Roundtable: Pope Preaches Abstinence for Africans

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Monday's topics include: The Pope stresses abstinence to combat AIDS in Africa; reverse discrimination is the charge over a remedial college class; and health insurance a la carte. Joining the discussion are George Curry, editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service; E.R. Shipp, columnist at the New York Daily News; and Robert George, an editorial writer for the New York Post.

ED GORDON, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon.

On today's roundtable, the pope stresses abstinence in Africa; reverse discrimination charges at an Oregon college, and health insurance from Costco. Joining us in our discussion today, from our New York bureau, E.R. Shipp, columnist at the New York Daily News, and Robert George, editorial writer at the New York Post. And George Curry joins us. He's editor in chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service. He comes to us from Maryland.

All right, folks. Before we get into those topics, I wanted to give you an opportunity to talk about what you just heard, our interview with Dem Chairman Howard Dean. George, you heard what he had to say. What are your thoughts?

Mr. GEORGE CURRY (National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service): That I've heard it all before, and his saying that the Democrats historically have been best for African-Americans is, I think, generally true. But there's a great disenchantment with the party, particularly caving in on these fellow judges. And that's why African-Americans are calling for and will be returned to Gary, Indiana, next March to try to develop some independent force, because they're totally disgusted with the Democratic Party.

Mr. ROBERT GEORGE (New York Post): Well, I thought it was good to hear the white Christian party chairman of the Democrats talk about these issues. What is--the problem I think that Howard Dean has--I mean, it may be--it is, in fact, the case that the basic base--the strong base of the Republican Party is white Christians. However, there's a sense of perception is not always reality, but if you looked at the face of the Republican Party right now, it includes Condoleezza Rice, and it includes, say, Colin Powell; it includes the first Latino attorney general. And in fact, the Republican Party chairman happens to be Jewish. So I think when Dean makes those kind of statements, people start scratching their heads and wondering exactly where he's coming from.

Ms. E.R. SHIPP (New York Daily News): He actually makes a lot of sense when he sits down and talks to people like you, Ed. It's when he's on the stump and may be fired up by his crowd and he takes on the role of lead cheerleader that he doesn't quite seem to think through what he's saying. And I think he ends up helping have the party look a bit silly.

Mr. GEORGE: And even last night, I mean, George was talking about, you know, last week about these judges. I mean, one of the judges--You may not like her because she's really conservative--is Janice Rogers Brown, a black woman from the California Supreme Court. And I mean, again, you have this--the Republicans taking a very public position defending a black woman's merits on being on the appellate court. And, you know, again, it doesn't quite jive with what some of the Democrats are saying.

Mr. CURRY: But that's not all you're looking at. You know, there used to be a time, oh, 30 years ago in the movement, we said we wanted a black face in a high place. Well, that's not enough anymore. I mean, of the people you named, only Colin Powell is fully in support of affirmative action. Condoleezza Rice is inconsistent on it, and most of the other Cabinet members are totally against it. So it's not just a matter of having a black face there. They consider--the CBC and a lot of African-Americans in the Democratic Party--consider most of Bush's appointees hostile to civil rights in the South.

Mr. GEORGE: Yeah. Ironically, though...

GORDON: But, George, I...

Mr. CURRY: ...(Unintelligible) not just because we have a black face.

Mr. GEORGE: Ironically, though, George, you can call the Republican Party hypocrites, and they may be on some level, but the one area where they do believe in affirmative action is in Cabinet appointments and in judicial appointments, and I think that tension--it may be an inconsistency, but that tension is a political problem for the Democrats to overcome.

Mr. CURRY: No, but you're missing the point, Robert.

Mr. GEORGE: No. No, I...

Mr. CURRY: The point is that--Let me finish.

Mr. GEORGE: I ...(unintelligible)

Mr. CURRY: Let me finish. Hold on. No. You interrupted me. Let me make sure you understand. What I'm saying is it's not just a color--you missed the point on the color thing. It's the positions.

Mr. GEORGE: I know what you mean. What I'm saying here is there is a political public relations problem, if you will, for the Democrats to make that point when so much--when Bush has a Cabinet, to use a phrase, that looks like America. Now what's actually happening in terms of the policies may be different, but in terms of what is being put on for Americans of all colors to see is something different.

GORDON: E.R., let me ask you this.

Mr. CURRY: ...(Unintelligible)

GORDON: How much--hang on. Hang on one second, George. E.R., let me ask you this: How much do we have to turn our attention to members of the CBC and others in position of power to make sure that the Democrats follow through with what they're talking about? As I mentioned to you, I talk to many off the record who are, quite frankly, disenfranchised from and disenchanted with the party and do not believe that they are going to have any real say with the bottom line of where this party goes.

