I’m glad we don’t live in a police state

…where heavily armed cops could barge into your home and nearly kill your child trying to serve a no-knock search warrent.

Oh. Wait.

The Swat team that burst into the Phonesavanh’s room looking for a drug dealer had deployed a tactic commonly used by the US military in warzones, and increasingly by domestic police forces across the US. They threw an explosive device called a flashbang that is designed to distract and temporarily blind suspects to allow officers to overpower and detain them. The device had landed in Bou Bou’s cot and detonated in the baby’s face.

Stop letting police get away with behaving like military units. Policing is not a war. Cops who do things like this should be vulnerable to severe civil and criminal penalties. Only then will this stop.

(This coverage is, of course, at the Guardian. That’s shameful.)

Wyoming to Science: Drop Dead

Apparently seeking to exceed my home state in sheer pigheaded ignorance, the state school board in Wyoming has rejected the Next Generation Science Standards:

The science guidelines in question are the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), adopted so far by 11 states and the District of Columbia. The National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science—working with 26 state governments—developed the NGSS to update K-12 science education in schools for the first time since 1998. Essentially the NGSS provides benchmarks for what students should learn in each grade, but leaves decisions about specific textbooks and how to teach the curriculum up to individual districts, schools and educators.

In Wyoming, a committee comprised of 30 science educators spent 18 months studying and comparing the NGSS with existing guidelines in other states, and then unanimously recommended that it be adopted by the State Board of Education. However, in March, the legislature added a footnote to the state budget that prohibited any public spending to implement the NGSS—effectively killing it. Then, a month later, the State Board of Education told the committee of science educators to develop a new set of standards, which would better reflect the values and economic interests of Wyoming.

The chair of the state board opined that he doesn’t accept climate change as a fact, and frets that the standards are biased against fossil fuel development.

Unpack that for a minute: the standards suggest children lean settled science. The science shows that fossil fuels are causing no small amount of harm. They are concerned that learning this information will hurt an industry.

I mean: Damn.

Last night, Mrs Heathen and I watched the episode of Cosmos about Clair Patterson’s work exposing the dangers of lead emissions from gasoline, and how vigorously opposed he was by the oil industry at the time.

The oil goons even had a so-called expert on their payroll who insisted that the levels of lead in the environmental background at the time were completely normal. (Eventually, Patterson prevailed, and lead has been phased out — and, wouldn’t you know it, lead levels have dropped dramatically.)

You’d think they’d learn, but apparently not. You’d think we as a culture would learn, too, not to listen to people who say pollution is no big deal when they stand to make money doing so.

How We Are Doomed

How Corporations became people you can’t sue:

Following the 2011 and 2013 Supreme Court rulings, dozens of other giant corporations—from Comcast and Wells Fargo to Ticketmaster and Dropbox—have secured the same legal immunity. So have companies ranging from airlines, gyms, payday lenders, and nursing homes, which have quietly rewritten the fine print of their contracts with consumers to include a shield from lawsuits and class actions. Meanwhile, businesses including Goldman Sachs, Northrop Grumman, P. F. Chang’s, and Uber have tucked similar clauses into their contracts with workers.

Hastily clicking through terms of service is now all it can take to surrender your rights to these companies. Once you do, your only path for recourse if you’re harmed by any one of them is “mandatory arbitration,” where the arbitrator is often chosen by the corporation you’re challenging, and any revelations about the company’s wrongdoing tend to be kept secret. Rather than band together under the light of the public courtroom, each individual has to work through the darkness of a private tribunal, alone, where arbitrators can interpret laws however they wish. Certain inalienable rights, the Court has ruled, are actually kind of alienable.

The Lavabit Founder Speaks

Writing in The Guardian — which is, apparently, the only newspaper left with any balls — Ladar Levison explains the horrifying and Kafkaesque process by which the greedy, powermad, overreaching Feds forced him to destroy his business.

He was given no real chance to fight the orders, and when he tried to muster a defense the Feds became vindictive. This isn’t justice, or national security. This is abuse of power. It should result in long prison terms, but of course nothing of the sort will happen. The government still wants Snowden to come home and face trial for the “crime” of telling us all what our government is doing in our name; those responsible for the criminally invasive universal surveillance will never face accountability of any kind.

Because there’s nothing law enforcement hates more than transparency

In order to prevent the records from being turned over to the ACLU, it appears US Marshalls have “seized” documents regarding the use of a surveillance tool called Stingray by the Sarasota Police Department.

