Monthly Archives: June 2011

Voting for Carlos Gimenez for Miami-Dade Mayor

The choice facing voters in tomorrow’s non-partisan election for Mayor of Miami-Dade County is between a pretty-far-right budget-cutting anti-labor Republican with technocratic leanings, a reputation for probity, and the SAVE Dade endorsement, versus a maybe slightly-farther-right budget-cutting anti-labor Republican with a taste for Tammany Hall (Cuban style) politics, a reputation for shady dealings, and the endorsement of both Jeb Bush and the Latin Builders Association.

I am not one who says that it would be so refreshing to have an honest man in the Mayor’s seat that we should be excited about Carlos Gimenez, even though I plan to vote for him and suggest that readers do also.  I happen to think that his predecessor, whom the voters overwhelmingly recalled, mostly for bad reasons, likely was honest too.  That’s only part of the game.

There are, however, two good reasons to vote for Gimenez, one negative and one positive, and they suffice.  First, the surprisingly valid negative: Gimenez is s not Julio Robaina.  Robaina, an open believer in old-fashioned ethnic politics and in the legal sorts of vote-buying, would be a lousy choice even if he didn’t seem ethically challenged and in some danger of indictment.  Second, given Gimenez’s ideological baseline, he deserves credit for consistency and technocratic competence.  Gimenez was, for example, one of the lone voices against the ill-conceived stadium giveaway.  Other so-called conservatives piled on to what they must have thought was the populist gravy train.

With Gimenez, what you see is very likely what you will get.  We ought to be able to imagine better.  It is extremely easy, however, to imagine worse:  just look at the other guy.

The election is tomorrow, Tuesday June 28, 2011.  If you are registered, go vote.  If you are not registered and are eligible to vote, this would be a really good week to go down to city hall — before you forget — and take care of that detail so you are ready for the next one.

The only major public pre-election poll suggests that Gimenez will win if turnout is high on election day: Robaina seems likely to dominate the absentee vote, but the voters who say they are likely to vote in person, whether early or on election day favor Gimenez; he ought therefore to win if neither weather (storms predicted) nor complacency keeps his vote at home — and if the polls somehow managed to model the substantial absentee ballot fraud vote that seems endemic to our local politics.

Posted in Miami | 3 Comments

Miami Law Handheld Version

Who knew that there was a DS game called Miami Law?

And so what if it was made in Japan, and used to be called “Miami Crisis”?

Pity that it is just cops-and-robbers and — worse — that Gamespot calls it a simple, short, and thoroughly ridiculous buddy-cop graphic adventure steeped in mediocrity (but gives it five out of ten anyway; users rate it 6.3, which still isn’t that wonderful).

I think a DS game about getting through law school might be much more exciting, no?

Posted in Completely Different | Leave a comment

Google Health Has Only Months to Live

HealthVault to die 1/1/12:

When we launched Google Health, our goal was to create a service that would give people access to their personal health and wellness information. We wanted to translate our successful consumer-centered approach from other domains to healthcare and have a real impact on the day-to-day health experiences of millions of our users.

Now, with a few years of experience, we’ve observed that Google Health is not having the broad impact that we hoped it would. There has been adoption among certain groups of users like tech-savvy patients and their caregivers, and more recently fitness and wellness enthusiasts. But we haven’t found a way to translate that limited usage into widespread adoption in the daily health routines of millions of people. That’s why we’ve made the difficult decision to discontinue the Google Health service. We’ll continue to operate the Google Health site as usual through January 1, 2012, and we’ll provide an ongoing way for people to download their health data for an additional year beyond that, through January 1, 2013. Any data that remains in Google Health after that point will be permanently deleted.

Official Google Blog: An update on Google Health and Google PowerMeter

There were some major privacy issues, although (because?) Google Health navigated around HIPAA effectively. I wonder how many people exactly were using it? The people at Microsoft HealthVault must be very happy today.

Posted in Health Care, ID Cards and Identification, Internet | Leave a comment

Fear and Loathing in the Heartland

Matt Taibbi does Michele Bachmann for Rolling Stone and puts in a bid to be the Hunter S. Thompson of our times.

Posted in Politics: Tinfoil | 1 Comment

A Motion With Balls

This summary judgment motion must surely be one of the all-time classics.

I wonder if the lawyers told the clients that they had a slam dunk?

Posted in Law: Practice | 1 Comment

Crowdsourcing Book Title & Design

Bruce Schneier is asking you to help him pick the title and cover for his next book.

