Barely Legally

Confessions of a Moot Court Bailiff

Executive Power Run Amok

Here’s John “Bush Torture Memo” Yoo with a powerful op-ed in the New York Times, titled Executive Power Run Amok:

As an official in the Justice Department, I followed in Hamilton’s footsteps, advising that President George W. Bush could take vigorous, perhaps extreme, measures to protect the nation after the Sept. 11 attacks, including invading Afghanistan, opening the Guantánamo detention center and conducting military trials and enhanced interrogation of terrorist leaders. Likewise, I supported President Barack Obama when he drew on this source of constitutional power for drone attacks and foreign electronic surveillance.

But even I have grave concerns about Mr. Trump’s uses of presidential power.

During the campaign, Mr. Trump gave little sign that he understood the constitutional roles of the three branches, as when he promised to appoint justices to the Supreme Court who would investigate Hillary Clinton. (Judge Neil M. Gorsuch will not see this as part of his job description.) In his Inaugural Address, Mr. Trump did not acknowledge that his highest responsibility, as demanded by his oath of office, is to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.” Instead, he declared his duty to represent the wishes of the people and end “American carnage,” seemingly without any constitutional restraint.

​Politics makes for strange bedfellows. You can have my pillow, Mr. Yoo.

Published in I Scream, Yoo Screams on

How I Update Jekyll From My iPhone: Part 1

I launched this site with the name “Almost Legally” just about a decade ago, at the end of my first year of law school. I’d spent a good amount of time tinkering with WordPress in college, and I was pretty comfortable with the software systems involved. And while those were the halcyon days for sites like Tumblr and LiveJournal, I felt it was important to keep my writing on my own site, instead of joining someone else’s. So I paid a small web hosting company four dollars a month for a folder to FTP into and a SQL database to point WordPress at.

WordPress is a fine platform, and it’s the gold standard for user-friendly blog software, but it’s overkill by a country mile for a one-man comedy law blog. WordPress has a ton of moving pieces and I really just need something to show a bunch of text. There are some philosophical arguments to be made for using a tool no more complicated than the job requires, and I generally find those convincing.

So I rented an entire server and taught myself how to administer that. This was probably a net increase in work, and definitely an increase in moving pieces, but it was a great chance to learn a new set of skills.

So I migrated this blog from WordPress to Octopress, and later to Jekyll. This meant giving up one of my favorite features in WordPress. See, WordPress has a pretty great mobile app for drafting, editing, and publishing posts on the go. Because WordPress runs on a server, you can log into the system anywhere and write new stuff or edit a typo you just found.

Jekyll, on the other hand, isn’t a suite of software you run on a server. It’s a series of shell scripts to which you feed a folder of text files; when it’s done, you have a folder full of HTML files you upload to a web server. So there’s no app for your phone or otherwise: you have to have a folder of text files and a computer to run the Jekyll command-line program.

This creates some friction. A decade ago, I owned a flip phone and did all my computing from my laptop. Jekyll would have been a great fit. But it’s 2017: I do most of my computing from my iPhone and go days or weeks without opening my laptop. So really, a central server and a slick app with which to publish posts would be great! WordPress is overkill, but some of those moving pieces come in really handy when you’re trying to make writing as frictionless as possible.

So here’s what I do to make sure updating my Jekyll site from my iPhone is as simple as if I still used WordPress. This is definitely not the only way to do it, it’s almost certainly not the right way to do this, and it’s probably not the smartest way to do this. But when I was trying to figure out how to do this, I pieced together a lot of information from a lot of different sources. Hopefully, having this all in one spot is useful for someone else.

Published in Nobody Asked, Nerd on

How To Read News Like A Search Warrant Application

Popehat’s Ken White, on How To Read News Like A Search Warrant Application:

If you’re not familiar with them, search warrant applications include a declaration under penalty of perjury from the investigating officer or agent. The declaration and supporting paperwork are supposed to identify the location to be searched, the items to be seized, and the specific facts providing probable cause that those items are evidence of a crime. Federal courts scrutinize search warrants more closely than state courts. That’s not the law; that’s just reality.

