Thursday, January 31, 2008

Coupla Quickies

First, via, a story about a New York City police officer... who pimped out a 13-year-old runaway.
A 13-year-old runaway returned home with a horrific account of being forced into prostitution by the kind of person who should have instead come to her aid: a city detective.

A police officer pimping out a kid. This is truly disgusting.
The teenager thought she was being offered a job dancing at parties, according to prosecutors. She soon found herself a captive of Wayne Taylor and a woman who forced the teen to prostitute herself at parties, with the detective threatening to make her sell herself on the streets if she tried to escape, prosecutors said.

Not surprisingly, the cop and his female associate have pleaded not guilty. Assuming for the sake of argument that they are convicted, these two should be locked away from decent people forever.

Cops do not always get the best press, and, quite often, the coverage they get is ruchly deserved. Unlike a lot of bloggers, I do not immediately assume all cops are evil bastards, but I also realize that there will always be some cops who are corrupt, criminal losers. And if a single police department has over 30,000 sworn officers, as New York City does, there will certainly be a good number of thugs with badges.

* * * * *

Second, and on a much more pleasant note, this piece from Firehouse Magazine, about an off-duty volunteer firefighter who saved a man from a burning car. The story started off great, got ugly, and worked out properly... but only after a lawsuit.
Keith Leuci - formerly of Hamilton Township and now living in Tennessee - was driving home with his family Aug. 20, 2004, when he saw a burning car stopped on the Black Horse Pike. Leuci told his wife to pull over, raced to the car, pried the door open and pulled James Barnes, then 26 and of Pleasantville, to safety. Barnes' cousin was killed in the accident.

This is where it gets disgusting. Here's a man who risked his own life to save another. Bear in mind, he ran up to a burning car, and pulled the victim out before he burned to death. In saving the driver's life, he himself was seriously injured.
Leuci, then a member of the Cologne Fire Company, was injured in the rescue, and Hamilton Township denied his claim for workers'-compensation benefits. He then applied through the Cologne Volunteer Fire Company. The fire company also denied his claim, saying he was not on duty, and Egg Harbor Township did not request mutual aid from Hamilton Township, meaning he was not officially on duty at the site of the accident.

Give me a break. "He was not on duty"? Since when are cops, firefighters, or EMS personnel not on duty?
Leuci received a valor award from the Atlantic County Firefighters Association and a medal from the Carnegie Hero Fund for his role in the rescue. But his injuries forced him to give up his remodeling business, and his family moved to Tennessee because they could no longer afford to live in New Jersey.

Okay, it seems most people agree Leuci was, is, and will remain a hero. A bona fide hero.
The Cologne Fire Company and its insurer "took the position that instead of rescuing the person who was in the car, he should have gotten approval from the chief or somebody," said [Leuci's attorney Christopher] Day, who also represents The Press of Atlantic City. "There was about a 30- to 60-second window to save the individual, so his choice was to rescue the person or let him die." [Emphasis added]

"Should have gotten approval"?!? Oh. My. God.
"It's totally amazing we need a court to tell them the right thing to do," Day said. "I hope their family is never trapped in a vehicle when they need help."

Amen, brother.

Fortunately, New Jersey worker's compensation Judge Cosmo Giovinazzi III ruled in Leuci's favor.

Day said an appeal is unlikely to succeed, as Giovinazzi is one of the most respected judges in the state.

"To the best of my knowledge, he's never been overturned," Day said. "So I feel pretty confident his decision will stand."

One thing to remember is that Leuci was a volunteer firefighter; he did not get paid for his efforts. In fact, he probably had to pay out of his own pocket for the privilege of being a fire fighter. Most volunteer companies have annual dues, plus the troops generally have to pay for much of their own training (which is usually attended on their own unpaid time); some departments even make members pay for their turn-out gear.

Towns try this kind of sleazy cop-out, and then they wonder why they have such a hard time attracting and retaining volunteers. Of course, political sleaze is not the only reason volunteerism is down; many people cannot afford to donate unpaid time to their communities when they're trying desperately to keep a roof over their family's heads.

Meanwhile, Day said Leuci's move out of state was New Jersey's loss and Tennessee's gain.

"We have one less person who would do (a rescue like) this in New Jersey," Day said.

Day is right. If you're going to wind up trapped in a burning car, pray you're in Tennessee, and that Keith Leuci is driving by.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Update on Kwame Kilpatrick

I just watched a speech by embattled Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. Kilpatrick, if you're new to these precincts, has had what could charitably be described as a "speckled" career as mayor. There have been allegations of strippers and wild parties at the mayor's official residence, charges that he attempted to have a virtually bankrupt city pay for a Lincoln Navigator for his wife, and the latest allegations: that he committed perjury in an effort to conceal an extra-marital affair (and forced the city into a $9 million dollar settlement in a whistle-blower trial in the process).

