Steve G.

Posts Tagged ‘incarceration’

I bet the drug warriors are proud of themselves ….

In Big Brother, Children, Congress, Corruption, Courts and Justice System, Crime, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Drug War, Health, Law, Media, People in the news, US Government on April 1, 2008 at 10:39 pm

Girl dies of cancer after dying wish of seeing incarcerated fatherA man serving his final year of a five-year sentence for drugs fought for months to see his dying 10-year-old daughter. Yet it took public outcry and overwhelming media attention – plus contact from his Congressman – before he was allowed to see her, and even then for only for 20 minutes.

People are given early release from prison all the time, long before they have served 80% of their sentence. Yes, he was in the federal system where there is no parole, but there is still no reason why this man could not have been given compassionate early release.  Failing that, he could have been released until his daughter died, then returned to finish his sentence. His little girl was dying of brain cancer, for cripe’s sake, and all she wanted was her daddy. Her father was not in prison for a violent crime, and he poses no threat to society if released. He is in a minimum-security facility, after all.

Anyone who thinks this situation did not call for compassionate early release is truly an evil person. I’m not advocating that he should have been released for his own reasons; I’m advocating that he should have been released early for his daughter’s sake. Now this completely innocent little girl is yet another victim of the war on drugs, because she suffered and died without her beloved daddy by her side.

A 10-year-old girl died of brain cancer early this morning, shortly after receiving what her family said was her dying wish — a visit from her incarcerated father.

“She was holding on to see her father,” Ed Yaeger said of his niece Jayci Yaeger.

Jayci’s father, Jason Charles Yaeger, is serving the final year of a five-year sentence for a drug conviction in a minimum security prison camp in South Dakota, a 3½-hour drive from his daughter who was in hospice care in Lincoln, Neb.

Officials, however, had denied Jason Charles Yaeger’s repeated requests for a furlough so he could spend more time with his daughter, who suffered from terminal brain cancer.

Under the supervision of prison officials, Jason Yaeger visited Jayci Wednesday for about 20 minutes — just days before she died.

“It’s just unfortunate that the visit was cut so short,” Ed Yaeger told ABC News.

The Yaegers are upset with prison officials because Jason Yaeger was not able to be with his daughter when she died.

“He was denied the proper good-bye,” Lori Yaeger, Jayci’s aunt, wrote in an e-mail Thursday.

Jason Charles Yaeger had pleaded repeatedly with prison officials to honor the bureau’s apparent policy of allowing furloughs and transfers under “extraordinary” circumstances, but was rebuffed time and again, he told ABC News in a telephone interview from prison last week.

In a letter to Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska — dated Feb. 20 and obtained by ABC News — a regional director from the Department of Justice wrote that “although Mr. Yaeger believes his daughter’s severe medical condition constitutes ‘extraordinary justification,’ a review of his case reveals this specific request was … reviewed … and denied … because his circumstances were not deemed to rise to the level of extraordinary.”

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The congressman had requested information about the denials of the furlough or transfer.

Last week, after ABCNEWS.com published a story on Jayci, the Bureau of Prisons released a statement saying that officials there “have reviewed inmate Yaeger’s request for a compassionate release and have determined his situation does not meet the criteria.”

Jayci, named for her father’s initials, had been fighting for her life since she was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 3, seven years ago. But in the last six months, she had taken a severe turn downward.

Doctors declared her condition terminal in October. Last month, they found they couldn’t transfer her to a children’s hospital closer to her Lincoln, Neb., home because they said she wouldn’t survive the trip, Lori Yaeger said.

You can read the rest of this infuriating article here.

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A Conversation With Mike Gravel

In Civil Liberties, Congress, Constitutional Rights, Courts and Justice System, Crime, Democracy, Democrats, Drug War, Global Warming, History, Iraq War, Law, Libertarian, Libertarian Convention, Libertarian Party-US, Medical Marijuana, Politics, Presidential Candidates, Second Amendment, Taxation, US Government on March 28, 2008 at 1:21 am

Mike GravelEarlier today, I had an opportunity to speak by telephone with Senator Mike Gravel, a presidential candidate who has switched from the Democratic Party to the Libertarian Party. Senator Gravel welcomed my questions, and I had a very positive impression of him. He is extremely well spoken, and quite passionate about many of the issues near and dear to the Libertarian Party.

My purpose, of course, was to ascertain why he decided to switch parties, and whether he truly holds Libertarian views as opposed to only conveniently holding libertarian views in order to get the LP nomination. I quickly discovered that his most basic belief, which he has provably held for over 30 years, is thoroughly libertarian: the right of the American people to bypass and even overturn Congress and the President, when those elected officials act in contradiction to the will of the people.

Senator Gravel believes that “the American people are not empowered to do anything, and this is wrong.” He therefore believes Americans should have the ability to directly make laws through federal ballot initiatives. At present, many states allow citizens to present laws directly through initiatives which, if supported widely enough, will be placed on the ballot to potentially become law; an example of this is Proposition 215, which legalized medical marijuana in California. Senator Gravel believes citizens should be able to do the same thing on the federal level, under his National Initiative For Democracy.

The government is a tool, the people can use it. But if the people have the direct power to use it, then you’re going to see the government as a real tool, not the tool you have when the special interests determine how the tool of government is handled, by the lobbyists, who pay for the campaigns, who manipulate you to vote for them. That’s the process that has to change.

When he says that the government has the duty to release information to the public, so they can make sound decisions, he is not blowing smoke, nor is he promoting something he hasn’t already done himself. During the Vietnam War, Senator Gravel released the Pentagon Papers, reading thousands of pages into the Congressional Record, so that Americans would finally know the truth behind that war; and his defiance, by informing Americans of information which was previously viewed as classified, was a pivotal moment in American history.

