Friday, December 28, 2007

Benazir Bhutto Assassination

Yesterday's assassination of Pakistani politician Benazir Bhutto raises some interesting questions:
  • WHO is responsible for the killing? I've seen reports that al-Qaeda was claiming credit, but other sources point at Musharraf.
  • WHAT will happen next? Musharraf had just recently restored "constitutional" government to Pakistan, after suspending the constitution -- and most civil rights -- in an attempt to hold onto power. Not surprisingly, Pakistan is currently being wracked by rioting, but what is further down the road? Will Musharraf reinstate martial law? Will Bush be forced to move troops into Pakistan to maintain some semblance of order? And if so, where will he find those troops?
  • WHAT exactly happened, anyway? Initial reports indicate Bhutto was shot, prior to the bomber detonating himself (what used to be called a "not-so-smart bomb"); there have been conflicting reports as to whether a handgun or long gun was used. In addition, the early report I saw from the hospital indicated trauma as the cause of death, with no mention of bullet wounds.

One thing that should go without saying is that Bhutto has been martyred for her cause. It is likely that she will exercise more power and more influence dead than she could have alive.

One other thing: Bhutto's assassination will make an already-muddled situation in that part of the world much. much worse.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Merry Christmas, One and All

Yeah, it's been a while since I posted, and I appreciate the people who stop by every day. You know who you are.

From the lovely yet talented Mrs 618, and from Emily, Joey, Mr Bailey, and yr hmbl and obt svt,


See you in a few days!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Cocoanut Grove: Part II

I had been planning on writing more in the previous post, but something came up. You know how that goes, right?

Anyway, to get back to the tragedy that happened 65 years ago today, we have seen the same factors cause multiple deaths in fire after fire... and we never seem to learn.
Life Safety Issues

The only access to the Melody Lounge was a narrow staircase. Once the fire started, this stairwell was jammed with people. Although there were at least two other potential exits from the lounge, they were known only to the staff members; few people were able to escape using these routes.

The revolving door on the Piedmont Street side of the Grove was the main entrance. As with all the other revolving doors of the era, the leaves were fixed in position. As panicked patrons attempted to exit through that door, their bodies jammed it, rendering it completely useless. Boston police officer Elmer Brooks recalled that when rescuers tried to pull bodies from the door, arms and legs came off in their hands. Stephanie Schorow, in her book The Cocoanut Grove Fire: New England Remembers, cites rescuers looking through the glass panels, watching victims burn before their eyes. Primarily as a result of the fire, revolving doors were redesigned with "break-away" leaves, meaning the leaves would fold out of the way under sufficient pressure.

A fire exit was located at the top of the stairs leading from the Melody Lounge, but owner Barney Welanski had locked and bolted this door to prevent people from leaving without paying their tabs. The door had been equipped with panic hardware (a so-called "crash bar"), which should have allowed the door to open. Investigators found dozens of bodies stacked up by this exit.

As I noted in the previous piece, the only usable exit from the Broadway Lounge opened into the club; the crush of fleeing customers jammed this door solid, and again, dozens of bodies were found here. Several researchers have postulated that as many as 300 additional people might have survived, had the doors opened outward -- with the flow of traffic.

A number of survivors complained of a "sweet" odor to the smoke. While the source has never been conclusively proven, many believe it may have been a product of the burning imitation leather used on the walls. Additional sources of toxic by-products included the seat covers and many of the furnishings. Burning plastics emit such toxic gases as benzene, toluene, butane, and xylene, along with the more-common toxic gases like carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, and phosgene. It may have been any of these gases -- or a combination of them -- that caused the "sweet" odor.

Another aspect of the fire that has never been satisfactorily explained is why the fire spread so fast. Some researchers cite sources indicating that the Melody Lounge was completely engulfed within two minutes, and that the fire had spread from the basement to the Broadway Lounge -- the opposite end of the building -- in as little as five minutes. Such fire spread is highly unusual. Of course, the flammable decorations had much to do with it, but some witnesses also claim to have seen unusual colors in the flames and/or smoke. Again, this could be caused by the fuels feeding the blaze.

Recently, attention had turned to the refrigerant in the cooling systems at the Grove. It is claimed that methyl chloride -- a highly flammable and toxic coolant which had replaced Freon during the war -- was responsible for both the rapid spread of the fire and for many of the fatalities.

With the exception of the methyl chloride, we have seen the same factors time after time. Whether it was the Iroquois Theatre (1903), the Rhythm Club in Natchez, MS (1940), or the Station in West Warwick, RI (2003), flammable furnishings, blocked exits, and overcrowding continue to claim lives to this day.

There were also witnesses who stated the walls felt "unusually warm" the night of the fire. This may have indicated a fire smoldering within the walls. Subsequent investigation determined that at least some of the wiring in the club had been installed by an unlicensed electrician; obviously, defective wiring could have either caused the fire or contributed significantly to it.
Medical Isues

On the medical front, perhaps the most amazing story of survival was that of 20-year-old Coast Guardsman Clifford Johnson. Johnson received second- and third-degree burns over approximately 75% of his body. In the 1940's, that was virtually a death sentence. Johnson, brought to Boston City Hospital, was given up for dead. Doctors administered morphine to ease his pain and moved on to victims with "better" chances. Four days later, however, Johnson was still alive, and doctors decided they had to help this tough sailor. Johnson was one of the very few survivors who did not have serious lung damage. Over six thousand tiny skin grafts were applied to Johnson's back and seemed to be holding. Unfortunately, doctors turned Johnson over too soon, and the grafts on his back failed. All told, Johnson suffered through twenty-five to thirty-five thousand "pinprick" skin grafts. He also had to deal with a kidney infection, edema, high fevers, and a codeine addiction. Johnson was finally discharged from the hospital in November... of 1945. Johnson wound up marrying one of the medical students at Boston City, and took his new bride home to Missouri with him. Johnson's miraculous story ends on a bitter note, however: in 1956, Johnson -- now working as a park warden -- rolled his jeep into a ditch. He was pinned in the overturned vehicle; leaking gasoline ignited and he burned to death.

Another notable name at the Grove that night was famous before the fire: Buck Jones, cowboy movie star. Jones, one of the famous "Rough Riders" was appearing in Boston to sell war bonds. He had also appeared at Boston Children's Hospital, where he signed autographs for thrilled fans, before attending the BC-Holy Cross game. After the fire, it was claimed that Jones had re-entered the building several times, rescuing trapped patrons. It was subsequently determined, though, that he was rapidly overcome by smoke. He was pulled from the building and died several days later. Jones' local publicist, journalist Martin Sheridan, received such severe burns on his hands that he had special cards printed up: "Not that it's any of your damned business, but my hands were burned in the Cocoanut Grove and don't ask any more questions!!" An understandable reaction, of course, but not what one would expect from a professional publicist.
In addition to proving the value of penicillin, the disaster was validation of several medical research projects being undertaken at Boston City and Mass general. Up to this time, burn victims had been painted with tannic acid to form a leathery scab, sealing the wound to reduce the chances of infection. The new protocol -- gauze impregnated with a mixture of petroleum jelly and boric acid, administered with intensive intravenous fluids -- was proven quite successful. It was also proven that treatment for shock and internal injuries was just as important -- if not more important -- than treating surface injuries.
Many victims suffered severe damage to their lungs and airways, due to the toxic chemicals inhaled during the fire. Much of the internal trauma was located below the vocal cords. Dr Stanley Levenson suspected the presence of phosgene in the smoke, a belief buttressed by Suffolk County Medical Examiner William J. Brickley: "Many of the victims had the appearance of soldiers I had seen gasses in the First World War."
So much medical knowledge was gained as a result of this tragedy that the entire June 1943 issue of The Annals of Surgery was devoted to a wide-ranging symposium discussing the injuries, fatalities, and findings of the medical professionals involved.
Enforcement Issues
A number of sources report that just a weekbefore the fire, Boston Fire Prevention Lieutenant Frank Linney, who declared the club's condition to be "good;" Linney declared the club had sufficient exits and non-flammable decorations. It became obvious, however, that Boston's building and fire inspectors in 1942 were no better than those in Chicago in 1903. In both cases (the Grove and the Iroquois), buildings that were inherently unsafe were allowed to be open to the public (which was also the case with the E2 Club in Chicaho, which experienced 23 fatalities in a 2003 crowd stampede); it was never determined whether incompetence or corruption was to blame (experience would lead me to say both).
Furthermore, a Boston police captain, James Buccigross, was in the club that night, along with Suffolk County assistant district attorney Garrett Byrne. The presence of two high-ranking public officials, in a club with such a questionable legal history, is at best suspicious. The club had originally been financed by a "Jack Berman;" Berman was actually Jack Bennett, a professional con artist and stock manipulator. A later owner of the club, Charles "King" Solomon, was described this way by Stephanie Schorow, quoting an unidentified source:
[Solomon] was at the peak of his crime renaissance, with a complete sideline of alki-cooking, morphine, heroin, cocaine and the dandruff-like little granules which produce delirious uproar. He hogged the bail-bond market, owned a large loan shark company at usurious rates, held full partnership in the white slave industry, a cut in a growing lottery racket and drivers and such like et ceteras built on human mischief."
In 1933, Solomon was murdered in the bathroom of the Cotton Club in Roxbury, another of his clubs.
Tomorrow, in Part III of this article, we'll look at what changes came out of this fire.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

This Date in Fire History: Nov 28 - Cocoanut Grove

[See Update at end of piece... I forgot one of the most interesting pieces of trivia...]

