Mojo - 2013...nd-your-ground

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for December 18, 2013

Wed Dec. 18, 2013 11:03 AM EST

CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait – Pfc. Adrian Echeverria, indirect fire infantryman, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 67th Armor Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, prepares to load a 120mm mortar round during gunnery qualification at Udairi range near Camp Buehring, Kuwait, Nov. 12, 2013. “It’s hard to describe the feeling when you hang that round,” said Echeverria. “Your entire body shakes. It stops your brain for a quick second then you get back to the way you were trained and get the mission done.”

(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew Porch, 2nd ABCT, 4th Inf. Div.)

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Rand Paul Doubles Down on Support for GOP Senate Candidate Who Rallied With Secessionists

| Tue Dec. 17, 2013 8:48 PM EST

On Monday, Mother Jones profiled North Carolina Senate hopeful Greg Brannon—a Republican primary candidate who believes public education is dehumanizing and Marxist, and who recently cosponsored a rally with a secessionist group, the League of the South, which seeks "a free and independent Southern republic." Brannon feels bipartisan compromises in Washington "enslave" Americans. He prefers the governing style of his "modern hero" Jesse Helms—a North Carolina senator of 30 years best known for refusing, even until the day he died in 2008, to renounce his support for racial segregation.

Sen. Rand Paul, among other big-name conservatives, has endorsed Brannon as the best candidate to challenge vulnerable Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan next fall. And while Paul's office didn't respond to requests for comment for that profile, a photo posted on Paul's Facebook page Monday evening reiterated Paul's support for Brannon and his campaign.

"Greg Brannon is the type of 100% fight to repeal ObamaCare conservative I need in the U.S. Senate," read the caption, under a composite photograph that showed a smiling Paul next to Brannon. "Support his 'Retreat is NOT an Option Money Bomb' by clicking the link below." The caption linked to a page on Brannon's website where supporters could donate to Brannon's ten-day "Money Bomb" campaign. The fundraiser, which ended Monday night, aimed "to fight back against Karl Rove and the DC Insiders who are determined to silence grassroots conservatives," a reference to Rove's work for one of Brannon's primary opponents.

In a recent survey conducted by Public Policy Polling, Brannon was the only Republican who beat Hagan in a head-to-head matchup. When PPP polled Republican primary voters on the four GOP candidates, North Carolina Speaker of the House Thom Tillis ran 9 points ahead of Brannon—but nearly half of those voters said they were undecided.

Elizabeth Warren Introduces Bill to Prevent Employers From Discriminating Against Poor People

| Tue Dec. 17, 2013 1:39 PM EST

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) with White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett.

On Tuesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and six of her colleagues in the Senate introduced a bill that would prevent employers from using credit checks in the hiring process, a practice that disproportionately hurts poor people.

Over the past few decades, credit reporting bureaus have begun selling their services not just to lenders, but to a wide range of employers. Forty-seven percent of employers check applicants' credit history as an indicator of their employability, according to a 2012 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management. But research shows that a person's credit score has nothing to do with her likelihood of succeeding in the workplace. The Equal Employment for All Act—co-sponsored by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.)—would prohibit the judging of applicants by this metric.

"A bad credit rating is far more often the result of unexpected medical costs, unemployment, economic downturns, or other bad breaks than it is a reflection on an individual's character or abilities," Warren said. "Families have not fully recovered from the 2008 financial crisis, and too many Americans are still searching for jobs. This is about basic fairness—let people compete on the merits, not on whether they already have enough money to pay all their bills."

The bill, which is backed by over 40 community, financial reform, labor and civil rights organizations, would be a boon for low-wage workers, minority communities, and women. Credit checks used in the hiring process disproportionately disqualify people of color. Divorce tends to hit women's finances harder than men's, and women are also more likely to receive subprime loans than men.

Chi Chi Wu, a staff lawyer at the National Consumer Law Center in Boston, told the New York Times in May that most of the people who contacted her group complaining that they'd been denied a job because of poor credit were low-wage workers applying to big retail chains. "Someone loses their job," she said, "so they can't pay their bills—and now they can't get a job because they couldn’t pay their bills because they lost a job? It’s this Catch-22 that makes no sense."

