Little Red Ribbon-Hood: Archives
I've previously written about the Bush Administration's focus upon abstinence in its efforts to combat AIDS in Africa, particularly in Uganda. Under the program, a significant portion of the funding has been earmarked for abstinence only initiatives, a move criticized by a number of the organizations on the ground in Africa.
In the following video, al Jazeera takes a look at the status of AIDS infections in Uganda and the possibility that these abstinence only programs may have resulted in rising infection rates. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to discern the facts as those who promote abstinence are often motivated by religious ideology and therefore have a vested interest in promoting morality based programs.
No doubt those committed to allowing the scientific data to determine policy are anxiously awaiting the end of the Bush administration and its insistence upon requiring questionable funding stipulations. With the aggressive expansion of PEPFAR funding, there is reason for hope...so long as the money is utilized wisely to reduce infection rates and expand access to treatment.
Tagged as: Abstinence, AIDS, al Jazeera, George Bush, HIV, PEPFAR, Sex Education, Uganda
Daniel DiRito | October 14, 2008 | 9:27 AM |
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A new report suggests that the number of annual HIV infections in the U.S. has been drastically underestimated...or underreported. While this is a significant revelation, I'm of the opinion that the back story may be far more telling. Let's look at the new data first.
From The International Herald Tribune:
The United States has significantly underreported the number of new HIV infections occurring nationally each year, with a study showing that the annual infection rate is 40 percent higher than previously estimated.
The study, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and released here on Saturday, found that 56,300 people became newly infected with HIV in 2006, compared with the 40,000 figure the agency has cited as the recent annual incidence of the disease.
The findings confirm that HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, has its greatest effect among gay and bisexual men of all races (53 percent of all new infections) and among African-American men and women.
The new figures are likely to strongly influence a number of decisions about efforts to control the epidemic, said the disease centers' director, Dr. Julie Gerberding, and other AIDS experts.
Timely information about trends in HIV transmission, they said, is essential for planning and evaluating prevention efforts and the money spent on them.
Dr. Kevin Fenton, who directs HIV- prevention efforts at the agency, said, "CDC's new incidence estimates reveal that the HIV epidemic is and has been worse than previously known." A separate historical trend analysis published as part of the study suggests that the number of new infections was probably never as low as the earlier estimate of 40,000 and that it has been roughly stable over all since the late 1990s.
A number of leading health experts have criticized the agency for not releasing the information earlier. On Nov. 21, CDC officials told AIDS advocacy groups and reporters that the data would be released soon. In an editorial on June 21, The Lancet, an internationally prestigious journal published in London, severely criticized the disease centers for failing to release the information and said, "U.S. efforts to prevent HIV have failed dismally."
Representative Henry Waxman, a Democrat from California and chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, was critical of the administration. "HIV prevention has been underfunded and too often hindered by politics and ideology," Waxman said in a statement released Saturday. He said the administration had reduced domestic spending against HIV. "Since fiscal year 2002, when adjusted for inflation, CDC's prevention budget has actually shrunk by 19 percent. The president has recently requested decreases in funding for HIV prevention at CDC." Waxman said he would soon hold hearings on why health officials had "less and less money to actually get these programs to the communities that need them."
Kevin Robert Frost, chief executive of the American Foundation for AIDS Research, said the AIDS conference would exert increasing pressure on "governments to focus on reaching the marginalized populations that are most affected by the epidemic," like gay men, injecting drug users and African-Americans.
Yes, the numbers are troubling...but I find myself struggling to determine the source of my discomfort. I suspect my anxiety is driven by the recent response to the World Health Organization's recent announcement it had overestimated the threat HIV posed to the heterosexual population (outside of Africa). When the WHO report was released back in June, a collective "I told you so" came from many groups generally aligned with the views of the religious right.
The general tone of the response to the report suggested to me that there had been a percolating animosity towards those who may have used inflated numbers to push for more HIV funding. Inherent in many of the articles I read was a belief that the prior warnings were a deliberate effort to deceive. Even more evident was the inference that the heterosexual world had been duped into fearing a pandemic in order to increase AIDS funding and remove the stigma that HIV is a gay disease.
Here's a couple of the responses from those on the right.
From Life Site News:
The HIV/AIDS director confirmed that male homosexuals are most at risk for AIDS, and that in many places rates of infection amongst male homosexuals are increasing, not declining.
"We face a bit of a crisis [in this area]. In the industrialised world transmission of HIV among men who have sex with men is not declining and in some places has increased," stated de Cock [head of the WHO's department of HIV/AIDS].
"In the developing world, it has been neglected. We have only recently started looking for it and when we look, we find it. And when we examine HIV rates we find they are high.
However, promoting the strategy of universal prevention is also recognized as having been one of the most successful ways that homosexual activists capitalised on the impending AIDS pandemic to make the general public sympathetic to their cause and to launch them from political obscurity to their current elevated status. Although the AIDS "pandemic" among heterosexuals may now have disappeared, its political usefulness has also since disappeared, with homosexual activists now aggressively changing marriage laws worldwide.
From The Family Research Council (in response to the Independent's article):
In the article, however, one line stood out in particular:
"Any revision of the threat was liable to be seized on by those who rejected HIV as the cause of the disease, or who used the disease as a weapon to stigmatise high risk groups, he said."
In other words: We couldn't tell the truth, because it might have made people think there is something wrong with homosexuality, prostitution, and drug use.
I think the message delivered in these two examples is evident. HIV was and is a gay disease and the gay community and their allies simply sough to capitalize on it. Yea right, we decided it was worth losing thousands of our friends and family to promote the gay agenda. In fact, our militant strategic plan was so elaborate that we envisioned HIV as the means to achieve gay marriage (if anyone was left to marry).
So here's where my discomfort centers. Many want to hail George Bush's PEPFAR initiative (President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) as evidence of his commitment to compassionate conservatism. While I commend the dramatic increase in funding for those suffering from HIV in the third world, I can't help but notice the decrease in funding for HIV prevention here in the United States.
Consider the fact that the president has attached strings to the PEPFAR funding he's previously provided...stipulating that a third of the money needed to focus on abstinence...and one begins to see the full picture. If the moral judgment behind the seeming disinterest in U.S. funding isn't obvious, I'm happy to extrapolate and elaborate.
The president and his religious followers don't condone homosexual sex...at all. As such, when they promote abstinence in Africa, they do so in the context of suggesting one should forego sexual contact until marriage...and only within a marriage. Hence, promoting abstinence to the gay community is a tacit acceptance of their relationships and a seeming endorsement of their validity. The alternative...an aggressive campaign to foster safer sex and condom usage is even more untenable. Doing so suggests that homosexual sex is acceptable, that contraception is allowed, and that sex without the intention of procreation is a valid pursuit.
Let me be clear. I can't fully know George Bush's feelings and intentions. Regardless, I can compare and contrast his words and his directives in order to draw some plausible conclusions...which brings me to Jesse Helms.
When Jesse Helms died, there were those (Libby Dole in particular) who wanted to honor the bigoted former Senator by naming the expansion of the PEPFAR initiative after him. While Helms admitted his error with regards to AIDS funding in the third world, he never once apologized to the gay community for stifling funding here in the states...and he never retracted any of his vile anti-gay comments. Therefore, I think it's safe to say that he distinguished between those with AIDS in the third world and homosexuals with AIDS here in America. While George Bush has been careful to avoid denigrating homosexuals, his actions with regards to HIV funding mirror Helms' overt expressions of hostility.