NOTE: Due to the horrific nature of the Cocoanut Grove disaster, and the fact that survivors of this tragic fire are still alive, I want to empha­size once again that the use of quotations, excerpts, illustrations, or materials created by others in this post does not imply, and should not be construed to imply, their agree­ment with the opinions expressed elsewhere in 618 Rants.

Saturday, November 28, 1942, Boston… the day of the annual grudge football game between Boston College – going into the game undefeated – and arch-rival Holy Cross from nearby Worcester. BC was favored six-to-one as the winner, having outscored their opponents in the previous four games by a whopping 168-6, but Holy Cross – with a 4-4-1 record – pulled off a stunning 55-12 [1] upset at Fenway Park in front of 40,000 fans. The Boston College team cancelled their scheduled celebratory bash at the Cocoanut Grove nightclub, and went home to lick their wounds.

Losing that game probably saved the lives of most of the Boston College team [2].

Boston’s Cocoanut Grove nightclub was named after the famous Cocoanut Grove in Los Angeles, although the two clubs were not affiliated. The Boston club was owned by Barnett “Barney” Welansky, who claimed ties to the Boston Mafia as well as a close relationship with Mayor (and future Governor) Maurice Tobin. Located at 17 Piedmont Street, in what is now called the “Bay Village” neighborhood, the Grove was a mecca for Boston’s modern urbanites, as well as service members either on leave or preparing to ship out to serve in World War II. The Boston Globe, described the club this way: “Lined with palm trees, it was a tropical paradise. In summer, the roof could be rolled back electrically for dancing under stars.”

This somewhat blurry picture, from the Boston Fire Museum,
shows the interior of the main dining area.

The main part of the building dated from about 1916 and had been used as both a garage and motion picture film exchange, prior to its incarnation as a night club. By 1942, the club had expanded to cover much of the block bordered by Broadway and Piedmont, Shawmut and Church Streets. The club operated both on the ground floor and in the basement of one portion. The area shown as “new cocktail lounge” below was also known as the “Broadway Lounge” and was the latest expansion of the club, having been completed in the fall of 1942. The main entrance to the club was through a revolving door on the Piedmont Street side. A separate entrance to the new lounge opened onto Broadway.

The overall d├ęcor of the club has been described as a Casablanca style – paper palm trees, cloth panels on the ceilings, and imitation-leather wall coverings, among other items. This “tropical paradise” had a price, however: some of the decorations obscured emergency exits and exit signs. A number of the exits had been locked to prevent patrons from leaving without paying their bills, and the plate glass windows on the Piedmont Street side of the building had been boarded over.

That Saturday, the Cocoanut Grove was filled beyond capacity, with well over 1,000 people crammed into a club with a nominal seating capacity of about 600 [3]. Additional tables and chairs had been placed to accommodate customers. Among those customers were a young serviceman and his girlfriend; many reports indicate the serviceman unscrewed a 7.5 watt light bulb (the wattage of a nightlight) to give himself a little more “privacy’ with his lady. A busboy, 16-year-old Stanley Tomaszewski, working in at the club illegally, was sent to replace the bulb.

At this point, there are conflicting stories of what happened: some people say Tomaszewski dropped the bulb and lit a match to find it, while other reports say he used the match to find the socket, which was concealed in the palm fronds. Witnesses said they saw flames spread out from the vicinity of the light socket, although others claimed seeing flames near the floor. Several survivors stated that the walls also appeared unusually warm to the touch (possibly indicating a smoldering fire within the walls). As the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) put it in their fire investigation report, “… the exact source of ignition was a factor of considerably less importance than was the inadequacy of exit facilities and the extensive use of combustible decorations.” [4]

By most reports, fire had fully engulfed the Melody Lounge within five minutes, before traveling up the stairs – which acted as a chimney – and exploding into the main dining area and continuing to the Broadway Lounge. The revolving door at the main entrance quickly became jammed as panicked patrons attempted to flee; more than 200 victims were found piled up at this door. An additional one hundred or more victims were found by the Broadway Lounge exit – a door that opened into the club. More lives were probably lost as people blundered about after the lights went out.

The scene outside the Cocoanut Grove.
Russell Priestley is on the right,
holding up the stretcher

Russell Priestley, who was in the Army Air Corps and awaiting deployment, was one of many people pressed into service that gruesome night. Excerpts from his account, which appeared in the Melrose Mirror, are repinted here with his permission.

Personally, I remember the disaster because I, with two friends, had attended a stage show at the RKO Boston. As we left the performance, sirens of fire engines and ambulances filled the crisp night air. We were compelled by the intense din to walk toward the source, a few blocks away. With my companions, John Bunker, now deceased and Ralph Pierce, now residing in Rye, New Hampshire, we edged our way close to the fire scene. We were close enough to be commanded, "Hey you, grab this stretcher!" We rushed to help. A stretcher for each victim was loaded into an ambulance, others were placed on the pavement, awaiting more vehicles ... in some cases cars, trucks and cabs were used.

I don't recall how long we stayed there to offer assistance, but I do know it was beyond the time for using public transportation. We ended our night by walking home from Boston, explaining to our parents where we had been, then going to bed for some sleep.

The final tally was 492 dead and several hundred more injured. Unlike most major conflagrations, those at the cocoanut Grove were more likely to be killed than injured; about 50% of those present died, while only 20-30% were injured. Usually, it's the other way around.

As noted above, the exact cause of the fire has never been conclusively proven, and probably never will be. The causes of the deaths, however, are all too familiar:
  • Overcrowding
  • Blocked, locked, and/or obstructed fire exits
  • No fire sprinkler system (sprinklers had been protecting Massachusetts factories for about 75 years in 1942)
  • Flammable decorations
  • Delay in notifying the fire department

As is the case with other major fires, however, some good came out of the tragedy. Two local hospitals -- Massachusetts General and Boston City -- were well-prepared for a disaster of this magnitude, thanks to their war preparations. Additionally, Mass General had been experimenting with new protocols for treating severe burn victims; these new protocols, after being validated by the Grove fire, were instituted in most American hospitals. Furthermore, the Grove fire was the first wide-spread use of a new "wonder drug" -- some stuff called "penicillin."

There is an apocryphal story that the city of Boston passed a law prohibiting any business within the city limits from using the Cocoanut Grove name. Several researchers have debunked this theory, but no business-owner in his right mind would choose such a "jinxed" name.

UPDATE: This is something I should have mentioned originally. The bookkeeper at the Grove, Rose Gnecco Ponzi, was the ex-wife of Charles Ponzi, who achieved fame at the inventor of the financial scam that bears his name, the "Ponzi scheme"). As Paul Harvey might say, "now you know the rest of the story."

Additional Resources

Boston Globe archives of the fire
National Fire Protection Association NFPA Journal articles on the fire
Books on the fire on
The Cocoanut Grove Fire (New England Remembers), Stephanie Schorow
Fire in the Grove: The Cocoanut Grove Tragedy, John C. Esposito
Fire in Boston's Cocoanut Grove: Holocaust, Paul Benzaquin
Cocoanut Grove: A Spellbinding Account of the Most Famous Fire in American History, Edward Keyes


[1] Much has been made of the “fact” that the final score, 55-12, “eerily” mirrors the jersey numbers of the BC co-captains. The cover for the game program is shown here:

[2] BC equipment manager Larry Kenney is the only person directly associated with the game who is known to have died in the fire.

[3] Various sources show differing seating capacities, ranging from 450 to over 600; most show 600.

[4] Moulton, Robert S, The Cocoanut Grove Night Club Fire. Boston, MA: National Fire Protection Association, 1962, p 5

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Comments on Some of Digby's Commenters...

Some comments on the comments posted to Digby’s piece mentioned earlier… [All spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc, in indented text is from the original comment]

I can't even recall how many psycho cops I've run into during my years as a skateboarder. Yes, technically I was tresspassing by skateboarding in the supermarket parking lot after closing time, [….]

