A Brilliant Use of Freedom of Information Act Requests

There’s little doubt that children tend to be far more creative than adults. For example, while us stuffy adults are using the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) requests (and their equivalent in foreign countries) to obtained heavily censored reports about the government’s misdeeds one brilliant child decided to use them for something more practical:

A German schoolboy has taken exam preparation to ingenious new levels by making a freedom of information request to see the questions in his forthcoming Abitur tests, the equivalent of A-levels in the UK.

Simon Schräder, 17, from Münster, used the internet platform fragdenstaat.de (“ask the state”), to ask the education ministry of North Rhine-Westphalia for “the tasks of the centrally-made Abitur examinations in the senior classes of high school in the current school year”. He was specifically invoking his state’s freedom of information law.

Schräder set the ministry the legally allowed one-month deadline – falling on 21 April – to comply, though his first exam is on 16 April.

Since schools are generally part of the state I believe FoIA requests and their foreign equivalents should force the state to hand over test questions. Test questions cannot be claimed to impact national security since they’re made public to every student taking the test during the time of the test. There’s no real way to claim handing over test questions could impact anything a current administration is doing or planning to do. The only excuse the state could come up with for not handing over such information is to admit the truth about freedom of information laws, which is that they exist to give the people the illusion that they can hold the state accountable. As soon as freedom of information laws inconvenience the state they are either ignored entirely or the material is surrendered only after being heavily redacted.

Like You and Me, Only Better

People charged with unlawfully killing somebody often have their passport revoked to prevent them from leaving the country. I guess that general rule, like most general rules, doesn’t apply when you have a shiny liability shield:

A volunteer sheriff’s deputy plans to vacation in the Bahamas while facing a second-degree manslaughter charge in Tulsa, his lawyers told a judge Tuesday. The deputy, Robert Bates, 73, pleaded not guilty during the hearing in Tulsa district court. Mr. Bates, a former insurance executive, has said he confused his handgun for a stun gun when he shot Eric Harris after the suspect ran during a sting investigation involving gun sales. His lawyer told the judge that his family intended to take its previously planned vacation ahead of his next court date, in July.

My money is on him not coming back. It is nice to know that you can still take your foreign vacation even though you’re facing manslaughter charges if you happen to be a cop.

Stop Using Master Lock Combination Locks

In the world of padlocks there is the omnipresent Master Lock combination lock. It’s cheap, doesn’t require a key, and takes a bit of time to brute force. At least it used to take a bit of time to brute force. One rule in the security industry is once a flaw has been discovered in a product it’s only a matter of time until that flaw becomes more severe. A rather intelligent bloke came up with a way to open any Master Lock by trying only eight combinations and wrote a nice calculator for the site:

Master Lock combination padlocks have been known to be vulnerable to an attack that reduces their 64,000 possible combinations down to 100. I’ve devised a new attack for cracking any Master combo lock that simplifies the process and reduces the amount of work down to only 8 combinations.

Use this calculator in conjunction with the instructions below to find the 8 possible combinations for your Master combo lock.

People have been warning others away from Master Lock combination locks for years now but this shows that you really really need to replace them with something better.

Rap Sheets

I haven’t spent any time discussing the death of Freddie Gray. Sadly the rate at which police officers kill people in this country is so high that it’s difficult to cover these incidents without feeling like you’re just repeating what you’ve said a thousand times before. But those wonderful neocons have given me something to sink my teeth in. Their love of “tough on crime” has, once again, lead them to dig up whatever excuse they can find to justify the officers’ actions. To this end they have latched onto Freddie’s rap sheet (read the comments for maximum face palm):

His arrest record includes at least 18 arrests:

  • March 20, 2015: Possession of a Controlled Dangerous Substance
  • March 13, 2015: Malicious destruction of property, second-degree assault
  • January 20, 2015: Fourth-degree burglary, trespassing
  • January 14, 2015: Possession of a controlled dangerous substance, possession of a controlled dangerous substance with intent to distribute
  • December 31, 2014: Possession of narcotics with intent to distribute
  • December 14, 2014: Possession of a controlled dangerous substance
  • August 31, 2014: Illegal gambling, trespassing
  • January 25, 2014: Possession of marijuana
  • September 28, 2013: Distribution of narcotics, unlawful possession of a controlled dangerous substance, second-degree assault, second-degree escape
  • April 13, 2012: Possession of a controlled dangerous substance with intent to distribute, unlawful possession of a controlled dangerous substance, violation of probation
  • July 16, 2008: Possession of a controlled dangerous substance, possession with intent to distribute
  • March 28, 2008: Unlawful possession of a controlled dangerous substance
  • March 14, 2008: Possession of a controlled dangerous substance with intent to manufacture and distribute
  • February 11, 2008: Unlawful possession of a controlled dangerous substance, possession of a controlled dangerous substance
  • August 29, 2007: Possession of a controlled dangerous substance with intent to distribute, violation of probation
  • August 28, 2007: Possession of marijuana
  • August 23, 2007: False statement to a peace officer, unlawful possession of a controlled dangerous substance
  • July 16, 2007: Possession of a controlled dangerous substance with intent to distribute, unlawful possession of a controlled dangerous substance (2 counts)

How is this information relevant to the case at hand? It’s not. Except to neocons. They tend to believe that once you’ve been found guilty of a crime, whether it be a real crime or a made up victimless “crime”, anything an officer does to you in the future is justified. Due process, you see, is not a thing neocons hold especially dear.

In their zealous attempt to smear Freddie’s character in order to justify what happened to him the neocons have failed to bring up the rap sheet of the officers who interacted with him. From what I’ve found the only thing Freddie did was run away from a gang of armed men with a history of violence. That’s just common sense. But officers, like dogs, tend to chase anything that runs away from them. When some officers caught up with Freddie they assaulted and then kidnapped him. Why? Because he was in possession of a switchblade, which is one of those victimless “crimes”.

Not only did the officers assault and kidnap Freddie but they almost certainly have a long history of kidnappings, extortion, assault, and armed robbery if not more. Their job description might as well be extort money from the populace and beat or murder anybody who fails to pay their protection money to the state. Freddie’s rap sheet is small potatoes compared to the rap sheet of the average officer “just doing their job.”

If you want to condemn rioters for destroying the property of people who had nothing to do with Freddie’s death that’s fine. But dragging out a dead man’s rap sheet while ignoring his kidnappers’ rap sheets in order to criticize people committing an entirely unrelated crime is not the proper way to make a valid argument.

The United States Doesn’t Have Shit on France When it Comes to Religious Discrimination

The United States has a bad reputation when it comes to religious discrimination. This reputation isn’t undeserved as the country’s new boogeyman is Muslims. But the United States doesn’t have shit on France. France takes religious discrimination to new levels. Where else could wearing a long skirt be considered provocative? Apparently it is in France, at least as long as the skirt is being worn by a Muslim girl:

According to French media reports, a 15-year-old French Muslim girl was banned from her class twice for wearing a skirt that was too long, and therefore supposedly a conspicuous display of religion. France’s state secularism has led to very strict laws prohibiting students from wearing overtly religious symbols in institutions of education.

The student, identified as Sarah, already apparently removed her headscarf before entering the school, in accordance with French law. But her long skirt was deemed a “provocation,” and potential act of protest.

If a skirt is too short the poor girl would have probably been sent home for being sexually provocative. I guess the French policy regarding skirts is now that they must all be below the knee and above the knee. Unless the student is Christian, of course. Then I’m sure a skirt can be a long as the wearer wants without any issue.

