A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for the ‘Corruption Corner’ Category

All Are Equal under the Law, But Some Are More Equal than Others

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One of the supposed foundations of the United States governmental system is that all are equal under the law. Anybody who has read about the country’s history knows that this claim is utter bullshit. Even today the various governmental bodies use their power to create laws that directly target subsets of individuals. The government of Seat Pleasant, Maryland is being sued because it decide that not everybody is equal under its tax laws:

The owners of a discount market, a Chinese takeout restaurant and a liquor store say officials violated the city’s charter and state and federal laws when they created an ordinance that sent the property taxes of certain businesses soaring.

Steven Franco, who owns the discount market, said the “special revitalization” tax is a part of an attempt by Seat Pleasant’s leaders to lower the value of the properties so the city can buy the buildings for its own use.

“You can’t attract business like this,” said Franco, whose city property taxes last year jumped from $5,991 to $55,019, dwarfing the $18,269 property tax he pays to Prince George’s County. “It’s backward economic thinking.”

This situation isn’t unique. Municipal governments like to wield their property tax powers to run out business that they find undesirable. Of course they never claim to be doing as much when they’re writing such taxes since that could cause them to appear unfair. But everybody knows that there is an almost infinite number of ways to discriminate without appearing to be overtly discriminating. If, for example, you want to run liquor stores out of town, you simply hit the businesses in their neighborhoods with “revitalization” taxes that you claim to be aimed at “restoring” some parts of the city. This works well because many liquor stores are in poorer parts of town that city officials claim to want revitalized.

It’ll be interesting to see how this lawsuit turns out. I wouldn’t be surprised if the court sides with it’s fellow government employees.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 4th, 2018 at 10:30 am

Government Granted Monopolies are Good for Business

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Few markets in the United States are as ripe with corruption as the medical market:

A drug that treats a variety of white blood cell cancers typically costs about $148,000 a year, and doctors can customize and quickly adjust doses by adjusting how many small-dose pills of it patients should take each day—generally up to four pills. At least, that was the case until now.

Last year, doctors presented results from a small pilot trial hinting that smaller doses could work just as well as the larger dose—dropping patients down from three pills a day to just one. Taking just one pill a day could dramatically reduce costs to around $50,000 a year. And it could lessen unpleasant side-effects, such as diarrhea, muscle and bone pain, and tiredness. But just as doctors were gearing up for more trials on the lower dosages, the makers of the drug revealed plans that torpedoed the doctors’ efforts: they were tripling the price of the drug and changing pill dosages.

Before some socialist reads this and thinks that they’re going to be oh so clever by posting, “See? This is what happens under capitalism,” let me explain how this kind of behavior is enabled by government.

In a market unrestrained by government interference, news stories like this would result in competitors making cheaper alternatives to the drug in question. However, in this case the manufacturer has a patent, a government sanctioned monopoly, on the chemical makeup of the drug, which makes it illegal for other manufacturers, at least in countries that recognize the patent, to make a product using that same chemical makeup. If a drug manufacturer wants to triple the price of their patented products, there’s nothing to stop them because no competition exists.

If you look at drugs that are no longer patented, there are usually several generic alternatives to the name brand drug. These generics have the same chemical makeup and therefore do the same thing but they usually cost a fraction of the cost of the name brand version. Once a generic is on the market the original manufacturer can either keep their prices absurdly high and lose a bunch of business or bring their prices down to a more reasonable level in an attempt to compete.

Unfortunately, so long as manufacturers can patent chemistry, they can set their prices as high as they want.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 20th, 2018 at 10:30 am

Justice in the United States

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When I discuss the justice system in the United States, I use the word justice with a heavy dose of sarcasm. Justice, at least in my book, implies that a wronged party has been compensated for the damages they suffered by the party that wronged them. Here in the United States justice tends to imply that a governmental body has been compensated for the damages suffered by another party:

T-Mobile USA has agreed to pay a $40 million fine after admitting that it failed to complete phone calls in rural areas and used “false ring tones” that created the appearance that the calls were going through and no one was picking up.

“To settle this matter, T-Mobile admits that it violated the Commission’s prohibition against the insertion of false ring tones and that it did not correct problems with delivery of calls to certain rural areas,” states an order issued by the Federal Communications Commission today.

T-Mobile will pay the $40 million fine into the US Treasury. FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn criticized the commission for not getting refunds for customers.

