Monthly Archives: December 2010

2010 in Review

It’s the end of another year, and time for me to look back at what I’ve been doing here at Windypundit, just to see where I’ve been and maybe to figure out where I’m going from here.

With that end in mind, 2010 was the year in which

Have a Happy New Year! See you all in 2011!

Prosecutor Scott Andringa Tried To Put a Paraplegic Man In Prison For 25 Years For Having Too Many Pain Pills

Let me be perfectly clear about this: Scott Andringa tried to put a paraplegic man in prison for 25 years for having too many pain pills.

This happened a few years ago, and obviously the story is a bit more complicated than I can summarize in that one sentence, but that’s basically what happened. The paraplegic man is named Richard Paey. He’s been in a car accident, he’s suffered through failed back surgery, and he has multiple sclerosis. Without medication, he’d be in a lot of pain. And he’d still be in jail thanks to prosecutor Scott Andringa if Governor Charlie Crist hadn’t pardoned him.

Given the kinds of things I blog about, I hear a lot of stories about prosecutors who do crazy evil shit like this. (For example, I just wrote about U.S. Attorney Tanya Treadway, who abused the grand jury system to harass Siobhan Reynolds and shutdown her pain management advocacy organization.) I worry that they’ll get away with it–no, that’s not quite right. I know they’ll get away with it. They’re prosecutors: They have immunity. What I’m really worried about is that they’ll thrive.

In my imagination, people who commit these kinds of atrocites are shunned. They have a hard time finding employment, and when they walk down the street, old ladies spit on the sidewalk in front of them, and mothers make their children cross the street so as not to pass too close.

In reality, of course, such behavior rarely has any consequences, and these people often have long careers in public life. States Attorney Janet Reno was at the heart of the Satanic sexual abuse panic down in Florida, and yet President Bill Clinton appointed her as U.S. Attorney General. Both Rudy Giuliani and Eliot Spitzer used their prosecutorial offices as platforms for self-aggrandizement, eventually becoming mayor and governor of their respective New Yorks. And former U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan may have lost her bid for Congress, but we probably haven’t seen the last of her.

So whenever I read about some outrageous behavior by a prosecutor, I worry that if nobody pays attention, they’ll just turn up again in public service somewhere to cause even more damage. At one point, I even tried to start a web site to keep track of these people, so that we’ll recognize them when they pop up again, and have information about the crap they’ve pulled. It never really worked out, so I’m left trying to lure search engines by blogging about things like how Scott Andringa tried to put a paraplegic man in prison for 25 years for having too many pain pills.

I’m bringing all this up because look what Scott Andringa’s been up to:

On Monday, December 13th, 2010, Scott Andringa; 42, a member of The Florida Bar since 1993,  announced his candidacy for Pinellas County Judge, Group 2, in the 2012 election.

Gee, I wonder who holds that position now? Oh yeah, it’s Henry J. Andringa, who happens to be Scott’s father.

In a terrific post at Res Publica, blogger Spartacus Thrace at Res Publica has far more detail about Scott Andringa and his run for office:

Among the elected officials in Pinellas County up for election in 2012 is Judge of the County Court, Group 2, a seat currently occupied by Henry J. “Hank” Andringa, who is expected to retire in 2012.  Until now, there has been considerable speculation as to who might run for this seat when it becomes vacant.  That speculation ended December 13, 2010 when, with little fanfare, Andringa’s son, Attorney R. Scott Andringa, announced that he has entered the race to succeed his father when the next election is held, on November 6, 2012.

Sounds like Scott’s really qualified to be a judge.

(Read the whole post by Spartacus. It’s got a brief biography of Andringa, a good summary of the Richard Paey case, and some analysis of Andringa’s chance of winning the election.)

In any case, I’ll finish now with one last reminder to all those Pinellas County voters: Scott Andringa tried to put a paraplegic man in prison for 25 years for having too many pain pills.

Can’t Deduct Defense?

It’s a good question, really…

Over at Popehat, Patrick has this to say about Joel Rosenberg’s defense fund:

Note that this is not tax-deductible. The government does not encourage its subjects to stand up for the blameless.

Well, why the hell not?

