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Study: American policy exclusively reflects desires of the rich; citizens' groups largely irrelevant

In Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens [PDF], a paper forthcoming in Perspectives on Politics by Princeton's Martin Gilens and Northwestern's Benjamin Page, the authors analyze 1,779 over the past 20+ years and conclude that policy makers respond exclusively to the needs of people in the 90th wealth percentile to the exclusion of pretty much every one else. Mass-scale intervention from citizens' groups barely registers, while the desires of the richest ten percent of America dictate practically the entire national policy landscape.

In a summary in the Washington Post, Larry Bartels writes,

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HOWTO buy your way out of a California speeding ticket

Pricenomics revisits the perennial scandal of the 11-99 Foundation, which benefits California Highway Patrol officers and their families in times of crisis. Major donors to the foundation receive a license-plate frame that, drivers believe, acts as a license to speed on California highways. The plates were withdrawn in 2006 after a CHP commissioner's investigation seemed to validate the idea that CHP officers would let off drivers with the frames. The frames are back now, thanks to a funding crisis from 11-99, and some posters on cop-message boards say that the frames themselves aren't enough to get you out of a ticket -- because many of them are counterfeits -- but if you have a member's card, too, well, that's another story, wink, nudge.

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Prosecutors wage war on judges who insist on fairness

When South Carolina State Supreme Court Justice Donald Beatty told a convention of prosecutors that judges would not permit "unethical conduct, such as witness tampering, selective and retaliatory prosecutions, perjury and suppression of evidence," prosecutors revolted, vilifying him. They're following the lead of San Diego prosecutors, who boycott judges who are to "pro-Fourth Amendment." And in Arizona, prosecutors are fighting an ethics rule that would require them to disclose "new, credible, and material evidence" of wrongful convictions. Cory 24

LAPD officers sabotage their own voice-recorders: nothing to hide, nothing to fear?

The Los Angeles Police Department is trying to do something about its notoriously bad human rights record: it has equipped officers with belt-worn voice-recorders that feed tamper-evident uploading stations in their cruisers. Unfortunately for anyone who advocates for the basic honesty of the LAPD, these have been widely sabotaged by officers, with more than half of the receiver antennas being vandalized or removed, which sharply reduces the recorders' range. Boston cops reacted the same way when logging GPSes were added to their cars. As Washington University law prof Neil Richards notes, it's a pretty ironic turn, in that the cops apparently feel like being surveilled while going about their normal business is an unreasonable impingement on their freedom. Cory 38

Sony issues fraudulent takedown for Blender's open source movie


Alex writes, "This is a very good example of copyright abuse. The official Blender Foundation copy of Sintel on Youtube is currently blocked because Sony apparently claimed copyright over it. This is particularly distressing because Sintel is one of the precious few open-source movies in existence. Made with open-source tools, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0, with the source files from the movie free to download, Sintel represents the diametric opposite of this type of ownership. "

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Why did armed officers raid a strip club and take photos?

Here's the latest episode of Don't Cops Have Better Things to Do?!, produced by Ted Balaker.

San Diego's police chief has recently resigned amid a variety of sex-crime scandals involving his officers, including Christopher Hays, who faces felony charges for groping and illegally detaining women, and Anthony Arevalos who is serving time for his habit of demanding sexual favors from women he pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving.

So it seems like an especially stupid time for SDPD to send ten armed officers to raid a local strip club and take photos of the dancers. Yet that's what the vice squad did earlier this month.

San Diego Police Department officers raided a Cheetahs strip club to bust any dancers who weren’t properly permitted.

"I didn't know if it was a bank robbery or serial killer on the loose the way they had come in like that," said manager Rich Buonantony. "The show of force, show of power was incredible."

The officers spent hours meticulously documenting all 30 dancers’ paperwork and bodies (with cameras, of course!).

"They made me feel like I was a gang member pretty much and they wanted to document every single one of my tattoos," said stripper Katelynn Delorie.

