Later On

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

Archive for August 1st, 2015

Yet another clear instance of government failure and decline: Private police force in New Orleans

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David Amsden reports in the NY Times Magazine:

On the morning of Sunday, March 29, Sidney Torres was sipping an espresso in the kitchen of his mansion on the edge of the French Quarter when a jarring notification lit up his iPad and two iPhones. Pimps fighting with drug dealers and johns. Man has gun. Hurry. The message came from a neighbor 10 blocks away, on St. Louis Street, and was sent through a venture Torres started four days earlier: a private police patrol that could be summoned via mobile app. Torres, who made a vast fortune as the founder of SDT Waste & Debris Services, a sanitation company that cleaned up much of New Orleans in the years following Hurricane Katrina, spent $380,000 to fund the enterprise after a crime wave put Quarter residents on edge for the better part of a year. Between November and January, there were more than 60 robberies in the neighborhood, and the crimes became increasingly brazen, including a vicious stabbing and a spate of random beatings. It became a personal issue for Torres on Dec. 17, when his 8,000-square-foot home was burglarized; three weeks later, the bar next door was held up by two masked gunmen. Torres’s crowdsourcing approach to crime, conceived throughout February and March, was the impulsive byproduct of his belief that the New Orleans Police Department, which has shrunk by around 500 officers since Hurricane Katrina, was no longer able to protect even the neighborhood less than a square mile in size that contained the city’s most valuable real estate.

Seated at his kitchen table, Torres began furiously refreshing his iPad. The screen displayed a digitized map of the Quarter, a grid of 78 city blocks that, as a national historic landmark and the center of the city’s $6.7 billion tourism industry, draw upward of nine million visitors each year. A red dot represented the incident in progress on St. Louis, while a green arrow indicated a member of Torres’s squad, the French Quarter Task Force, which at all hours had three armed officers zigzagging the neighborhood in matte black Polaris Rangers that resemble militarized golf carts. When Torres, who is 39, had deployed the same vehicles in his garbage business, the decimated city became cleaner than ever. ‘‘Basically, I’m handling crime the same way I did trash,’’ said Torres, whose brooding good looks and penchant for self-promotion earned him the nickname of Trashanova before he sold his sanitation company to a national conglomerate in 2011.

The task force’s Polarises had been retrofitted with blue halogen lights and a dock for an iPad, which served up requests in a manner similar to Uber. Torres was especially proud of the GPS chip he embedded in the chassis of each patrol, which now allowed him to watch the green arrow closing in on the red dot. Still, there was a three-second delay with the GPS, and he was not satisfied. The previous June, a shootout between two men on Bourbon Street’s commercial strip left nine wounded and one dead; worried a similar event was about to unfold, Torres telephoned a member of the dispatch team, which he was paying $20,000 a month.

‘‘We have a possible gunfight on St. Louis. What’s going on, man?’’

‘‘We have a guy en route.’’

‘‘I see that, but he needs to step on it.’’

For the next few minutes, Torres stared at the screen with the twitchy intensity of a day trader. The report came from Gail Cavett, a 30-year resident of the neighborhood who had parked her car on St. Louis to discover a commotion breaking out among a group of about a dozen people. This was not uncommon. The block had become so rough in recent months that, as Cavett later explained, ‘‘I wouldn’t take out my garbage without a gun.’’ From what she could gather, one of the men had failed to pay a prostitute for services rendered, and in response her pimp and his entourage — the ‘‘drug dealers’’ in her report — were now chasing the man down. They caught up with him in front of her home, where they started beating him. When he scurried away, Cavett ran inside and observed the scene from her balcony. The man returned wielding a gun, which he began waving in the street. That was when she sent in the report, opting to use Torres’s mobile app instead of 911, because, as she said, ‘‘everyone in New Orleans knows that 911 is a lost cause.’’

A Polaris turned the corner within two minutes, or 26 minutes faster than the N.O.P.D.’s average response time for the district. At the sight of the flashing blue lights, the men put their guns away and scattered.

‘‘Crazy, right?’’ Torres later said. ‘‘I kind of felt like Bruce Wayne.’’