Under his National Initiative For Democracy we, as citizens, could end the war, end the federal income tax, or pass a federal law allowing Americans to carry guns openly; we could make any law we want, as long as there is sufficient citizen support for it. Senator Gravel says that “the real power in this country does not lie with the leadership, with Congress or with the President; it lies with you, the American citizen”. This program would in fact become an important part of the checks and balances system, which Senator Gravel believes should have been in force from the beginning, so citizens could more easily keep Congress and the President in check.

Of course, when he was running for President in the Democratic Party, the Democrats weren’t very happy with that idea. I asked the Senator whether they oppose it because it threatens their power, or if they oppose it because they believe the average American is unable to make sound legislative decisions. He immediately replied, “Both.” He went on to explain that “the average person in Congress believes they are more intelligent than the average American, and there are a few in Congress who are very intelligent; but at the same time the average American is smarter than the average Congressman, and perfectly capable of making sound decisions.”

His suspicion of the leading presidential candidates was made clear when he said, “Don’t trust anyone who says they have all the answers. Nobody has all the answers; I don’t have all the answers. But the American public knows what is best for them, and I trust them to make those decisions.”

Talking war with Senator Gravel, for someone my age who lived during Vietnam, is like getting into a time machine, and going back to the last destructive war this country faced, when he forced a filibuster to end the draft, and thus end the Vietnam war. Senator Gravel was a maverick, and he defied Congress again and again.

As you may recall, even before we sent troops to Iraq, he warned the American public that there were no WMDs in Iraq. I asked him why, in his opinion, President Bush lied about the presence of WMDs. “Oil. He wanted to get control of the oil, and it’s all just more American imperialism and the military-industrial complex.” He went a step further, and agreed that Bush and Cheney should not only be impeached, but that they should face trial for war crimes. “Americans must stop thinking we’re above the law,” he stated. He believes that the United States should stop getting involved in foreign conflicts altogether, and “stop being the world’s policeman”.

Senator Gravel is completely against the War on Drugs, which he categorizes as a failure. “We spend 50 to 85 billion dollars a year on a drug war that does no good to anybody other than criminalizing people who shouldn’t be criminals. We have 2.3 million people in jail right now, and half of them shouldn’t even be in jail …. if you want marijuana, why not go to a package store? A fifth of gin will do more damage to you, to your health, than will a pack of marijuana. As for the rest of the drugs, why not legalize them and regulate them? We put addicts in jail when they aren’t criminals, but there they learn to be better criminals, to steal and commit crime to feed their habit. It’s a public health problem, and we need to solve it as a public health problem, and save all this money we’re spending to keep people in jail for drugs, $30,000 a year for each of them.”

He is therefore in support of decriminalizing and regulating all drugs. “If you need to get some coke, go to a doctor and get a prescription. If you’re an addict, you’ll have to register so we can help you. But the way we do it now, we catch you with drugs, we throw you in jail, and you don’t get any help.”

With regard to whether legalizing all drugs would increase addiction, he states, “That’s what they told us about alcohol, during Prohibition. Alcohol is more addictive than marijuana. Should you go to jail for having marijuana, when you don’t go to jail for having whiskey and alcohol? It’s a stupid policy, it’s gutless, and it’s damaging our inner cities. Seventy percent of the people in jail are African-Americans, and most of it is for drugs. It’s gutless on the part of our leaders to not solve this, to not treat it as a public health problem rather than a criminal problem ….. For those who say we have a drug problem, yeah, we have a problem, and it’s with stupidity at the highest levels of our government.”

As for those in prison for drug offenses, he would educate nonviolent drug offenders – whether it’s a college degree or technical training – then grant them a full pardon so they can not only be released from prison, but also have the tools they need to immediately become fully productive members of society.

He is for Second Amendment rights, saying “I have a weapon, and I’ll fight to keep it.” Insofar as how openly Americans should be able to carry weapons, he referred me back to the federal ballot initiative, saying that the American people should decide that issue.

When I asked him about reducing the size of government as well as its spending, he agreed that it has gotten completely out of hand, and that severe cutbacks should be made. The first steps would be dismantling the IRS (which would no longer be needed with his national sales tax program), and the “War On Drugs” arm of the DEA (since all drugs would be legalized). He also believes that “if we empower the people to make laws, they will shrink the government.”

I could actually hear the thrill in his voice when one question pointed out that libertarians are, by and large, for open borders. He believes that we have so many illegal immigrants here because our own laws caused them to not have work available in their own country; he states that 1.3 million farming jobs were lost in Mexico when NAFTA was passed. For that reason, he believes repealing NAFTA would cure most of the illegal immigration, as more jobs are created in their home countries. As for those who are already here and don’t want to leave, he wants to simply “put them on the path to citizenship.” He believes that we should create completely open borders, similar to what is in place in Europe, whereby citizens could cross into or from Canada or Mexico, with no questions asked.

It is undeniable that the federal government is deeply in debt, and must raise revenue. Senator Gravel, however, is opposed to the income tax, since it over-taxes the poor and middle-class, and grossly undertaxes the wealthy. He therefore proposes dismantling the IRS altogether. He would replace the income tax with a 23% sales tax, and give a rebate each month to every American family to pay for necessities. Senator Gravel believes that this would allow the poor and middle class, who spend mostly on necessities such as food and housing, to have far more disposable income. He believes this program will create the same amount of federal revenue, but in a manner which is far more fair to the poor and working class.

“I don’t know whether it’s a step to end taxation, but at this point it is a good way to fund needed revenue. Right now we tax income and investments, and investment income is taxed at a lower rate than income. We don’t tax the wealthy, and that’s what’s wrong with our system.” He again reiterated that the American people could make the final decision regarding whether federal taxation should eventually end, through his ballot initiative program.

Senator Gravel believes that Social Security funds should be left alone, rather than used by the government for other purposes as is now the norm. At this point, most Americans have already paid into Social Security. He wants everyone’s Social Security funds invested in the free market, and he wants everyone to get an accounting of their money and interest earned, just as if they had invested it with a bank; and if they die before spending what they have invested and earned, he believes that the surplus in their Social Security account should go to their heirs.

