2019-08-20 12:10:08

A. In 2017, Bonner lost a case in New Jersey state appellate court, Bonner v. Cumberland Reg’l High Sch. Dist. Justia.com, a site that (among other things) publishes online copies of state and federal court opinions, included that nonprecedential New Jersey decision; Bonner then sued in federal court, asking the federal court to order Justia to remove the opinion. Yesterday federal District Judge Peter G. Sheridan granted Justia’s motion to dismiss (Bonner v. Justia, Inc.):

Plaintiff seems to believe the New Jersey [appellate] opinion is his personal property…. Plaintiff seeks to prevent the [opinion] from being “reported, copied, distributed, shared, or by any other means used by anyone or any website.” “[T]he courts of this country recognize a general right to inspect and copy public records and documents, including judicial records and documents.” …

Plaintiff is proceeding pro se, and the Court should read Plaintiff’s complaint [here, amended] generously and hold it “to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” … [But t]he amended complaint is substantively meritless, as was the original complaint.

Plaintiff is essentially attempting to seal the Appellate Division’s Opinion, which—like federal court documents—[is] open to the public. There is a heightened public interest in disclosure of materials that are filed within the Courts, which outweighs private interests in confidentiality, as the Courts are funded by the public and in general judicial proceedings are not done in secret….

Because Plaintiff has had two opportunities to set forth a cause of action, and failed to do so, to allow another amendment to the complaint would be futile. As such, there appears to be no cause of action for the conduct the amended complaint is dismissed with prejudice.

This is clearly the right result, but, to my shock, I’ve seen one case in which a trial court did order a different online repository (leagle.com) to remove a person’s name from a published court opinion archived at that repository (more on that in a later post). And, as I’ve noted before, I’ve seen cases in which trial courts wrongly ordered Google to deindex a photo in a newspaper (Malandrucco), or wrongly ordered media outlets to remove stories (Thorworth and Barone).

Trial courts sometimes do the darndest things, including in cases brought by pro se plaintiffs. While litigating pro se is often a handicap, it’s sometimes an advantage: pro se litigants often don’t know what’s impossible, so they ask for it—and sometimes get it. But not this time.

B. Bonner also asked—beyond his request that the New Jersey state court opinion be removed—that any order issued by the federal court resolving Justia’s motion to dismiss Bonner’s complaint “not ‘be reported, copied, distributed shared, or by any other means used by anyone or any website.'” (Bonner’s request also stated, “Confidential Notice: This letter and the things contained herein are confidential information and are not to be copied, shared, or distributed by any source”; but motions are generally public documents, just as opinions are.)

I had been tracking the case on Bloomberg Law, because I have been writing about attempts to get court opinions hidden. I thus noticed that request to seal, and filed a motion to intervene and oppose the request. The federal court granted my motion to intervene, and denied Bonner’s request to issue the order under seal. Again, that strikes me as clearly right.

There is more to this litigation, but I will save that for one or two upcoming posts.

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Did anyone truly believe that the government cares about our privacy on social media? At the same time that Congress and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) were taking Facebook to task for neglecting user data, the FBI was soliciting bids for technologies to hoover up and analyze your social media posts—just in case you are a threat.

It’s yet another example of state double talk on online surveillance. Politicians preen for the cameras when a private company fails their users. But that same championing of our privacy rarely extends to government programs. When it comes to their own surveillance programs, it’s just in the public interest.

In early July, the FBI posted a solicitation notice for a “Social Media Alerting Subscription,” which would “acquire the services of a company to proactively identify and reactively monitor threats to the United States and its interests through a means of online sources.” The request singles out Twitter, Facebook, Instagram “and other social media platforms” for snooping.

Essentially, the FBI is looking for companies to build a tool to comb through “lawfully access[ed]” social media posts and pinpoint possible threats ahead of time. Think of it like a meme-illiterate Facebook-stalking precog from Minority Report.

Although the notice was posted well before this month’s mass shootings, it is easy to see how this system could empower the Red Flag law ideas that have since gained prominence. This kind of “proactive identification” could allow law enforcement to target and even disenfranchise social media users whose posts may have been merely misinterpreted. So let’s call this the Red Flag tool for short.