In the United States, private police officers currently outnumber their publicly funded counterparts by a ratio of roughly three to one. Whereas in past decades the distinction was often clear — the rent-a-cop vs. the real cop — today the boundary between the two has become ‘‘messy and complex,’’ according to a study last year by Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Torres’s task force is best understood in this context, one where the larger merging of private and public security has resulted in an extensive retooling of the nation’s policing as a whole. As municipal budgets have stagnated or plummeted, state and local governments have taken to outsourcing police work to the private sector, resulting in changes that have gone largely unnoticed by the public they’re tasked with protecting.

A recent report by the Justice Department, which has become one of the most prominent advocates of such collaborative efforts, identified 450 partnerships in the country between law enforcement and the private sector. Nationwide, there are now more than 1,200 ‘‘business improvement districts’’ in which businesses pay self-imposed taxes to fund improved services, including security. In many cases, officers covered by corporate entities have become indistinguishable from those paid for by taxpayers. Last year, Facebook entered into a three-year partnership with the Menlo Park, Calif., Police Department in which the social-media giant agreed to pay the $194,000 salary of a police officer whose job was going to be cut. One of the largest private security forces in the nation today is the University of Chicago Police, which has full jurisdiction over 65,000 residents, only 15,000 of whom are students. More than 100 public housing projects in Boston are patrolled by private security, including one company that has been authorized to arrest suspects under certain circumstances.

Torres’s security detail is unique not just in the prominence of its beat — a major American city’s most-visited neighborhood — but also in the fact that it was conceptualized and financed by a single individual, with government support. Staffed by off-duty N.O.P.D. officers in vehicles that bear the N.O.P.D.’s star-and-crescent logo, the force became part of a larger initiative for public-private policing that Mitch Landrieu, the city’s mayor since 2010, had been working to put in place since the shooting on Bourbon Street last summer. In addition to Torres’s force, set to run for a two-month pilot, Landrieu brought in . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

1 August 2015 at 7:06 pm

German journalists investigated for treason for practicing journalism

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It’s a very dark sign when government goes after journalists for publishing reports that are demonstrably true. I understand that the German government does wish that a person in government (the fault here lies within the government) leaked a classified document, but it should recognize that journalists took no oath to respect government secrecy. That’s the job of the government.

Morgan Marquis-Boire reports in The Intercept:

Two journalists at the prominent German news website Netzpolitik are under investigation for treason after publishing details about the planned expansion of the German Secret Service’s Internet surveillance program.

On Wednesday, the organization received a letter from the Federal Attorney General of Germany confirming ongoing investigations against reporters Markus Beckedahl, Andre Meister (pictured), and an “unknown source” for the articles, one of which waspublished in February and detailed a secret budget plan for surveillance activities, and another, from April, describing a new surveillance unit for monitoring social networking and online chats. Meister has characterized the plans as being part of Germany’s “post-Snowden” internet surveillance push.

Netzpolitik, which reports on politics and technology, learned within the last several weeks that Federal Attorney General of Germany was investigating the stories, but believed its sources were the target of the investigation rather than its journalists, Meister said in an interview. Only yesterday did it became clear that Meister and Beckedahl were also under investigation.

“This is a direct attack on freedom of the press, such as hasn’t been the case in around 50 years in Germany, since the ‘Spiegel scandal’ in 1962,’” Meister told The Intercept, citing an incident in which the German newsweekly Der Spiegel was searched and some of its journalists were arrested on treason accusations stemming from an article questioning the preparedness of West German armed forces.

“These charges are an intimidation against media and against potential sources — which are an integral part of investigative journalism,” he added. “The public needs whistleblowers to find out about what’s done in their name and with their money. So the original investigations against our sources were already a direct attack on freedom of press and freedom of information.”

The attorney general’s letter cites a section of the German penal code that states:

Whosoever … allows a state secret to come to the attention of an unauthorised person or to become known to the public in order to prejudice the Federal Republic of Germany or benefit a foreign power and thereby creates a danger of serious prejudice to the external security of the Federal Republic of Germany, shall be liable to imprisonment of not less than one year.

Meister railed against the implication that he or his publication have attacked the German state, saying that, as part of a “fourth pillar” in German society, their job is to “dig deep, investigate, and provide the public with information that has not previously been public … providing the public — and thus the sovereign — with information for public debate that’s integral for informed consent.”

