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The inhumane criminalization of homelessness won’t solve the problem

By Dr. Lyndon Haviland

May 4, 2024

TheHill.com

Body language from the U.S. Supreme Court suggests cities could soon criminalize the homeless as a way to address the growing problem of outdoor encampments. No one wants to be homeless, and everyone agrees something must be done — but inhumane approaches such as these won’t solve America’s housing crisis.  

Viewing homeless people as criminals for having nowhere to go reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of what we need to do to address a system that’s failed our country’s most needy constituency. …

City and federal officials have historically focused on treating the conditions of homelessness rather than addressing its pathways. Issuing citations or pushing the homeless down the road to another jurisdiction is akin to giving an aspirin to someone with a broken foot.  …

There is good news: a proven model already exists to reduce homelessness in America. It just takes a willingness on the part of Congress to fund it and make it a priority. 

Deepfake victims must punish Big Tech because Congress won’t

By Dr. Lyndon Haviland

April 12, 2024

TheHill.com

Concern over AI deepfakes has largely focused on their use in perpetrating election interference in this year’s U.S. presidential race. But they raise a more depraved problem that should scare all of us: deepfake pornography, where software programs accessible by a simple online search can turn an innocent image of an unwitting individual into a sexualized scene or video that can be posted online without consent.  …

Social media companies have proven they can’t police themselves, but Congress can. They can amend the Communications Decency Act to hold social media companies liable when deepfake pornographic images are published on their platforms. They can pass bills, such as the Preventing Deepfakes of Intimate Images Act and the Shield Act, which would make the circulation of deepfake pornography a crime. They can pass the Defiance Act, which would enhance deepfake pornography victims’ rights.  

But Congress has gutlessly failed to act on any of these measures.

As long as Congress remains impudent in standing up to them and as long as social media companies fight tooth and nail to evade responsibility, victims should drown them in litigation.  

Maybe then, and only then, they’ll get the message that the burden is on them to solve this crisis. 

Biden’s letting election-year politics hold back the menthol ban

By Dr. Lyndon Haviland

March 14, 2024

TheHill.com

[I]t came to light last month that Robert Califf, the commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, had privately urged fellow public health professionals to pressure the White House to make good on its 2021 pledge to ban menthol cigarettes.  

Califf likely didn’t intend for those conversations to end up in Politico. But the fact he encouraged his network to lobby President Biden to honor that 2021 commitment reveals the FDA is at odds with its own administration’s attempts to stall implementation of the years-old Biden-proposed regulation.    

Why has the Biden administration dragged its feet on this important public health initiative? Because a vast majority of Black smokers use menthols, and in an election year, when every vote matters, President Biden can ill-afford to alienate any potential constituency.  …

Last year, the Biden administration twice delayed its 2021 decision to ban menthols and kicked the can to this March for implementation. March is now here, so the question is: Will the Biden White House continue to value tobacco company profits over the health of thousands of Black Americans?  

Congress’s big show of protecting kids online stopped when the cameras did

By Dr. Lyndon Haviland

February 21, 2024

TheHill.com

Just a few weeks ago, Senate lawmakers displayed a rare glimpse of bipartisanship when they grilled the CEOs of social media platforms on being asleep at the switch in protecting children from online predators. The hearings were intense, and attended by survivors, family members and advocates. …

In the weeks since the American people have waited patiently for legislation to be brought to the Senate floor that would force the companies represented in that room to take these issues seriously. 

It hasn’t happened. Meta, TikTok, X, Snap and Discord continue to generate billions in ad revenue and provide an open playground for perpetrators to prey on children while enjoying “a broad liability shield” that absolves them of responsibility for what takes place on their platforms. A space the companies know to be unsafe for many young people. 

For the companies, it’s business as usual. For those in Congress, it represents a failed moment, a lost opportunity, to govern and work toward a common goal to protect kids and hold companies accountable.  

The unconscionable rejection of food aid for hungry kids is all about politics

By Dr. Lyndon Haviland

January 27, 2024

TheHill.com

A major public health threat consistently in need of state funding involves access to the most basic human essential — food. In response, the Biden administration recently announced details of a new bipartisan summer program that would provide $2.5 billion in state funding for healthier food options that will help 21 million low-income children when school isn’t in session. …

In a stunning move, 15 governors have said they will reject those funds. That’s not a typo: These state leaders will turn down resources that can help alleviate child hunger in their very own communities. …

Their decision to turn down federal funding is an obvious stunt designed to generate headlines and secure support from their core voter bases. But that political gamesmanship will be lost on the millions of children who won’t have available resources to find healthy food options this summer. …

[It’s] inexcusable. Some issues require elected leaders to override the reflexive desire to score quick points with their voters. Some are too great. Some demand that they listen to their moral compass and put America’s collective good above their political advancement. Some don’t deserve any political debate at all.

