The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour
ROBERT MacNEIL: Good evening. Here are the top news headlines today. Moscow threatened to deploy anti-satellite weapons in space. The Farm Credit Administration, the biggest farm lender, said it needs financial help. South Africa's currency, the rand, fell sharply. Delta Airlines is suing the FAA for negligence in the Dallas crash that killed 135 people. More details of these stories in a moment. Jim Lehrer is away tonight; Judy Woodruff is in Washington. Judy?
JUDY WOODRUFF: We focus most of the NewsHour tonight on AIDS, the disease that is fast becoming this country's number-one health concern. A leading AIDS researcher will separate fact from fiction over just how contagious the disease is and how it spreads. Next, a debate on whether AIDS victims should be isolated from society and on whether civil liberties are being violated by an AIDS blood test. And, finally, a documentary report on the farm credit crunch, and the prospects for a multi-billion-dollar bailout by taxpayers.News Summary
MacNEIL: Moscow said today it will feel free to deploy anti-satellite weapons in space if the U.S. goes ahead with the planned test of an anti-satellite rocket. President Reagan authorized such a test last month, saying it was needed to match Soviet development of similar weapons. The Pentagon said today the Air Force would go ahead with the test later this month. Two years ago, then-Soviet leader Yuri Andropov announced a unilateral moratorium on the testing and deployment of anti-satellite weapons. Today the Soviet news agency Tass said that if the U.S. held tests, Moscow would consider itself free of the unilateral commitment. Tass said the United States' decision was "An action leading directly to the start of a new class of dangerous armaments -- strike space weapons." Judy?
WOODRUFF: Officials of the nation's largest farm lending system say that it will collapse unless it gets a huge infusion of federal money. In a dramatic turnaround from his statements over the past few months, Donald Wilkinson, the head of the Farm Credit Administration, told the Wall Street Journal the system can no longer absorb its losses and is in immediate need of a federal bailout. The system has out some $74 billion in loans, $11 billion of which are said to be uncollectable. At a news conference today, Agriculture Secretary John Block said that he was not surprised by Wilkinson's comments, but gave no hint of what, if anything, the Reagan administration is prepared to do.
JOHN BLOCK, Secretary of Agriculture: We don't have the options all laid out, and we're certainly not prepared to lay them out for the public at this point in time. And, frankly, I don't even think the Farm Credit System has all the options laid out. So right now we're monitoring it on a daily basis. We watch with interest andwe listen to and talk to the governor of the system, but it is vitally important any system that provides more than a third of the credit to American agriculture, $70-some billion, it's vitally important that that system not only survive -- because survival, of course, is important -- but I want farmers to survive, too, and farmers can't survive with 16 interest. They need to have competitive interest rates.
WOODRUFF: Secretary Block said the farm credit crisis has been discussed at three or four Cabinet meetings, but indicated it's too early to know what action may be taken.
House Speaker Tip O'Neill said today that President Reagan "doesn't give a damn about trade problems," that O'Neill said are costing the nation thousands of jobs. Speaking at a swearing-in for a newly-elected congressman from Texas, O'Neill blasted several of Mr. Reagan's policies and said popular support for him isn't what it seems.
Rep. THOMAS P. O'NEILL, (D) Massachusetts, Speaker of the House: He's high on the polls. He's still high on the polls personally, as a fellow that they like him for his leadership ability. But I am seeing a sentiment there that I haven't seen before, an anti-Reagan policy sentiment is developing across America, from big business who are fighting the tax bill, who don't like his tax equalization bill, to the trade bills that they see out there. And to express the views of many people as far as trade is concerned, I keep hearing the fact that America is losing 3,500 jobs a day. And after the incident of his refusing to go along with the commission on shoes, they're saying the President doesn't give a damn.
MacNEIL: School reopened for millions of children across the country, but not in parts of six states where teachers were on strike: Illinois, Rhode Island, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Washington. The largest number of children affected, 430,000, was in Chicago, where late today the teachers tentatively agreed to a settlement on their dispute over wages.
Delta Airlines disclosed today that it is accusing air traffic controllers of negligence in a crash that took 135 lives. The Delta Lockheed 1011 crashed on August 2nd while approaching Dallas-Ft. Worth airport during a severe thunderstorm. In the suit, filed in federal court in Dallas, Delta said the controllers were responsible and the Federal Aviation Administration should pay part of any damages that might be assessed against the airline. In another suit, the family of one of the victims says the Delta crew slowed the aircraft down too much to maintain control. Conceivably, Delta is now blaming that on the air controllers, but the court papers do not say that specifically.
WOODRUFF: The Food and Drug Administration today made it possible for the tranquilizer Valium to be marketed at a cheaper price and under its generic name, diazepam. The FDA gave three companies the right to market Valium, ending a 22-year monopoly by the Hoffman-LaRoche Corporation, whose patent on the drug expired earlier this year. At a news conference today to announce the move, Health and Human Services Secretary Margaret Heckler said this means that nine of the 10 top-selling drugs in the U.S. are now available in generic versions.
In California today, Rita Lavelle, the former head of the Reagan administration's Environmental Protection Agency Toxic Waste Superfund, was freed from the federal prison at Pleasanton. Ms. Lavelle called her six-month sentence for lying to Congress "an awful experience." She also claimed she was innocent and declared that she would try to prove that.
