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By Esmeralda Bermudez, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

LOS ANGELES — The dishes she used to scrub after each family dinner pile up by the sink. The husband who sweetly called her his trophy wife cries alone in the room where he now sleeps. The 11-year-old son with big brown eyes who once cuddled on her lap now hardly comes near her.

She can’t move. She can’t talk. She can only blink her eyes.

Angie Bloomquist was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis less than two years ago. Since then, the fatal illness known as Lou Gehrig’s disease has shut down just about every muscle in her body. The toll on her family has been almost as devastating.

“It’s like a tornado ripped through our home,” Angie says. “And destroyed everything we built.”

She speaks through a special computer that tracks her eye movement, a painstaking task that exhausts her after a few sentences.

Still, in her final days, Angie finds herself pushing more than ever — for the choice to die through doctor-prescribed medication.

Proponents know it as “aid in dying.” Opponents call it assisted suicide. Since it was legalized in Oregon in 1994, there have been dozens of attempts to have similar versions approved in nearly 30 states. All have failed, except four: Washington, Vermont, Montana, and New Mexico.

In California, the issue hasn’t been brought before lawmakers or voters since 2007. This year, buoyed by the story of Brittany Maynard, who left her Bay Area home for Oregon to carry out her legally assisted death, supporters have geared up for another try.

One bill is making its way through the Legislature. Recently, two lawsuits were also filed against the state aiming to legally protect physicians.
Angie, who says she knew long before she was diagnosed that she would want to hasten her death if she became severely incapacitated, joined one of those lawsuits this month.

“I know how I want to live and know that that life is no longer possible,” she says. “The right to die should be my right.”

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Angie’s symptoms began in early 2013, just before her 47th birthday.

The fingers on her right hand twitched and she had trouble typing. She became exhausted walking from the parking lot to her office at Miller Children’s Hospital in Long Beach, where she was a social worker. One day, leaving work, she inexplicably lost her balance and fell hard on a staircase.

In August 2013, after months of tests, Angie and Fred, her husband of 15 years, got the diagnosis: She had ALS.

“My heart sank and my body went cold,” Angie says. “Life, as we knew it, ceased to exist.”

The disease affects the brain and the spinal cord’s nerve cells. It eventually paralyzes sufferers, while their minds almost always remain unaffected.

About 30,000 Americans live with ALS. Half of them die within two to five years. Breathing gradually becomes more difficult, and often, patients suffocate. Cases like that of famed theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, who has lived with the disease for more than 50 years, are a rare exception.

Angie, ever the realist, immediately began planning for her death. She had spent 23 years as a social worker, the last decade in hospitals watching children fight futile battles against ruthless diseases. She had guided families, preparing them for their child’s death.

Now, the time had come to guide her own.

On a recent day, Angie rests in her usual spot in the family’s television room. Fred walks through the 112-year-old Craftsman they share with their son, Andres, and their two dogs, Viejo and Peanut.

The sun is just about done setting over San Pedro. The jasmine climbing over the white picket fence Fred and Angie put up years ago fills their front yard with a sweet scent.

Fred turns on the light in the first bedroom.

“This is where the magic happens,” he says, in a not-so-funny tone. “Or at least, it used to.”

Their former bedroom is now Angie’s room. It has two twin beds: Angie’s hospital bed and, next to it, a bed for her overnight caretaker.

The dresser is packed with a mix of medications, tubes, wipes, drops, syringes.

Fred widened doorways, built a side deck and a wheelchair ramp and remodeled the bathroom to make room for a commode. Soon after Angie was diagnosed, he organized a ceremony to renew their vows. Beneath two white ash trees in their backyard, his wife giggled as he tried to explain, using the lyrics of his favorite love songs, how much he loved her.

“I’ve had some deliriously happy times in my marriage,” he says. “And I know that those moments, unlike the human body, are everlasting.”

Fred tries to be honest with Andres about what’s happening to Angie. But the truth is, most days, they avoid the topic.

“I’m not really the talking type,” Fred says.

He has to be strong for Angie — a woman who used to shush rowdy neighbors in her pajamas at 3 a.m. and throw bouncy castle parties for some 20-plus 5-year-olds. When he cries, he cries alone in his room, off the kitchen.

That’s the thing about losing the girl of your dreams. Day in, day out, it hurts like hell.

“I’m not going to reduce her to a few fanciful stories,” Fred says. “She was too vast, too great. She was a tidal wave.”

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The Bloomquists thought of going to Oregon, but qualifying for the law could take months. Angie also considered refusing food and slowly drifting to her death through sedation, but that’s not how she wants to go.

The lawsuit is being handled by attorney Kathryn Tucker, executive director of the L.A.-based Disability Rights Legal Center, who’s overseen these kinds of cases on a national level for years.

Proponents are ready to go to the ballot in 2016 if the pending legislation fails. Tucker believes a court decision is the best way for California to win approval. She’s had recent success with similar lawsuits in Montana and New Mexico and has another one pending in New York.