Rubber-Hose Cryptanalysis is Effective

I’m a big privacy advocate, which means I urge people to encrypt their hard drives (amongst many other things). This protects your data from a thief who has stolen your device, snoopy significant others, and law enforcement agents trying to dig up a reason to throw you in a cage for the remainder of your life. But encryption isn’t perfect. Rubber-hose cryptanalysis is effect. What that means is that officers, thanks to their magical liability shields, can bypass your encryption by threatening or actually using violence against your person:

After a few hours of this, which involved an attempt to lure one of Cascioli’s suppliers to his building, the officers focused on Cascioli’s Palm Pilot, which they (correctly) believed contained the information they wanted. But Cascioli wouldn’t provide the password. He claims that police then tried to extract the password through intimidation.

Cascioli says [Officer Thomas] Liciardello asked him a question: “Have you ever seen Training Day?”

When Cascioli said yes, Cascioli says Liciardello looked him in the eyes and said: “This is Training Day for f—ing real,” and then instructed officers Norman and Jeffrey Walker to take him to the balcony.

According to Cascioli and the indictment, Liciardello told them to “do whatever they had to do to get the password.”

Out on the balcony, Cascioli says officers Norman and Walker lifted him up by each arm and leaned him over the balcony railing.

In his testimony at trial this month, Cascioli provided more details, under oath, about what happened that night. The Palm Pilot, he said, contained records on his $400,000 stash, which he had split for safekeeping between the home of his brother and the home of a friend. When the cops allegedly took him out to the balcony, Cascioli said he truly feared for his life.

“They started to lift me a little,” he said. “My feet were off the ground.”

He said he was afraid. “I thought they were going to drop me” over the railing. Cascioli said he then gave up his password.

As a side note it’s worth bringing up that no Palm Pilot ever supported storage encryption so the most Cascioli’s device could have had was a password that could be easily bypassed by plugging the device into a computer and syncing all of the data (which copies the data from the Palm Pilot to the computer). But that really has nothing to do with the case at hand.

What is important here is threat modeling. Police rarely suffer consequences for using excessive force or even committing murder. That makes them more likely to use rubber-hose cryptanalysis. Fortunately encrypted drives are usually easy to erase because only the decryption keys need to be wiped out. If you really want to keep your information secret it would be wise to begin formatting your computer and mobile device upon confirming police are trying to gain entry into your dwelling. Otherwise you’re at the mercy of the court, which will tend to side with the police, to throw out any condemning evidence (and there will always be condemning evidence since everything is illegal these days).

Why Pay More? Save Money with Slave Labor Today!

Slavery never ended in the United States, the rulers were just altered slightly. Instead of declaring people slaves based on their ancestry the United States now declares it based on being labeled a criminal. That’s quite convenient since we’re all criminals. In addition to changing the criteria on who is and isn’t a slave the state also changed the rules on who gets the money. Under the previous rules the slave owners received the profits gained through slave labor but now the state gets it all! Hoping to boost profits the state has been advertising its slave labor service to people interested in outsourcing:

Searching for the “best kept secret in outsourcing,” one that can “provide you with all the advantages” of domestic workers, but with “offshore prices”? Try prison labor!

That’s the message of Unicor, also known as Federal Prison Industries, a government-owned corporation that employs federal workers for as little as 23 cents an hour to manufacture military uniforms, furniture, electronics and other products.

The “best kept secret in outsourcing” is literally slavery. And the slave owner in this case gets to create as many slaves as it wants by voting amongst itself to create new crimes. Talk about a win-win situation.

Many people point out that Chinese labor is practically slave labor. But Chinese laborers can demand higher wages and even leave their job if their demands aren’t met. Slave laborers in American prisons can’t demand higher wages because they can’t quit and go elsewhere. Their options are either to work for a quarter an hour or rot in a cell all day long.

Welcome to the freest goddamn country on Earth.

