The Ninth Circuit Offers Prenda Law A Brusque Bench-Slap

The notorious gang of crooked fraudsters and copyright trolls Prenda law — documented extensively here — continues to face bad fortune. Last month we learned that the FBI is investigating them. Now, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has affirmed the apocalyptic sanctions order that marked their turning point — Judge Wright's geek-reference-laden death blow sanctions order.

We shouldn't be surprised, as the Ninth Circuit oral argument more than a year ago went very badly for Prenda. The Ninth Circuit's languidly decided opinion is worse. You can read it here. It's unpublished, suggesting that the judges didn't view it as presenting sufficiently novel issues to merit publication. It's also relatively brief and informal, suggesting the panel didn't think that any of it presented a close call. It accepts Judge Wright's conclusions as well-supported by the record and repeats them to brutal effect:

Based on the myriad of information before it—including depositions and court documents from other cases around the country where the Prenda Principals were found contradicting themselves, evading questioning, and possibly committing identity theft and fraud on the courts—it was not an abuse of discretion for Judge Wright to find that Steele, Hansmeier, and Duffy were principals and the parties actually responsible for the abusive litigation. Similarly, it was not an abuse of discretion for Judge Wright to find that the Prenda Principals were indeed the leaders and decision-makers behind Prenda Law’s national trolling scheme.

. . .

The Prenda Principals have engaged in abusive litigation, fraud on courts across the country, and willful violation of court orders. They have lied to other courts about their ability to pay sanctions.

Prenda's dead. The courts are bouncing the rubble and the FBI is ambling out to slit the throats of the wounded.

Good riddance.

Kosovo Deserves Digital Independence 

When I did my LLM in Italy, I got sat at the “Muslim Table” during a dinner. They plunked down three bottles of wine. I said “well, as long as you guys don’t mind me drinking here, I’ll be happy to be at the Muslim table.”

The guy next to me says "I can not allow an American to drink alone. May Allah forgive me.” Then we drank all the wine. Then we realized that we actually look a lot alike. Like creepily so. A long friendship was born.

He happened to be from Kosovo.

Well, anyhow, I was emailing with him, and noticed that his government email address ended in .com. I asked “what the hell is up with that?” He explained that ICANN wouldn’t give Kosovo its own ccTLD because they don't recognize it as a “real country.”

That grinds my gears.

Kosovo gained political independence, but it remains a digital vassal of its former master, Serbia. Despite Kosovo’s political independence, won through armed conflict and international diplomatic recognition, ICANN denies the new country its online independence by refusing to grant it control of its own top level domain.  ICANN’s refusal to do so does not seem to have any degree of intellectual honesty, but seems more rooted in political expediency and a desire to avoid offending Serbia (and thus by extension, Russia).  After a full exhaustive study of the legal and political issues, I published Kosovo’s Digital Independence: Time for Kosovo’s CCTLD.

In the article, I discuss the fact that this is not just a matter of national pride – although national pride should be a sufficient justification.  The real justification is that Kosovo deserves full digital independence.  A ccTLD is not merely a symbolic indicator of independence, however. Control over ccTLDs allows a nation to control an essential part of their information and technological infrastructure that can affect telecommunications, power grids, banking, and electronic surveillance. National governments recognize ccTLDs as a component of their sovereignty and a vital national interest.

Kosovo broke most other technological ties with Serbia. For example, Kosovo and Serbia agreed that Austria could apply on behalf of Kosovo for an international country calling code as part of the 2013 Brussels Agreement.  Up until 1999, Kosovo was covered by the Serbian cell phone network and used the +63 dialing code.   Without its own dialing code but with a need to distance itself from Serbian control, Kosovo could use the old Yugoslavian +381 code or could “borrow” a code from another country.   In 1999, Kosovo began using Monaco’s +377 code.   The Kosovo government essentially regards +63 as illegal since 2008 and kicked out most of the Serbian cell network.