Posted in Cryptography, National Security | Leave a comment

EFF Straight Up on Bitcoin

Nobody’s perfect, and even the regularly sharp and interesting Technology Liberation Front blog can miss the point sometimes, a hazard of trying to push the envelope. And that’s what I think has happened in EFF Gone Wobbly on Bitcoin.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation‘s Cindy Cohn announced yesterday that EFF would no longer take BitCoins.1 She gave several reasons:

1. EFF’s holding and spending of Bitcoins created some legal issues that EFF didn’t fully understand.

Bitcoin raises untested legal concerns related to securities law, the Stamp Payments Act, tax evasion, consumer protection and money laundering, among others. And that’s just in the U.S.

2. Doing something that raises legal questions risks making EFF the subject of a legal action, rather than the lawyer defending someone else.

While EFF is often the defender of people ensnared in legal issues arising from new technologies, we try very hard to keep EFF from becoming the actual subject of those fights or issues. Since there is no caselaw on this topic, and the legal implications are still very unclear, we worry that our acceptance of Bitcoins may move us into the possible subject role.

3. Donors might be misled. Donors who give EFF Bitcoins (and there were quite a few of them!) would expect EFF to spend them to support its mission. But because EFF feels unable to spend Bitcoins, due to the legal issues they raise, that expectation would be dashed. That’s bad for the donors — they waste their Bitcoins — and it’s bad for EFF, as it risks disappointing the donors (and, I might add, crowding out donations in currency it would actually use).

4. Some people might take EFF’s high-profile acceptance of Bitcoins as an endorsement of Bitcoins. But EFF is not in the endorsement business.

Cindy is an old and valued friend, so I’m likely biased here, but I think that in the face of true uncertainty, EFF did the wise and courageous thing.

But Jim Harper of the TLF writes that he thinks EFF’s decision is an error:

My insta-reaction was to joke: “Related: ACLU to stop bringing ‘right to petition’ cases.” That’s a little ambiguous, so: Imagine that the government took a position in litigation that suing the government was not protected by the First Amendment, but was in fact actionable. Under EFF’s logic—avoid becoming the subject of a rights fight—the ACLU would not fight the government on that issue. Luckily, the ACLU would fight the government on that issue—as fiercely or more fiercely than any other!

I think this misses Cindy’s second point above, which to me is probably the most critical one: An organization like EFF exists to fight for our rights by advocacy, by offering legal representation, and by other means. Prudent stewardship of an institution like EFF requires that it not lightly risk the organization on any one issue. (I’m not foreclosing the possibility that there might some day be some existential issue worth betting the farm on, but I think no one seriously suggests Bitcoin is The Big One.) When EFF represents clients, it donates its time, effort, and good name; it doesn’t stand as a guarantor for damages if the case goes wrong. Thus, if EFF loses — and that happens — EFF lives on to fight another day. Becoming a party directly means risking substantial direct civil (and for all I know criminal) liability. That’s unwise because it means a loss in one matter will impose costs that will undermine EFF’s ability to function in other areas and might, in the worst case, take down the entire organization.

This concern does not strike me as excessively fanciful. The US government today is busy prosecuting reporters and whistle-blowers on new and expansive legal theories. The Justice Department has taken a litigation posture in state secrets cases that is at least as aggressive as the Bush administration did. EFF has been a leader in pushing back against secret surveillance, and is undoubtedly a thorn in the Justice Department’s side. Would, say, a Stamp Act, or money laundering, or securities law charge against what may have been the largest single holder of Bitcoins be impossible to imagine? No. While I don’t know how likely such a prosecution would be, the prudent thing for EFF management to do is not to expose itself to that risk.

Jim Harper’s second complaint is that,

refusing donations in Bitcoin seems to detract from EFF’s mission because it denies the organization a source of funds. The donors who gave U.S. dollars expecting EFF to defend things like Bitcoin may feel mislead by EFF’s reluctance to do so.

Again, I think this is exactly wrong. People who give dollars to EFF will have their reasonable expectations fulfilled: EFF will use the money to fight for cyber-rights and expressive freedom. People who gave Bitcoins to EFF had their reasonable expectations frustrated once EFF decided, prudently (or even excessively prudently), that it couldn’t safely spend them without perhaps becoming a (rather visible) target itself.

Were the federal government to prosecute a participant to a Bitcoin transaction, that might well be a good case for EFF to take on, subject to the usual case intake issues. But as a lawyer or advocate, not as the defendant.

  1. I am a member of EFF’s Advisory Board. However, I had no part in the decision on Bitcoin, and have no inside info regarding the decision other than knowing from a brief personal conversation that the concerns set out in the EFF memo are sincerely held by EFF’s lawyers and result from their having put some real time into the issue. The views expressed in this blog post are my own, and I do not speak for EFF on this — or indeed any — issue. 

Posted in Cryptography, Law: Internet Law | Leave a comment