Wednesday, February 23, 2011

NOT a Palate Cleanser

This little ox wants to go home.

© Bright Nepenthe, 2011

Monday, February 21, 2011

Preventing Evil and Child Welfare: Where There's a Will, There's a Way.

“No government agency can prevent those very few who have lost the core values of humanity from performing inhumane acts.’’

Please Spare Me, Secretary Wilkins.

In my lovely little Ivory Tower, where I live with my beloved 'rescued' child, and where we have our premium healthcare, relative financial ease with no state income tax and no more FL intangible tax to pay, I read about the case of Nubia and Victor Barahona with a feeling of horror that is almost indescribable. I've been a GAL since 2004. I've been a GAL whose recommendations about an adoption were ignored. I've been a GAL who took a case of an adopted child, who was perhaps even more egregiously abused because those who adopted and subsequently abused her knew exactly what she had suffered before. I've been a GAL whose case's adopted child contacted me stating she was being abused and I was forced to call in abuse reports on her adopters. I've also been a GAL of three children whose therapist contacted me to tell me that the oldest child reported that he and his younger siblings were being starved, fed only Ramen noodles, by their foster parent in their lovely Richmond Heights foster home. In the child welfare arena I really don't know a more sickening feeling than thinking that a child that our State removed because they claimed they could keep the child safer, is subsequently re-abused, or killed, after being rendered dependent on our state's dependency regime.

The Department of Children and Families has published a redacted version of a huge number of documents in the case of Nubia and Victor Barahona (formerly Docter), substantiating the simply awful lives that these children have led from the moment they were born. What really amazes me about this whole thing, beyond the special viciousness of what was done to these children, is that we've seen it so many times before in my state. From a child I knew from my days as a Hands on Miami project coordinator at the Miami Bridge Shelter by the name of Cynteria Phillips (I will never, ever forget opening my Local section of the Miami Herald in August 2000 and seeing her photo and saying "I know that face!" as I read, gasping, that she'd been raped and murdered at age 13 and thrown like trash, onto a patch of glass near Miami Edison High School- her suspected murderer/rapist was just recently charged) to one of my present GAL kids who was removed for incest and then sexually abused by her adoptive father, to my former GAL youth whose adoptive parents I have now reported twice to the Abuse Hotline, I can say, unequivocally, having followed the dependency scenario in our state for the past decade, that I truly believe that child welfare in our state is so broken I don't know where to start pointing fingers. 

People who don't want to look at child welfare because it's too "depressing" probably also don't know that both the DCF/Privatized Foster Care System and the Guardian ad Litem Program in my state run on a veritable shoestring budget that is continually facing cutbacks. If people don't like seeing sexually abused or murdered or suicide-committing children, they need to think carefully about what it is that they are asking for when they say they want tax cuts. Because further budget cuts = cutting the margin of safety for children in this state. Is it possible to retain good, professional and caring people working in the child welfare system for no money? No, it really isn't... Anyone who's any good will train for a few years and leave. I vividly recall one social worker, a really good one, telling me he simply couldn't keep doing it. He couldn't sleep at night, thinking about what he saw and what he couldn't help or assuage, about concerns he had about the children in his caseload even as we pulled my autistic GAL youth from her APD home where she spent her weekends in darkness and from which she was sent to school while menstruating with no sanitary products, no change of clothes and no medication for her simply awful menstrual cramps. It's really hard to adequately care for damaged and developmentally delayed children on little money. These children and youth need resources, including high caliber therapy and decent homes, that continual cutbacks make difficult to come by. They need these things so that they don't continue the cycle of abuse themselves, so they don't become homeless, and so they don't get further abused or even killed.

After a full week of listening to all the piecemeal blame-slinging, I'm still as angry and sad and puzzled about how to change an entire system of care as I was at the beginning of last week and long before. What I know about the Barahona case (since so many people have been asking me questions about it) are these things:

·      •  A GAL just like me had his concerns ignored about the adoption of Nubia and Victor by the Barahonas.

·      • A Protective Investigator left off her investigation promptly at 9 pm, the Friday before one of the children died and told a Judge in open court that she didn’t work weekends.

·      • The adoptive mother of these children reportedly told that investigator she had no idea where the children were.

·      • The mother was not arrested and an Amber Alert for the missing children was never issued. 

·      • The child/children died/were grievously harmed.

·      • There is a strong pressure in our system to get all the children in foster care adopted. There is a little less pressure (as I know from my own youngest child) to make sure a placement is in that child’s interest- that it is safe, viable and that the child will thrive there.