As for its ccTLD designation, Kosovo cannot get out from under Serbia’s thumb so easily.  Kosovo continues to remain under Serbia’s ccTLD, even if as a practical matter Kosovo refuses to use it. Kosovo government websites are all on other TLDs, usually “.com” “.net” or “.org.”  While this is superior to using a hostile foreign government’s ccTLD, it places these TLDs at least partially under the laws of the United States, as they are privately administered by Verisign52 and Public Interest Registry.   Legally, if someone wanted to take action against these domains, they could do so in the Eastern District of Virginia, even though American courts would normally have no place meddling in the affairs of any other independent nation.

Ultimately, this renders Kosovo as an online anomaly. It violently broke free from Serbia, and no reasonable observer can likely see it ever returning to Serbian rule.  Since its official ccTLD remains .rs (Serbia) its online presence is still under the Serb National Internet Domain Registry.  To evade the censorship and cybersecurity issues that would arise from using “.rs,” Kosovo places its online flag in Virginia. Given the revelations of what the U.S. government and U.S. corporations consider to be fair game when it comes to surveillance and the commercial and governmental use of personal information, one might imagine that this is an inappropriate state of affairs for a self-respecting independent country.

While ICANN refuses to give Kosovo a TLD, it lacks any justifiable reason.  Is it controversial?  Of course it is.  But is it any more controversial than granting the Palestinian State its own TLD?  The Soviet Union fell decades ago, but Lenin's old empire remains active online under .su.  East Timor, before and after independence, had its own “.tp” and then “.tl.”  And, most analogously, Taiwan is at .tw, despite being recognized by fewer nations than Kosovo and both it and China continuing to maintain that it is not actually “independent.”  Finally, even insignificant specks of land like Saint Helena Island and Pitcairn Island have complete digital independence, while ICANN refuses to give it to Kosovo.

As Kosovo’s recognition as an independent state grows, Kosovo still has to struggle to fully escape Serbia’s orbit. The Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation Among States in Accordance with the Charter of the United Nations provides that as a matter of international law, “it is a bedrock principle that every state ‘has the right freely to choose and develop its political, social, economic and cultural systems.’”  The international and technological communities have the ability to help Kosovo along this path to full digital independence—or to at least get out of the way. Kosovo’s full and complete independence requires that it have its own country code top-level domain.

ICANN could easily remedy the situation by granting a ccTLD to Kosovo as it has done for many countries (and for a number of less- than countries) in the past. ICANN relies on its general practice of using ISO 3166-1 country codes to refute any discussion of granting Kosovo its own ccTLD, although it has also made clear that this practice is not its official standard.  Support from 111 of the UN members and the United States’ backing of Kosovo make it inexplicable that Kosovo remains without its own ccTLD.  Kosovo gained its territorial independence through armed struggle and international recognition. Objections to its independence lack intellectually honest justification, and its digital independence should not be held hostage by old Balkan rivalries. The time has come for Kosovo to be given a full seat at the Internet, international, and independence tables.

The full study of this issue can be found at Kosovo's Digital Independence: Time for Kosovo's CCTLD, Wisconsin Int’l Law Journal, I hope you'll enjoy reading it.

How Inanely Censorious Can College Administrators Get? University of Wisconsin – Superior Will Show You

Over at The Torch at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Adam Steinbaugh reports on a university administration sinking to depths of censorious idiocy that managed to surprise me.

The University of Wisconsin – Superior's student newspaper, The Promethean, ran an April Fool edition for the second year in the row. The entire concept of April Fool's Day is inherently problematic, as it generally involves making fun of someone, even if they are in what they view as their safe space. April Fool's editions by college papers are particularly triggering because of the huge delta between how funny college students believe they are and how funny they actually are. But this edition — linked in Adam's piece above — was awfully mild, with the "edgiest" piece being satire by a Jewish student about being Jewish in Wisconsin.

Tumult ensued.

Tumult is banal. College students gonna college student. Just as satire is free speech, so is hand-wringing, self-to-the-cross-nailing, and caterwauling of every type. This is the time to do that sort of thing, so knock yourself out! Believe me, you're going to have trouble being satisfactorily outraged when you're paying down a mortgage and trying to keep your kids from discovering meth.

