Author Archives: SHG

Section 230 Does Not Absolve All Sins

The scheme was absolutely horrible and disgusting, and so very internet.

In 2011, an aspiring model we’ll call Jane Doe flew from Brooklyn to South Florida to meet a man she thought was a casting agent after talking to him on a website called Model Mayhem. Instead, she met up with Lavont Flanders, a former cop, and Emerson Callum, better known as the Jamaican porn star Jah-T. After they slipped her a Xanax, the two men filmed her rape for a porn series called Miami’s Nastiest Nymphos.

Do people know any better today, after revelation of the scheme, after we know that just because something says so on the internet does not make it so? Not really. It’s hard to know what to believe when all you see are words on a screen. We love the words we want to believe. We believe what we want to believe.

Skepticism is considered an ugly trait, a negative and unpleasant perspective. Sure, we’ve come to realize that we didn’t win the lottery, aren’t related to a Nigerian prince and our email wasn’t randomly chosen by the IRS for a misspelled audit. At least some of us do, as many continue to get sucked in by absurd and obvious scams. Continue reading

The Department of Justice Catching Up

1998: Fred Whitehurst, Supervisory Special Agent in the Federal Bureau of Investigation Laboratory from 1986 to 1998, went public to reveal procedural errors and misconduct.

2009: The National Institutes of Health released Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward, which essentially said that almost all forensic science is scientifically worthless or grossly overstated as to its reliability.

2016:  The United States Department of Justice announces its intention to “tighten” rules on testimony by scientists.

The new rules, which have yet to be made final, are the latest in a series of steps that the Obama administration has taken to address the problems, including those revealed in a preliminary review last year of F.B.I. testimony in hair-sample cases.

That analysis, which examined 268 criminal cases from 1985 to 1999, found flawed testimony in more than 95 percent of them. More than a dozen of the defendants have been executed or have died in prison.

If you can’t trust the government to “catch[] misconduct before it ruins peoples’ [sic] lives,” who can you trust?

The Overlord Solution

The government is the problem. The government is the solution. That’s how it is when there is an unshakable belief that someone else, someone official, must exist to save you from . . . them.  And there is no institution that believes more in officialdom as the solution to the problems officialdom creates than the New York Times.

Prosecutors are the most powerful players in the American criminal justice system. Their decisions — like whom to charge with a crime, and what sentence to seek — have profound consequences.

So why is it so hard to keep them from breaking the law or violating the Constitution?

That’s a lot to stuff into two sentences, and yet the editorial does so seamlessly, shamelessly. Are prosecutors the *most* powerful players?  In the federal system, to some extent, this is a relatively accurate assertion, because of mandatory minimums and, to the extent judges rely on it, the Sentencing Guidelines. Continue reading

Making Sense of Corey Jones’ Senseless Death

At Fault Lines, Greg Prickett runs though the details of Corey Jones’ last few minutes, revealed because his call to roadside assistance was being recorded.  The Palm Beach Gardens probationary cop who killed Jones, Nouman Raja, has since been fired from the job and charged with manslaughter by culpable negligence and attempted first-degree murder.  The charges came after a grand jury determined that the killing was “unjustified.”*

Greg, viewing this through the eyes of a guy who spent 20 years on the job, doesn’t take this lightly.

So the grand jury found that the shooting was not justified. And now [State’s Attorney Dave] Aronberg was in a bad spot. Grand juries always find for the police officer, only they didn’t do that here, and Aronberg had to make the call himself. So he charged Raja with Attempted Murder (for the non-fatal shots) and for Manslaughter by Culpable Negligence (for the fatal shot).

Huh?

OK, lets get this straight. Raja was actively trying to kill Jones but failed, justifying the Attempted Murder, but the actual fatal shot was due to negligence? Really?

Continue reading

Why Does Jessica Valenti (And The New York Times) Hate The New Victims?

One would think the New York Times doesn’t suffer from the need to fill empty space to get clicks. After all, it’s the “paper of record,” and one would think it’s got smart op-eds coming out of its ears. And yet, it uses its prime real estate for hateful tripe. Why?

Today, one of the more unpleasant parts of my job writing and talking about feminism is dealing with online harassment — a now-common side effect of writing online while female. Very few days have gone by in the last 10 years when I haven’t gotten an email, online comment or tweet calling me a bitch or making a violent sexual threat. I go on Instagram during my lunch break to see my friends’ cute kid pictures, and instead find a comment from a young man I have never met telling me to die.