RITA LAVELLE, former EPA official: At this point in my life I'm forced to admit that if certain politicians want to destroy and discredit you, they can and will use any means, and seemingly can achieve any end. In spite of all that's happened, I'm still a loyal American, a proud patriot; however, love carries with it responsibilities to point out wrongs and weaknesses, to make corrections, to ensure that our republic is the best possible democracy. My attorneys, the Bierbauers, have filed an appeal with the Supreme Court. The appeal raises a number of important questions, not only for Rita Lavelle, but also for all American citizens.
MacNEIL: South Africa's currency came under new pressure today. The rand fell 11 against the U.S. dollar, but recovered after intervention by the central bank. In New York the bank's governor, Gehrard de Kock, said South Africa might have to pledge its gold reserves to meet the debt crisis. He told a press conference that the crisis was caused by just two or three U.S. banks refusing to renew maturing loans. To meet the situation South Africa has frozen debt repayment for four months until it can reschedule the debts. In South Africa there was further rioting overnight and again today. Three people were killed and at least 40 wounded.
WOODRUFF: At least 14 people were killed and 46 wounded today when a car bomb exploded in a Christian community in eastern Lebanon. The blast came in Zahle, the only major Syrian center in the Christian-controlled Bekaa Valley, and officials said they did not know who was responsible. And, in Beirut, fighting between Shiite and Palestinian soldiers around a refugee camp left five people dead, including two Shiite children.
In Egypt tonight, a surprise cabinet resignation. Prime Minister Kamal Hassan Ali resigned without giving a reason. President Hosni Mubarak named Dr. Ali Lotfi as his replacement and asked him to form a new cabinet. Lotfi was Egypt' finance minister under the late President Anwar Sadat. One of the major problems facing the Mubarak government is Egypt's huge foreign debt, now in the $25-billion range.
MacNEIL: That concludes our news summary. Coming up, a major focus section on fear of AIDS. Should victims be isolated? Should people known to have AIDS exposure be tracked? Then, a documentary update: the mounting crisis in the agency most farmers borrow from, the Farm Credit Administration. Coping With AIDS
WOODRUFF: We devote the major part of our program tonight to a look at the mounting public concern over AIDS, a disease that has already afflicted just under 13,000 people and claimed 6,481 lives. With no cure, treatment or preventive vaccine in sight, some citizens are taking drastic steps to protect themselves against infection. Correspondent June Cross has this background report.
JUNE CROSS: All most people know about AIDS is that it kills and now, as the disease spreads, the fear of catching it is spreading even faster. Here in New York City, which accounts for one-third of all AIDS cases, healthy citizens are beginning to react angrily to the idea of having AIDS patients living in their midst.
NEW YORKER: These people try and tell me it's not contagious, and I know it's different or else why would a nurse or a doctor put a mask on when they go into their rooms to take care of them?
CROSS [voice-over]: This man didn't like the news that the city plans to place 10 AIDS patients in the nursing home where he lives, and he was not the only one upset. The residents in this Queens, New York Community successfully blocked the city's action.
WALTER WARD, New York City Councilman: These people, they are sick people, and they belong in city hospitals. They don't belong in a home for the elderly.
CROSS: It's not just adult AIDS patients who are raising concerns. Parents are worried that their children might contract the disease from playmates who have it. Last week, a school board in the Queens area of New York said it would prohibit children with AIDS from attending school. The mayor of New York, conceding that schoolchildren could pose a risk, on Friday announced a new city policy.
Mayor ED KOCH, (D) New York [August 30, 1985]: Before a child with AIDS would be permitted to enter the regular classroom, that child will be examined to determine whether that is appropriate for the child, whether that's appropriate for the child's classmates.
CROSS [voice-over]: Fear of the disease and a desire to isolate its victims is not just a New York City phenomenon. Seventh-grader Ryan White of Kokomo, Indiana, is a hemophiliac. Last December he got the AIDS diagnosis. Now he has to attend school from the other side of a telephone.
TEACHER: Ryan, do you find that in your book?
RYAN WHITE: Yeah.
CROSS [voice-over]: His family is suing the local school system to get him back in the classroom. That case is still pending.
AIDS patients are not only being kept out of the classrooms; they're being fired from their jobs. Gar Traynor used to work as a flight attendant with United Air Lines. A San Francisco resident, he was diagnosed as having AIDS two years ago.
GAR TRAYNOR, former United steward: A week after my diagnosis. I informed United, and if I was going to be taking chemotherapy for the cancer it may involve some schedule conflicts. That was fine, there was no problem until six months later I was called into the office at eight o'clock in the morning by one of the supervisors and told, effective immediately, that I was on a medical leave of absence. And this was their choice, not mine.
CROSS [voice-over]: In a letter to Traynor, United officials stated, "The exact method of transmission is in fact not only controversial but at this point in time conjectural. Since the bulk of the duties as a flight attendant involve food and beverage handling, it was felt that in the interests of United's flying public that you not perform those duties as a flight attendant." Traynor filed suit, and the matter was solved through arbitration. He was reinstated with $24,000 in back pay, but in the meantime his deteriorating health has kept him from resuming his work. Whether the patient is an innocent schoolboy or a homosexual man, the AIDS diagnosis is a kind of scarlet letter that shuts them off from human company. Robert, 32, is an arts professional in Seattle, Washington, who was diagnosed with the disease seven months ago.
"ROBERT": When you get AIDS you're already in a weakened condition, you know? I mean, your entire system is weakened, and to have this -- I mean, I hate to use the term, sort of witch hunt kind of attitude on it, it's so inhumane I can't believe it.
CROSS [voice-over]: Anti-AIDS fervor in Washington State has grown so strong that one group in Tacoma is calling for all AIDS patients to be quarantined.
