Monthly Archives: May, 2010

Memorial Day

I wish you all a good Memorial Day. I’m off to work so I will post a link to ProJo.com where columnist Bob Kerr, himself a veteran, interviews Earl Northrup.

“Some people say that didn’t happen,” says Earl, jabbing at a photograph he says he took with a forbidden camera as his unit entered Dachau in 1945. It shows stacks of bodies.

There are far more lighthearted moments in the fading black and white prints. Earl points at a picture of his troop ship coming home, laughing as he points into a sea of faces to claim “that’s me.”

He took part in six invasions, he says. He was in North Africa and Italy and Germany with the 3407th Ordnance Group. It was his job to keep things running.

“I did what I was supposed to do,” he says. “I got no regrets about it, but I was a nervous wreck.”

Go here, for the rest of the story.

To all who fought, who suffered, who waited on the ones they loved, who were civilians caught in events they did not cause or comprehend…

May your sacrifice not be forgotten. May we find our way to peace.

That’s Reassuring

I’m relieved that a fish contaminated with the deadly radioactive isotope Strontium-90 found in the river near the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant is just a normal radioactive fish. They don’t think it came from the plant, because all that’s leaking from there is Tritium.

They think the fish picked up the radioactivity from decades of nuclear weapons tests and the Chernobyl disaster. So all that means is that NUCLEAR POLLUTION TRAVELS AROUND THE WORLD AND IT NEVER GOES AWAY. You knew that already, didn’t you? Nothing we’re not used to.

We get occasional hits from people searching for Robert Peabody, the Rhode Island man who was killed in an accident at United Nuclear in Charlestown. He left a wife and nine children who were never adequately compensated for the loss of their father and the damage to their health. As tragic as Mr.Peabody’s death was, the exposure of rescue and medical workers and the cleanup of the site take it to a whole new level. Go here to read the story.

What’s This Pill For, Anyway?

That’s what you should ask your doctor if you are taking any unidentified pills. Follow this link to new evidence that proton pump inhibitors increase risk of fractures, especially in the elderly.

These drugs cut down stomach acid, and they are good for people who have ulcers or bad acid reflux. Otherwise, I suspect, they are a drug in search of a disease. I often ask patients who take these drugs if they have any stomach trouble. They say no. They say they never had stomach trouble. They don’t know why they are on these pills.

I’m going to make the effort to update doctors on the patient’s symptoms, and respectfully ask if the prescriptions can be changed to ‘as needed’. They work pretty fast, and that’s a way to keep the benefit and cut the risk.

Don Botts Challenging Peter Palumbo in Cranston District 16

Well, the news is out on Facebook. Don Botts, a local Republican activist and Facebook controversy stirrer, is going to challenge Peter Palumbo (DINO of all DINO’s) for his State Representative seat. What will be the result of this daring move? Will Democrats in Cranston support Don in an effort to oust Palumbo? Could Don siphon off the more conservative voters to support him in a primary, leaving Palumbo more vulnerable to a primary challenge from a more progressive candidate?

If you want to “like” Don’s candidacy, you can go to this page on Facebook. I hope Don will agree to do an interview with me for Kmareka, to let the good people of District 16 know exactly where he stands on all those really hairy issues like immigration and abortion. Thanks to Don for being willing to brave the political waters here in Cranston. We need more people who have the guts to get out there.

Mea Culpa

I have to apologize to Rand Paul and all his loved ones. I snarked at him unjustly here when I accused him of making up the claim that Obama admin people were blustering about putting their ‘boot heel on the throat’ of BP. He said it sounded ‘un-American’ and it does. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said it. He didn’t actually say ‘heel’, maybe he meant he would poke them with the pointy toe, but it still is an echo of some of the more paranoid language used by the people who think they are being followed by black helicopters. Why bait them?

Worse, the tough talk is empty when BP just dithers on about how much they are spending with their failed attempts to stop the oil.

My fear is that Obama has not thrown them out because the US has no good way to stop this unprecedented disaster. BP has its boot heel on our throat. I’m going to spend the day burning petroleum, and so will you.

Back in the 70′s there was a meat boycott when the price of groceries got out of hand. It actually had an effect. It’s way easier to go vegetarian for a week than to go a day without driving. Still, conservation is one essential part of energy independence. We have to take it to the streets, and walk and bike on them.

And let me indulge in some self-pity while I’m at it. Back in the glory days of Kmareka if I posted something inaccurate our RW readers would have been all over me like oil on a pelican. I’m hurt. Is anyone reading us? Are we but a voice in the wilderness?

