Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Familiar Story

There are stories that often sound like those you know.  This story rings all too familiar. And as the New Year bells ring for me I am leaving my story for awhile but to know that there are others who need to be heard and then you move on and learn.

I first read about this case in Salon. I recall sharing this with an Attorney who dismissed as nonsense. And of course the prosecutorial and judical misconduct that parallels many cases regardless of kind. One wonders if anyone ever finds fairness or justice in any court.

 Then I found the story about this woman in Missoula who appealed her case and she has moved on. I don' t know what happened to Miss Dowdy but I hope that in this unjust world she has found some justice.

It is hard to get people to believe and even harder to get them to help you even if they do but then there are always one or two who show up and try to do the right thing.  They exist but the story still remains... watch, learn and realize that everyone has a story. 

My new years resolution is to put my book and story on the shelf for awhile and to move on for some that is not always easy.

Fair Just Truth

That is what we believe our Judicial system comprises and nothing could be more untrue, unjust or fair.

The fantastic Radley Balko's last column in Huffington Post included an interview with a seasoned criminal Attorney.  If anyone can offer a reflection on what comprises those qualities, this individual can.

And it came after reading a series of articles about an immensely corrupt Police Detective in NYC who sent many innocent individuals to jail for crimes they did not commit.  So reading that article, and then reading the comments by the Defense Attorney, it seems to confirm one's greatest fears about our current system of Justice; a system so broken, so corrupt that the Cops on Cops need to do some in house arrests frankly. 

It is comforting to know that there are those out there that do still have belief and faith.  And I needed to remind myself of that so I watched an encore Moyers and Company with the seasoned writer, poet and "gentleman" farmer, Wendell Berry, speak about our connection to nature.  He believes that despite all of our destruction economics change is possible and believes change is coming when it comes to those fighting for our environment our heath and safety when it comes to how we choose to live.  And we have the right to choose to live our lives despite all that is placed against us as such.

Two men well into their dotage should read and listen to these men.  Irony that they are not the Warren Buffets' or George Soros' who are both in their 80s but have many many more zeros in their bank accounts so are given way more idolatry and respect,  as somehow we equate that with intelligence and worth.   But then again we have always been a country that has a problem with age, money no, age without money, yes.

We all have worth and we all have rights and more importantly we should have equal access to what we need to live and survive and some of us just need less but it is enough and when you watch the Moyers show you will hear Mr. Berry say the same.

New Year, new rules, new laws or how about reminding ourselves that sometimes new is not always better.  Sometimes a pair of glasses or hearing aid and then maybe Lady Justice can still serve her role and purpose in this country of equality and parity.

An Interview With Sam Dalton, Now In His Seventh Decade Of Criminal Defense Law
By Radley Balko
Huffington Post

The year 2013 marked the 50th anniversary of two landmark Supreme Court cases in criminal defense law. In Brady v. Maryland, the Court ruled that prosecutors are required by law to turn favorable evidence over to defense attorneys. And in Gideon v. Wainwright, the Court ruled that for felony cases, the government is obligated to provide indigent defendants with adequate legal representation.

Earlier this year, I interviewed longtime criminal defense attorney Sam Dalton for a long investigative piece on prosecutorial misconduct. Dalton is something of a legend in Louisiana courtrooms. He has just entered his seventh decade of practicing law. In that time, he has defended more than 300 death penalty cases. Of those, he spared 16 defendants from execution -- this in a state that's rather fond of executing people. He has also been a voice for civil rights, he chartered a model public defender system, and he's currently leading a charge to impose some accountability on Louisiana's more egregiously misbehaving prosecutors. My favorite thing about him: Outside his office door there's a "welcome" mat that reads: Come back with a warrant.

My interview with Dalton extended well beyond the quotes I used for my article. I found him to be a fascinating figure, and certainly someone with some unique and well-earned insight into the way the criminal justice system works. So the full interview follows.

This is also my last contribution here at Huffington Post. Starting January 8, I'll begin a daily blog at the Washington Post that will focus on civil liberties and the criminal justice system. My interview with Dalton seems like an ideal way to wind down both my time here at HuffPost, as well as a good way to end a year marked by milestone anniversaries of Supreme Court rulings protecting the rights of the accused.

You're one of a few people still practicing law who was also practicing before the Brady decision came down in 1963. How did Brady change the administration of criminal law in America?

Brady made things a little better, at least at first. The younger prosecutors tried to take it seriously, and would try to comply, but there was still a community standard to evade disclosure. So they'd actually hide it from their bosses when they'd turn over favorable evidence to us.

So complying with the new Supreme Court requirement to turn favorable evidence over to defendants would get them in trouble?

Yes. You aren't going to change an entrenched culture overnight. The decision gave us a tool to fight withheld evidence after a conviction, but it didn't change the culture of evasion. Change has come slowly. Very slowly. And in some places, like Orleans Parish, the ruling was just ignored. The Brady problem really became atrocious under [former and longtime Orleans Parish District Attorney Harry] Connick. Nondisclosure was routine, and it's ridiculous to say he didn't know about it. He was too competent not to know what was happening.

Why has it been so difficult to get prosecutors to comply with Brady?

It's a mix of the system and the personalities. First of all, it takes a certain sort of personality to want to become a prosecutor. It takes someone with ambition, usually political ambition. And it takes a person with greed, not necessarily for money, but for power. Second, you have to look at what the system rewards. The best way to get attention for yourself as a prosecutor is to put a lot of people in jail. There's no votes to be won for deciding not to prosecute someone in the interests of justice. No prosecutor runs for higher office by touting the charges he didn't bring, or the fairness he showed to those accused of terrible crimes. You put those two problems together, and you get a culture that encourages deliberate indifference, especially once they're publicly invested in a particular suspect.

These sound like intractable problems. Looking back on your career, have you grown more pessimistic over the years?

We have a fine, beautiful legal system. But it has been prostituted by bad prosecutors, bad policemen, and indifferent judges. We need to look at what kind of character we want the people who hold those jobs to possess, and we need to understand the character of the people who most want those jobs. When you look at those two things, I think you'll often find that they're contradictory.

If I were running a DA's office, I would go out and recruit my prosecutors myself. I wouldn't wait for applicants to come to me. In theory, just wanting to be a prosecutor should disqualify you from becoming one. I'm speaking on broad strokes, here. I'm not talking about hard and fast rules. But that should be the general mindset we take when staffing a DA's office.

Where do you come down in the debate between electing judges and appointing them?
I'm against electing judges. I'm also against appointing them.

If you thought the courts were overburdened now . . . 
Yes. I guess I would limit judges to a single 10-year term. Or something like that. Whether they served that term by winning an election or by getting appointed isn't as important. I think the main problem with electing judges is that you have to raise funds, which can force you into some compromising relationships.

Few people have the money to fund their own campaigns. But in my experience, those who do tend to become good, fair judges. That's probably because they could be doing other things. The position isn't a stepping stone for them. And there's no indebtedness to others.
But appointing judges comes with its own set of problems.

Anything else you would change about how we pick and oversee judges?

I think every judge should handle both civil and criminal cases. When you split up cases like that, you immediately start to see fighting over budgets. But more importantly, there's something important and necessary about having judges handle a wide variety of cases. It gives them some worldliness, some context and perspective. Criminal courts judges can often become hardened to the misfortunes of people. They can lose their sense of empathy.

You have to remember that nearly all judges are former prosecutors. There's an undercurrent of alliance between judges and prosecutors, so there's a certain collegiality there. They run in the same social circles. They attend the same Christmas parties.

Why don't more criminal defense attorneys become judges? Is it that they can't, or don't want to?

I think most people would say that the position just isn't available to them -- that it's a long shot for a defense attorney to win a DA election or to get nominated to become a federal prosecutor. That's probably true. But I also think that most of us just don't want it. Judges and prosecutors share a lot of DNA. Criminal defense attorneys are whole other animal.
I should add that we do have some very good judges in Louisiana, and also some good prosecutors. But the bad outnumber the good.

So what does it take to be a good criminal defense attorney?

Commitment. I haven't on time for supper in 50 years. My wife should have divorced me years ago.

It seems like the job would also require a high threshold for disappointment. Aren't most criminal defense attorneys pretty cynical?

