Daily Archives: August 6, 2008

Detectives probe whether Rockefeller was involved in Calif. disappearances

Police are investigating whether Clark Rockefeller (left), who was arraigned today for parental kidnapping, has ties to the 1985 disappearance of a California couple. Christopher Chichester (right), shown in an archive photo from a California newspaper, was a tenant of the couple but disappeared before police could question him. (Essdras Suarez/Globe Staff — Pasadena Star-News Archive Photo)

Boston Globe | Aug 5, 2008

By Eric Moskowitz, Maria Cramer, and Milton Valencia, Globe Staff

Homicide detectives from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department headed to Boston today to interview the man known as Clark Rockefeller about a decades-old missing persons case out of San Marino, Calif., a spokesman for the sheriff’s department said this afternoon.

“He’s a suspect worth interviewing,” said Steve Whitmore, spokesman for the department. “We’re on our way to do that. Whether we get any information from him or not, we don’t know.”

Whitmore said investigators were probing whether Rockefeller was linked to the 1985 disappearances of John and Linda Sohus in San Marino, a tony enclave of about 13,000 in Los Angeles County.

“This person back in your jail is now a person of interest in our investigation of that case,” he said.

Lili Hadsell, police chief in Baldwin Park, Ca., who used to work as a patrol officer in San Marino in the 1980s, said she received a call last night from a San Marino detective asking her about the disappearances.

She said that in 1985, one of John Sohus’s relatives, either his grandmother or adoptive mother, called her to report that Sohus and his “new wife” had never come home.

San Marino police tried to find the couple but never reached them. They also tried to interview a tenant who lived in their house, Christopher Chichester, who was described as being in his 20s.

He disappeared before they could interview him, Hadsell said. She said she recalled little about him, except that he went by at least one other alias.

“He was just very elusive,” she said. “We were never able to pin anything down on him, never were really able to figure out where he came from, what he had done. [He was] one of these people that kind of appeared and then disappeared and no one seemed to know anything about him.”

The Globe reported today that authorities are investigating the possibility that Rockefeller is concealing a violent past, after his fingerprints provided an unusual, but still unconfirmed, link to a killing in California.

Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis said today that police believed Rockefeller had been in the Los Angeles area at some point in the 1980s.

In May 1994, swimming pool excavators working in a back yard on Lorain Road in the exclusive city of San Marino found the bones of a single adult human in three plastic bags. The Los Angeles Times reported at the time that detectives said the victim might be a previous resident of the house who had been missing since 1985.

The Sohuses, both in their late 20s, were both reported missing in 1985. The Times reported that police had asked people about a young man who lived in an apartment at the back of the home when the couple had disappeared.

The man was thought to have been a student at Pasadena City College, had used several aliases, and had been in trouble with the law, police told people they were questioning, the newspaper reported.

Rockefeller’s fingerprints, taken after his capture in Baltimore Saturday, were linked to an out-of-state license application under a different name, according to two law enforcement officials. That name, in turn, was on a list of people wanted in a homicide case in California, the officials said.

Both officials provided information to the Globe on condition they not be named, because the investigation is ongoing.

Rockefeller has been no help as investigators try to determine his true identity, officials said. A prosecutor called him a “mystery man” and a “cipher” today at his Boston arraignment, acknowledging that investigators still don’t know who he really is. A judge ordered Rockefeller held without bail on charges of parental kidnapping, assault and battery, and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon.

The questions about Rockefeller’s past have surfaced because on July 27 he allegedly kidnapped his 7-year-old daughter from his ex-wife and then fled with her to Baltimore, where he was arrested Saturday. The girl was found safe.

Shock therapy makes a quiet comeback

Related

Electroshock always damages the brain

ECT is a method of producing amnesia by selectively damaging the temporal lobes

Electroshock may cause Brain Damage and Permanent Memory Loss

‘Inhumane’ shock therapy is on rise
Dr Michael Corry, a consultant psychiatrist at the Institute of Psychosocial Medicine in Dun Laoghaire, has likened the procedure to something you would see in “death camps”

Despite the stigma, 100,000 desperate patients a year now seek treatment

MSNBC | Aug 6, 2008

By Melissa Dahl

When Bill Russell tells people that his severe depression was relieved by shock therapy, the most common response he gets is: “They’re still doing that?”