No, the problem is not young adults acting like young adults, whether with satire or outrage. The problem arises when nominal adults react in an unprincipled and irresponsible manner. That's what happened here, when university administrators announced they were launching an "investigation" based on a "grievance" filed against the satirical edition by a grad student:

Debbie Cheslock, graduate student and student program manager for UW-Superior's Gender Equity Resource Center, filed the complaint. She is alleging the editors violated university policy on non-academic student conduct and improperly noticed its April Fools' Day edition as satire. She contends articles included derogatory terms that were anti-semitic, racist and misogynistic.

Cheslock's grasp of the First Amendment is idiosyncratic, to put it mildly. She believes that it is censorship for a speaker to refuse to meet with their would-be inquisitor:

So, just to clarify, you are also unwilling to meet with me to discuss this matter? It is unfortunate, indeed, since that would be the very censorship you claim is deadly. The right to free speech also includes a continued dialogue and I am extremely displeased in the lack of regard for others’ opinions.

An "investigation" is in the works:

Meanwhile, UW-Superior is investigating the complaint with assistance from UW System’s legal counsel, according to UW-Superior spokesman Dan Fanning.

"We certainly respect the students who are involved with the newspaper and their right to have free speech," said Fanning. "At the same time, we’ve heard from so many students, alumni and community members and they see what we see. Even though that might have been meant to be satire … it clearly wasn’t funny to everyone, that it offended some people and that it crossed some lines that should not have been crossed. The university condemns that."

I'm sorry, but unless the UW system's legal counsel's response is "get the fuck out of my office, you civically illiterate imbecile," this is offensive and ridiculous. I don't have a problem with the administration participating in the marketplace of ideas by saying, in effect, "you're an jerk, but you're a jerk with free speech." But any "investigation" — meaning, any inquiry carrying the explicit or implicit threat of punishment for obviously protected speech — is unequivocally wrong. So is promoting ignorance about rights, as the administration attempted to do in statements supporting its investigation:

As we’ve said consistently, this was unethical and unprofessional journalism and contradicts the very values of our school. Satire is fine, having a difference of opinion is fine, but disrespectful and offensive language is not fine.

FIRE's letter to UW-Superior leaders is stern, as it ought to be. Hopefully the administration will decide that it ought to be spending money on education instead of on lawyers.

Responsibility is not a zero-sum game. Debbie Cheslock and her ilk are morally and intellectually responsible for being thuggish and censorious. But that does not diminish, in the least, the responsibility of grown-ups in the UW-Superior to resist censorship and thuggery when it is urged upon them by students. The things that these students want are incoherent, unprincipled, and totalitarian:

Cheslock said she wants those involved in the Promethean to be sent a message that the paper’s content was not acceptable and isn’t what UWS stands for. She also wants to ensure that the Promethean staff and faculty advisor go through a cultural competency training about diversity.

Yokel said that with free-speech rights comes a duty to exercise those rights in a responsible way.

“The First Amendment is a right, yes, but you not only have a right to say what you want, you have a responsibility to the people you’re representing,” Yokel said. “This paper is a student paper and I’m a student and this paper does not represent me.”

The administration needs to refuse to violate rights based on such demands. If it won't resist, it should be compelled to do so by force of law.

Harvard Law Student Is A Twit, But Possibly Not An Anti-Semitic Twit

Harvard Law School: 'tis a silly place.

The font of innumerable Supreme Court Justices, its students are capable of a sort of conscious, plodding self-seriousness that would make a performance artist soil herself. Important things are treated stupidly and stupid things are treated importantly and everywhere there are reminders that law is a cold-iron tool, usable for both good and evil. Even revolutionaries wear the cloak of pedantic legalism, as when protesters occupy a public space and then hold votes by "plenary committees" to determine what expression is permitted there. Bad parodies of the rule of law are often effective cloaks for lawlessness.

Maybe it was this stultifying formalism that led a law student to act — if you believe his explanation — like an eight-year-old in public. The Harvard Program on Negotiation held a presentation called "The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and the U.S.: Negotiation Lessons and Possibilities." One participant was Tzipi Livni, Israel's former Foreign Minister. A Harvard Law School student used the question and answer period to make an articulate argument that Harvard's invitation of Livni endorsed Israeli human rights violations against Palestinians, and that more debate was needed on the very premises of the discussion at hand.

