Later On

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

Archive for January 13th, 2016

Wow! Sean Penn totally blew it—missed the story completely

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Just read this remarkable—and remarkably good—NY Times piece by Paulina Villegas:

Joaquín Guzmán Loera, the infamous drug lord known as El Chapo, had never heard of Sean Penn.

“What’s the name of this actor again?” he asked his lawyer when a Mexican television star contacted him about doing an interview with Mr. Penn.

The world now alternately lauds and lambastes Mr. Penn, a two-time Oscar winner and a film star for more than 30 years, over his lengthy article in Rolling Stone magazine that recounted his secret trip to a mountain hideout in Mexico to interview the drug lord.

But a series of private cellphone messages leaked in the Mexican news media on Wednesday show that it was the television star, Kate del Castillo,who truly attracted Mr. Guzmán’s attention.

The messages, first reported by the newspaper Milenio, were obtained by Mexican authorities who were monitoring the actress and her contacts with Mr. Guzmán and his associate during the period after the cartel leader broke out of a supposedly escape-proof prison through a tunnel burrowed into his shower.

Mr. Guzmán had as far back as 2014 made efforts to reach Ms. del Castillo, but it wasn’t until shortly before his escape that a relationship began.

Written over the course of three months, both before and after the Oct. 2 interview with Mr. Penn, the messages offer a rare window into the psyche of one of the world’s most wanted criminals.

The messages also arguably relay more about the personality of Mr. Guzmán than Mr. Penn’s 10,000-word article, which was published the day after the fugitive’s capture.

To the surprise of many, . . .

Continue reading.

It’s a telenovela.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 January 2016 at 8:14 pm

Posted in Daily life

Corporate responsibility =/= Corporate accountability

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Just three paragraphs from this fine article (and being able to find and read an exceptional article in a regional magazine is something the Internet has facilitated greatly) by Max Blau in Atlanta magazine:

. . . From his office at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara announced his department had struck a deal with GM. Criminal prosecution would be deferred for three years, provided the company met the terms of the settlement. “There is actually no existing law specifically designed to impose criminal penalties for this kind of conduct—the nondisclosure of safety defects by a car company,” he said. “There have been attempts at such a law, but those attempts have failed. In the end, we can only do what the law allows and permits, and what, in our best judgment, justice requires.”

Bharara’s deal with GM called for the carmaker to admit to concealing defects that resulted in the deaths of 15 people—far fewer than the 124 people approved for fatality claims through the Feinberg fund—and to let an independent monitor watch over the company as it enacted safety reforms. Bharara also negotiated a $900 million fine against the carmaker—less than the record $1.2 billion fine Toyota paid in 2014 for concealing safety defects, but more in total given the $575 million the company will pay out in civil settlements. No GM employees were charged with wrongdoing.

Cooper was livid. He issued a statement from his office: “When individuals, through their reckless conduct, cause someone to die, they go to jail. When large corporations, such as GM, through their reckless conduct cause hundreds of people to die, they simply pay a fine . . . and move on.” . . .

I think that’s the sort of thing that makes me support Bernie Sanders. That, and the fact that Hillory Clinton is egregiously (and, I assume, knowingly) misrepresenting his healthcare policy if not in fact outright lying about it. EDIT: And I think this strategy—of deliberately misrepresenting (or lying about) Bernie’s healthcare policy, which she quite clearly and obviously and overtly doing—is not going to do her any favors. The worry the non-supporters of Hillary express is that she is not to be trusted, that she will say one thing and do another, that she will not be honest—and here she is, clearly and loudly demonstrating that those worries are well-founded if not confirmed. She is indeed exemplifying the behaviors about which (some) people worry. And the more people that observe this, the more people will worry. And this sort of thing is simply not what Bernie Sanders does. He tells it exactly as he sees it. This does not mean he looks for a fight, even when there is disagreement: look at his Liberty University speech, where he quite clearly sought the common ground of agreement where they could work together. But he is clear in what he wants to do—and that’s an important point: he wants to be president because he wants to do certain things, and he is happy to explain why he thinks these are things that should be done and how they will help the people and the country. Being president is for the sake of doing certain things, setting in place certain policies. With Hillary, the desire to be president seems to reflect other goals. The bottom line is this: I want the person in the White House to be someone I trust. That’s very important. I trust Bernie. I don’t trust Hillary.

It’s difficult to trust such a person. I think Bernie gives a true representation of the situations we encounter, and he means what he says: that is, he is committed to it: it really is what he will try to deliver. So it makes sense to look at what the benefits might be.

Here’s another paragraph later in the article, just in case your blood’s not yet boiling:

. . . When asked for comment, GM spokesperson Jim Cain referred to the statement of facts outlined in the company’s settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice. In the agreement, GM acknowledged that it had known about the ignition switch’s flaw, continued to sell defective vehicles, assured the public that its cars were safe, and concealed a “potentially deadly” defect from NHTSA to delay a recall. A lengthy footnote on the agreement’s first page, however, noted the company couldn’t be held liable for any conduct that came before its 2009 bankruptcy. As far as Cooper’s quotes, Cain said, “We’re not going to respond.” . . .

