17 April 2015

Live in Obedient Fear, Citizens………

A private bill collector and police conspired to use the threat of immediate arrest to extort cash from poor defendants:
Minutes after a court sentenced Adel Edwards to pay a $500 fine for burning leaves in his yard without a permit, the private probation company tasked with supervising his monthly payments told him he actually owed more than $1,000 and demanded $250 up front. Because Edwards couldn’t pay the full amount on the spot, the company had him thrown in jail for several days until a friend came up with the money, according to a new federal lawsuit.

The suit, filed by the Southern Center for Human Rights, charges that Red Hills Community Probation conspired with local police in two small Georgia towns to jail poor people without any court approval or legal authority, effectively holding them for ransom.

The plaintiffs, who live in Bainbridge and Pelham, GA, were ordered by the court to pay exorbitant fees for misdemeanor offenses. Edwards pleaded guilty to burning leaves, while others were told they needed to pay hundreds of dollars for speeding, failing to come to a complete stop at a stop sign, and driving with a suspended registration.

At this point, these stories are reminiscent of reports coming out of Ferguson and the surrounding area, where municipalities exploit a murky labyrinth of court fees and traffic tickets to make money off poor defendants. But private probation companies like Red Hills, which are used by more than 1,000 court systems in ten states, further feed on these moneymaking schemes by tacking on their own share of fees. In Pelham and Bainbridge, the suit alleges, the probation firm went even further, committing false imprisonment and fraud, among other charges.

Like Edwards, the other plaintiffs met with Red Hills probation officers, who told each of them they could not leave the courthouse until they paid a certain amount of money that same day. Even though they weren’t legally required to pay the company the same day as their sentencing, the lawsuit states that police officers were stationed at the doors to keep them from leaving. One woman says she was detained in the courthouse while her fiance pawned her engagement ring to come up with the funds the company demanded.
Why am I not surprised that this is going on in what was once a part of the Confederacy?

Silly black folks, justice is for whites.

I Think that Jon Stewart just Accused Dick Cheney of Being an Iranian Agent

Stewart actually makes a remarkably cogent argument for the case that Dick Cheney has been giving more aid and comfort to the Mullahs in Iran than any other American official:

He goes through Cheney's history, including his disastrous tenure as the CEO of Halliburton (Dresser Industries acquisition and asbestos), and shows how almost every action and statement that Cheney has made in any official capacity with regard to Iran has provided aid and comfort to that theocracy.

Man, this is f%$#ing brutal.

New Jersey Lawmaker Proposes Upping Penalties for Swatting ……… Is Promptly Swatted

This business will get out of control. It will get out of control and we'll be lucky to live through it.
No, I am not kidding here.

It just happened to State Assemblyman Paul Moriarty:
A New Jersey lawmaker who is pushing legislation to combat the trend of swatting — a prank in which anonymous callers phone-in false emergency reports to provoke a large police response — was a victim of the practice himself this weekend.

State Assemblyman Paul Moriarty (D-Gloucester) said he was watching the Masters golf tournament and doing his taxes at home on Saturday afternoon in Washington Township when he got a call from the police.

"The person on the phone says they were calling from police dispatch and wanted to know if everything is OK at my house," Moriarty said. "I said 'Yeah, why? They said 'we have a report of a shooting at your home.'"

The dispatcher then asked Moriarty to describe what he was wearing and step outside.

"I look out my front door. There's six cop cars. They have the street closed off. They have helmets, flak jackets and rifles," Moriarty said. "I walk out and walk towards them. They motion me to keep walking towards them. The minute I walked out the door, I was still on the phone with the dispatch person, I said 'I think I've just been swatted.' It just then occurred to me what happened."


Swatting has its roots in online video game culture. Callers anonymously phone in emergencies to authorities to send them to an unsuspecting gamer's house — often while the gamer is streaming video of himself playing online.


Moriarty's bill (A3877), introduced in November, would increase penalties for "false public alarm," upgrading the crime from third degree to second degree, punishable by five to ten year in prison and a fine of up to $150,000.

"I'm thinking someone read about the bill and some sick, evil person thought it would be funny to send the police to my house on one of these false reports," Moriarty said.

