Monthly Archives: January 2008

Me and Alderman Allen

As a blogger, I get to write about whatever interests me.

One of the things that did not interest me, however, was the upcoming Democratic primary race for Cook County State’s Attorney. Until a few weeks ago, I didn’t even know that office was up for a vote (although I probably could have figured it out…). The current state’s attorney, Dick Devine, is retiring, which leaves the race wide open.

One of the candidates for that office is 38th Ward Alderman Tom Allen. Since that’s right near where I live, the Great and Mighty Geoff at Chi-Town Daily News assigned me to interview Allen for the race.

Preparing for the interview, I read a bunch of background material about the State’s Attorney’s office, the issues in this race, and what the candidates are saying, so now I know something about it all. I’d love to blog about it too, but that might give the appearance of a conflict of interest, as far as the Daily News is concerned.

So now I’m interested, but I can’t blog about it.

I’m going to have to think more carefully about that next time I get an assignment.

Here’s my interview with Alderman Tom Allen.

Update: I might as well post the full list of Chi-Town Daily News interviews with the Democratic candidates for Cook County State’s Attorney:

  • Tom Allen (38th Ward Alderman) by Mark Draughn
  • Anita Alvarez  (Chief Deputy to the Cook County State’s Attorney) by Beatrice Figueroa
  • Tommy Brewer (Defense attorney) by Natasha Eziquiel-Shriro
  • Howard Brookins Jr. (21st Ward Alderman) by Marcie Hill
  • Robert Milan (First Assistant to the Cook County State’s Attorney) by Marcie Hill
  • Larry Suffredin (Cook County Commissioner) by Tasha Clopton-Stubbs

We didn’t bother to interview the Republican candidates—no doubt because of liberal media bias—but here’s the complete list:

  • Tony Peraica (Cook County Commissioner)

Vote smart, everybody.

The Fear Card

Over at Drug WarRant, Pete writes about yet another way politicians and their minions use the fear card to get more money for government programs.

As part of his article, he includes a mock “FEAR” credit card. I liked the idea a lot, but I wanted to try making one that was even more obviously a credit card:

Fear

You might think the monster is so cheesy looking because I have no artistic talent, but really I did it that way as an ironic commentary on the banal fakery inherent to all fear-mongering. I swear.

A Cinderella Affidavit

Long before I got fascinated by legal blogs, I was fascinated by legal novels. Neither is a substitute for receiving actual instruction in the law, but both are cheaper. I’ve learned a few things.

Reading Scott Greenfield’s rant about informants reminded me of A Cinderella Affidavit by Michael Fredrickson. I’m not going to go into the details of the plot—they’re not that important and I can’t really remember them anyway—but the concept of a Cinderella Affidavit has stuck with me.

I don’t know if “Cinderella Affidavit” is common legal jargon or just a catch phrase Fredrickson made up for his book. In any case, here’s how it works: Say you’re a cop working narcotics, and you want to arrest a guy you’re sure is dealing drugs out of a house, but you don’t have any proof. In order to get the probable cause you need for a warrant, you’re going to have to investigate the case, gather evidence, find informants, and try to make a controlled buy. But that’s a lot of hard work, and you might not succeed.

If you aren’t too concerned about lying to a judge (also known as perjury), there’s an easier way: You make it all up. Just start writing out your affidavit and say a confidential informant told you there were drugs. (This also works if you got some information in a way you’re not supposed to, like the Herc and Carver on The Wire attributing all the information from their illegal audio bug to a phantom informant named “Fuzzy” Dunlop). The judge grants the warrant, and you bust into the drug dealer’s place of business and find what you were looking for: The drug dealer and his drugs.

Case closed, pretty much. No one will ever expect to meet the phantom informant. For one thing, most cases never make it to trial, and if there’s no need for a trial, there’s no need for his testimony. If the case does go to trial, the cops can argue that revealing his identity will ruin his value as an informant. If worst comes to worst and somebody insists, the cops can just say they can’t find their informant (which has the advantage of being true). The prosecutor doesn’t really need the informant anyway because he’s got a big pile of drugs he can show off.

On the other hand, if the cops didn’t find any drugs during the raid then the informant isn’t needed because there’s no criminal case. Either way, like Cinderella at the ball, the informant just vanishes from the scene.

Unless something goes wrong.