The FBI’s Red Flag tool statement of objectives provides a glimpse into the agency’s sprawling “social media exploitation” efforts. There are “operations centers and watch floors,” which monitor news and events to create reports for the relevant FBI team. These spur the activation of “fusion centers,” tactical teams which use “early notification, accurate geo-locations, and the mobility” of social media data to issue their own reports. There are also FBI agents in the field, “legal attaches” whose jobs would be much easier with a translation-enabled Red Flag tool. And last are the “command posts,” teams of “power users” assigned to monitor specific large events or theaters of operations.

To be clear, the proposed tool does not seek to access private messages or other hidden data. Rather, it would scrape and rationalize publicly accessible posts. This could be fortuitously combined with other FBI data to build detailed, but possibly inaccurate, portraits of suspected ne’er-do-wells.

Unsurprisingly, social media companies are not pleased. Although they are often criticized for their own data practices, many of them have explicit bans against building such tools to share data with intelligence agencies.

Facebook disallows developers from “[using] data from us to provide tools that our used for surveillance.” This seems to fit the bill. Twitter similarly forbids developers from making Twitter content available to “any public sector entity (or any entities providing services to such entities) whose primary function or mission includes conducting surveillance or gathering intelligence.” Sounds like the FBI to me.

But despite these company policies, similar tools already exist. The Department of Homeland Security, for instance, collects social media data on the many people who apply for visas each year. Germany’s NetzDG law, which requires social media companies to proactively monitor and take down posts for hate speech, doesn’t mandate that companies share data with intelligence bodies, but it requires comparable infrastructure. The European Union (EU) has proposed a similar system for terrorist content.

The FBI says that the system will “ensure that all privacy and civil liberties compliance requirements are met.” Few will find that comforting. But let’s be extremely charitable and assume that the system will be fully on the up-and-up. There is still the problem of interpretation, which is formidable.

These kinds of systems are predictably ridden with errors and false positives. In Germany, posts that are clearly critical or satirical are taken down by proactive social media monitoring systems. To a dumb algorithm, there isn’t much of a difference. It sees a blacklisted word and pulls or flags the post, regardless of whether the post was actually opposing the taboo concept.

Computers just aren’t that great at parsing tone or intent. One algorithmic study of Twitter posts was only able to accurately gauge users’ political stances based on their posts about a third of the time. And this was in standard English. The problem gets worse when users use slang or a different language. Yet the FBI apparently expects these programs to quickly and accurately separate meme from menace.

So the FBI’s desired “red flag” tool is creepy and dubious. It’s also a bit schizophrenic, given last month’s grand brouhaha over Facebook data sharing.

The FTC just issued a record-breaking $5 billion settlement with Facebook for the Cambridge Analytica data scandal. Facebook had allowed developers access to user data that violated their terms of service, as well as a 2012 FTC consent decree against the company for its data practices. This means that data was exploited in ways that users thought were verboten. Granting programming access for tools to shuttle data to intelligence agencies, which is also against Facebook policies, won’t seem much different to users.

But the Red Flag tool may violate more than Facebook’s own policies. It could also go against the FTC’s recent settlement, which ties Facebook to a “comprehensive data security program.” The Wall Street Journal quotes an FTC spokesman stating that the consent decree protects all data from being gathered without user knowledge. How can Facebook square this circle?

Few will be surprised that the FBI would seek this kind of Red Flag tool for social media. Yet polls show that most Americans support more federal data privacy regulation in the vein of the EU’s sweeping General Data Privacy Regulation (GDPR).

Social media companies make fine foes, especially for politicians. But we shouldn’t forget that the same governments that we expect to “protect our privacy” are all too willing to junk it at the first sign of a snooping opportunity.

Robust solutions to social media woes are unlikely to come from the same governments that would sacrifice our privacy at their earliest convenience. Rather, we should look to advances in decentralizing and cryptographic technologies that will place the user in control of their own data.

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2019-08-20 11:30:32

Fashion is fun, but it also serves a practical purpose responding to the environments in which we live. When the weather turns cold, we put on heavy clothes that we shed as the temperature rises. We cover our heads when it rains or under the glaring sun but doff the hats when we have ceilings over our heads. And when the society around us transforms into an all-seeing surveillance state, fashion adapts to conceal our identities from prying cameras and their creepy operators.

