A Simple, If Unpopular, Method To Fight A Deadly Scourge

November 23, 2009

The following feature by writer Tina Rosenberg appeared in the Sunday New York Times magazine (about AIDS, and good luck finding many stories on that vitally important topic, by the way)…

We know that abstinence, sexual fidelity and consistent condom use all prevent the spread of H.I.V. But we do not yet know how to persuade people to act accordingly.

Then there is another way that H.I.V. infects: by injection with a hypodermic needle previously used by an infected person. Outside Africa, a huge part of the AIDS epidemic involves people who were infected this way. In Russia, 83 percent of infections in which the origin is known come from needle sharing. In Ukraine, the figure is 64 percent; Kazakhstan, 74 percent; Malaysia, 72 percent; Vietnam, 52 percent; China, 44 percent. Shared needles are also the primary transmission route for H.I.V. in parts of Asia. In the United States, needle-sharing directly accounts for more than 25 percent of AIDS cases.

Drug injectors don’t pass infection only among themselves. Through their sex partners, H.I.V. is spread into the general population. In many countries, the H.I.V. epidemic began among drug injectors. In Russia in 2000, for example, needle-sharing was directly responsible for more than 95 percent of all cases of H.I.V. infection. So virtually all those with H.I.V. in Russia can trace their infection to a shared needle not many generations back. Though it has been scorned as special treatment for a despised population, AIDS prevention for drug users is in fact crucial to preventing a wider epidemic.

Unlike with sexual transmission, there is a proven solution here: needle-exchange programs, which provide drug injectors with clean needles, usually in return for their used ones. Needle exchange is the cornerstone of an approach known as harm reduction: making drug use less deadly. Clean needles are both tool and lure, a way to introduce drug users to counseling, H.I.V. tests, AIDS treatment and rehabilitation, including access to opioid-substitution therapies like methadone.

As Rosenberg tells us, “needle exchange is AIDS prevention that works.”

However, as the Times also tells us here…

A bill working its way through Congress would lift a ban of more than 20 years on using federal money for needle exchange programs. But the bill would also ban federally financed exchanges from being within 1,000 feet of a school, park, library, college, video arcade or any place children might gather — a provision that would apply to a majority of the country’s approximately 200 exchanges.

“This 1,000-foot rule is simply instituting the ban in a different form,” said Rebecca Haag, executive director of the AIDS Action Council, an advocacy group based in Washington. “Clearly the intent of this rule is to nullify the lifting of the ban.”

Under a separate bill, all exchanges in Washington within the 1,000-foot perimeter would be barred from receiving city money as well as federal money.

And guess which utterly clueless Republican is behind this idea…

“Let’s protect these kids,” said Representative Jack Kingston, Republican of Georgia, who introduced the Washington bill. “They don’t need to be playing kickball in the playground and seeing people lined up for needle exchange.”

OWWWW!!! TEH STUPID!!!! IT BURNS US!!!!!!!

And of course, in Kingston’s Ward and June Cleaver World, the girls wear hoop skirts, the guys are all rebuilding the engine blocks on their ’57 Chevys, and they both surreptitiously rendezvous at Lookout Point at midnight to watch the submarine races.

Ugh (somehow I think that, if individuals were to come to a needle-exchange center, not necessarily each one would be highlighted by, say, ground-up glass on the blacktop of basketball courts surrounded by chain-link fences in typically urban settings, on a route traveled by school kids of course).

As noted here, President Obama proposed an increase in spending to combat AIDS (as has just about every other president in my memory, including Dubya, believe it or not, though with at least one “string” you’ll read about shortly), and Obama has also lifted the idiotic ban his predecessor placed on people with AIDS traveling to this country. However (as noted here), his FY2010 budget proposal retained the decades-old ban on federal funding for syringe exchange (though Congress passed legislation to lift the ban shortly after Obama’s budget was announced, as noted here – that body instituted the original ban in 1988, hence Kingston’s antics in trying to get it passed once more).

And as the Times Sunday article tells us…

The administration of George W. Bush made the policy more aggressive, pressuring United Nations agencies to retract their support for needle exchange and excise statements about its efficacy from their literature. (Today, U.N. agencies again recommend that needle exchange be part of H.I.V.-prevention services for drug users.)

Figures.

Rosenberg’s article also highlights the effectiveness of needle-exchange programs in Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand, among other regions. The biggest enemy to such programs, though, is the stigmatizing of needle users so manifestly on display in Kingston’s grotesquely stupid measure (as Rosenberg states, internationally financed groups can implement effective programs, but only governments can protect the rights of those populations who would stand to benefit, which, ultimately, includes all of us).


