“Big Brother is finally here” — starting in Baltimore


Bloomberg Businessweek

cSince January, police have been testing an aerial surveillance system adapted from the surge in Iraq. And they neglected to tell the public.

The sky over the Circuit Court for Baltimore City on June 23 was the color of a dull nickel, and a broad deck of lowering clouds threatened rain. A couple dozen people with signs—“Justice 4 Freddie Gray”…lingered by the corner of the courthouse, watching the network TV crews rehearse their standups. Sheriff’s officers in bulletproof vests clustered around the building’s doors, gripping clubs with both hands.

Inside, a judge was delivering the verdict in the case of Caesar Goodson, the only Baltimore police officer facing a murder charge for the death of Freddie Gray…

The verdict trickled out of the courthouse in text messages: not guilty, all counts. Ralph Pritchett Sr…stood on the sidewalk among the protesters…In a city with more than 700 street-level police cameras, he wondered, shouldn’t the authorities have had video of Gray’s ride?

“This whole city is under a siege of cameras,” said Pritchett…

Pritchett had no idea that as he spoke, a small Cessna airplane equipped with a sophisticated array of cameras was circling Baltimore at roughly the same altitude as the massing clouds. The plane’s wide-angle cameras captured an area of roughly 30 square miles and continuously transmitted real-time images to analysts on the ground. The footage from the plane was instantly archived and stored on massive hard drives, allowing analysts to review it weeks later if necessary.

Since the beginning of the year, the Baltimore Police Department had been using the plane to investigate all sorts of crimes, from property thefts to shootings. The Cessna sometimes flew above the city for as many as 10 hours a day, and the public had no idea it was there.

A company called Persistent Surveillance Systems, based in Dayton, Ohio, provided the service to the police, and the funding came from a private donor. No public disclosure of the program had ever been made…

A half block from the city’s central police station, in a spare office suite above a parking garage, Ross McNutt, the founder of Persistent Surveillance Systems, monitored the city’s reaction to the Goodson verdict by staring at a bank of computer monitors…

McNutt is an Air Force Academy graduate, physicist, and MIT-trained astronautical engineer who in 2004 founded the Air Force’s Center for Rapid Product Development. The Pentagon asked him if he could develop something to figure out who was planting the roadside bombs that were killing and maiming American soldiers in Iraq. In 2006 he gave the military Angel Fire, a wide-area, live-feed surveillance system that could cast an unblinking eye on an entire city…

McNutt retired from the military in 2007 and modified the technology for commercial development…

Almost everything about the surveillance program feels hush-hush; the city hasn’t yet acknowledged its existence, and the police department declined requests for interviews about the program…

McNutt says he’s sure his system can withstand a public unveiling and that the more people know about what his cameras can—and can’t—do, the fewer worries they’ll have. But the police ultimately decide who and what should be tracked. In a city that’s struggled to convince residents that its police can be trusted, the arguments are now Baltimore’s to make.

RTFA. It’s long and detailed. It makes the case for tracking down and arresting lawbreakers. The police love it. Every law-abiding citizen should love it.

How far do you trust police and politicians to go with the technology?

I have no more problem with this than I do with public CCTV. Identified as such. However, the regulation and oversight of this tech – like any other means of spying on the bad guys – must include protection for ordinary citizens within constitutional boundaries. Of course.

Life expectancy vs. health expenditure in the Greatest Land on Earth – or so we are told


Click to enlargeThe visual capitalist

Understand and appreciate one thing: our politicians, liberal, conservative and populist nutball all prate about the wonders of American-style capitalism. When, frankly, there’s a lot going on where we suck. On the largest scale – being the leading economy no matter the decay – means that we can bring down most of the world when we get caught out as in the recent Great Recession. The inanities of reactionary and racist history dear to the hearts of the class warriors running the show distort every aspect of our lives – from the dream of equal opportunity to classifying healthcare as a privilege not a right.

Our healthcare system and crap results are an outlier on the face of global political economy. Someday, somehow, the broad populace of this nation will wake up, stand up and shake off this foolishness and the pimps selling it to us.

Thanks, Barry Ritholtz

Children forced to be their own attorneys in immigration courts

After a long, scary trek through three countries to escape the gang violence in El Salvador, a 15-year-old boy found himself scared again a few months back, this time in a federal immigration court here. There was an immigration judge in front of him and a federal prosecutor to his right. But there was no one helping him understand the charges against him.

“I was afraid I was going to make a mistake,” the boy said in Spanish from his uncle’s living room, in a modest cinder-block house on the south side of this city. “When the judge asked me questions, I just shook my head yes and no. I didn’t want to say the wrong thing.”

Every week in immigration courts around the country, thousands of children act as their own lawyers, pleading for asylum or other type of relief in a legal system they do not understand.

Suspected killers, kidnappers and others facing federal felony charges, no matter their ages, are entitled to court-appointed lawyers if they cannot afford them. But children accused of violating immigration laws, a civil offense, do not have the same right. Immigration court is, in fact, the only court in the United States where the government has no obligation to provide lawyers for poor children and adults, legal experts say…

Having a lawyer makes a difference. Between October 2004 and June of this year, more than half the children who did not have lawyers were deported. Only one in 10 children who had legal representation were sent back…

Ever get a chance, ask the Deportment of so-called Justice why they insist on defending regulations promulgated by pimp politicians instead of working for justice for the needy?

Ask one of your elected representatives in Congress. You may have to explain the question.