26 June 2015

Friday jukebox: Harry and Henson

Today we found it:

29 May 2015

The NSA is "drowning in information"

This article touches upon my thoughts about the vacuum cleaner that is NSA communications collection. That is, I'll buy that the NSA is collecting everything: phone calls, faxes, e-mails, text messages. I'll buy that the NSA has multiple storage locations around the U.S. where this mind-bogglingly vast amount of data is being stored. And I'll buy that they have some artificially intelligent search and analysis capacity, analagous to but even surpassing that of Google's often creepily accurate predictive typing feature, which draws out communications relevant to what they're looking for.

But it all comes down to the volume. The NSA isn't merely gathering all the haystacks in its search for needles, as the article suggests. It's gathering haystacks that are being delivered via firehoses. Via Niagara Falls. Sure, the NSA has a shop-vac that handles the volume, but how much analysis can they really do? Which raises two questions. One, how effectively can they find actual threats? And two, how much American privacy can they really violate?

So I've been and I continue to be ambivalent about the NSA's mass surveillance. On the one hand, I do strongly believe that the collection of cell phone signals via StingRay-type technology is a straightforward example of an unconstitutional search and seizure, a 21st-century general warrant. This is something we fought a war over and then abolished the use of in the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. But on the other hand, I've always been a fan of "security by obscurity" -- you'd piss your pants laughing at me if I told you where I store all my computer passwords -- and I honestly don't see how the NSA can effectively catch the people whom it seeks to catch through this mass data collection. They're looking for a needle in a continent of haystacks. They're looking for a bubble in the foam going over Niagara Falls.

It's homeopathic policing!

16 May 2015

Penna. State House Resolution honors terrorist

This guy was usually protesting on days that I escorted patients in and out of an abortion clinic. After handing little brown-colored plastic fetuses to young men of color who were helping their partners to the clinic, he would get into my face and actually threaten me with physical harm:
[S]tate House Resolution 82.

It honors John Patrick Stanton, of Jenkintown, as a "humanitarian, activist and founder of the prolife movement in this Commonwealth."

Stanton died in January 2014 at the age of 86.

The measure, sponsored by Montco Republican Rep. Thomas Murt, was voted out of the House Health Committee this week 18-9.

It was supported by all 16 Republican committee members and two Democrats: Philly Rep. Kevin Boyle; Luzerne County Rep. Gerald Mullery.

Stanton was known for demonstrating outside abortion clinics. His decades of doing so resulted in lawsuits, charges of harassment and trespassing, arrests and at least one incarceration.
So fuck you, Thomas Murt (R.-Montgomery County). Fuck you very much.

29 April 2015

Lynne Abraham's favorite speech-muzzling law tossed

GWB appointee throws out the anti-Mumia "Silencing Act" on First Amendment grounds, because of course:
The Revictimization Relief Act, as it was called, "is the embodiment of content-based regulation of speech," [Judge Christopher] Conner wrote. "Its terms single out a distinct group and disincentivize its members from speaking."

[Also 5th Amendment grounds, particularly because the law didn't define "offender."]

"As a result, many plaintiffs -— prisoners and non-prisoners alike -— instantly modified their conduct for fear of falling within the ambit of the act," the judge said.

He said the law hinged on the emotional response of victims.

"Short of clairvoyance, plaintiffs cannot determine in advance whether and to what extent a particular expression will impact a victim's sensibilities," Conner wrote.
Minus one point for using the "word" disincentivize, but plus one for explaining that the law is no good because, as drafted (PDF), it required the speaker to be a mind-reader.

In January I noted how happy Lynne Abraham was to be present with Governor Corbett at the bill's signing into law. Would love to see someone ask her about the law now that a federal judge has ruled so predictably on it.

03 April 2015

Your devices require and result in acres of radioactive clay

Keep upgrading your cell phone and laptop every year:
China’s dominance of the rare earth market is less about geology and far more about the country’s willingness to take an environmental hit that other nations shy away from. And there’s no better place to understand China’s true sacrifice than the shores of Baotou toxic lake.
Years ago I was chatting with someone who was very enthusiastic about hybrid automobiles, which at the time were only newly available in the U.S. An early adopter, enviro-weenie myself, I took my key fob out of my pocket and said something to the effect of, "OK, but look, here in this fob, from the petro-chemical plastic outer casing to the chip and battery inside, there is more environmental destruction than in a single Tin Lizzie. How many miles do I have to drive my Prius to make up in gasoline savings in order to offset the incredible amount of energy and resources that went into the battery pack, the dashboard computer display" -- this was pretty new at the time -- "and all the other technology and materials that went into it?"

Where do the two curves meet, I wonder: the energy and resources that go into a key fob, versus the energy and resources that go into a particular year and model of an American car? It's thoughts like these that keep me wound up and unable to sleep in the wee hours.