Dr. MATT NEWMAN, Anti-AIDS Citizens Group: We're not talking about discriminating against gays. We are talking about discriminating against someone with an infectious disease. We discriminated against lepers. There is a leprosorium in Carville, Louisiana. Until they are no longer shedding microbacterium lepri, they are there.
CROSS [voice-over]: The Christian fellowship group that Dr. Newman belongs to not only wants to isolate victims but to publish their names in the newspaper.
ELLEN FLEMING, Anti-AIDS Citizens Group: And I don't care whether he's homosexual or heterosexual or whatever he is --
CROSS: As soon as he's diagnosed?
Ms. FLEMING: Yes. This should be made public knowledge.
"ROBERT": Yeah, that's really charming. You know, that was one of the things that I realized when I heard the diagnosis was the -- I would not have wanted to have the job of telling people what was going on with me taken away from me.
CLAUDE LINDSEY, Anti-AIDS Citizens Group: It's akin to, say, some dog having rabies, okay. This is something that we can die from. This is not anything that you can go to the doctor and you can be cured for it. If it was, you know, then we wouldn't have this problem. But, see, what we have to have is these individuals that have AIDS, okay, they're going to have to face the fact that it's like they're carrying around a gun.
CROSS [voice-over]: AIDS patients like Robert are increasingly feeling quarantined, even without any formal laws dictating it. To protect those like him, the city of Los Angeles last month passed the nation's first ordinance aimed at prohibiting discrimination against AIDS sufferers. But, given growing public opinion against them, AIDS patients doubt they'll stop being victims any time soon.
WOODRUFF: Here now to tell us just what is known about how AIDS is spread is Mathilde Krim, a leading AIDS researcher and head of the AIDS Medical Foundation. Dr. Krim, we know AIDS is contagious. Just how is it spread?
MATHILDE KRIM: AIDS is contagious strictly through the transmission of a virus, which passes from one person to another during sexual intercourse or with contaminated blood. It is not contagious at all through casual interaction with people in normal social conditions such as living in a household with a patient or meeting patients on the bus or on the working place or in school.
WOODRUFF: But now, what about these reports that we've seen recently that the AIDS virus has been found in teardrops and in saliva?
Dr. KRIM: Yes, the AIDS virus has been found in such body fluids, but it is not transmitted through them. The only body fluids that have been found capable of transmitting the AIDS virus have been blood and semen so far.
WOODRUFF: So you can absolutely rule out any other form of contact or contagion other than the blood or sexual contact, is that right?
Dr. KRIM: People like me in research or in medicine base their opinions on facts. The facts we know are those I mentioned. We don't know of any other facts. So for the time being I can say categorically that AIDS is not transmitted through casual contact or through other body fluids, but sexual secretions or blood.
WOODRUFF: All right, let me ask you this. We hear over and over that it's homosexuals who are at the highest risk, and yet we've also read that in Africa men and women have AIDS, apparently in almost equal numbers. Can you shed light on that?
Dr. KRIM: Well, this is a very puzzling situation in this country and in Europe. You are right. In Africa AIDS is a venereal disease which attacks men and women in equal numbers. In this country it has been reported first in the gay community, and a little later on among I.V. drug users and now, as we heard, among other people, recipients of blood transfusions, certain children born of women infected with the virus that makes people susceptible to AIDS, and among a few people in the general population who don't belong to any of these at-risk groups. The only conclusion we can come at is -- the conclusion I came to is that the AIDS virus must have been brought into this country either by a person infected or blood that was infected and given, transmitted to a gay man. Now, the gay male community is closed from the standpoint of sexual interactions. Gay men have sex with each other. And therefore the virus spread among them; they became infected first. This must have been in the late '70s, the early '80s, and they became the first victims with clinical symptoms of AIDS. Since then, since about a few months ago, we have had a blood test which can track the spread of the virus infection in the population. Several groups, different groups of people, have been studied in this way, and we know now that the virus is present at a low level, but present in the general population. So in this country too this virus is catching up with all of us, and we must absolutely do something to stop its further spread.
WOODRUFF: Based on what you know -- now, we just saw a report where a man was fired from his job as an airline flight attendant, where a child was being kept out of school, another person, or a community, was opposed to having a center set up for AIDS victims to live. Are these actions justified based on what you know?
Dr. KRIM: No. These actions are ridiculous and reflect only ignorance and fear due to ignorance. AIDS itself is not transmitted. It is the virus that renders people susceptible to AIDS that is transmitted in the way I explained earlier. To segregate patients with AIDS, with clinical symptoms of AIDS, does not protect anybody. It causes a lot of heartbreak and injustice and does not protect anybody. In fact, patients with clinical AIDS are less infectious than people who have the virus and have not yet developed clinical symptoms.
WOODRUFF: But how do you reassure --
Dr. KRIM: So it does not accomplish anything, quite the contrary, it would provide a false reassurance. Everybody should be careful about not contracting this infection, but it is not contracted through living or rubbing elbows with patients with AIDS.
WOODRUFF: And you feel you can reassure everyone who's concerned with those --
Dr. KRIM: Yes, very strongly so.
WOODRUFF: Dr. Krim, stay with us. Robin?
MacNEIL: Despite the reassurances we've just heard, the debate is not likely to subside. Civil libertarians are becoming alarmed over what they see as unjustified discrimination against AIDS victims, but even some medical doctors worry that the general public is not being adequately protected. Dr. Helen Singer Kaplan is one such physician. She heads the Department of Human Sexuality at the New Yjork Hospital Cornell Medical Center. We also have with us civil liberties lawyer Joe Tom Easely. He's the chairman of the board of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, a group that provides legal services to the homosexual community.
