How Tobias, Bush Administration Tortured Africa With Abstinence
There's much good fun to be made with the recent resignation of USAID Director Randall Tobias, in the latest DC sex scandal:
[ image: George W. Bush with recently disgraced, resigned USAID Director Randall Tobias, author of "Put The Moose On The Table".
Bush: "it's THIS big, they don't even MAKE condoms that fit !"]
"Some problems are like having a moose in the room; the more one tries to ignore it, the more of an issue it becomes. Thus, the best thing to do is to confront it--to put the moose on the table--and look for a solution in dealing with it effectively. This is just one of the lessons on leadership Tobias learned during his tenure at AT&T, at Eli Lilly and Company, and as a member of various corporate boards. In Put the Moose on the Table, he [ Randall Tobias ] recounts his journey through life and the vicissitudes of corporate leadership in late 20th century America" - From a review of Tobias' moose book.
But, behind the scandal lies the horrifying effects, of the religiously charged ideology Tobias has helped to inject into US foreign aid programs, on Africa's poor...
For many African women, access to condoms is a matter of life or death...
For many African women, sex with their husbands - who may well be sleeping with other women - is not optional.
The three "spotlights" near the end of this story link to tales of the effects of Bush Administration family planning/AIDS policies on three different African nations.
OK, the ridiculous part comes first:
I guess Randall Tobias didn't figure out how to put HIS moose on the table , eh ?
Ding ding ding !! OK, Mr. Tobias, you win the most egregiously hypocritical politician of the year award, unless you're unseated in the next few days by some even more excessive display to catch the media spotlight as the Washington DC call girl sex / prostitution ring scandal washes across DC like the great wave of the Boston Molasses Disaster, ensnaring politicians in a gooey mess of their own making. Aah... how sweet it is, cloyingly so even.
In terms of raw bang for the buck, there's nothing better than a good'n juicy DC sex scandal, with fluids oozing out all the orifices...
Apparently, for just-resigned US Deputy Secretary of State Randall Tobias the "moose" was sex, and his hypocrisy out on display for all to see couldn't have been any more blaring ; as Think Progress details, Tobias "oversaw a controversial policy advocated by the religious right that required any US-based group receiving anti-AIDS funds to take an anti-prostitution “loyalty oath."
The Indiana University Randall L. Tobias Center For Leadership Excellence might just want to change its name soon before it winds up on the Daily Show, and if anyone has ever heard the call of a lovesick moose, well...
Tobias' early branding of the hookergate scandal, by way of his oddly titled "Moose On The Table" book may give rise to entirely new terms referring to sex and sex acts:
Hey, honey, ya' wanna put da' moose on the table ?
Yo, y'all... my moose be on the table today... watchout !
Or, the more mundane:
You better put the moose on the table, I'm not gonna get pregnant. Not by you, anyway.
From miles away, you can see the jokes and talking points soon to make the rounds on TV and radio talk show circuits, such as the obvious :
"Did he or didn't he use a condom when he didn't have sex ?"
But, there's another story to be told about the Tobias resignation...
Since the early days of the Bush Administration, Randall Tobias played a significant role infusing Christian right ideology into US international programs providing sexual education, HIV/AIDS prevention, and family planning: the body count, in the end, may be considerable. But don't worry, the dead won't be American.
Back in April 2004, Tobias sparked a controversy by declaring, at the Berlin Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS that "Statistics show that condoms really have not been very effective... It's been the principal prevention device for the last 20 years, and I think one needs only to look at what's happening with the infection rates in the world to recognize that has not been working."
Regardless of whether he actually believes in such ideological positions or not is irrelevant; Randall Tobias has been one of the leaders spearheading a Bush Administration push to shift US international family planning policies towards a "faith based" approach and re-channel US foreign aid away from secular organizations and towards religious groups that, per one major survey, are predominantly Christian. Starting as head of US global AIDS policy and moving up to head USAID, some would go so far as to call Tobias a leader in an international war on woman's reproductive rights.
