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Young Christian voters show disconnect with religious right

RELEVANT magazine just released a poll of Christian voters between the ages of 18-34, and the results…well  , they may surprise you.

Now, I think it’s best to take polls with a huge grain of salt. Or perhaps a hallucinogen ic substance. But if the results of the RELEVANT magazine survey are to be taken at face value, they show a remarkable disconnect between the political concerns of young Christian voters, and the political agendas being set by Focus on the Family, Club for Growth, the Christian Coalition and the like.

Among the more surprising results:

  • When asked WWJVF (”Who Would Jesus Vote For”), 28 percent said Sen. Barack Obama, compared to 24 percent who said Gov. Mike Huckabee.
  • When asked whether they thought the U.S. should have universal health care, 59 percent said yes.
  • When asked whether churches should be able to support candidates, 62 percent said no.
  • For those who voted for George W. Bush in 2004, 33 percent said that if they had to do it over again, they would change their vote.

There are more results here, and also a press release about the poll posted here. The spin? Well, according to RELEVANT co-founder and publisher Cameron Strang, “Young Christians simply don’t seem to feel a connection to the traditional religious right. Many differ strongly on domestic policy issues, namely issues that affect the poor, and are dissatisfied with America’s foreign policy and war. In general, we’re seeing that twentysometh ing Christians hold strongly to conservative moral values, but at the same time don’t feel that their personal moral beliefs need to be legislated to people who don’t agree with them. It’s an interesting paradox, and is creating clear division between this generation and the religious right.”

Does this spell the end of groups like Focus or the Christian Coalition? Certainly not. But if these results are real, it does prove that the influence these groups once had in influencing religious voters might be on the wane, making way for a little common sense and tolerance.

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Devil’s In The Details? Not If You Ask Most Americans

Welcome to the latest American renaissance… a loathsome return to the “dark ages”. A new poll tells us that more Americans believe in hell and the devil…litera lly…than believe in Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. The only good news…and I say as much with all available facetiousnes s…is that nearly two thirds of all Americans believe in miracles. Why is that good news? Because it now appears it’s going to take a miracle to get this country tracking on a set of rational rails and not hitching it’s wacky wagon to a messianic magic carpet.

More Americans believe in a literal hell and the devil than Darwin’s theory of evolution, according to a new Harris poll released on Thursday.

It is the latest survey to highlight America’s deep level of religiosity, a cultural trait that sets it apart from much of the developed world.

It also helps explain many of its political battles which Europeans find bewildering, such as efforts to have “Intelligent Design” theory — which holds life is too complex to have evolved by chance — taught in schools alongside evolution.

It further found that 79 percent believed in miracles, 75 percent in heaven, while 72 percent believed that Jesus is God or the Son of God. Belief in hell and the devil was expressed by 62 percent.

Darwin’s theory of evolution met a far more skeptical audience which might surprise some outsiders as the United States is renowned for its excellence in scientific research.

Only 42 percent of those surveyed said they believed in Darwin’s theory which largely informs how biology and related sciences are approached. While often referred to as evolution it is in fact the 19th century British intellectual ’s theory of “natural selection.”

What I find so baffling is that in real life you can’t get most of these people to accept hard and fast facts…but when it comes to faith, they’re willing to believe in the cookie monster. Global warming…not a chance. No connection between Saddam Hussein and 9/11…not on your life.

If the above data isn’t enough to convince you we’re on the fast train to rampant regression, not to worry…there’ s more data to report.

More born-again Christians — a term which usually refers to evangelical Protestants who place great emphasis on the conversion experience — believed in witches at 37 percent than mainline Protestants or Catholics, both at 32 percent.

OK, it was just a few months back when James Dobson and Focus on the Family released the following statement with regards to Harry Potter.

“We have spoken out strongly against all of the Harry Potter products.” His rationale for that statement: Magical characters — witches, wizards, ghosts, goblins, werewolves, poltergeists and so on — fill the Harry Potter stories, and given the trend toward witchcraft and New Age ideology in the larger culture, it’s difficult to ignore the effects such stories (albeit imaginary) might have on young, impressionab le minds.

At the time, I assumed Dobson was opposed to Harry Potter because it glamorized “witches, wizards, ghosts, goblins […]” to children…lea ding young people to embrace irrational notions and engage in irrational fantasies while distracting them from their religious studies. Little did I know that nearly a third of all Americans actually believe that witches exist and probably think the Harry Potter books were written to recruit more witches.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Many of these same people believe that Tinky Winky and Sponge Bob Square Pants are characters created by militant homosexual sympathizers that are intended to indoctrinate children into the gay lifestyle. When did a duck stop being a duck?

I must admit I’m totally flummoxed at the number of foolish and fallacious fixations. Have they become the means by which people disconnect from the harsh realities that permeate their increasingly complex lives? Are average Americans so disconnected from the practice of reason and an understandin g of the technology that surrounds them that they seek comfort in the simplicity of these virtual fabrications  ?

I don’t know the answers to my questions…bu t I do know it’s increasingly important for us to find them before we return to the logic that believed witches would float if tossed into a body of water…fully ignoring the fact that the accused was condemned to death either way. If they did float, they would be put to death for being a witch; if they sank and drowned, they weren’t a witch…but nonetheless dead? Frankly, we’re not that far from the wholesale suspension of cognition.

Makes a person want to dig out the Ouija Board and look into the future…but I’m going to stick with my Tarot Cards…I’ve found the results are much more to my liking.

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

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Pat Robertson endorses Rudy Giuliani. And I’m not making that up.

They say shocking news comes in threes. First we get news this week that Rep. Ron Paul raked in more than $4 million in just ONE DAY, on an interesting fundraising campaign that coincided with Guy Fawkes Day. (This was also the Nile’s birthday, but rumor has it that this had little to do with Paul’s decision to use November 5 as a fundraising push.)

