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    Hollywood Nepotism Helped Beget the Admissions Bribery Scandal

    It should not surprise us that the folks in Hollywood are disproportionately represented in those arrested in the academic bribery scandal.

    The first reason for this is related to law enforcement -- if given a choice of investigating and arresting Joe Schmoe and investigating and arresting, say, Martha Stewart, the FBI is going to invest resources to take down the big name every time.

    But the second reason is related to Hollywood itself.  I don't have stats on this, but I am willing to bet that, with the possible exception of politics, Hollywood is the most nepotistic industry in America.  Look at the IMDB descriptions of the actors, producers, and directors in some recent movie.  Some will be first generation talent out of nowhere.  But a huge number will be the Tori Spellings of the world, kids who got their start in part due to family connections.

    In this sense, making it in Hollywood is very similar to getting admitted to Harvard -- they are both brutally hard and low likelihood events that have enormous payoffs.  So it should not be surprising that people in Hollywood, who every day see family connections being used to short-circuit difficult entry processes, would apply the same philosophy to university admissions.

    Scam Alert - Fake Utility k彩平台登陆 Call

    Someone called one of our locations claiming to be the local utility company (they had the correct name, phone number and service address) said our power was going to be shut off that day for non-payment unless they were paid immediately over the phone.  Fortunately our managers hung up and called the utility main number and found out we were fully paid up and that this was a scam.

    Here is the simplest protection for you in your personal and professional life: never give anything -- any information, any passwords, any numbers, any money -- to someone who calls you. If they claim to be the FBI or the IRS or the power company or whoever, you should hang up and if you are worried it might be real, look up their number and call them back. Sometimes a credit card company will call you with legitimate fraud alerts but I still never talk to them when they call me. I hang up and then call the number on the back of the card.

    NCAA: The World's Last Bastion of British Aristocratic Privilege

    It is incredible to me that we still fetishize amateurism, which in a large sense is just a holdover from British and other European aristocracies.  Historically, the mark of the true aristocrat was one who was completely unproductive.  I am not exaggerating -- doing any paid work of any sort made one a tradesman, and at best lowered ones status (in England) or essentially caused your aristocratic credentials to be revoked (France).

    The whole notion of amateurism was originally tied up in this aristocratic nonsense.  It's fine to play cricket or serve in Parliament unpaid, but take money for doing so and you are out.  This had the benefit of essentially clearing the pitch in both politics and sports (and even fields like science, for a time) for the aristocracy, since no one else could afford to dedicate time to these pursuits and not get paid.  These attitudes carried over into things like the Olympics and even early American baseball, though both eventually gave up on the concept as outdated.

    But the one last bastion of support of these old British aristocratic privileges is the NCAA, which still dedicates enormous resources, with an assist from the FBI, to track down anyone who gets a dollar when they are a college athlete.  Jason Gay has a great column on this today in the WSJ:

    This is where we are now, like it or not. College basketball—and college football—are not the sepia-toned postcards of nostalgia from generations past. They’re a  in which almost everyone benefits, and only one valve—to the players—is shut off, because of some creaky, indefensible adherence to amateurism. Of course some money finds its way to the players. That’s what the details of this case show. Not a scandal. A market.

    Don’t look for the NCAA to acknowledge this, however. “These allegations, if true, point to systematic failures that must be fixed and fixed now if we want college sports in America. Simply put, people who engage in this kind of behavior have no place in college sports,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said in a statement that deserved confetti and a laughing donkey noise at the end of it.

    I am not necessarily advocating that schools should or should have to pay student athletes, though that may (as Gay predicts) be coming some day.  But as a minimum the ban on athletes accepting any outside money for any reason is just insane.   As I wrote before, athletes are the only  students at a University that are not allowed to earn money in what they are good at.  Ever hear of an amateurism requirement for student poets?  For engineers?

    When I was a senior at Princeton, Brooke Shields was a freshman.  At the time of her matriculation, she was already a highly paid professional model and actress (Blue Lagoon).  No one ever suggested that she not be allowed to participate in the amateur Princeton Triangle Club shows because she was already a professional.

    When I was a sophomore at Princeton, I used to sit in my small dining hall (the now-defunct Madison Society) and listen to a guy named Stanley Jordan play guitar in a really odd way.  Jordan was already a professional musician (a few years after he graduated he would release an album that was #1 on the jazz charts for nearly a year).  Despite the fact that Jordan was a professional and already earned a lot of money from his music, no one ever suggested that he not be allowed to participate in a number of amateur Princeton music groups and shows.

