Families of state prisoners plead with Cuomo to relieve crowded conditions and stop the spread of the Covid-91 virus.

Pressure is mounting on Governor Andrew Cuomo to actively protect state prisoners from the Covid-19 virus.

Practicing social distancing behind bars, where people line up for everything from showers to meals, and most conversation take place on a face-to-face basis is difficult, if not impossible.

191 persons joined a virtual news conference on March 30th-a startling large number. Parents and friends reported that the individuals locked up in state prisons were terrified.

A conclusion buttressed by a New York Times front page story on the same day Prisoners ‘Terrified’ as Coronavirus Spreads Behind Bars.”  The article warned the virus is taking its toll in prisons across the Country.

Failure to act, will turn “New York Prisons into death camps,” warned Jose Saldana the Director of Release Aging People from Prison the group that organized the news conference. Mr. Saldana was released from NYS prison in January 2018 after 38 years and four Parole Board denials.

His warning was reinforced by a letter signed by public health experts on Friday the 27th urging President Trump to commute sentences for the “medically vulnerable population including persons suffering from cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, or cancer.”

Conditions in prisons are often compared to cruise ships or nursing homes that have become epidemic hot spots. “These people are housed cheek-by-jowl, they share toilets, showers, and sinks; they wash their bedsheets and clothes infrequently; and often lack access to basic personal hygiene items. Adequate medical care is hard to provide, even without COVID-19” the experts wrote in their letter.

Michelle Lynn spoke up at the news conference on behalf of her father Robert Lynn who is 73 and has been in prison for 37 years. His petition for clemency was filed in 2016; He could go home tomorrow if the Governor agreed.

Saying the virus forced his hand three days earlier, California’s Governor Gavin Newsom “commuted sentences of 21 California prison inmates — including 10 convicted of homicides— and granted pardons to five others” reported the Sacramento Bee.

New York City experienced a rapid rate of increase in Covid-19 cases Robert Cohen said at the new conference. The danger called for “immediate action” explained Cohen, a member of the New York City Board of Correction, and 12% of the City jail population was released.

According to David George, the media contact for Release Aging People, the Governor has been asked at new conferences about protecting state prisoners and said the matter is under consideration, but no decision had been reached.

 

 

Proclaiming Victory

Proclaiming victory. The left should shout with pride-it’s a Bernie Sanders victory! His two candidacies arrived at an historic moment and given us the rebirth of a left-wing political force, well-financed, with the capacity to stay in the race and learn from its mistakes.

The result is awesome- the left has a future. After two presidential campaigns-an in-your-face unapologetic socialist movement had the support of about 3 in 10 of the people who voted in the Democratic primaries. This is the rebirth of the left as a significant political force. It’s an historic moment.

Even after victories, Joe Biden is looking over his shoulder to see if the pandemic will tip matters in Bernie’s direction. The left is a power in U.S. politics, it should savor its progress and pursue its campaign to make capitalism fair and just with renewed vigor.

The Corona Virus has made Medicare for all a national necessity. A first step is the $150 billion in the economic stimulus to help hospitals treat the surge in patients.

An obvious sign that this is historic moment is the abrupt return of the bi-partisan Congress. Remarkably the United States Senate is in a can-do mood. This Republican body where votes often divided on party line have unanimously passed the biggest economic aid package in history. The virus and public health warnings have united the warring political parties—historic.

Moreover the aid package includes key Democratic demands like increasing the miserly unemployment benefits, and money for income-tax filers. Passing in record speed again with Republican support.  Even Trump joined in.

Of course, Bernie has little to do with these changes. Events caused this new cooperation. But Republicans and Democrats adopted policies that are compatible with Bernie’s ideas. It’s a testimony to the validity of his ideas, just as the failure of his campaign to win the nomination is a reason to revise the left’s program.

Anticipating that unemployment applications would go through the roof, the Senate’s $2 trillion package boosted unemployment insurance payment by $600. This is a radical move. The national average unemployment benefit check reports the Washington Post is currently $385 a week, which is “less than half the typical weekly paycheck in the United States.” Supplementing this money, most income tax filers will be eligible for one-time payments of between $1200 to $2400 and $500 per child. This is compatible with a guaranteed income, the socialist alternative to welfare payments for those belittled as needy.

