What We've Forgotten About AIDS

Cross-posted at Creative Trouble!

As the world focuses attention this week on the 25th anniversary of the first AIDS diagnoses, there will undoubtedly be a lot made of the fact that, as Nicholas Kristof writes in today's New York Times, "In the early years of AIDS, the virus didn't get attention because the victims were marginalized people: gays, Haitians and hemophiliacs. Then when AIDS did threaten mainstream America, it finally evoked empathy and research dollars."

This typical account of the early years of AIDS is true only to a point. Kristof makes it sound as though the "early populations" (leaving out IV drug users) affected by AIDS were not only distinct from "mainstream America" but that they were tragically overlooked because of their status as "marginalized people." This common reading denies the fact that it was well known early on among scientists and experts that AIDS was already in Africa and was clearly being spread by heterosexual contact in addition to homosexual. Furthermore, it denies the unique way in which AIDS was socially constructed as a gay disease, not just because of a general misunderstanding but because of deliberate efforts by right-wingers to use the disease in a fashion that Simon Watney compared to that of the public spectacle in his essay "The Spectacle of AIDS" to revive Victorian-era conceptions of homosexuals as sick by their very nature.

When we talk about the culture wars in America, the common image is angry people screaming at each other about their beliefs. We rarely think of those wars as having serious casualties. Yet the efforts of leading right-wing culture war figures like Pat Buchanan, William Bennett, Fred Phelps and Jesse Helms to frame AIDS as "nature's revenge against homosexuality" - a perverse illness to match a perverse lifestyle - led to the deaths of many thousands of Americans of AIDS. These people had no reservations about what the government should do to people with AIDS - for since they were all gay to them, their response was basically, "Let the fuckers suffer, die, and burn in hell."

Their actions - helped along by an almost totally silent President Reagan and by other supposedly reasonable and remarkable right-wing luminaries - such as William F. Buckley, who in a 1986 op-ed in the New York Times called for HIV+ gay men to be forcibly branded on the buttocks and talked of a possible need for concentration camps -  exposed the right wing's culture war for exactly what it is: an effort to render dead or silent all those whose actions, identities, values and politics do not conform to traditional hierarchies of power.

There's more...

Brainfingerprinting and Civil Liberties

Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (FMRI) otherwise known, as brain fingerprinting will revolutionize how governments worldwide administer security and criminal justice. The potential repercussions for privacy rights are devastating. In years to come governments as well as corporations will possess the tools to examine an individual's brain waves and attempt to determine if they're lying.

In effect, FMRIs are neural imaging of one's brain waves. The technology allows researchers to map the brain's neurons as they process thoughts, sensations, memories, and motor commands. Since debuting a decade ago, brain fingerprinting has facilitated transparency with the cognitive operations behind behavior such as feeling stimulated by music or recognizing a familiar face in a crowd.

There's more...

SCOTUS And The Clean Water Act

A great deal of attention is being paid to the fact that the Supreme Court is set to hear a case regarding the constitutionality of a ban on some abortions. It's understandable, as it will be the first high-profile test of Bush's new Supreme Court on the question of choice. However, having already resigned myself to the idea that the Roberts court will likely chip away at the right to choose, I think there's another case that will also tell us quite a bit about the direction of the court.

It's long been a tenant of many on the judicial right that the federal government does not legitimately have the authority to regulate the environment. So I'm particularly interested to see how the court will rule on these challenges to the Clean Water Act. In both cases, Carabell v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Rapanos v. U.S., developers (of condominiums and a shopping mall, respectively) are claiming that the Clean Water Act cannot be applied to wetlands that feed tributaries of the "navigable waters" expressly protected by the law. The rightist talking point on this is that the Clean Water Act can't be applied to "every wet spot in the nation." Unsurprisingly, that language comes directly from the Federalist Society. But as Jim Murphy, of the National Wildlife Federation says, the argument is akin to "saying that you cannot cut down a tree, but are free to poison its roots."

As of yesterday, with Roberts and Scalia vigorously mocking the scope of the Clean Water Act, Alito had only asked one question. It fit in with the line of questioning coming from his colleagues on the right, questioning what would constitute a tributary. Now, one probably can't glean too much based on one question. But if Alito's record tells us anything, it's that he's likely to side with the deregulators on this issue.

A sure sign of the importance of Alito and Roberts is that one anti-regulation brief, by the conservative Washington Legal Foundation, pointedly cites appeals court writings by both justices that support a narrow view of the commerce clause.

The brief reminds Alito and the rest of the Court of his 1996 dissent as a 3rd Circuit judge in United States v. Rybar, the so-called machine gun case, that Alito was repeatedly quizzed about at his hearing. Alito argued that Congress did not have authority to ban possession of machine guns, and the foundation hopes he will rule the same way on Clean Water Act coverage.

It's worth noting that Sandra Day O'Connor also skewed slightly right on the Clean Water Act. In 2000, in Friends of the Earth v. Laidlaw Environmental Services she agreed citizens could sue for enforcement of the Clean Water Act. But then in 2001, in SWANN v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers she sided with the majority in an opinion that limited the act. In both cases, Scalia and Thomas lined up against the Clean Water Act. I'm expecting the worst here from Alito and the increasingly rightist Supreme Court. Here's hoping I'm wrong.


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