Care Where It’s Needed

Very cool news out of Cranston, a new medical director at the ACI…

CRANSTON — For decades, from apartment buildings in the devastated South Bronx to a medical practice in rural Foster, Dr. Michael D. Fine has been trying to reinvent the medical-care system.

Now, he’s going to prison to do it.

Since February, Fine, 56, has been director of medical services for the Department of Corrections, a job that gives him authority over a 76-member staff that is responsible for dealing with the medical and health issues for around 20,000 people a year; 4,000 sentenced inmates in the Adult Correctional Institutions and the 16,000 who cycle through the Travisono Intake Service Center, which holds suspects for anywhere from a few hours to months as they await court appearances.

And from a medical perspective, they need help. According to a 2005 analysis of health care at the ACI, the HIV rate there was four times the state average. About 20 percent of inmates had hepatitis B virus and 25 percent had hepatitis C.

Fine said some estimates are that as many as 85 percent of those in the ACI have a substance-abuse problem. The other major area is mental health care, with 10 percent to 15 percent of ACI inmates in need of some type of treatment.

Rather than be daunted by those numbers, Fine said, he’s excited. The ACI is a chance for nurses and doctors to work in a place where they are unquestionably needed and can do a lot of good every day.

“This is going to be the most exciting primary-care center in the country,” he said.


Read the whole article at ProJo.com.

Reading between the lines, it’s clear that investing more in drug treatment and mental health will save us grief and money, but it’s a tough sell in hard times. A CCC and WPA would do us a lot of good. Maybe we can buy the Pres a cigarette holder and a squishy hat.

Blind to the Good of Socialized Medicine

Again, not to pile on Rand Paul, but health care is my thing, and I’ve spent the last winter freezing my garbanzos at rallies for health care reform. So this is intensely interesting to me.

Should the taxpayers have to carry the burden of some old guy’s cataract surgery, or should we just let him go blind? Well, under the current nanny-state system he is covered by Medicare. Medicare patients make up the bulk of the business for eye surgeons.

So Dr.Paul has benefited directly and indirectly from government involvement in medical insurance, in research and in setting standards so that patients can trust something as precious as their eyes to a qualified doctor.

Very good discussion of this in Daily Kos.

And if you want to say to the visually impaired, ‘get a job’, here’s Steve Benin of Washington Monthly, taking apart Rand Paul’s distortion and mis-information about the Americans With Disabilities Act. Paul is again building a straw man, claiming the ADA requires things that it doesn’t.

Thou Shalt Not Suffer a Witch to Live

Regular readers of Kmareka know that I spent my teens attending a Pentecostal church and that I was exorcised to cast out the demons of depression. I can now say that like the song goes, I try to ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’.

It actually didn’t do me much harm, but our secular society and law are strong enough to keep a lid on violence. Even so, American children are injured or killed at the hands of parents or religious groups regularly, one case currently on trial here. Exorcism has the seal of Vatican approval and is practiced in many Evangelical churches, as well as non-Christian religions.

I’m not even saying that a religious rite that brings comfort and peace of mind is not a good thing. It can be. But literally demonizing troubled people can lead to ostracism and lynching, and has many times. Candles in the church are pretty if you don’t set the place on fire…

HOUSTON — At home in Nigeria, the Pentecostal preacher Helen Ukpabio draws thousands to her revival meetings. Last August, when she had herself consecrated Christendom’s first “lady apostle,” Nigerian politicians and Nollywood actors attended the ceremony. Her books and DVDs, which explain how Satan possesses children, are widely known.

So well-known, in fact, that Ms. Ukpabio’s critics say her teachings have contributed to the torture or abandonment of thousands of Nigerian children — including infants and toddlers — suspected of being witches and warlocks. Her culpability is a central contention of “Saving Africa’s Witch Children,” a documentary that made its American debut Wednesday on HBO2.

I am posting this to warn against complacency. Don’t be persuaded that this atrocious story is some exotic Nigerian oddity–tragic but nothing to do with us. In fact, this religion is some of the more extreme dogma of American and British missionaries, cycled through Nigerian culture and emerging in a nation where the government is weak and people are desperate. The photo in the NYT article shows Ukpabio preaching to a group of Americans in Houston. They have their hands up in praise. They love this stuff.

I am alarmed because I saw the same kind of thing in Warwick, RI thirty years ago. There was no better entertainment for the faithful than to have some traveling preacher tell lurid stories of demon possession and triumph over evil. If the preacher was from another country that was even more thrilling.