As far as I can tell, the tax rule for legal expenses is that the expenses are tax deductible only if they are business or income related. Criminal defense is considered neither, so criminal defense fees are not tax deductible. Which is kind of odd when you consider that it’s pretty hard to earn a living if the government throws your ass in jail.

Also, the need for criminal defense arises from the government’s own legal actions. It seems cruel to force the defendent to pay taxes to the government for the cost of defending himself from that same government.

Of course, if you do try to deduct your criminal defense fees, and the IRS comes after you, your tax defense expenses are tax deductible.

Shut Up About Yer Damned Snow!

Geez, every frickin’ time I gotta hear about it! A snowstorm hits the east coast, and it’s national news. You know why? Because that’s where all the news organizations have their big offices–New York and Washington–and it’s not really news until it happens to them.

But you know what? North American weather patterns move from west to east, so every time you folks on the east coast get hit with a snowstorm, us midwesterners had the same storm a day or two earlier. And you didn’t hear us whining about it on and on like a bunch of pussies.

I’m just sayin’.

More Reasons Why the TSA is the Worst Agency Ever

Jennifer Abel gets off a good rant explaining part of the problem:

Should’ve left well enough alone. Should’ve stayed off-line. But no-I checked a couple of news websites instead and read something which must’ve shown on my face, for my boyfriend asked, “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” I snapped in the same tone of voice most people use to say “Fuck you and everyone you love.” Then I quickly added, in a much softer tone, “I’m not a violent person but I swear, every time I read about the latest TSA travesty I want to punch something.”

If you were fool enough to try flying yesterday, then you might have learned the hard way what I learned about online: TSA has decided that Thermos bottles and other insulated food containers are the latest Potentially Dangerous Terrorist Threats.

When I first heard about this, I thought it was stupid. Then I thought, well, maybe they got intelligence about a plot. Maybe some special forces team ransacked an Al-Qaeda training camp and found thermos bottles filled with explosives.

Of course not:

Despite the warning, however, authorities stress that there has not been any intelligence about a specific threat involving the drink-toting bottles. The closer inspection is simply an additional safety check to ensure safe holiday travels, they said[.]

Sigh. As Jennifer explains:

The thuggish behavior now standard in American airports is creeping to other forms of mass transit, too. Washington DC kicked off the holiday season by starting “random checks” of Metro passengers’ baggage on the Winter Solstice. New York City has already done that to subway passengers for a few years now. And whenever the latest invasion of our privacy is announced, the government PR agents calling themselves journalists find some dimwit to give a Man On The Street quote: “Oh, yes, it’s worth it so the government can keep us safe.”

No, dammit, the government doesn’t do this to keep us safe; they do this instead ofthings that would keep us safe! TSA’s so busy feeling your underwear, they can’t find the actual bombs that test agents smuggle through security checkpoints; so busy measuring how many hundredths of an ounce of shampoo you’ve got, they can’t bother checking what’s in a plane’s cargo hold.

Careful, Jennifer. If you try to prove that TSA security is stupid, you might get a visit from the FBI:

SACRAMENTO, CA – An airline pilot is being disciplined by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for posting video on YouTube pointing out what he believes are serious flaws in airport security.

The 50-year-old pilot, who lives outside Sacramento, asked that neither he nor his airline be identified. He has worked for the airline for more than a decade and was deputized by the TSA to carry a gun in the cockpit.

He is also a helicopter test pilot in the Army Reserve and flew missions for the United Nations in Macedonia.

Three days after he posted a series of six video clips recorded with a cell phone camera at San Francisco International Airport, four federal air marshals and two sheriff’s deputies arrived at his house to confiscate his federally-issued firearm. The pilot recorded that event as well and provided all the video to News10.

At the same time as the federal marshals took the pilot’s gun, a deputy sheriff asked him to surrender his state-issued permit to carry a concealed weapon.

A follow-up letter from the sheriff’s department said the CCW permit would be reevaluated following the outcome of the federal investigation.

You can almost smell the retaliation, can’t you?

Whatever problem that pilot discovered, you can bet the TSA knew about it long before he posted his videos. But now that he told the rest of us about it, they’re going to claim that he’s the one who’s endangering people.

Actually, there’s another way to look at it: The TSA isn’t pissed off because the pilot showed us how lax security is behind the scenes. Rather, they’re pissed at him for showing us the pointlessness of all the checkpoint security.

