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DNA, Fingerprints…What’s The Diff?

The Supreme Court yesterday ruled that police can take a DNA sample from a suspect who has been arrested without first getting a warrant. In the majority opinion, the court claims that there’s no difference between collecting fingerprints and collecting DNA. That is patently wrong on eighteen different levels. 

First of all, as Scalia pointed out in the dissenting opinion, this shits all over the 4th amendment. Police need a warrant to search a person’s home for evidence. That means that they need to go to a court to demonstrate that they have sufficient evidence against a suspect in the first place, to justify entering the home for the collection of more evidence. In other words, the police can’t enter your home to get some evidence without first establishing that they already have a reasonable suspicion that you’re a viable suspect.

In this case of Alonzo King, the police arrested him on the suspicion of committing an assault (he did confess). They ostensibly had the evidence to make that arrest. I can’t find any evidence that there was a DNA sample at the scene of that crime that required a comparison sample. The police then collected a DNA sample from him, just because. Now keep in mind that they didn’t get a warrant to collect that DNA, and he wasn’t yet convicted of doing a fucking thing, and the collection of the sample had nothing to do with making the assault charge stronger. They just gratuitously took his DNA, thereby crapping on the 4th amendment.

After they collected King’s DNA, they entered it into a national DNA database (CODIS) and discovered that it matched a DNA sample collected at the scene of a rape committed six years earlier. He was subsequently convicted of that rape, based solely on the DNA match. That conviction was correctly overturned because of the warrantless DNA collection. Keep in mind that the police had no other evidence connecting King to the rape, and therefore had no probable cause to compare his DNA to the DNA collected at the crime scene. 

In my opinion, there should be evidence presented to a court to demonstrate that there is probable cause to collect DNA, and there should be great care and consideration given before a DNA sample is allowed to be collected. I certainly don’t think that a DNA sample should be collected just because. And I definitely don’t believe that a DNA sample should be taken, simply because someone is arrested. Keep in mind that arrested isn’t guilty, or even eventually convicted.

There are two things about the mass collection of DNA that should scare the shit out of everyone.

The first concern is with the police themselves. They are increasingly becoming incapable of doing effective police work. Instead of establishing ties and developing relationships with the communities they serve, they are turning into ineffective bullies. They’ve replaced learning my name and touching base with me every so often with stopping and frisking my black neighbor for no reason other than we live in Harlem. They shut down whole cities in pursuit of one person, rather than relying on the tens of thousands of eyes in that city to help them. They sit in “command centers” watching thousands of hours of video of tourists taking pictures of Times Square, instead of talking to people. They have become lazy (NYPD made that allegation against their own officers during the stop and frisk trial two weeks ago) thugs who don’t even know how to gather intelligence anymore. Instead of assuming that we’re all law abiding citizens who want safe streets, they assume that we’re all guilty of something. They surveil, and stop and frisk all of us just to catch the small percentage of us that are doing the slightest thing wrong. And it isn’t working. Remember, the police didn’t catch the would-be Times Square bomber. A responsible citizen reported seeing something suspicious. All of the cameras and the intimidation isn’t working. And when an organization views an entire community with suspicion, putting more information in their hands is a very bad idea. They’re not going to use these tools to protect you because they believe that you’re guilty of something. This is just going to make them dumber, lazier, more thuggish, and less effective.

And yes I know that in this case, they caught a rapist that they wouldn’t have caught otherwise. To that I say, if you’re okay with this, you’re replacing one menace with another. They should have been able to catch the rapist with police work. And I’m not willing to put more power in the hands of an organization that; a) isn’t competent enough to catch a rapist any other way b) sees us all as criminals. I’m not willing to empower one evil to extinguish another. You’re not eliminating danger that way. You’re just shifting that danger around.

The scariest part of this lies in how DNA is nothing like fingerprinting. Your fingerprint belongs to you and only you. If it’s found somewhere, that means that you were there. Your DNA belongs to your entire family. Your DNA will contain markers shared by your parents, siblings, children, grandparents, and grandchildren. That’s some scary shit.

Let’s say that my sister is arrested for peacefully protesting something (if I had a sister, I would want her to be an activist!) She is then arrested, and will be released a few hours later. During the booking process, her DNA is collected. A few years later, a bodega in my neighborhood is robbed and someone is shot. Since this bodega is in my neighborhood, I often go there to buy a newspaper. During the course of the investigation, DNA samples are collected. My DNA, which is on some newspapers in the bodega  then shows up as having the right number of markers to tie me to my sister. The police then come barreling down my door. Do you see where this can go horribly wrong? The faster law enforcement can get DNA samples from some of us, the faster they will have DNA on all of us.

Putting more data in the hands of an organization that views you as the enemy is dangerous. Remember, David Petraeus’ affair was exposed because an FBI agent with an agenda had access to his emails. What do you think is going to happen when people have access to everyone’s DNA. As we saw with Patraeus, no one is above the negative ramifications of rampant data collection.