As for private investments, he believes his sales tax program with refunds for necessities will give the average American the additional funds needed to save in an IRA or other investment vehicle, as additional retirement savings to supplement what they have already put into Social Security.

He is aware that many libertarians are against Universal Health Care, but believes his plan will meet libertarian standards. He came up with the idea of a Healthcare Security System 30 years ago. Senator Gravel pointed out that he knows the healthcare system “up front and personal”. One year, he ended up with over $150,000 in healthcare costs, and went bankrupt as a result.

He believes the Democratic health care plan, wherein businesses are forced to provide health insurance for their employees, is “the wrong way to go, because it is not the responsibility of businesses to provide healthcare; their job is to be competitive in the global marketplace.” So instead, he wants to enact a Universal Single Payor Voucher plan, similar to the plan which the Veterans Administration has in place. Every American would be given a health care voucher. The vouchers would have a very modest co-pay, and a very modest deductible. Americans would have their choice of hospitals, their choice of doctors, and a choice of five or six plans. There would be no exclusions for preexisting conditions.

He doesn’t think we need to raise taxes in order to provide health care for all Americans; we just need to make our healthcare system considerably more efficient than it is at present. He believes that if we computerize healthcare records, it will streamline the system, because he says 30% of healthcare cost is in paperwork. He intends to provide every American with basic healthcare services, and if they want more or different coverage, they can choose to buy additional or supplemental plans in the free market.

He is aware of Ron Paul’s belief that the Federal Reserve is responsible for the inflationary effects which are harmful to poor and middle-class Americans. Senator Gravel wants to reexamine the Federal Reserve, and study the gold standard with an eye toward a global monetary system, which will better protect the value of our money in a global marketplace.

Senator Gravel was pivotal in shepherding the Alaska Pipeline though Congress, but at this point he would oppose any effort to drill for oil in the Alaskan Wildlife Preserve. He states that instead, he wants us to end our dependence upon oil within five years. His goal would be to replace oil with alternative energy sources.

I asked Senator Gravel if there was any one moment – a light bulb moment, if you will – in which he realized that he was a libertarian. He stated, “Not really. It’s an awareness that goes back 30, 40 years, that the best way to to change things was from inside, within the power structure. Now, it’s time for a change. I am joining the Libertarian Party to become its presidential nominee. I can take the Libertarian Party to a level they’ve never been before. I am against war, I am against taxing income, I am against the war on drugs. I am for smaller government, open borders, and the ability of the American people to self-govern. I am a libertarian. I scored seven out of seven on Reason’s “Seven Ways To Win Votes” – I am for internet gambling, for medical marijuana (but I go much further than that, by decriminalizing all drugs) …. so I’m more libertarian than Ron Paul, because he scored lower. And I will work very hard as the Libertarian Party’s candidate, I will get the libertarians the national playing field they need to grow. And not just libertarians, either. I will raise the playing field for all third parties.”

All in all, Senator Gravel impressed me as sincere, intelligent, and passionate about libertarian issues. I did not at all get the impression that he is a pseudo-libertarian; I think he’s the real deal, because his actions even decades ago indicated that he is a libertarian. He left the Democratic Party because he realized that they are not receptive to his ballot initiative plan, and are not in agreement with his healthcare plan, his opposition to the War on Drugs, and many other issues. He has the presence, he has the speaking ability and dynamic personality, and he has the name recognition and contacts to place us on a more even playing field.

The Democrats’ loss may very well be our gain.

Senator Gravel suggested that those interested in more information about his views read his book “Citizen Power: A Mandate For Change”, which can be ordered online here. It is also available on Amazon.com, but their new book price is actually several dollars higher than the price on his website. Amazon’s description of the book is as follows.

As author of Citizen Power in 1971, Senator Mike Gravel determined that much of what he wrote then is apropos in America today; hence, the release of Citizen Power: A Mandate for Change that reflects the accuracy of his evaluation of problems then, his current position on a number of issues facing America now, and the process that Americans can undertake to become empowered as lawmakers in partnership with their elected officials. Most chapters of Citizen Power: A Mandate for Change present material from the original book, as well as new information and revised positions. The exceptions are Chapter 2: The National Initiative, and Chapter 7: The War on Drugs. All other chapters cover similar topics in both books, but with the senator’s fresh insights for today’s world. Each chapter ends with how the National Initiative, once enacted, could help solve the problems presented in that chapter. The Table of Contents is as follows: Chapter 1 – Now It’s the Citizen’s Turn Chapter 2 – The National Initiative Chapter 3 – America’s Failure in Education Chapter 4 – Tax Reform – The Fair Tax Chapter 5 – The Health Security System Chapter 6 – National Environmental & Energy Policy Chapter 7 – The War on Drugs Chapter 8 – Crime & Punishment Chapter 9 – The Shroud of Secrecy Chapter 10 – American Imperialism Chapter 11 – Global Governance Chapter 12 – Who Stole the American Dream?

All three customer reviews give the book five stars. There is a “look inside the book” feature, and based on that material and given that it was originally written in 1971, then updated recently, I don’t think there is any real question whether Senator Gravel is a libertarian. Based upon his statements in that book, it appears that he was a libertarian even before there was a Libertarian Party.

Here are the reviews:

It’s all about lawmaking!,

February 25, 2008
By Goodrich (Dearborn, MI USA) – See all my reviews

Those who still want Mike Gravel’s original Citizen Power, but can’t afford to pay over $200 for the few rare copies that are available, will be pleased with the new Citizen Power: A Mandate for Change. In some chapters, Senator Gravel has incorporated substantial excerpts from his original book and then updated his thoughts on each issue, often admitting that his position on a certain issue in the 1970s was naive and that he now views that issue with a mature mind. This is a refreshingly candid look at a presidential candidate’s positions on key issues facing the American people today. Most importantly, however, is Chapter 2 and supplemental appendices about the National Initiative, which Senator Gravel and some of the nation’s top constitutional scholars crafted to empower citizens as lawmakers; after all, lawmaking is the cornerstone of democracy. All subsequent chapters address how the National Initiative for Democracy (NI4D)would work to alleviate problems, such as healthcare and education.

