Take that, Sebelius!

A judge ruled today that Plan B can once again be purchased OTC for women of all ages (well, in 30 days it will be)! For now, they’re still behind the counter and only women 17 and over can buy them without a prescription.

My new favorite judge, U.S. District Judge Edward Korman, had a great quote in his ruling:

The invocation of the adverse effect of Plan B on 11- year-olds is an excuse to deprive the overwhelming majority of women of their right to obtain contraceptives without unjustified and burdensome restrictions.

And to think, Judge Korman was appointed by Reagan!

In response to the ruling, Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said,

“Today science has finally prevailed over politics.”

Planned Parenthood said the ruling was,

“good policy, good science and good sense”

It warms my heart to see social justice advocates invoke science in their victory speeches.

It was only a little over a year ago, Dec. 2011, that Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of Health & Human Services, made the unprecedented decision to nix the strong FDA recommendation to make Plan B available to all, because of “cognitive and behavioral” differences in girls of the youngest reproductive age.

The case: Tummino v. von Eschenbach, 05-cv-366, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn)


United States Sentencing Commission’s website, USSC.gov hacked

Anonymous has apparently taken over ussc.gov

They’ve got a 9 min video explaining their actions as part of Operation Last Resort. A couple of lines in the video make the skeptic in me think that it’s a (really, really well done) DOJ hoax meant to portray Anonymous in a negative light, but in the end I’m guessing it is legit. They claim that the judicial system and many other systems in the US have become fundamentally unjust, serving the needs of the powerful. The disproportionate sentencing they mentioned seems to be why this site was targeted first. This places citizens, like Aaron Swartz, in a game where, quoting the ’80s film War Games, “the only winning move is not to play.”

See the text of their message below.

Citizens of the world,

Anonymous has observed for some time now the trajectory of justice in the United States with growing concern. We have marked the departure of this system from the noble ideals in which it was born and enshrined. We have seen the erosion of due process, the dilution of constitutional rights, the usurpation of the rightful authority of courts by the “discretion” of prosecutors. We have seen how the law is wielded less and less to uphold justice, and more and more to exercise control, authority and power in the interests of oppression or personal gain.

We have been watching, and waiting.

Two weeks ago today, a line was crossed. Two weeks ago today, Aaron Swartz was killed. Killed because he faced an impossible choice. Killed because he was forced into playing a game he could not win — a twisted and distorted perversion of justice — a game where the only winning move was not to play.

Anonymous immediately convened an emergency council to discuss our response to this tragedy. After much heavy-hearted discussion, the decision was upheld to engage the United States Department of Justice and its associated executive branches in a game of a similar nature, a game in which the only winning move is not to play.

Last year the Federal Bureau of Investigation revelled in porcine glee at its successful infiltration of certain elements of Anonymous. This infiltration was achieved through the use of the *same tactics which lead to Aaron Swartz’ death. It would not have been possible were it not for the power of federal prosecutors to thoroughly destroy the lives of any hacktivists they apprehend through the very real threat of highly disproportionate sentencing.

As a result of the FBI’s infiltration and entrapment tactics, several more of our brethren now face similar disproportionate persecution, the balance of their lives hanging on the severely skewed scales of a broken justice system.

We have felt within our hearts a burning rage in reaction to these events, but we have not allowed ourselves to be drawn into a foolish and premature response. We have bidden our time, operating in the shadows, adapting our tactics and honing our abilities. We have allowed the FBI and its masters in government — both the puppet and the shadow government that controls it — to believe they had struck a crippling blow to our infrastructure, that they had demoralized us, paralyzed us with paranoia and fear. We have held our tongue and waited.

With Aaron’s death we can wait no longer. The time has come to show the United States Department of Justice and its affiliates the true meaning of infiltration. The time has come to give this system a taste of its own medicine. The time has come for them to feel the helplessness and fear that comes with being forced into a game where the odds are stacked against them.

This website was chosen due to the symbolic nature of its purpose — the federal sentencing guidelines which enable prosecutors to cheat citizens of their constitutionally-guaranteed right to a fair trial, by a jury of their peers — the federal sentencing guidelines which are in clear violation of the 8th amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishments. This website was also chosen due to the nature of its visitors. It is far from the only government asset we control, and we have exercised such control for quite some time…

There has been a lot of fuss recently in the technological media regarding such operations as Red October, the widespread use of vulnerable browsers and the availability of zero-day exploits for these browsers and their plugins. None of this comes of course as any surprise to us, but it is perhaps good that those within the information security industry are making the extent of these threats more widely understood.