Oh, no. I think just the opposite. I always go back to the joke about the 11 year-old-twins. One of the twins was an eternal optimist. He only saw the good in everything, which made his parents fear that he'd be easily manipulated. His brother was an eternal pessimist. Only saw the bad in people, which his parents feared would make him sad and lonely. So they took the boys to a psychiatrist, who proposed an experiment. Per the psychiatrist's advice, the following Christmas the parents bought the pessimistic boy every toy he could possibly want. The optimistic boy woke up Christmas morning to several piles of horse manure. A week later, they took the boys back to the psychiatrist. He asked the pessimistic boy if had a good Christmas.

"It was terrible," he said. "I got all of these brand new toys, but I can't play with any of them because I'm afraid I'll break them."

The psychiatrist then posted the same question to the optimistic boy. "It was great!" he exclaimed. "I got a pony! I just haven't found him yet!"

Criminal defense attorneys deal with a lot of horseshit. I think the thing that keeps us going -- or at least the thing that has kept me going -- is knowing that with all that shit, sooner or later you're going to find a pony.

So what are the ponies? Discovering wrongful convictions? Freeing an innocent person from death row?

Those are all important, yes. But those are rare. There are smaller, more attainable ponies. Getting evidence suppressed because you convinced a judge that a cop broke the rules. Getting a conviction overturned after you've shown that a prosecutor withheld evidence. Even in cases where the charges are relatively minor, there's great satisfaction in knowing that you forced the state to play by the rules, that you successfully held a powerful person to account.

Most of the people most criminal defense attorneys represent are guilty. And most of their cases will end with convictions. Does that ever weigh on you -- knowing that you'll fail far more than you'll succeed?

I think it's a mistake for a defense attorney to define success by how many acquittals he wins. I define it by whether I've forced the state to do its job, and to do it fairly and in compliance with the Constitution.

But let me say something about convictions. Convictions are important. And it's important for attorneys to represent even clearly guilty people. There's the obvious reason -- that everyone deserves a fair trial.

But here's a less obvious reason: Ask yourself, what contribution do convictions make to criminal case law? The answer is that they're responsible for almost all of it. When you're acquitted, you don't appeal. Only convictions are appealed. And it's on appeal that you argue that your client's rights were violated. Appeals are where the appellate courts enforce the Constitution. At least where they're supposed to. It's only because someone was convicted that we have the rules in place today that protect the accused. There's a kind of beautiful symmetry to that. It's because of convictions that we have the rules that protect the innocent.

What do you think is most lacking in the criminal justice system today?

A true appreciation of what's at stake. To take someone's freedom -- that's the ultimate deprivation a government can inflict on a citizen, short of taking his life. Everyone in the criminal justice system -- judges, prosecutors, police, criminal defense lawyers -- can get lost in the day-to-day, and lose sight of what's really going on in these courtrooms.

I'll give you an example. We've known for decades that eyewitness testimony is unreliable. Horribly so. There's a mountain of research that says so. But until DNA testing starting exonerating people convicted based on testimony from witnesses -- sometimes four, five, six of them -- the courts treated eyewitness evidence as the best possible evidence. That should be terrifying to all of us. But the courts have been shamefully slow in changing how they handle eyewitnesses. They give it far too much weight in cases still today. There's even less interest in reopening past cases.

But that's only one side of the problem. The criminal justice system today also fails to do what it's designed to do, which is to protect us from dangerous people.

You're referring to the fact that every time an innocent person is convicted, the guilty person goes free, possibly to commit other crimes?

Yes, that's true. But the problem is more profound than that. The best example is that we don't know how to impose punishment. We focus too much on retribution, and too little on protecting society from harm.

Let me give you an example. Two men commit an armed robbery on the same night. The first man is a father of four. His family is about to be evicted. Or if you want to make him less sympathetic, let's say he's a drug addict who needs money to buy his next fix. He's nervous, he's sweaty. He's desperate, and he's panicky. He approaches his victim and roughly accosts him. He puts his gun to the victim's head. He's screaming profanities. He screams out for his victim's wallet, then screams louder and threatens the victim for moving too slowly. He takes his money and runs off. His victim is terribly frightened.

In the second scenario, our mugger is calm, cool, and methodical. He approaches his victim from the front, puts a light hand on the victim's back, and slowly and unemotionally explains that he has a gun in his coat pocket. He tells his victim that if he hands over his wallet, no one will get hurt, and they can both be on their way. The victim hands it over. The mugger walks off. The victim is angry at just having been robbed, but he isn't terrified. And he was never in real fear for his life.

Which of the two armed robbers is likely to get the longer sentence? Almost certainly the first one. Which of the two is the bigger threat to society? Unquestionably the second one. In fact, the second one is not only a likely career criminal, he's more likely to actually kill someone. The first one is scared because he knows he's doing something wrong. He feels some empathy for his victim. He's committing a crime of necessity. That isn't to say it excuses him. But his aggression comes from fear. The second mugger is incapable of empathy, or has learned to turn it off. He's cold-blooded.
So you see we impose punishment based on fear and a desire for retribution, not based on rational evaluations of what crimes and criminals are most dangerous.

What would you say to a well-intentioned person interested in becoming a judge or a prosecutor?

Retain your humility, and understand the corrupting effects of power. Power is insidious. It will creep up on even the most decent people. Always be aware of that, and be vigilant against it.

How specifically does a person do that? I've talked to former prosecutors and police officers who admit that there were times they were blinded by power or tunnel-vision, but didn't realize it at the time.

I have what I call a theory of inverse power. It may sound silly, but I think we need daily reminders to keep us grounded. I think that instead of collecting the little day-to-day accoutrements of power as you ascend in office, you should lose them. The most powerful man in the building should have the worst parking space. The district attorney should have the longest walk to the office. Twice a day, at least, he'd be reminded of his humanity.

There's also the distribution of chairs -- powerful people have the soft, cushy chairs. The chairs get harder and less comfortable as you go down the ladder. Whenever a new regime takes office, there's always a rearranging of the chairs. If you want to be a conscientious leader, give yourself the hardest chair.

These are little things, I know. But don't underestimate them. Powerful people insulate themselves from humility -- not just in terms of official accountability, but in their immediate surroundings. But they're the ones most in need of it. Reminding yourself that you're human and capable of mistakes is important in any line of work. But it's especially important when you hold lives in your hands.

Outside of parking spaces and chair arrangements, what about public policy? If you could pass a few laws tomorrow to curb abuses of power and make the system more fair, what would they be?

This isn't a satisfying answer, but I'm not sure there's much to be done. We keep getting back to the fundamental problem, which is that the ideal person for a powerful position is someone whose character makes them very reluctant to wield power. And those people are obviously uninterested in seeking powerful positions. I don't know how you change that.

So there will always be incidents, because there will always be that tension. But we can strive to make the incidents less routine. Certainly some accountability would help. I don't know that state bars will ever be able to sufficiently hold prosecutors accountable for misconduct to the point where professional sanction could be an effective deterrent. But right now, it rarely happens at all. Surely we can do better than nothing.

That's pretty cynical. So where's the pony in all of this?

I do think that things are slowly getting better. DNA testing has proved that the system is fallible. No one can deny that now. So we don't argue about whether the system is broken anymore, we argue about how broken it is, and about how to fix it. DNA testing was a dose of that humility I was talking about, only it was system-wide.

As I said, I also think that for human beings, we have a fine and beautiful justice system. It isn't good enough, but it's such a far improvement from anything that came before it. And things have really improved from when I started practicing. There's still corruption and misconduct, too much of it. But it isn't brazen. It isn't a badge of honor. They have to hide it. That means they know that it's wrong -- or at least that most people perceive it as wrong.

It's getting better. It really is. But it's moving too slow.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Year End Extravaganza!

As the hysteria surrounding the Obamageddon comes to a close, there are winners, losers and everyone in between. 

It is clear that Insurance is the big winner here and as they wrote the onerous part of the 1000 page bill it would be only fair.  Of course Big Pharma wins as most medicine consists of well medicine so get those Prescription pads ready Doctors.

And the loser are the medical device makers as they are now taxed for what ostensibly seems to be useless equipment being installed in the lab rats, whoops I mean patients for costs that seem to vary from place to place, town to town, effectiveness and necessity seem consistently crap however so there is at least that constant.  Read this article on knee surgeries as an example.

And lastly the GOP whine brigade that were sure that this largely Republican bill that is nearly identical to the one put in place by their boy, Mitt Romney, when he was Governor of Massachusetts.  But hey he lost so let's not get in line with some loser now.