I’m Glad Minnesota Republicans can Find Time to Address the Really Important Issues

After the Minnesota Sports High School League announced a pretty decent solution for transgender students wanting to participate in sports the Republicans of this state have whining like the little bitches they are. Their belief in government so small that it can fit in your bathroom has moved them to overturn the Sports High School League’s policy by enacting a state law:

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota House wants to restrict transgender students’ access to school locker rooms and bathrooms.

Minority Democrats objected fiercely to a Republican move to include the provision in an education budget bill Saturday. The House approved the proposal in a divided voice vote.

Rep. Tim Miller’s provision says group locker rooms, bathrooms and showers designated for one sex can’t be used by the other. It doesn’t preclude schools from offering single-use bathrooms or changing rooms to transgender students.

Once again I’m left asking why. Why do Minnesota Republicans care about this? As supposed advocates of small government shouldn’t they support each school being allowed to make its own policy? Shouldn’t be they be happy that an independent organization created a policy that schools can abide by? How come their advocacy for small government always has an exception for issues regarding voluntary interaction?

Republicans are spending a lot of time complaining about the so-called war on Christianity. What they mean is they’re unhappy that people are using government to overturn discriminatory laws and, sometimes, punish people for discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals. Anybody with even a basic education in physics knows that for every action there is an equal but opposite reaction. So long as the Republican Party sees it as necessary to use the state to dictate social issues the other side will see it as necessary to use the state for the same. When one person detonates a nuclear warhead the other guy wants to do the same in retaliation.

Without Government Who Would Raise the Gas Tax to Build the Shitty Roads

It’s no secret that the roads here in Minnesota are shit. This state will forever be known as the one that let a major bridge deteriorate to the point of collapse. In addition to shitty bridges the potholes here are so numerous that you practically need an off-road vehicle to go to the grocery store. Fortunately the state has been bleeding tax victims pretty hard so it now has a $1 billion surplus that can be used to fix the roads. Just kidding. The Senate just passed a bill that would raise Minnesota’s gas tax. To justify this even greater theft the Senate is bullshitting us about using the money to fix the roads:

The Minnesota Senate has passed a bill that funds road and bridge repairs by raising the state’s gasoline tax.

The plan would raise more than $6 billion for infrastructure repairs by adding a 6 1/2-percent wholesale tax on gas sales and hiking license tab fees. It also funds mass transit projects with a sales tax hike in the seven-county metropolitan area.

I guess that surplus is needed for better things such as a fancy new building for our rulers to rule from. With $1 billion of extra cash on hand they could make the entire facility out of marble and have a solid oak desk for each member of the ruling class!

It’s only a short hop for me to cross the river into Wisconsin and that sounds more appealing every day. That’s not to say Wisconsin is some kind of paradise but at least the rulers there will allow me to own a suppressor and seem less determined to bleed me completely dry immediately.

Everything Old is New Again

Remember the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) Gang Strike Force? It made the news a few years back after it was caught stealing vehicles, beating people, and stealing cash:

The stories and payouts to 96 victims of the now-defunct Strike Force, cited in 600 pages of documents released last week in a class-action lawsuit, provide the most detailed picture yet of an out-of-control police squad, and put a price on every wrongful seizure, unjustified punch or dubious raid.

The force was disbanded after the MPD couldn’t cover its misdeeds up any longer. But everything old is new again. Guess what police department just announced a new gang unit? That’s right, the MPD:

Hoping to stem retaliatory shootings this summer, the Minneapolis police department is launching a new unit solely focused on gang-related crime.

Chief Janeé Harteau announced the change Wednesday during a City Council briefing about summer crime strategies. Details were sparse Wednesday, but she said the unit would consist of five officers and one sergeant.

Welcome to modern policing. Bad ideas are, at most, disappeared for a short time while the public forges about them. Once a bad idea has faded from memory it is brought back under a slightly different name. If anybody does point out how poorly the idea worked out last time they’re told “This time will be different.” I’m sure it will only be a few years until evidence surfaces that this new gang unit is involved in the same shit as the old one.