Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for January 26th, 2015

The US criminal justice system is really badly broken

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Not just police departments and prosecutors who apparently can do just about whatever they want without fear of sanctions, it’s the refusal to recompense victims of that broken system. Read this report. From the report:

The man is 70. He has spent 38 of those years in prison. And he was innocent. North Carolina offers $50,000 per year of imprisonment for the wrongly convicted. Under that law, Sledge would be entitled to $1.9 million, although the law caps compensation at $750,000. But it will at least be a lump sum payment. In some states, Sledge would have to settle for $50,000 per year until he dies, at which point the payments would stop. (And many states have no compensation statutes at all.)

Police, prosecutors, judges, and corrections officers must be held to very high standards because they are given so much power. We have not been doing a good job of enforcing those standards. Too many “internal investigations.”

Written by LeisureGuy

26 January 2015 at 3:14 pm

Posted in Government, Law

Pre-corrupted politicians are supporting Comcast’s TWC merger with letters ghostwritten by Comcast

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“Pre-corrupted” is discussed in this column by Zephyr Teachout that I blogged earlier.

Spencer Woodman reports in The Verge:

On August 21st, 2014, Mayor Jere Wood of Roswell, Georgia, sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission expressing emphatic support for Comcast’s controversial effort to merge with Time Warner Cable. Not only did the mayor’s letter express personal excitement for the gargantuan deal — which critics say will create a monopoly that will harm millions of consumers — but it also claimed that the entire town of Roswell adored Comcast. “When Comcast makes a promise to act, it is comforting to know that they will always follow through,” Wood’s letter explained. “This is the type of attitude that makes Roswell proud to be involved with such a company,” the letter asserts, “our residents are happy with the services it has provided and continues to provide each day.”

Yet Wood’s letter made one key omission: Neither Wood nor anyone representing Roswell’s residents wrote his letter to the FCC. Instead, a vice president of external affairs at Comcast authored the missive word for word in Mayor Wood’s voice. According to email correspondence obtained through a public records request, the Republican mayor’s office apparently added one sign-off sentence and his signature to the corporate PR document, then sent it to federal regulators on the official letterhead of Roswell, Georgia.

The letter was part of what Comcast called an “outpouring of thoughtful and positive comments” in support of the proposed mega-merger, which is now entering the final stages of federal review. Comcast asserted that the numerous letters sent by local officials expressing support for the merger displayed its broad grassroots backing. “We are especially gratified for the support of mayors and other local officials,” Comcast boasted in an August 25th release, “underscoring the powerful benefits of this transaction for their cities, constituents, and customers.”

Yet email records obtained by The Verge indicate that these letters are far from grassroots.

For instance, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 January 2015 at 2:08 pm

The banks must feel that they are watching the game pass them by

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Stuck in a rut and digging in deeper. Hoist by their own petard.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 January 2015 at 12:56 pm

Posted in Business

Legalized Bribery: US politicians are pre-corrupted before they take office

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Zephyr Teachout writes in the NY Times:

LAST Thursday, Sheldon Silver, the speaker of the New York Assembly for the past 20 years, was arrested and charged with mail and wire fraud, extortion and receiving bribes. According to Preet Bharara, the federal prosecutor who brought the charges, the once seemingly untouchable Mr. Silver took millions of dollars for legal work he did not do. In exchange, he used his official power to steer business to a law firm that specialized in getting tax breaks for real estate developers, and he directed state funds to a doctor who referred cases to another law firm that paid Mr. Silver fees.

Albany is reeling, but fighting the kind of corruption that plagues not only New York State but the whole nation isn’t just about getting cuffs on the right guy. As with the recent conviction of the former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell for receiving improper gifts and loans, a fixation on plain graft misses the more pernicious poison that has entered our system.

Corruption exists when institutions and officials charged with serving the public serve their own ends. Under current law, campaign contributions are illegal if there is an explicit quid pro quo, and legal if there isn’t. But legal campaign contributions can be as bad as bribes in creating obligations. The corruption that hides in plain sight is the real threat to our democracy.