But even more shocking than that comes news this morning that Pat Robertson — yes, that Pat Robertson, who once suggested that maybe we’d be better off if a nuclear weapon hit our State Department — is endorsing Rudy Giuliani for President.

I can only imagine the sh*t-eating grin that Rudy has on his face right now, as you can bet he’ll be throwing this endorsement out there left and right to quash the talk that the religious right is uncomfortabl e with him due to his somewhat pro-choice inklings and his tacit support of some gay rights. Mitt Romney must be so pissed right now. After all, Romney fought so hard for the endorsement of uber-Christi ans Bob Jones and Paul Weyrich, that a Robertson endorsement seemed written in the stars.

More on this later, but surprising news nonetheless.   Ron Paul rakes in $4 mil in 24 hours; Pat Robertson endorses Rudy Giuliani; what shocking news comes next? Perhaps the Miami Dolphins, a sentimental Nile favorite, might win a game?

Now that would be truly shocking.

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Do Evangelicals See Africa As The Path To Theocracy?

I’ll admit that ever since the President and the religious right adopted the AIDS crisis in Africa as one of their causes, I’ve been skeptical of their motivations. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate their concern for those suffering in Africa and I’m not suggesting that their compassion is insincere. I believe it is genuine and I’m willing to acknowledge the benefits of their efforts…but I can’t do so without suspecting it is attached to a larger agenda…one that views the crisis in Africa as a proving ground for the implementati on of their moral code.

I still remember the initial reaction of Ronald Reagan and the GOP when AIDS emerged in the United States…and while generalizati ons are dangerous, it seems to me that much of the response to the AIDS crisis in this country was focused upon accusations of immorality directed towards the gay community. The virus served as evidence that the gay lifestyle was wrong and I remember the many assertions that AIDS was nothing more than god’s punishment.

As I try to reconcile the shift in attitude, it would be easy to conclude that time has served to soften hearts and thus the recent embrace of the fight against AIDS in Africa is just the culmination of that process. Unfortunatel y, I think it would be naive to accept that explanation without further analysis. After all, one cannot ignore the fact that AIDS is predominantl y a heterosexual disease in Africa.

A new two part article found at LifeSite piqued my curiosity and led me to the cusp of a newfound theory which I will attempt to explain after presenting an array of background information. I’ll start with the rhetoric found at LifeSite…rhe toric which when combined with the other data begins to substantiate my growing concerns that the effort in Africa is part of a larger agenda.

From  (Part One):

November 1, 2007 (LifeSiteNew - An increasing number of scientists are acknowledgin g that the AIDS crisis, in Africa and worldwide, is seriously distorted and overblown by internationa l agencies and corporations  , who in many cases tend to profit from the confusion. In recent months, more of these researchers have been speaking out against a wealthy and powerful establishmen t that consistently ignores fundamental facts regarding HIV and AIDS.

The controversy stems from a fundamental disagreement over almost every issue regarding AIDS transmission  , prevalence, and prevention. While the United Nations Joint Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and other internationa l agencies insist that AIDS is a growing global epidemic that must be treated with massive condom distribution  , sex education, and drug treatments, several high-profile scientists call the picture a “distortion” . They say that AIDS statistics are overblown, and argue that the best means of prevention is abstinence and marital fidelity.

Dr. James Chin was the former head of a World Health Organization Global Programme on Aids unit from 1987-1992 and is currently a public health professor at UC Berkeley. He noted in a recent interview that in reality, the AIDS “pandemic” is not as widespread as it is often portrayed, and not even in large parts of Africa, where rates of infection with the Human Immunodefici ency Virus (HIV) vary widely.

“In South Africa, close to 20 percent of the adult population is infected with HIV, whereas in Ghana, it is only 2 to 3 percent of the population, and in Senegal, less than one percent is infected,” Chin told Cybercast News Service.

In a separate interview with LifeSiteNews  , Chin stated that the differences between these nations and countries like South Africa and Zimbabwe, where the rate of HIV infection is as high as 20 percent of the adult population, is at least in part due to behavioral differences, including sexual behavior. “In general, there are lower prevalence of sexual risk behaviors and HIV facilitating factors in West African populations compared to Eastern and Southern African populations, ” he said.

Chin added that the United Nations Joint Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), has refused to acknowledge its own studies showing that the epidemic has stabilized or is in decline.

Chin also quoted the report’s admission that “changes in behavior” are at the root of the success. “In several countries, favourable trends in incidence are related to changes in behaviour and prevention programs. Changes in incidence along with rising AIDS mortality have caused global HIV prevalence (the proportion of people living with HIV) to level off,” the report states.

In reading this article, the primary agenda of these religiously motivated groups jumps out within the first two paragraphs. First and foremost is an effort to document that abstinence programs are working and are responsible for reductions in HIV infections. Secondly, they seek to undermine the assertions by numerous groups that condom distribution and sex education are essentially the fundamental tools in the battle against this deadly virus.

Note how Dr. Chin actually attempts to utilize the UNAIDS studies to support the arguments being made by LifeSite and the many religious groups that have embraced the AIDS crisis in Africa. The fact that the UNAIDS report cites “changes in behavior” is being construed to suggest that abstinence is the fundamental behavioral change. In reality, the UNAIDS statement refers to a variety of behavior changes…one of which is the expanding use of condoms which has been facilitated by a better understandin g of the virus and the ability to dispel preexisting beliefs which have hindered the implementati on of safe sex practices.

The following excerpts are from the second article at LifeSite.

From  (Part Two):

Nov. 2, 2007 (LifeSiteNew - Dr. James Chin has recently published a book detailing his struggles with the UNAIDS establishmen t. Titled “The AIDS Pandemic: The Collision of Epidemiology with Political Correctness”  , the book’s thesis is that “the story of HIV has been distorted by UNAIDS and AIDS activists in order to support the myth of the high potential risk of HIV epidemics spreading into the general population” according to the publisher.

