Monthly Archives: September, 2008

Crime and the Politics of Sexual Assault in Alaska

The previous post, ‘Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner–SANE’is intended to explain the forensic rape exam, which is in the news lately because the town of Wasilla, Alaska billed victims for the rape exam until the practice was outlawed by Governor Tony Knowles in May, 2000. This was during Sarah Palin’s tenure as Mayor, which ran from 1996-2002.

The Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman, Wasilla’s local newspaper, covered a press conference on the new law and interviewed the Wasilla Police Chief, Charlie Fannon.

First, Governor Knowles…

We would never bill the victim of a burglary for fingerprinting and photographing the crime scene, or for the cost of gathering other evidence, Knowles said. Nor should we bill rape victims just because the crime scene happens to be their bodies.

Next Chief Fannon…

Wasilla Police Chief Charlie Fannon does not agree with the new legislation, saying the law will require the city and communities to come up with more funds to cover the costs of the forensic exams.
In the past we’ve charged the cost of exams to the victims insurance company when possible. I just don’t want to see any more burden put on the taxpayer, Fannon said.

According to Fannon, the new law will cost the Wasilla Police Department approximately $5,000 to $14,000 a year to collect evidence for sexual assault cases.

Ultimately it is the criminal who should bear the burden of the added costs, Fannon said.

The forensic exam is just one part of the equation. I’d like to see the courts make these people pay restitution for these things, Fannon said.
Fannon said he intends to include the cost of exams required to collect evidence in a restitution request as a part of a criminals sentencing.

It’s hard to believe that the Chief of Police didn’t know that the vast majority of sexual assault cases do not end in a trial, never mind a conviction. It’s strange that he saw the rape exam as a burden on the taxpayer when his mandate is to fight crime. Losing potential evidence didn’t seem to concern him. The possibility that victims would be discouraged from seeking care because they lack health insurance, or fear being dropped from their insurance or losing their privacy–“the likelihood that rape will go unreported, doesn’t factor in.

And where was the Mayor? It’s one of the Mayor’s responsibilities to work closely with the Chief of Police. In the absence of any record of Mayor Palin publicly rebuking Chief Fannon for his statements it can only be assumed that she endorsed his view.

Why would a female Mayor not support a law that ended an unfair and harmful practice that affected mostly women? Why was she not receptive to victim’s advocate groups? One answer may be contained in the last two sentences of the news report. (As I have been cutting and pasting, I’ve put a link to the entire news story here.)

The new bill would also make law enforcement agencies that are investigating a sexual assault responsible for the costs of testing victims for sexually transmitted diseases and emergency contraception.

The Day One SANE training manual includes nine single-space pages of a Catholic review of the ethics of emergency contraception. The essay concludes that it is permissible for a woman to use emergency contraception after a rape. There are more conservative religions that consider it an act of conscience to fail to offer, or to deny access to protection from an unwanted pregnancy. Women are denied emergency contraception in hospitals and at pharmacies, and laws are proposed to shield practitioners from any responsibility for any harm resulting.

A Mayor who belongs to a very conservative church might not welcome the discomfort of having her name associated with a practice that some call abortion. She might not want to go on record as supporting state funding for the morning after pill, even for victims of rape.

And crime victims are in a place no one wants to be, faced with decisions no one wants to have to make. No simple answers, no powerful lobby, and way too close to the violent misogyny that oppresses women worldwide.

Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner– SANE

It was 1989 at Women and Infants hospital. I was a counselor-advocate for a woman seeking emergency care after a rape. She told me she had been abducted by two men who talked about killing her. She managed to run away and hide in the woods. She was grateful to be alive.

We waited for hours in the busy emergency room. Triage demands that the most emergent patients be seen first, and a rape exam is low on the list.

Finally the doctor arrived. She rushed into the room and stared at my client coldly. ‘Is this the woman who was supposedly raped?’

I was shocked, but kept silent so that the doctor could do the exam and leave, and this exhausted woman could finally go home.

This woman was in pain, with wounds physical and emotional. No one wants to be her, no one wants to be in that place. I’ve often wondered whether the doctor’s contemptuous manner covered a fear that any woman, even she herself, could be a victim.