The article ends with the dismal realization that private citizens are having to do the government’s job. We really do need a bone-deep shake-up.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 January 2016 at 7:52 pm

Senator Kay Hagan Promised to Take On Special Interests, Now She Works for Them

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One reason for the terrible performance of the US Congress is the low character of many members of that body. A prime example: ex-Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC when in the Senate). Lee Fang reports at The Intercept:

Former Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., who lost her seat in the most expensive Senate race in history in 2014, has taken a job at lobbying powerhouse Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.

After losing her seat, Hagan said in speeches that the biggest problem in America today is the dominance of big money, noting that the wealthy and special interests have come to control the political process through lobbyists and super PACs. “We have got to get the obscene money out of politics, and I think that would change politics,” Hagan told the Rotary Club of Greensboro last year.

Akin Gump, one of the highest grossing lobbying firms in the country, is an odd perch for an avowed opponent of big money.

The firm lobbies for all kinds of corporate clients, including Amazon.com, AT&T, Boeing, Corrections Corporation of America, Dow Chemical, Monsanto, and Pfizer.

One of its top clients is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the lobbying group that aired campaign commercials that led to Hagan’s defeat over a year ago.

To be sure, like most influence peddlers in Washington, the firm is careful to cultivate relationships on both sides of the aisle. Lobbyists at Akin Gump serve as fundraisers for the Hillary Clinton campaign as well as for Jeb Bush’s Super PAC. As Hagan begins her new gig, she will be working alongside former Reps. Bill Paxon, R-N.Y., and Vic Fazio, D-Calif., two lawmakers who similarly became lobbyists after leaving public service. . .

Continue reading.

And here’s another prime example of impaired morality, though it involves the Federal Trade Commission rather than Congress. The company getting the special favors is Google.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 January 2016 at 2:16 pm

Posted in Business, Congress

One important step in criminal-justice reform: Punish dishonest prosecutors

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Radley Balko reports in the Washington Post:

About a year ago, I published a four-part series on the use of bite mark evidence in criminal cases. To summarize, the series pointed out that there has never been any scientific research to support the notion that human bites are individually unique, and that even if this was true, there’s also no research to support the notion that human skin is capable preserving bite marks in a useful way. What little scientific research that has been done in fact undermines both assumptions. Nevertheless, the courts have been allowing bite mark evidence for four decades, and to date, not a single court in the country has ruled in favor of a challenge to its admissibility.

Since then, an internal study by the American Board of Forensic Odontology (a group for bite mark analysts) further cast doubt on the legitimacy of the discipline, finding widespread disagreement even among the most experienced analysts over basic questions like what is and isn’t a bite mark. Moreover, the Texas Forensic Science Commission is now casting a skeptical eye on the validity of bite mark analysis, and a senior science advisor to President Obama has called for its eradication from the courtroom. There have also been a couple federal court cases in which judges have essentially declared the entire discipline to be a fraud, though both came in ruling that were only tangentially related to the legitimacy of bite mark analysis.

But the most recent news concerns the New York trial of Clarence Dean. In 2013, attorneys for Dean asked for a hearing on the scientific admissibility of the bite mark evidence that prosecutors wanted to introduce at his trial. Judge Maxwell Wiley granted them the hearing. This was significant because it was the first such hearing ever conducted, even though bite mark evidence has been used in criminal cases since the 1970s. Previous courts had upheld its validity by denying challenges to its validity made during appeals and in post-conviction petitions.The hearing also came just as the aforementioned scientific research was beginning to unravel the core principles of bite mark analysis.

In parts three and four of my series, I noted that the Manhattan prosecutor in that case, Assistant District Attorney Melissa Mourges, was not advocating for admitting bite mark evidence in the Dean case, she had become an evangelist for bite mark analysis in general. That evangelism included speaking at conferences and symposiums, and launching pointed, often very personal attacks at skeptics, including longtime bite mark critic Michael Bowers, and Mary and Peter Bush, the scientists whose research had begun to expose the field as fraudulent.

Mourges’s brief for the hearing in the Dean case was rife with misleading claims and in some places, outright deception. Here’s one example, from my series, discussing how Mourges handles a 2009 National Academy of Sciences report that criticized bite mark analysis in pretty harsh terms:

In another portion of the brief, Mourges selectively quotes part of the the report, cutting out some critical language. She writes:

When Dr. Kafadar and her NAS committee created the NAS report, they wrote a summary assessment of forensic odontology. In it they said that “the majority of forensic odontologists are satisfied that bite marks can demonstrate sufficient detail or positive identification …

That ellipsis is important, as is the word that comes before the quote. Here’s the passage quoted in full:

Although the majority of forensic odontologists are satisfied that bite marks can demonstrate sufficient detail for positive identification, no scientific studies support this assessment, and no large population studies have been conducted. In numerous instances, experts diverge widely in their evaluations of the same bite mark evidence, which has led to questioning of the value and scientific objectivity of such evidence.

Bite mark testimony has been criticized basically on the same grounds as testimony by questioned document examiners and microscopic hair examiners. The committee received no evidence of an existing scientific basis for identifying an individual to the exclusion of all others.

