By Nathan L. Walls

Articles tagged “civics”

Wired: 'Kids Are Back in Classrooms and Laptops Are Still Spying on Them'

Pia Ceres, reporting for Wired:

Now that the majority of American students are finally going back to school in-person, the surveillance software that proliferated during the pandemic will stay on their school-issued devices, where it will continue to watch them. According to a report published today from the Center for Democracy and Technology, 89 percent of teachers have said that their schools will continue using student-monitoring software, up 5 percentage points from last year. At the same time, the overturning of Roe v. Wade has led to new concerns about digital surveillance in states that have made abortion care illegal. Proposals targeting LGBTQ youth, such as the Texas governor’s calls to investigate the families of kids seeking gender-affirming care, raise additional worries about how data collected through school-issued devices might be weaponized in September.

The CDT report also reveals how monitoring software can shrink the distance between classrooms and carceral systems. Forty-four percent of teachers reported that at least one student at their school has been contacted by law enforcement as a result of behaviors flagged by the monitoring software. And 37 percent of teachers who say their school uses activity monitoring outside of regular hours report that such alerts are directed to “a third party focused on public safety” (e.g., local police department, immigration enforcement). “Schools have institutionalized and routinized law enforcement’s access to students’ information,” says Elizabeth Laird, the director of equity in civic technology at the CDT.

Schools concerned about keeping students productive and safe from school shootings and other potential harms have installed highly invasive monitoring software on school-owned devices issued to students that makes extraordinary and unproven claims about efficacy.

I get that screens can have tons of distractions and teachers probably need some assistance in keeping students focused, but all of this just seems over-the-top invasive against student privacy, particularly for students who don’t otherwise have their own devices.

The ease and comfort with which kids can get automatically referred to law enforcement is flat out shitty.

A hoped-for 2019 Raleigh city council platform

Updated: June 24, 2019

Oct. of 2019 is going to bring around another biannual election for city council and mayor in Raleigh. There’s quite a bit of hot button issues:

  • Concern that Raleigh is quashing “innovative business models” by regulating electric scooters and restricting what manner of AirBnB rentals will be allowed
  • Zoning
  • Gentrification
  • Traffic

So, at the forefront of thinking for a few minutes, but really the result of lots of background thinking, here’s some of what I’d like 2019 city council candidates to get behind:

  • Affirm that scooters pay their way for using public infrastructure
    • Private businesses cannot appropriate public infrastructure
    • Sidewalk use for scooters, bikes, etc. are subject to permitting and usage fees
  • AirBnB pays hotel tax for short term whole house rentals
    • My complex proposal here is “if it quacks like a duck, treat it like a duck”
    • “But why do you love hotels over homeowners, Nathan?” Because when you treat your personal assets like a business, you get the responsibilities of acting like a business and hotels charge and pay through occupancy tax
  • Vacancy tax
    • Encourage folks sitting on vacant property and vacant lots to develop them
    • If property owners want to keep houses or office buildings or lots bare for years on end, put a surcharge on their property taxes
    • Offer property owners who have vacant property the opportunity to sell to the city at a fair-market rate. The fair market rate doesn’t budge, however, after the property tax surcharge kicks in.
  • Traffic prioritization: Pedestrians then bicycles then mass transit then cars
    • Raleigh is lousy for sidewalks outside of the downtown core. A whole lot more of the city could be walkable
    • Instead of expanding the number of traffic lanes on a given road, the city should first opt to add or expand multi-use paths for cycling, walking. Increase bus coverage and service frequency as well. Give buses protected stops and traffic priority.
  • Allow multi-family structures in residential zoning
    • The proverbial mother-in-law suite, yes, but also, allow two address/two front-door buildings anywhere they currently aren’t
  • City acquires and leases-back housing in East and Southeast Raleigh to local residents
    • Instead of watching what a lot of folks think is inevitable, that the predominantly black neighborhoods east and south of downtown are bought up by developers, residents evicted and redeveloped into suddenly much higher “market rate” housing, the city ought to acquire housing at-risk of gentrification, rent the houses back to their current occupants and help those occupants make improvements to the properties. Grant occupants equity
  • No public tax money for exclusive private benefit
    • The city should forswear using public money to be offered as tax incentive for private businesses. E.g. the city was part of a pitch team trying to land Amazon HQ2 and part of that was likely to have been significant breaks on property taxes and providing other incentives for Amazon to locate here. Meanwhile, every regular business and homeowner pays property taxes.
    • The city should focus on answering problems around affordable housing and transit ahead of contributing money, land or other in-kind consideration for new sports facilities
    • The city should definitely not publicly finance a new professional sports arena and let a private ownership group reap the rewards of operating the arena