·      •  That going back just to 2000 there are many instances of horrible, horrible situations facing children in foster care and that names engraved in my mind like Rilya Wilson, Cynteria Phillips, Gregory Love, Latiana Hamilton, Gabriel Myers and Nubia Barahona, along with despicable snatches of DNA like Jorge Barahona, Thomas Ferrara, Bonifacio Velazquez and Geralyn Graham, all paint a picture of a decade in which change from state to private care has marked too few a number of changes for the children that we, and our state, have deemed should be removed to safer circumstances. Changes that would make them safe, make them more resilient.

Jorge Barhona

I really don't know where one could start to fix the child welfare system but what I do know is that throwing blame around isn't a meaningful solution. It's likely part of the problem. One more panel isn't likely to solve the woes of child welfare in our state. Because the real blame isn't just DCF's or Our Kids' or horrible human beings like the Barahonas and their ilk who take in wounded children and wound them further or even kill them. I don't believe DCF Secretary David Wilkins' claim that no government agency could have protected Nubia and Victor Barahona. I don't believe that as a state, as a country, where we can build marvelous technology, spend billions on entertainment and athletes and the military, that we cannot manage to keep our most vulnerable citizens safe. I cannot believe that Protective Investigator Andrea Fleary couldn't call her supervisor, tell her she was worried about these two children, call the police, arrest Carmen Barahona for obstruction of justice, and get the state of Florida to issue an Amber Alert for two 10 year olds in the company of the very, very scary Jorge Barahona (see photo above, would you like to be a child looking up at that face when angry?), who had already been investigated a number of times, including for sexual abuse and malnourishment, in relation to these children. 

Clearly the focus on child welfare is lost in our state and in its child welfare agency.

Until we demand better for the children of our state in Florida, until we are willing to adequately fund investigations and foster care and therapeutic services and youth who age out so that they don't repeat the same sad cycle of mistakes made by their parents, we are almost as wrong as everything that happened between February 10th- February 14th in the lives of Nubia and Victor, and everything that went before. We might not be starving children, drowning them in pesticides, or walking away from their front doors at 9 pm sharp on a Friday night. But every time we turn a blind eye, every time we don't demand better for the children of this state, we are part of the problem.

We need a better child welfare system and I seriously wonder how many children will have to die sad and horrible deaths before the citizens of Florida think about how to build a better one. It might (gasp) take tax payer money. It might (gasp) take public will. It might take not accepting that it was just a bad case management agency decision that led to a finalized adoption, or simply bad-mouthing the callous PI who walked away from these children. It might take demanding a change to the entire system of care, from the very highest levels of our state. And telling your senators and representatives that they can cut their salaries before they cut child welfare and child healthcare in our state. That enough children have died or suffered.

And to Paul Neuman, the GAL who opposed the adoption of Nubia and Victor, I hope you didn't quit. I hope something in you didn't die when you saw the news last week that those children, about whose best interests you thought you had clearly advocated and been ignored or disparaged, and who had some of the very worst that can happen to any child happen to them. But having lived through the adoption nightmare lite version myself, I'm almost certain that something in you did. You have my sympathies. 

But I hope you turn around and fight like hell for better child welfare in our state.

© Bright Nepenthe, 2011

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

It's Been A While, Hasn't It?

Can I just start by saying this makes me incredibly happy. I smile just looking at it. It's today's POD on NatGeo:

Fox, Washington

Photograph by Alexander Glass, Your Shot
This Month in Photo of the Day: Animal Photos
Young fox seen near the path up to Paradise at Mount Rainier in Washington state

Anyway, with all the stuff going on, from pedophile priests in Philly* to LA (you know that one, the pedophile/sex addict who was on the sexual abuse advisory board for his Archdiocese and the Church knew he was a pedophile?), upheaval everywhere you look in the Middle East (even Libya isn't immune?) to the despicable tactics being threatened for women's shelters in Afghanistan that will likely strip women and girls of all vestige of safe haven, there has been a lot to blog about and I've not been blogging.  Thelma Lee's GMO post is almost ready to put up, but also hasn't been. Basically, my hands and arms have not been cooperating much. I herniated a disc last month and things haven't been great in the ole left arm since, and those pesky arthritic hands o'mine are also an adventure and a half. Plus, there's been all that life stuff, like taking that Troll O'Mine up to Orlando to visit with his bio-sister and nieces, or getting ready to take my daughter to NC so she can interview for pharmacy school (squee! good program), or doing stuff that's easy off the iPad, like ordering my corset for a steampunk convention. So basically, it's been Mr. Toad's Wild Ride around here. The GMO series is forthcoming, with point and counterpoint, and suggested reading and films besides. Really it is.

