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NYC to Experiment Responding to Some Calls With Mental Health Workers Instead of Police

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a new program that will send mental health and crisis workers instead of police on emergency mental health calls.

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On Tuesday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a new pilot program that will send mental health and crisis workers instead of police on emergency mental health calls. 

The program is expected to begin in February and will be composed of new mental health teams from the Fire Department’s Emergency Medical Services unit and will target two “high-need” neighborhoods, according to Reuters.

“For the first time in our city’s history, health responders will be the default responders for a person in crisis, making sure those struggling with mental illness receive the help they need,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement.

The statement went on to say that the professionals on call for mental health crises would be equipped to handle suicide attempts, drug abuse, and physical problems that are often indicators of mental health problems, all situations that police would typically respond to.

The mental health responders will be accompanied by a police officer if there is a weapon involved or “imminent risk of harm,” the statement said.

Even the most simple police encounters can be very stressful, which often makes it difficult to communicate properly. This tends to escalate the situation, considering that most police demand nothing short of complete obedience, even if they are dealing with someone who is not a suspect in a crime.

This can be scary for most people, but for someone who suffers from a mental illness and may already have challenges with communication, these types of encounters can be especially terrifying. Sadly, police across the country have repeatedly proven that they do not have the proper attitude or social skills to deal with mentally ill people. This is extremely obvious when police are called to do a “welfare check” on someone who is struggling with mental illness, only to shoot and kill the person because they didn’t “follow orders” to the officer’s liking.

A 2017 report issued by the Bureau of Justice Statistics used self-report survey data from inmates and found that at least 37% of prisoners and 44% of jail inmates had a history of mental health problems. A large portion of these people were convicted of nonviolent drug crimes or offenses associated with homelessness or poverty.

Studies have shown that people who suffer from mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than the average person. According to the Virginia-based Treatment Advocacy Center, a minimum of 1 in 4 fatal police encounters ends the life of an individual with severe mental illness.

Some US cities have already begun experimenting with sending mental health professionals out to deal with certain issues, most notably, Eugene, Oregon, which has been operational for the past 30 years. The program, called, Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets (CAHOOTS), began in Oregon, but is now currently operational in at least 8 US cities. It was estimated that the city of Eugene diverted 17% of 130,000 calls through the CAHOOTS program in 2017 alone. The program is also running in Los Angeles, Oakland, New York, Denver, Vancouver, and Portland.

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Environment

Biden Expected to Cancel Keystone XL Pipeline Permit on Day One

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President-elect Joe Biden is reportedly planning on the day of his inauguration to rescind a federal permit allowing construction of the Keystone XL pipeline in the United States, a move environmentalists said would represent an immense victory for the planet attributable to years of tireless Indigenous-led opposition to the dirty-energy project.

CBC News reported Sunday that “the words ‘Rescind Keystone XL pipeline permit’ appear on a list of executive actions supposedly scheduled for Day One of Biden’s presidency,” which begins with his swearing-in on Wednesday. The withdrawal of the Keystone XL permit is among several environment-related actions Biden plans to take via executive order during his first day in office, a list that includes rejoining the Paris climate accord.

“A huge victory for Lakota and Indigenous front liners and Water Protectors. None of this would have been possible without their sacrifices,” Nick Estes, a citizen of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe and an assistant professor of American studies at the University of New Mexico, tweeted in response to Biden’s reported plan for Keystone XL, a sprawling $8 billion tar sands project that the Trump administration repeatedly sought to advance amid legal challenges and widespread grassroots resistance.

Kendall Mackey, Keep It in the Ground campaign manager for 350.org, said in a statement late Sunday that preventing construction of the Keystone XL pipeline in the U.S. would be a “momentous sign” that Biden “is listening, taking action, and making good on his promises to people and the planet.”

“This decision to halt the Keystone XL pipeline on day one in office sets a precedent that all permitting decisions must pass a climate test and respect Indigenous rights,” said Mackey. “We expect the administration to make similar announcements on Dakota Access Pipeline and Line 3. We celebrate this great victory and the powerful movement to keep fossil fuels in the ground.”