The legal terminology for this situation is attractive nuisance: “a person who creates or permits to exist on his or her land a dangerous condition attractive to children, as an unfenced swimming pool, is liable for their resulting injuries, even though the injured are trespassers.” [Emphasis added] This is probably the same mope who would sue the supermarket if he wiped out.

Tazers need a little video camera that records from the time they 'paint' wit the laser till fired, easy and cheap with new technology, this should be viewed by an independant review board after every taze! this will at least help both the cops and the tazee plead there case.

At least one county in Florida is doing just that. One result has been a decrease in the number of lawsuits being filed over Taser use. Apparently, lawyers view the video and tell their clients to “forget it.”

Based on the ACLU link (I'm a member by the way) the driver reacted all wrong (and unlawfully) to the situation. The officer was within his rights to arrest the driver. What were the officer's choices besides the taser? Use his gun? Beat the driver with fists or nightstick? Let the driver get back in the SUV, without really knowing anything about him or what the situation was? What if the driver had a gun hidden?

An earlier commenter posted a link to a card provided by the ACLU, “What To Do If You’re Stopped By The Police.” The card reinforces the points I made in my post.

I'm amazed that the second cop didn't intervene...was nowhere to be seen during the incident, and I'm also amazed that the woman did not get handcuffed as a precaution, considering how upset she was.

This commenter didn’t look closely enough at the video. At time stamp -3:19, the second officer can be seen approaching the stop from directly in front of the motorist – it’s the Explorer pulling off to the opposite side of the road.

In most states, an officer is obliged to arrest a person if they do not sign the citation. That has been true in the state of Maryland, for example, for nearly twenty years. The roadside is not a place to argue a traffic citation. That's what court is for. It's dangerous to have a prolonged discussion on the side of a bush highway, as plenty of "Shocking Video" television program can demonstrate quite capably.

This commenter brings up a valid point: the dangers inherent in arguing on the side of the road. The “Shocking Video” reference is 100% accurate.

Someone should just murder this cop. Seriously, as some point it has to come to that. If we don't start killing them, pretty soon they will start killing in even greater numbers.

Granted, this commenter was subsequently tagged as a troll, but it is this kind of comment – which has been made seriously by people like the Black Panthers and others – that explains why cops tend to have itchy “trigger fingers.” There really are people out there who believe this is a perfectly legitimate answer to “police brutality.” And yet these same people wonder why cops now approach cars with their hands on their guns (assuming the gun isn’t out and down by the side of the leg).

That and a flak vest (easily available) will protect against taser needles, rubber bullets, and body strikes from a baton...even some small arms fire (handgun, not rifle).

Another reason why cops tend to be more vigilant than in years past… more and more “bad guys” are wearing body armor, so, yes, the cops have to be prepared to deal with some scrote with better firepower and the same level of protection.

I travel through Utah a lot and now I am carrying weapons at ALL times. I would've popped a fucking cap in that officer and then emptied the entire clip, grabbed his taser and his wallet and gone home to taz the fuck out of his family. […] DEATH TO ALL FUCKING COCKSUCKER POLICE LIKE THIS. Thank fucking Jeebus I'm concealed-carry and I am going to purchase that for ALL friends and family for Christmas. And they will carry at all times.

Yup, that’s certainly the way to get cops to relax. I’ve got news for people who think this way: if you think it’s perfectly all right to kill me, then don’t be surprised if I make it as difficult as possible for you. My right to go home in one piece at the end of my shift outweighs your “right” to try to kill me. And if you do try to kill me, I’ll kill you… without a moment’s hesitation.

The cop WAS arresting him, and thus DID have to mirandize him, contrary to your statement that "this cop was not looking to [arrest him &] . . . proceed with a custodial interrogation."

Umm, WRONG. Read the Miranda decision, clown. It's amazing how many people "quote" the law, without knowing what the hell the law says. You've been watching too much Law & Order and CSI, dude.

And people wonder why the cops aren’t like Andy and Barney anymore…..

Utah Tasing: Another Perspective

This past Wednesday, Digby posted an article at Hullabaloo, discussing a You Tube video of a Utah Highway Patrol officer tasing a motorist. The original article appeared on, and was written by Steve Watson. Digby's article garnered almost 300 comments.

Here's my take, as a former police officer, on the situation. Bear in mind, I was not present at the scene. Nor, for that matter, were any of the commenters at Digby's. My comments are based on the video as posted to You Tube, Watson's article, Digby's comments, some of the responses Digby received, and my experience stretching over 14 years in law enforcement. Excerpts are from the Watson article as posted on InfoWars, unless otherwise noted.

Mr Massey tells the officer he does not understand why he has been stopped or what he is being charged with, at which point the officer orders Massey to get out of the car.

The trooper can be clearly heard telling Massey (the motorist) that he had been stopped for a speeding violation (time stamp -9:16, "You were going kinda fast"). Massey apparently refused to provide his license and registration to the trooper, which is a violation in every state (time stamps -9:15, -9:10, "license and registration, right now"... -9:01, "No..."). The driver was ordered from the vehicle after he refused to sign the speeding citation (time stamp -7:39, "I'm not signing anything"). Signing the citation is not an admission of guilt; it is an acknowledgement that the motorist has received a copy of the violation. In most states with whose laws I am familiar (and I'm not a lawyer), if a driver refuses to sign the citation, the violation moves from an infraction to a situation requiring a custodial arrest. This is a decision made by either the Legislature of the state or, more commonly, whichever Commissioner has jurisdiction over motor vehicles in a particular state; it is not left to the officer's discretion.

The officer then puts down his clipboard and immediately takes out his Taser and points it at Mr Massey without any provocation whatsoever, yelling "Turn around and put your hands behind your back" as Massey attempts to point out the speed limit sign and engage the officer in conversation.

Based on what is seen in the video, I would tend to agree that the trooper probably was not justified in drawing his Taser at this point. However, we did not see whatever the trooper may have seen when he approached the car and looked inside while dealing with Massey. There may have been indications that led the trooper -- based on his knowledge and experience -- to believe that Massey presented a potential threat.

The Plains and Western states are home to a tremendous number of militias, survivalists, "Christian Identity" followers, neo-Nazis, white supremecists, "sovereign citizens", "redemptionists", and assorted other anti-government extremists, many of whom view the police -- or any semblance of authority -- as a dictatorship to be overthrown by force (see, for instance, the Anti-Defamation League's page on extremism). There may have been indications within the vehicle -- not visible to the dash cam -- that Massey potentially subscribed to some of those beliefs. (And, yes, it is equally possible that there were no such indications; I'm simply saying that we cannot see what the trooper saw).

Insofar as Massey had already evidenced his unwillingness to cooperate, the trooper was within his rights, under Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), to consider searching Massey for weapons. Additionally, if the trooper had a reasonable and articulable concern for his own safety, he would be justified in handcuffing Massey. Handcuffing, under these circumstances, does not constitute an arrest.

A shocked Massey asks "what the hell is wrong with you?" and backs away, turning around as the officer had demanded[....]

The video, as I view it, does not show Massey "turning around as the officer had demanded"; rather, it seems to me that Massey is walking away from the trooper and returning to his car (see time stamp -7:23; he is, in fact, walking away from the trooper). Again, based on what the trooper may have seen in the vehicle, he might have reasonably concluded that Massey was returning to the vehicle to retrieve a weapon.

He then asks for his rights to be read and points out that the officer cannot arrest him without doing this.
Also, see time stamps -4:34 and -3:44, "You cannot arrest me until you tell me my rights..."

This is a misconception that has affected society for years. Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966) does not require "Miranda" warnings at the time of arrest. Miranda comes into play only during "questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody...."

In other words, the warnings are required only under these circumstances (as laid out in the Supreme Court decision):

The person in custody must, prior to interrogation, be clearly informed that he has the right to remain silent, and that anything he says will be used against him in court; he must be clearly informed that he has the right to consult with a lawyer and to have the lawyer with him during interrogation, and that, if he is indigent, a lawyer will be appointed to represent him. Pp. 467-473. [Emphasis added]

In this case, Massey was not in custody as defined by Miranda, nor was he being subjected to "custodial interrogation." On television, Miranda warnings are an integral part of the arrest process; in the real world, however, many arrests do not require the warnings as there in no intention of conducting a custodial interrogation. Certain information -- name, date of birth, address, driver's license, etc -- may be requested without triggering Miranda safeguards; refusal to provide this information is generally considered a separate offense, generally custodial in nature (if the person refuses to identify himself, the officer is usually required by statute to take the offender into custody).

The officer had no legal right to make Massey sign any document he did not understand.

