Posted by: Randy Allgaier | July 19, 2010

Why is Cancer different?

My thoughts about why cancer seems different than other diagnoses

Why is Cancer different?

Posted by: Randy Allgaier | July 19, 2010

My newest challenge- a new blog

I have begun a new blog that will chronicle my newest challenge with cancer. I hope that this new blog will be part of living my life and my diagnosis out loud. I will post links to new posts on this blog.

My Newest Challenge

Posted by: Randy Allgaier | June 28, 2010

My newest battle- Cancer

I was diagnosed with anal cancer earlier this week. This is the latest in a string of health issues that I’ve dealt with in my quarter of a century battle with HIV. Just one more to add to the list – AIDS, chronic Hepatitis C and now cancer.

The timing is particularly frustrating because it was just a few months ago that my partner Lee (who is HIV negative) completed radiation for treatment of his prostate cancer (he is doing fine and remains on hormone therapy for the next year) and because, after months of deliberation, I felt well enough to return to work after 10 years just 4 months ago. (By the way- I still feel well and have no plans to curtail my schedule anymore than is absolutely necessary).

It is also tinged with a little irony. I just completed writing a white paper about HIV and Aging in San Francisco for the San Francisco HIV Health Services Planning Council and the Mayor’s Long Term Care Coordinating Council with a set of recommendations for how the city might better prepare for dealing with a population that is older living with HIV (over 50% of PLWHA in SF will be over 50 in 2012), One chapter of the paper talks about the plethora of co-morbidities that develop among us older folk who have been living with the virus for decades and who have also been on antiretroviral therapy for a long time; among them are a variety of cancers- especially anal cancer. It feel like I am part of the charts and graphs in my paper. In other words my case is hardly atypical.

I am grateful beyond belief to have my work because it provides me balance, normalcy, and it allows me to spend my days doing something I love. I have no intention of having this newest wrinkle intrude more than it has to into the work I find so sustaining as Director of the San Francisco HIV Health Services Planning Council, Co-Chair of the San Francisco Mayor’s Hepatitis C Task Force, Board members of the CAEAR Coalition and the National Working Positive Coalition and my newest work with the National Quality Center Consumer Advisory Committee and Steering Committee. I also have no intention of letting this impede the other passions that Lee and I have in our life and that give joy to us.

I have learned a great deal by dealing with HIV for 25 years and I learned even more as I watched Lee deal with his cancer diagnosis with grace and resolve.

This newest diagnosis has brought out in me a level of resolve and determination that is fierce.

I am remarkably lucky that for nearly 22 years I have been able to share my life with a man who’s support and love helps me get through every challenge and with whom I am sharing a remarkable journey of life. I am also fortunate to have family and friends, especially my sister, who are remarkable sources of support. And of course- I work with amazing people. I know I can depend on my staff for support especially during those weeks where I will be undergoing radiation and chemotherapy and may be in the office a little less and have a little less energy. The entire community of colleagues and advocates who I work with provide me with not just collegiality but with friendship and support.

If anything, I hope to live this newest part of my life out loud, as I believe I always have. I hope that by knowing my life, others will see that AIDS is by far a disease that cannot be shelved – it deserves to be front and center and the needs of older people living with HIV must be addressed. Treatments have been helpful- but we don’t know about the long term effects. We are developing many diseases that are “non-AIDS” related because our bodies have been through an assault by the virus and the drugs we take for that virus for decades. And I hope that by knowing my life there may be one young man or young woman who will be reminded that this disease is still difficult before making a bad decision. AIDS isn’t as easy as taking a few meds a couple of times a day. It’s reach is long- a lifetime in fact- and its effects are profound.

Posted by: Randy Allgaier | May 30, 2010

My Best Friend

My best friend has a birthday this Wednesday- June 2nd- he’ll be 12. He’s my beagle Darwin. When I was a child I was dog obsessed- my first steps were taken trying to pet a neighbor’s dog. We had a few dogs during my childhood but my mother was… How shall I politely put it? …Difficult. She had no patience for children let alone dogs. The three dogs we had (a boxer, a poodle and a dachshund) never lasted with our family more than a few months. I absolutely adored the little black and red dachshund- Schroeder. He was miserable because he wasn’t allowed to be a puppy and not surprisingly he started getting a little neurotic. The best decision was to give him to a loving family where he would be allowed to be a dog. I loved him and to this day keep that love in my heart.

But nearly 12 years ago a dog entered my life who transformed my life. When we first met Darwin he was about 3 ½ months old. He was deep red with snow white markings on his chest, his paws and a white flame on his muzzle with soulful brown eyes. He was adorable. Clearly he had a little mischief in him but we fell in love with him immediately. It was a special day— Lee and I adopted Darwin on out tenth anniversary together.

He was easy to potty train, but that beagle nose got him into more trouble than I ever could have imagined- breaking a VCR, eating a package of English muffins, tearing up a sack of flour, the list goes on. But everything he did that drove me to distraction also drew him closer to my heart. I realized something; I loved him more than I cared about the control that had defined my life for decades. He had a way of messing up that ordered household that I painstakingly kept and if you know me, I am not really into mess. Darwin taught me to relax and I realized that a lot of the things I thought were important really weren’t. Together Darwin and Lee have taught me more about unconditional love and have helped me grow as a person than any therapist ever did.

I yell at him sometimes, especially after saying “off” to him a thousand or so times when he is persistently and stealthily trying to grab a bit of food from the kitchen counter or when he runs back and forth like a maniac in the backyard if he hears the neighbors in their yard. But the thing is- he doesn’t care. He wants to snuggle with me even while I am yelling at him.

He has been at my side when I have been sick, and I mean really sick. He’s lied in bed with me for days on end when I have had bouts of pneumonia or was going through Hepatitis C treatment. It is in no small part due to his love that I have felt well enough to return to work after 10 years. He probably regrets that now since going to work mean I’m not as home as much. I know he does because he howls about it quite often.

This past year has been a year of contradictions. I have had many professional successes and returning to work has been my goal since I stopped working in 2000. But I have also been on a difficult journey with Lee since late last year as we face his prostate cancer together and I have also watched Darwin grow old.

Last year Darwin was attacked by a pit bull in the dog park which tore me apart more than I could have imagined. More recently he has blown both of his rear ACLs. His red hair has given way to white and he sleeps more and more. I know our time together is drawing to a close – ideally measured in years, but I don’t know. He has forced me to face this inevitability. I have reconciled that when his health declines, I will let him go. I won’t force things on him just to keep him physically with me. Our hearts have a rhythm and I’ll trust that rhythm- after all that’s the gift he has given me.

I knew from those first steps as a toddler to pet Tippy that I loved dogs. But never did I imagine that a dog would mesh with my soul, would be part of my spirit, and part of my essence. Darwin is that dog.