Most people might be quicker to associate electroshock therapy with torture rather than healing. But since the 1980s, the practice has been quietly making a comeback. The number of patients undergoing electroconvulsive therapy, as it’s formally called, has tripled to 100,000 a year, according to the National Mental Health Association.

During an ECT treatment, doctors jolt the unconscious patient’s brain with an electrical charge, which triggers a grand mal seizure. It’s considered by many psychiatrists to be the most effective way to treat depression especially in patients who haven’t responded to antidepressants. One 2006 study at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in North Carolina found that ECT improved the quality of life for nearly 80 percent of patients.

“It’s the definitive treatment for depression,” says Dr. Kenneth Melman, a psychiatrist at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle who practices ECT. “There aren’t any other treatments for depression that have been found to be superior to ECT.”

In fact, antidepressants — the most widely used method for treating depression — don’t work at all for 30 percent of patients.

But some doctors and past patients say that the risks of shock therapy, such as memory loss, are too high a price to pay for the temporary benefits.

Despite convulsive therapy’s 70-year history, doctors still aren’t sure exactly how ECT works to ease depression. What they do know is that ECT works very quickly, with many patients reporting their depression lifting after just a few sessions — and in patients with severe depression, a fast-acting treatment is considered imperative to prevent a suicide attempt.

Russell, who lives in Mill Creek, Wash., has struggled with depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder since he was in high school. But his depression began to weigh on him like a lead coat in the spring of 2007, after the pace at his job as an electronics technician quickened, and he couldn’t keep up and became overwhelmed. Every night that spring, he came home from work and went straight to bed. He was barely eating and dropped 40 pounds in three months. At his lowest point, he formed a plan to kill himself.

As his depression worsened, he was hospitalized, and at one point was on eight different antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs, but none of them helped. It wasn’t until he tried ECT as a desperate last resort that he was helped. His depression started to lift after the first week of treatments.

A crucial treatment — or brain damage?

But not everyone responds as well as Russell, say critics of the treatment who warn that the cognitive side effects, such as memory loss, are too severe, and that the fuzzy, foggy state of mind that ECT initially causes simply makes patients temporarily forget about their sadness. (Nearly every ECT patient experiences confusion, inability to concentrate and short-term memory loss during the treatment.)

“We talk about cognitive deficits and memory loss — really, that’s brain damage,” says John Breeding, a psychologist in private practice in Austin, Texas. Breeding has counseled several past ECT patients, who say they’ve suffered long-term cognitive damage as a result of electroshock. He’s working to ban ECT in his state, and he runs the Web site endofshock.com.

Breeding and other skeptics argue that ECT is nothing more than a quick fix: Once the treatments stop, the depression returns. And at least one study backs that claim: In 2001, Columbia University researchers found that without follow-up medications, depression returned in 84 percent of ECT patients within six months.

Most patients are given three treatments a week for a total of six to 12 sessions. After that, once the patient’s mood has reached a plateau, the psychiatrist may stop the ECT sessions and prescribe an antidepressant. If someone hasn’t responded well to antidepressants in the past, ECT won’t do anything to change that. For those patients, a doctor may prescribe a different antidepressant from those that had failed before. Or those patients may need once-a-month follow-up treatments, called maintenance ECT, which can continue for years.

The American Psychiatric Association approves ECT as a “safe and effective” treatment for depression and other mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and catatonia. Under the APA’s guidelines, an anesthesiologist, a psychiatrist and a recovery nurse must be present during a treatment, and the treatment must be voluntary, unless the patient is unable to provide informed consent. It’s not recommended for the very old, children or those with heart conditions. Insurance covers treatments for most patients.

Despite the APA’s approval, for the general public, shock therapy still conjures images from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” — it’s Jack Nicholson being electrocuted, making terrible grimaces as his body convulses.

“Quite frankly, the stigma pushes people away from it, and it pushes some psychiatrists away from even recommending ECT,” says Dr. William McDonald, an Emory University psychiatrist who reviews the APA’s guidelines on electroconvulsive and electromagnetic therapies. “But most of the stigma related to ECT really is related to misconception.”

Psychiatrists readily admit that in the early days, ECT absolutely was a cruel procedure. And because the treatment has lingered in the shadows of psychiatry for decades, many people still associate it with its sketchy past.

