Sunday, March 23, 2008

"Ten Commandments Weekend" for US?

Sen. Lieberman and Sen. Brownback have proposed Sen. Resolution 483 to establish the first weekend of May 2008 as "Ten Commandments Weekend"

Assholes. Here we go again.

This type of dog-whistle "resolution" is nothing more than cheap political pandering by Republicans (and yes, Lieberman is a Republican by his votes, positions and conduct--despite his nominal label as "independent") designed to trigger highly-predictable Pavlovian support by adamant Christianists and an equally predictable outcry by all others, which only serves to reinforce Christianists' false beliefs:

1) That the United States and its citizens are spiritually and morally bankrupt and that government promotion of Christianity is the most important step necessary to overcoming same;

2) That Republicans care about and will protect and promote their religion beliefs;

3) That this resolution and others like it are code for an implied promise that more direct and forceful actions by Republicans to "put God back in the public square" are sure to come if Republicans could only have more political power;

3) That their religion is under attack and that they are being persecuted and victimized by level-headed, rational secularists and others who object to religious pandering by elected officials on the grounds that it is a waste of time, effort and resources, is exclusive of other faiths and beliefs, and is against the clear and express foundational principles of our governmental system.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Damn Good Questions--Fed Bailout

Athenae at has written an amazingly powerful essay entitled "It's A Small Crime" reflecting on our passive acceptance and lack of outrage about massive federal bailouts for uber-wealthy corporate types versus the nasty judgments we reserve for poorer Americans.


. . .

Let me ask a couple of questions here. Does Bear Stearns have a big screen TV? What about bling? Any bling they could sell?

. . .

Let me ask those questions, those questions we ask of every beneficiary of the smallest drop of government assistance. Let me ask why this is the ONLY scenario in which our parsimonious bullshit about personal responsibility, about choices and consequences, about "survival of the fittest" and other forms of sicko math, need not fucking apply.

. . .

Let me ask how on earth we can take all the time it takes to think up all the ways we think up to sit in judgement on every individual case we hear about, about how that person just didn't work harder, didn't suffer enough, didn't earn "our" money, didn't deserve "our" charity, didn't bleed in front of us enough, and all the while, all the fucking while, we give it away by the millions and never ask where it goes. All the while.

. . .

I think we should ask with the same nasty assumptions at the back of our throats, the same willingness to believe that somebody else is running a scam on us to get a fat government check, the same nasty, mean, small little pinchingness we use toward individual human beings. I think we should ask those questions. . . .

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Seattle Native to Succeed Fallon or Petraeus?

PI reporter Mike Barber interviewed Maj. Gen. Peter Chiarelli about his background and upbringing, his career within the military and the Department of Defense and his military philosopy.

He is apparently being considered by some as a successor to either Fallon or Petraeus.

Chiarelli grew up in the Magnolia neighborhood of Seattle and attended local colleges, earning a Masters from the UW. Chiarelli is currently an advisor to Def. Sec. Robert Gates. He served two tours of duty in NATO under Gen. Wesley Clarke. He has served two tours of duty in Iraq.

Chiarelli counts both Gen. Clarke and Gen. Eric Shinseki as his close mentors, and in Iraq he had a central role in the inquiry into the Marine massacre of civilians at Haiditha.

From the article:

An experienced teacher and writer, Chiarelli co-authored two papers in recent years that are considered influential in helping to change Iraq strategy from its beginnings under Rumsfeld to the counterinsurgency focus favored by Gates and carried out by Petraeus.

One paper emphasizes the need to balance providing security in Iraq with winning the peace by supplying basic needs, including clean water, electricity, plumbing and sanitation. Another discusses the dangers of military and civilian leaders being too optimistic about "essentially unpredictable" military operations.

Victory in this war, he says, won't look like victory in other wars.

Based on the interview piece, Chiarelli comes across as a reasonable, temperate and thoughtful man. But not having read his papers, I do wonder what exactly he thinks a "victory" will look like.

And why exactly do we have to keep pretending that any military "victory" or "win" is even remotely possible or necessary in Iraq anyway? My government wrongly invaded Iraq under demonstrably false pretenses. We've pitted ethnic and religious groups against each other, installed a non-functioning puppet government, wrecked the infrastructre, imposed martial law and took over the press, destroyed the economy, pillaged its resources, and imprisoned, tortured and slaughtered its people.

Isn't that enough of a "victory"?

An Excellent Test

It also proves the point that eyewitness ID isn't always that great or reliable.

Idiots at Reuters--Shark De-Finning Case (Updated)

Well it looks like I broke the story about the god-awful 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision on the industrial shark de-finning case before the mainstream media did.

So today Reuters reported the decision correctly, but some idiot got the headline totally ass-backwards. The headline reads: In U.S. court fight, the shark fins win

No, the shark fins did not "win" anything. The sharks lost. The US government lost. The American people lost. The industrial de-finners who have figured out a way to skirt our species protection laws won--at least for now.

The subtext of humor in the "tone" of the headline pisses me off too. Wholesale slaughter of species isn't funny.