Who cares? This bit of critical information from Jessica Valenti, who has made a career of being a victim of sexism, overcoming her lack of education and inability to produce anything of utility to society, manages to find its way onto the pages of the Gray Lady. You attack males and complain that people respond? You should pay the “young man” (who is obviously “young” or he wouldn’t post on instagram), for without him, what would you have to complain about?

When we talk about gendered trauma, we tend to point to moments of physical danger, harassment or assault. Those are critical to discuss, of course. But we can’t leave aside the snowball effect of all types of sexism over a lifetime.

Continue reading

Laws Without Rules

In a fascinating post, Ken White offers a list of ten small-“l” libertarian questions to ask about laws, given our insatiable demand that government prevent outcomes we dislike while enforcing, at the end of a gun, outcomes we favor. His first question is whether it’s constitutional, acknowledging a critical first step in the consideration of any law.

The norm is to invoke the Constitution only when you don’t like a proposed law, and to scorn constitutional inquiry when it’s an impediment.

For better or worse, it’s the paradigm under which we function. When it’s an impediment, arguments range from reinterpreting the Constitution to amending it to achieve (or prevent) an end.  These may prove to be archaic concerns.

The rest of the world doesn’t labor under our constraints, as much as we may think they should. Our jingoistic is that we’re right and exceptional. They’re not us. We win. Yet, they don’t seem to get it, so they keep doing things as if they matter. What are they thinking? Continue reading

Commencing Inspiration

There are three purposes to a college commencement. The first is to make it memorable to those who just paid a lot of money over the past four years, to give them a show that says, “your money was well spent.” The second is to leave a final impression to the graduates that says, “share with us the income you earn the rest of your life.” Neither of these purposes is particularly high brow, but money makes the world go ’round.

The third is to inspire the graduates. It’s both the easiest, and the hardest, to pull off. Sitting through three plus hours of exceptionally hard-to-pronounce names being read gave me tons of time to consider what I heard, and what I might say had anyone asked me to inspire the students.  The most impressive thing that happened was that every student was handed his actual diploma on stage. That’s rarely done, and was an amazing feat of organization. If only they had been so organized all along. But I digress.

There were two primary speakers at MIT’s commencement ceremony. The president, L. Rafael Reif, gave a speech that was so banal, so generic, so impersonal, that I assumed he got a good deal from CommencementSpeech.com. It was delivered in his thick accent, which meant a word was missed, or mispronounced, at least once per sentence.

That was the least of his issues. His message was play well with others and commit random acts of kindness. This must have been a great speech in the 1990s. Continue reading

The Airbnb Of Simple Justice (Because Sharing Is Caring)

It would be disingenuous of me to ignore the new-fangled disruptions to my dinosaur world that I critique. And so, I type from my Airbnb in Cambridge, Massachusetts, rather than my usual hotel of choice. Of course, my usual hotel jacked up the nightly vig four times its usual, which wasn’t cheap to begin with, because this is graduation weekend.

There was no way I was going to miss graduation weekend, no matter what the price, so it was the perfect opportunity to test the new waters of the new sharing economy. It might not be less expensive, but at least I could get a house rather than a room.

Why am I telling you this? Because there will be no regular posts today at SJ. Because I can’t get WiFi on my computer. Because, as it turns out, an Airbnb place isn’t quite the same as a hotel. There is no front desk to call when the WiFi doesn’t work. There is no concierge to speak to, or bitch at, as the case may be.

So I’m left to tap this out on a cellphone (what you kidz call a smartphone, because that’s entirely different), and these old thumbs don’t tap as fast without the other digits. My tolerance for typing on a tiny keyboard is extremely limited, and I don’t use emojis. I don’t have a clue what emojis are supposed to mean even if I was inclined to use them. Continue reading

Why Not #SayHerName?

Despite my usual visceral negative reaction to identitarian subgroups competing for attention, this Guardian post gave me pause.

