Archive - Jan 2010

January 31st

Clean Elections and Judges

Ever since the Citizens United ruling, there has been an increased scrutiny of judges and the election process. We need the best laws and the best justice that democracy can dispense, not the best laws and the best justice that money can buy.

Justice Kennedy recognized the corrosive influence of political contributions in justice when he wrote the majority opinion in Caperton v Massey:

We conclude that there is a serious risk of actual bias - based on objective and reasonable perceptions - when a person with a personal stake in a particular case had a significant and disproportionate influence in placing the judge on the case by raising funds or directing the judge's election campaign when the case was pending or imminent.

Unlike Citizens United v. FEC, that statement is very narrowly crafted, but it does point to dangerous influences in the justice system. Likewise, many leaders have narrowly crafted their critiques of the Citizens United ruling, questioning the judgment, but not the credibility of the U.S. Supreme court. Nonetheless, many are now much more skeptical of the credibility of the U.S. Supreme Court.

In a recent conference call with bloggers, a noted Democratic strategist suggested that the impact of Citizens United might be less significant than people are fearing. He suggested that already the airwaves are saturated with campaign advertisements in the days leading up to an election. He ignores some simple aspects about the effect of Citizens United on campaign advertising. First, with more demand of these advertising slots, the law of supply and demand suggests the cost of these advertising slots will increase, making it all the more a bidding game to the candidate and the independent corporations with the most money. In addition, corporations will now be able to go directly after candidates, instead of running their ‘issues campaigns’. More significant, however, is not the amount of advertisements run, but the pressure that corporations will be able to place on candidates; “If you don’t vote for my bill, I will flood the airwaves with advertisements against you.” It would seem that this potential threat creates “a serious risk of actual bias”, to use Kennedy’s words. Perhaps, if corporations are allowed to have “significant and disproportionate influence” on all congressional campaigns, all of Congress needs to recuse itself from any laws giving corporations what they are lobbying for.

Yet the concern is not only at the national level. This ruling could have even greater effect in states where it would be less expensive to buy legislators or judges. In another conference call, a Republican Strategist who supports the Fair Elections Now Act recounted a story of a meeting of the appointments chief for a governor in Texas where there are no campaign contribution limits, with the appointments chief for a governor in Wisconsin which has strict campaign contribution limits. In trying to understand the practical implications of the law, the Texas appointments chief asked, if the amount that a person can contribute to a campaign is limited, how do you know who to appoint?

Here in Connecticut, we are now running into this issue. As Gov. Rell, a Governor elected before the Citizens Election Program was put in place, winds down her final term, there is talk that she is looking to appoint twelve new judges. Editorials in the Norwich Bulletin and the Hartford Courant question the timing of these patronage jobs. Their concern is that as the Judicial Branch is facing shortfalls and as result closing courts and law libraries, it is the wrong time to spend a lot of money on new judges.

I would suggest that it is always the wrong time to make patronage appointments and that this illustrates yet again, how the Citizens Election Program saves the people of Connecticut money. While we still have a Governor who was elected under the old system, our state legislator was elected under the Citizens Election Program. They should oppose any judicial nominations that raise reasonable perceptions that the judges are being appointed out of patronage instead of out of need. While they are at it, they need to get on the stick and make sure that the Citizens Election Program is fully funded and improved to meet the legal concerns raised about it.

(Cross posted at MyLeftNutmeg.)

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January 30th

Woodbridge Burglaries

In December, I was forwarded an email about two early morning residential burglaries in Woodbridge, CT. I followed up by asking the Woodbridge Police to send copies of their press releases to me. They declined the request, so I brought it up at the next Police Commission meeting. At the meeting, Woodbridge Police Chief Gene Marcucci informed the commission and me that they would start placing their press releases on the Woodbridge Police Department website.

I suggested that it might be easier and more timely if the press releases could be sent out via to the town email system to interested journalists and residents, and I still hope that they will consider that. Since that date, I have frequently checked the Woodbridge Police Department website. Over a month has gone by since the previous press release had been issued. However, today, I was pleased to find a press release dated January 27th.

The press release announced the arrest of James C. Hamilton, aged 30, of 68 Sylvan Avenue, New Haven, CT. The press release states that “Working with investigators from both the New Haven Police Dept. and the East Haven Police Dept., Woodbridge Police detectives were able to link Hamilton to these burglaries and were able to recover items stolen from both homes.”

A quick search of the CT Judicial Branch website lists two cases with a James Hamilton as a defendant. One appears to be from the Woodbridge Police Department arrest, listing eight felonies and two misdemeanors which occurred on December 17th. Another case with a James Hamilton listed as the defendant is from the East Haven Police, on December 18th, including possession of narcotics. Both cases will have their next day in court on Feb 3rd. The court website also shows thirteen convictions of a James Hamilton from 2001 to 2007.

It is good to know that the suspect in the burglaries is in custody, that items that had been stolen have been recovered. It is especially good to know that the Woodbridge Police Department is making information about the arrest available to any journalist or resident that is interested.

(Cross-posted at the Woodbridge Citizen.)

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Controlling the Status LED on the Nokia N900

My latest adventure with the Nokia N900 has been learning how to control the Status LED on the front of the Nokia N900. The best discussion of this can be found in the thread (N900) Possible to change the colour of the notification light???.

Codemonkey listed the current set of patterns and said that adding new patterns to the list should be easy, but that getting other applications to use the new patterns might be difficult. So, I figured I would go out and add a few new patterns and see if I could get them to work.

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January 29th

iPads, Nexus One and the N900

So, I’ve had my N900 for a little over a month now. I’ve written programs for it, I’ve streamed video on it, I’ve used it as an MP3 player to listen to music as well as to books on tape. I’ve used the PDF viewer for reading court briefings and maps of local parks. I used it as a tape recorder, an HDR camera, a game console, and even used it from time to time to send and receive text messages or make phone calls.

I’ve also followed closely discussions in the Maemo developers world about problems with the maemo and Nokia servers, issues about documentation, testing, and the community as a whole. I’ve talked about these issues with friends of mine in the open source industry. During this time, I’ve also watched the launch of Nexus One and of the iPad.

Through all of this, I’ve wondered if the N900, Maemo, and Nokia have what it takes to remain relevant in the rapidly changing world of Internet enabled mobile devices. In spite of everything I love about the N900, I still have significant doubts.

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January 28th

High Dynamic Range (HDR) Imaging on the #n900 Using Gstreamer and Enfuse

I am constantly finding new and interesting things to do with my Nokia N900 phone and the latest is HDR photography. It took a little work to get it going, but I now have my first HDR photographs.

I started off by reading the thread HDR Pictures with the N900?. It pointed to an article about HDR and Python. The article looked promising and talked about using CHDK and exposure bracketing. I have CHDK running on my Cannon camera, but wanted to find out what is available on the N900 similar to CHDK.

In looking around a little bit more, I found simple intervalometer for the N900 (time-lapse photography). This uses gstreamer and was used as part of the Kite Aerial Photography project. Note to self: kite aerial photography looks like another very cool and interesting project.

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