Here is the decision, straight from the Court's website:

The Government seized the fins pursuant to the Shark Finning Prohibition Act (“SFPA”), which makes it unlawful for any person aboard a U.S. fishing vessel to possess shark fins obtained through prohibited “shark finning.” 16 U.S.C. § 1857(1)(P)(ii). TLH does not contest that, on its behalf, the KD II purchased the fins at sea from foreign vessels that engaged in shark finning. Instead, it argues that the KD II is not a fishing vessel under 16 U.S.C. § 1802(18)(B), and for that reason the forfeiture of the shark fins it possessed would violate due process. We agree that neither the statute nor the regulations provided fair notice to TLH that it would be considered a fishing vessel under § 1802(18)(B). We therefore reverse the judgment of forfeiture and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

So I saw the stupid headline and then spent the next 10 minutes navigating Reuters website trying to find a contact link to an editor for correction. Jeez they make it difficult. I guess they don't really want feedback from us "ignorant masses."


Update: Thee Reuter's headline about the shark fins "winning" is correct, but only in a highly technical, legalese sense. In forfeiture cases involving seized goods, the seized goods are named in the case title. So it's not unusual to see case titles like "US v. 700 Siberian Tiger Pelts" or US vs. 20,000 lbs. of African Elephant Ivory Tusks." That's just how it's done.

But when the seized goods "win" --as is the case with the seized shark fins--what it really means is that the people who broke the law won.

What pisses me off about Reuters is the bemused tone of the headline, and the lack of context in the piece about what negative impacts this decision will have on all efforts to protect species.

Like I said, wholesale slaughter of species just ain't funny.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

King Co. Animal Shelter--A Stinking Mess

The King County Council is holding a public hearing on April 14th about the deplorable shelter operations documented by an outside consultant. Per the consultant's report, these same systemic problems were occuring back in 1998. Despite increases in shelter operations budgets since then, conditions haven't improved, and are the same or worse than the last series of independent inspections.

Burnout of workers in animal care is fairly commonplace, especially in "kill" shelters. But there's apparently been no real recognition of the potential problems burnout can lead to by King County, so there's no system in place to minimize it, prevent it or deal with it.

So if you have staff or management working in an animal shelter who don't come from a mindset or a life philosophy that animals absolutely have basic rights and deserve our kindness and care, who don't feel personally responsible for the animals, and who aren't self-reflective and don't understand how humans can become uncaring and cruel because of burnout, then you have systemic disasters like what has been going on at the KCAC shelter.

In general I oppose privatization of public services, but in this case I conditionally support Councilman Bob Ferguson's call to privatize the shelter operations, as long as it is operated by a long-established animal welfare group such as the Humane Society or PAWS. These groups have the correct mindset towards animals, understand the challenges of shelter staff burnout, and know how to deal with it and keep it under control.

Among other things the consultant found:

1. Animals without food or water, sometimes for days.

2. Animals housed in filthy cages, not cleaned for days.

3. Numerous open cages while adoptable animals languished unseen in back rooms (note--KCAC has strict time limits on how long an animal is "adoptable" before it is euthanised).

4. Staff not following basics of santiary cleaning procedures or animal handling.

5. Staff not keeping accurate or complete, updated records.

6. Staff not cross-checking lost animal reports with shelter animals and not entering lost animal reports into computer system.

7. Non-compatable animals put together--leading to severe stress, food hoarding, fights and injuries.

8. Staff not relocating animals once non-compatability determined.

9. Animals not being vaccinated.

11. Cruelty and neglect reports not followed up, properly investigated or documented.

12. Outdated "contagious disease" notices posted in adoption areas falsely implying current outbreaks (which could negatively impact adoptions.)

13. Facility showing significant wear and tear (same physical plant problems as last time).

14. Unsanitary food storage and handling.

15. Sick animals housed with healthy ones. Quarantined sick and injured animals not closely monitored.

16. Substantial difference in conditions and staff conduct when consultant pre-announced versus surprise or "undercover" visits.

17. Significant management and staff turnover, with new management not having background in animal care/shelter management.

18. Staff "doing own thing" with animal care--not following procedures and guidelines.

19. Donations of food and money not used for animal care.

20. No follow-through on spay/neuter coupons leading to minimal improvement in pet overpopulation.

21. Disciplinary procedures inadequate or simply not followed.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Rules of Engagement?--Free Fire Slaughter

Here is a link to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Against the War's video feed of Winter Soldier testimony.

It's impossible to do justice to the heartbreaking testimony of these soliders talking about the unconscionable, immoral and illegal conduct of the occupations of these two countries by providing snippets and summaries in a blog post. Instead, every American should simply watch and/or read their testimony in its entirety.

Sometimes I'm just so ashamed of the willful ignorance of my fellow citizens about what is being done to these people in the name of "freedom".

All I can say is if there is a just God, then America is truly damned.

Foreclosure Sharks in Puget Sound--Updated

In an unpublished decision entered yesterday, the Washington State Court of Appeals reviewed a trial court's decision and concurred that defendants:

Dick and Cecilia Pelascini;
Thomas Boboth; and
Pacific Shoreline Mortgage, Inc.

had violated the Consumer Protection Act.

Per the court's decision, they took advantage of a long-time homeowner who had fallen on hard times and was facing foreclosure and convinced her that they were helping her "save" her home by setting up refinancing when in fact they bought it out from under her for far less than what they would have paid via a public trustee's sale.

After signing the paperwork the "homeowner" (plaintiff) was allowed to stay put until the Pelascinis later decided to sell the home.

Then they evicted her.

