The State of The Union

Last night Obama gave the State of The Union address. I didn’t watch it because I have better things to do than listen to some asshole lie to me for an hour. Come to think of it Obama took an hour to cover the state the union is currently in while I can summarize it in a single sentence.

The economy is in the tank, we’re at war with a good deal of the world, we’re going to be at war with more nations soon, this country is turning into more of a police state as we speak, and the government can indefinitely detain your ass whenever it damn well pleases without charges.

It Will Cost $320 Million to Upgrade The IRS Website

I run this website on commodity hardware sitting in my apartment. Needless to say my costs are negligible and consiste of the server, electricity, and an Internet connection. A larger entity that has mission critical servers running twenty-four hours a day, like Amazon, is going to sink a much larger chunk of change into their infrastructure (at least I hope so). Of course Amazon will establish exact lists of needed upgrades and expansion before going forth because they have to maintain profits. What happens when the Internal Revenue Service (Revenuers) decided to upgrade their site? They claim to need $320 million but submit no actual plan:

IRS’ current $320 million investment for its website includes new, more secure portals so that taxpayers can access more information. The new website is expected to go online in 2013.

However, the IRS needs to be more strategic about exactly what online customer services it intends to improve, and what it hopes to achieve, the GAO said.

“IRS does not have concrete plans that define what additional online services the new website will ultimately provide and how much the services will cost,” the report said. “To their credit, IRS officials have begun developing a roadmap that identifies some online services they would like to provide, and IRS has periodically added new online services in the past. However, the roadmap omits several fundamental elements.“

I guess it costs a lot of money to upgrade a website that exists only to assist in the act of theft from the entire United States populace. It would be nice if we knew exactly why it costs that much money though but the Revenuers must have decided we don’t need to know that. If government agencies had to run like private businesses they would be putting for very detailed plans consisting of exact costs and explain how those costs will provide long-term benefits that exceed those initial costs. Instead the government has a blank check and never has to justify any expenditure. Needing more money isn’t a problem for them because they can simply steal more form the populace in the form of tax increases.

I have a simple demand: if government officials are going to demand that everybody pay their “fair share” of taxes then the government must put forth detailed spending reports that account for every dollar that goes out along with justification for those costs.

For those who want to read the Government Accountability Office’s (you have to love how the government gets to determine its own accountability using its own office) report it can be found here [PDF].

Your Health is Irrelevant in The War on Drugs

The war on drugs, like prohibition, has turned out to be nothing but a money sinkhole that promotes violent crime. Any person with a couple of properly firing synapses would say the American people certainly aren’t getting any return on the government’s investment in preventing many of those same people from using various verboten substances. Now the government is stepping up its game and plainly informing the citizenry that their health matters not when it comes to preventing drugs from entering this country:

A 63-page set of specifications (PDF), heavily redacted, obtained by the Electronic Privacy Information Center through the Freedom of Information Act, says the scanners must “be based on X-Ray or gamma technology,” which use potentially dangerous ionizing radiation at high energies, and “shall be capable of scanning cars, SUVs, motorcycles and busses.”

“Society will pay a huge price in cancer because of this,” John Sedat, professor of biochemistry and biophysics at the University of California at San Francisco, told CNET. Sedat has raised concerns about the health risks of X-ray scanners, and the European Commission in November prohibited their use in European airports.

In other words those entering or leaving the country will have to submit to scans by devices that use radition known to cause cancer. According to the United States government no price is too high to pay for the war on drugs, even if that price is your health.

Judge Order Violates Fifth Amendment Protections

I understand the Bill of Rights has been relegated to the back room of a dusty library but it would be nice if the government would at least pretent to abide by it onces in a while. A judge has ordered a woman to decrypt her laptop harddrive so that prosecutors can used the data to nail her to the wall:

A judge on Monday ordered a Colorado woman to decrypt her laptop computer so prosecutors can use the files against her in a criminal case.

The defendant, accused of bank fraud, had unsuccessfully argued that being forced to do so violates the Fifth Amendment’s protection against compelled self-incrimination.

“I conclude that the Fifth Amendment is not implicated by requiring production of the unencrypted contents of the Toshiba Satellite M305 laptop computer,” Colorado U.S. District Judge Robert Blackburn ruled Monday. (.pdf)

The judge ruled incorrectly. Let’s take a look at the text of the Fifth Amendment:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Emphasis added to the part that is relevant to this story. According to the Bill of Rights you may not be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against yourself. By having to reveals her decryption key the woman is being compelled to be a witness against herself. Sadly our country gives the government the ability to both declare and interpret law meaning their definition of the Fifth Amendment directly opposes the reading of it whenever it’s convenient:

The government had argued that there was no Fifth Amendment breach, and that it might “require significant resources and may harm the subject computer” if the authorities tried to crack the encryption.

In other words the Fifth Amendment doesn’t come into play if it would make it difficult for the government to prosecute you. It seems that TrueCrypt’s plausible deniability may be a person’s only protection against being forced to reveal their decryption keys.

Supreme Court Puts the Kibosh on Warrantless GPS Tracking

The Supreme Court finally ruled on whether or not government agencies can use GPS tracking devices to track suspects without first getting a warrant. According to a unanimous ruling they can’t:

The Supreme Court on Monday unanimously restricted the police’s ability to use a GPS device to track criminal suspects in a first test of how privacy rights will be protected in the digital age.

The court rejected the government’s view that long-term surveillance of a suspect by GPS tracking is no different than traditional, low-tech forms of monitoring. But its decision was nuanced and incremental, leaving open the larger questions of how government may use the information generated by modern technology for surveillance purposes.