Think of campaign contributions as the gateway drug to bribes. In our private financing system, candidates are trained to respond to campaign cash and serve donors’ interests. Politicians are expected to spend half their time talking to funders and to keep them happy. Given this context, it’s not hard to see how a bribery charge can feel like a technical argument instead of a moral one.

The former governor of New York David A. Paterson, for example, said that he had trouble understanding where the criminality lay in the allegation that Mr. Silver accepted payments from law firms for referrals, including referrals by a doctor to whom Mr. Silver funneled state health research funds. Mr. Paterson said, “in the legal profession, people refer business all the time. And theoretically, as a speaker, you could do that as well.”

The legal shades into the illegal. The real estate developers represented by the law firm that allegedly shuttled payments to Mr. Silver for fake legal services were also major campaign contributors. One developer mentioned in the charges gave more than $10 million to political campaigns in the past decade, including $200,000 to Mr. Silver and his political action committees.

The structure of private campaign finance has essentially pre-corrupted our politicians, so that they can’t even recognize explicit bribery because it feels the same as what they do every day. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 January 2015 at 11:47 am

High time: Mayors and Police Chiefs Issue Report, Calling for Outside Investigators For Police-Involved Shootings

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Internal investigations are worthless because no organization is really going to investigate itself impartially: the investigation will inevitably be swayed by considerations of position, power, friendships, favors, and so on. Witness how police departments investigate officer-involved shootings: almost without exception, the departments find that the officer was justified in the shooting. Why not? The officer is one of “us,” the victim is one of “them,” so the investigation is generally cursory at best, taking the officer’s account as gospel even when video evidence contradicts the officer’s account. (Here’s an example of how a police department investigates itself.)

So getting independent investigators is a great first step. The press release from the US Conference of Mayors:

Under the leadership of U.S. Conference of Mayors President and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, the nation’s mayors today released their recommendations on improving community policing, following a four-month review of policies and best practices nationwide.

The recommendations were unveiled by Gary (IN) Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, who chairs the USCM Working Group of Mayors and Police Chiefs, during the Conference’s 83rd Winter Meeting at the Capitol Hilton in a morning session titled “Strengthening Community Policing in the 21st Century.

Participants in today’s session included Mayor Freeman-Wilson, Director of White House Intergovernmental Affairs Jerry E. Abramson; Philadelphia Police Commissioner and President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing Co-Chair Charles Ramsey; George Mason University Professor and President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing Co-Chair Laurie Robinson; and U.S. Department of Justice Community Oriented Policing Services Office Director and Task Force Executive Director Ronald L. Davis. The session was moderated by Mayor Johnson and included an open question and answer period with hundreds of mayors in the audience.

The Conference’s working group was formed following the tragedy in Ferguson and an October meeting in Little Rock, AR where over 100 mayors and police chiefs met at the William J. Clinton Center in Little Rock, AR to discuss different community-policing strategies, lessons to be learned from the situation in Ferguson and ways to build trust between law enforcement and city officials. The group was charged with developing a series of recommendations for local and national actions intended to improve policing in America.

The full report of recommendations, which will inform the work of President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, is available at www.usmayors.org, but topic areas of focus are as follows:

1. Building police-community trust (interacting with the community to develop relationships);

2. Improving police department practices (officer recruitment, training and supervision);

3. Assuring timely and accurate communications (having procedures already in place, using social media);

4. Conducting independent investigations (to increase public confidence);

5. Addressing racial and economic disparities (using proven best practices and preventive measures for youth);

6. Providing national leadership (promoting mayor and police-chief relationships, federal financial support for more hiring and training).

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 January 2015 at 11:00 am

The war on leaks has gone way too far when journalists’ emails are under surveillance

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Let us be clear: The War on Leaks is Obama’s war. Obama is using every tool at his command—including vindictive prosecution with heavy sentences—to stomp out whistleblowing: that is, Obama is determined that the US public will know what our government is doing ONLY as the government allows. If the government wants to keep secret abuses, corruption, failures, homicides, torture, and so on, then the government is to be allowed to do that, and anyone who lets the public know what’s happening is going to prison. That is one of Obama’s missions, and he’s worked steadily at it. He has charged more people under the Espionage Act than all other presidents combined. And this is why I think his record is going to be condemned in the future—though, of course, it will not be if the government does succeed in keeping all such things secret.

