The main points of focus for Obama's performance assessment were global AIDS funding levels, scale-up of treatment, prevention efforts, and the expansion of global health efforts. Hopes had been built high prior to his presidency with a promise to double funding for AIDS programs around the world and to do the same for the number of HIV positive individuals receiving treatment, yet these goals have fallen to the wayside and his commitment to public health has wavered. And while there are some points of redemption in Obama's AIDS policy, particularly in his focus on prevention efforts and reproductive health, advocates around the world are questioning whether Obama may live up to earning his potential high marks.
In the face of rising treatment costs around the world, our president has chosen to flat-line spending on AIDS programming and research throughout the world, keeping the global funding levels set at what his predecessor had established. And although funds are being supplied for prevention efforts and care, critical treatment such as TB testing for all HIV positive individuals was not included. And because of a lack of proper funding, basic healthcare efforts such as doctors visits and medications for HIV are being stifled. By increasing access to antiretroviral medications so as to decrease individual infectiousness, and by facilitating access to healthcare clinics providing HIV-specific treatment and counseling, the Obama administration would have a significant impact not only on the lives of those living with HIV and AIDS around the world, but on the number of new transmissions each year. But according to his judges, Obama's lack of funding for these programs has "undermined his commitment to fund the U.S. fair share of the AIDS treatment burdern."
But our president's marks do improve in the realm of HIV prevention efforts, specifically as they are related to reproductive health and to substance use. In a monumental move, President Obama rescinded the ludicrous Bush-era Gag Rule within his first month in office. The Gag Rule was a global AIDS funding policy set up by the Bush Administration to prohibit the U.S. dollars from being used to bolster any reproductive health research or clinic that did not promote an abstinence-first paradigm. Obama should be congratulated for removing this measure which was completely out of touch with the real issues at hand, and his efforts to incorporate realistic reproductive health considerations into tackling HIV transmission reflect a highly refreshing perspective; especially in light of the World Health Organization's assertion this week that HIV is the #1 killer of women of reproductive age around the world.
And Obama is making large strides in the field of substance use as a primary contributor to HIV transmission, as well, having vowed to retract the federal measures which prohibited funding for needle-exchange programs. This matter hits close to home for Obama, as Washington, D.C. is one of the cities which has suffered most under this ban on funding programs which, in other cities like New York, have saved countless lives. D.C. is also one of the cities with the highest rates of HIV, with a staggering 3 to 5% of the population being identified as HIV positive. These issues are right at Barack Obama's backdoor, and his attention to them is critical.
But despite these various steps toward progress, President Obama has not yet fully fulfilled the U.S. pledge to expand its global health investments, contrary to the "Global Health Initiative" that was launched earlier this year in the White House. And while he had talked extensively about doubling the fiscal budget for AIDS-related spending, the levels of the Obama Administration remain constant with those of the Bush Administration, which essentially cripples the fight against global AIDS. And as Barack Obama had campaigned about setting the budget for AIDS research and prevention efforts, so far he has not. With hundreds of billions being spent on banks and on war, the proposed expanded budget for HIV would be just a tiny drop in the mighty American bucket. And with millions of people dying each year of this devastating disease, there simply is just no excuse for ignoring it.
A very exciting, very quiet tremor is sending its vibrations across the globe through the footsteps of thousands. Can you feel it? All over the world, people are joining together in the simplest of human activities: the nomadic stride which has held us together throughout so many years; the delicate tread of the peaceful warriors who are owning their responsibility to mankind and to mother earth, and taking part in a magnificent act of unity so strong that it will take the power of the whole world to accomplish it. They are marching to illuminate the important pledge of love and non-violence that we all must take to ensure a salubrious future on this planet.
For the first-time ever, peace-lovers around the world are becoming united in a massive march for solidarity from continent to continent. The World Peace March, an extensive journey from New Zealand to Argentina, commenced this October 2nd on the anniversary of Mohandas Ghandi's birth, will be covering the span of all inhabited land on earth- so as to reach as many souls as possible and promote the ideals of peace, love, and understanding.
