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Posted: February 14, 2010 12:00 a.m.

This old house

Our house was built in 1973 and was one of the first to occupy our quiet little lane. For years it stood virtually alone on the east side of the street, but today it's part of 25 homes which comprise our snug little enclave.

The original owners lived in the house 15 years before selling to us in March 1988. For 22 years we've called it home.

A lot of water has flowed beneath the bridge since this old house was built. I started teaching in 1973, and my wife and I married that December. Richard Nixon was still the president.

Ronald Reagan occupied the Oval Office, however, when we moved into the house in '88. Our three young children were thrilled to have a big back yard to romp around in, trees to climb, and a quiet street where they could safely learn to ride bicycles.

Those kids now stare vacantly at me from fading pictures on the walls. It's a good day when a rare e-mail or text message lets me know they're OK. But it's all good. They're grown up, on their own, and aren't obliged to check in with the old fat man, right?

For many years I've dreamed and schemed about renovating the place, landscaping the yard, and creating the kitchen of my wife's desires. But things kept getting in the way: music lessons, college tuitions, veterinarian bills, car repairs and so forth.

Now my dreams are tempered by the law of diminishing returns. What's the use in changing everything now, just when it's all cozy and comfortable? There's a little something wondrous about hearing familiar creaks in the flooring, squeaks of various doors, clanks in the pipes as hot water flows from the water heater at one end of the house to the washing machine at the other end, and not having to turn on the lights when padding down the hall for a late night glass of milk.

Just for the sake of planning, though, not long ago I got estimates for updating the house, and for landscaping the grounds to make birds and butterflies and my wife's dog happy.

Doing it right would triple our investment; our monthly note would be daunting. Just maintaining the status quo seems the only way to go. The woodpecker nest over the front porch, the cracks in the driveway's concrete pad, and the interior walls and ceilings in need of cosmetic repairs will just have to wait.

By now you may suspect that I didn't really set out to write about my old house. For two weeks I've researched the status of crucial programs established, expanded and funded by President George W. Bush which actually serve as the foundation for a bold plan to save Africa from itself, and to save the world from HIV/AIDS and malaria. I wanted to tell you of it last week but couldn't assimilate all the data; I dedicated this entire week to consolidating four handwritten pages and five single-spaced typewritten pages of notes into one 800-word essay for your Sunday morning edification.

But I couldn't. It's too overwhelming. I'm dismayed that I can't detail how the President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief - Bush's PEPFAR - which was to provide $48 billion through 2013 to 15 focus nations including Haiti, has been reduced by the Obama administration to 2008 funding levels. I can tell you the Peace Corps operates on 1 percent of the State Department's Foreign Operations budget.

But there's not enough room to report how many African nations the Peace Corps has abandoned, nor why, on Obama's watch; nor to surmise why the government's PEPFAR Web site has not been updated since Obama's inauguration.

I can report that Bush's PEPFAR provided healthcare to a staggering 9.7 million people, not including the two million receiving anti-retroviral treatment for HIV, and prevented infection in 240,000 babies born to HIV-infected mothers.

And I can tell you that President George W. Bush did more for Africa than any American in recorded history, but I don't have room to discuss why the 44th president fired Bush's PEPFAR administrator in order to replace him with one of his own cronies.
So, instead, I told you about my old house, and how my dreams for improving an already good thing will just have to wait.

The danger in maintaining the status quo, however, is that if you're not moving forward, you're actually losing ground. The cracks get larger, the paint peels, and despite the firm foundation, eventual collapse of the whole structure is inevitable.

This old house deserves better than to lie in pieces on the ground. So does the house of PEPFAR, built on a firm foundation by an unsung American hero, President George W. Bush.

Nat Harwell is a long-time resident of Newton County. His columns appear regularly on Sundays.


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