Kilaptrick just appeared on WDIV-TV, Channel 4, the Detroit NBC affiliate. He spoke, not surprisingly, from his church.

As is the case with every other politician caught with his hand in the cookie jar, or his pants down (or both), he took the expected route: "I have sinned, I have found sweet baby Jeebus, I have repented, I must be forgiven, you must forget this thing ever happened."

Listening to the speech, Kilpatrick kept referring to the incidents of "the past week"... in other words, since the story broke that he may have committed perjury. Not a single comment about the affair, not a single comment about his alleged perjury, not a single comment about his ripping the city for 9 mil to cover his infidelity (although to be fair, he did mention that there were legal ramifications he couldn't discuss at present, namely his desperate attempts to evade indictment). In other words, he was apologizing for getting caught, not for boffing his Chief of Staff, not for ripping off the city to conceal the fact he has the morals of an alley cat, not for being a sleazy, rotten person. He only apologized for getting caught.

His wife, Carlita, who was in the church with him, stood by her man, although she looked as if she was ready to braid his testicles into those plastic key chains we made in summer camp.

I can sympathize with the mayor for having his personal peccadilloes spread across the front page, but my sympathy is tempered by the fact that every politician should know that he, she or (in dubya's case) it, does not have the same expectation of privacy as we ordinary mortals. One of the drawbacks to public service is that your every move will be (and should be) under a microscope, especially if those moves adversely affect the public you have theoretically sworn to serve. If you're going to enjoy the perks of public life (like having a posse made up of sworn law enforcement officers), you also have to accept the drawbacks.

Kilpatrick made it abundantly clear that he was not going to resign as mayor of Detroit. Personally, I think he should resign. He shamed his city, and made it a laughing stock. And it's not as if Detroit didn't have all sorts of problems already. His former chief of staff, Beatty, did the honorable thing; Kwame should do the same. He has forfeited any trust the citizens of Detroit may have had. The city needs to move on, and the best way to do that is for Kwame to go away.

The city of Detroit is in a crisis. While a crisis has been described as "danger + opportunity," there is very little opportunity in this situation. Kwame put off the speech for a week after the story broke, and -- as any crisis manager could tell you -- a delay that long allows the "other side" to frame the story any way they want. In this case, the media framed the story as yet another moral lapse by the mayor. In delaying as long as he did, Kilpatrick was forced into even more of a defensive posture than he might have been in earlier.

Of course, having text messages pop up that conclusively prove you had an affair after you and your paramour testified, under oath, that you hadn't, is not exactly the easiest thing to deal with. But Kilpatrick's usual ham-handed handling of this scandal allowed it to balloon into even more of a disaster. This is the kind of situation that has almost no chance of positive spin.

Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy is investigating this case. Worthy must acknowledge the fact that her constituency extends across the entire county, and while the citizens of Detroit may shrug this off as "a man being a man," her constituency may not be so forgiving. Even though people outside of Detroit or even Wayne County may not care about the mayor's indiscretions, they are painfully aware of the political and social ramifications. The state of Michigan is already suffering from what has been described as a "one-state recession;" a situation like this is not going to attract new business, industry, or investment to Detroit, or even the state as a whole. A reputation of corruption in local officials can taint the reputation of an entire state; just ask anyone who lived in New Jersey during the 60's and 70's.

Furthermore, Kilpatrick's law license should be suspended immediately, pending final disposition of the case by Wayne County or state officials. Kilpatrick has certainly exhibited conduct of an immoral nature; such conduct is grounds for disbarment.

Leaving aside, for the moment, the personal ramifications for the Kilpatricks, allegations of sexual impropriety are a death knell for any politician's future prospects. Larry Craig, Mark Foley, Bill Clinton and others all learned this the hard way. Kilpatrick apparently thought it couldn't happen to him.

It can happen, and it did happen.

TSA Strikes Out. Again.

Good Godamighty, this is getting really discouraging, considering how much we're paying for TSA to "protect" us.

TSA conducted yet another of its tests of its airport screeners. You know, the folks who are supposed to prevent bombs and guns from getting on board American airliners.

And, once again, TSA screeners have failed the test.

CNN asked if it could send a camera crew to tape one of the tests, and TSA agreed. Unfortunately, the CNN crew taped a test at Tampa International Airport.

The CNN report detailed how a covert officer with a metal knee beat security by claiming a slender mock explosive strapped around his waist was a back brace. Nice to know the screeners will believe us when we say a bomb is a back brace. Now if we could just get them to believe a bottle of Pert really is shampoo.