Despite the traction supporters have gotten recently, the issue faces great opposition. Doctors, Catholic leaders and some disability rights advocates object on ethical, religious and medical grounds.

“If assisted suicide is approved, it would result in many lives ending without their consent,” says Marilyn Golden, senior policy analyst with the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund. “No safeguards have ever been enacted or proposed that can prevent that outcome, which can never be undone.”

Golden says combining a profit-hungry health care system with assisted suicide could result in patients being denied care and steered toward dying. Heirs and caregivers could also become abusive, and mentally ill or suicidal patients who are not terminal would have few safeguards to protect them from killing themselves.

Tucker says if the lawsuit succeeds, those safeguards — such as requiring a physician’s second opinion and judging metal competence — would be left for doctors to decide.

As for Angie, attorneys say they plan to lobby the court for a special permission to help her die as soon as possible — at her home, with her family by her side. She entered hospice care recently and may not have more than a few months to live.

“She’s accepted that this disease has brought her to the doorstep of death,” Tucker says. “She just wants to be able to have a measure of control to have a more dignified and peaceful death.”

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Each day after Andres leaves for school and Fred heads to work, Angie’s three-hour routine begins. It takes her that long to move from her bed to the recliner in the television room.

Estella Ganuza, her morning caretaker, feeds her through a tube. It’s a struggle to not choke on her saliva.

Then, like a stork carrying a sleeping child, Ganuza uses a hydraulic machine with a giant sling to lift Angie’s limp body from the bed onto a commode. She wheels her into the shower, dresses her, combs her hair and transports her in the sling to her recliner.

Here, in the book-filled room where the family used to watch TV after dinner, she remains until night falls and it’s time to go to bed.

Her loved ones have stitched together a round-the-clock schedule of care, with one relative watching over Angie each day of the week. They bring food, do laundry, wash dishes, sweep the floors. Fred handles weekends.

Her mother massages her hands and feet. Her best friend from second grade goes on Costco runs. Her former hospital colleagues drop by and share stories that make Angie’s eyes light up.

“I love them and don’t know how I would have coped without their daily presence,” Angie says.

Her worst fear, she used to tell everyone, was losing her ability to speak.

How would she connect to the ones she loved the most?

When Angie’s speech went away about six months ago, she felt Andres begin to drift from her.

Maybe it’s his age. Maybe he just doesn’t know what to say or how to say goodbye.

He goes to therapy, at Angie’s request. He likes to play and joke with Fred. He’s a bright boy who says he’s proud of his mother, above all else, “for putting up with me.”

After school each day, he bolts through the front door, straight into the television room.

“Hi, Mom!” he says.

He leans over the recliner and, for the briefest moment, lays his head on Angie’s chest.

Angie closes her eyes.

(c)2015 Los Angeles Times, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Fred Bloomquist reaches out to touch the cheek of his wife of 15 years, Angie, in their San Pedro home. “She’s my everything,” Fred said. (Katie Falkenberg/Los Angeles Times/TNS)


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The Arizona 2020 election "audit" under way

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As ongoing threats by Trump loyalists to subvert elections have dominated the political news, other Republicans in two key states—Florida and Arizona—are taking what could be important steps to provide voters with unprecedented evidence of who won their most close and controversial elections.

In both battleground states, in differing contexts, Republicans are lifting the curtain on the data sets and procedures that accompany key stages of vetting voters, certifying their ballots, and counting votes. Whether 2020’s election-denying partisans will pay attention to the factual baselines is another matter. But the election records and explanations of their use offer a forward-looking road map for confronting the falsehoods that undermine election results, administrators, and technologies.

In Republican-run Florida, the state is finalizing rules to recount votes by incorporating digital images of every paper ballot. The images, together with the paper ballots, create a searchable library to quickly tally votes and identify sloppily marked ballots. Questionable ballots could then be retrieved and examined in public by counting boards to resolve the voter’s intent.

“The technology is so promising that it would provide the hard evidence to individuals who want to find the truth,” said Ion Sancho, former supervisor of elections in Leon County, where Tallahassee is located, who was among those on a January 4 conference call workshop led by the Division of Elections seeking comments on the draft rule and procedures manual revisions.

Under the new recount process, a voter’s paper ballot would be immediately rescanned by an independent second counting system—separate from what each county uses to tally votes. The first digital file produced in that tabulation process, an image of every side of every ballot card, would then be analyzed by software that identifies sloppy ink marks as it counts votes. Several Florida counties pioneered this image-based analysis, a version of which is used by the state of Maryland to double-check its results before certifying its election winners.

“The fact that it has overcome opposition from the supervisors of elections is telling because the number one problem with the [elected county] supervisors is [acquiring and learning to use] new technology; it’s more work to do,” Sancho said. “The new technology doesn’t cost much in this case. Everyone has scanners in their offices already because every voter registration form by law must be scanned and sent to the Division of Elections.”

The appeal of using ballot images, apart from the administrative efficiencies of a searchable library of ballots and votes, is that the images allow non-technical people to “see” voters’ intent, which builds trust in the process and results, said Larry Moore, the founder and former CEO of the Clear Ballot Group, whose federally certified technology would be used in Florida recounts.

