31 January 2005

By their fruit you shall know them

I’ve said this before here.  I do what I do professionally — that
is, study how governments react to disease — because it seems to me
the best way that my particular talents can have an effect on the
world.  I have friends who live with HIV, but they can do that —
live — which is more than one can say for tens of millions of the more
than 50 million people infected with the virus.  And the deaths
from the virus in the scourged areas of the world have only just
begun.  Because of the 10-year average incubation period, the
people of the world have just begun to die.  Conservative
estimates put the total number of infected people by 2015 somewhere
between 110 and 150 million infected (and I understand that to mean the
living, not those who have already died).

And most of us — you and me, our government, our churches, synagogues,
mosques, and temples — have done little and less.  Finally, the New York Times acted prophetically and called the government to task for its broken promises.  But who’s calling me to task?  Who’s calling houses of worship to task?  Who’s calling you to task?

Three years ago, President Bush created the Millennium Challenge
Account to give more money to poor countries that are committed to
policies promoting development. Mr. Bush said his government would
donate billions in incremental stages until the program got to a high
of $5 billion a year starting in 2006. While $5 billion is just 0.04
percent of America’s national income, President Bush touted the
proposal as proof that he cares about poverty in Africa and elsewhere.
“I carry this commitment in my soul,” the president said.

For
the third straight year, Mr. Bush has committed a lot less than he
promised. Michael Phillips of The Wall Street Journal reports that the
White House has quietly informed the managers of the Millennium
Challenge Account to expect about $3 billion in the next budget. This
follows a sad pattern. Mr. Bush said he would ask Congress for $1.7
billion in 2004; he asked for $1.3 billion and got $1 billion. He said
he would ask for $3.3 billion in 2005; he asked for $2.5 billion and
got $1.5 billion….

Officials at the Millennium Challenge Account are quick to list the
countries that, through good governance, have qualified for the aid
program. They are not as quick to list the countries that have received
a dime: there aren’t any. Still, Paul Applegarth, chief executive of
the Millennium Challenge Corporation, assured us last week that
President Bush’s program is “really moving at an extraordinarily quick
pace.”

Maybe the administration should tell that to the 300
million Africans who lack safe drinking water, or the 3,000 African
children under the age of 5 who die every day from malaria, or the 1 in
16 African women who die in childbirth, or the 6,000 Africans who die
each day of AIDS. But wait. Maybe the president is planning to deal
with the African AIDS catastrophe through his 2003 proposal to increase
AIDS funds by $10 billion over the following five years?

Not
unless he is planning to finish with a bang, because the White House is
expected to ask Congress for only $1.6 billion more next year. When
added to the amount that AIDS funds increased in 2004 and 2005, that
would leave a whopping more than $6 billion to get out of Congress in
the next two years to meet Mr. Bush’s pledge. Congress and Mr. Bush
will point to the ballooning deficit and say they don’t have the money.
But that was a matter of choice. They chose to spend billions on tax
cuts for the wealthy and the war in Iraq. They can choose to spend it
instead to keep America’s promises.

When my country makes a promise, I’d like to believe that I will see it filled.

We continue to lie to others and to ourselves, and we’re going to run out of people to blame.

Tony Blair has noted that the way we treat Africa and the poorest
countries of the world constitutes a scar on the conscience of the
world.  And his rival and fellow conscience Gordon Brown has noted
that for the first time in history we have the wherewithal to cure
extreme poverty — we have the technical capacity, the organizational
skills, the wealth to do it.  But we lack the will.

By our fruits you shall know us.

(UPDATE: The Chicago Tribune plays apologist for the administration: “For
all the criticism it has received, the Bush
administration’s plan to fight AIDS in the developing world is far more
sweeping than anything else in play. No other country even comes
close.”  So, since the rest of the world isn’t doing anything,
this
means we should not follow through with our commitments?  “Nobody
else is doing anything, so I thought I didn’t have to either.” 
Not an
argument that I’d accept from my students — why accept it from our
government?)

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