Political MoJo

The Shocking New Numbers on HIV in America

| Tue Dec. 8, 2015 6:00 AM EST

On the surface, the news about HIV in the United States sounds good. According to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the diagnosis rate dropped 19 percent from 2005 to 2014—a dramatic decline. Among heterosexuals, new HIV diagnoses fell by 35 percent; among people who inject drugs, 63 percent; among women, 40 percent. And the CDC estimates that 87 percent of people with HIV know their status, representing a modest gain in testing and awareness.

Yet the trend toward steady diagnosis rates masks large disparities among men who have sex with men (MSM), who account for 67 percent of HIV-positive Americans. For black men in this group, already disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS, diagnoses rose 22 percent; for Latino men, they've increased almost a quarter, an increase likely attributable to more infections, not better testing, the CDC told The Verge.

The steepest increases in HIV diagnoses have occurred among black and Latino gay youth between the ages of 13 and 24: 5,540 teens received the diagnosis in 2014, a rise of 87 percent since 2005.

Diagnosis stats tell only part of the story: More than two-thirds of transmissions come from people who know that they are HIV positive but are not receiving care. Just 39 percent of people with HIV are being treated for it; only 30 percent have a reduced viral load.

"Hundreds of thousands of people with diagnosed HIV infection are not receiving care. These people account for most new HIV transmissions in the United States."

Last Tuesday, CDC director Thomas Frieden published an essay with Jonathan Mermin, the government's HIV/AIDS prevention chief, warning that the United States may still lose the fight against AIDS. "Hundreds of thousands of people with diagnosed HIV infection are not receiving care," they wrote. "These people account for most new HIV transmissions in the United States."

In July, the government released a list of targets for 2020 to measure progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS. They included reducing new diagnoses by at least 25 percent, boosting the percentage of HIV-positive people receiving medical care to 90 percent, and increasing the percentage with suppressed viral loads to 80 percent.

The techniques to fight those battles exist. One promising preventative therapy involves treating uninfected but at-risk people with a combination of anti-HIV drugs known as Truvada. And in May, the CDC halted a study on the effects of early treatment because its benefits were so obvious.

But just because the drugs exist doesn't mean that people can access them. Last year, CDC researchers highlighted how difficult it can be for some minority communities to receive health care and supportive services for HIV, and they called for better outreach from state and local health departments, community-based organizations, and individual health care providers.

"Faster progress depends on our collective ability to take full advantage of these tools in every community and every region of the country," wrote the CDC researchers in the latest report. "We need to boldly address stigma, discrimination, and other social, economic, and structural issues that increase vulnerability to HIV and come between people and the care they need."

This story has been updated.

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Trump Calls for Banning Muslims From Entering the Country

| Mon Dec. 7, 2015 5:24 PM EST

Republican front-runner Donald Trump is calling for the "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States," according to a statement his campaign sent to reporters on Monday.

Trump cites a poll finding that "25% of those polled agreed that violence against Americans here in the United States is justified as a part of the global jihad." That poll, a survey of 600 Muslims, came from the Center for Security Policy (CSP), a Washington-based think tank run by former Ronald Reagan official Frank Gaffney (who once said that CIA Director David Petraeus was a slave to Islamic Shariah law). Shortly after it was published, the integrity of the poll was debunked by the Huffington Post, which critiqued its loaded questions and exaggerated conclusions.

Trump, who has recently supported the profiling and tracking of Muslim citizens, doubled down in his statement on Monday.

"Without looking at the various polling data, it is obvious to anybody the hatred is beyond comprehension," Trump wrote. "Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in Jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life."

According to Corey Lewandowski, Trump's campaign manager, the ban would apply to everyone, including tourists.

Shortly after issuing the release, Trump tweeted that the United States must be "vigilant" about the "extraordinary influx of hatred and danger" entering the country.

Hugo Chávez's Party Just Lost a Huge Election in Venezuela. What Happens Next?

| Mon Dec. 7, 2015 3:55 PM EST
Outside a Caracas polling station on Sunday

For the first time since Hugo Chávez and his socialist revolution took power in the late 1990s, the Venezuelan opposition scored a huge electoral victory Sunday. Early this morning, the national election board announced that the opposition coalition, known as the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD in Spanish), took home at least 99 seats in the 167-member National Assembly, with 22 seats still up for grabs.

As I wrote Friday, the vote was largely seen as a referendum on President Nicolás Maduro and the larger leftist movement known as chavismo. According to the Associated Press, a chastened Maduro blamed the loss on "the economic war" waged by the private sector but also told his supporters "to recognize in peace these results and reevaluate many political aspects of the revolution."

Those remaining 22 seats are crucial to what happens next. Should the opposition get to 112 seats—as MUD leader Henrique Capriles Radonski claimed it has—it would have a supermajority in the National Assembly. Last week I spoke with David Smilde, a Tulane University sociologist and a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), who explained how the extent of an opposition victory would affect what it does moving forward:

  • "If they just have a simple majority [84 seats], they'll be able to control the congress and control the agenda, and there will be conflict with the government. They say they're going to prioritize, for example, a bill for amnesty for the people they identify as political prisoners."
  • "If they get a three-fifths majority [101 seats], well then they can actually do no-confidence votes on the ministers and the vice president, and that would give them significantly more power. If you do two no-confidence votes, the person has to resign."
  • "If they get two-thirds, then they have even more power. They can call for a [presidential] recall referendum themselves, without a petition drive, which is the hard part."