Every state, and the Federal government, view driving as a privilege, not a right (despite what most teenagers claim). This is why drivers licenses may be suspended or revoked after one or more convictions for driving offenses. Part of the legal background to obtaining a license is what could be called an "implied knowledge" of driving laws and regulations -- the "ignorance is no excuse" theory. Generally, these laws and regulations include what the driver's responsibilities are in violations. Again, once Massey refused to sign the citation, the trooper probably was required to take Massey into custody.

In commenting on Watson's piece, Digby says:

Word to the wise. Do not ever question the police, no matter whether they are violating your rights, ignoring the constitution or breaking the law. It is perfectly legal for them to torture you on the spot if you do.

From viewing the video, and applying what I learned over fourteen years, I have the following comments:

"...they are violating your rights..." The operator of a motor vehicle, on a public highway, does not have the right to refuse to provide his/her drivers license, registration, and/or proof of insurance to a police officer investigating a traffic violation. The operator does have the right to refuse to sign a traffic citation, but the operator must be prepared to accept the consequences, generally laid out in state statutes or regulations, for such a refusal. As noted above, the consequences generally include being taken into custody.

"...ignoring the constitution..." The trooper did not violate Massey's Constitutional rights. As I explained above, Miranda warnings are not required at the time of arrest, but rather at the time of custodial interrogation (if any).

"...breaking the law." At no point during the video, as posted, did the trooper violate the law. It was Massey who violated not one, but many laws.

Also, there are at least three obvious breaks in the video as posted: once when the trooper is writing the citation (time stamp -8:00), and others at time stamps -2:48 and -0:48. It is entirely possible that those "breaks" showed circumstances that would tend to undermine Massey's claim (or they could just be dead space that was edited out for brevity).

One of Digby's commenters, a former police police officer calling herself Carol, had this to add:

I forced myself to watch that clip, and as a retired peace officer, =my [sic] opinion is both the trooper and motorist were at fault. [...] I've had similar incidents in my career where the subject refused to cooperate and turned to leave before we were done. In each case, I explained quickly and briefly the options and consequences of their leaving without completing the detention - warrant for arrest, incarceration, huge fines, etc. At worst, I'd have to have a warrant issued for them to be stopped farther down the road, including escalation of force. But in no case was I warranted to use deadly force in preventing them from leaving.

I agree with Carol completely. Many people are perfectly willing to refuse to cooperate with cops (which is, after all, their right), but are unwilling to accept the consequences of their actions.

I had one such situation that still sticks in my mind. Sometime back around 1979, I stopped a vehicle for speeding. The operator refused to show any documentation -- license, reg, etc. I informed him that if he persisted in his refusal, I would apply for an arrest warrant for him. He refused, so I applied for a warrant. I served the warrant on him at work, placed him under arrest, handcuffed him, and led him from his office (he was a physician). He told the judge that he did not believe a police officer had the legal authority to make a speeding arrest, based upon Biblical and "constitutional guarantees of freedom of travel." He also told the judge the "only real law enforcement officer was a duly-elected sheriff." He further claimed that Superior Court, as an "equity court," (based on the presence of a gold fringe on the American flag) did not have jurisdiction over him. These claims are all part of the sovereign citizen creed. Needless to say, the judge did not buy his finely-honed legal reasoning. The man's license was suspended for a year for the motor vehicle charges, and he was incarcerated for seven months in the county jail for resisting and interfering. He received an additional four months for contempt -- he argued with the judge at sentencing.

Is it possible the trooper acted improperly or unreasonably? Yes, of course it is. However, I am not going to make that judgment call unless and until I have access to the full video of the confrontation. Nobody else should jump to conclusions without all the facts, either.

UPDATE: There is some interesting give-and-take in the comments to this post at PoliBlog, between the post's author, Dr. Steven Taylor and a commenter calling himself Paul. In comment #3, Paul makes many of the same points I made above, but he puts a different spin on a couple of them. Also, he brings up a couple of court decisions I had forgotten about: New York v. Belton, 453 U.S. 454 (1981) and Atwater v. Lago Vista, 000 U.S. 99-1408 (2001).

Paul makes another interesting and valid point in comment #7:

You seem concerned here with the officer’s obligation to diffuse the situation. I wonder: In your opinion, did Mr. Massey have any obligation to diffuse it? And couldn’t he have done so by simply signing the ticket and then seeking his day in court? Apparently, you would have the officer coddle Mr. Massey. I would not. The officer is not Mr. Massey mommy, and Mr. Massey is not a child.

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Badtux and My Missus....

Badtux has a post up with a picture of his accomodations whilst he's on vacation (hope he doesn't mind that I swiped his pic).

Badtux probably considers this to be "living the high life:"

The lovely yet talented Mrs 618, on the other hand, considers this to be "roughing it," if the TV doesn't get SoapNet:

Personally, I tend more towards Badtux's point of view.

Friday "I'm Really Pissed at You Guys" Pet Blogging

Yesterday was one of "those" Thanksgivings.

You know, the ones where you have to work (ah, the joys of being in emergency services and related fields), and have to deal with coworkers who don't have lives but really need to get them. Twelve fun-filled hours (during which I did additional research on the infamous Cocoanut Grove fire in Boston, about which, more on the 28th).

After work, I headed down to the lovely yet talented Mrs 618's lovely yet talented mother's house for dinner. Finished dinner and dropped off some goodie bags (sandwiches, chips, mac salad, cookies) at the local police department as a "Thank You" for the rest of the folks working.

Back to the MIL's house for cheesecake (hey, gimme a break, I'm a New Yorker), pumpkin pie, and the rest of that good stuff. The lovely yet talented missus and I headed back to the spacious yet luxurious Chez618 about 11:00.

When we got home, we crawled into bed and commenced cuddling.

Until, that is, Joey and Mr Bailey both decided to attack my feet under the blankets. Then Emily decided it was "Labrador Love Time" and shoved in between us.

Mustang Bobby has the right idea.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

New "Terror Warning"

You can tell bush's ratings are in the crapper. The FBI released yet another warning indicating that al-Qaeda was intending to strike the US, this time at shopping malls in Los Angeles and Chicago.

Coincidentally, this warning was released just as we head into a holiday shopping season... a season with the busheviks at incredibly low popularity ratings, and a season where bush's economic miracles -- gas and energy prices -- mean families will have less to spend on things like gifts. It's also the last shopping season before the campaigns get up to full speed. As a result, the mouth-breathin', Bible'thumpin', hooker-humpin', sister-marryin', rifle-rack-in-the-pickmup neocon wingnut idjits have to terrify us now so they can continue their efforts to gut everything the US stands for.

This is yet another attempt by the bush junta to distract attention form the administration's illegal actions. I guess LordGodKing Dick'n'George figure if we panic over swarthy A-rabs in the malls, we're less likely to worry about how they are raping the Constitution.

The warning reads:

December 2007 Al-Qa’ida Plan to Target US Shopping Malls in Chicago, Illinois and Los Angeles, California.

As of August 2007, al-Qa’ida planned to strike US shopping malls in Chicago, Illinois and Los Angeles, California during the 2007 Christmas season. Al-Qa’ida hoped to disrupt the US economy and had been planning the attack for the past two years.

FBI Comment: This information was obtained through a lengthy chain of acquisition, and was provided to the source by a sub-source who spoke in confidence. The veracity of the information is uncertain but the threat is being reported due to the nature of the information.

At least this time, the Feds are saying they cannot attest to the veracity of the information. Had the warning come from the Ministry of Homeland Security, of course, it would have been much more alarmist.

This is jusy the first of many warnings, I'm sure. As we get closer to the election, especially if the rethuglicans can't drag their ratings up a bit, we'll see more and more announcements of impending doom, accompanied by the usual bullshit that voting Democratic will allow the "terrists" to win.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Season of No Reason

One of our local "lite" rock stations ("your home for rock so lite it'll tranquilize an elephant and make you want to wrap your lips around your car's exhaust pipe") went to an all-Christmas programming format the day after Halloween.

Let me repeat that: the day after Halloween.

K-Mart was putting up Christmas decorations before they took down the Halloween stuff. Our local Meijer (a Target clone, for those outside the upper midwest) already has their inflatable Jack Frost in front of the store.


I'm going to run for president. My platform is going to be simple and -- I hope -- a sure-fire winner:

  • NO Christmas decorations or Christmas music OF ANY KIND until the day after Thanksgiving (this includes those obnoxious "Christmas in July" sales at furniture and electronics stores).
  • All gas pumps, self-scan registers and ATM's must have the same card readers - all cards go in the same way, instead of having different manufacturers set up readers any way they choose.
  • All automobiles must have the wiper and headlight switches in separate but standardized locations. My Explorer has the lights on the dash, the wipers on the turn signal stalk; my wife's Honda has the lights on the turn signal, the wipers on the right of the column. God only knows how many times I've turned off the lights trying to turn on the wipers.
  • Tweety, Timmeh, the entire News Corp staff, and anyone showing a "W" sticker and/or yellow ribbon magnet will be immediately extraordinarily-renditioned to a heavily-fortified area in the Nevada desert, where they will be forced to listen to the Chipmunk's "Christmas Song" 24-7-365.