Bernie insisted his plans weren’t radical. It turns out he is right. Confronting a public health imposed recession, Republicans and Democrats responded by helping the wage earner. Sander’s values and politics are majoritarian.

The package started at one trillion and but to become law it reached $2T, the path to unanimity required spend, spend, and spend more. Traditionally Republicans have criticized this policy but practiced it, the Democrats usually opted for a balanced budget. Bernie was identified with those who thought government spending would increase wages and economic growth. When push came to shove everybody accepted this policy.

The day after Senate passage came the news that the United States had entered a new era-3.3 million wage earners had filed for unemployment insurance. It dwarfed a 38-year-old record from 1982 when 665,000 applied in one week. This number is a mere fraction of 3.3 million, another sign that we are in a historic era. In the space of three weeks the United States has gone from full employment at 3.5% to projections of 5% or more.

A sudden government imposed economic downturn is a new historic reality. Only time will tell if it brings an authoritarian or democratic result. One thing is certain the left will fight for a democratic result.

Bernie’s plea for Medicare for all met a vicious counterattack from Democrats. The stand patters claimed it would harm those with gold plated health insurance exploiting divisions within the Democratic Party. The attackers called themselves pragmatists and take pride in their political realism refused to recognize that this line of attack weakened the Democratic Party. These supposed realists created conflict when harmony is a wiser course.  Bernie’s policies often strengthen the party by uniting the prosperous and those struggling to make ends meet. This is an opportunity the pragmatists rejected. They asserted, it would never work, it would never pass. In a few short weeks, this political realism evaporated.

Bernie would bring those who have seen their living conditions stagnate back into the Democratic Party. This 2 trillion-dollar package creates such an opportunity for Democrats. Bernie would be wise to point this out and try to persuade the pragmatist to try idealism. Leadership from the left is possible.

The Corona Virus has shown that Bernie is right, big activist government is in the national interest and in the Democrat’s best interest. The left shouldn’t be shy about pointing out the political realism of their policies.

Normally, politicians believe the candidate who articulates an optimistic view of the future wins.

The Democratic Party has yet to take advantage of the left’s view that global warming represents a unique opportunity to move the United States into a prosperous future.  The pragmatist should embrace the policy of rebuilding the American economy so that is environmentally friendly. This is the path to economic prosperity, higher wages, and shorter work week giving Americans more hours of leisure.  This is the socialist nirvana that the Left can urge on the Democratic Party.

The left will have an opportunity when it comes time to restore the U.S. economy to press its objective. Party leaders would do well to see the essential realism in left-wing demands.

Bernie has started the ball rolling. Events have demonstrated that the Federal Government not private enterprise is the safety net.  Bernie offers an alternative.  It is more than a safety net, it should be the engine of prosperity and may be just maybe after we will restore prosperity and bring climate change under control.

 

 

 

Safe Consumption Delay Prompts City Hall Sit-In

BY NATHAN RILEY | Chanting “no more overdoses,” 75 angry New Yorkers packed the steps of City Hall on April 5 and then a smaller group staged a sit-in at the gates leading to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office, forcing police to eject them. The demonstrators were making an emotional plea to the mayor that he release a feasibility study about safe consumption facilities that give drug users medical supervision while they are getting high.

In such spaces, users consume product they buy on the street under the watchful eye of an overdose prevention worker. Should a user slip into unconsciousness, these workers are only steps away and can administer naloxone, a public health wonder drug that reverses overdoses and restores normal breathing. There have been thousands of overdoses at such facilities in cities like Frankfurt, Sydney, and Vancouver, but nobody — as in zero — has ever died.

On February 5, Dr. Mary Bassett, the city health commissioner told a City Council budget hearing that “the public health literature is clear.” Despite that definitive statement, de Blasio has kept the health department study under wraps. Yesterday’s City Hall protesters charged that in the 59 days since Bassett’s testimony, there have been approximately 236 overdose deaths in New York.