Dr. Kaplan, first of all, what do you say to Dr. Krim's remark that it would not be productive, it would not protect anybody to segregate victims suffering from AIDS, or to isolate them?
Dr. HELEN SINGER KAPLAN: Well, I have tremendous compassion for "Bob" and some of the other people there, but as I'm sitting here I can't wonder how many men have they had sex with? How many men have they killed with sex, how many people have they infected? And I completely agree with Dr. Krim. The public has been kept absolutely ignorant. We can prevent the further spread of AIDS. There doesn't have to be a single new spread today if we use the knowledge we have. Men like that -- male homosexuals have far more sex, more partners, than heterosexuals. They may have as many as 500 to 1,000 a year, and if a man doesn't know he's carrying the virus, he can by himself spread it wildly.
MacNEIL: Let's confine this to the moment for people who are known AIDS sufferers at the moment, and we'll come to the people who might be carrying the virus later. Do you believe they should be isolated, quarantined, segregated?
Dr. KAPLAN: No, but I have -- some are still having sex with other people, and I certainly think that is horrible.
Dr. KRIM: So they need to be educated.
Dr. KAPLAN: Yes. They need to be educated.
MacNEIL: Educated, not segregated?
Dr. KAPLAN: Yes.
MacNEIL: What do you think on this question of isolation or quarantine, the things that were suggested, for instance, by that group in Washington State?
JOE TOM EASELY: Well, I would like to very strongly endorse what Dr. Krim said. It is a matter of education and not a matter of segregation. The kinds of hysteria that we're seeing, the kinds of responses to a mounting national hysteria I think are dreadful. The kind of incidents that we saw on the taped segment a moment ago are just the tip of an iceberg. At Lambda Legal Defense Fund we get every week, dozens of calls not only from AIDS patients but from friends of AIDS patients, acquaintances of AIDS patients, all of them being discriminated against because they either have AIDS or they are a friend of someone who has AIDS. We have cases of people who have lost their jobs. We have cases of people who have been thrown out of their housing. We have cases of people who have been denied social services, people that have been denied funeral services. people have been denied the most rudimentary --
MacNEIL: Life insurance?
Mr. EASELY: Life insurance. This kind of discrimination is widespread, and I think in the last several weeks, in the last two months it is increasing greatly.
MacNEIL: Do you think that it is hysteria that is influencing the facts, or supposed facts, about the spread of AIDS that is influencing public policy in places like Mayor Koch's decision in this city that some children should not go to school depending on the individual case?
Mr. EASELY: Absolutely. The initiatives of segregation and discrimination are totally without scientific basis. As Dr. Krim says -- Dr. Krim is head of the interferon laboratory at Memorial Sloane Kettering, one of the most prestigious cancer institutions in this country. She is expressing the view that has been repeatedly expressed by the public health service, by the National Institutes of Health, by the Centers for Disease Control, every responsible scientific researcher in the field of AIDS says exactly what Dr. Krim said. This disease is not spread by casual contact. You cannot get it by sitting next to somebody on a bus, going to school with someone, living next door to someone, having any kind of casual contact.
MacNEIL: Dr. Kaplan, as a doctor yourself, and hearing the argument that Dr. Krim has just made, do you think that hysteria is influencing public policy?
Dr. KAPLAN: Yes, but I think the hysteria has been created by a news blackout, by an obfuscating of the facts. The gay community has fought long and hard for their civil rights, but I think they were misguided in fighting against the test. We can't give the test in New York. It's not available. Half the cases in the world come from New York. I think that if a gay person has been exposed, he should want the test. And if this were known, if the facts were known, there would be no hysteria. The hysteria is due to a lack of education and knowledge.
Mr. EASELY: Let me comment on that, if I can. I think that is exactly wrong. First of all, the gay community has nationally been at the forefront of trying to encourage the federal government to spend money on AIDS research. There have been millions of dollars raised within the gay community itself to provide social services to gay people who have AIDS. There has been a very strong response, I think, from the community to press the federal government, and there has been a foot-dragging on the part of the federal government. First of all, as far as the test goes, I think you're incorrect, Doctor, in that the test is available here in New York. Anybody who wants the test can get it here in New York. There is no problem at all with that.
MacNEIL: What is your view on the test being available here in New York?
Dr. KRIM: Yes, the test is available for research purposes.
MacNEIL: For research purposes, but not -- so Dr. Kaplan is right, it isn't generally available?
Dr. KAPLAN: It's available for blood, and fortunately the gay community has been wonderful in raising money, and there's been an unprecedented medical breakthrough in three short years, and --
MacNEIL: We're going to go on to this question of the test in a moment. I just want to clear up, because there are many people living who have children of school age who will be -- the children went back to school today, and presumably this is a question in many people's minds. Are you absolutely sure that no, with the categorical reassurance you gave earlier, that it would not be dangerous for any child with AIDS to go to school? That in cases where there were children who were less controllable or something, who might be involved -- or where there could be bloodshed or students scratched or bitten or whatever might happen in extreme circumstances -- that in no cases it would be dangerous for other children to have an AIDS victim in the school?
Dr. KRIM: I think it may be dangerous for the AIDS victim, because AIDS victims are very susceptible to infections, and schools are notoriously sources of infections for parents and siblings and so forth. So it may not be appropriate for AIDS children to be in school. But, yes, because AIDS patients can go through long periods during which they are really not too sick, they don't need to be hospitalized, they can very well function -- work, go to school. I think under the circumstances children should be allowed to go to school.
MacNEIL: Do you agree with that?