But Florida’s likely incorporation of ballot images into its recount procedures, while a step forward for transparency, is unfolding in a fraught context. In 2021, its GOP-majority state legislature passed election laws that are seen as winnowing voters and rolling back voting options. In other words, it may be offering more transparency at the finish line but is also limiting participation upstream.

The new recount rule is expected to be in place by this spring, months before Florida’s 2022 primaries and midterm elections. Among the issues to be worked out are when campaign and political party officials and the public would observe the new process, because the election administrators do not want partisans to intentionally disrupt the rescanning process. These concerns were raised by participants and observers on the teleconference.

The Arizona Template

In Arizona, Maricopa County issued a report on January 5, “Correcting the Record: Maricopa County’s In-Depth Analysis of the Senate Inquiry.” The report is its most substantive refutation of virtually all of the stolen election accusations put forth by Trump loyalists who spent months investigating the state's presidential election.

Beyond the references to the dozens of stolen election accusations put forth by pro-Trump contractors hired by the Arizona Senate’s Republicans, the report offered an unprecedented road map to understanding how elections are run by explaining the procedures and data sets involved at key stages.

The report explained how Maricopa County, the nation’s second biggest election jurisdiction (after Los Angeles County) with 2.6 million registered voters, verified that its voters and ballots were legal. It also explained key cybersecurity features, such as the correct—and incorrect—way to read computer logs that prove that its central vote-counting system was never compromised online, as Trump supporters had claimed in Arizona (and Michigan).

“I’ve never seen a single report putting all of this in one place,” said John Brakey, an Arizona-based election transparency activist, who has sued Maricopa County in the past and routinely files public records requests of election data. “Usually, it takes years to understand all this.”

Taken together, Florida’s expansion of recounts to include using digital ballot images, and Maricopa County’s compilation of the data and procedures to vet voters, ballots, and vote counts, reveal that there is more evidence than ever available to confirm and legitimize election participants and results.

For example, Maricopa County’s investigation found that of the 2,089,563 ballots cast in its 2020 general election, one batch of 50 ballots was counted twice, and that there were “37 instances where a voter may have unlawfully cast multiple ballots”—most likely a spouse’s ballot after the voter had died. Neither lapse affected any election result.

“We found fewer than 100 potentially questionable ballots cast out of 2.1 million,” the report said. “This is the very definition of exceptionally rare.”

When Maricopa County explained how it had accounted for all but 37 out of 2.1 million voters, it noted that the same data sets used to account for virtually every voter were also used by the political parties to get out the vote. Thus, the report’s discussion of these data sets—voter rolls and the list of people who voted—offered a template to debunk voter fraud allegations. This accusation has been a pillar of Trump’s false claims and is a longtime cliché among the far right.

It is significant that this methodology, indeed the full report, was produced under Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, a conservative Republican who has repeatedly said that he had voted for Trump, and was fully endorsed by Maricopa County’s Board of Supervisors, which has a GOP majority and held a special hearing on January 5 to review the findings.

In other words, the report is not just a rebuttal for the Arizona Senate Republican conspiracy-laced post-2020 review. It is a road map for anyone who wants to know how modern elections are run and how to debunk disinformation, including conspiracy theories involving alleged hacking in cyberspace.

“There is not a single accurate claim contained in [Arizona Senate cybersecurity subcontractor] CyFIR’s analysis of Maricopa County’s tabulation equipment and EMS [election management system],” the reportsaid, referring to accusations that counts were altered. “This includes the allegation that county staff intentionally deleted election files and logs, which is not true.”

When you add to Maricopa County’s template the introduction of a second independent scan of every paper ballot in future Florida recounts, what emerges are concrete steps for verifying results coming from Republicans who understand how elections work and can be held accountable.

Of course, these evidence trails only matter if voters or political parties want to know the truth, as opposed to following an ex-president whose political revival is based on lying about elections. However, more moderate Republicans seem to be recognizing that Trump’s stolen election rhetoric is likely to erode their base’s turnout in 2022, as Trump keeps saying that their votes don’t matter.

“You’ve got Republican buy-in,” said Florida’s Sancho, speaking of his GOP-ruled state’s embrace of more transparent and detailed recounts. “And Republicans, more than anyone else, should be concerned about whether their votes were counted as cast and as the voter intended.”

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

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Michael Carvajal

Photo by Tom Williams via Reuters

The search is on for a new director of the federal Bureau of Prisons after Michael Carvajal announced on January 5 that he’s retiring from his appointed post and will leave when the Department of Justice finds his replacement.

The Biden Administration needs to replace Carvajal with a person who knows prisons inside and out: someone who’s been incarcerated before.

When President Joe Biden announced his first round of cabinet picks just weeks after being elected in 2020, then Vice President-elect Kamala Harris said: “When Joe asked me to be his running mate, he told me about his commitment to making sure we selected a cabinet that looks like America – that reflects the very best of our nation.

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