Clinton Zaps

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Clinton Zaps

Questions Administration's Refusal to Lift Federal Ban on Funding for Needle-Exchange Programs

November 2, 1997, an activist from ACT UP/New York interrupted President Bill Clinton's endorsement of Ruth Messinger this evening at the Sheraton Hotel, demanding that the President explain his administration's position on funding programs that provide drug users with clean needles to stem the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Responding to Clinton's statement that New Yorkers' lives would depend on who is elected Mayor, activist John Riley shouted, "What about the lives of thousands of injection drug users endangered by your Administration's refusal to lift the ban on needle exchange funding? When are you going to act to save lives?" Riley was promptly ejected by security.

Clinton continued to avoid any response to questions on needle exchange...
only crediting himself with the universal bureaucrat-spiel:
"we spend more on [...FILL IN THE BLANK...] than ever..."


"THE PRESIDENT: Wait, wait, wait. I would have been disappointed if you hadn't been here tonight. I'm kind of used to this. (Applause.) People with AIDS are dying. But since I've become President we're spending 10 times as much per fatality on people with AIDS as people with breast cancer or prostate cancer. (Applause.) And the drugs are being approved more quickly. And a lot of people are living normal lives. We just have to keep working on it. (Applause.) "

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November 8, 1997

Challenges Administration's Refusal to Lift Federal Ban on Funding for Needle-Exchange Programs

Three activists from ACT UP/New York interrupted President Bill Clinton's speech to the Human Rights Campaign , the gay rights lobby that gave major financial backing to Clinton's 1996 re-election campaign,, this evening at the Grand Hyatt Hotel. The demonstrators, acting in quick succession, demanded that the President explain his administration's refusal to authorize funding of programs that provide drug users with clean needles to stem the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and held up posters with that message. After each protest, the protesters were ejected. One of them was tackled, hit and thrown down by other dinner attendees.

It was the third such protest in the past month. On October 21, two activists interrupted an awards ceremony in New York for former White House aide George Stephanopoulos, sponsored by the AIDS Action Foundation. (Stephanopoulos responded that he has recently changed his position and now supports federal funding of needle exchange.) Last Sunday, an ACT UP member was ejected at a Manhattan rally for then-Mayoral candidate Ruth Messenger after interrupting President Clinton's endorsement speech.

In 1992, Congress authorized the Secretary of Health and Human Services to lift the Congressional ban on funding needle exchange funding IF the scientific evidence showed that such programs reduce HIV transmission without increasing drug use. That evidence existed at the time -- since 1989 (!) from European epidemiologic studies -- but was to be re-studied in the States by six federally-funded studies ("European data doesn't count... get the american Daaata") which later reinforced the same findings: needle exchanges save lives and don't lead to increase drug-use.

By 1995, the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS urged HHS Secretary Donna Shalala to lift the ban. Since then, organizations ranging from the American Medical Association to the National Conference of Mayors to even the Administration's own National Institutes of Health have called for this action, but Shalala has refused to act. Academic researchers have estimated that perhaps 10,000 injection drug users have been infected with HIV since Shalala took office, and note that adequately funded needle-exchange programs could very likely have prevented those infections and the many deaths that are likely result.

In September, hundreds of protesters marched in front of Shalala's HHS office demanding that she lift the ban, and 11 were arrested for trying to deliver a gigantic spine to her. There will be national fasts on World AIDS Day, December_1st. Three days later, on December 4th, the President's AIDS Advisory Council will hold its next meeting, several members have publicly threatened to resign if Shalala does not act soon. _


...and the following thankless response, posted to actupny by email...

I am the editor of a gay publication located in New Orleans. I received your "puff" piece today in which you crow about disrupting Clinton's speech at the HRC dinner in Wash., DC. You people are so misguided as to have become a total embarrassment to the g/l/b/t community. At first, I was sure you were from some ultra-rightwing group that had crashed the dinner in hopes of disrupting what was an incredibly important event for our community.

What you did was shameful, disruptive and absolutely destructive.

