A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for the ‘Corruption Corner’ Category

Every Vote Matters

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Another national election has concluded. That can only mean that Florida is steeping in electoral shenanigans again:

The elections board in Florida’s Miami-Dade County has collected a set of mysterious ballots in the Opa-locka mail facility after Democrats raised concern about the uncounted votes.

The uncounted ballots have emerged as one of many battles over the fiercely contested Florida elections that moved this weekend into a recount phase.

Suzy Trutie, a spokesperson for the county’s supervisor of elections, told CNN there were 266 ballots in the shipment and that the votes will not be counted. Florida law requires all ballots sent by mail to arrive at the election facility by 7 p.m. on Election Day, and these ballots did not meet that standard, Trutie said.

There are two possible explanations here. The first is that these votes were somehow lost in the mail. The second is that these votes were conjugated out of thin air when it a race was so close that ballots had to be recounted. Neither explanation supposed the advocate of democracy’s claim that every vote matters.

If the first explanation is true, then the votes of the 266 individuals who voted on those ballots don’t matter because they weren’t received by the legal deadline. If the second explanation is true and the people arguing that those ballots should be counted get their way, the power of the legitimate votes that were cast will be watered down.

It turns out that creating a pseudonymous voting system that is also secure is a task that has so far eluded the people of the United States. So long as that continues to be the case, your vote really can’t be said to matter.

Written by Christopher Burg

November 14th, 2018 at 10:30 am

Jim Crow Never Went Away

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If you ever need an illustration of just how stupid the average voter is, find a voter who is complaining about racist government policies and ask them how they plan to change it. 99 percent (a conservative estimate, it’s probably higher) of the time the voter will tell you that they’re planning to beg the government to change its policies. If you point out how stupid that idea is, they’ll point to the elimination of slavery and the striking down of Jim Crow laws as proof that their strategy works, which should prove to you that the person you’re conversing with is extremely gullible (on the upside you probably just found a buyer for that bridge that you’re trying to offload).

While the government has said that it eliminated slavery and Jim Crow laws, it really just changed some legal definitions. If you’re being held against your will and forced to provide labor, you’re not legally considered a slave, you’re legally considered a prison laborer. Likewise, there are no longer laws that overtly treat people differently based on the color of their skin, instead there are algorithms that do the same thing but provide plausible deniability:

But what’s taking the place of cash bail may prove even worse in the long run. In California, a presumption of detention will effectively replace eligibility for immediate release when the new law takes effect in October 2019. And increasingly, computer algorithms are helping to determine who should be caged and who should be set “free.” Freedom — even when it’s granted, it turns out — isn’t really free.

Under new policies in California, New Jersey, New York and beyond, “risk assessment” algorithms recommend to judges whether a person who’s been arrested should be released. These advanced mathematical models — or “weapons of math destruction” as data scientist Cathy O’Neil calls them — appear colorblind on the surface but they are based on factors that are not only highly correlated with race and class, but are also significantly influenced by pervasive bias in the criminal justice system.

As O’Neil explains, “It’s tempting to believe that computers will be neutral and objective, but algorithms are nothing more than opinions embedded in mathematics.”

For the record, when people were celebrating California’s decision to eliminate cash bail, I predicted that it would result in this outcome (although I didn’t predict the use of algorithms, I did predict that since the decision to let somebody out on bail would be the sole decision of some bureaucrats, nothing would actually change).

Plausible deniability is the staple of modern politics. A politician who wants to pass a racist policy just needs to make sure that race is never mentioned in their law and when the policy results in the politician’s desired outcome, they can claim that they had no way to predict such a result. Additional plausible deniability can be added by handing decisions over to algorithms. Most people think of algorithms as mysterious wizardry performed by the high priests of science and are therefore impartial and infallible (because, you know, scientists are always impartial and never wrong).

However, algorithms do exactly what they’re created to do. If you want a machine learning algorithm to perform in a certain way, you either write it to do exactly what you want or you provide it learning data that will skew it towards the results you want. When the masses wise up and realize that the algorithm is racially biases, you can just claim that the complexity of the algorithm prevented anybody from accurately predicting what it would do. Their ignorance will make your explanation believable to them and you can claim that you’ve now made improvements that should (i.e. won’t) lead to more impartial results.

Written by Christopher Burg

November 13th, 2018 at 11:00 am

Spending Money to Make Money

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You know the old saying, you have to spend money to make money? It’s especially true in politics:

Weapons makers are moving last-minute money to the Democratic congressman in line to chair the defense industry’s key House committee, as he is under assault from a fellow Democrat, who is attacking his pro-war record just ahead of a rare intra-party general election.

