Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Lost Liberty Hotel - Supreme Payback

A friend of mine called today to let me know of something he had just heard on the Rush Limbaugh show; that an effort is being organized to attempt to build a hotel on the property containing Supreme Court Justice David Souter's home.

The only word for this is BRILLIANT.

David Souter is one of the Justices who ruled that it is OK for communities to take private property from homeowners in order to benefit another private owner if there is a tax benefit to be expected for the community. If Justice Souter actually loses his home to a private developer and is forced to move because of this Supreme Court decision, it would rank as one of the greatest paybacks of all time.

Details are still sketchy as this is breaking news, but what details there are can be found here.

I love it, I absolutely love it...

Thursday, June 23, 2005

News from Afghanistan – Part 2

I emailed my wife’s niece, asking her if there was anything that I could do from here to help her out. Here is her reply;
Thanks so much for the care package! I feel so sorry for these kids. They have less than nothing. Often times the kids will take our empty medicine boxes and water bottles for toys. It's pretty bad when our trash is better than anything available to them.

I also talked with one of our Civil Affairs guys about your request since they handle a lot of the humanitarian aid and construction projects. I asked if there were specific needs; unfortunately everything goes into one huge pot that the military and government pulls from. He said your best bet is just to send everything through me and we can distribute them when we do our MEDCAPS or humanitarian aid drops. We visit orphanages and lots of remote villages, so eventually things will get distributed. The only other thing I can think of is UN or USAID. They are out here with us, and they give money, fertilizer and seed out to the locals, but I'm pretty sure that would boil down to just "cutting a check."

The hardest part is that most of these people will turn around and sell what you give them. You give them a bag of wheat or a tractor, and you'll find it in town being sold the next day. It's just how they think; its good "business practice" to cash in on something of value. They haven't quite got the philosophy of learning to fish for themselves.

Anything that you send would be used and appreciated for the soldiers, but in all honesty, very few soldiers are readers. Most soldiers would prefer to watch a movie, play video games or sleep. I think it's just a sign of our times, as reading has taken a back seat to other "high tech" hobbies. There are a few readers like myself, but we are few and far between, and we usually swap books with other book worms on camp. I will certainly place the books in the library and our other book drop areas for the soldiers who like to read.

It is so sad the cruelty to animals! I guess things are no better in Saudi after reading your email. I was passing by this poor, mangy, abused dog, and it broke my heart into a million pieces. Then it jumped on the vehicle and started barking and growling at me! It scared the living daylights out of me! Especially since I had my window rolled down and I was driving. Sadly, we are the closest thing to an animal rescue. We have adopted a few dogs despite a very adamant policy that we are not supposed to keep animals on the camp. A few soldiers help take care of the dogs and when the military vets come out they get their shots and dewormer. Animal shelters are not something that we will see in this country any time soon. Dogs have very little value here, and I don't think there is much point in pursuing that route for aid.

As I get out more and get a better feel for what I need, I will certainly let you know. School supplies are such a huge one. The kids are always begging for a book bag, notebook, or pens. In some areas a pen will literally start a riot. But, if I can help out a few children here and there, perhaps the kindness will make a difference when they to get a pen from a GI. Like all kids, they get super excited when they get candy. Most will share with their siblings, but I've seen some vicious fights over a candy cane. What can you do? We have to keep driving through town and hope we are doing more good than harm.

On a related a note, it sounds crazy, but these people need glasses! If there were some way for people to donate their old reading glasses, it would be better than nothing even if the prescription is not right on. All these old people complain they can't see, because they don't understand that they need glasses in order to see well. That would really help out some of the elders. That is all I can think of off hand, but if I think of more I will certainly let my super rich uncle know!
Some of her responses were to specific questions I had. Her comment about reading material was in response to me asking if they wanted to be put on the “Operation Paperback” list – a group that sends out paperback books to our soldiers around the world. Her comment about helping to alleviate animal cruelty in Afghanistan was in response to my asking if I could specifically help in that area.

And her comment about my being her “super rich uncle” is a family joke.

When I read the request for “old reading glasses”, I immediately thought of the Lions Club. This is one of the areas that they are heavily involved in. I’ve initiated contacts with them and hope to get a few of the millions of recycled glasses they currently have warehoused shipped to Reiko. I found a few NGO’s that donate eyesight and vision services to third-world countries, but none of them are in Afghanistan. While this remains a combat-zone, it appears that our military is the only one providing these services. As I make progress in this (or not), I’ll post updates.