I was going to add a fifth plank concerning "No Child Left Behind" but thought better of it. That did, however, remind me of something I saw at Meijer's last week: a set of pet stairs (to help your senior-citizen Cocker spaniel-American climb onto the bed)... with "No Pet Left Behind" in great big letters on the box.

Between that and dubya's "I'm the decider" comment being imortalized in an Equal commercial, it's obvious that dubya and his quaint commentary will be with us foreveh.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

This Date in (Non-)Fire History

I was planning on doing one of my interminably long posts on the anniversary of Orson Welles' Halloween gift to the nation, the 1938 broadcast of War of the Worlds. Of course, the date was yesterday, not today, so ol' day-late-and-dollar-short screwed up again.

In atonement, go read what Mustang Bobby has to say about it.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

"Bad Faith" Claims Against Insurance Companies

One of the countless magazines, journals, newsletters, and assorted other periodicals I slog through on a regular basis is Fire & Arson Investigator, a quarterly journal published by the International Association of Arson Investigators. The current issue contains two pieces that I found interesting.

The first article concerns the severing of "bad faith" claims against insurance companies. The article, by the way, discusses the Canadian courts' handing of the matter, but, by and large, the same arguments apply on this side of the border.

Generally, a "bad faith" claim is included in a suit against an insurer when the plaintiff (usually the owner of the damaged or destroyed property) feels that the company acted in bad faith in denying a claim under an existing policy. Such claims have been raised against many insurers in the Gulf Coast region after Hurricane Katrina.

Author Havelock Madill, Q.C.*, asserts that an insurance company faced with a "bad faith" claim connected to a suit involving the loss of insured property may want to sever the bad faith claim from the rest of the suit for several reasons:
  • "[The] severing of the insurance contractual claim for initial determination will result in a judgment for or against the insured. If the determination on the contractual claim is against the insured, then the action ends there and there is no need to consider the bad faith claim. On the other hand, if the determination of the contractual claim is favourable to the insured, then the insured will have a judgment for the amount payable under the policy, and what remains is a determination of whether it is also entitled to punitive or exemplary damages arising from the insurer’s conduct in respect to the handling of the contractual claim."
  • "[The] possibility that the insurer may be required to waive legal privilege in order to defend itself with respect to the bad faith claim. If the insurer would not have been required to waive legal privilege over communications but for the existence of the bad faith claim, then the insurer will have been prejudiced by the bad faith claim being conjoined with the contractual claim."
  • "[The] insurer’s legal counsel may be required to be a witness in the proceedings in respect to the bad faith claims. In such circumstances, the Professional Codes of Conduct in most, if not all, of the Canadian provinces would require that the legal counsel step down from their representation of the insurer. This, too, can be the primary purpose of the insured’s bad faith allegations."

I am far from being an attorney, especially a Canadian attorney, but there are some points I feel Madill overlooked.

Perhaps Canadian insurance companies are more honest in dealing with their customers, but here in the US, I think it's a foregone conclusion that insurance companies view income (premiums received) as their God-given right, and disbursements (claims paid) as an insufferable burden.

We have all seen, heard, or read of instances where insurance companies in the Gulf region denied claims arising from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, claiming that the damage to the property was caused by floodwaters (not covered under a homeowners policy), despite clear evidence to the contrary (e.g., a roof blown off, or a tree through the house). We’ve seen medical insurers deny claims on the flimsiest of pretexts, often leaving a family with catastrophic medical expenses that they can’t possibly pay. We’ve seen adjustors for automobile insurance companies demand access for repeated inspections, and then using a simple missed appointment as a pretext for denying a claim.

Let’s look at Madill’s points in order.

"[The] severing of the insurance contractual claim for initial determination will result in a judgment for or against the insured. If the determination on the contractual claim is against the insured, then the action ends there and there is no need to consider the bad faith claim.”

Madill is absolutely correct in this assertion, and there is no valid reason I can think of for pursuing a bad faith claim under these circumstances.

“On the other hand, if the determination of the contractual claim is favourable to the insured, then the insured will have a judgment for the amount payable under the policy, and what remains is a determination of whether it is also entitled to punitive or exemplary damages arising from the insurer’s conduct in respect to the handling of the contractual claim."

This is also correct, but I believe Madill has glossed over the fact that a second action – for punitive or exemplary damages – also means additional costs for the plaintiff. Remember, the insurance company will almost invariably file an appeal to a judgment against its interests, leaving the plaintiff with no money and steadily rising legal bills (which the insurance company simply passes on to policyholders; the plaintiff doesn’t have that luxury). Also, depending on the nature of the original decision, the insurance company – if its actions have been particularly egregious – may see the writing on the wall and pressure the plaintiff to accept a settlement for a nominal amount, rather than risk a jury’s sympathy. Additionally, separating the claims enables the defense – the insurance company – to file additional requests for delays, dragging the case out until the plaintiff has no further resources with which to pursue his claim.

"[The] possibility that the insurer may be required to waive legal privilege in order to defend itself with respect to the bad faith claim.”

Madill explains, “the insurer will likely be required to di­vulge communications and/or work product in order to defend itself in respect to the allegations,” and that, “allegations allow the insured an opportu­nity to gain insight into the strengths and weaknesses of the insurer’s position by becoming privy to legal opinions and other communica­tions that would be protected from required disclosure in the defence of the contractual claim but are relevant to the bad faith claim, and therefore open to examination by the insured.” This means that the insurance company, in attempting to show it did not act in bad faith, would have to reveal materials it would not otherwise be forced to disclose. While Madill has a valid point, the fact remains that bad faith claims continue to be filed because the insurance companies continue to shaft their policyholders. If they did actually conduct all their business in good faith, no one would want to see the notes of private meetings.

“If the insurer would not have been required to waive legal privilege over communications but for the existence of the bad faith claim, then the insurer will have been prejudiced by the bad faith claim being conjoined with the contractual claim."

At the risk of sounding like Malkin or Coulter, well, boo-frickin-hoo. If the insurance industry treated policyholders with respect, honesty, courtesy, and dignity, it wouldn’t have to worry about juries being prejudiced against it. The sanctimonious bastards brought it upon themselves.

"[The] insurer’s legal counsel may be required to be a witness in the proceedings in respect to the bad faith claims. In such circumstances, the Professional Codes of Conduct in most, if not all, of the Canadian provinces would require that the legal counsel step down from their representation of the insurer. This, too, can be the primary purpose of the insured’s bad faith allegations."

The reason the lawyer would be called, of course, would be to testify that all proceedings were handled in good faith, in a prompt manner, in accordance with generally accepted professional standards. This would not happen, if the insurance companies didn’t have such a track record.

Again, boo-frickin-hoo.

Madill notes that courts in Eastern Canada have been less willing to grant requests for severance than have those in Western Canada, and that it is a “basic right” to have all issues in a case tried at the same time.

Madill makes another interesting comment:

There must then be a compelling case made that the delay that will be experienced if the subsequent issue(s) needs to be determined is justified and is more than off-set by the expenses that may be avoided if it develops that the subsequent issue(s) does not need to proceed.

Madill fails to mention that the delay and expense work in favor of the insurance companies:

  • Most individuals will not be able to devote the time to a case that an insurance company can. The individual must arrange housing, or transportation, or medical care, or whatever it is the companies have refused to pay. If nothing else, the plaintiff must continue to work, to earn an income, to pay for the necessities of life, rather than spending months or years in a courtroom. Additionally, witnesses may die, move away, or their memories of the incident may fade. The incentive here is for the company to extend the process as long as possible.
  • Insurance companies have attorneys on staff on a permanent basis; they do not have to pay hourly the way the plaintiff must. The insurance company attorneys get paid whether or not they’re working on a particular case. Plaintiff’s attorneys, on the other hand, even those working on a contingency basis, cannot afford to put in countless hours without compensation. The advantage falls to the insurance companies.
  • Furthermore, the insurance companies know that if they can drag out the proceedings long enough, the plaintiff will eventually drop the action, either through bankruptcy or frustration at the snail’s pace of litigation.

So, while Madill has some very valid points, the most important factor has been ignored:

It is the long history of the insurance industry’s abuses of its policyholders that has led to the increasing number of bad faith claims.

It is not the “poor helpless little monolithic insurance company” against the “big, evil policyholder,” as the article would have you believe.

