Yearly Archives: 2017

Lost children found

Victoria and Virginia Quintana – taken to Argentina - 2010

Victoria and Virginia Quintana – taken to Argentina – 2010

Lovettsville’s Tony Quintana has been living a waking nightmare ever since his wife took his two daughters, Victoria (born 2006) and Virginia (born 2008), to Argentina, and refused to return them to the United States, despite a local state-side court order awarding Tony custody.

The young girls were taken from Loudoun county and America in January 2010, seven and a half years ago.

Tony feared this might be the last time he’d ever see his daughters.

After a quest worthy of Homer’s Odysseus, however, when it seemed like he’d lost his girls forever, Tony saw his daughters pass through customs at Dulles and swept them up in his arms.

It was a stunning moment, last Tuesday, laden with unimaginable emotion, realizing a moment Tony longed for, that many thought improbable, and quite beyond Tony’s grasp, until it finally happened, when a miracle emerged from the unending mist of uncertainty, and his girls were with him at long last.

This Dickensian tragedy of a Dad separated from his daughters, taken to another nation-state occurs more often than you might imagine. Continue reading

Being a mom is a job

Mom_Rusty_rocking_chair_v2Teddy Roosevelt once said that a Mom’s “career is more worthy of honor and more useful to the community than the career of any man …”

Too bad we don’t treat our Moms that way.

My Mom raised two boys.  My younger brother, by three years, was Charlie.  When Charlie came home and my Mom put him in my lap with my legs dangling over the side of the couch, and said, she’d gotten my brother from the hospital, I asked, “When does he go back.”

I found out he wasn’t going back and my Mom spent her time clothing and washing and cleaning and feeding and walking and reading and entertaining and teaching and getting us to school.

We lived at 143rd and Willis Avenue in the South Bronx and my Dad was the Superintendent of our building after he returned from service in World War II.  My brother and I never knew what we didn’t have.  But it must have been challenging for this young post war couple.

Our society is high on child-rearing but doesn’t fairly judge the worth of Moms who raise children.

Not then nor now.

Moms who are college educated pay a “mommy tax” of more than a million dollars in lost income when they have a child, according to Ann Crittenden, who wrote “The Price of Motherhood,” about “why the most important job in the world is still the least valued.” Continue reading

Words matter

Supervisor Ron Meyer

Supervisor Ron Meyer

George Orwell, author of “1984,” made the point that language has the power in politics to mask the truth and mislead the public.

In “1984,” in his novel, he coined the phrase “Newspeak,” referring to the abuse of language by the government.

In Loudoun County, we have long had a “transition” area in the County’s Comprehensive Plan, serving as a buffer between western Loudoun (rural) and eastern Loudoun (suburban).

Every Members of the Board of Supervisors knows what that means.

In a recent County study, inviting us to “envision” the future, we were told there is a “market” demand to add 50,000 residential units to our already over-crowded County.

Citizens have said loud and clear – we do not want 50,000 more units – not in the West or the East or the Transition area,

When the “vision” statement for the “new and improved” comprehensive plan was considered by the Board of Supervisors last week, a majority of the Board favored myopia, narrowing the County’s “vision,” and kicking the County’s long-held land use policy of “transition” to the curb.

Supervisor Ron Meyer (R-Broad Run) feigned a misunderstanding of the English language when he said, “As far as saying something’s a transition setting, I’m not sure what that means in the English language.”

If Mr. Meyer suffered a language lapse, he could have consulted a dictionary.

Merriam Webster says a “transition” is the “passage from one state, stage, subject, or place to another.”

Loudoun’s “transition” area is a “passage” from suburban development through mixed development to rural development.

Mr. Meyer understood perfectly what and where the transition area was when, as a Board candidate in 2015, he answered the Chamber’s questionnaire, faulting the Comprehensive Plan, including the Transition area, under review and subject to revision now.

Mr. Meyer said, “Current planning does not reflect community realities in this [transition] area and it will be vital to better plan the transportation network and land use polices to ‘fill in the gap’ in a smart and responsible way between suburban areas in Ashburn and Leesburg in this small corner of the Transition Area (underscoring supplied).”

Mr. Meyer’s shoddy mimicry of Orwell’s “Newspeak” sought to eliminate “transition” to compromise any thought or memory of the policy that has preserved and protected the County’s special character.

Nor did Mr. Meyer stop with his faux misapprehension of what “transition” meant.

Mr. Meyer swelled with intolerant and disrespectful humor, when he said, “What is the transition setting, does that have to do with someone’s gender identity?’” Continue reading

Let them eat pizza

PizzaOur children may have been eating more fruit and vegetables, grown healthier and thinned down some in school the last several years because of the School Lunch Program.

