January 18, 2008
RALLYING THE CANDIDATES
Arnold and Christian-Christensen will be in Myrtle Beach on Monday—will you?
When Obama, Clinton and Edwards make their final efforts to court South Carolina voters in Myrtle Beach on Martin Luther King Day before the Congressional Black Caucus Institute's Democratic Primary Debate, Campaign to End AIDS members, advocates from around the country and elected officials such as Congresswoman Donna Christian-Christensen will also be on hand for a "Rally to End AIDS."
"Particularly because the debate is on MLK Day, this seemed the time for a rally. Dr. King was very involved with civil rights. And we believe the C2EA platform is a civil rights as well as a human rights issue," said Duke, a Campaign to End AIDS member from Sumter, South Carolina who, because of fear of stigma, asked that his last name not be used.
The four main demands of C2EA's platform are to:
- Fully fund quality treatment and support services for all people living with HIV
- Ramp up HIV prevention at home and abroad, guided by science rather than ideology
- Increase research to find a cure, more effective treatments and better prevention tools
- Fight AIDS stigma and protect the civil rights of all people with HIV and AIDS everywhere
These demands are particularly relevant in South Carolina where four people died in 2006 because of lack of access to AIDS medications.
A representative from the Clinton campaign plans to attend the rally. Representatives from the Edwards and Obama campaigns had not responded to organizers' requests at press time. The invitations extended to the campaigns makes it clear that this isn't a protest, but a rally to make sure that the Democratic candidates continue to support people with HIV/AIDS, and that as the primaries wind down, it doesn't stop being an important issue.
C2EA members from more than a dozen states plan to attend the rally, (which will be held outside the Palace Theatre where the debate will take place), including Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and New York, as well as the District of Columbia.
Speakers will include C2EA members like Frederick Murphy, a Louisiana activist, Lolisa Gibson, representing the youth caucus, tireless bird-dogger Kaytee Riek of Health GAP, as well as Congresswoman Christian Christensen.
"The Congresswoman's participation in the rally illustrates her longstanding committment to all advocacy efforts around making access to quality health care for all HIV positive American," said William Arnold, at the Title II Community AIDS National Network, who will also be attending the rally. "Her presence will help give the fight to end HIV/AIDS the attention it deserves in Myrtle Beach."
Before the rally, activists will engage in basic training on talking to candidates, media and the public. The dozens of advocates will then hit up some campaign stops of both parties, and perhaps ask some pointed questions of the candidates.
Duke, for one, is mum about who he's voting for, but revealed this much. "I've decided to vote for a Democrat because from AIDSVote.org I've seen the Democrats have a plan to end AIDS and the Republicans have denial and rhetoric."
The Rally to End AIDS starts at 5pm outside the Palace Theatre in Myrtle Beach's Broadway at the Beach complex. The presidential debate begins at 7pm. For more information on the rally or C2EA, contact Larry Bryant at email@example.com or 202-419-9810.
December 21, 2007
RELIVING THE NIGHTMARE
Camp (in blue tie), when Huckabee signed law allowing Arkansas to fund AIDS meds for the poor—but this symbolic effort wasn't enough
AIDS activist Eric Camp, 44, believes that he and his former Gov. Mike Huckabee have some similarities. They both hail from conservative Southern Arkansas and that allows Camp, who is openly gay, to understand the depths of Huckabee's homophobia. "It's just a very homophobic part of the country," Camp said. "I have internalized homophobia that I'm still dealing with to this day."
When it comes to HIV/AIDS, however, Camp and Huck have very little in common. In 1992 when Camp was diagnosed with the virus, Huckabee was sounding off about quarantining people with HIV. And when Huckabee's nonfunding of Arkansas' AIDS Drug Assistance Program cut half of the people from its rolls, Camp went on a meds strike in 2004, voluntarily removing himself from ADAP for two years. That act of bravery led to a stroke and seizures, and although he has mostly recovered, his cognitive abilities have declined. "But knowing that I was giving my slot to someone who needed it gave me relief," Camp said.
So a couple of weeks ago, when the Associated Press reported on Huckabee's appalling answers to a 1992 questionnaire on AIDS, Camp was outraged anew. He poured his anger into a YouTube video set to Busta Rhymes' remix of "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch." The video is a series of shots of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette and Arkansas Times headlines, such as "State to put HIV patients on waiting list for medication" and "Governor says no to funding for drug plan" and pictures of the protests that followed. It's a damning, hilarious video.