So Darwin, on your 12th birthday (61 in dog years via the newest calculations of dog/human years), I want to wish you, my best friend, a happy birthday. You are my joy and you have helped define the family that Lee and I are together with you. You are a dog filled with personality, with stubbornness, guile and mischief. You are also the love of my life, only second to Lee. Thank you for all the lessons you have taught me and continue to teach me. Happy Birthday “Boober Dog”!

Darwin's Offical 12th Birthday Photograph

Posted by: Randy Allgaier | April 10, 2010

A Moment of Clarity- I guess this is love

A few weeks ago our beloved beagle Darwin tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). It seemed that he just went lame in his right hind leg. We did some research and a former PAWS board member colleague, who is also veterinarian, even diagnosed the problem from my Facebook post about it. Our veterinarian confirmed it when we saw her. In the week between his accident and when we saw the vet, Darwin was on aspirin and we started him on some chondroitin glucosamine. When we saw the doctor, we were told to take him off the aspirin for a few days before starting him on a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory. It was during this period that I had my moment of clarity.

Simply put, Darwin was miserable; he would barely move and didn’t want to eat his food. We were very concerned because the meds he would eventually need to take had to be taken with food (we found that he would scarf down boiled chicken but turned away from his regular food).

He would look at me with misery in his eyes and it broke my heart. But something unexpected happened too. Darwin is nearly 12 years old so I know he has only a few years left to be with us. This is a fact that I rarely think about it because it has been incomprehensible to think of life without him. Yes he is a dog and a pet, but he has captured my soul in a way that is impossible to explain. When I looked at him during those few days when he was in pain I had an epiphany of sorts. I thought about the real possibility that sometime in the next few years, we may have to make the decision to let Darwin go. For the first time I didn’t experience that dread and that knot I have had in my stomach when I’ve thought about this in the past.

Seeing my little guy in pain somehow gave me the understanding that when it is time for him to go, I’ll know it and letting him go will be an act of love that is, the ultimate act of love. When it is his time, letting him go will be my act of unconditional love. He has provided me with that sort of love for over a decade. He is the joy of my life.

I was surprised by this feeling inside of me. It felt peaceful and it made me realize just how much I love Darwin.

He is doing much better now. Because of his age, surgery was not an ordeal we want to put him through, so he’ll limp a bit, he can’t jump and run like he did (he tries- but we stop him). But he is back to his old self – being led into mischief by that amazing nose of his and cuddling with either me or Lee at every possible opportunity.

When it his time, I will grieve and I will have a hole in my heart, but I now realize that I’ll also have peace; peace from knowing that I give him the same gift he gives me- unconditional love. I didn’t know that I was capable of such selflessness. That too is another gift from Darwin.

Posted by: Randy Allgaier | March 15, 2010

11 Years with AIDS- An Anniversary of Steel

On March 21, 1999 I was diagnosed with AIDS after more than 13 years of living with HIV. That was eleven years ago. Every year at this time I recognize this anniversary with a reflection that I share with my friends, family and colleagues.

The 11th Anniversary is the “Steel Anniversary”- less glamorous than silver for 25 or gold for 50, but I cannot think of a more apt metal or metaphor for this anniversary.

On that day in March eleven years ago, I never thought I would be alive today; I never thought I would be working again; I never dreamt I would be planning my 22nd anniversary with Lee or celebrating our 2nd year of marriage; or having our 12th year with our beloved beagle Darwin. Steel- is strong, hard and implacable. It evokes thoughts of determination and strength.

Yes, indeed 2010 is a year where I am relying on my internal steel to face a renewed future of hope. But steel is an alloy that’s structure is dependent on a precise and exact combination of elements to create a strong and durable metal.

In my case that unique combination has come from a synergistic constellation of good fortune, inspiration, colleagues, friends, and family.

I have definitely had good fortune. I have a remarkable doctor and excellent healthcare; something that nearly fifty million Americans do not enjoy. I am not going to turn this reflection into a political treatise- I’ll just say that I have what I believe should be the right of every American- good healthcare where my relationship with my doctor is at the center. Oh yes- I have Medicare- a government run program that puts a premium on the decisions my doctor and I make. I am fortunate that as a disabled person who has been a Medicare beneficiary I can continue accessing Medicare by paying into it now that I have gone back to work. I will not have to rely on the vagaries of the private insurance industry and its intrusion on my relationship with my doctor in order to protect its bottom line.

I have inspiration. The work I did before I retired in 2000 was one of the great joys of my life. Having the opportunity to be a small part of effecting positive change for people living with HIV/AIDS and have it as my career was an amazing privilege. Over the past 10 years I have been fortunate to be continually inspired by the social justice and healthcare access issues that are important to me and to find ways to involve myself in that work while being “retired”. Back in the early ‘00s I had the good fortune to work on Medicare issues for people living with HIV/AIDS and got to know a colleague who helped guide my work on that issue and I count him as one of my mentors. That colleague is Jeff Crowley. Jeff is now President Obama’s Director of the White House’s Office of National AIDS Policy and he is one of the smartest people I have met doing this work and is a down to earth and nice guy on top of it. Jeff is just one of scores of amazing people that I have met. The work has been part of my life’s inspiration but the people doing the work are those that are awe inspiring. My colleagues in the CAEAR Coalition, the National Working Positive Coalition and the Coalition for a National AIDS Strategy have kept my brain nimble and my passion invigorated and they inspire me every day through their passion, their remarkable intelligence, and their generosity of spirit.

Then there are the San Francisco HIV Health Services Planning Council and Shanti. These two entities have woven their way into my life in pretty significant ways for many years.

About eight years ago my friend and former San Francisco AIDS Foundation colleague Laura Thomas encouraged me to think about becoming a member of the Planning Council. At the time, I thought I would rather chew on nails- the politics, the array of strong personalities (yes, I know I am no shrinking violet either) – I wasn’t sure I wanted that stress in my life. I had left work because of stress and didn’t want to dive head first into a situation wrought with tension. But I was appointed to the council and over the years the work drew me in. I recognized the amazing work of this group of people who commit themselves to maintaining the best possible system of care for people living with HIV/AIDS in San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin counties at a time of diminishing resources. A wide array of people with an amazing diversity of experience and backgrounds coming together to make difficult decisions. Community planning- it can be messy, but by God it works and it is a beautiful thing.

It was at Shanti 22 years ago where this then 30 year old newcomer to San Francisco decided to volunteer so I could connect with my new community. It is where my passion around HIV/AIDS began to move outward from my own internal battle with the disease. It is where I found my center in San Francisco. A spark was lit at Shanti 22 years ago that lit the candle that has guided my community work for the past two decades. Another spark was ignited at Shanti 22 years ago as well- that’s where I met Lee and some of the most important people in my life.

Could I have ever imagined ten years ago that the inspiration provided by both the Planning Council and Shanti would converge with my good fortune of good health to open the door to a new chapter in my career? Once again I am able to do the work that I love as a profession. I can do the policy and community planning work that I adore with the support of an agency that it fundamentally tied to my life. The Council has given me the opportunity to have every role possible in its organization- a member, a committee co-chair, a workgroup co-chair, a council co-chair and now director. Shanti has done the same- a volunteer, a board member and now staff.