    My daughter is an art major at a school called Art Center in Pasadena (where she upsets my preconceived notions of art school by working way harder than I did in college).  She and many, if not most of her fellow students have sold their art for money already, but no one as ever suggested that they not be allowed to participate in school art shows and competitions.

    .  Jason Gay makes the exact same points in his editorial today.  Good.  Finally someone who actually has an audience is stating the obvious:

    In the shorter term, I like the proposals out there to eliminate the amateurism requirement—allow a college athlete in any sport (not just football or basketball) to accept sponsor dollars, outside jobs, agents, . The Olympics did this long ago, and somehow survived. I also think we’ll see, in basketball, the NBA stepping up and widening its developmental league—junking the dreadful one-and-one policy, lowering its age minimum, but simultaneously creating a more attractive alternative to the college game. If a player still opts to go to college, they’ll need to stay on at least a couple of seasons.

    If you still think the scholarship is sufficient payment for an athlete in a high-revenue sport, ask yourself this question. There are all kinds of scholarships—academic, artistic, etc. Why are athletic scholarship recipients the only ones held to an amateurism standard? A sophomore on a creative writing scholarship gets a short story accepted to the New Yorker. Is he or she prohibited from collecting on the money? Heck no! As the Hamilton Place Strategies founder and former U.S. treasury secretary Tony Fratto : “No one cares about a music scholarship student getting paid to play gigs.”

     

    I Hate to Repeat Myself, But Trump Did Not Win: Clinton Lost

    totally mirrors my take on this election -- a competent Democratic candidate without Clinton's many flaws should have wiped the floor with Trump.  Biden would have won, I am absolutely convinced.  Anyway, I liked this bit from Linker:

    Most of all, I don't want to hear about how unfairly Clinton was treated by the media. In comparison to whom? All the other candidates who've run for president while under criminal investigation by the FBI? (Maybe that substantial handicap should have overridden the party's presumption that she was owed the nomination because it was ".") Or do you mean, instead, that she was treated badly in comparison to her opponent? Really? You mean the one whose 24/7 media coverage was in tone and content? Either way, a halfway competent campaign should have been able to take advantage of the great good fortune of running against Donald J. Trump and left him bleeding in the ditch.

    I am exhausted with folks talking about some fundamental political shift to a white male resurgence, or whatever.  There was no shift.  Trump got about the same number of votes as Romney and McCain.  He won no more white male votes than those guys and if anything performed better than them in traditional Democratic categories like single women and blacks.  The reason Trump won is because Clinton had 10 million fewer votes than Obama had in his first win.  Traditional Democratic supporters were unenthusiastic about Clinton and stayed k彩平台登陆.

    Hillary Clinton and "Intent" -- Can the Rest Of Us Get A Mens Rea Defense From Prosecution?

    Yesterday, the FBI said that Hillary Clinton should not be prosecuted because, though she clearly violated laws about management of confidential information, she had no "intent" to do so.  Two thoughts

  • Even if she had no intent to violate secrecy laws, she did - beyond a reasonable doubt - have intent to violate public transparency and FOIA laws.  She wanted to make it hard, or impossible, for Conservative groups to see her communications, communications that the public has the right to see.  In violating this law with full intent, she also inadvertently violated secrecy laws.  I don't consider this any different than being charged for murder when your bank robbery inadvertently led to someone's death.
  • If politicians are going to grant each other a strong mens rea (guilty mind or criminal intent) requirements for criminal prosecution, then politicians need to give this to the rest of us as well.  Every year, individuals and companies are successfully prosecuted for accidentally falling afoul of some complex and arcane Federal law.   Someone needs to ask Hillary where she stands on .
  • Apparently, Cops Now Steal More from Citizens than do Actual Criminals

    , comes

    Between 1989 and 2010, U.S. attorneys seized an estimated  in asset forfeiture cases. The growth rate during that time averaged +19.4% annually. In 2010 alone, the value of assets seized grew by +52.8% from 2009 and was six times greater than the total for 1989. Then by 2014, that number had ballooned to roughly for the year, making this 35% of the entire number of assets collected from 1989 to 2010 in a single year. According to the FBI, the total amount of goods stolen by criminals in 2014 burglary offenses suffered an estimated $3.9 billion in property losses. This means that the police are now taking more assets than the criminals.

    I will remind folks that civil asset forfeiture is by definition taken from innocent people, ie those not convicted of a crime.

    Update:  It would be interesting to see the racial/ethnic mix of those whose stuff is seized.  Somehow, I don't imagine the victims of theft-by-cop are a bunch of rich white people.