"Hearing Huckabee's remarks just touched on a lot of rage from that part of my life," Camp said. He remembered interviewing Huckabee for the Arkansas Gay and Lesbian Taskforce newsletter Triangle Rising during his 1992 senatorial campaign. While the candidate was "cordial and friendly," he made it clear that he believed that if there were no gay people, there would be no HIV. Camp remembered how health department officials were terrified to print anything with the word "condom" on it for fear of angering Huckabee. He remembered how when Fay Bozeman was running for Senate in 1998, Bozeman said, "We know what causes AIDS. It's illegal here." When Bozeman lost to Sen. Blanche Lincoln Huckabee appointed Bozeman Secretary of Health.
"I believe Huckabee is a compassionate person, but that compassion doesn't extend to people with AIDS. He is very homophobic and it translates into his AIDS policy," said Camp. The video has received hundreds of hits, and Camp says the e-mails he's received about it are overwhelmingly positive.
Can we trust Huckabee on AIDS?
Huckabee did some good for AIDS funding in Arkansas. In 2001, he signed Act 235, which for the first time allowed state dollars to be spent on HIV medication for the poor. Up until that point Arkansas spent nothing. But this policy was followed by Gov. Huckabee's infrequent direct funding for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP), which created a waiting list of Arkansans with AIDS with no access to life-saving medications prior to 2001 and again in 2004,with the ADAP Watch recording its peak" of 89 people in March 2006. After numerous protests by people camped outside the Capitol with signs reading "AIDS in Arkansas-Begging 4 Life" Huckabee allotted $660,000 to eliminate the ADAP drug list.
Amazingly, of all the Republican candidates for president, Huckabee has provided the most comprehensive statement about AIDS. But Camp is skeptical that Huckabee's promises to fund the Early Treatment for HIV/AIDS and to provide funding (though not enough) for PEPFAR, will be realized. "I think he's reaching out in some ways in order not be this green monster he was in Arkansas. But you can bet when there's a gap in the budget, [funding for AIDS] will be the first on the chopping block.""We lived through it in Arkansas," Camp said. "But I don't know if the country can."
December 14, 2007
HUCK ON THIS
Say what, Huckabee?
After this week, when AIDS advocates hear the name "Huckabee," they're going to have visions of people with AIDS quarantined in an internment camp waiting for Madonna and Elizabeth Taylor to come to their rescue. There's nothing the Update can say that Ryan White's mother, the National Association of People with AIDS and other AIDS groups haven't already told Huckabee regarding his atrocious answers to a 1992 Associated Press poll he took while running for an Arkansas senate seat. (Nothing polite that is). In case you've been off of the AIDS planet, The Washington Blade has a round-up of responses to the dustup.
Well after the world knew HIV couldn't be spread through casual contact, Huckabee told the AP that people with AIDS should be quarantined and less money should be spent on AIDS research. His 2007 nonapology for the ages—"I certainly never would want to say anything that would be hurtful to them or anyone else. I would have great regret and anxiety if I thought my comments were hurtful or in any way added to the already incredible pain that families have felt regardless of how they contracted AIDS."—sure doesn't cut it.
The irony is that only a week prior to the Huckabee controversy, AIDS advocates such as Health GAP's Kaytee Riek and the Global AIDS Alliance Fund's David Bryden were giving Huckabee tentative applause. Huck's written statement issued on World AIDS Day had some potential. It declared AIDS a pressing issue "especially devastating to our minority communities, which account for two of every three new cases," supported the Early Treatment for HIV Act, and "continued funding" of the Ryan White CARE Act. But though the plan (for lack of a better word) was vague and essentially endorsed flat-funding PEPFAR, it is the best plan we've gotten in writing from a Republican candidate-because it's the only one we've gotten from a Republican candidate. All of the other Republicans' statements on AIDS are far from comprehensive, frequently vague and like Huckabee's, don't mention sex education, needle exchange or any other science-based prevention techniques. (For more on where all the candidates stand visit AIDSVote.org).