“By ensuring that Keystone XL is reversed,” Mackey continued, “Biden is standing on the side of tribal nations, farmers, ranchers, and many communities whose livelihoods would be wrecked by this dirty pipeline.”

News of Biden’s Inauguration Day plan was met with howls of protest from right-wing Canadian politicians such as Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who issued a statement Sunday threatening legal action if Biden follows through on yanking the permit for Keystone XL, owned by Canada-based company TC Energy. Last March, as Common Dreams reported, the government of Alberta committed around $1.1 billion USD to the pipeline project.

“I am deeply concerned by reports that the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden may repeal the presidential permit for the Keystone XL border crossing,” Kenney tweeted, a response that was immediately panned by climate activists.

In a last-ditch effort to rescue its long-delayed Keystone XL project, TC Energy is reportedly “committing to spend $1.7 billion on solar, wind, and battery power to operate the partially completed 2,000-mile pipeline system between Alberta, in western Canada, and Texas,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

The attempt to brand Keystone XL as an environmentally friendly and sustainable energy project was swiftly ridiculed, with one journalist accusing TC Energy of a “desperate” effort to put “lipstick on its pig.”

Dallas Goldtooth, Keep It in the Ground campaign organizer for the Indigenous Environmental Network, said in response to Biden’s plan to rescind the pipeline permit that “our communities have been fighting KXL for over a decade, tooth and nail, in the dirt and in the courts.”

“We formed an immensely powerful, unlikely alliance of voices and we never gave up,” said Goldtooth. “I will wait for the ink to dry before I fully celebrate, but s*** this feels good.”

Republished from CommonDreams.org under Creative Commons

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Betty White Turns 99, and Her Tips on Living a Long and Happy Life Are More Valuable Than Ever

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Betty White, the original golden girl beloved by people of all ages, celebrated her 99th birthday on Sunday.

The spry granny, born Betty Marion White on Jan. 17, 1922, has managed to live a long, healthy, happy life and this can likely be chalked up to her unconventional approach.

The Emmy award-winning veteran actress once joked that her secret to longevity consisted of three simple ingredients: vodka, hot dogs, and her love of pets.

However, her tongue-in-cheek advice is getting new attention, especially given that too many of us have been forced to stay at home over much of the past year.

In 2011, during a Late Show interview with David Letterman, White gave 10 sagely tips on how she’s managed to maintain her verb and energy for so long. With White reaching one year short of a century, the advice is worth revisiting.

Her first bit of advice was to “get at least eight hours of beauty sleep, nine if you’re ugly.” Next, she advised that one should “Exercise. Or don’t. What the hell do I care?”

Third, she opined that one should “never apologize. It shows weakness.”

Her fourth tip shouldn’t give anyone any adventurous ideas, but it’s helpful nonetheless: “The best way to earn a quick buck is a slip and fall lawsuit.”

She then gave the priceless tip that one should “avoid tweeting any photos of your private parts” while also making sure to “schedule nightly appointment with Dr. Johnnie Walker.”

Some of the healthy eaters in our audience may take exception to White’s seventh tip, which is to: “Take some wheatgrass, soy paste and carob, toss it in the garbage and cook yourself a big-*ss piece of pork.”

Her next bit of adice was to “try not to die” and “never dwell on past mistakes,” which may both be easier said than done. Lastly, she recommended that you “don’t waste your time watching this crap.”

Sound advice that we can all relate to, Mrs. White!

White is reportedly spending her 99th birthday simply relaxing, she told Entertainment Tonight.

“You probably didn’t ask, but I’ll tell you anyway. … What am I doing for my birthday? Running a mile each morning has been curtailed by [coronavirus], so I am working on getting ‘The Pet Set’ re-released, and feeding the two ducks who come to visit me every day,” she explained, referencing a 1971 show she starred in that featured celebrities appearing alongside their pets.

Her birthday was also marked by various celebrities, who tweeted out birthday greetings to the TV icon.

