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The Epidemic Continues

Sunday, Dec. 1, marked World AIDS Day. Organizations across America and around the world remembered those who have fallen victim to the disease, and they’ve stepped up efforts to increase AIDS awareness. But the epidemic continues to grow globally, and there is evidence to suggest that the prevalence of HIV and AIDS in the Capital Region is as strong as ever.

According to the New York State Department of Health, the City of Albany has a higher HIV/AIDS rate than any urban area in the state, excluding four of the five boroughs of New York City. Local organizations such as Housing Works and the AIDS Council of Northeastern New York report that there is no decline in the number of people seeking their services. Kathy Callan of the AIDS Council said that there are waiting lists for services in almost all of the 15 counties her organization serves in northeastern New York.

Despite campaigns to educate the public, misperceptions about the disease remain. Holding fast is the general public’s belief that AIDS is a disease afflicting only gay men and injection-drug users. However, a recent report shows that for the first time in the history of the disease, an equal number of men and women are infected with HIV. Exploding epidemics in developing nations, where women have no access to condoms or information about AIDS, are largely responsible for the recent closing of the worldwide gender gap. But statistics show that changing trends are having a leveling effect in the United States as well.

According to the most recent counts, women account for about 30 percent of AIDS cases in New York state, up from 10 percent since 1985. Heterosexual contact, in which women are at a much higher risk than men of contracting HIV, is the fastest growing cause of infection in America. According to the New York State Department of Health, heterosexual transmission of AIDS now outpaces homosexual transmission for the first time in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and the lower- and mid-Hudson regions—though both methods of transmission lag behind transmission through IV drug use.

Straight men who think they are not at risk should be aware that more than 7 percent of men who contracted HIV in 1999 did so through heterosexual sex, up from .2 percent in 1986.

—Paul Hamill

An Independent Voice

On Nov. 21, Stephen Leon, editor and publisher of Metroland, received special recognition from the New York state Civil Liberties Union at an award ceremony at the Albany Institute of History & Art. Leon was recognized for his dedication to informing residents in the Capital Region of threats posed against their civil liberties post-Sept. 11.

Heidi Siegfried, interim executive director for the Capital Region chapter of NYCLU, said that her organization was impressed with Metroland’s news coverage after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. She said that as editor of Metroland, Leon showed his dedication to the civil liberties by running a number of stories critical of Bush administration policies on war, homeland security, the detaining of Arab-Americans and other threats to civil rights, policies most mainstream media outlets covered much more favorably.

“While corporate media outlets have taken the path of least resistance and skirted these topics, Metroland has dealt with them head-on,” said NYCLU spokeswoman Christian Smith-Socaris.

“What good is a First Amendment right if it is not being covered by the press?” asked Siegfried.

Also recognized at the event was Assemblyman Jeff Aurby (D-L-Queens), who received the Ned Pattison Award for his tireless work toward repealing the Rockefeller Drug Laws. The Carol S. Knox award went to Kathryn Kase, former president of the New York State Association for Criminal Defense, for her leadership in the state’s criminal defense community.

—Nancy Guerin

Regarding Henry

Maybe he was counting on the tryptophan.

In a surprisingly understated press conference last Wednesday (Nov. 27), President George W. Bush announced that controversial former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger—whom many regard as criminally liable for his participation as an advisor in the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in 1975, the overthrow of Chilean President Allende in 1973 and the secret bombing of Cambodia and Laos beginning in 1969—had been selected to head the independent commission created to investigate the Sept. 11 attacks. Earlier in the week, President Bush’s signing into law of the Homeland Security Bill was trumpeted proudly by the administration; however, by timing the announcement of Kissinger’s selection such that newspaper coverage would run on Thanksgiving—a day when few are diligently scouring the papers—it seemed the administration was crossing its fingers and hoping to scoot Kissinger through quietly.

Nevertheless, by the end of the weekend, the op-eds were flying.

In The New York Times, Maureen Dowd sneered, “Who better to ferret out government duplicity and manipulation than the man who engineered secret wars, secret bombings, secret wiretaps and secret coups, and still ended up as a Pillar of the Establishment and Nobel Peace Prize Winner?” In the Washington Post, for which Kissinger has written many editorials on American foreign policy, Howard Kurtz somewhat more mildly observed, “One of the main goals is to reassure a country shaken by the worst terrorist attack in history. Why, then, would the president pick someone who used to be one of the most divisive figures in public life?” (As a more fitting nominee, Kurtz suggested Rudy Giuliani.)

Aside from wire-service reports and syndicated columns, local media have expressed no strong opinion on the matter—which is not to say that there has been no local reaction.

An informal poll on WAMC’s morning program The Round Table found that more than 70 percent of callers objected to Kissinger’s appointment; and Mark Dunlea, chairman of the New York State Green Party, “harshly criticized” the choice in a press release, calling it “reprehensible.”

“It seemed a slap in the face to both the families that lost relatives on Sept. 11 and to the American people—and, to a certain extent, to the rest of the world,” said Dunlea in a phone interview. “It’s a very strong indication of the absolute fear that the present administration has about what would be found if somebody was actually able to investigate what did happen—and why it happened—on Sept. 11.”

Kissinger does have his champions: The Wall Street Journal said, “. . . we find it preposterous to suggest that he’d sell out his country,” and columnist (and former speechwriter for President Richard M. Nixon) William Safire wrote, affectionately, “. . . Bush chose Kissinger because the old operator can see through the secret obfuscations he mastered long ago.”

Dunlea, however, takes no comfort in the “it takes a thief” rationalization: “This is a guy who is clearly willing to lie, clearly willing to break the law, and seems a master of damage control,” he said. “There is nothing in his background that, to me, would indicate a willingness or an ability to reveal the truth to the American public—and it’s very clear that Bush does not want the American public to find out the truth about Sept. 11.”

—John Rodat

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