From ending the war on drugs to restructuring the UN,

March 8, 2008

Senator Gravel has produced an engaging book! He presents complex and difficult issues facing the US and the world in understandable prose and proposes solutions that call for transformational change. In response to a legislative process controlled by corporations and special interests Gravel proposes the National Initiative on Democracy that would empower the people to legislate through direct democracy in national referendums on issues. In response to ineffective global governance Gravel calls for a restructuring of the UN including an end to veto powers for the permanent members of the Security Council. I was delighted to see his position on American exceptionalism. Granted that we are #1 in the world in the numbers of people in our prisons, on many key measures such as education, healthcare we are far from being the best in the world. I was most pleased by the optimism of Mike Gravel’s vision for the future of America in the world. He sees solutions to problems such as global warming, energy, and national security through greater cooperation with other countries. The beginning of his space policy statement on page 59 is particularly encouraging: “SPACE REPRESENTS A LIMITLESS FRONTIER for humankind. Laws modeled on the Law of the Sea need to be agreed upon to make energy, natural resources, and knowledge available in a manner that fosters greater cooperation, rather than greater competition, among all nations. In keeping with this spirit, space must not be militarized.”

Gravel’s Populist Manifesto,

March 19, 2008
By D. Douglas (California) – See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)

An eloquent and lucid political manifesto by an increasingly refreshing, honest and prudent politician.
Citizen Power showcases a myriad of power-to-the-people proposals, and sways from your politics as usual demagoguery, while Gravel’s prose is filled with solemnity and earnestness, contrary to his political opponents.
The book’s motif is the National Initiative for Democracy, a populist program that will enable ordinary citizens to become legislatures, moreover eliminating large bureaucracies and big government lapdogs.
An emphasis is brought upon the military-industrial complex and its draconian, unproductive results. Suggesting the ultimate disintegration of the latter, if not grave consequences will ensue
Gravel’s proposals on education is most interesting, and offer an ingenious subsidiary, if utilized in orthodoxy, to our failing educational system.
The War on Drugs chapter was dismaying at least, and produced a sharp contempt for the activities our government continues to perpetuate.

I have probably forgotten important topics of this book, and my review is ultimately asymmetrical and lackluster. I can only recommend this fine book, so you can make your own judgments and discoveries.

Senator Gravel was kind enough to state that, if any of our readers have additional questions, I can phone him again to get those answers. Therefore, if you have any questions which aren’t answered here, post them and in about a week I will give him another call to get your answers for you.

Gravel announces Libertarian presidential run

In Congress, Global Warming, Guantanamo, Health, Iran, Libertarian Party-US, Politics, Presidential Candidates, Science, Taxation, Torture, US Government, Veterans, War on March 26, 2008 at 4:59 pm

Mike Gravel

A Personal Message from Mike

I wanted to update you on my latest plans before news gets out. Today, I am announcing my plan to join the Libertarian Party, because the Democratic Party no longer represents my vision for our great country. I wanted my supporters to get this news first, because you have been the ones who have kept my campaign alive since I first declared my candidacy on April 17, 2006.

The fact is, the Democratic Party today is no longer the party of FDR. It is a party that continues to sustain war, the military-industrial complex and imperialism — all of which I find anathema to my views.

By and large, I have been repeatedly marginalized in both national debates and in media exposure by the Democratic leadership, which works in tandem with the corporate interests that control what we read and hear in the media.

I look forward to advancing my presidential candidacy within the Libertarian Party, which is considerably closer to my values, my foreign policy views and my domestic views.

Please take a moment to make your most generous donation to my presidential campaign today. $10, $20, $50 — whatever you feel you can afford.

I want to thank you all for your continued support.

_______________________________

So, what are Gravel’s views on the issues? Here are some issue statements from his website:

The War in Iraq Senator Gravel’s position on Iraq remains clear and consistent: to commence an immediate and orderly withdrawal of all U.S. troops that will have them home within 120 days. The sooner U.S. troops are withdrawn, the sooner we can pursue aggressive diplomacy to bring an end to the civil war that currently consumes Iraq. Senator Gravel seeks to work with neighboring countries to lead a collective effort to bring peace to Iraq.

One of the leading opponents of the Vietnam War, Senator Gravel was one of the first current or former elected officials to publicly oppose the planned invasion of Iraq in 2002. He appeared on MSNBC prior to the invasion insisting that intelligence showed that there were indeed no weapons of mass destruction, that Iraq posed no threat to the United States and that invading Iraq was against America’s national interests and would result in a disaster of epic proportions for both the United States and the Iraqi people.

Today, more than four years into the invasion, the death toll of U.S. troops has climbed over 3,300 with over 50,000 more permanently maimed, some having lost limbs, others their sight. Tens of thousands more are afflicted with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and urgently need psychological care. The Iraqi civilian death toll nears three-quarters of a million, and still there remains no end in sight to the bloodshed.

As President, Senator Gravel will call for a U.S. corporate withdrawal from Iraq and hand over reconstruction contracts to Iraqi businesses which will empower Iraqi nationals to reconstruct their own country.

The National Initiative for Democracy Mike fully supports the National Initiative for Democracy. The NI4D is a way to bring legislative power back to the people. In many states, citizens can put measures on the ballot and Mike believes as citizens of the United States we should all have that power.

Iran and Syria Senator Gravel opposes a military confrontation with Iran and Syria and advocates a diplomatic solution to the current situation.

Global Warming/Climate Change Senator Gravel believes that global climate change is a matter of national security and survivability of the plant. As President, he will act swiftly to reduce America’s carbon footprint in the world by initiating legislation to tax carbon at the source and cap carbon emissions. he is also committed to leading the fight against global deforestation, which today is second only to the energy sector as a source of greenhouse gases. However, any legislation will have little impact on the global environment if we do not work together with other global polluters. China, India, and under-developed nations all work together fighting climate change can only be effective if it is a collective global effort. As President, Senator Gravel will see that the U.S. launches and leads a massive global scientific effort, integrating the world’s scientific and engineering community, to end energy dependence on oil and integrate the world scientific community in this task.