From the decision:

The Pelascinis' argument rests on the false premise that they "did help plaintiff save her house." The trial court found that Pace-Knapp reasonably interpreted the Pelascinis' promises to mean that they would refinance her home, which means she would continue to own it.

Taking the unchallenged findings as true, we conclude that the Pelascinis deceived Pace-Knapp when they promised her that they would help her "save" her home and implied that they would refinance her loan. Simply stated, the point is that they saved her home for themselves so that they would not have to bid at the rescheduled trustee's sale. They did not help her save her home for her, as suggested. The Pelascinis' practice of preying on this and other vulnerable home owners on the eve of foreclosure is the type of practice likely to deceive future distressed owners in the same manner.

Despite claims by local corporate media and real estate professionals that the Puget Sound area is somehow immune to the national subprime scandal and its impact on housing markets, the blood is in the water here, the sharks have smelled it, and they are beginning to feed.

Why is it that predatory foreclosure sharks can't immediately be put out of business and be brought up on criminal charges?


The Washington legislature just passed HB 2791 which on the face of it substantially increases regulation of the sharks. The bill apparently provides for increased plain-language disclosures, extends the right of recission (canceling) a contract for some additional days, requires the sharks to first determine if the homeowner can actually "buy back" the home under the terms offered, requires the sharks to act in the homeowner's best interests and establishes that the homeowner will receive at least 82% of market value if the homeowner is evicted.

Gov. Gregoire hasn't signed it yet.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Wa State Attorney Discipline Mar 2008

Here's a link to the details of this month's Washington State Attorney Discipline notices from Bar News. (And there are disciplinary actions that don't appear in this publication.)

It's as good as or better than reading the local police blotters.

9th Circuit Rules in Favor of Industrial Shark Finners

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals recently decided in favor of large-scale industrial shark finners premised on a technical violation of "due process" by the feds in a civil forfeiture case brought against the defendants for violating the Shark Finning Prohibition Act.

If you care about species protections, go read this decision. Seriously.

Here's the nutshell:

. . . Claimant-Appellant Tai Loong Hong Marine Products, Ltd. (“TLH”) owned the shark fins. TLH, a Hong 2474 UNITED STATES v. APPROXIMATELY 64,695 POUNDS Kong company, had chartered the KD II and ordered it to meet foreign fishing vessels on the high seas, purchase shark fins from those vessels, transport the fins to Guatemala, and deliver them to TLH.

The Government seized the fins pursuant to the Shark Finning Prohibition Act (“SFPA”), which makes it unlawful for any person aboard a U.S. fishing vessel to possess shark fins obtained through prohibited “shark finning.” 16 U.S.C. § 1857(1)(P)(ii).

TLH does not contest that, on its behalf, the KD II purchased the fins at sea from foreign vessels that engaged in shark finning. Instead, it argues that the KD II is not a fishing vessel under 16 U.S.C. § 1802(18)(B), and for that reason the forfeiture of the shark fins it possessed would violate due process.

We agree that neither the statute nor the regulations provided fair notice to TLH that it would be considered a fishing vessel under § 1802(18)(B). We therefore reverse the judgment of forfeiture and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Did you get that?

Despite the clear and express intention of the Act--protection of sharks by outlawing industrial shark finning in US waters--the Court determined that because the Act apparently didn't forbid "non-fishing" vessels from obtaining or possessing shark fins from non-US fishing vessels while at sea, that the civil forefeiture of the shark fins was invalid on due process grounds.

There's clear evidence of collusion and it's patently obvious that the defendants intended to skirt US laws. Instead of directly de-finning the sharks themselves, the just arranged to get them from non-US industrial de-finners on the opean ocean.

It's not like they just happened to stumble upon each other's boats out in the ocean and one of the boats just happened to have 64,695 pounds of shark fins that the other just happened to want. They planned this.

By using such a narrow definition of "fishing vessel" to reach its conclusion, the Court makes a mockery of the intent and spirit of the laws protecting vulnerable and threatened species.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Green Plug--Volunteers Needed

The 2008 Seattle Greenfestival is looking for volunteers to help run the two-day event April 12 and April 13 at the Washington Convention and Trade Center.

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels is a scheduled keynote speaker.

Our city has lost a tremendous percentage of tree cover in the last decade. If there's a question and answer period I intend to ask the Mayor whether he's actually going to follow through on past ideas, promises, current plans and funding to re-tree the City.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Americans 0, Predators 100

Investigative reporter Greg Palast has a must-read article posted that exposes the back-scratching giveaways and the gross corruption behind the Bush administration's massive government bailout of predatory banks, brokers, corporations and lenders.

Gov. Spitzer was leading the charge on behalf of Americans to fight back against these predators. Palast explores how Spitzer's resignation at this critical juncture is a huge win for the predators, how the "exposure" of Spitzer's sexual escapades may have well been exquisitely politically timed, how the bailout does next to nothing for American homeowners, and how it is certain that so many of them will still lose their homes.

Article excerpts:

. . .

The press has swallowed Wall Street’s line that millions of US families are about to lose their homes because they bought homes they couldn’t afford or took loans too big for their wallets. Ba-LON-ey. That’s blaming the victim.

. . .

Now, what kind of American is ‘sub-prime.’ Guess. No peeking. Here’s a hint: 73% of HIGH INCOME Black and Hispanic borrowers were given sub-prime loans versus 17% of similar-income Whites. Dark-skinned borrowers aren’t stupid – they had no choice. They were ‘steered’ as it’s called in the mortgage sharking business.