Voice in the wilderness, Indiana edition

In light of this week's clusterfuck in Indiana, I remind my readers of the proposal I offered nearly two years ago: The Indiana Church of Homo Matrimony:
You know what the state of Indiana needs? A church the only doctrine of which is same-sex marriage in the great State of Indiana. It should be called the Indiana Church of Homo Matrimony, and its greatest -- because only -- sacrament would be same-sex marriage.
So, Daily Beast? You're welcome.

26 March 2015

Murderous and bizarro, part 2

My voice to god's ear? Three weeks ago I suggested that someone might start a disciplinary proceeding against the lawyer in California seeking to legalize extra-judicial killings of gay people, an astonishing abuse of California's direct democracy process. Today:
[T]he California Legislature's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Caucus [has] filed a formal complaint against McLaughlin with the State Bar of California, asking that he be investigated.
So . . . keep an eye on Matthew McLaughlin's listing, I guess.

25 March 2015

bisy backson

Spent all weekend and all day yesterday working, making Philadelphia safe for democracy, with nothing but a low-powered, only somewhat smartphone keeping me in touch with the world.

What did I miss, other than a plane crash in the French Alps?

19 March 2015

Shane Bauer back in prison

Wow, one of the Iran hikers can't seem to stay away from prison:
On Friday night, sheriff’s deputies from Winn Parish, La., arrested reporter James West for trespassing at an area prison and discovered a camera-equipped drone among the reporter's belongings. And early this week, an employee of the prison resigned his position in the aftermath of the arrest and was called an "operative" of Mother Jones by Winn Parish Sheriff Cranford Jordan in a chat with the Erik Wemple Blog. "He was working as as guard," said Jordan.

Jordan identified the now-former prison employee as Shane Bauer, who is a senior reporter at Mother Jones, according to the magazine’s Web site.
Looks as though Bauer parlayed his experiences in Iran into a gig doing an exposé on Corrections Corporation of America for Mother Jones. I'm looking forward to the article.

Scene from a suburban Philadelphia courthouse, March, 2015

The scene: A large courtroom in the courthouse of a county in southeastern Pennsylvania. Large-scale portraits of recent-looking judges (some female but all white), apparently painted from photographs, line the room's walls. The case is a petition to set aside the nomination petition of a candidate for the office of commissioner in a mid-sized township. In other words, someone's trying to get a candidate kicked off the ballot for the primary election. Three COURT WORKERS stand between the JUDGE's bench and the parties. They are not sure what's going on -- it is Florida, 2000, writ small.

COURT WORKERS: "What's a petitoner? What's a respondent? We don't know where you should sit. Parties, just pick a table, any table."

ATTORNEY FOR PETITIONERS: "Your Honor, the law states that a candidate has to file Statement X with the Ethics Board and file a copy with the Board of Elections. The law further states that failure to file with the Ethics Board is a fatal defect to candidacy. Candidate filed only the latter. Therefore, her candidacy is fatally defective and she should be stricken from the ballot. Please issue an order to that effect."

CANDIDATE: "It's true I didn't file the statement with Ethics. But I'm disabled and I had to take my son to sportsball game and the notary had stepped out and the Party person said they'd take care of it. In fact, this lawyer should be representing me, not the petitioners, because the Party person didn't do what they promised."

ATTORNEY FOR PETITIONERS: "The law as written is unambiguous about the requirement. Also, Case Y from just 2 years ago in the state supreme court says that judges aren't allowed to make an exception when a candidate says they relied on someone to do something and it didn't happen. Please issue our order."

JUDGE: "Board of Elections, do you have anything to add?"

BOARD: "Nope."

JUDGE: "Sounds good to me. I'm not interested in getting overturned by Superior Court. Too bad, so sad, Candidate. Order issued as requested."


12 March 2015

Holy shit, Moorestown (N.J.) declines to militarize its police

Unlike the NYPD, we finally have a police department that has come to its senses and realized that it doesn't actually need a mine-resistant vehicle to patrol its suburban and small-town streets:
The Moorestown Police Department on Thursday backed off its plans to acquire a mine-resistant vehicle from the federal government, citing concerns expressed by residents.

"It was more than we needed," Moorestown police Lt. Lee Lieber said. "The vehicle was more than we really needed as far as its capabilities."
The 1033 Program is ridiculous. No, it's not. It's not at all. It's a not-unreasonable way for the Department of Defense both to take in a little bit of cash and also to eliminate the ongoing cost of maintaining this equipment. What's does maintenance look like on a Navistar MaxxPro Dash? How about parts? You can't just head over to ACDelco or Pep Boys -- the closest source for Navistar vehicle parts is in York, Pennsylvania. (I tried to look at their spare parts catalog online to dig prices, but the document had been removed. Maybe you can find parts on EBay?)