Progressive Taxes – A fair Tax Senator Gravel’s Progressive Fair Tax proposal calls for eliminating the IRS and the income tax and replacing it with a national sales tax on new products and services. To compensate for the tax on necessities, such as food, lodging, transportation and clothing, there would be a “rebate” to reimburse taxpayers. This would be paid in a monthly check from the government to all citizens. The focus on taxing new goods would also help tackle the global climate change problem.

Healthcare Senator Gravel advocates a universal healthcare system that provides equal medical services to all citizens, paid for by a retail sales tax (a portion of the Progressive Fair tax). Citizens would pay nothing for health benefits.

Reproductive Rights Senator Mike Gravel supports a woman’s right to decide if and when to have children. He also supports a woman’s right to make the difficult decision about abortion without interference by government authorities. Comprehensive, age-appropriate sex education, including accurate information about contraception, can always be provided in order to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and abortions. Parity in health insurance and access to specialized family health care services, including family planning education, would also benefit the health and welfare of infants and children, who need and deserve to be wanted and loved.

Immigration Senator Gravel favors protecting our borders and monitoring the flow of immigrants into our country. He also favors a guest worker program and setting up naturalization procedures that would fairly bring immigrants into legal status. America must address the root cause of illegal immigration. Any discussion of immigration must include NAFTA and the concept of “free trade.” The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has been a disaster for the working class of both the U.S. and Mexico and a boon to the international corporate interests. A study by the Economic Policy Institute found that over 1 million U.S. jobs were lost as a result of NAFTA, a third of them manufacturing jobs. In Mexico, 1.3 million farm workers lost their jobs in the same period. This has led to a wave of immigrants looking for work in the U.S. Reforming unfair trade policies spawned by measures like NAFTA will stimulate job growth on both sides of the border.

LGBT Rights Senator Gravel supports same-sex marriage and opposes the Defense of Marriage Act. He supports expanding hate-crime legislation and opposes laws that allow discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or one’s gender identity or expression. Senator Gravel strongly opposes the military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” legislation on the grounds that it is unconstitutional, as it restricts the rights of gay Americans. He opposes any state or national constitutional amendment that restricts the rights of the gay community.

Social Security Senator Gravel wants to put real money, rather than borrowed money, in the Social Security Trust Fund. He advocates investing it properly and identifying the interests of individual beneficiaries so they can know what their retirement fund is and leave surplus funds to heirs.

Education Access to public education is a bedrock American value. Why is it then that the United States ranks 49th in literacy and that an estimated 30% of our students don’t graduate from high school? Investing in education provides a pathway to a thriving national economy, to individual and family economic opportunity, and to the reduction of poverty. A successful education system requires the commitment of families, the community, and government. It’s time to re-order our national budget priorities in order to improve the American education system. Parent education and access to preschool programs such as Head Start need to be expanded so that children from low income families are equally ready to benefit from elementary school. Universal pre-kindergarten would also enhance readiness. Encouraging our students to be the best they can be will require flexibility from the federal and state governments, within school systems, and from groups with a stake in educational success. Flexibility may mean extended school days and summer learning opportunities or extended school years. It may mean online and broadcast courses to provide access to highly qualified teachers. It may mean charter schools to address the needs of local communities, smaller classes, enrichment programs for students at risk, and vocational options. One thing we know for sure: No Child Left Behind has left too many children behind. It needs to be reformed and adequately funded. It needs to acknowledge the need for a fuller curriculum that encourages critical thinking-not just math and science test-taking. A high school diploma should be the minimum goal for all students; without it, our children will be condemned to a substandard economic existence.

Veteran’s Affairs As President, Senator Gravel would ensure that veterans receive full funding for their most important needs, including healthcare that is indexed to the increasing cost of care and medicine. He would make sure that all soldiers receive a full medical diagnosis to assess what their individual needs would be. He would also make sure that the VA system is fully financed and has sufficient well-trained personnel to provide the finest care that is available. As the Senator says, “We can do no less and we will do much more.” Mike Gravel is the only military veteran in the democratic race.

The War on Drugs The War on Drugs has been a failure. It is time to end prohibition and start treating addiction as a public health problem. This has ravaged our inner cities, and we are losing an entire generation of men and women to prisons. We must regulate hard drugs for the purpose of treating addicts, which would emphasize rehabilitation and prevention over incarceration. We must decriminalize minor drug offenses and increase the availability and visibility of substance abuse treatment in our communities as well as in jails and prisons. The United States incarcerates more people and at a higher rate than any other industrialized nation in the world. Some 2.3 million Americans are now behind bars. This tragedy must end.

Net Neutrality Net Neutrality aims to keep the Internet free from large companies, which are trying to limit the number of web sites their customers can view and the speed at which they can view them. Senator Gravel guarantees a free and open Internet with unlimited access to all sites. He will do this by supporting legislation and regulation that keeps you in control of your Internet usage and promotes free speech.

Human Rights Senator Gravel is adamantly opposed to torture, indefinite detention, and the deprivation of lawyers/speedy trials. He opposes the Military Commissions Act, flagrant ignorance of the Geneva convention, and Guantanamo.

Disturbing medical marijuana case involving an AIDS patient

In Activism, Big Brother, Children, Civil Liberties, Courts and Justice System, Crime, Drug War, Health, Human Rights Abuses, Law, Law Enforcement, Medical Marijuana, Nanny State, Police State, Protest, Science on March 17, 2008 at 6:44 pm

Tom FaltynowiczTom Faltynowicz, a 43-year-old gay rancher in Meade County, South Dakota, was diagnosed with Aquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) in 1990, and is currently facing criminal charges for possessing and growing marijuana for medicinal usage.

