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Obama’s Hypocrisy and CNN’s Blind Spot Over AIDS

CNN reported on Monday that “The U.S. government’s response to the epidemic in South Africa began in 2003”.  That is actually not true.  According to the Guardian August 9th, 1999, a heated controversy started in 1997 between South Africa and the U.S. over “an act which the South African parliament passed in 1997, allowing local companies to produce cheap generic forms of the expensive drug-cocktails used to keep Aids under control.”

At the time, the U.S. monopoly prices on AIDS antivirals ran around $1000 per month, which was making them inaccessible to over 6 million infected individuals in South Africa alone.  Al Gore took it upon himself to make sure the South African plans to make cheap generics did not happen, by threatening them with severe trade sanctions if they dare.

As reported in the Baltimore Sun on June 22nd, 1999, the State Department issued a report saying the country is “making use of the full panoply of leverage in our arsenal.”   A few days earlier on June 19th, the Washington Post reported that a “senior Gore adviser acknowledged the vice president is in a delicate position, balancing the magnitude of the AIDS crisis in South Africa and the needs of U.S. companies. ‘Obviously the vice president’s got to stick up for the commercial interests of U.S. companies,’ the adviser said.”

And so it was that Gore, with Clinton backing him all the way, fought tooth and nail against South Africa’s attempts to save millions of lives.  If we calculate the effects of this roadblock on the entire African continent, the number of people who were adversely affected is many times greater.  But to calculate the full impact we must also consider those who were infected by the untreated individuals who otherwise would not have become infected. Therefore, the rate and extent to which AIDS has continued to spread across Africa would be significantly lower.  The ultimate human toll of Gore’s efforts is therefore staggering.  Gore may actually be responsible for more deaths than Hitler himself.

So it should come as no surprise that the Clinton-Gore presidential campaigns, Gore’s “Leadership 98” PAC, and other Clinton-Gore fundraising efforts, raised over $1 million dollars from Squibb, Glaxo-Wellcome, Pfizer, Genentech and the PhRMA throughout the 1990s.  This is of course business as usual.

Finally, in 2001 the Indian pharmaceutical company Cipla began producing generic versions of antiretroviral drugs that cost patients only a dollar a day.  But by stopping the South African effort, Gore had won Glaxo four extra years to rake in profits.  GSK financial reports claim sales of over $4 billion in AIDS antiviral drugs.  Incidentally, they were fined by the IRS in 2006 a record $3.4 billion for underpaying their taxes by $6 billion dollars.  Fortunately, the AZT patent expired in 2005.   But the fight was far from over.  The Guardian reports as recently as June 10th, 2010 that “Rich nations step up assault on generic Aids drugs – Moves by the US, the EU and Japan to strengthen intellectual property laws could limit the production of generic drugs that account for 80% of treatment worldwide.”

Unfortunately, the level of hypocrisy required for President Obama to take credit for the eradication of AIDS in Africa, is quite familiar.  And for CNN to pat the U.S. on the back and bury this inconvenient truth down the memory hole is also par for the course for the lapdog corporate media.  This story been remarkably well hidden from the public.  Democratic voters cannot assimilate into their world view that the Democrats would do something so awful.  People know there are good people in the world, so it doesn’t compute to most people that both the Republicans and Democrats could be so profoundly evil.

Ironically, it was George W. Bush who finally did something to reverse the trend.  In 2003 the Bush administration created PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which spent over $15 billion in five years to provide AIDS drugs to Africa.  There are many criticisms of PEPFAR.  For example at the beginning the program paid the exorbitant non-generic price for the drugs, even though by this time generics were available on the international market.  Therefore, there can be little doubt that PEPFAR was motivated, at least in part, by the desire to replace the profits lost by U.S. companies to the Indian generics with taxpayer money.  There was also an unpopular component of the program that diverted 6.7% of the money to preaching abstinence before marriage.  However, in 2005 PEPFAR changed their policy on generics, and in 2008 they eliminated recommendation that money be spent on abstinence.  These are not the only criticisms; however it is a fact that by 2008 the program had delivered anti-retroviral drugs to over one million infected individuals, free of charge.  By 2011 President Obama had reduced the budget by 22.5%.

It is quite plausible that had it been Bush instead of Gore who worked hard so that millions of people could die unnecessarily of AIDS, that the voters for the Democratic Party would be up in arms about it.  It would be a natural item for the long list of Bush’s evil deeds.  The Democrats’ rhetoric is more palatable to those of us on the Left, but their effect on society may ultimately be worse, in that Obama has taken so many of Bush’s right-wing policies and made them popular, or at best be completely ignored.  Obama got the good people of this country to talk about the “good wars” and the “good corporate bailouts” and the “good surveillance.”  Obama promised us transparency.  Well, a wolf in sheep’s clothing is anything but transparent.   A wolf in wolves clothing is arguably less dangerous.  Unfortunately, it’s not really a lesser of two evils that we want, rather in the spirit of what you don’t know can’t hurt you, what we really want is the perception of less evil.  Unfortunately, in this case what we don’t know is hurting us.

Gregory R. Grant earned a PhD in Mathematics from the University of Maryland, College Park in 1995.  He was professor in the Math department of Johns Hopkins Universtiy from 1996 to 1997.  He is currently a Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, in the Department of Genetics.  He can be reached at: ggrant@grant.org.

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