Rousting Another Repug Ruse On The “Stim” (Updates)

October 12, 2009

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Uh oh, here comes another “Dems are doomed in 2010” story, highlighting our moribund economy (I would say that it’s too early to make blanket generalizations, though that will never stop our corporate media, of course)…

The longest and deepest downturn since the Great Depression has claimed 7.2 million jobs since it began in December 2007. Analysts figure 750,000 more jobs could disappear over the next six months.

If you add in people who have stopped looking for work, or who are working part time when they want a full-time job, the unemployment rate is a whopping 17 percent, according to the Labor Department.

“If you’ve got an effective unemployment rate of 17 percent and if this goes on for any length of time, a year or more, then everyone’s cushion will run out,” said Republican consultant Rich Galen. “There are going to be serious implications, culturally and politically.”

Galen said it’s understandable that Republicans would use the state of the economy to pound Obama and Democrats who control Congress. Still, “it’s not something we should either make fun of, be amused by or play politics with,” he said.

Oh, this is to laugh truly, my fellow prisoners (Update 10/13/09…and as far as the Repugs supposedly gaining ground, the only issue has to do with the Dems losing theirs, as noted here).

Galen thinks the Repugs shouldn’t “play politics” with the economy, huh?

Seriously, has this man been living under a rock for the past six months or so? I ask that because his party has done NOTHING BUT THAT since President Obama was inaugurated!

I’m sure Repug U.S. House Rep Trent Franks of Arizona (who, as noted here, has flipped back and forth so many times on the question of Obama’s birth certificate that it’s a wonder he isn’t in traction) wasn’t “playing politics” when he told the lie about the stim funds for the rail from Disneyland to the Moonlight Bunny Ranch (here).

And I’m sure Louisiana Governor Bobby (Don’t Call Me Piyush) Jindal wasn’t “playing politics” when he faced off with fellow Repug U.S. House Rep “Joseph” Cao from his state about light rail funding (here). And I’m also sure Jindal wasn’t “playing politics” when he made light of “stim” funding for volcano monitoring (here) shortly before Mount Redoubt erupted (here).

And I’m sure other Repug party members weren’t “playing politics” when they stripped pandemic preparedness funds from the “stim” here (just remember that as cases of H1N1 start piling up).

And I’m sure Repug Senators John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison weren’t “playing politics” with the economy when they voted against stim funds before they realized that they needed NASA funding and, at the last minute, decided that it should come from the stim here.

And I’m sure Repug U.S. House Reps John Mica and Don Young weren’t “playing politics” when, as McClatchy tells us here, they “touted projects” from the stim bill that they also opposed.

I guess this is to be expected from a partisan like Galen, I realize, who claimed here that former Repug presidential candidate Fred (Find My Pulse ’08) Thompson wasn’t dropping out in early January ’08 (which was true), though Grampa “Law And Order “ ended up bailing three weeks later after his microscopic vote total in South Carolina, as noted here.

And oh yeah, one of the Repugs making the most noise about the stim according to the story is a certain House Minority Leader, who, based on this, has to answer for his own antics as well.

Update 10/13/09: I forgot about this guy also.

Update 10/19/09: And how could I forget about this waste of space also (once again, no word on whether or not he ever found his flag lapel pin).

Update 10/21/09: More to add to the list here…


An “Inartful” Solution To PA’s Budget Impasse

September 22, 2009

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Given that I rightly dump on the Inquirer and Daily News on a regular basis, it would be unfair of me not to give either paper credit when they do really good work. And that is true of Karen Heller’s column today (the subject is the last-minute deal to slap “an 8 percent surcharge on tickets and membership at arts and cultural organizations in Philadelphia, 6 percent elsewhere, at a time when endowments are down, giving is down, and attendance is down,” as Heller tells us)…

“I don’t know what Gov. Rendell and the leaders of the legislature were thinking,” Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance president Peggy Amsterdam said before launching a “Fight the Arts Tax” movement at last night’s fall meeting. “The really sad thing is we try to make cultural experiences accessible and affordable to everyone. This is going to make it harder.” Increased ticket prices, she argued, will drive away even more patrons already hit by the recession.

Of the alliance’s 390 member institutions, 40 percent are suffering deficits, including the Philadelphia Orchestra, with shortfalls of $3.3 million last fiscal year and a projected $7.5 million this year. It’s like drawing blood from an anemic. Amsterdam says projecting $100 million in annual tax revenues is pure folly: “Our estimates are nowhere near that – maybe $20 million statewide.”

