Open Thread – It Wasn’t Aliens

The solar observatory at Sunspot, New Mexico, will reopen today. The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, which runs the observatory, released the following statement:

On September 6th the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) made the decision to temporarily vacate the Sunspot Solar Observatory at Sacramento Peak, New Mexico as a precautionary measure while addressing a security issue. The facility closed down in an orderly fashion and is now re-opening. The residents that vacated their homes will be returning to the site, and all employees will return to work this week. AURA has been cooperating with an on-going law enforcement investigation of criminal activity that occurred at Sacramento Peak. During this time, we became concerned that a suspect in the investigation potentially posed a threat to the safety of local staff and residents. For this reason, AURA temporarily vacated the facility and ceased science activities at this location. The decision to vacate was based on the logistical challenges associated with protecting personnel at such a remote location, and the need for expeditious response to the potential threat. AURA determined that moving the small number of on-site staff and residents off the mountain was the most prudent and effective action to ensure their safety. In light of recent developments in the investigation, we have determined there is no risk to staff, and Sunspot Solar Observatory is transitioning back to regular operations as of September 17th. Given the significant amount of publicity the temporary closure has generated, and the consequent expectation of an unusual number of visitors to the site, we are temporarily engaging a security service while the facility returns to a normal working environment. We recognize that the lack of communications while the facility was vacated was concerning and frustrating for some. However, our desire to provide additional information had to be balanced against the risk that, if spread at the time, the news would alert the suspect and impede the law enforcement investigation. That was a risk we could not take.

As I suspected, it was a threat against personnel there. More here. And open thread!

The US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York Strikes Again

They got him! They finally got him!!!!

I guess I’m not getting that $25 dollar electronic funds transfer though…

Open thread.

The Kavanaugh Hearing Live Feed

Not to pile on to BettyC’s post, but the live feed to the first day of the Judiciary Committee’s hearing on Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings is below. I’ve got it set to start with Senator Durbin asking a very important question, which is: who is the attorney that has determined which of Judge Kavanaugh’s work product documentation from his time as the Staff Secretary in President Bush’s administration can be released and which will be withheld under executive privilege? The short answer is that the attorney in question, Bill Burck, is not a Federal employee. He is neither a civil servant, nor is he a presidential appointee. He does not work for the White House Counsel’s Office, nor does he work for the Department of Justice. He is, however, the White House Counsel, Don McGahn’s, private attorney. He represents Mr. McGahn in his dealings with the Special Counsel’s Office and investigation, as well as several other administration officials in their dealings with the Special Counsel’s Office and investigation.

Also, it is never a good sign, but it is always amusing, when Senator Grassley gets completely whiny before 11:00 AM EDT (immediately after Senator Durbin and then Senator Kennedy’s follow on).

Open thread!

Republican Misinformation On Bruce Ohr

Note: Adam has already written a post on this New York Times story. I was working on this one, which comes at the issues a little differently, but there’s overlap. I decided not to change it by much. 

This is an amazing story. Amazing for its substance and for how it came to be.

Bruce Ohr is a Justice Department official whom Donald Trump has been tweeting about. Trump has linked Ohr to Hillary Clinton, Christopher Steele, and Russia. Why is Trump so concerned about a mid-level Justice Department official?

The Times story doesn’t directly address that question. But it fills in some things about Bruce Ohr. Additionally, it shows that Congressional Republicans have been using classification to invent a story that they thought couldn’t be refuted.

Christopher Steele and Bruce Ohr began discussing turning Oleg Deripaska in November 2014, almost a full year before the Washington Examiner, a conservative newspaper, engaged Fusion GPS to investigate Donald Trump’s background. The dossier that Steele would later pull together for Fusion and its later client, Hillary Clinton, was nine months in the future. Read more

California Bans Cash Bail… But Did they Do It Correctly?

Governor Brown’s signature made it official today: beginning in October 2019, if you are arrested and charged with a crime in California, your pretrial level of freedom will not be determined by your level of wealth. …In theory.

California will become the first state in the nation to completely end cash bail after Gov. Jerry Brown signed a sweeping reform bill Tuesday. It will give judges far more power over who gets released from jail as they await trial.

“Today, California reforms its bail system so that rich and poor alike are treated fairly,” Brown said[…]

It’s certainly removing money as an official part of the equation.

Under Senate Bill 10, Californians arrested and charged with a crime won’t be given the option of putting up money or borrowing it from a bail bond agent. Instead, county courts will use risk assessment tools to help judges determine if a defendant can be safety released before trial.


It’s a huge shift, and one that gives judges far more power over pretrial release decisions.

While nearly everyone involved in the bail fight in California, save for the bail industry, agreed that the current system is unfair and often punishes poor defendants while releasing wealthy defendants even if they pose a public safety, not everyone who supported bail reform is on board with the bill. Some civil rights groups that had championed the issue of bail reform [including the California ACLU] oppose the bill, saying it now gives too much power to judges who may have their own biases.

And not just power to judges. The use of ‘risk assessment tools’ brings to mind ProPublica’s controversial 2016 report on apparent racial bias in COMPAS recidivism-risk software.* And just like the judges, these tools, whether software or some other standardized rubric, are being given a lot of power.

My own internal scorecard sees: a good cause, Republicans opposed, Democrats in favor, and law enforcement officially neutral. That’s something I would usually support. But then, I also usually like the ACLU’s opinions, and such scorecards aren’t always right. What do you folks think?

*Good article on that reporting and the ensuing dispute, plus the overall topic of algorithm bias, at the MIT Technology Review. tl;dr: Impartial systems are by their nature biased. One must take care to make sure the included biases are the intended ones, and that the intended ones are just.