As I embark on this new chapter of my life and the newest exciting challenge in my career. I am supported by remarkable friends, family and colleagues.

I mentioned earlier that I have had the good fortune to work with people with remarkable intelligence, commitment, passion and generosity. That good fortune continues with my colleagues on the Council, my colleagues on the Mayor’s Hepatitis C Task Force, those that work in government both in San Francisco and in Washington, the federal and local advocacy communities- especially my fellow advocates living with HIV/AIDS and/or Hepatitis C, and my amazing co-workers at Shanti- both agency wide and the Council staff.

Friends are at the cornerstone of my support. Throughout the nation I have met compassionate and loving people because of my advocacy work and because of my beagle Darwin (yes- my beagle has brought me scores of loving and wonderful friends- dogs have a knack of doing that!). I have also reconnected with some amazing people from my years at Cornell and prep school from all corners of the globe. The support of all these friends has sustained me. Some of my friends are gone, taken too early by a disease that I have been fortunate enough to survive. I carry their memory in my heart. For six of these friends from New York I am the sole living caretaker of the flame of our collective friendship- a responsibility I am honored and humbled to have.

My family gave me many of the building blocks of my life. My parents instilled a drive to learn and from the emotional tumult that is part of every family I was fortunate enough to develop a sense of duty, compassion and social justice. My sister Linda is one of the strongest sources of support in my life and I love her dearly.

Last but not least there are Lee and, of course, Darwin.

Darwin, our nearly 12 year old beagle, has not only provided me with calmness, unconditional love and affection but he has brought into my life people who are dear to me and an organization, that touches my heart- PAWS.

Lee is simply the love of my life, my best friend, my confidant and to paraphrase James Joyce, as I oft do, he makes my soul swoon. His battle with prostate cancer this year scared me and completely shifted the paradigm that I had assumed for my life. Like my battle with AIDS and Hepatitis C, Lee’s battle with prostate cancer was another challenge that we have faced together that has strengthened us individually and as a couple while we travel on our lives’ journey together. Lee is my bedrock and he is my joy.

The last eleven years have not been easy. Many of those years were hell and at times I didn’t think I would make it. But now- at this moment- I feel like one of the luckiest people on earth. I know that my good fortune, the steel that I have, is not available for everyone. Many have died, a number of them were good friends who remain in my heart, and some of them were personal heroes. Too many people both in this country and worldwide are not availed of the healthcare and opportunities that have brought me to my current fortunate circumstance. That is unfair and it should not be and none of us should ever accept it.

Nearly a quarter of a century ago I was diagnosed with HIV, eleven years ago I was diagnosed with AIDS, ten years ago I retired for health reason, three years ago I was diagnosed with a long standing case of Hepatitis C and 2 weeks ago I returned to full time employment. What an amazing ride.

On this eleventh anniversary of my AIDS diagnosis- that day I was admitted to the hospital at the brink of death- I have a renewed life and renewed commitment to those that do not have the opportunities that I have had.

Thank you for being part of my journey. None of us can get through life alone. I am blessed with a great abundance of support and love. You are the component parts of my life’s steel. Thank you for the important place you have in my life and for, in your own way, making this world a better place.

A few years ago I would have been shocked that any sentient being would have had the temerity to say what South Carolina Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer (who is running to succeed Governor Mark “Appalachian Trail” Sanford) said when he compared those on government assistance to “stray animals,” saying that the reason you stop feeding animals is that “they breed.”  Unfortunately, comments like this in our public dialogue no longer surprise me.  After all this is the world of the tea-baggers and the election of Senator-elect Brown (R-MA).

 Now let’s be fair.  I want to make sure you get the full flavor of Bauer’s remarks so let’s quote the entirety.  “My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals. You know why? Because they breed,” Bauer said during a speech advocating that the government take away assistance to those who do not pass drug tests.

“You’re facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply,” Bauer added, according to a report in the Greenville News. “They will reproduce, especially ones that don’t think too much further than that. And so what you’ve got to do is you’ve got to curtail that type of behavior. They don’t know any better.”

 Lovely isn’t it?

 Ever since the Governor of California released his FY 2011 budget I have been dumbfounded by the cuts to the social safety net that he has proposed and which I think are inhumane and even possibly illegal. 

 Last night however, the assault on the poor came crashing down around me.  I was at a meeting where the draconian measures outlined by the Governor were encapsulated into a 30 minute presentation. I knew about all the cuts- SSI payments being reduced to $830 a month, stripping away or severely cutting programs that provide important healthcare services to many populations- many of them working- but all of them poor- to name but a few.  If you are poor, disabled and/or old in California, you might do better with a tin can at a street corner begging for pennies and scraps of food. 

 The kicker is that all of these cuts are “essential” to balance a budget in California where  a hand full of legislators hold the legislature hostage because the budget MUST be balanced without one additional dollar  in revenues being collected.  Heaven forbid you add a dollar to the tax bill of someone who has a home, food and clothing, maybe a nice car, a swimming pool, lots of electronic equipment, maybe even i-phone and a plasma TV.  You MUST protect these people at all costs and not give a damn about people who are trying to live on less than $900 a month with a barebones system of healthcare- if they are eligible at all. 

 When I came home from this meeting feeling if my values had taken a beating, I turned on MSNBC and there was Rachel Maddow interviewing Jared Bernstein, Vice President Biden’s chief economist and economic policy adviser, where every other phrase out of the man’s mouth was about “protecting the middle class”.  Of course the President had just “reviewed the work” of the middle class task force.   There was also the little (okay, not so little) bomb shell to freeze non-security discretionary spending.  Translation from “government-ese” of  “non-security discretionary spending freeze”  means freezing many support programs that help poor people, disabled people- those that need a helping hand or else they may fall into the abyss.

There is a war being waged on the poor in this country.  Is it because we’ve had an economic disaster and being poor is too close to the surface and we must, at all cost, tamp it down and pretend the poor don’t exist?  Actually that is too kind and gives too much credit to the America’s ability to self delude (although we are pretty good at it!).

 The poor have no voice, they have no money to give to political campaigns, they have no wealthy lobbyists advocating on their behalf.  They do have a handful of progressive advocates who make little money who are smart, dedicated advocates from organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center, Families USA and a smattering of others making their case.  But there isn’t much money behind those dedicated advocates.  The poor, as much as we try, have no voice.

 This nation has become increasingly callous and increasingly selfish.  We have a nation of people whining about taxes while people starve and go without healthcare.  Brick by brick we are dismantling the safety net for the most vulnerable in our society.  Democrats and Republicans are both going down this road.  Republicans because of the myopic view on taxes, Democrats because they are too scared to take a principled stand and “follow the money”.