Riek said that she wasn't surprised by Huckabee's refusal to disavow his 1992 prejudices because he's ignored science in the past. Nonetheless, she maintains that among Republicans, he's still provided the best AIDS statement. Bryden agrees, though like Riek, he was appalled by the Senator's lack of contrition. "It's great that he put out an [AIDS] statement that has a few good elements, but in light of what he said most recently, Huckabee also needs to say something about stigma and discrimination. As president he'd be able to go to countries that are abusing people and be able to persuade them to change their tune. He cannot be trusted to me on this issue, " Bryden said, adding that Huckabee must also be taken to task for wanting to flat-fund PEPFAR.
Looking back, Huckabee has already made some outrageous but less high-profile statements about AIDS on the campaign trail. Bird-dogger Kevin Anglin encountered Huckabee at a campaign stop at a green-efficiency house in New Hampshire. According to Anglin, when a fellow bird-dogger asked Huckabee if he would support broadening PEPFAR's HIV prevention education to include condoms and other methods, Huckabee replied that abstinence is the best way to stop HIV from spreading, stating, "With drunk driving, we don't say, 'Let's limit drunk driving,' but we aim to stop it." That didn't sit well with Anglin. "It was kind of an inappropriate analogy," he told the Update. "A more appropriate one would have been with drinking, where we expect people are going to drink, so we try to limit the destructive consequences."
According to Women's ENews Huckabee has made other creatively false analogies demonizing safe sex. In response to a question about whether his religious beliefs would allow him to support global funding supporting contraception, the former Arkansas governor compared condom-use to domestic violence. "We don't say that a little domestic violence is OK, just cut it down a little, just don't hit quite as hard. We say it's wrong." Is this the down-home Huckabee charm everyone is talking about?
Where are the Republican AIDS plans?
The upside of Huckabee's comments this week is that at least voters have a better sense of how he views AIDS (and advocates had an opportunity to repudiate his view), which is more than can be said for the other Republican candidates. (Sen. Hillary Clinton, Sen. Barack Obama, John Edwards and Gov. Bill Richardson have all laid out comprehensive AIDS strategies). The Huckabee incident makes clear how pressing it is to get the Republicans and the Democrats to talk about how they plan to end AIDS. It's too soon to know what Huckabee's AIDS folly might mean for the election—none of his Republican competitors questioned him about it at Wednesday's debate. We hope they're not gambling that AIDS stigma is a selling point among perceived Republican voters.
"We need a president who will aggressively combat stigma and discrimination at home and abroad," said Paul Zeitz, Executive Director of the Global AIDS Alliance Fund. "HIV is having the biggest impact among those marginalized and discriminated against: women and girls, men who have sex with men, sex workers, injecting drug users, immigrants, and prisoners. Are these candidates ready to deliver services to all these groups, including providing clean needles to injecting drug users? Would they work to persuade countries who are reluctant to even acknowledge some of these groups exist to respect their human rights and get them the health services they need? Huckabee, Romney, McCain, and Giuliani have all left this very unclear."
November 16, 2007
A lot has changed since 2000:Has Clinton's
position on needle exchange?
Several weeks ago, the Update delved into the mystery of Sen. Hillary Clinton’s position on lifting the federal ban on funding for needle exchange, a proven HIV prevention method. This week, we turned up a compelling—and promising—piece of evidence that suggests that “President” Hillary Clinton might do the right thing and end the pointless and harmful federal needle exchange restrictions.
Thanks to a tip, the Update hit the archives of the defunct LGBT paper LGNY in an effort to dig up an interview it did with then-Senate candidate Clinton in October 2000. In that interview, Clinton was asked about her position on needle exchange. She replied, “I think that we should go with the science and the science has been pretty clear on this...[I]f the states and localities are willing to do it, the federal government will support it.”
When LGNY asked whether that support would include “specific federal dollars earmarked for needle exchange,” Clinton stated unequivocally that it would.
“That’s a shift from current Administration policy,” LGNY observed.
“It is,” Clinton acknowledged.
Back to the future
The LGNY article is somewhat reassuring to needle exchange advocates who were disheartened by a bird-dogging clash this spring between Housing Works president and CEO Charles King and Clinton. Clinton hedged on the issue, telling King, “I want to look at the evidence on it,” referring to the effectiveness of needle exchange in preventing the spread of HIV without increasing illicit drug use. If so, said Clinton, “states and localities should have the option of doing it.” (Sparks flew when Bill Clinton’s decidedly mixed track record on needle exchange came up.)