    Question: Name An Activity The Government is Better At Than the Private Actors It Purports to Regulate

    I am serious about this.  We saw in an earlier story that the government is trying to tighten regulations on private company cyber security practices at the same time its own network security practices have been shown to be a joke.  In finance, it can never balance a budget and uses accounting techniques that would get most companies thrown in jail.  It almost never fully funds its pensions.  Anything it does is generally done more expensively than would be the same task undertaken privately.  Its various sites are among the worst superfund environmental messes.   Almost all the current threats to water quality in rivers and oceans comes from municipal sewage plants.  The government's Philadelphia naval yard single-handedly accounts for a huge number of the worst asbestos exposure cases to date.

    By what alchemy does such a failing organization suddenly become such a good regulator?

    Update:  On the topic of cyber security competence or lack thereof, :

    In mid-May, the Federal Bureau of Investigations lost control over seized domains, including Megaupload.com, when the agency failed to renew a key domain name of its own. That domain, which hosted the name servers that redirected requests for seized sites to an FBI Web page, was purchased at auction—and then used to redirect traffic from Megaupload.com and other sites to a malicious site serving porn ads and malware. Weeks later, those sites are still in limbo because somehow, despite a law enforcement freeze on the domain name, the name servers associated with Megaupload.com and those other seized sites were changed to point at hosts associated with a domain registered in Chinak彩平台登陆.

    Yep, that is the lead government agency tasked with investigating hacking and cyber security breaches.

    The Question the NSA is Not Answering

    The NSA is claiming that the data that they grabbed in essentially warrant-less Hoovering up of telephone and Internet metadata has helped in certain investigations.

    I have no doubt that is probably true.

    But that is not the right way to frame the problem.  The real issue is:  Did being able to data mine metadata for all Americans help solve the case better and faster than had they been required to seek specific probable cause warrants for data from specific people?

    To make clear the distinction, let's suppose I were trying to justify stealing a copy of every book in Barnes & Noble.  I might be able to accurately say that those books helped me writing a good Napoleon paper for school.   But could I have achieved the same goal - writing a paper on Napoleon - by purchasing individual books as needed via legal shopping processes?  The answer is probably "yes."  Having all the books pre-stolen only contributed in that it saved me the hassle of going down to the store and finding a specific book I needed.

    In the same way, I suspect that having this data base merely saved FBI and others the hassle of filling out some paperwork in each case.  I am not sure incremental success rates in a few cases is enough justification to rip up the Constitution, but I am sure that laziness is not.

    Judge Rules National Security Letters Are Unconstitutional

    Ultra-secret national security letters that come with a gag order on the recipient are an unconstitutional impingement on free speech, a federal judge in California ruled in a decision released Friday.

    U.S. District Judge Susan Illston ordered the government to stop issuing so-called NSLs across the board, in a stunning defeat for the Obama administration’s surveillance practices. She also ordered the government to cease enforcing the gag provision in any other cases. However, she stayed her order for 90 days to give the government a chance to appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

    “We are very pleased that the Court recognized the fatal constitutional shortcomings of the NSL statute,” said Matt Zimmerman, senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which filed a challenge to NSLs on behalf of an unknown telecom that received an NSL in 2011. “The government’s gags have truncated the public debate on these controversial surveillance tools. Our client looks forward to the day when it can publicly discuss its experience.”

    The telecommunications company received the ultra-secret demand letter in 2011 from the FBI seeking information about a customer or customers. The company took the extraordinary and rare step of challenging the underlying authority of the National Security Letter, as well as the legitimacy of the gag order that came with it.

    Both challenges are allowed under a federal law that governs NSLs, a power greatly expanded under the Patriot Act that allows the government to get detailed information on Americans’ finances and communications without oversight from a judge. The FBI has issued hundreds of thousands of NSLs over the years and has been reprimanded for abusing them — though almost none of the requests have been challenged by the recipients.

    After the telecom challenged the NSL, the Justice Department , arguing in court documents that the company was violating the law by challenging its authority.

    This is My Take As Well

    Every turn in the investigation that led to Petraeus's resignation perfectly illustrates the incredible and dangerous reach of the , which, through  in post-9/11 programs -- coupled with weakened privacy laws and lack of oversight -- has affected the civil liberties of every American for years. The only difference here is the victim of the surveillance state's reach was not a faceless American, but the head one of the agencies tasked to carry it out.....

    It seems the deciding factor in opening the investigation was not the emails' content, but the fact that the FBI agent was friendly with Kelley. (Even more disturbing, the same FBI agent  of becoming "obsessed" with the Tampa socialite, sent shirtless pictures to her, and has been removed from the case.)...

