Friday, December 31, 2004

Chemical Spill Costs Upset Public School Parents

This story (first in the Dallas Morning News, was brought to my attention by Tim Gablehouse of Golden (CO). Unfortunately, the DMN is one of those jerkline outfits that wants enough information to steal your identity to let you read an article on their website (even if you spent the 75 cents they charge for their fishwrapper), so I'm putting the article here for TPoL and other readers.

Parents upset by ambulance bills

By The Associated Press(12/30/04 - DALLAS, TX) — The parents of some Dallas students who were taken to the hospital this fall after cleaning up a chemical spill in class are upset that they have been billed for the ambulance ride.
Nine seventh-graders at Pearl C. Anderson Middle Learning Center were following a science teacher's order in October by cleaning up the chemical that had spilled onto the classroom floor. As they were cleaning, their hands began to burn.
The school called for an ambulance, and the students were taken to a local hospital where they recovered a couple of hours later. The science teacher -- whose name was not disclosed by district officials -- was reprimanded but is still teaching.
Each family was billed $350 for the ambulance ride and the Dallas Independent School District is refusing to pay.
"If ... (school officials) would have called me, I would have taken her to the hospital and avoided this," said Deborah Whaley, who has received her second notice to pay the ambulance bill. "It could have all been avoided if they had told the kids not to touch it. They should have just called the janitor in."
Dallas schools spokesman Donald Claxton said state law protects school districts from liability in such incidents. He said the district would set a precedent by paying the ambulance bills.
"If we start paying for one, we're going to start paying for everything like that," he said. "It's a very unfortunate situation. We feel sick about it."
Dallas school district policy says that in an "extreme emergency," an ambulance service shall be called to take a student to an emergency room. The student's family will be billed for the ambulance service, the policy states.
Trustee Ron Price, whose area includes Pearl C. Anderson, wants the school board to take a look at the policy when it's back in session next month.
"We don't want to penalize parents for our mistake," Price said.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

DHS: States, Cities need spy networks

From a friend in state government comes this article, which I provide in full:


Published: December 15, 2004

BOSTON, Dec. 14 - To protect America against terrorists, state and local agencies, as well as private businesses, need to gather intelligence themselves and not just rely on intelligence gathered by the federal government, Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, the leader of a national working group on safeguarding the nation, told homeland security officials on Tuesday.

"The eyes and ears which gather intelligence need to be as developed in our country as they were in foreign countries during the cold war," Mr. Romney told the group. "Meter readers, E.M.S. drivers, law enforcement, private sector personnel need to be on the lookout for information which may be as useful."

In a presentation by telephone to Tom Ridge, the secretary of homeland security, and members of the Homeland Security Advisory Council, who were meeting in San Diego, Mr. Romney said that local law enforcement agencies should stop believing that they could protect all possible targets of terrorism.

"We could increase our law enforcement personnel tenfold, but we can't protect every target," Mr. Romney said. "There are just too many schools, churches, stadiums, bridges, tunnels, roads, subways. We have to be able to find the bad guys before they carry out their acts, and that can only be done through intelligence. The financial resources of our nation and our states should be increasingly devoted to this effort."

The proposal by Mr. Romney's working group represents a new and more assertive role for many local law enforcement agencies and other public and private entities in fighting terrorism, some experts on domestic security said.

Some cities and states, including Massachusetts, Colorado and Los Angeles, have set up or are planning "fusion centers," which collect information from local sources and seek to analyze it and draw conclusions. New York City goes beyond that, sending detectives to places like Israel and Singapore, as well as to other states to investigate businesses that sell explosives.

But under Mr. Romney's proposal, every state would be urged to marshal local agencies and businesses, with the goal of collecting details and observations that might, when stitched together, point to a potential terrorist attack.

"If you have a transit system that circles a major city and you get reports of people photographing trains at various locations, well, the report from one police station may be meaningless, but several of them may be a pattern," said John D. Cohen, senior homeland security policy adviser to Massachusetts.

The proposal "makes a great deal of sense to me," said Dave McIntyre, who teaches about domestic security at Texas A&M University. "I don't see how you're going to protect every high school football stadium, every school bus, every theater. I do think that we might find that a better investment of resources is to look at intelligence and investigative development."

Mr. Romney, who dealt with post-9/11 security issues as president of the organizing committee for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, said in an interview on Monday that his involvement with the domestic security working group was an outgrowth of the concern he felt as governor about the way the federal government was transmitting information and the lack of direction that the federal government was giving the states.

"I was initially quite frustrated that the homeland security money came without any sense of what states should do," Mr. Romney said, saying that when he raised those concerns, he was asked to assemble and lead a working group on the subject.

Mr. Romney, who is often mentioned as a Republican with potential or ambition to occupy a national office, insisted in the interview that he had no desire to be the next director of homeland security, or to take any other position in the Bush administration. He said that after the November elections, he told Andrew H. Card Jr., the White House chief of staff, "in case my name gets bandied about for any position, I'm filling my entire term" as governor, which expires in two years.