Political Director of AIDS Action William McColl said the comments in LGNY could be used to Clinton’s advantage, showing that she is reconnecting to past leadership on the issue. “Clinton would show real leadership if she were to strongly recommit the federal government to evidence-based HIV prevention,” said McColl. “It's the right thing to do and it’s a good time for her to say so.”
Nonetheless, the pressure is still on the ’08 frontrunner. “Clinton should clearly and unambiguously say that as President she will lift the ban on Federal funding within the first 100 days of taking office,” King said. Bill Piper, the Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, echoed that sentiment: “What really matters is what Senator Clinton says now. And right now she has yet to say she'll repeal the federal syringe ban if elected President.”
Insiders say Clinton will outline more specifics of her domestic AIDS plan by World AIDS Day. Here’s hoping lifting the ban on needle exchange funding is a part of it.
November 9, 2007
PLEADING THE FIFTH?
That's not Thompson, but Jennings' mug with Huckabee shows she's not
afraid of Republicans
Presidential candidate Fred Thompson apparently expected that after his speech to veterans outside the Capitol building in Columbia, South Carolina, on Tuesday all he would have to do was sign autographs and shake a few hands. But Campaign to End AIDS-South Carolina member Duke wanted more than a handshake. He wanted an answer. Duke said, “Senator Thompson, I am a person living with AIDS who was on the waiting list for medication in South Carolina. There were 500 people on the list and some of them died. Does you health plan provide life saving medication for AIDS, diabetes and other life threatening conditions?"
“We need to do what we can,” was the former senator’s vague response, Duke said. Thompson then continued shaking the hands of less inquisitive people.
“I wasn’t satisfied with Thompson’s response,” said Duke, who just recently got off the ADAP waiting list and has gone without AIDS medications three times in the last two years. “It was a textbook answer and I don’t think he was ready for it. It didn’t look like he had made a commitment.”
Thompson hasn’t made a commitment to fighting HIV/AIDS domestically or globally. He has no HIV/AIDS platform on his official campaign website. His two paragraph, five-point health care plan begins “Americans have the best health care in the world” and doesn’t give details on how to provide universal health care. Instead Thompson suggests streamlining and improving the system through “free-market solutions.”
No wonder the senator-turned-Law & Order star also dissed medical students Mary Carol Jennings and Kirsten Austad at Beacon Drive-In's Panther Room the same day. Thompson had no Q&A, but when the veteran bird-doggers shook Thompson’s hand and asked how he would deal with HIV/AIDS, he flat-out ignored the questions. The snubs were noticed by a reporter for the Spartanburg Herald who interviewed Jennings and Austad for an article “Tough-talking Thompson takes no questions.”
“He just totally blew me off. I have not felt so insulted in a long time," Jennings told the Herald.
This television D.A. needs to realize that while running for president, he is going to be cross-examined.
November 1, 2007
DEAD PEOPLE DON'T VOTE
Protesters in Philly:Lack of AIDS care is a scary sight
Trick or treat? More than 400 activists, many decked out as skeletons, goblins and ghosts, converged on the Democratic debate in Philadelphia Tuesday night to scare the candidates into putting forth serious domestic and global AIDS plans, addressing racial health disparities and supporting universal health care. Protesters targeted Sen. Hillary Clinton, in particular. Of the three campaign frontrunners, she is the only one who has yet to reveal her plan to combat AIDS in the U.S.
"It's clear that we have many people who are not going to sit back and vote for any candidate who doesn't show a firm commitment to universal health care and global and domestic AIDS funding," said Kaytee Riek, an organizer with Health GAP and a member of ACT UP Philadelphia, which planned the rally.
The Halloween-themed happening got started when speakers from the American Medical Students Association and ACT UP Philadelphia pumped up the crowd at a rally on the Drexel University campus. The hundreds of protestors—led by skeletons pushing wheel-barrows and carrying shovels and signs that read "Clinton Health Plan: Dig More Graves"—marched to the plaza outside Drexel's Main Building where the debate was held. Participants banged drums and chanted, "We want health care. Not corporate welfare." They shook signs singling out specific candidates, calling for $50 billion for Global AIDS, and reminding pols that "Dead People Don't Vote."