Of course, this isn't the first time TSA screeners have dropped the ball on finding mock explosives. See my previous post on TSA for more details.

The CNN report quotes a TSA spokesdrone as pointing out that:

Six years ago, the administration focused intently on handguns. As a result, screeners became more adept at ferreting them out before they made it on board....

This explains how a guy was able to get on a plane last week with a gun.

Guns? Okay.

Bombs? No problem.

A bottle of Poland Springs? Big problem. BIG problem.

Does it seem like I'm ragging on TSA too much? If it does, that is because TSA -- and it's parent super-agency, the Department of Homeland Security -- are violating one of the main tenets of the security profession. They are too busy trying to protect us from the last attack, and not worrying their beautiful minds about the next one.

TSA and DHS have their heads in the sand. As a New York Times writer pointed out a couple of weeks ago, the primary reason the 9-11 hijackings succeeded was not that the terrorists were able to smuggle box cutters aboard the aircraft; the reason they succeeded was that they broke the existing paradigm of hijackings, that the craft would be diverted to another destination. By being willing to sacrifice themselves (and the passengers, crews, and planes), the terrorists brought a new paradigm into play. And it is a paradigm the TSA cannot comprehend.

It is impossible to prevent weapons on planes, as TSA has demonstrated time after time. No matter how much they check our shoes, pour out our shampoo, or grope our pregnant wives' breasts, they can never keep all potentially dangerous weapons off the planes. It just cannot be done.

In years past, a takeover meant hostage negotiations and standoffs; crews were trained in the concept of “passive resistance.” All of that changed forever the instant American Airlines Flight 11 collided with the north tower. What weapons the 19 men possessed mattered little; the success of their plan relied fundamentally on the element of surprise. And in this respect, their scheme was all but guaranteed not to fail.

For several reasons — particularly the awareness of passengers and crew — just the opposite is true today. Any hijacker would face a planeload of angry and frightened people ready to fight back. Say what you want of terrorists, they cannot afford to waste time and resources on schemes with a high probability of failure. And thus the September 11th template is all but useless to potential hijackers.

I said it then, and I'll say it now: this is the template to which DHS and TSA fanatically adhere.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Blackwater Back in the News

Blackwater Security, the mercenary thugs who enjoy shooting helpless Iraqis, is suing its former lawyers for malpractice. Back when the four Blackwater thugs were killed and hung on that Iraqi bridge, the survivors sued Blackwater for failing to proetct its employees. The suit was originally filed in state court, but Blackwater wanted the case moved to the Federal courts, where bush's appointees could be counted on to let Blackwater slide. Blackwater's original lawyers failed in their mission, and the suit proceeded in the North Carolina state courts.

The lawyers who failed so miserably were from the prestigious Wiley Rein firm included Fred Fielding, now White House counsel; Barbara Van Gelder, now an attorney with Morgan, Lewis & Bockius; Scott McCaleb, who is a partner with Wiley Rein; and Margaret Ryan, who is now a judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.

Blackwater subsequently tried to have the case forced into arbitration, claiming the slain guards' contracts demanded it. Of course, the reason the arbitration clause is in the contract is not to protect the employees; it's there to protect the company. An arbitrator is unlikely to be swayed by romantic notions of "justice", "truth", and "fairness," focusing instead on who's paying the bills.

Blackwater also has another novel claim:

Blackwater, which is under investigation by the Justice Department for its involvement in a September shooting that left at least 17 Iraqis dead, contends that its contracted employees are de facto federal officers under the law.

Now there's a charming thought: Blackwater thugs as Federal officers. With the same immunity from prosecution that real Feds enjoy.

Pharmaceutical Executives Face Reality

The former COO (Chief Operating Officer) of drug company InterMune may be in some serious trouble. InterMune got jammed up for illegal off-label marketing of their osteoporosis drug Actimune, claiming it also worked against a fatal and incurable lung disease. The company signed a "deferred prosecution agreement" with the Department of Justice; the company and executives thought that would be the end of the matter (as it generally would be, with bush's Department of "Justice" and the administration's love for Big Pharma).

Scott Harkonen thought he was home free.

But the investigation was still proceeding.

When Harkonen realized he was probably going to face criminal charges, he crapped.

Judith Waltz, a lawyer who represents drug companies, had this to say:

"The government may be trying to make an example," Waltz said. "That scares the hell out of everybody once they start talking about individuals."

Yes, I can imagine it does. God forbid that in george bush's Murka, any big bidniss zecative should be held responsible for anything he says or does, no matter how egregious. Business executives, after all, are the ones who contribute to the Rethuglicans; hence, they expect protection from fair retribution for their illegal acts.

Oh, Those Wacky Brits!