According to the Fascist Communications Club (FCC), T-Mobile wronged rural customers by inserting false ring tones on their lines and failing to correct issues that resulted in calls not being delivered. To punish T-Mobile the FCC fined it $40 million. However, that entire post is going to the FCC. The wrong parties, the rural individuals who had to deal with false ring tones and calls not being delivered, won’t receive a penny. T-Mobile isn’t even required to issue refunds.

This isn’t uncommon. Government regulators often accuse companies of harming individuals. The result of such accusations tends to be fines that are payable to the accusing agency while the parties that the accuser claimed were the actual wronged parties go without compensation. That doesn’t qualify as justice in my book. It’s just a scam for government busybodies to line their pockets while pretending to represent “the people.”

Written by Christopher Burg

April 18th, 2018 at 11:00 am

Backing the Thin Blue Line

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Backing the thin blue line, at least in Minnesota, is an expensive proposition:

Over the past 11 years, at least $60.8 million has been paid out statewide to people who have made misconduct allegations, according to data compiled by the Star Tribune.

From 2007 to 2017, jurisdictions in Minnesota have made at least 933 payouts to citizens for alleged misconduct. And they’re on the rise. The average has grown from about 50 payouts per year to around 100.

It’s just a few bad apples though!

If so much money is spent on police misconduct, why hasn’t the government made efforts to restrain its law enforcers? I think history can illustrate the core problem here. Let’s rewind to Ancient Rome. Ancient Rome, like pretty much every regime throughout history, declared that individuals within its territory owed it taxes. Unlike the modern United States though, Ancient Rome had no government tax collectors. Instead it contracted the job out to publicani. Tax collection contracts required collectors to raise a specified amount of money to send to Rome. What made these contracts lucrative was that the collectors were allowed to keep any additional money that they raise for themselves. If, for example, a contract required collectors to collect 1 million sestertii and the collectors collected 1.5 million sestertii, they were allowed to keep the extra half million. As you can imagine, this system was rife with corruption. Tax collectors squeeze every sestertius they could from the population. While the populations being bleed would often complain to Rome, Rome was reluctant to restrain its primary revenue generators so the abuses continued.

The same holds true for modern governments. Law enforcers are a major revenue generator for governments. While $60.8 million may sound like a lot of money even spread out over 10 years, it’s certainly a paltry sum compared to the amount of revenue generated by Minnesota law enforcers in the same span of time. Until the amount being paid out for misconduct allegations exceeds the amount being generated by law enforcers, that status quo will continue.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 17th, 2018 at 11:00 am

Reinforcing the Status Quo

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Cop apologists are quick to say that the time to resist a “bad apple” isn’t when they’re violating your so-called rights or curb stomping your face, but in the courtroom after the interaction is concluded. Were the courts just, such advice may be valid. However, the courts are not just and more often than not affirm that heinous acts performed by law enforcers are legal:

The Supreme Court just ruled that a police officer could not be sued for gunning down Amy Hughes. This has vast implications for law enforcement accountability. The details of the case are as damning as the decision. Hughes was not suspected of a crime. She was simply standing still, holding a kitchen knife at her side. The officer gave no warning that he was going to shoot her if she did not comply with his commands. Moments later, the officer shot her four times.

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As Sotomayor argued in dissent, the court’s decision means that such “palpably unreason­able conduct will go unpunished.” According to seven of the nine Justices, Hughes’ Fourth Amendment right to not be shot four times in this situation is less protected than the officer’s interest in escaping accountability for his brazen abuse of authority. According to Justice Sotomayor, “If this account of [the officer’s] conduct sounds unreasonable, that is because it was. And yet, the Court [] insulates that conduct from liability under the doctrine of qualified immunity.”

Worse yet, this decision wasn’t a surprise. And it certainly isn’t an aberration.

This is yet another in a long list of Supreme Court cases that affirm that officers have the privilege to shoot whomever they want for whatever reason they want. This is also why I call bullshit on the earlier mentioned argument commonly made by cop apologists.

