Monthly Archives: July, 2007

Domestic Parking Problems and Nap’s Tax Letter

Mark Lucas has written a summary of last night’s special ordinance committee meeting, which considered and ultimately rejected a proposed ordinance. I am not exactly sure what this ordinance said, so have asked to get a copy and will post it.

Also, Jesse from Cranston has suggested we discuss the tax letter recently sent out by Mayor Napolitano, the one coming from an address other than city hall and explaining that it was basically Laffey’s fault and the fault of the Democratic city council that he had to raise taxes this year. I’ve called City Hall and requested a copy of this letter, which I will also post online. Feel free to start the discussion ahead of time but please provide actual quotes from the letter or accurate summaries to make the discussion optimally fruitful.

Also, there are rumors that an agreement has been reached between the city and the concrete plant, and that the agreement involves a payout to the concrete plant in order to stop the plant from being further built or operated.

ABC-6 Covers Mulligan’s Island/Big Box Controversy

Rachel McNally of Save Cranston’s Open Space just left a comment with a link to this ABC-6 story by reporter Parker Gavigan on the proposed development of Mulligan’s Island by Churchill & Banks. Seems like fairly good quality coverage for TV News.

Whitehouse Joins Call for Perjury Investigation

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse is joining Senators Charles Schumer, Dianne Feinstein, and Russ Feingold in calling for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate possible perjury by Attorney General Gonzales. They have sent a letter to the Solicitor General for the Department of Justice, Paul D. Clement, asking for the special counsel to be established. From the letter to Solicitor General Clement:

Dear Mr. Clement:

We write to you in your capacity as Acting Attorney General for matters where Attorney General Gonzales has recused himself. We ask that you immediately appoint an independent special counsel from outside teh Department of Justice to determine whether Attorney General Gonzales may have misled Congress or perjured himself in testimony before Congress.

We do not make this request lightly. We believe a special counsel is needed because it has become apparent that the Attorney General has provided — at a minimum — half-truths and misleading statements about the removal and replacement of US Attorneys, about his role in trying to circumvent Acting Attorney General Comey, and about the Administration’s position on the NSA wiretapping program. For example:

–Attorney General Gonzales testified on February 6, 2006 that within the Administration “there has not been any serious disagreement about the [Terrorist Surveillance Program].” Yet, Attorney General Gonzales indicated in his testimony this week that the purpose of the March 10, 2004 briefing for the “gang of eight” was to advise them “that Mr. Comey had informed us that he would not approve the continuation of a very important intelligence activity.” General Hayden stated in unclassified testimony on May 18, 2006, that the very same briefing for the “gang of eight” was on the “warrantless surveillance program.” Thus, Mr. Gonzales’s statements about the lack of disagreement regarding the surveillance programs are deeply troubling.

–Attorney General Gonzales testified that the purpose of the March 10, 2004, meeting “was for the White House to advise the Congress that Mr. Comey had advised us that he could not approve the continuation of vitally important intelligence activities,” which the Attorney General later testified was “not” the NSA wiretapping program. This is contradicted by an unclassified letter from John Negroponte, then Director of National Intelligence, to then-Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert on May 17, 2006, describing the same “Gang of Eight” briefing as being “on the Terrorist Surveillance Program.”

–On April 19, 2007 when discussing his role in the US Attorney investigation, Attorney General Gonzales testified, “I haven’t talked to witnesses because of the fact that I haven’t wanted to interfere with this investigation”; however, Monica Goodling testified before the House Judiciary Committee that she had an “uncomfortable” conversation with the Attorney General where he outlined his recollection of what happened and asked for her reaction.

The letter goes on to ask that the person who is appointed be someone who will not be hindered by conflict of interest, a person of “unimpeachable integrity, ability, and experience.” Good luck finding this person within the beltway these days.