Advocates demand de Blasio release study of facilities where drug users have medical support

Charles King, the CEO of Housing Works, an AIDS services group, opened the protest on a personal note.

“Today marks the 14th anniversary of the death of Keith Cylar, one of the co-founders of Housing Works and my life partner for some 15 years,” he said.

Then adding that he was speaking “not just on behalf of people living with AIDS and HIV, but also on behalf of people who use drugs,” King said, “Keith spoke with particular passion and urgency. He was not only a black gay man living with AIDS, he was also addicted to drugs his entire adult life. And whether it was long-term degeneration caused by AIDS or long time use of cocaine that caused his cardiomyopathy, and whether the heart attack would have happened anyway or was triggered by the crack he smoked that night, his death certificate says he died of a drug overdose. I will go to my grave knowing that if someone had been with him at that moment who knew how to intervene, he might well be standing here with us today.”

Also in impassioned remarks, Kassandra Frederique, the New York State director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said, “Safe consumption spaces are critical to saving lives. We don’t need a report to tell us what we already know, what we need is leadership.”

The mayor, she added, isn’t “leading the parade, he’s following it.”

As other speakers addressed the crowd, King and about a dozen others went inside City Hall and tried to enter de Blasio’s suite of offices. When refused at the gate leading to the mayor’s wing of the building, they sat down chanting “no more overdoses.” Police approached a limp Charles King and, with some difficulty, dragged him out of the building. Some others among the demonstrators were also carried out, while some stood up on their own. Police made no arrests either inside or out, and the rally on the steps lasted an hour and a half.

The mayor, arriving at City Hall in the middle of the demonstration, decided against walking through the protest.

Housing Works CEO Charles King being dragged out of City Hall by police after staging a sit-in. | JARON BENJAMIN/ HOUSING WORKS

In 2016, Corey Johnson, an out gay city councilmember who then chaired the Health Committee and is now Council speaker, put a $100,000 appropriation into the health department budget to pay for the safe consumption space feasibility study, at a time when overdose deaths in the city had reached 1,300 a year, more than the combined total from vehicle accidents, homicides, and suicides.

King said the report was finished in December, but the mayor has so far declined to release it publicly.

In an email, Johanne Morne, director of the AIDS Institute in the State Department of Health, said flatly, “Safe Consumption Spaces have shown success in other countries.” The idea, she continued, should be “an item of consideration” for “interventions in response to the opioid epidemic.”

In a strongly argued editorial in February, the New York Times declared the safe consumption space approach a “rigorously tested harm-reduction method” that has “proved incredibly effective at slashing overdose deaths.”

Councilmembers Mark Levine of Manhattan, chair of the Council Health Committee, and Stephen Levin of Brooklyn, chair of the General Welfare Committee, support the program.

The citywide coalition of treatment providers, medical professionals, and harm reduction activists are boiling over with anger at a delay that prevents drug users from gaining timely access to a life-saving medicine.

A drug user overdosing is helpless and depends on another person to help them regain normal breathing. Safe consumption spaces are specifically designed to meet this emergency and also allow health professionals to begin a constructive engagement with users about other means of reducing the harm caused by their drug habit.

This was posted on GayCityNews.com on April 6, 2018

No New Money, No New Ideas in Trump’s Opioid Response

This article appeared on GayCityNews.com on Oct. 30, 2017

BY NATHAN RILEY | Donald Trump’s declaration of a public health emergency to end the epidemic of opioid overdose deaths wraps itself in virtue, but avoids the burning question about the nation’s drug policy: What works?

During the 1990s, Switzerland and Portugal were among the nations that experienced the growth in opioid use seen here in the US as well. In those two nations, however, the response was radically different than in the US.

Switzerland and Portugal asked public health officials to solve the problem and minimized law enforcement activity in response. As a result, there, drug use seldom involves criminal sanctions and services are provided by health and social workers comfortable in working with drug users. The Swiss offered medically-assisted therapy with methadone, and for a smaller group of users medical heroin itself. Programs were geared toward aiding drug users in managing their habit. There were never grand declarations to “end” drug use.