I'm only proud of you when you take your cause to those who need to hear it: those right-wing fanatics you are starting to look and sound more and more like. You MUST reconsider your agenda. DO NOT ATTACK THE ONLY MAN OF POWER WHO HAS HELPED AND CONTINUES TO HELP THE GAY COMMUNITY.

I was truly proud of the way he handled the situation and glad your stooges got thrown out. You should not be proud of what you did but deeply ashamed. I WILL not run your damning p.r.


...and one more response, a letter to editor, New York Blade, Nov.28th...

I watched President Clinton's speech at the Human Rights Campaign dinner on C-Span with great pride and admiration. I was thrilled at this historic event. My pleasure did not last for long, unfortunately, because members of ACT UP one again showed their complete disdain for our community and their complete lack of respect for a president who has done more for us than any other in our history. He has done more for us than most politicians, period. ACT UP did not represent me when they picketed the president and interrupted his speech.

Being HIV-positive, I realize the seriousness of this disease, but I recognize how much better off I have been under Clinton than I would have been under a Reagan, Bush, or Dole presidency. I also recognize that while we have lost so many people and many of us are at risk for dying, there are still a lot of people out there dying from breast cancer, multiple sclerosis, leukemia, and many other diseases for which there is no cure. There are just not enough funds available to do what ACT UP wants. The president would have to forget everyone else who is suffering besides those of us with HIV/AIDS, and then I doubt that would be enough to satisfy ACT UP. Clinton has increased spending on AIDS research ten-fold since becoming president and has appointed many openly gay individuals to official government posts. All ACT UP is accomplishing is alienating us from those who are trying to support us in any way they can without losing their offices to some conservative who would rather see us rotting in jail cells and dying in the streets. ACT UP, give Clinton his due! Stop alienating our community with your extremist activities. I,for one, want to see Vice President AL Gore as our next president, but if you keep up your "antics," we will once again see a day when a "Reaganesque-style" president comes to office -- and then where will we be?

If you want to make a difference, join a lobbying group that is respected and represents us all, such a HRC or the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. I, for one, feel you owe me and the rest of our community an apology for ruining an evening that was so meaningful for us as a whole.

Alexandria, VA

# # #


At this point we quote Avram Finkelstein, one of the originators of SILENCE=DEATH:

"We have forgotten that any good accomplished during the AIDS epidemic had to be fought for and won by the courageous and the radical. We have forgotten that anything that can change for the better can easily be changed back."

So the current National AIDS Policy is to allow people to get infected, and then try to figure out a way to pay for their health care. Without even mentioning the Council's scolding of the president on prevention issues, without mentioning the words "needle exchange," Miss Thurman's deeply patronizing retort to the Prez Advisory Council on AIDS points to increases in Ryan White, ADAP, Medicaid and vaccine research. I guess she's calculating that the big payoffs to AIDS, Inc. and the Pharmaceuticals will help everyone ignore the fact that this administration lacks the barest whisp of courage to implement the prevention strategy that every public health official in the country is begging for.

This press release is stupid and insulting. Nothing contributes more to the "political environment in which ideology can overwhelm science" than bullshit like this. Without a realistic prevention strategy which includes comprehensive needle exchange, the ADAP budget will probably have to double again in a couple of years. I guess the White House is shooting for at least a 50% across the board HIV infection rate (the *immoral* half of the population, no doubt). Can you imagine ASO Executive Director's salaries THEN? Can you imagine the portion of the national budget that will roll into the coffers of the Pharmaceutical companies?

The President should be arrested.

_________­­ aidsact post


Tuesday, April 28th, 6:30 pm
5th Avenue and 96th Street

President Clinton attended a fundraising cocktail party, but YOU were probably not invited. In fact, Clinton has said NO to federal funding for needle exchange, in spite of the fact that he and HHS Secretary Shalala acknowledge that it stops AIDS and doesnít encourage drug use. Clinton is willing to let new HIV infections increase in New York, just to avoid controversy in Congress. He expects a weak response from the most vulnerable, all those at risk for HIV. But 33 new infections will occur today because of his policy of negligent homicide.