The chips are still out with regards to Obamacare, the deadlines that keep moving and the ever increasing confusion but hey eventually it will all work out or not, I mean really as long as the Medical Industrial Complex doesn't lose too much its all good.  Or is it.  Ask those whose insurance was canceled and seemingly are confused by the process (this includes me).  Hey but the bitch in charge of the plan is retiring.  I wonder on full benefits?

It seems they are racing to make the finish line with the new coding and required electronic medical records as per Medicare and Medicaid is needing to ensure that those fraudulent reimbursements keep coming.  The article about the new medical codes is here.

I say fraudulent because it is already well known that if there is a will there is a way when it comes to Physicians cooking those books like they cook those diagnosis.   And the new confusing and complex coding systems will ensure that if you come in with a bruise you will leave with a hematoma as those cost more.  Group Health here in Seattle currently has in place a coding system that actually prompts the user inputting the diagnosis to upgrade, sort of like when you go in for shoes and they bring you 3 pairs.  This system asks if you are sure that is what you mean or do you mean something more complex and in turn more costly.  Its all win win for the software writers as they have too figured out how to gauge the system to ensure that the insured will always be on the receiving end of bigger bills and less care.

And lastly today there was a cover story about how India is circumventing the patent holds that Big Pharma uses to manipulate drugs, their costs and in turn their availability.  Nothing says winner more than charging more for drugs that could save lives and make people healthy. Then where would the Medical Industrial Complex be if we were all healthy. 

The irony is that much of this patent issue came to fruition under the Clinton Administration. While he was hanging out with Bono to get AIDS drugs to Africa, he made sure that anyone else was not so lucky. Shame another celebrity couldn't find some other color, say Blue, to help those in need for equally expensive and necessary drugs.  Well the streets have no name when no fame or checks are attached.

There are so many things that Clinton seems to regret I wonder if that is why he wants Hilary to run so he can go on the equivalent of the AA apology tour to make amends?  

And  there is this op ed piece in the Times also today about Breast Cancer screening and that just maybe just maybe it does more harm than good.  Yes shocking, I know.

And finally, yes I have a final point.  There is this article about the ADHD drug obsession and that it too might actually be a lot of smoke, no mirrors and well also doing more harm than good.  Yes, I am shocked again too!   My hair needed some extra body so its all good.

I am exhausted living in a country that has seemingly decided that facts, knowledge seeking and makes decisions by reacting versus acting upon the truth and facts that they should be seeking but simply can't or won't.  I am not sure but I am sure that there are those who feel differently and I am grateful that they are here and no Mulder I am not alone although it feels that way.

New Laws New Years

The obsession with criminalizing and penalizing drug use continues.  In both Colorado and Washington where Marijuana is now legal, expect an increase in DUI arrests.

The media has always done a great job exaggerating the dangers of drunk driving often salaciously reporting an accident regardless of the presumption of cause as one where "intoxicants" are involved.  But when you actually follow up on the accident often that is not the case.  Cities now keep online records of all traffic incidents from accidents, to DUI's to other criminal activities cited by the Police. What is interesting is that the numbers are not parallel nor are DUI's quite the "problem" often reported in the media.

That said no one wants anyone driving impaired but the second you have a joint, a drink or take a Xanax you are.  That legislated level of impairment, .08, is simply a designated base level and yes you can still be prosecuted for driving under the influence regardless.   Even in most alcohol and drug information classes required by law for those "arrested" for this crime will find that yes many bodies and individuals do process and respond differently, so what is good for the goose is not for the gander. But to make a sweeping broad generalization using a narrow brush just assume that everyone is the same and the law and junk science knows the facts and thereby the truth.

In Washington now almost all offenders regardless of guilt will be presumed to be a danger to society and while under waiting their plea agreement, as few go to trial, they will be required to wear a SCRAM bracelet that detects any alcohol in the system.   

Now driving drunk is one thing but actually living in your home and having a drink is now illegal apparently.  So you will be required to have an interlock device for your vehicle and apparently on your body as well.  My advice is get a Medical Marijuana prescription and toke up as that for now is not detectable. Or call your Doctor and get that Xanax to take the edge off.  No breathalyzer required.

See my point?  We have a drug and booze problem here.  Legislators won't do any cell phone laws and other intense distracted driving laws as that hits a little to close to home.   Nor will they actually have appropriate Courts designated and staff involved to appropriately assess and in turn diagnose, treat and handle these cases as they see fit.  That would require funding and its simply not in the cards, tarot or otherwise.

And then we have guns.  And which kills people more?  This is an article from Bloomberg news from a year ago,  that discusses the issue that guns kill people more.   Well don't tell that to the MADD mothers they have a issue that is about their temperance not temper about kids being killed by guns and often by kids bearing the guns.

I am mad but not with a group that has few mothers and more lobbyists to ensure that their agenda is the predominant one.  You can expunge a gun felony from your record but not a DUI.  Interesting isn't it?

Happy New Year.  It is often marked by people shooting guns, good they are at least not behind a wheel.  

American Gun Deaths to Exceed Traffic Fatalities by 2015

Guns and cars have long been among the leading causes of non-medical deaths in the U.S. By 2015, firearm fatalities will probably exceed traffic fatalities for the first time, based on data compiled by Bloomberg.

While motor-vehicle deaths dropped 22 percent from 2005 to 2010, gun fatalities are rising again after a low point in 2000, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Shooting deaths in 2015 will probably rise to almost 33,000, and those related to autos will decline to about 32,000, based on the 10-year average trend.

As the nation reels from the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the shift shows the effects of public policy, said Garen Wintemute, director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis.

The fall in traffic deaths resulted from safer vehicles, restricted privileges for young drivers and seat-belt and other laws, he said. By contrast, “we’ve made policy decisions that have had the impact of making the widest array of firearms available to the widest array of people under the widest array of conditions.” While fewer households have guns, people who own guns are buying more of them, he said.

The Dec. 14 slaying of 20 children and six adults at the school in Newtown, Connecticut, reignited a debate over gun violence. While mass murders are rare, shootings aren’t. About 85 Americans are shot dead daily -- 53 of them suicides. Every day, one of those killed by firearms is 14 or younger.

‘Game Changer’

Of the total, the CDC data show, 16 are between the ages of 15 and 24, mostly homicide victims. Wintemute said more than 200 people go to U.S. emergency rooms every day with gunshot wounds.
Gun deaths by homicide, suicide or accident peaked at 37,666 in 1993 before declining to a low of 28,393 in 2000, the data show. Since then the total has risen to 31,328 in 2010, an increase of 2,935, or eight more victims a day.

At the same time, violent crime and murder rates have fallen in the U.S., said Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins University Center for Gun Policy and Research in Baltimore. Homicides may be up this year, though the murder rate from 2006 to 2011 fell 19 percent, to 4.7 for every 100,000 people, Webster said in an e-mail.

While recent gun sales haven’t led to an increase in crime, research indicates that over time, higher levels of gun ownership are associated with increased rates of homicide and suicide, Webster said. The Sandy Hook killings are a “potential game changer” for gun-control laws and the response to it unlike any incident he’s seen in 20 years of studying gun violence, he said.

Police Crackdowns

“We haven’t had a year like 2012 for mass shootings before, with each one being more disturbing than the last,” Webster said. “It’s harder to chalk this up to random acts than to flaws in our gun laws.”

The drop in gun deaths since 1993 may be a result of less violence from drug trafficking, more people incarcerated and more police crackdowns on illegal firearms, according to both Webster and Wintemute.

The percentage of gun-owning households has fallen since 2004 to 32 percent in 2010, according to the General Social Survey by NORC at the University of Chicago. The survey indicates at least 1.8 firearms per household, or at least 70 million in households nationwide, said Tom Smith, the survey’s principal investigator.

Safer Driving

It’s impossible to verify how many guns are owned legally or illegally, Webster said. A survey eight years ago pegged the number of firearms around 300 million, he said.

Traffic fatalities in 2011 were the lowest since 1949, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Although drivers in the U.S. logged fewer miles than in 2010, the fatality rate was the lowest on record, 1.1 deaths for each 100 million vehicle miles driven.
There were 53,524 motor-vehicle deaths in 1979, compared with a projected 33,975 this year, according to the data compiled by Bloomberg.

“In the past several decades, we’ve seen remarkable improvements in both the way motorists behave on our roadways and in the safety of the vehicles they drive,” according to a Dec. 10 statement by the agency.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Enough Already

I recently read Dave Zirin's book, Game Over, which discusses the politicization and more importantly the subsidization of sports in communities across America.