What'll they think of next?

Tasha Maltby, a 19-year-old British Goth, says she is the "pet" of her boyfriend Dani Graves. Graves, showing his devotion to his "pet' walks her on a leash, complete with dog collar.

This was all fine and dandy, until they got on a bus. The driver objected to her attire and to the chain, and threw them off the bus, saying, "We don't let freaks and dogs like you on."

As Maltby put it:

"I am a pet," she told the Daily Mail. "I generally act animal-like and I lead a really easy life. I don't cook or clean and I don't go anywhere without Dani. It might seem strange but it makes us both happy. It's my culture and my choice. It isn't hurting anyone."

Yup, them Brits are some wacky folks.

I can imagine Dani's Pet Blogging posts........

They Took a Lesson from DHS

The fine folks at the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Department (or ABCD) has apparently taken a valuable lesson from the fine folks at the Department of Homeland Security: instead of doing something useful, let's do something horrendously stupid, something that will have no effect on the health and safety of our citizens.

The Commonwealth of Virginia, in its infinite wisdom, has sicced the ABCD onto establishments that serve real sangria. Yup, mixing brandy, triple sec, and wine will mean the terrists have won.

Instead of cracking down on the drunk Virginia assholes driving up and down the roads, let's concentrate on the yuppies in the fancy restaurants.

More Mayoral Frivolities...

A few days ago, I wrote about Grace Saenz-Lopez, the mayor of Alice, TX, who has managed to jam herself up with allegations that she and her twin sister stole a dog.

Now we learn, via the Detroit Free Press (the "good" freepers) that Detroit's mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is once again in trouble. Kilpatrick has been in trouble more or less since he took office, what with allegations of strippers at a party at the Manoogian Mansion (the mayor's official residence), claims he tried to get the police department of a bankrupt city to pay for a Lincoln Navigator for his wife, and a whole slew of other complaints. Last summer, two former cops (one a former deputy chief) sued the city under a whistleblower statute, claiming they had been fired for participating in an internal affairs investigation that might have revealed the mayor was having an affair with his chief of staff. Kilpatrick and chief of staff Christine Beatty denied, under oath, that they were having an affair. The Free Press managed to get transcripts and images of text messages sent back and forth on city-paid Sky pagers, that indicate the two were, in fact, making the two-backed beast.

Kilpatrick was supposed to be attending a mayor's conference in Washington, DC, when the story broke; it turns out, however, he was at a home his family had just purchased in Florida. As one local blogger put it, "he was, not surprisingly, unavailable."

Local DA Kym Worthy held a press conference, promising her office would look into these allegations. The effect was diminished, however, by Worthy's obvious disgust at being "bothered" by this whole thing. State Attorney General Cox is staying out of this for the time being, pending developments in Detroit. I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for either of these folks to act.

Kilaptrick, echoing every other politician who gets caught with his pants down, is begging the press to "respect his family's privacy" and claiming that this mess is just a "personal matter." Unfortunately, that doesn't wash. Kilpatrick has been a slime since his first days in politics, and using city resources -- especially the resources of a city in as bad a shape as Detroit -- takes this out of the realm of family matters.

If you are the mayor of a major American city, you should understand going in that you are going to be living in a fishbowl. Politicians, because of their high public profile, have no privacy. Don't believe me? Ask Rudy, the Clenis, Larry Craig, Mark Foley, and God knows how many others.

And speaking of Foley, Kilpatrick should have learned from Foley's shenanigans - don't email, text, or IM anything you wouldn't want to see on the front page.

Lying under oath, my friends, is called perjury. It is a felony in every jurisdiction I'm aware of. A conviction for perjury generally involves prison time, and is grounds for losing any professional licenses a person may hold (ranging from EMT to dentist to attorney). Kilpatrick, as an attorney and member of the bar, should be disbarred immediately; by committing perjury -- especially in an effort to conceal his personal peccadilloes -- has forfeited any right to a position of public trust. Beatty, who is a law student, should be expelled and prohibited from holding any public trust position.

Friday, January 25, 2008

What's Wrong With THIS Picture?

From WDIV-TV (Channel 4, Detroit):
A 15-year-old Detroit girl was killed and another critically wounded in a drive-by shooting early Monday morning on Detroit's northwest side.

According to police, three girls, all 15, had flagged down a car occupied by a 34-year-old man and a 16-year-old youth at around 4:30 a.m....

Okay, maybe I'm old-fashioned, but what the hell were three 15-year-old girls doing, going to the store at 4:30 AM?!? That's four-frickin'-thirty in the frickin' MORNING.

Yes, kids may be maturing much earlier these days, but this is Just. Plain. Wrong.