George Bush's actions may have nothing to do with bigotry and everything to do with political expediency. As one looks back on the AIDS years, this pattern of politicization is the very problem WHO and others were attempting to address. It's also a steep price for the gay community to pay for the political aspirations of a few men (don't forget how long it took Ronald Reagan to even utter the word AIDS). So what can we conclude about those who lambasted WHO and all those who were undoubtedly cognizant of the prickly political terrain?
Well, from this gay man's purview, we can conclude that there are a number of Americans who still believe that AIDS is a gay disease and that it is little more than God's retribution for acts of immorality. Even more disturbing, there are those who would be happy to further cut AIDS funding in the U.S. while sitting on their hands and watching the gay community wither away under the ravages of AIDS. Not only has this been the case in the minds of millions of Americans; it has led politicians to pander to them while sacrificing members of the gay community.
I don't know if the CDC's underestimating of HIV infections was an honest error or a calculated omission carried out by political appointees mindful of the mindset of their benefactor. The fact that we've witnessed questionable practices by other Bush appointees with regards to the implementation of health policy offers little solace.
When I hear George Bush scold Democrats and Barack Obama for opposing offshore oil exploration and the expansion of nuclear energy, I can't help but notice his willingness to unabashedly promote the kind of interests he favors. When I've heard countless individuals suggest that it's all about the oil (money) for George Bush and his minions, I've been hesitant to concur.
When I recall that he's opposed to embryonic stem cell research, to comprehensive sex education and condoms to prevent teen pregnancies and the transmission of STD's, and drug his feet on the expansion of funding for HIV prevention in the U.S., I find myself wondering if the priorities of the current iteration of Christianity have anything to do with compassion. I have my doubts.
Tagged as: AIDS, CDC, Elizabeth Dole, FRC, George W. Bush, HIV, Jesse Helms, LGBT, PEPFAR, Religion, Religious Right, Same-Sex Marriage, United Nations, World Health Organization
Daniel DiRito | August 3, 2008 | 9:12 AM |
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As if it isn't bad enough that we've had to endure nearly eight years of George W. Bush, he has chosen his final months to enact one of his most intrusive policy initiatives. It seems that the president has decided to redefine abortion to include contraception. The plan would be enacted by the Department of Health and Human Services and cloaked as an attempt to prevent discrimination in government funded endeavors.
The explanation being offered by the president's operatives suggests that the goal is to insure that those individuals who have religious objections to abortion or the distribution of contraceptive products cannot be terminated from employment. Unfortunately, the administration wants to ignore the fact that such practices are already prohibited under current federal law.
From ABC News:
The draft proposal from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which began circulating around Capitol Hill earlier this week, would withhold government funds from health-care providers and organizations that don't hire people who refuse to perform abortions or provide certain types of birth control.
Current federal law prohibits health-care providers and organizations from discriminating against people who won't provide abortions or birth control.
The Bush administration's new draft proposal would require these agencies to certify in writing their compliance with the law before getting funding from HHS.
Critics say the proposal would limit women's access to birth control, arguing that it includes "an overly-broad definition of abortion" and that in order to receive government funding agencies might have to hire employees who won't perform every-day job responsibilities due to their personal religious beliefs.
The Health department released a brief statement arguing that it's looking into various options in an effort to enforce anti-discrimination laws.
"Over the past three decades, Congress has passed several anti-discrimination laws to protect institutional and individual health care providers participating in federal programs. HHS has an obligation to enforce these laws, and is exploring a number of options," the statement reads.
The White House declined to comment.
This is the same administration that has long argued that hate crimes legislation, intended to specifically deter violence against the LGBT community, is unnecessary. So when it comes to measures to bolster the safety of gays, existing laws are sufficient because they already provide penalties and punishment for these crimes. However, when a handful of Christians want to refuse to provide contraception to a rape victim, the Bush administration thinks special rules are warranted.
I guess I've finally figured out what the president meant when he stated he was a compassionate conservative. He meant he had compassion for conservatives...and to hell with everyone else. Pardon my disgust, but the self-proclaimed uniter is a garden-variety divider.
Fortunately, a number of Democrats have spoken out against this potential rule change.
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Bush administration plan to define several widely used contraception methods as abortion is a "gratuitous, unnecessary insult" to women and faces tough opposition, Sen. Hillary Clinton said on Friday.
The former Democratic presidential candidate joined family planning groups to condemn the proposal that defines abortion to include contraception such as birth control pills and intrauterine devices.
It would cut off federal funds to hospitals and states where medical providers are obligated to offer legal abortion and contraception to women.
"We will not put up with this radical, ideological agenda to turn the clock back on women's rights," the New York senator told a joint news conference with New York Rep. Nita Lowey, also a Democrat, at Bellevue Hospital.
"Women would watch their contraceptive coverage disappear overnight," said Clinton.
A copy of a memo that appears to be an Department of Health and Human Services draft provided to Reuters this week carries a broad definition of abortion as any procedures, including prescription drugs, "that result in the termination of the life of a human being in utero between conception and natural birth, whether before or after implantation."
Conception occurs when egg and sperm unite in the Fallopian tubes. It takes three to four days before the fertilized egg implants in the uterus. Several birth control methods interfere with this, including the birth control pill and IUDs.
"If enacted, these rules will make birth control out of reach for some women. That's a sure way to guarantee more unintended pregnancies and more abortions," said Anne Davis of Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health.
Without doubt, this is another back door effort to impose the religious beliefs of George Bush and his minions...and to begin the process of putting an end to funding for Planned Parenthood and any other organization remotely construed to provide abortion services. When George Bush suggested that he opposed Roe v. Wade, but didn't think the country was ready to take that step, he was actually telegraphing his intentions to undercut abortion through other means. Only then, when access is virtually impossible (unless one is rich and has a daughter in trouble), would he seek to overturn the long standing Supreme Court ruling.
Frankly, as awful as this may sound, I've come to see many evangelicals as arrogant and pompous manipulators. Always scheming to find the means to instill their values as the law of the land, they have little regard for the beliefs of others...and how could they since their ideology is utterly intransigent. At the same time, they often excuse their indiscretions or dismiss them as part of their own period of darkness. What they rarely recognize is that the demons they fear reside within. Railing against pornography, sex on television, comprehensive sex education (inclusive of contraception), homosexuality, infidelity, and adultery is simply the demonstration of an external response to their own internal urges and inclinations.
At the same time, they assume that everyone else in the society suffers the same affliction...which leads them to believe that legislation is needed to prevent us from doing what we're apt to do absent laws and punishment.
The following video is an example of this mentality. Joe Sweeney is a candidate for congress in Arizona's 7th. district. Note that his view of sex is that it's a function of "genital drives" that needs to be bridled through the marriage contract and in deference to a higher authority. The construct he describes is consistent with the actions of the Bush administration. In other words, at the core of this ideology, it's acceptable to prohibit the government from participating in any action that can be deemed to promote sex for any reason other than procreation.
Tagged as: Abortion, Contraception, Department of Health and Human Services, Discrimination, Evangelicals, George W. Bush, Hate Crimes Legislation, Hillary Clinton, Joe Sweeney, Planned Parenthood, Procreation, Religion, Same-Sex Marriage, Sexuality
Daniel DiRito | July 19, 2008 | 8:45 AM |
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Over the years, I've grown accustomed to regularly reading about the latest findings in HIV research. Early on, it was the only glimmer of hope in the environment of certain death that surrounded the disease. In recent years, the findings have enabled those infected to live relatively normal lives...albeit still vulnerable to the clandestine efforts of a clever virus.
Every now and then, I come across a study or a piece of research that titillates my hopes that science is on the verge of defeating the disease. A new article at Science Daily is just that. Yes, I'm always excited to read about the success of a drug still in trials or the discovery of a compound that shows great treatment potential. Unfortunately, such findings rarely offer the kind of hope found in this latest discovery.