And as for New York City Residents, THEY will become WE next Sunday, November 30th, as the city welcomes the arrival of the march to North America. We will be traveling across the river on the Brooklyn Bridge, with as many smiling souls as possible, into city hall to represent the message of peace that has been carried for so many miles. And as the delicate stampede that has touched so many already will grow ever stronger, the hope that it carries in the our spirits' capacity for progress through love will shine that much brighter.
As the manifesto of the walk reads, "We are in motion, traveling around the planet to strengthen the voice that is clamoring for a human world.... We are thousands, we will be millions, and we will change the world." What a beautiful movement to encompass all of humanity across all of the earth!
From the beginning of our time on this planet, human bodies have been built to walk- and there has always been a reason and a purpose for this universal gift. Now, let's let that purpose be clear: we want a safer world, a global community, and ensured positive future for all generations to come. And as the marchers approach your town, will you join them? Will you add your voice to the thousands, become the millions to call for peace? The tremors of their footsteps are growing closer every day, the vibrations are growing stronger... can you feel them? Will you join them? ;-)
These are men and women who are far braver than I am, to risk their lives in the name of that same freedom in which we love to bask. Yet they are given little or no options once they have served their duty, and are faced with intense pressure as soon as they begin to show a reluctance to fight. The fact is that war is an atrocious situation, and if a person is brave enough to do it once in your name, than they should have the freedom of choice as to whether or not they'd like to return. But still they are sent into life-threatening, sanity-threatening situations, where they occupy a land on which they are not welcome. This is a kind of imposition that is downright disrespectful to all involved, and as was shown by the behavior of Major Hasan at Fort Hood last week, can be extremely dangerous.
There has been a proliferation of coffee houses such as the 'Under the Hood Cafe,' located directly across from Fort Hood in Texas, which seek to serve as shock absorbers: places for the troops to seeks counseling, legal advice, and support. As the war against the war movement intensifies within the armed forces, more resources are needed to maintain the health and well-being of our returning soldiers, in order to maintain a cohesive and sane environment for our military. They have given so much in the name of our freedom, and deserve to be fully taken care of when they return. They also deserve the right to choose their own fate, and if need be, to be able to freely say "sir, no sir!" without reproach.
Absurdly enough, while hemp products are legally imported for sale in the United States, it is the only legally-sold crop that U.S. farmers are not allowed to grow. Meanwhile, it has proven to be a prolific business for Canadian hemp growers who sell to the U.S., and a fine sampling of such folk were present in full hemp gear at the Washington, D.C. Green festival!
One of the busiest sections of the festival this year was what was known as the "hemp pavilion," centered around a large lectern made out of... you guessed it! Hemp! The advocacy group Vote Hemp was there, passing out petitions for festival goers to send to their representatives, urging them to support a measure which would allow our farmers to benefit from growing the sturdy and versatile crop. And all around were hemp products of all imaginable sorts: pants, shoes, garden gloves, candles, dog treats, boxers, hats, snacks, t-shirts, etc. etc. etc. Basically, any type of product imaginable was there, and it was all made out of hemp!
Perhaps the most entertaining treat of the weekend was the hemp pavilion's organized hemp fashion show, where the various vendors submitted pieces for enthusiastic volunteers to model. Each outfit was skillfully, creatively, and colorfully put together- putting to rest any myth about hemp not being a comfortable, attractive material to wear. The designers went all out, and the models bore it all- from boxers and robes to silk-blends and wedding dresses, the world of hemp wear was all a flourish!
It was truly inspiring to see hemp promoted in such a way that would make it appealing to mainstream American audiences. After all, the plant has been used by humans for over 10,000 years, and has been labeled by many as a "wonder plant," having hundreds of uses: from food and clothing to powering a vehicle. And the display at the Green Festival was a stepping stone for American society which, for all of its boasts of capital incentives and ingenuity, has not yet fully embraced hemp for the highly productive and beneficial crop that it is! Now, as some states are torpidly coming around to the idea of hemp farming, is the time for us to support this fantastic market, and to VOTE HEMP! And hopefully in the years to come, "meet me at the hemp pavilion" is a sentence that can be used not just at the green fest, but in everyday life :-)