ACLU staff attorney Nathan Freed Wessler called the move “truly extraordinary and beyond the worst transparency violations” the group has seen regarding documents detailing police use of the technology.

“This is consistent with what we’ve seen around the country with federal agencies trying to meddle with public requests for stingray information,” Wessler said, noting that federal authorities have in other cases invoked the Homeland Security Act to prevent the release of such records. “The feds are working very hard to block any release of this information to the public.”

Some judge needs to remind these chuckleheads who they work for.

Dept. of You Must Be Shitting Me

Michael Kinsley, whom I thought was at one point a journalist, had this to say in his snarky, crappy review of Glenn Greenwald’s book about the Snowden affair:

The question is who decides [what to publish]. It seems clear, at least to me, that the private companies that own newspapers, and their employees, should not have the final say over the release of government secrets, and a free pass to make them public with no legal consequences. In a democracy (which, pace Greenwald, we still are), that decision must ultimately be made by the government.

This is a shockingly full-throated endorsement of prior restraint. The government tried this tactic with the Pentagon Papers, and got slapped down pretty hard. More’s the pity, at least according to Kinsley.

Dept. of Truly Brilliant Drunken Feats

On two separate occasions in the 1950s, New Yorker Thomas Fitzpatrick departed from a bar whose hospitality he was enjoying, drove out to New Jersey, “obtained” a small plane, flew it back to Manhattan, and landed it in front of the bar in question.

The first time, it was to win a bet. The second time, two years later, was because someone didn’t believe he’d done it the first time.

This man is a truly an American hero.

How We Are Fucked: The End of Net Neutrality

The milquetoast, lapdog FCC has decided against network neutrality, and we’re all going to suffer for it. Read Tim Wu’s excellent analysis for more, but do NOT overlook that the person doing a big chunk of the fucking us right now lives at 1600 Pennsylvania; Obama campaigned on neutrality, and has completely failed to deliver.

From Wu’s piece in the New Yorker:

In 2007, at a public forum at Coe College, in Iowa, Presidential candidate Barack Obama was asked about net neutrality. Specifically, “Would you make it a priority in your first year of office to reinstate net neutrality as the law of the land? And would you pledge to only appoint F.C.C. commissioners that support open Internet principles like net neutrality?”

“The answer is yes,” Obama replied. “I am a strong supporter of net neutrality.” Explaining, he said, “What you’ve been seeing is some lobbying that says that the servers and the various portals through which you’re getting information over the Internet should be able to be gatekeepers and to charge different rates to different Web sites…. And that I think destroys one of the best things about the Internet—which is that there is this incredible equality there.”

If reports in the Wall Street Journal are correct, Obama’s chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Thomas Wheeler, has proposed a new rule that is an explicit and blatant violation of this promise. In fact, it permits and encourages exactly what Obama warned against: broadband carriers acting as gatekeepers and charging Web sites a payola payment to reach customers through a “fast lane.”

Also, don’t get taken in by the language being used. As Marco points out, the whole discussion of “fast lanes” frames the issue incorrectly. They’re not going to build anything new, and haven’t for years (US customers pay more for broadband, and get lower speeds, than virtually anywhere else in the industrialized world). Your connection isn’t going to get better. This is all about carriers being able to charge providers again for traffic that’s already been paid for — and you can bet your ass it’ll also eventually include blocking or slowing traffic that competes with offerings of their own. This is why we hear so much about NetFlix in these conversations: it’s a direct competitor to Comcast and AT&T and Verizon, all of which would prefer you continue to pay through the nose for traditional cable packages and avoid these newfangled “Internet shows.”

This is what happens, too, in a political environment where any regulation is treated as creeping socialism by the know-nothing right. The noise chamber effect prevents just and proper things from taking hold.

Well, glad THAT’s settled

Turns out, if you’re a US citizen, and you get murdered in a drone strike, the courts will not give your surviving family any relief.

So much for checks and balances.

I supposed it’s at least nominally good news that another judge has insisted that the Administration actually disclose the legal doctrine they’re using to justify this behavior, which up to now had been “classified,” which is a position best described as Orwellian.

Dept. of Absurd Overreaction

So a dude peed in a reservoir in Portland, and in response they’re going to drain 38 million gallons of water and refill it.

It’s an outdoor reservoir. There are obviously purification steps between it and the taps of the good people of Portlandia. How much bird shit do you think goes in it on any given day?