. . .

Indeed, the feds actually filed a lawsuit to block Spitzer’s investigation of ugly racial mortgage steering. Bush’s banking buddies were especially steamed that Spitzer hammered bank practices across the nation using New York State laws.

. . .

Then, on Wednesday of this week, the unthinkable happened. Carlyle Capital went bankrupt. Who? That’s Carlyle as in Carlyle Group. James Baker, Senior Counsel. Notable partners, former and past: George Bush, the Bin Laden family and more dictators, potentates, pirates and presidents than you can count. . . .

There was no ‘quid’ of a foreclosure moratorium for the ‘pro quo’ of public bailout. Not one family was saved – but not one banker was left behind.

Friday, March 14, 2008

New Terrorist Threat--Root Vegetables

A raw turnip in a gift bag led to a bomb scare at an Indiana law firm. The police bomb squad used a robot to move the gift bag to a parking lot and then unsuccessfully tried to detonate it before discovering the vegetable.

I guess I could understand someone panicking over a suspicious package in the weeks following 9/11.

But it's 2008. Come on people. Get a grip for crying out loud.

Whatever happened to using a trained explosives dog and handler to first assess the threat? Nah. That would be too easy, too "pre-9/11". Plus I suspect the cops were happy to have an opportunity to play with their high-tech bomb robot, which "justifies" this expense.

And what about the cost to taxpayers for the police response to these persistent false alarms? So Chicken Little gets a "suspicioius" package and instead of just opening it up he calls the cops. The cops come, evacuate the building and cordon off the parking lot. Then they send in a robot to retrieve the package and try to blow it up.

Shouldn't the Chicken Littles among us start paying for these false alarms?

On second thought, the terroristic turnip was sent to a law firm, so perhaps the attorney's guilty conscience went on overdrive, or perhaps his fears weren't entirely unfounded.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Oh Those Poor Kids!--Updated

Firedoglake nails the latest in Republican concern trolling right on its ugly little head:

Saw this headline in Yahoo!News: "Spitzer Scandal Tricky for Parents".

Change "Spitzer" to "Clinton", and you have stories that were originally written ten...years ago

Oddly enough, there was no handwringing about "what will we tell the kiddies?" when David Vitter was exposed. Or Larry Craig. (That's right: Nobody last year was writing stories about poor little kids asking their fathers "Daddy, what's a 'gay prostitute'?"*) Or Bob Livingston. Or Mark Foley. Or Newt Gingrich. Or Philip Giordano. Or Ken Calvert, Or Bob Packwood. Or Dan Burton. Or Helen Chenoweth. Or Jack Ryan...

Here's a question--have the Repugs done any studies showing how all those poor little kiddies who lived through the (raise back of trembling hand to forehead and bit lower lip) horrors of the media frenzy erupting from the Clinton sexcapades doing today? Are they irredemably psychically scarred?

Update: The media frenzy over any exposed sex scandal involving hypocritical political or religious power-players, while understandable, really is horrible to witness. Unlike the Repugs though, for me the horror doesn't arise from kids posing uncomfortable questions to their parents about sex. Nor does the horror arise from the reporting of the facts, per se. After all, investigating claims and providing the public with accurate information about the conduct of people in positions of authority is a central role of media.

What's truly horrible is the media's delighted gutter-delving into salacious details which are unnecessarily repeated and analyzed ad nauseum under the pretense of "serious reporting" while all the other news, which may be far more pertinent, and far more important, for media to report on and for citizens to know about is treated as nothing more than white noise in the background.

Now that is the true horror. And try as I might, and as I'm sure many of you do too, it's hard not to pulled into the frenzy. But it's important to keep trying.

"Eco-Terror"? More Newspeak is More Like It

The word "eco-terror" is being used with increasing ease and frequency by corporate media and the general public as shorthand for acts of anti-industrialism and anti-corporatisim via direct destruction, sabatoge and vandalism committed by individuals and organized groups.

The word "eco-terror" is Newspeak, and progressive bloggers should consciously avoid using it.

While some ELF acts have been extremely stupid and counter-productive (prime example being the arson at the UW Center for Urban Horticulture which destroyed years of scientific research focusing on ecological restoration projects), and some of these acts have been more thoughtful and tightly targeted, I can't think of one act that comes close to justifiably labeling it an act of "terrorism."

Vandalism and sabotage--absolutely. Terrorism--not.

According to Wikipedia, the term "ecoterrorism" was coined by radical pro-business, anti-government right-wingers, presumably to equate those who take direct, non-violent action to promote preservationism, conservationism and ecological protection with the acts of political and religious terrorists.

ELFers' core belief in acting non-violently towards people and animals is in stark contract with the armed, angry, power-mad whackjobs and religious zealots who either don't care if somebody is hurt or killed, or really, desperately do want to kill people to get their way.

There's a world of difference between them.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Winter Soldier Testimony Starts Tomorrow

The IVAW is holding "Winter Solder" hearings starting March 13, 2008.

The four-day event will bring together veterans from across the country to testify about their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan - and present video and photographic evidence. In addition, there will be panels of scholars, veterans, journalists, and other specialists . . .