This ruling is one of those few speed bumps being encountered by the government as it speeds down the road to tyranny and I’m glad for it. Anybody with a couple of brain cells to rub together would be able to determine attaching a GPS tracking device to a suspect’s car without so much as a warrant is a complete violation of the Fourth Amendment.

The complete Supreme Court writeup can be found here [PDF].

Because They Have Nothing Better to Do

Is the name of your wireless access point something racist, bigoted, or otherwise offensive? If so you could find yourself subject of an investigation because the police apparently have nothing else to do:

A bigot named their WiFi signal “F— All Jews and N—-” — and now cops are investigating.

The hateful signal I.D. popped up on the iPhone of a 28-year-old mom inside a Teaneck, N.J. recreation center, where her 3-year-old daughter was attending dance class.

The offending signal was coming from a router connected in the Richard Rodda Community Center in the the township, located 10 miles outside New York City.


The woman, who is African-American, rushed to the office, and informed employees and other parents of the hateful WiFi connection.

Police were called, and when they responded they located the router in the rec center, township Police Chief Robert Wilson said.

You know what would have been a far saner solution? Had an employee of the Community Center simply located the access point and either unplugged it or renamed the network. It’s really a simple thing to do and doesn’t require calling the police in to investigate.

Minnesota Police Moving to Legalize Illegal Searches

While the police state is most prominent in states like New York and California it has slowly been making its way to Minnesota since, at least, the Republic National Convention that took place in St. Paul in 2008. Now the enforcement arm of the state is demanding that they be given the authority to perform warrantless searching of Minnesota citizens:

Law enforcement officials plan to ask the Legislature this year for the right to collect intelligence information on citizens without having to publicly disclose who they are monitoring or why.

It’s a proposal that drew sharp warnings and concerns from public records and transparency advocates at a meeting today where a variety of changes to state public data laws were discussed.

The head of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, Dave Pecchia, said the proposal to collect intelligence information on suspected terrorists, gang members or other suspected criminals is essential to ensure public safety to citizens in Minnesota. He said Minnesota is one of two states that doesn’t have that classification of data and it hinders the ability to share information with law enforcement officials in other states.

What’s interesting is the fact the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association aren’t just demanding this power to spy on “terrorists” but also gang members and “other suspect criminals.” In other words every dissident group is going to find itself subject to Stasi-esque searches. I wonder when they will start asking for the power to indefinitely detain Minnesotans without charges?

You know what? New Hampshire is sounding better every day.

SOAP and PROTECT-IP are Bought and Paid For

We all know our “representatives” are bought and paid for but this fact is rarely shown openly. In a rather odd twist in the recent Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act (PROTECT-IP) drama the Motion Picture Association of American (MPAA) and openly threatened to cut off campaign contributions to “representatives” who don’t support the two erroneous pieces of legislation:

Consumer group Public Knowledge on Friday accused the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and its head, former Sen. Chris Dodd, of trying to intimidate lawmakers into supporting a pair of controversial anti-piracy bills.

In recent days, Dodd and other top Hollywood figures have threatened to cut off campaign donations to politicians who do not support their effort to crackdown on online copyright infringement.

“Those who count on quote ‘Hollywood’ for support need to understand that this industry is watching very carefully who’s going to stand up for them when their job is at stake. Don’t ask me to write a check for you when you think your job is at risk and then don’t pay any attention to me when my job is at stake,” Dodd said on Fox News on Thursday.

Our “representatives” don’t represent us, they represent those who pay them. When lobbyist groups want a piece of legislation passed all they need to do is threaten to cut off the money flow and presto, you have a large based of politicians ready to stand behind the cause. It’s too bad the average citizen can’t afford lobbyists.

Greatest Campaign Stunt Ever

While I still haven’t made up my mind on Rand Paul he continues to impress me. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has detained the senator because he refused to be sexually molested by a government thug:

Paul’s office confirmed he set off an airport security full-body scanner “on a glitch,” according to a spokesman.

The Paul staffer said TSA agents would not let Paul walk back through the body scanner and were demanding a full body pat-down.

The Paul spokesman said his office called TSA administrator John Pistole about the incident this morning.
The U.S. Constitution actually protects federal lawmakers from detention while they’re on the way to the capital.

So he setup of the scanner, offered to walk back through the scanner to verify, and then TSA agent who was chomping at the bit to feel somebody up decided that wasn’t good enough. Of course the TSA is claiming they never detained Paul:

“When an irregularity is found during the TSA screening process, it must be resolved prior to allowing a passenger to proceed to the secure area of the airport,” according to an official statement released by TSA. “Passengers who refuse to complete the screening process cannot be granted access to the secure area in order to ensure the safety of others traveling.”

This is also the same agency that lied about the safety of these body scanners so I’m more inclined to believe Paul’s statement about being detained. Either way it does boil down to a he said she said argument.

Let me give Paul some serious points for refusing to be sexual molested. On that note let me also take away points for submitting to the body scanner in the first place. Still refusing the pat down does take some balls, especially in this police state.

Just because it’s predictable can you guess where our Dear Leader stands on this issue? I’m sure you already guessed that the White House sided with the TSA thugs:

White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday that he didn’t have any reaction to Paul’s “police state” comments.

But Carney sided with the TSA saying, “I think it is absolutely essential that we take necessary actions to ensure that air travel is safe.”

That last comment is some major doublespeak. Those body scanners aren’t necessary for airport security as demonstrated by the fact we haven’t had another terrorist hijacking since 9/11 even though body scanners have only recently been implemented. The TSA will gladly take credit for the lack of hijackings but truth be told hijackings were exceedingly rare before 9/11 when airports handled their own security.

Truthfully the White House doesn’t care about security, they care about control.