There is ample support for the senators' bill. In 2011, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) introduced a similar bill in the House. Nine states have adopted legislation that curbs the use of credit reports to in the hiring process.

Unemployment Benefits Are Ending for 1.3 Million Americans. What's That All About?

| Tue Dec. 17, 2013 7:00 AM EST

On December 28, 1.3 million people will lose their unemployment insurance. That's because Congress failed to add an extension of those benefits into the budget deal that will likely pass the Senate this week. Here is some background:

Who is losing unemployment benefits? The long-term unemployed. After state unemployment benefits run out—usually after 26 weeks—federal emergency unemployment benefits kick in for up to another 47 weeks. Since Congress didn't renew the program, 1.3 million Americans will be kicked off benefits, which average $1,166 per month. By the end of 2014, another 3.6 million will lose their benefits.

Why are they called emergency benefits? In 2008, under President George W. Bush, Congress authorized emergency unemployment compensation to help the jobless cope with the recession, giving workers a total of 59 weeks of unemployment compensation. A year later, President Barack Obama signed a law giving the unemployed 14 more weeks of jobless benefits. At the height of the recession, Americans could get up to 99 weeks of unemployment pay. That number has since dipped to a maximum of 73 weeks. This is the first time since 2008 that Congress hasn't extended the program.

Under another federal program initiated by President Richard Nixon, Americans can still get an extra 13 weeks of benefits if the unemployment rate in their state is high enough. (This threshold varies by state).

The recovery is picking up pace. Is it time to end the program? Many Republicans think so. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said last week that he thinks extending the benefits fosters unemployment. "I do support unemployment benefits for the 26 weeks that they're paid for. If you extend it beyond that, you do a disservice to these workers," Paul told Fox News. "When you allow people to be on unemployment insurance for 99 weeks [sic], you're causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group in our economy."

The long-term unemployment rate—the percentage of those without a job for 27 weeks or longer—remains at record levels, though, in an economy with three job applicants for every job opening. The overall jobless rate has dropped to its lowest in five years, but the long-term unemployment rate is at 37 percent of the total unemployed.

In past recessions, extended unemployment benefits ended when the long-term unemployed represented about 1.3 percent of the workforce. Today, the long-term jobless represent more than 2 percent of the labor force.

What will happen to Americans who lose their benefits? Even though the average monthly unemployment payment isn't nearly enough to support a family of four, the benefits do help people scrape by. When extended unemployment insurance expires, many Americans will fall deeper into poverty. In 2012, jobless benefits helped keep 1.7 million people—including 446,000 children—out of poverty, according to the National Employment Law Project.

Expiring benefits may also result in fewer Americans looking for jobs. Jobless insurance allows people to continue an active job search because it helps them afford presentable clothing and transportation to interviews. And Americans may be less motivated to look for work if they lose their benefits. Matt Yglesias at Slate explains:

[S]ome fairly substantial fraction of the long-term unemployed will just stop looking for a job and drop out of the labor force. If you're long-term unemployed, then almost by definition looking for work has not been very successful at getting you work. What it has gotten you is a UI [unemployment insurance] check. Take away the check, there's no point in bothering.

So why wasn't unemployment insurance included in the budget deal? Republicans say there's no urgent need to extend the $26 billion federal emergency unemployment insurance program because the economy is getting healthier. Democrats, who counter that the long-term unemployed are still struggling, wanted a budget deal more than they wanted the benefits extension.

Could the expiring benefits stall the recovery? Unemployment benefits act as a short-term economic stimulus, because unemployed people spend their benefits checks immediately. If the benefits were to continue, the economy would gain 200,000 jobs, and the GDP would grow by 0.2 percent in 2014, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Is there any way out of this mess? When Congress reconvenes in early January, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will push a retroactive extension of the benefits. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) is urging Democrats to withhold support for the farm bill unless it addresses unemployment insurance.