Chin’s criticisms are echoed by two other eminent scientists at Harvard’s Center on Population and Development, Dr. Edward Green and Dr. Daniel Halperin, whose research continues to be ignored by the AIDS establishmen t. Dr. Green has served as team leader on numerous USAID project designs and evaluations. Dr. Halpern is a former Technical Adviser for Prevention/B ehaviour Change, USAID Southern Africa Regional HIV/AIDS Program.

The two Harvard scientists have noted that, while abstinence programs in countries like Uganda have proven their effectivenes s, AIDS policymakers continue to promote condom use, and ignore the differences in AIDS rates among African nations.

Green has written a book on Uganda’s “ABC” approach to HIV transmission  : first Abstinence, then Be Faithful, then if the first two fail, use a Condom. Uganda’s immediate response to the AIDS threat in the early 1980s reduced the incidence of HIV infection from 15% to less than 4% in the space of a few years. Green’s book examines the strange disconnect between the demonstrated effectivenes s of abstinence and marital fidelity campaigns and the prevention strategies of internationa l aid agencies.

In an article for the journal The Responsive Community, Green points out the utter failure of the condom-pushi ng approach of UNAIDS. “How has the Western risk-reducti on model fared in Africa? There is no evidence that mass promotion of condoms has paid off with a decline of HIV infection rates at the population level in Africa, according to a new UNAIDS assessment of condom effectivenes s. In fact, countries with the highest levels of condom availability  (Zimbabwe, Botswana, South Africa, Kenya) also have some of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world,” he writes.

Green notes that the insistence on promoting failed policies can be explained in part by a cultural bias in favor of sexual promiscuity and permissivene ss, but adds that an important factor may also be the economic interests of the global AIDS establishmen t. “Apart from Western values and biases, there are economic factors to consider. AIDS prevention has become a billion dollar industry” he writes. “Under President Bush’s global AIDS initiative, the US will spend $15 billion, partially on prevention. It would be politically naive to expect that those who profit from the lucrative AIDS-prevent ion industry would not be inclined to protect their interests.”

The data presented by Chin and LifeSite is cherry picked to paint the picture they are promoting. Specifically  , those in favor of abstinence have pointed to Uganda as an abstinence success story. The problem with that analysis is that they choose to look at a limited period of time to make their argument. Once one looks at the situation in Uganda without ignoring all of the data, the effectivenes s of abstinence only is seriously challenged.

The following is from my previous posting on the subject. Newly inserted data is in bold and italicized text.

Abstinence: Uganda HIV Rates Suggest Failure

The latest HIV infection information from Uganda seems to indicate that the abstinence approach may be a disaster in the making. Uganda, long viewed as a model for HIV prevention success in Africa, appears to have taken a wrong turn in promoting the program described as ABC…A: abstinence first…B: be faithful in a committed relationship …C: use condoms if A and B fail. The Bush administrati on appears to be complicit in these alarming new infection rates by virtue of its push towards programs that emphasize abstinence while moving away from the promotion of condom usage.

From m:

Speaking at the ceremony, the Uganda Aids Commission (UAC) Director General, Dr Kihumuro Apuuli, said despite financial support from the donor community, the rate of people acquiring HIV/Aids is still increasing.

He said, in 2005 130,000 Ugandans got infected compared to 70,000 in 2003.

Updated data suggests that new infections were estimated to have increased from 132,000 people in 2005 to 136,000 in 2006.

One must understand a little of the history of Uganda’s AIDS prevention efforts in order to draw any conclusions. Uganda was one of the first African nations to openly discuss HIV and to direct energy and money towards awareness. In 1986, President Museveni toured the country with a message that HIV prevention was a patriotic endeavor and basically introduced the above described program that has come to be called the ABC’s of AIDS prevention. There is little dispute about these basic facts. However, since that time the interpretati on of the resulting data has been widely divergent and controversia l.

When the Bush administrati on announced its five year, 15 billion dollar effort to combat HIV in Africa in early 2003, it immediately embraced the Ugandan ABC program as a model for the rest of Africa. Since that time, two opposing views have emerged with regard to an effective plan to combat HIV in Africa.

The administrati on and numerous religious groups (most of these groups have limited HIV experience) believe that abstinence should be the primarily prevention message. Those with significant HIV prevention experience caution that abstinence can be an adjunct to condom promotion and distribution  , but it is not a method that ought to be singularly embraced and endorsed. They cite abundant research and data to support this contention.

From talk2action. org:

Uganda was once an HIV prevention success story, where an ambitious government-s ponsored prevention campaign, including massive condom distribution and messages about delaying sex and reducing numbers of partners, pushed HIV rates down from 15 percent in the early 1990s to 5 percent in 2001. But conservative evangelicals rewrote this history–with the full-throate d cooperation of Uganda’s evangelical first family, the Musevenis. As one Family Research Council paper put it:

“Both abstinence and monogamy helped to curb the spread of AIDS in Uganda…How did this happen? Shortly after he came into office in 1986, President Museveni of Uganda spearheaded a mass education campaign promoting a three-pronge d AIDS prevention message: abstinence from sexual activity until marriage; monogamy within marriage; and condoms as a last resort. The message became commonly known as ABC: Abstain, Be faithful, and use Condoms if A and B fail.”

This warped version of the true Uganda story became the mantra in Bush’s Washington, with the “C” reduced more and more to an afterthought as time went by. For example, in piling on against a 2002 pro-condom comment by then Secretary of State Colin Powell, Focus on the Family’s James Dobson wrote condoms out of the story entirely: “Secretary Powell seems to be ignorant of the fact the Uganda has made great progress against AIDS by emphasizing abstinence, not condoms.”

To see more about this shifting Bush administrati on emphasis on abstinence and faith based programs, please see the prior Thought Theater posting on the topic here. Questions about the Ugandan effort and their reports of successful results began to surface in 2004.

From BBC News:

An organisation helping people living with HIV/Aids in Uganda has questioned the authenticity of the government’s statistics on the disease.