Monday, June 20, 2005

News from Afghanistan

My wife’s niece, Reiko, was recently posted to Ghazni, Afghanistan. She is part of the MEDCAP (Medical Civilian Assistance Program) team. She’s sending updates of her experiences there to family and close friends. I’ve received her permission to post the non-personal portion of these emails on this blog. Following is her first email from Ghazni.
Hey Everyone!

Well, I am officially settled into my new home in Ghazni. I spent a short amount of time in Asadabad before I was moved to Ghazni. Asadabad was situated in a valley and was pretty nice despite the fact we were attacked by rockets the first night I arrived. The few days I was there I worked in the local clinic. Lots of burns, wounds and rashes on the locals. More medics were needed in Ghazni, so I was moved a few days later.

Ghazni is arid, hot and dusty. The people are a bit more hostile on the outskirts of town, and I've already taken fire since I've been here. I just returned from a week long MEDCAP (Medical Civilian Assistance Program). I cannot even begin to describe the types of conditions these people endure. You see infections that have been untreated for so long that you wonder how any one could survive the pain or septic shock. Some of the women are treated so poorly, that the men won't even let them see us for any type of medical care. Everyone suffers from malnutrition; the children have worms and birth defects that would never be seen in the United States.

The animal abuse out here is heartbreaking. The locals "punish" dogs by cutting off their ears, tails, or breaking their backs and hind legs. I've literally had to turn away from looking at the animals while driving so as not to focus on how badly they've been abused. Most of the animals have rabies and for obvious reasons hate humans. They will chase and jump up on the vehicles. It's like something out of a Stephen King novel.

I'm pretty well situated, but I will be doing many more MEDCAPS in the future. If anyone would like to send a care package, I am asking for pens, notebooks, candy, and small stuffed animals for the local children. Many of the children do not have pens to go to school with, so they often ask for pens and notebooks. Small stuffed animals help comfort the children while we provide medical care. Candy that is sort of heavy is the best kind to send. Jolly Ranchers, or anything that can be distributed quickly and easily while we drive through villages on the way to the MEDCAP site. We can't stop our vehicles, so I don't want any candy that is so light that it could fall/roll under the car tires. The kids get so excited that they'll rush the cars to grab the candy, so I have to be able to launch it to them from a safe distance (imagine Mardi gras in Mexico). Please don't send anything too large, expensive, or flashy as they can quickly cause riots between children. Inexpensive is the best way to go. They have very little to begin with, and won't know the difference between a 5 cent pen or a $5 pen or toy.

Thanks for your support! Miss everyone and have a great summer!

Love,

Reiko
I’ve replied to Reiko, asking her if there is anything else we can do to help. I’ll post any updates as I get them.

My wife and I are going to be sending a “care package” (or 2) to Reiko in the next few days. If you would like to send one too, please email me and I’ll send you the address to ship your donations to.

If you want to help reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan (or Iraq), there are many ways to do so. Go to the America Supports You website to learn more.

Stay safe Reiko – we’re all very proud of you.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

A unique Father's Day present

My 13 year old son spends a lot of time on the computer. I don't mind this as he's not obsessed by it and has plenty of other activities to keep him "balanced". He's created his own website and has gotten very handy with PhotoShop. And lately, he's become very interested in making music with a computer. He uses the Fruity-Loop tool package and collaborates online with other aspiring musicians / DJ's.

For Father's Day, he made me a song - an 8+ minute techo-trance creation. If I ever get my own website up and running, I'll post it - it's pretty cool.

Thanks, Daniel - it's a very cool gift...

Riley Fox – Another blow to the Illinois Criminal Justice System

And so, after months of delay, the DNA test comes back negative – it was not Kevin Fox’s DNA on the Duct Tape after all. It’s another black eye for prosecutors here in Illinois. They were “sure they had their man”. They were “confident” that the evidence would support their case.

I’ve written about this case before; here, here. and here. I wrote about how much this case reminded me of the Jeanine Nicarico – Rolando Cruz fiasco. In that case, Prosecutors were so sure that Cruz was the guilty one, they foreclosed all other possible leads. They ignored evidence, including a confession, which pointed to Brian Dugan as Jeanine’s real killer. Even after DNA evidence excluded Cruz and implicated Dugan, they still prosecuted Cruz.

At least in this case, once prosecutors had the DNA results in their hands, they released Kevin Fox. But there are still important, unresolved issues here;

Prosecutors say Kevin Fox confessed to the killing, but Fox says the confession was coerced. I have to believe it was because they let him go. This brings up, again, the issue of how reliable confessions really are, especially when they’re not taped and not subject to any independent review. It points, again, to the bias that prosecutors have towards getting a conviction when they, and everyone else in the court system, should have a bias towards finding justice.