Dr. KAPLAN: I bow to Dr. Krim. It certainly sounds right to me, yes.
MacNEIL: And do you believe as a civil liberties lawyer in this case that the case of the young boy in Kokomo, that his civil rights are being somehow violated or abused by being prevented from going to school?
Mr. EASELY: Absolutely. Absolutely. Dr. Kaplan talks about the AIDS victims as if they're all gay men having sex with 500 people a year. Tell that story to the 13-year-old in Kokomo, to the six-year-old in New Haven, Connecticut, to all of the heterosexual women --
MacNEIL: There are about 180 children, I believe, known to have the disease at the moment.
Dr. KRIM: Yes, that's right. I think it would be of interest to the public to know that most of these children are infants born to mothers who were infected, and they come down with clinical symptoms of disease several months after birth. And many of them don't live beyond the age of five years. I mean, so far most of them have not lived beyond that so that the question of school for them hardly exists. Most of the children of older age who have AIDS -- and there are very few of those, I think there are seven in the whole of the New York City school system -- are boys who were born with hemophilia. As a treatment for this genetic disease they need to be given blood or blood products. By mischance, in the past before we had the test to keep the blood pool clean of the virus, some people, including some of these children, have received contaminated blood and are now infected and have developed AIDS. But these are older children of an age where you can explain certain things, you know, and they know they are sick, and they can very well behave in such a way as not to cause any danger to anyone.
MacNEIL: Let's move on now. We'll come back. Judy?
WOODRUFF: AIDS victims are not the only focus of public fears. There are also those who show no symptoms but have been exposed to the virus and may be contagious. These people can now be identified, as we've just heard, by a blood test. June Cross examines the test's implications.
CROSS [voice-over]: It's known as Alisa(?). It can't actually isolate the AIDS virus itself, but it can detect whether someone's been exposed to AIDS by indicating the presence of antibodies trying to fight the disease. It's been proven so effective that the Pentagon announced last week that it would be administered to new recruits.
WILLIAM MAYER, Defense Department: Since it's certain now that AIDS can be spread directly through blood transfusions and since in time of war, or even in times of smaller mass casualties than war, we rely on direct transfusions from one soldier to another in the field, and therefore couldn't screen out those who might have this antibody and could therefore endanger the lives of wounded soldiers, this was a simple, prudent, conservative medical step to take.
CROSS [voice-over]: Aside from the military, blood donation centers and special testing sites for high-risk groups are screening people for the AIDS antibodies.
NURSE: You've given before?
NURSE: Okay, I'm going to ask you all sorts of questions.
CROSS [voice-over]: While the blood test does seem to provide a high degree of security for blood recipients, the most recent evidence is that only 10 of those with the antibody itself will ever die from the disease.
Dr. HERBERT PERKIN, Irwin Memorial Blood Bank, San Francisco: It does not prove he's infectious to somebody else. It does not prove he's going to come down with AIDS. On the other hand, we're really not able to guarantee that none of those things will happen.
CROSS [voice-over]: A score of companies are working on a test that would be available in drugstores. The first of these should be on the market before the year is out. Meanwhile, the test itself has raised a whole set of thorny issues surrounding what could happen to those whose test turns out positive.
BOBBY REYNOLDS: Your employer may find some way to get rid of you, or you may not be hirable, or your insurance company will no longer carry you because the costs involved in treating people with AIDS are phenomenal.
CROSS [voice-over]: So far, only very small insurance companies in California are dropping AIDS patients from their rolls, but the gay community, already stigmatized by this disease, is fearful that test results could end up in the wrong hands.
PAUL CASTRO: We are so scared, we just don't have any trust in the government. I don't. I have absolutely none. Neither does anybody in the gay community.
Mr. REYNOLDS: Every time lists get made that are supposed to be confidential, those lists somehow end up in the places they're not ever intended to be. So, on the one hand, I see it being vital and useful. On the other hand, I see it being as a vehicle to further discriminate against people who are not the most acceptable in our society.
WOODRUFF: In most states the results of the AIDS blood test are by law strictly confidential, but Colorado public health officials think that information from the blood test can be put to use in preventing the spread of AIDS. Here to explain the plan is Dr. Thomas Vernon, executive director of the Colorado Department of Health. Dr. Vernon, how exactly do you want to use the results of this information?
Dr. THOMAS VERNON: Well, we want to use the information the way we have used positive laboratory tests from many other diseases for a very long time. We have about 30 laboratory tests which are reportable to the state health department to go into our confidential files. The point is that we need to get on with it in terms of AIDS, doing what we know how to do, what we have done well for many, many years with other diseases -- measles, Colorado tick fever, syphilis is the best analogy.
WOODRUFF: So who then would you be getting the results from, the blood test results from?
Dr. VERNON: Well, the blood tests would be reported to us from any laboratory in the state which does the blood test by law. And, incidentally, by law these are confidential tests. We have years of experience with our system of confidentiality and there has been no break in that.
WOODRUFF: All right, before we get to the question of confidentiality, why are you doing it?
Dr. VERNON: We're doing it because -- at least a couple of reasons. One is we don't have a vaccine for the disease. We don't have a definitive treatment for the disease. What we do have is the ability to provide adept and skilled counseling to individuals who have it. We need to think of counseling as our modern-day vaccine, at least for the short term. The second reason is that I think we need to be demonstrating to the American public that we are doing at least as much for AIDS as we know how to do and are already doing for many other diseases.
WOODRUFF: Well, what exactly do you mean? I mean, once you get the names, what will you do? Will you go out and contact these people or what?