Dr. McIntyre said a potential pitfall of the working group's proposal was the issue of making sure that local agencies and businesses did not violate civil liberties. "How do we properly ensure that we're investigating some Americans without investigating all Americans?" he asked.

Mr. Cohen, the security adviser, said: "When we're talking about engaging frontline personnel, we're not asking them to go out and spy on people. In the course of them doing their jobs day to day, they collect information. And we're talking about teaching people to be more sensitive when information that is collected in the course of their day-to-day business may actually have a nexus with terrorism."

At Tuesday's meeting in San Diego, with Mr. Romney presenting his report from Boston, Mr. Ridge asked about the cost of the working group's plan. Mr. Romney, whose group included state and local officials and business executives from around the country, said some of the money for training local officials and setting up fusion centers could come from federal homeland security grants to states.

But, he added: "Whether I'm going to get funding from the federal government or not, this is a priority and I'm going to go after this. I went to the Legislature this year to get funding for our fusion center."

Mr. Romney said the intelligence that states received from the federal government was "oftentimes confusing" and sometimes contradictory. His report recommended that information be disseminated through a single federal agency.

Mr. Romney's report also said that too much information from the federal agencies was classified as secret or top secret, barring state officials from giving details to most local officials, who do not have adequate security clearance.

"You're put in a position of not passing it on or passing it on to someone without the right clearance and violating the law," Mr. Cohen said.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Baker’s Dozen ™ Protect yourself from a suspicious parcel

Draft for your review and comment
Although the usual targets of letter-bombers and anthrax-mailers are government agencies or big corporations, the technique can be used by many enemies of liberty against many people, including those who are liberty activists. So handling mail these days can be dangerous, sometimes deadly. It is important to recognize the difference between safe and suspicious mail, and plan appropriately in advance.
1. Whenever possible, use a locking mail box or a post office box, and not a mail slot or unlocked mailbox, for both business and private use. If using a mail box, if at all possible, do not attach to your building or house, but have at some distance away, but in view of your house.
2. Always look for a return address and make sure that you're receiving the mail from someone you know or from a credible source. Be wary of packages that have your address as the return address, which aren’t familiar, and are mailed to unknown or improper addresses.
3. Recognize unusual shapes, especially in a business or personal-size envelope, that may indicate an explosive device or internal package or bag of some substance. Be on the lookout for soft bulges, as when powder has been poured in, in an envelope.
4. Look for staining through the envelope, especially if oily or greasy.
5. Refrain from eating or drinking in a designated mail handling area.
6. Place suspicious envelopes or packages in a plastic bag or some other type of container to prevent leakage of contents. Never squeeze, sniff or smell suspect mail. Unless you are concerned about a gas, do NOT seal the container – it can turn a small explosive into a major threat.
7. If you do not have a container, then cover the envelope or package with anything available (clothing, paper or trash can) and do not remove the cover. Put a warning note or sign on the cover or container to alert people of the danger.
8. Leave the room and close the door, or section off the area to prevent others from entering.
9. Wash your hands with soap and water to prevent spreading any powder or other residue to your face.
10. If you are at work, report the incident to your building security official or an available supervisor, who should notify the police and other authorities without delay.
11. List all people who were in the room or area when this suspicious letter or package was recognized. Give a copy of this list to both the local public health authorities and law enforcement officials for follow-up investigations and advice. They may have been exposed.
12. If you are at home, report the incident to the local sheriff/police and postal authorities. Alert your neighbors.
13. Be aware that simply reporting, although a smart idea, can lead to a lot more problems. Be careful under what conditions you notify the authorities, and do not be surprised if they panic in response.
Remember that not all packages are dangerous or deadly, but use common sense, just as you would with e-mail spam or finding something on the street!

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

A new "Baker's Dozen" on Travel Security

I'm again posting an article and asking for comments and suggestions before sending it out for publication on The Price of Liberty or elsewhere.