For readability, this story is broken into three main sections, with bolded titles:
Faith Based Foreign Aid Ramps Up, and the three part
The influence of American evangelicals on Bush Administration policies concerning the War On Terror, Israel, and the US Global AIDS policy has been considerable, some argue, and it's certainly demonstrable that the Bush Administration has advanced religious conservative ideological positions on sexuality and family planning with great zeal. While the effect on wealthy Americans, who still enjoy fair access to birth control methods, has been relatively limited the impact on developing world nations, and especially in Africa, may be disastrous [ for a good overview, see Helen Epstein's God and the Fight Against AIDS, from The New York Review Of Books. ] and could result in hundreds of thousands if not possibly millions of unnecessary African deaths:
Crushing news out of Uganda last week. The Bush administration's $1 billion experiment in using abstinence messages as the basis of HIV prevention has born its first fruit: In a public speech on May 18, Uganda's AIDS Commissioner Kihumuro Apuuli announced that HIV infections have almost doubled in Uganda over the past two years, from 70,000 in 2003 to 130,000 in 2005. And despite this chilling wake-up call, Bush has empowered Christian right activists to continue to push their abstinence-only agenda at a UN Special Session on HIV/AIDS, to begin next week. According to a State Department email I obtained, the official U.S. delegation is stacked with some of the very people who contributed to the debacle in Uganda.
Uganda was once an HIV prevention success story, where an ambitious government-sponsored prevention campaign, including massive condom distribution and messages about delaying sex and reducing numbers of partners, pushed HIV rates down from 15 percent in the early 1990s to 5 percent in 2001. [ from A disaster for abstinence ideology
While increasingly sharper scientific challenges to the alleged efficacy of "Abstinence-only" programs in the US have come out over the last several years, culminating in a recent, devastating Mathematica Research study that finds Abstinence programs don't have much, if any, effect at persuading American teens not to have sex
, the Bush Administration has turned a blind eye to the failure of abstinence ideology in the US and forged ahead determined to inflict failed abstinence programs on Africa and the developing world
. As a recent New York Times Review of Books story noted, Human Rights Watch has come out and accused the Bush Administration of violating basic human rights
Most of the $15 billion in the AIDS plan is to be spent on treatment and care for people with AIDS, but $1 billion is earmarked for HIV prevention through abstinence-only-until-marriage education. Since 1996, the US government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on similar programs in American schools. These programs teach children that heterosexual intercourse within marriage is the only safe and acceptable form of sexual behavior. Teachers in those programs are barred from mentioning condoms and birth control—except their failure rates.
Human Rights Watch and other activists point out that every abstinence-only program that has ever been evaluated has failed to reduce rates of teen pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases, and they fear that the $1 billion abstinence earmark will have similarly dismal results in other countries. Human Rights Watch has now accused the US government of violating the right of young people to information about sexuality, condoms, and other methods of contraception that could save their lives.
As Esther Kaplan, author of With God On Their Side
, notes in The abstinence gluttons
, the Bush Administration years have seen a radical shift in US family planning policies, away from scientifically driven policies and towards "faith based" programs, and shifts in foreign aid funding that have fattened the coffers of Bush Administration allies on the Christian right:
"For years, the approach was condoms only," deputy coordinator Mark Dybul told the Baltimore Sun... "That needs to change."... Why exactly a proven prevention approach based on condom access plus complete prevention education (it was never "condoms only") needs to change we'll leave to the AIDS officer who leaked the doc to the Baltimore Sun: "This is no longer about preventing HIV," he said. "It's about the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator responding to a conservative social agenda. And it will absolutely cost lives, in Africa and beyond."
No kidding. According to the best research we have, from sociologist Peter Bearman at Columbia University and published earlier this year in the Journal of Adolescent Health, the vast majority of participants in abstinence-only programs who pledge virginity go on to have sex. And when they do have sex, they're so unprepared for the experience that they are far less likely to use a condom, and far less likely to seek out medical attention for potential STDs than people who never pledge virginity in the first place. The harm may be limited when you push this stuff on American teens in exurbia. But it's almost incalculable when you try it in a country like Botswana with a 37 percent HIV infection rate, as Bush is doing....