“Happy birthday, @BettyMWhite! You’re a miracle in every way,”  wrote Ellen DeGeneres.

“I still get warm when I see this look. Happy 99 baby. You are a testament to living life on your own terms. Sending you a great big socially distanced kiss. I love you @BettyMWhite,” Ed Asner tweeted.

“Betty White bloopers are the best bloopers #HappyBirthdayBettyWhite,” Valerie Bertinelli tweeted alongside a video of hilarious mistakes made on the set of their former show, Hot in Cleveland.

“Wishing the incomparable Betty White a very happy 99th birthday! What’s your favorite Betty White role, friends?” wrote Star Trek star George Takei.

White, who is best known for her role as Rose Nylund in the classic sitcom The Golden Girls (1985-92), has over 75 years in show business under her belt. The comedian became a staple of U.S. television in such shows as The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Hot in Cleveland along with memorable appearances in shows like Mama’s Family and That ‘70s Show.

She catapulted to fame with her first sitcom, Life with Elizabeth, where White played the titular role and became the first woman to have creative control of a program as both a producer and the star.

White earned no less than 24 Emmy nominations and won eight in the span of her career.

When she reached the age of 90 it didn’t slow her down one bit. Not only did White become the oldest host in the history of Saturday Night Live but she also made dozens of cameos. White also starred in a memorable 2010 Super Bowl commercial for Snickers where she got tackled to the ground, football-style.

In an email to the Associated Press, White shared an especially enjoyable perk of old age: “Since I am turning 99, I can stay up as late as I want without asking permission!”

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UK Judge Refuses to Extradite WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange to the US

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In a surprise ruling on Monday, British District Judge Vanessa Baraitser rejected the United States government’s request to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on espionage charges.

Baraitser did not object to the overall charges, but ruled that conditions in US prisons would be too harsh, and that Assange would likely kill himself if he were extradited.

Baraitser rejected defense arguments that the charges against Assange were politically motivated and a violation of free speech.

“I find that the mental condition of Mr. Assange is such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America,” the judge said, according to the Associated Press.

She said that Assange was “a depressed and sometimes despairing man” who had the “intellect and determination” to take his own life.

The US government has promised to appeal the decision. At a bail hearing on Wednesday, Assange’s lawyers plan to ask for his release. Assange’s American lawyer, Barry Pollack, said the legal team was “enormously gratified” that he will not be extradited.

“We hope that after consideration of the U.K. court’s ruling, the United States will decide not to pursue the case further,” he said.

In court, lawyers for Assange argued that he was acting as a journalist and is entitled to First Amendment protections of freedom of speech when he published evidence of US war crimes that were deemed to be classified

Despite ruling to reject the extradition, the Judge essentially agreed with the complaints of US prosecutors. Saying that Assange’s actions “amount to offenses in this jurisdiction that would not be protected by his right to freedom of speech.”

She also said she trusted that the US court system would give him a fair trial, while at the same time admitting that prison conditions in the US would be too harsh.

“I accept that oppression as a bar to extradition requires a high threshold. … However, I am satisfied that, in these harsh conditions, Mr. Assange’s mental health would deteriorate causing him to commit suicide with the ‘single minded determination’ of his autism spectrum disorder,” the judge said in her ruling.

Professor Michael Kopelman, an emeritus professor of neuropsychiatry at King’s College London, said that Assange has been hearing voices and has confessed to a priest that he was making preparations to kill himself. These preparations included drafting his will and writing a goodbye letter to his family and friends.

“He reported auditory hallucinations, which were voices either inside or outside his head, somatic hallucinations, funny bodily experiences, these have now disappeared. He also has a long history of musical hallucinations, which is maybe a separate phenomenon, that got worse when he was in prison,” Kopelman said.

The voices that Assange is hearing are saying things like “you are dust, you are dead, we are coming to get you.”

Kopelman said that the most severe hallucinations have begun to diminish, but Assange is still severely depressed and at a high risk of suicide. He also added that if Assange were extradited the risk would increase further.

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