Broadening Psychotropic Drug Use Abroad

Lo and behold, the sharply increasing use of psychotropic medication on children is not just a phenomenon unique to the United States. As reported by the Telegraph, a similar trend has occurred across the pond in Great Britain:

Child use of antidepressants up four-fold

The use of antidepressants and other mind-altering drugs among schoolchildren has more than quadrupled in the last decade, it is revealed today.

New figures show that GPs are prescribing pills in record numbers to combat stress, violent behaviour and even tiredness.

Under-16s were given drugs for mental health problems more than 631,000 times last year, compared to just 146,000 in the mid-Nineties.

The huge increase has been blamed on a rise in childhood mental illness sparked by family breakdown and high-stakes school exams.

But there are fears that family doctors are coming under pressure to prescribe drugs such as Prozac as a “quick fix” solution, when counselling would be better.

Politicians and children’s charities last night branded the rise “very dangerous” and said a generation of young people risked becoming hooked on prescription drugs.

The findings come despite the publication of research showing that children given antidepressants run a higher risk of self-harm and are more likely to attempt suicide.

David Laws, the Liberal Democrat shadow children’s secretary, who obtained the figures in a Parliamentary Question, said: “We’ve gone from a period when it was almost unthinkable to prescribe drugs to a child to amend their behaviour to a time when it is quite the norm.

“In a sense, it shows some of the pressure many youngsters are under – their lives are chaotic and there isn’t as much stability at home. But instead of trying to treat the causes and create a more stable and supportive environment for young people, we think we can solve these problems by prescribing a pill.” [full text]

“Solve these problems by prescribing a pill”? Gee, wherever would physicians (and parents) get the idea to do that?

NOTE: Side effects of reading this article may include nausea, dizziness, depression, head shaking, and moral outrage.

Doctors, Nurses Accused in Libya and New Orleans

This week, in a strange synchronicity, medical workers in Libya and the United States were set free.

In Libya, five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor were sentenced to death and endured eight and a half years in prison as their case was appealed again and again. Tuesday, they were released and allowed to return home in what essentially amounted to a ransom agreement. The nurses and doctor, who had come to Libya to work in a hospital, were accused of infecting 426 children with HIV. From this distant vantage point in the U.S., it’s pretty clear what happened. The hospital had allowed an appalling breach of infection control and the foreign workers were necessary scapegoats. The Libyan authorities had no intention of confronting the outrage and betrayal of the grieving parents. How convenient instead to throw the blame on the people who were in the hospital, who had entered a situation they didn’t create and couldn’t fix. The accused nurses and doctor might uncover the abusive practices and gross disregard that exposed so many innocent children to a virus that is not really that easy to catch. Better to silence and discredit them, and distract attention away from the real problems in the hospital.

Medical experts had previously called the Libyan case against the medics bogus. The co-discoverer of the AIDS virus, French researcher Luc Montagnier, had said: “It’s like a return to the Middle Ages, with scapegoats who are served up for the public.” He had testified in the case that poor hygiene in the Libyan hospital was probably to blame for the children’s infections. That theory was supported by a study detailed in the British journal Nature which found HIV had entered the blood of the children before the medics had even arrived at the hospital.

The very same day the medical workers arrived in Bulgaria, a grand jury in New Orleans found no true bill against Dr. Anna Pou. The jury had been deliberating for four months, hearing the state’s case that the doctor and two nurses had committed euthanasia. The grand jury’s responsibility was to listen to testimony, evaluate the evidence, and decide whether there was enough to warrant a trial. This month they gave immunity to the two nurses, Lori Budo and Cherie Landry, and required them to testify. Under the immunity agreement the nurses could not plead the fifth and had to answer all questions. Whether that was a last-ditch attempt to come up with a case against the doctor I don’t know. In any case, the jury was not persuaded.

These women who endured four sweltering days in Memorial Hospital during the flooding of New Orleans had been arrested and handcuffed in front of TV cameras even though they had agreed to come in voluntarily if Attorney Genera Charles Foti decided to press charges. Foti seemed to enjoy the news coverage, calling the women ‘murderers’ who were ‘playing God’. Once out on bail, they were suspended from work and although the doctor taught at the medical school, the nurses have not been able to work for a year. All of them were facing the possibility of twenty years to life.