A devastating new report from the Maryland-based Center for Health and Gender Equity analyzes actual spending on the ground under the president's global AIDS plan. CHANGE found that in 2004, long before this new directive went into effect, 56 percent of all sexual prevention dollars went to abstinence-until-marriage campaigns--far above the congressional guideline. In Nigeria in 2005, the share of prevention spent on abstinence-until-marriage was 69 percent.
Meanwhile, as the AIDS epidemic continues to explode, the United States is sending fewer condoms abroad now than it did 15 years ago, according to the CHANGE report.
As Michelle Goldberg pointed out in a recent post, it's hardly incidental that many of these abstinence-only grants are going to politically connected Christian right organizations such as Franklin Graham's Samaritan's Purse and the Children's AIDS Fund, to the tune of approximately $10 million each. (The latter group won its grant despite its proposal being rated "not suitable for funding" by the expert review committee, according to the Washington Post. But the head of USAID, Andrew Natsios, intervened to overrule the experts and insist that the group receive the grant.) And as Helen Epstein and others have reported, many of these programs are only thinly veiled attempts at Christian evangelizing. Graham himself, an early booster of Bush's global AIDS program, said in testimony before the Senate in 2000, "This crisis will be curbed only when the moral teachings of God's Word permeate African society."
As a Human Rights Watch report
notes, the antagonism of the Bush Administration towards the United States' historic role in encouraging condom use in the 3rd World has been consistent with policies that go back to George W. Bush's tenure as governor of Texas and which have continued through his two presidential administrations :
While President Bush has at times mentioned condoms in his public speeches, he has demonstrated a clear and consistent commitment to “abstinence only” programs that censor information about condoms. As governor of Texas and during his 2000 presidential campaign, Bush supported federally-funded abstinence-only programs and vowed to expand them if elected president.17 Soon after taking office in 2001, Bush appointed as high-level HIV/AIDS advisers physicians who denied the effectiveness of condoms, including former U.S. Representative Tom Coburn and Joe S. McIlhaney, Jr., president of the Texas-based Medical Institute for Sexual Health (MISH) and a long-time recipient of federal abstinence-only funds.18 As president, he has continued to support funding for abstinence programs in both his domestic and foreign policy agendas.
"Faith Based" Foreign Aid Ramps Up
Since joining the Bush Administration in 2003 Randall Tobias helped further a massive shift in the character of US foreign aid, as federal foreign aid funds have been channeled away from secular organizations with solid track records, and towards Christian aid organizations with little to no experience
; Christian aid groups are getting hundreds of millions of additional funding, some from existing funds that have been channeled away from longstanding, succesful secular programs such as CARE, some from new money appropriated for the President's Emergency Program For AIDS Relief ( PEPFAR ) which has been slated to dole out 15 billion dollars over a five year period.
Bush Turns On The International "Faith Based" Aid Spigot
Concurrent with the release of David Kuo's book "Tempting Faith", a multi-part Boston Globe series that premiered October 8, 2006 detailed how "President Bush has almost doubled the percentage of US foreign-aid dollars going to faith-based groups... And in seeking to help such groups obtain more contracts, Bush has systematically eliminated or weakened rules designed to enforce the separation of church and state." Along the way, the Bush Administration has de-funded CARE, and as notable as the Administration's promotion of Christian right sexual politics within the US has been during George W. Bush's reign, the administration has enabled the Christian right to inflict failed "abstinence-only" ideology on entire African nations. The scale of such efforts is astounding, and the mounting effect, the human toll, appears to be an increase in HIV/AIDS infection rates in countries such as Uganda that in the decade of the 90's had pulled off an impressive reversal in HIV/AIDS infection rates.