So no SCOTUS, collecting DNA is nothing like collecting a fucking fingerprint. And frankly, I can’t believe there are five people stupid enough to make that assertion on the highest court in the land.



Obamacare Couldn’t BE More Constitutional

Partisan, right wing, hack judges all across the country are ruling health reform unconstitutional. Specifically, they’re targeting the part of the bill that mandates that every American obtain health insurance. These rulings are comical, but I’ll get to that soon enough. I first want to start with my prediction on what will happen with health reform. Republicans have passed repeal in the house. This is meaningless and purely a ceremonial gesture to appease their base. They know it won’t pass the senate and they don’t want it to. Let me explain. We all know that the health insurance industry has spent a lot of money on political contributions to ensure that politicians (both democratic and republican) protect their interests. The provisions of the bill that have already been enacted have increased the number of subscribers of health insurance. Small businesses are taking advantage of the federal subsidies that are now available to them, and offering their employees insurance for the first time. Parents of twenty-something kids are adding their children to their policies because they now can. Insurance companies are seeing double digit spikes in new enrollments. Do you think that the insurance company overlords are going to let their republican subjugates take away all that new business? Fuck no! The part of the bill that sounds most egregious (mandates) is the part that insurance companies won’t ever, ever allow to be repealed. They’ll never, ever repeal the small business subsidies or mandates because they’re bringing in the cash, and at the end of the day, that’s all the insurance companies care about. My guess is that they’re going to have to subversively chip away at the parts of the bill that cost insurance companies money. You know, the parts that all Americans agree we want like disallowing rescission, or denial of coverage based on pre-existing conditions. The republicans won’t be allowed to repeal the parts of the bill that they rail against. So if you’re worried about full repeal, don’t be. It will never happen. Now onto the idiot judges, dipshit state attorneys general, and any asshat that claims unconstitutionality in an effort to repeal the bill. Thanks to Tom Hartman for bringing this little gem to my attention. Turns out that the 5th congress of the United States passed a bill titled, "An Act For The Relief Of Sick And Disabled Seamen". This law required that privately employed sailors obtain health insurance. Here’s a little background. Even early on in our country’s history, it was obvious that trade with other countries was going to be instrumental in creating a strong economy. In those days, our ability to trade relied solely on private merchant ships. Since working on a merchant ship was dangerous work, seamen were getting hurt in such numbers, and with such frequency, that it was leaving shipping companies with a serious shortage of manpower. Enter; the federal government. In 1798, they passed "An Act For The Relief Of Sick And Disabled Seamen". This law did a couple of things;

  • It created The Maritime Hospital Service, which was a series of hospitals that were built and run by the federal government for the purpose of treating injured private seamen.
  • It mandated that maritime sailors pay 1% in taxes to pay for these hospitals. Those taxes were withheld by the ship’s owner and paid directly to the federal government.

Can you smell the socialism in the air? Oh, but it gets better. Members of the 5th congress that passed this law included:

  • John Langdon
  • Jonathan Dayton
  • William Blount
  • Richard Dobbs Spaight
  • John Rutledge
  • Abraham Baldwin

Why are these names relevant? Because they fucking signed the United States Constitution. The Vice President at the time, who served as President Of The Senate was Thomas Jefferson. Wanna know who the President that signed the bill into law was? That would be John Adams. What do John Adams and Thomas Jefferson have in common? They helped to write the freakin Declaration Of Independence. I think that they had a really fucking clear idea of what the founders intended. Let’s add another historically deficient asshat to this group, shall we? A couple of weeks ago, a North Dakota state representative (and asshat) Hal Wick proposed legislation that would mandate that every citizen of North Dakota purchase a gun, upon reaching twenty one years of age. He thought that he was getting cute by pointing out that mandating people to buy anything is unconstitutional. Wick maintains that he knows that his proposed legislation is unconstitutional, and that he’s just trying to make a statement about mandates. Wrong again, Bob. George Washington signed a bill entitled, "The Militia Act Of 1792". Wanna guess what provisions were in this bill? Read for yourself;

That each and every free able-bodied white male citizen of the respective States, resident therein, who is or shall be of age of eighteen years, and under the age of forty-five years (except as is herein after excepted) shall severally and respectively be enrolled in the militia, by the Captain or Commanding Officer of the company, within whose bounds such citizen shall reside, and that within twelve months after the passing of this Act.