[…]

Sensing an opportunity to influence the race and the potential future committee chair, major weapons contractors have given the lawmaker last-minute campaign support. Lobbyists and executives associated with General Dynamics, one of the largest weapons makers in the world, have given over $10,000 in recent weeks, in addition to the $9,500 from the company over the last quarter.

In just the last week of October, Teresa Carlson, an Amazon industry executive overseeing the company’s bid for a $10 billion military IT contract, gave $1,000; Bechtel, which managed Iraq reconstruction contracts, gave $1,000; Rolls-Royce, which manufactures parts for a variety of military jets, including a model of the controversial F-35, gave $3,500; and Phebe Novakovic, the chief executive of General Dynamics, gave $2,700.

If you’re going to the polls tomorrow, remember that your vote is meaningless. Your options will consist of a list of curated politicians who might disagree on minor details but all agree that the government must continue to oppress you. Moreover, consider your politician’s position. If they have to weigh the value of the single filled in oval on a piece of paper that you offer versus thousands or millions of dollars in campaign contributions, who do you think they’ll choose to appease?

Written by Christopher Burg

November 6th, 2018 at 10:30 am

Making Security Illegal

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A recent court ruling has potentially made secure devices and effective security services illegal:

The Canadian executive of a 10-year-old company that marketed its purportedly secure BlackBerry services to thousands of criminals (who paid at least $4,000 per year, per device) has pleaded guilty to a racketeering conspiracy charge, federal prosecutors in San Diego said Tuesday.

[…]

As the Department of Justice said in a Tuesday statement:

To keep the communications out of the reach of law enforcement, Ramos and others maintained Phantom Secure servers in Panama and Hong Kong, used virtual proxy servers to disguise the physical location of its servers, and remotely deleted or “wiped” devices seized by law enforcement. Ramos and his co-conspirators required a personal reference from an existing client to obtain a Phantom Secure device. And Ramos used digital currencies, including Bitcoin, to facilitate financial transactions for Phantom Secure to protect users’ anonymity and launder proceeds from Phantom Secure. Ramos admitted that at least 450 kilograms of cocaine were distributed using Phantom Secure devices.

[…]

At the time of his arrest, the Department of Justice said that the Ramos case was the “first time the U.S. government has targeted a company and its leaders for assisting a criminal organization by providing them with technology to ‘go dark,’ or evade law enforcement’s detection of their crimes.”

From what I could ascertain, the reason Vincent Ramos was arrested, charged, and declared guilty was because he offered a device and service that allowed his customers to actually remain anonymous. This is what most Virtual Private Network (VPN) providers, I2P, Tor, and other anonymity services offer so will one of them be the next Department of Justice target?

I’m going to take this opportunity to go on a related tangent. Ramos was charged because his devices and service were being used by other people to facilitate illegal activities such as selling cocaine. Ramos himself wasn’t, as far as I can tell, performing those illegal activities. Since the illegal actions in this case weren’t performed by Ramos, why was he charged with anything? Because the illegal activities being performed with his devices and service were related to the drug war and the drug war has served as the United States government’s excuse to go after anybody it doesn’t like.

Anything that can be tacitly tied to the drug war can be punished. If an officer doesn’t like you, they can claim that the cash you have on hand is evidence that you are participating in drug crimes and use civil forfeiture to seize your stuff. If your roommate is dealing drugs without your knowledge, prosecutors can claim that you actually do have knowledge and charge you with a plethora of crimes. If you offer a product that anonymizes users, prosecutors can charge you for aiding drug dealers. All of the supposed civil rights you enjoy suddenly go out the window when the word drugs is involved.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 4th, 2018 at 11:00 am

Incentivizing Law Enforcement

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There are many ways to encourage and discourage desired behavior. The two most common methods are rewards and punishments. You reward behavior you want and punish behavior you don’t want. These two methods are used in every walk of life, even law enforcement. Many municipalities have been encouraging their law enforcers to pursue fines. Unfortunately, an individual can only do so much so when law enforcers are encouraged to pursue fines, they necessarily must put less time into other activities such as solving crimes:

Alongside the Black Lives Matter movement in the past several years, civil rights advocates have begun pointing out that the way municipalities collect fees and fines often disproportionately affects low-income communities of color, especially when those communities aren’t well represented in local governments. In 2015, as a follow-up to investigations of police bias in Ferguson, Mo., the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department released the Ferguson report, which painstakingly documents how the police department in that city relied overwhelmingly on fees and fines collected from people in ways that “both reflect and exacerbate existing racial bias.”

But here’s another result of fee and fine enforcement that has never before been measured: Police departments that collect more in fees and fines are less effective at solving crimes.

In addition to fines and permits fees, fines are a major source of revenue for cities. Moreover, city governments make nothing when burglaries, rapes, and murders are solved. When these facts are considered, it’s not surprise that municipalities encourage their law enforcers to pursue fines instead of solving actual crimes.