Lift the ban on needle exchange. Fund syringe access NOW!


MONDAY, JUNE 8, 1998


Last year, President Clinton apologized for the Tuskeegee research, in which African- American men were knowingly allowed to remain untreated for syphillis. His apology has become a sick joke. This year, the same President, while admitting that needle exchange helps prevent the spread of HIV and does not contribute to increases in drug use, refused to allow federal funding for this intervention for Americans at risk, therefore allowing tens of thousands of new HIV infections. His excuse? That needle exchange sends a bad message to kids about drugs. His own message to kids? Some AIDS is acceptable. His legacy? A new Tuskeegee that a future President will have to apologize for.


Penicillin cures syphilis. The government withheld treatment from 399 African American men in the Tuskegee study for 40 years.

Clean needles stop the spread of HIV without increasing drug use.

The government still refuses to fund syringe exchange. Thirty three people are infected with HIV every day in the United States because Bill Clinton won't lift the funding ban.

Don't wait for an apology decades later. Fight back while you can.

Demonstrate for syringe exchange





FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, June 8, 1998

At Massive UN Demonstration for Clean Needles for Drug Users,
AIDS Protestors Blame Clinton for Thousands of New HIV Infections

(NEW YORK June 8) Over a thousand demonstrators marched down 42nd Street to the United Nations this afternoon to demand federal funding for needle exchange programs to prevent HIV among intravenous drug users. The marchers, who snarled the mid-town rush-hour traffic, charged that President Bill Clinton's refusal to lift the ban on federal funding for needle exchange programs would result in tens of thousands of new AIDS cases in the United States. Clinton was at the United Nations today to speak at a conference on International Drug Control Policy, seeking international support for his "War on Drugs."

The protestors carried 33 coffins, some of them child-sized, to signify the number of HIV infections resulting every day from Clinton's policy. A giant puppet of President Clinton as the grim reaper complete with black robe and bloody hands, accompanied the marchers. Some demonstrators wore targets signs symbolizing that they are the "collateral damage" in the presidents "drug war".

Marvin Crawford, an HIV-positive veteran who said he was infected from sharing syringes and who traveled from Philadelphia today for the protest, compared the President's syringe ban to the infamous experiment conducted by the Tuskegee Institute, which allowed hundreds of African-Americans infected with syphilis to remain untreated. "Needle exchange is Clinton's Tuskegee," Crawford charged. "The President knows what he has to do to save lives, but he won't do it. Because of him, thousands of people will be infected, most of them people of color. Clinton's "War on Drugs" is really a war on poor and minority communities."

On April 20, Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala informed Clinton that scientific research has proven that needle exchange programs effectively prevent the transmission of HIV and hepatitis, and do not lead to increased drug use. Her long-awaited action cleared the way for the President to lift the ban on federal funding for sterile syringe programs. Clinton accepted the findings, but stated that in spite of them he would continue to block the use of federal funds for needle exchange programs. HIV prevention advocates charge that the President's decision is politically motivated and will cause tens of thousands of new and preventable HIV infections by the year 2000.

"Clinton says he is worried about sending the wrong message to kids," said Chris Lanier of the National Coalition to Save Lives Now, which advocates for access to clean needles for IV drug users. "But the message he's sending now is that it's okay to let people who use drugs get AIDS, it's okay to let their kids be orphaned, it's okay to let their communities be devastated by HIV. Well, we're here to say it's not okay. Clean needles save lives, and those lives are precious."

Organizations participating in the protest included the National Coalition to Save Lives Now; The Harm Reduction Coalition, ACT UP/NY, ACT UP Philadelphia, ADAPT, CitiWide Harm Reduction Program, CHAI Project New Brunswick, NJ, East New York Underground, Exponents/ARRIVE, Harm Reduction Care Network of New York, Housing Works, The Lower East Side Needle Exchange, the Latino Commission on AIDS, Moving Equipment, New York City AIDS Housing Network, Nice Donut, NATAP, Positive Health Project, POZ Magazine, St. Ann's Corner of Harm Reduction, and the Streetside Health Project.