Ms. SHIPP: Well, part of the problem, I think, is that they are sort of disgusted with being the minority party, period. And so they're out of power, they're outmaneuvered on many of these parliamentary procedures going on in Congress right now, so I think part of the displeasure has to do with that, not just the fact that blacks don't think that they have a strong enough voice within the Democratic Party itself.

What they have to do, though, is to focus on certain policies and I think Dean was right when he said that the Democrats need to take a stronger position in defining what moral values include, because if you have black Americans, many of whom are Christian, thinking that you cannot be a good Christian and a good Democrat at the same time because the Democrats support certain policies--gay rights or certain other policies--that they cannot be Christian and Democrat, then the party is in trouble.

Mr. GEORGE: And in the meantime, the Republican Party is going out actively recruiting black conservative ministers. There's a gentleman, Harry Jackson, down in Maryland. I mean, these are people who are expanding their power, and I don't--Democrats can't just ignore that.

GORDON: All right.

Mr. CURRY: They can't ignore it, but the problem is larger. The problem is you don't know what the Democrats stand for. Whether you agree or not, the Republicans have a very clear agenda. They're willing to keep people disciplined. If you get out of line, they will punish you. Democrats, many times...

Ms. SHIPP: The Democrats have never been disciplined.

Mr. CURRY: don't know what they stand for and the perception, whether it's real or not, is that, you know, they come--they'll take up any cause that come along and don't really have a central base, core values that they're ready to fight for, and that's part of their problem.

Mr. GEORGE: And the other thing, from a tactical...

GORDON: All right.

Mr. GEORGE: I will say this.

GORDON: Real quick, Robert.

Mr. GEORGE: From a tactical point of view is, you know, the Democrats are playing checkers, and Republicans play chess.

GORDON: OK. Let's move to something that is interesting in the sense that some will see this as, quite frankly, a bit naive from the Catholic Church. We see that Pope Benedict has urged African bishops on Friday to keep up the fight against AIDS and that is by teaching that abstinence is the only fail-safe way to prevent the spread of the virus. And while that clearly is true and is the case, some see this as a naive view, particularly when you see that it is a pandemic that is washing its way throughout that continent.

Ms. SHIPP: Yeah. I think it's not enough to say `Just say no.' The problem already exists. A good proportion of the people around the world with AIDS are in sub-Saharan Africa. Even local people have decided that condoms are an effective tool to prevent the further spread of AIDS. The Catholic Church is consistent, I must say. The pope is not only fighting for abstinence in Africa, he's also fighting against fertility rights in Italy, and Italians are voting on that, I believe, this week. So he is consistent, but I think he's out of step with what the world health program and others have decided is the better course.

Mr. GEORGE: That's true. Unfortunately--I won't say unfortunately--the pope is going to follow doctrine. He's not going to say, `Well, you know, condoms are bad, you know, except in the case of Africa.' And in terms of the moral teaching, it says that, you know, any kind of--anything that prevents, you know, pregnancy...

Ms. SHIPP: Procreation.

Mr. GEORGE: ...procreation and so forth artificially, goes against the church teaching. Now the thing is, how you somehow manage to marry, to use a phrase, that particular moral message with the message, the other educational messages that secular organizations are pushing, they, in a sense, have to work together.

Mr. CURRY: Well, you know, sub-Saharan Africa counts for about 60 percent of the people infected with AIDS, I think around 40 million, and they're saying 80 people may die from AIDS by the year 2025. And so this is a serious problem. So the question becomes, just as Roman Catholics here in the United States ignore--largely ignore the pope's edicts on birth control, how much Africa will do the same thing. I mean, yeah, this should be no surprise coming from the pope. I mean, this is very, very consistent but the question is a matter of safety and danger, and how much people will decide on their own that we need to use condoms as a safeguard.

GORDON: As we look at Africa, we also see a great deal of applause and a couple of `it's about times,' if you will, coming from the G8 and the nations there forgiving much of the debt, quite frankly, to many of the countries there on that continent, 18 of--or 14 of the 18 coming from that continent. Some will see this as a real step in trying to get Africa and those poor countries on their feet, E.R. Shipp.

Ms. SHIPP: Well, the two issues are not disconnected, in a way. Because of AIDS, among other things, you have countries' economies are just ravaged. So this forgiveness of some of the debt, not all of the debt, but some of the debt, will supposedly free up money for health care, education, infrastructure and the like. The test is to see whether the money can be redirected in that regard. But the United States and others should not pat themselves on the back too soon. There's still a long way to go, and there are many people saying that there still needs to be a doubling of aid to those African nations, and that there also needs to be a freeing up of trade policy.

