Wednesday, May 31, 2006


Just in case we wondered whether Bush was serious about confronting AIDS, two ... names on the delegate list [for the UN Special Session on AIDS] give us a hint: his daughter Barbara Bush and her party playmate Maggie Betts are both listed as "senior advisors."

--Esther Kaplan at Talk to Action


(Who is Maggie Betts? Well, according to New York magazine, besides being a party companion of the Bush twins, she's the "daughter of Roland Betts, the developer of Chelsea Piers and President Bush's closest New York connection." We learn here that she "has been active in both filmmaking and journalism. She has written two screenplays. One is the contemporized adaptation of the novel The Fountainhead, on which she collaborated with Oliver Stone for a time.... Betts' passions are filmmaking, architecture, fashion and politics." Back in 2001, then-Washington Post gossip columnist Lloyd Grove hinted that Betts was the much older Mr. Stone's girlfriend. Sounds like the perfect background for an AIDS conference delegate, no? As for the Bush twins, er, well, you know.)

And on the subject of AIDS, a couple of days ago we had this from Sebastian Mallaby on The Washington Post's op-ed page:

A ... doubt about the administration's AIDS promise concerned sexual abstinence. When it agreed to back Bush's AIDS initiative, Congress laid down that a third of the prevention budget should be used to advocate abstinence and faithfulness.... the congressional earmark, to which the administration acquiesced, seemed like a classic Republican mistake: a triumph of social-conservative ideology over science.

This complaint is right -- but should not be exaggerated. Most of the U.S. AIDS budget goes toward treating people and caring for the dying and orphans. Abstinence and faithfulness teaching consumes only 7 percent of the total, and an unknown fraction of that is constructively combined with teaching about condoms.... it's wrong to paint the entire Bush AIDS program as a Christian-conservative plot when the abstinence-only stuff is relatively limited.

But as Talk to Action's Esther Kaplan notes, Bush policies don't appear to be working in Uganda:

...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....

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.

... [But s]oon, players connected with the Christian right, from Franklin Graham's Samaritan's Purse to Anita Smith's Children's AIDS Fund, cashed in to the tune of millions of dollars in federal grants to spread the abstinence message in Uganda, the Christian rights' new showcase for a morality-based approach to AIDS. In the case of Smith's outfit, her proposal was shot down by a scientific review committee, but politics prevailed: the head of U.S. AID overruled the experts and demanded that the program be funded....

Ah, but I'm sure if you buy Young Barbara a drink, she can explain why everything is really much better than it appears to be.

(Via BuzzFlash.)

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