Politics

Security Theater

The Department of Homeland Security today said it will be demanding "enhanced security measures" for all commercial flights going into the US. The specific measures, which will be both "seen and unseen," aren't specified in a DHS fact sheet, but they generally include enhanced passenger screening, "heightened screening of personal electronic devices," and "deploying advanced technology, expanding canine screening, and establishing additional pre-clearance locations."

Traveling by plane is far safer than driving. 

Since 9/11, the United States has seen a series of attempted attacks on commercial aviation. A shoe bomber. Liquid explosives. An underwear bomber. And a plot to detonate explosive cargo. Most of these were disrupted just in time, but our enemies have not always failed.

Ok, that's 4 events in 16 years. Meanwhile.

What Passes For Justice

On Wednesday, a California appeals court denied efforts to overturn a county court’s decision not to intervene in an ongoing dispute between the public defender’s office and the administrative arm of the Alameda County Superior Court itself. The dispute is over allegedly flawed court software.

Wait for it.

As Ars reported in December 2016, the Alameda County Superior Court switched from a decades-old courtroom management software to a much more modern one on August 1, 2016.
However, since then, the public defender’s office has filed approximately 2,000 motions informing the court that, due to its reportedly imperfect software, many of its clients have been forced to serve unnecessary jail time, be improperly arrested, or even wrongly registered as sex offenders.

Even rounding down significantly, 2,000 reported incidents in less than a year comes to at least 5 a day. In one County.

No problem here, just move along.

F*#^ING Censors!

If Wikipedia is an example of how free speech succeeds, Facebook is the proof that censorship fails.

In the wake of a terrorist attack in London earlier this month, a U.S. congressman wrote a Facebook post in which he called for the slaughter of “radicalized” Muslims. “Hunt them, identify them, and kill them,” declared U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, a Louisiana Republican. “Kill them all. For the sake of all that is good and righteous. Kill them all.”
Higgins’ plea for violent revenge went untouched by Facebook workers who scour the social network deleting offensive speech.
But a May posting on Facebook by Boston poet and Black Lives Matter activist Didi Delgado drew a different response.
“All white people are racist. Start from this reference point, or you’ve already failed,” Delgado wrote. The post was removed and her Facebook account was disabled for seven days.

Understanding Freedom of Speech

Wired has run an article about the proliferation of white supremacist versions of Wikipedia running under various aliases. The article is filled with brief quotes from these Nazis, mostly espousing their frustration with the high quality results you get from a volunteer encyclopedia. After finding no success attempting to change Wikipedia's adherence to reality, they found a new solution, create their own wikis.

He made a copy of the entire site and invited his followers to start rewriting its pages. “Wikipedia was the easiest and the most important of the social justice-converged social media giants to replace,” Day told me.

This is not coincidence, it is inherent to the concept and success of Wikipedia that it's so easy to access the data and modify to one's own purpose.

Off-duty St. Louis Cop Shot By Officer When Assisting

A 38-year-old, black off-duty cop was shot by a white officer Wednesday after he reportedly offered to assist police who were involved in a chase, Fox News reported. Neither of the officers' names have been released.
When the off-duty cop approached, he was initially confronted by two uniformed officers who ordered him to the ground. However, shortly after their exchange, both of the uniformed officers recognized the officer and instructed him to walk toward them, according to a St. Louis Police Department report of the incident. Then a third uniformed officer approached and fired rounds at the off-duty cop. That officer, a 36-year-old who has been on the force for eight years, did not recognize the man when he mistakenly shot the off-duty cop, an 11-year veteran of the force. The officer is listed as in good condition.

The situation of the black off-duty cop being shot when coming to assist is tragic. The best news is that he is ok. If you watch the police cam video, it scares me that what transpired before the off-duty cop arrived is not getting equal attention for how it was handled. The sad thing is this is just an ordinary traffic stop if the off-duty cop doesn't get involved.

We Don't Take Kindly

This article does an absolutely terrific job of showing just how scary it is to be a minority in the suburbs. 

David Brewington, a black 18-year-old student from Albany, moved to Troy in January. Over his first three months in town, Brewington was stopped by police “once or twice a week,” he said. “We just be walking and they pull us over for no reason.”

White people are turning to the police force as a tool of oppression.

Paying for the Crimes You Don't Commit

5 years ago a young 19 year old was convicted of stealing a $150 TV.

According to The Independent, in 2012 Chatman was convicted of breaking and entering for stealing a television worth $120. It was his first offense, but because he was—again, you know why—Chatman was sentenced to five years’ probation. You read that right. He was 19, and a judge thought it necessary to make him property of the state for half a decade.