TSA Strikes Out One More Time...

This is starting to get monotonous. Can't these frickin' MO-rons get anything right?

The fine folks at TSA ("Thousands Standing Around") are continuing to wage the good fight against liquids aboard planes, while still managing to miss legitimate threats. It appears a man managed to get through the all the security checkpoints at Reagan National Airport with a gun.

Before the passenger boarded his flight about 7:30 a.m. Sunday, he realized that he had the gun and returned voluntarily to the checkpoint... Yingling [a spokesman for the airport] said that the agency's officers took the gun and issued a summons and that the man was allowed to continue his trip.

A TSA spokesdrone had this to say: "...testing shows that the agency has a "very high success rate" in detecting firearms." Yeah, if the screeners know they're being tested. See, for instance, here, here, here, and here. These are, of course, the same TSA screeners who are too busy groping a woman's breasts and stealing from passengers (see here, here, here)to focus on their primary job, which is "keeping us safe from terrists."

Bringing liquids on board a plane brings down TSA on you like the wrath of God. But bombs, guns, and knives? Eh, everybody's human, right?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Everything's Bigger in Texas...

Guy is in Fort Worth for a business convention.

He signs in at his hotel, and finds his single room is over 1500 square feet. He asks the desk clerk, who says, "Everything's bigger in Texas."

He orders a steak for dinner, and is served a four-pound monster T-bone. the waiter says, "Everything's bigger in Texas."

Guy orders a shot at the bar; the bartender plops a 16-ounce tumbler full of Jack Daniels in front of him. Yup, "Everything's bigger in Texas."

After a few hours in the bar, the guy heads back to his room, but he's so drunk, he falls into the pool.

"Don't flush! Don't flush!" he screams.

Well, they're right, everything is bigger in Texas... even the venality of their politicians.

Grace Saenz-Lopez, the mayor of Alice, Texas, is in deep doo-doo, facing allegations of a faked death, an attempt to hide the evidence, and a cover-up.

And because everything is bigger in Texas, the stupidity is bigger, too. All this is over a dog. A Shih Tzu, to be exact.

Saenz-Lopez has been indicted oon two counts of tampering with physical evidence.

For stealing a dog.

She had agreed to take care of the dog for friends while they were on vacation. A day or so later, she told her friends their dog had died.

But Puddles wasn't dead.

Saenz-Lopez decided to keep Puddles, and renamed her Panchito. The original owners sued and filed a criminal complaint. The mayor's response? "The dog is missing."

The missing dog was found at the mayor's twin sister's house... after a "mysterious lady" had found the dog.

Just to make matters even more interesting, it's now being reported that the mayor's lawyer threatened the DA handling the case, saying, "You [expletive deleted] with my client, I'm going to [expletive deleted] with you."

Gotta love them Texans.

What is with these people anyway? Most Texans are about as useful as screen doors in a submarine. And no Texan -- NO Texan -- should ever be allowed to run for President. The last two Presidents we've had from Texas -- Johnson and the decider -- were both tacky, cheap, trailer trash. Of course, the Commander Guy isn't really from Texas; he was born in New Haven, CT, before attending such well-known Texas institutions as Exeter Academy, Yale, and Hahvahd.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Schticks of One, Half a Dozen of the Other

The Cops Are Cheating…

According to AP

A motorist who paid a speeding ticket he got from a state trooper who used out-of-state license plates on his unmarked patrol car wants his money back “What gives police the right to drive illegally on the highway?” said Dave Milbrandt, a company finance manager. “Do they have a special exemption?”

It appears Washington State Patrol Trooper Bradford A. Moon was driving an unmarked Dodge Charger with Oregon plates. Moon had removed the plates from a personal vehicle (presumably his, although the article didn’t specify it) after he moved to Washington from Oregon.

Now, when I was a cop, using license plates on a vehicle other than that for which they were issued was called “Misuse of Marker Plates.” In Connecticut, that was an arrest, rather than a ticket. Also, the plates were to be seized, and the car was to be towed. In addition, the car was considered to be (a) unregistered, and (b) uninsured. Operating an unregistered vehicle was a ticket, operating uninsured was another arrest offense. Generally, the penalties were fines: $250 for misuse of plates, $250 for operating uninsured, $50 for operating unregistered, and a one-year drivers license suspension, plus towing and storage charges. Oh, and you didn’t get your vehicle back until you showed up with valid plates, which meant paying the registration fee and buying insurance. Subsequent violations generally doubled all the fines.

So, if there were any justice in the world, the state of Washington would refund Milbrandt’s money, charge Moon with the appropriate violations, and fire his ass.