"The people that are unemployed for a long period of time are Democrats and they are Republicans," Reid said last week. "This is an issue that Republicans, I think, need more than we need it. This is something I think will be extremely difficult for them to turn away from."

But because the spending on unemployment benefits will not be accompanied by a spending reduction, many Republicans are likely to vote against it.

North Carolina Home Schools to Get Public School Money

| Tue Dec. 17, 2013 7:00 AM EST
The Paramount Christian Academy in Thomasville, North Carolina.

In July, the increasingly right-wing legislature in North Carolina passed a bill to divert $10 million from the public school budget to create vouchers that would give low-income students up to $4,200 a year to pay for private school tuition. Such vouchers are a popular conservative proposal for "reforming" failing public schools.

North Carolina's vouchers, which will become available in 2014, allow public money to go to unregulated private schools that are not required to meet any educational or teacher preparation standards. In addition, thanks to the way the law was written, the money will be available to "home schools"—literally schools set up in someone's house. Homeschooling traditionally has been done by parents. But the state recently changed its home schooling law to allow people who aren't parents or legal guardians educate kids in a group setting. The only requirement for such schools is that the teacher have a high school diploma, that the school keep immunization and attendance records on its students, and that it give kids a national standardized test every year.

NC Policy Watch, a project of the nonprofit North Carolina Justice Center, went out and found some interesting "home schools" that may be eligible for taxpayer funding next year. The Paramount Christian Academy has one teacher who teaches her granddaughter, a neighbor's kid, and one special-needs student. It uses textbooks from Bob Jones University and A Beka Book, whose offerings we've chronicled here at Mother Jones.

As Deanna Pan explained last year, such instructional materials teach Bible-based "facts"—such as the existence of the Loch Ness Monster. The materials also suggest that the Ku Klux Klan "tried to be a means of reform, fighting the decline in morality and using the symbol of the cross" and that dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time, for instance. Gay people are singled out for special scorn in one Bob Jones teachers' guide, which says that they "have no more claims to special rights than child molesters or rapists." And math haters—these books are for you. The company writes on its website:

Unlike the 'modern math' theorists, who believe that mathematics is a creation of man and thus arbitrary and relative, A Beka Book teaches that the laws of mathematics are a creation of God and thus absolute…A Beka Book provides attractive, legible, and workable traditional mathematics texts that are not burdened with modern theories such as set theory.

These sorts of materials are now allowed in Louisiana's voucher program as well, but North Carolina seems unique in diverting taxpayer dollars both to schools that teach wacky Christian curricula and to basically anyone who claims to be a "home school." The state only has a single employee dedicated to overseeing its existing 700 private schools, which get visited on average once every three years, according to NC Policy Watch, making the state's ability to regulate home schools highly questionable. That's not the sort of data point that supports the idea that vouchers will help improve school performance of low-income kids, especially when you consider the experience of other states.

In the District of Columbia, the Washington Post found that vouchers were going to unaccredited schools run by the Nation of Islam and one organized around "Suggestopedia," a learning philosophy developed by a Bulgarian psychotherapist that emphasizes stretching and meditation. Not surprisingly, a US Department of Education study found no evidence that vouchers improved students' test scores. In Milwaukee, a city that pioneered the voucher program, voucher students perform far worse than regular public school students in both math and reading, and the voucher schools have been a hotbed of criminal activity. One school founder used his voucher money to buy himself some nicer rides—two new Mercedes Benz cars—while inappropriately cashing thousands of dollars worth of checks written out to families that didn't actually attend the school. Florida voucher schools have been plagued with similar problems of fraud.

But North Carolina seems en route to set a new low for voucher programs by allowing even more dubious "home schools" to receive tax payer funding. That prospect seems to trouble even some of the voucher law's ardent supporters. Rep. John Hardiser (R) told NC Policy Watch, "I think it’s great if these [private] schools are governed the right way. But I don’t think anyone should be able to start a home school, call it a private school and be able to receive Opportunity Scholarships…most of us want these schools to be held accountable."