Supporting a bipartisan program to provide children access to healthy food is at the top of that list.

The rewards of expedited migrant work permits outweighs the risks

By Dr. Lyndon Haviland

December 27, 2023

TheHill.com

The holidays are here, and while the decorations on Capitol Hill symbolize a season of giving, lawmakers seem more focused on getting what they want on immigration. 

Every member on Capitol Hill agrees the public health crisis at the southern border is untenable. Those truly committed to addressing the emergency know that it can’t be fixed overnight. …

Strengthening security at the border is important, but it must be part of a holistic approach. This must include measures that advance public health, such as creating a more efficient path to U.S. citizenship, building better living conditions for those stuck at the border, developing more humane ways to keep migrant families together, and establishing ways to connect migrants with host families in the U.S., to name a few.   

Beyond these proposals, a step we can take right now, one that has proven to work, is to expedite the ability for migrants living inside the U.S. to earn a living. Today migrants must wait six months after filing their applications for asylum to apply for a work permit. The faster we speed up this process, the better off they — and America — will be.  

Congress’s posturing on HIV funding threatens 20 years of progress

By Dr. Lyndon Haviland

November 28, 2023

TheHill.com

This year marks [PEPFAR’s] 20th anniversary — and it’s in jeopardy due to a bitter partisan battle over one of the nation’s most divisive political issues: abortion. …

PEPFAR is considered the largest program by any nation to address a specific disease in history. It has helped prevent HIV infections and contain the spread of the virus in more than 50 countries across the world. And it has increased child immunizations and reduced maternal and child mortality in those areas as well. …

A group of GOP lawmakers claim PEPFAR funding is being routed to organizations that provide abortion services, which the White House denies. The GOP-controlled U.S. House passed a one-year reauthorization for PEPFAR with specific abortion restriction provisions, but its fate in the U.S. Senate is now in doubt. …

As lawmakers return to their districts this holiday season, Congress should remind itself how PEPFAR started, the millions it has saved, the millions more who stand to benefit — and that it’s not a sign of weakness to work together to advance the greater cause of our own humanity.

Loneliness: The silent epidemic hiding in plain sight

By Dr. Lyndon Haviland

September 28, 2023

TheHill.com

Millions of Americans face a public health threat that’s both overlooked and grossly underdiagnosed. It can’t be detected with a medical test or prevented by a vaccine. It doesn’t have a complex scientific name, dominate news headlines, spark a political debate or require social distancing.  

Social isolation can actually trigger its onset and lead to serious medical consequences including disease and early death. And while it doesn’t bear the hallmarks of other modern-day public health crises, given its wide reach, it demands action by Congress so that vast numbers of people across the nation may live longer, healthier lives.

It’s loneliness.

In New Mexico, ‘Oppenheimer’ offers new hope for long denied compensation

By Dr. Lyndon Haviland

August 23, 2023

TheHill.com

The movie “Oppenheimer” shows the destruction from the blast of the first atomic bomb, known as the Trinity test, on July 16, 1945, roughly 200 miles south of Los Alamos, N.M.  

Since then, under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA), the U.S. government has paid billions to residents of Arizona, Utah and Nevada who experienced downwind health impacts from 100 other aboveground atmospheric nuclear weapons tests that took place in Nevada between 1945 and 1962.

That could soon change. Bipartisan legislation to expand RECA to include New Mexicans living downwind of the explosions has passed the U.S. Senate, partially due to the increased visibility of “Oppenheimer.” Assistance for New Mexico residents is finally a possibility. President Biden this month signaled that he would sign the measure if it were to reach his desk. It’s now up to lawmakers in the U.S. House to make it happen.

The new CDC director’s most critical mission is rebuilding public trust

By Dr. Lyndon Haviland

August 3, 2023

President Biden recently appointed Dr. Mandy Cohen as the new director at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the announcement couldn’t have come at a more critical time. Many Americans have lost faith in public health and the agencies that monitor, respond and protect the health of our nation.  …

Responding to complex health problems requires that we trust the leadership of independent experts and organizations like the CDC. But when elected leaders use them as tools to advance political party ideologies, public health suffers.  …

Rebuilding trust in the CDC requires that we rise above politics and see the CDC and its people for who they truly are: committed health advocates serving our shared self-interest. We must treat them as stewards of our collective safety, not governors of our personal freedoms.