It’s relevant to note that American evangelical ministers are speaking to huge audiences in Uganda supporting laws that persecute homosexuals– even to the death penalty. It’s relevant to note that some of the troubled people I saw years ago who underwent exorcism were trying to make the gay go away. Dehumanization of the other allows people to practice brutality with a clear conscience.

There is wrongdoing under the cover of religion that should be exposed. We are reluctant to examine a candidate’s religious associations too closely–we have a tradition of respect– but this story has to be told. Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin was blessed by an African minister, Thomas Muthee, who was leading a service at her church in Alaska. Muthee likes to brag about raising a mob against a woman he called a witch, and how he drove her from her home, and the American believers say, ‘amen’. Disgraced evangelist Ted Haggard also liked to practice ‘spiritual warfare’.

There are groups more political than spiritual that label themselves Christian and are doing harm both in the US and abroad. Like a wise man said, ‘by their fruits you will know them’. The New York Times story is disturbing and enlightening, and shows that faith is not always a good thing.

Striking Out

If politicians were only politicians—if all they created were bombast, spin, and strange bedfellows—they might be moderately tolerable. The way any varmint is tolerable. You begrudgingly accept their existence, with the understanding that they will be a nuisance but do limited harm. Sort of like cockroaches, only less attractive. And harder to squash.

Anyway, politicians are not simply politicians; they are also legislators. They create laws. In most, if not all, cases, these laws are crafted in a way that gives undue weight to political interests. The interests of you and me take a backseat. And we all know what happens in the backseat. People get screwed.

Those who are less fortunate—who lack the economic, social, or even psychological resources to gain access to the driver’s seat—tend to get screwed the most by laws borne of political expedience. Consider the various three-strikes laws that were enacted in the 1990’s to address criminal recidivism. Perpetrators who committed a third offense were subject to lengthy mandatory sentences, up to and including life in prison. The supposed bad guys got put away, and the politicians got to demonstrate that they were tough on crime and possessed cojones as large as their egos. A win/win situation, right?

Wrong. Judges lost the latitude to judge, correctional costs skyrocketed, and many petty criminals were treated like the second coming of Al Capone. One such offender was Norman Williams of California:

Williams, who is 46, was a homeless drug addict in 1997 when he was convicted of petty theft, for stealing a floor jack from a tow truck. It was the last step on his path to serving life. In 1982, Williams burglarized an apartment that was being fumigated: he was hapless enough to be robbed at gunpoint on his way out, and later he helped the police recover the stolen property. In 1992, he stole two hand drills and some other tools from an art studio attached to a house; the owner confronted him, and he dropped everything and fled. Still, for the theft of the floor jack, Williams was sentenced to life in prison under California’s repeat-offender law: three strikes and you’re out. [link]

Williams’ story is detailed in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine. Like many caught up in the legal system, he stumbled out of the starting gate. “The 8th of 12 children, Williams grew up with a mother who was a binge drinker. She pimped out Williams and his brothers to men she knew. A social worker wrote, ‘These men paid the boys money to perform anal intercourse on the boys and they . . . gave the money to their mother for wine.’ As an adult, Williams became a cocaine addict and lived on the streets of Long Beach.” In short, he never had much of a chance. He was first exploited by his mother and later exploited by politicians, who made hay by making him (and others like him) pay.

In 2003, in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court effectively upheld California’s three-strikes law, ruling that it did not violate the 8th amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Despite the high court’s imprimatur, some in the business of enforcing the law recognized it’s inherent unfairness. Interestingly, as the New York Times reports, this included Steve Cooley, the district attorney for Los Angeles County and a Republican career prosecutor:

After three strikes became law, Cooley watched one of his colleagues in the D.A.’s office prosecute Gregory Taylor, a homeless man who at dawn one morning in 1997 went to a church where he’d often gotten meals and pried open the door to its food pantry. The priest later testified on his behalf. Taylor’s first crime was a purse-snatching; his second was attempting to steal a wallet. He didn’t hurt anyone. Taylor was sentenced to life. “It was almost one-upmanship, almost a game — bye-bye for life,” Cooley says, remembering the attitude in the office.

