Elliott C. Back: Internet & Technology

NYPD Shuts Down Wall Street To Thwart Anonymous Protests

Posted in Law, NYC by Elliott Back on September 18th, 2011.

The protests this weekend on Wall Street have led to an NYPD blockade of much of the NYSE immediate area, leaving residents unable to freely walk the streets without having to pass through illegal NYPD checkpoints and show ID and proof of residence, and discouraging NYC tourists from visiting the historic area. The New York Times writes in Wall Street Protest Begins, With Demonstrators Blocked:

[T]he demonstrators found much of their target off limits on Saturday as the city shut down sections of Wall Street near the New York Stock Exchange and Federal Hall well before their arrival. By 10 a.m., metal barricades manned by police officers ringed the blocks of Wall Street between Broadway and William Street to the east. (In a statement, Paul J. Browne, the Police Department’s chief spokesman said, “A protest area was established on Broad Street at Exchange Street, next to the stock exchange, but protesters elected not to use it.”)

The area blocked off by the police is approximately all of Wall Street from Broadway to William:

I am personally a bit irritated at the NYPD for stepping all over the 1st Amendment, which grants protesters the right to peaceful assembly:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The police barricades make it annoying to come and go on Wall Street; having 700-1200 protesters would crowd things as well, so it’s six of one half a dozen of the other. The only thing about the latter scenario is that I would able to go home feeling proud that Americans are standing up for their rights, rather than feeling like that the police state is already upon us and there’s nothing we can do about it.

I spoke to one of the police offers last night and asked him if the police action was constitutional. He asked if wanted “protesters breaking things and wrecking your home.” I said I didn’t, but they had the right to come protest, at which point the officer said it wasn’t worth his time talking to a wiseass. Oh well….

You can follow the progress of the protest on Twitter tags #DayOfRage, #TakeWallStreet and #OccupyWallSt. Gothamist also has a nice gallery of photos, the Daily Mail rag as well.

Obama Murders Osama: The Illegal Assassination of America’s #1 Enemy

Posted in Homeland Security, Law, Politics, President by Elliott Back 1 week, 1 day ago.

What gave President Obama the right to order Navy Seals to invade the foreign sovereign nation of Pakistan, fly inland 50 kilometers from the Capital, and murder an unarmed foreign citizen? According to Reuters, “‘this was a kill operation,’ U.S. national security official [said], clarifying no desire to capture Osama bin Laden alive.” In the NY Times article New U.S. Account Says Bin Laden Was Unarmed During Raid, they clarify:

Bin Laden’s wife, who was with him in the room, “rushed the U.S. assaulter and was shot in the leg but not killed,” said the White House spokesman, Jay Carney, reading from the brief account, which was provided by the Defense Department. “Bin Laden was then shot and killed. He was not armed.”

Despite expecting Bin Laden to put up a fight, Mr. Brennan said the assault team had made contingency plans for capturing, rather than killing him. “If we had the opportunity to take Bin Laden alive, if he didn’t present any threat, the individuals involved were able and prepared to do that,” he said.

After the atrocities of World War II, there were held a series of military tribunals called the Nuremberg Trials, where German leadership was tried under doctrine drawn up by the occupying powers. By attempting to create and follow a criminal war-crimes procedure rooted in justice, the trials dispelled notions of “victor’s justice” and “murder by court.”

So why couldn’t we do the same with Osama? Here are two reasons why we should:

Executive Order 12333

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan signed into law this order which stated that “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.” This restated Gerald Ford’s ban on political assassinations, and Jimmy Carter’s ban on indirect assassination. Of course, this does not apply to enemy combatants…

“Grave Breaches” of the Geneva Convention

We haven’t seen any evidence that Osama was actively engaged against the United States; when he was confronted by Navy Seals, he was unarmed. He should therefore have been accorded protection as a prisoner of war, fairly treated, and granted a fair trial. Instead he was assassinated.

I’d like to leave you with this quote from Reason’s Did the killing of Osama bin Laden violate U.S. law?:

“We’re violating our basic values and our basic principles, which is that we accord everybody due process and we don’t engage in summary executions,” argued libertarian Fox Business Channel host Judge Andrew Napolitano. “Justice is not a summary execution by a Navy SEAL in your bedroom.”