    One would assume, and hope, police have to get probable cause for all emails, just like they would for a physical letter or a phone call. But the law governing email -- the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) -- doesn't have such requirements for emails more than 180 days old. Because ECPA was written in 1986, before the World Wide Web even existed, archived emails were an afterthought given the incredibly small storage space on email servers....

    While these details may shock the average reader, these privacy-invasive tactics are used regularly by both federal and local law enforcement around the United States. In fact, as the , referring to Petraeus, "Law enforcement officials have said they used only ordinary methods in the case." The only difference here is the target was the director of the CIA and one of the most decorated soldiers in modern military history.

    Electronic communication needs better Fourth Amendment protection.

    By the way, another scandal here that interests me more than the sex thing is that the head of the CIA has such a terrible grasp on basic fieldcraft

    Petraeus and Kelley were communicating not by sending each other emails, but using an old (and apparently ineffective) trick -- "" -- of saving drafts in the draft folder of Gmail, thinking this was more private than if they sent them to each other. But as the ACLU's , this was not so

    I Am More Worried About How They Got There In The First Place

    A lot of folks are for losing about 12 million ipod/iphone/ipad records, many of which included user name and addresses as well as their device's unique identifier.

    What I would like to know is how all that ended up on an FBI laptop in the first place.  I know there are those who have rooted on Jack Bauer for 6 or 7 seasons who expect that the FBI should have all this data -- but this is not the case.  I know of no law that grants the FBI automatic access to all cell phone records or Apple accounts.

    Why Sheriff Joe is Still Sheriff

    For those of you not in Arizona that wonder from all the articles about him why Sheriff Joe is still elected by almost landslide majorities, and why Republicans all over the state still beg him for his endorsement,

    A subsequent examination of the sheriff's file showed that residents of Maricopa County wrote to him regarding the presence of Mexicans in greater Phoenix.

    Citizens saw day laborers. They saw people with brown skin. They heard Spanish spoken.

    And what the letters reveal is enormous anxiety about Hispanics:

  • "I always see numerous Mexicans standing around in that area . . . These Mexicans swarmed around my car, and I was so scared and alarmed . . . I was never so devastated in my life regarding these circumstances . . . Although the Mexicans at this location may be within their legal right to be there . . . I merely bring this matter to your attention in order that all public agencies, , etc., may be kept informed of these horrific circumstances."
  • "I would love to see an immigrant sweep conducted in Surprise, specifically at the intersection of Grand and Greenway. The area contains dozens of day workers attempting to flag down motorists seven days a week."
  • "The Mesa police chief drags his feet and stalls . . . the head of the Mesa police union is a Hispanic."
  • "As a retiree in , formerly from Minnesota, I am a fan of yours and what you are doing to rid the area of illegal immigrants . . . when I was in  at Bell Road and Boswell (next to the ) this noon, there was not an employee in sight, or within hearing, who spoke English as a first language — to my dismay. From the staff at the registers to the staff back in the kitchen area, all I heard was Spanish — except when they haltingly spoke to a customer. You might want to check this out."
  • And Sheriff Arpaio did check it out.

    None of the Hispanics described in the letters had broken the law. It is not against the law to speak Spanish or work as a day laborer.

    Arpaio nonetheless gave the correspondence to . Federal Judge Snow determined that raids and roundups quickly followed. Hispanics were rousted because white people were uncomfortable.

    Sheriff Joe once did a roundup in tony Fountain Hills, which I would be surprised if it had even 5% Hispanic population, and managed to drag in for various petty violations (e.g. cracked windshield) a group that was about 95% Hispanic.  His favorite thing to do, when he isn't busting into k彩平台登陆s with Hollywood celebrities, is to send his deputies into a business and have them handcuff everyone with brown skin and refuse to release them until they or their family members have arrived to prove they are in the US legally.

    This whole article is a good roundup of yet another abusive side of Arpaio, his flagrant disregard for public records laws and the rules of evidence.  In Maricopa County, "exculpatory evidence" and "shredded" have roughly the same meaning.

    Notes on Government Transparency

    Transparency and accountability are always loved by those out of power but seldom by those in power.  Thus we hear a lot about them on the campaign trail, and then suddenly, once folks are in office, silence.  Two examples today.

    A proposed rule to the Freedom of Information Act would allow federal agencies to tell people requesting certain law-enforcement or national security documents that records don't exist—even when they do.

    Under current FOIA practice, the government may withhold information and issue what's known as a Glomar denial that says it can neither confirm nor deny the existence of records.

    The new proposal— by the Department of Justice—would direct government agencies to "respond to the request as if the excluded records did not exist."

