Live from Occupy Houston 2011-11-19

I know I’m way behind on stuff, I actually had another post in the queue for Occupy Houston which you’ll probably see later this week. I am taking a brief detour from my intended route home to take a brief look at the Occupy Houston setup at Tranquility Park as introduced to me by a guy named Rage Sterling. And I must say I am very impressed at the level of organization and the population (quoted to me as “somewhere around 45” which at first glance appears to be a reasonable estimate).

I can confirm that there is one person from the November 9 raid that has not returned from detention/arrest (wherever that may be). Unfortunately I cannot stay for the General Assembly meeting scheduled for about a half-hour from now. I wish I could. It’s also too dark to really get good pictures or I would. I tentatively plan to return either Tuesday or Wednesday (I have a prior appointment on Monday).

More to come…

The slippery slope of censorship: the copyright lobby and child porn

The title of the MAFIAAFire forum post “The Copyright Lobby Absolutely Loves Child Pornography” is intentionally controversial and eye-grabbing, but when you look at the actual content of the post all of a sudden the politics and chess game of censorship as played by the copyright lobby makes all kinds of sense.

From the article, quoting Johan Schlüter, head of the Danish Anti-Piracy Group (Antipiratgruppen) from 2007 May 27:

Politicians do not understand file sharing, but they understand child pornography, and they want to filter that to score points with the public. Once we get them to filter child pornography, we can get them to extend the block to file sharing.

And later in the article (this time, quoting the original poster in the present day):

The reasoning is simple and straightforward. Once you have established that someone who is in a position to censor other people’s communication has a responsibility to do so, the floodgates open and those middlemen can be politically charged with filtering anything that somebody objects to being distributed.

This is a perfect example of the “slippery slope” problem. With apologies to Procter and Gamble, a slightly modified version of the old Pringles slogan applies here: Once they drop (censor something), they can’t stop.

I detest child pornography as much as any other law-abiding citizen. However, a far worse problem than child porn is censorship of otherwise legitimate speech because of suspected copyright infringement. In the past, the NFL has censored obvious fair use of football telecasts (the only example I know of), mainly because YouTube made it so easy and few people bothered to contest the DMCA notices. I can only imagine what it will be like to try to use the net when someone suspects something is child pornography, when it clearly is not, and the request just gets intercepted. This is further complicated by the fact that even “virtual” child pornography has been outlawed.

The ends do not justify the means. We need to stop blatant censorship dead in its tracks now, or we will certainly regret the end result and wish we had acted sooner in a few years. I support in principle the work of the German group Mogis (), which is against the censorship of the Internet.

I concur with one of the conclusions of this post:

The conclusion is as unpleasant as it is inevitable. The copyright industry lobby is actively trying to hide egregious crimes against children, obviously not because they care about the children, but because the resulting censorship mechanism can be a benefit to their business if they manage to broaden the censorship in the next stage. All this in defense of their lucrative monopoly that starves the public of culture.

If you are disgusted after reading this, you’re not alone. I think the copyright lobby has honestly reached a new low. I hope you, my readers, can see through this pathetic ruse; if you can avoid purchasing the products of the copyright lobby, please do so. I realize some people just can’t, and that’s fine. But the only way we will be able to speak the language of the large corporations is by hitting them in the pocketbook.

Update 2011-12-05: The above-linked post may bring up a “403 Forbidden” server error due to a misconfiguration on the destination server. If this happens, please copy and paste the link target into a new tab and it should load.

Justice 14 years in the making

While many unjust prosecutions end with the truth being kept in the darkness and the falsely accused serving a sentence for a crime that wasn’t theirs, some do end with the truth being brought to light and the falsely accused being freed. The case of Dale Lincoln Duke is one of the latter cases.

As reported on myfoxhouston.com Dale pleaded no contest to a charge he sexually assaulted his then 7-year-old stepdaughter back in 1992. He received 10 years deferred adjudication probation. When he refused to admit to the offense, his probation was revoked and he was sentenced to 20 years in prison. (The story does not specify exactly where he refused to admit guilt; it is worth noting the Alford doctrine says that admission of guilt is not necessary to enter a guilty or no contest plea.)

