Category: Law

Microsoft campus defended by autonomous robot guards


look, mom – a new kind of Dalek

With proprietary secrets and employees to protect, Microsoft turns to special robot guards to keep its Silicon Valley campus safe…

While it sounds high-tech and interesting, these drones are not reminiscent of RoboCop. They are five feet tall and weigh 300 pounds. Equipment includes cameras, sensors, alarms, and rudimentary artificial intelligence, but no weapons. Their primary function is to patrol large areas like parking lots and alert human security guards to any danger or intrusion.

The system was built and designed by Knightscope, a company located in Mountain View, California. Knightscope markets the robots as data machines that demand to be noticed and yet offer a non-intimidating presence. The company kept the robots in development for several years as engineers perfected a discerning camera.

The resulting high-definition cameras read license plates and distinguish between a harmless employee gathering and something sinister, like an attempted break-in. Other specific equipment includes microphones, weather sensors, loud alarms, and Wi-Fi connectivity to alert human security enforcement. In addition to scanning for intruders, the robots can detect explosives, possible natural disasters, and other emergencies…

As of now, Microsoft has five drones monitoring the campus. Once aware of a possible disturbance, the K5 will either sound its alarm or contact a human. If people attempt to mess with it, it will first sound a warning and then work up to a piercing alarm if the behavior continues…

Purchasing the robots is a cost-savings venture allowing Microsoft to hire fewer security guards. Competitively priced, Knightscope indicates that any company can deploy several robots and make crime prevention much easier.

Still sounds like this is a project designed to evolve into Robocop. Or Daleks.

Thanks, Mike

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Secular victory in Federal Court

A federal district court in Oregon has declared Secular Humanism a religion, paving the way for the non-theistic community to obtain the same legal rights as groups such as Christianity.

On Thursday, October 30, Senior District Judge Ancer Haggerty issued a ruling on American Humanist Association v. United States, a case that was brought by the American Humanist Association (AHA) and Jason Holden, a federal prisoner. Holden pushed for the lawsuit because he wanted Humanism — which the AHA defines as “an ethical and life-affirming philosophy free of belief in any gods and other supernatural forces” — recognized as a religion so that his prison would allow for the creation of a Humanist study group. Haggerty sided with the plaintiffs in his decision, citing existing legal precedent and arguing that denying Humanists the same rights as groups such as Christianity would be highly suspect under the Establishment Clause in the U.S. Constitution, which declares that Congress “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”

“The court finds that Secular Humanism is a religion for Establishment Clause purposes,” the ruling read.

I’m not certain a democratic nation in the 21st Century needs such tortured reasoning. But, I’ll take it.

The decision highlights the unusual position of the Humanist community, which has tried for years to obtain the same legal rights as more traditional religious groups while simultaneously rebuking the existence of a god or gods. But while some Humanists may chafe at being called a “religion,” others feel that the larger pursuit of equal rights trumps legal classifications.

RTFA for a bit more discussion. There will be lots more around the Web, certainly punctuated by whining from any of the dozens of flavors of traditional religion kept in business by their freedom from taxation.

Thanks, Mike

Arizona coppers wake up pastor at 2 AM to see if he had Ebola


Shift change for Tucson Police Department

A Tucson Pastor, Michael Petzer, who returned from Zambia in early September, was awakened by two Tucson police officers pounding on his door at 2 AM. They wanted to know if he had Ebola.

It turns out that a woman from his congregation went to the hospital with self-described “possible Ebola symptoms” and she shared with doctors that her Pastor had been to Africa.

The hospital called the cops, and TPD sent out two officers to check it out.

The officers did a welfare check on Petzer after a request from UAMC, said Sgt. Chris Widmer, a Tucson Police Department spokesman. Officials with UAMC confirmed that was true, and said they followed protocol. The hospital did not contact the Pima County Health Department.

“The only way we could figure out if it was a real contact to be concerned about was to find out the travel history. That is why the police were sent out,” said Dr. Andreas Theodorou, chief medical officer at UA Medical Center. “The health department doesn’t have the capacity to do that.”…

“When a patient comes to the ER and has a fever and West African contact, it triggers the process, and we have to take it seriously,” he said.

Well, of course Zambia is not near the infected areas of Africa, and the good pastor was well beyond the 21 day period.

“I think this is hysteria, and a zero understanding of geography,” said Petzer, explaining that Zambia is in south-central Africa, about 2,500 miles away from the affected areas in West Africa…

“I traveled from a noninfected country to one (United States) where there are people in quarantine,” Petzer said. “I think this is an issue of public ignorance and not an issue of public health. People hear Africa, and everyone thinks ‘Ebola.’ Most Americans do not have a clue that Africa is a large continent and not a country. People have to stop the hysteria of it all.”