    Sometime in 2012, I will begin the ninth year of my life under an FBI gag order, which began when I received what is known as a national security letter at the small Internet service provider I owned. On that day in 2004 (the exact date is redacted from court papers, so I can’t reveal it), an FBI agent came to my office and handed me a letter. It demanded that I turn over information about one of my clients and forbade me from telling “any person” that the government had approached me....

    For years, the government implausibly claimed that if I were able to identify myself as the plaintiff in the case, irreparable damage to national security would result. But I did not believe then, nor do I believe now, that the FBI’s gag order was motivated by legitimate national security concerns. It was motivated by a desire to insulate the FBI from public criticism and oversight.

    When Investors Have Police Forces

    I have argued many times that private investors, over the long haul, will make better investment choices than the government, in part because they have better incentives and information to guide their decision-making.  The straw-man argument against this is to point out anecdotes of failed private investments.  Heck, I can do that.  Pets.com famously blew through $300 million of private capital with a corporate strategy that never made much sense to people.

    The Pets.com investors were chagrined, and probably learned a lesson from their mistake.  Certainly most of us thought the blame, if blame existed, for the debacle rested on the investors for pouring money into a bad proposition.  Certainly no one accused the management of fraud -- I am sure they were diligently, honestly trying to make the company a success, even if they were misguided as to where that success lay.

    As it turned out, everyone, not just the Pets.com investors, learned from the mistake.  The failure was an important driver in an industry-wide rethink as to what a successful Internet business model might look like.  This benefit only came because people were willing to acknowledge not just that the Pets.com investment was flawed, but that it represented a systematic mistake that was being made vis a vis Internet startup investments.

    Now, consider solar manufacturer Solyndra.  It failed this week, likely taking with it most of $535 million in taxpayer money that the Obama Administration was so eager to give them that it short-cutted its internal processes to fork over the cash more quickly.

    Many of us on the outside would love to see the government rethink such investments in a systematic way, and reconsider if it is even possible for the government to make such investments, and in particular whether "green jobs" investments make any sense at all.

    But the likelihood of that kind of introspection happening in the public world is about zero, and my bet is that Obama is going to propose more of the same tonight in his speech.

    In fact, the Department of Energy (the source of the loan) and the FBI have today looking for evidence of fraud.   , in fact I think it would probably be the best possible outcome and one he is hoping for.  If he can say, "wow, you and I both got tricked here by some evil folks we are going to put in jail" it deflects attention from the fact that he put a half billion dollars of taxpayer money into a business plan that never made a lick of sense.

    Another me-too solar manufacturer with a factory in California of all places was never going to compete in a global commodity market.  This company's plan was always to sell dollars for 50 cents and to make it up on volume.  I don't see how any investor thought this was going to work.  My guess is that the private investors didn't know much about solar and invested because it had a certain hip-ness to it, or less charitably, they knew it never made sense but hoped that Uncle Sam, once it was already in for a half billion, would keep more money flowing or perhaps agree to buy out their production at above market prices.

    There may have indeed been fraud, but as in the case of Pets.com, it is perfectly possible no real internal fraud existed and they ran through a ton of money against a stupid business plan that should never have been funded.  Obama would greatly prefer to call it fraud rather than his own failure of judgement.  As an aside, Fannie and Freddie are pursuing exactly the same course in suing banks, arguing that they were defrauded by the banks in buying mortgages, a fairly laughable proposition in the great scheme of things when one considers Fannie and Freddie were at the forefront of the industry in driving down lending standards and promoting the expansion of the mortgage market.

    Banality of Evil

    I am afraid we are on a path to thoroughly eviscerating the Fourth Amendment simply because police forces find it too big of a hassle to comply.  Just look at almost every case of abuses of search and seizure rules or of missing search warrants and you almost never see a time-based urgency that is often used as an excuse to end-around the rules.   What you almost always see is just, well, laziness.

    Now comes the news that the FBI intends to grant to its 14,000 agents expansive additional powers that include relaxing restrictions on a low-level category of investigations termed “assessments.” This allows FBI agents to investigate individuals using highly intrusive monitoring techniques, including infiltrating suspect organizations with confidential informants and photographing and tailing suspect individuals, without having any factual basis for suspecting them of wrongdoing. (Incredibly, during the four-month period running from December 2008 to March 2009, the FBI initiated close to 12,000 assessments of individuals and organizations, and that was before the rules were further relaxed.)

    This latest relaxing of the rules, justified as a way to cut down on cumbersome record-keeping, will allow the FBI significant new powers to search law enforcement and private databases, go through household trash, and deploy surveillance teams, with even fewerchecks against abuse. The point, of course, is that if agents aren’t required to maintain a paper trail documenting their activities, there can be no way to hold the government accountable for subsequent abuses.