If they did, it is likely because a bi-partisan Congress and the USDA put in place back in 2012 some more rigorous standards to encourage nutrition and to fight childhood obesity.

These regulations required more whole grains, a wider variety of fruits and vegetables, and less sodium and meat in the school lunch regimen.

The National School Lunch program is a federally assisted meals program that operates in public and nonprofit private schools and residential childcare institutions.  The meals are nutritionally balanced, low cost or free.  This is not a recent idea.  Harry Truman signed the National School Lunch Act in 1946.

It was hoped that feeding children would fight poverty and reduce disease.  For, without good food, our children get diet-related diseases, and they don’t learn so well.

There is serious concern in the schools and among parents of children attending school in Loudoun County and across the nation that the current more rigorous school diet is not going to remain so healthy under the current Administration.

The Department of Agriculture (USDA) lightened and diluted the school regulations as they apply to nutritional standards this past Monday.

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, the former Governor of Georgia, announced an interim rule to provide “regulatory flexibility” for the National School Lunch Program. Continue reading

Science marches on – challenging chaos and supersistion

Tami Carlow and Kristen Swanson at the rainy Science March

Tami Carlow and Kristen Swanson at the rainy Science March

Tami Carlow said, “Rain will not stop Kristen Swanson and I from marching for Science in Washington, D.C.”

Tami is a gardener with undergraduate and graduate degrees in biology, concentrating in entomology.  “Ever since I was little, I was fascinated by insects.”  Tami has published papers on the flightless weevil (Eisonyx Crassipes) and parasitic wasps on the backs of dragon flies.  Little wonder that she was a taxonomist, studying weevils at the Natural History museum in DC.  Also little wonder that she would join the Science March on Washington this past Saturday.

 

 

Science March on Washington

Science March on Washington

Kristen K. Swanson, of Lovettsville, is an artist but her technique requires some craft at science.  Kristen takes a soft lump of stoneware clay, thrown on a potter’s wheel (if not made from clay slabs), shapes the clay by hand, paints or “carves” designs on the clay body, and fires the clay twice, the second time at 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit.  Kristen received her Bachelor of fine Arts in Ceramic Art in 1998 from the Virginia Commonwealth University.

Tami and Kristen joined thousands in Washington DC on Earth Day and many others in 600 cities on 6 continents including research scientists in Antarctica.

There are many instances to insist on science as your guide this year.  The Science March itself was inspired by the Women’s March, and has been characterized by the slogan, “There is no Planet B.” Continue reading

Killing innocents

Jail_barsWe struggle with the question of how to kill those convicted of killing others.

Arkansas apparently is struggling to win the indoor record for killing the most on death row in the shortest period of time, 8 persons in 10 days.

Some people on death row are saved by the bell.

Eight men on death row in Arkansas have been saved by midazolam – at least for awhile.

The current death cocktail requires that the person be put asleep with midazolam so that he is not awake when two other drugs suffocate and kill him.

So what’s the hold up?

Midazolam doesn’t always work.

A federal judge, Kristine Baker, wrote an 101 page decision concerned that the drug doesn’t work, thus stopping the executions.

Our society is in a bad place when we talk about how we kill inmates instead of whether we should at all.

Arkansas is so anxious to kill they intend to appeal the judge’s ruling.

There are plenty of good reasons not to execute anyone.

The best reason is that the so-called judicial system doesn’t get it right; it convicts innocents.

Damien Echols was convicted as a teenager in Arkansas with two friends for murdering three boys.  They suspected he was part of a satanic cult.  He spent about two decades on death row waiting for his execution.  DNA proved he did not commit the crime.

Some people believe that if Virginia had better-paid criminal defense lawyers with more administrative and investigative resources, it would have a better criminal justice system.

That’s just not the case. Continue reading

Fight for your rights – or lose them!

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms – lost to Americans?

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms – lost to Americans?

Mr. Donald Trump is hell bent on resisting individual rights and freedoms.

Mr. Trump would isolate us from the world with a wall.

Mr. Trump leans on local police forces to extend federal police powers into our local communities on the claimed need to rid the nation of immigrants.

Mr. Trump suffers from a too sensitive egg-shell-thin temperament and an itchy finger for tweet lies and a growing urge to war clumsily and unconstitutionally in the mid-East.

Regrettably, we have a government of plutocrats and warmongers who pretend empathy but prefer misery.

It’s quite a dystopic picture but to many overseas and here, this is America.

