Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Real news returns in this morning's New York Times

I don't remember if this was stated in the long post that was lost yesterday morning, or if it's in the quick post that went up instead, but I was of the belief that we might have to wait until Saturday to get real news in the New York Times. I was wrong. There's a great deal to read in this morning's paper.

For starters, there's Andrew Jacobs's front page article "Gays Debate Radical Steps to Curb Unsafe Sex." Jacobs details a new development:

After all the thousands of AIDS deaths and all the years of "Safe Sex Is Hot Sex" prevention messages, it has come down to this: many gay men who know the rules of engagement in the age of AIDS are not using condoms. As news of a potentially virulent strain of H.I.V. settles in, gay activists and AIDS prevention workers say they are dismayed and angry that the 25-year-old battle against the disease might have to begin all over again.
While many are calling for a renewed commitment to prevention efforts and free condoms, some veterans of the war on AIDS are advocating an entirely new approach to the spread of unsafe sex, much of which is fueled by a surge in methamphetamine abuse. They want to track down those who knowingly engage in risky behavior and try to stop them before they can infect others.
It is a radical idea, born of desperation, that has been gaining ground in recent months as a growing number of gay men become infected despite warnings about unsafe sex.
Although gay advocates and health care workers are just beginning to talk about how this might be done, it could involve showing up at places where impromptu sex parties happen and confronting the participants. Or it might mean infiltrating Web sites that promote gay hookups and thwarting liaisons involving crystal meth.
Other ideas include collaborating with health officials in tracking down the partners of those newly infected with H.I.V. At the very least, these advocates say, gay men must start taking responsibility for their own, before a resurgent epidemic draws government officials who could use even more aggressive tactics.

I'm inclined to agree with the dissenting voices offered at the end of the piece:

Still, others remain wary of such measures. Walt Odets, a clinical psychologist and the author of "In the Shadow of the Epidemic: Being HIV-Negative in the Age of AIDS," said he thought such intervention smacked of a witch hunt.
He and others said it would be more effective to try to identify the underlying causes of drug abuse and self-destructive behavior, including the difficulty of living in a society that rejects committed gay relationships while condemning homosexuals for having sex outside those relationships. Gay men, he said, are using methamphetamine as an antidepressant.
Many health experts suggest a more vigorous return to conventional H.I.V. prevention. Isaac Weisfuse, the city's deputy commissioner of health, said his agency was planning to place information banners on gay Web sites and devote more money to hard-hitting ads about methamphetamine use.

I don't think Jacobs is being an "alarmist" (trying to note that after a similar question this weekend). Nor do I think it's alarmist to note his story. If the article rings alarms, Jacobs' emphasis may focus on some dismaying developments, but that's probably because today that is the news story. Hopefully, having noted this, future stories can explore it. But I don't think -- and I could be wrong, and often am -- that Jacobs is being an alarmist. I think he's reporting a new development, a scary one.

And noting a move towards ideas that were rejected in the eighties. But these days, there's apparently no limit to what we won't embrace in order to feel "safe."

Speaking of the Bully Boy, he's busy again. Carl Hulse writes about it in "Bush Renominates as Judges 7 Whom Democrats Blocked."

For those new to the story (or anyone needing a refresher), check out "Judicial Disappointments" by Nan Aaron from Feb. 17, 2004's In These Times. From Aaron's article:

With a stalled economy and ongoing attacks against U.S. troops, judicial appointments seemingly lack the immediacy and scope to register among Americans' concerns this election season.
But relegating the president’s power to make lifetime appointments to the lower tiers of political consideration sets dangerous precedent -- and could impact the rights of ordinary citizens for decades to come.
Federal judges play a critical role on such issues as civil rights, reproductive rights, and environmental and consumer protections. And as the recess appointment of Charles W. Pickering Sr. most recently demonstrated, President Bush is bent on packing the federal courts with ideological extremists who have shown a willingness to rewrite statues, distort precedent, and misrepresent facts to justify positions against many of our treasured rights and protections.