Scholars Protest Charles Koch's Donation to Catholic University

| Mon Dec. 16, 2013 1:02 PM EST
Charles Koch

Last month, the Charles Koch Foundation pledged to donate $1 million to the new business school at Catholic University of America in DC to contribute to its effort to advance the study of "principled entrepreneurship." Now some of the school's staff and other scholars at other Catholic universities around the country are crying foul. They're asking Catholic University to reject the donation because the Koch foundation and its funder have long pursued a conservative political agenda that's at odds with Catholic social teaching, especially as recently emphasized by the new Pope. In a letter to school's leadership delivered on Monday, they write that accepting the contribution may "send a confusing message to Catholic students and other faithful Catholics that the Koch brothers' anti-government, Tea Party ideology has the blessing of a university sanctioned by Catholic bishops."

Indeed, Catholic University is not just any Catholic school. It was created by US bishops and they sit on its board. Meanwhile, the Charles Koch Foundation is funded by the chairman and CEO of Koch Industries, the oil and gas conglomerate, and one half of the Koch brothers political duo. The Kochs (who aren't Catholic) have spent tens of millions of dollars over the past four decades pushing a free-market agenda that has included opposing the minimum wage and a host of environmental regulations.

Between 2007 and 2011, Koch-related foundations donated more than $30 million to 221 colleges and universities in the US. Charles Koch's donations to academic institutions have been controversial in the past. In 2011, his foundation sparked a minor controversy in Florida when it pledged $1.5 million to fund teaching positions in Florida State University's economics department. The donation enabled the foundation to have a say in hiring decisions for a new program promoting "political economy and free enterprise"; the foundation also wanted the school to start a new class on "Market Ethics: The Vices, Virtues, and Values of Capitalism," in which books by libertarian icon Ayn Rand would have been required reading. 

The academics write that "as Catholic bishops affirm the rights of workers to collectively bargain and organize, the Koch brothers give generously to elected leaders like Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin who strip public employee unions of their rights to bargain." And the they quote a pastoral letter from the bishops that states emphatically that the church "fully supports the rights of workers to form unions and other associations to secure their rights to fair wages and working conditions… No one may deny the right to organize without attacking human dignity itself." (Koch Industries did not respond to a request for comment. We will update the post if they do.)

The scholars also knock the Kochs for fighting the expansion of Medicaid in many states through their advocacy group Americans for Prosperity, another position that puts the brothers at odds with Catholic social teaching. (The church supports the expansion.) To make their case, Catholic University faculty and others who signed on to the letter are invoking "Time Man of the Year" Pope Francis. "While the Koch brothers lobby for sweeping deregulation of industries and markets," they write, "Pope Francis has criticized trickle-down economic theories, and insists on the need for stronger oversight of global financial markets to protect workers from what he calls 'the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal.'"

The letter-signers aren't the only ones who are unhappy about Catholic University's decision to take Koch money. Faithful America, a progressive Christian group, launched a petition last month urging the university to reject the donation. So far, more than 28,000 people have signed it. "The Koch brothers bankroll a political movement that is working to undermine much of what the Catholic social tradition has stood for over the past century," said John Gehring, Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, an advocacy group in Washington. "It's reasonable to ask why a business school at a Catholic university would want to even risk giving the impression that it endorses a libertarian view of economics. The faith in unfettered markets and anti-government zealotry that has become a theology for many on the right is simply incompatible with Catholic identity."

The bishops who sit on Catholic University's board have increasingly moved away from the church's focus on social justice and aligned with more conservative political elements. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has pulled back funding for anti-poverty groups that have been caught working in coalitions that included gay-rights advocates, for instance, and it's cracked down on nuns who supported President Obama's health care reform initiative. Catholic University would never take a donation from Planned Parenthood or a foundation that promoted abortion rights, but it doesn't see a problem with taking Koch money.