    Freedom dies because we couldn't be bothered with all the work to protect it.

    PS-  why is it no one wants to address any of the paperwork hassles in starting construction or opening a restaurant or getting a liquor license or starting a taxi service or any number of other private enterprises, but the government jumps right on the task of streamlining the work it takes to spy on me.

    Arming Government Agencies

    Quin Hillyer  the increasing armed firepower of the federal government.  Most people expect agencies like the FBI to be well armed for law enforcement purposes.  But the ?  He reports that federal agencies far and wide now have armed agents, including the .  For what?  To scare away phony 8(a) applications??  The United States Department of Education bought 27 Remington Model 870 12-gauge shotguns last year

    I have no insight into what is going on in these particular agencies.  But I can comment on another agency.  Nearly every state parks organization has seen a proliferation of law enforcement titles among its employees.  Seemingly every field employee nowadays needs to have a gun and a badge.  Why?

    Well, there are those who say that this arms race is necessary to keep the parks safe against some mythical crime wave.  But I can say with some authority, since our company runs over 150 public parks across the country, that with very, very few exceptions, parks don't need this kind of on-site law enforcement support.  Most problems can be handled with on-site customer service employees, with the occasional call the the sheriff if things get rough.  In fact, customer service is actually improved without all the badges around.  Rangers with law enforcement credentials tend to solve issues with their visitors by issuing citations.  This is awful customer service -- I am sure McDonald's doesn't like it if someone messes up the bathroom or parks across two parking spaces, but you won't see them issuing citations to their customers.

    The reason for this proliferation of law enforcement titles in parks is not demand for order, but incentives among employees.  In most states, getting a law enforcement title in a parks organization gives one an automatic raise, participation in the far-more-lucrative state law enforcement pension plan, and training that can be valuable when one leaves the parks organization.  Also, for some, it carries non-monetary benefits -- some folks think its cool to wield a gun and a badge.

    So Much for Judicial Review

    Wow, it is a wonder that the FBI works so hard to gain warrant-less search powers when the judiciary

    The secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court approved all 1,506 government requests to electronically monitor suspected “agents” of a foreign power or terrorists on US soil last year, according to a Justice Department report released via the Freedom of Information Act....

    “The FISC did not deny any applications in whole, or in part,” according to the April 19 report to Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, (D-NV.)

    The 11-member court denied two of 1,329 applications for domestic-intelligence surveillance in 2009. The FBI is the primary agency making those requests.

    This is the problem with such a narrow court - it tends to get co-opted by the FBI in the same way that regulatory agencies get captured by the groups they regulate.  I am not sure how the court is picked, but some sort of rotation of the membership might help bring a bit more skepticism to the group

    Congrats to Massachussetts

    Apparently, they have had .  And by the way parents .... unless you want to almost guarantee your kid is going to be investigated for corruption and racketeering by the FBI, don't name him Salvatore.

    Prior Restraint

    National security letters strike me as one of the worst Constitutional abuses to come out of the last 10 years, which is saying a lot given the post-9/11 theories of executive authority from torture to indefinite detention to even ordering people killed.

    The national security letters deserve particular scrutiny because they evade the Fourth Amendment while building in a prior restraint on speech that prevents recipients from challenging the letters or even complaining about them.  This is self-sustaining policy -- ie policy that prevents the dissemination of information that might prove it is a threat or a failure --

    The Justice Department's inspector general revealed on March 9 that the FBI has been systematically abusing one of the most controversial provisions of the USA Patriot Act: the expanded power to issue "national security letters." It no doubt surprised most Americans to learn that between 2003 and 2005 the FBI issued more than 140,000 specific demands under this provision -- demands issued without a showing of probable cause or prior judicial approval -- to obtain potentially sensitive information about U.S. citizens and residents. It did not, however, come as any surprise to me.

    Three years ago, I received a national security letter (NSL) in my capacity as the president of a small Internet access and consulting business. The letter ordered me to provide sensitive information about one of my clients. There was no indication that a judge had reviewed or approved the letter, and it turned out that none had. The letter came with a gag provision that prohibited me from telling anyone, including my client, that the FBI was seeking this information. Based on the context of the demand -- a context that the FBI still won't let me discuss publicly -- I suspected that the FBI was abusing its power and that the letter sought information to which the FBI was not entitled.

    Anyone want to bet how many of these things really are national security related, and how many are related to other investigations (particularly drugs)?

    There are zillions of people involved in these major investigations.  There is no good argument against adding one more who is in on the secret - ie a judge - and a lot of reasons to do so.

