Later On

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Archive for March 29th, 2017

Roberts, Alito: Cops who illegally entered home without warrant, shot married couple can’t be sued . . . because the cops likely would have shot the couple anyway.

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What’s happened to this country? Cops can bash in the door to your house, break windows, throw in flash-bang grenades (sometimes on top of a baby in a crib), shoot unarmed people, and the cops are never held accountable? It’s now okay to do that?

Radley Balko reports in the Washington Post:

Last week, I wrote about L.A. County v. Mendez, a case currently before the Supreme Court. In the case, the police were looking for a rogue parolee. They got a tip from an informant that the man they were looking for was seen riding a bicycle past a particular house. Based only on that, two deputies searched the house without a warrant. They then saw a small shack in the back yard. They were told that the woman who owns the house had let a down-on-their-luck couple — Angel and Jennifer Mendez — live in the shack until they were back on their feet. The two deputies then searched that residence without a warrant as well. When the deputies opened the door, Angel Mendez reached for a BB gun he kept near the bed. He later said he wasn’t even reaching for the gun to scare away the intruders, only to move it so he could get out of bed. The two deputies opened fire, striking both Angel and Jennifer. Angel Mendez was shot several times and lost part of his leg. Jennifer was shot in the back.

The lower courts determined that the officers violated the Mendezes’ Fourth Amendment rights on two occasions. First, they failed to obtain a warrant before searching the home. And second, they failed to knock and announce before entering the residence. But on the second violation, the failure to knock and announce, the lower courts determined that the officers were protected by qualified immunity. Because the Mendezes did not live on a separate property from the main house, the federal courts found that a reasonable police officer could be confused about whether he or she was required to knock and announce before entering.

At issue before the Supreme Court — or at least so we thought — is the “provocation doctrine,” a bit of case law unique to the 9th Circuit. The doctrine holds that if the police violate someone’s Fourth Amendment rights, and that violation is the proximate cause of an escalation that leads to harm caused to the plaintiffs, then the police officers are liable for that harm. In the Mendez case, the lower courts held that because the police violated the couple’s Fourth Amendment rights by not obtaining a warrant, and because that violation caused Angel Mendez to legally and reasonable reach for his gun, which caused the deputies to open fire, the deputies are liable to the injuries sustained by the Mendezes. In every other federal circuit, the deputies would not be liable, because the courts would look only at the immediate cause of the injuries — the deputies firing their guns. Because their use of force was reasonable — they were reacting to Angel Mendez reaching for what looked like a real gun — they wouldn’t be liable, even though Mendez would have been entirely justified in defending his home. Only the 9th Circuit recognizes that it was the deputies’ initial violation that escalated the situation. The attorneys for the Mendezes were asking the court to apply the provocation doctrine to the entire country. Los Angeles County was asking the court to strike down the doctrine in the only circuit where it exists.

After oral arguments last Wednesday, it seems as if there’s a good chance that the court will do neither. Of course, all the usual caveats about the perils of predicting Supreme Court cases by oral arguments apply here. But the Roberts court has a reputation for punting on cases when it can — for avoiding big issues if it can dispose of cases by looking to smaller ones. In Mendez last week, the court’s conservative justices suggested that the case may not even need to get to the provocation doctrine. Their reasons why tell us a lot about the immense protections police officers enjoy from the federal courts, even when they’ve caused serious harm.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. in particular argued that the proximate cause of the shooting wasn’t the deputies’ failure to obtain a warrant, but their failure to knock and announce before entering the Mendezes’ home. Even if the deputies had obtained a warrant, the justices argued, they’d still likely have entered without knocking or announcing. That is what caused Angel Mendez to reach for his gun, which in turn caused the officers to open fire. And because the officers were given qualified immunity for their failure to knock and announce (this wasn’t at issue for the Supreme Court), they could not be held liable for the injuries they inflicted on the Mendezes.

There are a lot of assumptions built into this line of argument, all of which tend to benefit the deputies. First, it’s just assumed that if they had applied for the warrant, they would have been granted one. Perhaps that’s true. Unfortunately, judges in general aren’t all that skeptical about search warrants, and police tend to avoid the judges who are. But it’s far from clear whether the deputies should have been given a warrant had they gone to the trouble of asking for one. The only cause they had to search either residence was a tip that an anonymous informant had spotted someone who looked like the parolee riding a bicycle in front of a particular house. That’s it. From that tip, the police entered and search not one, but two residences. If the parolee had been seen riding past several houses, would the police have been justified in searching all of those, too? That seems to be inferable from the 9th Circuit opinion:

The officers “developed a plan” in which some officers would proceed to the Hughes house, but because “the officers believed that there was a possibility that Mr. O’Dell already had left the Hughes residence,” others would proceed to a different house on the same street.

Second, several of the justices’ questions appear to just assume that  . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2017 at 6:34 pm

Sounds exactly like a criminal organization: Since 2007, the DEA has taken $3.2 billion in cash from people not charged with a crime

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Christopher Ingraham reports in the Washington Post:

The Drug Enforcement Administration takes billions of dollars in cash from people who are never charged with criminal activity, according to a report issued today by the Justice Department’s Inspector General.