* Queen's Counsel, are lawyers appointed by letters patent to be one of "Her Majesty's Counsel learned in the law"; the position exists in various Commonwealth countries around the world. They do not constitute a separate order or degree of lawyers. They are, however, more than merely a professional rank, as their status is conferred by the Crown and recognised by the courts. In order to become one of Her Majesty's Counsel one generally has to serve as a barrister or a Scottish advocate for at least 10 years. [Source: Wikipedia]

A Crime Against Humanity

Via The Dark Wraith, I found a post by Peter of Lone Tree (one of the regulars at BlondeSense), linking to a Houston Chronicle story about a man taking his own life rather than vacating a home he had lost to foreclosure. The Wraith, with his inimitable flair, got right to the point of the matter:

Who here thinks - I mean, really, really believes - that any rich person, spitefully, blithely hateful to the working class, or pandering and blubbering to it, fundamentally has even a clue?

That fellow down there in Houston? He finally figured it out. When hope is gone, all that remains is the one thing almost no authority can prevent a person from having:

The right not to die on his knees.

The Wraith points out that the failure does not lie solely with the Republicans; Clinton, Obama, and Edwards are equally oblivious.

The Dark Wraith is, as usual, right.

I don't think it takes any great genius to recognize that politicians -- any and all politicians -- are completely insulated from the real world. When one has to be a millionaire to run for office, one winds up with office-holders who have a millionaire's outlook on life. And while most of them may not come right out and say it, I think their general feeling is, "I did it, so can you. And if you can't, you're a loser."

Thursday, October 25, 2007

skippy Awareness Week

Via skippy, I see it is officially "skippy the bush kangaroo awareness week."

This has been designated by The Center for Sticking Up for Non-A List Bloggers. As a C-lister myself (at least, as of the other day), it is the official position of 618Rants that you should go say HI to skippy.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Fascism Is Coming Out In The Open...

The September 2007 issue of Homeland Defense Journal includes an article by “Prof. Dr. John L. Clarke”, a Professor of Leadership, Management and Defense Planning College of International and Security Studies at the George C. Marshall Center. As soon as I saw him listed as “Professor Doctor,” I was wary – this “stacking” of titles is prevalent in authoritarian societies such as Nazi Germany and the old Soviet Union.

Clarke writes:

In addition, an unknown number – at least to the public – of attacks have been prevented, through the undeniable disruption of terrorist networks and through increased security measures. Of perhaps even greater importance, high-quality intelligence work has resulted in the prevention and, indeed, preemption, of a number of potential attacks.

Of course, these successes have come at some price to the individual liberties treasured on both sides of the Atlantic. But it should be noted that the public, thus far, has been very accepting of the additional burdens placed on their societies. It seems fair to say that the balance between liberty and security has become more stable in recent years. But the fact remains that the greatest threat to those freedoms is the next terrorist attack. If that attack involves large numbers of casualties, or the use of WMD, then the public will demand, and governments will supply, security measures which may have a significant impact on liberty.

That said, much remains to be done…. [Emphasis added]

“Professor Doctor” Clarke – or should it be “Herr Professor Doktor”? – has taken his talking points straight from the bush/Cheney cabal:

  • “… [An] unknown number… of attacks have been prevented….” One of the primary “justifications” for administration secrecy is the “war on terror”, accompanied by claims – never documented – of tremendous strides in combating the evildoers. We are supposed to take the busheviks at their word that they are providing a suitable level of protection for Americans, a claim that may be debunked simply by looking at New Orleans.
  • “ [U]ndeniable disruption of terrorist networks…” Again, we are supposed to believe the men who said our soldiers would be greeted with flowers, and that the war would last three to six months. There have been no trials (other than Richard Reid) of those terrorists whose attacks have allegedly been prevented, and obviously, no convictions.
  • “[P]revention and preemption of attacks…” Another “fact” offered without any semblance of proof. If this administration had in fact prevented or preempted an attack, they would have been screaming it from the treetops. And claiming the need for “confidentiality to protect sources and methods” won’t wash, folks… remember, this is the same bunch that outed a covert CIA operative in retaliation for her husband’s criticism of the bushevik’s claims.
  • “[T]he public has been very accepting….” This is said almost as if we had any say in the matter. The administration has made it abundantly clear that they, and only they, have any discretion in granting or limiting freedoms. And since individual freedom is anathema to this Fascist regime, our freedoms are becoming more and more limited.
  • “[T]he public will demand, and governments will supply, security measures…” This is, of course, one of the main “points” repeated advanced by the busheviks – that if we do not surrender our liberty now, the “terrists” will have won.

To me, however, the most terrifying part is where Herr Professor Doktor Clarke says, “That said, much remains to be done.” In using this phrase – “that said” – Clarke reveals his arrogance and disdain for the freedoms he professes to support. “That said” is simply a polite way of saying, “Now that I’ve covered the politically correct bullshit, here is what we really need.” Don’t believe me? Listen carefully the next time you hear that phrase… I can guarantee you that whatever follows will effective negate whatever preceded it.

Clarke then lays out ‘what we really need’: “…a ministry of the interior, a domestic intelligence service and a national police force.” [page 24]. In mentioning a “ministry of the interior,” Clarke does not mean reconstituting the existing Department of the Interior, responsible for national parks, environmental issues, and the like. No, what Clarke wants is a “ministry” similar to those found in authoritarian states like the Soviet Union, mainland China, and North Korea, a ministry that inevitably houses a secret police or political police organization.

Additionally, the United States already possesses a “domestic intelligence service”; it’s called the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI has been tasked with domestic counterintelligence responsibilities since at least the 1940’s. Clarke’s objection to the FBI seems to lie in that agency’s commitment (even these days) to individual rights. Clarke also glosses over the fact that, in the free European nations, the national counterintelligence agencies do not have law enforcement powers; Britain’s intelligence agencies, such as MI-5, must request assistance from local police agencies or Scotland Yard to make arrests. It is the authoritarian nations – China, the Soviet Union, and North Korea – where the counterintelligence agencies have full police powers.

We also have a “national police force” that manages to function within the confines of the Constitution, the United States Marshal Service; other Federal agencies have law enforcement responsibilities within the scope of their respective duties. Obviously, the “national police force” that Clarke envisions would be based on the KGB, “the sword and shield of the party.”

Clarke also says:

Moreover, given the potential for catastrophic terrorism, every effort must be made to prevent and preempt terrorist attacks before they occur – even if this means the employment of armed force…. [page 24]

Again, Clarke is parroting the bushevik line – you must give us unlimited power to battle the terrorists. While I am in full agreement with the necessity of preventing and preempting terrorist activity, I do not agree that unfettered power for the government is the way to achieve that goal. The administration has already shown its willingness to use military force in the pursuit of its goals… regardless of the actual necessity of using that force. Giving government the green light to wage unprovoked, aggressive warfare, against “enemies” who have not been conclusively proven to pose a threat to the national security, is one more step down the slippery slope to fascism.

We have already seen many examples of the creeping fascism of the current administration: the virtual abolition of habeus corpus, simply by declaring someone an “enemy combatant;” the revocation of Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures through the use of “national security letters;” the limitations on freedom of speech and assembly (bush’s so-called ‘free-speech’ zones, where protestors are kept far away from Dear Leader). Telecommunications companies have been co-opted by the government, ordered to release confidential business records, with no notice to the citizens involved, and no accountability for the companies. In fact, they have recently been granted retroactive immunity for their trespasses.

“Big Brother” has demanded unparalleled powers in the “war on terror,” powers which have been granted by politicians and others desperate to be on the “inside,” to be close to the seat of power. This uninhibited raping of the Constitution has been carefully overlooked by those in power, leaving those of us on the outside – the poor, the weak – to raise the alarm. Those who can act to protect our Constitution, refuse to do so.

The Framers of the Constitution were well aware of the perils of a unitary executive; they had fled England for that very reason. The three branches of government were carefully crafted to prevent such abuses of power in this new nation. Unfortunately, the legislative branch – the Senate and the House of Representatives – have proven incapable of pushing back against the administration, while the judicial branch – the Supreme Court – has been a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Republican Party since the days of George H. W. Bush (remember, Junior “won” the presidency in 2000 by a single vote, thereby negating the power of the polls). With the two “competing” branches completely enthralled by the Executive, there is no effective means of stopping the busheviks. Civil disobedience obviously would serve no useful purpose, in that we have witnessed “legal” authorities trampling the rights of individuals to protect those in power.

The lack of a common perception of the threat across the Atlantic represents the biggest problem in transatlantic homeland security. Alliances are predicated on a shared sense of risk. Will the terrorists succeed where the Soviet Union failed, in convincing Europeans and Americans to abandon their solidarity and seek that separate peace? Therein lies the greatest danger of all.

