Judge, Jury and Executioner – Death Penalty for Contempt of Cop?

November 25, 2007

I don’t generally have problems with police, or any authority figure for that matter. When I was younger I even had occasion to be “arrested” by a very nice police officer who chose not to handcuff me, and made me sit in the corner (instead of in a cell) at the police station while I waited for the also very nice bail bondsman the nice policeman had called. He was so polite and considerate at one point he actually felt the need to say “you realize you are under arrest don’t you?”. (minor traffic ticket snafu – nothing really serious) It would seem I am so obviously harmless I don’t even scare squirrels, rabbits or groundhogs out of my path while walking my dogs. —- the dogs are apparently not very intimidating either.

I will also mention that I have had particularly positive encounters with the Howard County police. Though I have not actually been arrested by them, I have had many contacts with several who have been just lovely – apparently conscientious and competent.

I mention all this because I am probably not likely to be tasered anytime soon. So when I say that I am horrified by the tidal wave of taser deaths and injuries it is not because I am a cop hating anarchist or criminal.

I can see how this tool (the taser) could be a life saving implement under the right circumstances and in the right hands. But like any tool – it can be deadly and must be very carefully and judiciously utilized.

In light of the mounting body of data from “real life” in the field use of this weapon – I hope our own Howard County government and police officials are continuously evaluating our community’s procedures and policies to make sure we do not have the same tragic results which are becoming all too common.

I am troubled to learn that it is permissible for HoCo police officers to “pepper spray” subjects for “verbal aggression” (talking back) —- surely this is only a matter of providing police with an opportunity to exact punishment for the “crime” of “contempt of cop”. What other crime does the cop on the street get to indict, try, judge, and execute sentence for personally? But at least pepper spray does not routinely kill people.

Tasers, on the other hand, have been killing people on a fairly regular basis. What a shock! [no pun intended;)]. Shocking someone with tens of thousands of volts of electricity – often in the direct areas of the heart — it is hard to imagine it can come as a surprise when people die of heart beat problems.

In cases where a traditional gun shot would truly have been used if not for the availability of the taser – then that is a risk our community can reasonably take (imho) —- but for anything short of the true need for potentially lethal force we should have very strong policies against the use of the tasers.

Look at the recent death in Frederick County of the 20 year old man. He was shot with the taser by an officer “trying to break up a fight”. Can it seriously be argued that had the officer not had the taser that he would have been forced to shoot the fighters with his gun? Is that how we want HoCo police to respond to a fight?

Bottom line – HoCo officials MUST maintain an ongoing vigilance regarding the policies and procedures for the appropriate use of these taser weapons. As much as I respect our police force – I do not believe it is appropriate for the power to pass judgment and inflict punishment to rest in one set of hands…. particularly when the crime can be “talking back” and the punishment can be death.

cindy v


Preserving the past or freezing the future?

March 19, 2007

There are a lot of beautiful and intrinsically valuable things in and about Howard County which I would personally love to see preserved – as in, not changed, saved as is.  I suspect my list would differ from that of others.  In fact,  I suspect each of us has some variation in our list and in how we prioritize it.

Preservation Howard County has put the former Rouse Headquarters and the former Exhibit Center near the top of theirs.

I have no problem with this.  The people at PresHoCo work long, hard relatively thankless hours looking after Howard County’s past and future.

I can’t say I’m a big fan of the buildings they have put on their list.  In spite of the eloquent case being made about the famous architect and the “slice of life” aspects of these structures, I doubt many folks are as interested in preserving these particular buildings as they are in preserving the scale and atmosphere of downtown Columbia.

By preserving these buildings – the aura of the area will be preserved.  The scale, the pace, the tone, the feel of Columbia will be safe from change.   It will be literally frozen in time.

I just returned from Massachusetts.  We spent the night in the same historic hotel where we spent our wedding night a million years ago, next door to the church where we were married – down the street from the Salem Witch Museum  (no jokes please)– on the Salem Common.  Nothing there has changed in about 200 years.  It was perfect.  It was beautiful — to my eye at least. This weekend it was quite literally frozen in time.