Since 2007, the report found, the DEA has seized more than $4 billion in cash from people suspected of involvement with the drug trade. But 81 percent of those seizures, totaling $3.2 billion, were conducted administratively, meaning no civil or criminal charges were brought against the owners of the cash and no judicial review of the seizures ever occurred.

That total does not include the dollar value of other seized assets, like cars, homes, electronics and clothing.

These seizures are all legal under the controversial practice of civil asset forfeiture, which allows authorities to take cash, contraband and property from people suspected of crime. But the practice does not require authorities to obtain a criminal conviction, and it allows departments to keep seized cash and property for themselves unless individuals successfully challenge the forfeiture in court. Critics across the political spectrum say this creates a perverse profit motive, incentivizing police to seize goods not for the purpose of fighting crime, but for padding department budgets.

Law enforcement groups say the practice is a valuable tool for fighting criminal organizations, allowing them to seize drug profits and other ill-gotten goods. But the Inspector General’s report “raises serious concerns that maybe real purpose here is not to fight crime, but to seize and forfeit property,” said Darpana Sheth, senior attorney of the Institute for Justice, a civil liberties law form that has fought for forfeiture reform.

The Inspector General found that the Department of Justice “does not collect or evaluate the data necessary to know whether its seizures and forfeitures are effective, or the extent to which seizures present potential risks to civil liberties.”

In the absence of this information, the report examined 100 DEA cash seizures that occurred “without a court-issued warrant and without the presence of narcotics, the latter of which would provide strong evidence of related criminal behavior.”

Fewer than half of those seizures were related to a new or ongoing criminal investigation, or led to an arrest or prosecution, the Inspector General found.

“When seizure and administrative forfeitures do not ultimately advance an investigation or prosecution,” the report concludes, “law enforcement creates the appearance, and risks the reality, that it is more interested in seizing and forfeiting cash than advancing an investigation or prosecution.”

The scope of asset forfeiture is staggering. Since 2007 the Department of Justice’s Asset Forfeiture Fund, which collects proceeds from seized cash and other property, has ballooned to $28 billion. In 2014 alone authorities seized $5 billion in cash and property from people — greater than the value of all documented losses to burglary that year. . .

Continue reading.

It sounds exactly like a criminal enterprise: taking money from people by force. And it’s obviously not “fighting crime” since so frequently no crime is charged. I would think this would be regunant to the GOP, but it doesn’t seem to be.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2017 at 4:32 pm

The Ballad of Holland Island House

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Fascinating animation, song, and story. Do check it out.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2017 at 12:47 pm

A New AI Hub In Canada Is Welcoming the Scientists Trump Is Pushing Away

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Jordan Pearson reports at Motherboard:

Thanks to President Donald Trump’s abhorrent stances on immigration and science, a new AI research hub in Canada stands to gain the brainpower that the US is now repelling.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that artificial intelligence as we know it was largely developed in Canada. For years, a core group of computer scientists like Geoffrey Hinton, Yann LeCun, and Yoshua Bengio worked in relative obscurity at Canadian universities, until US-based giants like Facebook and Google took notice and hired them.

Now, Canada is committing $150 million to fund an AI research hub that will bring that ingenuity back home. The Toronto-based Vector Institute will serve as a research and commercialization hub for artificial intelligence tech, and has already convinced Hinton to move back to the city. But tech is global, unconstrained by nationality, and so Vector will also look for talent in the places targeted by US travel restrictions.

“I’ve spoken to a few people while gauging interest in who we want to hire, asking why they’re interested, and one of the things they’ve mentioned is the political climate in the US,” said Richard Zemel, a computer scientist at the University of Toronto and Vector’s director of research, in an interview. “That’s to our benefit right now. It could change, but the long-term thing is they’ll have the flexibility to both work on research and with companies.”

In an interview with the Toronto Star, Hinton also suggested that Trump’s intolerance will help Vector attract top global talent. Two members of his team are Iranian. . .

Continue reading.

So Trump is driving away talent that could help the U.S. develop AI, which is the next big thing, so far as I can see. And by pulling out of the TPP, it does create a business-relationships vacuum that China will happily fill. And killing off all the clean energy initiatives in effect withdraws the US from the Paris agreement and from the nations that are fighting climate change (and China is a player here as well). Trump is single-handedly removing the US from its former position as a global leader.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2017 at 11:52 am

Why Does Apple Object to News About Drone Strikes?

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This is very weird, and it seems highly inappropriate for Apple to be blocking certain types of news, particularly news that is routinely reported by the press. Kevin Drum writes at Mother Jones:

Over at the Intercept, Josh Begley has a story that’s disturbing—but not in the usualIntercept way:

Five years ago, I made a simple iPhone app. It would send you a push notification every time a U.S. drone strike was reported in the news. Apple rejected the app three times, calling it “excessively objectionable or crude content.”