If you wait to resist a “bad apple” until a later court case, you may be permanently disabled or even dead. To make matters worse, the court will be more likely side with the “bad apple” than you. Of course fighting with a “bad apple” carries its own risks. The “bad apple’s” buddies will likely join their comrade in beating your ass or summarily executing you. Furthermore, if you do survive, you will likely be tossed into a cage by a court. When you’re so-called rights are being violated by a law enforcer, you’re really stuck between a rock and a hard place and have to decide how to proceed based on the information at hand at the time. However, your list of options shouldn’t consist solely of rolling over and letting a man in a muumuu later affirm that what the officer did to you was perfectly legal.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 11th, 2018 at 10:30 am

The Power of Transmutation

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It turns out that black men have the power of transmutation:

It does not matter what it was to begin with. A wallet. A pipe. A cellphone. It makes no difference. The phenomenon remains the same every time.

In the morning, it is very clearly a cellphone. Anyone who looks at it can see it.

In the afternoon, it is still very clearly a cellphone. It sends texts. It makes calls. Its screen lights up.

But in the evening, the transformation occurs. A police officer sees the cellphone, sees that the hand holding it belongs to a black man, and suddenly, quite without warning, it becomes a gun.

When a law enforcer shoots a (usually black) man who is holding something that is obviously not a weapon, cop apologists will quickly claim that one doesn’t have time to determine whether the object in an individual’s hand is a cellphone or a gun in a potentially life or death situation. The first problem with that argument is that it doesn’t hold for nongovernmental agents. Were I to shoot a man holding a cellphone, I would have a difficult time arguing that I was justified in the use of deadly force. The second problem with that argument is that it assumes the situation was life or death before the officer decided that the cellphone had transmuted into a firearm. Most situations entered by law enforcers don’t start as life or death. They might start off rather tense but they usually only escalate to a life or death situation with time. Oftentimes, the situation seems to escalate because of the law enforcer’s actions, not the individual they’re interacting with.

If this kind of situation only happened rarely, it could easily be explained as law enforcers legitimately mistaking a harmless item a hand for a weapon. But it happens with not insignificant frequency, which indicates that there may be a trend of law enforcers claiming that they believe harmless items are weapons so they can act on their desire to use violence.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 10th, 2018 at 10:00 am

The FBI’s Dog and Pony Show

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The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) made a big stink about being unable to unlock an iPhone 5C, which led to a lengthy debate over whether or not phone manufacturers should be required to include a law enforcement backdoor in their devices. According to the FBI, it was powerless to unlock the phone and because of that terrorists, child pornographers, and other heinous individuals would be able to act with impunity. It turns out that the FBI may be been exaggerating its incompetency:

Additionally, the OIG also found that when then FBI Director James Comey swore up and down in Congressional hearings that there was no alternative but to force the issue in court—it wasn’t entirely true.

“We have engaged all parts of the US government to see, does anybody have a way, short of asking Apple, to do it, with a 5C running iOS9, and we do not,” Comey told Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) during a March 1, 2016 hearing.

However, the new OIG report reveals that by February 11, the head of yet another FBI group—known as the Remote Operations Unit—had been in touch with a vendor that “he worked closely with [who] was almost 90 percent of the way toward a solution that the vendor had been working on for many months, and he asked the vendor to prioritize completion of the solution.” In short, weeks before Comey’s testimony before Congress, the FBI actually did know of a technique that was nearly all the way there.

Why would the FBI lie about something like this? One reason is that government agents, unlike private individuals, are allowed to get away with lying during hearings. But the biggest reason is probably because the FBI wanted to expand the United States government’s overall surveillance powers. A law enforcement backdoor would enhance not only the FBI’s surveillance powers but also the Drug Enforcement Agency’s, Central Intelligence Agency’s, National Security Administration’s, and basically every other federal, state, and local agency’s. Technology that allows individuals to protect their privacy is directly at odds with a government’s desire to expropriate wealth from individuals.

Nobody will likely be punished for this lie, which means that the FBI will see no reason to lie again in the future. But it’s good to keep these cases in our back pocket to remind ourselves that every time a government agency claims it needs additional powers, the reasons it feeds us are likely bullshit.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 29th, 2018 at 10:00 am

We Require More Stolen Money

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The constitutionality of speed cameras has been raised in several court cases. Many of these cases have resulted in speed cameras being ruled unconstitutional because the people who were ticket had no opportunity to defend themselves. A case in Ohio recently found this to be the case. However, the city that was sued is claiming that it will be financially ruined if the ruling isn’t reversed:

The village of New Miami told the Ohio Supreme Court last week that its “fiscal integrity” would be compromised if a lawsuit succeeds in stopping the use of speed cameras. In January, the state Court of Appeals sided with motorists who challenged the constitutionality of the one-square-mile speed trap town’s photo radar program (view ruling). To avoid paying the resulting $3 million in refunds, New Miami is begging the high court for relief.