No longer is our nation perceived as the land of the free and the home of the brave.

On January 8, 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt praised how our citizens had “forgotten points of the compass.”

Mr. Trump insists our citizens are not all equal and thus does he divide the nation.

President Roosevelt said this nation was bound to resist “any attempt to lock us in behind an ancient Chinese wall.”

Mr. Trump is obsessively bound to build a multi-billion dollar wall to lock in our southern border and keep “those people” out from the south and across the Atlantic.

President Roosevelt condemned “one-way international law.”  Mr. Trump, on the other hand just committed an act of war in Syria in defiance of UN protocols, State Department utterances, and absent any congressional declaration of war.  China charges Mr. Trump did this because his popularity is falling like a stone and he wants to prove he’s independent of Russia.

President Roosevelt insisted our armed forces drew their strength from the “unshakeable belief in the manner of life which they are defending.”  Mr. Trump has relentlessly run down this nation’s finest qualities and persists since his election in compromising and destroying what many at home and abroad believed was best about our nation.

Mr. Trump has contravened President Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms: Continue reading

Truth

Some mistake shadows for truth

Some mistake shadows for truth

We do not need to read the philosophy of Wittgenstein or Socrates to know what is true or false.

But perhaps we need to review what goes awry in human psychology when a person with a seemingly right functioning mind defies what is known to be transparently true and argues instead for what is patently false.

Some clearly suffer an impaired cognitive function when their operative principle is that they wouldn’t see it — if they didn’t already believe it.

Plato devised an allegory of citizens in a cave, locked in position, looking forward, seeing only the reflected shadows before them on a wall projected by unseen actors behind them; shadows were their reality.

Others know very well what is true but they lie as a means to an unworthy end.

Daily, more of our family, friends and neighbors indulge a vacation from what’s true in order to persuade others that something is true that they know to be false.

When I was young, I read a book, titled, “You can trust the communists to be communists.”

This meant that “truth,” as defined for the communists, was whatever was necessary to manipulate the public.

The study of rhetoric to deceive and manipulate a people originated with the sophists of ancient Greece.  Socrates spoke against their machinations, insisting they caused social instability.  We are presently challenged with instability in our government and our policies because of these same rhetorical pirouettes, and we must succeed where Socrates failed lest our nation sip the deadly hemlock that took Socrates.

George Orwell said, “In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

We are not yet “in [that] time of universal deceit” but deceit has intrusively implicated itself in our public dialogue and its disabling effects are manifest.

Some optimists say our nation has survived worse.

Sir Francis Bacon warned that our minds are wired to deceive us and we should “[b]eware the fallacies into which undisciplined thinkers most easily fall” for these fallacies are “the real distorting prisms of human nature” and the worst may be the assumption that there is “more order than exists in chaotic nature.”

The fallacy of inductive thinking is the notion that because something happened in the past that it will happen in the future; this fallacy is explored exhaustively in a marvelous book, the Black Swan, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.  Continue reading

We are not helping addicts!

[John P. Flannery was a federal drug prosecutor in the Southern District of NY,  and served on various drug task forces since.]

[John P. Flannery was a federal drug prosecutor in the Southern District of NY,
and served on various drug task forces since.]

We say we want to fight drug addiction in this nation and in the communities where we live but we are not helping the addicts.

There is a frenzy among elected and appointed officials, blathering on at press conferences, oh so concerned, seeking to discourage drug use and addiction, including street heroin and prescription drugs.

But law enforcement is not going after the drug kingpins, instead it’s chasing and arresting the low hanging fruit that are the persons, the addicts, they say they want to help.

Our law enforcement officials are going after the drug stats that bring funds into sheriff’s offices and police stations around the nation, and they get these numbers by arresting those who may rightly be considered the victims of the drug trade, the addicts that these chest-beating officials insist they want to help.

If you go after drug lords, they fight back.  An officer can get hurt doing that.  I’ve known brave men and women from the DEA, however, who did just that, went undercover, risked life and limb, and broke up drug rings that saved many from addiction.

On the other hand, if you go after the victims of the drug trade to make a criminal case, you’ve got an easy mark, with little or no personal risk as an officer.

In the 70s when we called this a “war” on drugs, and believed we’d some day win “the war,” I prosecuted drug lords who brought 600 pounds of heroin from France, and mobsters who brought many millions of dollars of heroin from Thailand.  Other members of our “junk” unit worked similar cases.  While the drug trade persists these many years later, we seem to have gotten worse at fighting – what one DEA agent called – the white death.