Please mail me a penny postcard when you bump into local officials, police or ignorant bumpkins who will admit they don’t know bupkis about geography, public health or civil liberties. Especially after they screw up like this.

Yes, that obviously includes hospital administrators.

IRS seizes accounts on suspicion, no crime required

For almost 40 years, Carole Hinders has dished out Mexican specialties at her modest cash-only restaurant. For just as long, she deposited the earnings at a small bank branch a block away — until last year, when two tax agents knocked on her door and informed her that they had seized her checking account, almost $33,000.

The Internal Revenue Service agents did not accuse Ms. Hinders of money laundering or cheating on her taxes — in fact, she has not been charged with any crime. Instead, the money was seized solely because she had deposited less than $10,000 at a time, which they viewed as an attempt to avoid triggering a required government report.

“How can this happen?” Ms. Hinders said in a recent interview. “Who takes your money before they prove that you’ve done anything wrong with it?”

The federal government does.

Using a law designed to catch drug traffickers, racketeers and terrorists by tracking their cash, the government has gone after run-of-the-mill business owners and wage earners without so much as an allegation that they have committed serious crimes. The government can take the money without ever filing a criminal complaint, and the owners are left to prove they are innocent. Many give up…

“They’re going after people who are really not criminals,” said David Smith, a former federal prosecutor who is now a forfeiture expert and lawyer in Virginia. “They’re middle-class citizens who have never had any trouble with the law.”

On Thursday, in response to questions from The New York Times, the I.R.S. announced that it would curtail the practice, focusing instead on cases where the money is believed to have been acquired illegally or seizure is deemed justified by “exceptional circumstances…”

The new policy will not apply to past seizures.

RTFA. Contemptible policies made all the worse by their spread throughout our government. The NSA and FBI meet the same lowlife standard. Not that they’re copycats. They’re just behaving like the rest of the phony/law enforcement/foreign legion scumbags in our government. Regal, self-serving hypocrites.

Like so many police agencies in American government, they’re above the law.

Thanks, Mike

Where do you get the seeds to start a legal [in your state] pot business?

As more states legalize medical marijuana, there’s one stage in the process nobody wants to talk about: the part where people still have to break the law.

After growers obtain licenses, plan for security and build facilities, they then must obtain their first seeds or cuttings — while regulators turn a blind eye…

The situation is known as the “immaculate conception” or the “first seed” problem. Those involved see it as an absurd consequence of the nation’s patchwork of laws, with 23 states allowing medical marijuana sales, Colorado and Washington state allowing recreational use and a federal prohibition in place.

While marijuana may not be hard to find, getting the first seeds for medical operations often involves either descending into the underground market or crossing state lines — a violation of state and federal laws.

One Colorado grower, Toni Fox, says she ordered her first seeds for a medical crop five years ago from advertisers in High Times magazine. If they showed up at all, they came hidden in packages with T-shirts and coffee mugs…

Most state laws are silent on the issue, forcing officials into a “don’t ask, don’t tell” stance. In Washington state, growers have a 15-day, no-questions-asked period during which they can bring non-flowering plants into their operation, which must then be bar-coded and registered.

The result of both citizens and government in this land willing to accept fear of science as a standard, irrational and contradictory law as a replacement for responsible government. Between States Rights, bible-thumping political campaigns, legislative bodies composed of cowards and con artists – we’re all screwed.

And, of course, some folks think that’s pre-ordained and OK.

Malaysia investigates public dog petting

I want to touch a dog
No one was struck down by lightning

Islamic authorities in Malaysia are conducting an investigation into a controversial “dog patting” event aimed at removing the stigma regarding the animal in the multi-ethnic Muslim-majority country.

The event, titled “I want to touch a dog” and held in a park on the outskirts of the capital Kuala Lumpur on Sunday, encouraged patting dogs, widely considered to be unclean in Islam, and reportedly drew hundreds of Muslims, raising the ire of religious leaders.

Islamic authorities said they would investigate the event, while a Muslim leader, Nooh Gadut, said it was an attempt to insult clerics…

The organiser, Syed Azmi Alhabshi, who is a Muslim, had said his intention was to help people overcome their fear of dogs and promote compassion towards animals.

Many Malaysians posted positive comments about the event on social media…

Muslims who took part in the event last Sunday performed in a special washing ritual at the end of the event.