Trevor Timm writes in The Guardian:

The outrageous legal attack on WikiLeaks and its staffers, who are exercising their First Amendment rights to publish classified information in the public interest—just like virtually every other major news organization in this country—is an attack on freedom of the press itself, and it’s shocking that more people aren’t raising their voices (and pens, and keyboards) in protest.

In the past four years, WikiLeaks has had their Twitter accounts secretly spied on, been forced to forfeit most of their funding after credit card companiesunilaterally cut them off, had the FBI place an informant inside their news organization, watched their supporters hauled before a grand jury, and been the victim of the UK spy agency GCHQ hacking of their website and spying on their readers.

Now we’ve learned that, as The Guardian reported on Sunday, the Justice Department got a warrant in 2012 to seize the contents – plus the metadata on emails received, sent, drafted and deleted – of three WikiLeaks’ staffers personal Gmail accounts, which was inexplicably kept secret from them for almost two and a half years.

The warrant for WikiLeaks staffers’ email is likely connected to the grand jury the government convened in 2010 to investigate the WikiLeaks’ publication of leaked State Department cables, along with the Afghan and Iraq war logs. As The Guardian reports:

The warrants were issued by a federal judge in the Eastern District of Virginia – the same jurisdiction in which a grand jury was set up under the criminal investigation into WikiLeaks. The investigation was confirmed to be still active and ongoing as recently as May last year. [Emphasis mine.]

Most journalists and press freedom groups have been inexplicably quiet about the Justice Department’s treatment of WikiLeaks and its staffers ever since, despite the fact that there has been a (justified) backlash against the rest of the Justice Department’s attempt to subpoena reporters’ phone call records and spy on their emails. But almost all of the tactics used against WikiLeaks by the Justice Department in their war on leaks were also used against mainstream news organizations.

For example, after the Washington Post revealed in 2013 the Justice Department had gotten a warrant for the personal Gmail account of Fox News reporter James Rosen in 2010 without his knowledge by explicitly accusing him of being an espionage “co-conspirator” (for have the audacity to arrange to confidentially speak with a source), journalists and privacy advocates understandably reacted in shock and outrage.

WikiLeaks staffers faced virtually the same tactics: they had their Gmail seized by the government in secret, they didn’t find out for years after the fact (so they had no way to challenge it) and, according to WikiLeaks’ lawyers, the warrant specifically indicates the Justice Department is investigating WikiLeaks for “conspiracy to commit espionage.”

Former New York Times general counsel James Goodale wrote in 2011 how ridiculous and dangerous a charge like ‘conspiracy to commit espionage’ was, whether it was directed at WikiLeaks or the New York Times:

Charging Assange with “conspiracy to commit espionage” would set a precedent with a charge that more accurately could be characterized as “conspiracy to commit journalism.”

Unfortunately the news world has never rallied around WikiLeaks’ First Amendment rights they way they should – sometimes even refusing to acknowledge they are a journalism organization, perhaps because they dare to do things a little differently than the mainstream media, or because WikiLeaks tweets provocative political opinions, or because they think its founder, Julian Assange, is an unsympathetic figure.

Those are all disgraceful excuses to ignore the government’s overreach: the rights of news organizations everywhere are under just as much threat whether the government reads the private emails of staffers at WikiLeaks, Fox News or the Associated Press. In the eyes of the law, the organizations are virtually indistinguishable, as legal scholars from across the political spectrum have documented for years.

At the same time WikiLeaks’s legal troubles have been largely brushed off by the journalism world, the Justice Department has continued to treat them with contempt, ignoring their own guidelines for issuing search warrants and subpoenas to journalists publishing leaked materials and pressing ahead with all-out surveillance of a news publisher. Just imagine if the FBI placed a paid informant inside the New York Times: there would be protests on the steps of the Justice Department the next day.

