Quick hits 2 — Wes Anderson, the mass-murdering Sacklers, California broadband deal, and voting rights

Wes Anderson’s ode to print journalism is a periodic delight. By Peter Bradshaw at The Guardian — Wes Anderson’s latest, “The French Dispatch,” is about 20th Century American journalism, features a French town called “Ennui-Sur-Blasé,” and the cast includes Bill Murray and Frances McDormand. I love it already! Also, this review includes the words “pasticheurs” and “feuilleton.”

— Cory Doctorow: The mass-murdering Sacklers will get to keep billions, thanks to their skill at shopping until they find a corrupt judge.

Governor, Legislative Leaders Reach Deal on $5.25 Billion California Broadband Expansion. By Chris Jennewein at the Times of San Diego — “Gov. Gavin Newsom and the leaders of the Senate and Assembly reached a deal Monday to spend $5.25 billion expanding California’s broadband internet connectivity for families and businesses.”

Vox explains the GOP voting bill that literally caused Texas Democrats to flee the state. By Ian Millhiser — The Texas GOP wants to make it harder for people to vote, make it harder to eject partisan poll-watchers who disrupt the electoral process, and impose draconian penalties for minor violations of voting laws, to prevent repeating imaginary voter fraud.

Biden Labels GOP Voting Laws Greatest Threat to American Democracy Since Civil War. By Zachary Evans at the National Review — “‘The Confederates, back then, never breached the Capitol as insurrectionists did on January the 6th,’ Biden said…. ‘I’m not saying this to alarm you; I’m saying this because you should be alarmed.’”

LA’s abandoned buildings become gang “destroyers”

A place to sleep, party and kill: Abandoned L.A. buildings become MS-13 gang ‘destroyers’

Matthew Ormseth at the LA Times:

Destroyers reflect the wretchedness of daily life in a gang made up largely of poor young men and teenagers, who commonly are homeless or estranged from family. They subsist on petty drug dealing, theft and extortion of innocent street vendors and minor criminals lower on the underworld food chain than themselves. A paranoid, often misplaced, belief that their ranks are seeded with police informants runs deep in the gang, leading members to turn on each other.

“The lives cut short inside the destroyer on Rampart were marked by poverty and fractured families — not unlike the lives of their alleged killers. One was both victim and perpetrator: An MS-13 member who took part in the killing of a teenager inside the destroyer was himself beaten to death days later in the same building.”

The underappreciated genius of “Justified”

Lisa Levy at Crimereads.com appreciates the brilliant TV series “Justified” is a hillbilly/hip-hop/21st Century Western that wanders all over the place but always comes back to the central conflict between lawman Raylan Givens and criminal Boyd Crowder.

The credits music of the show fuses gangsta hip-hop and bluegrass, and that’s the esthetic of the show too. Boyd and Raylan don’t rap “but they are subject to the hyperbole of hip-hop battles where rappers try to best each other with words,” says Levy. The dialogue on this show is sharper than the gunfights.

Justified is

a convoluted and absorbing story of cops and robbers, or more specifically, of US Deputy Marshal Raylan Givens (played with an aw-shucks charm by the preternaturally handsome Timothy Olyphant) returning to work in the eastern district of Kentucky, which includes his hometown in Harlan County. The show successfully traffics in Western tropes: time and again the outlaws go up against the lawman, a morally ambiguous character who enjoys his work a little too much. Justified is deeply rooted in Harlan, the coal-driven and decimated section of Kentucky, which is itself a symbol of a disappearing way of life: the hardscrabble work of coal mining. Much is made of the fact that Raylan dug coal before joining the marshal service, as going down in the mine is a rite of passage in Harlan. We are also often reminded that Raylan and the men he’s trying to catch, chief among them Boyd Crowder (a sensational Walton Goggins), dug coal together. Going down into the mines together in Justified is like massaging blubber side-by-side on the Pequod in Moby-Dick: it’s more than just work, it’s a way of life.

The show is as much about Harlan County as about any individual character, about the decline of mining and the rise of criminal activity in its place — though the county was always somewhat lawless.

Justified is based on a short story by Elmore Leonard, and it retains some of the best aspects of Leonard’s crime writing: vivid storytelling, likable and sympathetic characters, and, most distinctively, a dry and pronounced sense of humor that permeates even the show’s considerable violence…..

Raylan Givens is an old-school gunslinging lawman who literally wears a white cowboy hat. He enjoys his work too much, particularly shooting people.

And the women of the show are as smart and deadly as the men.

Time for a re-watch!

Honolulu Police Used a Robot Dog to Patrol a Homeless Encampment

Todd Feathers at Vice.com:

Despite widespread public outrage at police departments’ use of Boston Dynamics’ Spot robot, law enforcement agencies continue to look for ways to experiment with the headless, quadrupedal machine.

One of the more creative examples comes from Honolulu, where police spent more than $150,000 in COVID-19 relief funding to purchase a Spot robot to take body temperatures, disinfect, and patrol the city’s homeless quarantine encampment. 

Not mentioned in this article — did the robot dog actually accomplish anything? Did it actually reduce crime or improve health?

DOJ Charges Criminal ‘Influencers’ Who Worked for FBI’s Honeypot Phone Company — Joseph Cox at Vice

The FBI set up a company to build phones that ran a messaging app called Anom, used to eavesdrop on criminals, and now it’s arresting people who worked for the company.

“The defendants, some of which are international fugitives, include people in Turkey, Australia, Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland, Spain, Colombia, and Thailand. The DOJ is charging them under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, a law traditionally used to target mafia bosses, but which the DOJ has recently used to prosecute encrypted phone companies that deliberately sold devices to criminals.”

There’s a whole underground tech industry out there, with tech support and “influencers” — well-known crime figures with reputations for knowledge and expertise in hardened encryption devices.

“‘Distributors’ provide technical support for customers, send money back up to the parent company, and manage ‘agents,’ who in turn are on the ground meeting and engaging with customers of the phones. These staff all remained anonymous even to one another in order to try and evade law enforcement, the document reads.

We’ve seen something like this before, with ransomware organizations that run help desks to support technically unsophisticated victims. Supposedly the help desk operators are friendly and helpful.

The Supreme Court says it’s not a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act to use your lawful access to a computer for unlawful purposes.

Supreme Court limits reach of computer crime law

Pete Williams at CNBC:

The case involved a former police sergeant in Georgia who was offered money to look up a driver’s license record. A man said he’d pay around $5,000 for information about the record of a woman he thought might be an undercover officer.

It turned out to be an FBI sting. After the policeman used a patrol car computer terminal to look up the record, he was arrested and charged with violating the 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. That law makes it illegal ‘to access a computer and to use such access to obtain or alter information in the computer that the accesser is not entitled so to obtain or alter.'”

Mark Rasch, a former Justice Department computer crimes prosecutor, said the police officer could still be charged with other crimes, such as embezzlement or theft.

Interesting case. My first impression is it decriminalizes things that should not be covered by criminal law. As the ruling notes, the broader reading of the law would “attach criminal penalties to a breathtaking amount of commonplace computer activity,” such as using a work computer to send a private e-mail.

“Rasch agreed. ‘The court had a choice between two readings of the statute. One would have made the majority of people who use the Internet into criminals. The other would not. It chose the latter.’

“Justice Clarence Thomas dissented, in an opinion joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Samuel Alito. They said the majority’s ruling means the law would not apply to a computer technician who has authority to access a celebrity’s computer to fix a defective hard drive and who then copies and leaks pictures stored on the computer.

Shouldn’t offenses like that be covered by more narrowly focused laws?