Too often these days, our enforcement policies are awfully close to criminalizing an individual’s status as addict, a health problem.  We prosecute an addict as a criminal, whom we insist to the papers and the general public, this is a person who can’t help himself, and this is a person who commits other petty offenses including small quantity hand to hand drug buys to afford his fix.

The Supreme Court, in Robinson v. California, 370 US 660, 666, 82 S. Ct. 1417, 1420, 8th Ed 2d 758 (1962), found it to be a “cruel and unusual punishment”, a violation of the 8th Amendment, to make it a crime to be an addict:

“A State may not punish a person for being ‘mentally ill, or a leper or . . . . afflicted with a venereal disease’, or for being addicted to narcotics.”  Id.

The Court said “To inflict punishment for having a disease is to treat the individual as a diseased thing rather than as a sick human being.”

In Robinson, the crime of addiction was a misdemeanor, and so the punishment was not as severe as what we do to some addicts these days when we “save them” only to “prosecute them” for felonies.

The Robinson Court said the fact “[t]hat the punishment is not severe, ‘in the abstract,’ is irrelevant”.  It is the disproportion between the conduct and the penalty.  “Even one day in prison,” the Court said, “would be cruel and unusual punishment for the ‘crime’ of having a common cold.” Id., at 667, 82 S. Ct. at 142.

I know well a young man in the area, who was an addict, suffered an overdose, passed out, would have died, and been lost to friend and family alike had he not been brought back to consciousness by the drug, Narcan.

This young man was taken to the hospital where he was observed by the attending physician and nurses to assure that he would survive.

(Even after receiving the drug Narcan, there is no guarantee that the patient will survive.)

But lo and behold, a law enforcement officer stationed himself in the young man’s emergency room after he was admitted.

Another officer entered the emergency room and remained continuously with the young man, sitting bedside, asking him questions within an hour of the young man’s overdose, within minutes of the young man’s partially remembered glimpse into the mid-distance between life and death.

The officer told the young man, he didn’t want to prosecute the young man – as if the young man could possibly understand what the officer meant.

The officer asked him “to cooperate,” tell what he knew, and he wouldn’t be prosecuted.

It would be fair to say the young man didn’t have his mind about him. The young man told the officer what he knew of the small quantities he used and where he got them and who he traded small amounts with in order to sustain his addiction.

At the end of this, the law enforcement officer found his “cooperation” unsatisfactory and sought to prosecute him for the felony of trafficking in drugs.

There you have it, what we really mean by helping addicts.

We don’t.

“Envision” – end of rural?

Lovettsville in Loudoun’s Rural Area

Lovettsville in Loudoun’s Rural Area

Loudoun County, self-described as one of the richest and most splendid counties in America, has set upon producing a “new” comprehensive plan, titled, “Envision Loudoun,” and, to that end, sought to obtain the opinions of the community in what were called, “listening and learning sessions,” to determine what that plan should look like for the County including its rural area.

David Truman, a political scientist, wrote that public hearings and input sessions may be to inform the governing body or they may just be methods to expel political energy while disregarding the will of the people.

Focusing on Western Loudoun, the comments from listening, learning and postings in this ongoing process include thousands of published comments (in small 10 pica type) to preserve Western Loudoun and to stop the development that is underway; this is a sample of the comments:

  • “Stop the urban sprawl and protect Western Loudoun.”
  • “Maintain two distinct areas, rural west, urban east.”
  • “Keep the West rural.”
  • “Stop growth.”
  • “Contributing to this is the county caving in to developers’ desires…”
  • “Economic development should not be a higher purpose than livability – property rights matter.”
  • “Rural roads should be left unpaved.  If people move to the rural area it should be for the aesthetics of the area.”
  • “Protect culture of western Loudoun established over last 250 years.”
  • “Protect stone fences throughout western Loudoun, along historic roadways in western Loudoun County, e.g., Beaverdam Creek Historic Roadway.”
  • “Maintain open spaces.”
  • “Preserve current agriculture [and] farms.”
  • “Historic villages aren’t meant to support traffic.”
  • “No big box stores [in] Western Loudoun.”
  • “Love Western Loudoun as it is, keep open space, horse farms, fight development pressure/housing development.”
  • “Stop the residential development.”

At the same time, the public’s opinions were released, there was a separate “Foundation Report” that purported to represent the findings of the “listening” and “learning.”

It described how “Loudoun County has evolved from a collection of rural villages” and from when it was “primarily an agricultural community.”

Rather than cite the will of the residents in the County, and in Western Loudoun, the Report says there is a “growing market demand for new types of development and community amenities.” Continue reading