Years after they first started publishing, . . .

Continue reading.

The US is rapidly moving toward a police state, in which secret police (and secret courts) examine your life and come down hard if you are trying to expose government wrong-doing. Obama is doing all he can to help that process.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 January 2015 at 10:36 am

In Philadelphia, TSA and police crack down hard on people trying to learn Arabic

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As the TSA officer pointed out:

After looking at the book and [Arabic-English] flashcards, the [TSA] supervisor asked me: “Do you know who did 9/11?” Taken totally aback, I answered: “Osama Bin Laden.” Then she asked me if I knew what language Osama Bin Laden spoke. “Arabic,” I replied. “So do you see why these cards are suspicious?” she finished.

WOW!! What logic! Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people and injured more than 600 when he set off a bomb at a Federal office building in Oklahoma City. And you know what language he spoke? English, the same as you. So you can understand why you’re being arrest, you terrorist scum!

The US has changed a lot, becoming MUCH more fearful. “Land of the brave” is certainly inaccurate now, and “home of the free” is fading fast as we give up freedoms left and right.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 January 2015 at 10:27 am

John Carpenter’s Creepy Songs for Unmade Films

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John Carpenter apparently writes the score for the background music in at least some of his films. He’s just put out a CD of music that he wrote for movies never made. You can listen to a couple here.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 January 2015 at 10:13 am

Posted in Movies & TV, Music

A comparison shave: Lenthéric, Omega & Mühle synthetics, both ATT slants

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SOTD 26 Jan 2015

A really great shave today.

First up was the Lenthéric shaving soap, which has not been made for (literally) decades. It’s a triple-milled hard soap, but the lather was immediate, generous, thick and creamy, and fragrant: Lenthéric is at core a perfume house, and the lather’s fragrance was a few cuts above the common fragrances of most soaps: more intricate, more pleasing, and quite present.

I used both brushes, and though I did detect a light difference feel, both were excellent. The Mühle perhaps was a little firmer under the softness—as though the ends of the bristles were finer. But I would happily use either brush or, as today, both. Given the price difference, the overall winner is clearly the Omega S-Series brush. I posted on Wicked_Edge this rumination on synthetic shaving brushes:

Synthetics have improved, while (of course) badger, boar, and horse remain much the same. I would say the best quality synthetics today quite match any natural-bristle brush for performance. Feel, of course, lies squarely in the realm of personal preference, which itself is discovered only by trying the lot.

A second great advantage of synthetics (the first being their capability for on-going improvement) is that they scale. Unless something drastic happens, the supply of badger, boar, and horsehair is pretty much at steady state and does not admit of rapid growth of supply. With synthetics, once you’ve got the thing worked out, you can really let ‘er rip, so that you have superior quality brushes like the Omega S-Series brushes at very low prices.

The Plisson synthetic sold by l’Occitane seems to be going away, though if you’re lucky you can still get one—still available in the UK, £35.

Generally speaking, the Mühle synthetics now are all great—they invested heavily in R&D and it paid off. Their silverfiber feels like badger, and the Plisson and S-Series do not: they feel better. Because they can develop the feel along with any other attribute. Memes evolve fast; synthetics are memes; badger, boar, and horse are not.

Based on today’s experiment, the Mühle and S-Series both feel good, but somewhat different.

Lather in hand—well, on beard—I proceeded to do a two-razor shave, using the Above the Tie S1 (slant with bar guard) and S2 (slant with open comb guard), both with UFO handles. Because the S2 didn’t seem so good with a Personna Lab Blue blade, this morning I used a Voskhod blade.

Big difference with the new blade: the S2 felt noticeably more comfortable, though not quite so comfortable (for me) as the S1—but then I’ve had more practice with the S1. The three passes were not only trouble-free, they were pleasurable.

The excellence of Musgo Real’s aftershave came up for discussion, so that’s what I decided to use this morning. Good choice: excellent fragrance and good-feeling aftershave.

The week is well launched!

Written by LeisureGuy

26 January 2015 at 9:58 am

Posted in Shaving

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