I volunteered for two years with the Rape Crisis Center, (now Day One), and quickly lost the illusion that women are the more nurturing sex. In fact, the doctor, police officer, or nurse you want is the one with respect and compassion. That person can be male or female. Women might be more empathetic in general, but that’s no help when you run into a woman like that doctor. There were many other doctors both male and female who were kind and professional. It’s character, not gender.

This summer Day One held a class for Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE). Nurses who complete the program take call to respond to an emergency room when needed. This spares victims a long wait and frees the emergency room doctors from having to take out time from other urgent needs. SANE nurses have a much better record of collecting evidence, documenting, and offering antibiotics and the ‘morning after’ pill to protect against sexually transmitted disease and unwanted pregnancy. The evidence collected from the rape exam can be crucial if a case goes to trial. DNA evidence can help to convict the guilty or exonerate the innocent.

The SANE program is not cheap. Emergency room services and trained professionals are needed. In Rhode Island State Crime Victim Compensation Program will pay the costs so that victims are not billed for their care.

This will remove a barrier to women, children, and men who are victims of sexual assault and need emergency care. Day One, formerly the Rhode Island Rape Crisis Center, can be reached at 421-4100. The Victims of Crime Helpline can be reached 24/7 at 1-800-494-8100.

September 11, 2001

A beautiful September day like today, working in Dexter Manor highrise. Every TV had a group of worried tenants around it, wondering what would happen next. I was glad that my work mattered to me, and decided to work the best I could to spite whoever had done this. I worried about my child at school.

Walking around Providence, went to my church. The minister had the doors open and candles lit for anyone who needed a place to not be alone. I left and passed another open church, then walked into a church full of people singing and praying.

For the first time I saw the people on the sidewalks, in the cars, in the churches, as Americans — no more no less.

Three thousand working people in New York City murdered by hate and fanaticism. I knew the world would be worse, a line was crossed. It’s the world we live in now.

Good Pork, Bad Pork – Where’s the Beef?

Even I have to admit that reading too much of the left-wing blogs is not a balanced way to keep up with the news. I did see Sarah Palin give her acceptance speech, and she is a talented speaker, the crowd adored her, and clearly she speaks for many women and men who feel like their values have been ignored. And what a great word ‘values’. Kind of like ‘faith’. Uplifting but unspecific, so that everyone can assume that values means, ‘people like me’.

So getting down to specifics, has John McCain chosen a running mate who exemplifies his values and the agenda of his party? To start, let’s look at that left-wing broadsheet, The Economist…

From pork to petrodollars
Sep 4th 2008 | ANCHORAGE
From The Economist print edition

Sarah Palin’s home state is awash with money

JOHN MCCAIN’S decision to anoint Sarah Palin as his running-mate looks eccentric for many reasons. Not the least is economic principle. Thanks in part to Mrs Palin, Alaska’s economy is built on two things that Mr McCain has spent the last few years railing against.

The first is federal spending, especially the little-scrutinised grants known as earmarks. Between 1996 and 2006 per-capita federal spending in Alaska rose from 38% above the national average to 71% above. Scott Goldsmith, an economist, reckons a third of all jobs in the state depend on it. So needy are the citizens of the “last frontier� that the looming trial of Ted Stevens, Alaska’s senior senator and champion pork-rustler, for failing to disclose gifts is viewed not just as a political scandal but also as an economic threat.

Mrs Palin has been less single-minded in her pursuit of pork than other Alaskan politicians (which is, admittedly, setting the bar pretty high). But she can take credit for the other pillar of Alaska’s economy: windfall taxes. Last year she championed a tax hike on oil companies which is helping bring in huge sums—more than $10 billion in the fiscal year that ended in June, according to the companies that pay them. Suddenly flush, the state has promised $1,200 to every man, woman and child, ostensibly to cover the high cost of fuel.

In other words, if a President McCain keeps his promise and vetoes every bill that comes across his desk that contains earmarks it will be tough times in Alaska. From that radical rag, The Washington Post…

The senator from Arizona has made a crusade of battling pork-barrel “earmarks,” but the whopper here is the assertion that Palin opposed her state’s notorious Bridge to Nowhere. She endorsed the remote project while running for governor in 2006, claimed to be an opponent only after Congress killed its funding the next year, and has used the $223 million provided for it for other state ventures. Far from being an opponent of earmarks, Palin hired lobbyists to try to capture more federal funding.