The story below is just another example of the entitled class and their use of extortion, manipulation and false promises to garner tax breaks and other means of local, state and federal underwriting for their very for profit business.

As a Comcast subscriber I underwrite the costs of ESPN in my monthly bill and am seriously looking to switch or discontinue the cable network provider as they don't offer bundling as an opt out choice on my package.  So for me the non sports viewer I pay for the channels I don't watch, to pay the owners for teams they don't support, but instead manipulate and exploit for financial gain.

I read Mr. Zirin's book and there was not one word I did not agree with and why I chose to no longer engage or involve myself with any sports or sports related content, professional or otherwise.  And for the record Mr. Zirin is a sports writer and loves sports which is why he writes what he writes. If there is anything I know is that when you write about what you love and you write about it honestly you will find that it allows you to see the forest for the trees and you are no less the fool only in fact wiser as a result.

So to read the article below once again you see the strong arm tactics, the lobbying efforts and the disdain that professional Corporations have for the people they are designed to serve.  Apparently we are there to serve them.  Ice with that Scotch and how about a back rub?

For the record, this is not the first company to threaten Connecticut with jobs. The venerable Colt 45 guns are manufactured there and after Newton they threatened, without guns I imagine, to leave the state if they enacted any sweeping gun legislation. Talk about pistol whipping.

I wonder if people realize that the idea of disposable income is just that disposable? And we have the discretion to do with what we want which means we could easily not spend it on this? And in an era of decreasing said disposable income I am mystified as to why anyone would?

Game over? Or is game on when it comes to professional sports and the level of duplicity they will go to to make profit.  When is enough enough? 

For ESPN, Millions to Remain in Connecticut

Published: December 26, 2013&

BRISTOL, Conn. — The governor of Connecticut arrived at ESPN’s expansive campus here to celebrate the groundbreaking of the sports media giant’s 19th building, a digital center that would be the new home of “SportsCenter.”

It was August 2011, and this was the third visit in a year by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, whose first was about three weeks before his election. < This time, Mr. Malloy brought a hard hat, a shovel and an incentive package for ESPN potentially worth $25 million.

ESPN is hardly needy. With nearly 100 million households paying about $5.54 a month for ESPN, regardless of whether they watch it, the network takes in more than $6 billion a year in subscriber fees alone. Still, ESPN has received about $260 million in state tax breaks and credits over the past 12 years, according to a New York Times analysis of public records. That includes $84.7 million in development tax credits because of a film and digital media program, as well as savings of about $15 million a year since the network successfully lobbied the state for a tax code change in 2000.

For Mr. Malloy and other public officials in Connecticut, the conventional wisdom is that any business with ESPN is good business. After all, ESPN is Connecticut’s most celebrated brand and a homegrown success story, employing more than 4,000 workers in the state.

“After I was elected, this was one of the first companies that I came to,” Mr. Malloy told reporters after the groundbreaking ceremony, standing next to a senior ESPN executive, according to a recording of the event. “I made it clear that ESPN’s needs were not going to be ignored by my administration.”

This is peak season for ESPN, which is broadcasting 33 of the 35 college football bowl games, including the national championship game on Jan. 6 between Florida State and Auburn. This spring, it is scheduled to open the 193,000-square-foot Digital Center 2, which is being built with Malloy’s pledge of nearly $25 million in state support. Workers there recently constructed the massive studios that will house ESPN’s flagship lineup of shows. The main hallways in the building were designed to be wide enough to fit a racecar.

The state’s generosity toward ESPN, a multibillion-dollar conglomerate, is not unlike the treatment other major companies have received in Connecticut and throughout the country, like Boeing in South Carolina and General Motors in Michigan. But the breaks have been met with frustration by some political opponents of the Connecticut governor, who say the state’s resources would be better spent elsewhere.

The critics say incentives should be redirected to smaller companies that are more in need than ESPN, which accounts for nearly half the operating profit of Disney, its corporate parent. They also say ESPN, sitting on 123 acres in central Connecticut, is hardly a risk to move elsewhere.

“These people had courage and imagination, so they deserve their success,” State Senator Tony Guglielmo, a Republican, said. “But I don’t think the taxpayers here in our state should be funding it.” The critics say ESPN has been successful in getting an audience at the State Capitol in Hartford partly because of its ability to communicate its needs effectively to the state’s decision makers. ESPN employs one of the top lobbying firms in Connecticut and has spent $1.2 million on lobbying expenses since 2007, records show.

But Mr. Malloy, a Democrat who will be up for re-election in 2014, says no lobbying is needed to convince him of what he considers obvious: ESPN is one of Connecticut’s best resources, and the state must use all tools available to aid its growth and keep its home base and the thousands of well-paying jobs it promises in Bristol.

He sees ESPN as a magnet for attracting other sports media jobs to his state. NBC Sports, which also received state benefits, recently opened its new headquarters in Connecticut. “I don’t want to imagine Connecticut without ESPN,” Mr. Malloy said in a telephone interview, adding that state incentive programs benefited large and small companies. “We want ESPN to have the biggest possible footprint in Connecticut, and we want them spending their dollars in Connecticut instead of any other state.” 

Everyone seems to agree that ESPN is a shining success story for Connecticut, in terms of the state’s early support of an upstart through its development into an international powerhouse. The company’s executives acknowledge that state and local officials have played important roles in their success. But they also say their company has provided an exceptional return on the investment. For the past 25 years, Connecticut has been last in the nation in job creation, with no net job creation over that period.

“Consistently since we launched, we’ve been a growth engine for economic development in central Connecticut,” said Mike Soltys, an ESPN spokesman, who has worked for the company since 1980. “We’ve added employees on a consistent basis for 33 years in a state that in recent years hasn’t had as much success bringing companies that hire people here.

“Because we are visible and highly successful, the state can point to us as a company that loves being here and has flourished being in Connecticut.”

Since 2000, ESPN has spent about $1 billion on construction in and around Bristol, a town of about 60,000, erecting 13 new buildings and expanding several others. During that period, the company’s work force in Connecticut has swelled from 1,700 to more than 4,000. That makes ESPN the 25th-largest employer in the state, according to rankings by the Hartford Business Journal.

The company has a reputation as a first-rate corporate citizen in Bristol, where ESPN laid roots in 1979. It is by far the city’s largest employer and taxpayer, with an assessment dwarfing that of the next nine companies combined. ESPN has also been a significant donor, underwriting the Boys and Girls Club in Bristol, donating to the hospital and children’s museum, and sending out employee volunteers to build a baseball diamond for a low-income housing complex, all with little fanfare.

“I wish everyone was that good,” said Frank N. Nicastro Sr., a Democratic state representative from Bristol and a former mayor. “I’ve watched them grow from a little acorn to an unbelievable size. They’ve done wonders for the city of Bristol.”

The network’s Connecticut origins stem from its founder, Bill Rasmussen, an executive with the Hartford Whalers who wanted to use satellites to beam Whalers and University of Connecticut games to cable television subscribers. The fact that ESPN made its home in Bristol, an old manufacturing town about halfway between New York and Boston, was a point of pride to locals.

Politicians who were not on board with ESPN did not find much success: One mayoral candidate campaigned against the network’s dishes, saying they were a danger to birds. That message did not register in a place that was quickly emerging as the home of ESPN.

“ESPN is huge,” said Ken Cockayne, a city councilman for several years who took over as mayor in November. “They are our largest taxpayer and they are a great corporate partner for our city.”

By the spring of 2000, ESPN had shed its roots as a small start-up and was beginning to look more like a mature corporate behemoth.

Disney, its owner, looked to ESPN as a key part of its revenue machine and one poised for immense growth. The network had 1,700 employees in Bristol, and another 700 worked elsewhere — as the network now had facilities or subsidiaries in seven other states.

That is when ESPN did what other big, multinational companies had done: It went to the statehouse in Hartford and sought financial incentives in exchange for continued growth in Connecticut. At the top of ESPN’s agenda was supporting a measure by state lawmakers that would change the corporate tax formula in a way that would save broadcasters money.

The legislature had done this three years earlier for financial companies. If the adjustment was applied to broadcasters, ESPN stood to be the biggest beneficiary by far — reducing its taxes by about $15 million a year.

Edwin M. Durso, a senior ESPN executive, testified before lawmakers in March 2000 that such a change would encourage the network to embark on a major capital project that would include as much as $500 million in spending, and up to 1,000 new jobs. The network’s initiative was also likely to spur its suppliers and other nearby companies to grow, too, Mr. Durso said, creating a multiplier effect.