Uganda is often held up as a success story and the government lauded for the progress it has made with the official prevalence rate put at only 6%.

But after conducting research in districts across Uganda, an NGO suggests the real picture is far worse.

They found prevalence rates as high as 30% and bad access to anti-retrovi rals.

Major Rubaramira Ruranga, the executive director of the National Guidance and Empowerment Network of people living with HIV/Aids in Uganda (NGEN), said he believed the HIV prevalence rate could be more than three times higher than previously thought.

“We have found the prevalence rate at this time is 17%,” he told a news conference.

Additional data was reported in early 2005 in the San Francisco Chronicle. Take particular note that researchers seem to be confounded by the information they were gathering when they compared it to the reported declines in infection rates. Not only were they finding that abstinence was waning, they were puzzled that infection rates appeared to be declining. They point out that condom use seemed to be on the increase…pos sibly providing an explanation to the confusing data.

Research from the heavily studied Rakai district in southern Uganda suggests that increased condom use, coupled with premature death among those infected more than a decade ago with the AIDS virus, are primarily responsible for the steady decline in HIV infections in that area.

Uganda’s “ABC” prevention formula — standing for Abstinence, Be Faithful, and use Condoms — has been widely credited with lowering that nation’s infection rate from 30 percent in the early 1990s to below 10 percent today.

In the Rakai district, however, researchers found that abstinence and fidelity have actually been declining, but the expected rise in HIV infections stemming from such behavior has not occurred.

“Condom use may be offsetting other high-risk behaviors,” said Maria Wawer, a professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, who presented the study at a session of the 12th Annual Retrovirus Conference in Boston.

The Rakai findings are based on an extensive and continuing process of interviewing 10,000 adults each year –a so-called population-b ased survey that is considered the gold standard for this kind of epidemiologi cal research.

Reports of consistent condom use by men rose to more than 50 percent by 2002, compared with 10 percent a decade earlier. Among women, reports of condom use rose from virtually zero to 25 percent.

In order to fully understand all the factors that may explain these new infection statistics, one must also realize what was taking place within the Ugandan condom distribution program. In 2004, the Ugandan government suddenly issued a recall for condoms that were being distributed for free at numerous clinics throughout the country. The President of Uganda indicated concerns about the quality of the condoms.

PBS has covered the issue of condoms in Uganda in an article as well as a video which can be found here. The video adds to the body of evidence suggesting that condom use is superior to abstinence in the prevention of HIV infection.


In 2004 the Ugandan government issued a nationwide recall of the condoms distributed free in health clinics, due to concerns about their quality. Although tests showed there was nothing at all wrong with the condoms, the government said that public confidence in the brand had been badly dented, so they would not redistribute them. By mid-2005 there was said to be a severe scarcity of condoms in Uganda, made worse by new taxes which made the remaining stocks too expensive for many people to afford.

Some have said the US is largely to blame for the shortages. According to Stephen Lewis, the UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, “there is no question that the condom crisis in Uganda is being driven and exacerbated by PEPFAR and by the extreme policies that the administrati on in the United States is now pursuing”.

Mr Lewis has also said that PEPFAR’s emphasis on abstinence above condom distribution is a “distortion of the preventive apparatus and is resulting in great damage and undoubtedly will cause significant numbers of infections which should never have occurred”.

However, speaking in August 2005, Uganda’s coordinator of condom procurement at the Ministry of Health denied there was any shortage of condoms, and said that new stocks would be distributed soon. She also said the government was committed to promoting all three parts of the “ABC” strategy: Abstinence, Faithfulness and Condoms.

From Kaisernetwor

U.N. Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa Stephen Lewis and other AIDS advocates in August said the Bush administrati on’s policy of promoting abstinence prevention programs and cuts in federal funding for condoms have contributed to a condom shortage in Uganda and undermined the country’s HIV/AIDS fight. Uganda needs between 120 million and 150 million condoms annually, but since October 2004 only 32 million have been distributed in the country, according to the U.S.-based Center for Health and Gender Equity, also known as CHANGE.

In 2005, Act Up also took up the issue of the reported condom shortage in Uganda and the fears about the shift to abstinence programs that were emerging since the introduction of the Bush administrati ons efforts to combat the disease in Africa.


(Manhattan) A coalition of AIDS activists held a demonstratio n in midtown Manhattan outside of the Ugandan Permanent Mission to the United Nations today to bring attention to that nation’s severe condom shortage which is putting people at dangerous risk of HIV infection. The crisis has developed over the past ten months as the government of Uganda has stopped its robust program of public sector condom distribution . These condoms previously accounted for 80% of condoms available in the country.

Since May 2004, new shipments–so me 30 million quality-appr oved condoms–have been sitting in government warehouses. Activists are demanding to know why, nearly a year into the shortage, health clinics are still unsupplied and the government is refusing to state when or how they will distribute the condoms. “This crisis could have been averted by the government long ago. The condoms are there, but what is in woeful shortage is the political will of Ugandan leaders to distribute them and promote condom use,” said Sharonann Lynch of Health GAP.

Now activists in Uganda say the program has been overtaken by abstinence-u ntil-marriag e approaches as President Yoweri Museveni and First Lady Janet Museveni are aligning Uganda’s policies with the ideology touted–and financed–by the United States government.

Uganda is a country receiving funds from the President Bush’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). The program requires a minimum of 33% of its prevention funds to be used for abstinence-o nly-until-ma rriage programs, and limits the distribution of condoms to specific high-risk groups. “The strident prevention politics tied to the Bush administrati on’s AIDS funding are undermining sound prevention in the name of abstinence-o nly approaches. Scientific studies have shown the inadequacy of such methods, and President Museveni is neglecting the public health of Ugandans by bowing to Bush’s pressure.” said Eustacia Smith of ACT UP.