Still there is nothing quite as educational as a well-conducted demonstration…

Through this websites and various others that will remain unnamed, we have been conducting our own infiltration. We did not restrict ourselves like the FBI to one high-profile compromise. We are far more ambitious, and far more capable. Over the last two weeks we have wound down this operation, removed all traces of leakware from the compromised systems, and taken down the injection apparatus used to detect and exploit vulnerable machines.

We have enough fissile material for multiple warheads. Today we are launching the first of these. Operation Last Resort has begun…

Warhead – U S – D O J – L E A – 2013 . A E E 256 is primed and armed. It has been quietly distributed to numerous mirrors over the last few days and is available for download from this website now. We encourage all Anonymous to syndicate this file as widely as possible.

The contents are various and we won’t ruin the speculation by revealing them. Suffice it to say, everyone has secrets, and some things are not meant to be public. At a regular interval commencing today, we will choose one media outlet and supply them with heavily redacted partial contents of the file. Any media outlets wishing to be eligible for this program must include within their reporting a means of secure communications.

We have not taken this action lightly, nor without consideration of the possible consequences. Should we be forced to reveal the trigger-key to this warhead, we understand that there will be collateral damage. We appreciate that many who work within the justice system believe in those principles that it has lost, corrupted, or abandoned, that they do not bear the full responsibility for the damages caused by their occupation.

It is our hope that this warhead need never be detonated.

However, in order for there to be a peaceful resolution to this crisis, certain things need to happen. There must be reform of outdated and poorly-envisioned legislation, written to be so broadly applied as to make a felony crime out of violation of terms of service, creating in effect vast swathes of crimes, and allowing for selective punishment. There must be reform of mandatory minimum sentencing. There must be a return to proportionality of punishment with respect to actual harm caused, and consideration of motive and mens rea. The inalienable right to a presumption of innocence and the recourse to trial and possibility of exoneration must be returned to its sacred status, and not gambled away by pre-trial bargaining in the face of overwhelming sentences, unaffordable justice and disfavourable odds. Laws must be upheld unselectively, and not used as a weapon of government to make examples of those it deems threatening to its power.

For good reason the statue of lady justice is blindfolded. No more should her innocence be besmirked, her scales tipped, nor her swordhand guided. Furthermore there must be a solemn commitment to freedom of the internet, this last great common space of humanity, and to the common ownership of information to further the common good.

We make this statement do not expect to be negotiated with; we do not desire to be negotiated with. We understand that due to the actions we take we exclude ourselves from the system within which solutions are found. There are others who serve that purpose, people far more respectable than us, people whose voices emerge from the light, and not the shadows. These voices are already making clear the reforms that have been necessary for some time, and are outright required now.

It is these people that the justice system, the government, and law enforcement must engage with. Their voices are already ringing strong with a chorus of determined resolution. We demand only that this chorus is not ignored. We demand the government does not make the mistake of hoping that time will dampen its ringing, that they can ride out this wave of determination, that business as usual can continue after a sufficient period of lip-service and back-patting.

Not this time. This time there will be change, or there will be chaos…


Catholic hospital’s malpractice defense: fetuses aren’t people

Hypocrisy at its finest.

In 2006, a 31-year old woman 7 mo. pregnant with twins came to the hospital with a “clogged” pulmonary artery, which led to a heart attack. The OB/GYN on call (coincidentally her obstetrician) never answered his page. She died within an hour and her twins died, too. Her husband sued for wrongful-death of the twins. Catholic Health Initiatives, which runs that hospital, plus ~170 other health facilities in 17 states and has assets of $15 billion, has won in the District Court and the CO Court of Appeals by arguing that legally ‘person’ only encompasses those born alive, so the death of twin fetuses cannot be part of a wrongful death claim. The state Supreme Court will decide in the next few weeks whether to take the case or not.

I’m strongly pro-choice, so I understand why many people might be nervous about a ruling in favor of the plaintiff. Classifying this woman’s twin fetuses as “persons” only opens the door for further restrictions on abortion. Perhaps a good standard for determining where to draw the line in cases of fetal death would be based in large part on the pregnant woman’s intentions. This is still a far from perfect standard and it wouldn’t be much help if a woman’s intentions aren’t clear or if she hasn’t made up her mind. However, it does seem to be a way of respecting the fact causing the death of a woman’s fetus is more harmful to her if she wants to continue with her pregnancy than if she does not.