Asked by a lawmaker if ESPN would consider putting the development in another state, Mr. Durso referred to the corporate connection to Disney: “They have facilities in many different states.”
The lawmakers were pleased to have ESPN on hand; one even stated, “for the record,” that he watched “SportsCenter” “two nights a week during the legislative session” but “four nights a week the rest of the year.”

The lawmakers approved the change to the corporate tax formula, and a review by Connecticut’s Office of Legislative Research in 2004 showed that ESPN was fulfilling its promise to the legislature. That year, ESPN opened the 136,000-square-foot Digital Center 1.

In 2006, as ESPN continued to grow, the Connecticut General Assembly, along with Mr. Malloy’s predecessor, M. Jodi Rell, had designs on expanding the state’s digital media sector. They wanted to offer tax incentives to companies that use the state as a base for initiatives like making films, building studios and increasing their online operations. Since the program began, the state has awarded about $450 million in tax credits to businesses that have spent $1.6 billion in the state.

ESPN has been among the largest participants in that program, spending $318 million in Connecticut and receiving $84.7 million in tax certificates — about a fifth of the total amount awarded. Companies like Blue Sky Studios and World Wrestling Entertainment have also benefited.

The program has provided ESPN with financial incentives for the development of ESPN.com ($54 million) and ESPN Mobile ($3.2 million), as well as infrastructure credits for the construction of a research and development building ($6.6 million) and the Digital Center 2 ($14.4 million). ESPN also qualified for $6.2 million in credits to support the production of “The Bronx Is Burning,” a television mini-series.

ESPN regularly sells the tax credit certificates to other entities in private transactions, which could mean that the network receives less value than the amount on the voucher. Such transfers are common and within the rules of the program.

George Norfleet, the director of the state’s Office of Film, Television and Digital Media, said he was in regular contact with ESPN, treating the network as a “corporate constituent” with room for growth. “We want to make sure that happens here, not in Orlando or Los Angeles,” he said.

A recurring theme in ESPN’s dealings with the state is that the company could move its operations elsewhere. When Malloy announced ESPN’s inclusion in “First Five,” a state plan to create jobs and promote business development, he said the network had other places where it could have invested. He mentioned recent production facilities in Los Angeles and Austin, Tex.

Some lawmakers who oppose the governor have questioned whether such a shift was a legitimate concern. “If you listen to the governor, they always claim these companies are on the precipice of moving a large, important division,” said Larry Cafero, the Republican leader in the Connecticut House of Representatives.

“You scratch your head and say, Why are we giving them this money?” he said. “Why are we giving them these breaks if there’s no immediate threat to leave?”

Mr. Malloy, for his part, is comfortable with the state’s ties to ESPN. In fact, the governor said he would like more of them.

“We want a larger footprint for ESPN in Connecticut rather than a smaller footprint for ESPN in Connecticut because we know that a large footprint is harder to move out,” Mr. Malloy said.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Crazy On You

The issue with mental health is suddenly at the forefront for two reasons: The costs to medical ER's and of course with regards to gun violence.

The increasing criminalization and in turn ostracizing of the mentally ill is becoming a new du jour, with the movement of Silicon Valley north to San Francisco, the tech sector has noticed with a vengeance the streets of San Francisco are not quite what Michael Douglas and Karl Malden patrolled two decades ago.  There are numerous rants that have been well documented and vilified on Twitter and in turn Valleywag with regards to the insensitivity of those whose idea of bundled means in swag not one's entire belongings.

Then we have several cities that have been working overtime to legislate and outlaw homelessness.  There are many cities, including San Francisco and Seattle, liberal bastions attempt to do so focusing on aggressive panhandling and camping on streets as a way of circumventing the rising complaints from the chambers of private rooms and commerce.    And we have cities busing them out, as they have been doing in Nevada and Tennessee.

The rising tide raises the boats and that might be the next option, barging them out as we do with garbage as that certainly may be an option.

By labeling them dangerous we can easily house them in the rising private prisons that are taking over state run facilities as they do require a 90-95% occupation requirement for them to do so, so this could be a win-win for everyone.  

Add big pharma to the mix, medical experimentation and the return of other weird shit in the vein of Frances Farmer and it will be a perfect trifecta of profit and no loss.

The article below discusses the issue as communities try to balance the right thing with the needed thing and that is one hell of a balancing act.

Here is the simple solution, there was or is nothing wrong with the concept of "institutionalizing" what was the problem was the inhumane treatment.  How about discontinue that practice and try the humane part as clearly letting them live on the street like wild animals is not very humane. 

Ask the practitioners of our local jail and housing for the mentally ill, Harborview Medical Center, how it is working out there for them.  And by them I mean the ill as the people who work there are inhumane and I doubt they can be helped. And they are just one example of crappy public hospitals exploiting the ill and in firmed to house them and get whatever they can from the Government via Medicare, as that is all they are doing. Actually caring and medicine not so much. That is what it really is, getting free money and we pay the bill in many ways.

E.R. Costs for Mentally Ill Soar, and Hospitals Seek Better Way

Published: December 25, 2013

RALEIGH, N.C. — As darkness fell on a Friday evening over downtown Raleigh, N.C., Michael Lyons, a paramedic supervisor for Wake County Emergency Medical Services, slowly approached the tall, lanky man who was swaying back and forth in a gentle rhythm.

In answer to Mr. Lyons’s questions, the man, wearing a red shirt that dwarfed his thin frame, said he was bipolar, schizophrenic and homeless. He was looking for help because he did not think his prescribed medication was working.

In the past, paramedics would have taken the man to the closest hospital emergency room — most likely the nearby WakeMed Health and Hospitals, one of the largest centers in the region. But instead, under a pilot program, paramedics ushered him through the doors of Holly Hill Hospital, a commercial psychiatric facility.

“He doesn’t have a medical complaint, he’s just a mental health patient living on the street who is looking for some help,” said Mr. Lyons, pulling his van back into traffic. “The good news is that he’s not going to an E.R. That’s saving the hospital money and getting the patient to the most appropriate place for him,” he added.

The experiment in Raleigh is being closely watched by other cities desperate to find a way to help mentally ill patients without admitting them to emergency rooms, where the cost of treatment is high — and unnecessary.

While there is evidence that other types of health care costs might be declining slightly, the cost of emergency room care for the mentally ill shows no sign of ebbing.

Nationally, more than 6.4 million visits to emergency rooms in 2010, or about 5 percent of total visits, involved patients whose primary diagnosis was a mental health condition or substance abuse. That is up 28 percent from just four years earlier, according to the latest figures available from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality in Rockville, Md.

By one federal estimate, spending by general hospitals to care for these patients is expected to nearly double to $38.5 billion in 2014, from $20.3 billion in 2003.

The problem has been building for decades as mental health systems have been largely decentralized, pushing oversight and responsibility for psychiatric care into overwhelmed communities and, often, to hospitals, like WakeMed.