That all-seeing surveillance state is on the march from Britain through the U.S. and to Hong Kong. Governments and corporations around the world are stepping up the use of surveillance cameras and facial recognition technology to identify protesters, pedestrians, and customers and track their movements. Simultaneously, people at risk if recognized by unfriendly officials, or just uneasy at the prospect of living in a panopticon, are pushing back with inventive means of confusing or blinding cameras. They’re assisted in their efforts by innovative technologies and entrepreneurs who see a market among customers who value their privacy.

Among those fans of privacy are many residents of Hong Kong. In their continuing stand against China’s authoritarian government, inhabitants of the specially administered city have come up with a range of clever responses to government attempts to suppress protests and identify participants.

“By using umbrellas to shield identifying features from CCTV cameras—and in some cases using lasers, to fully derail image-capturing abilities—they have kept themselves safer from retribution,” Liz Wolfe recently noted for Reason. Protesters also wear helmets to protect against less-lethal munitions fired at the crowds, and to further hide their faces from observing cameras. If the protests continue, Hong Kong might become a natural market for products specifically intended to obscure people’s features.

“Can’t change your face. Once it is tied to your ID, there’s no going back,” Scott Urban, the developer of Reflectacles, tells me by email. His glasses frames and clip-ons interfere with both algorithm-based traditional facial recognition as well as more sophisticated technologies that map faces with infrared.

Reflectacles’ lenses are opaque to infrared, obscuring people’s faces, even as the frames reflect both visible and infrared light to blind surveillance cameras. Clip-ons can be fastened over prescription lenses for the benefit of people who need their eyesight corrected.

“My concern with facial recognition is not with government, but much more so corporations,” says Urban, who eschews social media and loyalty cards and relies on a flip phone for communication. “For some reason people are under the persuasion that when governments use facial recognition, it is a breach of privacy, but at the same time they willingly give up all of their true privacy to corporations.”

Fretting over corporations instead of governments is a distinction that might make more sense for Americans than for Hong Kong residents, surrounded as we are by increasingly intrusive technology that observes our every move and that we often purchase ourselves. Conscious of privacy concerns, some local governments, such as in San Francisco, even promise not to use facial recognition technology—at least for now—even as identification technology becomes standard in consumer devices.

Then again, governments and corporations often work hand-in-hand. License plate scanning around the country is a joint public-private operation, with technology and databases maintained by companies including Vigilant Solutions on behalf of police departments and other government agencies. Is that a corporate or government threat? The answer probably depends on who drops the hammer on you—and government hammers tend to be nastier than those in the private sector.

Not that you need to worry about who operates the scanners when you set out to thwart them by donning shirts, dresses, and jackets that are printed with images of license plates.

“The patterns on the goods in this shop are designed to trigger Automated License Plate Readers, injecting junk data in to the systems used by the State and its contractors to monitor and track civilians and their locations,” Adversarial Fashion boasts about its products.

It’s an approach that’s not intended to protect individual identities, but instead to monkeywrench the surveillance state by jamming the system with crap scans of license plates in bogus locations. The idea is to chew up surveillance resources and render databases unreliable.

For more personal protection, you could just pull a hoody over your face. But that approach might get you in trouble in a Britain that’s not-so-slowly converting itself into a real-life version of George Orwell’s Airstrip One. Police there are now forcing people to reveal their faces to surveillance cameras—and even fining those who object.

As an alternative, you could hide your real face among a mass of “HyperFace” prints on your clothing that baffle facial recognition software.

“Amid a kinetic assortment of grid-like structures printed on the fabric, black squares suggest tiny eyes, noses and mouths,” reports the BBC. “The cameras’ facial recognition algorithms are confused. Your identity is secure; your privacy, protected.”

To complete the outfit, you might go full Juggalo, wearing the black and white makeup favored by fans of Insane Clown Posse that apparently confuses the hell out of facial recognition technology. Or, maybe you could add a little life to your ensemble with color printouts developed by Belgian scientists that make people essentially invisible to high-tech surveillance. “The researchers showed that the image they designed can hide a whole person from an AI-powered computer-vision system,” according to MIT Technology Review.