No, just kidding. The student, a leader in the Harvard Law School Justice for Palestine group, called her smelly.


Whoah, sick burn, brah.

The notion that Jews have a distinctive and offensive odor — a trope called foetor judaicus — is an ancient anti-Semitic insult, part of a bigoted bundle that includes things like matzoh made from the blood of Christian babies. Members of the Jewish Law Students Association swiftly wrote a letter to the Harvard Law Record pointing this out. The student has since apologized, sort of.

With regards to what I actually did say, I can see now, after speaking with the authors of this article and many other members of the Jewish community at HLS, how my words could have been interpreted as a reference to an anti-Semitic stereotype, one that I was entirely unaware of prior to the publication of this article. I want to be very clear that it was never my intention to invoke a hateful stereotype, but I recognize now that, regardless of my intention, words have power, and it troubles me deeply to know that I have caused some members of the Jewish community such pain with my words.

The young man's apology isn't "I'm sorry that Harvard Law School's Program on Negotiation, which attempts to increase discourse and awareness about how difficult problems can be resolved through discourse, invited a former foreign minister and I reacted by calling her smelly to signify what a bold revolutionary and deep thinker I am." It's more "sorry that you thought that my use of a classic anti-Semitic trope was anti-Semitic instead of just, you know, being a smirking dick."

Thanks for that.

Young Smelly McListofDemands assures us that some of his best friends are (odor unspecified) Jews:

Many members of the Jewish community—some of whom hold strong differences of opinion with me—have reached out to me on their own to let me know that they did not interpret my words as anti-Semitic, because they know me well enough to know that that is not at all consistent with who I am as a person. I want to thank them and any others who have given me the benefit of the doubt, and I am writing this note in the hopes that more of you will do the same.

This is, in fact, perfectly credible. Some of the student's online defenders have indicated that they are Jews and that — because they know him — they thought his intent was not to invoke an ethnic slur. One HLS student explained the thinking behind the word, which the student himself did not:

To quickly summarize, the student told me he said "smelly" to protest Livni's presence without legitimizing the event with a real question

If that's his thinking, it — and the defense of it — seem perfectly childish and imbecilic. A person with something worthwhile to say could articulate why they think Harvard's invitation of Livini was objectionable or illegitimate. A mere insult doesn't suggest she's illegitimate; if anything it makes her seem more legitimate by suggesting her critics have no arguments. The same online defender wrung her hands that criticism of his actions might deter people from speaking out in favor of the oppressed — a "your criticism silences me" trope that is familiar but equally foolish.

Did this guy mean to insult an Israeli leader with an anti-Semitic trope? I don't know. He seems a little dim if he didn't mean it that way; "odor" tropes are commonly used against all sorts of ethnic groups. But even if he didn't mean it, he's a punk and an embarrassment to the school, as the Dean's irritated reaction aptly suggested. He does not convey to me "Harvard Law School Justice for Palestine has things to say and I should listen to them." He conveys "Harvard Law School Justice for Palestine is led by a self-indulgent little douche who richly deserves every excruciating second of the soul-crushing BigLaw job he'll probably get effortlessly because he's a Harvard twerp."

I haven't named the unserious twerp in question. [Edited to add: now that the Harvard Law Record has, I have. He's Husam El-Qoulaq.] It's easy to identify him if you want. I don't think he's worth it, and I think he has a hope of becoming a not-twerp. His supporters have very fervently asked that he not be named. I didn't not-name him because of that; I didn't name him in spite of it. I would note that if he used such a slur about just about any other ethnic group but Jews, he'd be doxxed within hours by the Harvard community. All ethnic slurs are not created equal in the hierarchy of outrage. I also think that if he weren't a bien-pensant — someone with the approved viewpoints about the approved things, including Israel — he'd be loudly condemned by name by the Harvard Law community even if he offered the same explanation. But if his apologists want to order their moral lives that way, that's on them, not on me.

Edited to add: Yair Rosenberg, who has pursued this story doggedly but fairly, points out that Harvard has posted the video of the event but carefully cut out the exchange that might help identify and memorialize the student. Oh, Harvard. Don't ever change.