To quote one serviceman who plans on testifying:

I never dreamed that I would ever find myself thoughtlessly going along with things that I would be ashamed to tell my family of, that I would have to choose sides within my own unit, or that I would ever find myself whittled into the form of a pawn on some spoiled rich boy's chess board. No, I never thought that I, the descendant of so many proud soldiers, would ever have to choose between my loyalty to the Army, and my loyalty to the People of the United States.

To speak publicly and openly of one's own personal shame and moral failings, and to relate the shameful acts of others who once were one's loyal "brothers in arms" takes tremendous courage.

I imagine these soldiers already know what they're going to face after testifying. I hope this isn't the case, but if the past is prologue, the personal lives of the soldiers who are "going public" will be severely scrutinized, distorted and relentlessly publicized by right-wing whackjobs in an effort to discredit them and their stories.

What a shame.

Second Chance Act Passes Senate

The Second Chance Act passed the Senate yesterday. From the Reentry Policy Council of State Governments:

The U.S. Senate passed today the Second Chance Act of 2007. This landmark bill, introduced by Senators Joseph Biden (D-DE), Sam Brownback (R-KS), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Arlen Specter (R-PA), provides critical resources designed to reduce recidivism and increase public safety. The legislation passed the Senate by unanimous consent and now proceeds to the President’s desk for signature.

The passage of the Second Chance Act reflects the strong consensus that improving prisoner reentry is not a partisan issue, but a matter of public safety, improving lives, and making effective use of taxpayer dollars," said Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry, Justice Center board member and chair of the New York State Assembly Correction Committee.

The Second Chance Act includes key elements of President Bush’s Prisoner Reentry Initiative, announced in the 2004 State of the Union address, which provides for community and faith-based organizations to deliver mentoring and transitional services. The bill will also help connect people released from prison and jail to mental health and substance abuse treatment, expand job training and placement services, and facilitate transitional housing and case management services.

ECS has qualms, on basic principle, of funding any "faith-based" programs and initiatives, but I am willing to suspend same for now.

This bill is a veritable sea-change from highly-punitive YOYO policies and attitudes regarding "freed" ex-offenders that is long overdue.

Here's the deal people. The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world--1 in 100 citizens are currently in prison or jail. In addition, there's one hell of a lot of people who have a "criminal history" who aren't incarcerated.

If you allow a situation to occur where ex-offenders can't get jobs or housing, regardless of the seriousness of the offense or the length of time passed since the offense, and you also allow a situation to occur where you don't offer help for the mentally ill or addicts, well then that 1 in 100 number (and the exorbinant cost of housing prisoners) just may contine to rise with no end in sight.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

300+ Reported Cases of Morgellons Disease in WA State

Some time ago I was in a position to assist a very sick young woman who was battling her disability insurance carrier because they had denied her claim for coverage and medical benefits because she had "delusional parasitosis," and "psychiatric" conditions of this sort were excluded from coverage.

Before becoming ill, this young woman was by all accounts bright, funny and hard-working. When I met her she was unable to work, was broke, and was near-suicidal on occasion from chronic pain.

Three years before, she had taken an extended trip to the San Francisco-Oakland area, and she developed a high fever that lasted several days. Shortly after the fever broke, she began developing painful, incredibly itchy pustules. These pustules broke open but instead of releasing any pus or healing, many of them morphed into deep, non-healing lesions and ulcers.

Then she started noticing very small, multi-colored fibers and speck-like materials in the lesions. When she tried using tweezers to remove these from a lesion on her wrist, she said it "felt like I was on fire. I had incredible pain shooting up my arm." On a couple occasions she actually saw vein-like "somethings" growing under her skin, she would itch uncontrollably, a pustule would suddenly form, and out of it would erupt these fibers and specks. Some of her friends and family witnessed this occur on a couple of occasions.

She couldn't sleep. She kept waking up, feeling like "bugs" were crawling on her. She was fired from her job when the ulcers on her face wouldn't heal.

She went to her GP a couple times seeking relief. The GP witnessed one of these sudden eruptions, documented it in the medical records and took some samples. Then, she was referred to a dermatologist.

To help the dermatologist, this young lady brought along a few samples of the fibers. She only saw this doctor for a few minutes during which he did a cursory exam. Unfortuantely for her (and unbeknownst to her), and for countless other sufferers of Morgellons Disease, this dermatologist concluded on the spot--with no inquiry, testing or bloodwork--that this young lady had "delusions of parasites."

The dermatologist referred her to a psychiatrist "for her depression and anxiety" and she was put on medication for it. This medication caused her long periods of near-catatonia, but did nothing to help with her symptoms.

So she was trapped in a body she couldn't move, feeling like bugs were crawling all over her, feeling like she was on fire, and all she could do was sit there in a brain fog and feel the intense pain, watch the pustules form and watch the fibers emerge from her body. She kept asking the psychiatrist for a referral to another dermatologist, but the psychiatrist felt it was important for her to first keep taking her meds to "stabilize her moods", so he kept increasing the dosage and reassured her that it would help her. So she took these drugs for a couple months until one day she happened to glance at her chart and realized that she'd been had.

Because of the dermatologist's "diagnosis" all along this psychiatrist had also presumed that she had this condition too (though this hadn't ever been discussed with her) and had been dosing her with heavy-duty anti-psychotics.