Moriarty is the former mayor of Washington Township and said he knew most of the police at the scene, including the chief. It turned out the department had dealt with at least one similar call in the previous 24 hours, Moriarty said.

"If this is a practical joke, it's not funny because someone is going to get seriously hurt or perhaps killed in one of these engagements that can go very, very wrong," Moriarty said. "It's never fun to walk out your front door and have shotguns aimed at your house."

Moriarty said it could have gone a lot worse because while doing his taxes he "wasn't in a good mood to begin with."

"If the phone wasn't ringing next to me, I might not have answered it. ... And had I not, they probably would have beat down the front door," he said.
I will note that what Moriarty has proposed is a half measure.

The real problem here is that local law enforcement has become increasingly militarized, and so they tend to respond to this excessively.

Additionally, if "false alarm" gets upgraded, you can be sure that prosecutors will go Aaron Swartz on defendants with this law, in an attempt to extort guilty pleas.

Any time you ad a tool like this to a DA's arsenal, you can be sure that it will be abused in ways that were never intended.

16 April 2015

Things are Getting Very Interesting in New York State Politics

As you may recall, the Speaker of the New York Assembly, Sheldon "Shelly" Silver was indicted for corruption, and it looks like the prosecutors have a pretty good case. (See here)

Basically, Sheldon Silver has been one of the "3 Guys in a Room," (Governor, the State Assembly speaker and the State Senate majority leader) who have made pretty much all the decisions in Albany for a very long time, over 20 years, and it is pretty clear that he knows where the bodies are buried.

What's more, it appears that the prosecutor, US Attorney Preet Bharara, is upping the pressure, specifically by indicting his son-in-law for financial fraud:
A son-in-law of the former State Assembly speaker was arrested on Monday and accused of defrauding investors out of $7 million, according to a criminal complaint unsealed in federal court.

The defendant, Marcello Trebitsch, 37, of Brooklyn, told investors that he would use their money to trade in securities through his investment fund, and promised them double-digit returns with very low risk, according to a statement from the office of Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Mr. Trebitsch’s wife, Michelle Trebitsch, is the daughter of Assemblyman Sheldon Silver, the former speaker who has been indicted on corruption charges.

Agents for the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Mr. Trebitsch, and he appeared before a federal magistrate judge in Manhattan. He was charged with one count of wire fraud and one count of securities fraud.

The complaint said that Ms. Trebitsch, a certified public accountant, was a co-owner and managing partner of the investment fund, Allese Capital. She has not been charged.
They don't need to charge her. (Yet)

The US Attorney can seize Silver's daughter's family assets under RICO, and that would have the effect of impoverishing his daughter and his grandchildren.

Also note that Michelle Trebitsch was not just the "Co-Owner" of the firm, she is a CPA, and she did the books, so you can be sure that Shelly is under a lot of pressure to roll over right now.

If Silver rolls on someone to protect himself, his daughter, and his grandchildren, it has to be someone big, i.e. one of the two other "Gusy in a room", the Senate Majority Leader or the Governor.

We are now getting reports that evidence against Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos is being presented to a federal grand jury.

What's more, it appears that Skelos' son is being targeted as well.

So, it appears that the Feds are trying to turn Skelos into a cooperating witness as well.

This would imply that they are after Cuomo as well, and that he may be their ultimate goal.

This is what makes the reports that Andrew Cuomo made a tidy $180 for every copy of his memoir that was sold, interesting:
In the first week after its release in October, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's memoir, "All Things Possible," sold almost impossibly poorly. According to Nielsen Bookscan, fewer than 1,000 people picked up a copy that week. And as of last month, the grand total of all sales was at 3,008. (Plus 13 audiobooks.)

But before you go complaining that being a writer is unrewarding work, know that Cuomo's time and effort was worth it -- financially, at least.

According to his tax release, made public on Wednesday, Cuomo reported earning $377,000 in income on the book in 2014. That's apparently on top of the $188,333 he got as an advance that was reported in his 2013 filing, meaning that Cuomo seems to have made north of $565,000 for his book though last month.

Or: Nearly $188 per hardcover book.
While I have no doubt that reporter Philip Bump did his homework on the above story, I have a feeling that someone pointed him in the general direction.