Daniel Ellsberg to keynote HOPE X in NYC this summer

2600 Magazine's Emmanuel Goldstein writes, "Acclaimed whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg will be keynoting at this summer's HOPE X conference in New York City. Ellsberg leaked the infamous Pentagon Papers, 7,000 pages of documents that wound up changing American history forever. Today's whistleblowers are treated far more harshly, both by the authorities and the mainstream media, often facing lengthly prison terms or a life on the run. Fortunately, Ellsberg has remained involved and connected. A whole new generation will hear his words in person and hopefully be inspired to reveal the truth from whatever corporate or government position they find themselves in." Cory 2

Britain is turning into a country that can't tell its terrorists from its journalists


Sarah Harrison, a British journalist who's worked with Wikileaks and the Snowden papers, writes that she will not enter the UK any longer because the nation's overbroad anti-terror laws, combined with the court decision that validates using them to detain journalists who are not suspected of terrorism under any reasonable definition of the term, means that she fears begin detained at the airport and then jailed as a terrorist when she refuses to decrypt her files and grant police access to her online accounts. Under the UK's Terrorism Act of 2000, journalists who write because they hope to expose and halt corruption are liable to being jailed as terrorists because they report on leaks in a way that is "designed to influence the government." And "the government," according to the Act, is any government, anywhere in the world -- meaning that journalists who report on leaks that embarrass any government in the world can be treated as terrorists in the UK.

Nor is this an idle risk: Glenn Greenwald's partner, David Miranda, was detained under terrorism rules when he transited through the UK, and a UK judge subsequently found that the detention was justified on these grounds, even though no one suggests that Miranda is involved in terrorism in any way. As Harrison writes, "Britain is turning into a country that can't tell its terrorists from its journalists."

The final paragraphs of Harrison's editorial sum it up neatly:

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Stop-and-frisk as the most visible element of deep, violent official American racism


Christopher E Smith is the white father of a black, biracial son, and it is through his son's experience of being black in America that he has learned just how pervasive and humiliating and violent officialdom is to black Americans, a fact embodied perfectly through New York City's notorious, racist stop-and-frisk program. Smith describes how his son, interning on Wall Street, has been repeatedly stopped by police, once made to lie face down on the filthy sidewalk in his best suit while police went through his pockets (former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg was a staunch supporter of this program). He describes the experience of his black in-laws, who are stopped by police-cars en route to family gatherings, who have guns aimed at their heads, and who are then released with a shrug and a nonsensical excuse. He describes how driving over the US/Canadian border with his son is totally different from driving on his own, and how the customs guards routinely stop the two of them, and make them wait out of sight of their car while it is searched.

As an aside, I've experienced this myself. I've driven across the US/Canadian border literally dozens of times and the only time I was stopped was when I gave Nalo Hopkinson and David Findlay -- who happen to be black -- a ride to a Clarion reunion at Michigan State University. At both border crossings, the car was searched from top to bottom, with officers taking out books and shaking the pages to look for contraband. It's never happened since. The only difference between that drive and all the others was that there were some brown-skinned people in evidence.

Smith proposes a thought experiment in which stop-and-frisk searches were mandatorily applied in keeping with overall demographics, so for every three black people that the NYPD pull over and humiliate without warrant or suspicion or probable cause, they would have to do the same to ten white people -- and suggests that this would end the program of stop-and-frisk in a heartbeat.

I think he's right.

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David "Debt" Graeber evicted, implicates NYPD intelligence, claims revenge-harassment for OWS participation

David Graeber, author of Debt: the First 5000 Years, was evicted from the home that his family had lived in for 52 years yesterday. He says that the NYPD intelligence department played a role in establishing a "technicality" on which his family could be evicted, despite not having missed a single payment in 52 years. He blames the eviction on retaliation against high-profile Occupy Wall Street activists, whom he says have been targeted in a wide-ranging series of administrative attacks: "evictions, visa problems, tax audits..."

Abi Sutherland has a great post on this on Making Light:

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Michael Lewis's "Flash Boys": lifting the rock on crooked high-speed trading

Michael Lewis is the best finance writer in the business (see my reviews of The Big Short and Liar's Poker), a gifted storyteller with a firm grasp of his subject and real insider access and insight. He's got a new book out, Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt, which tells the story of the high-speed traders who turned the stock markets into (more of) a rigged game, and how the big incumbent banks fought back. The New York Times Magazine has adapted a long excerpt from the book and it's thrilling, shining a light on what New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman called "insider trading 2.0."

