Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Bain affair cont'd: Dr Carolyn Gomes makes a classic admission of a hidden agenda now being pushed by intimidation and power games

In a current Gleaner report, I just saw the following telling admission from Medical Doctor and social activist Carolyn Gomes:
Dr Carolyn Gomes, executive director of the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities, which is one of the more than 30 lobby groups that sought Bain's removal, is arguing that the protest will be futile, as the university had no option but to relieve Bain from his duties as head of the Caribbean HIV/AIDS Regional Training (CHART) Network . . . .

She said although CHART's mission statement did not specifically say that its head must support the repeal of buggery laws, that was a given, and Bain was aware of this . . . . Gomes said Bain was involved in the crafting of the framework for the Caribbean Regional Strategic Framework on HIV/AIDS which calls specifically for the repeal of the buggery laws.

"It is not out of the blue. This is settled HIV stuff. It is Caribbean policy, it's international policy," stated Gomes.

She said it is selective rubbish from those who argue that because the matter was not clearly stated, Bain did nothing wrong.
In short, we see here a power play behind closed doors, with an admission that the agenda brought to the table by the obviously institutionally dominant side could not be explicitly documented. 

But, it is notorious that questionable agenda items can often be quietly slipped into policy statements developed in contexts that will be more pliable to such agendas through clever manipulation of stakeholder consultations and participative events, backed up by "who pays the piper calls the tune." 

That is why, for decades, there have been concerns on "Front Groups" and "Face Cards" putting an attractive face on policies that might otherwise come under far more serious scrutiny. 

To focus the concern, let us ask a question:
Can Dr Gomes and others show us how the process that generated "the Caribbean Regional Strategic Framework on HIV/AIDS" took active steps to elicit the full range of views of experts and stakeholders, in a way that reliably allowed majority, concurring and dissenting views to be freely expressed, recorded (with rationales given), accurately summarised and reported in the strategy document at draft and final phases? (And, to what extent was this document opened up for public inputs in ways that would reasonably draw the attention and input of all relevant stakeholders?)

Failing a sound and reasonable answer on this from Gomes and co, the Bain expert testimony before the Belize Supreme Court begins to take on the colour of whistle-blowing, and the recent events begin to take on the colour of anti- whistle-blower retaliation.

It is therefore highly noteworthy that the Gleaner report goes on to say:
Efforts to contact Bain have so far been unsuccessful, and persons close to him said they do not believe he had any such understanding.
 Notice, too, Gomes nowhere states Bain's actually acceding to that policy statement that is said to commit the region to removing its buggery laws [as passed by whom, where, when, and enacted into public policy or law precisely where?], which obviously now needs to come under serious public scrutiny.  

Above and beyond any specifics of this case.

For, there is a defined lawmaking and governmental policy-making process in our region -- through elected parliaments and through Cabinets answerable to the parliaments and the public. 

For very good reason, laws in Democratic countries are not made behind closed doors by hidden and unaccountable power elites.

That is, transparent, genuinely participatory and accountable democratic government is now also on the table to be addressed as an implication of the Bain affair.

So, too, we must ask: is this event the surfacing of a power play, a move to push out and get rid of someone who the hidden agenda radical groups now feel they can discard as no longer useful to the next stage of their power game for the future of our region . . . having got a policy statement and backing that opens the way for where they want to go next?

That is a troubling question indeed, and if that sort of tactic is even possibly on the table, then the people, voters, institutions, communities, churches, media reporters, commenters on public affairs and governments across the region will need to very carefully consider existing or prospective agreements or collaboration with ruthless or radical activist groups and their backers.

Coming back on the main topic, we see clearly that, again, Bain's substantial testimony stands unrebutted. Namely, that the driving factors for HIV/AIDS etc and for the high incidence among male homosexuals have very little objectively to do with buggery laws. Instead, the further evidence is, that a focus on objectively warranted -- as opposed to politically correct -- public health measures is what is most strongly indicated by actual evidence.

lest we be distracted, we must again remind ourselves on just what Dr  Bain's actual findings  and recommendations as given under solemn duty on pain of perjury to speak the truth, were (noting that by implication the MAJ -- Bain's peers, acting as a professional body -- finds them to be well founded, or they would have objected on grounds of stated  evidence and analysis) . . . let's clip from my post in response to Dr Bain's dismissal:

As was discussed yesterday [i.e. the previous day] here at KF blog, professor Dr Bain was under pressure from the homosexualist lobby because he pointed out on evidence that changing the buggery law in Belize was unlikely to address root causes for the spreading of HIV/AIDS among especially male homosexuals. 