Convulsive therapy was introduced in the mid-1930s, when scientists discovered that by triggering a seizure, they were able to shock psychiatric patients back into a functioning state of mind. It was designed to be a treatment for curing schizophrenia, but doctors found it also seemed to benefit patients with depression, bipolar disorder and catatonia.

Convulsions strong enough to break bones

During the ’40s and ’50s, it was one of the only available methods for treating mental illness, so it was often overused. Even when doctors adhered to the standards of the day, it was a harrowing procedure: As patients were shocked with electricity, they were wide awake, feeling their bodies’ convulsions, which were sometimes severe enough to break bones.

At its peak of popularity during the early 1960s, about 300,000 U.S. patients a year received shock therapy.

Treatments both then and now require about the same amount of electricity — somewhere between 3 and 100 joules depending on the patient. (For context, one joule is the amount of energy it takes to lift an apple three feet in the air; 100 joules is enough energy to power a desktop computer.) But in a modern ECT treatment, patients are under anesthesia during the entire process, asleep and unaware of the electrical currents charging through their brains. A muscle relaxant prevents their bodies from jerking around once the seizure is triggered; in fact, the patient hardly moves at all.

When Russell, 43, initially was considering ECT, he and his wife, Sue, did extensive research and had lengthy conversations with his doctor about the realities of the treatment. While he was desperate to find a way out of his depression, he was still terrified of shock therapy. “At first, I thought of Frankenstein,” Bill Russell says. “I thought, ‘That’s drastic, that causes brain damage — there’s no way I want to do that.’”

After weighing the risks with the depression he just couldn’t shake, he made an appointment with Melman, the doctor at Seattle’s Swedish Medical Center.

The hospital is being renovated, which has shunted the ECT suite to a somewhat unfortunate location: the basement, just down the hall from the emergency room.

“I can remember seeing one person (in the waiting room) that really looked out of it, just like a zombie, sort of,” Bill Russell says. “I was just thinking, ‘Oh God, no, I don’t want to end up like that.’

“We almost got up and felt like saying, ‘No way, forget it,'” he remembers.

A quick husband-wife huddle reminded them that they were now down to their last idea for relieving Bill’s depression, because psychotherapy, medications and hospitalization hadn’t helped. They resolved to give shock therapy a shot.

Full Story

Prince Charles rakes in over a half billion dollars from real estate deals

Prince Charles has set himself up very nicely with property deals

Daily Mail | Aug 6, 2008

Prince Charles has earned £270 million from property deals since 2001

By Rebecca English

Prince Charles has benefited from a staggering £271million-worth of property deals in order to fund his household over the past seven years.

The Duchy of Cornwall, which provides the heir to the throne with his personal income, bought, sold or renovated dozens of properties resulting in a £43million profit.

The deals range from the £30million sale of a block of shops to a parcel of farmland worth a modest £40,000.

The estate also paid £2million towards the construction of a new stand at the Oval cricket ground, which it already owns.

It was, insiders claim, a project the prince expressed a ‘strong personal interest’ in.

In addition, the estate lavished £1.3million in November 2006 on Charles and Camilla’s new Welsh hideaway, Llwynywormwood, near Llandovery in Carmarthenshire.

As revealed by the Daily Mail earlier this year, the Duchy has also confirmed paying Camilla’s sister, the interior designer Annabel Elliot, more than £300,000 to renovate its holiday cottages on the Scilly Isles.

The main purpose of the Duchy of Cornwall – which was created in 1337 by Edward III for his eldest son Prince Edward – is to provide an income for the heir to the throne.

It currently funds all of Charles’s private spending as well as the majority of his official and charitable activities. The prince also chooses to use it to fund the growing household of his two sons, Princes William and Harry.

Under the 1337 charter, the Prince of Wales is not entitled to any proceeds or profit on the sale of the Duchy’s capital assets, but only to its annual income, on which be currently pays 40 per cent tax.

He is also not liable for capital gains tax because any money raised from the sales is ploughed back into the estate.

Although the Duchy is run by its own board, the Treasury must approve all property transactions with a value above £200,000.

The estate – which also has a financial investment portfolio – consists of around 54,521 hectares of land in 23 counties, mostly in the South-West of England.

It includes agricultural, residential and commercial property holdings and is valued at £647million – a 6 per cent rise on last year.

The Prince’s income from the Duchy in 2007 was £16.3million or £12.8million after tax.

