M. Alex Johnson – Journalist at Large

An analog journalist in a digital world

Archive for the ‘Open Channel’ Category

Can you even copyright porn in the first place?

with one comment

Over at msnbc.com’s Open Channel blog, I have a follow-up to a story I did last year explaining how law firms threaten to sue people who allegedly illegally download porn — and out them as porn fans in court documents — unless they settle for a few thousand bucks.

One of those people has a new counter-strategy: She argues in a suit filed this week that porn is obscenity, and obscenity is ineligible for copyright. Therefore, porn can’t be copyrighted, so even if she did download it without paying — which she denies — it’s not “piracy” in the first place:

Open Channel: Internet piracy suit asks: Can you even copyright porn?

Do you think that’s a legitimate argument? Read the full piece and let me know in the comments.

Written by Alex

February 3, 2012 at 4:04 pm

U.S. reconsiders, now says it’s not really OK to lie to journalists

with one comment

Cross-posted from msnbc.com’s Open Channel investigative blog, where I also hang my hat:

The Justice Department has gotten the message from journalists, interest groups and government watchdogs and has decided to withdraw its proposal to allow federal agencies to lie to people seeking sensitive documents under the Freedom of Information Act.

Currently, if a requested document is so sensitive that it would be dangerous to acknowledge its very existence, the government is allowed to tell you that it can neither confirm nor deny whether there is such a document.

Last month, the Justice Department proposed a rule revision that would let government agencies tell requesters there is no such document — even if there is. According to the proposal, which was retrieved by the nonprofit investigative project ProPublica, agencies would be allowed to “respond to the request as if the excluded records did not exist.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Alex

November 4, 2011 at 4:32 pm

Crackheads aren’t coming to get you

leave a comment »

I tell MSNBC's Craig Melvin why sentences for crack will be closer to penalties for powder cocaine.

Cross-posted from msnbc.com’s Open Channel investigative blog, where it originally appeared:

No, thousands of “crackheads” aren’t going to start flooding America’s streets Tuesday.

That’s just one of several myths that have surrounded the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s vote in June to make federal sentence reductions retroactive for current prisoners convicted of crack possession or use.

What happens Tuesday is that some eligible federal prisoners who have petitioned for reduced sentences under rules Congress passed last year can begin being released. Those rules sought to address a disparity that meant crack offenders were given the same mandatory five-year minimum sentence as were offenders in possession of 100 times as much powder cocaine.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Alex

November 1, 2011 at 9:52 am

Boeing concerned about contaminated air as early as 1953

with one comment

A quarter-million pages of Boeing Co. documents made public as part of a court settlement reveal that the company has had concerns about the safety of cabin air in commercial jetliners since 1953, my colleague Jim Gold reports today.

A former American Airlines flight attendant is believed to be the first person in the U.S. to settle a lawsuit against Boeing over what she claims is faulty aircraft design that allowed toxic fumes to reach the cabin.

Boeing acknowledged the settlement, the terms of which weren’t disclosed, saying it “still contends that cabin air is safe to breathe and studies by independent researchers have consistently shown that existing systems for providing cabin air to passengers and crew meet applicable health and safety standards.”

But stricken airline crews and their advocates say faulty “bleed-air” systems — which pump compressed air “bled” from the plane’s engine — have been causing health problems dating back to the takeoff of jet travel in the 1950s.

In severe cases, they say, exposure to the toxic fumes has cost afflicted pilots their jobs when they lost medical clearances and kept flight attendants from working. Moreover, passengers aren’t informed what they may have breathed, Gold reports.

Full story (Jim Gold/msnbc.com)

Written by Alex

October 6, 2011 at 9:41 am

Posted in Open Channel

Tagged with , , ,

U.S. bars the public from seeing its data on doctors

with 3 comments

Cross-posted from msnbc.com’s Open Channel investigative blog.

The Obama administration has closed public access to its database of disciplinary action against doctors and other medical professionals, basically because reporters were getting too good at using it.

The Department of Health and Human Services compiles a National Practitioner Data Bank to centralize reports on malpractice cases and licensing board actions against individual doctors and health care companies. The idea is to make it harder for practitioners who’ve been hit with disciplinary actions or malpractice judgments to move to other states and get new licenses.

Four times a year, HHS has published a version of the database to the public. Because the database is supposed to be confidential, it’s scrubbed of names, addresses and other information that patients, lawyers and reporters could use to identify who’s in it. Still, because it provides a wealth of aggregate information, the NPDB quarterly summary has been a regular source of medical stories for a quarter-century. (As recently as June, the database was generating stories like this one, reporting that half of U.S. malpractice payments involve patients seen outside a hospital.)

Or at least it did until this month, when HHS’ Health Resources and Services Administration added this sentence to the databank’s Web page:

The NPDB Public Use Data File is not available until further notice.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Alex

September 15, 2011 at 2:09 pm

Update: Two terror threat subjects could be Americans

leave a comment »

Updated at 6:40 p.m. ET: NBC’s Pete Williams reports that U.S. officials believe two of the three men mentioned by their intelligence source could be Americans who flew from Dubai.


Over at msnbc.com’s Open Channel investigative blog, I’ve rounded up what we’re hearing from intelligence sources on the terrorism threat against New York and Washington:

Senior officials told NBC’s Pentagon correspondent, Jim Miklaszewski, and terrorism analyst Roger Cressey that al-Zawahiri has had only limited involvement in al-Qaida operations, knowing he is the primary U.S. target after the killings of Osama bin Laden in May and top al-Qaida strategist Abu Abd al-Rahman Atiyyat Allah last month.

“Bin Laden was more involved in al-Qaida operations” than al-Zawahiri has been since he took over as al-Qaida’s No. 1, a senior official said. “He’s too busy trying to stay alive.”

Read the full post

Written by Alex

September 9, 2011 at 10:08 am

Reporting: U.S. aims to track ‘untraceable’ prepaid cash cards

with 4 comments

Steve Streit, chief executive of prepaid access card firm Green Dot, told CNBC last year how the cards work.

Update: The Network Branded Prepaid Card Association responds here.

Cross-posted from msnbc.com’s Open Channel blog, where it originally appeared. To read it in context, click here.

Right: Steve Streit, chief executive of prepaid access card firm Green Dot, told CNBC last year how the cards work.

By M. Alex Johnson
msnbc.com reporter

As the federal government tells it, the money men behind the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers would never have been identified had they not been lousy bankers:

“The 9/11 hijackers opened U.S. bank accounts, had face-to-face dealings with bank employees, signed signature cards and received wire transfers, all of which left financial footprints. Law enforcement was able to follow the trail, identify the hijackers and trace them back to their terror cells and confederates abroad.”

That’s from a Treasury Department assessment of financial security threats in 2005. It went on to warn that the terrorists could have quietly moved large sums of money into or out of the U.S.:

“Had the 9/11 terrorists used prepaid … cards to cover their expenses, none of these financial footprints would have been available.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Alex

September 1, 2011 at 10:03 am

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 31 other followers