Then, in 2016, after 4 years of immaculately conforming to the stipulations of his probation, he became aware that he had been identified as a suspect in the robbing of a convenience store. Despite the fact that he had been meeting with law enforcement monthly, it took a year for him to be made aware of the situation. 

Stacking the Deck

I've written a few times about the mounting issue that the prevalence of cameras have brought to light how unethically members of our police force behave all too frequently. The Washington Post today has written an article about a proposed bill which looks to put an outright stop to the already anemic oversight of police power. It's a solid article and absolutely worth the read. In article filled with a terrifying vision of our immediate future, there was this little nugget about the present:

Police officers are protected by qualified immunity, which requires you to show that not only were your rights violated but also a reasonable police officer should have known that the actions in question were a violation of the Constitution.

I actually didn't realize the current law was so draconian. So much for the old rule that my grade school teachers loved to remind everyone about, "ignorance is no excuse for the law", apparently unless you actually are the law.

Representative Hypocrisy

"In a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the FCC proposes to return to the bipartisan framework that preserved a flourishing free and open Internet for almost 20 years. First, the Notice proposes to reverse the FCC’s 2015 decision to impose heavy-handed Title II utility-style government regulation on Internet service providers (ISPs) and return to the longstanding, successful light-touch framework under Title I of the Communications Act."

This is going to be an uphill battle to make the case that American's are not better off treating the internet as a utility. 

Net Neutrality Déjà-Vu

John Oliver is back at it again, giving the proper enthusiasm to a subject as exceedingly boring and opaque as it is important, net neutrality. 

To recap, internet providers have been required to treat all websites equally, preventing the telcos from auctioning off delivery speeds to content providers like Netflix or Uber, or from blacklisting companies\services for competitive advantages. This came up years ago in 2014 and the public rallied making it exceedingly clear to the FCC that this is a widely accepted desire of the American populous.

The FCC started to enforce the net neutrality restrictions as demanded by the people and corporations of America. Verizon's response was to sue saying the FCC didn't have the proper authority to enforce this widely accepted desire of their corporate and consumer level customers. 

Verizon won, sort of, as the courts agreed there are two categories adorably named Title 1 and Title 2. The FCC was free to categorize the telcos as Title 2 so it seemed to be a frivolous victory. Verizon was going to need to work within the confines of the system desired by their customers.

Verizon responded in this game of cat and mouse by simply becoming the cat and the mouse. The new FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, earned his qualifications for his current job by being the associate general counsel for Verizon, effectively the chief of Verizon's legal arm. In a surprise to no one, Pai has made it clear that he feels that his new job should not have these powers of authority over his old job at Verizon. Verizon should be free to ignore their customers.

So once again, we're back to begging the FCC to not ignore their constituents. As you can see in John Oliver's video, the FCC has made this process as convoluted as possible. In fact, in response to John Oliver purchasing gofccyourself.com, the FCC simply made the page that he linked to require you to jump through the same hoops his link was supposed to cut out, forcing the user to search for the obscure number 17-108, only then be presented with the appropriately named: Restoring Internet Freedom. 

I can't verify if this is true for everyone, but from my mobile devices I was unable to complete the form as it would not let me select my state. Classy.

This is out and out corruption with a small contingency of companies blatantly trying to rewrite the rules to give them undesirable advantages. Please let your voice be heard, again, by following the link

That said, this situation exemplifies the hollow victories that were so many of the most positives from the Obama administration. Due to the fact that neither the legislative or executive branches were involved in these decisions, these executive orders can simply be re-appropriated by every single executive branch. That is not how the rights of the people are protected.

London Is No Longer Burning

Friday was the first full day since the height of the Industrial Revolution that Britain did not burn coal to generate electricity, a development that officials and climate change activists celebrated as a watershed moment.
The accomplishment became official just before 11 p.m., when the 24-hour period ended.

Passwords Please

British travellers to the United States face the uncomfortable choice of handing over personal information, including social media passwords and mobile phone contacts, or running the risk of being denied entry to the country, under a new “extreme vetting” policy being considered by the Trump administration.

This makes my blood boil. I've spent hundreds of hours explaining to people they should never speak or write down their passwords. They are already storing their personal conversations on servers, isn't social media already public enough?

Thousands of Ride Sharing Drivers Fail New Background Checks

The state reviewed the criminal and driving records of nearly 71,000 drivers who had already passed reviews by the companies, and rejected 8,206 — about 11 percent. 
Hundreds were disqualified for having serious crimes on their record, including violent or sexual offenses, and others for driving-related offenses, such as drunken driving or reckless driving, according to the state Department of Public Utilities.
The agency said it rejected 51 applications from sex offenders and 352 for incidents related to “Sex, Abuse, and Exploitation.”