Details of the individual property deals were released for the first time yesterday by the Treasury under a Freedom of Information request.

The rise in the estate’s value, which is predominantly farmland, has been explained by the huge growth in the value of agricultural land – the biggest annual rise for 25 years.

A Clarence House spokesman said: ‘ Corporation tax is not paid because it is not a corporation. The Prince of Wales pays 40 per cent income tax on his income from the Duchy.’

Iraq’s oil profits huge while U.S. shoulders reconstruction, GAO says

McClatchy | Aug 5, 2008

By Kevin G. Hall

WASHINGTON — Iraq has benefited handsomely from this year’s surge in oil prices and is well-positioned financially to shoulder a greater share of its own economic and security needs, the U.S. government’s accounting watchdog concluded in a report released Tuesday.

In its report on efforts to stabilize and reconstruct Iraq , the Government Accountability Office steered clear of the politics of who pays for what. But it left little doubt that Iraq , which racked up $32.9 billion in oil earnings from January through June, can afford to pay more for its own reconstruction.

The GAO estimates that Iraq will earn $67 billion to $79 billion in oil sales this year, twice the average annual amount of revenue that it generated from oil sales from 2005 through 2007. This windfall comes despite the fact that Iraq is still struggling to approach pre-invasion oil-production levels.

Record high oil prices mean that Iraq’s government could post a budget surplus of more than $50 billion by year’s end. From 2005 to 2007, oil exports provided 94 percent of the Iraqi government’s revenues.

“This substantial increase in revenues offers the Iraqi government the potential to better finance its own security and finance needs,” the GAO said.

The Iraqi government has run budget surpluses since 2005 that amounted to a cumulative $29.4 billion at the end of last year. Should oil prices remain high, Iraq could post a budget surplus for this year of $38.2 billion to $50.3 billion , GAO researchers concluded.

However, investment spending by the Iraqi ministries that are responsible for oil, water and electricity declined sharply from 2005 to 2007. The GAO said that Oil Ministry spending fell by an annual rate of 92 percent, Electricity Ministry spending by 93 percent and Water Ministry spending by 13 percent. All three ministries affect Iraqi citizens’ quality of life and thus support for the struggling elected government.

While Iraq has amassed budget surpluses, the U.S. Congress has appropriated roughly $48 billion since 2003 for efforts to stabilize and reconstruct the invaded nation. As of this June, the GAO said, about $42 billion of that money had been spent.

Just 1 percent of what Iraq spent from 2005 through 2007 went toward expenditures such as maintaining U.S.- and Iraqi-funded investment in buildings, water supplies and power-generation facilities.

“The Iraqi government now has tens of billions of dollars at its disposal to fund large-scale reconstruction projects. It is inexcusable for U.S. taxpayers to continue to foot the bill for projects the Iraqis are fully capable of funding themselves,” Sen. Carl Levin , D-Mich., said in a statement. “We should not be paying for Iraqi projects while Iraqi oil revenues continue to pile up in the bank, including outrageous profits from $4 a gallon gas prices in the U.S.”

Levin, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee , requested the study in March, along with the ranking Republican on the panel, Virginia’s John Warner . Warner joined Levin on Tuesday in bipartisan criticism of Iraqi budget practices.

“Despite Iraq earning billions of dollars in oil revenue in the past five years, U.S. taxpayer money has been the overwhelming source of Iraq reconstruction funds,” Warner said. “It is time for the sovereign government of Iraq , using its revenues, expenditures and surpluses, to fully assume the responsibility to provide essential services and improve the quality of life for the Iraqi people.”

Before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz declared that Iraq’s oil proceeds would cover the cost of the war and the expense of rebuilding the country after Saddam Hussein was removed from power.

“To assume we’re going to pay for it all is just wrong,” Wolfowitz told the House Budget Committee on Feb. 28, 2003 .

The Bush administration didn’t refute the GAO’s assertions. In a request from the GAO for comment, Deputy Assistant Treasury Secretary Andy Baukol acknowledged that increased oil revenues put Iraq in a stronger position to shoulder its own burdens.

“Nonetheless, the pace of spending has been held back by various factors, including deficiencies in capacity and security,” Baukol, the chief treasury official for the Middle East , said in a written response.