I want Raleigh to grow inclusively. That a resident who needs the bus to get to work, child care and other errands and fun has robust access to the city. That not only do we not gentrify historically disadvantaged neighborhood residents, but we robustly protect them and help them. That we think about getting around the city more creatively than how fast we can get sport utility crossovers down Six Forks and Falls of Neuse.

Are these the best ideas? Probably not. I fully expect there are better expressions of them, and I’ll add them and source them as I find out about them.

Constituent letter to Senator Tillis after the Sept. 27, 2018 Judiciary Committee Hearing

Senator Tillis,

I watched significant portions of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing involving Dr. Blasey Ford and Judge Kavanaugh today. Between listening and catching up on recaps of the questions and testimony, I’m angry.

I’m angry and I have questions that I would greatly appreciate hearing from you on:

  • Did you find Dr. Blasey Ford’s hearing truthful? If not, what specifically in her testimony was not truthful?
  • Why did you abdicate your time to a hired special prosecutor for Dr. Blasey Ford?
  • Were the questions asked during your time allotment the questions you submitted to be asked?
  • If you did not submit those questions, who did? Why did you not use that time?
  • Do you feel that Dr. Blasey Ford’s expressed wish to keep her letter confidential to Sen. Feinstein should have been respected?
  • Do you feel it was inappropriate for Dr. Blasey Ford to be represented by counsel in front of the committee?
  • Do you feel that Judge Kavanaugh’s opening statement reflected what a nominee for the Supreme Court of the United States would be expected to say? If this statement was from a Democrat, would you feel the same way?
  • Are you concerned about Judge Kavanaugh’s non-answers to whether or not he would request an FBI investigation?
  • Are you concerned about Judge Kavanaugh’s repeated disrespect of the Democratic members of the committee? If the nominee was a Democrat, would you find this behavior acceptable for any position?
  • Why, after July 1, 1982 came up as a possible date for a party or gathering described by Dr. Blasey Ford, did the Republican members of the committee adjurn and then cease the use of the outside special prosecutor?
  • Why did you chose to use your time with Judge Kavanaugh directly after yielding your time for Dr. Blasey Ford?
  • Do you feel that other recent Supreme Court nominees have been treated unfairly during the nomination process? If so, who and why?
  • Are you comfortable with the lack of public information about how Judge Kavanaugh paid off hundreds of thousands of debt suddenly in 2017?
  • Are you comfortable with pressing ahead with the nomination without a full public understanding of the role Judge Kavanaugh had as a political operative in the George W. Bush administration?
  • Are you comfortable voting to confirm Judge Kavanaugh without requiring Mike Judge to appear before the committee?
  • Are you comfortable voting to confirm Judge Kavanaugh without hearing from Julie Swetnick or Deborah Ramirez and the allegations they have about Judge Kavanaugh’s behavior?
  • If you will not be hearing from Mr. Judge, Ms. Swetnick or Ms. Ramirez, why not?
  • If you believe the Senate has a deadline to confirm Judge Kavanaugh, what is that deadline and who imposed it?
  • If “timeliness” is the issue in hearing from Ms. Swetnick or Ms. Ramirez specifically, under what circumstances would you have entertained hearing from them?
  • Before you vote on Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination, will you be returning to North Carolina and meeting with constituents in person and without condition to discuss and explain your views?