I strongly suspect that whoever it was, they had a close relationship to US Attorney Preet Bharara.

If Cuomo gets indicted, it would amuse me no end.

15 April 2015

If You are the Subject of the Sentence, "Some Moron in an Autogyro………," It Will not End Well

He says that, "No sane person would do what he is doing."
The insanity defense might be a good idea.

And here is the landing, and the inevitable freakout.
Case in point:
U.S. Capitol Police said that a small gyrocopter with one occupant landed on the West Lawn of the Capitol on Wednesday afternoon.

One person has been detained, Capitol Police spokeswoman Kimberly Schneider said in an e-mail.

Eyewitnesses in Capitol offices reported seeing police run toward the aircraft and take the pilot away. The small craft landed in the middle of the West Front Lawn, where the annual Christmas tree and Fourth of July concert stage are set up.

All was calm as of about 1:45 p.m., but police blocked access to the lawn. Schneider, at about 3:13 p.m., sent out an e-mail saying bomb squad had cleared the craft and was preparing to move it to a secure location.


The Tampa Bay Times wrote about Doug Hughes, a 61-year-old mailman from Florida, who planned to fly to the Capitol.

From their report:
His stated intent: to buzz through the air at 45 miles per hour at about 300 feet up in an ultralight gyrocopter toward Washington, D.C., toward protected airspace, where, if his plan works, he’ll land on the lawn of the United States Capitol building and deliver the mail.

Of course, Doug Hughes might be shot out of the sky. He knows this. He has thought about it day and night for more than two years, wrestling with the tiniest details of his insane plan.

“No sane person,” he said, “would do what I’m doing.”
Rather unsurprisingly, he is currently in custody.

I don't expect a long jail sentence, but I would expect that he is likely to be fired by the US Post Office, and his pension might be at risk, and he is going to be in for a world of petty harassment by the authorities.

14 April 2015

Grit Your Teeth and Think of England

I understand its necessity, and I support its relatively progressive nature, but I hate doing income taxes with a white hot burning passion.

I'm just saying.

The Many Fauceted Scarlet Emerald Exists!

I was looking at Wikipedia, and trying to figure out why rubies are called rubies, and not called red sapphires, even though they are the same gem stones, only with slightly different trace impurities. (Sapphires can be blue, pink, yellow, salmon/padparadscha, purple/lavender, green, orange, or brown.)

I did not find the reason for the different names, it appears to be an accident of history, but as Wikipedia searches often do, the led me down a tangent, where I was looking up emeralds, and found out that there is such a thing as a scarlet emerald:
In geology, beryl is a mineral composed of beryllium aluminium cyclosilicate with the chemical formula Be3Al2Si6O18. The hexagonal crystals of beryl may be very small or range to several meters in size. Terminated crystals are relatively rare. Pure beryl is colorless, but it is frequently tinted by impurities; possible colors are green, blue, yellow, red, and white.


Emerald is green beryl, colored by trace amounts of chromium and sometimes vanadium. The word "emerald" comes (via Middle English: Emeraude, imported from Old French: Ésmeraude and Medieval Latin: Esmaraldus) from Latin smaragdus from Greek smaragdos – σμάραγδος ("green gem"), its original source being a Semitic word izmargad () or the Sanskrit word, marakata (मरकत), meaning "green". Most emeralds are highly included, so their brittleness (resistance to breakage) is classified as generally poor.


Red beryl (also known as "red emerald" or "scarlet emerald") is a red variety of beryl. It was first described in 1904 for an occurrence, its type locality, at Maynard's Claim (Pismire Knolls), Thomas Range, Juab County, Utah. The old synonym "bixbite" is deprecated from the CIBJO, because of the risk of confusion with the mineral bixbyite (also named after the mineralogist Maynard Bixby). The dark red color is attributed to Mn3+ ions.
(emphasis mine)

As some of you are no doubt aware, the phrase ""scarlet emerald" figures prominently in what is arguably the worst piece of fantasy ever written, The Eye of Argon:
Glaring directly down towards her was the stoney, cycloptic face of the bloated diety. Gaping from its single obling socket was scintillating, many fauceted scarlet emerald, a brilliant gem seeming to possess a life all of its own. A priceless gleaming stone, capable of domineering the wealth of conquering empires...the eye of Argon.
(emphasis mine)

Yeah, it ain't what one would call "deathless prose," but the fact that there is such a thing as a "Scarlet Emerald" is amusing.