When I was a prosecutor, my job was to review proposed warrant applications from federal agents and make sure that they complied with legal requirements before submitting them for approval to federal magistrate judges. As a criminal defense attorney, my job is to analyze warrant applications that have yielded searches of my clients and scrutinize them for flaws and constitutional failures that I can present carefully and forthrightly to a judge so that the judge can then ignore or rationalize them. The critical eye that prosecutors and judges are supposed to use when reviewing a warrant application — and that defense lawyers use in evaluating whether they can be challenged — comes in handy in assessing the trustworthiness of news. Three doctrines in particular come to mind.

​Handy advice for critical thinking in any situation.

Published in Bureau of Fake Search Warrants on

How Democrats Killed Their Populist Soul

As the Democratic Party regroups and prepares for its time as an opposition party, it’s worth re-reading Matt Stoller’s piece in The Atlantic,How Democrats Killed Their Populist Soul. He begins immediately after Watergate, when a wave of reform-minded young Democrats were elected to Congress. These “Watergate Babies” swept out establishment Democrats who had led Congress since the economic populism of the New Deal era.

Over the next 40 years, this Democratic generation fundamentally altered American politics. They restructured “campaign finance, party nominations, government transparency, and congressional organization.” They took on domestic violence, homophobia, discrimination against the disabled, and sexual harassment. They jettisoned many racially and culturally authoritarian traditions. They produced Bill Clinton’s presidency directly, and in many ways, they shaped President Barack Obama’s.

The result today is a paradox. At the same time that the nation has achieved perhaps the most tolerant culture in U.S. history, the destruction of the anti-monopoly and anti-bank tradition in the Democratic Party has also cleared the way for the greatest concentration of economic power in a century. This is not what the Watergate Babies intended when they dethroned Patman as chairman of the Banking Committee.

Here’s a spoiler of how this story ends, with Bill Clinton elected the 43rd President with a platform completely silent on anti-monopoly policies for the first time since the 1920s. ​

Old problems also reemerged. Financial crises unseen since the 1920s began breaking out across the world, from Mexico to East Asia, prompted by “hot-money” flows. Deflation, rather than inflation, and a capital glut, rather than a capital shortage, started to concern policymakers. And it turns out, according to a McKinsey study, that a disproportionately large amount of the productivity gains from the remarkable computerization of the economy were the result of just one company: Walmart, the new A&P. The mega store’s economic influence “reached levels not seen by a single company since the 19th-century.” The gains of the 1990s, it turns out, were not structural, but illusory. Early in Bush’s term, the stock-market bubble burst and wages collapsed. A few years later, a global banking crisis, induced by a financial sector that had steadily gained power for 40 years, erupted. Concentration of power in the private sector, it turned out, had its downsides.

Published in The Do Not Pass Go Chronicles on

How Statistics Lost Their Power

William Davies, writing in The Guardian about how statistics lost their power:

In theory, statistics should help settle arguments. They ought to provide stable reference points that everyone – no matter what their politics – can agree on. Yet in recent years, divergent levels of trust in statistics has become one of the key schisms that have opened up in western liberal democracies. Shortly before the November presidential election, a study in the US discovered that 68% of Trump supporters distrusted the economic data published by the federal government. In the UK, a research project by Cambridge University and YouGov looking at conspiracy theories discovered that 55% of the population believes that the government “is hiding the truth about the number of immigrants living here”.

This is an unwelcome dilemma. Either the state continues to make claims that it believes to be valid and is accused by sceptics of propaganda, or else, politicians and officials are confined to saying what feels plausible and intuitively true, but may ultimately be inaccurate. Either way, politics becomes mired in accusations of lies and cover-ups.

And sometimes, what you don’t study is as ​much a political choice as what you do study.

The fact that GDP only captures the value of paid work, thereby excluding the work traditionally done by women in the domestic sphere, has made it a target of feminist critique since the 1960s. In France, it has been illegal to collect census data on ethnicity since 1978, on the basis that such data could be used for racist political purposes. (This has the side-effect of making systemic racism in the labour market much harder to quantify.)

Published in Three out of Four Dentists Agree on