“The village now faces financial ruin should the Twelfth District’s overly restrictive reading of the sovereign immunity statutes be allowed to stand, and the matter proceed to final judgment,” New Miami attorney James J. Englert wrote.

If a private company claimed that a ruling should be reversed because it was detrimental to its bottom line, the judge presiding over the case would probably laugh at the company’s lawyers and then tell them to get the fuck out of the courtroom. This would be especially true if the company was found to have stolen the money in question. But rules are often different for governmental bodies. When a governmental body steals it’s usually referred to as “taxation,” a “citation,” or an “inspection fee” and considered legitimate.

Personally, I hope the judge refuses to grant the city relief and it ends up having to go into bankruptcy. Any organization that is only able to survive on theft should be tossed into the dustbin of history.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 14th, 2018 at 10:30 am

More Heroes Doing Hero Things

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You might make the mistake of thinking that an individual who carries a toy gun to plant on anybody they decide to shoot is a bad person being but they’re actually heroes:

Last week, the beginning of an explosive corruption trial involving eight members of Baltimore’s elite Gun Trace Task Force revealed that a handful of Baltimore cops allegedly kept fake guns in their patrol cars to plant on innocent people—a failsafe they could use if they happened to shoot an unarmed suspect, the Baltimore Sun reports.

It’s almost as if positions of power that lack accountability breed corrupt behavior.

I’m not sure whether corruption has become more common in law enforcement departments or has simply received more coverage by the press. Arguments can be made for either. But I think it’s obvious that corruption is far more common in modern law enforcement departments than most people realize. I also think it’s likely that we only see the tip of the iceberg and a majority of corruption remains hidden.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 13th, 2018 at 10:30 am

Shut Up, Slave

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Many Americans continue to believe that courts are where justice is done. It’s easy to make that mistake since the courts are usually part of an organization with the word justice in its title. However, courts aren’t where justice is served, courts are where slaves go to beg their masters for leniency or to beg them to inflict harm on another. Sometimes these masters are kind to the slaves, other times they are not:

In Tarrant County, Tex., defendants are sometimes strapped with a stun belt around their legs. The devices are used to deliver a shock in the event the person gets violent or attempts to escape.

But in the case of Terry Lee Morris, the device was used as punishment for refusing to answer a judge’s questions properly during his 2014 trial on charges of soliciting sexual performance from a 15-year-old girl, according to an appeals court. In fact, the judge shocked Morris three times, sending thousands of volts coursing through his body. It scared him so much that Morris never returned for the remainder of his trial and almost all of his sentencing hearing.

The action stunned the Texas Eighth Court of Appeals in El Paso, too. It has now thrown out Morris’s conviction on the grounds that the shocks, and Morris’s subsequent removal from the courtroom, violated his constitutional rights. Since he was too scared to come back to the courtroom, the court held that the shocks effectively barred him from attending his own trial, in violation of the Constitution’s Sixth Amendment, which guarantees a defendant’s right to be present and confront witnesses during a trial.

While it’s nice that the case was thrown out, merely throwing the case out won’t solve the long term problem. The judge in question was found to have violated an individual’s constitutional rights by physically assaulting him to such a degree that the individual was afraid to return to the courtroom. Unless the judge faces consequences for his actions, there is nothing dissuading him or other judges from doing the same thing or worse in the future.

A major problem with today’s “justice” system is the professional immunity culture. So long as a government agent in the “justice” system is acting in their official capacity, they are basically immune from suffering consequences for bad actions. Officers routinely get away with perjury. Prosecutors routinely get away with withholding evidence that might help the defense. Judges routinely get away with violating the constitutional rights of individuals in their courtrooms. The lack of consequences creates an environment where others feel safe performing misdeeds themselves. There is no hope of reforming the system unless this culture of professional immunity is dealt with but it won’t be dealt with because the people charged with holding members of the “justice” system accountable are also members of the “justice” system. Not surprisingly, whenever the “justice” system investigates itself it finds that it did nothing wrong.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 8th, 2018 at 11:00 am