The Swiss program — designed by doctors in tandem with users — conflicts with basic American attitudes toward drug use. A cardinal principle is that the user picks their dose. Overdose levels, of course, bring intervention, but the program design is clear that the user must determine their comfort level. After 20 years without a major backlash, heroin users, over the long run, tend to abandon their habit. And, crucially in the context of the link between drug use and other criminal behavior, most live without relying on illegal activity to pay for their habit.

Drug users have easy access to medically-assisted treatment. Those users permitted access to medical heroin in Switzerland must stop over a three-to-10-year period. The number of Swiss narcotics-related deaths in 1995 was 376; by 2012, it had fallen two-thirds to 121.

These nations have housing and psychological services available to all, one of the key demands of drug reformers. The presidential commission appointed by Trump and headed by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie endorsed that idea, but there is no money in Medicaid for these services.

Donald Trump had two ways to go — finding more money for health services or making bold but empty promises. If he had declared a “national emergency” — as he initially pledged — it would have created claims on a $53 billion federal fund. For the “public health emergency” he declared last week, there is currently $57,000 in the kitty. Hence the Times’ headline: “Trump Declares Opioid Crisis a ‘Health Emergency’ but Requests No Funds.”

A swift warning came from Gay Men’s Health Crisis about the “potential efforts under the Public Health Emergency Declaration to redirect funding from HIV/ AIDS programs.” The Daily News also voiced suspicion that money would be siphoned from AIDS/ HIV services.

But the biggest howl of fury came from the new executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, who blasted the president’s speech saying it showed “a profound and reckless disregard for the realities about drugs and drug use.” Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, a human rights activist who replaced Ethan Nadelmann, challenged Trump, poopooing his recommendation that drug prevention programs revive the “just say no” evangelizing of Nancy Reagan and his faith that public service announcements would “prevent” drug use.

“He made a big deal” about taking a pharmaceutical opioid off the market, she scoffed, noting that such a strategy is years out of date. “The opioids involved in overdoses are mostly coming from the illicit market” today, McFarland Sánchez-Moreno said. Drug users have gone from the gray market to a wholly criminal underground market of drugs laced with fentanyl — a transformation that is a damning indictment of the prohibition and the criminalizing of drug use. Drug deaths have been rising for years. Last year, there were 64,000 overdose deaths — roughly equal to all Americans killed in the Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan conflicts combined.

Trump also showed his ignorance about how drugs enter the US, when he spoke lovingly of how his Mexican border wall would halt the inflow. McFarland Sánchez-Moreno was unconvinced; the illicit drug trade, she said, “always” finds ways to “get around the walls and barriers the US has put up to block it,” with many drugs smuggled inside freight containers as part of our heavy border commercial traffic with Mexico.

Pointing his finger at immigrants, she added, has a sinister motivation. Trump blames “immigrants for bringing drugs across the border, ignoring that immigrants are overwhelmingly more law-abiding than US citizens,” McFarland Sánchez-Moreno said. The entire presidential declaration, she said, provided yet another excuse for “talking about criminal justice answers to a public health problem, even though the war on drugs is itself a major factor contributing to the overdose crisis.” Trump is still trying to use a hammer to smash the drug problem, with immigrants hit with a special ferocity.

The president’s plan, McFarland Sánchez-Moreno charged, will spread pain and misery, “condemning even more people to death, imprisonment, and deportation in the name of his war on drugs.”

Sadly, as if on cue, Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat in the US Senate, answered Trump’s call, finding $12.5 million to fund a new DEA team to focus on the smuggling of fentanyl at Kennedy Airport. Look for the arrest of black and brown baggage handlers.

Nobody expects this one unit to make a real difference, but it points up drug reformers’ fears that in a nation that refuses to give up its belief that criminal law protects its young from drug addiction, law enforcement will get the bulk of any new funds identified. A public health approach, based on strategies that “work,” remains the low man on the budget totem pole.