As beautiful and peaceful as it is for me to visit, however, it is not necessarily the same for the folks who have to live in a time capsule.  Property that could be developed for enormous sums of money are limited- the prospects of the owners also frozen.  Renovations to equip the quaint dwellings, shops and traffic patterns with modern day convenience and appointments are nearly impossible to accomplish.   While in Massachusetts I also drove the kids past my old apartment in Boston’s Historic North End and the Old North Church.   No parking, a fourth floor walkup, narrow crowded streets with tourists blocking the path.   Life as a tourist attraction has it’s drawbacks.  But it is still worthwhile preservation.

I just wish the buildings involved in Columbia were  more “my taste”.  Then I could get more into the spirit of the effort.  I may not be crazy about the buildings – but I applaud the effort to preserve the feel of downtown Columbia.   It doesn’t have to be frozen to be preserved.   We have the technology to maintain viability and a dynamic enironment – do we have the will?

Cindy Vaillancourt.


Replacement for Sigaty/Watson/Kaufman…Gordon

November 26, 2006

The Ghosts of BOE Meetings Past, Present, and Future are all right here in the room – will Mr. Ulman learn from them?

Just in case it is not as obvious to him as it is to me…. how about a little primer?

Enter stage left the Ghost of BOE Present…

(lifter from the Baltimore Sun)

.”…. Watson was the only member to vote against each motion that will move pupils to Veterans Elementary School in Ellicott City, which is scheduled to open in August.

“I just didn’t feel that enough effort had been placed on moving the neighborhoods closest into the school,” Watson said after the vote last week.

Diane Mikulis, the vice chairman who will return to the board along with Patricia Gordon when the panel expands to seven members next month, said she was comfortable with the plan.

“This is the best of the worst,” Mikulis said. “I think that this is what we need to do.”

Bob Mead of Wheatfield could not believe the board’s decision.

“Are you serious?” he asked. “Most of the parents want their kids to go to the new school instead of driving them all over the county. It just makes sense.”…..”

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Well, Bob Mead of Wheatfield, there’s the problem — “it just makes sense”.

Kids going to their own neighborhood school….. what a novel concept.  A new school has been built, and kids are going to need to be moved around …. but instead of moving them around so that they go to the closest school, or the one they might reasonably go to the longest… let’s have one more around of our own “HCPSS musical chairs”.

And outgoing Courtney Watson was the only one with the …forsight …. to question this plan?

Lesson from the “present”  for Mr. Ulman — new appointee needs to have some backbone, some ability to “stand alone” if necessary to argue for the things that MAKE SENSE.

Whether you like Courtney Watson, or not, she has often stood up against popular and easy for the greater good, the harder “right”.  Without her – who will step up?  Sandie French?  She’s what we need to stand up TO.

Mr. Ulman will be appointing a replacement not just for MKS, but for Courtney and Josh as well —- Josh may not have won the election, but he was an important part of the turn around at BOE  – the neutering of the bullies, as it were.  What will happen without some backbones and voices of dissent?  Are we destined for a return to group think – indoctrination retreats – abdication of responsibility to lawyers?

———————————————————————————————————————————————-

The Ghost of BOE Past can be summed up in one name … “Sandie French”.  ’nuff said.

Lesson for Mr. Ulman — your appointee will have to be able to stand up to a fair amount of Bullying – have a chat with Laura Waters and Virginia Charles…. and Jim O’Donnel…. and have a good long talk with MK Sigaty.

Or just watch the tapes of the BOE meetings — see Ms. Sigaty getting a little terse when she says “Let’s not just look into  it, let’s do something.” (paraphrasing)  – but is sure sounded to me like she was getting frustrated.

Learn from the past – protect the future.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

And finally, our good friend, the Future.

The HoCo  BOE has the worst record of planning for the future … I mean, really profoundly lacking in vision and planning.  I am hopeful that at least Mr. Aquino has the real world business experience to help make some reasonable guesses – and maybe the legal background to rein in the out of control HCPSS Lawyers …. but that’s about it for potential change on the new BOE.