[ excerpt, from Religious Groups Cash In ]
Back in 2005, Kingdom Coming" author Michelle Goldberg, in Abstinence For Africa, described an ominous development: a new Bush Administration program that provides several hundred million dollars for "capacity building", to help religious organizations learn how to apply for federal international aid grants and build organizational capacity to receive such money:
"Great to see the AP pick up on the fact that at least a quarter of all of Bush's international AIDS funding is going to religious organizations--with an emphasis on groups with no experience administering HIV grants. Many of these recipients, such as Franklin Graham's Samaritan's Purse, are well-connected players on the Christian right. Not only do most of these religious grantees put a dangerous emphasis on unproven abstinence-only initiatives, but this pattern of grant-making is part of a long-term effort to defund the left (in this case, traditional family planning and AIDS organizations) and shovel money the far right.
As the AP story notes, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), one of the most militant abortion opponents in Congress and a leader behind the effort to require that AIDS grants emphasize abstinence, took a tour of Uganda in January where "he saw pro-abstinence rallies and skits praising Bush." Ah ha. We've known for some time that this federal grant money is often used for religious proselytizing --now we find out that it's being used to give Bush a political boost abroad as well.
Where, exactly, does public health fit in?"
"We all know how the Bush administration has pushed Christian right policies at home, but many of the most devastating effects of the delegation of public policy to the James Dobson lobby are being felt abroad, especially when it comes to sexual health.
Bush has withheld tens of millions of dollars from the United Nations Population Fund because of discredited accusations from a hard-right Catholic group that the UN agency supports coerced abortions in China. As a result, maternal health clinics have had to close worldwide. In November, Bush expanded the global gag rule -- which denies U.S. family planning funding to any organization that performs abortions, counsels about them or refers women to abortion services -- to HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment efforts.
Then, this week, Bush once again increased the role of religious groups in America's global AIDS prevention policy. According to a story on the Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare policy, "Faith-based organizations worldwide will play a major role in fighting the AIDS and HIV epidemic under a new initiative announced by President George W. Bush. The 'New Partners Initiative,' outlined by the President during World AIDS day last week, will also seek to build partnerships with overseas organizations that have little or no experience in working with the United States government...The initiative will provide $200 million through fiscal year 2008 for technical and capacity-building assistance that will help such organizations compete for future program grants."
Understand what this means. The reason these faith-based organizations haven't been able to compete for grants is largely because of their lack of infrastructure and experience."
[ excerpt, from Abstinence For Africa,emphasis mine]
[from Act of Mercy
On his first working day in the Oval Office, President Bush resurrected Ronald Reagan's "global gag rule" - the notorious policy that forbids any group or organization that receives overseas aid from the United States "to perform or actively promote abortion as a method of family planning" -- and thereby condemned tens of thousands of women and girls across the developing world to mutilation and death.
SPOTLIGHT: Virginity Clubs In Ghana
Over two years ago, Nadene Ghouri of the BBC told of the price already being paid in blood by the women of Ethiopia in order to perpetuate Mr. Bush's Culture of Life.
I travelled to Ethiopia - a country where abortion is illegal but where a recent study at Addis Ababa hospital found half of all female deaths there were caused by botched back-street abortions. Here the cost of silence can be high.
One of the most upsetting moments was standing outside a one-room tin hut where Asmara, a prostitute, had bled to death just hours earlier.
Aged 22, she received condoms from the local Marie Stopes clinic. It closed when the US cut its cash after it failed to sign. She got pregnant and died.
"She had no money to go to hospital, so became too weak to move, then she died," her friend told me.
[from From Ghana: "Virginity Clubs" blame women for HIV
I came across a disturbing piece by Dinah Kpodo in the Ghanaian paper Public Agenda, published on January 20. It gives a ground's-eye view of how damaging the United States' dogmatic promotion of abstinence-only programs can be to girls and women. In it, Kpodo writes:
It is amazing how fast virgin clubs are springing up in the country.