The jury found no evidence of wrongdoing, but the future for the accused women is uncertain. They have legal bills and civil suits to deal with. Mr. Foti wants to make public all the evidence he assembled against them — since the jury refused to find a crime he will try them in the press. Although most in New Orleans are relieved and happy that the grand jury found no true bill, there is a deep reservoir of race, class and religious hatred. From the Times Picayune, you can see messages like this…

“The hell with “Dr. Pou.” She’s an Eye, Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor–what business did she have making life or death decisions when help was on the way? None. Just the kind of person I want around in a crisis. Want to see someone running during the next hurricane? — It’ll be me if I’m within 500 feet of this woman and her syringes.â€?

There are many other messages less literate and more threatening. There is also outrage in Libya. The families of the infected children are demanding that Bulgaria put their nurses in jail. The parents take the nurse’s confessions, extracted under torture, as sure evidence of their guilt. They are in pain, and confronting their own government and their own responsibility as a nation, is beyond them.

New Orleans is cursed with inept and ineffective leaders and a corrupt state government. As they face an enormous task of restoration, they fight among themselves. Governor Blanco finds time to organize a Day of Prayer and sign a total ban on abortion ready to go as soon as the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. Attorney General Foti saw a chance to gain the national spotlight and make himself a hero to the ‘pro-life’ crowd by throwing charges of euthanasia at some of the volunteers who were trying to save lives in desperate conditions. “They didn’t stick to the care plan.� “They were playing God,� he said. Yes, somebody has to pay. It won’t be the Tenet Corporation that failed to evacuate the hospital. It won’t be the succession of politicians who lacked the political courage to tell the people that the levies wouldn’t hold against a major hurricane. It won’t be the President, who is practicing a kind of triage on the city, letting parts of it die of neglect.

It’s so much easier to find a scapegoat and put them through a show trial. Ann Pou, Cherie Landry, and Lori Budo deny that they did anything other than try their best to keep patients alive, but they will always carry these accusations. A city that needs so much to pull together will be occupied for a long time with its own anger and internal divisions.

And The Oscar Goes To…

Who would’ve thought that the Grim Reaper would come in the guise of a cuddly kitty? I had always assumed that Death would more closely resemble a strung-out Nick Nolte or Dick Cheney. Who knew? Apparently, as reported by the Associated Press (here via the Boston Globe), some staff at a Rhode Island nursing home did:

Oscar the cat predicts patients’ deaths

PROVIDENCE, R.I. –Oscar the cat seems to have an uncanny knack for predicting when nursing home patients are going to die, by curling up next to them during their final hours. His accuracy, observed in 25 cases, has led the staff to call family members once he has chosen someone. It usually means they have less than four hours to live.

“He doesn’t make too many mistakes. He seems to understand when patients are about to die,” said Dr. David Dosa in an interview. He describes the phenomenon in a poignant essay in Thursday’s issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

“Many family members take some solace from it. They appreciate the companionship that the cat provides for their dying loved one,” said Dosa, a geriatrician and assistant professor of medicine at Brown University.

The 2-year-old feline was adopted as a kitten and grew up in a third-floor dementia unit at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. The facility treats people with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and other illnesses.

After about six months, the staff noticed Oscar would make his own rounds, just like the doctors and nurses. He’d sniff and observe patients, then sit beside people who would wind up dying in a few hours.

Dosa said Oscar seems to take his work seriously and is generally aloof. “This is not a cat that’s friendly to people,” he said.

Oscar is better at predicting death than the people who work there, said Dr. Joan Teno of Brown University, who treats patients at the nursing home and is an expert on care for the terminally ill. [full text]

Gee, I wonder if there’s any truth to the rumor that Dr. Teno was subsequently laid off and replaced by Oscar. Or that the prescient feline was seen lurking in front of a television airing Alberto Gonzales’ recent testimony before Congress. Freaky!