….In 2014, after five rejections, Apple accepted the app….But the following September, Apple decided to delete the app entirely. They claimed that the content, once again, was “excessively objectionable or crude.”…Well, Apple’s position has evolved. Today, after 12 attempts, the Metadata app is back in the App Store.

….Update: 2:32pm. Apple has removed Metadata from the App Store.

There is, needless to say, nothing objectionable or crude about this app. It merely aggregates news on a particular subject. Drone strikes themselves may be objectionable and crude—opinions differ, obviously—but reporting on them isn’t.

This matters. Upwards of half of all Americans get some or most of their news from their mobile devices, and for all practical purposes there are only two options in the mobile device world: iOS and Android. If you can’t get an app accepted on either platform, then no one will ever see your app. Apple and Google are the sole gateways to what we can and can’t see. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2017 at 10:55 am

Crowdfunding campaign seeks to purchase search history of lawmakers who killed internet privacy

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The GOP House and Senate both voted to remove privacy protection so that ISPs can track your browsing history (and, presumably, your on-line purchases) and sell that information on the open market. So this initiative, to purchase the browsing history of those voting in favor, is very interesting.

Tom Cahill reports in Resistance Report:

Republicans in Congress just voted to allow Americans’ browser history to be bought and sold. A genius crowdfunding campaign wants to use that against them.

The website searchinternethistory.com is attempting to raise $1 million in order to put in bids to purchase the internet history of leading Republicans and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) members. The first histories the site aims to buy are those of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee), and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

“If it takes a million dollars to get real change, I am sure a million people are willing to donate $1 to help ensure their private data stays private,” wrote Adam McElhaney, who launched a GoFundMe campaign for the endeavor.

McElhaney clarified on the GoFundMe campaign’s site that while he understands the privacy risks of using social media, the privacy rules Congress just eliminated goes far beyond what he feels is acceptable.

“I understand that what I put on the Internet is out there and not private. Those are the risks you assume. I’m not ashamed of what I put out on the Internet,” he wrote. “However, I don’t think that what I lookup on the Internet, what sites I visit, my browsing habits, should be bought and sold to whoever. Without my consent.”

McElhaney, who describes himself as “a privacy activist & net neutrality Advocate,” argues that since both houses of Congress have passed bills allowing anyone’s browser history to be sold and purchased by major telecom giants like Verizon, that the American people should be able to buy the browser records for their elected officials. If successful, the site aims to publish a searchable database of browser history for every member of Congress who voted to gut former President Barack Obama’s regulations prohibiting corporations from viewing Americans’ browser histories.

“Everything from their medical, pornographic, to their financial and infidelity. Anything they have looked at, searched for, or visited on the Internet will now be available for everyone to comb through,” the site promises, next to a survey of which public official’s browser history should be published first. “Since we didn’t get an opportunity to vote on whether our private and personal browsing history should be bought and sold, I wanted to show our legislators what a democracy is like. So, I’m giving you the opportunity to vote on whose history gets bought first.”

“Help me raise money to buy the histories of those who took away your right to privacy,” McElhaney adds. . .

Continue reading.

They are also looking for contributions of legal talent. I contributed money.

See also: I Spent A Week Trying To Make The Broadband Lobby Answer A Simple Question About Selling Your Data, by Sam Biddle, which appears in The Intercept:

House Republicans last night voted to overturn an FCC rule that bars your internet provider from telling advertisers which websites you visit and what you search for in exchange for money; the Senate voted along the same lines last week. The decisions were immediately praised by lobbying groups like the NCTA, which represents broadband companies like Verizon and Comcast — and which for some reason framed the gutting of federal privacy regulations as good for privacy, a choice that the organization seemingly cannot explain, no matter how many times you ask.

The NCTA’s statement after last week’s vote read as follows:

“We appreciate today’s Senate action to repeal unwarranted FCC rules that deny consumers consistent privacy protection online and violate competitive neutrality. … Our industry remains committed to offering services that protect the privacy and security of the personal information of our customers. We support this step towards reversing the FCC’s misguided approach and look forward to restoring a consistent approach to online privacy protection that consumers want and deserve.”

Emphasis added. It should be immediately puzzling to anyone reading that statement how the broadband industry “remains committed” to personal privacy while also encouraging (and celebrating) a regulatory change that would allow your ISP to make a buck by telling a third party which websites you visit so that they can try to sell you things. Privacy is generally understood as a state defined by offering less disclosure about oneself, not more. Seeking clarity, I asked the NCTA to explain how it squares this commitment with its apparent antithesis. What’s ensued has been a week-long semantic maze navigated by myself and Joy Sims, a (very patient) spokesperson for the NCTA, reproduced below: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2017 at 10:05 am

Posted in Congress, GOP, Law, Technology

iKon stainless steel H2O goes to auction

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This asymmetric (bar guard on one side, comb guard on the other) two-piece iKon razor is now listed on eBay.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2017 at 9:30 am

Posted in Shaving

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