Alex Blaze

Michael Gerson latest temper tantrum... about PEPFAR

Filed By Alex Blaze | January 29, 2009 3:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: Barack Obama, bipartisanship, George W. Bush, HIV/AIDS, Mark Dybul, Michael Gerson, pepfar

There's no other term to describe this latest screed from former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson other than "temper tantrum." The non-sensical tirade goes from extolling the virtues of the Bush Administration to calling anyone who believes in "reproductive rights" (his dismissive quotation marks, not mine) "fringe of a fringe" (I guess the vast majority of Americans are "fringe of a fringe"), from calling an Obama administration employment decision a "mugging" to quoting a William Butler Yeats poem about his fear of death.

It'd all be rather amusing if it weren't printed in the Washington Post. But since we've been talking so much about change these past few months, some things, like conservatives with no credibility writing columns for major newspapers, will have to stay the same.

Gerson's latest unhinged column attacks Obama (or someone working for Obama, Gerson never really decides) for firing Mark Dybul, the coordinator of PEPFAR. He was in charge, for three years during the Bush Administration, for distributing money for HIV/AIDS programs in developing nations. Last week, the Obama administration asked for his resignation.

It's not really a surprise, considering Dybul's policy record.

Dybul, a medical doctor, is strongly associated with the failed policies of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), including those that flout both evidence and human rights, and that neglect the role of stigma, discrimination and gender equity in the spread of HIV. Under his tenure and that of his predecessor Ambassador Randall Tobias, for example, the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator (OGAC) has funded abstinence-only until marriage programs that fail to provide all individuals with the basic information, skills and methods for practicing safer sex, supported policies that prohibit US funding of syringe and needle exchange programs despite evidence that such programs are the best means of preventing the spread of HIV among injecting drug users, and perpetuated restrictions on organizations conducting HIV prevention among sex workers. All of these policies have been shown ineffective by government agencies, such as the Government Accountability Office and the Institutes of Medicine, as well as by numerous independent studies conducted by non-governmental organizations.[...]

Moreover, Dybul is very close to the religious right, including Pastor Rick Warren, and supported the positions of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Relief Services in maintaining restrictions on funding for prevention in the recent reauthorization of PEPFAR. Lobbying by these groups resulted in the retention of restrictions on funding for prevention of sexual transmission, needle exchange, and sex worker organizations. It also resulted in an expanded "conscience clause" which unconscionably allows groups to discriminate as to who will receive prevention, treatment, and care under programs funded by the U.S. taxpayer. Under Dybul's tenure, tens of millions of dollars have been given to ideologically-driven faith-based organizations under the controversial New Partners Initiative.

And after passage of PEPFAR 2 in 2008, Dybul acted quickly to mollify religious conservatives by writing program guidance not required by law which forbids purchase of contraceptive commodities using PEPFAR funds. This step greatly undermines integration of HIV prevention with reproductive health programs, limiting efforts to slow the rapid spread of new infections among women in sub-Saharan Africa and denying HIV-positive women in prevention of maternal-to-child transmission programs support they need to space or limit births. The guidance flouts recommendations by global bodies such as the World Health Organization and UNAIDS, and by OGAC itself, that integration of programs is an urgent priority. Dybul also tends to take a very defensive stance in regard to problems with PEPFAR. He holds grudges against critics and does not welcome vigorous debate on or critique of PEPFAR policies, a problem in a new Administration that has promised transparency and access and for a program which obligates nearly $50 billion in taxpayer funding.

Well, it almost looks like Obama doesn't want to continue with the Bush administration's "You get AIDS because of your sinful, shameful sexual urges" ideology. Fair enough, but couldn't Dybul have just been doing what Bush wanted, and now that Obama's in charge he'll shape up?

Apparently not. Just last week Dybul was caught lobbying Congress for more right-wing anti-sex policies:

Last week--after the new Administration had made plain that it was putting a halt to development of new regulations and new guidance until it could review both law and policy--Dybul was found on the Hill lobbying for a more restrictive interpretation of the PEPFAR conscience clause than currently exists, with the intention of placating the Catholic Church.

Some legislators thought Obama was going to lighten up on the restrictive "conscience clause," which allows organizations receiving PEPFAR funding to withhold information on the availability and use of contraception and condoms from people in developing nations who use their services. In fact, they didn't even have to tell these folks where they could get those services, all to make it seem like condoms just aren't available.

Which is disastrous, by the way, for fighting HIV in countries where marital sex is one of the most frequent means of transmission of the virus. You can't just tell a married couple to wait until marriage.

But Dybul wasn't just lobbying for a more restrictive law - he was helping to write it.

To help his friends, not only did Dybul begin drafting more restrictive guidance, underscoring that groups would no longer need to refer to nor partner with other programs to ensure individuals got everything they needed to protect themselves, but he went to Congress several times this month to make a case for this!

Without permission from the White House!

I guess that's Gerson's definition of bipartisan right there - someone working for the Democratic White House to construct right wing legislation to undermine the Democratic White House's policy goals. All because some churches want to get federal money but are still a bit queasy about the whole "women should have options to protect their bodies" and "people are gonna have sex whether they're told God will hate them or not" concepts.

But Gerson's one to talk. He was a Bush Administration official (not disclosed, as it never was for the past few years, at the end of his column in the Washington Post, even though he's writing about how he's mad that Obama won't continue a Bush Administration policy).

He also wrote the famous "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud" line, among others, to help Republicans scare Americans into going to war with Iraq, which has resulted in the death of around a million Iraqis and displaced 3 million more. So what he can add to a human rights debate is beyond me.

And such techniques were key in scaring Democrats into shutting up or painting them as unAmerican. Gerson himself never really participated in the spirit of bipartisanship when he was working for Republicans, but the minute a Democrat takes the White House, he starts extolling the virtues of working with a minority party.

The only person who's "fringe of a fringe" is Michael Gerson, and the fact that he has the platform he does proves how far backwards this country's political establishment is willing to bend to accommodate conservatives.


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Goodbye and Good Riddance to Dybul. It's a new day so who cares what Michael Gerson thinks. Gerson is a political termite.

I believe the Roman Catholic Church and its religious right minions are comitting a major league sin by opposing birth control by any means other than abstinence or rhythm method. Particularly in nations struggling with poverty having families wih 6, 8 or even 10 children. By saying this I'n not getting into the abortion question, just simple use of a variety of birth control measures. Abortion as a method of birth control has a hollow ring to it for me.
I further believe that a child has the inalienable right to be planned for, eagerly anticipated and in a setting where the child can be provided for. Anything short off that is child abuse.