The university issued a statement defending the donation and accusing Faith in Public Life, which helped coordinate the letter campaign, of an "unfortunate effort to manufacture controversy and score political points at the expense of The Catholic University of America." The school says the Koch foundation will have no role in hiring or course material, and that "the aim of the Charles Koch Foundation grant—to support research into principled entrepreneurship—is fully consonant with Catholic social teaching." The university says the grant has not inspired any opposition on campus and notes that Koch donations to universities are so widespread and uncontroversial that some of the academic signers of the protest letter seem unaware that their own institutions already take Koch money (including Notre Dame, Villanova, and Holy Cross). To that end, the university declares that it "has no intention of revisiting its decision to accept the grant from the Charles Koch Foundation."

Advertise on MotherJones.com

The Budget Impasse Is Over, But House Republicans Plan More Economic Brinksmanship

| Mon Dec. 16, 2013 11:42 AM EST

So much for a budget détente. Less than a week after he and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) reached a deal on a federal budget for fiscal years 2014 and 2015—a remarkable feat of comity and a marked shift from congress' recent habit of putting off deals to the last possible second—Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is gearing up for the next fiscal stalemate.

In a Sunday television appearance, Ryan stressed that he wants concessions from Democrats in exchange for raising the debt ceiling to prevent the US government from defaulting on its borrowing this spring. "We as a caucus—along with our Senate counterparts—are going to meet and discuss what it is we’re going to want out of the debt limit," Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, said on Fox News. “We don’t want nothing out of this debt limit. We’re going to decide what it is we’re going to accomplish out of this debt-limit fight.”

In recent years, House Republicans have embraced economic brinksmanship as a negotiating tool and begun using once-routine debt-ceiling adjustments to try to advance their cost-cutting agenda. They took the nation to the edge of default in 2011, extracting budget cuts in exchange from Democrats. Another debt-ceiling fight in October of this year shut down the federal government—and sent Republican approval ratings plummeting. Republicans relented before the debt ceiling was actually breached, but the battle did lasting damage to the party and the economy. It seems unlikely that Ryan and his House Republican colleagues would push the nation so close to the brink again, given the political toll past fights have taken.

But his comments are an indicative PR move. Ryan clearly thinks of himself as a future presidential contender. His ability to reach a budget deal boosts his resume, an example he can now cite when questioned about his ability to foster bipartisan deals to accomplish his goals. But it cost Ryan his wonder-boy status among the party's right flank. Ryan's decision to trade sequestration cuts, a mandatory cap on discretionary spending revered by the right, for future savings angered conservatives. Pretty much every major tea party group—Heritage Action, Americans for Prosperity, Freedomworks, etc.—denounced the plan as a sellout to Democrats.

Ryan's colleagues were unusually frank in rebutting those groups last week. "Frankly, I think they're misleading their followers," House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said. "I think they're pushing our members in places they don't want to be. And, frankly, I just think they've lost all credibility." Ryan wasn't quite as outspoken about his differences with the party's conservative wing. "I'd prefer to keep these conversation within our family," he said on Meet the Press this weekend. Republicans, like him, who want to someday run for higher office still need to bow down before the tea party's dogma of obstinacy. Assuring a fight over the debt ceiling could help Ryan return to those groups' good graces.

Should the NFL Lose Its Tax-Exempt Status?

| Mon Dec. 16, 2013 10:47 AM EST

Times are good for the National Football League. Viewership is up. For the 47th year in a row, Harris Interactive named pro football the most popular sport in America. And with overall revenues north of $9 billion, the NFL is the most lucrative sports league on the planet.

That's not enough for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. He wants to nearly triple the league's revenues to $25 billion by 2027—a mind-bogglingly large number. But here's an even more shocking fact: The NFL pays nothing in taxes on all those revenues. Not a nickel. And now the anti-corruption organization Rootstrikers wants to put an end to the NFL's free ride.

Over the weekend, Rootstrikers blasted out an email urging people to sign a petition in support of Sen. Tom Coburn's (R-Okla.) PRO Sports Act, which would ban big sports leagues from receiving tax-exempt status. "You know the NFL as the National Football League," says the Rootstrikers email. "But the IRS knows them better as the Nonprofit Football League—that's because the NFL has not paid any taxes since 1966 and average Americans are left paying higher taxes to make up for that lost revenue. Senator [Tom] Coburn is trying to change that, and we support his endeavor." Coburn's bill would ban pro sports leagues with more than $10 million in revenue from receiving tax-exempt status.