Now, there’s been a back and forth as to whether Alaska is big (geographically), or small (population). So you can’t make a direct comparison between a state with huge distances and a state like Rhode Island, where you feel put-upon if you have to venture out to Woonsocket. So I’m wondering if any interviewer will ask Governor Palin to outline the specifics of her earmarks, and why they are not like the bad earmarks her running mate will veto.

Today’s Providence Journal has a headine, ‘Poll finds McCain gaining among those looking for change’. This to me is one of the weirdest things about the race. A long-term Republican politician running against the record of his own party. From a major newspaper of the decadent region of Appalachia, the Louisville Courier-Journal…

MITT ROMNEY (former Massachusetts governor): “We need change, all right — change from a liberal Washington to a conservative Washington! We have a prescription for every American who wants change in Washington — throw out the big-government liberals, and elect John McCain and Sarah Palin.”

THE FACTS: A Back-to-the-Future moment. George W. Bush, a conservative Republican, has been president for nearly eight years. And until last year, Republicans controlled Congress. Only since January 2007 have Democrats have been in charge of the House and Senate.

With all the talk about ‘change’ it would be easy to assume that the Republicans have been locked out of power for eight years, instead of running Washington. It’s like the good Republicans are promising to save us from the bad Republicans. And there’s good pork and bad pork. I hope someone will pin down Senator McCain to explain which kind of pork is nourishing and good for the Forth of July barbecue, and which kind is deadly, artery-clogging fat.

Special Needs II A Middle Class Family

The mother and daughter I described in the previous post made a strong impression on me because their poverty was so evident. When we consider families needing social support we often think of people who will not have food, housing or medical care without collective responsibility.

But I also visited families who lived in affluent neighborhoods in nice houses.

A family had a son who suffered a catastrophic and unforeseeable illness. They built a house to be wheelchair-accessible, bought a special van, changed their work schedules, revised all their life plans, and strove to make a normal life for their other child who did not have a disability.

They were committed to providing their son with the rehabilitation and medical care that would give him the best chance in life. They were thinking ahead to what he would need as an adult. Barring a miracle, he would be totally dependant for his whole life. If there is a miracle out there, these parents will find it. Their love and commitment to both their children is amazing.

When we think of people vulnerable to cuts in social programs, we don’t always think of families who look well off. But a family like this absolutely needs and deserves support. Even two parents working good jobs do not have the kind of money it takes to cover the expenses, or the ability to provide 24/7 intense care while working those jobs and raising other children.

A mother who has successfully raised a Down Syndrome child has a lot to say about her battle to provide for her son…

Oh, and have I mentioned this? I, who through struggle and persistence and crisis, mastered the service and funding system, have a reasonably happy kid. He still and will struggle through his lifetime with mental retardation and related behavior and communication issues. He lives in federally subsidized housing, attends public school as an intensive-needs student, gets his healthcare through medicaid, and has 24 hour care from direct service providers. When you make the system work, you can build a community-based life for your child.

Only a small percentage of those who need this level of care can get it. Without advocacy, forget it. Without continued funding of education, healthcare, vocational, and independent living services, this will all go POOF. The waitlist, even in a small state like Alaska, has over a thousand people on it, many for years. Most languish at home with aging parents or siblings. Some are receiving “care” in corrections while they try to find someone to “take” them. Some are homeless.

My son’s cost of care is over $200,000 a year. Thank you, taxpayers. And the Chinese lenders.

As Governor, Sarah Palin recently slashed funding for a program for special-needs youth.

No civilized society abandons its citizens in need. We have to honestly confront the truth about the real cost of caring for children and adults with disabilities, and do it right.

I’m waiting for Sarah Palin to make good on her promise to be an advocate for children with disabilities. She doesn’t have to wait until she’s in Washington. Governor Palin can take another look at her state budget, and start walking the walk, in Alaska, today.

