Archive for July 2016
Michael Hiltzik has an interesting column in the LA Times that illustrates the idea of profit at any price occasionally does have a very high price:
Carol Highsmith is a distinguished photographer who has traveled all over America, aiming to chronicle for posterity the life of the nation in the early 21st century. She’s donating her work to the public via the Library of Congress, which has called her act “one of the greatest acts of generosity in the history of the Library.” The Carol M. Highsmith Archive, which is expected ultimately to encompass more than 100,000 images, is accessible royalty-free via the library’s website.
So one can imagine Highsmith’s reaction last December when she got a threatening letter from a firm associated with the photo licensing agency Getty Images, accusing her of license infringement by posting one of her own images online. The firm demanded a “settlement payment” of $120 from her nonprofit This Is America! Foundation, backed up by the implicit threat to take her to court.
Actually, one doesn’t have to imagine Highsmith’s reaction. One can read all about it inthe lawsuit she filed this week against Getty in New York federal court, accusing the agency of illicitly claiming rights to 18,755 of her photographs and seeking more than $1 billion in damages. The lawsuit also names Alamy, a British-based licensing agency that was purportedly the license holder whose rights were infringed. Neither Getty nor Alamy had the right to claim a license or copyright on her photos, she says.
The letter came from License Compliance Services, an arm of Getty Images. Gettyclaimed to Cyrus Farivar of Ars Technica that LCS and Getty have “no operational relationship,” but Highsmith’s lawyers say that’s dubious. The two companies share corporate quarters in Seattle, as well as three top executives, they observe in the lawsuit.
Highsmith, 70, found several aspects of Getty’s behavior especially irksome, beyond the fact that the agency “misrepresents the terms and conditions of using the Highsmith Photos by falsely claiming a user must buy a copyright license from Getty” in order to use them. (Indeed, numerous publications, including The Times, have used Highsmith images with credits to Getty.)
Getty nowhere identified Highsmith as the sole creator or copyright owner of the photographs it was hawking to the public. Nor did it volunteer to its clients that the photographs were available for free, in high-quality digital format, from the Library of Congress.
That could damage her own reputation, Highsmith says, since it could look as if she’s been trying to profit from images she had ostensibly donated to the public: “Anyone who sees the Highsmith Photos and knows or learns of her gift to the Library could easily believe her to be a hypocrite.”
Neither Getty nor Alamy has filed a formal answer to the lawsuit. In a public statement, however, Getty responded with bluster. The agency says the lawsuit is “based on a number of misconceptions” and plans to “defend [itself] vigorously.” It acknowledges that the images are in the public domain, but still maintains that it has the right to charge a fee for distributing the material. “Distributing and providing access to public domain content is different to asserting copyright ownership of it,” Getty says. That’s true as far as it goes, but skates over the question of who gave it permission to distribute the content on any terms.
Alamy has said even less. . .
Greed-poisoning: it’s real, and this is an example. As the story notes later:
. . . In 2013, a federal court jury found that Getty and Agence France-Press had “willfully infringed” a photographer’s copyright on eight photos from the 2010 Haiti earthquake that the photographer posted on Twitter, but had been reposted without permission by another photographer. Getty conceded liability and, along with AFP, was slapped with $1.5 million in damages. . .
$1.5 million apparently wasn’t enough to teach Getty a lesson. Perhaps $1 billion will help them understand.
Government betraying its mission: New Jersey Student Loan Agency to Staff: Don’t Tell Borrowers About Help Unless They Ask
The government, as I understand it, is to be an advocate on behalf of the public. New Jersey doesn’t see it that way, as reported by Annie Waldman in ProPublica:
Some restaurants have secret menus, special items that you can only get if you know to ask. New Jersey’s student loan program has secret options, too — borrowers may be able to get help from the agency, but only if they know to ask.
New Jersey has the largest state-based student loan program in the country, with particularly stringent terms that can lead to financial ruin, as ProPublica and the New York Times recently detailed. The agency overseeing the program says it has a policy to help some families if the children who were supposed to benefit from the loans die.
But internal emails show that staffers at the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority, or HESAA, have been instructed not to tell families that they may qualify for help unless they explicitly ask.
“Families of deceased borrowers (or surviving cosigners) must inquire if HESAA has a policy on loan forgiveness,” a supervising staffer wrote in an email to employees in May 2016. “We should not be volunteering this information.” . . .
