The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has acknowledged it has drastically underestimated the number of people becoming infected with AIDS in the United States. The CDC had been reporting 40,000 people get infected each year, but now the agency estimates the figure is 56,000 — a 40 percent increase. CDC officials said the higher infection rates were discovered after using the agency’s new blood-test technology. The Wall Street Journal reports the CDC knew about the increased number of cases since last year but waited to make the announcement until the opening of the international AIDS conference in Mexico. AIDS activists are now calling for increased federal funding for AIDS prevention programs. Since 2002, the CDC’s prevention budget has shrunk by 19 percent when adjusted for inflation.
In Mexico, Margaret Chan, the Director-General of the World Health Organization, described AIDS as the most challenging and probably the most demanding infectious disease humanity has ever had to face.
Margaret Chan: “The epidemic is far from over. Let me repeat, the epidemic is far from over, and we are going to be in this for the long haul. First and foremost, we must do a much better job of prevention. This is the only way to get ahead and ensure an adequate long-term response.”
On Saturday, thousands of people marched through the streets of Mexico City to demand equal rights for gays and lesbians and an end to discrimination against people who are HIV-positive.
Venezuelan gay rights activist Edgar Carrasco: “Homophobia is a societal sickness which impedes development, limits expression and human rights. Such is the hatred for HIV/AIDS that public health policy has been significantly slowed.”
Sixteen Chinese police officers have died after gunmen attacked a police station in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region. The attack comes just four days before the start of the Beijing Olympics. Human rights activists say they fear that the attack will prompt Chinese authorities to severely crack down on members of the ethnic Muslim Uyghur population in Xinjiang province.
The New York Times reports the evidence amassed by FBI investigators against Dr. Bruce Ivins connecting him to the 2001 anthrax attacks is largely circumstantial. Ivins is the Army scientist who killed himself last week after learning that he was likely to be charged in the anthrax letter attack that killed five people.
Meanwhile, the New York Daily News reports that in the immediate aftermath of the 2001 anthrax attacks, White House officials repeatedly pressed FBI Director Robert Mueller to prove it was a second-wave assault by al-Qaeda. A retired FBI official told the paper, “They really wanted to blame somebody in the Middle East.”
The Federal Communications Commission has ruled that cable giant Comcast violated federal policy when it blocked internet traffic for some subscribers. The FCC concluded that Comcast monitored the content of its customers’ internet connections and selectively blocked users of the peer-to-peer program BitTorrent. The commission’s ruling is being viewed as a landmark defense of Net Neutrality.
Senator Barack Obama has dropped his blanket opposition to offshore oil drilling after weeks of criticism from his Republican rival John McCain. Obama said that he would be willing to expand some offshore oil drilling if it meant winning approval for a broader bipartisan energy bill to make the country more energy independent. Obama told the Palm Beach Post: “I don’t want to be so rigid that we can’t get something done.”
Senator John McCain has suggested adopting tactics used in Iraq to combat urban crime here at home. McCain made the comment while he spoke before the National Urban League.
Sen. John McCain: “And some of those tactics, very frankly — you mention the war in Iraq — are somewhat like that we use in the military. You go into neighborhoods, you clamp down, you provide a secure environment for the people that live there, and you make sure that the known criminals are kept under control. And you provide them with a stable environment, and then they cooperate with law enforcement.”
The New York Times reports US hospitals are increasingly deporting seriously injured or ill immigrants who cannot find nursing homes willing to accept them without insurance. The hospitals often conduct the deportations on their own, without assistance from US immigration authorities. Some immigrant rights advocates describe the procedure as a kind of international patient dumping. Dr. Steven Larson of the University of Pennsylvania said, “Repatriation is pretty much a death sentence in some of these cases. I’ve seen patients bundled onto the plane and out of the country, and once that person is out of sight, he’s out of mind.” At least one private company, MexCare, can be hired to handle deportations for hospitals.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Wal-Mart has been warning its managers that an Obama victory in the fall would lead to unionization at Wal-Mart stores. In recent weeks, thousands of Wal-Mart store managers and department heads have been summoned to mandatory meetings discussing the downsides of unionization. The Journal reports the Wal-Mart human resources managers who run the meetings don’t specifically tell attendees how to vote in November’s election but make it clear that voting for Obama would be tantamount to inviting unions in.
In economic news, the nation’s official unemployment rate has risen to a four-year high of 5.7 percent after 51,000 workers lost their jobs in July. So far this year, the US economy has lost over 460,000 jobs. The unemployment rate for teenagers is now just over 20 percent. Meanwhile, General Motors has reported it lost over $15 billion during the second quarter. And another bank has been forced to close. First Priority Bank of Florida is the eighth bank to fail this year.
In legal news, the judge overseeing the criminal cases of some of the Jena Six defendants has been removed from the case. The impartiality of Judge J.P. Mauffray had been questioned, after he described the teenage defendants as “a violent bunch” and “trouble makers.”
An Egyptian judge has convicted in absentia the prominent human rights activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim to two years in prison for “tarnishing Egypt’s reputation.” Ibrahim is a longtime critic of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Ibrahim has lived in self-exile since last year. Ibrahim has also criticized the United States for funneling billions of dollars in foreign aid to Mubarak’s government despite Egypt’s human rights record.
The Nobel Prize-winning Russian writer and dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn has died at the age of eighty-nine. In 1945, Solzhenitsyn was sentenced to eight years in jail for criticizing Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. He later wrote about the prison conditions under Stalin in his famous work The Gulag Archipelago. In 1970, Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Four years later, he was stripped of his Soviet citizenship and forced into exile. After two decades in exile, he returned to Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union, but he was deeply critical of the new Russia.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: “What we have today could in no way be described as a democracy. Today, we have an oligarchy, power limited to a closed circle.”
And finally, Senator Barack Obama was confronted Friday by a group of black activists during a town hall meeting in St. Petersburg, Florida. Three men from the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement raised a banner reading “What about the black community, Obama?” After the activists tried to disrupt the town hall meeting, Obama took a question from one of the men, Diop Olugbala.
Diop Olugbala: “In the face of the numerous attacks that are made against the African community or the black community by the same US government that you aspire to lead — and we’re talking about attacks like the subprime mortgage that you spoke of that wasn’t just a general ambiguous kind of phenomenon, but a phenomenon that targeted the African community and Latino community; attacks like the killing of Sean Bell by the New York Police Department and Javon Dawson right here in St. Petersburg by the St. Pete police; and the Jena Six and Hurricane Katrina, and the list goes on — in the face of all these attacks that are clearly being made on the African community, why is it that you have not had the ability to not one time speak to the interests and even speak on behalf of the oppressed and exploited African community or black community in this country?”
Barack Obama responded by saying he has spoken out about every issue raised.
Barack Obama: “I’ve been talking about predatory lending for the last two years in the United States Senate and worked to pass legislation to prevent it when I was in the state legislature. And I have repeatedly said that many of the predatory loans that were made in the mortgage system did target African American and Latino communities. I’ve said that repeatedly. Number two, Jena Six — I was the first candidate to get out there and say this is wrong, that there’s an injustice that’s been done and we need to change it. That’s number two. When Sean Bell got shot, I put out a statement immediately saying this is a problem.”