Protestors from numerous groups showed up for the Philly debates, including members of the American Medical Students Association, ACT UP Philly, ACT UP New York, Health GAP, Student Global AIDS Campaign and a bus load of Housing Works and New York City AIDS Housing Network clients and staff. However, ACT UP and friends weren't the only rabble-rousers on hand. Candidate Mike Gravel, who wasn't allowed to participate in the debate because he didn't reach NBC's fundraising and campaigning benchmarks, held his own protest at which he answered questions from the debate, shown on a big-screen TV in the nearby World Café Live. Supporters of various Democratic candidates stood on the sidelines of the plaza, and in some cases cheered on the energetic AIDS activists. Supporters of Sen. Joe Biden joined chants of "Health care is a human right," despite the fact that their candidate has yet to create an AIDS plan.
Calling out Clinton
The number one target, not just inside the hall where the debate was held, but among the protesters outside, was Clinton, who has yet to release a plan for fighting AIDS domestically.
"Only two candidates have put forward a comprehensive plan to fight AIDS in the U.S.," said ACT UP member Hannah Zellman. "We are calling on Senators Clinton, Biden, Dodd and Governor Richardson to use their time in Philadelphia, a city hard-hit by the AIDS epidemic, to detail their plans to fight AIDS at home."
"We are sick and tired of watching people in our communities die!" said NYCAHN co-director Shirlene Cooper, to cheers from the crowd.
"Ms. Clinton needs to release her plan yesterday!" ACT UP Philadelphia organizer Waheedah Shabazz-El shouted into a megaphone to more cheers.
After being confronted by a New York Times blogger about the impending Philly protest, Clinton did sign a pledge to commit $50 billion to fight global AIDS, which Gov. Bill Richardson, John Edwards, Sen. Barack Obama, Sen. Joe Biden and Rep. Dennis Kucinich have also signed.
Despite the focus on Clinton, there were plenty of demands made of her fellow candidates, especially concerning comprehensive plans to reform health care.
"I came here to help persuade the Democratic candidates that we need good health care globally," said Frederick Taylor of Housing Works, who was dressed as a skeleton. "I contracted HIV in 1984 and no politicians have kept up their end of the bargain to fight AIDS."
The next major AIDS protest by ACT UP will likely be on World AIDS Day. To read all of the demands for the presidents go to 08stopaids.org.
Everyone's pledging this week!
In a whirlwind week, five candidates signed the Presidential Pledge for Leadership on Global AIDS and Poverty and committed to spending $50 billion over five years to fight global HIV/AIDS and to take steps to fight global poverty. Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE), Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), John Edwards, Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) signed the pledge this week to help the 40 million people living with HIV/AIDS worldwide, joining Gov. Bill Richardson who was the first to sign on a few weeks ago.
"It's been fantastic to see these candidates stepping up to the plate pledging the kind of policies needed to defeat the virus," said David Bryden of the Global AIDS Alliance fund, which has presented the pledge to all of the presidential candidates.
After Clinton was informed last Friday by a New York Times blogger about Tuesday's protest in Philadelphia, she quickly signed the Global AIDS Alliance pledge. Rivals Edwards and Obama signed the pledge later that weekend. Edwards had already called for $50 billion in his HIV/AIDS plan weeks ago, and included many of the plan's recommendations, such as appointing a cabinet person to fight global poverty. But the pledge-signing was the first time Obama has clearly supported the figure, which experts say is the amount needed to combat AIDS worldwide, in particular, increasing the number of health care workers from poor countries who have left for better pay elsewhere.
Candidates who signed the pledge agreed to:
- Provide $50 billion to the global fight against HIV/AIDS by 2013
- Give the U.S. "fair share contribution" to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, as well as providing basic education and health care to children orphaned and made vulnerable by AIDS
- Support policies for comprehensive sex education that prevent violence against women and girls and trade agreements that protect access to generic medicine
- Create a cabinet-level post to address global poverty
- Eliminate debt for a broader range of countries than is currently allowed
But while Obama and Edwards have also presented plans to combat AIDS domestically, all the other Democratic candidates, including Clinton, haven't shared their strategies for fighting AIDS in the United States. Word on the street is that Clinton's domestic AIDS plan is written and should be ready soon.