The Southeast Asian country generally practises a moderate brand of Islam, but conservative views have gained increasing traction in recent years, with minorities complaining of what they see as Islamisation.

Theocracy is bad enough – in and of itself. It allows no respect for freedom of thought. In particular, the freedom to be perfectly satisfied with material reality as the foundation for philosophy, politics, economics and social life. Education eventually restricts superstition to the ignorant.

Malaysia is joining other nations like Turkey, run by hypocrites, saying one thing about liberty for citizens while gradually imposing theocracy. No more desirable in Asia than in the United States. Fundamentalists of one flavor or another always seem to think they have a cellphone connection with whichever deity they think makes them special – and the rest of us folk should just sit back and obey.

The sillier aspects of most are as concerned with food and pets as they are about stopping equal opportunities for human beings. They deserve opposition – especially from believers who want to bring their beliefs more in line with the time we live in – rather than in the distant past.

What motivates Texas’ voter ID law? Supreme Court Justice says — racism

As one might expect, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had no difficulty putting her finger on the point of Texas’ voter ID law: it’s openly racist.

Ginsburg’s colleagues voted 6-3 to allow the Texas law to remain in effect for the upcoming election. But as she observed in a scathing dissent issued Saturday, the measure may prevent more than 600,000 registered voters, or 4.5% of the total, from voting in person for lack of accepted identification. “A sharply disproportionate percentage of those voters are African-American or Hispanic,” she wrote.

The law’s intent is “purposely discriminatory,” Ginsburg concluded. Citing the U.S. District Court ruling that declared the Texas law unconstitutional, she observed that since 2000, Texas has become a majority-minority state. That gave its Legislature and governor “an evident motive to ‘gain partisan advantage by suppressing'” the votes of blacks and Latinos.

Is there any better testament to the bankruptcy of Republican political ideas than the party’s consistent effort to win elections by limiting the vote?…

Like all the Republican-governed states using this ploy to stop folks from voting, Texas turned up two cases that it to court. Time and again these states waste taxpayer dollar$ trying to prove their patent-leather lies.

Here in New Mexico, our Republican Secretary of state wasted hundreds of thousands of dollar$ trying to prove “widespread fraud” as preamble to forcing a law as criminal as the Texas variety. At the end she found a dozen people improperly registered and a couple who thought they were supposed to vote. And tried. And were turned away.

End of story. Meanwhile, crooks masquerading as constitutional experts run this crap through the Supreme Court as progress because right-wing bigots say we are a post-racial society. I would gladly start believing in some sillyass deity if these turds were struck by lightning for their lies.

Thanks, Mike

IRS can seize your bank account on suspicion – no crime required

For almost 40 years, Carole Hinders has dished out Mexican specialties at her modest cash-only restaurant. For just as long, she deposited the earnings at a small bank branch a block away — until last year, when two tax agents knocked on her door and informed her that they had seized her checking account, almost $33,000.

The Internal Revenue Service agents did not accuse Ms. Hinders of money laundering or cheating on her taxes — in fact, she has not been charged with any crime. Instead, the money was seized solely because she had deposited less than $10,000 at a time, which they viewed as an attempt to avoid triggering a required government report.

“How can this happen?” Ms. Hinders said in a recent interview. “Who takes your money before they prove that you’ve done anything wrong with it?”

The federal government does.

Using a law designed to catch drug traffickers, racketeers and terrorists by tracking their cash, the government has gone after run-of-the-mill business owners and wage earners without so much as an allegation that they have committed serious crimes. The government can take the money without ever filing a criminal complaint, and the owners are left to prove they are innocent. Many give up.

“They’re going after people who are really not criminals,” said David Smith, a former federal prosecutor who is now a forfeiture expert and lawyer in Virginia. “They’re middle-class citizens who have never had any trouble with the law.”

…In response to questions from The New York Times, the I.R.S. announced that it would curtail the practice, focusing instead on cases where the money is believed to have been acquired illegally or seizure is deemed justified by “exceptional circumstances…”

The new policy will not apply to past seizures.

As much as folks shout about the criminal abuse of the so-called Patriot act, as much as any sensible American has nothing but contempt for unconstitutional star chamber policies from the NSA, CIA – understand that the IRS has been doing this for years.

RTFA for beaucoup examples. Consider trying to wake up your Congress-critter from whichever bed they’re sleeping in, tonight – and suggest they do something principled about the unprincipled behavior they have allowed. Believe me. They already know about it.