Instead, in his expert testimony based on thirty years as a pioneer in dealing with the region's HIV/AIDS epidemic
 -- BTW, the testimony is now hosted online by the Gleaner, here (I suggest that all interested parties download and save it immediately, before it "disappears" under pressure from the activists who will likely falsely label it hate speech and bigotry equivalent to racism .  .  .  here is my OCRed copy ) -- 
. . . he counselled:
 . . . a major argument that has been posited by some experts is that the current [buggery] law impedes access to HIV prevention, care and treatment services by men who have sex with other men (MSM), thus jeopardizing their health and threatening premature demise . . . . The threat of illness and premature death from HIV infection has undoubtedly generated fear for persons in the general society and particularly for persons whose sexual choices put them at greater than average risk of acquiring HIV . . . . As a physician and Public Health practitioner, one of my responsibilities is to assess behaviours for their impact on health and wellbeing . . . when something is harmful, such as smoking, overeating, alcohol or drug abuse, and unsafe sexual behavior, it is my duty to discourage it. Together with promoting individual responsibility, it is clear that enviromnents that enable individuals to make and practice safe and healthy choices must be provided at family, community and govermmental levels. 
Another of my responsibilities as a Public Health practitioner is to assess the cost of behaviour, not just to the individual ‘actor’, but also to the community . . . [T]here are instances in which private behaviors result in considerable public cost due to illness, with accompanying loss of productivity and social disruption and the prospect of premature death. The public cost of these private behaviours must be acknowledged and actively reckoned with.  
This report shows that the relative risk of contracting HIV is significantly higher among men who have sex with other men (MSM) in Belize than in the general population. This is also true in several other countries for which data are available, including countries that have repealed the law that criminalizes anal sex and countries where the law still applies . . . .
HIV should not be the only consideration in relation to the matter at hand. Available data from several parts of the world indicate that the relative risk of acquiring and spreading other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and cancers is unacceptably high among MSM when compared with other men and women . . . .  
Factors associated with the high relative risk of STIs [=HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmissible diseases] and cancers in affected persons are interactive and include: (a) choosing a sexual partner whose sexual history is unknown; (b) being part of a sexual network, including having multiple partners and a high rate of changing partners [--> which, unfortunately, is highly typical of especially male homosexuality and is apparently reflected in how, e.g. in Jamaica it seems that 32 percent of the male homosexual community are reportedly HIV-infected and 4.6% of prostitutes]; (c) having unprotected sex; and (d) having a repertoire of sexual behaviours that includes actions that carry a significant risk either of causing physical trauma [= tearing, abrading, cutting etc] or of allowing contact with faecal material [= human solid wastes] — these behaviours include, but are not confined to, penis-anus intercourse. Therefore, even when certain behaviours are done in private, they turn out to have serious deleterious public consequences.
On the strength of this and other supportive argument and evidence, he advised:
All sexually active persons [--> notice, this is across the board] must be urged to take responsibility for private and public behavior change [--> note the implication, that we do have capability to choose what we do, and how we behave as a result] as part of a comprehensive national approach that includes individuals delaying their sexual debut, reducing the number of their intimate sexual partners, getting tested for HIV and other STIs in relation to known risky exposure, learning and practising assertive skills in order to avoid coercive sex, disclosing the presence of an STI to prospective partners, using approved barrier protective devices, avoiding the use of mind-altering drugs -- especially during or in temporal proximity to intimate sexual activity, and eliminating behaviours that carry the highest risk of coming into contact with infections. Successful programmes to stem the tide of HIV infections and other sexually transmissible illnesses must be comprehensive rather than piecemeal. In this approach, public and private health and education authorities ensure that everyone in the nation has accurate information and is supported and enabled to take responsibility for the health and safety of self and others.  
A comprehensive approach calls for honest collaboration rather than confrontation.
Glorified common good sense, backed up by decades of experience and research, counsel and advice that should be unobjectionable to a reasonable and reasonably informed person. 

