June 2010 Archives

AIDS in D.C.

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At the D.C. gay pride festival this past weekend, I heard a lot of anti-Fenty rhetoric regarding the mayor’s supposed lack of attention to the HIV/AIDS crisis. Having been a D.C. resident for only a week or so, I’ll defer to others on Fenty’s performance, though there is some evidence that he has on at least one occasion inappropriately used the issue as a bargaining chip in his battles with the City Council. But Fenty has dealt with some of the most severe failings of the District’s AIDS Office since his term began and called HIV/AIDS one of “most serious problems” facing the city. And he’s right.

At least 3% of D.C. residents have HIV or AIDS, and officials believe that figure significantly underestimates the true number of those affected, as the estimate is based only on those who have been tested. For purposes of comparison, the CDC characterizes a population with a 1% incidence of HIV as experiencing a “generalized and severe” epidemic, and Shannon L. Hader, director of the District’s HIV/AIDS Administration, notes that the District’s HIV rate is “on par with Uganda.” The most recent data shows HIV/AIDS is on the rise throughout the U.S., but the District has the highest AIDS case rate in the country and new AIDS diagnoses are twice as high in D.C. than in New York and five times higher than Detroit.

Smearing Elena Kagan, and a counterfactual

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In a recent blog post and an appearance on -- our favorite. . . FOX News! -- Newt Gingrich has claimed that the New England penal colony we know as Harvard has a double standard on gay rights. His real agenda, though, is to smear Elena Kagan, whose vociferous opposition to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is hardly a secret. The back-story is that Kagan was dean of Harvard law school in 2005, the same year that the University accepted a large gift from Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal to advance cross-cultural understanding. As we all know, the Saudi regime is notoriously repressive towards homosexuals, and sodomy is punishable by death under the law of the land -- which just happens to be Sharia (Islamic law). Gingrich never explicitly questions Kagan’s moral character, but the implication is clear: Harvard (and by Harvard we mean Elena Kagan) has historically lambasted the US military for its discriminatory policies towards gays and lesbians, yet is willing to accept a donation from a country infamous for its persecution of homosexuals. Never mind that 1) it wasn’t Kagan’s decision to accept the gift, 2) she was in a poor position to undercut Harvard’s initiatives as its employee, 3) this happened in 2005 yet Gingrich has waited until now to smear “Harvard," 4) Georgetown University’s 2005 acceptance of a similar gift from Prince Talal is glossed over, and 5) that this tells us nothing whatsoever about the kind of Justice Elena Kagan might be.

Here’s a counterfactual. Suppose Kagan had come out (pun intended) against Harvard’s acceptance of Talal's gift to the detriment of the school's public standing. Do you really think Gingrich would have applauded Kagan for taking the moral high ground? Isn't it more likely he would have suggested  that Kagan’s views on gay issues compromised her ability to be professional, and that this has implications for a career as Justice? Who does Gingrich think he’s fooling here? Newt me.