Edited again to add: The Harvard Law Record has closed comments on the post about this incident and has deleted comments that name the student.

Edited again to add: The Harvard Law Record has now printed a letter in support of the student, Husam El-Qoulaq, based in part on his consent to name him. It remains unclear to me why the Record — and Harvard — concealed his name before.

Some College Thick-Skin Advocates Need A Thicker Skin

If you want to fight the culture of victimhood, you can't wallow in it. If you're going to be an effective advocate for thick skins, you can't have a thin skin. If you're going to fight against the pernicious notion that people have a right not to be offended, you shouldn't be easily offended.

Why do I even have to say these things?

Dateline: Ohio University. College Republicans write "Trigger warning: there are no safe spaces in real life! You can't wall off the 1st Amendment" on the school's "graffiti wall." They're fighting against the culture of victimology, the culture of safe spaces, the culture of trigger warnings, the culture that treats speech as violence and justifies censorship.

Or are they?

In fact, OU College Republicans' rhetoric, and the rhetoric of their supporters in the media, sounds eerily like the rhetoric of triggers and safe spaces.

“It’s our First Amendment right,” Parkhill, a sophomore studying business management, said. “We feel like we’re being silenced and we feel like people are putting our point of view down, which is what we don’t want, so we’re going to fight back and we’re going to say this is our point of view.”

Well, no. You're not being "silenced" if your views are condemned or ridiculed. And "putting your point of view down" is part of the marketplace of ideas. The fact that you feel it doesn't make it true. Isn't that your point?

Members of the OU College Republicans, Parkhill said, feel their opinions are not welcome on campus.

Isn't "we feel unwelcome on campus" exactly what censors say to try to suppress speech they say triggers them?

The OU College Republicans naturally got pushback against their expression. Over at The College Fix, they were treated as oppressed victims in need of succor. The rhetoric is largely indistinguishable from that used by safe-spacers and the perpetually triggered to call for censorship: "they are under siege" "barrage of cyber harassment." And here's Parkhill again:

“Granted, I knew what I was getting into, but I didn’t think it would be that much hate,” he said. “We are basically a minority on this campus. Our opinion is so put down and so crushed, it’s almost like we don’t have a say.”

No it's not, you nauseating tremulous zygote.

The College Republicans point out, quite reasonably, that it's dishonest and ridiculous to say their reference to "trigger warnings" was a "threat," as some imbeciles have said. It's ridiculous to treat their message as some sort of dangerous assault on the delicate feels of their peers. It's preposterous to call for an investigation based on their message. But the OU College Republicans are relentlessly undermining that truth by adopting the very language of thin skins and weak minds that they're criticizing:

“We can’t have a viewpoint on our campus,” he said. “Conservative or even moderate views on campus is considered racist, is considered bigoted. … We are a lot of good people, we just believe in conservative, Republican values. … [But] it’s just unbelievable the amount of scorn we get.”

You have a right to call people weaklings if they demand safe spaces; they don't have a right not to be called that. They have a right to call you a racist; you don't have the right not to be called that. The marketplace of ideas may decide you're full of shit.

Now, can we make a plausible argument that students are too quick to cry "racist," too swift to use scorn instead of reason against conservative ideas? Can we say victim culture is out of control on college campuses? Absolutely. But can we make that point without adopting the rhetoric of the culture we're criticizing? Can we say "people would like to silence me but they won't succeed" instead of "I feel silenced," and "we have a right to express unpopular opinions" instead of "we feel our opinions aren't welcome"? Can we cut out the feels, please?

By indulging in the very rhetoric they are criticizing, the OU College Republicans and their ilk are not helping the fight for more open dialogue on campus. They're hurting it. They're buying into the underlying premises: you're silenced if you feel silenced. You have a right to be welcomed, not just to speak. You have a right not to be "put down" and ridiculed and condemned. By adopting the rhetoric of those premises they are promoting them. The result is that they've built up the culture of victimhood they're criticizing.

Look, guys: you need to cowboy up.

Anatomy of a Scam Investigation, Chapter 14: The Indictment

This series is about my investigation of a mail fraud ring that attempted to scam my firm, the history of its bad actors, and the methodology that I used to look into it. You can see the whole chapter index here.