A Baker’s Dozen ™ Checklist for Improving Travel Security
With the increased difficulty in using public transportation (planes and trains), more Americans are driving greater distances than ever. However, both in cities and other areas, there are threats to you and your property while traveling. There are a few simple items to reduce the risk and to be able to respond if a threat arises:
1. Ensure that you have basic equipment for responding to emergencies in your vehicle. Some of the equipment you should ALWAYS have: first-aid kit (trauma type), warning triangles and/or flashers, purified water (for drinking, cleaning, and emergency fluids replacement), paper and pencil, food (including candy or other items with sugar), and vehicle maintenance equipment (such as tire gauge, tire-changing equipment, spare, and owner’s manual).
2. Ensure that you vary your emergency equipment in your vehicle based on changing seasons and the area in which you are traveling. Seasonal equipment may include additional water, blankets or sleeping bags, snow shovel, suntan lotion, hats, coats, and raingear.
3. When parking your vehicle, make sure that you put away or cover items that might be a temptation to people to break in and steal. Also cover or put away items that may be damaged by the sun or heat. And of course, be sure you lock your car at all times when you are not in the vehicle.
4. Don’t leave children, animals, or other items in your vehicle, which may be damaged by extremes of heat or cold.
5. When traveling in heavy stop-and-go traffic, especially in central urban areas, keep doors locked and windows rolled up (as much as possible) to prevent someone from entering your vehicle without permission, or from throwing something into (or snatching something from) your vehicle.
6. Always inspect the exterior of your vehicle before getting in and driving, to check for damage (especially in a parking lot), broken lights, low or flat tires, and other problems.
7. When receiving your car back from a maintenance provider, in addition to checking to make sure that repairs were done as invoiced, and that key items are present and have been correctly replaced, also check that an excessive amount of mileage has not been used on the odometer.
8. Make sure that your registration, insurance information, and tags/stickers are all current, and have not been tampered with. When receiving replacements, check to make sure all information is correct. Whenever possible, do NOT put a street address on your various papers: instead use a post office box.
9. If you carry a pistol in your vehicle (a strong recommendation), make sure that it is convenient to reach if needed, that it is not visible from outside the vehicle, and that it is stored securely where it will not be dislodged in case of a sudden stop or accident. Ensure that you know what laws apply in states through which you travel.
10. If stopped by a patrolman or police officer, verify that the person really is a police officer before letting them take your documents or get into their vehicle. If possible, arrange thorough an auto club or other service to have a “bond” for minor traffic offenses, to avoid having to post large cash bails or pay large fines.
11. When you see an accident or what appears like an accident, if possible report the accident to an emergency dispatcher before stopping to assist, in case problems develop. When approaching the accident scene, keep a good distance to avoid problems with debris from the accident, attempts to seize your vehicle, and to allow emergency response vehicles adequate access, as well as pulling off the driving lane far enough for your own safety.
12. Especially before beginning a long trip or traveling to remote areas, check for adequate fuel, oil, radiator fluid, other fluids, spare tire, tire-changing equipment, and working lights, including turn signals.
13. If stopped and asked by law enforcement to voluntarily submit to a search, refuse to do so without a search warrant. If searching is done, politely express that you are allowing such under threat of force, and observe the searching as closely as possible. Request a written copy of anything that they claim to have found.

Your automobile should be as much your castle as your home, but the law does not always recognize that fact. Schools should be a safe place for teaching children, but they can NOT be completely isolated from all threats and dangers – in fact, too much isolation can in itself be a danger. But children should be able to expect parents, teachers, and other staff to be prepared and keep them as secure as possible.

Medical Matters and Jello

With thanks to Chuck Muth for posting these two items on his "news and views" e-newsletter!

I have to comment on these two items, even though I don't have an URL for them:

“In Jefferson Parish, La., 8-year-old Kelli Billingsley ‘brought homemade Jell-O cups to school at Boudreaux Elementary,’ reports WGNO-TV in New Orleans. ‘The girl's mom says her daughter was just trying to make a treat for her friends,’ but ‘the school suspended the girl for having a look alike drug,’ despite having tested the Jell-O and finding no trace of alcohol or any other forbidden substance. Things sure have changed since we were young. At our elementary school they had a drinking fountain that dispensed a liquid that looked just like vodka!”- James Taranto’s Best of the Web, 12/7/04

Apparently, it is now popular in some places (teacher's unions, perhaps) to create alcoholic gelatin treats for parties - thus this bizarre little ritual. Despite assurances that they were just plain old Jello (just like Bill Cosby sells!), and despite testing, the second-grader was suspended for nine days - a cruel and unusual punishment indeed when there was no crime to begin with.

“Let the Un-Drugging of America begin. The pharmaceutical industry, despite a golden age of biology that has unraveled mysteries of the genetic code and yielded miracle drugs that save thousands of lives, may be on the brink of a backlash. Millions of us are popping prescription pills for innocuous ills, when simple lifestyle changes - harped on by physicians for decades - are more effective and a lot cheaper…“Epidemiological studies have found that bad living - smoking, drinking too much alcohol, feasting on cheeseburgers - is responsible for 80% of one’s risk of heart disease and almost all the risk of diabetes. Cleaning up your act would do more to reduce that risk than popping a plethora of new pills.”- Forbes, 11/29/04
Indeed, this is something that I can speak of from experience - having various physicians attempt to diagnose me with various things and prescribe very expensive prescription-only medicines for conditions that can be changed with VERY limited diet changes and changes in schedules for me. What today is all too often seen by myopic doctors (drugs for everything) as a "serious condition" is often just the body telling you that you aren't treating it right - and it is often a fairly simple matter to find out why it is doing that. Even if it is NOT a simple matter, after you've spent $1000 on getting a diagnosis, why trap yourself into spending $50 - $100 a month for the rest of your life for some drug (with often-nasty side-effects) when a simple "no-thanks" to certain foods, or "it is too late in the day to be eating or drinking that" is so simple? (And easier to do when your body slams you in the gut once or twice.)

The problem is, in both of these articles, that we as people have SURRENDERED our decision-making abilities, and our responsibilities (for our lives or those of our children) to someone who really is not deserving of the trust we give them, to say nothing of what we pay them. If we take back control over our own lives - even just to the extent of saying "NO" to more nannies for adults, and more prisons for children - we will find that we don't NEED to trust these people to do anything but mess up their lives and the lives of those we surrender to their tender mercies.