Just One Minute
Balanced Fare: We Report, You Deride

Thursday, January 30, 2003

Is Regime Change Imminent?

In a move that may signal the end of the "Reign of Raines", the NY Times seems to have quietly adopted the practice of re-printing White House press releases on their front page. Appearing below the fold on A-1, we find:

"Bush AIDS Plan Surprises Many, but Advisers Call It Long Planned

No byline for Karen Hughes, but let's press on.

WASHINGTON, Jan. 29 — As one of the government's leading scientists, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci often visits the White House to talk about bioterrorism and vaccine research. But whenever he sees President Bush, Dr. Fauci said today, the president has the same question: "He says, `Tony, how's the AIDS program going?' "

That program, $15 billion over the next five years to fight global AIDS, caught many people by surprise when President Bush announced it Tuesday night. But while critics have long accused Mr. Bush of neglecting the epidemic, Dr. Fauci and other officials have been working on the initiative since June, they say, at Mr. Bush's explicit direction.

Mr. Bush's aides say the president has always been committed to the global AIDS cause, though not convinced that taxpayers' money could be well spent. But in recent months, a string of people from inside and outside the administration — including Colin L. Powell, the secretary of state; Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser; and Bono, the Irish rock star — made a passionate case to persuade Mr. Bush that the time was right.

Among those most surprised by Mr. Bush's announcement were officials in 12 countries in Africa, which along with Haiti and Guyana will receive the money.

In the United States, the president's unexpected initiative has political ramifications, as well as humanitarian ones. With Republicans still smarting from racially charged remarks of Senator Trent Lott, the former Republican leader, Mr. Bush's initiative may help mend fences with African-American leaders in Congress.

Today, they held a news conference to express what Representative John Conyers Jr., Democrat of Michigan, called "new hope" and "some skepticism."

OK, that is what appeared on the front page; the story is continued inside.

So far, from this story, the only "Democrat" who influenced the President, or the debate, is Bono, although the CBC is grateful. [Hey, I noted the "Trent Lott penance" on Tuesday! Cock-a-doodle-doo!]. Bush has been "committed", but wants the money spent wisely. The only thing missing is the word "bold". Let's press on.

And as Mr. Bush prepares for possible war with Iraq, his new commitment to global AIDS suggests an emerging geopolitical reality: if the United States is going to present itself as having a moral imperative to stop terrorism, it must also take up the cause of morality in a manner that that does not involve dropping bombs.

As one senior administration official, who was involved in the AIDS effort, said today, "The president often talks about not only winning the war, but winning the peace, and making the world a better place."

But some advocates say the program may not make the world all that much better. They complain that the money will not be parceled out quickly enough and that areas of the world where the epidemic is exploding, including China and India, are being ignored.

Others say that the program will give only $1 billion to a United Nations global fund to fight AIDS.

"The fund needs $6.3 billion over the next two years," said Anil Soni, a top fund official. "The president's announcement ensures that the administration is committed to $400 million."

Cheap shots from the UN. Does anyone expect a UN bureacrat to want less money? Abd still no Dem politicians heard from.

The seeds of Mr. Bush's initiative were planted as long as two years ago, at the start of his administration. Senator Bill Frist, the new Republican leader, who as a heart surgeon has volunteered on medical missions in Africa, said in an interview last year that he had been pressing Mr. Bush to do more to combat global AIDS since the first time the president invited him to ride on Air Force One.

"This president gets it," Dr. Frist said then.

But the president worried that the money would not be wisely spent, and did not want American tax dollars wasted. Jeffrey D. Sachs, an economist and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University who has advocated strongly for more money for global AIDS, today recalled his early meetings with administration officials, including Secretary Powell.

"There was great skepticism," Mr. Sachs said.