I also wanted to find out how much one of these babies costs, but the DoD website specifically doesn't list them; instead, you have to establish a relationship with the program first. I'm really curious to know.

Why not make them here?

OK, I'll bite. Why are there no U.S. manufacturers of execution drugs?
Texas is down to its final dose of lethal injection drugs after the US state executed a man on Wednesday.

States across the country have seen their drug inventories dwindle after European manufacturers opposed to capital punishment have refused to sell the lethal concoctions.
Shouldn't the market be taking care of this shortage? What facts am I missing here?

05 March 2015

2011 law grad running for judge in Lehigh Valley

That is some ego, right there (also, one of so many, many reasons why judges should not be elected):
A 28-year-old Lower Saucon Township lawyer will challenge incumbent David Tidd for his position as district judge.

[ ... ]

[Amanda] Kurecian graduated from Bethlehem Catholic High School, Lehigh University and Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law, according to her release. She now works as a divorce attorney at her own practice in Allentown, according to her firm's website. The Republican said she plans to cross-file for the race.

[Incumbent Judge David] Tidd, a bankruptcy court attorney, was first elected district judge in 2009. He plans to seek a second term.
The incumbent has been on the bench for about 6 years, which is longer than Kurecian has been practicing law. And Kurecian hasn't been at it even that long. The disciplinary board's website is down, so I can't check a primary source; but good old Avvo indicates she got her Pennsylvania license in 2011. That squares with her age of 28 and her Facebook birthday in May, 1986: on a traditional track she would have finished undergrad at 21 (2007) and law school at 24 (2011).

Her website is vague on her biographical details. It's not inaccurate or deceptive or even necessarily incomplete. But it leaves out details. It doesn't state when she finished law school. It doesn't state that she ever had a clerkship or worked with a firm with any prestige. Instead, it says that she "[worked] for other Lehigh Valley law firms for a number of years" until she hung her own shingle in 2013. So . . .  she picked up work here and there for two years (two being "a number") before scraping together enough cash to open up shop in some class B office space in Allentown.

Don't get me wrong. This is fine and it's not hugely different from my own experience. But does her four-year career track qualify her to be a judge?

Not sure if this candidacy is primarily an indicator of the need for merit selection in Pennsylvania, or an indicator of the glut in the market for lawyers. (Insert whynotboth.jpg here.) She never would have made it past a real screening committee if Pennsylvania had a real, merit-based process for putting qualified people on the bench. And there's an actual, real chance she'll be seated if she simply gets a good position on the ballot. With four years' experience out from a school that did not have a stellar first-time pass rate on the bar exam in 2011 (PDF).

But then, in 2011, Pennsylvania added 1,684 newly qualified lawyers to its already over-populated bar. If Kurecian draws a lucky ballot position, she could be getting herself a steadier paycheck than quite a few others in her cohort. Good for her.

04 March 2015

San Francisco for visitors from the First World

There's a pile of gems in this piece, but if I had to pick a favorite, as a godless pinko commie I guess I'd have to go with:
The inequality will shock you and continue to shock you. Even if you're used to London. People who have lived in SF for a while become numb to it, often taking the poverty as a point of pride for the city. "At least they won't die out on the streets. Unlike other cities, we're much less heavy handed about using police to clear them out of the city". The californian liberalism is more of a passive agressive "fuck you, got mine".
H/T @sorenrags

02 March 2015

Murderous and bizarro

I don't understand the bizarro focus, the murderous bizarro focus some people have on non-heterosexual behavior.
Seeing that it is better that offenders should die rather than that all of us should be killed by God’s just wrath against us for the folly of tolerating wickedness in our midst, the People of California wisely command, in the fear of God, that any person who willingly touches another person of the same gender for purposes of sexual gratification be put to death by bullets to the head or by any other convenient method.
That's text from a proposed ballot measure in California (PDF). It's not on the ballot yet; the proponent has just filed and paid the fee to be allowed to start gathering signatures.

The proponent is an attorney, one Matthew McLaughlin, so he should know better -- you can't magically make something constitutional simply by getting voters to pass it. This proposed measure comes about a decade after he attempted, but failed (PDF), to require public schools to provide KJV Bibles to students.

McLaughlin's previous initiative had the plausible opt-out that it was voluntary to use the provided Bibles. He failed anyway because it was so obviously an attempt to get the thin end of the Christian religion wedge into public schools, and voters saw through it early in the process. He never gathered enough signatures. So now . . .  McLaughlin is doubling down? With some full-bore extreme reaction against the ultimate demise of Prop 8, maybe?

Whatever it is, as I said when I started writing this, I don't get it. I don't get how one person starts with reading the term "abomination" in their religious text and then carries that through to attempting to get it legislated that gay people can be legally executed on the street. It's not laughable. It's sad and intriguingly scary. Perhaps at this point someone in California can institute some lawyer disciplinary proceeding against him for this move.