(For more, including how a supermajority could affect Venezuela's Supreme Court, check out this roundup from WOLA's Geoff Ramsey.)

As Smilde told NPR's Morning Edition on Monday, "It's very likely that they would push for a recall referendum in 2016. And if they were able to get that recall referendum or to go to a vote, it's very likely that Maduro would be voted out as president."

This post has been updated.

Donald Trump, Here Are a Few Muslim American Sports Stars You May Have Heard Of

| Mon Dec. 7, 2015 3:05 PM EST

After President Barack Obama's address to the nation on Sunday night, GOP front-runner Donald Trump criticized Obama for calling Muslim Americans "our sports heroes."

Given his history, Trump should have known better. Muhammad Ali, Shaquille O'Neal, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Bernard Hopkins are a few athletes who should come to mind when discussing Muslim American sports heroes. On several occasions in the past, Trump pointed to his friendship with boxing legend Ali.

#TBT With my friend Muhammad Ali

Posted by Donald J. Trump on Thursday, May 7, 2015

He even received an award from Ali in 2007.

Trump is also chums with boxer Mike Tyson, another Muslim American athlete. In fact, the two were so friendly that Trump even tried to help Tyson avoid prison after the boxer was convicted of rape.

During his time in prison, which ended in March of 1995, Tyson converted to Islam. Trump's friendship with the boxer predated his conversion. But even later, when Tyson was defeated by Evander Holyfield in 1996, Trump claimed that he and Tyson were friends.

What If Getting a Gun Were as Hard as Getting an Abortion?

| Fri Dec. 4, 2015 1:03 PM EST

After multiple shootings across the country in the past week, including a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, that killed 14 people, a Missouri state lawmaker decided to take a provocative approach toward gun control. State Rep. Stacey Newman, a Democrat, prefiled a bill this week for the next legislative session that, if passed, would subject potential gun buyers to the same rigmarole of restrictions—a 72-hour waiting period, an explanatory video, a doctor meeting, a facility tour, reviews of photographs, and more—that are already imposed on or have been proposed for Missouri women seeking abortions.

From the bill, HB 1397:

Prior to any firearm purchase in this state, a prospective firearm purchaser shall, at least seventy-two hours prior to the initial request to purchase a firearm from a licensed firearm dealer located at least one hundred twenty miles from such purchaser’s legal residence, confer and discuss with a licensed physician the indicators and contraindicators and risk factors, including any physical, psychological, or situational factors, that may arise with the proposed firearm purchase. Such physician shall then evaluate the prospective firearm purchaser for such indicators and contraindicators and risk factors and determine if such firearm purchase would increase such purchaser’s risk of experiencing an adverse physical, emotional, or other health reaction.

The bill also requires gun purchasers to watch a 30-minute video about firearm injuries, to tour an emergency trauma center at an urban hospital on a weekend night, when rates of gun-shot victims are high, and to meet with two families who have experienced gun violence and two local faith leaders who have officiated a funeral recently for a child killed by gun violence.

This symbolic bill is reminiscent of the trend that cropped up several years ago, when legislators across the country filed tongue-in-cheek measures proposing restrictions on vasectomies corresponding to state abortion restrictions. None of those measures passed, and Newman's bill is also virtually guaranteed to fail in Missouri's Republican-controlled legislature. Newman's intent is to highlight the high hurdles to getting an abortion in Missouri relative to the lack of accountability required for buying a gun.

"If we truly insist that Missouri cares about 'all life', then we must take immediate steps to address our major cities rising rates of gun violence,'" Newman told St. Louis magazine. "Popular proposals among voters, including universal background checks and restricting weapons from abuser and convicted felons, are consistently ignored each session. Since restrictive policies regarding a constitutionally protected medical procedure are the GOP’s legislative priority each year, it makes sense that their same restrictions apply to those who may commit gun violence."

Breaking: Female Suspect in San Bernardino Shooting Reportedly Pledged Allegiance to ISIS

| Fri Dec. 4, 2015 11:30 AM EST

The female suspect accused by the police of carrying out Wednesday's deadly rampage in San Bernardino, California, swore her allegiance to the leader of ISIS in a Facebook post that has since been deleted, according to several news outlets, including the New York Times and NBC. The post was reportedly written the same day of the shooting.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, federal government officials say Tashfeen Malik, the 27-year-old wife of suspected gunman Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, used an alias Facebook account to write a post in support of the terrorist group.

It's unclear at this time if ISIS militants actually ordered the couple to carry out the shooting. Multiple motives are still being investigated by the police and the FBI, including a possible workplace-related grievance.