One of the most common criticisms of privatizing police is that doing so would result in the police pursuing the interests of those who hired them. What most critics of police privatization don’t recognize is that socialized police also pursue the interests of those who hire them, which is why today’s law enforcers spend most of their time enforcing laws that profit city governments. If police were privatized, you could actually hire them to solve burglaries, rapes, and murders. So long as police remain socialized, the chances of that happening are effectively zero.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 25th, 2018 at 11:00 am

The Bias within the System

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Radley Balko wrote an excellent article outlining just the tip of the iceberg that is the overwhelming evidence that the legal system in the United States is racial biased.

The entire article is worth reading but I wanted to take a moment to highlight the third paragraph because it addresses a common myth about the system:

Of particular concern to some on the right is the term “systemic racism,” often wrongly interpreted as an accusation that everyone in the system is racist. In fact, systemic racism means almost the opposite. It means that we have systems and institutions that produce racially disparate outcomes, regardless of the intentions of the people who work within them. When you consider that much of the criminal-justice system was built, honed and firmly established during the Jim Crow era — an era almost everyone, conservatives concluded, will concede rife with racism — this is pretty intuitive. The modern criminal-justice system helped preserve racial order — it kept black people in their place. For much of the early 20th century, in some parts of the country, that was its primary function. That it might retain some of those proclivities today shouldn’t be all that surprising.

One thing on which the “left” and “right” (in this context “left” is being used to refer to those who believe the system is racially biased while “right” is being used to refer to those who disagree with those on the “left”) commonly agree is that the definition of a racially biased system is based on those within it. The “left” tend to argue that the legal system in the United States is racist because the majority of those within it are racists. The “right” often adopt this definition because it’s easy to argue against. Since both groups subscribe to this definition of systemic racism, the argument over whether the legal system is racially biased tends to involve people on the “right” pointing to people within the system who aren’t racist while people on the “left” refute their argument by claiming that those people are actually racist (if no evidence exists supporting their accusation, they argue that the person is a closet racist).

Systemic racism isn’t defined by who composes the system but by what rules govern the system.

The legal system in the United States would continue to show a racial bias even if the entire system was composed by individuals who didn’t contain a single racist bone in their body (assuming, of course, that they also followed the rules). This is because the rules governing the system ensure a racially biased outcome. How is that accomplished without the laws overtly being based on race? By criminalizing activities that are more often enjoyed by individuals who belong to a target race (I say this with the understanding that race itself is arbitrarily defined).

Let’s consider a hypothetical scenario. Let’s say we have a racist politician who wants to write a law that will primarily put more black men in prison. How can he go about accomplishing this without mentioning race in his law? First he would identify an activity that is more often enjoyed by black men than white men. If we’re discussing fashion, it is more common for black men to wear pants that hang below their waist than it is for white men so that would make a good candidate. So our hypothetical politician could write a law criminalizing the act of wearing pants that hang below the waist. What do you think the arrest statistics are going to look like after one year? They will almost certainly show that far more black men were arrested than white men. As an added bonus, the arrest statistics will likely contain a few white men, which will give the politician evidence to argue that the law isn’t racist. Even if the majority of people who are tasked with enforcing the law (again, assuming they follow the rules) aren’t racist, the statistics will show a racial bias because the law targets an activity more commonly enjoyed by black men.

A system like this will more reliably deliver the desired outcome of its creators than a system that is composed of individuals who share the same desires as its creators. Why? Because the people who compose a system tend to change rather quickly whereas the rules that govern a system tend to change far less frequently. Moreover, even if the system is infiltrated by individuals who disagree with its creators’ desires, there isn’t anything they can do to change the system without breaking the rules (and thus being exposed and dismissed).

It’s unfortunate that the definition of systemic racism is far more complex than the commonly used definition. People tend to shy away from complexity. Although shying away from complexity is a sane default, it’s the wrong response when the seemingly simpler definition is wrong.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 19th, 2018 at 11:00 am

But Some Animals Are More Equal than Others

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Under the evil system of capitalism, hierarchies arise. The workers are reduced to a subservient class whose only purpose is to create wealth for the capitalists. The glories of socialism, on the other hand, ensure that all animals are equal:

With his country facing starvation, Venezuela’s leftist dictator caused a wave of disgust this week when he was seen chowing down on a pricey meal personally served to him by the celebrity chef “Salt Bae.”

Nicolás Maduro smiled and guffawed as he tucked into a $275 cut of lamb at the posh Nusr-Et steakhouse in Istanbul, Turkey, which is run by Nusret “Salt Bae” Gökçe, famous for viral videos of him seductively sprinkling salt.

In one video of the meal, the chef is seen slicing into the succulent lamb as the cigar-chomping Maduro watches.