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Houston family calls 911 when dad has psychotic episode; now sued by the deputy who killed him

When Marlene Yazar's husband Kemal experienced a psychotic episode, she was so scared for her safety and the safety of her children that she called 911. A paramedic arrived on the scene, but fled after Kemal threw a Bible at him. The paramedic called the police, and Harris County, TX Deputy Brady Pullen arrived on the scene. Ten minutes later, he and a colleague shot Kemal ten times, killing him. Then, he sued the Yazar family, naming Kemal's mother-in-law (who wasn't at home when the episode took place) because, according to him, the family were negligent in describing the threat the dead father, husband and breadwinner presented. Now, the family must not only mourn the passing of their dead loved one -- they have to defend themselves against a $100,000 lawsuit brought by the police officer who shot him dead. Cory 37

NSA wiretapped 122 world leaders; GCHQ penetrated German satellite companies for mass surveillance potential


Newly disclosed documents from the trove Edward Snowden provided to journalists reveal the existence of the "Nymrod" database that listed 122 world leaders, many from nations friendly to the USA, that were spied upon by the NSA. Included in the list is German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was already known to have been wiretapped by the NSA thanks to an earlier disclosure. Nymrod's "Target Knowledge Database" combed through the NSA's pool of global intercepts to amass dossiers of private communications -- emails, faxes, calls and Internet traffic -- related to the leaders.

Additionally, the UK spy agency GCHQ infiltrated and compromised two German satellite communications companies -- Stellar and Cetel -- and IABG, a company that supplied them with equipment. It wiretapped their senior executives as well. None of these companies are accused of having done anything amiss, but were targeted by British spies because their services carried Internet traffic and were a convenient "access chokepoint" from which to conduct mass-surveillance programs.

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Chinese censor prosecuted for taking bribes to censor remarks companies and government officials disliked

Censorship invites abuse. In China, the widespread practice of Internet censorship means that lots of people are authorized to hand down censorship orders and lots more people naturally turn to censorship when something on the Internet bugs them. This week, Chinese authorities prosecuted an "Internet policeman" who took payments from companies in return for censoring unfavorable remarks about them on social media. He's accused of censoring more than 2,500 posts in return for over $300K in payments. He also collaborated with another official to censor critical remarks about government officials. It seems unlikely that Gu, the Internet policeman who was arrested, and Liu, his collaborator, were the only two censors-for-hire in the Chinese system.

Lest you think that this problem is uniquely Chinese, consider that when Wikileaks leaked the Great Firewall of Australia's blacklist, we learned that more the half the sites on the list didn't meet the censorship criteria. And when the Danish and Swedish blacklists were analyzed, it emerged that more than 98 percent of the sites blocked did not meet the official criteria for censorship. And in the UK, the national firewall once blocked all of Wikipedia.

China Prosecuted Internet Policeman In Paid Deletion Cases

Big Data Kafka: US Government Watchlists and the secrecy whose justification is a secret


In the ACLU's new paper U.S. Government Watchlisting: Unfair Process and Devastating Consequences [PDF], the group describes strange world of terrorist watchlists, including no-fly lists, where it's nearly impossible to discover if you're on a list, and nearly impossible to find out why you're on a list, and nearly impossible to get removed from a list. As the ACLU points out, this is Orwell by way of Kafka, where we're not allowed to know what surveillance is taking place or why surveillance is taking place -- and we're not allowed to know why we're not allowed to know.

The ACLU says that the national terrorism watchlist has 1.1 million names on it, and an AP report from 2012 found 21,000 people on the no-fly list. Recently, Rahinah Ibrahim became the first person to be officially, publicly removed from a no-fly list, after the government was forced to admit that she'd been placed there due to a bureaucratic error. All through the Ibrahim case, the government argued that disclosing any facts about her no-fly status would endanger national security, but ultimately it was obvious that the only potential risk was that the government's sloppiness would be disclosed. The state was willing to spend millions of dollars and ruin an innocent person's life rather than admitting that an FBI agent literally ticked the wrong box.

In the 13 years since 9/11, one person has managed to successfully challenge the system of secret and unaccountable watchlists. It's clear that she wasn't the only person who deserved to be removed, though. This is Big Data Kafka: the algorithm says you're guilty, and you're not allowed to see the data or the algorithm because it was not designed to work if the people who it judged knew about its parameters.

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