The report only acknowledges the near consensus within the community of bite mark analysts for the purpose of criticizing them. Mourges’s selective quotation implies that the report says the relevant scientific community accepts bite mark matching. The full passage reveals that the report is essentially pointing out just the opposite: The insular community of bite mark analysts may believe in what they do, but the larger scientific community is far more skeptical.

In other words, Mourges attempted to attribute to the report the precise opposite of what it claimed. That’s about the level of discourse that pervades the entire document. And yet Mourges won. In September 2013 Judge Wiley ruled that the evidence was admissible, although he never published an opinion to explain his decision.

As noted, since that decision there have been some major new developments, all of which cast further doubt on the validity of bite mark analysis. In light of those developments, Clarence Dean’s attorneys asked Wiley for another hearing. Last week, the Manhattan DA’s office sent Wiley a remarkable memo, informing him that they would be withdrawing the evidence. That’s good news for Clarence Dean. But it also means we’ll have to wait for another day before the first court in America declares bite mark evidence inadmissible (not that there’s any guarantee Wiley would have done so).

The memo itself is an incredible read. It wasn’t written by Mourges herself — it was written by Deputy Bureau Chief Robert Ferrari — but it’s an amusingly angry and blustery defense of both Mourges and bite mark analysis. It actually begins by accusing Mourges’s critics of sexism, claiming Dean’s attorneys made “ad feminam attacks on an Assistant District Attorney.” It isn’t clear which criticisms of Mourges the Manhattan DA’s office finds sexist. But as I noted in my series, according to several people in attendance, it was actually Mourges who made crude comments about Mary Bush’s physical appearance during a presentation at a 2014 ABFO event in Seattle.

The memo goes on to bite mark analysis for three pages before finally informing Wiley that the state will be withdrawing the bite mark evidence in Dean’s case. Ferrari’s explanation for this decision is that the bite mark evidence has “relatively slight probative value” in the Dean case, which makes one wonder why they fought so hard to introduce it in the first place.

Most of the arguments Ferrari makes in defense of bite mark evidence are similar to those Mourges made in her original brief that I examined in my series, so I won’t go into them here. (Fun aside: The memo also twice attacks the credibility of my reporting by referring to me as a mere “blogger.” Horrors!)

But in the few places where he addresses the new developments, he’s just as slippery as Mourges. Referring to the internal ABFO study referenced above, for example, he notes that . . .

Continue reading. There’s more. For example, a little later in the article:

Meanwhile, since Wiley’s September 2013 upholding bite mark evidence, two more people convicted based primarily on such evidence have beenexonerated and freed. Between them, they had served 45 years in prison. Earlier this year, a Pennsylvania judge also threw out another conviction. And in Mississippi, the state’s supreme court has granted a hearing on the admissibility of bite mark analysis to death row inmate Eddie Lee Howard. (That court has shot down challenges to bite mark evidence numerous times in the past.)

The level of integrity and honesty of the prosecutors described above goes a long way toward explaining why the American criminal-justice system is so urgently in need of reform.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 January 2016 at 2:03 pm

Good call by Kevin Drum, pointing out a conservative oddity

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Kevin Drum notes in his blog at Mother Jones:

Last night President Obama noted the unremarkable truth that the US can’t try to rebuild every country that falls into crisis. “It’s the lesson of Iraq,” he said. Over atNational Review, Bing West was not amused:

That is insulting to all who fought. What does Mr. Obama say to the families who lost a loved one: they died in a quagmire that weakened us? The lesson of Iraq is that after American troops achieved stability, Mr. Obama quit, leading to a larger war and more American deaths.

Jesus, this pisses me off. Are conservatives ever willing to take responsibility for anything? They destroy the economy and then spend eight years bitching and whining because it’s taking Obama so long to dig out of the hole they dug. They sit around spouting tough talk about their “Axis of Evil” but do nothing to stop North Korea and Iran from developing nuclear programs—and then go ballistic when Obama finally does something about it. And after merrily dragging us into the stupidest and most disastrous war in recent memory, they’ve spent every year since then desperately trying to pin blame for the aftermath on Obama.

They’re like small children, ruining everything they touch because the world is a big playground that they govern with their guts instead of their brains. Then they throw temper tantrums when the adults come along and try to clean up the messes they’ve made.

Calling Iraq by its true name is no insult to anyone. The insult is that people like Bing West were willing to throw American troops into a killing field because they had to take out their post-9/11 rage on someone, and Iraq was handy. It’s time to grow up, Bing. You can’t remain a child forever, blaming your mistakes on everyone but yourself.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 January 2016 at 10:28 am

Posted in GOP

Cat owners, take note

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This skookum scoop really does look good.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 January 2016 at 10:17 am

Posted in Cats, Daily life, Technology

Robotic falconry: A Drone Casually Capturing Another Drone in a Net

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The Motherboard story by Rachel Pick is here.

On the whole, this seems to be an excellent development to provide some defense against small drones. Worth watching. The interesting parts are later in the (2-minute) video.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 January 2016 at 10:15 am

Posted in Techie toys, Technology

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