One wishes that the plea in the last line had been heeded.
So far, these seem to be essentially uncontested facts led out to reasonable analysis and recommendations, implicitly endorsed as such by the Jamaica Medical Association, which would be deeply familiar with the actual situation with HIV/AIDS on the ground in Jamaica as well as the wider region. And indeed, they closely echo statements in the peer reviewed literature cited by Bain in his evidentiary attachments.

And there are onward questions and issues that Bruce Golding highlighted, that the agenda now put on the table by this firing, may well destabilise not only marriage and family but the basis of much of law:
Professor Bain cannot be expected to render an opinion other than his own. His statement can render him unfit to serve as head of CHART only if its charter or mandate includes the removal of legal impediments to MSM. Its mission statement says no such thing. Its purpose is “to strengthen the capacity of national health-care personnel and systems to provide access to quality HIV & AIDS prevention, care, and treatment and support services for all Caribbean people”. Nothing in Professor Bain’s affidavit can be said to compromise his ability or commitment to fulfil that mandate . . . .

While I was in office, subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle pressure was exerted by some foreign governments and agencies to have the buggery provisions removed from our statutes. I rebuffed these efforts because I felt this involved social, cultural and religious considerations on which Jamaica – and Jamaica alone – would have to deliberate.

I am not opposed to the repeal of the buggery provisions in our laws because I don’t think that legislation can, or should, try to regulate sexual practices, except in certain circumstances such as in the protection of children. The State has no business barging into any bedroom to molest homosexuals any more than it would fornicators or adulterers.

Many Jamaicans, including me, are of the view, however, that once those provisions are repealed, the battle cry will be sounded to secure recognition of same-sex unions and eventually same-sex marriages.

The new libertarian view that has captured the mind of even President Obama is that this is an expression of an individual’s right to choose. It is a dangerous view because it completely severs the moral considerations that inform the norms of a society and the value system within which it operates. The entire society may not be faithful to its value system, but it, nonetheless, recognises its legitimacy and frame of reference. Hence, although adultery and multiple sex partners may be common in Jamaica, no lobby has yet been mounted to legalise polygamy.

This new libertarian view of the right to choose is dangerous because once that moral tether is severed, no taboo can then be justified. What, other than moral considerations, would be the basis for retaining the Incest (Punishment) Act and depriving a man and his adult consenting daughter the right to cohabit? Yet the vast majority of Jamaicans would consider that abhorrent. Why? Because it offends our moral values and cultural tradition . . .

Instead of hidden agenda tactics, we need to face some very serious wider issues and address the obvious injustice of a hidden agenda power move based firing of Dr Bain. END

PS: I did some web searching and find a document close enough to Dr Gomes' description, in force under Caricom imprimatur 2008 - 12, and with an endorsement by the Prime Minister of St Kitts, who is also a physician. At the beginning of Chapter 3, on lessons learned, it declares:
 Complex cultural and social factors in the Caribbean that contribute to high risk behaviours limit the effectiveness of HIV prevention approaches. These issues are compounded by laws which, in many countries, constrain HIV programmes from addressing sensitive social issues and result in an environment that is not supportive of disclosing HIV status.  For example, legislation that makes male homosexuality a crime deters the development of programmes in support of MSM.  Similarly, current laws constrain the provision of services to sexually-active girls and boys under the legal age of consent.

The establishment of a supportive environment is imperative for achieving universal access . . . 
This requires several remarks, to draw out what lurks here:

1 --> When I see a document by supposedly responsible persons that speaks of "legislation that makes male homosexuality a crime" when it implies buggery acts which forbid specific insanitary, damaging and demonstrably disease-spreading sex acts such as anal intercourse -- what buggery laws in our region forbid -- rather than patterns of sexual attraction, I have an immediate loss of confidence in the credibility of the document.

2 --> I note, that there are young men in our region who have no inner attraction to other men but submit to buggery in order to get money, which they then often spend on their girlfriends (who then, unbeknownst, find themselves at risk of diseases).  That is, one may do buggery for reasons disparate from being homosexual.

3 --> Likewise, there are men who have strong same sex attractions who out of a conviction that such are wrong, refuse to carry out same sex acts. Some are celibate, others even marry and regularly have normal intercourse with their wives. 