According to this new report, a group of scientists believe they have found a site on the virus that offers the potential to permanently disable the virus in the body...rendering it incapable of infecting the cells of its host. Were that possible, the ramifications are mind boggling.
The Achilles heel, a tiny stretch of amino acids numbered 421-433 on gp120, is now under study as a target for therapeutic intervention. Sudhir Paul, Ph.D., pathology professor in the UT Medical School, said, "Unlike the changeable regions of its envelope, HIV needs at least one region that must remain constant to attach to cells. If this region changes, HIV cannot infect cells. Equally important, HIV does not want this constant region to provoke the body's defense system. So, HIV uses the same constant cellular attachment site to silence B lymphocytes - the antibody producing cells. The result is that the body is fooled into making abundant antibodies to the changeable regions of HIV but not to its cellular attachment site.
Paul's group has engineered antibodies with enzymatic activity, also known as abzymes, which can attack the Achilles heel of the virus in a precise way. "The abzymes recognize essentially all of the diverse HIV forms found across the world. This solves the problem of HIV changeability. The next step is to confirm our theory in human clinical trials," Paul said.
Unlike regular antibodies, abzymes degrade the virus permanently. A single abzyme molecule inactivates thousands of virus particles. Regular antibodies inactivate only one virus particle, and their anti-viral HIV effect is weaker.
"The work of Dr. Paul's group is highly innovative. They have identified antibodies that, instead of passively binding to the target molecule, are able to fragment it and destroy its function. Their recent work indicates that naturally occurring catalytic antibodies, particularly those of the IgA subtype, may be useful in the treatment and prevention of HIV infection," said Steven J. Norris, Ph.D., holder of the Robert Greer Professorship in the Biomedical Sciences and vice chair for research in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the UT Medical School at Houston.
While this research is still in its infancy, it is an indication of the cumulative benefit that can emerge as a result of prior studies of the virus and its function. Optimistic though it may be, I suspect that progress of this nature will at some point, in the near future, begin to dismantle the advantage the virus has held for nearly three decades. I would equate this protracted battle to defeat HIV with one of my favorite expressions, "Everything is shit until it isn't."
In other words, our perceptions can be inaccurate due to a reliance upon past history. Regardless, the ongoing absence of a definitive victory over the virus doesn't preclude the fact that one may be just around the corner. While projections are typically based upon prior experience (appropriately), probability tells us that time and research are apt to eventually close the knowledge gap and reveal a major finding capable of overcoming the advantage the virus has long held.
History is filled with examples of this phenomenon of unrevealed progress just waiting for that critical moment of substantiation. This discovery could be such a transformative moment. Let's hope so.
Tagged as: Abzymes, AIDS, Disease, Gay, Health, HIV, LGBT, Research, Science, Science Daily, Virus
Daniel DiRito | July 17, 2008 | 1:32 PM |
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For years, Jesse Helms blocked measures intended to provide care and assistance to homosexuals suffering from the ravages of HIV. In true Helms backasswards bravado, he often insinuated that the only way such legislation would pass would be over his dead body.
Surprise...it gets even better! Republican Senator Elizabeth Dole, in her infinite vacuity, thought it would be appropriate to rename the Presidents Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) after the recently departed 'Senator No'. Yes, Dole apparently felt that Helms' late-in-life epiphany...support for AIDS funding to assist Africa (no apology to America's gay community ever materialized)...should net Helms the posthumous honor.
Since Helms implied that gays would only receive government support over his dead body, there is a reason to celebrate the passage of PEPFAR. Simply stated, at long last, the dead bodies of thousands of gays can rest in peace knowing that PEPFAR was passed without being renamed after Jesse Helms...and it passed...poetically...over his dead body.
Now in my way of thinking, this entire situation is about accolades and assholery. When it comes to AIDS, Helms has no right to the former. Should there be any doubt, let's just say that's a big N-O. On the other hand, I think Senator's Helms and Dole are deserving of a resounding Y-E-S when it comes to confirming their effectiveness in exhibiting the latter.
All ranting aside, today the Senate passed PEPFAR by an overwhelming majority.
AIDS Action applauds the Senate for overwhelming, bipartisan passage of the Lantos/Hyde U.S. Global Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Reauthorization Act (S 2731), which reauthorizes the President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). The organization particularly commends the lifting of the statutory requirement that bars travel and immigration to the U.S. by HIV positive non-citizens. Also noteworthy are the mention and recognition of HIV prevention, care and treatment needs of men who have sex with men (MSM) and the removal of the directive requiring that 33% of prevention funds be spent on "abstinence-only until marriage" programs.
"The lifting of the travel and immigration bar removes the blemish on the United States leadership on HIV and AIDS. We are especially pleased that this discriminatory law has finally been repealed."
AIDS Action urges prompt and timely final passage of the legislation and urges the President to sign the Lantos/Hyde bill.
Given Helms' endless efforts to scorn gays, the removal of the ban provides a measure of bittersweet reproach of Helms and the many others who sought to use HIV as a means to vilify the gay community. Fortunately, the decision to sit on their hands and ignore the deaths of thousands cannot be undone...not even by the mindless actions of Elizabeth Dole. Perhaps she'd be better served to practice legislative abstinence? On second thought, if it's as effective as the Bush administration's abstinence-only approach to HIV, I suspect Dole would end up in trouble in no time.
Tagged as: Abstinence, Africa, AIDS, Bigotry, Death, Elizabeth Dole, Gay, HIV, Jesse Helms, LGBT, PEPFAR
Daniel DiRito | July 16, 2008 | 7:15 PM |
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As you watch Todd Bentley shout bam, bam bam while laying his hands on his followers, you can't help but think of Emeril Lagasse tossing in a few extra garlic cloves into his latest culinary creation to transform it into a mouthwatering miracle.
Then again, perhaps that's the perfect analogy for what Todd Bentley does...a mix of entertainment and showmanship that is apt to taste good while it's being consumed. Unfortunately, while it may be fun to watch and partake, there is little reason to believe that anything miraculous is actually happening.
Such is the nature of faith healing and the exploitation of those who are in desperate need of hope. The following two videos are from an ABC report detailing Todd Bentley's ministry and his background. When it's all said and done, Todd Bentley is enriched financially and the masses receive an intangible infusion of bam, bam, bam...whatever that may be. I could be wrong, but I just don't see how this is a fair exchange.
Tagged as: ABC, Exploitation, Faith Healers, Illness, Religion, Scam, Todd Bentley
Daniel DiRito | July 12, 2008 | 9:58 AM |
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I'm not sure what it will take for our government to admit that abstinence education isn't working. Fortunately, George Bush will soon leave office and we can hope that the next president will restore science to its proper place and put an end to the myth that purity pledges are an effective means of birth control.
In the meantime, a new government report shows that the teen pregnancy rate rose for the first time in 15 years...a testament to seven years of relegating comprehensive sex education and contraception to the back burner.
From Fox News:
Between 2005 and 2006, the number of teenage girls between the ages 15 to 17 having babies rose by more than 5,700 to 138,920, from a record low of 133,138, according to an annual report on the health and well-being of children and teens published by the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics.
The 4 percent increase in the teen pregnancy rate is cause for concern among health professionals.
"This is one of the key indicators for the health of the teen population," said Edward Sondik, director of the National Center for Health Statistics, during a conference call with the media. "Not only does this affect teen health at this point, but their health and well-being for the next 20 to 40 years, and the health and well-being of their children."