'Til then, just look at that fox. I don't know what the British were thinking with all those fox hunts, do you? Look at that face. Who could lead dogs on a chase to tear such an animal apart? If I thought I could get away with it, I'd want a fox as a pet. And a hedgehog. And definitely an otter. Otters are indispensable. And now foxes, too.

*Three priests just put on leave and 37 with cases to be reexamined after a grand jury investigation says that the Philadelphia Archdiocese has *gasp* covered up and shuffled assignments of pedophile priests. OMQF I am stunned, stunned, I tell you! 

© Bright Nepenthe, 2011

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Palate Cleanser #148

Neomarica cerulea in Mom's garden...

A few other photos taken today on Flickr.

© Bright Nepenthe, 2011

Friday, February 4, 2011

Palate Cleanser #147

dreamlands by effekt!

"this was a risky spot, the waves were really unpredictable and a few times i got doused. at one point i had to grab my camera mid-exposure as a bigger wave came through and i had to scramble to higher ground.
risky, but the experience was worth it and i'm happy with the end result :)"

visual palate cleanser concept © Bright Nepenthe, 2011

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Appropriate Repercussions

Students protest in support of their UC Irvine classmates, who were disciplined… (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

In February 2010, the Israeli Ambassador to the US gave a talk at the University of California at Irvine. The talk was disrupted by a group of students who were members of a UCI student group called the Muslim Student Union. They were rude, standing up in succession, one after another, shouting anti-Israel slogans. They were removed one by one, by campus police. The students apparently lied to an investigative panel and said that the protest hadn't been pre-organized by the MSU, when all indicators were that it had been. The students were disciplined and the organization was suspended for a quarter. The suspension just ended but the organization is now on probation for two full years. In the scheme of things in a university setting, this was serious punishment for an entire group of students because of the misdeeds of a few. The only other student organizations in the history of the UC Irvine to have earned such sanctions were involved in hazing or alcohol related-events that brought harm or risk of harm. 

Yesterday, in a series of articles and a pointed opinion piece, the LA Times reported that the Orange County District Attorney is seeking to file charges against the 11 students before the statutory time limit of one year runs out on February 8th. They've empaneled a grand jury to look into filing charges, presumably felony charges, according to some reports.

This afternoon I received an impassioned email from Jewish Voice for Peace's Emily Ratner, who declares that she and four other students behaved in a similar manner at the Jewish Federation's General Assembly last year in New Orleans protesting what she characterizes as humans rights abuses and even war crimes, in Gaza. She and her companions were also forcibly removed from the assembly room. However, she notes:

"We challenged the same government, and spoke for the same values of human rights and equality. We both interrupted speakers representing a foreign government. 
But while my fellow Jewish protesters and I were removed from the hall and faced no punishment beyond some bruises from the attacks of audience members, these students saw their group suspended by the University, an unheard of step in a case that did not involve hazing or alcohol abuse. And more shocking, they may face criminal charges that would remain on their records forever." 

As of this writing, 321 UC Irvine students, alumni, staff and faculty have signed a petition asking Orange Country DA Tony Rackaukas not to charge the UCI 11. Some of the signatures are using the petition as a platform for further negative rhetoric against Israel, which is unfortunate, but a number ask about what is going on with freedom of speech, etc. Ernest Chermerinsky, the Dean of the UCI Law School says that the issue isn't about freedom speech and expression at all, but rather appropriate punishment. His take is that the students weren't really exercising freedom of expression but that their university-determined punishment is quite sufficient. The LA Times concurred, stating:

"Is it really necessary to threaten the futures of students who engaged in a nonviolent protest that didn't, ultimately, stop Oren from delivering his remarks? These students have been punished already, in an effort to make clear the difference between legitimate protest and their unacceptable actions. We hope they've learned a lesson. Now it's time to move on."

The entire business hits home for me because of what I know happened to a group of students here at the University of Miami after they protested with workers hired by UNICCO as janitors, who were not receiving health care benefits and had to bear substandard wages and unsafe working conditions. In keeping with such strikes in other institutions, some students joined the striking workers, including some workers on a hunger strike. Many of the students who did so were penalized (and most people would say very unfairly so) by the University. They were not, however, arrested and charged with any crimes.

It's evidently a lot to ask that institutions teach their students that fine line between impassioned political interest/advocacy of human rights and inappropriate behavior. (At least it was a lot for the University of Miami.... and it wasn't even clear the students had done anything inappropriate, either.) But UC Irvine was willing and able to do that and seems to feel it has done so well enough and doesn't want its students penalized legally in a way that might impair their future goals.