That every citizen, so enrolled and notified, shall, within six months thereafter, provide himself with a good musket or firelock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare flints, and a knapsack, a pouch, with a box therein, to contain not less than twenty four cartridges, suited to the bore of his musket or firelock, each cartridge to contain a proper quantity of powder and ball; or with a good rifle, knapsack, shot-pouch, and powder-horn, twenty balls suited to the bore of his rifle, and a quarter of a pound of powder;

Ignorant and unoriginal Hal. Way to go!
This health reform issue will ultimately end up with the supreme court. That’s where it will get fun. What do you think the odds are that Scalia will advocate for his strict constructionist views on this one? They’re actually pretty good. Not because Scalia is actually a strict constructionist, meaning that he doesn’t believe that the constitution is a living, breathing document that was intended to be amended over time. He clearly isn’t, despite what he says. If he were a strict constructionist, he would never have argued for corporate personhood in the Citizen’s United ruling, since corporate personhood doesn’t appear anywhere in the constitution. No, he will whip out the strict constructionist routine because it enables him to serve his corporate masters. Remember, the insurance companies don’t want the revenue generating mandate removed from the health reform bill.
So if you’re worried about health reform being repealed, don’t be. But beware of your legislators quietly trying to strip away the really good stuff that we all want.

In the meantime, feel free to rub the founders’ real intent in the noses of any asshat that tries to tell you that Obamacare is unconstitutional.


Opinion, Or Projection?

I’ve been listening to, and reading opinions about Elena Kagan for a couple of days now. I’ve done a good amount of research in an effort to learn more about her, and I have a conclusion; Anyone that has an opinion about this woman is making assumptions based on what they want her to be.

She is as close to a blank slate as a person that is qualified for this job can be.

She’s definitely qualified for the position. Don’t let anyone tell you that she’s not qualified because she’s never sat on a bench. Two ( Rehnquist and Warren) of our last four Chief Justices had no judicial experience when they were nominated to the court. John Roberts only had two years experience on the bench when he was nominated. Forty of the one hundred and eleven supreme court justices that we’ve had in our history, had no judicial experience prior to serving on the court. She’s currently serving as our Solicitor General. She’s worked as a law professor, an associate at a giant law firm, assistant white house council during the Clinton administration, and clerked for Thurgood Marshall. She’s qualified.

Now that we’ve established that, on to her “temperament”. Liberals don’t think she’s liberal enough. Republicans think she’s a flaming liberal (and a lesbian). So who’s got it right? There’s really no way to tell. On one hand, she’s worked for some very liberal judges (Mikva and Marshall) and politicians (she was an adviser on the failed Dukakis presidential campaign). Does that mean she’s a liberal? Not necessarily. Rahm Emanuel has always worked within the democratic party. Is anyone under the illusion that he’s a liberal? She worked in the Clinton white house which, in my opinion, is neither an indication of liberalism nor conservatism, although it does support corporatism! And then there’s that brief period when she worked as a paid adviser to Goldman Sachs. Does this point to her being a conservative? Not really, but it does indicate that she doesn’t find Goldman morally objectionable enough to refuse to do business with them.

On the issue of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, she did (briefly) deny military recruiters access to the main recruitment office during her tenure at Harvard (she did not cut off their access to students in any other way), but during her  confirmation hearings in 2009 she pledged to defend the Solomon Amendment, which balances out her actions at Harvard. Her objection to the military recruiters was actually intellectually sound. She asserted that she wouldn’t allow any other organization that practiced discrimination to use the recruitment office so she didn’t feel that military recruiters should get special treatment. This was by no means an emotional perspective.

That’s pretty much all we have to go on with Elena Kagan. She seems to have spent her whole career almost methodically ensuring that she remains a blank slate. It seems as if she’s spent her entire career preparing for a supreme court nomination hearing. Does that make her shrewd? Absolutely. Does it make her calculating? That would be a matter of opinion.

The one thing I’m certain of, is that the far right is never going to find actual evidence to support their assertions that she’s gay. Whether she is or not is really moot to me and any other rational human, but I’m positive that assaulting her with those assertions will be the path that the far right will take. I’m equally certain that they will never find any evidence to support their assertions because she has been so methodical in maintaining her “blankness”. There’s absolutely no chance that she’s left any evidence of gayness out there to sink her nomination.

The truth is that we simply don’t know what we’re going to get when she becomes a supreme court justice. I say when, because she’s almost assured a confirmation. I have no doubt that Obama knows what he’s getting since they have a personal relationship that goes back many years. But since we don’t really know what Obama is, given his persistent moderation, we don’t know what he’s looking for in a supreme court justice.

The bottom line is that anyone that has an opinion about her temperament is basing that opinion on pure conjecture.

Personally, I would liked to have seen a more overtly liberal nominee to balance out the corporatist cabal we have in Roberts, Thomas, Scalia, Alito, and Thomas. My ideal court would consist of four conservatives, four liberals, and one free thinker that can be persuaded. Since we don’t have that right now, I would have preferred the nomination of George Carlin’s ghost to this vacancy!

But much to my dismay, we got Elena Kagan. Do I oppose her? I really have no reason to. Do I support her? I really have no reason to. She truly is a blank slate, and I’m not projecting anything onto her.