(Via Schneier, whom you oughta be reading every day anyway.)

How we are fucked, part one million

Corporations are becoming increasingly aggressive about forcing anyone dealing with them in even the slightest way to agree, even accidentally, to binding arbitration in the event of a dispute instead of the court system. This is because arbitration almost always finds in favor of corporations, naturally.

Apparently, you can now get trapped in such a clause by simply “liking” something on Facebook.

Recap on *Ibrahim vs. DHS*

Ars Technica has a great retrospective of the 7+ year odysessy of Rahinah Ibrahim and the super-sekrit government no-fly list.

Go read it. Here’s a summary, in case you forgot:

Rahinah Ibrahim was admitted to the US on a student visa to study at Stanford’s graduate school in 2000. Five years later, when attempting to fly from San Francisco to Hawaii, she was denied entry onto the plane, was handcuffed—despite being wheelchair-bound at the time—and was placed in a holding cell, detained for two hours, and then questioned. During questioning, a police officer attempted to remove her hijab. Eventually, she was released and told that her name had been stricken from the no-fly list.

After flying back to Hawaii and then to Malaysia a few days later, her student visa was revoked, and she was denied reentry into the US. That was the beginning of a nine-year fight over whether she could travel back to the US, which Ibrahim said she considered her “second home.”

As explained in Alsup’s opinion, **the whole dispute stemmed from an errant check placed on a form filled out by FBI agent Kevin Kelly. At trial, Agent Kelly admitted his mistake, and government lawyers actually conceded that Ibrahim doesn’t pose a threat to national security and never has. ** The mistake was not a small thing, Alsup wrote.

At long last, the government has conceded that plaintiff poses no threat to air safety or national security and should never have been placed on the no-fly list. She got there by human error within the FBI… the FBI agent filled out the nomination form in a way exactly opposite from the instructions on the form, a bureaucratic analogy to a surgeon amputating the wrong digit—human error, yes, but of considerable consequence. Much of the litigation took place even while Ibrahim was unable to get much information about the government’s case against her. In December, Alsup denied Ibrahim’s request to see the classified evidence submitted by the government in its defense against her lawsuit.

That they went to war over this case, and fought for 7 years, when they knew Ibrahim was not a threat means that someone deserves to lose their job or worse. That’s absurd, ridiculous, and borderline criminal. These people are the enemy of anyone who values the principles which we usually insist form the foundation of our country.

Dear U of Alabama: Please stop this.

U. of Alabama Greeks Win Fight For Their Right To Be Racist Dicks.”

It was ever thus.

I am not surprised that it’s still this way; it certainly was when I was in school there. But — and this is important — I didn’t really parse the University itself as a particularly racist place outside of the Greeks when I was there.

For years I would’ve assumed that this meant it wasn’t, at least by my own baselines (which I willingly admit are probably warped by my Magnolia State origins). But with a few more years under my belt I realize that I have no fucking idea if the University was a particularly racist place, at least vs its surroundings, because I have always been an upper-middle-class white guy with traditional upper-middle-class white guy obliviousness about my own privilege.

So I don’t really know. I’d like to think it’s just the greeks, and in particular those unreconstructed motherfuckers in KA, who used to throw a party every year commemorating the Lost Cause wherein they’d all dress in antebellum clothes and Confederate uniforms, I shit you not. (Lest you think this was just something back when I was in school, the practice continued until 2009.) But I don’t. My bullshit alert, though, chimes loud at attempts to make this just a Greek problem. And the fact that the Greek system enjoys institutional sanction at the University makes it a University problem.

It sure would be interesting, though, to have some more information — in particular about the racial diversity of greek systems (esp. in the older, traditionally white greek organizations) at other major universities. How diverse is Sigma Alpha Epsilon at Ohio State? How about Chi Omega at USC?

Great lede, or GREATEST lede?

Time’s obit for Fred Phelps begins:

Fred Phelps, a colossal jerk, died Thursday in Topeka, Kansas, at 84, after a long life in which even his few admirable achievements (a series of civil rights cases that he filed as an attorney) stemmed from a deeply disagreeable personality (he loved to pick fights with his neighbors). He was the kind of person no one wanted to be around: a lawyer disbarred by his colleagues, a preacher disowned by every denomination he ever espoused, a father rejected by his children—even, in the end, the children who emulate his worst characteristics.

“The Internet is Fucked.”

Without network neutrality, it may well be. N.B. that Netflix is already paying Comcast for the privilege of not being throttled. This should alarm you.