 This will only get worse now that corporations have been freed to spend as much money as they want on political campaigns- in the name of free speech.  To me that is an insult to the first amendment.  Money is speech?  That gives Exxon more of a right of free speech than a single mother of two struggling to keep her family fed and sheltered.  Is free speech a commodity?  Are those that have money inherently more deserving of free speech than those without?  According to the Roberts’ Court- Yup!

 There is a war on the poor being waged in this country and the poor are losing.  Andre Bauer’s remarks about stray animals sound mainstream now, don’t they?

Call them the zeroes, call them the uh-ohs, call them the aughts, call it the first decade of the century, or the first decade of the millennium. But whatever moniker you decide to use- the years from 2000 – 2009 have been an odd decade that has defied many a pundit to label it with a catchy pithy adjective. I have been reflecting on the last ten years and I began to write a piece describing the decade as the decade of fear. But it just didn’t feel right. There was something more insidious than fear and fear mongering; it was the deception used in that fear mongering, it was the lies of the Bush administration and the havoc that was wrecked on this nation over the past ten years.

It started with an election that was questionable and installed a President who lost the popular vote and who’s winning the Presidency hinged on the electoral votes in a state governed by his brother with some pretty questionable ballots and it ended with the election of a man who has been accused of being Hitler, a socialist and foreign born. Since we view the world through the lens of our own experiences, one cannot truly observe the themes of the decade without putting them into personal context so I will interweave some personal milestones throughout this commentary.

It is curious, ironic and a sick cosmic joke that we began the decade with the election of a new President who lost the popular vote and was considered illegitimate for tangible reasons by reasonable people and we ended the decade with a new President that was duly elected by a substantial majority but who has been riddled with attempts to delegitimize his presidency for absurd and unfounded reasons by very unreasonable (that is putting it kindly) people.

It all began in 2000 – a new millennium. When I was a kid I wondered what the year 2000 would be like. Would it be the Jetsons? Would it be Mad Max? What would the world be like as the calendar passed from 1999 to 2000? When I thought about 2000 in my youth, I knew I would be 42 years old but I saw myself celebrating the new millennium in some penthouse drinking vintage champagne surrounded by erudite, witty café society types. My childhood fantasy of my adult life had a Cole Porter soundtrack. The reality of the celebration of the new millennium was much better. It was spent in the quiet beauty of Mendocino in the arms of my partner of 11 years and with my 1 ½ year old puppy as a fire crackled in the fireplace of our cozy room at the Stanford Inn and the only sound was of a bell from a nearby church tolling. It could not have been more perfect. But 2000 was personally a challenging year. I had been diagnosed with AIDS in March of 1999 after living with HIV for more than a dozen years. In early 2000 I made the most difficult decision of my life- I recognized that my illness was taking its toll and if I continued to work I would die. I loved my work and it was an excruciating decision and it has been an overriding element of this decade for me.

Of course nationally 2000 was dominated by a Presidential election. An election where a son of privilege and the establishment who went to Andover, Yale and Harvard (a legacy student in all cases and clearly not admitted to these schools due to intellectual prowess) reinvented himself as a cowboy everyman; a candidate who made being disengaged a Zen like art form; a candidate who eviscerated his opponent in the Republican primary with ugly racism (remember the allegations by the Bush operatives that Senator McCain’s adopted daughter was the result of an affair McCain had with a black woman?)

The Democratic ticket was headlined by Vice President Al Gore and he chose as his running mate- Senator Joe Lieberman. No one thought that the choice was inspired but no one thought it was crazy either. Only in retrospect and only after watching Senator Lieberman’s antics during the 2008 election and beyond have we realized that the choice wasn’t much better than Senator McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin.

It wasn’t the campaign that was the big story; it was figuring out who won the election that was the story. Vice President Al Gore clearly won the popular vote but the election boiled down to Florida and its electoral votes. Most Americans didn’t have much understanding of the arcane Electoral College which actually elects the President, but they got a crash course in 2000.

In most states, the presidential candidate with the majority of votes wins all of the electoral votes even if the candidate wins with only one more vote than the other candidate. A vestige of colonial America that was written into our constitution that is as absurd in the 21st century as a state with a low population having two Senators but only one member of the House of Representatives- giving immense power to Senators who represent more wildlife than humans. While I am a lover of our Constitution and I think it is the most amazing document written to establish a government, it was written in a decidedly 18th century world. While the balance of powers, the bill of rights and 99% of the Constitution is a masterpiece in crafting a government that acknowledges the failings of power and those who have it, there are flaws like writing slavery into the document and outmoded ideas like the Electoral College.

Of course, the possibility of winning the presidential election without winning the popular vote has happened before and was the least of the issues of the 2000 election. It was Bush v. Gore and the decision made by the Supreme Court that essentially handed the election to George W. Bush thus setting the stage for the question of whether or not Bush was elected or anointed. Lee and I were in London when Gore conceded the election to Bush in December. There were a number of Americans at our hotel having breakfast and we were all talking about the thought of a President George W. Bush and many of us talked about staying in London and becoming expatriates. We knew he was unqualified and would not be a great President. Little did we know what an unmitigated disaster he would be and the hell our nation would endure under his watch.

That sense of unease carried through to the summer of 2001. President Bush was on one of his many vacations at his ranch in Crawford TX engaging in his favorite pastime- clearing brush- when he was given the now famous “Presidential Daily Briefing” on August 6, 2001 entitled “Bin Laden determined to strike in US” which stated in part “FBI information since that time indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York.” 36 days later we endured the attacks of September 11th while President Bush read “My Pet Goat” to a group of Florida school students.

The 9/11 attacks defined the decade and the United States will never again be the same. Could the Bush administration have been more attuned to the threat after the August PDB? Maybe, but who knows. But what I do know is that as the decade comes to a close and a Nigerian terrorist attempted to blow up an airplane en route to Detroit, the very people who ignored the warnings in the August 8th PDB, such as Dick Cheney, are criticizing President Obama. Hypocrisy is an understatement for these guys. But I am getting ahead of myself here. 9/11 was pivotal and was defining for a generation.

The nation was numb and in shock after 9/11. Even pacifists like me were fantasizing about turning Afghanistan into a glow in the dark parking lot. The nation was unified in our resolve and we were one America. Who could forget the members of Congress from both parties singing “God Bless America” at the Capitol? We were united in a way I hadn’t seen before in my lifetime. We also had the world behind us and we had the support of virtually every nation on earth.

On September 20, 2001- just 9 days after the 9/11 attacks, Lee and I went to Italy for a few weeks. Many friends were shocked that we would fly just a little over a week after the attacks. My response was that doing anything else would have been allowing the terrorists to win. Everywhere we went people told us they supported the United States and they were horrified by the attacks. Many of the people we talked to- Italians and people of other nations had been touched by the attacks- knowing someone who was in the World Trade Center or having friends who knew someone who was at the Trade Center on the fateful morning.

