Wandering Eye: Two surveillance planes flew over Baltimore during unrest, praise for Elena Kagan, and more

And in today's News That is Unaccountably Creepy, here is The Washington Post reporting on two—not one, two—different surveillance planes that flew over Baltimore last week for days during the unrest and demonstrations. One, a small propeller plane, was low and tight over West Baltimore. It is owned by a company called N.G. Research. The other, a small jet, was higher and wider. Its owner is not yet known. The ACLU has filed complaints seeking more information. As the Post reports, "Planes armed with the latest surveillance systems can monitor larger areas than police helicopters and stay overhead longer, raising novel civil liberties issues that have so far gotten little scrutiny from courts." Capt. Eric Kowalczyk, a Baltimore Police Department spokesman, referred questions about the flights to the FBI. The FBI did not get back to the Post, but a source confirmed for the paper that the planes were flown by the FBI for the city cops to augment existing surveillance: "The planes used infrared technology to monitor movements of people in the vicinity, the official said." The news came out because of a couple of Baltimore people: Pete Cimbolic, a former ACLU employee and "aviation buff," and Benjamin Shayne, who runs scanbaltimore.com, a website that repeats the police scanner. So surveillance is happening to the surveillers too. (Edward Ericson Jr.)


The Supreme Court's junior justice, Elena Kagan, might not usually garner the sort of public adoration or vitriol that her fellow justices do, but the newest issue of The Prospect includes a fascinating long feature about her that praises the accessibility of her writing in Supreme Court and analyzes her voting record to argue that "she, like [Chief Justice John] Roberts, tries to find opportunities for common ground" in her decisions. The writer, Lincoln Caplan, makes the case that Kagan is on her way to becoming one of the "Olympian writers of the Court." At a point where the Supreme Court's approval ratings are trending downward and the Court has rejected opportunities to make itself more accessible and accountable, he writes, "Kagan is engaged in a remarkable democratic experiment. In a voice that is sometimes closer to journalism than to judicial prose, her opinions are locating cases and controversies in the fundamental currents of American history, as well as in the thickets of the legal process. Speaking directly to Americans, Kagan offers inspiration when it is unexpected and sounds off against unfairness. She marks the path to redemption in areas of law that seem battered by politics. In unhurried, unstuffy, and unadorned prose, her opinions are, by turns, serious, combative, cheeky, and elegiac, while addressing the law with warmth and intelligence. Her opinions seem crafted to gain, or regain, trust. They are easing those doors open again." (Anna Walsh)


The WaPo has a profile on Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake that mostly looks backward instead of forward but is still worth reviewing if you need to brush up on the mayor's background. But first there are tidbits on recent events. "Rawlings-Blake said she has clocked about four hours of sleep a night since the unrest began and hasn't eaten much," says the Post. She also apologized for using the word "thugs," telling the Post: "Was it a poor choice of words said in anger? Absolutely. It was even more so because it took the focus off the pain that people were going through. It's not easy being under intense scrutiny when people are second-guessing you. People swarm on you." The story then fills in the details of Rawlings-Blake's upbringing and political rise that are familiar to many here in town. Worth noting, says a friend of the mayor, Karenthia A. Barber, is that Rawlings-Blake "feels the pain of the people" who experience violence. She tended to her brother, Wendall Rawlings, when he was stabbed in the neck in 2002 and lost a cousin who was murdered two years ago during a Baltimore County home invasion. (Brandon Weigel)

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