National Security Trumps All. Well, Almost All…

The telecommunications companies have justified their participation in NSA’s warrantless wiretapping on the basis of “national security.” And I’m willing to admit that national security is important, although not to the extent of sacrificing our liberties.

Unfortunately, a blogger at CSO Magazine found a little monkey wrench in the works:

Telephone companies have cut off FBI wiretaps used to eavesdrop on suspected criminals because of the bureau’s repeated failures to pay phone bills on time.

A few of the juicy details:
  • A wiretap used in a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) investigation “was halted due to untimely payment,” the audit found. “We also found that late payments have resulted in telecommunications carriers actually disconnecting phone lines established to deliver surveillance results to the FBI, resulting in lost evidence.” [The blogger, Jeff Bardin, commented, “chain of custody and rules of evidence don’t mean squat if you can’t pay”]
  • The ACLU also took a swipe at the telecommunications companies: “It seems the telecoms, who are claiming that they were just being ‘good patriots’ when they allowed the government to spy on us without warrants, are more than willing to pull the plug on national security investigations when the government falls behind in its bills,” and “To put it bluntly, it sounds as though the telecoms believe it when FBI says the warrant is in the mail but not when they say the check is in the mail.” [Bardin has another pointed comment: “We’ll violate laws as long as you pay for us to violate them.”]

Now remind me again why the telecoms are saying they should be granted retroactive immunity for engaging in national security investigations?

No More Good Hands in Florida…

This just in from Business Insurance Magazine:

Florida’s insurance commissioner said on Wednesday that he had suspended Allstate from writing auto insurance policies in the state because it had not complied with a subpoena to testify about its property insurance business.

State officials called off the hearing… when the company officials refused to answer questions and to provide specific documents.

We all know bush, Cheney and their sycophantic thugs are doing everything they can to turn the United States into a wholly-owned subsidiary of Corporate Thieves R Us, so I’m thrilled that Florida (now that Jebbie is gone, thank God) is telling Allstate to stuff their good hands.

Some Future Date in Fire History…

Via the Washington Post, we learn that the brand-spanking new Baghdad embassy is a fire trap:

The firefighting system in the massive $736 million embassy complex in Baghdad has potential safety problems that top U.S. officials dismissed in their rush to declare “mission accomplished”, err... construction largely completed….

“[No] one has ever inspected the electrical system, the power plant” and other parts of the embassy complex….

The Justice Department, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Halliburton, is investigating.

For all the good that will do…

The fire system was installed by First Kuwaiti General Trading & Contracting (probably a wholly-owned subsidiary of Halliburton). The pipes burst during a routine test. The State Department, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Halliburton, turned to “an outside consulting firm,” which although unidentified, is almost certainly a wholly-owned subsidiary of Halliburton.

The Justice Department “probe” is said to focus on James L. Golden, a contract employee (probably from Halliburton or one of its wholly-owned subsidiaries) and Mary M. French, the project coordinator based in Baghdad.

Once again, corporate profits come ahead of life safety.

Republicans: The Party of Honesty. Aw, BULLSH*T…

Those friggin’ Republicans – the ones who claimed to have restored “dignity” to the White House and the rest of the government – just cannot resist being sleazy and pulling sleazy tricks, no matter how unnecessary:

A mailer from a congressional candidate’s campaign contains a photo of his head attached to an image of a different body that makes him look thinner.

The photo is presented as a true image of Dean Hrbacek, a Republican former mayor of Sugar Land.
Campaign manager Scott Broschart acknowledged to The Houston Chronicle that the
image is a fake.

Is there anything about which a Republican would be truthful?

To borrow Great Orange Satanist Bill in Portland, Maine’s one-word answer…


Sunday, January 13, 2008

This Date in Fire History - Jan 13

Today marks the 100th anniversary of yet another tragic fire, one that killed almost one-tenth of a town’s population, and directly affected everyone for miles around. Yet, because it happened in a small town near Philadelphia, instead of a major city like Chicago, Atlanta, or New York, very few people are aware of it.

Even more shamefully, after mentioning this fire many times over the years, I just discovered that I – along with many others – had been misspelling the name of the building where the fire occurred.

Many writers have mentioned the Rhodes Opera House fire. Even the National Fire Protection Association – the world’s leading fire safety and prevention organization – calls it the Rhodes fire. The building where the fire occurred, however, was owned by the Rhoads family (or maybe Rhoades, although the Boyertown Historical Society omits the “e”).

Additionally, it appears the opera house itself not named for the Rhoads family; the Boyertown Opera House merely rented the second floor of the Rhoads Building.

Boyertown, PA, is a small town (population 3702, according to the town’s website) located twenty miles east of Reading and 41 miles northwest of Philadelphia.