But over time, that skepticism began to ease, for several reasons. The price of AIDS drug cocktails dropped, as low as $300 per year for generics. The cocktails became simpler to take, easing administration concerns that poor African nations would not be able to administer them. Also, administration officials, including Secretary Powell, Dr. Fauci and Tommy G. Thompson, the secretary of health and human services, traveled to Africa and were deeply moved by the sight of so many people dying for lack of drugs.

Ahh, Bill Frist was involved too! The gang's all here.

Dr. Fauci, a top official with the National Institutes of Health, recalled briefing President Bush about his trip. "I told him that it was a great catastrophe. Babies were getting infected. Dying mothers were infected."

By last spring, support was also building in Congress, even in conservative circles. A critical turning point, Bono said, came when Senator Jesse Helms, the retired North Carolina Republican who frequently denounced foreign aid as "a rathole," called for more AIDS money.

Emphasis added - the first hint that liberals may have been on this already.

Religious leaders also took up the cause. Frank Griswold, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, said he met late last year with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to discuss the global AIDS pandemic. Bishop Griswold said he told Mr. Rumsfeld that AIDS was destroying and destabilizing armies across Africa and was leaving millions of orphans as a pool from which terrorist organizations could draw recruits.

"It is in our self-interest to address H.I.V./AIDS," Bishop Griswold said.

A central question, though, was how much money the administration should spend. Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary general, estimated that $10 billion a year was needed, and by last spring advocates for people with AIDS were demanding that the president pledge $2.5 billion a year. Dr. Frist, of Tennessee, along with Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, introduced legislation that would have authorized roughly that amount. The bill passed the Senate but was not taken up by the House. Now, Dr. Frist is preparing to re-introduce it.

OK, I like the mention of religious leaders. Kerry is introduced as tagging along behind Frist; and we see that the bill cleared the Senate, but not the House. Even as an evil righty, it strikes me that the Times could go out on a limb and mention that the bill passed the Democratic controllled Senate, and stalled in the Republican controlled House. Tell me the truth, I can take it. Sometimes, anyway. Right, then, Onward, Christian Readers! KIDDING!

In the White House, Mr. Bush was not convinced by last spring that the United States should make such a large commitment. Last June, he announced a much smaller effort: $500 million a year for medicines that would prevent expectant mothers in Africa and the Caribbean from passing the AIDS virus on to their babies. Yet even as the president made the announcement, Dr. Fauci said, Mr. Bush made it clear to his top advisers that he wanted to do more.

"We all knew that it couldn't stop there," Dr. Fauci said. "The president had a vision and he wanted to do something that went well beyond mother-to-child transmission."

White House officials, Dr. Fauci said, asked him to devise a cost-effective plan and prove that it could work to treat the infected, and prevent new infections. He brought scientists from around the world, including Peter Mugyenyi, director of the Joint Clinical Research Center in Uganda, to the White House for a series of meetings. In Uganda, Dr. Mugyenyi is treating 5,000 people with AIDS medicines through a network of clinics that, while hardly sophisticated by American standards, is effective, Dr. Fauci said.

But Dr. Mugyenyi said today that he could treat many more people, if he had the money. "Our biggest problem is lack of funds, which has not allowed us to scale up," he said.

That argument struck a chord with the president, who cited it in his State of the Union address. While not mentioning Dr. Mugyenyi by name, Mr. Bush spoke of a doctor who told AIDS patients he could not help them. "In an age of miraculous medicines," Mr. Bush said, `no person should have to hear those words."

And a big finish with a compassionate George Bush.

Fine, Dr. Fauci is quoted all over this story. I have no doubt he is a great guy, but who is he?

And I need to check out the two reporters in the byline. The names don't ring a bell, but maybe I can ring theirs.

And anecdotal evidence proves not much, but let's add this story to the "Times bias" mix for Mickey and Andrew to ponder.

UPDATE: More on Dr. Fauci. If we believe this, he morphed from villian to hero. Well, we see that Fauci was a hero to Bush I in 1988. Here is an AIDS timeline I stumbled across. And a rival story from the WaPo.

Comments: Post a Comment