The next step for the Global AIDS Alliance is to get all Republican candidates to sign the pledge. "AIDS is a nonpartisan issue," Bryden said.
Global AIDS Alliance Fund is a 501c4 charitable organization, so tax and election laws allow it to participate in partisan activity including having candidates sign pledges. Housing Works is a 501c3 organization, which means we can't be partisan—but we can report all the latest HIV/AIDS election news and gossip. Stay tuned.
October 26, 2007
ON PINS AND NEEDLES
Hill, don't make the same
mistake as Bill
Last April, Housing Works president and CEO Charles King tried to pin down 2008 presidential frontrunner Senator Hillary Clinton about her position on lifting the ban on federal funding for needle exchange. Six months later—despite a high-profile story on the website Politico and frequent bird-dogging to get Clinton to release her plan to fight AIDS—advocates are still left to wonder what action Clinton will take on needle exchange, and why she seems so hesitant to lead on the issue.
Besides Clinton’s exchange with King, the Update found virtually no other public comments from Clinton on the issue. In that exchange, Clinton said, “I want to look at the evidence on it,” referring to whether needle exchange would prevent the spread of HIV without increasing illicit drug use. If so, said Clinton, “states and localities should have the option of doing it.” King reminded the senator from New York that her own husband’s Health and Human Services Secretary, Donna Shalala, had “certified” the safety and effectiveness of such programs in 1998.
“And then she refused to order it, as you remember,” Clinton shot back. In fact, Bill Clinton allowed Shalala to announce that a “meticulous scientific review” had “proven” needle exchanges were safe and effective but maintained the federal ban on funding them. When King corrected Clinton, she admitted, “We knew we couldn't maintain it politically. I wish life and politics were easier.” (To see a video of the whole battle click here.)
Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance Bill Piper confirmed that Clinton’s position on lifting the ban remains unknown. “I don't know what her position is and I don’t expect that to change. Hillary is the frontrunner, and frontrunners tend not to take positions on tough issues,” Piper said.
William McColl, the political director for AIDS Action, agreed but expressed a more sympathetic view. “I realize she has been reluctant to be clear about her position on syringe exchange,” McColl said, “But it has been so politicized over the years, I can understand why someone like Hillary might be hesitant to get out in front of it.” McColl acknowledged that Sen. Barack Obama, John Edwards, and Bill Richardson have all said they support ending the federal ban on needle exchange.
What else might explain Clinton’s reluctance to endorse needle exchange as HIV prevention and lift the federal funding ban when other candidates have had the courage to do so? After all, there’s good reason to believe that the American public supports the idea. According to a 2001 Kaiser Family Foundation Survey, 58 percent of Americans favor needle exchange programs, while just 38 percent oppose them. And a 1997 Harris Poll found that 71 percent of Americans support lifting the ban on federal funding for needle exchange programs.
Clinton’s reluctance could be due to the particularly brutal scrutiny that conservatives reserve for her. After she voiced support for the allocation of $350,000 of federal funds to the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) to help combat methamphetamine use, National Review Online sneered, “Will taxpayers’ $350,000 help GMHC tell readers to avoid methamphetamine because it will affect their ‘long f*** sessions,’ but at least urge them to use clean needles if they must shoot up?” And the subject of needle exchange tends to bring out the crazies to begin with. “Give them all dirty needles and let them die,” said TV’s Judge Judy Sheindlen on a trip to Australia in 1999 when she was asked about allowing drug users to have access to sterile syringes to prevent the spread of HIV.
Piper guessed that Clinton may be locked in a cycle of “80s thinking,” a phenomenon, he said, which particularly tends to affect Democrats. “They're still so afraid of appearing ‘soft on drugs’ that they fail to realize public perceptions have changed. Most people now view drug abuse as a matter of public health—not as a criminal issue.”
McColl offered a similar view. “There’s been a 20 year campaign to confuse the issue of drug use with the issue of saving lives through syringe exchange,” he said. “She’s cautious because she’s seen some of the damage that a charge of being ‘soft on drugs’ can do in a general election.”
A telling apology
Whatever the case, given Clinton’s use of the word “we” when referring to her husband’s administration, it is worth noting that Bill Clinton’s position on needle exchange has evolved significantly. In 2006, when asked if he regretted his decision not to support needle-exchange, the former president admitted that he did. “I was wrong,” Mr. Clinton confessed at the XVI International AIDS Conference in Spain. “The evidence shows that it doesn't lead to increased drug usage.”