For those of you unaware of the specifics of that disease, a patient infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) may or may not develop AIDS. Once infected with HIV, the disease damages the CD4 cells (T-Cells), and in fact uses those cells to replicate within the body; CD4 cells can be replaced through normal process in the early stages of the disease, but eventually the counts start to fall as the cells are overcome by the virus. A CD4 count between 700 and 1000 is considered normal in a non-HIV infected person; while a CD4 count of about 500 is considered normal when the virus is present. A CD4 count below 200 is indicative of AIDS, since it is at that point that the body loses its ability to fight off opportunistic infection.

Opportunistic infection is any infection which, under normal circumstances, the body could easily fight off. However, due to the lack of CD4 immune cells, AIDS patients are at very high risk of contracting diseases which they would never contract were it not for the virus destroying their immune system. Some diseases are so common in AIDS patients, and so uncommon in non-AIDS patients, that they are considered to be AIDS-defining diseases. Examples of AIDS-defining diseases include Pneumocystis Pneumonia (a fungal infection of the lungs) and Kaposi’s Sarcoma (once believed to be a rare form of cancer, now believed to be caused by Herpes Virus HHV8); these diseases are normally not seen in patients with a normal immune system. While there is viable treatment for many opportunistic diseases, they must be treated swiftly in an AIDS patient due to the patient’s body being unable to fight infection on its own.

Another important way of measuring HIV is by measuring the viral load. The viral load is the amount of HIV in the body. So while a CD4 count measures the amount of damage HIV has done, a viral load count will measure how much of the virus is actually in the body. In this way, doctors are able to measure whether drugs are working to halt the spread of the virus.

AIDS is a pandemic first identified in 1981 by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), due to Pneumocystis Pneumonia being identified in five homosexual men in Los Angeles. The disease did not take over worldwide as quickly as it is generally believed, though. AIDS has been identified in tissue samples of patients who died of unknown causes as early as 1959; one postmortem case identified the virus in a tissue sample from a 15-year-old boy who died in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1969, though it is still unknown how the boy may have contracted the virus. Some scientists suggest the virus could have first infected humans sometime during the end of the 19th Century, while other scientists suggest it first infected humans during the early 20th century, between 1915 and 1930. Regardless of whether it started during the late 19th Century or early 20th Century, it took many decades for it to even become prevalent enough to be noticed. Since the virus is slow to overtake its host, the window for inadvertent infection of others is years, rather than days or weeks as with most viruses.

It is unclear exactly how the virus started, but it seems clear that it crossed species from primates (which can carry a disease known as the Simian Immunodeficiency Virus) into humans, likely when humans came into contact with the bodily fluids of monkeys, possibly during consumption, hunting or butchering the animals (monkey meat is a delicacy in some areas of the world, and is regularly eaten in some areas of Africa). The virus spread due to a number of factors, including vaccines given with unclean needles in developing countries. While AIDS is now generally viewed as a disease of gay men and intravenous drug users, the truth is far more chilling, since the virus is not contained only within a particular population. Many women and children are infected with the virus, and in some areas of the world, particularly Africa where infected patients do not have access to proper health care, the number of deaths has become catastrophic.

At this time, there is no cure for HIV, or for AIDS, nor is there a vaccine to prevent transmission. However, scientists have designed a number of drugs inhibit the virus’s replication. To understand how these drugs work, a short primer on the virus is necessary.

HIV takes over CD4 cells, changing their molecular structure by inserting its own ribonucleic acid (RNA). The virus itself, which is too small to be seen except with an electron microscope, consists of an outer envelope containing the virus and the proteins and enzymes necessary for replication; the envelope has about 72 spikes on its surface. When the virus bumps into a cell coated by the CD4 protein, the spikes stick into the cell and fuse, at which time the inner contents of the HIV envelope is released into the CD4 cell.

Once inside the cell, the HIV enzyme called reverse transciptase converts the viral RNA into DNA, which is compatible with human genetic material. This DNA is transported to the cell’s nucleus, where it is spliced into the human DNA by the HIV enzyme called integrase. Once it is spliced into the human DNA, the HIV DNA is known as provirus. The provirus may lie dormant within a cell for quite some time. However, when the cell becomes activated, it treats HIV genes in almost the same way as human genes. First it uses human enzymes to convert HIV genes into messenger RNA. The messenger RNA is transported outside the cell nucleus, and is used as a blueprint for producing new HIV proteins and enzymes, much in the same way as the human body normally produce replacement cells.

Complete copies of HIV genetic material is contained among the strands of messenger RNA produced by the cell. These copies combine with newly made HIV proteins and enzymes to form new viral particles, which are then released from the cell. The enzyme protease plays a vital role of the HIV life cycle, as it chops up long strands of protein into smaller pieces, which are then used to construct mature viral cores. At that point the newly matured HIV particles are ready to infect another cell, and begin the replication process all over again. In this way the virus quickly spreads through the human body, and causes its host to become infectious. HIV is passed to others through bodily fluids; some fluids contain more of the virus than others.

Contrary to popular belief, people do not die of HIV, or of AIDS. They die of the opportunistic infections which accompany the complete loss of their immune system. Patients therefore must take a strong cocktail of medications to stop the virus from replicating and destroying their immune system. Some common drugs prescribed for AIDS patients, to stop the virus from replicating, include reverse transcriptase inhibitors, which prevent the viral RNA from being converted into human DNA; protease inhibitors, which prevent the virus from creating new mature viral cores; and integrase inhibitors, which prevent the viral DNA from being spliced into the human DNA within the cells.

Unfortunately, with those life-saving treatments for the virus come life-threatening side effects, from lethal liver damage to an overwhelming nausea which results in starvation and dehydration; when this occurs, it only worsens those same symptoms which can be caused by the virus itself. Over the years many drugs have been discovered to combat the side effects (those same side effects are found in many other medical conditions as well), and to increase the quality of life for those who are infected with the virus; some of those drugs and treatments are pharmaceutical in nature, and some are natural.