On Wednesday, Malik and Farook opened fire inside the Inland Regional Center, a social services agency, killing 14 people and injuring 21, prompting a massive manhunt and an eventual shoot-out with the police that killed the assailants.

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The Senate Just Voted to Defund Planned Parenthood

| Thu Dec. 3, 2015 6:12 PM EST
Pete Marovich/ZUMAPress

Less than a week after three people were killed and nine others injured at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, the Senate on Thursday came one step closer to blocking all federal funding to the nation's largest women's health care organization.

The move is part of the GOP's latest attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Following the series of widely debunked videos showing Planned Parenthood staff talk about fetal tissue donation, Congress included language to defund the organization in their bill to repeal President Barack Obama's signature health law.

Earlier this week, centrist Republican Sens. Mark Kirk (Ill.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), and Susan Collins (Maine) introduced an amendment to remove the Planned Parenthood defunding provision from the bill. But that amendment was blocked today in a 48-52 vote. Obama has said he will veto the bill if it gets to his desk.

"While politicians are right back at it attacking women's health, our thoughts and prayers are with the victims who were killed or injured last week," said Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a statement before the vote. "We're focused on providing high-quality, compassionate health care to people all across this country, and we won't be deterred by violence, smear campaigns, or cynical political attacks like this."

Though Congress' argument to strip funding from Planned Parenthood centers on the organization's abortion services, federal funding is already prohibited from paying for abortions. Instead funding goes toward pregnancy prevention, STI testing and treatment, pap smears, and breast exams. Planned Parenthood provides services to 2.7 million people each year.

These Maps Show Where Rents Are Going Up and Incomes Are Going Down

| Thu Dec. 3, 2015 4:39 PM EST

Today, the Census Bureau released its latest update to the American Community Survey, publishing a trove of recent data on everything from education levels to economic indicators for the United States' 3,142 counties. The new numbers offer evidence of the lasting effects of the Great Recession and the ongoing financial stagnation faced by most Americans: In counties across the country, poverty rates are up and incomes are down, while rents are rising and home ownership is dropping.

Poverty: When compared with the five years between 2005 to 2009, 1,052 counties saw an increase in poverty rates between 2010 and 2014. Just 136 counties experienced drops in poverty rates. What's more, 113 counties, mostly in the South, had poverty rates of 30 percent or higher.

American Community Survey

Income: Counties around New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC, have some of the highest real median household incomes. Still, 961 counties saw drops in real median household income during the past five years.

American Community Survey

Rent: Since 2005, real median rents have increased in nearly 23 percent of counties. Six percent of all counties, mostly in the South, West, and Northeast, saw median rents of more than $1,000 per month.

American Community Survey

Home Ownership: Following the housing crisis, 931 counties saw drops in the rate of owner-occupied homes.

American Community Survey

Education: One bright spot—roughly 32 percent of counties now have more adults with bachelor's degrees.

American Community Survey

This is Possibly the Trumpiest Trump Campaign Photo of All Trump Time

| Thu Dec. 3, 2015 1:12 PM EST

The scene: A Trump rally held at the Prince William County Fair Ground, in Manassas, Va., on Wednesday.

The moment: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, autographing a supporter's chest following a speech. This might be the Trumpiest campaign photo of all time, caught by the lens of Corbis/AP photographer, Cliff Owen. Mother Jones is trying to work out whether other photos exist of candidates signing supporters' chests from previous campaigns, or if this is unprecedented Trumpiness. If any are out there, please leave links in the comments section.

Cliff Owen/AP


Coal Baron Don Blankenship Convicted of Conspiring to Commit Mine Safety Violations

| Thu Dec. 3, 2015 12:31 PM EST

Don Blankenship, the former CEO of coal giant Massey Energy, was found guilty of conspiring to commit mine safety violations on Thursday in federal court in Charleston, West Virginia. However, Blankenship was found not guilty of making false statements to federal regulators in the aftermath of the 2010 explosion at a Massey-owned mine in West Virginia. Blankenship faces up to one year in prison on the conspiracy charge, a misdemeanor, and his attorney Bill Taylor told reporters he will appeal.

The irony of the Blankenship trial was that while the Upper Big Branch disaster—the deadliest in an American mine in 40 years—seemed to hover in the background of the prosecutors' arguments, it was his paperwork after the accident, not his mine's safety record before it, that posed the biggest threat to his freedom. As I reported in October:

What threatens to put the 65-year-old away for decades are two allegedly false statements Massey submitted in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission: "We do not condone any violation of MSHA regulations," and "we strive to be in compliance with all regulations at all times," Blankenship informed investors, even as his company was allegedly outflanking the regulatory system. It's the mining equivalent of busting Al Capone for tax evasion.

"I have all the respect in hell that at least somebody was able to say, 'Wait a minute, that isn't right,'" says Bruce Stanley, who represented Caperton in his suit against Massey. "But he's up for what, a possible 30-year sentence? Well, there's only one count that puts that kind of mileage on it. That's the one that says he lied to Wall Street. When it comes to human lives, he gets maybe a year."

Read MoJo's in-depth profile of Blankenship's rise and fall here.

This article has been updated.