Alexei Wood’s acquittal in the J20 trial gives independent journalists uneasy relief

Journalist Alexei Wood and five other defendants were acquitted of charges that could have led to decades in prison, after they were picked up by police in a “kettling” operation to stop the rioting in downtown Washington DC on Inauguration Day, protesting Donald Trump’s presidency.

Democracy Now presents an interview here between Amy Goodman, Brett Cohen and Mr. Alexei Wood, along with a 51-minute video here.

Other sites (such as Truthout, even more so than this one) have used this case as a reason to phrase appeals for money for independent journalism, claiming that the current government is hostile to journalists.

There is a lot going on here.  First, the Trump administration is a bit hostile (on Twitter especially) to established liberal media (like CNN).  He has not turned out to be hostile to independent bloggers or “citizen journalists” as I had once feared he might (as on my Nov. 7, 2016 post).  Perhaps he sees independent bloggers as calling out the media on insufficient reporting on some aspects of national security threats (like North Korea and EMP).   In countries like Egypt, Turkey, and particularly China, governments have been very harsh on independent media and sometimes have control of the more established channels.  Trump is nowhere close to that.  But Trump’s joking about wanting to reserve the right to jail political opponents whom he defeated (Mrs. Clinton) is not funny.

Secondly, there is the effect of social media tribalism, which now seems to have infected both the right and left.  There is an impression that someone who reports on a controversial group just to make a name for himself (if not already part of a journalistic establishment) is merely giving credibility to dangerous groups.  By that reasoning, reporters who filmed the J20 protests were giving credibility to Antifa-like protests but moreover to the violence that would accompany any “revolution”.  In that sense, the reporters are thought to have incited violence, despite the usual standard of “imminent threat of lawless action”. This sort of thinking has been particularly applied to people who might have wanted to to cover extreme right-wing groups or white supremacists.  This kind of reporting might be more acceptable if done by an established journalist supposedly from the other side (like Kamau Bell’s series “United Shades of America” on CNN covering the KKK).

I recently traveled to Washington VA and Flint Hill VA, to report the aggressive lawn pamphleting in the area by KKK elements. (Oh, please, don’t mention the People’s Party’s lettuce boycotts in the early 1970s.)  Does my doing so only give importance to such activity?   But I did not even know about the Charlottesville rightwing march on Aug. 11 in advance, although I might have been tempted to “watch” and film had I known.  I did know about the protests planned for Inauguration Day but simply stayed home to listen to the speech.  It’s conceivable that had I been there and filmed I could have been kettled and charged.  I have covered BLM marches but mainly filmed and “participated” minimally.  I visited Baltimore Sandtown right after the riots, but some independent journalists reported being pinned down by weapons fire and combat during the 2015 event.

Progressive interview with Mr. Wood.

(Posted: Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017 at 11 PM EST)

Jury duty could pose a significant challenge for some bloggers

I recently got a questionnaire about eligibility for jury duty.  In fact, because I will be moving to an adjacent county very soon, the event is probably moot point.

States vary in the frequency registered voters are summoned for potential jury duty.  But typically many states are coming to a “one day one trial” concept, which, for example, Texas has followed for years. Less frequent is the possibility of jury duty for a federal trial.

Juror conduct has long been a subject of controversy, as can be seen from this US Courts Manual. Jurors are not allowed to discuss a case of subject matter related to a case outside the courtroom, or “research” it, even in newspapers.  In the past twenty years, the likelihood of finding related material on the World Wide Web or through social media sites has obviously increased exponentially.  The AP has a major story in the Los Angeles Times in April 2016 on the problem.

In a cursory look at the problem, I didn’t find any evidence that most juror duty episodes wind up with jurors being required to cut off all Internet access.  But if you think about it, the likelihood of this sort of the thing in the future seems to increase. It is true that most actual cases are obscure and are likely to be unknown to a juror and not obviously conspicuous even on the Internet.

The greatest danger, of course, is sequestration, which is pretty rare, although it may happen more frequently in the future, given the controversy of many cases. Changes in venue could become more common, but one could argue that Internet coverage makes venue change less effective.

However, if a juror is denied all Internet access for a significant time, he or she can face significant losses, such as even of social media accounts or followers or even of hosted accounts if not able to respond to a problem, and if not having an employee or proxy person who can handle questions (I do not).

People can get out of duty if old enough (in some states, over 70), or if having sole custody of minors or disabled persons, or if the sole person with certain work responsibilities.  Blogging alone, even given the risk to it, would not qualify unless it paid its own way.

But a news blogger could possibly “ get out” of being selected in a voir dire by having blogged in the pst about the subject matter.  An interesting, if evasive, strategy.

This is an area where the fundamental right to a fair trial can live in tension with free speech.

(Posted: Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017 at 11:30 PM EDT)

Fibbies still indulge in civil asset forfeiture; a violation of 14th Amendment? Also, what DEA downgrade on pot means

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Here’s an anti-libertarian story from USA Today by Brad Heath, “DEA regularly mines Americans’ travel records to seize millions in cash”.

There are some pretty obvious red flags, like buying one-way tickets, especially with cash.  And it usually happens when people carry lots of cash, especially from the few states where recreational marijuana is at least partially legal (most of all, Colorado).

The Obama administration had pledged to look the other way (especially on Colorado) except in the most egregious cases.

But it seems that the government is using surveillance techniques that the Electronic Frontier Foundation would certainly lobby against.

And part of the problem is that federal law makes it very difficult for “legal” pot businesses to use banks or financial institutions in a normal way.

But police and federal agents can seize cash and assets (including cars) without due process, and keep them in many cases.  I don’t know how the government is getting around the Fourteenth Amendment.

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True, “Ordinary People” (like in the 1980 movie) traveling in a “normal” way buying transportation online with credit cards would probably never run into this.

Note that Vox has, in a piece by German Lopez, explained what the DEA’s keeping marijuana as “schedule 1” really means. .   The “schedule 1” refers to the drug’s not having legitimate medical uses – although the DEA says it will look at specific chemicals in marijuana as medically legitimate on their own. Can isolated component of THC reverse nausea from chemotherapy or control seizures?

(Published: Friday, August 12, 2016 at 4:30 PM EDT)

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Update: Aug. 29, 2016

Washington D.C. will cause tenants to be evicted from homes or apartments under “nuisance” laws even when tenants are not prosecuted, as in this case involving marijuana use, story by Derek Hawkins and Kate McCormick, “Forced out of a home over a marijuana joint“. Landlords, even individual homeowners who rent, are supposed to be responsible for illegal behavior on their premises.  What effect would this have on housing refugees or asylees?