News from the Kingdom of Garabedian

Progress Glacially Slow for Concrete Plant Opponents: I’d link to the Projo article on this, but their site is down at the moment. The long and the short is — there still aren’t enough people for a quorum of the Zoning Board because now it has to be determined if Joy Montanaro can continue to serve because she served two terms, although one of them was shorter than a full term. And even if they can get a quorum, the lawyers for Cullion assert that the zoning board can’t give them a fair hearing and everything should be on hold because of the higher court actions.

Hearing Tomorrow Night on Domestic Bank: This is a special ordinance committee meeting at 6 pm on Thursday, July 25, 2007, in Cranston City Hall. At this meeting, residents of Forest Hills will continue to advocate for protection of their neighborhood. Members of other community groups are also pledging to come out to help make our local government more accountable to community concerns.

Have You Seen the Park Cinema Going UP? It’s true — after four years of sitting there collecting dust and being a general eyesore, traffic nuisance, and safety hazard to the community (yes, there are fences, but kids have been known to get inside fences) it appears that The Park Cinema is actually undergoing some real live honest-to-goodness construction. There is a frame for a stage that stands taller than any other building in the area.

6th Graders to be Kept in Elementary Schools: I haven’t seen confirmation of this, but heard from a PTO parent that the school committee is planning to address the overcrowding problem in our middle schools by having the kids stay in the Elementary Schools another year. I think this is a very good idea — the longer you can delay going into the huge school environments, the better, so that kids can be as emotionally mature as possible for this more stressful environment. The only drawback is that reportedly Daniel D. Waterman Elementary School is the only one that does not have enough room to keep its 6th graders.

UPDATE Regarding the Possibility of Children in 6th Grade Remaining in the Elementary Schools: School Committee member Andrea Iannazzi sent this information:

The School Committee formed a sub-committee, which Deb Greifer, Steve Stycos, and I are serving on, to study two issues….

1- Possibility of returning 6th grade to elementary schools
2- heterogeneous v. homogeneous grouping (i.e.- tracking) for middle schools

The Committee also has representatives from the School Administration, the Cranston Teachers Alliance, and parents.

Kudos to Tom Cloonen for coming up with the phrase “Kingdom of Garabedian” and working the metaphor with great wit in this piece published in The Cranston Herald.

Please feel free to add your own news from the Kingdom of Garabedian. And as a disclosure: I have been to the ball in the Kingdom of Garabedian (big fundraisers for King G = the ball). Mr. Garabedian is one of those people, and I would put Mike Traficante in the same category, whom it doesn’t matter if you like them or not. They still run the show and if you don’t want to be crushed, you have to pay tribute once in a while. Plus I was really happy at the time to see how forcefully he came out in support of the Stop the Concrete movement.

R.I.P. Albert Ellis

Albert Ellis, one of the most influential figures in modern psychology, has passed away. Once controversial, his pragmatic, no-nonsense approach to psychotherapy eventually became widely adopted. Whatever one thought of the man or his techniques, he devoted his life to alleviating the psychological suffering of others. The New York Times pays tribute:

Albert Ellis, 93, Influential Psychotherapist, Dies

Albert Ellis, whose innovative straight-talk approach to psychotherapy made him one of the most influential and provocative figures in modern psychology, died yesterday at his home above the institute he founded in Manhattan. He was 93.

The cause, after extended illness, was kidney and heart failure, said a friend and spokeswoman, Gayle Rosellini.

Dr. Ellis (he had a doctorate but not a medical degree) called his approach rational emotive behavior therapy, or R.E.B.T. Developed in the 1950s, it challenged the deliberate, slow-moving methodology of Sigmund Freud, the prevailing psychotherapeutic treatment at the time.

