“MINORITY REPORT” now fact, not fiction — in New York City

world police

In Philip K. Dick’s “Minority Report,” the authoritarian system in place to predict crime and catch individuals before they commit crimes is dystopian fantasy. In the mind of New York Police Department Commissioner Bill Bratton, this story is part of today’s reality, one the NYPD is fueling through experiments with predictive policing.

Bratton participated in a panel hosted by The New York Times, which was called, “Data Mining the Modern City.” During the panel, Bratton referred to the film adaptation directed by Steven Spielberg. “The ‘Minority Report’ of 2002 is the reality of today.”

The commissioner called predictive policing the next phase of American policing, which the NYPD will be a leader in implementing through the data mining of “huge amounts of information” and the development of “algorithms that will effectively mine that data in a way that the human brain cannot.”…

As journalist Raven Rakia explained in Medium on July 22, “Using past crime data to justify occupying specific neighborhoods with police officers, the system simply tracks past arrests of minor property offenses and contributes nothing to predicting or preventing violent crimes such as murder. These surveillance tools help make broken windows policing easier to implement in poor neighborhoods, but won’t actually make the community any safer.”

First introduced by George Killing and James Q. Wilson in an essay in The Atlantic in 1982, Bratton developed broken windows policing too. It is the theory that crackdowns on petty crime will prevent increases in violent crimes in a neighborhood.

One key problem, as Rakia has described, is that it treats human beings as property…

Given the racism underlying the theory of broken windows policing, it is impossible not to fear that predictive policing is driven by a similar set of prejudice. However, Bratton is not one bit concerned about the NYPD abusing its authority in a prejudicial and intrusive manner. In fact, during the panel, he bluntly stated, “There are no secrets.”

“If two people share a piece of information, it is no longer a secret,” Bratton suggested. “And whether you want that second person to know that information or not, the likelihood is that they are going to get it.”

Such statements represent a flippant attitude toward the right to privacy and toward communities disproportionately impacted by policing…

In other words, the data used to predict crimes reflects the priorities of a police department. It also means some areas of a city become occupied territories where police conduct intense patrols while other areas are ignored by police.

How officers decide what streams of data are reliable inherently depends on the set of prejudices with which officers carry out their day-to-day policing of neighborhoods. With those prejudices, predictive policing becomes an authoritarian system for treating citizens like potential insurgents, who could threaten the stability of a military occupation.

And this is how our imperial government treats the rest of the world. Just as the Brits did in their day as “cops of the world” – treating Gandhi as a gang leader who needed to be suppressed for “the good of the whole world”.

The stellar example for me is the obedient agitprop we are fed every day about Cyber Espionage. Usually China, but, often Russia, any former Eastern European nation with a tech industry – all the way down to script kiddies in mom’s basement in California – are rolled out into cookie cutter news releases as the greatest danger to commerce and privacy. All while we live in the belly of the beast which has dedicated more funds and troops to cyber-spying than any other in the history of the world.

It was Ronald Reagan who dedicated the leadership of spying on the citizens of the world to the NSA. Every president since has increased budgets, expanded the mandate to include every citizen of every nation. Just like Bill Bratton, our loss of freedom and privacy is justified by “protecting our privacy and freedom”.

Hypocrites and liars all.

Thanks, Om

Who can sort out your online world after you shuffle off this mortal coil?

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Facebook…has finally decided how to handle the photos and friend requests of its deceased users. In Facebook’s settings, people can now appoint a friend or family member to be in charge of their legacy. The person gets to make one last public post, download all their loved one’s Facebook photos, and respond to friend requests.

The decision was applauded by estate planners—especially because it gets around the issue of needing a password to get into people’s accounts. Yet it doesn’t solve all the problems around online information after death.

For example, what happens if a user dies, and family members want to see private messages to get clues about whether it was a suicide? Using their password to get into the account, which is banned by Facebook’s terms of service, would violate federal privacy laws, says James Lamm, a principal at a Minnesota firm in charge of estate planning. Appointing a legacy account handler on Facebook also isn’t legally binding and doesn’t transfer any of the intellectual property on videos or poetry the person may have posted, he said.

For attorneys such as Lamm…the infrastructure of the digital world has created countless barriers for clients seeking to access bank accounts, find answers surrounding a death, or simply collect all the memories they can about the person they lost. Passwords, terms of service, encryption, and cloud storage all complicate the search for information required after a death.