The attitude does seem to match that of Chris Christie, who is governor of the state and lickspittle to Donald Trump.
Radley Balko reported in the Washington Post:
Last week, the New York Times sent reporters out on police ride-alongs in 10 U.S. cities. The subsequent Times article, called “One Police Shift: Patrolling an Anxious America” got a lot of attention. One officer chosen for the ride-along, Prince George’s County, Md., Police Lt. Scott Finn made a derisive comment about Black Lives Matter protesters. As my colleague Erik Wemple points out, Finn has a long and problematic history.
— [Finn] was investigated for shooting an unarmed man. He was eventually cleared.
— Drew an anonymous complaint in March 1999 from another officer after an incident in which a Capitol Heights man alleged that Finn “shoved his head against a patrol car.” The anonymous tipster said that Finn “has two speeds: start and overdrive. His over aggressiveness is what makes a calm situation get out of control.” A civilian review board concluded that Finn should be charged with lying. He got a promotion and a raise.
— Drew complaints for harassment and a threat in 2000 from a Forestville [Md.] woman.
— Appeared on a list generated by a police department computer to flag officers who’d drawn misconduct complaints.
— Responded with several other officers to an “incoherent” 911 call in Suitland, Md., in September 1999, and after arriving at the scene arrested 29-year-old Elmer C. Newman Jr., an African American man who was high on cocaine.
In the Newman case, Finn and the other officers claimed to have arrested Newman after he attacked them. But Newman was later found dead on the floor of his cell. An autopsy revealed that the officers had broken two of his ribs and two bones in his neck, and caused other internal injuries.
As Wemple points out, a 2001 Post investigation found that despite the county’s long history of misconduct, the department had a history of clearing its officers of any wrongdoing.
Wemple’s post takes the New York Times to task for not revealing Finn’s history. My question: Why is Finn still a cop at all? Why did these incidents of misconduct not only not lead to discipline, but instead were followed by promotions or raises? Moreover, why in the world would the Prince George’s Police Department choose this particular cop to host a ride-along with a New York Times reporter?
The Prince George’s County Police Department, incidentally, was under federal monitoring for much of the 1990 and 2000s. From a 2009 article in The Post:
After a series of shootings early in the decade drew the attention of federal investigators, the county agreed to make the improvements under the watch of an independent monitor in 2004 to avoid legal action. At the time, FBI agents were also investigating four incidents in which suspects died after being injured in struggles with county police.
It took county police five years — not the planned three — to meet the requirements but County Executive Jack B. Johnson yesterday praised the accomplishment nonetheless.
“We have rebuilt a police department that was once and now is considered a model for law enforcement,” Johnson said at a news conference.
Johnson gave these comments seven months after his county’s police department participated in a botched SWAT raid on the home of Berwyn Heights, Md., Mayor Cheye Calvo, killing his two dogs and holding him and his mother-in-law at gunpoint for hours. Johnson had dismissed the idea that the police had done anything wrong in the case, explaining thatthe fact that Calvo had been cleared of any drug-dealing and that an internal investigation had cleared police was “a pat on the back for everybody involved, I think.” (Johnson would later be indicted for corruption and is currently serving a seven-year prison sentence.)
The department had also been under a consent decree from 1999 through 2007 for its K9 units, which had an unfortunate habit of biting people.
Go back through The Post archives, and you’ll find that Johnson’s assurances that the agency has made improvements that make it a “model for law enforcement” are a common refrain. Here’s a 1987 story about police brutality in the county. It notes that Prince George’s County had been accused of systematic misconduct, brutality and coverups since the early 1970s. Each time there’s a new round of brutality revelations, there were assurances from county officials that despite the ugly history, things were getting better.
Since 2009, the department appears to have avoided more consent decrees, but hasn’t avoided more scandal and allegations of brutality, including from a TV reporter, in the beating of a Maryland college student that was captured on numerous cellphones and the beating of an off-duty cop from Washington.
The college student, John McKenna, was beaten and arrested for assaulting police officers. Cellphone video shot by numerous nearby students clearly showed that the officer attacked McKenna without provocation. When a security camera that should have captured the incident failed to produce any footage, police claimed it had been pointed in another direction. The officer in charge of the security cameras was married to one of the officers accused of beating McKenna. Despite a $2 million settlement to McKenna from the county, the officers were let off with a slap on the wrist. From a 2014 editorial in The Post:
IN PRINCE George’s County, it is now clear that the police, without provocation, can beat an unarmed young student senseless — with impunity. They can blatantly lie about it — with impunity. They can stonewall and cover it up for months — with impunity. They can express no remorse and offer no apology — with impunity . . .