This is why I don’t take socialists’ claims seriously. They claim that socialism creates equality but a rigid hierarchy of rich and poor has arisen in every country where it has been implemented. Living in the former Soviet Union, German Democratic Republic, Hungarian People’s Republic, etc. wasn’t too bad… if you were a member of the ruling party. If you weren’t, life was pretty miserable.

We’re seeing the equality of socialism play out again in Venezuela. While the plebeians starve to death, the patricians are eating lavish meals and smoking fancy cigars. The only silver lining is that governments aren’t permanent and the current Venezuelan government appears to be in the collapse stage. If the people are Venezuela are lucky, the next set of rulers won’t be as totalitarian.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 19th, 2018 at 10:30 am

Marijuana You Say? Case Dismissed!

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Do you remember the Dallas law enforcers that went to Botham Jean’s apartment to plant, err, find evidence to assassinate his character? This is probably going to come as a shock but they found something:

One of the warrants became a public record Thursday afternoon when it was returned to the judge who signed it. It was shortly after Jean’s funeral had ended. It listed several items found in Jean’s apartment, including a small amount of marijuana.

I can see the courtroom now. The officer’s defense attorney mentions that the search warrant resulted in the discovery of marijuana. The judge says, “Marijuana you say?” He then taps his gavel and says, “Case dismissed!”

Truth be told, the discovery of marijuana is irrelevant to the case at hand. Even if Officer Guyger was aware that Jean was in possession of cannabis, she had no warrant to enter the premise. Without a warrant or an invitation, which she never claimed to be given, she was in his dwelling unlawfully. But I’m sure the discovery of cannabis will give all of the boot lickers their much needed reason to defend Officer Guyger’s actions and that’s what the warrant was all about, assassinating Jean’s character.

Creating Justification After the Fact

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Most of you have probably heard about Officer Amber Guyger, the Dallas law enforcer who entered Botham Jean’s apartment and summarily executed him. When I first heard about the story, Guyger was enjoying a paid vacation. That vacation ended when she was arrested after the story had spread across the Internet. However, she was still granted the professional courtesy of receiving a few days to craft her story. Even with a few days her story was pretty feeble though. She claimed that she mistook the man’s apartment for her own (apparently black men have a magical power where they can quickly remove all of your furnishings from an apartment and replace them with new furnishings) and only shot Jean after he failed to respond to verbal commands.

Now it appears as thought the department is extending a bit more professional courtesy by helping Guyger’s defense team find some kind of evidence with which to smear Jean’s character:

Now KXAS reports that the day after the shooting, a Dallas Police Department investigator obtained a warrant to search Jean’s apartment. The warrant, signed by 292nd District Court Judge Brandon Birmingham, says the police intended to look for “any contraband, such as narcotics,” that could “constitute[e] evidence of a criminal offense.”

If I entered another person’s apartment and gunned them down, I highly doubt that the local police department would extend me the courtesies of giving me a few days to craft my story and searching my victim’s apartment for evidence that could help my defense lawyer smear them. Those levels of courtesy are only granted to members of the brotherhood.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 13th, 2018 at 11:00 am

The Privilege of Power

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I would like you to read this story and ask yourself, what do you think would happen to you if you were in Ryan Haass’ position:

On Sunday, Feb. 11 after leaving the Tippy Canoes bar in Osceola, Wis., Haass drove off the road and abandoned his car in a ditch. He left the scene of the accident and later claimed he continued drinking at home.

Surveillance video from the bar in Osceola, obtained by the FOX 9 Investigators, shows Haass spent the afternoon drinking, consuming at least three beers and four Long Island iced teas.

[…]

When the officer asked Haass what he was drinking, he said, “Hey, stop there. I know why you are asking these questions and I’m not saying any more.”

When the officer asked Haas to perform a field sobriety test, he refused and said, “What is the point? I will not perform the test. Now what are you going to do?”

Osceola Police Chief Ron Pedrys was monitoring the situation that night and told Fox 9 that without a field sobriety test, the officer did not have probable cause to arrest Haass.

In this age where drunk driving is probably considered the same as murder to most people, how did Haass manage to get away with this? Why wasn’t he arrested and taken to the station to be blood tested when he refused to perform a field sobriety test? Because Haass happens to be a law enforcer himself.

Power comes with privileges such as professional courtesy. Law enforcers often extend a great deal of courtesy to each other that they won’t extend to regular schmucks like you and me. If one officer pulls another over for speeding, they’ll often pretend that the situation never occurred. If one officer finds that another is in possession of illegal narcotics, they’ll often pretend that they didn’t see anything. And if one officer suspects that another was driving while intoxicated, they often won’t force a sobriety or blood test.

Rules are for little people, not the king’s men.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 7th, 2018 at 10:30 am