Merry Christmas, Joel

I just wanted to take a moment to wish Joel Rosenberg a Merry Christmas!

Yeah, Joel, you heard me. I know you’re Jewish, so I suppose it’s just Chinese food on Saturday to you, but I’m glad you’re home with your family today. For a while there, that was not a sure thing, so I think it’s cause for a bit of merriment.

Death For Extremist Speech?

It’s been a long time since I posted anything at When Falls the Coliseum, but I finally got around to writing something new for them. It’s about the recent verdict by an Oregon jury, calling for the death penalty for Bruce Turnidge and his son Joshua for the murder of two police officers. There’s a part of the prosecutors’ argument that just doesn’t seem like the sort of thing we should allow in a free country.

Here’s the link: Death For Extremist Speech?

The Physics of Privacy

A California Court of Appeals judge recently ruled in People v. Lieng that there’s no constitutional problem with police using night vision goggles to see things that they couldn’t otherwise see. In Kyllo v. United States the Supreme Court had ruled that police could not use a thermal imaging device without a warrant, and you’d think the same rule would apply here, but it doesn’t. The court’s two-part explanation for this is entertainingly bizarre.

Consider the first part:

Kyllo is inapplicable to this case.  First, night goggles are commonly used by the military, police and border patrol, and they are available to the general public via Internet sales…More economical night vision goggles are available at sporting goods stores…Therefore, unlike thermal imaging devices, night vision goggles are available for general public use.

[citations elided]

Scott Greenfield explains part of the problem with this reasoning in a post titled “The Amazon Exception.”  (In this excerpt, Scott calls night-vision goggles “nogs” because someone told him that’s what all the cool kids are calling them.)

That nogs are used by the military, police and border patrol, fails to impress.  Lots of technology is used by government agents. Much of it is used to do nasty stuff that would, in the absence of a warrant, violate the Constitution.  So what?

But the kicker is that it’s “available to the general public via internet sales.”  Now it’s getting interesting. When courts rely on the inventory at Amazon, or perhaps more obscure websites, for the scope of the 4th Amendment, there might be a problem.

No kidding there might be a problem. In this country, we supposedly have something called rule-of-law, which means we are not subject to the arbitrary whims and favors of despots and bureaucrats, but rather all people are held to a set of laws that are known in advance. But if the constitutionality of a search depends on something as vague as whether the tools used are “available to the general public,” then who can know what the law means? Almost everything is available to the general public if they’re willing to make some amount of effort, so who could possibly predict when a court might take notice?

Or as Scott says,

Rather than research the caselaw to determine whether police use of technology constitutes an unlawful search under the Fourth Amendment, we should begin our inquiry on Amazon. Is that the point?

Then there’s the second part of the court’s justification. Because I’m a science geek, I find it even more troublesome than the first part:

Second, state and federal courts addressing the use of night vision goggles since Kyllo have discussed the significant technological differences between the thermal imaging device used in Kyllo, and night vision goggles…Night vision goggles do not penetrate walls, detect something that would otherwise be invisible, or provide information that would otherwise require physical intrusion…The goggles merely amplify ambient light to see something that is already exposed to public view…This type of technology is no more “intrusive” than binoculars or flashlights, and courts have routinely approved the use of flashlights and binoculars by law enforcement officials.

The way this is written, the statement that “night vision goggles do not penetrate walls…or provide information that would otherwise require physical intrusion” seems to imply that thermal imaging does both of those things. As a matter of physics, that’s just not true. Thermal imaging cannot see through walls.

What thermal imaging can do is tell you the temperature of those walls, which may give you some idea of what’s on the other side. Put a heat source in a room, and the room will warm up. That will warm the inner surface of the room’s walls, and some of that heat will leak through the walls to heat the outer surface of the building. Then, like everything else in the universe that has a temperature, the outer surface of the building will give off electromagnetic radiation.

The spectrum of that radiation–the portion of energy given off at various frequencies–depends mostly on the temperature of the radiating object. Sufficiently hot objects–usually around 900 degrees F°–give off electromagnetic radiation at frequencies high enough for humans to see–visible light–and the object appears to be glowing a faint red. Objects that are even hotter will give off other colors of the spectrum until you see an even mix of colors, meaning the object glows white hot.

Cooler objects give off light (electromagnetic radiation) that has frequencies too low to be detected by the human eye. We call this light infrared, meaning “below red.” Infrared light behaves a lot like ordinary light, except that you just can’t see it. And, just like ordinary light, it can’t go through walls.

Getting back to the subject of this post, thermal imaging systems work by using electronic sensors to detect the low-frequency infrared light emitted from warm objects. The data from the sensor is used to create an image that is displayed to the user. Night vision systems, on the other hand, detect light that is in the visible part of the spectrum, but they use a sensor mechanism that can create an image from far less light than the human eye needs. Thus the main difference between the two technologies is that night vision works on light that is too dim for humans to see, whereas thermal imaging works on light that is the wrong frequency for humans to see.

That doesn’t seem like a distinction important enough for a constitutional right to hinge on, but it makes more sense than what the judge wrote.

On the other hand, perhaps because I think of this too much in terms of the physics, I’ve never had a clear understanding of the principles by which the courts have ruled that thermal imaging requires a warrant. Why should police need a warrant to examine energy emissions that a suspect is allowing to just radiate away? If the subject is standing in his house and yelling about his drug grow operation at the top of his lungs, should the police get warrant before they’re allowed to stand outside the house and listen? If not, then why should they need a warrant to detect infrared emissions outside the house?

If you don’t want people to know about your drug-growing business, you should control your infrared emissions. Don’t let your house radiate infrared energy through the air, where it could strike a sensor being held by a cop who’s sitting in his car on the street. You’re essentially sending signals to anyone with a receiver, so how is that an intrusion on your privacy?

Note that we can still rule out surveilance technologies that are intrusive–x-rays, penetrating radar, megnetic resonance–on the grounds that they involve sending something inside private property. They’re the logical equivalent of a cop standing outside your house and using a long stick to reach in a window and poke around in your belongings, which I assume would require a warrant just as if he had entered.

The basic distinction is that the police can use passive technology to monitor emissions passively, but they can’t actively send anything into an area they’re not allowed to enter themselves.

This particular way of thinking about surveilance methods draws a fairly bright line for law enforcement and the courts to follow, but I can think of at least three consequences which are probably worth thinking about.

First of all, as a libertarian, I’m very worried about how much surveilance this does allow. Not only does it allow an unlimited amount of passive surveilance in the visible and infrared bands, it also seems to allow a lot of sophisticated listening devices. (Sound is vibrations in air rather than electromagnetic radiation, but the same principles seem to make sense.) For example, sounds inside a building, including conversation, will leak out as very subtle vibrations which are normally lost in the noise. It’s theoretically possible, however, that an array of sensitive microphones and some very sophisticated signal processing technology could recover the original conversation.

Second, this rule would also allow police to listen to radio transmissions, including cell phones, without a warrant. I think I’m actually okay with this. Before the widespread use of cell phones, it was widely understood that everyone was legally permitted to receive any radio transmission they wanted to. After all, if other people transmitted radio signals in all directions, and some of those signals entered your house, it was pretty ridiculous to claim that tuning a receiver to pick them up was a violation of privacy. It was a simple concept that I’d like to see us return to: If you want privacy, don’t transmit your conversation to everyone within range.

Third, the rule against actively sending something into a private area would seem to rule out a police officer shining a flashlight into window of a building or even a car. That seems a bit ridiculous, even to me. In addition, it would lead to all kinds of ridiculous situations as the police try to work around it. E.g. what if the police officer wears a white windbraker jacket and his partner shines the patrol car’s spotlight on him–ostensibly to make sure he’s safe–causing reflected light from the jacket to shine in a window? Alternatively, if flashlights are allowed, then what about using an infrared flashlight to illuminate a scene for viewing with a thermal imager? This could turn nutty very quickly.

At this point, I kind of have to give up. I can’t seem to come up with a distinction that makes sense in terms of the physics involved and yet still offers adequate protection of privacy. Maybe the laws of physics are the wrong tools for figuring out things like this, or maybe vague and inconsistent rules made from case to case are the best we can do. I’d like to think that the law should make sense in terms of physics, but I’m not sure I have a good reason for believing that.

in Privacy