Ellen GIles may have an encyclopedic knowledge of local history – but like so many other “experts”,  she spends a lot of time and energy explaining why something “will not work”.  Like,  “we’ll never have public services in the western part of the county…ever”.  She can tell you names and dates of every conversation ever held about extending water and sewer — and she will.   This is why she deems it unnecessary to be looking for land for schools “out there”…. because it will never be developed as fully as the east.I bet that’s the same thing the “experts” said 30 years ago.  Let’s ask Ellen, I’ll bet she can tell you who said what, when…

Larry Cohen seems like a nice man – with a ton of experience in the educracy.  Time will tell if he will use that insider knowledge to fix the parts that don’t work well – or if he is too invested in the history, culture, and camaraderie of the status quo.  Hope springs eternal.

And then we have Pat Gordon.  A nice enough old gal – 83 years old…too “tired” to stand up for what she says she believes.   An election cycle “place holder”.  Don’t worry Mr. Ulman – you’ll be able to appoint a second BOE member, so you can afford to “take a chance” on the first appointment.

The Ghost of BOE Future is giving you, Mr. Ulman, a chance to change the trajectory of this sorry, stagnant, uninspired, “doesn’t make sense” path….  will you?

There are folks who would make terrific school board members who are just terrible politicians.

I guess we can’t hope for an actual jump across the aisle to appoint Roger Lerner — though he would be a great BOE member — unafraid to ruffle feathers, but too smooth and civil to be unnecessarily confrontational — smart, experienced,  caring, all kinds of good things —- but a republican in a Democratic county… unlikely to overcome that particular obstacle and unwilling to sell his soul on the campaign trail for a few votes.   But as the elected leader of the WHOLE county – not just the ones in your party – wouldn’t it be a nice idea to acknowledge the need for “everyone” to “feel” like they are being represented?  Is there any doubt the Democrats are represented on the BOE?  Take a page from Eisenhower.  Consider Roger Lerner.

But then, even more underrepresented are the “independent voices”.  The anti-status quo folks who are “never” going to get an elected representative with the current electoral system.   With seven seats on the board – would it be sooo bad to have one of them represent  1/7th of the citizens? Allen Dyer has worked long and hard at great personal expense to right wrongs, protect the integrity of  the local republic, he’s a combat veteran, a trained lawyer, a gifted computer geek —- and he’s proved himself willing to be David to the Goliath of the BOE educrats… let’s not forget it turns out he was RIGHT when he said the BOE was breaking the law … and that illegal stuff involving money was happening behind closed doors.

You say, the voters have already spoken about these guys?  No, I don’t think so.  The voters made choices based on all kinds of weird criteria —- but tens of thousands of them DID vote for these guys — I don’t recall a box for VOTE AGAINST either of them.

I have some other ideas for terrific BOE appointees.  Call me, we’ll have coffee.

Cindy Vaillancourt


Reading with a Critical Eye

November 25, 2006

The Reality of Our All-Volunteer Military

By Russell Beland and Curtis Gilroy

Saturday, November 25, 2006; Page
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/11/24/AR2006112401103.html

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WOW!!!! If you read this article you will be SOOOOO misinformed.

These guys say  ” in many cases a tour of duty in a combat zone actually appears to increase the likelihood of a service member’s staying in the military.”

well, I guess that depends on how you define “volunteer”.  Once they get these guys over there — they won’t let them leave… even when their enlistment is up.

Russell Beland is deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for manpower analysis and assessment. Curtis Gilroy is the director of accession policy in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

This falls under the category of “consider the source”.

I don’t know of anyone who has anything less than the highest regadr for the men and women in uniform —

—-for many of us, criticism of the WAY THEY ARE USED and in too many cases ABUSED is the highest form of praise for the value we place on their contribution and sacrifices.

Active military are not “allowed” to criticize…. complain ….. march ….. dissent …..

It is up to the American People – who claim to be so supportive of the troops – to actually support them; to question the illconsidered dangers, to insist that before these brave men and women are put in mortal jeopardy that is is reasonable and necessary.  You think a “mind is a terrible thing to waste”.? … well, a LIFE is a terrible thing to waste.  the willingness to sacrifice for others is a terrible thing to waste…. the honor and commitment of the few, the proud etc … is a terrible thing to waste.

If we had mandatory service in this country – with no exceptions – more people would think longer and harder about the “sacrifice” they are willing to let “someone else’s kid” make.

Cindy Vaillancourt  – throwing the B—S— flag!


