The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Sex & Schadenfreude in the Afternoon

There a couple of article about D.C.’s latest sex scandal that have been sitting in my RSS reader since yesterday. I intended to blog about the story then, but news of Jamaica’s latest incidence of homophobic violence took priority. I’ve been following the story of Deborah Jean Palfrey since she first threatened to start wielding her “little black book” as a weapon, if it meant that she wasn’t “going down” by herself for allegedly running a business that couldn’t have existed without clients.

Why should she? And it’s not like she didn’t give her alleged clients a chance step forward in her defense. They didn’t have the cajones. And they didn’t think she did. Either that, or the didn’t get the very clear message.

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Well, Deborah Jean actually put it a bit more politely than that. And i think that’s what I’ve admired most about her; her understated wit, and the subtly sardonic quotes she’s supplied to the media. Like when she made this statement of “regret” about a certain Bush administration official having to step down after being “connected” to her client list.

Fifty-year old Deborah Jean Palfrey, the California woman accused of running a $2 million Washington prostitution ring, said she was “genuinely sorry” for former Deputy Secretary of State Randall Tobias, who resigned last week after he was asked about an upscale escort service allegedly involved in prostitution.

Palfrey added, “I unfortunately know first-hand the impact such a revelation can have upon one’s life.”

… But Palfrey added that, “I am dismayed however, by Mr. Tobias’ refusal to come forward until now with this valuable exculpatory evidence.” She said, “Had he done so earlier along with the many, many others who have used my company’s services throughout the years, I most likely would not be in my current predicament.”

Of course, I doubt Palfrey’s really all that sorry. (Why should she be?) I’m not sorry for Tobias either, especially given that he was the Bush administration’s man in charge of “abstinence-only” education.

On Friday, Randall L. Tobias resigned as deputy secretary of state one day after confirming to Brian Ross of ABC that he had patronized the Pamela Martin firm. Speaking yesterday on “Good Morning America,” Ross said Tobias told him Tobias’s number was on Palfrey’s phone records because he had called “to have gals come over to the condo to give me a massage.” There had been “no sex,” Ross quoted Tobias as saying, and that recently he has used another service, “with Central American gals,” for massages.

Tobias, who is 65 and married, was director of U.S. Foreign Assistance and administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development. He previously held a top job in the Bush administration overseeing AIDS relief, in which he promoted abstinence and a policy requiring grant recipients to swear they oppose prostitution.

Massages? Yeah, sure. That’s what Ted Haggard got. Or at least that’s what he admitted to at first.

Am I savoring the delicious irony here? Of course. How could i not? Yes, it’s probably embarrassing and humiliating for his family. And if feel sorry for anyone, it’s them. But him? Suffice it to say I actually mostly agree with the sentiments expressed by this blogger (apparently a religious progressive whose blog is “powered by Biblegateway.Com, and one I’m likely to visit again).

The names released ought to be only those of public figures whose private behavior is explicitly at odds with their public pronouncements. Like most folks, I find the hypocrisy of Randall Tobias, the deputy Secretary of State who campaigned for abstinence-only education, to be unusually galling. Here’s a man who was one of the leaders of the anti-AIDS fight, a point man for the administration in that worthy cause — and he’s patronizing prostitutes. (We are not informed if he wore a condom). I do believe that public figures who demand that others do what they themselves do not deserve to be unmasked. The validity of any message, after all, is at least partly contingent on the credibility of the messenger.

After a day of reflection, I’m more and more inclined to say “reveal all the names”. I’m not interested, as a liberal, in making political hay. I assume that there are both Democrats and Republicans on the client list, and that both parties will feel some heat as a result of the forthcoming revelations.

Yeah, it’s true there’s bound to be a number of Democrats among the 10,000 names said to be on Palfrey’s client list. However, I think you’ll be hard pressed to find many who have accomplishments to match Tobias’.

This is a guy who promoted “abstinence-only” education, though it’s been shown time and time again that when it comes to stopping sexual activity and STDs “abstinence-only” education doesn’t work.

A long-awaited national study has concluded that abstinence-only sex education, a cornerstone of the Bush administration’s social agenda, does not keep teenagers from having sex. Neither does it increase or decrease the likelihood that if they do have sex, they will use a condom.

Authorized by Congress in 1997, the study followed 2000 children from elementary or middle school into high school. The children lived in four communities — two urban, two rural. All of the children received the family life services available in their community, in addition, slightly more than half of them also received abstinence-only education.