So, you might ask, how did the NFL score such a lucky deal in the first place? It's a classic tale of political influence and lobbying ingenious, as Gregg Easterbrook explains in an excerpt of his book The King of Sports: Football's Impact on America, published in the Atlantic:

The 1961 Sports Broadcasting Act was the first piece of gift-wrapped legislation, granting the leagues legal permission to conduct television-broadcast negotiations in a way that otherwise would have been price collusion. Then, in 1966, Congress enacted Public Law 89‑800, which broadened the limited antitrust exemptions of the 1961 law. Essentially, the 1966 statute said that if the two pro-football leagues of that era merged—they would complete such a merger four years later, forming the current NFL—the new entity could act as a monopoly regarding television rights. Apple or ExxonMobil can only dream of legal permission to function as a monopoly: the 1966 law was effectively a license for NFL owners to print money. Yet this sweetheart deal was offered to the NFL in exchange only for its promise not to schedule games on Friday nights or Saturdays in autumn, when many high schools and colleges play football.

Public Law 89-800 had no name—unlike, say, the catchy USA Patriot Act or the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Congress presumably wanted the bill to be low-profile, given that its effect was to increase NFL owners’ wealth at the expense of average people.

While Public Law 89-800 was being negotiated with congressional leaders, NFL lobbyists tossed in the sort of obscure provision that is the essence of the lobbyist's art. The phrase or professional football leagues was added to Section 501(c)6 of 26 U.S.C., the Internal Revenue Code. Previously, a sentence in Section 501(c)6 had granted not-for-profit status to "business leagues, chambers of commerce, real-estate boards, or boards of trade." Since 1966, the code has read: "business leagues, chambers of commerce, real-estate boards, boards of trade, or professional football leagues."

The insertion of professional football leagues into the definition of not-for-profit organizations was a transparent sellout of public interest. This decision has saved the NFL uncounted millions in tax obligations, which means that ordinary people must pay higher taxes, public spending must decline, or the national debt must increase to make up for the shortfall. Nonprofit status applies to the NFL’s headquarters, which administers the league and its all-important television contracts. Individual teams are for-profit and presumably pay income taxes—though because all except the Green Bay Packers are privately held and do not disclose their finances, it’s impossible to be sure.

Since winning that insanely lucrative add-in, the NFL has spent lavishly to protect it and keep lawmakers happy. The organization has shelled out $12.7 million on lobbying since 1998—more than any other professional sports league—and given $2 million in campaign donations since 1992, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Those calling for the NFL to be stripped of its tax-exempt status point out that its leadership is making Wall Street money. In 2011, the NFL paid its five highest-ranking executives almost $60 million. Goodell alone pocketed $29 million. This largesse comes largely on the backs of taxpayers in cities that have pro football teams. As Easterbrook notes, "Judith Grant Long, a Harvard University professor of urban planning, calculates that league-wide, 70 percent of the capital cost of NFL stadiums has been provided by taxpayers, not NFL owners. Many cities, counties, and states also pay the stadiums’ ongoing costs, by providing power, sewer services, other infrastructure, and stadium improvements." In other words, the NFL isn't just ducking taxes; it's fleecing working people who do pay their taxes.

To be clear, as the NFL points out, much of pro football's billions in revenue ultimately get funneled to the league's 32 teams, which do pay taxes. Yet the league office's 2011 revenues still add up to a staggering $255 million, while the league spent some $332 million that year.

Which brings us back to the Rootstrikers petition in support of Coburn's PRO Sports Act. The bill, which has been stuck in committee since September, could use all the help it can get. So as you settle onto the couch next Sunday for a full day of gridiron action, don't be fooled by the NFL's manly, to-the-victor-go-the-spoils ethos. The league is one of the biggest welfare queens around.