I'm with them. Recognizing appropriate repercussions for mideeds is one of the hallmarks of a true democracy. Charging these students for their disruptive behavior would mark the rule of law in Orange County to be on the same path that we've see on the streets of Cairo, Tehran and other places where non-violent protests have been met with arrest and pumped up charges for citizens or foreign nationals speaking out.

Let's try to be different, shall we?

You can sign Emily Ratner's petition at Jewish Voice for Peace.

© Bright Nepenthe, 2011

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

When it rains...

Sally's moving blog post on water and flooding in Queensland is fresh in my memory. And so it's really a shock to see Cyclone Yasi, a Category 5 storm so large that it would cover most of the continental US or all of Western Europe, bearing down on... Queensland. And of course, as luck would have it, the storm was moving ashore at high tide. While the storm is moving rapidly, it is a wet hurricane and torrential rains are anticipated.

The sobering weather advisory from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology:



The people of Queensland need your every good wish. If you wish to contribute, again, the appropriate sites are:

For your movtivation, here are a couple of images from the Australian to put this storm's size in perspective:

© Bright Nepenthe, 2011

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Finding Truth on Shifting Sands aka My Endless Skepticism

Well, I mentioned that Press TV interview with Sakineh last week, and as one of my readers has reminded me, I didn't post it for you as I offered to. I'm sure you remember that for a fast 24 hours, the internet was alive with this idea that Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani had been freed? It turned out that she was just reenacting "her crimes." I actually sat on posting about her purported release for a while because I just couldn't believe that the IRoI would have caved in and released her. Sure, she'd been flogged 99 times (at a minimum- still not sure about that story that she got more for appearing unveiled in the photo that turned out not to be her but hey, some people thought it was her and so maybe she should be flogged so more... though with all the scrutiny, I think that highly unlikely) just as proscribed for her adulterous behavior, which she confessed to, then denied, then reconfessed to, not once but twice, and now three times on Iranian (Press) TV. Of course, Iran says she is guilty not just of adultery (*raisedeyebrow*) but complicity with her husband's murder (which she denied but now says, oh yeah baby, did I ever help fry that sucker....).

The original concern over Sakineh's fate was that she had been sentenced to death by stoning for the crime of adultery, a fact has been vehemently denied by Iranian president Mahmoud Amadinejad while he visited the US last fall. I can tell you however, that the documentation (translation) obtained by Amnesty International clearly states that Sakineh was sentenced to death by stoning not for murder but for adultery, in direct opposition to the claims of Amadinejad. Azerbaijani sources claim yet another iteration (translation)- that Ashtiani's husband was involved in narcotics use and that he was prostituting her to pay for his habit and he ended up dead as a result.

When it comes to these interviews, it seems as if almost everyone, except perhaps Sakineh's son, Sajjad, has an agenda here. Even Sakineh herself, since obviously she has a clearly defined role to play. From Mohammed Mostafei to Mina Ahadi to whoever wishes to comment on behalf of the Islamic Republic including Amadinejad, everyone seems to have some stake, or offer some version of reality, that is not quite what it seems. 

So here are the Press TV interviews, broken into three parts. Just remember that Press TV is owned and operated by Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. One other thing that I think you might want to note in this Press TV report is what goes so mysteriously unexplained. Isa Taheri, her purported lover/accomplice looks so relaxed and unsequestered in this video, doesn't he? It is not clear whether he was also flogged but reportedly he was at least convicted of both adultery and murder. Reported to be "thuggish" and to have had "run-ins with the police," it's not very obvious to me why Sakineh is in prison and Isa Taheri isn't. Can someone explain it to me? Even Press TV doesn't say that killing her husband was Sakineh's idea. So what is the story here? Why is Taheri free in Tabriz and Sakineh in prison? Is being female the worst crime of all? Taheri was supposedly convicted of murder and sentenced to 10 years but he looks awfully free, paling around with his daddy in Tabriz, doesn't he? (Did I mention that he's not even the person, listed on the documents above, with whom Sakineh was convicted of committing adultery for her stoning sentence?) Was Ebrahim Qaderzadeh (Sakineh's husband) stabbed? Was he electrocuted? Both have been reported in the press. Was he murdered at all? Did he get high and electrocute himself? (Hey, my version is just as plausible as theirs!) Who is guilty, who is innocent? Who is trying to pull a nice set of blinders over our eyes so that we can only watch the screen in front of us?

What is the justice that Iran is trying to convince us it is seeking? I'll let you draw your own conclusions about whether anything that anyone has to say about this woman's case and the events surrounding it is the truth... But when you're done, go back and read that document from Politifact and Amnesty International. What really happened here? Will we ever know?

© Bright Nepenthe, 2011