Letters to the editor

Let’s try jailing hypocrisy addicts

With all too familiar pain, I read Brian Postelle’s excellent expose revealing our new police chief’s priority to be drug enforcement [“In His Own Words,” Jan. 12]. Chief Hogan will focus mainly on the drug-using poor. Their already enormous burdens will be doubled by this increased harassment, incarceration and violence. They’re getting this shaft because they’re trying to escape the pain of their plight by using the antidepressants of their choice.

I believe the major reasons that most illegal drug use hurts people are the high cost of the drugs due to their illegality, the dangerous situations involved in getting them, and the brutal jail time that often follows. If poor drug users are driving while intoxicated, don’t let them drive anymore. Otherwise, can’t we stop torturing these already tortured people?

It’s true that the chief will only be following orders from the Asheville City Council and higher government entities. What a waste of brave and intelligent police personnel. And what horrific hypocrisy if City Councilors Mumpower, Bellamy and other anti-drug opportunists are using caffeine, nicotine or alcohol. It’s even more hypocritical if they’ve ever used prescribed antidepressants and anxiety relievers, or, like President Bush (as implied in the tape-recording recently released by his friend, Doug Wead), cocaine and marijuana. The over-a-million people in jail for drugs, many with the mandatory minimums, would probably agree. You’d think Mumpower, at least, would have a shred of compassion, since he’s a psychologist and probably complicit in prescription drug use.

Let’s spend our money on treatment centers for addicts, not on interdiction and incarceration. With some of the vast savings, let’s incarcerate hypocrisy addicts like Mumpower and Bush, and point the impressive new police chief towards some sensible priorities.

— Bill Branyon

Take a lesson from the bootleggers

Terry Bellamy and Carl Mumpower make the common mistake of confusing drug-related crime with prohibition-related crime in their March 2 commentary [Where We All Live]. Attempts to limit the supply of illegal drugs while demand remains constant only increase the profitability of drug trafficking. For addictive drugs like heroin, a spike in street prices leads desperate addicts to increase criminal activity to feed desperate habits. The drug war doesn’t fight crime, it fuels crime.

With alcohol prohibition repealed, liquor bootleggers no longer gun each other down in drive-by shootings, nor do consumers go blind drinking unregulated bathtub gin.

While U.S. politicians ignore the drug war’s historical precedent, European countries are embracing harm reduction, a public health alternative based on the principle that both drug abuse and prohibition have the potential to cause harm.

Examples of harm reduction include needle exchange programs to stop the spread of HIV, marijuana regulation aimed at separating the hard- and soft-drug markets, and treatment alternatives that do not require incarceration as a prerequisite. Unfortunately, fear of appearing “soft on crime” compels many U.S. politicians to support a failed drug war that ultimately subsidizes organized crime.

— Robert Sharpe, Policy Analyst
Common Sense for Drug Policy (www.csdp.org)
Washington, D.C.

Family planning offers fertile savings

In 1987, Dr. Richard Kenney, director of ambulatory pediatrics and adolescent medicine at Charlotte Memorial Hospital, wrote:

“To draw once more on the St. Paul clinic, which has the most longitudinal data, and focusing just on family planning services in 1983, the cost of providing an average of 2.6 visits per patient per year was $111. Family-planning visits totaling 1,100 students that year cost $122,550. Based on conservative national figures, without such services 60 percent of these patients would have become pregnant, resulting in an annual cost to the community of about $3 million in medical and welfare payments. For every $1 spent on this one component of its program, St. Paul saved $25.”

Dr. Kenney failed to include either education or environmental costs in his analysis, which I’m confident would raise his figure of $25 past $50 for every dollar spent. I therefore wish to submit the following resolution from the floor, but with this notice so that nobody is surprised, to the Buncombe Democratic Convention on April 9:

Whereas: The N.C. Democratic Party platform clearly states that women have the right to contraception and/or an abortion regardless of their ability to pay for one; and,

Whereas: The establishment of such a right involves sufficient government funding, which is not currently forthcoming from the state of North Carolina; and,

Whereas: Contraception and abortion are by far the most cost-effective programs in government — every contraception dollar can save at least 10 local education dollars and another 10 environmental dollars — while any possible retirement burden, as concerns Italy, would be borne by the feds.

Be It Resolved: That each city, town and county is hereby called upon to use property taxes as necessary to adequately fund contraception and abortions for all those located in that jurisdiction.