A Grim Fairy Tale

Once upon a time there was a Kingdom that decided to banish its King. The people fought the King’s fierce red-coated soldiers and won a mighty victory. They put the King onto a ship and sent him far across the ocean, and then they danced around the empty Throne of Power and sang songs of Freedom until the sun rose and they fell into an exhausted sleep.

When they woke up, they discovered that some among them had put a curse on the land. The Throne of Power had been taken to a high mountaintop, surrounded by thick briars with terrible thorns. And at the top of the mountain was a Glass Ceiling. Any man or woman brave and lucky enough to climb the mountain would be able to see the Throne, but they could go no further. The glass was thick and strong, and even the most powerful could only make a tiny crack.

On the other side of the glass, their former comrades stood, or lounged about. They had put little crowns on their heads. They sang a happy song –

Freedom isn’t Free
Unless you look like Me

The people were outraged. Many died plunging into the briars at the foot of the mountain. Some were scared away. But others followed the tracks of the fallen, and each one who attempted the climb cleared a path that others would follow.

Unbeknownst to the brave people who hacked at briars with machetes and nail files, or whatever they had, there was a secret spell that would cause the briars to dry out, until they were no more than a stand of nettles. They might sting, but they would not kill.

The spell was known only to the men behind the Glass Ceiling.

The men did not always agree with one another. It was not all partying up there. Stuff happens, and over time words and phrases from the spell were whispered to the people fighting their way up.

Lady Abigail knew three lines and wrote, ‘Consider the Ladies’. Lady Sojourner was given none of the spell, but she divined it with her Mighty Soul and cried, ‘Ain’t I a Woman’. Lady Ida mastered the Wand of Intellect and the Sword of Truth and cut a path so straight that the brambles could not cover it. Lady Eleanor was wed as a girl to a man who knew the whole spell, and she translated it with love and pain to a wider way up the mountain. Lady Hillary followed the path that Lady Eleanor cut, with all its detours and dead ends.

At the end, she touched the Glass Ceiling, and with a mighty blow put eighteen million cracks across it.

Beside her many comrades put their fists to the glass, they also had fought up the mountain, by different and equally difficult paths. Only one could ascend to the Throne of Power. The stars did not ordain that it would be Lady Hillary.

And so all the brave souls who had cleared the path rested, and regarded one another. They were binding each other’s wounds when they heard a cheerful whistle.

It was Lady Sarah, sauntering up the path behind them. She hopped over the prostrate bodies of those who had gone before.

She had brought a media crew with her, and she gave them her winning smile and said…

“When I hear a statement like that coming from a woman candidate with any kind of perceived whine about that excess criticism or, you know, maybe a sharper microscope put on her, I think, man, that doesn’t do us any good. Women in politics, women in general wanting to progress this country. I don’t think it’s, it bodes well for her — a statement like that.”

The presumptive Republican vice presidential nominee says that Clinton should just “work harder” and “prove yourself to an even greater degree that you are capable.”

Palin explains, “I think she does herself a disservice to even mention it, really. I mean, you’ve got to plow through that. You have to know what you’re getting into which, I say this with all due respect to Hillary Clinton and to her experience and to her passion for changing the status quo.�

The Alaska Governor concludes, “It bothers me a little bit, hearing, hearing her bring that attention to herself on that level.�

Lady Sarah knocked on the Glass Ceiling. Behind it a Prince winked and stomped his foot. Shards rained down and pierced the hearts of some brave Ladies who had kept faith with the Prince. They didn’t have the charisma, and the ticket needed the evangelical and youth vote. Lady Sarah was the perfect sidekick.

And so she stepped through the Glass Ceiling and strode toward the Throne of Power.

But she is not there yet. A Mad King clings to the Throne and he will not give it up till the turn of the year. Behind the broken glass the people surge forward. It’s in our hands. Don’t forget to vote.

Books, Garden Tour, and Bake Sale

School Committee member Steve Stycos provides another update on the Pawtuxet Farmer’s Market and other happenings:


Last week business at the Pawtuxet Village Farmers Market was less than usual due to the rain. Every September we notice a considerable drop in business, regardless of the weather. The harvest is in full swing, however, and our farmers need our support. If you can’t come to the market one Saturday morning, consider asking a friend or neighbor to shop for you. As for rain, who wants to sit inside all day when you could be eating a peach or tomato?