Given the fascist tone of the rest of Clarke’s article, this final paragraph is especially chilling. Not content with the unitary executive power currently wielded by bush, Cheney, and the rest, Clarke apparently wants to expand their power to global hegemony. By rattling the saber of the Soviet Union – a nation that effectively ceased to exist more than twenty years ago – Clarke is using the old concept of the “Godless Russky commies” to instill fear in the hearts and minds of Americans, in an effort to force us to surrender those freedoms held nearest and dearest, in the interest of “national security.”

No, Herr Professor Doktor Clarke, that is the greatest danger of all.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Ode to Casey and Clyde

I would like all of you to meet Casey and Clyde; it has been my honor to spend the past 14 years as their Auntie. Casey and Clyde have always been an old married couple, spending hours snuggling and spooning each other. Casey, the saucy calico, was the queen of everything (and she had no qualms about letting everyone know it). Clyde was for most of his life the shy quiet gentleman, I was one of the first people other than his mom that he allowed to get close to him.

We lost Casey a couple of years ago, and now we are preparing to part with our sweet Clyde, he hasn’t been doing very well lately, and then developed a growth on his paw that has been ruled cancerous. With the various health issues and the pain he has been in, his mom has decided that the time has come for him to join his love Casey.

I spoke with him for the last time Wednesday night that has always been one of our special things. You see after his mom moved to Boston, he instinctively knew when I was on the phone and he would climb up on her shoulder and start head butting her till she would either drop the phone or she would put it down for him to talk to me, I would talk, he would mew and purr, roll around on the phone and even push the numbers. I always felt his love and affection pop thru the line.

I know that at one time or another we have all had a pet in out lives be it ours or someone else’s that we have felt that special connection to and have had to say good-bye. To honor all of the pets we have lost I will ask that at 2 p.m. EST you take a moment to think of them and say a little prayer for Clyde as this Sweetest Day he peacefully joins his sweetie Casey for eternity.

“I shall not look upon his like again.”

~William Shakespeare

NOTE: The above was written by the lovely yet talented Mrs 618. I can only add that they -- like all beloved pets -- are crossing the Rainbow Bridge and will be there to greet us when our time comes. And unlike the last time we see them in this dreary life, when we meet again, they -- like us -- will be young and healthy and energetic.

Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.

When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.

All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.

They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.

You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.

Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together....

(Author unknown...)

TSA Laptops Stolen... Along With Hazmat Driver Info

Transportation SECURITY Administration, which is part of the Department of Homeland SECURITY

"TSA Laptops With Hazmat Driver Info Stolen"
Dark Reading (10/16/07) ; Higgins, Kelly Jackson

The Transportation Security Administration has experienced a security breach involving stolen laptops from a TSA contractor containing sensitive information about hazardous material commercial drivers. Two laptops, belonging to Integrated Biometric Technology, contained Social Security numbers, driver's license numbers, and names of about 4,000 hazmat drivers. Information regarding the presence of drivers' personal data was obfuscated by two separate accounts from TSA, first stating they had erased all sensitive information on one laptop, then confessing the data was still present on both laptops. Although the TSA ordered all contractor information to be encrypted following the breach, Paul Kocher of Cryptography Research says the agency enacted "basic measures" only after a disaster occurred. A previous incident involving a missing external storage device left 100,000 TSA employees' bank accounts, payroll information, and Social Security numbers exposed. Security experts say they would not be surprised by terrorists attempting to attack the agency because of their failure to adhere to security best practices, such as deleting or encrypting sensitive data. Integrated Biometric Technology will provide those exposed by the breach with one year of free credit-report monitoring. [Emphasis added]

Now, what part of SECURITY do these MO-rons not understand?

Yup, makes me REAL confident in their ability to safeguard our security.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Update: Urban Paramedic

On Friday, I mentioned a blog that "ya really oughta read", written by TS under the pseudonym Urban Paramedic".

My timing is truly fantastic.

Monday, TS announced he would be leaving shortly to join the Army, specifically the Judge Advocate general's corps. he heads off to Virginia in february, but till then, he's got veriotable pooploads of things to put together.

Stop by his place and wish him well.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Another One You Should Read

While doing some research on the Winecoff Hotel Fire, I ran across a link to a blog written by a deaf firefighter. It is well worth stopping by.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Two Ya REALLY Oughta Read

I don't remember quite how I found this blog, but you really ought to check it out. It's called "other people's emergencies: random thoughts of an urban paramedic"[sic]. Written by a paramedic in Boston, it's real insider's look at the wonderful world of Emergency Medical Services.

I blogrolled TS last week, but I should have done a post about him(?) as well.

For the people like Blue Girl, and the others who have experience in emergency services, it'll be a look at how another agency does things. For those whose knowledge is limited to "Emergency!", "ER", and the like, it'll be an eye-opener.

Also, Kiko at (not surprisingly) Kiko's Place has some wonderful pet and wildlife pictures. I still have to dig through her archives, but from what I've seen so far, she's as much of a cat fancier as the lovely yet talented Mrs 618. I'll be blogrolling Kiko as soon as I can.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Kitty collar questions

Hi! Mrs. 618 here.Question for any of you cat owners, have any of you had problems with break-a-way collars. I had one on my last cat Jenna but she almost choked herself with it. While on vacation same thing happened to Joey while he was with my mom. He wiggled it forward, got it stuck in his mouth, panicked and started choking. My mom had to cut it off of him as it never broke away as it was to suppose to. I have been told by vets as well as other animal professionals that these were suppose to be wonderful, but my guys either wiggle or chew out of them and have never had a single problem with the old traditional collars. So please send me your comments and experiences, I want to keep the boys safe but not at the constant cost of these problems. Baily and Joey thank you for helping me make an informed decision.
Also a couple of after thoughts...
  • To you young men in Nova Scotia for taking you stance an promoting a positive change you really rock!!!!! Good luck with all your endeavors.
  • To Whoopi, Thanks for still provoking thought not just politics.You ladies keep me laughing and sane
  • My wall of Shame goes to...
  • All you educators out there who are telling the little tykes(4-6 years old) that a pat on the back, or hugs that they are guilty of inappropriate touching. When, where and most of all WHY where are you teaching them to show no compassion to others, 15-20 years of this and as the song says "What a Wonderful World it Will Be" (more hate , more violence, No tolerance will seep from one area of our youth to another and if we can't be bothered to talk to them from early ages on the difference between good touch and bad touch as well as age appropriate touches how the hell do we discuss real sexual violence and assault, anger management, racism and the bulling, how will our children ever be taught to trust, love and to follow the heart. They learn from their parents, teachers, nannies and all those who care for them. I personally feel we are morally obligated to let them see thing not just in black and white but that gray does exist. That it is not our place to pass judgement on others for what they believe but use respect, common sense and listen to all points of view. It is the only way they will learn to form their own opinion
  • Maybe we all need to take away the valuable lessons of our youth in Nova Scotia's Pink Peninsula, and let some of this trickle down the eastern sea board.

Zero Tolerance Raises Its Ugly Head Again

I just saw on TV that two children -- aged 12 and 13 -- were charged with sexual assault under a school board "zero tolerance" policy. A while back, I quoted Randy Cassingham (publisher of This Is True), whose essay on zero tolerance included this:

Again, as I've explained on -- my still-needs-to-be-updated ZT page -- I'm NOT advocating tolerance for REAL transgressions. Kids who actually sexually harass other students (and you can be sure that does happen) SHOULD get real punishment. But a 4-year-old pressing his head on an aide's boobies during a hug IS NOT sexual harassment, and how does anyone think it's OK to punish such a young child for that? And there are plenty of other outrageous examples on my ZT page -- and in TRUE's archives. This MUST stop; we're destroying our children -- the next generation of teachers, cops, and judges.

This case involved two boys swatting girls' bottoms during "flat-butt day"... the boys and girls swatting each other. Obviously, to the brain-dead MO-rons in the principle's office, this was outrageous conduct, so the boys were arrested.

Arrested. As in handcuffs, Miranda rights, the whole nine yards.

And six months later, when the case finally went to court -- courtesy of an over-zealous prosecutor -- the judge was presented with affidavits from every one of the girls -- every one of them -- leading the judge to dismiss the charges.

This is truly stupid.

Cassingham has a ton of other ZT horror stories at the link above. Go read them, and call your school board.

$5.5 Million Award in McDonald's Strip Search Suit

A little more than a year ago, I recounted the tale of a strip search at a McDonald's restaurant. Today, in a separate case, Louise Ogborn, formerly employed at the McDonald's in Mt Washington, Kentucky, was awarded $5.5 million, as a result of another McDonalds strip search.

This case involved a person on the phone claiming to be a police officer; the caller accused Louise of theft and directed the assistant manager to conduct a progressively more intrusive strip search... despite a history of similar fraudulent calls against the chain. The assistant manager complied, even to the extent of leaving the hysterical 17-year-old naked with her (the manager's) fiance. The fiance, acting at the "cop's" behest, forced the girl to perform oral sex on him.