(With respect to the reference to Italy: The total fertility rate in Italy is around 1.2. The Berlusconi government is concerned that there might not be enough young people paying taxes to support all the retirees in a few years or decades. However, this concern is not a problem for local government because Social Security is a federal program. Local governments stand to benefit from family planning in a way that the federal government does not.)

— Alan Ditmore

Fayetteville’s military face puts on antiwar makeup

Military families and veterans from many wars, including a busload of Veterans for Peace from Asheville, plan to gather in Fayetteville on March 19, the second anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. Like the majority of Americans, we now reject the reasons used to justify the war, and many of us feel that the U.S. government failed to successfully plan for what has happened. That lack of planning affects our communities more so than most.

Antiwar activism by veterans has been largely forgotten or downplayed. During the recent election, … it wasn’t John Kerry’s service in Vietnam that brought him to the national spotlight — it was his membership in Vietnam Veterans Against the War and his memorable testimony before Congress. During the Vietnam War, a GI-led demonstration in a park in Fayetteville drew 4,000 people, many of them servicemen. On the first anniversary of the [Iraq] war last year, the park saw another demonstration, the town’s largest action for peace in nearly 35 years.

A former N.C.-based Marine, Michael Hoffman, recently announced that the organization he co-founded, Iraq Veterans Against the War, plans to meet in Fayetteville on March 20, the day after the rally. Formed in the summer of 2004, the group is rapidly adding new members, including some who served with the 82nd Airborne.

Military Families Speak Out, an organization of people opposed to war in Iraq and who have relatives or loved ones in the military, formed in 2003. Its members are traveling from all over the country to be at the rally. Several members of Gold Star Families for Peace, composed solely of those who have lost loved ones in the war, are scheduled to speak. Local officials sponsor billboards proclaiming North Carolina to be “America’s Most Military Friendly State.” These events will reflect that sentiment in a way few would have imagined.

Protesting the war in Iraq is not a new activity in Fayetteville. A group of local of veterans, military wives and their community supporters conducts occasional vigils in the center of town and has since the day the United States invaded Iraq. Those local activists supported Army paratrooper Jeremy Hinzman, who left Fort Bragg for Canada, applying for status as a refugee [there] on the grounds that he was being forced to participate in an illegal war (after he was denied conscientious objector status).

The national director of Veterans for Peace, Michael McPhearson, is a Fayetteville native. He served as a field artillery officer in the first Gulf War. He has a son stationed at the Fort Campbell, Ky., Army base. He will speak at this year’s rally, just as he did last year. McPhearson’s mother sometimes stands with others at the vigils behind a handwritten wall that now contains the 1,483 names of American servicemen dead in Iraq.

We are tired of the ubiquitous yellow ribbon magnets that command us to “Support Our Troops.” To those of us living in this military town, real support for the troops means “Bring Them Home Now”!

— Lou Plummer

Mental health victimized by federal budget cuts

Mental illness is the leading cause of disability and premature death in the United States. In North Carolina, an estimated 250,000 adults and 150,000 children experience mental illness. Many of these consumers rely on Medicaid to obtain a higher quality lifestyle. This currently covers more than half of the state and local mental health services, hospital care, community services and prescription medication.

However, the president recently submitted a proposal to Congress calling for a $60 billion budget cut to the states for Medicaid. This proposal failed to explain that such a budget cut would undoubtedly jeopardize the health and well-being of the millions of people who rely on Medicaid — particularly those with mental illness.

In North Carolina, this budget cut would be especially devastating. Our current funding levels are already insufficient in meeting our needs. A further cut would rip apart the Medicaid safety net that provides treatment to those with mental illnesses who have no other source of care. Currently, N.C. legislators are considering a proposal to expand Medicaid coverage to children in need, but this will not be possible in the face of such federal cuts. Indeed, North Carolina must also increase its state funding [for mental health] for those who do not receive Medicaid — something that Governor Easley’s budget once again does not do.

Clearly, it is our local communities that will bear the costs the federal government wants to shirk. By limiting [the] Medicaid services [received by] consumers with mental illness, costs will not disappear, but will simply transfer to our overburdened hospitals, homeless shelters or even jails. These Medicaid cuts are shortsighted and fiscally irresponsible. Cutting Medicaid means cutting mental health services, along with a substantial number of jobs, and that is a devastation North Carolina cannot afford.

— John Tote, Executive Director
Mental Health Association in North Carolina

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