Prudent Precautions

November 21, 2006

Wanna see some real verbal fireworks? Just suggest that people with less than pure hearts intentionally seek jobs or positions of “assumed credibility” in places like schools, churches, police or the military – or that it is prudent to monitor ALL the folks who access our children through the schools… including other parents, office staff, teachers, various workers, recruiters, clergy, police …. everyone. No one can be assumed so safe as to waive good sense.

How dare you! Shame on you! These people are all heroes! Driven by a single-minded philanthropic mission to serve, educate, protect …. not a bad one in the bunch ….

and yet, time and time again we are faced with proof that the occasional bad apple does, in fact, get through.

Most child abuse, sexual and otherwise, is committed by people known and trusted by the child/family. Priests, dance instructors, karate instructors, and military recruiters have been convicted of molesting children. And that friendly school secretary who makes you sign in and put on a little sticker badge has been known to embezzle money from the kiddie funds…. sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In the past couple of years alone Howard County and our neighboring counties have had a number of embezzlers in their school offices. A quick glance at local papers for the past week tells a sad tale of school secretaries who have been convicted recently of “embezzling nearly $10,000 from school activity funds”… “more than $200,000 in school funds”… “stealing nearly $20,000 in funds from school accounts.”

This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. According to a Baltimore SUN article, “The average organization loses about 5 percent of its total revenue to employee fraud, said Mike Stephens, an assurance partner and auditor with the accounting firm Clifton Gunderson LLP.”

School systems are considering proposed changes to what were pretty “elementary” lapses in reasonable money handling protocols, including a “new Web site that would allow club advisers and teachers to monitor their balances.”

Former BOE candidate Allen Dyer has been calling for this kind of user friendly technological application for a few years now. Dyer suggests all financial transactions of the school system be open to community review on such a web site. Maybe that is not such a wild idea.

With a half billion dollar per year budget, 5% losses due to fraud would be around …. ? $25,000,000? OK, that sounds pretty high… but even half that — heck, 5% of that 5% would be over $1,000,000.

That would buy a lot of books.


Hardball or Hardheadedness?

November 20, 2006

I like true leadership in an elected official – and I don’t believe in pure “majority rule”. In theory, the proclamations made by our fearless leaders – who vow to stand on principle, popular opinion notwithstanding – fit my view of the role of a good leader.

However …. there is steadfast, then there is stubborn.

There is leadership that persuades through sheer force of logic, reason and passion — there is stomping your feet and holding your breath till you turn blue…

Then there is the current republican leadership in Washington that continues to stain all who identify themselves with the party with the splatter as they continue to stomp their bloody stumps.

Apparently the recent election results were not a referendum on policy, philosophy, or direction…. they were a challenge to find ways to jam the ideological agenda down the throats of the infidels at a more desperate pace and with less concern for even a veneer of finesse.

Local politicians will continue to bear the brunt of the backlash of frustration with the inability of the electorate to make their voices heard – and responded to – on a national level.

A previous post pointed out the extraordinarily tone deaf elections of the same old same old blundering …… leaders …. for the now minority republican leadership in the congress —- but take a good look at the “in your face”, “bird flipping” that the white house has given women of reproductive age in recent days.

” The Bush administration, to the consternation of its critics, has picked the medical director of an organization that opposes premarital sex, contraception and abortion to lead the office that oversees federally funded teen pregnancy, family planning and abstinence programs.”

This guy, Keroack, is the medical director of A Woman’s Concern, a Christian nonprofit based in Dorchester, Massachusetts which “runs six centers in the state that offer free pregnancy testing, ultrasounds and counseling.” However, the more telling mission is found in its “statement of faith” where it claims to “help women escape the temptation and violence of abortion.”

It opposes contraception, saying its use increases out-of-wedlock pregnancy and abortion rates. “A Woman’s Concern is persuaded that the crass commercialization and distribution of birth control is demeaning to women, degrading of human sexuality and adverse to human health and happiness,” its contraception policy reads in part.

“Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said “common sense” initiatives might include requiring health insurance companies to cover birth control, requiring that emergency contraception be available at hospitals for rape victims, and ensuring that sex education for young people includes accurate information about contraceptives.” OMG, heresy!
“The appointment of anti-birth control, anti-sex education advocate Dr. Eric Keroack to oversee the nation’s family planning program is striking proof that the Bush administration remains dramatically out of step with the nation’s priorities,” Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement.

These lunatic democrats were hoping that the new congress would be able to advance programs proved to reduce unwanted pregnancies and premature sexual activity among teenagers – like education, accurate contraception information, and programs that encourage hope for brighter futures.

Family Research Council president Tony Perkins sums up the desperate view “… anticipate the fiercest assault of our time against abstinence, marriage, life, good judges, and religious freedom,” Perkins wrote this week in the National Review.

The rightwingnuts are so frightened by that prospect they are determined to pre-emptively strike to cripple teen programs before the dems can turn all teens into hormone driven sex maniacs ….. wait, didn’t God make them hormone driven sex maniacs? Seems reasonable to me to arm them with birth control and high school diplomas.

But then, I’m not the President of the United States — and he “ain’t listening to nobody” — especially the ignorant voters.

(quotes in the post are shamelessly plagiarized)


?Insourcing?

November 16, 2006

If “outsourcing” is the practice of sending jobs “out” of the country (or the company) – is the increasing practice of recruiting labor from overseas “insourcing”?

How do we feel about insourcing?   I’m not talking about migrant workers brought in to pick lettuce or mow grass — that’s a whole other can of worms.  I’m talking about what should be highly skilled future of our society kinds of labor-  especially three areas I have recent experience with – health, education and travel.

Having been a recent guest in three of the regions health care facilities, I can report that recruiting for nurses from foreign countries is not a myth.   A quick research project into the regulations/standards applicable to nurses coming to the US to staff our hospitals leaves very large cracks, and I can tell you that I was less than thrilled with the quality of a number of these nurses.

Some of our struggling major airlines are also trying to turn to foreign labor – not due to shortages, but in an effort to reduce labor costs by replacing higher paid American workers.  Maybe folks aren’t too concerned about the replacement flight attendants – but  having airplane maintenance moved to other countries with lower wages might be of some concern.

And then there is education.   We are told there is a nationwide shortage of teachers, particularly in the areas of math and science.  More and more school districts are turning to the Phillipines and other foreign countries to recruit teachers.  Baltimore recently hired a whole boatload of teachers from abroad to man its’ hard to fill posts.  But that’s Baltimore, right?

Wait — if you caught the League of Women Voters’ Board of Education Forum, you would have heard our very own Mrs. Gordon say that we should start looking into hiring teachers from other countries – like Puerto Rico  ( Mrs. Gordon was a teacher for many years… many years ago …. must not have been geography … or history …. or government ….) to address our difficulties finding qualified math and science teachers.

The arguments for recruiting teachers from other countries – actual foreign countries like the Phillipines – generally start off with the notion that we have a shortage of qualified people here in the United States.  But we quickly get to the real problem, work loads and compensation.

The benefits for the “insourced” labor are obvious.  A teacher recruited from the Phillipines to Baltimore will make more than three times more money in Baltimore.  Yes, the cost of living is higher, but dollar per dollar they will be earning a higher standard of living and consider Baltimore an improved work environment.   Plus there are the potential manipulations of the Visa/immigration system.

But what are the real benefits/costs to the school systems?   Are they really recruiting the best and the brightest — or do we “get what we pay for”?  If the cracks in the teacher standards are as wide as those for the nurses (and they are) we should all be wary.

The temporary benefit is that Boards of Education don’t have to face the daunting task of reexamining negotiated contracts with teacher labor unions, they can fill classrooms at minimal cost with warm bodies, and they can buy time.

But it is only a temporary fix because once the “recruit” settles into American life, those who are talented in math and science will find more lucrative options with more desirable working conditions — just like the “regular Americans”.  Or are we planning to make them some kind of indefinitely indentured servants?

We definitely have a shortage of talented math and science teachers — we don’t have a shortage of people who could be great math and science teachers.  We have a shortage of will and vision – and actual leadership.

Insourcing our health care, our airline safety and the educators of our children – what a great idea! — with all the money we save, we can insource a foreign army to take care of our military/defense requirements……

cindy v.


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