In this case, I buy the plaintiff’s (her husband) argument that a decision in favor of the defendant could set precedent that would relieve “doctors of responsibility to patients whose viable fetuses are at risk.” I also understand that the defendant, Catholic Health Initiatives, is making the strongest case it can based on existing law. That said, it seems disingenuous for an organization whose care is “rooted in a commitment to respect the sacredness of every human life from the moment of conception to death” to use this defense–especially when it also claims moral leadership, and names “moral wholeness, soundness, fidelity, trust, truthfulness in all we do” as core values.

Catholic health organizations provide a tremendous amount of care around the country and around the world, but I don’t think it’s appropriate for Bishops, instead of medical doctors, to set standards of healthcare. I hope that it doesn’t take another senseless death like that of Savita Halappanavar to ensure that all emergency departments in the U.S.* provide the full range of  healthcare to their patients. The Catholic Church’s willingness to claim that fetuses are “unborn children” when a woman wants to have an abortion but that they aren’t “persons” when defending themselves in a law suit only highlights the fact that the Church’s stances on birth control and abortion are really just about controlling women and their reproduction.


*I understand that a case like Savita Halappanavar’s would be less likely to happen here than in Ireland, where abortion is illegal, because in the U.S., she could be transported to another hospital. However, such a transport takes up valuable time that could be the difference between life and death.

Secret goat herd found at the world’s #2 antibody producer

USDA officials discovered a herd of 841 goats in an allegedly unreported production facility owned by Santa Cruz Biotechnology, the world’s second-biggest supplier of antibodies for research. The Nature news article explains that investigators were tipped off to the facility where they found the goats, “some of which were lame, anaemic or had protruding bones.” The company was inspected nine times last year, far more than the normal once or twice. A pre-existing USDA animal-welfare complaint against Santa Cruz Biotechnology needs to be resolved by January 31 or a judge could suspend the company’s operations. I wonder what kind of an impact this would have on biotech research that uses antibodies currently only produced by Santa Cruz Biotechnology.

How low can you go?

Pretty low, if you’re photographer and all-around upright citizen (UK), Les Pringle. Pringle, 48, has been found guilty of intentionally infecting a female partner with HIV. Even better, he’s  a “serial “ladies’ man…feared to have infected countless women with HIV” and is said to show “no remorse.”

Get Yourself TestedTalk to Your PartnerPractice Safer Sex.

Education wants to be free

The story
Coursera, a California-based company founded earlier this year, offers free courses from some of the top universities in the world. However, Minnesota’s Office of Higher Education told Coursera not to offer its courses to residents of their state, citing a 20-year-old law barring degree-granting institutions from offering courses to Minnesotans without registering and paying a fee. The internet blew up about it when the news broke Thursday, and in one day MN decided to stop enforcing the law (how’s that for gov’t efficiency? ‘people-power’ [or mass action as biochemists would say] in action).

It’s an interesting  example of a case that probably would have bipartisan, +/- universal support. Why would you NOT allow free education on the internet? Republicans would say: clearly this is a case of government regulation getting out of control. Democrats would say: this is what happens when you try to ‘Ayn Rand’ the world by putting a price on everything–after all, ‘information wants to be free’!

Yet the law itself had good intentions–to prevent degree-mill scams from taking Minnesotans’ money.

Degree mills, credentialism, & patient safety
I doubt this law would protect citizens from degree mills, but I generally have a negative view of for-profit education and the increasing ‘credentialism’ I see in the US. The most salient trend I’ve seen is that once a for-profit institution (eg. U of Phoenix) begins to offer a certificate or ‘degree’ in something, then employers respond over time by requiring that applicants have the degree (they’re trying to minimize training costs and risk of incompetence). Before you know it, entire professions are locked in to the ‘credentialist’ system, forcing workers to pay for their own job training, even for entry-level positions, before they even get the job. While an argument could be made that this really serves the public good by protecting against incompetence, I think that in many cases it does more harm than good.

For example–I’ve known people who had to pay hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to go to school to get a phlebotomist (someone who draws blood) degree. These were usually people who were already doing phlebotomy in their jobs and who were doing a very good job of it. They were lucky to have found one of those rare employers that still did on-the-job training for things like that. Yet they had to pay lots of money and spend lots of time taking these classes in order to get a pay raise or find employment in a different health system. I don’t mean to malign phlebotomists or the work they do, but it really does not require a degree to be done well. On-the-job training should be sufficient to ensure phlebotomists do their job right without compromising their own or patients’ safety.

As with most things, the burden of ‘credentialism’ falls greatest on the poor. It hinders upward mobility and enriches the owners of parasitic institutions (degree mills) that aren’t providing any real service to society.