One of the non-pharmaceutical drugs, which has proven very helpful in battling the anxiety, overwhelming nausea and physical wasting which comes with the virus and its treatment, is marijuana. So effective is marijuana that scientists have even made a pharmaceutical version of the drug, used in chemotherapy patients as well as AIDS patients, which contains synthetic THC (the active ingredient in marijuana). However, many patients believe that the natural THC in marijuana works better than the synthetic version in Marinol, and science supports this belief. In studies of marijuana usage for medicinal usage, it was found that other chemicals found in marijuana have additional medicinal effects which complement the effects of THC. Furthermore Marinol is extremely expensive (Tom’s Marinol costs about $2200 per month, so severe is his nausea and gastrointestinal symptoms), and thus the drug is far beyond the financial reach of most patients; and for that reason they cultivate and smoke marijuana for medicinal purposes. While the black market cost of marijuana can be high, the plant can be cultivated at home from seeds, at very little cost to the patient.

In some states, it is legal for patients with a valid medical prescription to possess certain amounts of dried and cultivated marijuana for personal medicinal use. However, even in those states, the US Government – which has declared that marijuana is an illicit and therefore illegal drug – refuses to permit patients to use the cultivated form of THC. Patients are regularly arrested for merely possessing the substance which allows them to live a more normal life, and which in cases of extreme wasting seen in AIDS, is actually life-saving. This occurs nationwide, including in the states where marijuana is legal for medicinal use.

I do not advocate the casual use of marijuana (or any other drug, prescription or otherwise) to get “high”. I do strongly advocate the right of physicians and patients to determine the best course of treatment, and I believe the government has no right to interfere in the doctor/patient relationship when the patient is not being placed in untoward danger.

Enter Tom Faltynowicz. When Tom was diagnosed with AIDS in 1990, he was given “maybe a few years” to live. Eighteen years later, he is in a fight for his life, but it’s a fight of a very different kind.

In September 2007, law enforcement officials in his native Meade County received an anonymous call, stating that Tom had between 75 and 100 marijuana plants growing behind a metal building on his property. It is believed that the anonymous call came from Tom’s daughter, who was angry with him because he had recently stated his disapproval of her relationship with a particular man.

When Meade County Investigator Michael Walker and South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation Agent John Griswold arrived at Tom’s home the next day, there were not 75 to 100 plants on the property, or even anywhere near that many; in fact, there were no plants out in the open at all. However, when asked by those officers about the accusation, Tom immediately admitted to growing marijuana to treat his medical condition. He even invited the officers into his home, so they can see where he was growing it, and he was completely cooperative at all times, even according to the police report regarding the incident. All told, the officers found five plants, and about four ounces of dried marijuana. There was never an allegation that the marijuana was being used for anything but his medical condition, and never an allegation that he was selling the marijuana. It remains undisputed that Tom was using the marijuana to treat AIDS, and the side effects of the many potent medications he takes to fight the virus.

Tom takes a total of four antiretroviral drugs to combat the HIV infection: Combivir (a combination of Retrovir and Epivir), Sustiva, and Viread. Each of these drugs, by themselves, come with potentially fatal side effects. All of these drugs can cause severe nausea, and can result in extreme anxiety as an additional side effect. In addition, Tom has been prescribed Marinol, the synthetic THC drug to combat nausea and vomiting, so there is no question that he suffers the side effects which are treated by marijuana, and there is no question that his side effects are severe based upon his dosage. However, Tom says that the marijuana is far more effective than the Marinol, since Marinol makes him so tired that he cannot function; and his physician is aware of and supports his use of marijuana to treat his symptoms.

Tom, though he has no prior criminal record with the exception of two prior misdemeanor convictions for possession of small amounts of marijuana – both of which occurred after he was diagnosed with AIDS – pled guilty to felony possession of marijuana. He faces a maximum of two years in prison, and a maximum fine of $4000; he could also be given probation. His sentencing date has been set for April 21st, before the Honorable Jerome Eckrich, Circuit Judge. Tom’s Infectious Disease Specialist, Dr. Traub, will speak at the sentencing hearing. The State Attorney has already said that he will not object to anything Dr. Traub might say. It appears that no one is interested in punishing Tom Faltynowicz; at the same time, under the law, his possession of marijuana – regardless of the reason why he possessed it – is a felony in the state of South Dakota.

Tom, however, is an exception to the reason that law was written. It was written to stop people from abusing the drug to get high, and to stop them from selling or otherwise providing it to others for the same illicit purpose. It is extremely doubtful the legislature was aware of the medicinal effects of marijuana when that law was passed, and it’s extremely doubtful the legislature ever intended to punish patients with a deadly disease. It’s even possible that the medicinal effects of marijuana were unknown to them when that law was passed, since it is hardly a new law. Nevertheless, since the law exists, it will be enforced, even against people like Tom who are using marijuana strictly for medicinal purposes.

This raises a number of questions. Even if Tom is merely placed on probation, and even if he stopped smoking marijuana altogether, using Marinol to control his symptoms would result in violation of probation, since he would test positive for THC during required drug tests. If he fails a drug test while on probation, he will be incarcerated.

If he is incarcerated, he will not only not have access to the drug which he needs to survive without excessive suffering due to overwhelming nausea, vomiting, physical wasting, and extreme fatigue; but the South Dakota Department of Corrections will be forced to pay for the extremely expensive antiretroviral drugs which fight the virus as well as the Marinol, at a cost of thousands of dollars per month to the taxpayers, in addition to the increased cost of incarceration for a man with an infectious deadly disease. As you should understand after my explanation of how those drugs work, and how the virus works, missing even one dose of his antiretroviral drugs could be catastrophic for his health, since it would allow the virus to replicate until the drug was again built up to a therapeutic dosage. Yet in a prison environment there is no guarantee that he will receive his life-sustaining medications at all, much less receive them on the schedule those drugs demand.