Inconsistency – therefore uncertaincy – remains through the breadth of online providers. The article goes on to note a few and makes suggestions. My own unqualified advice is to sort out reponsibility, administrative rights, by assigning someone the rights to your intellectual property just as you would with real property.

It’s a new world; so, a new set of questions has to be answered. As usual in our society, the questions become pointed when dealing with something of value.

Arizona Forestry Division cared more for property values than safety of firefighters who died

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A state safety agency recommended fines totaling $559,000 against the state’s Forestry Division on Wednesday, saying the agency wrongly put the protection of “structures and pastureland” ahead of the safety of firefighters battling a wildfire in Central Arizona last summer, including 19 who died while trapped by the flames on a mountain.

The report said the forestry division kept the firefighters on the mountains even after commanders realized they could not control the flames burning through parched, thick chaparral along the western edge of the old gold-mining village of Yarnell, 80 miles northwest of Phoenix

In a report, inspectors for the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health said the actions resulted in “multiple instances of firefighters being unnecessarily and unreasonably exposed to the deadly hazards of wildland firefighting.”

The report…also faulted the team running firefighting operations on June 30, when the 19 firefighters died, for being understaffed…

…The report cited several additional problems. Members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots — the 19 who died and their lookout, Brendan McDonough, who escaped — were tired, having just returned from fighting two fires. The report indicated that exhaustion could have affected their judgment.

Brave, brave firefighters, well remembered in New Mexico. The fires they had just returned from fighting – before this tragedy – were here. They did themselves proud.

No, you can’t say the same about Arizona bureaucrats who considered them expendable.

Italy starts taxing Catholic Church — when will the US?

Italy’s Catholic Church will be forced to pay taxes starting in 2013 after the EU pressured the country’s government to pass a controversial law stripping the Church of its historic property tax exemption.

The Catholic Church in Italy is excluded from paying taxes on its land if at least a part of a Church property is used non-commercially – for instance, a chapel in a bed-and-breakfast. “The regulatory framework will be definite by January 1, 2013 – the start of the fiscal year – and will fully respect the [European] Community law,” Italian premier Mario Monti’s government said in a statement…

The move could net Italy revenues of 500 million to 2 billion euros annually across the country, municipal government associations said. The extra income from previously exempt properties in Rome alone – including hotels, restaurants and sports centres – could reach 25.5 million euros a year…

The measure came after the country’s leadership decided in February to alter Italy’s property tax code, ending the Church’s longstanding privileges due to the severe debt crisis.

Last December, after new austerity measures were adopted in the country, 130,000 Italians signed an online petition urging the government to strip the Church of its tax exemption.

“It was time that they paid, too, with all the exemptions they’ve had throughout the years,” Marco Catalano, a 35-year-old shopkeeper in Rome, told the New York Times in February, adding that he goes to church twice a month. “They own the most beautiful buildings in downtown Rome, on Italian soil, and rent them out at market prices…

Overdue. Not only in Italy. Not only regarding the Catholic Church.

Living in a nation with a constitution requiring separation of church and state, it is truly absurd that we still don’t collect property taxes, business taxes on the money-making, profit-generating properties owned by religious institutions.

Woman wins court case against ex-husband – her lawyer plans to foreclose on her home for payment!

A B.C. woman stands to lose her home to her lawyer, who is moving to foreclose on her to pay his six-figure bill.

“My friends and family say this can’t be happening. There’s got to be a mistake,” Dale Fotsch said.

Fotsch got into the predicament after being sued by her former common-law husband, even though she won the case and the court ordered him to pay her costs…”I won, but I lost,” Fotsch said…

A decade ago, her common law ex-husband Leigh Wilson went after Fotsch, trying to get a piece of her property after their breakup. The case took nine years to resolve, which was years longer than her lawyer had predicted, she said.

“There was a three-week trial – three weeks! For my little place in the country. I mean, it just seems a little overboard and ridiculous,” Fotsch said. “There were three tables of binders, with papers stacked sky high.”

She said she had already paid thousands in legal fees when the case finally went to trial in 2007. As it advanced, her lawyer said he wouldn’t continue unless she allowed him to secure a $100,000 mortgage against her property, at 18 per cent interest per year.

Vancouver divorce lawyer Jonas Dubas charges $300 an hour. His invoices to Fotsch include charges like $148.40 to simply call another lawyer and leave a voicemail message…

When she finally won, in 2010, the B.C. Court of Appeal ordered Fotsch’s former husband to pay her court costs. That would have covered at least part of her bill from Dubas — which, by then, had reached $90,000.