Are the powers-that-be going to ban vibrant prints and busy patterns that make their software sad?

Honestly, that’s a real possibility—at least in some jurisdictions. The surveillance state of the future may well come with a drab dress code. But, for now, all of these garments, accessories, and designs are legal and available to be deployed in the escalating conflict between surveillance-state snoops and privacy advocates.

Fashion has always changed in response to weather, and when it comes to surveillance, it’s pouring out with no signs of letting up.

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NIMBYs are suing to stop the redevelopment of a historic business over the objections of the business’s owners. Again.

In July, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) sued Los Angeles over its approval of a plan to redevelop Amoeba Music’s Hollywood location into a 26-story, 200-unit apartment building.

Since the record store chain opened its Hollywood location in 2001, the store has become famous for its distinctive neon signs and murals and for hosting famous musicians like Paul McCartney. These features, the AHF argues, make the Amoeba Music building a significant historic resource that the city cannot lawfully allow to be demolished without further environmental study.

Amoeba Music’s owners feel differently. The lawsuit, they say, is actively harming their ability to keep their record store alive.

“Using Amoeba without our consent in their battle against development is more likely to permanently close our doors than anything else we have faced to date,” Amoeba co-owner Jim Henderson told the Los Angeles Times.

Amoeba sold its Hollywood building four years ago for $34 million and has since been looking for another, more affordable storefront.

The lawsuit, Henderson tells the Times, is turning off potential landlords who fear they too could run into legal trouble if they rent to Amoeba and later choose to redevelop their property. Henderson also said that declaring the current building a historic landmark could prevent Amoeba from moving its distinctive neon signs to a new location.

The lawsuit, which AHF filed in conjunction with the Coalition to Preserve L.A., has also argued that the city did not do enough to study the impact of a 26-story tower on nearby utilities and that the city did not require the developer to include rent-restricted affordable units that would be rented out at below-market rates.

AHF and its various advocacy arms have gotten deeply enmeshed in housing politics both in Los Angeles and at the state level.

The non-profit was the primary funder of 2018’s failed Proposition 10, a ballot measure that would have repealed state-level restrictions on local governments’ ability to impose rent control policies. AHF and its allies are currently gathering signatures to place a second rent control initiative on the 2020 ballot.

In Los Angeles, AHF has sued the Los Angeles city government multiple times over its approval of Hollywood-area developments, arguing that these approvals violated federal and state housing laws and that the new developments themselves will lead to gentrification and displacement.

Its attempt to preserve the current Amoeba Music building over the objections of its owners is reminiscent of other historic landmarking battles.

In Seattle, a coalition of preservationists, musicians, and most of the Seattle City Council is trying to prevent the redevelopment of the Showbox music venue into apartments over the objections of Showbox’s current owner.

New York City landmarked the Strand bookstore, despite pleading from the store’s owner that such landmarking would be detrimental to her business.

Similarly, in Denver, activists tried to landmark the popular downtown restaurant Tom’s Diner to prevent its owner from selling it to a developer. The preservationists eventually dropped their landmarking attempt last week after a fierce public backlash.

The desire to preserve old buildings is an understandable one. However, that desire is also often in tension with demands for new housing and commercial space. Ideally, markets would relieve this tension by letting preservationists and developers offer competing bids for urban properties.

But by allowing activists to landmark buildings without having to actually buy a property, and oftentimes over an owner’s objections, cities have heavily tilted the scales toward too much preservation and not enough development.

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2019-08-19 20:50:02

It has been a helluva weekend for national conversations about race. There was the Proud Boys vs. Antifa street theater in Portland. There was a campaign-pivoting Beto O’Rourke declaring that “Our country was founded on racism—and is still racist today.” There was Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.), in the midst of unveiling a sweeping new criminal justice plan, offering this vow: “We will go to war against white nationalism and racism in every aspect of our lives.” And as always, there was a Trump tweet.

What was the president referring to? Perhaps the Paper of Record’s sweeping and controversial new 1619 Project, which aims “to reframe American history, making explicit how slavery is the foundation on which this country is built.” In the back half of today’s Editors’ Roundtable edition of the Reason Podcast, Nick Gillespie, Katherine Mangu-Ward, Peter Suderman, and Matt Welch offer a mixed preliminary verdict about the package, praising its ambition, agreeing with the importance of the topic, and disagreeing strenuously with its King Cottonesque take on capitalism.