Finally, while I expect your answers to my questions, I will plainly state that Judge Kavanaugh repeatedly demonstrated throughout his public confirmation hearings that he lacks forthrightness, transparency and the temperament to be on the Supreme Court. In fact, his displays today ought to call into question his fitness to sit on the Federal bench at any level.

I appreciate your prompt consideration and reply.

Your voting constituent,

Nathan L. Walls
Raleigh, NC

🔗 MRI costs: Why this surgeon is challenging NC’s certificate of need law

Dylan Scott Writing for Vox:

Dr. Gajendra Singh walked out of his local hospital’s outpatient department last year, having been told an ultrasound for some vague abdominal pain he was feeling would cost $1,200 or so, and decided enough was enough. If he was balking at the price of a routine medical scan, what must people who weren’t well-paid medical professionals be thinking?

The India-born surgeon decided he would open his own imaging center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and charge a lot less. Singh launched his business in August and decided to post his prices, as low as $500 for an MRI, on a banner outside the office building and on his website.

There was just one barrier to fully realizing his vision: a North Carolina law that he and his lawyers argue essentially gives hospitals a monopoly over MRI scans and other services.

I hope Dr. Singh’s lawsuit succeeds. American healthcare in 2018 is supposed to be driven by consumerism. Call around to different providers and determine how much you’ll pay for quality care. Choose a provider based on wherever you want to land on the quality/price matrix that accepts your insurance and you’re golden, right?


Healthcare is not a market. First, not all qualified players can join the market, as is the case here. That effectively prevents Dr. Singh (and others) from putting downward pressure on prices. Second, medical pricing isn’t necessarily discoverable, transparent or negotiable.

NCGA Republican leadership to everyone else: 'Drop dead'

Paul A. Specht and Will Doran writing for the News & Observer, covering the latest in a long series of the North Carolina GOP freezing out Democrats from involvement in the legislative process:

Democrats are upset that Republican legislators are mostly excluding them from state budget talks, as it’s unlikely any proposed changes will be adopted once the budget is revealed.

Republican leaders plan to gut an old bill and amend it as a “conference report” to include their budget plans, meaning state lawmakers will have no method for amending the legislation.

The NCGA leadership isn’t denying the accusation.

Shelly Carver, a spokeswoman for Senate leader Phil Berger, said the purpose of the short session is to adjust the two-year state budget that was passed over a six-month period last year — “not to write an entirely new plan.” Republicans hold a supermajority in the House and Senate, so it’s unclear whether Democratic proposals would be adopted even if under a more open process.

“It’s clear Gov. Cooper and legislative Democrats are upset they won’t be able to abuse that process to try to score political points in an election year, but lawmakers of both parties will have the opportunity to vote on the bill and make their voices heard,” Carver wrote in an email.

The thing is, this supermajority is the result of an unconstitutional racially-based gerrymander. Delaying motions have allowed the state GOP to delay a reckoning with redrawing both the state legislative districts and the state’s congressional districts. So, the reason why Democrats won’t be heard during the budget process is because the NC GOP explicitly set up the process to allow exactly this.

“(A)n entirely new plan” talks past recent events in Raleigh, specifically the May 18, 2018 rally of state public school teachers in Raleigh for better pay and better school funding.

Jeff Jackson, a state senator representing Charlotte put it this way, as part of a thread put it thusly:

Ultimately, this is about teachers. Republicans know that Democrats are going to offer amendments to raise teacher pay and Republicans don’t want to be on record voting against that. So they’re going to torpedo the whole process to avoid publicly saying “No” to teachers.

Both my NC Senate and NC House representatives and neither is involved in this process. I effectively have no representation at the state level.

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