Unfortunately that national unity and that international good will were squandered. The president didn’t call on our inner angels to rally for this country, he called on our greed and told us go shopping. On October 7, 2001 the US began its action in Afghanistan- Operation Enduring Freedom. We were supported by the international community in that conflict- a conflict that continues today.  It is a disaster that President Obama inherited because the Bush administration abadoned its commitment and the support has waned in both this country and throughout the world. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld & Co. were unsuccessful in their efforts in Afghanistan because they really didn’t care. We pushed back the Taliban temporarily we installed a puppet government – albeit one that would end up rife with corruption- but the President and his gang did not care about stabilizing Afghanistan, they had their eyes in a different prize.

Infamously President Bush and the neo-cons took their eye off of Afghanistan. “We didn’t smoke out bi-Laden” as the president said articulating his notorious cowboy diplomacy. The Neo-Cons had looked towards invading Iraq well before 9/11. The most disturbing part of this was because they felt that having an “American form of democracy” in the mid-East was a way to help the USA’s energy needs and the petroleum industry’s profits. It was economic self interest, not national security.

While we now know that there were plans for an invasion of Iraq well before 9/11, the road to the invasion of Iraq began to be articulated publicly with speeches in late 2001 and 2002. In a series of speeches in late 2001 and 2002, President Bush expanded on his view of American foreign policy and global intervention, declaring that the United States should actively support democratic governments around the world, especially in the Middle East, as a strategy for combating the threat of terrorism, and that the United States had the right to act unilaterally in its own security interests, without the approval of international bodies such as the United Nations. This represented a departure from the Cold War policies of deterrence and containment under the Truman Doctrine and post-Cold War philosophies such as the Powell Doctrine and the Clinton Doctrine.

There were a few seminal moments as the Bush doctrine came into clearer view. This is a doctrine of foreign policy that dominated the last decade and boldly articulated the rationale of a preëmptive strike – a policy that is antithetical to all of US policy before Bush and was a striking departure from two centuries of a moral compass about war that drove the United States’ military engagement.

President Bush addressed the cadets at the U.S. Military Academy (West Point) on June 1, 2002, and made clear the role Preemptive war would play in the future of American foreign policy and national defense: “ We cannot defend America and our friends by hoping for the best. We cannot put our faith in the word of tyrants, who solemnly sign non-proliferation treaties, and then systemically break them. If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long — Our security will require transforming the military you will lead — a military that must be ready to strike at a moment’s notice in any dark corner of the world. And our security will require all Americans to be forward-looking and resolute, to be ready for preemptive action when necessary to defend our liberty and to defend our lives.”

The full court press for an invasion of Iraq started in earnest in January 2003. In President Bush’s Jan. 28, 2003 State of the Union address he stated those now infamous 16 words. “The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”

The intersection of fear and deception had begun. Sadaam’s ties to terrorists responsible for 9/11 and the infamous WMD statements that duped a Congress and a nation to support an unjust war were two of the boldest lies to manipulate the nation; using fear and deceiving the nation to enter a war that had little if anything to do with national security and everything to do with a neo-conservative ideology.

On February 5, 2003, Secretary Colin Powell appeared before the UN to “prove” the urgency to engage a war with Iraq. Although the presentation failed to change the fundamental position of the Security Council, including France, Russia, China, and Germany, Powell succeeded in hardening the overall tone of the United Nations towards Iraq. Powell also claimed that Iraq harbored a terrorist network headed by al-Qaeda operative Abu Musab al-Zarqawi despite much evidence to the contrary. Powell also showed photos of what he said was a poison and explosives training camp in northeast Iraq, operated by the group. When this camp was visited by a British journalist two days later, all that was found was a few dilapidated buildings and no evidence or signs of any terrorist activity, chemical or explosives. Powell alleged that these training camps had been operating with help from Iraqi agents, despite them being in the northern Iraqi Kurdistan “no-fly zone,” and thus outside of de facto Iraqi control. Powell also claimed that Iraqis visited Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and provided training to al-Qaeda members, although thousands of Arabs from many countries did the same. U.S. intelligence agencies have found no evidence of any substantive collaboration between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. While Colin Powell’s statement to the UN may have been accepted as “proof” by many in the U.S., this was not the case in Europe, where there was widespread scepticism of any links between Iraq and al-Qaeda. The British government’s intelligence services did not believe there was any link at all, given the mutual hatred between Islamists and the secular regime in Baghdad.

The rest of the decade was imprinted with this false rationale for war.  Many of us knew in our hearts that we were being sold a bill of goods. Lee and I joined tens of thousands in San Francisco and millions worldwide on Valentine’s Day 2003 to protest the imminent invasion of Iraq. But the biggest lie- the biggest use of fear- was oft repeated with great effect for many Americans still in a 9/11 altered universe- “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”

The invasion of Iraq led to many defining moments of the decade. American forces were not greeted as liberators; children didn’t throw flowers and kisses at US troops. Instead they threw bombs and they planted IEDs. President Bush donned in a GI Joe costume flying onto an aircraft carrier to declare “Mission Accomplished” when the mission had barely begun, claims for months upon months that the insurgency was in the last throes as the death toll mounted, Abu-Gahrib, extraordinary rendition, the United States breaking international law and the covenants of the Geneva Convention, admissions that we tortured, admissions that the White House was involved with outing a CIA operative for political purposes, the dismantling of our Constitutional protections in the name of national security. Our innocence was not only lost but the fear that came with that loss changed what was acceptable behavior. For most of the decade we lost that ineffable American quality that has made this country great- we had had a sense of moral high ground. But by giving in on many of our nations principles we allowed ourselves to lose that quality that the rest world admired- our adherence to the rule of law. For all the bluster, saber-rattling and swagger we were letting the terrorists win. Our government engaged in activities that sullied our reputation around the world that compromised our leadership and our integrity. Was Dick Cheney an arrogant SOB or a scared little boy traumatized? Probably both.

It was fear in 2004 that motivated the public to reëlect President Bush. We were in two wars, one forgotten and one unnecessary- but we were in them and change is difficult at such a time. But it wasn’t just the fear of terrorism that played into the reëlection of George W. Bush it was a state by state strategy of fear of gay marriage that helped elect Mr. Bush for a second term. State wide initiatives banning gay marriage were dominant in the 2004 election and they brought out the right wing nuts in droves. These were people who never would have voted for John Kerry.

It was the Democratic convention in 2004 that introduced a nation to a young star in the party- a man with a white mother and a black father who was still serving in the Illinois state Senate and had not yet been elected to the United States Senate – Barack Hussein Obama. His speech at the convention catapulted him to national prominence and just four years later he would be accepting the nomination of the Democratic Party and be elected as the 44th President of the United States. Barack Obama had also gained national attention and the affection of the Democratic base by his unwavering and vocal opposition to the war in Iraq. Senator Hillary Clinton voted to give President Bush the authority to invade Iraq and even when it was clear that this decision was based on manipulated intelligence she, unlike many of her Senate colleagues would not admit that this was a mistake. She fell into a language trap similar to Bill Clinton’s notorious “it depends on what the definition of ‘is’ is and would not simply say “I was wrong”. This gave Barack Obama an advantage over the presumptive nominee for 2008 and made a Clinton Coronation into a nail biter ending with Obama as the nominee. Thus the invasion of Iraq had profound effect on an election five years later.