“When they said he was responsible for the costs, I thought that meant that he was going to pay them,” Fotsch said.

However, her ex-husband has since declared bankruptcy, so he hasn’t paid and she can’t force him to. Meanwhile, her legal bill has mushroomed — with $88 a day in interest charges — and has now reached $180,000…

I’ve gone to court like they told me I had to, to save my place. And now the very person that I got to help me is taking it…”

I have this discussion once in a while when folks say I’m too hard on lawyers.

Look, I’ve known some great lawyers – who fit the design of folks who fight to defend the rights of ordinary citizens. Spent some great times with Bill Kuntsler and Ted Koskoff. Ted had a rule of thumb that a third of the cases he took on would end up being unpaid – for folks who could never afford the head of the National Trials Lawyers Association; but, needed a great lawyer to help them battle some sleazy corporation or rightwing police department. They were kind of folks who accepted the Bill of Rights as the mantra for their career in law.

And then there are grasping, greedy and unprincipled types who don’t care whether or not they give their clients timely service at honest rates. Which kind do you think represents the majority?

You don’t even have to count in the lawyers in Congress.

Irish may try to tempt millionaires with visa bonds

Ireland plans to sell a bond with a different kind of coupon: a resident’s visa.

Under proposals to be laid out next month, the government will offer the visas to investors who spend at least 2 million euros on a new “low-interest” security, 1 million euros on property or invest in an Irish company. The sale is aimed at people from outside the European Union who need permits to live and work in the 27-member bloc.

“You might have businesspeople in China or in Brazil or in various non-EU countries who would like to be entitled to come and reside here,” Irish Justice Minister Alan Shatter said in an interview in Dublin. “The scheme has great potential.”

The proposal is among the more unusual in a wave of initiatives to win investment as Ireland seeks to rebuild its economy and markets after one of the biggest banking collapses in history. The government is also offering finders’ fees for people bringing in jobs and tax breaks for executives moving to the country, one of three euro members that sought an international bailout during the European debt crisis…

Shatter has said using the inducement of residency has worked in other countries. The U.S. offers visas for investors with “substantial amounts of capital,” according to documentation of the US immigration service, while Latvia and Cyprus offer residency in exchange for real estate.

In Ireland, the program is set to encompass property ultimately controlled by the National Asset Management Agency, according to the Justice Ministry. The so-called bad bank, set up to purge Ireland’s lenders of risky loans, had more than 1,000 assets listed for sale. Visas are also available for an investment in an Irish company, a charity endowment, as well as the specially created bond.

The bond, which isn’t tradable, must be held by the visa holder for a minimum of five years.

The government hasn’t yet set the coupon, the rate of interest payable to bondholders. Buyers will be able to bring family members with them, the Justice Ministry said…

Elitist? You betcha.

Worthwhile? Probably. As long as the priorities at the core stay pinned to returning honest value to the economic heart of Eire.

Flunky or Bag Man? Indian government employee making £50 a month magically acquired millions!

An Indian government ‘peon’, on £50 a month, has been arrested on suspicion of corruption after police found he was a millionaire with a property empire and had a home laden with gold and jewels.

To the outside world, Narendra Deshmukh was a lowly ‘peon’ or local government messenger boy. For more than 30 years he was posted outside the office doors of more senior officials in Ujjain, Central India, where his job was to run errands and bring in the business cards of visiting callers.

Detectives said in 31 years of working for the Ujjain Municipal Corporation, where he had started on a salary of less than £2 a month, he had earned a total of just under £19,000.

They believe only corruption can explain the fortune they uncovered in their dawn raid this week: evidence of properties worth around £500,000, a fleet of cars and motorbikes, including an SUV, a Chevrolet Avio, a truck, two motorbikes and a scooter.

They discovered a commercial property empire, including a five hectare chicken farm, butcher’s shop, and a £200,000 chicken processing business, deposit receipts for £30,000, thousands of pounds worth of consumer electronics, jewellery worth £3,000 and twenty bank accounts they have yet to open…

Detectives now believe that while he was officially working as a peon, he had in fact been given executive duties by senior officials they suspect were involved in a wider corruption scandal.