Louise sued for $200 million.

Despicably, McDonald's defense counsel and experts tried some truly hateful tactics: saying Louise had gained from the experience (something they called "traumatic growth"), claiming that she had brought much of the stress on herself by going to the press, etc.

The jury awarded Louise $5.5 million -- not the $200 million requested in the suit, but considerably more than the previous record award - $239,000. [Update: that's the record for the county in which the trial took place; Louise's lawyer was quite pleased.]

Last year, I made this comment

If I were the chairman of McDonald's, I would make damned sure that every corporate employee, every franchisee, and every franchisee's employee was made aware of this scam. It produces bad publicity for the company (and the franchisee), plus McDonald's will eventually run into a judge who'll say something along the lines of, "this has happened x number of times, and you're still claiming you know nothing about it? I don't think so."

Okay, in this case, it wasn't the judge, it was the jury who said, "Uh-uh, no way."

Louise says she'll use the money to pay for law school.

Somehow, I don't think she'll be doing a whole lot of corporate defense work.

Pet Blogging

Here's Bailey, the "feral" cat.

Yeah, feral.

My ass, he's feral. My son's bichon frise has more feral street cred.

And I found out who added Garfield to my "Yahoo" page.
I thought that looked like Joey's hair on the keyboard...

Couple More Quickies...

... that I forgot earlier.

As a safety and security professional, I subscribe to an almost obscene number of print and on-line publications. One -- from the Dept of Homeland Security -- had a little glitch day before yesterday: hitting "reply" sent your message to all the thousands of subscribers (brought about by someone replying to change an email address). So, instead of simply receiving the day's mailing, we also received several hundred replies, ranging from introductions ("I like chardonnay and roasted duck") to job searching. It was heartening to see that some security professionals have a healthy sense of humor. It was disheartening to see, however, that some of my professional peers are humorless (and, in some cases, oblivious - "stop hitting reply and this'll stop".... umm, dude, that includes you). Today, exactly the same thing happened to another mail list, this one from the State Department.

Nice to see the government can't even control their own mail lists. Makes you wonder how in hell they expect us to trust them to run a war. So much for the Global War on Terra®.

NBC Nightly News just ran a story about two high school kids in Cambridge, Nova Scotia, who took a stand against bullying by wearing pink shirts. Their "movement" has now spread across Nova Scotia.

Mr and Mrs 618 say:


More a little later.


... and not the kind ole Senator Craig was looking for...

I was watching Cops a couple of nights ago, and was treated to a Palm Beach County deputy pointing out that the best thing about law enforcement was that he wasn't in a cube, sucking up the air conditioning, enjoying looking at a monitor. Instead, from what I could see, he was sitting in a Ford Crown Vic -- smaller than the average cube -- sucking up the air conditioning, and enjoying his mobile data terminal.

Next week is Fire Prevention Week. Go check the linked site, and make sure you Practice Your Escape Plan. You do have an escape plan, don't you?

October is also Crime Prevention Month. This site has a ton of useful stuff to help keep you safe.

Mr Conservatard has apparently been sent for deprogramming. We hope all is well with him...

Someone asked me a few days ago why I had not done a Fire History post on the Hartford Circus Fire, which occurred on July 6, 1944. The fire claimed 167 lives, including the famous "Little Miss 1565." The reason I didn't write something up was that it hits a little closer to home than the other major disasters I've written about. But -- since someone asked -- there will be a belated post about the fire within a day or two.

The Grand Old Perverts have released the logo for their annual convention, to be held in the Senator Craig Memorial Stall at Minneapolis Airport:

The lovely yet talented Dark Wraith has, not surprisingly, modified it slightly, to better reflect the rethuglican's true nature:

Various other bloggers have also taken potshots at it, including one -- and I can't remember whom -- pointed out the prison stripes, wide stance, starry eyes, and preparation to screw America yet again.

Anyway, more in a bit. For some reason, my rassafrassin' boss expects me to actually do some work!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

The Day After: Responding to a Nuclear Attack

Most of us have either seen or read Tom Clancy’s The Sum of All Fears, in which a group of middle-Eastern terrorists construct a nuclear weapon (using material salvaged from an Israeli device), smuggle it into the United States, and detonate it during the Super Bowl. [Not that the book and movie are the same, by any means: in the book, Jack Ryan is in his late 30’s or early 40’s; in the movie, Ryan is still a college student, required because someone thought it critical to cast Ben Affleck in the role.]

Older readers may remember the made-for-TV movie The Day After. The 1983 production described the aftermath of a nuclear strike on Lawrence, Kansas, which was notable for being completely commercial-free after the detonations.

Of course, these weren’t the only movies made about nuclear holocausts – On The Beach, By Dawn’s Early Light, Fail Safe, and Doctor Strangelove, among others, kept Americans constantly aware of the horrors of nuclear war (not to mention still-vivid images of the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki).

Novelists got into the act as well: in addition to Clancy, Robin Moore (who wrote The Green Berets and The French Connection) penned a story about some home-grown terrorists detonating a nuke during the State of the Union Address, in his book The Trinity Implosion. A number of senior NATO officers collaborated on two volumes, The Third World War, and The Third World War: The Untold Story while noted writers Whitley Streiber and James Kunetka created Warday.

While this may be a fascinating history lesson, I can hear you asking, “What does this have to do with the real world?”

A few days ago, I ran across an interesting article in The Washington Quarterly, entitled “The Day After: Action Following a Nuclear Blast in a U.S. City.” Unlike the works mentioned above, this piece is non-fiction. William J. Perry and Ashton B. Carter (Clinton’s Secretary and Assistant Secretary of Defense, respectively) and Michael M. May (former director of Lawrence Livermore National Lab) approach the topic from a disaster-preparedness point of view: “What will the United States actually do on the day after prevention fails?” [Remember, to crisis-management types, a disaster is always a “when” proposition, not “if”].

In a similar vein to the Chatham House report we looked at back in March, Carter, May and Perry examine the decisions and actions required after a nuclear attack. Pointing out that such an attack would be “the most catastrophic single event in the nation’s history and the worst possible failure of public policy,” the authors set a likely scenario – the detonation of a 10KT device in a major city – discuss the “grisly effects,” and posit some possible reactions.

In doing so, however, they emphasize a major flaw in our nation’s preparedness posture: the fiction that state and local governments will be able to manage such a crisis by themselves. In fact, after a nuclear detonation, state and local government – if they survive at all – would be almost immediately overwhelmed, requiring prompt Federal intervention, without awaiting the formality of a request from the governor(s) of the affected state(s).

The Department of Homeland Security has mandated that all state and local governmental units prepare “all-hazards disaster mitigation plans” complying with the National Response Plan and the National Incident Management System; there is not, however, a functional equivalent plan (yet) on the national level.

One might think, given the distinct possibility of a nuclear attack on a U.S. city, that the federal government would have already developed a realistic response plan specific to this scenario that marshals the resources of all the agencies. Remarkably, such a plan does not yet exist, although one is being drafted.

Of course, given the marginal grades earned by DHS in various GAO audits, any plan developed is liable to be fraught with errors, omissions, and ambiguities (see, for instance, my November 30, 2006, post here). And given the current administration’s efforts to completely politicize all aspects of the Federal government, one probably should not anticipate any great improvement.

One aspect of any eventual response that is not discussed, however, is the need for hundreds or thousands of trained responders. Many of these responders, of course, come from the National Guard and Reserve units – most of which are stretched to the breaking point, courtesy of the Iraq folly undertaken by the Cheney/bush administration.

Carter, May and Perry point out that “the prob­ability of nuclear terrorism, although it cannot be quantified, is not zero and is surely increasing as the number of sources of fissile material multiplies.” While a terrorist group could conceivably obtain either a full device or fissile material from a middle-Eastern government, it is unlikely that such a group would store the device on a battlefield. More plausibly, as the authors note, a group like al-Qaeda could purchase a device (or material) from a rogue nation like North Korea. Either way, a terrorist group’s first priority would be to get the weapon into the United States.

It is imperative, therefore, that we bring our troops home as rapidly as possible and make them available for response here in the U.S. They must be trained and equipped for the tasks expected of them – something about which the Department of Defense has been singularly lax; we can and simply must have “the military you would like to have.”

The Department of Homeland Security must be completely revamped, with proven professionals, not political cronies, in positions of authority. Funding must be provided, without being diverted to no-bid (and often, no-show) contracts for chosen corporations.

And last, but not least, we, as Americans, must begin accepting the need to prepare ourselves: we must obtain the training and supplies needed to survive on our own pending a government response, we must develop and practice emergency plans at home and at work, and most importantly, we must hold our elected officials responsible for serving us, not special interests.

[Cross-posted to Out of Iraq and Watching Those We Chose]