Where the Freudians maintained that a painstaking exploration of childhood experience was critical to understanding neurosis and curing it, Dr. Ellis believed in short-term therapy that called on patients to focus on what was happening in their lives at the moment and to take immediate action to change their behavior. “Neurosis,� he said, was “just a high-class word for whining.�

“The trouble with most therapy is that it helps you to feel better,� he said in a 2004 article in The New York Times. “But you don’t get better. You have to back it up with action, action, action.�

If his ideas broke with conventions, so did his manner of imparting them. Irreverent, charismatic, he was called the Lenny Bruce of psychotherapy. In popular Friday evening seminars that ran for decades, he counseled, prodded, provoked and entertained groups of 100 or more students, psychologists and others looking for answers, often lacing his comments with obscenities for effect.

His basic message was that all people are born with a talent “for crooked thinking,� or distortions of perception that sabotage their innate desire for happiness. But he recognized that people also had the capacity to change themselves. The role of therapists, Dr. Ellis argued, is to intervene directly, using strategies and homework exercises to help patients first learn to accept themselves as they are (unconditional self-acceptance, he called it) and then to retrain themselves to avoid destructive emotions — to “establish new ways of being and behaving,� as he put it. [full text]

It’s My Parity, and I’ll Cry If I Want To

Today’s Boston Globe features an op-ed essay by Dr. Russ Newman, who offers his support for a long-overdue piece of legislation, the Mental Health Parity Act of 2007:

Equal coverage for mental health

THIS SUMMER, the US Senate is expected to vote on a bill that could help enhance access to mental health treatment for more than 113 million Americans by requiring that private health insurance provide equal coverage for mental health treatment. In New England almost 6 million people could benefit.

More than 44 million Americans have some kind of mental health disorder. One third receive treatment, and many more are undertreated. Insurance companies continue to discriminate against those with mental health disorders. Arbitrary limits on the number of treatment sessions, higher copayments and higher deductibles are not uncommon for those seeking treatment. And yet, according to the President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, early detection, assessment, and access to treatment can effectively help those with mental health problems. This issue is felt acutely in New England. Last month, federal government data ranked New England states among those with the highest incidence of depression in the United States. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health by the Department of Health and Human Services looked at the percentage of adults experiencing a major depressive episode in the previous year. Connecticut, Maine, and Rhode Island all ranked in the top 20 states with the highest depression rates. Untreated depression has serious consequences, not only for individuals and their families, but also for the economy. Depression results in more days of disability than chronic health conditions such as heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes.

The Mental Health Parity Act of 2007, sponsored by Senator Edward Kennedy, was approved, 18 to 3, by the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee in February. Some version of this legislation has been on Congress’s docket for 10 years in an effort to add to a limited law enacted in 1996. No bill has made it to the floor for a full vote of either chamber.

This year could be different. Parity is gaining strong bipartisan support. Previous opponents — the employer and insurance communities — have joined forces with mental health advocates to support the Senate bill, which will apply to all private employer health plans with more than 50 employees. Employers, though traditional opponents of parity, are beginning to recognize that the benefits of offering strong mental health treatment plans go beyond any minimal additional cost, lowering overall health care costs, reducing absenteeism, and increasing productivity. [full text]

Tests Find No Cancer in Polyps Removed From Bush’s Colon

The title kind of says it all, huh? Shame on you, American press. I think President Bush belongs in the darkest cell of Guantanamo for what he’s done to our country and the world. But the indignity of not being able to get a routine medical test without the nation knowing what is in your lower bowel is not in the job description.

Please, journalists, I beg of you, start reporting on the gross abuses of presidential power. Write about what our politicians do in their elected office. When their private life is in gross contradiction to their public statements, then write about that too. Stop droning on about candidate’s ‘likeability’ and ‘charisma’. Tell us what they do in office. Stop worrying about the polls and collecting sound bites. You are all sounding like a supermarket tabloid. We are beginning to wonder if the tabloids are a more reliable source of real news. (I’m thinking of the ‘Globe’.)

For god’s sake, give us a reason to keep the press free.

We don’t need to know how many polyps the President has. We just need to know if he is well enough to function in office. That question remains unanswered. Get back to work.

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