From Hulse's article in this morning's Times:

President Bush on Monday formally renominated seven federal appeals court candidates who were blocked by Senate Democrats in his first term, and that sets the stage for a test of the strength of the expanded Republican majority.
In a batch of nominations, Mr. Bush also sent back without comment the names of five other choices for federal appeals courts whose nominations were slowed by Democratic resistance over their backgrounds and records.
. . .
Dr. Frist called the candidates excellent choices. He is threatening to force a change in Senate rules should Democrats continue to block votes on the nominations.
. . .
Mr. Reid said the Senate had made clear its position on the seven nominees.
"We should not divert attention from other pressing issues facing this nation to redebate the merits of nominees already found too extreme by this chamber," he said.

In more frightening news (though equally non-surprising), "Bush Renews Call to Extend Patriot Act." Eric Lichtblau's article deals with exactly what the headline implies. From the article:

President Bush on Monday urged the nation to stay the course in its "urgent mission" to fight terrorism, and he called on Congress to move quickly to extend sweeping law enforcement powers under the USA Patriot Act.
"We must not allow the passage of time or the illusion of safety to weaken our resolve in this new war," Mr. Bush said in a speech at the Justice Department. "To protect the American people, Congress must promptly renew all provisions of the Patriot Act this year."
. . .
A number of measures in the act that expand the government's ability to conduct secret surveillance and use other law enforcement powers will expire at the end of the year unless Congress extends them. Many Democrats and some Republicans have voiced skepticism or outright opposition to an extension, and some lawmakers have offered competing proposals that would restrict the ability of federal agents to demand records from libraries and use other powers granted by the act.

Yes, a number of Republicans are opposed -- elected officials and party members. Among them is Bob Barr. You can read his statement on the Patriot Act at the ACLU web site: "Testimony of Former Congressman Bob Barr Submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee Concerning the USA Patriot Act, the Safe Act, and Related Matters" [Though worth reading, that's offered primarily to refute the myth -- most often put forth by Mary Matlin in 2003 and 2004, often on the Today Show -- that only Democrats are opposed to or concerned with the Patriot Act.]

I would also recommend this from the ACLU "Answers to Written Questions Posed to Professor Nadine Strossen, President of the ACLU, Following Her Testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on November 18, 2003: "America After 9/11: Freedom Preserved or Freedom Lost?" "

We'll note Chip Pitts of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee (this is from last week):

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) yesterday introduced threebills that wouldamend the USA Patriot Act. The proposals would limitso-called "sneakand peek" searches (S.316); restrict government accessto library,bookseller and other records (S. 317); and modify theauthority tointercept computer communications (S. 318). See:http://www.fas.org/irp/congress/2005_cr/s316-318.htmlI'd like some community feedback (to be quoted on the site or not) on the national i.d. card proposal.

If you're not up on this topic but would like to be, the ACLU's "House Measure Erodes Immigrants' Rights is another good starting point.
I'd also recommend that you visit the Bill of Rights Defense Committee's web site.

As the Bully Boy and company attempt to recycle questionable judicial nominees and overturning the sunset provisions of the hideous Patriot Act, it may appear there's nothing else to worry about. Certainly the problems in Iraq remain in denial. But shouldn't the administration be worried less about stripping away our rights and more about the fact that our overpriced defense system isn't working? How much money did we waste on this? From David Stout's (New York Times) "Rocket Failed to Launch in Test Run:"

The nation's fledgling missile defense system suffered its third straight test failure when an interceptor rocket failed to launch Sunday night from its base on an island, leaving the target rocket to splash into the Pacific Ocean, the Pentagon said Monday.
. . .
The latest problem with the multibillion-dollar missile system comes at an awkward time, as Congress begins to consider a Defense Department budget of $419.3 billion for the 2006 fiscal year, as well as a supplemental budget of more than $80 billion for this fiscal year, most of which would cover the costs of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
. . .
The Missile Defense Agency has now conducted 10 tests, scoring five early hits in what critics of the agency called scripted conditions. Six missiles are already in place in Alaska and 2 in California, with 10 more to be installed in Alaska this year, Mr. Lehner said.
Some members of Congress have called the missile program a waste of money and ineffective. But some support it, arguing that it is better to field even a limited system sooner rather than later, especially with North Korea's formidable missile arsenal and its embrace of nuclear weaponry.

[Note: This post has been corrected to fix the links to the Bill of Rights Defense Committee. The links should work now.]