On the evening of January 13, 1908, about 350 people were in the Opera House to see a production of The Scottish Reformation, a religious play sponsored by a local church. According to the New York Times account of the tragedy, stereopticon operator H. W. Fisher “must have turned the wrong valve. There was a long, drawn out hissing noise that frightened the women and children.” In the ensuing rush, someone overturned a kerosene tank, which fueled the stage footlights; the kerosene ignited and set fire to the scenery and curtains.

The fire flashed over quickly, causing the audience to panic. Insufficient exits, locked exits, flammable decorations and furnishings, and the lack of a fire sprinkler system resulted in 170 deaths. Additionally, the two existing fire escapes were difficult to use, since escaping patrons would have to climb over a three-foot window sill. This would have been virtually impossible for an audience that has been described as primarily older women and young children – two populations that have (for different reasons) limited mobility.

According to the Times, the proportion of victims was about nine females to one male.

Contemporary news reports tell of men trampling women and children in their rush to get out. And – as we have seen at the Iroquois Theatre, the Triangle Shirtwaist factory, the Cocoanut Grove, the Rhythm Club, the Beverly Hills Supper Club and the Station Nightclub – rescuers found bodies piled high by the primary entrance.

This fire affected the Boyertown community much more than it would have in a major city. Boyertown, at the time, had about 2000 inhabitants; the small-town setting ensured that everybody in town had a personal relationship to at least one victim.

WFMZ-TV (Channel 69, Philadelphia) produced a one-hour documentary on the fire; it may be available for purchase through the station.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The NRA Tries Again. Morons.

Back in March of 2006, I wrote about the "forced entry" laws being pushed by the gun nuts at the NRA. That post concerned the general concepts of "forced entry" laws: laws which require property owners -- regardless of their own wishes -- to allow others to bring guns onto their private property.

The way these laws are drafted, there is no requirement that the gun owner have a logical reason for carrying, there is no requirement that the gun owner have a valid carry permit, there is no requirement that the gun owner notify the property owner he is carrying a gun in his vehicle. There is no requirement that the gun owner be free of mental disease. There is no restrictions as to the type of premises into which the gun owner brings a deadly weapon. There is no requirement that the gun owner even be sober, fer crissakes. The only restriction is that the gun owner cannot be a convicted felon. This means that it would be illegal to ban handguns from the premises of a workplace, school, bar, church, or even a prison.

The gun-totin' idiots from the NRA are trying, for the second time, to get this law passed in Georgia (and if Georgia, rebel stronghold that it is, didn't pass this the first time around, you know it's a bad law).

The last time I posted on the NRA, I received a number of comments (and a couple of thinly-veiled threats) from NRA supporters. Let me deal with that right now. If you want to support the NRA, that is your right and your business. If you want to carry a gun everywhere you go, to make up for your minuscule little prick, that is your business.

But bringing YOUR deadly weapon onto MY personal, private property is MY business... and I say, "No frickin' way, Bubba."

"If we get it this year, that's fantastic and a big win for law abiding Georgia gun owners," said NRA spokesperson Ashley Varner. "But if we don't get it, we'll be back."

Well, good for you, Varner.

A large number of private companies and professional associations are opposed to these laws, and for good reason. One interesting defense that has been raised is the "general duty" clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which requires employers to "furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees." Handguns are certainly likely to cause death. After all, that's what they're MADE for.

These laws would also violate any number of "Zero Tolerance" policies in place in schools and workplaces. (For more on "zero tolerance", see Randy Cassingham's website,

These "forced entry" laws being promulgated by the NRA are just one more indication of how badly out of touch the NRA is when it comes to reality.

From the "Credit Where Credit is Due" Dept

I saw Mike Huckabee on The Colbert Report last night, and I have to give the man credit. Huckleberry is a dominionist, Bible-thumpin' southern cracker. But he had the intestinal fortitude to go on Colbert, knowing full well (I hope) that it is a satirical look at the news. He knew (or should have known) that he would be ridiculed before a couple of million people.

And he went ahead and did it.

Being able to laugh at themselves is a skill that most Republicans will never have. But Huck did it, and seemed to have a good time doing it.

The man deserves credit for that.

No, I'm still not going to vote for him. Personally, I think women should have just as many rights as I do as a male. he's too damned conservative for me. And his dominionist leanings scare the shit out of me.

But he does have balls.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

"Prearing for the Last Attack," Part Whatever...

A number of times in the past, I have accused the bush administration, the Department of Homeland Security, the Transportation Security Administration, and/or FEMA of "preparing for the last attack," a phrase I swiped from security guru Bruce Schneier.