An ABC news story on June 17th said that “All the investigators who originally looked into the murder have reportedly been reassigned.” The current county prosecutor blames his predecessor for the mistakes (totally ignoring the fact that he, himself let the DNA in this case sit for many months). So, once again there’s no accountability for those who put an innocent man in jail.

And, most importantly, why does it take so long to have a DNA test done in a criminal case anyway? You can get a DNA test to establish paternity in just a few days, from multiple privately-run laboratories. As a side note, the DNA testing in this case had to be turned over to a private lab when the FBI lab proved unable to get it done in a timely fashion. And how long it takes to do a test is important, or it should be. Because of this delay, two really bad things happened here. First an innocent man spent 8 months in jail. And second, police and prosecutors have to start their investigations all over again, and this time on a trail that is over a year old. What if this maniac has struck again while Kevin Fox languished in jail?

I have a suggestion. They should turn over the DNA to another lab, just to confirm the results. Yes, Kevin Fox is probably innocent. But let’s make really sure.

I wish the prosecutors and police luck in finding the killer, I truly do. But their delay has made it harder on themselves and has shown, once again, that the Illinois Criminal Justice system is nothing to be proud of.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Terri Schiavo - the courts got it right

And so the Schiavo autopsy results are in. She DID have massive brain damage and she COULD NOT swallow to feed and hydrate herself. There is no reasonable evidence that she was ever abused or traumatized by her husband (or anyone else). Performing an MRI scan on her, which many people were demanding, would have resulted in even more severe injury to her brain. And it was additionally determined that she was BLIND. Just another stake in the arguments of those who claimed that Terri was “consciously following the movements of objects held in front of her”.

It’s enormously ironic. The only known therapy which MIGHT help people in Terri’s condition in the future would be with the use of Stem Cells. And the same religious fundamentalists who were so determined to keep Terri alive at all costs are largely opposed to this type of medical research.

The autopsy results are clear and unambiguous for anyone who actually takes the time to read them. But then again so was the GAL report prepared as part of the court proceedings and that didn’t stop the lies and misinformation from being spread.

I wonder how long it will be before those who opposed letting Terri die begin attacking those who performed the autopsy. If you can’t attack the message, then attack the messenger. I predict that will happen shortly.

It would be refreshing to see the Hannitys, the Frists, the Malkins, the Bush brothers, religious fundamentalists, etc. acknowledge the errors in their arguments and actions and apologize to Judge Greer for the absolutely disgusting comments they made about him. But I’m sure they’ll be snowboarding in Hell before that ever happens.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Michael Jackson – Not Guilty

I’ll admit it – I’ve always been a big fan of Michael Jackon’s music. But his legal problems, especially alleged child abuse, made me very queasy.

I’m not one who followed this trial every day, but I was driving to a store and happened to have the radio on when they said they were going to announce the verdict. I waited in my car in the parking lot for several extra minutes until they finally read it. My personal prediction was that he would be found not guilty of the major charges but perhaps would be found guilty of some lesser ones.

I don’t personally know if he’s guilty of child abuse or not and I didn’t review the evidence in this case. All I can hope for is that the jury got it right. Our legal system and the scientific method are the only two formal systems we have for deciding the truth of important (and sometimes not so important) matters so one has to hope that they did it right here.

Michael, here’s some free advice. Don’t sleep with any children in your bed unless they’re your own kids. It just doesn’t look good…

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Marijuana as medicine – Supreme Injustice

And so the Supreme Court, in its wisdom, has said that it’s OK for the DEA to continue enforcing the Federal Government’s unconstitutional “War on Drugs” and to prosecute those who smoke marijuana for medicinal reasons. Doctors can prescribe morphine, but not marijuana. What a travesty.

The 9th and 10th Amendments to the Federal Constitution clearly state that the Federal Government has a limited, defined set of powers and responsibilities. And nowhere in the Constitution does it give the Federal government the power or responsibility to regulate what one can eat, drink or smoke.. Yet the President and the Congress continue this insane assault on our liberties and to expand government’s power and reach.

I sometimes feel that getting mad at politicians for doing so is as foolish as getting mad at a dog for pissing on a fire hydrant – they just can’t help themselves. But the Supreme Court is supposed to know better. They are supposed to be the final barrier to government tyranny.

Too bad they’ve, once again, abdicated their responsibility…

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