In North Carolina, the problem is becoming particularly acute. A recent study said that the number of mental patients entering emergency rooms in the state was double the nation’s average in 2010. < More than 10 years after overhauling its own state mental health system, North Carolina is grappling with the consequences of a lost number of beds and a reduction in funding amid a growing outcry that the state’s mentally ill need more help. In Raleigh, where the Dorothea Dix Hospital — a state psychiatric institution that served the area for more than 150 years — was closed in 2012, mentally ill patients began trickling into hospital emergency rooms. Hospitals, which cannot legally turn away any patient seeking care, say the influx of psychiatric patients is straining already busy E.R.'s and creating dangerous conditions. This spring, University Medical Center of Southern Nevada in Las Vegas declared an “internal disaster,” shutting its doors to arriving ambulances for 12 hours, after mental patients filled up more than half of its emergency room beds. A suicidal patient took out a gun and shot herself in the head while in a hospital emergency room in New Mexico in January. With a crisis facing states, communities and hospitals across the country, experts say no clear solution has emerged. St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center in Syracuse created a separate psychiatric emergency department. Interim LSU Hospital in New Orleans opened a 10-bed mental health emergency room extension six years ago that is typically full. But in Raleigh, the goal is slightly different: keep the psychiatric patients out of the hospital emergency room altogether. The problem facing North Carolina and other states is a legacy of the 1960s, when warehousing of the mentally ill in large psychiatric hospitals was seen as inhumane. The first wave of so-called deinstitutionalization was driven by new psychiatric drugs and by a 1963 law championed by President John F. Kennedy that provided federal funding for community-based mental health centers. States began reducing the number of psychiatric beds. From a peak of more than 300 beds per 100,000 people in 1955, states had cut the number of beds to an average of 14 by 2010, according to research from the Treatment Advocacy Center, a nonprofit organization that promotes improved psychiatric care through better laws, policies and practices. For decades, North Carolina resisted the broad mental health reforms. But in 2000, state lawmakers moved to overhaul the state’s mental health system, closing state facilities and pushing counseling and outpatient programs to local communities. When the economy plummeted in 2008, North Carolina, like other states, reduced funding to community programs. In all, the state spends 20 percent less on community mental health services than it did a decade ago. Today, North Carolina has only eight beds in state psychiatric hospitals per 100,000 people, the lowest ratio in the country.(North Carolina, like other states, has added beds in local community facilities but, even then, its total beds are down a quarter since 2001.) Uninsured patients rarely receive individual therapy, only group sessions. And it can take up to three months to see a psychiatrist. “Now, we are seeing some of the most acute, the most aggressive and the most chronic mental health patients, and we’re holding them longer,” said Janice Frohman, the director of WakeMed’s emergency department. < The effects of the upheaval in care of the mentally ill are playing out vividly at WakeMed. A private, nonprofit organization with 884 beds, WakeMed is struggling to find a way to meet the needs of increasing numbers of mentally ill patients while also controlling costs.
Hospital officials, along with their counterparts at the county and state level, support the pilot program but say it is one small step toward meeting a much bigger challenge.
WakeMed has treated an average of 314 patients a month whose primary diagnosis is some form of psychosis. That is up a third from two years ago.

On any given day, 25 to 50 mentally ill patients can be found throughout its halls.

Some linger in the busy emergency room bays, surrounded by the bright lights and the soft beeps of machines. Others are mixed into the hospital’s inpatient rooms.

The nurses on the ward wear small panic buttons on the lapels of their hospital coats. When asked when she last pressed her panic button, which immediately floods the ward with help to subdue a violent patient, Francine Moseley, a petite nurse smiles ruefully: It was just last night.

The panic calls happen about 25 times a month.

WakeMed, like Holly Hill, receives some money from a variety of sources to care for the patients, but it must pay for many other costs.

Last year, the hospital spent $2 million on so called sitters, who monitor the most aggressive patients 24 hours a day. When the county sheriff’s office became overwhelmed transporting patients to facilities up to three hours away, WakeMed hired a private transportation company.

The hospital now employs 14 behavioral health specialists and four patient service assistants who spend hours contacting care facilities in the hopes of finding an empty bed.

As the state’s mental health system became more fragmented, community leaders in Wake County have been trying to better coordinate care for patients who use the bulk of resources.

They are focusing on the “high users” — individuals who repeatedly call 911 or show up at emergency rooms.

There is the elderly man suffering from chronic pain who has been transported by ambulance to Raleigh emergency rooms 120 times in the last two years. A female patient with a history of mental illness called 911 nine times in June alone.

A little more than three years ago, Brent Myers, an emergency room physician, noticed that increasingly at the start of his shift more than half the beds were already full of patients needing mental health care, rather than physical care.

The head of Wake County Emergency Medical Services, Dr. Myers was also among a handful of paramedics in the county who are trying to expand the role of first responders. Seeing an opportunity to both accomplish that goal and help reduce the number of patients flowing into the hospital emergency room, he persuaded county and state officials to agree to an experiment.
Shortly thereafter, a group of Wake County paramedics began to be trained to perform mental health exams on patients in the field who are judged not to be in need of emergency medical care. By asking a series of questions, the paramedics are then able to evaluate a patient’s mental condition. While giving a patient the option of going to a local emergency room if they prefer, they also offer the choice of being taken to another facility that might be better suited to provide the kind of care they need.

Last year, more than half of the 450 patients identified with mental illness asked to go somewhere other than the emergency room.

Dr. Myers sees it as the start for connecting other types of patients with alternatives to hospital emergency rooms.

Emergency officials in many other areas are looking to replicate aspects of the Wake County program. But many states have laws and protocols that essentially dictate that patients may be transported by ambulance to only hospital emergency rooms. Moreover, Medicare and state Medicaid programs are largely unable to reimburse for transports to nonhospital facilities.

Still, Dr. Myers says there are bigger costs that can be squeezed out of the health care system by changing how emergency responders deal with high users, whether they be mentally ill patients or simply those suffering from chronic conditions like diabetes who could be better served by connecting with a home-health provider.

“Our next big step is to get into the community in a big way,” Dr. Myers said. “That’s where we’re headed.”

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Cheer

There will be some individuals and their families having a happy holiday as their convictions were overturned or in fact they were pardoned by President Obama, but sadly these are simply chips off a huge iceberg that makes the one that sunk the Titanic an ice cube.

Yesterday in our local rag that used to be a Newspaper, was the news that a man wrongly convicted and of course interned and imprisoned for years was finally found innocent through the efforts of the Northwest Innocence Project.  

I could go on about how good works do happen in the system of cracks and unbalance that comprises the system of justice but I do wonder what happens to the thousands of others who do not get the privilege of pitching their case to the duly excited law students and their advisers who take on these cases. And what happens when the students graduate and go on with six figures in debt do with that knowledge and skill set?   Go on to the overwhelmed and utterly useless Public Defense system? Or  join the actual Prosecutorial system that enabled them to learn how misconduct contributes to their classroom lesson, perhaps with some misguided belief they will be different?  I don't know. I do care, however,  as we have a huge glut of lawyers and kids with huge debt and a system that is burgeoning at the seams with cases both civil and criminal that are not getting the attention they need and deserve.  But hey fixing the system not part of the plan so let's let the next years class do it.

So we have the drive thru window of justice that contributed to this man's wrongful conviction but he is not alone.

This is the link to the ProPublica website, called Out of Order, that is devoted solely to prosecutorial and police misconduct - or as I call them - the Tweedle Dee and Dum of the system.

Read this story: Who Police's Prosecutors Who Abuse their Authority 

Or there is this one: A Prosecutor, A Wrongful Conviction and a Question of Justice

Think it can't happen to you? Well think again. The system is a stacked deck and the house wins and when you have no money or access to money to hire legal representation you are not even assured victory or  justice.  What you will be assured of is debt and a plea bargain as that is sort of like going to Nordstrom and ending up with a pair of socks on sale as that is what you really can afford.  Going to Court makes that crap shoot table in Vegas seem to possess better odds.

Then we have the milk carton children, the billboard faces, the angry parents who in some quest of justice and of course revenge mixed with guilt and grief, that somehow riles up the public and in turn the domino's begin to fall; the press becomes riled, they in turn lead individuals to form some acronym labeled group, and in turn they pressure legislators to write laws to stop this kind of thing, and then in turn the Police begin to crack down, then the Prosecutors are encouraged to get the bad guys, and the Judges are required to sentence the offenders to the minimum terms and punishments written by the Legislators and their lobbyists, and those sentences become the maximum so the Judge can show they are tough on crime, and in turn they too can be re-elected by meeting the needs of a public screaming "off with their heads."

This fairly defines the Judicial and Political landscape when it comes to crime and violence in this country, with the one exception - gun violence.  But getting the streets clear of drug users, spousal abusers, drunk drivers, child perverts and anyone who kills children other than gun manufacturers and sellers.  Next up - being mentally ill will be a crime and pose a danger to society as the other nefarious felons listed above and there will be the requisite junk science and doctored numbers to support the argument.

The beginning of this movement is also noted on the ProPublica site, the story of the first milk carton kid, Etan Patz and the 26 year old hunt for a child who disappeared, and the need to somehow satiate a family angry, sad and in some way responsible for their son's death/disappearance. Sorry but if we must blame victims would that not include a family who allowed a six year old boy to walk alone to a bus stop?  Seriously if we blame rape victims and others for which crime has ocurred should not this family take on some of that as well?

But wait.. .the Sandy Hook children their families were to blame for sending them to school?  No.  We can blame the shooter and of course his mother who enabled that culture of madness to descend on the home and in turn put the guns in her cold dead son's hands quite legally as well.

Or how about Columbine? Or Virginia Tech? Or Clackamas Mall? or the Nursing School in Oakland? Or the Naval Yard?  I mean the perpetrators and victims CHOSE to be there together are they not responsible for going to school? To work? Shopping?