Now I'm sure the religious right will do their best to refute those who will undoubtedly claim that this report provides evidence that abstinence only education is a failure. Unfortunately for the wingers, the report offered another key piece of information that may make it rather difficult to hold the line on the benefits of abstinence.
While teen pregnancy is up, the percentage of teens having sex has remained stable for the past few years at 46 percent, according to the report.
So here's the bottom line. The same number of teens are engaging in sex, however more of them are getting pregnant. Care to venture an explanation? Clearly, as I've long argued, teens, in predictable numbers, will continue to have sex regardless of promising to abstain...and when they do so absent comprehensive sex education, inclusive of contraceptive measures, the number of pregnancies is certain to increase.
Fox News, in a move that once again shows their propensity for bias, chose to add the views of one of their contributors in an effort to offer an alternate explanation for the rise in teen pregnancies.
Teen pregnancy has been a hotly debated subject in recent weeks with the birth of 17-year-old Jamie Lynn Spears' daughter and reports that a pact among Gloucester, Mass., teens may have resulted in the pregnancies of 17 high school students.
Dr. Keith Ablow, a psychiatrist and FOX News contributor, said the recent reversal in the trend of declining teen pregnancy is a grave concern. He said young people, especially girls, are looking for ways to connect with themselves and others in an "increasingly technology-driven world." One way to do that is to have a baby.
"It's not pretty and we really need a public health response that's very vigorous to counteract this," he said. "Ultimately, the gravest long-term consequence is that we have babies being nurtured by mothers who really can't provide them with what they need.
"And that's really a self-centered act. You've basically declared that it's all about you. Those people who are [acting] in this way may be the worst role models."
Oh yes, the rise in teen pregnancy is the fault of Hollywood and girls who are self-centered. In other words, my child would remain pure if it weren't for bad role models and selfish sluts. I guess that means that mom and dad are helpless to protect their children from cultural influences that are sure to overwhelm the values parents have instilled in their children.
I hate to break the bad news, but there's a problem with this logic. You see, we have that little issue of the constancy of the percentage of teens who are having sex to contend with. If recent culture is to be blamed, why aren't we seeing a larger percentage of teens engaging in sexual relations. Could it be that the desire to engage in sex, an innately constant construct of human nature, isn't all that susceptible to external influences...including the religious exhortations of parents and politicos who have likely chosen to forget their own sexual experimentations?
The study offered one other statistic that caught my attention.
From The Washington Post:
Another disturbing trend is the increase in violent crimes and homicides committed by adolescents, Sondik said.
"Homicides increased in 2005 for the first time since 1993," Sondik said. "In 2005, the firearm homicide rate also increased for the first time in more than a decade."
Adolescents aged 12 to 17 who committed violent crimes increased from 14 crimes per 1,000 in 2004 to 17 per 1,000 in 2005. This is still a substantially lower rate than was seen in 1993, when there were 52 violent crimes per 1,000 adolescents, the report stated.
So while the religious right rails against contraception and abortion, teens are harming each other with increasing frequency. In other words, these people are willing to spend time and money opposing sex education, contraception, and abortion while seemingly appearing tone deaf to teen violence.
Why is it that Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council aren't up in arms about teen violence? Why aren't they pushing their followers to vote for one politician over another based upon their respective plans to address teen violence? If all life is precious, why isn't the same energy being expended to protect the living?
I'll answer my own question. Well, sex sells...which means issues related to sexuality (orientation and promiscuity)...are cash cows that bring in the donations. It also serves to assure religious leaders and the GOP that they have a captive constituency. Besides, addressing violence might require a consideration of gun control...and that doesn't sell well with the Guns, God, and Gays gang.
Tagged as: Abortion, Abstinence, Contraception, Fox News, George Bush, Religion, Religious Right, Sex Education, Sexuality, Teen Pregnancy, Violence
Daniel DiRito | July 11, 2008 | 12:24 PM |
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If you think John McCain is a moderate and a pragmatist, you may not realize the degree to which his voting record tells us just the opposite. When it's time to vote, John McCain has voted with George Bush nearly 90% of the time. I don't know about you, but if a McCain presidency is only going to deviate from a Bush presidency by a meager 10%, that's simply not the change we're looking for. In fact, that would be completely unacceptable.
The following three videos provide insight into John McCain's position on women's issues...particularly sex education, contraception and reproductive rights, and the right of a woman to choose. In each instance, John McCain holds a position that would continue the Bush agenda of overturning Roe v. Wade, promoting abstinence over comprehensive sex education, and acquiescing to the ideological objectives of those on the religious right.
Not only would John McCain support legislation favoring these rigid and restrictive positions, he has promised to appoint judges in the mold of John Roberts and Samuel Alito...a move that would assure a Supreme Court aligned with the religious right and consistent with the efforts of the Bush administration.
The bottom line is that we simply can't allow George Bush to serve a third term by virtue of a surrogate McCain presidency. The straight talking maverick is little more than a right wing retread. It's time for meaningful change.
Tagged as: Abortion, Abstinence, Brave New Films, Choice, Contraception, George Bush, John McCain, Judicial Appointments, Religion, RIght Wing, Roe v. Wade, Sex, Sex Education, Supreme Court, Women's Issues
Daniel DiRito | June 10, 2008 | 9:40 PM |
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The inclination to view natural disasters and disease as signs of God's wrath remains a frightening demonstration of the dangers of religious dogma. Time and again, a vocal group of religious leaders attribute these tragedies to the morality of those affected.
One long standing example is HIV/AIDS, though there are many more. When HIV first appeared, there were numerous religious leaders and politicians who chose to characterize the disease as punishment for homosexuality. Since the beginning, the fact that the infection rate in lesbians was a fraction of that found in gay men seemed to defy the efforts to apply a moral judgment. Regardless, the prevalence of these prejudices continues to exist.
The release of a new report by the World Health Organization, in which the organization acknowledges that HIV isn't likely to become a heterosexual pandemic, has already triggered a new round of moral pronouncements. I'll discuss the invective offered by the Family Research Council beneath the following excerpts. They are from an article in The Independent which details the reports conclusions.
A quarter of a century after the outbreak of Aids, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has accepted that the threat of a global heterosexual pandemic has disappeared.
In the first official admission that the universal prevention strategy promoted by the major Aids organisations may have been misdirected, Kevin de Cock, the head of the WHO's department of HIV/Aids said there will be no generalised epidemic of Aids in the heterosexual population outside Africa.
Dr De Cock, an epidemiologist who has spent much of his career leading the battle against the disease, said understanding of the threat posed by the virus had changed. Whereas once it was seen as a risk to populations everywhere, it was now recognised that, outside sub-Saharan Africa, it was confined to high-risk groups including men who have sex with men, injecting drug users, and sex workers and their clients.
[...] But we have to be careful. As an epidemiologist it is better to describe what we can measure. There could be small outbreaks in some areas."
Aids organisations, including the WHO, UN Aids and the Global Fund, have come under attack for inflating estimates of the number of people infected, diverting funds from other health needs such as malaria, spending it on the wrong measures such as abstinence programmes rather than condoms, and failing to build up health systems.
Dr De Cock labelled these the "four malignant arguments" undermining support for the global campaign against Aids, which still faced formidable challenges, despite the receding threat of a generalised epidemic beyond Africa.
Any revision of the threat was liable to be seized on by those who rejected HIV as the cause of the disease, or who used the disease as a weapon to stigmatise high risk groups, he said.
The biggest puzzle was what had caused heterosexual spread of the disease in sub-Saharan Africa - with infection rates exceeding 40 per cent of adults in Swaziland, the worst-affected country - but nowhere else.