In A Cinderella Affidavit, a cop gets killed during the drug raid. This brings down a whole lot of attention on just why the cops raided the location and what the informant saw when he was there. It takes a novel for it all to play out.

Knowing what a Cinderella affidavit is turns out to be helpful in understanding a number of real-life stories. For example, when Atlanta cops killed a 92-year old grandmother during a drug raid, a lot of people wanted to know why the cops thought there would be drugs in her house. The resulting federal investigation alleged that although the informant was real, he made his statement after the cops framed him with planted drugs. The cops also allegedly lied about there being security cameras at the house to justify a no-knock warrant. If all had gone according to plan, the problems with the affidavit would probably never have come to light.

Then there’s the drug raid in Cheseapeake, Virginia on the 17th of this month, in which officer Jarrod Shivers was shot and killed, allegedly by the occupant of the house, Ryan Frederick. On their warrant application, police said they had a confidential informant who had seen a marijuana grow operation in the garage. Almost a week after the raid, police finally announced they had found some marijuana in the home, but they wouldn’t say how much. Meanwhile, Frederick says that no one was in his home around the time specified in the affidavit, but there were signs of a break-in. Did the cops raid this guy’s house on the word of a burglar? Did they mention that in the affidavit? Or was that something else that would vanish when the party was over?

I’ve been reading about botched drug raids for a while, and it seems that a non-trivial percentage of them turn out to have problems with the facts asserted by the officers applying for the warrant. Do you think that’s a characteristic of botched drug raids? Or do you think we’d find the same kinds of problems in all the successful drug raids if we ever bothered to look?

Business Weak

Check out this clause in the User Agreement for Business Week magazine online:

In addition, User may not:

2. use or attempt to use any “deep-link,” “scraper,” “robot,” “bot,” “spider,” “data mining,” “computer code” or any other automated device, program, tool, algorithm, process or methodology or manual process having similar processes or functionality, to access, acquire, copy, or monitor any portion of BW.com…

It’s 2008 and they don’t allow deep linking?

Aside from their lousy web etiquette (and questionable business model), I’ve always felt that legal attempts to prohibit deep linking are crazy talk.

It would be one thing if people were hacking into the site to steal data, or if people were publishing secret passwords. But Business Week isn’t using any of the web security protocols to protect their articles. Everything is wide open. How can it be wrong to publish deep links to their site when their server is programmed to honor deep links?

They claim their User Agreement is a contract that is binding on everyone who visits the site. For all I know, that may even be actual law, but it makes no sense for them to claim one thing in their User Agreement and then implement another thing in their web server. It’s like posting a “No Trespassing” sign outside your door while the people inside are yelling “Come on in!” to everyone passing by. Who are visitors supposed to believe?

(Hat tip: Don MacAskill)

Market Failure in 22-inch Winter Wiper Blades?

Chicago just got hit with some more snow, and I realized I need new wiper blades on my car. The ones I have now are not winter blades, so ice builds up in the wiper frame and prevents it from applying even pressure, allowing ice and sleet to remain on the window.

My Camry bit the dust with serious engine problems about a month ago (my mechanic says it’s a “spun bearing,” but that sounds like something he made up), so I’m driving an old T-bird that a friend is loaning me. According to the books, it takes 22-inch wiper blades on both sides.

I haven’t been able to find the blades. I stopped at three different auto parts stores, and all of them were out of 22-inch winter wiper blades. They had other blades, but not the ones I needed.

How can that happen?

I mean, obviously, winter blades are in demand because it’s winter, and I’m guessing that 22-inches is one of the most common blade sizes, so people have been buying a lot of them, and the stores have run out.

But shouldn’t the buyers at the auto parts store have realized that 22-inch winter wiper blades would be in big demand in Chicago in January? Shouldn’t wiper blade manufacturers know the ups and downs of their business and ship a few extras to stores?

I see similar economic mysteries all the time. Why is it that the ice cream section of the 7-Eleven always has plenty of Butter Pecan but consistently runs out of Dulce de Leche soon after each new delivery? Shouldn’t some computer somewhere notice what’s going on and start ordering more Dulce del Leche and less Butter Pecan?

The theory of efficient markets doesn’t require that businesses never make mistakes, but the free market does tend to doom businesses that consistently fail to take advantages of chances to make money. So what’s going on here? Is this some weird kind of market failure? Or does it somehow make good business sense to run out of Dulce de Leche ice cream and 22-inch wiper blades?

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