Corruption is endemic in Indian government and it is common for even low level employees to share in the spoils from bribes paid for licences, permissions and ‘no objection certificates.’ What has surprised detectives however is the size of fortune Mr Deshmukh acquired from such a lowly position…

He was in a position in the department with no responsibility, yet he was disbursing power and acting as an executive. We have seized many official tender processing documents during the raid.

“Without the help of many officials in the department, it would not have been possible for him to amass the sum. We have seized more than 15 fixed deposit certificates in the name of the Commissioner of Ujjain municipality, which is being probed separately,” Police Superintendent Arun Misra added.

Not an unusual tale in many bureaucracies. What stands out is the size of the wealth he accumulated. Some of this may have grown from what he acquired over time – but, no investment accounts were found. Just lots of goodies.

Rabbis warn Jews not to rent or sell property to non-Jews


Mordechai Nagari, one of the signatories of the letter

A letter signed by 50 state-appointed rabbis telling Jews not to rent or sell property to non-Jews prompted widespread condemnation Tuesday from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and human rights groups. The letter warned that those who defied the religious ruling should be “ostracized.”

“In answer to many questions, we reply that it is prohibited by the Torah to sell a house or field in Israel to a gentile,” the letter reads.

The letter is to be published in religious newspapers and distributed in synagogues across the country later this week, according to the Israeli news website Ynet.

It contends that “those who sell or rent out in an area which Jews live cause great damage to his neighbors. … For their way of life is different to Jews.

A spokeswoman for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel expressed…harsh words to CNN over the letter, saying the group is horrified by the level of racism expressed.

“We are particularly troubled by the fact that most of the people who signed the letter are civil servants who work for the state as rabbis,” spokeswoman Ronit Sela said. “And we think that as civil servants they have an obligation to be servants of the entire population of Israel, which includes Arabs who live in the city.”

Nearly 1.5 million Arab residents live inside Israel, making up 23% of the population.

And, many of those Arabs are denied the right to vote in this “democratic” state.

Pic of the Day

A three-storey building in China could possibly be the world’s thinnest. At one end it measures only 0.4 metres wide, while it is three metres wide at the other.

The building in Haikou, Hainan Island was built three years ago. The government appropriated most of the land the property is built on from its owner, leaving him with only 20 square metres. The owner then built the skinny building on his remaining land as a way of protesting.

Local residents are now worried that the thin building may be blown over as Hainan Island is famous for its frequent typhoons.

Har! I hope he has it insured.

Return to Catholicism – but, you can’t take the property with you!

When the Vatican announced last week that it would welcome groups of traditionalist Anglicans into the Roman Catholic Church, leaders of one Episcopal parish celebrated as if a ship had arrived to rescue them from a drifting ice floe.

“We’d been praying for this daily for two years,” said Bishop David L. Moyer, who leads the Church of the Good Shepherd, a parish in the Main Line suburbs of Philadelphia that is battling to keep its historic property. “When I heard the news I was speechless, then the joy came and the tears.”

This parish could be one of the first in the United States to convert en masse after the Vatican completes plans for a new structure to allow Anglicans to become Catholic while retaining many of their spiritual traditions, like the Book of Common Prayer and married priests.

They will share the ideology they have in common: misogyny, homophobia, fear of science and reality, no divorce, oppose birth control, choice…

The arrangement is tailor-made for an “Anglo-Catholic” parish like this one, which has strenuously opposed the Episcopal Church over decisions like allowing women and gay people to become priests and bishops. Mass here is celebrated in the “high church” style reminiscent of traditional Catholic churches, with incense, elaborate vestments and a choir that may sing in Latin…

The Church of the Good Shepherd has long been at loggerheads with the Episcopal Church, the American branch in the global Anglican Communion. This year, the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania sued to take over the church’s building, a magnificent stone replica of a 14th-century English country parish that was built in 1894. The church’s property is estimated by its accounting warden to be worth $7 million…

Bishop Moyer acknowledged that some of his parish’s 400 members would choose to leave rather than become Catholic. Some are former Catholics who may not want to go back. Others feel loyalty to the Episcopal Church, despite the conflict…

Bishop Moyer lives in a rectory on the church’s property. He said he hopes to resolve the church’s “legal quagmire” over the building before they decide to jump to the Catholic Church.

But, then, if you decide to waste a certain portion of your life studying Catholic history, you’ll learn priests used to be married – as were Popes – and the core of the conflicts that split apart the Catholic Church was property. The more things change, the more they stay the same.