Mr. GEORGE: I certainly agree on the latter part in terms of the trade policy. Part of the problem that we've had in the past, though, Ed, it's not the problem of aid per se. It's the fact that once the aid gets there, the government structures don't get it to the places that actually need it. You know, many--not--by no means not all, but in many, many of these countries, you still have dysfunctional governments if not outright tyrannical governments that have, in a sense, you know, taken the aid and, you know, lined the pockets of it. And unless there's a continue oversight from the Western powers that are giving this aid, you're just going to, in a sense, be throwing good money after bad. I'm not saying that this debt package isn't--this debt relief package isn't a bad idea, but there really has to be some oversight so we just don't keep repeating the same mistakes of the past.

GORDON: Hey, George, take the big picture...

Mr. CURRY: That's part of the problem. The other part of it...

GORDON: George, hang one second.

Mr. CURRY: Sure.

GORDON: Just one second, to pick up on your point, but I just want you to also take a big-picture look at what was just suggested there, and that is the idea that E.R. talks about, the impact. When we look at 80 million Africans who may die, it's predicted, by the year 2025, what Robert suggests, that this debt relief package does not stop, necessarily, all of the ills and the problems and the problems with corruption in government. So when you look at those two things, what else has to happen here, George, to really get this continent on its feet, running and competitive?

Mr. CURRY: Well, I mean, we just really had to have some--a lot of private investment as well. I mean, the government thinks it's important and I disagree with Robert in terms of it wasn't just--I mean, I don't think he said that, but they really do need more aid because we give such a small percentage of it, and of course you have to improve efficiency. But the real key, and there are about 200 companies in the US that actually have formed an organization--in fact, I'm meeting with them in the next two weeks in Baltimore--saying this is a great place to invest. They're saying that, you know, the return in Africa's better than anywhere else in the world, so I think the key in addition to the government's support, that is badly needed, is going to be private, individual corporations that partner with people in Africa to really bring it back to the kind of economic strength that it needs.

Mr. GEORGE: I agree with that.

GORDON: All right. Let me quickly get to, with only about a minute for each of you, the idea that Costco, the wholesaler, is announcing now that it's adding health insurance to what you can buy at its warehouse. This will start out as a pilot program in Southern California. Costco will offer families and individuals coverages to their customers who pay $100 a year for the, quote, "executive membership."

Ms. SHIPP: Well, it shows how...

GORDON: We know how problematic this is. Is this a good idea, E.R.?

Ms. SHIPP: Well, it shows how desperate we are to find alternatives to health care. I pay my own health-care insurance every month. It's over $500 a month, so I can understand that people may be looking to go to a Costco or anywhere else. Costco is promising that, in its pilot program, anyway, those people who qualify can save anywhere from 5 percent to 20 percent off of what they would normally be paying for individual health-care packages. So it's worth an experiment, anyway.

Mr. GEORGE: I think it's a great idea. I mean, I think one of the--I mean, one of the big problems, obviously, whether you're looking at government health insurance programs or even many of these big companies, is, A, you know, getting access to everybody and also, you know, controlling costs and so forth. I think it's good when you have a company like this, in the sense, becoming a third force. It's a pilot program right now, but hopefully it'll--we'll see more experimentation down this road.

Mr. CURRY: I think it's extremely creative. I think it's a wonderful idea, but I am worried about people with existing conditions that may not get the coverage, and that's why we really do need universal health care.

GORDON: And so to a great degree, one should not worry. I mean, you know, there's a wink and a nod and a little laugh when you first hear about Costco, but one should not worry necessarily where it comes from as long as the coverage in an of itself is equal to what you would be able to buy elsewhere.

Mr. CURRY: We need some new ideas. We need something creative and this is creative. It's different and I think it's good. But again, I don't think it solves all of the problem because we still have people who won't be able coverage and I'm concerned about them as well.

Mr. GEORGE: Which why, again, we look for different kinds of alternatives. Not every alternative will be a silver bullet, but if it at least, you know, shrinks the number of those without health care at all, that's a good thing.

GORDON: All right. E.R. Shipp, columnist for the New York Daily News, Robert George, editorial writer at the New York Post and George Curry, editor in chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service. We thank you all for joining us today.

Ms. SHIPP: Thank you, Ed.

Mr. CURRY: Thank you.

Mr. GEORGE: Thank you.

GORDON: Coming up, a conversation with comedian Mike Epps.

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