26 February 2015

Poking around a white supremacist constitution so you don't have to

Following some bouncing links the other day (seriously, don't ask), I stumbled across the "Constitution" of the "Northwest American Republic," a proposed white supremacist nation seeking to establish itself somewhere in Cascadia and currently operating out of, I believe, Port Orchard, Washington. The draft constitution's bill of rights contains the expected conservative wackadoo provisions ("The right to life of unborn children, beginning at conception, shall be respected and enforced by the state"; "The right to keep and bear arms shall not be qualified or restricted by any requirement of licensing, registration, fee, taxation, restriction on transportation, or other such impediment"), a couple of unexpectedly progressive provisions ("All residents and citizens of the Republic shall have the right to adequate and life-preserving medical care, free of charge"; "All citizens and residents of the Republic shall enjoy the right, free of charge, to all such education, technical training, vocational training, and instruction as shall be within their innate personal capacity to understand, assimilate, and apply in life"), and at least one hilairiously qualified provision ("All residents and citizens of the Republic shall enjoy the right to complete freedom of speech, freedom of artistic and creative expression, and freedom of the press. (This article shall not be construed as limiting or interdicting the right of the government of the Republic or competent local authority to control or prohibit expressions of obscenity and/or pornography.)").

Though of course I don't agree with the understood policy behind this particular enumeration of rights, I get it. The drafters are looking to promote education among the populace and to keep people non-broke and healthy, both for the better functioning of the republic. They also want everyone to have as many guns as possible and ban abortions and likely a lot of forms of contraception as well, because they're conservative wackadoos. And they want people to be able to say the n-word but not the f-bomb, because they're racist conservative wackadoos.

Now, I'm a lawyer, so I poked around the constitution's sections relating to lawyering and the judiciary. Interestingly, strangely, and/or bizarrely, the constitution refers to a judiciary but there's no actual judicial branch of the national government. That is, there are executive and legislative branches of the government, but no third-arm judicial check on them. The policy here is stated clearly in the constitution itself: they don't dig so-called judicial activism ("The courts and judiciary shall have no governmental or policy-making role whatsoever within the State; these powers are reserved to the legislative and executive branches"). Again, policy I don't agree with, but I understand the mindset it's coming from.

But then then constitution goes full-on "let's kill all the lawyers":
No resident, citizen, or other person charged with a criminal offense before the courts of the Republic shall be denied the right to counsel and advocate of his choice, provided such counsel or advocate shall accept no fee, reward, emolument in money or kind, property or thing of value, officially or unofficially, for the performance of such function, and shall affirm such on oath before the commencement of trial or other proceeding.
Emolument is a term that means simply "payment" but sounds classy because it's used in the U.S. Constitution and also that sneaky Hillary "Benghazi Vince Foster Whitewater" Clinton has run afoul of the Emoluments Clause not once but twice. Twice! More like BENGHOLUMENTS, amirite?

That distraction aside, the constitution goes further elsewhere as well:
No citizen or resident of the Northwest American Republic may charge or accept any monetary emolument, fee, gift, or anything of value for performing any service connected with law, legal processes, trial or litigation, or for speaking in defense of a defendant in any legal case.
I'm killin' myself here trying to understand the policy behind this provision. Lawyers can't get paid? For any lawyering work? I mean, never mind how this mechanism goes beyond merely discouraging "frivolous" lawsuits and effectively shuts down the courts as a meaningful institution. But no paying for a will, a power of attorney, a business transaction? No hiring someone to do some sabre-rattling for you when your insurance company balks at paying out a claim? How about notarizing documents? Isn't notarizing a "service connected with law"?

How do they expect to fill their judges' benches? I mean, banning compensation for lawyers is a disincentive to become a lawyer. Or even if you do become a lawyer, then it's a disincentive to become an experienced lawyer. And isn't it best to have judges who come from the ranks of experienced trial lawyers?

The constitution appears to restrict the courts to trial-level tribunals. Is there no appeal system? Does this constitution de-activist the courts to such a degree that it gives a magistrate the final decision power of a court of last resort?

At least the constitution doesn't abolish the writ of habeas corpus.

Finally, most importantly, and the real reason for why we need to adopt the Northwest Front's constitution as America's new, improved constitution, and I mean truly above all else, is that it enshrines dueling as a civil right for male residents and citizens:
In order to instill and maintain the highest standards of personal courtesy, deliberation, maturity, integrity and courage in the manhood of the Republic, the State President in his capacity as chief magistrate shall establish and supervise a National Honor Court. The said body shall in turn create and enforce all necessary regulations, procedures, and protocols for the resolution of personal differences between individual male residents and citizens of the Republic, up to and including private combat by mutual consent, in accordance with the ancient and historic traditions and practices of the European family of nations.
Ancient and historic! Also Spielbergian: