Help From Above


WASHINGTON, D.C.—The Vatican’s open attack on the Spanish government last week for endorsing gay marriage, along with Pope Benedict XVI’s pointed exclusion of Muslims in delivering “special greetings” to other Christians and to Jews in his first homily Sunday, serve to remind us of the church’s odious history and probably are indications of the sort of hardball politics his Vatican is getting set to play in the coming months. The pope’s Monday outreach to Muslims might be taken
as a correction to his first homily, or more likely, an afterthought.

The church fought the Moors (Muslims) on Spanish soil for hundreds of years, finally reconquering the area and pursuing an Inquisition that expelled Protestants and Jews. If this is how the pope intends to commence his re-Christianization of Europe, the future bodes ill.

There’s nothing new about the Vatican meddling in U.S. politics. The difference is that the new pope is laying down the line at a time when the Christian right is on the ascendancy in framing political debate here. Together, a reinvigorated papacy and an already hot-wired crowd of right-wing evangelicals may well give the Christian right more clout in U.S. politics. People may still dismiss Tom DeLay as an out-of-control wacko, but Bill Frist is not only a respected mainstream medical doctor but also a respected member of what most people consider to be a moderate Presbyterian church and a quite likely Republican candidate for the presidency in 2008.

Benedict’s pointed attack last Friday on Spain’s socialist government for endorsing gay marriage will have resonance here, and not just with hysterical anti-gays but among other constituencies—black Protestant churchgoers, to name one. As politicians discovered in the last election, many black churchgoers recoil at the idea of gay marriage, and it is one very real area where Republicans can make headway. In this case, values could well trump traditional economic concerns in defining politics.

Benedict has already intruded in U.S. politics, of course, with last year’s letter denying communion to pro-choice politicians like John Kerry. The Vatican’s ridiculous policy against birth control in Africa might be disregarded except that it backs up George W. Bush’s own abstinence policies. The Vatican is against stem cell research, abortion, euthanasia—all the “life values” issues that are now at the forefront of American politics.

Last week’s attack by the Vatican on Spain was strong. The Vatican strongly denounced as iniquitous the Spanish government’s bill allowing gay marriage and giving gay couples the right to adopt. Spain is the first of Europe’s Catholic countries to adopt such a law. But a senior Vatican official said Catholic officials should be prepared to lose their jobs rather than cooperate with the law. Will this be interpreted as a call for American Catholics who hold political jobs to resign?

Neocons tell world to shape up

While Dems were congratulating themselves on at least temporarily stopping John Bolton, Condi Rice and Donald Rumsfeld, in true neocon style, were out in the empire straightening out the peons.

With elections behind him, Bush has been celebrating the birth of a new Iraq in which the Iraqi people have the last word, as befits a democracy. That, however, does not mean the U.S. is not running the show. In a trip to the Kurdish north last week, Rumsfeld warned his listeners to quit killing each other and toe the line. Washington wants to see “highly competent people who are not going to politicize security forces” in the government and will maintain a U.S. presence until Iraq’s own forces are capable of defeating the insurgents.

At a news conference, Rumsfeld was asked whether Iraqi officials had given him assurances about continuity in the senior leadership of Iraqi security forces. “It’s not so much a matter of continuity as a matter of competence, of capability,” the AP quoted him as saying. “It’s a matter of not causing undue turbulence in the Iraqi security forces and not setting back the important progress that’s been achieved.”

Meanwhile, at the Kremlin, Rice addressed “Pootie-Poot” Putin as if he were some sort of errant colonial administrator. She told the Russian leader to quit pussyfooting around and get real. “Democratic development is needed to ensure that Russian-U.S. relations become deeper and that Russia achieves its full potential,” she told him in the menacing lingo that goes with “regime change.” She added, “There should not be so much concentration of power just in the presidency, there needs to be an independent media . . . so that the Russian people can debate and decide together the democratic future of Russia.” Before departing, she reiterated her demand for more democracy, snapping coldly, “One can’t imagine reverting back to Soviet times.”

People in the U.S. were just plain shocked at the way the Russians handled the Yukos mess, she told him. Investors need assurance that “there is a rule of law.” And she suggested the Russians put out “rules that people can understand” and that are “applied consistently over time.” That’s code for this: Don’t make things hard for U.S. energy companies wanting to operate in Russia. Welcome them and give them long-term contracts to Russian oil and gas. Recently Russia restricted foreign countries from participating in such ventures, except as minority partners. Russia is the one country in the world with an apparent surplus of oil. We need it.

In Lithuania, Rice spoke with Belarus dissidents, promising the U.S. would work with them to put this “last true dictatorship” on the “road to democracy.”

But meddling with Belarus might not be as simple as it seems, for this ghastly backwater sits astride the main natural gas pipeline from Russia to Western Europe. Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said, “We think the process of reform cannot be imposed from outside.” The next day Russian and Belarusan officials met to arrange closer relations.

And finally, on her European trip, Rice made it clear that when we speak of an international peacekeeping force, we’re talking about NATO, not the U.N.

Drugged ghostwriters

Everyone knows that the big pharmaceutical companies finance the research that is then fobbed off on the compliant Food and Drug Administration as independent, dispassionate examination of new drugs. But what isn’t so widely known is that the very articles written to support an existing drug or pave the way for introduction of a new drug—articles signed by the most reputable of experts—are ghostwritten.

Pharmaceutical firms engage intermediary companies to ghostwrite reports and then round up well-known names to sign them. The people signing these articles had nothing to do with the research that stands behind them and did not even have a hand in composing the articles they are signing.

This procedure makes fools of medical journals that participate—knowingly or unknowingly. And it is yet another step in the cloaking of advertising as journalism. In The Guardian (U.K.) last week, Adriane Fugh-Berman of Georgetown University describes how she was approached to sign an article she had never seen before.

“Last summer, I was asked by RxComms, a British medical communication company, to author a review of interactions between herbs and warfarin (a generic anticoagulant prescribed to prevent strokes or blood clots),” she writes. “Well, not ‘author,’ exactly. The usual practice is for a complete article to be supplied; all I would have to do was review it and sign it off. Months later, I received a completed, 2,848-word draft, with an abstract, references, and a table, ready for submission to a journal, with my name on it. A note asked me to return it with any changes within seven days.”

Fugh-Berman refused to go along and instead decided to write about her experience. RxComms apologized and told her it was a mistake. But an inquiry made clear that what Fugh-Berman experienced is pretty common.

Karen Pederson, director of media relations at The New England Journal of Medicine, tells the Voice, “We have a number of safeguards to try to protect us from publishing ghostwritten articles.” The journal requires authors to sign various forms “saying the writing is theirs, that they are the sole owners of the information.” She added, “Essentially what editors will say is that we go through such a rigorous review process and they have to have so many conversations with the writers” that by the time an article is published, any ghostwriting should have been exposed and gotten rid of.

“You can never say never,” she adds, “but we go through painstaking efforts to make sure that kind of thing doesn’t happen.”

The Journal of the American Medical Association also has published rules in an attempt to weed out ghostwritten articles.

Additional reporting: Halley Bondy, Christine Lu, and Natalie Wittlin