    Things I Am Tired of Hearing

    Because I take cash deposits at a number of campgrounds around the country, we have accounts with 30+ different banks.  Every few weeks one of them asks for some outrageously intrusive piece of information or paperwork.  And I ask them, what is this for, and get told that it is "a new requirement of the federal government."  I appreciate the feds have put in all kinds of new bank account controls in a misguided attempt to do something about terrorism (side bet:  most of these have more to do with the drug war than terrorism).  But in most of these cases, either my 29 other banks are breaking the law, or my bank is misguided.  Or worse, BS'ing me by falsely blaming their own information acquisitiveness on the feds.

    Today I had a tiny, tiny telephone company in southern New Mexico call me to say they needed my drivers license and a utility bill from a New Mexico resident to add a phone line.  This new phone line is 1) for my corporation and 2) about the 8th account with this same phone company.  Given the area they operate, I may be their largest customer in town.  I told her I thought the requirement that a corporate officer give up his drivers license to get an extra corporate phone line was absurd, and further if they wanted a personal utility bill in New Mexico they would be waiting forever.  After being kicked up to their supervisor, I was told that they would settle for proof of my corporations federal tax ID # and a copy of my lease for the campground in question proving I was the legal occupant.  When asked why -- I mean, do they really have a problem with people paying the phone bill for locations that are not theirs -- they said it was now required by the federal government.

    Really?  this sounds like BS.  Again, my 30 other phone companies would probably like to know they are breaking the law.  But who knows, maybe the feds really care.  If I had to bet, this would again be chalked up to the war on terror, but if I really could get to the bottom of it, I would find its about the drug war -- one time somewhere a drug dealer set up a phone line in an assumed name in an abandoned building and now I have to get fingerprinted and have an FBI check to get a phone line (don't laugh at the latter, one still has to get fingerprinted for every liquor license as a holdover from 80 years ago when gangs ran speakeasy's).

    I Have Ripped All My DVD's to a Video Server

    The first thing I do when I buy a DVD is rip it to my video server.  I have a 10TB RAID and I don't even try to compress the disks, just copy them over in video_ts format using .    I run on the server with the absolutely essential .  I then can watch the video at every TV that has a .  The whole system works for Bluray as well.

    I built the system to try to duplicate a $60,000+ system for less than $2000, and the functionality, with some tweaking, comes pretty dang close.  The real work was the drudgery for ripping hundreds of DVD's, but I had already performed this death march with a much larger CD collection so I knew what I was getting into.   SageTV, by the way, is very rewarding if you want to get your hands dirty messing around in the innards but it is not for those who want plug and play.

    Anyway, one of the reasons I did all this, beyond the coolness factor, .  I can rip just the main movie out of the DVD, leaving behind menus, trailers, FBI warmings, special features, etc.

    Executive Power Only A Problem When Someone Else Has It

    On the day of Obama's inauguration,  I wr0te:

    I will be suitably thrilled if the Obama administration renounces some of the creeping executive power grabs of the last 16 years, but he has been oddly silent about this.  It seems that creeping executive power is a lot more worrisome when someone else is in power.

    I want to highlight two recent stories.  :

    The White House is considering endorsing a law that would allow the indefinite detention of some alleged terrorists without trial as part of efforts to break a logjam with Congress over President Barack Obama's plans to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Monday.

    Last summer, White House officials said they had ruled out seeking a "preventive detention" statute as a way to deal with anti-terror detainees, saying the administration would hold any Guantanamo prisoners brought to the U.S. in criminal courts or under the general "law of war" principles permitting detention of enemy combatants.

    However, speaking at a news conference in Greenville, S.C., Monday, Graham said the White House now seems open to a new law to lay out the standards for open-ended imprisonment of those alleged to be members of or fighters for Al Qaeda or the Taliban.

    That is a really, really bad idea.  What would J Edgar Hoover had done with such a law?  Would Martin Luther King have been declared a terrorist.  And speaking of King, who the FBI kept under illegally deep surveillance for years, we have a second related story via :

    Last Friday, federal attorneys told the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals that government officials should be able to track the location of Americans by following their cell phone transmissions -- without having to get a warrant. While the FBI and state and local officials have already obtained logs from mobile phone companies that reveal the locations of customers' telephones, the practice has never formally been endorsed by the courts. The latest federal arguments -- and rebuttals by civil liberties organizations -- give the courts the opportunity to either support or repudiate federal claims that Americans have no "reasonable expectation of privacy" so long as they carry cell phones.