"It is the question we are asked most often - why is the situation so bad in sub-Saharan Africa? It is a combination of factors - more commercial sex workers, more ulcerative sexually transmitted diseases, a young population and concurrent sexual partnerships."
The inclination to assail the motivation of WHO may have some measure of merit...but the criticism is primarily a demonstration of all that is wrong with a reliance on hindsight. The truth of the matter is that we knew nothing about HIV when it first appeared which lent credence to the alarm that was disseminated. Frankly, any cynical calculation on the part of WHO (based upon the value judgments that accompanied the discovery of the virus) are understandable and, in my opinion, justifiable. Truth be told, the U.S. government drug its feet in addressing the epidemic...despite the evidence. I think it's fair to conclude that some of that hesitation centered on the fact that gays were the predominant demographic.
In order to understand the motivations that may have led to some of the alarm generated by WHO and other organizations on the forefront of the epidemic, all we need to do is take a look at the Family Research Council's reaction to this new report.
25 years after the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, the leader of the World Health Organization's efforts against the disease has finally admitted the obvious--there will be no worldwide AIDS pandemic among the general heterosexual population.
In the article, however, one line stood out in particular:
"Any revision of the threat was liable to be seized on by those who rejected HIV as the cause of the disease, or who used the disease as a weapon to stigmatise high risk groups, he said."
In other words: We couldn't tell the truth, because it might have made people think there is something wrong with homosexuality, prostitution, and drug use.
Duh! Thank you FRC for confirming the legitimacy of the fears held by the World Health Organization. Aside from the obvious moral judgment, the position taken by religious groups like the FRC ignores a number of relevant considerations. First, if morality is the underlying concern...meaning HIV evidences immoral activities...then we should look at all sexual activity; not just the activity that can lead to HIV. Here's the point. It's easy to scapegoat gays, drug users, and prostitutes...but doing so ignores other available data...and therefore the moral judgments that could be applied because of it if one were so inclined.
I've long argued that the best way to understand how inappropriate it is to selectively judge the morality of the above groups is to look at the rates of sexually transmitted disease in the heterosexual population. In truth, the emergence of HIV received an inordinate share of attention (rightly so) because it was a fatal disease. At the same time, were any of the many STD's commonly found in heterosexuals to have suddenly mutated into a similarly fatal infectious disease, the number of deaths would likely overshadow those found in the early stages of the HIV epidemic.
Hence, if unacceptable sexual relations (multiple partners, adultery, premarital sex, etc) are the grounds for judging gays, drug users, and prostitutes to be immoral, the same judgment should be applied to the millions of heterosexuals who have contracted an STD.
So why is the lion's share of the negative judgment reserved for gays, drug users, and prostitutes? Well, the easy answer is because the religious heterosexuals leveling the charges prefer to focus on the actions of others rather than address their own predisposition for impropriety. Besides, the vast majority of heterosexually transmitted diseases can be discretely (and quickly) addressed by one's physician or at any number of clinics that offer a degree of discretion and/or anonymity.
Thankfully, with many of these pillars of piety, their dalliances eventually betray their efforts to hoard the high ground. Regardless, they continue to insist upon directing their derision towards those groups they choose to vilify. I do find it rather amusing that they've chosen to include prostitution on their list of uber-sinners. After all, who do they think heads the list of "sinners" who make it possible for prostitution to flourish? It isn't homosexuals and I think we pretty much know where drug users are spending their cash.
I want to address one additional area of hypocrisy that frequently goes unnoticed. Under the Bush administration, faith based groups have been enlisted in the efforts to combat HIV in Africa. The preferred model for many of these groups is to encourage abstinence over comprehensive sex education that would feature the use of condoms. The working assumption for many of these groups is that promiscuity is largely responsible for the crisis that exists in Africa.
However, you'll note in the WHO report that they identify a distinction with regard to the cultural sexual practices found in some regions of Africa. That distinction is identified as "concurrent sexual partnerships". My interpretation of this phenomenon is that it's not unusual for some Africans to be simultaneously involved in multiple relationships that include sexual contact. This doesn't mean that these Africans have more total sexual partners than the average American; it simply means that they approach the occurrence of multiple sexual encounters differently than one would expect to find in the United States.
I would describe the African structure as a form of polygamous interaction versus the American model of serial monogamy...or ongoing bouts of adultery. Based upon these two models, the passage of the HIV virus is apt to occur with more frequency and consistency in African society because of an ongoing pool (a linked web if you will) of repetitive sexual partners. Once one member of the pool is infected, all are apt to be infected over time. The fact that the American model would more likely involve one extramarital partner at a time makes the passage of an STD less of a certainty given the absence of an extended pool of simultaneously ongoing sexual partners.
The point I'm making is that many of those who are inclined to apply a moral judgment to those infected with HIV are prone to ignoring their own morality. They're able to do so for three primary reasons. One, it's rare for any of the common heterosexual STD's to result in death so they can be kept under the radar. Two, not all of these STD's are chronic infections so treatment resolves the infection and puts an end to ongoing transmission. Three, the manner in which Americans engage in multiple sex partnerships masks the number and frequency of such encounters and may minimize the potential for predictive infection patterns.
At the same time, none of these explanations can serve to remove any of the same moral considerations and/or judgments that are being routinely applied to those with HIV. While I've provided a justification for an equitable distribution of judgment, I am not making the case to enact it. Instead, I find the assertion of morality as an explanation for natural disasters or diseases that result in death to be abhorrent. Given that death is inevitable, attempts to attach moral attributions to the causation of death opens the door to doing so with all deaths (of course I'm excluding reasonable judgments made, and punishment applied, relative to murder or an identifiably criminal act). Further, such assertions simply can't be substantiated.
Aside from an absolute disregard for the random nature of our existence...inclusive of death and disease...the presumption that we mortals could anticipate and apply the all knowing conclusions of an immortal deity is arrogance of the highest order.
Tagged as: Africa, AIDS, Family Research Council, Gay, HIV, LGBT, Morality, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Sexually Transmitted Disease, STD, World Health Organization
Daniel DiRito | June 10, 2008 | 2:56 PM |
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Have you ever asked yourself what America and the world would look like if the abstinence-only advocating...intelligent design demanding...religious right had the power to enact the legislation they preferred? I don't know about you, but the thought of this group at the helm of humanity is not only frightening; it could well spell the initiation of a period of irrational repression not seen since the Dark Ages. Even worse, I'm not sure they would possess the restraint to resist the application of Biblically mandated punishments.
Two articles in today's news led me to ponder the possibilities. I think it's obvious that there is a boundless commitment on the part of the religious right to impose their beliefs on others. That persistence makes them a formidable foe and it requires the rest of us to be vigilant in refuting and rejecting the tortured arguments they construct. Even worse, each time one of their efforts are rebuffed, they immediately move to craft a more refined replacement.
Pardon the ugly analogy, but this steadfast assault has all the makings of an inexpugnable infection...one that requires timely treatment lest it render the unsuspecting host into a state of perpetual decline. As such, one can never assume that a period of remission will be sustained. Like it or not, these inviolable interlopers are constantly searching for a vulnerability that can be exploited.
This analogy provides a seamless segue into the first article. According to a report in The Washington Post, there is concern that the insistence on abstinence-only education...education that frequently attempts to undermine the merits of condoms...is pushing us towards an expansion of teen sex, STD transmissions, and teen pregnancies.
From The Washington Post:
The nation's campaign to get more teenagers to delay sex and use condoms is faltering, threatening to undermine the highly successful effort to reduce teen pregnancy and protect young people from sexually transmitted diseases, federal officials reported today.