The Verge has more.

The communications networks have been built largely by government-protected monopolies, but those monopolies are now trying to extract every single dime from their customers they can. We have to stop this. The FCC needs to treat them as common carriers, and we need to realize that the net is a basic utility, like water or power.

If we don’t fix this, then the net as we’ve enjoyed it for the last 15 years is going to die.

“The government cannot be so beholden to its own inflated terrorism fears that it willingly punishes a person for nearly a decade because of a paperwork error. “

TechDirt gives the Feds both barrels over the appalling case of Rahinah Ibrahim:

Our government lies.

This is an obvious statement but it needs to be put out there in black and white. We, the people, are represented and “protected” by a government that actively lies to its constituents to cover up its mistakes. The recent case of Rahinah Ibrahim, who was accidentally placed on the government’s “no fly” list and only removed after a long legal battle, illustrates this truth about our government to a sickening degree.

Instead of owning up to the mistake, our government argued for the better part of a decade that to even acknowledge that a no-fly list existed would expose “state secrets” and that they therefore couldn’t possibly even confirm or deny any such list, so obviously discussing this person’s status, or trying to ensure that the status was correctly determined, was impossible.

For example, from James Clapper this year, quoted in the TechDirt article:

“My assertion of the state secret and statutory privileges in this case precludes defendant or any other agency from making any response, including through document production or deposition testimony, that would serve to disclose classified information regarding plaintiff or any other individual; the sources, methods, and means by which classified information is collected; and information which would confirm or deny whether information regarding plaintiff or any other individual is in NCTC’s TIDE database.” — James Clapper, director of national intelligence, April 23, 2013.

What. The. Fuck. Techdirt again:

Eric Holder’s deferral to “state secrets” in 2013 was based on the belief that a single disclosure, especially if it prompted more, would lead to terrorists gaming the no-fly list. John Tyler, then-attorney for the DOJ, claimed in 2006 that Ibrahim’s complaint was so inextricably intertwined with the utility of the “no fly” list that her case should be dismissed.

According to these statements, being mistakenly placed on the “no fly” list is just something those wrongly blacklisted will have to deal with. These citizens (and other foreigners) just need to resign themselves to the fact that they won’t be boarding planes, possibly for the rest of their lives. Once you’re on the list, you’re on it. The list is apparently so crucial to national security that even admitting it may have blacklisted someone accidentally would turn the nation’s airports into terrorist playgrounds.

A mistake was made made, but rather than looking for a solution, the government grabbed its “state secret” broom and swept it under the “neither confirm nor deny” rug.

The government cannot be so beholden to its own inflated terrorism fears that it willingly punishes a person for nearly a decade because of a paperwork error. There’s plenty of middle ground between keeping the country safe and screwing someone over because an agent couldn’t follow a form’s instructions.

Go read the whole thing.

More Federal Keystone-Ism

Remember when the FBI claimed it didn’t have to answer Ryan Shapiro’s FOIA requests because he might learn something as a consequence of their hilariously inconsistent and irrational redaction?

Yeah, they’re doing it again. This time, they heavily redacted a letter released to some privacy hawks in Congress despite the fact that one of them had already been released in full previously. But go read the whole link; it’d be hilarious if it weren’t, you know, the top law enforcement body in the country.

Here’s a shocker: DHS asserted “state secrets” to hide a mistake

This is why state secrets is bullshit, and why “trust me” is never a legitimate policy for law enforcement.

The government contested a former Stanford University student’s assertion that she was wrongly placed on a no-fly list for seven years in court despite knowing an FBI official put her on the list by mistake because he checked the “wrong boxes” on a form, a federal judge wrote today.

We only know this today because Ibrahim sued, which was only possible because she was able to get pro bono legal aid, because despite knowing it was bullshit the feds fought her every step of the way.

Heads. Should. Roll.

That didn’t take long: Dept of Followups

That poor bastard raped (note: I mean literally, not figuratively) by cops and medical personnel in New Mexico has already won a $1.6 million settlement from the city, with claims against the hospital and doctors still pending. He may get get a real jury trial on the outstanding claims, which is likely to make this a very, very expensive episode for a variety of entities in Hidalgo County, New Mexico.

But the only thing that’ll really, truly reign in this kind of bullshit is for serious and personal consequences to accrue to the people who actually made the choice to abuse this guy: the cops. Unfortunately, that’s all too rare, so the taxpayers will foot the bill.

Again.