Three years later, Cooley ran for D.A. on a platform of restrained three-strikes enforcement, calling the law “a necessary weapon, one that must be used with precision and not in a scatter-gun fashion.” In office, he turned his critique into policy. The L.A. district attorney’s office no longer seeks life sentences for offenders like Norman Williams or Gregory Taylor. The presumption is that prosecutors ask for a life sentence only if a third-strike crime is violent or serious. Petty thieves and most drug offenders are presumed to merit a double sentence, the penalty for a second strike, unless their previous record includes a hard-core crime like murder, armed robbery, sexual assault or possession of large quantities of drugs. During Cooley’s first year in office, three-strikes convictions in Los Angeles County triggering life sentences dropped 39 percent. No other prosecutor’s office in California has a written policy like Cooley’s, though a couple of D.A.’s informally exercise similar discretion.

It’s a mistake, though, to cast Cooley as a full-tilt reformer. He opposed Prop 66 for ignoring a defendant’s criminal history. Instead, in 2006, he offered up his own bill, which tracked his policy as D.A., taking minor drug crimes and petty theft off the list of three-strikes offenses unless one of the first two strikes involved a crime that Cooley considers hard-core. For staking out even this middle ground, Cooley became prosecutor non grata among his fellow D.A.’s. No district attorney, not even the most liberal, supported his bill, and it died in Senate committee.

Cooley could once again pay a price for his three-strikes record. This spring, he announced his candidacy for California attorney general. His Republican rivals have hammered him for his moderate stance. “He’s acting as an enabler for habitual offenders,” State Senator Tom Harman told me. “I think that’s wrong. I want to put them in prison.” The race has developed into a litmus test: for 15 years, no serious candidate for major statewide office has dared to criticize three strikes. If Cooley makes it through his party’s primary on June 8 — and especially if he goes on to win in November — the law will no longer seem untouchable. If he loses, three strikes will be all the more difficult to dislodge. [link]

The political gamesmanship playing out in California is playing out nationwide. Reactionary elements seeking to gain or maintain power and influence are dueling with more moderate and progressive elements, which similarly hope to gain or maintain power and influence but also seek the restoration of fairness and common sense. It’s anyone’s guess which side will prevail. The tea (party) leaves are difficult to read.

For now, those of us who yearn and strive for a more just and equitable society, where sensible governance takes the wheel and politics takes its rightful place in the backseat, can only hope for the best and keep fighting the good fight. Perhaps, one day, we will strike out on the right road, in the right direction.

Rand Paul Beat Up by Straw Man

Okay, I’m not piling on, but I have to say this because no one else is–

Rand Paul is putting un-American words in the President’s mouth, or claiming that some shadowy entity in the Obama administration is using this kind of language…

“What I don’t like from the president’s administration is this sort of, ‘I’ll put my boot heel on the throat of BP,’” Paul said in an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “I think that sounds really un-American in his criticism of business.”

Of course this sounds un-American. It sounds like something out of a bad WWII movie. From the guy with the dueling scar and the eye patch. “Ve haf vays of making you talk, ya ha ha.” I seen that film before.

Can you imagine ‘no drama Obama’ bragging that he’ll crush windpipes beneath his jackboots? Can you imagine him authorizing a spokesperson to say that? I didn’t think so.

But the press rushed right by that weird statement and zoomed in on Paul’s suggestion that the President shouldn’t whip poor little British Petroleum when it’s down. Accidents happen.

That’s okay, but I really think the ‘boot on the neck’ phrase is revealing. Also that it ‘sounds un-American’ –those words the President never said. I think that Paul built a straw man and it beat him up. I also think that the phrase was a dog-whistle. Paul’s best bet is to just come clean, say what he means and give up the code words and waffling. Voters can buy it or not, but if he believes in something he should stand by it.

WHAT THE MAN SAID: President Obama’s actual words are way less colorful than the Jackboot version…

“We know that our dependence on foreign oil endangers our security and our economy,” Mr. Obama said in a Rose Garden announcement. “And the disaster in the gulf only underscores that even as we pursue domestic production to reduce our reliance on imported oil, our long-term security depends on the development of alternative sources of fuel and new transportation technologies.”

Obama’s administration is talking about denying government contracts to corporations that trash our coast. Harsh, isn’t it?

And did it ‘sound un-American’ when we were hearing from the Bush administration that “British Petroleum is my friend and I’ll shred anyone who gets in the way like a day-old bucket of coleslaw!” The fact that these words were never actually said should not stop us from deploring how un-American George Bush would sound if he said them.

Actions speak louder than words. British Petroleum didn’t have to worry about being slowed down by regulators in the eight glorious Bush years.

BP needs to pay all the damages without delay, and we all need to look at conservation– proven, possible and practical, if we have the sense of urgency to really do it.

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