There were dozens of witnesses, including police. Yet what followed was an official wall of silence, dishonesty and denial from the department. Mr. McKenna’s injuries, the police initially said, were sustained when he was kicked by a horse.
The cops’ story fell apart when the video surfaced, but even then their stonewalling continued. For months, no one would identify the officers in riot gear who were shown beating Mr. McKenna.
It was only due to the persistence of Mr. McKenna’s lawyers that the cover-up and lies were shredded. At trial, in late 2012, a jury convicted Mr. Harrison on a felony charge of assault. Another officer, Reginald Baker, was acquitted, although he, too, used his baton to beat Mr. McKenna as he lay stunned and defenseless on the ground.
Harrison’s conviction was later thrown out by a local judge, who also happened to have once been married to a Prince George’s County cop accused of brutality. Even with the conviction, Harrison was allowed to retire with a full pension. When the judge threw it out, he was eligible to work again as a police officer.
The beating of the TV reporter and her cameraman was especially pertinent to the current discussion of police brutality. Because of one of the agency’s consent decrees with the Justice Department, all of its police cruisers had been outfitted with cameras. Nine cruisers were at the scene of the incident. The county claimed in court filings that there was no video footage of the altercation because all nine dash cameras had coincidentally malfunctioned, or the tapes had been lost. . .
Ruth Margalit writes in the NY Times:
In its annual report released this spring, Freedom House, an American democracy advocacy organization, downgraded Israel’s freedom of the press ranking from “free” to “partly free.” To anyone following Israeli news media over the past year and a half, this was hardly surprising. Freedom House focused primarily on the “unchecked expansion” of paid content in editorial pages, as well as on the outsize influence of Israel Hayom (“Israel Today”), a free daily newspaper owned by the American casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and widely believed to promote the views of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israel Hayom’s bias is well documented. A 2013 investigative report on Israeli television revealed drafts of several articles written by the paper’s journalists that had been systematically changed by the editor in chief to remove criticism of the prime minister. For a newspaper to have a political agenda is, of course, nothing new. But Israel Hayom isn’t conservative or right wing in the broad sense. Rather, the paper megaphones whatever is in the interest of the prime minister. Naftali Bennett, a far-right government minister, has said “Israel Hayom is Pravda — the mouthpiece of one man.”
In many ways, the Freedom House report missed the real worrying shifts. Mr. Netanyahu’s attempts to control the country’s pages and airwaves go much further than Israel Hayom. For the past 18 months, in addition to his prime ministerial duties, he has served as Israel’s communications minister (as well as its foreign minister, economy minister and minister of regional cooperation). In this role, he and his aides have brazenly leveraged his power to seek favorable coverage from outlets that he once routinely described as “radically biased.”
Efforts to stifle freedom of the press can be seen as part of a broader attack by Mr. Netanyahu and his ministers on Israel’s democratic institutions, including the Supreme Court and nongovernmental organizations. Dissent from the official government line is consistently called into suspicion. In this climate, the news media has become a personal battleground for Mr. Netanyahu. Nahum Barnea, a pre-eminent Israeli columnist, said last year that Mr. Netanyahu’s “obsession” with the news media showed him to be “gripped by fear and paranoia.”
On the first day after he was carried into a fourth term in office, Mr. Netanyahu took a seemingly small but unusual step: He fired the Communications Ministry’s director general and named in his stead a man best known for having once served as Mr. Netanyahu’s chief of staff. Any objections that this move may have raised were pre-empted by Mr. Netanyahu, who had already required all members of his coalition to sign a “communications clause,” guaranteeing their automatic support for any decision made in the future by the communications minister — in other words, by him.
Since the appointment of its new director general, the ministry has ruled on a series of decisions that have been highly advantageous to Bezeq, Israel’s largest telecommunications group. Bezeq also operates Walla News, one of the most popular news sites in the country, and a close associate of Mr. Netanyahu’s, Shaul Elovitch, owns a controlling stake.
It didn’t take long before the site’s coverage of the Netanyahu government turned decidedly positive. . .