The wheels grind slowly, but they grind.

About four and a half years ago I was irritated when my firm received a fake invoice, and was moved to write a series about how people like you or me could investigate and expose scammers. David Bell — a career con man — was the ringleader of the scam and a central figure of the series. Bell sustained a relatively minor state conviction for a related scam in 2014. But one of the most constant themes of the series — and one of the most constant observations of readers — has been that the system allowed Bell to get away with such overt fraud for so many years without apparent consequence. Patience, I said.

That patience has now been rewarded. In August 2015, the United States Attorney's Office for the Central District of California (the region covering Los Angeles and its surrounding counties) indicted David Bell for mail fraud.

The Indictment: Two Familiar Schemes

The indictment is here. Bear in mind what an indictment is: it's just an accusation drafted by federal prosecutors and presented to a grand jury for what usually amounts to little more than a rubber stamp. It's not proof of anything. This indictment, though, has some very familiar themes for anyone who has been reading the series.

The indictment charges Bell — and only Bell — with four counts of wire fraud and attempted wire fraud, nine counts of mail fraud, and a forfeiture allegation seeking to take everything Bell earned through his enterprise. The federal mail fraud and wire fraud statutes are extremely broad and flexible. They require that the government prove that Mr. Bell devised or participated in a scheme to defraud others and that that scheme somehow involved the use of the U.S. mail or interstate wire communications.

The indictment is broken down into two schemes: the wire fraud scheme and the mail fraud scheme. The wire fraud scheme, corresponding to counts one through four, alleges that Bell defrauded payroll companies from 2008 through 2010.1 Specifically, it claims that Bell would sign up his company for payroll services, write bad checks to cover the payroll, and then reap the paychecks before the payroll company realized his check was no good.

If that sounds vaguely familiar, it's because I wrote about similar allegations way back in Chapter Five. In Chapter Five I dug up lawsuits against Bell and his company UST Development filed by two payroll companies — Blue Ocean and Epay — alleging the same scam. Notably, the indictment lists four different payroll companies, which means at least six companies have accused Bell of this. That's going to make it pretty easy for the government to prove fraudulent intent. You might bounce a check once or twice trying to get your company set up, but once you've bounced checks to six different payroll companies in the same few months, it starts to look like enemy action.

The mail fraud scheme is even more familiar to readers of the series. It alleges that Bell sent out mailers deceptively styled as "invoices" for "Telecom Maintenance/Service Call" for $175 or $350 to many companies that had never done business with him. Sometimes the mailers even said that the amounts were past due. Some recipients paid. This is the same scheme that prompted me to write this series and continued for years. This one's all about the fraudulent intent. Bell will claim that he didn't intend the mailers to be misleading. That's a tough sell when he tweaked them and ignored complaints for so long.

What happens from here?

Bell and the government recently stipulated to move the trial date from May to September, a delay that's routine in this sort of case. It could easily get continued again, even multiple times. Bell is represented by experienced and competent counsel.

The government is represented by two formidable and experienced Assistant United States Attorneys. [Fair disclosure: one of them beat me in a trial a few years ago. He knows what he's doing.] The government has likely amassed a vast number of witnesses and a huge array of documentary evidence, as the Postal Inspectors have been investigating this for years. Remember that federal prosecutors' competitive advantage is taking their time and building a grand jury case over years. Taking off my observer hat and putting on my federal criminal defense attorney hat, this looks very grim for Bell.

So what kind of time does Bell face if he's convicted? I'm not going to calculate it because it's so flexible. Though the federal judge has the ultimate discretion about the sentence to impose, that judge will consider the sentence recommended by application of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. Because this is a fraud case, the driving force behind the length of the sentence will be the "amount of loss" attributable to Bell's actions. When it comes to the wire fraud scheme, that's fairly straightforward — it's likely the amount of money actually paid by the payroll companies. That's not necessarily limited to the transactions charged in the indictment. Under the principle of "relevant conduct," it could include uncharged transactions in the same scheme — for instance, the uncharged money described in the lawsuits detailed in Chapter Five.