We love to find intrinsic explanations for extrinsic situations?  Well then in that case let's recall that the victims are equally responsible too.  They wouldn't be in court or in the system if they hadn't done "something" right?  Ah yes smoke meet fire.

Our system of justice is not sustainable it is not even functioning but even broken clocks are right twice a day. 

Merry Christmas to all those not with family and friends, they are highly overrated.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

To Bear Arms

The second Amendment:  A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed

And that is the dogma, the pledge, that the NRA and the others of the gun toting movement hold dear.

As the issues surrounding gun violence seems to focus not on the whole ability to own and carry guns regardless of the situation, location or even the individuals criminal or personal history because actually limiting the type, kinds and amount of guns an individual can legally own would somehow cause the founding fathers to rise from the grave and then turn into Zombies from the Walking Dead to eat the Legislators who dared to question their decisions made over 300 years ago.  God forbid that we actually question laws written centuries ago by men who are apparently infallible.  Did we not say that about the Pope at some point, that worked out well didn't it?

The article from Sunday's Times discusses the issue of the mentally ill and their rights to own guns regardless.  And of course this is the new raging bullet, whoops, I mean issue surrounding the problem with gun violence, again not guns themselves.

We have mentally ill people killing themselves and others without guns and in turn getting killed by Police with guns as that seems to be the way we handle the mentally ill in this Country.  Kill or be killed versus actual medical help and supervision. 

Add to that the flank of Attorney's and Courts that actually aid in restoring gun rights to those who perhaps should not be provided guns.  Look at all the Attorney's who specialize in expunging records and restoring the right to carry guns to former felons.  Yes that is an entire field of law practice. But if you are a drunken driver with no history of vehicular manslaughter, someone charged with domestic violence or been charged with child pornography you will never get your record expunged or be able to carry a gun.  We have our priorities and we make sure those drug users are incarcerated for life.

Thanks to the media, the morons we elect to office and those corporations who have to write the laws for them as they care about the bottom line and personal agenda, civil rights, equity and that Constitution they love to wave about a convenience or not depending on the law. 

By flagging those "mentally ill" we are now opening a new category of national nemesis whom we can target our ire and inappropriate inflamed reactions to a group of people who may not have any propensity for violence other than self harm but we have the science and studies that prove they are the problem and the solution is rounding them up.  Ah those institutions that Reagan closed decades ago may be coming back real soon. We can house the drunk drivers, wife beaters, perverts too!  Well misery loves company. Lets just put a fake GPS, Scram Bracelet or other junk monitoring device to track them and the NSA will have something to do on their down time.

When you actually look into the real criminals and those who kill with guns or cars or when mentally ill you find a well established pattern and history with the law.  And yet they somehow get overlooked and under managed and then we all pay the price and in turn more bad laws and ideas are written that actually do nothing to stop or reduce or even resolve the problem.

The drug war that led to the mass incarceration of Americans, the war on Terrorism that led to an island housing and illegally detaining enemies of the Nation will now add to the list of future prisoners the mentally ill.   At least Big Pharma can swing by and sell their great drugs to the Government as they will have an immense client list.  As I can see this happening to anyone who has depression, anxiety or any other "mental health" issue being "diagnosed" with a much larger scale problem in which to label and drug into submission.  See the growth of ADHD as proof.

The article is attached here.  And true there are clear individuals who should not have guns at all. But there is no solution no real ideas offered in the article, just accusations and hand wringing and of course shoulder shrugging.  Thanks I can manage to do without it as my arms already have enough to bear. 


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Herbs For Health

As an advocate of sustainability and being natural, I find myself relying on herbs and other products to stimulate my energy and my well being without chemicals.

The company Herbalife  has as 30 year long history in  health and wellness and the Herbalife Network has several products in mind that serve that purpose.  It is a well known and established company dedicated on wellness and health. 

For those interested in learning more about their Natural Fitness Products and what they offer take a look at their website and find a directory of the world's best distributors  and find your  local distributor  who can help you find the right plan, program and product you need to feel healthier.  From anti aging to stress management there are numerous products that can help you accomplish your goals.

The New Year means new resolutions and usually getting fitter and healthier is number one on every one's list.  Finding a local distributor is easy, getting healthier can be easy too when you find the products that work and in turn work for you. 

***this blog entry was brought to you by Herbalife***

Feather Me Up

If you are looking for a fun way to change your looks temporarily then try feathering your hair. Yes there is that way with scissors or another way with feather hair accessories.

My friends at have the options and tools necessary to play with your hair and leave a mark without making a mess.

The family at Fine Featherheads (and yes it is a family product) does everything in-house.  Their products are gifts from them to you - from the production, packaging, shipping to the internal customer service is done on order and with the extra special love and fun that makes them unique in more than just products.

Take a look at fine featherheads best sellers page.  It includes the original Tail Feathers and DIY Feather Hair Extensions that lend color and spirit to their Hair Chalk, a temporary color splash that is easy to put on as well as wash out.  Other accessories include the Fly Ties and Quill Clips that can be used to add your extensions or just for easy knots and ties of the hair kind.

Hair is an accessory and from color to styles to add on accessories you should put your head forward and try something new and be someone different. 

Be you an individual or a Salon looking to expand your product line, Fine Featherheads can accommodate you easily with necessary videos, how to-s and more importantly that hands on service that you find from a true home grown business.  That is the true definition of sustainable.

Join the tribe, spread your wings and try a feather in your hair and fly. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

I Spy Ikea

Well not to be outdone by the NSA and their indiscriminate extensive spying on Americans, European Leaders, Terrorists and well anyone in their radar which means everyone, Ikea wanted to start their own schudenfluden version.   Remember its cheaper but not better.

Ikea needs to hire Mr Snowden I know he is looking for a job if not an asylum.. oh wait they don't do that anymore do they Francis Farmer?  I got a bad feeling that will be returning to the next legislative act near you.  Mental health is now the new buzz on wars against the real issue - guns - so let's round up the mentally ill and house them.  I vote for Texas, they have an excellent leader who I think represents them well.

And of course Ikea didn't just do this surveillance on scofflaw employees, heck no, they expanded it to customers.  And I concur, frankly why anyone would buy that crap needs to be spied on.

Ikea it is certainly not Nordstrom, they just spy on you while in the store and they have a wonderful return policy.

Ikea’s Investigations Not Limited to Employees

Published: December 15, 2013

PARIS — Personal investigations by Ikea’s French unit were not limited to its own employees.

The sweep included Pascal and Johanna Denize, a Swedish couple in their early 40s. The Denizes, Internet entrepreneurs, crossed paths with Ikea after buying a four-bedroom vacation home in the French region of Brittany in November 2006.

They ordered 10,000 euros, or $13,740, of furnishings — including an entire kitchen setup, bathroom fixtures and beds — from an Ikea store located in Évry, south of Paris.

Delivery was arranged for mid-December, and the couple made plans to spend their Christmas break relaxing with friends in their new place.

But the furniture did not arrive, and the Denizes ended up spending eight weeks in a nearby bed and breakfast. They say that their frustration mounted as dozens of calls about the status of their shipment went unanswered and requests to cancel the order were denied.

By the time delivery was made, in early February 2007, the Denizes had sent written complaints to Ikea’s customer service department, seeking €3,400 in compensation for their 55 nights at the B&B, €20 per day in meals and reimbursement of the €339 delivery fee.

Six months of increasingly heated email correspondence with Ikea executives in France and Sweden followed. But the Denizes say they never threatened to take legal action. In the end, the company offered a little more than €1,600, which the couple say they grudgingly accepted.

Unbeknown to the Denizes, though, Ikea’s risk management department in France had been quietly checking into their background before agreeing to that settlement, according to the emails, which the Denizes say they obtained through a French journalist.

As far as the Denizes know, the Ikea inquiry went nowhere. The company, through its lawyer, declined to comment on their case.

In one of the emails, dated June 7, 2007, Jean-François Paris, then the head of risk management, wrote to Jean-Pierre Fourès, a private detective, providing Mr. Fourès with the couple’s Brittany address and Ms. Denize’s French mobile phone number.

“Could you run a check for me on this address and tell me who the official owner (or tenant) is?” Mr. Paris’s email asked, adding, “Is this person known to the police?”

The Denizes no longer own the house in Brittany and now split their time between California and Sweden. When they learned through the news media last year that their names had turned up in the leaked Ikea e-mails, they were shocked.