Other items that come up for discussion: the potential impending global recession and its perceived culprits, where Democrats are at on trade, how ancient aliens did the prehistoric cave-paintings, and which podcaster has two thumbs and watched the key-changingest Ron Paul supporter this weekend (hint: this guy!!!).

Audio production by Ian Keyser.

‘Railroad’s Whiskey Co’ by Jahzzar is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Relevant links from the show:

Slavery Did Not Make America Rich,” by Deirdre McCloskey

White Supremacy Is Alien to Liberal and Libertarian Ideals,” by J.D. Tuccille

White Identity Politics, Not Trump’s Racist Tweets, Is National Conservatism’s Real Problem,” by Steven Greenhut

Libertarianism, the Anti-Slavery Movement, and Black History Month,” by Damon Root

Classical Liberalism and the Fight for Equal Rights,” by Damon Root

Proud Boys and Antifa Playact Protest in Portland,” by Nancy Rommelmann

Beto’s Reboot: So You’re Saying There’s Still a Chance?” by Matt Welch

Bernie Sanders Introduces Bill to Eliminate Cash Bail,” by Scott Shackford

Sanders Suddenly Becomes Pot-Friendliest Major-Party Candidate,” by Jacob Sullum

Bernie Sanders Calls for ‘Automatic’ Federal Investigations of Deaths in Police Custody,” by Anthony Fisher

Why Bernie Sanders Is Wrong About Private Prisons,” by Leonard Gilroy and Adrian Moore

Beto vs. Warren Is the Trade Policy Debate Democrats Need To Have,” by Eric Boehm

Biden Is Turning Trump’s Trade War Into a Major Campaign Issue. More Democrats Should Follow His Lead,” by Eric Boehm

Elizabeth Warren Wants to Make Your Life More Annoying and More Expensive,” by Peter Suderman

Is Deregulation to Blame?” by Katherine Mangu-Ward

Is Barry Manilow a Closet Libertarian? (He Gave $2,300 to Ron Paul’s Campaign),” by Nick Gillespie

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How old, exactly, is Joe Biden?

At 76, he is older than Dan Quayle, whose term as vice president began more than 30 years ago.  He’s older than George W. Bush, whose term as president ended more than a decade ago. He’s older than Bill or Hillary Clinton, older than Al Gore or John Kerry.

He’s so old that he’s not even technically a baby boomer—he’s from the prior generation. He was born in 1942, while World War II was under way, but before America tested the first atom bomb. He was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1972, before I was born—and I’m not that young.

All that accumulated wisdom and experience is valuable and is not to be discounted. But against it will be weighed the questions about Biden’s vigor—physical, mental, and verbal.

The Democratic presidential candidate who is leading in the polls has a tendency to misspeak. On Friday night at a fundraiser in Delaware, according to a pool report, “Biden mentioned a speech he made last week about President Donald Trump and the rise of white nationalism in America. He first said the speech took place in Burlington, Vermont. He immediately corrected himself to say it was in Burlington, Iowa.”

On August 4, at a fundraiser in California, according to a different pool report, “Biden almost immediately spoke of the two recent mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, at first referring to them as ‘the tragic events in Houston today and also in Michigan the day before’ but later correcting himself.”

On August 8, Biden confused British Prime Minister Theresa May with Margaret Thatcher, the second time he’s done that since May, a CNN reporter noticed.

Mike Allen of Axios has compiled a slew of other “Biden blunders.” Biden erroneously claimed that he was vice president during or after the Parkland, Fla. school shooting: “Those kids in Parkland came up to see me when I was vice president.” The Parkland shooting happened in 2018, during the Trump administration.

Biden misspoke on the campaign trail when he confused race and income, saying, “Poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids.”

Campaigning in Iowa, he mystifyingly insisted, “We choose truth over facts!”

During the most recent debate, Biden appeared to confuse Cory Booker with Barack Obama, referring to Booker as “the president—that, excuse me, the future president here.”