The Economist’s obituary of Osama bin Ladin is also worth reading.

Update: In the LA Times article “Osama bin Laden’s son says U.S. broke international law ‘if’ his father is dead”, Omar bin Ladin says “We are not convinced on the available evidence in the absence of dead body, photographs, and video evidence that our natural father is dead.” Omar also accuses the US of “breaking international law by killing the unarmed terrorist leader without a trial.”

Puerto Rico Travel Tips

Posted in Puerto Rico, Travel by Elliott Back on February 23rd, 2011.

I just got back from a long-weekend trip to Puerto Rico!  An amazing place to visit and get away from the cold, the friendly people, beautiful beaches, natural landscapes, colorful architecture, and unique culture made it one of my favorite trips so far.  In Puerto Rico, there’s so much to do and see that you could easily spend weeks there without running out of activities.  It’s a perfect place for family getaways, spring break, or like me, just to escape the brutal cold of a hard winter.


  • The official language of Puerto Rico is Spanish
  • … but, nearly everyone speaks English! (this can be tough if you want to try to practice your bad Spanish, as the friendly Puerto Ricans will help you in English)

Immigration & Customs

  • The official currency of Puerto Rico is the US dollar; Americans will not need to exchange money.
  • If you are legally in the US as a citizen, greencard holder/permanent resident, student, etc, you don’t need a visa to visit the territory of Puerto Rico.
  • On your way back to the US, you can bring as much duty free alcohol as you can carry with you on the plane.
  • You will not pass through immigration or customs on your way there or back; it’s just like flying between states.


  • Plan for weather in the 70-80s, year-round
  • Bring an umbrella; Puerto Rico rains a lot (70% of days), and you may not want to be caught outside in a shower
  • Bring sunscreen, the strong equatorial sun will burn light skin
  • Drink lots of water and stay out of direct sun

Where to Stay in San Juan

  • Condado, a hotel strip adjacent to a long sandy beach.  Within easy taxi range of old San Juan
  • Old San Juan, the city’s historic district, with beautiful painted shops and buildings, museums, and the two forts
  • The Sheraton at the Convention Centre, close to Old San Juan, and across the street from the convention center

How to get around in San Juan

  • If you are in Condado, you can take the B-21 bus (down Ashford ave.) to Old San Juan (787-767-7979 for route info)
  • Taxi fares are generally in the $10 – $20 range

Places to Go / Activities

(your hotel can arrange most tours)

  • Old San Juan to see Forte El Morro / Forte San Cristóbal.  Walk through the blue-cobblestone streets past brightly coloured shops and homes.  Dine and shop, buy souvenirs.
  • El Yunque rainforest, the only rainforest in the US national parks system.  Take a hiking tour to see La Mina falls.
  • Kayak the Laguna Grande biobay in Fajardo and see how the 1.1 million dinos per litre of water bioluminesce in your hands.
  • Rio Camuy cave park / Arecibo observatory has some awesome tours.
  • Museo del Arte has a great collection of Puertorican art and an outdoor sculpture garden.  Good if you can spare 2-3 hours.
  • Jam Rum Bar & Restaurant has great drinks, awesome live music (prog jazz Amplitúd, for example), and good food.

Places to Avoid

  • Plaza las Americas, which is a mall, and as boring as its stateside counterparts.
  • The Bacardi Rum Factory.  While the tour is free, getting there by ferry and waiting for your tour will try your patience.
  • La Perla, a shantytown / slum located walled behind the east side of old San Juan.

Best Beaches

  • Condado beach strip in San Juan
  • Luquillo beach, 30 miles east of San Juan
  • Isla Verde beach, just east of Condado

Drinking / Drugs / Consent

  • The legal drinking age is 18, in contrast to 21 in the United States (I was never carded in PR)
  • Possession of marijuana is a felony with up to three years in prison
  • The age of consent is 14, with more details from Interpol

More Puerto Rico

Check out these other posts in the Puerto Rico travelblog series:

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