We need book donations for the October 2 Big Green Book Sale. So far the sale has provided us with money to continue our berry box recycling program and purchase two new tulip trees at the market. Please help us continue our environmental projects by dropping books on the porch at 10 or 18 Williams Avenue, 25 Berwick Lane or 37 Ferncrest Avenue. We accept hard or soft cover books, but please no magazines, textbooks or damaged books. They are heavy and do not sell.


Elizabeth Coombs and Roger Wheeler invite everyone to see what’s going
on in their garden at 1463 Narragansett Boulevard, Cranston (pink house,
corner of Strathmore) on Sunday, September 14th, 2-5pm, rain or shine. All are welcome. They use no commercial fertilizers, no pesticides or other biocides. This is also their first year of not turning on outside water faucets. Instead they use rain water collected in six rain barrels.


The Happy Hollow Nursery School will have a bake sale table at the market on Saturday. Please consider buying some baked goods.

Warren Heyman reports another large tulip tree sits at the northeast corner of Pawtuxet and Arnold Avenues in Edgewood.

We expect beekeeper Bernie Bieder to return to the market this week after his post-Olympic tour.

The Xiongs, Michelle at Zephyr Farm and Moosup River Farm all have several varieties of sweet melons now available. Most are orange cantaloupe-like melons, but ask for details.

Peter Fratanuono of Moosup River Farm is a licensed arborist and runs a tree service in addition to farming. If you have a tree that needs to be trimmed or removed, call him at 397-7277 or go to

See you Saturday at the market.

John McCain’s Campaign Manager: Election Not About Issues

I wish it was online, or that I had not left my newspaper at the Liberty Elm diner, but today’s Providence Journal ran an opinion column that claims Sarah Palin is the best candidate for vice-president because Alaska is very far to the West. She’s the Westernmost candidate, clearly. I thought it was a parody, but I think it was meant to be serious. It’s getting really hard to tell lately.

From the Washington Post

Rick Davis, campaign manager for John McCain’s presidential bid, insisted that the presidential race will be decided more over personalities than issues during an interview with Post editors this morning.

“This election is not about issues,” said Davis. “This election is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates.”

Is a composite view what Jeff Goldblum saw after his hideous metamorphosis in the movie, ‘The Fly’? Maybe it’s what you get when you party so hard at the Convention that you see two of everything. Whatever. Stay tuned for the next wild and crazy installment of Election ’08.

Special Needs

I love my job. I ride around and see the insides of people’s houses and hear their stories. For a writer it doesn’t get any better.

I’m thinking today about a mother and daughter I visited in Providence. I was there to supervise a nurse’s aid who was giving care to the daughter.

The daughter was in her thirties, a petite, quiet, severely mentally disabled woman. It wasn’t Down syndrome. I never found out what caused the disability, but the young woman would never be able to live without help. She needed to be fed, dressed, played with and constantly watched. She was like a two year old child, although stronger and more mobile. She occasionally had seizures, fortunately not often. She would have fits of temper, but with gentleness she could be calmed.

The house fascinated me. It seemed that nothing had been changed since President Kennedy. Maybe nothing had been changed since the mother began her life of devotion to a baby who would need her every day for as long as she could give.

If this little family had any money, it was not apparent. There was nothing new in the house anywhere. The mother was cheerful and uncomplaining, focusing on what was going well. No emergency room visits for months, no seizures or colds. She had nothing but praise for the kind nurse’s aid who cared for her daughter.

What does it take to support a special needs child in barest poverty? My agency sent a nurse’s aid to give the mother a few hours of respite. The daughter was enrolled in a day program from morning till afternoon on weekdays. Given her condition she would have been on Medicaid and SSI Disability to cover her medical expenses and prescription drugs.

Hillary Clinton was attacked for saying that it takes a village to raise a child, but it’s a fact that no one can give this level of care without help. In a run-down apartment in a poor section of town a mother depends on social programs just to survive.

I have visited other families where a mother, or both parents, devote their lives to the care of a disabled child. It doesn’t get easier as parents age and children’s needs increase.