Arts administrators complain there are no details on how much will be redirected or where. What’s to prevent Republican lawmakers from taking Philadelphia Museum of Art revenues and shipping them, say, to the Enchanted Woodlins chainsaw carvings of Elk County?

“If this had been proposed totally across the board on all forms of entertainment, you might say, ‘This stinks. It adds to our challenges, but these are really difficult times and we’re all doing our share,’ ” said Cultural Alliance chairman Hal Real. “But it’s not across the board. And it’s symptomatic of how undervalued the arts are in our culture.”

“Not across the board” indeed: as Heller points out, anyone who wants to pony up some dough to ogle Megan Fox in “Jennifer’s Body” as she cavorts with and then subsequently attacks her boyfriends (apparently she’s a vampire also – I only know about the flick from the commercial that seems to be on everywhere) is free to do so without paying the 8 percent tax on top of the ticket price.

And that also goes for anyone who wants to get drunk at a tailgate party and watch the Philadelphia Eagles’ defense get carved up by a reasonably competent NFL quarterback again (to say nothing of watching slapstick special teams play), as Drew Brees of New Orleans did last Sunday (I’ll admit that Brees is a lot better than “reasonably competent,” though). Also, in the matter of football, don’t you worry, all of you egomaniacs driving around in your Hummers, Jettas and Lexus SUVs with your lion’s paw decals and bumper stickers saying, “If God Isn’t A Penn State Fan, Why Did He Make The Sky Blue And White?”…it looks like your precious Nittany Lions weren’t affected either.

And you want to know who else wasn’t affected by the 8 percent arts sales tax? The warmongering Pattison Avenue Potentate himself, Ed Snider, that’s who. Don’t worry, you’ll still be able to watch Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and the rest of the Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins skate circles around the orange-and-black at the same cost you would have paid otherwise, to say nothing of watching the Sixers get eaten alive by other teams’ big men in the paint.

(By the way, to the Eagles’ credit, I should point out that owner Jeffrey Lurie and Snider are polar opposites politically; the Eagles are big contributors to the Democratic Party.)

Yes, I’m more than a little pissed about this, partly because, as Heller points out, it doesn’t make economic sense. However, the tax does appease the Republican Party for the purposes of doing the deal, which of course is what this is all about.

And with that in mind, this tells us the following…

The philosophical divide between those who see the arts as frivolous and those who see its value is as old as the nation.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the federal Works Progress Administration paid thousands of unemployed artists to write regional guidebooks, produce plays and organize symphony orchestras. The work of more than 5,000 artists can still be seen today in murals commissioned for schools, post offices and other government buildings.

President Obama has not proposed such a program but supports increased arts funding. Most Republicans oppose spending tax dollars on aesthetics.

“America is a practical nation that comes from very practical roots,” says Robert Lynch of the advocacy group Americans for the Arts. “That practicality … is part of what we’ve had to overcome.”

It was on display in the recent debate in Congress over the economic stimulus package.

The House of Representatives version included $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts to help non-profit arts organizations avoid closing or laying off workers, but the Senate version left it out. The final bill restored the money for the NEA.

“Putting people to work is more important than putting more art on the wall of some New York City gallery frequented by the elite art community,” said Republican Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia during the debate.

No word on whether or not Kingston ever found his flag lapel pin, by the way.

But on top of that, anyone who thinks arts spending doesn’t make a positive economic impact (like Kingston) is just plan wrong (I linked to this in a prior post, but it bears repeating)…

In Chicago, nonprofit arts and cultural organizations generate $1.09 billion in revenue, support 30,134 jobs, and deliver over $103 million in tax revenue to local and state government, according to the Illinois Arts Alliance. In Illinois, 23,643 creative enterprises employ 132,882 people, according to Americans for the Arts.

And as noted here…

The arts are a prime vehicle for job creation and a valued economic distribution mechanism. The country’s more than 4,000 local and state arts agencies have nearly 50 years of proven history as good stewards of our tax dollars and can ensure speedy disbursement to local projects, along with the excellent direct distribution track record of the National Endowment for the Arts itself. The arts are essential to the health and vitality of our communities.”

NEA funds, on average, leverage $7 in additional support through local, state, and private donations, for every one dollar in federal support. Fifty million in economic stimulus will leverage $350 million of investment.

And returning to Heller, she concludes with this…

If you were a deeply cynical sort of person, even someone with a fleeting knowledge of the sour feelings Republicans have for Philadelphia and Rendell, you might think this latest culture tax was a spirited flamenco dance atop the city’s fiscal woes.

In high heels, for good measure (to twist the old saying a bit, I guess PA’s Harrisburg poobahs don’t know much about spending money efficiently, but they know what they like…or don’t like in this case).


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