Tom has said that he will not stop using marijuana, because it allows him to live a relatively normal life. Without it, his body is wracked with pain, nausea, and vomiting; he is unable to eat or drink, and thus his body becomes even more weakened, even more unable to fight the virus, and even more prone to the many opportunistic illnesses, any one of which could easily end his life. This is especially true if he is confined in a jail or prison facility, given that there are large numbers of inmates living in close approximation.

To incarcerate Tom Faltynowicz would therefore place his life at severe risk, and as such would clearly constitute cruel and unusual punishment, as prohibited by the Eighth Amendment of the US Constitution. Furthermore, it would serve no purpose to incarcerate him, since his crime is merely possession of a drug which allows him to live with his disease and to continue take the cruel medications which literally keep him alive. He poses no threat to anyone and he is not selling or otherwise distributing the marijuana, nor has it even been suggested that he is selling or distributing the marijuana. Rehabilitation is also not a valid cause for his incarceration, since he merely uses the drug for medicinal purposes, and thus he is not in need of rehabilitation.

Society would not be served by incarcerating Tom Faltynowicz. The interests of justice would not be served by incarcerating Tom Faltynowicz.

As such, justice demands that the court show mercy by giving Tom Faltynowicz a suspended sentence, no probation, and whatever fine the court sees fit, as long as it is within Tom’s ability to pay said fine.  The courts should also order the return of Tom’s property; police seized property such as lights, and not just marijuana and implements for its use.  Those lights  should be returned.

“Girls Gone Wild” founder victimized by “Judge Gone Wild”

In Celebrities, Censorship, Corruption, Courts and Justice System, Crazy Claims, Crime, Entertainment, First Amendment, Fraud, Law, Lies and the lying liars who tell them, Media, People in the news, Police State, Politics, Protest, Shine on you crazy diamond, Taxation on March 16, 2008 at 7:07 pm

Joe Francis / Girls Gone WildI am not a fan of “Girls Gone Wild”. In fact, I almost vomit every night when I’m trying to watch South Park and Reno 911, since that’s when most of those commercials seem to air.

The latest is “The Wildest Bar In America”, and the commercial shows young women engaged in sex acts with one another, in public. If you purchase that one with a credit card (so they can automatically send you more in the future), you get “Finally 18” for free. The voiceover for the latter video says, “These girls have been waiting for their chance to go wild!”

I’m sorry, but after seeing that commercial – which shows young women masturbating on camera – I’d guess they went wild long before their 18th birthday.

The thought which always occurs to me when I see those commercials is, I’m glad it’s not my daughter. I’m glad I don’t even have a daughter, because then I don’t have to worry about her getting sauced on Spring Break then going wild on camera. I cannot even imagine the horror of parents across this country when they realize their daughter has appeared in “Girls Gone Wild”, and especially the parents of those girls who actually appear in the commercials.

However, as much as I hate “Girls Gone Wild”, I feel that I must speak out against what happened to the man behind the videos.

Joe Francis, the founder of “Girls Gone Wild”, has been in jail for the last year, and could not even post bail to get out. It all started when some parents accused him of filming their underage daughters. Francis claimed they had identification, so he had no way of knowing they were underage and thus he had done nothing wrong. I believe him. After all, he has filmed literally thousands of young women, has made untold millions from doing so, and I find it very hard to believe that he doesn’t check identification. In fact, Francis apparently takes a lawyer with him, to make sure he doesn’t do anything to get himself into trouble. The attorney checks IDs, and has the girls agree to participate both on video and in writing. The video statement is made so that no one can claim they were too drunk or otherwise unable to give consent. Joe Francis is much smarter than people expect him to be.

At any rate, Francis refused to negotiate in a civil suit brought by the parents of those girls, and he was thrown in jail for it.

When I first heard this I thought, surely that’s not the real reason he’s in jail. After all, it was a civil suit, not criminal charges. However, sure enough, that’s exactly why he was in jail.

Then while he was in jail for not negotiating with parents trying to shake him down for a civil suit (let’s be honest, once again, in saying that the “Girls Gone Wild” had actually gone wild long before they ever met Joe Francis) the IRS came a-knockin’. It appears that they claim Joe owes millions in unpaid taxes.

I’d hate to be Joe Francis, with all those problems.

This past week, he was finally released from jail after serving 11 months with no bail on the civil contempt charge (though the tax evasion charges are still pending, and he will go to trial on those charges at a later date) and faced a judge in Florida on criminal charges of child abuse and prostitution, related to filming the underage girls (for criminal charges, all that matters is that they were factually under 18). He struck a misdemeanor no contest plea, the judge gave him time served, no probation, no fine, he’s free to go. The only condition was that “Girls Gone Wild” not film there again for three years. That shouldn’t be a problem, given that girls are going wild all over this great nation of ours.

The problem I see with this, putting aside my personal feelings about his line of business, is that the man should never have been in jail over a civil suit in the first place. Here’s the basic scenario: he got sued by angry parents whose daughters used fake IDS to claim they were of legal age, the judge told the parties to work out a settlement, he didn’t want to work out a settlement because he thought he’d done nothing wrong since he was actually the one defrauded, so the judge threw him in jail for civil contempt. Personally, I think the judge showed his personal bias in the case, by throwing a man in jail simply because he preferred for a jury decide if he had done anything wrong. I think Francis is right, and I seriously doubt a civil jury would find against him, given all the safeguards he had taken against filming underage girls.

The problem with this is that, at the time he was originally incarcerated, no jury had ever determined that he had done anything wrong, civilly or criminally, and the criminal charges against him were not even close to being capital crimes, so he was entitled to bail. Frankly, I get the impression that they just didn’t want him in their area, documenting the fact that their little girls are going wild.. Maybe one of the girls who went wild is the niece of a friend of a friend of the judge, who knows.

Overall, while I am definitely not a fan of “Girls Gone Wild”, I am a fan of the Constitution, and under the Constitution, what happened to Joe Francis should never happen to anyone.