I was listening to WRNI today, a conservative economist was talking about cutting government spending, specifically Medicaid and Medicare. Our governor has cut children’s health care. The Republican candidate promises not to raise taxes.

At the same time, the religious right are exuberant about the ‘culture of life’. They say that Sarah Palin ‘walks the walk’. Will she, or any of her party stand up and defend the programs that make life possible for children with special needs? Will they defend those programs against demagogues and short-sighted tax-cutters? Will they even give domestic needs the same respect they give the military?

If the Republican vice-presidential candidate is truly a maverick she has her chance to speak up now.

First Presidential Decision

The Obama campaign has been known for thinking ahead. Before it was certain that Senator Obama was going to win the nomination, his campaign was setting up organizations in all 50 states in preparation for his race against Senator McCain.

The Obama campaign initiated a vetting process for Vice President that went on for months. With the press ready to jump on anything that could be a liability, the running mate had to have a solid record and high competence. The choice of Senator Joe Biden has been referred to as Barack Obama’s first presidential decision.

Senator John McCain has made his first presidential decision, nominating Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. He has certainly livened up the race, perhaps not in the exact way he would have wished. But he says that in all of the Republican party she is the best one to take that position, a heartbeat away from the presidency. He says that his party’s vetting process was complete, and that there is nothing about the candidate that comes as a surprise to his campaign.

The element of surprise, for some reason, was paramount. According to the Newsweek blog investigations were carried out in extreme secrecy…

Within the past few days, the McCain campaign dispatched a troop of GOP lawyers and investigators to Alaska to pull records on Palin. The move has been interpreted in recent days as a sign at the McCain campaign did not vet Palin as much as aides have publicly suggested. But a senior McCain aide, again refusing to be named because the process was private, insists the campaign is merely following up on what already had been an extensive dig into her background and that aides would have pulled the records earlier had they not been fearful of drawing attention to themselves.

So secure was the operation that Alaskan Republican party members who had served with Palin were not consulted, according to the Anchorage Daily News

Wasilla Mayor Dianne Keller said she had not heard of any efforts to look into Palin’s background, the Times reported. And Randy Ruedrich, the state Republican Party chairman, said he knew nothing of any vetting that had been conducted.

State Sen. Hollis French, a Democrat who is directing the legislative investigation, [into charges of abuse of office] said that no one asked him about the allegations. “I heard not a word, not a single contact,” he told the Times.

Matanuska-Susitna Borough Mayor Curt Menard told the Daily News, “I never got called, and I never heard of anybody who got called.” Perhaps, he laughed, “They don’t even know where the Mat-Su Borough is.”

Dan Seamount, who served with Palin and Ruedrich on the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, wasn’t contacted, either.

“I was taken by surprise just like everybody else,” Seamount told the Daily News.

Seamount’s observations might be of particular interest since he saw first hand how Palin was drawn into investigating Ruedrich for ethics violations in 2003. The case eventually led to Ruedrich being fined $12,000 and to Palin being thrust into the limelight as an ethics reformer in her own party.

On Sunday, The Washington Post quoted McCain campaign manager Rick Davis as saying the FBI conducted a background check of Palin.

But Monday, the FBI told the Atlantic Monthly no such check took place.

Was it a surprise to the McCain campaign that major newspapers in Alaska were not unreservedly endorsing their own Governor? From a summary of news coverage by Editor and Publisher

The second largest daily, The Daily News-Miner in Fairbanks, had editorialized yesterday that Palin was not qualified for the vice presidency. The Anchorage paper also raises questions on this score, while expressing pride in the local “girl.”

Ah, those Alaskans. So independent. None of that political correctness the Republicans so despise.

There is a bizarre sense that the Republicans are running against themselves, trying to distance themselves from the President and the past eight years. But the process by which John McCain chose his running mate reminds me very much of our current president, a man who has a pattern of making last-minute, startling decisions–a man who acts from his gut.

This whole episode reminds me of a president who would not wait, who was driven by a last-minute sense of urgency. This reminds me of the days prior to the start of the Iraq War when I listened to the UN Weapons Inspectors testify. I prayed that they would be allowed to continue to do their job, before we rushed to war only to learn that there were no weapons of mass destruction.


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