A comprehensiv e review of this body of information simply illuminates the misguided efforts of the Bush administrati on with regard to HIV prevention. The data not only show that the abstinence approach is at best suspect (and more likely, wholly insufficient  ); it clearly demonstrates that condom availability and usage are the essential tool in combating increasing infection rates.

One is left to wonder about the accuracy of the reported data. While the near doubling of infection rates is sufficiently alarming, it is even more frightening to consider the possibility that the information may be inaccurate. I have no way to verify the data and while I question the motivations of the Ugandan government, it may be several years before it can be determined if the numbers may have been deliberately under reported.

Uganda is a snapshot of a confluence of allegiances and events that will ultimately have led to more pain, suffering, and death. History will likely note that the matching ideologies of those in power in both nations directly led to the unnecessary spread of a deadly disease at a time when money and energy were available to enable the opposite. That is an unmitigated and inexcusable tragedy.

End - Abstinence: Uganda HIV Rates Suggest Failure

Returning to this latest reporting from LifeSite and Drs. Chin, Green, and Halperin, we see a continuation of the propaganda which has accompanied the campaign to combat HIV in Africa utilizing the values of the religious right under the auspices of the Bush administrati on’s massive funding commitment.

The effort to distort the facts is enormous and there are other players in the plot. Even worse, there are increasing concerns that the UN, through agencies such as UNICEF, is silently accepting some of the distortions as a matter of political expediency. They may well have good reasons given the strong belief that the 15 billion dollar U.S. funding commitment is beneficial despite its requirement that a third of the spending be earmarked for abstinence programs.

What remains unclear and poorly defined is any analysis of the merits of spending five billion of those dollars on abstinence as opposed to using that same money on more beneficial and proven strategies…i ncluding more safe-sex education, access to condoms, and much needed anti-retrovi ral treatment.

Zimbabwe appears to be the latest focus of this tug of war as well as an example of my lingering concerns.


HARARE, 31October 2007 – New data shows that Zimbabwe’s HIV rate continues to drop, giving it one of the most significant and rapid declines of any country in the world.

The overall HIV prevalence among antenatal clinic attendees (pregnant women) decreased from 25.7per cent in 2002 to 21.3per cent (2004) and now to 17.7per cent in 2006. Based on this, Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Health and Child Welfare and internationa l experts today published the new estimate of the HIV sero-prevale nce rate among Zimbabwe’s adult population to be 15.6per cent.

The new data reinforces Zimbabwe’s successes in behaviour change among young people. The biggest falls among pregnant women were recorded among the 15-24 year age group, showing a drop in HIV from 20.8 percent to 13.1 percent in just four years (2002 to 2006).

“Young people are having fewer partners and using more condoms,” said UNFPA’s Representati ve in Zimbabwe, Bruce Campbell. “They have heard the messages, taken action, and are being safer. Now we must continue our combined efforts to ensure national HIV prevention programmes have an even greater reach.”

Zimbabwe was one of the first countries to develop a comprehensiv e epidemiologi cal review which resulted in an evidence-bas ed behaviour change strategy. Promotion of partner reduction and consistent condom use remain at the core of the strategy.

Currently around two-thirds of people who need treatment are not receiving it, and so without a significant additional injection of funds, universal access will not be attained. […] There are an estimated 98,000 HIV positive pregnant women in need of PMTCT services, far more that the 8500 who received them in 2006.

As we see from this data, infection rates seem to be on the decline…but the explanation offered is notably vague. Let me be clear…I am not suggesting that the information is intentionall y deceptive; rather I suspect that it is decidedly broad so as to avoid the obvious conflict that persists with regard to the preferred prevention strategy.

Note that the article speaks of behavioral change but avoids any effort to quantify the success of the various methods (safe-sex education, abstinence, condom usage). I contend that lack of clarity is a function of political calculations …and I’m not the only one offering such speculation.

From The Internationa l Herald Tribune:

Others were doubtful of the figures and the assumptions, pointing to Zimbabwe’s economic and infrastructu ral meltdown, lack of medical care and medication, and the difficulties of relying on statistics when as much as a third of the population has abandoned the country.

“I think with the current state of affairs in Zimbabwe, one would be kind of skeptical about statistics, which could also be caused by an undercount, by mass migration …,” said Dr. David Bourne, an epidemiologi st at the University of Cape Town in South Africa.

From m:

But experts have questioned the validity of the government’s surveys, given that millions of Zimbabweans are fleeing the country due to the ongoing political decay and economic meltdown. An estimated 3 million Zimbabweans have emigrated to neighbouring South Africa in search of employment and better living conditions. Up to 2 million more are scattered around the globe.

Reports in South Africa suggest that HIV/Aids rates in that country are rising, as Zimbabwe’s are supposedly dropping.

Brian Nyathi, a Zimbabwean health practitioner in South Africa questioned the reliability of the government’s latest figures given that so many people are leaving the country.

He said: “Many people have left Zimbabwe and the ones that are left are so struck down by poverty and the collapse of the health delivery system such that they can not access hospitals. We wonder then if these figures can be trusted.”

Health reporter Bertha Shoko said disparities in the figures of people needing anti-retrovi ral therapy had also raised eyebrows.

Shoko said that the figures were questionable because they seem to have increased when prevalence rate is falling. The survey itself only took place at a few medical institutions .

“Speculation is rife that the UN only accepted the figures for political diplomatic reasons, ” she said.

My worry is that the political environment is hindering adequate reporting and may well be subject to manipulation as the various factions jockey to justify their methodology. If Uganda is representati ve of the past distortions, one must wonder what will be uncovered in the next few years with those other nations which are now being sought out and identified as proof for these suspect strategies.

In my most cynical moments, I find myself wondering if the powers that be on the religious right have decided to make Africa the guinea pig of an ideological struggle to promote the religious values of American evangelicals . Keep in mind that the AIDS crisis isn’t unique to Africa yet it garners the bulk of our attention. In fact, if one looks at the world, perhaps Africa is the last logical frontier available for such an ambitious experiment.