“Germany won’t be invaded because of our reporting,” he added. “On the other hand, one could argue that the pervasive mass surveillance of the digital world is an attack on the basic freedoms of a free society. Without privacy, there can be no freedom of thought and freedom of association without a protected, un-invaded private space. We want to enable a public debate about these integral issues.”

The charges have generated significant attention in Germany. A public demonstrationhas been organized in support of Netzpolitik, and today they received high-level support when the Heiko Maas, the German Federal Minister of Justice and Consumer Protection, expressed doubts to the Attorney General that journalists intended to harm Germany or aid a foreign power.

Asked if Netzpolitik would continue to report using materials gained from whistleblowers, Meister replied, . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

1 August 2015 at 1:31 pm

Posted in Government, Law, Media, NSA

Edward Snowden Explains Why Apple Should Continue To Fight the Government on Encryption

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And Snowden is right. The 4th Amendment (and the 5th Amendment) are part of the Bill of Rights for a reason. If the government wants to read your emails, it can serve a warrant and seek formal access, not through breaking the encryption. The government truly wants one-sided secrecy: secrecy for itself and its actions, transparency for you and your actions.

Jenna McLaughlin reports in The Intercept:

As the Obama administration campaign to stop the commercialization of strong encryption heats up, National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden is firing back on behalf of the companies like Apple and Google that are finding themselves under attack.

“Technologists and companies working to protect ordinary citizens should be applauded, not sued or prosecuted,” Snowden wrote in an email through his lawyer.

Snowden was asked by The Intercept to respond to the contentious suggestion — made Thursday on a blog that frequently promotes the interests of the national security establishment — that companies like Apple and Google might in certain cases be found legally liable for providing material aid to a terrorist organization because they provide encryption services to their users.

In his email, Snowden explained how law enforcement officials who are demanding that U.S. companies build some sort of window into unbreakable end-to-end encryption — he calls that an “insecurity mandate” — haven’t thought things through.

“The central problem with insecurity mandates has never been addressed by its proponents: if one government can demand access to private communications, all governments can,” Snowden wrote.

“No matter how good the reason, if the U.S. sets the precedent that Apple has to compromise the security of a customer in response to a piece of government paper, what can they do when the government is China and the customer is the Dalai Lama?”

Weakened encryption would only drive people away from the American technology industry, Snowden wrote. “Putting the most important driver of our economy in a position where they have to deal with the devil or lose access to international markets is public policy that makes us less competitive and less safe.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

1 August 2015 at 1:27 pm

Switch from NewsBlur to G2Reader

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When Google abandoned Google Reader, I did some looking around, tried Feedly, but settled on NewsBlur. But NewsBlur has been having some niggling but on-going problems, so I did more exploration. I thought I would switch to Feedly, but now you can sign in only through Facebook, Google+, or the like. I don’t care to link all those things so easily.

So I came across G2Reader, and I started using it yesterday. So far, it’s quite nice. It’s a bit different: it shows me (in effect) an archive of all past articles for each feed, but if I leave it open at “Unread items” I can easily scan the new stuff only. Nice format. So far, so good.

Written by Leisureguy

1 August 2015 at 11:38 am

Posted in Software

Dr. Jon’s Propaganda, the HJM, and Wolfman Razors WR1-SB

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SOTD 1 Aug

A very fine shave today. I did remember to use the Chiseled Face pre-shave gel in the shower and will continue it for the coming week.

Dr. Jon’s Propaganda (vanilla, sandalwood, musk, patchouli, and mandarin) is very nice—and I notice that many of the shaving soaps that I say have an excellent fragrance include vanilla as a note. The same with aftershaves: Paul Sebastian, for example, is quite nice (for me) and includes tonka, which has a vanilla fragrance. In fact, look at the base notes for Paul Sebastian (from

Top Notes: Sage, Lavender
Heart Notes: Armoise
Base notes: Sandalwood, Patchouli, Myrhh, Musk, Vanilla

Looks as though Paul Sebastian would be a good aftershave to use with Propaganda (which is currently not on their site but is available through

At any rate, the HJM brush worked up a really superb lather from the soap, and the Wolfman razor easily accomplished a BBS result in three passes, once more with no nick or other problems.

A good splash of Chiseled Face Easy Street, and the weekend begins.

Written by Leisureguy

1 August 2015 at 10:58 am

Posted in Shaving

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