Biden is usually pretty good about catching himself and self-correcting, as he did in the Booker case and in many of the other instances. If it’s just clumsy talking, voters are unlike to care much. But in politicians, clumsy talking often signals clumsy thinking. If Biden is now losing what mental acuity he had, imagine what he’ll be like three years into the presidency. That these blunders keep happening speaks to a lack of discipline by his campaign. It’s admirable in some sense that Biden is providing press access. Other campaigns, though, are running closed-door fundraisers, so at least some of their candidates’ blunders are not captured and amplified by pool reporters. At public events, some other candidates are sticking more tightly and carefully to a prepared script.

I point out these problems not as a reflexive Biden-basher. I’ve been publicly urging Biden to run for president since August of 2015. I start out generally more sympathetic to his more centrist views than to the views of more ideologically extreme, farther left candidates such as Senators Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders. President Trump, while younger than Biden, is also in his 70s.

Earlier this year, I saw Biden greet and take selfies with voters for hours at an outdoor event on a cold, rainy day in New Hampshire. It dispelled doubts I had about his endurance. When he spoke to the reporters who remained at the end of the event, he seemed as sharp as he did when I first encountered him on Capitol Hill about 25 years earlier.

It’s possible that the visibility of the way Biden is wrestling with his own aging could make him a more relatable and sympathetic figure for the American electorate, or for that matter, for the country itself. Plenty of old people vote, and they deserve representation in Washington, too. Or it’s possible that the Biden blunders will confirm the idea that he is a politician whose moment has passed. One big risk facing the Democrats now is that their primary electorate gives Biden a pass that he won’t get in the general election.

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2019-08-19 20:14:48

Attorney General William Barr removed the acting director of the Bureau of Prisons today, nine days after billionaire Jeffrey Epstein died in a federal jail in Manhattan.

The Justice Department announced in a press release today that Barr is appointing Kathleen Hawk Sawyer as director of the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), replacing acting director Hugh Hurwitz, who will return to his former position as an assistant director.

Hawk Sawyer previously served as director from 1992 to 2003, overlapping with Barr’s previous tenure as attorney general, from 1991 to 1993.

Epstein’s alleged suicide has put the BOP, which holds roughly 177,000 inmates, under intense public scrutiny. Barr said in a speech last week that he was “appalled” by Epstein’s death, and multiple federal agencies, as well as the House Judiciary Committee, are now investigating the matter.

As Reason reported, the dysfunction that the Justice Department has reportedly uncovered at the Metropolitan Correctional Center—guards reportedly fell asleep when they were supposed to be monitoring Epstein and falsified logs to cover it up—is commonplace and has been reported on by news outlets and watchdogs for years.

Chronic staff shortages have led to overworked BOP staff, and in some cases nurses and other auxiliary staff are forced to guard cell blocks.

“It shouldn’t have taken the death of billionaire Jeffrey Epstein for the Attorney General to see that the BOP needs real oversight and has for quite some time,” says Holly Harris, the executive director of the Justice Action Network, a criminal justice reform group. “While we’re cautiously optimistic about these changes, we continue to call on Congress to exercise their authority to provide the oversight necessary for this entity, which is in dire need of systemic change.”

The BOP has been without a permanent director since 2018. Former Army general Mark Inch was appointed to the position in 2017, but he only lasted nine months before stepping down. He was reportedly caught in a power struggle between former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, who is also the president’s son-in-law.

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Five years after Officer Daniel Pantaleo killed Eric Garner, the New York Police Department (NYPD) has fired him.

In 2014, Pantaleo was part of a group that attempted to arrest Garner, who they suspected of selling individual untaxed cigarettes. In the ensuing confrontation, which was captured on video, Pantaleo put Garner in a chokehold. Garner told the officers repeatedly that he was unable to breathe. They ignored his pleas, and he died. Garner has since become a symbol of the movement against police brutality.

An internal disciplinary hearing followed, and The New York Times obtained and released its results yesterday. In the report, Deputy Commissioner of Trials Rosemarie Maldonado writes that while she does not believe that Pantaleo intended to choke Garner, the autopsy results, the video, and Pantaleo’s own interviews led her to conclude that he used the prohibited move. Maldonado also called Pantaleo “untruthful” about his behavior. “I found [Pantaleo] to be disingenuous when he viewed the video and denied using a chokehold,” she wrote.