By the end of the study, when the average child was just shy of 17, half of both groups had remained abstinent. The sexually active teenagers had sex the first time at about age 15. Less than a quarter of them, in both groups, reported using a condom every time they had sex. More than a third of both groups had two or more partners.

These are kids who are not only just as likely to have sex as they were after years of “abstinence-only” education. These are kids who have, for all that time, also been fed a steady stream of misinformation about condoms.

Each of these assertions turns up in federally funded abstinence-only sex education programs: Condoms fail to prevent HIV infection 31 percent of the time during heterosexual sex. The chances of getting pregnant while using a condom are 1 in 6. And condoms break or slip off nearly 15 percent of the time.

And each of them is wrong, says John S. Santelli, a pediatrician and a professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

In a 20-page document submitted to the Department of Health and Human Services this week, Santelli detailed what he calls “misleading” and “scientifically inaccurate” information in three curricula used by programs that receive federal abstinence-only funding. His analysis accompanied a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union demanding that HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt ensure that such programs provide medically accurate information about condoms and sexually transmitted diseases, as required by federal law.

“They have been alerted numerous times, and they haven’t done anything,” said Ava Barbour, an ACLU staff attorney. “Studies have shown that the vast majority of Americans do not remain abstinent until marriage, and they need to have this vital information to protect themselves.”

But, they don’t get it, thanks to guys like Tobias. And, Tobias deserves direct credit for taking that same tactic of misinformation to Africa, where the HIV/AIDS epidemic continues to devastate entire populations.

In addition to shortchanging international relief efforts, Bush is using AIDS funds to place religion over science, promoting abstinence and monogamy over more effective measures such as condoms and sex education. Before overseas groups can receive U.S. funding, for example, the Bush administration requires them to take a “loyalty oath” to condemn prostitution — a provision that AIDS workers say further stigmatizes a population in need of HIV education and treatment. Brazil recently became the first country to rebel against the oath, announcing in May that it was rejecting $40 million in AIDS grants from the administration. “What we’re doing is imposing a really misguided and ill-informed ideology on top of a public-health crisis,” says Jodi Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Health and Gender Equity in Takoma Park, Maryland.

Bush’s plan calls for an “ABC” approach to HIV prevention — which stands for abstinence, “be faithful” and condom use — but the administration is stressing the “A.” In its first year, PEPFAR spent more than half of the $92 million earmarked to prevent sexual transmission on promoting abstinence programs. Studies show that such programs actually increase risk by discouraging contraceptive use. What’s more, focusing on abstinence and monogamy ignores the reality facing young women and girls in Africa and other impoverished regions, who are often infected by wandering husbands or forced to have sex in exchange for food or shelter. Among fifteen- to twenty-four-year-olds in sub-Saharan Africa, studies show, more than three times as many young women are infected with HIV as young men.

“It’s only a matter of time before the impact of abstinence-only programs can be measured in needless new HIV infections,” says Jonathan Cohen, an HIV/AIDS researcher with Human Rights Watch.

It’s only a matter of time, alright. I posted back in November about the effect of “abstinence-only” in Africa, when it was reported Uganda was falling behind in preventing new cases of HIV infection, due in part to anti-condom propaganda spread by fundamentalist groups, at tax-payer expense I might add. In 2005, a U.N. special envoy reported that U.S. funding cuts for condoms and its promotion of “abstinence-only” led to a condom shortage in Uganda.

UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa Stephen Lewis and other AIDS advocates on Monday said the Bush administration’s policy of emphasizing abstinence-only prevention programs and cuts in federal funding for condoms have contributed to an alleged condom shortage in Uganda and undermined the country’s HIV/AIDS fight, London’s… Guardian reports (Vasagar/Borger, Guardian, 8/30). Lewis said in a teleconference sponsored by health and human rights groups that “there is no question that the condom crisis in Uganda is being driven and exacerbated by [the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief] and by the extreme policies the administration in the United States is now pursuing” (Altman, New York Times, 8/30). He added, “To impose a dogma-driven policy that is fundamentally flawed is doing damage to Africa”

The same year, Human Rights Watch reported on the influence of U.S. evangelicals in Uganda’s HIV Prevention efforts, and asked concerned people to write to the Bush administration, and to Randall Tobias in particular. The Boston Globe covered the influence of evangelicals over USAID.