During the 2004 election Lee went to Wisconsin as part of the America Coming Together campaign for the entire month before Election Day. John Kerry was not an inspiring candidate and neither of us was gung ho for the Kerry Edwards ticket, but we knew that four more years of George Bush would be a disaster. Kerry lost, but he won Wisconsin so Lee’s efforts were not for naught.

Gay marriage becoming legal in Massachusetts in May 2004 was distorted in such a fashion that it was portrayed as the end of civilization as we know it. The conservatives resurrected the culture wars and the spittle from salivating over the gay marriage wedge issue strategy was clear on the mouths of conservatives from Rush Limbaugh to Mitt Romney. Not only did this pave the way for states amending their constitutions to enshrine discrimination in documents that historically protect freedom and equality but it ensured a GOTV drive of rabid right wingers that all but assured a second term of Bush, Cheney & Co.

So the inept, incompetent, freedom destroying, fear mongering administration held on to the White House and Mr. Bush was inaugurated for his second term on January 20, 2005. Lee and I listened to the inaugural ceremony on the radio as we drove from San Francisco to Phoenix AZ to visit my sister and my father. Bush’s address commonly titled “There Is No Justice Without Freedom” laid out a vision of American arrogance and of aggressive nation building. Yet only months after this address filled with promises to the world about helping them achieve greatness and building freedom and prosperity, he and his administration failed to keep that promise to the American people. Hurricane Katrina had come to call.

The federal response was an unmitigated disaster. President Bush’s handling of the situation- from “You’re doing a heck of a job Brownie” to his fly over to the days of no response while people perished and suffered in the clear view of America through television coverage was astonishing and grotesque.

The Bush administration tried to rationalize their enormous incompetence by stating that they never expected such a natural disaster to occur. But in the 48 hours before Hurricane Katrina hit, the White House received detailed warnings about the storm’s likely impact, including eerily prescient predictions of breached levees, massive flooding, and major losses of life and property, documents show.

A 41-page assessment by the Department of Homeland Security’s National Infrastructure Simulation and Analysis Center (NISAC), was delivered by e-mail to the White House’s “situation room,” the nerve center where crises are handled, at 1:47 a.m. on Aug. 29, the day the storm hit, according to an e-mail cover sheet accompanying the document.

The NISAC paper warned that a storm of Katrina’s size would “likely lead to severe flooding and/or levee breaching” and specifically noted the potential for levee failures along Lake Pontchartrain. It predicted economic losses in the tens of billions of dollars, including damage to public utilities and industry that would take years to fully repair. Initial response and rescue operations would be hampered by disruption of telecommunications networks and the loss of power to fire, police and emergency workers, it said.

In a second document obtained by The Washington Post, a computer slide presentation by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, prepared for a 9 a.m. meeting on Aug. 27, two days before Katrina made landfall, compared Katrina’s likely impact to that of “Hurricane Pam,” a fictional Category 3 storm used in a series of FEMA disaster-preparedness exercises simulating the effects of a major hurricane striking New Orleans. But Katrina, the report warned, could be worse.

The hurricane’s Category 4 storm surge “could greatly overtop levees and protective systems” and destroy nearly 90 percent of city structures, the FEMA report said. It further predicted “incredible search and rescue needs (60,000-plus)” and the displacement of more than a million residents.

The NISAC analysis accurately predicted the collapse of floodwalls along New Orleans’s Lake Pontchartrain shoreline, an event that the report described as “the greatest concern.” The breach of two canal floodwalls near the lake was the key failure that left much of central New Orleans underwater and accounted for the bulk of Louisiana’s 1,100 Katrina-related deaths.

The documents shed new light on the extent on the administration’s foreknowledge about Katrina’s potential for unleashing epic destruction on New Orleans and other Gulf Coast cities and towns. President Bush, in a televised interview three days after Katrina hit, suggested that the scale of the flooding in New Orleans was unexpected. “I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees. They did anticipate a serious storm,” Bush said in a Sept. 1 interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

The reports echo warnings given around the same time by Max Mayfield, head of the National Hurricane Center, who began sounding the alarm when forecasters first placed Katrina on a collision with the Gulf Coast on the evening of Aug. 26. But the FEMA and NISAC reports provided much more detail and covered a wider range of possible consequences, from damaged ports and oil terminals to spikes in energy prices.

It is striking that the Bush administration became embroiled in the minutiae of the life of a comatose woman- Terry Schiavo in 2005 but couldn’t see it’s way to handling a national disaster. The priorities of the nation’s leadership were upside down.

Not only had the administration made a mess of the world through its lack of attention to Afghanistan leading to a resurgence of the Taliban and waging a war in Iraq that was an unnecessary war- a war of choice for a neo-conservative experiment expending untold amounts of American blood and treasure, but it also failed the American people in New Orleans. Could it get any worse? Unfortunately the answer is yes, it did.

As we learned more about torture and the Bush administrations flagrant disregard for both international law and domestic law, as we learned about the politicization of the Justice Department, as we learned more about the Vice President’s vendetta against Ambassador Joe Wilson and his wife Valerie Plame, it seemed that maybe the United States had come out of the somnambulism it had endured for 6 years.

The public seemed to have had enough of the Republicans and their ineptitude. In 2006 the Democrats took control of Congress and the United States of America had its first woman Speaker of the House, The Honorable Nancy Pelosi. This was a watershed moment for women and for advocates like me. Speaker Pelosi is my representative and I have had the good fortune to work with her incredible staff on healthcare issues- incredibly talented people like Scott Boule, Wendell Primus and Dan Bernal. HIV/AIDS advocates like me had an ally in the Speaker. What a difference!

Of course Iraq continued to dominate much of the political world and the work of Washington and even though we had allies in power, it remained challenging to gain the level of support we needed on many of the domestic issues important to me and my colleagues. There simply wasn’t enough money and there was still an administration that was an impediment to any rational and humane domestic public policy.

I’ve spent a great deal of my reflection of the decade criticizing President Bush. I will give him one piece of praise. His PEPFAR initiative to address HIV/AIDS globally, especially in Africa where the pandemic has caused unimaginable devastation was good policy and was important policy. If only the President had paid as much attention to the domestic epidemic. His domestic policies and his domestic funding challenged those who serve and treat people living with HIV/AIDS in the United States. Abstinence only education topped a list of bad policy.

2007 and 2008 were dominated by the longest most expensive Presidential election in history. If you were a betting man in December 2007 you would have been putting your chips on a Clinton – Giuliani race. We know how that turned out.