Fast forward to 2011. The victim has recanted and Judge Susan Hawk agreed with prosecutors that Dale was innocent, and said it was her “privilege” to release him. The judge’s words triggered applause and a standing ovation from the courtroom gallery.

I’m pleased that justice was finally served in this case. It’s a tragedy when the accused are innocent and yet are prosecuted nonetheless. And I don’t know what the judge at the time (it may not have been Judge Susan Hawk) was thinking when revoking Dale’s probation just for not admitting to the offense. My guess, based on what I know, was that the revocation may have technically been for “failure to satisfactorily complete psychiatric counseling” where the reason for not completing counseling is simply “remaining in denial.” I hope my guess is wrong, because this amounts to court-ordered brainwashing and an abuse of judicial authority in light of the Alford doctrine.

As far as it being Judge Susan Hawk’s “privilege” to release Dale, I’d be more inclined to call it her “duty” as dispensing justice is something I’d expect a judge to do. I would like to think Judge Hawk did not pick her words just to elicit a response from the gallery; that is not something judges should do.

Now, remember that Dale was sentenced to 10 years deferred adjudication. Notice he was sentenced to 20 years in prison upon revocation. That’s not a typo.

Attention Texas voters: Please vote FOR Prop. 9

I don’t ask this kind of thing very often of my readership. But if you live in Texas and you are registered to vote, I would really appreciate it if you’d vote FOR Proposition 9. I’ll explain why.

I commented on the case of Dale Lincoln Duke in my previous post. I mentioned again, at the end, how Dale got a 20 year prison sentence on a revocation of a 10 year deferred adjudication. This is the very real peril of a deferred adjudication sentence: it is relatively risk free for the prosecution and the judge unless the defendant re-offends in a particularly egregious manner, because the judge can always sentence the defendant to the maximum sentence after imposing a conviction. Worse, a particularly cruel judge can extend probation to the maximum allowed by law, then impose a maximum sentence. Judges can even revoke probation for relatively arbitrary reasons that most sane people would consider galactically stupid.

Now, the flip side of deferred adjudication is that the defendant is supposed to have no record of the offense on completion of the sentence. Well, it turns out this isn’t exactly true. Even if the defendant completes the sentence successfully, he/she still has to apply for an order of non-disclosure (OND). (And some offenses are actually not eligible for an OND.) For at least the first two or five years after the sentence is completed, he/she will still have what they call a record of the arrest until the OND is granted. I’m going to call this arrest record what it actually should be called, a “looks-like-a-conviction.” Actually, in effect it’s still a conviction to just about everyone who would run a background check. It’s certainly still a conviction as far as Federal guidelines go (which I think is also a load of bovine excrement, and which I will probably discuss in a later post). This “looks-like-a-conviction” is only truly not a conviction in three cases:

  1. the right to vote (for what it’s worth);
  2. the right to serve on a jury (which, actually, many people will read as a loss of the “right” to get a free pass out of jury duty);
  3. applying for a pardon (because there’s no conviction, there’s nothing to pardon).
    That’s where Proposition 9 comes in, because #3 above should not be there and is an unfortunate consequence of laws written prior to deferred adjudication. Is it really fair for someone to be given something that looks like a conviction, walks like a conviction, and quacks like a conviction, except all of a sudden it’s not a conviction when it comes time to ask for a pardon?

Note that Proposition 9 does not automatically grant pardons to anyone. They still have to be requested and clear the Board of Pardons and Paroles and the governor the same as before. What Proposition 9 does do, is realize this post-deferred-adjudication “arrest record” passes the duck test for a conviction and allows one in this situation to be pardoned the same way as someone with an actual conviction.

While it is not perfect, I believe this to be a huge step in the right direction for justice. Please, vote for justice, vote for Proposition 9.

(This is not a political advertisement by any third party, merely my own personal view. This blog has been paid for out of my own personal funds, as always.)