New data from a large government survey shows that by every measure, the decade-long decline in sexual activity among high school students leveled off between 2001 and 2007 and the increase in condom use by teens flattened out in 2003.
Moreover, the survey found disturbing hints that teen sexual activity may actually have begun creeping up and that condom use among high school students might be edging downward, though those trend lines have not yet reached a point where statisticians can be sure, officials said.
"The bottom line is in all these areas we don't seem to be making the progress we were making before," said Howell Wechsler, director of the division of adolescent and school health at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, which conducts the survey. "It's very troubling."
"Since we've started pushing abstinence, we have seen no change in the numbers on sexual activity," said John Santelli, chairman of the Department of Population and Family Health at Columbia University. "The other piece of it is abstinence education spends a good amount of time bashing condoms. So it's not surprising, if that's the message young people are getting, that we're seeing condom use start to decrease."
"We may be witnessing the beginning of a trend where we're reaping the harvest of medically inaccurate and ineffective sex education, which is abstinence-until-marriage sex education," said Michael D. Resnick, who studies teen sexual behavior at the University of Minnesota. "With a growing proportion of young people exposed to those curricula, I think we can begin to understand why we're beginning to see a reversal of the positive trends that had been happening."
The new data comes from the 2007 survey, which involved 14,103 students in grades 9 through 12 at 157 high schools nationwide. The survey found that the proportion of those who reported they had ever had sex, had begun having sex before age 13, had engaged in sex within the last three months and had sex with at least four partners all increased slightly between 2005 and 2007.
None of the increases were sufficient to convince statisticians that there is a real upward trend. But when the agency analyzed the numbers for The Post, statisticians found that every measure of sexual activity passed the statistical test for having leveled off between 2001 and 2007 and the condom use numbers passed the test for leveling off beginning in 2003.
"The longer any trend exists, the more confident we can be in it," said Laura K. Kann, who heads the project at the CDC.
While the data indicates we're on the precipice of an alarming trend, it would be inappropriate to call it conclusive. Then again, that is the exact type of opening that abstinence-only proponents are seeking. Those opposed to comprehensive sex education and contraception remain rigidly attached to their religious ideology and every effort is made to interpret the data such that it supports their preferred methods of sex education.
In other words, all data is open to manipulation because they aren't working towards the verification or nullification of a reasoned hypothesis. On the contrary, they conclude that the science is simply a tool to be massaged so that it matches their unwavering moral imperative.
An example would be helpful. Not long ago, a similar report stated that one in four teenage girls had contracted a sexually transmitted disease. The alarming number garnered ample attention as both sides of the issue sought to draw conclusions. The following excerpts are from those who sought to downplay the data...those who didn't want the data to be a tool in discrediting abstinence-only education.
From The National Journal:
But how useful or valid is that one-in-four number? Are 25 percent of America's teenage girls really in imminent danger from HIV/AIDS, gonorrhea, and the human papilloma virus (HPV) that leads to cervical cancer?
A close examination of the CDC's star statistic reveals several serious shortcomings that undermine its validity, as well as its usefulness to parents, legislators, health officials, and advocacy groups on the left and the right.
[...] The CDC's study referred to "infections," but most biological infections never turn into diseases; the body suppresses them before symptoms appear. This conflation of disease and infection was commonplace, in part because the headline on the CDC press release said, "1 in 4 Teenage Girls Has a Sexually Transmitted Disease."
Other problems were numerous.
• The infections referred to in the study are not the ones that leap to people's minds when they worry about sexually transmitted diseases. The data excluded the two most-feared diseases, HIV/AIDS and syphilis. The most common infection was from HPV, which can have serious consequences but in the vast majority of cases disappears on its own.
• The focus on "teenagers" covers a broad age range, from those who are 14 (only 13 percent of whom have had sexual intercourse, according to other studies) to women of 18 and 19 (70 percent of whom have had sex before their 19th birthday). CDC officials declined to describe to National Journal the infection rates in each of the two-year age groupings, even though they have the data.
• The one-in-four number was culled from a complex database that included only several hundred women under age 20. The finding carries a large margin of error, and critics won't be able to review the study until it gets published in a peer-reviewed journal next year, at the earliest. CDC officials initially said that 838 girls and women participated in the survey. The data for the one-in-four number, however, came from a smaller core group of 615.
Perhaps most critical, the CDC's March 11 news conference, and the materials distributed there, failed to put the numbers into historical context. Other CDC research shows that infection rates for most serious sexual diseases, including syphilis, gonorrhea, and chancroid, are sharply below 1990 levels--syphilis reached a historic low in 2000. The CDC's tests showed that none of the 18- and 19-year-old women in the study were infected with HIV or syphilis, but officials did not mention this success in the press release. Teenagers' exposure to STDs has also dropped because their sexual activity declined from 1998 to 2002. The decline was 20 percent among girls, and 40 percent among boys, according to the CDC report, "Teenagers in the United States: Sexual Activity, Contraceptive Use, and Childbearing, 2002," last updated in March 2006.
Where to begin?! As I understand it, the difference between infection and disease isn't the colossal oversight cited above. Yes, the body frequently overcomes an active infection such that the symptoms abate...but with HPV...one of the more concerning infections, the abatement of symptoms does not constitute the removal of the viral infection. In fact, a positive test for HPV exposure means that the individual (particularly women) will be vulnerable to cervical cancer at any point in the future. Think of it like a fever blister (cold sore). Once an individual has been exposed to the virus, it may remain dormant for extended periods of time but the exposure is still a threat to future health.
So here's the thing. Those seeking to undermine this data would have their followers believe that since HPV's symptoms (warts are typical) are often controlled without treatment, the infection doesn't rise to the level of concern reserved for other STD's that usually worsen in the absence of treatment (HIV, syphilis, and gonorrhea).
Their rationale may make sense to the average parent but it is devoid of a proper assessment of the long term implications of HPV. Yes, these other three STD's frequently require aggressive treatment, and left unattended can have dire and rapid consequences, but the fact that HPV doesn't function in the same manner isn't comparatively relevant. HPV may abate without treatment...but it may also kill at some point in the future. Hence the effort to distinguish between infection and disease is intellectually dishonest.
As if that weren't enough selective reasoning, these same apologists then pivot to suggest that a larger proportion of those infected were 18 and 19 year olds. That is an accurate observation but it is also an incomplete assessment. Logic tells us that the longer an individual is sexually active...and failing to practice safe sex methods...the more likely one is to eventually be infected. Therefore, extrapolating that the frequency of infection in younger girls is no reason for alarm ignores the fact that they are likely engaged in sexual practices that may eventually lead to infection.
To prove the argument they're making, one would have to assume that 18 and 19 year old girls suddenly abandon abstinence while also beginning to engage in unsafe sexual activity. The likelihood that both actions appear simultaneously and virtually spontaneously simply doesn't comport with human nature. In other words, making the the correlation of infection with a higher age the lynchpin of an argument that younger girls aren't at risk necessarily ignore the activities that are required to result in the frequency of eventual infections in older girls. The truth of the matter is that sex must be happening in younger girls and it is likely performed with an inconsistent use of appropriate protection.
The purpose of this example was to illustrate the willingness to adapt the data to fit the ideology. The resistance to abandoning the principle of abstinence is so strong that those in favor of it are willing to distort the interpretation of the data as well engage in sustained self-deceit. As such, the example supports my contention.
Returning to my initial musing, one begins to see the world as it would exist if the ideologues were handed the reigns. Unfortunately, I doubt the deception would stop regardless of the disastrous outcomes that could be expected or predicted if science was properly respected. Instead, in a typical display of religious righteousness, I would expect that disease and death would be met with moral judgments...leaving science to function in a role that is subservient to the pursuit of ideological purity.