In 2008 the Democratic Party narrowed its field to a woman and a black man. Was this possible in the United States? It was. Both candidates were compelling and while the primary was marred by sniping and absurd commercials about 2 AM phone calls, the history of the match up cannot be understated. The history that ensued was amazing; a black candidate from a major national party and then the first black President in the history of the country. No other Western democracy had ever elected an ethnic minority as its leader, this reinforced the sense of an America where anything is possible.

Unfortunately the 2008 campaign brought ugliness to the public square that has not abated since the election. Senator McCain who had suffered at the hands of Bush in 2000 with allegations that had race at their core and who had been seen as a reasonable moderate became an ugly partisan who chose the worst possible running mate. Yes, Sarah Palin made history as the first woman to be on a Republican national ticket, but she was unqualified, she was divisive and she was both clueless and dangerous.

During the final months of the campaign, the Bush administration gave the nation one final gift- a financial meltdown and the Great Recession. McCain’s inability to wrap his head around the financial crisis aided in his defeat, but so did Sarah Palin. The vast majority of this country did not want to listen to her hate filled speech and her stunning lack of knowledge on the issues played into the nation’s wake up call. What sort of judgment did John McCain really have if he chose such an incompetent woman to be his running mate?

But fortunately on a glorious Tuesday in November, President-elect Barack Obama spoke to the nation in front of a huge crowd at Chicago’s Bryant Park. The nation was ebullient. On January 20th, 2009 Barack Obama was inaugurated in front of a crowd of historic size most of whom stood in the bitter cold for hours to see this moment in history. The United States had the first black President of the United States and a president with vision, intelligence and candor.

However in California the joy of the election of Barack Obama was tainted by the passage of Proposition 8. Earlier in 2008 the California Supreme Court had ruled that the ban on same sex marriage in California was unconstitutional and in June the state began to perform same sex marriages. My partner Lee and I married at a lovely ceremony in the historic Board of Supervisors Chamber in San Francisco City Hall officiated by long time friend California State Senator Mark Leno on September 26, 2008 – the date of our 20th anniversary. With the passage of Proposition 8 which amended the state constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman we became one of 18,000 couples same sex couples who were married while it was constitutionally legal to do so and remain one of that small minority. It feels odd and is unfair to our fellow Californians.

President Obama inherited an economy in shambles, two wars and a country deeply divided. But he has been determined to carry out his agenda. He did after all win with a sizable margin and was given a mandate for his policy agenda. He ran as a moderate and is governing as one. He has made healthcare reform his signature for the first year of his presidency.

The conservatives have been in disarray since losing the White House and outnumbered in Congress by a huge margin in both the House and the Senate leading them into a wilderness dominated by the right wing nuttery.We have seen the likes of Glenn Beck, Orly Taitz and the birthers, the coronation of Rush Limbaugh as the party leader, tea baggers and a party that only knows how to say no. While these annoyances have filled the airwaves on cable news during 2009, I won’t give them much of a place in this reflection. I believe fervently that they will all be minor footnotes in history.

I believe that President Obama and the Democrats will lead us to a better economy, a revamped more equitable healthcare system which covers nearly every American, financial reform, immigration reform and a country that will be light years better than the one we had on January 19, 2009. President Obama outlined a nuanced and intelligent foreign policy in his Nobel Lecture when he received the Nobel Peace Prize. In 2009 we have already regained much of the stature and affection we once had in the world and which had been eroded by Bush, Cheney & Co.

In regards to the issues I work on- HIV/AIDS policy and Hepatitis C policy, the President has committed to developing a thoughtful and comprehensive national HIV/AIDS policy and has staffed the Office of National AIDS Policy with an extraordinarily talented team led by a man who I have had the honor to work with on issues for a number of years, Jeffery S. Crowley. The travel ban for people living with HIV coming into the US has been lifted, we have seen the elimination on the ban on the use of federal funds for syringe exchange, and the reduction of abstinence only education funding.

2009 provided Lee and me with a new challenge. In August Lee was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Between my living with AIDS and Hepatitis C and Lee’s cancer diagnosis, healthcare reform protecting people who have preëxisting conditions is vital for our future.

2009 has been a year in which no President or any Congress would wish to govern. The nation lay in tatters thanks to the “stewardship” of the Bush Cheney years. It has been a year where they have had to apply a tourniquet to a country bleeding. I believe in my heart that 2009 has been a year of reviving the patient- our nation.

As we enter a new decade I am seriously considering returning to work- a monumental step for me that both terrifying and exciting. It was at the beginning of the last decade that I concluded working would kill me, now I have some hope. I foresee a decade where we will find our nation beginning to thrive and where the horror of the last decade will be just a memory. No longer will we be a nation manipulated through deception by fear.

I think we are at the time of a new beginning.  I spent New Year’s Eve 1999/2000 with my partner of 11 years and my 1 1/2 year old puppy in front of a crackling fire.  I spent New Year’s Eve 2009/2010 with my partner of 21 years and my 11 1/2 year old dog in front of a crackling fire.  There are some things that remain constant and that make all of the horrors of the decade tolerable; love of friends, family, my dog and my partner top that list. 

Happy New Year!

Posted by: Randy Allgaier | November 30, 2009

World AIDS Day 2009- Think globally and act locally

This year’s theme for World AIDS Day is ‘Universal Access and Human Rights”. It is a cruel irony that the world is focusing on increasing access to treatment while California is considering reducing access due to budget woes. It is a cruel irony that as the world focuses on human rights as a fundamental component of addressing HIV/AIDS, in the United States, where men who have sex with men are still the majority of HIV/AIDS cases, gay men and lesbians are not afforded acknowledgement of our relationships and our families through the fundamental right to marry- a punch in the gut to the idea that t he United Sates is a paragon of human rights, Bush era torture notwithstanding. We must look globally at how to address the HIV/AIDS pandemic but it is incumbent upon us to act locally as well.

Let’s look at access first. In California there are draconian measures being considered in order to “balance the budget” on the backs of those who can least afford it. The California AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) program is on life support and we had better start to advocate that the program be fully funded now rather than after Governor Schwarzenegger releases his budget in mid January or it might be too late. Thanks to Project Inform and WORLD, San Franciscans are stepping up to the plate on World AIDS Day eve with a “Save ADAP” rally at San Francisco City Hall.

While I will advocate vociferously I am not hopeful. ADAP was spared in the last horrific round of budget cuts and I am not sure that our successes will be sustainable. Virtually every program for the poor, the disabled and the most vulnerable in California has been decimated and there are likely to be those who say that there is no such thing as a sacred cow including ADAP.

Unfortunately we are a nation that doesn’t look further than the next month or, at best, the next fiscal year. President Obama’s initiatives are proof of that. The president’s agenda is likely not to reap benefits for a few years down the road, but the American people demand immediate gratification, like spoiled children. His thoughtful, methodical approach to the problems we have and which he inherited could be politically perilous for the midterm election.