Under pressure from Dobson, members of Congress, and Towey’s office at the White House [Ed. note: Towey’s office was the White House faith-based initiative], USAID officials promoted groups favoring abstinence as the prime means of preventing AIDS. The officials gave funds to one such group despite a review panel’s determination it was not suitable, and allegedly stripping money from a group that criticized the administration’s emphasis on abstinence.

And USAID required groups to sign an anti-prostitution pledge despite concerns over its constitutionality. The pledge required all organizations receiving USAID money overseas to renounce prostitution, which some groups interpreted as abandoning efforts to prevent prostitutes from spreading AIDS.

…Despite the insistence of senior USAID officials that they were not influenced by Dobson in making grant awards, many secular groups contend that the attacks have had a major impact.

They cite a case in which [administrator Andrew] Natsios overruled his own review panel to provide a grant to Children’s AIDS Fund, a group that highlights abstinence.

The fund has ties to both Focus on the Family and the Bush administration. It was cofounded by Shepherd and Anita Smith . Shepherd Smith has worked closely with Dobson and attended the Focus on the Family briefing that attacked USAID. Anita Smith has been the chairwoman of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS.

The Smiths believed that their application was just the kind being sought by the Bush administration. But USAID’s technical review panel determined that the grant proposal was “not suitable for funding.” The agency has refused to release the panel’s report, leaving it unclear why the proposal was considered unsuitable.

In any case, Natsios wrote a memo on Oct. 21, 2004, urging that Randall Tobias, who was then in charge of the international AIDS program, approve the funding because the group favored abstinence.

“The selection of a `non-suitable’ applicant such as [Children’s AIDS Fund] . . . is not inconsistent with USAID’s grant-making policies,” Natsios wrote. Tobias agreed, and funding was granted on Nov. 1, 2004. The grant could reach $10 million over a five-year period.

But “abstinence-only” still prevails and other “abstinence-only” organizations with evangelicals at the helm and strong ties to the Bush administration engage in questionable ethics to hold on to government funding. Not surprising, from an administration known for being “resolute” in holding to strategies and policies long proven not just wrong but disastrous. Meanwhile, the U.S. Court of appeals ruled that the government may continue to require the Bush administration’s “loyalty oath” on abstinence and prostitution.

Given the likely effect of this administration’s policies in Africa and the United States, I’m inclined to repeat something from my November post.

But given the number of lives at stake, and the knowledge that abstinence-only doesn’t work and the disregard for evidence of that, does it approach an act of genocide? Yet?

Chances are, yes. But by the time we figure that out, it will be too late to much of anything about it.

So, pardon me if I enjoy the news about Tobias, and eagerly await further revelations, since it’s reported that more Bush administration members may be on Palfrey’s list. After seven years of an administration that’s spent most of its time moralizing to the rest of us, and supposedly made up of our “moral betters” I wouldn’t mind having a seat in the courtroom when those “saints go marching in.”

In the meantime, there may yet be a role for bloggers like me.

Bloggers are already quivering with anticipation. The phrase “D.C. Madam” is current at number six on the list of top searches at, one of several sites that search the blogosphere for the most-trafficked material. A similar site, Technorati, charts interest in the subject overtime, and records a giant spike in activity beginning on Saturday.

This might just be another case of “blogs imitating life,” but the online legions may have their own role to play in this story. Should the D.C. Madam’s copious files–she says she has 46 pounds–become public as part of her trial, it will take thousands to comb through them, Googling the numbers and cross-indexing the clientele.

And unfortunately for sweating former customers, there are thousands of bloggers itching to do just that.

Oh yeah! If Palfrey needs help organizing and cross-referencing her client list, I’ll gladly join the other volunteers. Pro bono, even.

One Comment

  1. The condom misinformation is aimed at heterosexuals. The bush administration does not care what happens to gays. The born-agains believe AIDS is God’s punishment for the “sin” of homosexuality, and that pregnancy and child-rearing are God’s punishment for females having sex. As if, as you pointed out, girls in Africa (where female circumcision is common) have any choice. These people want those girls to get pregnant.

    The “loyalty oath” is about further stigmatizing AIDS and blaming the victim. A woman got it? Oh, she must be a prostitute and deserves it.

    I also am sure they want girls in America to get pregnant (no abortions allowed), and drop out of school to raise kids. How else are they going to man an all-volunteer army in 18 years?