companies have saved:
Twitter is the latest company that stands to profit from this, since it just went public.But in this latest report, CTJ determined that Facebook still has the highest amount of stock deductions to cash in—about $6.2 billion worth, allowing it to avoid income taxes for almost five years. And it's not just tech companies. In April, CTJ found that 280 Fortune 500 companies have benefited from this break in the last three years alone.
Tony Nitti from Forbes argues that even with this loophole, Uncle Sam isn't losing money, since as Facebook deducts $5 billion in taxes from Mark Zuckerberg's stock, Zuckerberg is taxed on $5 billion in income, and the individual rate is higher than the corporate rate. Facebook did not immediately respond to comment on the report, but a spokesperson told the Huffington Post earlier this year that "it's a mistake to look at only the corporate tax revenue while ignoring the billions of taxes paid from initial shareholders."
But Matt Gardner, executive director of the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, tells Mother Jones that the IRS is still losing money, since Zuckerberg would be taxed on his income no matter where it came from, and under the loophole, the company is able to write off his income without corporate income taxes. "If Facebook buys Zuckerberg a lottery ticket for a buck, and then he wins a million dollars, should the company be able the write off that million? That's absurd, but that gives you a sense of what's going on here," says Gardner.
Bipartisan lawmakers have recently started to denounce this loophole, and in February of 2013, Senator Carl Levin (D-MI)proposed a bill that would limit how high companies could go with their stock-option tax breaks.
"People recognize that these loopholes are not fair. They are wrong in every sense that a policy can be wrong—wrong fiscally, wrong economically, wrong ethically," said Levin in a statement.