Through some symptoms-based internet searching, we stumbled upon the Morgellons Disease foundation's website. We learned that her disease progression and symptoms were "classic"--the high fever, the pustules, the ulcers, the terrible itching, the chronic pain, the sub-dermal "veining," and the fibers and specks. We learned that misdiagnosis of this disease as "parasitical delusions" was commonplace. We also learned that there were "hot spots" in specific localized areas of Texas, Florida and California (especially in the San Francisco-Oakland area where she had visited and fell ill) where reports were higher than anywhere else, and that reports of this disease were increasing.

We were able to connect with Randall Wymore, Ph.D., the lead Morgellons researcher in the United States. Dr. Wymore was extremely helpful in providing this young woman's new doctors with information about the disease progression and insights into her condition, and his input was extremely helpful in securing the medical help that she desperately needed. She received large doses of antibiotics and other drugs and treatments similar to what is provided to patients with Lyme Disease and fibromyalgia, and her symptoms subsided.

At the time all of the occurred, about three years ago or so, research into this "emerging disease" was just beginning and because the disease was't yet "recognized" no research funding was available. Dr. Wymore indicated that he and several of his colleages from various scientific disciplines had studied several skin patch samples including the fibers, but they were unable to determine (despite using multiple methods) what exactly these fibers were comprised of, however they did rule out that they were hairs or other organic materials. They did conclusively determine that the fibers and specks were actually embedded within and between layers of skin, not just laying on the outer surface of the skin (as would be the case with a piece of clothing fiber or animal hair, for example).

The CDC's interest in, and funding for research has been slow in coming.

But in the last three years, the number of reported cases of Morgellons Disease has grown all across the United States and elsewhere. Three years ago we knew of just two cases in the Seattle area. Now, in Washington state alone there are over 350 reported cases noted at the foundation's website.

Since this time there has been some national media coverage. There has been additional inquiry and conferences held as to what, exactly, the fibers and specks are and what is causing the disease. Dr. Wymore and his team are methodically experimenting and investigating the disease, but haven't formed any definitive conclusions yet.

Some other researchers not associated with the Morgellons foundation or Dr. Wymore's research team believe that the fibers and specks are comprised of materials commonly used in fiber-optics and nano-technology.

The EPA published a "white paper" in 2007 detailing the growing use of nanotechnology in industries, the inherent challenges of said use, and the possibility of widespread enviromental contamination.

This possibility is frightening.

Now I know that some people reading this post might think that this young woman was mentally ill and delusional, and that I shared her delusions, but this is simply not the case. Consider: I had never met her before and had no social pressure whatsoever to believe anything other than my own eyes. She was suffering, for sure, and was seriously ill, but she was not delusional. Once she was off the psych drugs and received antibiotics, her symptoms abated, and she improved quite a bit, though she still had occasional outbreaks.

When I first did the google searching on this disease three years ago, I came across a short piece on Morgellon's Disease by a Ben Chertoff that was published (of all places) in Popular Mechanics.

Ben Chertoff's piece on Morgellons Disease appears to be the first mention in any larger publication of this disease. Apparently he is a professional debunker, of sorts. But the simple fact of this article appearing in this magazine does raise some interesting questions, among others:

1) What's "mechanical" about this medical disease and why would readers of "Popular Mechanics" be interested?

2) What got Chertoff interested in this disease? Does he have any medical or infectious disease expertise?

3) Why did he not directly contact the nation's leading scientific researcher for quotes?

4) Why did he denigrate people who are suffering in such a cavalier fashion (read the article to get the full flavor of his smary, non-serious "reporting")?

5) Why no mention in the article of the known "hot spots" in the U.S. (which may well geographically correlate with nearby biotech research facilities)?

6) Why write an article debunking this disease when at the time of publication hardly anybody had even heard of it?

7) He's a "professional debunker". But could he also be a paid propagandist?

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Tucker Done Gone? Woo Hoo!

Is Tucker Carlson finally toast at MSNBC? Rumors are growing that his show will be canceled in the near future.

I'm actually feeling kinda giddy about this prospect.

One can only hope that MSNBC will actually replace him with a grown-up this time (a minority or a woman w/b nice, but I ain't holding my breath), and keep moving away from news as infotainment.

The Wire--It Ain't Over

The finale of HBO's series The Wire aired tonight.

I will miss it.

What a truly extraordinary body of work. Everything about this series--the intersecting and paralell storylines, the cast, the locations and the settings--all of it was near-flawless in execution.

The series' truly masterful storytelling allowed viewers to see far beyond stereotypes and 30-second headlines, to gain clear-eyed insights into the similar political, ethical and moral dilemmas faced by others (regardless of class) and to gain a sense of renewed empathy and civic responsibility for the tremendous challenges facing all of us who are part of the systemic, lurching behemoth that is real life in modern urban America.

If you don't have access to HBO and have never seen the series, run like hell to your local video store and rent it.

Goldie's Right (Once Again)

Goldie over at HorsesAss has an excellent post up that pretty much captures my own sentiments about the fevered, mean-spirited pro and anti candidate opinion pieces rapidly suffocating the progressive blogosphere.

To quote Goldie:

No doubt my friends in the establishment press are looking forward to a bitter and divisive brawl between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton all the way up to the Democratic National Convention, but the truth is that even at its nastiest, the 2008 presidential nominating process has thus far been an extraordinarily civil war compared to previous campaigns. Still, while the candidates have mostly managed to stay out of the muck, their partisan supporters in the blogosphere are now poised to march into combat rakes in hand, the posts and comment threads of many of our leading blogs serving as battlefields in an increasingly bloody war of words.