Maldonado found Pantaleo guilty of recklessly causing physical injury and not guilty of strangulation with intent to impede breathing. She recommended Pantaleo’s dismissal, and NYPD Commissioner James P. O’Neill announced today that Pantaleo is being fired.

“While this is some measure of long-overdue relief, we have a long way to go to achieve true police accountability,” Donna Lieberman, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New York, said in a statement. “The NYPD must take further steps to rebuild trust between officers and the communities they serve, put an end to police brutality against communities of color, and ensure what happened to Eric Garner will never happen again.”

Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Police Benevolent Association of the City of New York, responded to the decision by accusing O’Neill of choosing “politics and his own self-interest” over the interests of NYPD officers. He continued: “Now it is time for every police officer in this city to make their own choice. We are urging all New York City police officers to proceed with the utmost caution in this new reality, in which they may be deemed ‘reckless’ just for doing their job.”

Garner’s daughter, Emerald Garner, thanked O’Neill for “doing the right thing”:

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2019-08-19 19:24:13

Only half of all Americans now have a positive view of colleges and universities, according to a new survey from Pew Research. The number of people who take a negative view has increased from 26 percent in 2012 to 38 percent in 2019.

The change largely reflects a growing dissatisfaction on the right with the culture of college campuses. The percentage of Republicans who see value in higher education has collapsed in recent years, from 53 percent in 2012 to just 23 percent in 2019.

According to Pew:

Roughly eight-in-ten Republicans (79%) say professors bringing their political and social views into the classroom is a major reason why the higher education system is headed in the wrong direction (only 17% of Democrats say the same). And three-quarters of Republicans (vs. 31% of Democrats) point to too much concern about protecting students from views they might find offensive as a major reason for their views. In addition, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say students not getting the skills they need to succeed in the workplace is a major reason why the higher education system is headed in the wrong direction (73% vs. 56%).

Democrats who take a negative view of higher ed are most likely to cite rising costs as the issue.

I do not think “professors bringer their political and social views into the classroom” is a significant issue, or even necessarily a bad thing: Professors should feel free to express their opinions, even if these opinions are controversial or make some students uncomfortable. And while the ideological composition of academia is heavily tilted toward progressivism, there’s little evidence that progressive professors tend to be biased against non-progressive students.

Those concerns aside, the issues being raised by both Republican and Democratic survey respondents are valid. It’s reasonable to question a system that takes young people out of the workforce at a pivotal time in their lives, saddles them with tons of debt, obliges them to learn a bunch of things they are likely to forget, gives them delusional ideas about the degree of protection from harmful speech to which they are entitled, and then churns out graduates who are overqualified for the jobs they find.

Higher-education leaders need to be cognizant of the public’s concerns. The majority of people—Republicans and Democrats; whites, blacks, Asians, and Hispanics—do not believe race should be a factor in admissions decisions, and yet some of the most elite institutional educations in the country have defiantly maintained such a practice.

Colleges and universities are not the only major institution suffering a crisis of public confidence, of course: Pew also found that Americans increasingly take a negative view of tech companies, churches, and the media. (Banks and labor unions, on the other hand, are enjoying a relative resurgence in popularity.)

“The partisan gaps underlying these views are reflective of our politics more broadly,” writes Pew. “But views on the nation’s educational institutions have not traditionally been politicized. Higher education faces a host of challenges in the future—controlling costs amid increased fiscal pressures, ensuring that graduates are prepared for the jobs of the future, adapting to changing technology and responding to the country’s changing demographics. Ideological battles waged over the climate and culture on college campuses may make addressing these broader issues more difficult.”

Pew writes as if these “ideological” concerns are entirely unfounded. This seems wrong to me. I’ll turn again to Harvard, which recently removed a law professor as faculty dean because some leftist students decided his principled defense of Harvey Weinstein’s right to effective legal counsel would make the campus an unsafe place. The ACLU accused Harvard of “sacrificing principles central to our legal system.”

Disciplining Sullivan was an extremely bad decision. If it prompted some number of Americans to take an increasingly view of negative higher education—citing concerns that administrators are coddling students and failing to prepare them for real life—could you really blame them?