Dr. VERNON: Well, again, syphilis is the best analogy, and we've been using our ability to contact individuals with syphilis as a means of controlling that disease for at least 15 to 20 years. Our laboratory report, for example, will come in to us with a physician's name on that report. Our practice is to contact the physician who has submitted the report and determine what are the circumstances of that patient and does that physician need assistance? Would it be helpful to that physician for us to assist in contacting the patient? If the physician has it under control, then so be it. There's no reason for public health to be further involved.
WOODRUFF: Would you make an attempt, for example, to contact any sexual partners of a person identified as having the virus?
Dr. VERNON: I think in the occasion we would when there was evidence of a particular spread. One example that I think is of importance, because it may illustrate a form of this disease which is absolutely preventable, and that is that infection in utero. Our ability to get counseling to the, for example, bisexual male who is married to a woman in the childbearing age or who has had sexual contact with a woman who may be pregnant or may want to become pregnant may in fact result in the prevention of an in utero infection. It seems to me that that's an extremely important outcome.
WOODRUFF: You say you are certain that you can keep these names confidential. How can you be so sure of that? I mean, that, after all, is what we've just heard so many members of the gay community are concerned about.
Dr. VERNON: Well, not only are we certain because of the system of file protection and locks and staff work that we have, but we have a history of success. We have not had, and have never had to, release information to insurers, to employers, to law enforcement agents, to the general public, to family members. We simply don't release the information. We have enough experience that I think we can say with a great deal of confidence that this will not occur with our AIDS reports.
WOODRUFF: What argument do you use to the person who thinks he may have been exposed to AIDS to risk, you know, losing confidentiality, when he knows there's no treatment, no cure, for a disease that he may have?
Dr. VERNON: Well, the argument is, to the high-risk group as well as to the general public, we have some skills to bring to bear on this disease that may help. It may help you as a high-risk individual. It may help you understand better the disease and your ability not to transmit it further. The fact that we have now a blood test which is a major advance over where we were only six months ago, a disease with a one- to five-year incubation period. We now have a lead on an individual who could be infectious for many years before they in fact would come down with the disease.
WOODRUFF: Dr. Vernon, stay with us. Robin?
MacNEIL: Mr. Easely, what do you think of the Colorado plan?
Mr. EASELY: Well, it's difficult to argue against something that is so plausibly scientific. It is an appealing argument that how can you argue against a test here that can lead to another scientific miracle, adding another magic bullet to the arsenal of the ones we already have? But let's look at this test and find out exactly what it is showing. Unlike what Dr. Vernon said, and I think he would agree if asked on this, that this is not the kind of test, like a syphilis test or the kind of other test, that will show you whether or not you have the disease. This test is going to identify a very large number of people, only 10% of whom are likely to ever come down with AIDS itself. So the people who are identified positive by this test -- first of all, everybody will not have the disease, and of those who will ever in their lifetime get the disease, they're only going to be 10%. Now, the federal government has taken the position -- the FDA in its licensing of this test, has taken the position that this test has no diagnostic or therapeutic value for AIDS at all, that it is a screening test and screening test alone. Now, the kind of issue that's come up in Colorado has come up in other states as well. New Jersey just finished examining the same issue, whether or not the state health department should in effect make a positive report on the test reportable; New Jersey decided against it. There's a great deal of controversy in Colorado about this, I might say. The head of the largest blood bank in Denver was opposed --
MacNEIL: So what are you saying? They should --
Mr. EASELY: What I'm saying is the problems involved, the problems that are inherent in the reporting of this kind of test, greatly outweigh any advantage in terms of therapy or scientific research right now to giving of the test widely.
MacNEIL: Do you agree, Dr. Krim, that using the test in the way Dr. Vernon described could help prevent the spread of AIDS?
Dr. KRIM: I think there are better ways to prevent the spread of AIDS, and the better ways are to inform the public on exactly how AIDS can be transmitted from people to people. The best -- you see, the test -- as we just heard, the test identifies people exposed to the virus, not people who are sick.
MacNEIL: Can I interrupt one moment to clarify a piece of information for me? If 100 people have been exposed to the virus but only 10% of them may later get AIDS, are the other 90% carrying something communicable?
Dr. KRIM: Yes. Yes.
MacNEIL: They are carriers of the disease even though they may not get the disease themselves?
Dr. KRIM: They are carriers of the virus, not the disease.
MacNEIL: Of the virus, I beg your pardon. And can they communicate that to other people?
Dr. KRIM: Yes, they can, if they remain ignorant and not aware of their being infected and not aware of how they can transmit the disease. This is why the test, we were just saying with Dr. Kaplan, that the test should be available to everybody. And the people who would request it done would be people who have reasons to believe that they may have been exposed, and it should certainly be available to them. So that they can adjust their life, their lifestyle, their behavior accordingly, and become, you know, protect others that they deal with sexually.
MacNEIL: What do you think of Colorado's plan to --
Dr. KAPLAN: I am appalled at the obfuscating that just because 10% come down -- that's not why we give the test. We try to identify carriers, and the fact that there was political pressure in New York City, I have to send my patients to New Jersey to get the test. This is exactly where the test should be available. I would think that any person who's been exposed in good conscience would want to be tested so they don't kill their loved ones.
MacNEIL: But what about the use of the test that Dr. Vernon --
Dr. KAPLAN: I completely agree with Dr. Krim that it should not be mandatory, but it certainly should be widely available and the gay community should encourage the use of it rather than having put political pressure to stop the use of it.