To which I caution my comrades in the progressive netroots… who the hell cares?

There isn’t a nickel’s difference between Obama and Clinton on most policy issues, at least not substantive enough that it can’t be overcome by a commanding congressional majority, and both candidates arguably occupy the same center/center-left ideological niche. We may prefer one candidate’s health care plan over the other, or one candidate’s historical record on the occupation of Iraq, but both Obama and Clinton largely share the same agenda, and either would be far preferable to the Republican alternative. But most important to movement progressives like me, while both are good Democrats, and both have clear paths toward victory in November, neither is exactly what we would call a “netroots candidate,” and thus neither deserves the sort of unrelenting partisan passion that now threatens to distract our ranks, if not actually split them.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Cascadia Drinking Song

Josh Mahar over at Cascadia Rising penned the lyrics to a great drinking song. He's looking for a tunesmith.

Criminal History--The Digital Scarlet "C"

I've been reading, contemplating and researching issues relating to removal of a person's past criminal history from public scrutiny.

It's not only recent parolees and repeat felons who are now summarily being disenfranchised and eliminated from access to all sorts of jobs, housing, licensing and other opportunities.

Nowadays in our "post-911 world", because of easy, cheap access to permanent databases--either provided by a court system or by private data mining and "background check" companies--this disenfranchisement is being experienced by John Q. Citizen who has a criminal history that was in the distant past.

If you do basic google searching you will come across an amazing number of desperate people seeking to have their criminal histories removed from public scrutiny. Many of these people committed a crime 10, 20, even 30 years ago and have been crime-free since then.

Even cases that were dismissed, vacated or sealed by the courts are now showing up in these databases. Juvenile cases, misdemeanors, traffic tickets and parking tickets are listed. Even in cases where an arrest was made, but no charges were filed, or the person was exonerated, or the conviction was overturned--even in cases of utter innocence, governmental malfeasance, or mistaken identity--these are showing up in permanent, unregulated private company databases.

Some people who don't even have an actual criminal record are perpetually suffering because of ID theft falsely linking them in permanent databases to a criminal past. Even people who share common names are also being wrongly linked in permament private databases to a criminal with the same name.

So, John Q. Citizen, who has lived a clean life for years--before and after the period of criminal conduct and contact with the justice system--is now being "marked by the beast" with a permanent digital scarlet letter "C". John Q. Citizen is suddenly discovering he's not allowed to "get past his past" anymore--despite the fact that this is exactly what he has successfully done--and been doing--for years before the advent of e-docketing and permanent databases.

There's a large number of absolutists who believe that the "public has a right to know" everything about a person's past criminal conduct upon demand, and who believe that employers have a similar right to learn of long-past criminal conduct in order to make a current hiring decision.

All I can say is, well, "F-U. You don't."

There's tons of research available clearly demonstrating that the longer a person shows clean conduct (before and after committing a crime) the less likely it is that they will commit a crime--any crime whatsoever--in the future. Researchers know that in the three-year post conviction period that if there's no additional criminal conduct, the recidivisim rate plummets and rapidly reaches a level near-equal to people who have never had contact with the criminal justice system.

Lots of people have committed crimes and have engaged in anti-social conduct--but they may not have a criminal record.

So, if you take the absolutist position that an individual's entire criminal history must be made permanently available on demand for purposes of judging a person's character, then you must also logically take the position that courts should also permanently and openly publish all other court pleadings for all case types to the internet. That way the character of other people who don't have a criminal history record, but who have been subject to the judicial system, can also be "properly" judged.

Allegations and findings in divorce files, for example, could be extraordinarily pertinent, and much more helpful to an employer and to others for properly and fully evaluating a persons's character demonstrated over an extended period of time than would be a summary docket sheet from a single criminal incident from five, 10 or 20 years ago.

In divorces, judges are presented with highly-detailed character and conduct allegations and counter-allegations from petitioners, relatives, friends, employers, medical and psychological professionals, social workers, teachers, and neighbors, etc. Substantiated allegations of repetitive anti-social conduct, ugly behavior and even criminal conduct, allegations of sexual impropriety, child mistreatment, abuse and neglect, mental problems, assault, stalking, vandalism, addictions to drugs, alcohol, pornography and gambling, domestic violence, gross and/or deliberate financial irresponsibility, serial adultery, serial lying, theft, fraud, etc.--aren't atypical at all.

Based on the allegations and evidence presented in divorces, judges make findings of fitness and enter orders for parenting, visitation, parental contact, property division, parenting classes, drug/alcohol classes, restraining orders, anger management classes, psychological evaluations, counseling, financial support and the like.

Allegations in estate and guardianship matters are similarly extremely pertinent and also extremely helpful to evaluating character. Like divorce records, these records also contain allegations and counter-allegations from multiple persons about character and conduct (theft, fraud, elder abuse, etc.) upon which judges enter findings and orders.

But because states place near-automatic restrictions on public access to these types of records as a matter of course, and because sealing orders are readily granted to private citizens in divorces without even good cause showings--these types of court records--often containing clear, convincing and extremely pertinent information relevant to accurately judging "character"--are off limits.

