- Associated Press - Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Concord (N.H.) Monitor, July 17, 2013

In many ways, Chris Christie is the anti-Richard Nixon.

Nixon rose to the presidency despite acute social awkwardness, while Christie owes much of his political success to his ability to connect with voters. Nixon was never able to shed his “Tricky Dick” reputation, while Christie is lauded as a decisive straight-shooter.

But in other ways, Christie and Nixon are kindred political spirits - particularly in the way they handled the misdeeds of the people who served in their administrations.

In April 1973, Nixon took to the airwaves to talk about the Watergate scandal, which by springtime had ceased to be a “third-rate burglary.” Before announcing the “resignations” of chief of staff Bob Haldeman and adviser John Erlichman, Nixon said: “I was appalled at this senseless, illegal action, and I was shocked to learn that employees of the Re-Election Committee were apparently among those guilty.”

In May, Christie sat down for a Q&A; with Bob Schieffer of CBS during the Peter G. Peterson Foundation annual fiscal summit. When Schieffer asked Christie about the bridge lane closures in Fort Lee, New Jersey - an instance of alleged political retribution dubbed Bridgegate - Christie offered this perspective: “I’m not the first chief executive who had someone on their staff do something they didn’t know something about that they disapproved of and later had to fire them. I don’t think that that hurt anybody’s career, and it’s not going to hurt mine.”

Forty years ago, that line would have brought down the house, but Christie wasn’t going for laughs. One can only assume he was trying to create an air of confidence, but unfortunately for him the words left his lips as a stunning lack of historical perspective.

Christie should know that what ultimately doomed Nixon was that Americans came to realize that their president had created an atmosphere in his administration that amounted to tacit approval for the break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters. As more details were revealed, it became harder and harder to believe that John Dean, Dwight Chapin, Haldeman, Erlichman and the rest of the president’s men were acting of their own accord, that they had gone rogue. For that reason, Nixon’s denials of personal involvement in the break-in became irrelevant.

That lesson should not be lost on Christie. What he did and didn’t know about Bridgegate isn’t important. What is important, however, is what the scandal tells us about the atmosphere he created within his administration.

In two weeks, Christie will be in New Hampshire to join Sen. Kelly Ayotte and other prominent Republicans to raise money for the party, but there are likely other reasons for the visit. According to a recent WMUR poll, Christie leads the field of possible candidates for the Republican nomination for president. The New Jersey governor will no doubt have his mastery of retail politics on full display during his visit, but voters should also keep in mind a few more of Nixon’s words from that same April 1973 speech: “In any organization, the man at the top must bear the responsibility.”

The Portland (Maine) Press Herald, July 15, 2014

If you’re a man and you have had sexual contact with another man, even just once and as far back as 1977, you are banned for life from giving blood.

But go to bed with an HIV-positive woman, and you have to wait only 12 months before donating at your local Red Cross.

That’s because, according to federal policy, it is more risky to take blood from a gay man with a safe sexual history than from a straight person engaged in inherently risky sexual behavior.

Modern blood testing, however, has all but eliminated the risk that led to the blanket ban on blood donations from gay men, to the point that it is at least as safe as that of other donors. The Food and Drug Administration should loosen the ban to match that reality.

The ban dates back to the early 1980s, at the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic. It was imposed after recipients of blood donations, many of them hemophiliacs who received frequent transfusions, began contracting the disease.

Blood testing, when it became available in 1985, was not very advanced.

Initially, the most doctors could do was test for antibodies that are indicative of HIV.

Those antibodies do not start appearing until around 45 days from the time of infection, leaving a long “window period” during which the disease could not be detected.

That changed in 1999, with the advent of nucleic acid amplification testing. NAT, as it is known, detects the virus itself, and detects it within seven to 10 days of infection. The chance of the test getting it wrong after that “window period” is around 1 in 2 million.

That’s enough for the American Red Cross, the American Association of Blood Banks and America’s Blood Centers - representing all of the blood taken for donation in the United States. The organizations since 2006 have been calling for a change in the lifetime ban, which they call “scientifically unwarranted.”

They argue instead for a 12-month deferral period for blood donations, mirroring the ones in place for people engaging in other “high-risk sexual behaviors.”

Others agree. Both the United Kingdom, which now has a one-year deferral, and Canada, which uses a five-year deferral, have recently abolished lifetime bans.

A group called the National Gay Blood Drive also is seeking a change in the ban. Last week, the group held events in more than 60 U.S. cities, including Portland.

The FDA, which reviewed the ban in 2010 and again in 2012, has not budged. HIV infection rates in men who have sex with other men have risen lately, the agency argues, and the danger to the blood supply remains too high to allow for a change in policy.

The agency’s stance is not about discrimination; it is about risk. The agency can’t be faulted for wanting to get the chance of disease transmission as close to zero as possible, but with advanced testing, the lifetime ban no longer makes sense.

The FDA trusts the science in most cases, and it should trust the science in this one as well.

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