Dr. KRIM: Yeah, but there are reasons why the gay community for a long time recommended that its members not avail themselves of the existence of this test, and the reasons are simply that the gay community is a community, is a group in our population that can legally be discriminated against, and they had very good reasons to think that as long as they were the major victims of this disease and this infection, the test will be used to identify gay men and discriminate against them, and we know that this is happening.
MacNEIL: What -- let me go back to Dr. Vernon with Mr. Easely's point that the problems and complications of the use of the test outweigh any advantages you might be able to derive from using it the way you propose?
Dr. VERNON: Dr. Krim and Dr. Kaplan are absolutely correct. This test is far more than we thought it was when it was first released six months ago. It is not just a screening test. In the Red Cross studies, 60% of those individuals with a high antibody against the AIDS virus were culture-positive. These are individuals who are carrying the virus and who are infectious for others. We're talking about our ability to get information to people who don't otherwise know what to do with their blood test results or with their sexual behavior.
MacNEIL: With all that, doesn't it make it logical for as many people who suspect they may have had contact to submit to the test?
Mr. EASELY: It's logical for there to be the widest possible education program in the community, in the gay community and in the heterosexual community about the dangers of AIDS and the kinds of safe sex that people can engage in. But the problem with this test --
MacNEIL: But you're shaking your head violently.
Dr. KAPLAN: There's no safe sex. There's no safe sex.
Dr. KRIM: There is safer sex.
Dr. KAPLAN: Safer, but there is no safe sex. They have to stop having sex or only have sex with other people who are positive for the virus.
Dr. KRIM: That's rather impractical advice to give to everybody because I believe that everybody should be educated, not only the people in the high-risk groups. And it's true. There is not absolutely safe sex, but there are certain practices that certainly reduce greatly the danger of becoming infected.
MacNEIL: I'm afraid that we've spent a lot of time on this but we have come to the end of it, and we have to leave it there. Thank you all. Thank you, Dr. Vernon, in Colorado; Dr. Krim, Mr. Easely and Dr. Kaplan in New York. Judy? Farm Credit Crunch
WOODRUFF: Hopes to ease the federal budget deficit and administration plans to move farmers to a freer market suffered a severe setback today. The head of the nation's largest farm lending institution, the federal Farm Credit Administration, says that his agency needs federal help to keep it afloat. Donald Wilkinson told the Wall Street Journal the Farm Credit System cannot handle the $11 billion losses that it faces. Just weeks ago Wilkinson had insisted that the Farm Credit System would not need a federal bailout, but now he says that farm economic problems have outflanked his agency's worst-case planning. The farm credit system is similar to a giant credit union. It sells bonds on Wall Street and uses the proceeds to loan money to individual farmers through a series of district banks. It is a system that farmers have come to rely on. Recently Kwame Holman reported on the economic stormclouds rocking the $74-billion institution.
KWAME HOLMAN [voice-over]: The biggest bank in America is in trouble, but the people involved won't be found here in the financial heartland of Wall Street, but in the rural heartland of the farm belt. The largest bank in the nation is the Farm Credit System, a giant network of farmer-run credit unions or cooperatives that took shape during the Great Depression. With a pool of federal money, the farmers of that era set up a member cooperative to give themselves farm loans they couldn't get anywhere else. Today, the system holds more than $80 billion in loans for farmland, crops and livestock, but now the system has a problem. American agriculture is in its worst decline since the 1930s, and a huge crop this fall is expected to drive down prices even further, sapping the ability of some farmers to repay their loans. Iowa Congressman Jim Leach.
Rep. JIM LEACH, (R) Iowa: Basically the Farm Credit System is teetering on the brink of insolvency.
HOLMAN [voice-over]: Because of the losses, the system announced this week that, contrary to earlier statements, it will need financial help, most likely from the federal government. The announcement should be good news to farmers like these who say that they have borne the brunt of the pain in keeping the system solvent, and that control of the system is being taken away from farmers by bureaucrats of the Farm Credit System administration.
NEIL HARL, economist, Iowa State University: This isa crucial time for that system because the way that system will look in the future, the basic parameters of that system are going to be determined in the next several weeks.
HOLMAN [voice-over]: How did the Farm Credit System get into such trouble? It started in the boom days of the 1970s when crop prices and land values were rising. The farmer cooperatives, like the commercial banks, lent lots of money to farmers.
Rep. LEACH: The system, frankly, rewarded those who made more loans. In fact, bonuses were given to people who made more loans. That was a prescription for basically a loose credit policy.
HOLMAN [voice-over]: Ray Powell was a loan officer with the farm credit system in Creston, Iowa.
RAY POWELL, former loan officer: It was just a fever throughout the whole system to do that. I've heard comments that people were out almost handing people money and trying to talk them into putting up this silo or do that sort of thing.
HOLMAN [voice-over]: But today land like this is worth half of what it was 10 years ago, and many farmers can't make the payments on those loans. Without those loan payments, local credit associations face millions in losses. The association in Creston, Iowa, is typical. When deficits started to pile up, the credit association here looked to the system's district office in Omaha for help. They found out there was a price for that help. Tom Langemeier is the former head of the association in Creston.
TOM LANGEMEIER, former loan officer: The associations don't have the money to handle the problem. There is just no way that they've got the money. So they're looking to the district bank for money. And anytime you ask for money and you can't control the situation out there, there's going to be a lot of strings, and there's an awful lot of strings.
DON WILKINSON, Governor, Farm Credit Administration: A credit institution has to recognize that it has some borrowers who are having difficulty. It has to determine, is it going to eliminate those borrowers? And that has to be a decision, a cold-blooded business decision.