Iraq spent $10.8 billion this year through April, Baukol noted, twice what it spent in the same period last year. The Iraqi government submitted a supplemental budget to the nation’s parliament in July, he added, and the proposal included $8 billion dedicated to capital projects.

Ships’ logs show global warming period during the 1730s

Records interrupted only by looting of treasure galleons

The Register | Aug 4, 2008

By Lewis Page

A climate prof noted for data mining of archived ships’ logs has produced further insights into global warming. Dr Dennis Wheeler of Sunderland Uni says his latest analysis shows sudden warming of the North Atlantic and Europe – much like that seen in recent times – during the 1730s.

This, Wheeler believes, shows that widespread rises in temperature of the kind recorded lately can be caused naturally. He thinks that human-caused carbon emissions are contributing to climate change now, but says it is unwise to link human emissions to specific events unless evidence is very strong.

“Global warming is a reality, but what our data shows is that climate science is complex and that it is wrong to take particular events and link them to CO2 emissions,” Wheeler told the Times at the weekend.

Wheeler’s new 1730s temperature spike info comes from trawling through mountains of archived ship’s logs. Royal Navy logbooks have been particularly valuable, both for this project and previous ones.

“British archives contain more than 100,000 Royal Navy logbooks from around 1670 to 1850 alone,” says Wheeler. “They are a stunning resource.”

The new research, compiled by Wheeler and colleagues from the Met Office and other institutions, is to be published in the journal Climatic Change. The paper has already gained a good deal of ink in the UK media, generally referencing Admiral Nelson and Captain Cook for their zeal in keeping accurate records.

As neither Cook nor Nelson were at sea during the 1730s, this seems a bit unreasonable. Perhaps the most famous British naval officer active at the time was Captain (later Admiral) George Anson. Anson subsequently became a naval legend after his epic voyage round the world from 1740-44, during which he and his crew captured a Spanish treasure galleon in the Pacific – making the survivors who eventually got home to England rich men. Later, as an admiral, Anson also handed the French a massive kicking at Cape Finisterre and then became First Sea Lord – the head of the Navy.

During the 1730s – the period where Wheeler’s sudden warming occurs – Captain Anson was at sea in the Atlantic, so it’s likely that his logs form part of Wheeler’s data set. However, it wasn’t normal for warships to carry thermometers at the time, so much of the analysis draws on winds and the “consistent language” used by sea officers of the time, as well as European shore-based records.

Google scoffs at the concept of privacy

Google: ‘Even in the desert, privacy does not exist’

Defends Street View, scoffs at The Borings

The Register | Jul 31, 2008

By Cade Metz in San Francisco

As Google’s government-approved spycar fleet drives across the UK, doing its best to photograph every inch of the country, the search giant cum global menace has told the world that “even in today’s desert, complete privacy does not exist.”

Back in April, we told you the tale of Mr. and Mrs. Boring, a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania couple that sued Google in federal court after pan-and-zoomable pics of their swimming pool turned up on Google Street View.

The Borings claim that a Google spycar appeared on their private road without proper authorization. Insisting this private road is tagged with a “Private Road, No Trespassing” sign, they call Google’s behavior “an intentional and/or grossly reckless invasion of…seclusion.”

Well, Google has now filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, and in defending Street View, it cites the Restatement of Torts, a legal guideline from the American Law Institute: “Complete privacy does not exist in this world except in a desert, and anyone who is not a hermit must expect and endure the ordinary incidents of the community life of which he is a part,” the Restatement says.

Then Google goes a step further: “Today’s satellite-image technology means that even in today’s desert, complete privacy does not exist.”

In any event, the Borings live far from the desert, Google says, and it has every right to photograph their home. “Although they live on a privately maintained road, the road is shared by several neighbors and there is nothing around their home intended to prevent the occasional entry by a stranger onto their driveway,” the motion continues. “There is no gate, no ‘keep out’ sign, nor watch guard standing watch.”

Er, the Borings do claim a “Private Road, No Trespassing” sign. But Google dismisses this too. “Plaintiff’s allegation of a ‘private road’ sign at the top of their street standing alone is insufficient to negate Google’s privileged and trivial entry upon Plaintiff’s property.”

The search giant also returns to the satellite argument. “There is no fence surrounding the property, nor is it located where the yard that cannot be seen by satellite or low-flying aircraft.” So, if Google can put an aerial photo of your swimming pool on Google Earth, it can put a closeup on Google Street View.