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Beyond Hypocrisy

Timothy Noah points out that former USAID director Randall Tobias is a hypocrite for cavorting with call girls, seeing as how he oversaw USAID's policy of refusing AIDS funding to any group that didn't sign an anti-prostitution loyalty oath. That's an amusing bit of irony, but now seems like a good time to note that the policy really isn't very funny at all.

When Congress first told USAID to make all its recipients sign the pledge, in 2003, lawyers at the Justice Department argued that the policy violated the First Amendment and should be ignored. But the Christian right blew a gasket, DoJ quickly reversed itself, and, under Tobias, USAID started requiring the pledge. The fallout was severe: Brazil lost $40 million in funding for a successful program that persuaded sex workers to use condoms. Over 200 NGOs wrote the White House complaining that the pledge would interfere with their work. In two separate court cases last year, federal judges ordered USAID to stop the policy (those decisions are still being appealed).

Of course, since Tobias didn't come up with the pledge, presumably the White House will just find someone with a cleaner personal life to keep things quietly going, but it's still appalling. And here's another question. When Tobias was first hired to head up Bush's AIDS initiative in 2003, a number of people suggested that the former Eli Lilly CEO had been brought aboard to ensure that the money would be spent on brand-name pharmaceuticals rather than cheaper generic drugs. Big Pharma plunders the aid budget, etc. But I haven't seen much follow-up reporting on this, and now seems like an opportune time to find out if Tobias really was horrible on this front or not.

--Bradford Plumer