HOLMAN [voice-over]: This is the man who farmers say is pulling the strings, farm credit system Governor Donald Wilkinson, the man who made the announcement that despite the belt-tightening farmers have done, the system will need help from the outside. In Creston, that sacrifice already is costing farmers money. They are fighting for control of a system they once thought was their friend.
[on camera] The struggle centers on the production credit associations, that part of the farm credit system that loans money to farmers for crops and machinery. Every time a production credit association makes a loan, it holds 10 of the loan amount in reserve. In May, without any warning to farmers, the Creston production credit association decided to freeze that 10 on all of its loans. Essentially what that means for farmers is that paying off their loans now is going to cost them 10 more.
LEO TUCKER, farmer: At the time they froze the stock, I had to sell cattle right after that to get my loan balance down.
HOLMAN [voice-over]: Farmer Leo Tucker will lose money because of the freezing of his 10 reserve, known as Beef stock, in the Creston association. Effectively, the interest rate on his loan has been increased, and if he tries to buy out that loan and move it to another bank, it will cost him an extra $12,000. The idea of freezing stock is to keep farmers in the system.
Mr. TUCKER: The whole farm credit system, I think, could maybe have got on top of the situation just a little quicker. Then when they did it was kind of an overreaction. I feel bitter against PCA to the extent that, I mean, you know, it just increased my debt $12,000.
DEBBIE HALL, farmer: Governor Wilkinson, a presidential employee or appointee, doesn't care what members want or what impact the freezing of Beef stock or possible liquidation may have on the member borrowers. In fact, he has done everything in his power to take away all rights from members. Humiliation and fear tactics have effectively neutered local boards that are still intact.
HOLMAN [voice-over]: Farmers at the Creston association recently sought the help of Iowa Congressman Jim Lightfoot in their battle with the system's administration.
Rep. JIM LIGHTFOOD, (R), Iowa: When do you think that loss of control took place?
HOLMAN [voice-over]: Ultimately, though, the question for these farmers may not be who runs the system today, but who will support it tomorrow.
Rep. LEACH: What's happening is that a lot of farmers that are strong and can get out are getting out, leaving the system with weaker credit arrangements.
HOLMAN [voice-over]: At this recent meeting between Congressman Jim Leach and eastern Iowa farmers, the talk was that higher interest rates and stock freezes are causing an exodus of some of the system's best farmers. The bad news has been surprisingly slow to reach Wall Street. This is where the Farm Credit System takes orders from investors who want to buy system bonds, the source of the loan money to farmers. Until recently, farm credit bonds were considered a very safe investment, selling at interest rates almost as low as government treasury bills, even though system bonds aren't backed by the federal government. Today farm credit rates are rising dramatically as investors begin to understand the system's troubles. Still, many are convinced that the government would bail out the system if it ever started to collapse.
Mr. HARL: It will not be allowed to fail, in my view. As a country, as a matter of policy, we took that stance with respect to Continental Illinois. This is about twice Continental. It's about two Continentals. And I think it simply is too big a part of the financial part of the country for it to fail.
HOLMAN [voice-over]: The revelation that the system will seek outside revenues was preceded by unprecedented shifts of capital inside the system to shore up its ailing districts. The Spokane, Washington, district was first, getting $150 million from the system last June. Last month, the troubled Omaha district, the one that bailed out the Creston association, got bailed out itself with almost $350 million from Farm Credit System banks around the country. But the system is feeding on itself, and many outside the system say that the federal government will have to step in to keep the system afloat.
Rep. LEACH: I am personally convinced that it needs financial assistance and it needs it very quickly, that another year's wait will be too late.
Gov. WILKINSON [July 1985]: The system is not facing demise. Right now we believe this system has the resources to handle its own problems. To do so, however, will require that the situation not worsen to a degree that we had not anticipated.
Mr. HARL: Any data at the Washington level are stale at a time when values are changing as rapidly as they have been, when you're losing up to 20% or even a greater percentage of land value in the course of a year. That has a very destabilizing effect, and circumstances change very quickly.
HOLMAN [voice-over]: So the future of the country's biggest bank depends in large part on the future of American agriculture. The experts differ on what that future will be, but time may not be on the side of the farmers of Creston, Iowa, or the Farm Credit System.
WOODRUFF: As we reported, time has now run out for the Farm Credit System. Tomorrow the system's board of governors is expected to announce its recommendations to resolve the credit crunch. As far as getting more aid, that tough political step will be up to the administration and Congress. Robin?
MacNEIL: Once again, the main stories of the day. Moscow threatened to deploy anti-satellite weapons in space. The Farm Credit Administration, as we've just said, said it needs financial help. South Africa's currency, the rand, fell sharply. Delta Airlines filed a suit blaming air controllers for a crash that killed 135 people. Good night, Judy.
WOODRUFF: Good night, Robin. That's our NewsHour for tonight. We'll be back tomorrow night. I'm Judy Woodruff. Thank you and good night.
- The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour
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- This episode's headline: Coping With AIDS; Farm Credit Crunch. The guests include In New York: MATHILDE KRIM, P.h.D, AIDS Medical Foundation; Dr. HELEN SINGER KAPLAN, New York Hospital; JOE TOM EASELY, Civil Rights Lawyer; In Denver: Dr. THOMAS VERNON, Colorado Health Department; Reports from NewsHour Correspondents. Byline: In New York: ROBERT MacNEIL, Executive Editor; In Washington: JUDY WOODRUFF, Correspondent
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- APA: The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour. Boston, MA: NewsHour Productions, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_507-154dn40c26