Specifically  , our influence in Europe has been limited for many years, the Soviet Union and China are off limits for obvious reasons, Latin and South America are moving rapidly to the left with a noticeable rejection of U.S. influence, and the Middle East and most Eastern nations have incompatible religious beliefs and would resist any U.S. effort to instill Western values.

Taking the theory a step further, if the religious right has concluded that fully defeating secularism, “the homosexual agenda”, and the separation of church and state in the United States isn’t feasible at the moment, then a back door approach might be the preferred path. Suppose the goal is to eventually hold up the African experiment as the rationale for discrediting secularism, condemning the gay lifestyle, and elevating and embracing biblical law over all others. Toss in the standard fare of fear mongering…fe ar that an HIV ravaged Africa represents what could well happen to America if our existing mores are allowed to continue their purported “decline”…an d one begins to imagine a master plan of grandiose proportions… yet one that isn’t all that implausible.

I contend it isn’t possible to reconcile the abject rejection of the gay lifestyle (mindful of its connection to HIV) with the eagerness to defeat AIDS in Africa without understandin g the possible ulterior motives. If the defeat of HIV in Africa can be construed to have resulted from the instilling of “morally acceptable” behavior, it provides a new weapon with which to attack the gay lifestyle as well as other unwanted social and political constructs. Stay with me…I promise I can connect the dots.

If abstinence, and one man with one woman joined together in marriage for life, can be demonstrated to limit the prevalence of HIV (and obviously other STD’s), it allows a return to the assailing of the permissive lifestyle (particularl y focused upon gays)…the very one which would be argued to have been a significant factor in facilitating the spread of HIV in America. If that focus can be rekindled, the gay lifestyle can once again be vilified to the voting public…the same voting public that has recently been demonstrated to be highly vulnerable to manipulation by fear.

Once that ball is rolling, the natural progression is an outright rejection of the gay lifestyle (it can be called unnatural and unhealthy and therefore it shouldn’t be normalized), a recommitment to conventional values (they promote healthy living which is what ought to be taught in schools), a rejection of the laissez faire attitude which accompanies secularism (the seeds of Sodom and Gomorrah), and the opening to begin implementing biblical law (church and state become one and the same under god’s law).

Throw in the fact that such an environment would obviously forbid abortion and one begins to imagine the minions salivating at the prospect of a successful societal superfecta. I hope I’m wrong but when I think about the fact that we seem to ignore the millions of Americans living in poverty and the 47 million who lack health insurance, I can’t help but recognize the dissonance. My antennae will remain up until I start to hear some different signals.

Unlike with horses, I have this nagging feeling the religious right has concluded that Americans will drink the kool-aid if the powers that be can simply figure out the means to lead them to the trough. Consider this fair warning…I’ll have to be dragged kicking and screaming.

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

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Peaking inside the religious right’s playbook?

Today marks the beginning of a three-day meeting in Washington labeled the Values Voter Summit, which will likely bring scores of conservative activists and leaders to the Hilton Washington Hotel (where the event is taking place…tip your cleaning people, please). More importantly, perhaps, is that about 50 of the nation’s leading conservative religious folk will gather again to follow up on a September meeting in Salt Lake City where the idea of a third-party presidential candidate supported by the religious right first picked up steam.

All this talk about a third party candidate from the religious right has me thinking: Who do they fear more, Hillary Clinton or Rudy Giuliani? I’d be curious to hear what people think. But for now, let’s look at this article from Paul Weyrich, the Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation, who lays out his high-school- football-coa ch-chalkboar d-drawing for how a third party candidate can be successful on the right.

Step 1: Major figures from the existing Republican party would publicly need to defect. This is not like when Alec Baldwin said he’d move to Canada after the 2002 elections, or when I quit the Cub Scouts in 5th grade because I didn’t like the uniforms. As Weyrich spells it out, this would include major leaders from the GOP holding a press conference and declaring that the “pro-life” party has lost its way. (In Weyrich’s world, this movement starts with the two Senators from Oklahoma, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and Gov. Mitt Romney going AWOL. Now, I have a fondness for Sen. Tom Coburn, one of the Senators from Oklahoma, because he does crossword puzzles during Senate confirmation hearings. But the other three dudes? Come on…why not start a third party with three Ritz crackers? They contain about as much excitement.)

Step 2: A third party effort would require a multi-millio naire prepared to spend his own money for a Presidential campaign. Let’s bold the obvious there — clearly Weyrich thinks only men have millions of dollars. But really, where oh where will the religious right find a multi-millio naire candidate with money bleeding out of his ass, AND who hasn’t been indicted yet on any fraudulent charges….if only there was a wealthy former governor of Massachusett s running for President….

Step 3: A third party would require the defection of a major media outlet. does not count; no, this major media outlet has to have more than 45 people reading or watching it. Who does Weyrich suggest? Fox News Channel and/or the Wall Street Journal. Hmm, not very original.

In short, Weyrich’s point is pretty simple: third party candidates need a miracle to win. But the best thing about the religious right is that, well, they tend to believe in miracles. That, coupled with the fact that I suspect the religious right would rather see a Hillary Clinton presidency (or a Barack Obama presidency, John Edwards presidency, etc.) than a Rudy Giuliani presidency, makes a third-party possibility pretty real. Why?

That answer is easy, and it doesn’t require a game plan from Paul Weyrich. If the religious right can prevent Giuliani from winning (even if, in the short term, they lose), they can assert what they’ve been saying since 1980: that Republicans can’t win without them. Nothing will give them more influence in future elections than that very sentiment. And, for them, that may be worth five Hillary Clintons.

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The religious right’s threat of a third-party candidacy

Here’s a poll: How many of you think all the major GOP presidential candidates are sweating buckets right now that leaders of the religious right suggested they may back a third-party Presidential candidate in 2008, due to less than enthusiastic support for the current crop of candidates?