Still, Clinton’s approach to AIDS in general in the presidential race has remained strangely cautious. Last July, Black Press USA asked the Clinton campaign why AIDS wasn't mentioned anywhere on her website. Jin Chon, a spokesman for Clinton, replied, “We will have a whole section on health care and there will be a section on Hillary’s stand on HIV/AIDS.” Two months later, Gay.com asked Chon why Hillary’s subsequently posted health plan included no AIDS-specific recommendations.
Chon’s e-mailed reply stated simply that “Hillary Clinton’s plan will make sure that all Americans living with HIV and AIDS have access to the health insurance they need.” Both Edwards and Obama have released comprehensive strategies for fighting AIDS domestically and globally.
Clinton’s Senate website continues to emphasize the “need to take bold steps to confront and eradicate AIDS and support those living with HIV.” To that end, she says, she introduced the Early Treatment of HIV Act, and has been a strong supporter of the Ryan White Care Act. She also supports “full funding” for the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR) and favors providing “additional funding” to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.
Given her lack of leadership around AIDS on the campaign trail, is Clinton still worthy of being considered a staunch ally of efforts to end the epidemic? “Unquestionably,” McColl said. “But I do think sometimes people are at a different place than we would like them to be, and it’s our job to get out there and convince them that it’s okay to move a step closer to our position.”
King gave Clinton faint praise for engaging in the fight when it was “popular,” but also emphasized that “a true ally is going to have the courage to stand up during every important battle—not just when it is politically expedient to do so.”
THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
Ask Mitt anything—though he might not want to talk about it
Although the Dems tend to be a little more accessible, AIDS activists are just as eager to corner Republican presidential candidates at meet-and-greets throughout the country to demand they explain their positions on domestic and global AIDS issues. With a little ingenuity, bird-doggers have gotten close to the GOP's would-be nominees—only to find out that, in some cases, HIV/AIDS is barely on their minds.
When Luke Messac, a Harvard senior, and ten of his closest friends attended two "Ask Mitt Anything" campaign events earlier this month in New Hampshire , they found that just because they could ask Mitt anything, didn't mean he had to give a straight answer. When one of Messac's crew asked Romney to name the dollar amount he'd commit to funding global AIDS, Romney said he hadn't made a budget—and that when he does make one, global AIDS won't be his first priority. When another bird-dogger asked Romney if he would commit $50 billion over five years to fighting global AIDS, Romney kept bringing the discussion back to the war on terrorism.
According to Messac, Romney grew so frustrated with the AIDS questions that the ex-governor of Massachusetts remarked, "We have to get our own house in order first, of course," and then went on to talk about giving money to countries with moderate politics and significant Muslim populations. When pressed further, Romney appeared agitated, asking "Is this really the most important issue to you? More important than military spending?"
For Messac the answer is yes. "At the end all we're asking for is one-fourth of one percent of the U.S. budget for one of the greatest catastrophes of all time, and it's an issue that's not getting play in Romney's campaign," Messac told the Update. "With Obama, even if he wasn't perfectly in line with everything, he'd definitely done his homework, and was versed on global AIDS. If Romney has done his homework, he didn't display it."
They heart Huckabee?
Earlier this month three students at St. Michael's College in New Hampshire (including Madison Reeve, who bird-dogged Sen. Hillary Clinton into agreeing to provide $50 billion for global AIDS), pretended to be Young Republicans to attend former Gov. Mike Huckabee's meet and greet at a "green" energy efficient house. According to Kevin Anglin, a bird-dogging newbie, the three coconspirators mingled undetected among the 50 guests. Then Chris Riley approached Huckabee and asked about his knowledge of the President's Emergency Plan on AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Huckabee said he had no knowledge of the $15 billion program.
Riley patiently explained PEPFAR to Huckabee, then asked if he would support broadening PEPFAR's HIV prevention education to include condoms and other methods. Huckabee said, to the approval of the crowd, that abstinence is the best way to stop HIV from spreading, and we should not condone such behavior. According to Riley, Huckabee also said, "With drunk driving, we don't say, 'Let's limit drunk driving,' but we aim to stop it." Anglin wasn't convinced. "It was kind of an inappropriate analogy," Anglin told the Update. "A more appropriate one would have been with drinking, where we expect people are going to drink, so we try to limit the destructive consequences."