That leads me to the second article on the ongoing battle to introduce intelligent design (creationism) into the science curriculum in our schools. Having failed to successfully repackage creationism as intelligent design, the anti-evolutionists have adopted a successor strategy with a newly launched linguistic sleight of hand.
From The New York Times:
Now a battle looms in Texas over science textbooks that teach evolution, and the wrestle for control seizes on three words. None of them are "creationism" or "intelligent design" or even "creator."
The words are "strengths and weaknesses."
Starting this summer, the state education board will determine the curriculum for the next decade and decide whether the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution should be taught. The benign-sounding phrase, some argue, is a reasonable effort at balance. But critics say it is a new strategy taking shape across the nation to undermine the teaching of evolution, a way for students to hear religious objections under the heading of scientific discourse.
Already, legislators in a half-dozen states -- Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri and South Carolina -- have tried to require that classrooms be open to "views about the scientific strengths and weaknesses of Darwinian theory," according to a petition from the Discovery Institute, the Seattle-based strategic center of the intelligent design movement.
" 'Strengths and weaknesses' are regular words that have now been drafted into the rhetorical arsenal of creationists," said Kathy Miller, director of the Texas Freedom Network, a group that promotes religious freedom.
The chairman of the state education board, Dr. Don McLeroy, a dentist in Central Texas, denies that the phrase "is subterfuge for bringing in creationism."
"Why in the world would anybody not want to include weaknesses?" Dr. McLeroy said.
Evolution as a principle is not disputed in the scientific mainstream, where the term "theory" does not mean a hunch, but an explanation backed by abundant observation, and where gaps in knowledge are not seen as grounds for doubt but points for future understanding. Over time, research has strengthened the basic tenets of evolution, especially as advances in molecular genetics have allowed biologists to read the history recorded in the DNA of animals and plants.
Yet playing to the American sense of fairness, lawmakers across the country have tried to require that classrooms be open to all views. The Discovery Institute has provided a template for legislators to file "academic freedom" bills, and they have been popping up with increasing frequency in statehouses across the country.
Again, these efforts demonstrate the diligence that is displayed by those intent on adapting science to support religious speculations. Should these individuals ever achieve the political authority they seek, I not only fear they're willingness to adapt science; I wouldn't be surprised to see a concerted effort to ablate large swaths of it...regardless of the degree of substantiation it may hold.
In the end, I find it ironic that these purveyors of unpalatable ideology are as invasive as the infections they seek to ignore. At the same time, they embrace beliefs that emanate from the writings of men that pale in comparison to the scientists they seek to discredit. The mere existence of the Bible...absent a scintilla of the evidence that they insist be provided to support science...is sufficient for them to engage in an unyielding effort to conform the enlightened present to the unproven past.
They demand that the fossil record contain every chronological component in order to acknowledge the validity of the theory of evolution while at the same time accepting on faith the existence of each and every character, concept, and construct contained in the Bible.
I rue the day that these bellicose bloviators ever achieve the authority they envision. While they may believe their actions are in keeping with the instructions of an all knowing creator, I think it only fair to demand they provide the same level of evidence they insist be supplied by science. After all, why should I embrace their holier than thou hypothesis on any lesser terms?
Tagged as: Abstinence-Only, Bible, CDC, Cervical Cancer, Condoms, Contraception, Creationism, Darwin, Discovery Institute, Education, Evolution, Faith, Fossil Record, God, HPV, Intelligent Design, Religion, Science, Scientific Method, Sex, Sex Education, Sexuality, STD's, Teen Pregnancy
Daniel DiRito | June 4, 2008 | 3:21 PM |
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I remember when Richard Carmona was appointed as the U.S. Surgeon General by George W. Bush. At the time, it was uncertain as to his actual ideological leanings though he seemed to be a thoughtful individual. As it turned out, he was an apolitical advocate for the betterment of health care in America...and thus often at odds with the Bush administration.
In the following video, Carmona offers his insights and observations into the job of Surgeon General and what is needed to address our growing inability to provide affordable health care to so many of our citizens. His own assessment is that a focus on wellness will do more to transform our health care system than would the adoption of universal health care.
Carmona cautions that the rapid expansion of costs to care for accelerated incidences of chronic illness must be addressed if we are going to be able to provide better health to more people. Further, as income disparities grow, the potential to address chronic illness becomes less likely. He appropriately notes that we don't actually have a health care system in America; rather our system is only focused upon providing care for those who are sick.
He points out that chronic disease is also preventable...though he wisely notes that addressing these diseases requires an awareness and a willingness to repair the underlying socioeconomic factors that enable them. Carmona explains that poverty contributes significantly to the inability to make prevention a focus.
In the video, Carmona provides a comprehensive look at the factors that impact our ability to insure the health of Americans. It is an excellent primer on the obstacles we face and the reasons they exist. The question and answer session covers a number of specific health topics including immunizations, the Bush administration's opposition to stem cell research, aging, and others.
Tagged as: Embryonic Stem Cell Research, Fora TV, Health Care, Richard Carmona, Surgeon General
Daniel DiRito | May 9, 2008 | 11:15 AM |
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In the following video, Jon Stewart tackles the question of abstinence-only sex education (with all of the appropriate sarcasm) and the fact that it has proven ineffective in reducing teen pregnancies and the transmission of STD's.
He first offers us a look at some of the techniques used and some of the arguments being offered by those opposed to comprehensive sex education. You're bound to love the dirty toothbrush example as well as the "god stick and shame cave" analogy that Stewart attributes to the likes of Senator Brownback. It's a good thing we've advanced from more primitive deterrent strategies and adopted these advanced measures of preventing children from exploring their sexuality.
He closes the segment with a pubic service announcement promoting dry humping as a reasonable alternative to getting 'dirty'. Stewart tells teens that dry humping is safe...it avoids the need for those disgusting condoms...and it allows you to still get into heaven.
Tagged as: Abstinence-Only Education, Condoms, Humor, Jon Stewart, Pregnancy, Religion, Senator Sam Brownback, Sex, The Daily Show
Daniel DiRito | April 30, 2008 | 2:16 PM |
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Back in 1955, Rudolf Flesch, author of the book Why Johnny Can't Read, took issue with the latest trend in teaching children to read. Rather than learning phonics, students were simply being taught to recognize words and Flesch argued that the practice left them ill-prepared for the unknown. In other words, when confronted with unrecognized words, they lacked the ability and the tools to succeed.
Under the auspices of the Bush administration, children are being similarly handicapped with regards to sex education. Rather than provide children with the knowledge and the tools to confront their emerging sexuality, the president and his faith-based followers insist upon spending huge sums of money on programs that teach abstinence-only.
New data and testimony offered to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform suggests that we're reaching the point at which we must explore "Why Johnny can't breed...without transmitting an STD or getting Jane pregnant".
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Programs teaching U.S. schoolchildren to abstain from sex have not cut teen pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases or delayed the age at which sex begins, health groups told Congress on Wednesday.
"Vast sums of federal monies continue to be directed toward these programs. And, in fact, there is evidence to suggest that some of these programs are even harmful and have negative consequences by not providing adequate information for those teens who do become sexually active," Dr. Margaret Blythe of the American Academy of Pediatrics told the committee.
These programs, backed by many social conservatives who oppose the teaching of contraception methods to teenagers in schools, have received about $1.3 billion in federal funds since the late 1990s. Currently, 17 of the 50 U.S. states refuse to accept federal funds for such programs.