A recent blog post at the NY Times shows Schneier and I are not alone in this belief. Writing in Jet Lagged, commercial airline pilot Patrick Smith (who also writes Salon's "Ask the Pilot" column), makes the point that the 9-11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were successful not because the terrorists were able to smuggle weapons aboard commercial jets, but because the hijackers broke the existing paradigm of hijackings:

In years past, a takeover meant hostage negotiations and standoffs; crews were trained in the concept of “passive resistance.” All of that changed forever the instant American Airlines Flight 11 collided with the north tower. What weapons the 19 men possessed mattered little; the success of their plan relied fundamentally on the element of surprise. And in this respect, their scheme was all but guaranteed not to fail.

Smith continues:

For several reasons — particularly the awareness of passengers and crew — just the opposite is true today. Any hijacker would face a planeload of angry and frightened people ready to fight back. Say what you want of terrorists, they cannot afford to waste time and resources on schemes with a high probability of failure. And thus the September 11th template is all but useless to potential hijackers.

Yet it is this "template" to which DHS and TSA fanatically adhere.

Smith's piece -- which should be another must-read (Gawd, I'm finding a lot of those these days) -- is a thoughtful, detailed analysis of why our current airline security program is destined to fail.

One You MUST Read...

Jurassic Pork has a post up at Pottersville entitled "Are You a Victim of Domestic Violence?" It concerns the situation encountered by the daughter of one of JP's regular readers. Taylor, the daughter, "was brutalized by her (now) ex-boyfriend."

The piece is a must-read, especially for anyone who has dealt with a domestic violence survivor.

Obviously, I do not know what it's like from the victim's perspective; I guess I've been fortunate that way. But I have been involved with a couple of DV survivors, and it is not an easy thing to deal with.

As JP points out, many DV survivors feel they cannot escape the abuse, because they have children, or they have nowhere to go, but sometimes they also believe -- no matter how mistakenly -- that they somehow "deserve" it. It should go without saying that no one "deserves" this kind of treatment.

Let me repeat that:


Back in the days when I was a cop, I responded to many domestic violence calls (and even got whacked myself, with a cast-iron skillet, as I tried to arrest a guy when his wife wanted him left alone). The training in those days (the 70's and 80's) was much less comprehensive than it is now, but even then, battered women returning to their batterers -- or finding new abusive relationships -- was a common occurrence.

Today, fortunately, there are many more resources available to battered women. JP has links to a number of them; you can also get additional information from local social services agencies, the police, and countless websites.

In my case, I dated a woman who was a DV survivor (we lived about a thousand miles apart, so initially it was a long-distance relationship). She told me early on that her ex-husband had smacked her around, and had exhibited all the other behaviors JP discusses. She had two grown children who were out on their own, so she had a somewhat easier time making her break. She said she couldn't figure out why she always made him so angry. Having been through many DV training sessions as a cop (although I was by NO means a specialist), I explained that it wasn't her, it was him, that his sense of failure and low self-esteem was manifesting itself in violence towards her.

About a year into our relationship, after I had moved to the city where she lived (yeah, I know... way too early, under the circumstances, but....), I discovered that she had not divorced her husband as she had claimed; she had simply moved out. She hadn't even gotten a legal separation. I also found she had continued to go out with her husband on dates, even though he continued to abuse her both verbally and psychologically (although not physically).

She told me one day she was moving back in with him. After all, he had been in treatment for "over a year" and -- apparently -- she considered him "cured." She also said she didn't deserve anyone like me (like I'm any great shakes as a person). She also confessed that he hadn't hit her, he had merely shaken wet hands in her face.

I saw them about a month later in a shopping mall. Her arm was in a cast, and the big sunglasses she was wearing didn't begin to cover the black eyes. I did a little snooping and discovered neighbors had called the cops during one of their fights. The cops arrested him; the next morning, she threw his bail.

I learned a lesson from that.

I swore to never again become involved with a DV survivor, no matter how wonderful, or smart, or beautiful (or rich) she might be. I had seen something special in my lady, something that she couldn't see herself. To lose her back to a drunken, violent asshole like her husband was almost more than I could bear. The emotional and psychological toll was tremendous. You see, I have self-esteem issues also, so I had to deal with thinking "This schmuck, this worthless pile of shit, was better for her than I am?!?"

Was that cowardly of me? Was it selfish? Yes, it was. But I knew I could do nothing more for her; if she wanted to try again to escape, she would need much more help -- emotional, psychological, legal, and practical -- than I could provide. And losing her under these circumstances left me so drained emotionally that I withdrew from society for a couple of years.

I went off on that tangent not to trivialize Taylor's experiences (remember Taylor? This post is about her), but to add the reminder that domestic violence affects not only the immediate victim, but those around her, be they family or friends.

The scars -- physical and mental -- last forever.