Seems a tad concerning.

Broken Sentence

Currently, courts and corrections departments around the US use algorithms to determine a defendant’s “risk”, which ranges from the probability that an individual will commit another crime to the likelihood a defendant will appear for his or her court date. These algorithmic outputs inform decisions about bail, sentencing, and parole. Each tool aspires to improve on the accuracy of human decision-making that allows for a better allocation of finite resources.
Typically, government agencies do not write their own algorithms; they buy them from private businesses. This often means the algorithm is proprietary or “black boxed”, meaning only the owners, and to a limited degree the purchaser, can see how the software makes decisions. Currently, there is no federal law that sets standards or requires the inspection of these tools, the way the FDA does with new drugs.

I am completely shocked this is being allowed in court rooms. I can't imagine that defense attorneys are not vehemently challenging any sentence in which its not possible to get a clear explanation about the methodology used.

Complaint Department

Absolutely terrific article by Jean-Louis Gassèe on the underlaying corporate culture that lead to the behaviors we’ve recently seen from United. This quote in particular really caught my eye:

When a customer brings a complaint, there are two tokens on the table: It’s Nothing and It’s Awful. Both tokens are always played, so whoever chooses first forces the other to grab the token that’s left. For example: Customer claims something’s wrong. I try to play down the damage: It’s Probably Nothing…are you sure you know what you’re doing? Customer, enraged at my lack of judgment and empathy, ups the ante: How are you boors still in business??
But if I take the other token first and commiserate with Customer’s complaint: This Is Awful! How could we have done something like this? Dear Customer is left with no choice, compelled to say Oh, it isn’t so bad…certainly not the end of the world..

I Don't Want to Hear You Now

Well at least it wasn't all bad news in the world of airlines today.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai: “I stand with airline pilots, flight attendants, and America’s flying public against the FCC’s ill-conceived 2013 plan to allow people to make cellphone calls on planes. I do not believe that moving forward with this plan is in the public interest. Taking it off the table permanently will be a victory for Americans across the country who, like me, value a moment of quiet at 30,000 feet.”

Tip of the hat to Jim Dalrymple.

United We Observe

Not wanting to go softly into that dark night and let Uber run away with the worst company of the year award, United decided to take things to the aisles and give people a live action horror show. Somehow, United decided later to bring him back on board (warning, this is a video of theman begging for death), and then removed him again, this time on a stretcher.    

There is just so much to unpack in this stunning display of unbridled force against a paying customer.

For their part, United has held strong that this entire unfortunate situation is really the paying customer’s fault. All their tickets include an agreement which state that the airline is free to bump you from a flight if they overbook it. As Wired points out, this process normally works out for greater profit as it allows the airline to sell more tickets than it actually has capacity to fill.

U.S. Drops the Ban Hammer

Reports emerged yesterday that US government agencies e-mailed some airlines about a new requirement that they ban passengers from bringing devices larger than a cell phone into airplane cabins. Now, DHS has revealed certain details of how the new rules will work. It's still unclear just why the ban is being imposed now or the reasoning behind where it's being imposed.
The affected airports are: Queen Alia International Airport in Amman, Jordan; Cairo International Airport; Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul; King Abdul-Aziz International Airport in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Kuwait International Airport; Mohammed V Airport in Casablanca, Morocco; Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar; Dubai International Airport; and Abu Dhabi International Airport.

Security theater strikes again. Undoubtably people will be unaware or forget about this mandate and be forced to check their electronics. Why devices with internal batteries would be safer stowed in closer proximity to one another and away from where the crew can keep an eye on any emerging issues is anyones guess. 

As for the poor people on these flights forced to travel halfway around the globe without their personal devices, this is criminal.  

Trump's Budget Makes Perfect Sense

Labor Department: There will be no LABOR in the future. Labor is what women do, I think. All fetuses will burst out of wombs brandishing an Uzi on each arm. (Also, we will cut the funding to the people who would have explained that this is not how birth or labor works.)
We are decreasing funding to the National Institutes of Health because in the future we will cure disease by punching it, or, if that fails, sending drones after it. Also, we will buy more planes and guns to shoot airborne viruses out of the sky.
Affordable housing is a luxury and we are going to get rid of it. Donald Trump does not live in affordable housing and neither should you.
We don’t need to fund historic sites. Those parks have sassed the administration enough and they must get what is coming to them.

Terrific article on Washington Post approaching Trump's proposed budget cuts the only way you can, with your tongue planted firmly in your cheek.

The best part of it is that a White House officially promoted the article themselves in a terrific example of judging a book by its cover.