But the potentially huge number is the amount of loss attributable to the mail fraud scheme, which targeted thousands of victims. The amount of loss isn't limited to the nine particular mailings listed in the indictment — the potential universe is all of the mailings over the course of the scheme. Just counting the companies that were successfully defrauded, that's likely hundreds of thousands of dollars. But that's not all. If the government wanted to be aggressive — and if the court were receptive (plausible in the case of a career con-man) — Bell could be sentenced based on a theory of intended loss. Under that theory the amount of loss for guideline purposes would be the amount he would have reaped if every single fraudulent mailer yielded money. That's a vast amount.

That provides insight into why federal prosecutors have so much power. In a case like this, they can say "plead guilty and we'll stipulate that the amount of loss is $100,000 — only the actual loss. Go to trial and we'll argue that the amount of loss is the intended loss — $1,000,000." Suddenly the delta between pleading guilty and going to trial is the difference between five months in custody and four years in custody.

So how much time will Bell do if he's convicted? Dunno. Too early to say, and not enough information. But the man has a criminal record, including a recent conviction and jail term, which is going to drive his sentence up significantly. He's not walking off with probation.

This isn't the end. I'll update the series as Bell's case continues. For now, remember: you have to wait for the feds, sometimes years.

Violence and Political Speech

I don't write the headlines

I don't write the headlines

My most recent CNN Column discusses violence in political settings. See Defend Donald Trump's right to free speech

I don't get to write my own headlines, ok?

Some good people think that sometimes being violent is ok. What they don't understand is that when we use violence in politics, no matter what, the bad people always win. They get to escalate the violence, feeding off of it, up to a point where the good people lose the stomach for it — or at least a critical mass of them lose the stomach for it.


And the bad people will always have more of a stomach for it, so in the war of attrition, they will win. They'll always be willing to bash you over the head with a truncheon for less of a reason, with more willingness to keep going long after your head looks like cherry pudding. They'll always go further on a macro level too, they're the bad guys because they're sociopaths.

No matter how right you are… if violence ensues and you win? You're probably one of the bad people. I don't care if you're protesting against the KKK or NAMBLA or the Black Panthers or ISIS or Nickleback fans.

That's kinda the point of my column:

Donald Trump finally learning about the meaning of free speech?

Other candidates might be bad for free speech once elected. But Trump is the only candidate to actually campaign to reduce our First Amendment rights. This is the guy who said, "There used to be consequences to protesting. There are none anymore. These people are so bad for our country, you have no idea, folks."

On Friday, he canceled a rally in Chicago, citing security concerns. Eyewitnesses reported that there were thousands of protesters outside, and hundreds demonstrating "in unison inside."

Even after it was canceled, there were reports of several outbreaks of violence in the streets after the speech and protesters celebrating by chanting, "We stopped Trump!"

And now, while everyone is trying to play the blame game, Trump ironically asks, "What happened to freedom of speech?"

Read the rest here.

A fabulous Roman candle exploding like a spider across the stars


On this day in 1922, the universe lit the fuse on the roman candle of the existence of one Jean-Louis Lebris de Kérouac. Somewhere along the line after that there were girls, visions, everything; somewhere along the line the pearl was handed to him, but like so many that stand at the center when the blue light pops, the pearl drops into the grate on a street where you can still smell the last exhale of the cigarette that the guy put out as he got into the taxi.

The taxi that drove down the wet street, where most of the streetlights were still working, but that one keeps flickering, and no more taxis come and you knew none would. So you walk, and walk, until you get to that corner where there's the place down a few stairs, and you wonder if you'd rather get out of the wet and the rain and have a drink, but then you would have to be with all the other people that wanted to get out of the rain or have a drink or just be with each other.

But, maybe it would just be better to smoke a joint there, in the rain by yourself, whether any cabs came or not, because how you get there is better than wondering why, or is it the other way 'round? And as you exhale the smoke and walk past the door, you remember that the pearl dropped into the grate. And now all the grates look the same, so even if you could reach your hand down there to try and get it, you can't ever remember which one it fell into. So you just keep walking. Let someone else have the pearl or nobody else or maybe there just wasn't ever one at all.