“It was so ‘Big Brother,”’ Mr. Denize said in a recent Skype interview from Stockholm. “We felt exposed and afraid. I wanted to know how much information they had collected, who all had access to it and what did they intend do with it?”
“That entire investigation,” Mr. Denize said, “must have cost them a lot more than what it would have cost to reimburse us for what we asked for"

Revelations That Ikea Spied on Its Employees Stir Outrage in France

Published: December 15, 2013

“I felt total incomprehension, I was stunned,” she said. As a 12-year employee of the Swedish home furnishings group, Ms. Paulin had risen to become deputy director of communications and merchandising for Ikea’s two dozen stores across France.

But then she was forced out after a year’s medical absence — and after what was subsequently revealed to be an investigation of her by Ikea’s French headquarters, which suspected she was not as sick as she had said. The company was said to have provided a private detective with her Social Security number, personal cellphone number, bank account details and other personal data.

A regional court in Versailles, near Paris, is now examining whether Ikea executives in France broke the law by ordering personal investigations — not only of Ms. Paulin but of hundreds of other people over the course of a decade.

A review of the court records by The New York Times indicates that Ikea’s investigations were conducted for various reasons, including the vetting of job applicants, efforts to build cases against employees accused of wrongdoing, and even attempts to undermine the arguments of consumers bringing complaints against the company. The going rate charged by the private investigators was 80 to 180 euros, or $110 to $247, per inquiry, court documents show. Between 2002 and 2012, the finance department of Ikea France approved more than €475,000 in invoices from investigators.

The case has caused public outrage in France, not only because of the company’s large consumer following in this country — Ikea’s third-largest market after Germany and the United States — but because the spying cases occurred in a country that, in the digital age, has elevated privacy to a level nearly equal to the national trinity of Liberté, Égalité and Fraternité.

So far, there have been no accusations that such surveillance occurred in any of the other 42 countries in which Ikea operates, and it remains unclear why the French Ikea unit is purported to have engaged in it so extensively. Very little of the surveillance yielded information Ikea was able to use against the targets of the data sweeps. But court documents indicate that investigators suspect that Ikea may have occasionally used knowledge of personal information to quell workplace grievances or to prompt a resignation.

“It is hard to conceive that this kind of thing happens in a democratic society like France,” said Sofiane Hakiki, a lawyer representing Ms. Paulin and several unions that have filed civil complaints against Ikea in the affair. “This is not Soviet Russia.”

The company, which the court required to post a bond of €500,000 euros last month, conducted its own review of the matter last year, after a series of internal emails detailing spying were leaked to the French news media. That internal inquiry resulted in the firing of several executives, including the former chief executive, Jean-Louis Baillot. But Ikea has otherwise declined to comment publicly on specifics of the claims.

Last month, the company’s current chief, Stefan Vanoverbeke, and financial director, Dariusz Rychert, were questioned along with Mr. Baillot for 48 hours by the judicial police before being placed under formal investigation. That set in motion a process in which the next step, if it comes, would be the filing of criminal charges.

The three executives, along with nine others, are suspected of breaking the law by either knowing of or actively participating in the systematic collection of individuals’ personal information, including criminal histories, automobile registrations and property records, officials say.

Lawyers representing the three executives declined to comment, citing the continuing investigation, which could still take months to conclude.

But the Versailles court has already interviewed dozens of witnesses. And its agents have searched the offices and homes of several former Ikea employees, private investigators and even police officers suspected of having provided privileged information from government databases.

In Ms. Paulin’s case, when she received her termination letter in February 2009, the official reason was Ikea’s urgent need to fill her post with a permanent replacement. She had been unable to work for more than a year after she learned she had hepatitis C in early 2008.

In a recent telephone interview from her home in western France, Ms. Paulin, now 53, said she was unaware during her absence that her bosses had doubted the severity of her illness, for which she still receives treatment. 

In accordance with French rules, Ms. Paulin had submitted a series of medical certificates to Ikea’s human resources department. She had also met regularly with her local Social Security office, which had approved the extension of her leave and even granted her permission to travel, on more than one occasion, to an apartment she owned in Morocco.

Moreover, she had maintained contact with a number of colleagues and told them of her intention to resume her duties as soon as her doctor would allow it.

“I had made a large investment in my professional life at Ikea,” Ms. Paulin said. “Perhaps it was too large. But my job was a big part of my identity, and I was proud of it.”

So when she learned that the company intended to let her go, Ms. Paulin hired a lawyer.

In April 2009, Ms. Paulin was invited to meet with Claire Héry, Ikea’s head of human resources for France. When she arrived at that meeting, she was surprised to find that the French unit’s chief executive at the time, Mr. Baillot, was also present.

The two executives, Ms. Paulin said, accused her of fraudulently exaggerating her illness — although she said they offered no evidence to support their claims.

She said she left the encounter confused and distraught, feeling “robbed of my self and my reputation.” A few days later, Ms. Paulin said, she attempted suicide.

Ikea, through its lawyer, Emmanuel Daoud, declined to comment on Ms. Paulin’s account of the meeting.

Ms. Héry, the human resources chief, was among the executives dismissed in 2012, although she is not a target of the court’s investigation. Her lawyer, Olivier Baratelli, did not respond to emailed questions seeking comment.

Gérard Vergne, a lawyer for Mr. Baillot, declined to comment. Mr. Baillot left Ikea France in December 2009 for a job within the parent company’s management team before being dismissed last year in the wake of the spying claims.

Even after the meeting, Ms. Paulin pressed her case, and in 2010 a judge ruled that her firing was “devoid of real and serious justification.”

She did not seek reinstatement, but was awarded nearly €60,000 in compensation. Still, she said, the reason her bosses had leveled their accusations at her remained a mystery.

The matter might have ended there, were it not for a cache of company emails that were leaked to the French news media in early 2012.

The emails, now part of the court record, seemed to indicate extensive personal surveillance by Ikea in France dating back as far back as 2002.

The trove of messages, many apparently written by Jean-François Paris, the French unit’s head of risk management, exposed details of Ikea’s investigations of Ms. Paulin and dozens of others. Mr. Paris was dismissed after the company’s internal review and is named in the judge’s investigation.

Mr. Paris has acknowledged his role to French investigators, said his lawyer, Étienne Bataille. But Mr. Paris insists that his activities were approved by top managers of Ikea France — and that on several occasions they were conducted at management’s direction. “There is no question it was a widespread practice,” Mr. Bataille said of the spying.

One of the emails from Mr. Paris, dated Dec. 11, 2008, was addressed to a private detective, Jean-Pierre Fourès. He was asked to confirm whether Ms. Paulin had traveled to Morocco over the preceding several months and if she owned property there.

Mr. Fourès’s reply confirmed both to be true and included a startling attachment: scanned images from Ms. Paulin’s passport, showing her Moroccan entry and exit stamps. To obtain those, the court documents show, Mr. Fourès had arranged for someone posing as an employee of Royal Air Maroc to persuade Ms. Paulin to fax copies of her passport in order to claim a free ticket offer.

Didier Leroux, a lawyer for Mr. Fourès, did not respond to requests for comment.

Under the subject line “dirty scam,” Mr. Paris described Ms. Paulin as “a person who has been on medical leave for several months” and provided the dates, “obtained through outside sources,” of her easyJet flights. He also asserted that Ms. Paulin had made the trips without informing her Social Security office.

Citing Ms. Paulin’s stature as a senior manager, Mr. Paris wrote, “We cannot tolerate this situation.” Subsequent messages to the detective also disclosed details of Ms. Paulin’s personal bank account.

“Until I saw those emails, I had not understood the depths of their suspicion, the paranoia,” Ms. Paulin said. “They really believed I was playacting.”

In transcripts of police interviews, Mr. Paris and his colleagues in the risk management department acknowledged receiving frequent requests from Ikea store managers across France for criminal background checks, driving records and vehicle registrations — though only a fraction of those inquiries uncovered a notable offense. Usually the requests were limited to one or two people after a theft or a complaint of harassment among employees.

But sometimes lists containing dozens of names of employees or job applicants were submitted for vetting, and then forwarded to one of a handful of trusted private investigators for processing.

The company has publicly expressed regret that certain managers took actions that were “contrary to our values and ethics standards” and says it has included respect of individual privacy in a new code of conduct.

Beyond that, however, Ikea has remained largely silent. “No one has ever called or come personally to apologize for what was done to me,” Ms. Paulin said. “That’s the gesture I would have expected — not some big investigation. But I’ve never gotten that.”