# # #

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: The Harm Reduction Coalition National Coalition to SAVE LIVES NOW!
email: website:

Ten Arrested By Secret Service After Chaining Selves and Dropping Banner After release, one protester ejected from press conference by Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey

Wed, 22 Jul y 1998 WASHINGTON, DC - A group of ten activists demanding that President Clinton fund needle exchange programs to prevent the spread of HIV seized control of the office of Presidential AIDS Policy Coordinator Sandra Thurman yesterday. The activists chained themselves inside her office immediately after Thurman refused to publicly condemn Clinton's April 20 decision to uphold the ban on federal funding for needle exchange. "I understand and support the President's policy," Thurman told the activists. All ten were arrested by the Secret Service and released shortly thereafter.

"President Clinton's April 20 act of cowardice spells death for tens of thousands of men, women and children in this country," said Chris Lanier, Coordinator of the National Coalition to Save Lives Now! and one of those arrested. "We've taken drastic action today to insist that human lives not be sacrificed to political expediency."

The protesters had demanded that Thurman call on President Clinton to reverse his decision, as well as to oppose and promise to veto any bill or amendment to make the current funding ban permanent. Participating in the occupation were members of the National Coalition to Save Lives Now! and ACT UP/New York, and needle exchange leaders from three cities.

During the takeover, activists chained and barricaded themselves inside Thurman's office; hung a banner proclaiming, "Clinton: Clean Needles Save Lives," out Thurman's window; covered walls, windows and photos of Bill and Hillary Clinton with posters denouncing administration policy; and shouted their demands through a bullhorn to outside passersby. The ten protesters held the building for 20 minutes, until Secret Service agents swept into the building and dragged them out in handcuffs. All were charged with disorderly conduct and released after two hours with fines of $50 each.

The activists had also insisted that Thurman join the call by 18 members of the Congressional Black Caucus for Clinton to dismiss Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey. The General has bitterly fought against funding needle exchange and was widely criticized for misrepresenting the relevant scientific evidence. Shortly after police released the Thurman protesters, one of them, ACT UP member Bob Lederer, confronted McCaffrey during a press conference at the National Press Club. McCaffrey tried to stop Lederer's question, offered to debate him at a future date, and then called Clinton's move "absolutely inspired" for affirming the science on needle exchange while shifting funding responsibility to state and local officials. When Lederer challenged the contradiction in that logic, he was ejected by McCaffrey's security guards. "We will vigorously pursue McCaffrey's promise to debate this issue," said Lanier of the National Coalition.

Experts estimate that 33 Americans are infected with HIV every day due to sharing dirty needles, with 10,000 infected directly or indirectly by that route in the five years since Clinton took office. While local funding allows 134 needle exchange programs nationwide to operate, they reach only a fraction of the injection drug users at risk. On April 20, Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala announced Clinton's decision (made at the last minute in the face of McCaffrey's threat of resignation and denunciation) to continue the funding ban, even while finally acknowledging the numerous studies affirming that needle exchange lowers HIV transmission while not increasing drug use. The Chair of the Presidential AIDS Advisory Council, Dr. Scott Hitt, called the decision "immoral"; the Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Maxine Waters, labeled it "shameful."

"Thurman is the official White House spokesperson on AIDS, and she can't have it both ways," said Mel Stevens of ACT UP, one of those arrested. "Either she is the community advocate that she claims to be-in which case she must publicly insist that the Administration put its money where its mouth is-or she is an apologist for Clinton's cowardice. We won't be hoodwinked any longer by false friends at the top."

House bill (HR 1737), which would permanently ban funding for needle exchanges and wipe out other vital AIDS services administered by them, passed the House April 29. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott is pushing to pass an identical Senate bill, S. 1959 or attach it as an amendment to any other bill. In a meeting with activists a week ago, Thurman said that Clinton might sign a bill containing such an amendment into law. The National Coalition is urging all concerned about stopping the spread of HIV to pressure their Senators and Congresspeople, as well as the White House, to stop this legislation.