And why are restrictions on these types of historical court files in place? Precisely because they contain embarassing "character" allegations and information that may be entirely true, but may also be taken out of context, may be fundamentally unjust or untrue, may be outdated, may be irrelevant, and at some point in time, maybe they really just aren't anybody else's damn business anymore.

Turns out that other groups and organizations have also been contemplating placing limits on access to prior criminal history records.

The American Bar Ass'n. recently published a position paper calling for significant restrictions on release and retention of criminal history information. Gov. Patrick Deval of Massachusetts is using their findings to follow up on his campaign platforms calls for common sense reforms to that state's criminal records release policies. Good for him.

Most of the reform discussions center around the idea that a citizen should have a right to "restored privacy" via limiting access to and retention of criminal history records once contact with the judicial system is over, and once a person has demonstrated a sustained period of clean conduct relevant to the seriousness of the crime committed.

But what I haven't seen articulated much as part of the discussion are concepts of other basic constitutional rights as well--namely, the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

When a person commits a crime AND is caught, AND if the police are called, AND if the police show up, AND if the police then file a report, AND if a prosecutor then files charges (and a person may well be deliberately overcharged), that person is then subject to criminal prosecution.

If convicted or if they plead guilty, then that person is also subject to the jurisdiction of the correctional system. The existence of these systems and their roles and functioning are predicated upon the principles inherent in our laws and enumerated in the Bill of Rights, and are based on the idea that a codified, institionalized system of fair, open and standardized processes is the best way to protect private citizens, ensure proper punishment and promote rehabilitation.

A citizen facing criminal prosecution has a demonstrated need for a check/balance on the power of government, a demonstrated need for due process, and a demonstrated need for protection from vigilante justice by a mob or by private individuals.

Once the criminal prosecution and punishment are over, the state's case is dismissed, and the defendant is supposedly then free from "any disabilities or penalties."

But when the judicial system perpetually publishes or allows unfettered public access to past criminal history records, the judicial system is abdicating its express authority, responsibility, powers and fundamental role to fairly evaluate facts, evaluate character and determine and mete out punishments and "disabilities" in favor of allowing private citizens to do so over and over again--long after that person is no longer subject to the judicial system's oversight and control. Prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment and "mob rule" are effectively gutted.

While it's true the state is not the "actor" and is not actively imposing extra-judicial punishment by its direct actions, and the court has "released" its interest in the citizen, by allowing permanent access to historical criminal records, the court is instead facilitating and encouraging unrestricted, extra-legal punishments by private citizens via its passive reliance on a generalized concept of a "right to know."

Certainly being "marked by the beast" with a permanent digital "C" which tacitly encourages and allows private citizens to engage in mob rule, or to judge, discriminate against, and punish other citizens long after the judicial system has already done so is cruel.

Unfortunately this scenario is becoming less "unusual" as these databases continue to exponentially expand.

More on this topic later.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Delayed Citizenship in Big Brotherland

I am becoming increasingly concerned, distressed and occasionally even distraught over the direction our country is heading--weaving and bobbing towards Big Brotherland where most all people are "presumed potentials" and treated accordingly--potential suspects, potential whack-jobs, potential criminals, potential terrorists, etc--and we are all under constant, perpetually retrievable surveillance (wholesale electronic eavesdropping, videocameras, GPS locators, data mining, data sharing, remote viewing, etc.)

We've allowed terrible changes to our fundamental concepts of national self-defense to occur--if we even suspect we will be harmed in the future by another nation, well then, according to this new concept because there is a "potential harm" we can now simply assert our suspicions of this potential as the central foundation for legitmizing the invasion and occupation of that country.

We are especially suspect of our "potential citizenss" and we fear them. They are highly suspect of being criminals, political subversives or terrorists--especially if English isn't that person's birth tongue. But some "potential citizens" are more suspect than others, even when they share certain cultural traits.

From Votelaw blog:

A lawsuit filed Thursday in a federal court in New York by Latino immigrants seeks to force immigration authorities to complete hundreds of thousands of stalled naturalization petitions in time for the new citizens to vote in November.

The class-action suit was brought by the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund on behalf of legal Hispanic immigrants in the New York City area who are eager to vote and have been waiting for years for the federal Citizenship and Immigration Services agency to finish their applications. The suit demands that the agency meet a nationwide deadline of Sept. 22 to complete any naturalization petitions filed by March 26.

Latino groups hope to summon the clout of the federal courts to compel the Bush administration to reduce a backlog of citizenship applications that swelled last year. According to the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research group in Washington, more than one million citizenship petitions were backed up in the pipeline by the end of December, the majority from Latino immigrants.

Despite protests over the delays from lawmakers, Latino groups and immigrant advocates, the immigration agency is currently projecting wait times of 16 months to 18 months to process the petitions. -- Latinos Seek Citizenship in Time for Voting - New York Times

It's simply not fair that an entire group of immigrants, based solely on their country of origin (read: Cuba) are afforded prompt handling of their citizenship applications, but most other people, even those that have been waiting for YEARS and YEARS and are demonstrably decent people, are being stonewalled.

When white middle class and upper middle class Americans started complaining about not being able to obtain passports so they could leave the US for vacations, well then, our government suddenly relaxed its regulatory procedures that had created a ridiculous application backlog and suddenly found the monies to hire more staff and speed up the process.

I hope the lawsuit is successful and that these deserving people are moved nearer to the front of the line.