Giuliani’s camp fought back by pumping the media with stories about how the GOP has “to have a candidate that can run in all 50 states,” and arguing that he’s the only Republican contender who can do so.

McCain’s camp arranged for him to give an interview to Beliefnet, where he slandered Islam and suggested that he’d only be comfortable with a Christian president.

Thompson’s been trying to thwart attention from his religion to his tax proposal, in hopes of convincing the religious right to vote with their pocketbooks instead of their bibles.

Huckabee issued a statement saying that a third-party backed candidate would hand Hillary Clinton the election.

And this past weekend, the Boston Globe reported that Romney is doubling his efforts to lure the support of the religious right, by asking Rev. James Dobson of Focus on the Family (the media’s anointed leader of the religious right) to take a second look at his candidacy.

At that’s just the news from the past few days. My god, I don’t even know if the children of Elm Street were this afraid when they went to sleep!

The truth is that Huckabee is probably right. A third-party candidate would handicap the race for Democrats, splintering the coalition of the willing comprised of social conservative s and fiscal conservative s. All of the leading GOP candidates know this, and my guess is that all of them have the head of James Dobson on a dartboard in their war rooms. Imagine having to kiss Dobson’s ass just so he doesn’t pull behind a rogue candidacy?

It’s kind of like the last season of The West Wing playing out in real time. Remember how Alan Alda’s character had to placate the religious right?

Though Tuesday’s Republican debate in Dearborn, Michigan is meant to focus on economic issues, I’ll be curious how the candidates work in some religious right talking points to kabash the growing story line that the moral majority is magnificentl y dissatisfied with this bunch. Stay tuned.

(Note: For those who may be interested, I hold a soft spot in my heart for Dearborn, MI. It’s where I tried out for Jeopardy back in 2005. I didn’t make it, but I can hardly hold that against Dearborn. I blame it on Jeopardy’s penchant for asking too many damn opera questions.)

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John McCain: Islam is “basically” an honorable religion

Proving yet again that age is no barrier in having the flexibility to stick your foot in your mouth, Sen. John McCain gave an interview to m in which he asserted that the number one issue people should make in deciding on who to vote for as President should be whether the candidate will “carry on in the Judeo Christian principled tradition that has made this nation the greatest experiment in the history of mankind.”

I find that comment laughable on at least a dozen different levels. Is McCain talking about the Judeo Christian value of preemptive warfare? Or that Judeo Christian value of dismantling social welfare? Or the Judeo Christian value of tax cuts for wealthy corporations  ? Or the Judeo Christian value of anonymous CIA interrogatio n centers where inmates are withheld sleep and forced to listen to loud screaming music for hours on end? Or the Judeo Christian value of privatizing social security and rewriting bankruptcy laws to benefit credit card companies over middle class citizens? Please; this nation may be run by “Christians, ” but the principles of Christianity are so far removed from today’s social policy and political debate - especially on the GOP side - that Jesus must have taken up smoking to cope.

But McCain’s interview with m is more troubling than just that. McCain lets it loose that he would be “uncomfortab le” with a Muslim president, that the U.S. Constitution established our country as a Christian nation, and that Islam is “basically” an honorable religion. “Basically”?   Talk about a qualifier. Do you suppose McCain “basically” loves his daughter? Or that he “basically” enjoys his marriage? Or that terrorism is “basically” a bad thing? That’s the type of word you add when you really want to convey something without having to say it. (”John McCain’s ‘basically‘ a good candidate. He’s not running ‘that‘ bad of a campaign…”)

I’m not sure if this interview is an attempt to pander to the religious right, since none of the nine GOP candidates have really captured the hearts, minds and crucifixes of this constituency . But this interview is a far cry from the John McCain of 2000, who wasn’t afraid to point out that overzealous Christians were agents of intolerance.   Perhaps they are just “basically” agents of intolerance, until you need their votes to win. Then, as McCain deftly points out, they become the number one priority in the country.

My, what a difference eight years makes, John McCain. And while he’s upgrading himself from 2000 McCain to 2008 McCain, maybe he should go back and give the U.S. Constitution a quick glance, because unless history is entirely wrong, the Constitution doesn’t mention anything about establishing a Christian nation. At least not yet.

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The Pope and Climate Change

It’s still nearly eight months away, but word is that Pope Benedict XVI will use his first visit to the United Nations to urge a commitment to climate change. Courtesy of The Independent, the address to the UN….

“will act as the centrepiece of a US visit scheduled for next April - the first by Benedict XVI, and the first Papal visit since 1999 - and round off an environmenta l blitz at the Vatican, in which the Pope has personally led moves to emphasize green issues based on the belief that climate change is affecting the poorest people on the planet, and the principle that believers have a duty to “protect creation.”

Earlier this month, the Vatican announced that it would become the first fully carbon-neutr al state in the world. Vatican City will offset its carbon footprint by planting a forest in Hungary, and installing solar panels on the roof of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The Pope, meanwhile, will still likely wear his red prada loafers.

This is all well and good, but one can’t help but be suspicious that the Pope is a-comin’ during an Election year. I’m sure the lean, mean religious right machine is salivating at the photo-op possibilitie s here, and God knows that groups like Priests for Life, the Catholic League and the Eagle Forum will be lobbying the Pope hard to speak out on abortion and gay marriage — with the specific intent of influencing next year’s election. Word has it, in fact, that the Pope is planning to also visit Massachusett s as part of the trek, the only state that legally recognizes gay marriage. Think he’ll say something about gay marriage? (Answer: Is the Pope Catholic?!)

I can’t help but be reminded of President Bush’s visit to the Vatican in early 2004, when he awarded Pope John Paul II a freedom medal, a largely ceremonial gesture that many saw as nothing more than trying to shake the Catholics from the voting trees. It made for a nice photo that appeared on the cover of just about every Catholic newspaper in the United States, and furthered the bogus media talking point that Bush was the preferred candidate of practicing Catholics.