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2019-08-19 17:00:03

Health says the recent hospitalization of about two dozen people in the Midwest who had breathing problems after vaping shows “why e-cigarettes are so dangerous.” Since we don’t know what these patients were vaping or whether it was actually the cause of their symptoms, that conclusion is quite a leap.

So far 15 cases have been reported in Wisconsin, at least six in Illinois, and at least four in Minnesota. In addition to shortness of breath, the patients’ symptoms have included coughing, fever, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, dizziness, and chest pain. “It’s unclear exactly what the patients—many of whom are young adults—had been inhaling or what type of devices they were using,” NBC News reports. “Nor do doctors know where they had purchased the devices or e-liquids.” The New York Times notes that “officials are not yet clear whether vaping caused the injuries, and if so, what ingredient in the e-cigarette or vaping systems was responsible.”

The assumption that vaping caused the breathing problems seems to be based on little more than supposition. “We are continuing to interview patients so we can identify a possible cause,” Andrea Palm, secretary-designee of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, said in a press release. “All patients reported vaping prior to their hospitalization, but we don’t know all the products they used at this time. The products used could include a number of substances, including nicotine, THC, synthetic cannabinoids, or a combination of these.”

Emily Chapman, the chief medical officer for Children’s Minnesota, a pediatric health system based in Minneapolis, told NBC, “We know there are certain characteristics in common with these cases, but we have not been able to get to the bottom of exactly what aspect of the vaping habit or product or solvent or oil is causing the injury.” David Gummin, the medical director of the Wisconsin Poison Center, likewise told the Times: “We don’t yet know the causative agent. We have no leads pointing to a specific substance other than those that are associated with smoking or vaping.”

The Times says “one hypothesis” is that “the teenagers had purchased a nicotine or cannabis-derived vaping product that had been used once, and then refilled with dangerous substances that would be hard to detect.” The paper notes that “patients reported using open-tank systems and devices with interchangeable cartridges,” meaning they were not necessarily using commercially produced e-liquids.

At least some of the patients were vaping not nicotine but a cannabis extract, or what they thought was a cannabis extract. “People will buy them from the states where it is legal and they’ll bring them back to states such as Wisconsin where it’s not legal,” the brother of one patient told NBC. “You don’t know if you’re buying something from a middleman that picked it up from a dispensary or if you’re buying it from somebody who has tampered with it and made their own mixture. You literally don’t know what you’re inhaling into your body.”

In this context, linking these cases to Juul, the leading e-cigarette company, seems like a non sequitur. Yet that is what both NBC and the Times did, citing a 2018 study that found some flavoring agents used in e-cigarettes, when mixed with solvents, produce acetyl compounds that can irritate the lungs. It’s not clear what that has to do with breathing problems people experience after vaping black-market cannabis extracts or synthetic cannabinoids.

“There are still many unanswered questions, but the health harms emerging from the current epidemic of youth vaping in Minnesota continue to increase,” Ruth Lynfield, medical director at the Minnesota Department of Health, said in a press release. Since the “unanswered questions” include which products the patients used and what drugs they delivered, tying these cases to the “epidemic of youth vaping,” a phrase associated with the use of commercially produced nicotine delivery devices such as Juul, makes little sense.

Lynfield added that “we are encouraging providers and parents to be on the look-out for vaping as a cause for unexplained breathing problems and lung injury and disease,” which pretty much guarantees that we will hear about more cases supposedly caused by e-cigarettes. “Could it be that these particular patients were smoking something in common?” Christy Sadreameli, a pediatric pulmonologist at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, said in an interview with NBC News. “Definitely possible. It’s also possible that as clusters become evident to physicians, we start to look out for things more.”

In other words, once people hear that “vaping”—of what exactly, we’re not sure—causes breathing problems, they are more likely to attribute breathing problems to vaping, reinforcing the impression that a causal relationship has been established, which in turn encourages more such reports, and so on. Even when symptoms actually are related to vaping, the specific agent and causal mechanism, which may differ from case to case, are lost in a sea of anecdotes. Without that information, blaming these cases on “vaping” in general, implying that all forms of it are equally dangerous, is about as helpful as blaming food poisoning on eating.

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