    Yes, I blame Bush for getting the ball rolling on both these fronts, but wtf did we elect Obama for?  Many libertarians held their nose at his interventionist economics in order to try to thwart what they saw as a scary trajectory for executive power and civil liberties.  If we had wanted populist economic machinations combined with limitations on individual liberties, we could have voted for Pat Buchanon.

    Napolitano: Last Politician to Head DHS

    I have said for a while that k彩平台登陆land Security is the worst possible job for any politician who actually wants to have a future political career.  The job is all downside.  I wrote a year ago:

    Yeah, I know it is not a done deal, but the rumors are that our governor will be Obama's choice for k彩平台登陆land Security.

    On its face, this both makes a ton of sense, and simultaneously is odd.  It makes sense because Napolitano is one of those rising Democratic stars who get special love in part for not being white males.  It is odd because pulling her up to Washington would, by law, pass the governorship for the next two years to the Republicans (the Secretary of State completes the term, and she is a Republican).  It also strikes me as odd because I think k彩平台登陆land Security would be an absolutely awful platform for launching a run for higher office.  That job has no upside "“ it is all downside.

    But the final reason in the end that this may make sense can be seen in this table below from on projected state budget deficits as a percentage of state revenues

    Arizona is almost in as bad of shape as California, and California is a disaster area.  So the financial chickens are about to come to roost here in Arizona for the drunken spending spree the state has been on, presided over by Napolitano.  To preserve her from going to the Gray Davis Memorial Retirement k彩平台登陆 for Failed Governors, Obama is likely to beam her up to Washington.

    As I wrote before, I don't think Napolitano would normally have accepted this job had she not been desperate for a face-saving way to escape Arizona mid-term.  But after recent events, I think it is highly unlikely anyone else on an elected-official career track will take this job.  Look senior FBI or CIA types on the future.

    Update: More here from .

    So in the next six months--probably much sooner--Janet will move on and the President will pick an obscure, non-political, retired General who is clearly qualified and above reproach.

    Three Quarters of A Million Americans Arrested For Marijuana Possession in 2008

    In the US last year, 754,224 people were arrested for possession (not dealing or production) of marijuana.  By the logic of US drug laws, all of these folks are better off with an arrest record and possible incarceration that they are from the nominal negative effects of smoking marijuana (, via ).  These numbers are just insane.  And while the report only gives race numbers for total drug arrests rather than for just marijuana offenses, a hugely disproportionate number are black (over 1/3 of arrests).

    And speaking of equal protection, the arrest numbers for gambling are eye-opening (table 43).  75% of all people arrested for gambling last year in the US were black, including 90% of the arrests of those under 18 for this offense.  It seems it is A-OK for whites to play poker at k彩平台登陆 for money (I'm guilty) or to bet in Super Bowl pools (guilty again) or to clad themselves in polyester and head to the casino boat, but blacks who choose to compete with the state gambling/lottery monopoly will get arrested.  As an aside, I have always laughed at the government piously suing tobacco companies for targeting minorities with their advertising and then using the same techniques themselves to target minorities for their lottery sales.

    Another Fallout From the War on Drugs: Asset Seizures

    One of the least-discussed but quite important fallouts from the war on drugs has been the incredible power we seem to have handed police authorities to seize assets.  While theoretically, it should be impossible to be fined or punished without being convicted, in fact it is perfectly possible for police to shut down businesses and impose enormous fines without trial through this confiscation authority.   :

    The FBI on Tuesday defended its raids on at least two data centers in Texas, in which agents carted out equipment and disrupted service to hundreds of businesses.

    The raids were part of an investigation prompted by complaints from AT&T and Verizon about unpaid bills allegedly owed by some data center customers, according to court records....

    According to the owner of one co-location facility, Crydon Technology, which was raided on March 12, FBI agents seized about 220 servers belonging to him and his customers, as well as routers, switches, cabinets for storing servers and even power strips. Authorities also raided his k彩平台登陆, where they seized eight iPods, some belonging to his three children, five XBoxes, a PlayStation3 system and a Wii gaming console, among other equipment. Agents also seized about $200,000 from the owner's business accounts, $1,000 from his teenage daughter's account and more than $10,000 in a personal bank account belonging to the elderly mother of his former comptroller.

    FBI agents displayed their usual level of competance when it comes to technology-related matters:

    Faulkner says the FBI appears to have assumed that all the servers located at Crydon's address belonged to him, and didn't seem to understand the concept of co-location.

    This is over a private billing dispute?  The FBI claims its a much bigger matter - since there was fraud involved as one of the target companies faked some credit references.  Oh, OK, then go right ahead and seize all the family's iPods.

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