I once competed in an Eye of Argon reading, you lose if you laugh or misread the text, (including its many typographical errors), and I laughed so hard I had to sit down, and the knife handle in my back nearly broke a rib. (I was wearing the official Klingon retired officer uniform)

A Bonza Idea from the Aussies

Parents who are "conscientious objectors" to childhood vaccination will have their childcare and family tax payments stopped from 1 January next year as the federal government attempts to crack down on the anti-vaccination movement.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced on Sunday a loophole would be closed to stop payments to parents worth up to $15,000 per child.

"Parents who vaccinate their children should have confidence that they can take their children to childcare without the fear that their children will be at risk of contracting a serious or potentially life-threatening illness because of the conscientious objections of others," Mr Abbott said.

Although Australia's overall childhood vaccination rates remain high - about 97 per cent - the numbers of people who are registered conscientious objectors has risen in the past 10 years.

There are now 39,000 children aged under seven who are not vaccinated because their parents are registered, according to the Australian Childhood Immunisation Register.

This is an increase of more than 24,000 children over the past 10 years.
This is a very good idea.

First, having unvaccinated children in childcare facilities is like smoking exploding cigars at an oil refinery.

Second, the science has thoroughly debunked Dr. Andrew Wakefield's vaccination-autism link.

Third, much of the anti-vaxx movement is about relying on herd immunity from the rest of society, and so they are moochers.

Forth, it puts those with compromised immune systems, who are medically unable to be vaccinated, at risk.

Finally, children should not  be held hostage to their parents' idiocy:
Writing on The ScentificParent blog, a chagrined Canadian mom announced that she is leaving the anti-vaxx movement after all of her seven children — four of them completely unvaccinated — have come down with whooping cough.

Writing from quarantine, and surrounded by sick kids, Tara Hills wrote she is “emotionally, a bit raw. Mentally a bit taxed. Physically I’m fine,” before admitting that not only are her own kids sick, but they may have exposed her five-month-old niece who is too young to be fully vaccinated.

What began with a cold brought into her home by her brother-in-law, turned into coughing by her kids leading to full-blown whooping cough in all seven children.

“My youngest three children were coughing so hard they would gag or vomit. I’d never seen anything like this before,” she wrote. ” Watching our youngest struggle with this choking cough, bringing up clear, stringy mucus – I had heard of this before somewhere. My mom said I had it when I was a kid. I snapped into ‘something is WRONG’ mode.”

Jumping onto her computer, she discovered her children’s symptoms matched — almost perfectly — all the symptoms of whooping cough in a household that was woefully under-vaccinated.

“We had vaccinated our first three children on an alternative schedule and our youngest four weren’t vaccinated at all. We stopped because we were scared and didn’t know who to trust,” she explained. ” Was the medical community just paid off puppets of a Big Pharma-Government-Media conspiracy? Were these vaccines even necessary in this day and age? Were we unwittingly doing greater harm than help to our beloved children? So much smoke must mean a fire so we defaulted to the ‘do nothing and hope nothing bad happens’ position.”

Hills explained that she had a hard time overcoming her biases and mistrust of “Big Pharma,” asking herself, “Could all the in-house, independent, peer-reviewed clinical trials, research papers and studies across the globe ALL be flawed, corrupt and untrustworthy?”

Now Hills says that years spent “frozen” out of fear of vaccinating her kids has the whole family frozen: confined to their home by a quarantine.

She said she hopes her mea culpa will make other families who have held back from getting their children vaccinated rethink what they are doing.

“Right now my family is living the consequences of misinformation and fear. I understand that families in our community may be mad at us for putting their kids at risk. I want them to know that we tried our best to protect our kids when we were afraid of vaccination and we are doing our best now, for everyone’s sake, by getting them up to date. We can’t take it back … but we can learn from this and help others the same way we have been helped.”
Preach it, sister.