Report: Aggressive Police Tactics Contributing to New Orleans' Staggering HIV/AIDS Rate

| Mon Dec. 16, 2013 9:02 AM EST

A new report from Human Rights Watch finds that Louisiana's AIDS death rate is more than double the national average—and it places a large share of the blame with the New Orleans Police Department. The report, "In Harm's Way," accuses New Orleans police of harassing suspected sex workers so aggressively that they have undermined efforts by public health workers to treat HIV/AIDS patients.

The problem stems from the police force's arbitrary enforcement of the crime of "loitering for prostitution," an offense so vaguely defined, the report says, "that it permits police to consider a wide range of behavior to be grounds for arrest, including where people are, what they are wearing, and what they may have done in the past."

Because of how New Orleans police enforce the loitering statute, Human Rights Watch reports, sex workers have become susceptible to losing access to HIV/AIDS treatment due to arrest and have grown wary of carrying condoms—which police use as evidence of prostitution even when they don't witness the commission of an actual crime.

From the report:

In recent years, state and local health officials have significantly increased the number of people with HIV who are in treatment. Unfortunately, their work is undermined by state and local laws and policies, as well as police practices, that not only fail to reduce the risk of harm but exacerbate a high-risk environment where it is difficult for people to avoid HIV infection and to access life-saving treatment and support…

Sex workers and people suspected by police of engaging in sex work also reported that police use condoms as evidence of prostitution. In stops and searches related to possible prostitution, officers frequently commented on, confiscated, or threatened arrest on the basis of how many condoms someone was carrying. There is no indication that condoms have been used in prosecutions for prostitution; nonetheless, this practice has an alarming consequence for public health.

Sex workers, transgender women and others at high risk of HIV infection told us that they were afraid to carry condoms and that they sometimes had to engage in sex without protection out of fear of police harassment…

In New Orleans, the NO/AIDS Task Force visits every prisoner who tests positive for HIV at the Orleans Parish Prison and arranges a medical appointment upon release. However, their clients are often arrested again before they can make it in to see the doctor; one transgender woman was arrested for prostitution 10 times in three years, and has yet to keep her appointment with the clinic.

Jail inevitably interrupts the ability to take one’s HIV medications on a regular basis. Reports from the Orleans Parish Prison indicated delays ranging from two weeks to three months in commencing or resuming HIV treatment.

Human Rights Watch notes that transgender women in particular, a group at high risk for HIV/AIDS, find themselves "under siege"—"subject to constant harassment, verbal abuse, stops for suspicion of prostitution, and demands for sex in exchange for leniency" by New Orleans cops who suspect they are sex workers.

The report calls for the New Orleans Police Department to stop considering the possession of condoms a reason to question, arrest, or detain suspected sex workers and to improve its enforcement of existing policies that prohibit officers from targeting LGBT people. It also calls for city officials to repeal the loitering for prostitution statute.

On Thursday, a New Orleans police department representative told local media that these complaints of systemic harassment were unfounded, saying, "To date, we have no record of the allegations made in this report."

Along with aggressive police tactics, the report blames Louisiana's high HIV/AIDS rates on the state's criminalizing of syringes as illegal drug paraphernalia. "Syringe access programs and other effective harm reduction measures have made injection drug use the only mode of HIV transmission that has been in consistent decline since the epidemic began in the US," HRW notes. But because the state has criminalized syringes, effectively criminalizes needle exchange programs, "Neither Louisiana nor New Orleans has been able to reduce its rate of HIV infection among injection drug users in the last five years."

LA County Jail Deputies Accused of Trying to Thwart FBI Probe

| Mon Dec. 16, 2013 7:35 AM EST

Reinforcing the Los Angeles County jail system's reputation for brutality and corruption, FBI officials unsealed cases last week that charge 18 current and former deputy sheriffs with misconduct. The charges, from four grand jury indictments and a criminal complaint, were the result of an ongoing FBI investigation spurred by accusations of excessive force in the LA County Sheriff's Department. US Attorney André Birotte Jr. said the cases encompass "a wide scope of illegal conduct," including allegations of civil rights violations against prisoners and visitors, as well as conspiracy to hinder the FBI investigation itself.