Hillary Clinton has pledged to support Netanyahu.
Charlie Savage reports in the NY Times:
TALLINN, Estonia — When guards brought Ahmed Abdul Qader to the plane that would take him away from the Guantánamo Bay prison a year and a half ago, he asked permission to pause before boarding. Closing his eyes, he tried to leave behind the burden of his 13 years of captivity.
Mr. Qader was about 17 — an overweight Yemeni teenager suspected [and for the US, suspicion is sufficient to imprison someone for 13 years – LG] of being a terrorist — when the United States military brought him to Guantánamo. When he left, he was past 30, his hair thinning, and about to start a new life in Estonia, a tiny Baltic country he had never heard of before it had decided to resettle a detainee a few months earlier.
A day later, he was in his new home, a modestly furnished studio apartment in Tallinn provided by the Estonian government. But the past, he soon realized, was not so easy to escape. Snow was falling, and he was eager to touch it. He started for the door, then suddenly panicked, fearful that something — he was not sure what — could go wrong if he went outside.
“Any trouble I get myself in now — even an honest mistake — will be a hundred times worse than if any normal person did it,” Mr. Qader said recently, trying to explain how that sense of paralysis has stayed with him.
“I thought that after two months’ release, I’d be back to normal,” he said. “But I cannot live my life regularly. I try, but it is like part of me is still at Guantánamo.”
Mr. Qader is one of about 780 men who have been held at the prison since the Bush administration opened it after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. A central part of the war on terrorism, Guantánamo was an experiment: using indefinite detention without trial, a tool of traditional wars, for an open-ended conflict in which distinguishing truly dangerous enemies from people caught on the periphery can be particularly difficult.
President Obama inherited 242 detainees when he came into office vowing to close the prison. Today 76 remain, 32 of them approved for transfer to a stable country willing to accept them. Congressional Republicans opposeclosing the prison and further transfers, pointing to the minority of former detainees accused of recidivism.
In the long and contentious debate over Guantánamo’s future, former detainees who have been transferred and caused no problems have been largely forgotten. But while their files may have been closed, the ambiguity surrounding their release — deemed safe enough to transfer, but never proven guilty or innocent — continues to brand them.
Mr. Qader recently told me his story in a series of conversations over several days this spring — in his apartment, strolling through Tallinn’s medieval Old Town, and riding a city bus to Estonia’s Islamic Center. . .
Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson have a very interesting column in the NY Times. From that column:
Here’s just a section of the column:
. . . We identify blue states as the 18 that supported the Democratic candidate in the last four presidential elections, and red states as the 22 that backed the Republican candidate (alternative definitions yield similar results). If you compare averages, blue states are substantially richer (even adjusting for cost of living) and their residents are better educated. Companies there do more research and development and produce more patents. Students score better on tests of basic science-oriented skills like math.
How can conservative commentators claim that red states dominate? A tactic favored by Mr. Trump’s economic adviser Stephen Moore is to rely on measures goosed by population expansion, like job growth or a state economy’s size.
That’s like portraying India as a beacon of prosperity because it has one of the biggest economies in the world and creates millions of jobs annually. Economic performance is measured in the lives of individuals, not aggregates.
Another favorite approach is to cherry-pick a handful of red states with decent records and contrast them with the most troubled blue states. With Texas now stumbling as oil prices fall, the new conservative favorite is Utah.
Utah’s low poverty rate and long life expectancy are impressive, but spotlighting a single state ignores the more numerous red states that dominate the lowest ranks of state performance — whether for life expectancy, obesity, rates of violent crime and incarceration, or labor force participation of prime-age workers.
Many of these differences are longstanding. Our reddest region, the South, has long been the poorest part, too. The gap between today’s red and blue states was enormous for much of the 20th century. It then narrowed substantially, thanks in part to huge federal transfers to the poorest states to raise them toward the national level.
Yet income differences between red and blue states stopped closing around 1980 and, in some revealing cases, widened. For example, Texas and Massachusetts — often considered exemplars of the red and blue models — had almost converged by 1980. Since then, Texas’ per capita income has fallen significantly relative to Massachusetts’. The same is true of Utah. . .
Another excellent post from Kevin Drum that exposes the festering pus of racism that constitutes the North Carolina legislature. Read how carefully and deliberately the legislature acted to keep African-Americans from voting. A rancid state legislature.