Different groups, non-governmental organizations and even secondary schools are actively involved in the formation of these clubs. These clubs are said to be formed to educate members on topics such as HIV/AIDS, teenage pregnancy etc. Interestingly, members of these clubs are only girls....
It baffles my mind anytime I see young girls paraded on television as virgins fighting against HIV/AIDS, teenage pregnancy or Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) with the boys nowhere in sight on this campaign. Virginity clubbing, virginity testing or virginity promotion places the responsibility of practicing sexual restraint on women and girls ONLY, meanwhile in our society, women have no control over their own sexuality, they even lack the power to negotiate for safe or protected sex.
How are these virgins found? ... I heard a leader of one of these virgin clubs stating that the girls are tested and even examined by medical doctors before they are permitted to be members of the club; that is if they pass the test.
[from Killing Them Softly
, on the effect of the Bush Administration's "Global Gag Rule: on Kenya and other African nations.
from Our Word
Live and let live? Sorry, but George W. Bush's god has other plans for your life.
We have just stepped up the pace of the killing in Kenya, and in the most budget-conscious way imaginable. Unlike our excesses in Iraq, this war isn't costing us a dime. No depleted uranium, no white phosphorus, no Mark VII second-generation napalm - no, nothing so messy. In Kenya, we are still killing them softly.
As reported by bayprairie at Our Word, the Center for Health and Gender Equality tells us that Bush has broken yet another promise, reneging on his written pledge not to subject African AIDS relief funding to his Global Gag Rule. [pdf file]
In August 2003, President Bush released an Executive Order specifically exempting U.S. global AIDS funds from gag rule restrictions. "The theme of World AIDS Day 2005 is `Keep the Promise.' In expanding the Global Gag Rule to U.S. global AIDS funding on the eve of World AIDS Day, the Administration has broken its own written commitment not to subject global AIDS funds to these onerous restrictions," stated Jodi Jacobson, Executive Director of CHANGE.
According to conservative estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 600,000 women worldwide die each year from complications of pregnancy and childbirth, of which at least 78,000 women worldwide die as a result of complications of unsafe abortion in a desperate effort to terminate unintended pregnancies. In Kenya, where abortion is illegal, complications of unsafe abortion are a leading killer of married women in their twenties and thirties. The Kenya Family Planning Association lost U.S. funding because it refused to forgo the right to discuss the toll of unsafe abortion on the lives of women in Kenya. "Loss of this funding has severely undermined efforts to reduce unintended pregnancy in Kenya through expansion of voluntary family planning as well as to prevent HIV infections in women," according to Dr. Godwin Mzenge, Executive Director of Family Planning Association of Kenya.
Early indications suggest an impending disaster of monumental proportions, in the end not unlike the failure of Soviet era Lysenkoist scientific and agricultural policies
- to which some historians attribute famine or mass starvation, as HIV/AIDS rates in Uganda, down drastically in the 1990's, have made a sudden upturn as "abstinence-only" has arrived on the scene.
Christian Right pushes "Abstinence", attacks Reproductive Rights At The UN
American religious conservatives are not solely dependent on the Bush Administration to advance their reproductive policy agenda globally; A number of big Christian right organizations have developed a vocal presence at the United Nations. In her executive summary to UNdoing Reproductive Freedom Christian Right NGOs Target the United Nations
, Pam Chamberlain of Public Eye writes :
The Christian Right increasingly seeks to restrict women's reproductive rights internationally through its growing number of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) with consultative status at the United Nations. Believing their power to be enhanced by the election of an anti-choice president in 2000, these anti-choice NGOs have increased their presence at the UN. They oppose UN programs and platforms promoting access to abortion and contraception, and they promote an abstinence-only family planning curriculum worldwide. Using the access to a few official delegations and activities offered by their consultative status, the NGOs pursue their goals by attempting to stonewall the deliberative process of committees, organizing and funding an international caucus composed of other conservative religious entities and governments to mobilize opposition more broadly within the UN.