McCain off a plane
While covert operations can be part of the bird-dogging fun, Housing Works legislative counsel Michael Kink recently showed that if a candidate crosses your path, don't hesitate to flag him down and fire away.
Kink was heading home from the Campaign to END AIDS town hall meeting about improving the Ryan White CARE Act, when he spied Sen. John McCain at the Columbia, South Carolina airport. Apparently McCain and his wife (on crutches) had just gotten off a flight.
Kink greeted McCain as the senator was heading for an escalator by thanking him for his leadership on HIV/AIDS, then told him that making a clear commitment to fight global AIDS would be the next strong step he could take. McCain said his campaign staffers gave him info on global AIDS and that he'd look into it. Kink also encouraged McCain to cosponsor the Early Treatment for HIV Act, explaining that South Carolina had people dying on the AIDS drug waiting list just this year. McCain said, "That's terrible" before being whisked off by an aide.
"Even if McCain doesn't win the presidency, he's still a powerful senator and it's important to get him to support ETHA," Kink said. "Because he's running for president though, we have a unique opportunity to talk to him about these issues, and historically any progress on HIV/AIDS policy and funding has come with support from both parties."
Stay tuned for more bird-dogging reports from campaign events—on both sides of the aisle.
October 19, 2007
OBAMA'S SORT-OF-OK AIDS PLAN
but question his global vision.
Obama's plan to fight global AIDS didn't pass the funding test
Sen. Barack Obama released his plan to fight HIV/AIDS on his website Tuesday morning and reviews are decidedly mixed. On the home front, there are cheers for Obama's call for universal health care, a national AIDS strategy, passing the Early Treatment for HIV ACT (ETHA), focusing on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment in the African-American community and ending the federal ban on needle exchange, among other initiatives. Domestically, he hit all the same notes as his fellow candidate John Edwards last month.
That's just fine with David Munar, vice president for policy and communications for AIDS Foundation of Chicago, and other advocates. "Domestically, we're thrilled," Munar said.
But Obama's international AIDS plan failed to have the same exciting effect. He didn't commit $50 billion a year for five years to fight HIV/AIDS worldwide—as he sort of, kind of told bird-doggers he would. Instead, he pledged $50 billion to cover all United Nation's Millenium Development goals which, in addition to fighting AIDS, include halving the number of people who die of tuberculosis, malaria and avian influenza, as well as reducing global poverty.
Obama also said he supports adding $1 billion a year to fight global AIDS through the President's Emergency Program for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). But Obama didn't make clear if he wants to add $1 billion to the $15 billion annually in PEPFAR funds or the $30 billion Bush proposed. It is also unclear whether Obama plans to add $1 billion annually to PEPFAR or play the future by ear. Paul Davis of Health GAP points out that Obama's total for PEPFAR could be anywhere from $20 billion to $45 billion over five years, depending on the details of his position. (Obama's campaign could not be reached for further clarification).
"It's difficult to understand what he means," Davis said. "Senator Obama needs to include a real price tag on his global AIDS initiatives if he wants to show he's serious. Senators Edwards showed much more thought and care to people with AIDS in the developing world. Hopefully this is a false start for Obama."
Edwards, in addition to pledging $50 billion over five years for global AIDS, also said he will rescind the "gag rule" that doesn't allow global not-for-profits receiving U.S. funds to perform abortions or provide contraceptives. Edwards also calls for a cabinet level official to focus on global poverty.
Obama's plan includes:
- a promise to provide universal health care
- creating a national AIDS strategy
- support for Early Treatment for HIV Act (ETHA) which would provide Medicaid coverage to low-income people living with HIV
- particularly focusing HIV/AIDS efforts towards African-Americans
- full funding of the Ryan White CARE Act and Housing for People with AIDS (HOPWA)
- expanding access to generic HIV/AIDS drugs in poor countries
- supporting "age appropriate" sexual education
- lifting the federal ban on needle exchange
- reauthorizing and revising PEPFAR to allow science-based prevention
- putting $50 billion towards the Millenium Development Goals
- allowing countries to access more low-cost generic medications
Keep reading the Update for presidential AIDS plans as they are announced.