Thanks, Mike

Civil Rights continue to grow – Republicans continue to fail


Marriage freedom selfies, a new day in Idaho, NevadaJIM URQUHART/REUTERS

Legal momentum for extending U.S. marriage rights to same-sex couples accelerated on Tuesday as a federal appeals court struck down bans on gay matrimony in Idaho and Nevada a day after the U.S. Supreme Court let stand similar rulings for five other states.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled the bans in Idaho and Nevada violated the constitution and cannot be enforced, adding to a growing list of states where same-sex unions are now legal.

The 9th Circuit move puts the United States on track for legal gay marriage in 35 states, as rulings by the court are binding on all states in its region including three others that do not permit gay marriage, Arizona, Montana and Alaska…

Nevada’s Republican governor, Brian Sandoval, whose state withdrew its opposition to gay marriage earlier this year, said he respected the ruling, and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada welcomed it warmly…

By contrast, Idaho Republican Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter said blah, blah, blah…

County clerks’ offices in big cities in Idaho and Nevada said they were reviewing the ruling and waiting for formal direction before issuing licenses.

Diana Alba, clerk of Nevada’s Clark County, said her office had been preparing for weeks, including changing the forms for marriage licenses so they use gender-neutral pronouns, employing “party one” and “party two” instead of “bride” and “groom.”

When we get the green light, we’re ready,” Alba said…

Click the link above to read the complete article. It finishes with a state-by-state update on further challenges to the last few states dragging their feet. Still afraid to enter the 21st Century.

Republican commitment to Christian sharia law illustrates what a dead end that party has become. They haven’t a conservative viewpoint to offer. They only whine “NO”, beat their holier-than-thou bosoms and hope there are enough old white folks left to keep them in office – picking plums off the tree of corporate lobbyists.

In this occasional land of the free, there are plenty of old white folks like me who were willing to stand up for our Black brothers and sisters in the 1950’s. We’re still here and perfectly able to smack Democrats on the butt to get them to join up with progressive women, minorities, young people. Speak out, march to the polls and shove foot-dragging bigots out of the way.

It may not be quick enough to satisfy this short time each of us has to tread on this Earth – but, the need for freedom shall prevail.

UPDATE: Idaho governor apparently whined loud and hard enough to nudge Justice Kennedy into ordering a temporary stay of the order allowing same-sex marriages. Shouldn’t be long before the appellate court can review the plea. Sanity will return.

Time is running out on Freedom Act — with luck, the phony Patriot Act as well

As the clock ticks down on the 113th Congress, time is running out for the USA Freedom Act, the first legislative attempt at reining in the National Security Agency during the 9/11 era. Unless the Senate passes the stalled bill in the brief session following November’s midterm elections, the NSA will keep all of its existing powers to collect US phone records in bulk, despite support for the bill from the White House, the House of Representatives and, formally, the NSA itself.

But supporters of the Freedom Act are warning that the intelligence agencies and their congressional allies will find the reform bill’s legislative death to be a cold comfort.

On 1 June 2015, Section 215 of the Patriot Act will expire. The loss of Section 215 will deprive the NSA of the legal pretext for its bulk domestic phone records dragnet. But it will cut deeper than that: the Federal Bureau of Investigation will lose its controversial post-9/11 powers to obtain vast amounts of business records relevant to terrorism or espionage investigations. Those are investigative authorities the USA Freedom Act leaves largely untouched.

Section 215’s demise can happen through sheer incompetence, a feature – not a bug – of a House of Representatives controlled by Do-Nothing Republicans.

“Senators obstructing passage of the USA Freedom Act risk losing Section 215 altogether,” Congressman James Sensenbrenner, the Wisconsin Republican and Freedom Act co-author – Chief NSA butt-kisser

The FBI has for years argued that its Section 215 powers, which permit the bureau to collect “any tangible thing” relevant to a terrorism or espionage investigation at standards lower than probable cause, are critical for protecting the US against shadowy threats.

If the USA Freedom Act, already criticised as an insufficient reform, cannot be passed, “falling back to the fourth amendment is not a bad outcome,” Democrat Zoe Lofgren said…

Lawyer-think argues the provisions allowing a touch of habeus corpus before the FISA Court, the kangaroo court that pays lip-service to diminishing constitutional rights, will be lost. In practice, they generate nothing more than set decoration for the rule of government police.

Do I hold any hope for papier-mache reform? I doubt even that bit of play-acting will happen until after the mid-term elections. I do not expect any success at returning to standards of constitutional government until and unless a Progressive backbone can be rebuilt inside the Democrat Party. The Republican Party remains as it has since neo-cons took it over in the run for George W Bush’s first campaign. Their amalgamation with America’s racist and reactionary underbelly is complete.