4 --> Linked to this, many thousands across the centuries and today, through spiritual discipline or determined effort, have found that same sex attractions and habits can be materially changed.

5 --> So, as a matter of logic, it is quite evident that a buggery law forbidding anal intercourse -- whatever one may think of such a law on its own merits or otherwise (and such laws and their stringent penalties were primarily developed in response to the persistent problem of willful corruption of boys by predatory homosexuals) -- is patently not equivalent to making male homosexuality a crime.

6 --> I next have a problem with claims about lessons learned in the period 2002 - 6. For, as Dr Bain summarised in his expert testimony, the epidemiological statistics does not fit with this picture. Whether or not buggery provisions are on the books, the same pattern of statistical over-representation of men who carry out sex acts with other men (especially anal intercourse) exists.  

7 --> That is, for reasons obvious from the damaging and insanitary nature of the act, it is a proved disease vector.  Dr Bain is right to point this out, just as he would be right to point out dangers of smoking.

8 --> Likewise, I note a point highlighted by the Jamaica Association of Evangelicals in their May 11th letter to VC Harris:
 "in 2102 UNAIDS reported that the percentage of men who have sex with men who were reached through the National HIV programme in Jamaica was 87%. This compares well with other developing and developed countries for example Germany 69%, Bahamas 79% and Brazil 39%."

"Surely this testifies to the fact that our programmes provide assistance to the MSM community. What then is Professor Bain guilty of?"
9 --> That is, on evidence of Jamaica (which has a buggery provision), it is possible to have world-class reach to male homosexuals. Again, the "lesson learned" does not seem to be backed up by the evidence.

10 --> It is worth noting that there have not been any large numbers of cases of police raiding homes to arrest men found in bed with other men in compromising postures. While there have been arrests and prosecutions for public acts of buggery, that is a matter of lewdness, and much more effort has been exerted against certain notorious entertainers.

11 --> Likewise, there has been no widespread pattern of Medical Doctors such as Bain, or psychologists or pastors reporting such men who commit buggery for prosecution. 

12 --> Indeed, Bain has personally been in the lead of treating and caring for victims of HIV/AIDS, without regard to behaviour and has led an educational effort atCHART that prioritises addressing improper stigmatising and undue discrimination.

13 --> So, on evidence Bain seems to have it, and the "lessons learned"used to rationalise a call to remove such laws, seem to be poorly founded on the actual evidence. 

14 --> So, it is proper to challenge those who make such claims and write them into such documents, what is their actual evidential basis, and how does it overturn what Bain reported tot he Belize Supreme Court?

15 --> Like unto that, it is in order to also ask, what is the evidence that the process that put this declaration into the document met reasonable standards of transparency, groundedness and broad based stakeholder consultation and democratic scrutiny? 

16 --> Where, failing such an answer, the reasonable and prudent conclusion is that this represents a radical power play out of the view of parliaments and public, pushed into policy documents by the back door.

17 --> The next example, on children below the age of consent, underscores the problem.

18 --> Is it to be seriously taken as a signed off, done deal, firing- offense- if- you- dare- differ regional policy that Caricom Governments are committed to removal of age of consent and statutory rape laws, as these are deemed to be obstacles to accessing HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment?

19 --> Patently, not. And with that, the absurdity of what is going on becomes plain.

20 --> There are very good reasons for age of consent and statutory rape provisions in law, and such should only be changed through a very careful, transparent, properly democratic, publicly accountable process.

21 --> Buggery acts may be more controversial today, but it is very reasonable that such also
should only be changed through a very careful, transparent, properly democratic, publicly accountable process.

22 --> In our region, if such a process had been undertaken at any time in the past fifteen or so years, there would have been a major public discussion on the issues and on the merits. 

23 --> There simply has been no such widespread across the board discussion, and in light of wider concerns, such discussion as has happened, has had a very clear and consistent result: the general Caribbean public as a whole are not willing to change the laws on the books as they stand. For much wider reasons grudgingly admitted as "Complex cultural and social factors."

24 --> Until advocates can show solid cause, and on Dr Bain's testimony and other signs they have not, it is evident that the attempt to cite this document in justification of Bain's firing is ill-founded, highly misleading and fallacious.

25 --> Indeed, the document brings into serious question the policy process that has been going on.