Experts from the American Public Health Association and U.S. Institute of Medicine testified that scientific studies have not found that abstinence-only teaching works to cut pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases or the age when sexual activity begins.
Comprehensive sex education programs should emphasize abstinence as the best way for a teenager to avoid pregnancy or a sexually transmitted disease (STD), Blythe said.
Lawmakers cited government statistics showing that one in four U.S. teenage girls has a sexually transmitted disease and 30 percent of U.S. girls become pregnant before the age of 20.
Panel chairman Rep. Henry Waxman, a California Democrat, said, "We are showering funds on abstinence-only programs that don't appear to work, while ignoring proven comprehensive sex education programs that can delay sex, protect teens from disease, and result in fewer teen pregnancies."
"Meanwhile, we have no dedicated source of federal funding specifically for comprehensive classroom sex education," Waxman added.
Frankly, this insistence on offering abstinence-only education while resisting comprehensive sex education is another example of religious ideologues ignoring solid scientific evidence. This policy comes from the same president who is willing to pour trillions of dollars down the drain to fund a war that appears unlikely to resolve at any time in the near future. It just goes to show that the application of an absolutist template to matters of reason and rationality will frequently result in flawed judgments.
Further demonstrating the tendency of this president to apply absurd and arbitrary logic, he is seeking to cut 13 billion dollars from Medicaid spending for the poor. I guess he's seeking to assuage his legacy of unbridled deficit spending...and by all means...it's best to do so at the expense of the poor. After all, that's both compassionate and conservative, right? Fortunately, Congress rejected his efforts by what appears to be a veto proof margin.
From The Philadelphia Inquirer:
WASHINGTON - The House voted yesterday to block the Bush administration from cutting federal spending on Medicaid health care for the poor by $13 billion over the next five years.
President Bush has threatened a veto, but supporters have more than enough votes in the House to override him, and maybe in the Senate, too.
Two-thirds of the Republicans joined every voting Democrat in the 349-62 vote to impose a one-year moratorium, through next March, on seven rules changes the administration argues are needed to rectify waste and abuse in the state-federal partnership to provide health care to the poor.
Supporters of the bill said the rules would merely shift financial burdens to the states at a time of economic distress while reducing access to health care for the country's neediest people.
The governors of all 50 states, state Medicaid directors, and others oppose the rules, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Dingell (D., Mich.) told the House. "They know the devastating effects these rules would have on local communities, upon hospitals, and upon vulnerable beneficiaries."
The White House, in a statement Tuesday warning of a veto threat, said the House bill would "thwart these efforts of the federal government to regain fiscal accountability and integrity in Medicaid."
I find it truly amazing that this president routinely chooses programs designed for those most in need to demonstrate his fiscal bonafides. He's willing to spend billions on unproven abstinence-only education but caring for the basic health of the poor just can't be justified. Such actions are not only hypocritical; they demonstrate the inherent lack of logical cohesion that has typified this president's tenure.
With that in mind, I thought I would have a little fun at the expense of science challenged Christian compassionate conservatives. The following graphic includes an updated book cover titled "Why Johnny Can't Breed" as well as my list of the top ten guidelines required to provide Johnny with proper abstinence-only training.
Tagged as: Abstinence-Only Programs, Faith Based Programs, Humor, Religion, Religious Right, Sex Education, STD's, Teen Pregnancy
Daniel DiRito | April 24, 2008 | 9:50 AM |
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Last year, President Bush shut down legislation designed to provide health insurance to more low income families and rewrote the rules to limit the coverage states could provide. At the time, his minions were busy eviscerating a family that spoke in favor of the measure. According to the Government Accountability Office, it turns out that the President didn't have the authority he thought and and actually violated the law. Nothing new there, eh?
From The New York Times:
WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration violated federal law last year when it restricted states' ability to provide health insurance to children of middle-income families, and its new policy is therefore unenforceable, lawyers from the Government Accountability Office said Friday.
The ruling strengthens the hand of at least 22 states, including New York and New Jersey, that already provide such coverage or want to do so. And it significantly reduces the chance that the new policy can be put into effect before President Bush leaves office in nine months.
At issue is the future of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, financed jointly by the federal government and the states. Congress last year twice passed bills to expand the popular program, and Mr. Bush vetoed both.
In a formal legal opinion Friday, the accountability office said the new policy "amounts to a marked departure" from a longstanding, settled interpretation of federal law. It is therefore a rule and, under a 1996 law, must be submitted to Congress for review before it can take effect, the opinion said.
But Jeff Nelligan, a spokesman for the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said, "G.A.O.'s opinion does not change our conclusion that the Aug. 17 letter is still in effect."
What happens next is not clear. New York, New Jersey and several other states have filed lawsuits challenging the Bush administration policy. In addition, Congress may consider legislation to suspend the directive.
Under the Aug. 17 directive, states cannot expand the Children's Health Insurance Program to cover youngsters with family incomes over 250 percent of the federal poverty level ($53,000 for a family of four) unless they can prove that they already cover 95 percent of eligible children below twice the poverty level ($42,400).
Moreover, in such states, children who lose or drop private coverage must be uninsured for 12 months before they can enroll in the Children's Health Insurance Program, and co-payments in the public program must be similar to those in private plans.
The administration told states they must comply with the directive by August of this year or else they face "corrective action." Compliance could mean cutting back programs.
It amazes me that a President who sold himself to the electorate as a compassionate conservative is willing to restrict health care to the needy while insisting on spending billions of dollars year after year on his failed war in Iraq. It makes one wonder just who the President is protecting with his war on terror. I suspect those who risk losing coverage under Bush's arbitrary guidelines feel terrorized by their own government.
Then again, we shouldn't be surprised that a man of privilege (who acted out like a rebellious teenager until reaching the age of forty) lacks any tangible empathy for those in need. No, he would rather wax endlessly about the need to make permanent his tax cuts for the wealthy and finish the job his daddy didn't have the wherewithal to pursue.
When it's all said and done, I can't help but conclude that America has been the playground for an insecure and ego-challenged charlatan with little regard for anything that didn't serve to stroke his obtuse persona. Yes, his legacy will be legendary...though I'd wager it won't be of the nature he had hoped. In the end, I doubt many Americans will shed any tears when this 'little big man' rides off into the sunset.
Tagged as: Compassionate Conservatism, George W. Bush, Health Care, Iraq, Little Big Man, Poverty, SCHIP, State Children's Health Insurance Program, Tax Cuts
Daniel DiRito | April 19, 2008 | 4:11 PM |
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After writing the prior posting on Easter Sunday, I received a call that my sister was in the emergency room and had been diagnosed with severe pneumonia, organ stress, and sepsis. Needless to say, I have spent most of my time at the hospital since receiving that call. The good news is that it appears she is finally making some progress though it was rather scary for the last three days. It's hard to imagine that someone in great health can suddenly be so sick.
I'm hoping to be back on a more normal schedule the remainder of the week...so long as she continues to improve. I've been completely out of touch with world events so I'll have to get busy reading to get myself back up to speed. Needless to say, from what I've seen this morning, little has changed.
Anyway, my apologies for my absence and my thanks to those who frequent Thought Theater. It's always a pleasure to hear from readers and to have the opportunity to engage in thoughtful dialogue. I remain amazed at the power of the internet and the ability it provides for us to connect with others around the world.
Lastly, while none of us want to endure the travails of illness and loss, such events provide perspective and remind us just how important it is to fight for those we love. All too often we get lost in the push and pull of daily life...allowing ourselves to take for granted those who mean the most.
Tagged as: apology, illness, priorities
Daniel DiRito | March 26, 2008 | 3:14 PM |
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