When she speaks at public meetings, Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw has a trick. She asks everyone to stand up until they hear an unfamiliar name. She then reads the names of unarmed black men and boys whose deaths ignited the Black Lives Matter movement; names such as Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Trayvon Martin. Her audience are informed and interested in civil rights so “virtually no one will sit down”, Crenshaw says approvingly. “Then I say the names of Natasha McKenna, Tanisha Anderson, Michelle Cusseaux, Aura Rosser, Maya Hall. By the time I get to the third name, almost everyone has sat down. By the fifth, the only people standing are those working on our campaign.”

Crenshaw was the professor who coined the word, “intersectionality,” which is hard to forgive, but that doesn’t mean her point here doesn’t have merit.

The campaign, #SayHerName, was created to raise awareness about the number of women and girls that are killed by law enforcement officers. For Crenshaw – who coined the term “intersectionality” in the 1980s to describe the way different forms of discrimination overlap and compound each other – it is a brutal illustration of how racism and sexism play out on black women’s bodies.

Continue reading

Circles And Squares Of Transgenders

The Fourth Circuit refused to rehear the G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board case, where it held that the court was obliged to give Auer deference to the Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights’ “guidance” that sex discrimination under Title IX included discrimination on the basis of sexual identity.

While this wasn’t quite the approval of Title IX’s coverage of transgender discrimination that many have made it out to be, it certainly wasn’t a rejection of it either. The majority of the panel could have held OCR’s guidance unreasonable, but it didn’t. Judge Paul Niemeyer, in dissent, refused to defer to OCR on that basis.

In a brief dissent to the en banc refusal, Judge Niemeyer wrote:

Somehow, all of this is lost in the current Administration’s service of the politically correct acceptance of gender identification as the meaning of “sex” — indeed, even when the statutory text of Title IX provides no basis for the position. The Department of Education and the Justice Department, in a circular maneuver, now rely on the majority’s opinion to mandate application of their position across the country, while the majority’s opinion had relied solely on the Department of Education’s earlier unprecedented position.

The first portion of the paragraph relates to his “moral” concerns about how “forcing a person of one biological sex to be exposed to persons of the opposite biological sex profoundly offends this dignity and freedom.” Such concerns are dismissed by those who don’t share them, but are of no greater, nor lesser, value than the opposite “moral” concerns.  Continue reading

Judge Maria Rosa’s Valiant Effort

Duchess County Supreme Court Justice Maria Rosa had enough.  Most judges in New York had enough, but Justice Rosa really had enough and decided to do something about it. And that’s where the frustration of being a judge really shows its ugly face.  While there is a vague sense that judges can fashion some sort of relief to accomplish whatever goal needs to be achieved, there are instances, exceedingly rare, that defy remedy.

Meet the New York State Parole Board. It’s untouchable.  But that didn’t stop Justice Rosa from trying. The set up in MacKenzie v. Stanford emitted the usual Parole Board stench:

The petitioner has been incarcerated for more than 40 years and has been eligible for parole
release since June of 2000. After The New York State Parole Board (“the Board”) again denied
parole on December 15, 2014 (“the 2014 decision”), petitioner sought review through an Article 78 proceeding. By decision, order and judgment dated October 2,2015, this court granted the Article 78 petition, vacated the Board’s 2014 decision and directed the Board to hold ade novo hearing. Continue reading

White Light In Front, Flashing Lights Behind

It began with the misbegotten Whren decision. when the Supreme Court broke through a wall that had, until then, connected your life to some small semblance of truth. That was when the Court rationalized away the need for police to be honest and held the pretext car stops were lawful.

For the unfamiliar, this means that if the cops wanted to stop you for drugs, but lacked probable cause, they could manufacture a reason, like you turned without signaling, and use that to justify the stop. Given that it’s nearly impossible to drive any distance without committing a violation of some law, honest cops only needed a little patience. Dishonest ones, less so, since most of the violations require no objective evidence anyway, and any cop can make up an excuse at will. The Supreme saw no reason to discourage this, and passionate advocates for the children applauded as hard as they could, because there’s always a crime that must be stopped.

But the next step in the process was a little more shocking, because the Court believed that it had already given cops carte blanche to stop motorists at will, and yet dishonesty wasn’t enough.* Despite handing cops the ability to say “I observed the defendant change lanes without signaling,” a claim that couldn’t be objectively proven or disputed, and so would prevail every single time, cops kept coming up with reasons for stops that were legally wrong. So the Court fixed the problem in Heien v. North Carolina, where they extended the bounty of dishonest by adding in stupidity. Continue reading