Will Republicans pull the same trick during Benedict’s visit in 2008? I’ll bet my life savings on it. But hell, at least the Pope is throwing us progressives a bone on climate change. That’s probably as good as it gets with this Pontiff, who has already shown his penchant for silencing theologians, marginalizin g gays and lesbians from the church, and suggesting that all other Christian churches are inferior to Roman Catholicism.

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Show me that smile again…Growing Pains star the master of the religious universe

Having worked for a Senate campaign several years ago, I really got into what I liked to call opposition research. This was when we’d crash an opponent’s campaign events, tape record their speeches, hang out and listen to their supporters and then report back to our team…it’s kind of like a safe form of espionage, really. A way, at the time, for me to pretend that I was like Sydney Bristow from the TV show Alias.

While it’s certainly not the same, I still kind of like to get into oppo research mode and check out various Christian right news and tactics. Case in point, this Yahoo! video story with former child star Kirk Cameron of Growing Pains fame, discussing how he’s building a fundamentali st online movement to preach the salvation of Jesus Christ (or, conversely, one could say the condemnation and destruction of all non-believer s. Nothing says Christian right like a little condemnation  ).

I had no idea that Kirk Cameron had co-founded a website called “Way of the Master Ministries,” or that there was also such a thing as God Tube. (As an aside, I did know about the right wing Conservapedi a, but my guess is that they’ll go the way of I digress…you really should visit Way of the Master Ministries, especially if nothing has outraged you lately. The site begins immediately with a video of Kirk and this New Zealand former surfer turned pastor, asking you whether you know “That 150,000 people die each day. People like you and me. That’s 150,000 people passing from life into eternity.” No mention, of course, about the people that die each day because of genocide, hunger, foreign policies that suck, those that die at the hands of organized religion…I could go on.

However, you can click on links to find out what “Hell’s Best Kept Secret” is. It’s all kind of crazy if you ask me, but as far as online right-wing evangelism is concerned, I’d venture to say that this is probably as sophisticate d as it gets.

It’s also fascinating to read in the Yahoo! piece that Cameron actually tried to have writers change the script for one Growing Pains episode, because the scene had a dream sequence where Cameron’s character (Mike Seaver!) was an adulterer. Ah, when right-wing evangelicals mix with Hollywood.

Anyway, it’s a pretty interesting video clip, and it definitely keeps one familiar with what the other side is doing. Kirk Cameron talking to gang members in Los Angeles, and quoting them Matthew 5? Bizarre. Too bad he leaves out the part about blessing the peacemakers and those that that are poor in spirit or those that are persecuted. Ironically, Cameron does a little persecuting of his own, but then again, that’s what most fundamentali sts do, regardless of denomination - persecute others at the expense of their righteousnes s.

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When you sleep with the religious right…

You better be prepared to get a little dirty. Dirty like a cesspool.

So Mitt Romney found out earlier this week, when it was reported that religious groups are angry with the 2008 Presidential Candidate for not doing more in his time as chairman of the board for hotel chain Marriott to rid pornography from the in-room movie selection. Mitt’s a venture capitalist at heart, so you can bet that the fact that pornography rakes in nearly $500 million annually for hoteliers was a prime reason for his lack of energy on this subject.

But $500 million is chump change to the moral crusaders who’d much rather see pornography disappear then, say, preemptive warfare or torture. I’m still not so sure they can define what pornography is, but I guess they know it when they see it on their hotel television. From the mouths of the moral minority’s choir…

Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council: “Marriott has to assume some responsibili ty. It’s their hotels. It’s their television sets.”

Daniel Weiss, media analyst for James Dobson’s Focus on the Family: “If (Romney) made money off pornography in the past, is he going to turn a blind eye to it if he’s president? Because as chief executive of the nation, it’s his responsibili ty to make sure our nation’s obscenity laws are efficiently and vigorously enforced.”

Phil Burress, President of Citizens for Community Values: “Marriott is a major pornographer . And even though he may have fought it, everyone on that board is a hypocrite for presenting themselves as family values when their hotels offer 70 different types of hardcore pornography. ”

Gary Glenn, President of the American Family Association of Michigan: “The Marriott Corporation may be tap dancing around this subject, but a candidate for president should not be able to.”

It should be noted that Gary Glenn’s quote ends with a preposition. I can’t define bad grammar, but I know it when I see it.

Romney for his part has offered a response worthy of a mediocre public relations associate. “I am not pursuing an effort to try and stop adults from being able to acquire or see things that I find objectionabl e; that’s their right. But I do vehemently oppose practices or business procedures that will allow kids to be exposed to obscenity.

A hearty mea culpa, but sadly, this won’t go far enough to appease the leaders of the moral right, who Romney has tried to court. And court. And court. And court. Guess this goes to show that if you want to jump into bed with the religious right, you better be prepared to bring all of the skeletons hiding in your closet, too.

But this appears to be yet another example of Romney not having any convictions. In the quote above he’s telling us that while he doesn’t approve of it, porn is OK for consenting adults. Two months ago, however, Romney’s telling us that “Pornograp hy and violence poison our music and movies and TV and video games. The Virginia Tech shooter, like the Columbine shooters before him, had drunk from this cesspool.”

So Romney’s personally against “the cesspool” of pornography, but has no problem raking in millions of dollars from those who swim in it? Ah, now that’s capitalism at its best. Romney’s true colors are shining through.

Of course, let’s not leave the evangelical right off the hook. People who live in glass houses, we know, shouldn’t throw stones. One look inside the pious evangelical glass house shows that 50 percent of Christian men and 20 percent of Christian women are addicted to porn. Sheesh, I hope the glass house comes with some drapes.

But to bring it back to Romney, kudos to Mitt. It’s not every week that you can piss of the religious right AND piss off animal rights activists at the same time. That’s what you get, though, when you mix pornography with placing your family dog on top of a car moving 65mph down the highway.

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