We demand that Sandra Thurman immediately issue a public statement in which she:

1. Joins the leadership of public health, AIDS, African-American and Latino organizations in condemning President Clinton's murderous decision to maintain the needle-exchange funding ban, and demanding that he immediately reverse it.

2. Insists that President Clinton publicly oppose and pledge to veto any Congressional bill or amendment revoking Secretary Shalala's authority to lift the ban or extending the ban to include unrelated "indirect" funding of other vital AIDS services.

3. Echoes the call of the Congressional Black Caucus to remove General Barry McCaffrey as National Drug Policy Coordinator for lying about the data on needle exchange programs and campaigning against these life-saving measures.


PHOTO shows ACT UP member Bob Lederer shouting from the window of Sandra Thurman's office during the Thurman office take-over. Photo courtesy of Karen Pantelides.

- 30 -


This confrontation occurred from a press conference by Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey shortly after 10 activists were released from jail following the office take-over:

Q: My name is Bob Lederer (sp) and I'm from WBAI Radio in New York City. And General McCaffrey, I'd like to ask you about the issue of needle exchange. You have been a strong opponent of this program despite the fact that every public health authority in the country, and now even the secretary of Health and Human Services, has certified that, after many, many studies, it's overwhelmingly clear that needle exchange prevents HIV infections and does not encourage illegal drug use, and have begged, pleaded and implored President Clinton to lift the ban. You successfully lobbied him not to do so. And the question --

GEN. MCCAFFREY: Wait. Are you asking a question --

Q Yes. The question --

GEN. MCCAFFREY: -- or are you giving a political speech?

Q The question is, how do you respond to the call by 18 members of the Congressional Black Caucus for your resignation --

GEN. MCCAFFREY: Well, let me -- I've got your question. Let me --

Q -- based on the fact that you have undermined public health --

GEN. MCCAFFREY: -- if I may, respond to your question. Will you please --

Q -- and the effort to end the AIDS crisis?

GEN. MCCAFFREY: -- please hold your speeches. This is actually a news conference. If you'd like to debate me, I would welcome it.

Q (Off mike) -- be more than happy to.

GEN. MCCAFFREY: But what I actually support is the policy of our government. Secretary Shalala's decision is absolutely inspired, in my view, and I am completely behind it. And her decision was that we would embody the science of the needle exchange program, which is now behind more than 100 local efforts, and that if communities wish to bring together their health director, law enforcement, community leadership, and use this as a component of an outreach to bring into treatment otherwise unreachable elements of the addicted population, then we were behind it. And so I fully support Secretary Shalala's judgment in that line.

Now, at the same time, I think that Secretary Shalala and I and AIDS Czar Sandy Thurman , all of us who are in complete agreement that the impact of outreach and intervention treatment programs as documented pretty strongly in the two studies -- the DATOS and N-TISE (sp) studies -- we believe that we can reduce almost every element of malignancy and drug abuse with drug treatment. And so we're all behind that. The question was, on a subcomponent, does needle exchange as an activity, is it needed, is it helpful, for some sub- populations; and there was a difference of view on that.

But I think the -- you know, our view is let's watch these more than 100 needle exchange programs around the United States and see how they work, and let's for sure, though, get the dollars -- which we've done in the '99 budget, over $3 billion -- to pay for and develop the infrastructure needed for drug treatment. That's really our view.

Q (Off mike) -- resolve the contradiction between --


MR. SILVER: Are there any other questions, please?

(Cross talk.)

GEN. MCCAFFREY: Go ahead with your question.

Q -- how you can support needle exchange in theory and oppose funding it?

Q General McCaffrey, I was wondering if you can give us --

GEN. MCCAFFREY: I'd be glad, by the way, to follow up on that afterwards. Anybody that wants to hear the, you know, the playout of who said what to whom and our viewpoints. We are comfortable, though, with what Secretary Shalala did.

Yes, sir? ___ [end of excerpt]


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