California’s destruction of social and health related programs will have dire effects and is cost ineffective in the long term. While I think that all of the cuts that have occurred to social and medical programs are unconscionable it is ADAP I know best. Plus this piece is about World AIDS Day ergo my focus on ADAP rather than other vital programs.

ADAP not only helps to reduce hospitalizations and other expensive healthcare by ensuring that people living with HIV/AIDS can maintain the best possible health, but by reducing the community viral load it is also a prevention intervention and thus the program helps keep down the number of Californians that might rely on ADAP and other programs in the future. That could save millions of dollars- let alone thousands of lives. Unfortunately the state doesn’t see the future beyond the next fiscal crisis and by having such a myopic view it solidifies our ongoing budget woes. We are a short sighted nation.

Second let’s address human rights. To my way of thinking addressing stigma is a significant part of addressing human rights. HIV stigma abounds in the United States. The communities most heavily impacted by HIV in the United States- African Americans- especially African American women, gay men, IV drug users and transgendered people are already stigmatized in this country. HIV/AIDS in the United States walks hand in hand with poverty and Americans are not terribly keen on admitting the level of poverty within our own boarders and being poor is stigmatized as well. HIV just adds to this stigma stew.

In every state where gay marriage has been put in front of the electorate, gay marriage has been defeated. Could prejudice of gays and lesbians be made clearer than this record of defeat? Where there is prejudice there is stigma. Prejudice and the resulting stigma thwart addressing the human rights of people living with HIV/AIDS.

I am not naïve enough to think that addressing gay marriage is the only way to help address the human rights of people living with HIV/AIDS in our nation. We need to address a host of social justice issues. And of course the human rights abuses that people in other parts of the world are profound. We are discussing gay marriage in our country, but in some parts of the world being gay can get one executed. There are also gross abuses of human rights throughout the world regarding women and ethnic minorities.

But I am a gay man with AIDS living in California. Many of us are barely holding our heads above water and too many Americans forget about the epidemic in our own country. In my home state, I am sad to say that California is more focused on low taxes than on saving lives even though it is clear that, thanks to Prop13 our tax base is completely out of whack. Without addressing societal inequities such as gay marriage and without adequate funding from Congress and state legislatures for care, treatment, social services and prevention services, our national epidemic will not abate.

It is a juggling act trying to address HIV/AIDS internationally and domestically, but we do not have a choice. President Obama has taken some important initial steps towards addressing our domestic epidemic by reinvigorating the White House Office of National AIDS Policy and charging that office with the development of the first ever National HIV/AIDS strategy for our nation. While I recognize that President Obama has an enormous amount on his plate and that the righting the wrongs of the Bush years will take an enormous amount of effort, those of us in the HIV/AIDS community must continue to push the president to do more. The president must insist on adequate funding for care, treatment, research and prevention from Congress and he must support the right for gay men and lesbians to marry as one step towards addressing the myriad of social justice issues concomitant with HIV/AIDS.

On this World AIDS Day, the AIDS community is asking President Obama to convene a summit of HIV + leaders in our country. While such a meeting would largely be symbolic, it would nevertheless be a power and eloquent statement for the leader of the free world to meet with a group of openly HIV + people.

We are waging a war on two fronts. There is much work to be done and there is no room for reducing our vigilance. HIV/AIDS is a worldwide problem and it is a national problem. Access to care and treatment and proven forms of prevention is a worldwide problem and it is a national problem. Addressing human rights as part of our fight against HIV/AIDS is a worldwide issue and a national issue.

Posted by: Randy Allgaier | November 26, 2009

Contemplating Thanksgiving 2009

It is Lee’s and my 22nd Thanksgiving together and our 12th with Darwin- I could not imagine more to be thankful for. It may seem hackneyed to the cynical to annually list what we are thankful for and it may seem redundant since, for many of us, that list doesn’t dramatically differ from year to year. Regardless we are obligated to take stock of our blessings because we need to ponder the importance of our good fortune and to contemplate the poverty in our own backyard.

For most Americans Thanksgiving is the quintessential American holiday and  evokes universal images: family, food, prayerful thanks for the blessings we have received throughout the year. Yet, these images of American bounty run counter to a growing reality; some 49 million Americans face food insecurity. Of that number, some 17 million are children, which means that half of all American children will need to use federal food stamps at some point in their lifetime and of that a staggering 90 percent of African American children will rely on foodstamps during their lifetimes.

For most Americans hunger in the developing world – Africa, Asia – is a familiar sight. Today some 13 million Ethiopians in the Horn of Africa rely on food relief, as do approximately 2.8 million people in the Southern African nation of Zimbabwe. While pictures of hunger in Africa are pervasive throughout the United States – and a constant feature in the fundraising appeals of the international charity industry – for most people in the U.S., the idea that 49 million Americans suffer from food insecurity seems unthinkable.

The hard fact that hunger and access to nutritious food is as critical for 1 in 6 Americans as it is for 1 in 4 Zimbabweans certainly diminishes the distance between us all. So, as we look around this Thanksgiving the face of hunger can be our friends, our neighbors, our extended family — here or in Africa — and for some, our own.

In our nation 39.8 million people, 13.2 percent of the total U.S. population, live in poverty and one out of five children in the United States live in poverty. The racial disparities for poverty are striking. Poverty rates for white Americans are 8.6%, for blacks it is nearly 25%, Hispanics 23% and Asians 11%.

One out of three Americans under 65 were without health insurance at some point during 2007 and 2008 according to a study commissioned by the consumer health advocacy group Families USA. It found 86.7 million Americans were uninsured at one point during the past two years.  At any one time, there are approximately 46 million Americans without healthcare coverage leaving millions one illness away from homelessness.

Those of us who have the good fortune to sit down to a good meal today should not feel guilty about it, but we should remember that many Americans do not share that good fortune. Many of us complain about our taxes, our credit card interest rates but we should put that in context.

As a nation we have a shared responsibility to one another. We have a sacred obligation as a civilized people to lift up those in pain and to help those in need. As a wealthy nation we should strive to eliminate poverty and hunger in our nation. We should not have any family or any children living without a roof over their heads every night and we should all have the right to healthcare. We should have an educated nation where illiteracy is eradicated.  If the price of that be higher taxes – so be it.   Part of the gift of being human is the ability to be compassionate and to act on that compassion.

I know I am exceptionally fortunate. I have a comfortable home, I have a partner who I love and adore and who is my best friend, I have a sweet dog who lies by my side no matter what I have done and who is my constant companion. I am blessed with good friends and many people who love me and who I love. I am privileged to advocate on issues I care about and have the honor to be, in a very small way, a part of efforts that help the least fortunate among us.

2009 has had its challenges for us. In addition to my battles with AIDS and Hepatitis C, Lee now is battling with prostate cancer. Like everyone, our finances are tight and we have cut back. But we know that millions of Americans struggle every day to make it to the next often without dignity and little acknowledgement. As we give thanks for our blessings, we should remember our obligations to all those in need and that those obligations do not disappear on the fourth Friday of November or on the 26th of December.

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