A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for the ‘News You Need to Know’ Category

Chip-and-Fail

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EMV cards, those cards with the chip on the front, were supposed to reduce fraud but credit card fraud is rising. What gives? It turns out that the security provided by Chip-and-PIN doesn’t work when you don’t use it:

The reasons seem to be twofold. One, the US uses chip-and-signature instead of chip-and-PIN, obviating the most critical security benefit of the chip. And two, US merchants still accept magnetic stripe cards, meaning that thieves can steal credentials from a chip card and create a working cloned mag stripe card.

A lot of stores still don’t have credit card readers that can handle cards with a chip so you’re stuck using the entirely insecure magnetic strip. And most credit cards equipped with chips don’t require entering a PIN because Americans are fucking lazy:

The reason banks say they don’t want to issue PINs is that they’re worried it will add too much friction to transactions and make life difficult for their customers. “The credit-card market is pretty brutally competitive, so the first issuer who goes with PINs has to worry about whether the consumers are going to say, ‘Oh, that’s the most inconvenient card in my wallet,’’ says Allen Weinberg, the co-founder of Glenbrook Partners. “There’s this perception that maybe it’s going to be less convenient, even though some merchants would argue that PINs take less time than signatures.”

Since card holders face little in the way of liability for fraudulent transactions, they have little motivation to enter a four to six digit PIN every time they purchase something. If card holders aren’t motivated to enter a PIN, card issuers aren’t likely to require holder to enter a PIN because it might convince them to get a different card. It’s tough to improve security when nobody gives a damn about security.

Eventually the level of fraud will rise to the point where card issuers will take the risk of alienating some holders and mandate the use of a PIN. When that day finally comes, card issuers will discover that Americans are absolutely able to overcome any barrier if doing so allows them to continue buying sneakers with lights in them.

Written by Christopher Burg

November 16th, 2018 at 11:00 am

Freedom Isn’t Free

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Freedom isn’t free. It costs $6 trillion:

WASHINGTON — The price tag of the ongoing “war on terror” in the Middle East will likely top $6 trillion next year, and will reach $7 trillion if the conflicts continue into the early 2020s, according to a new report out Wednesday.

The annual Costs of War project report, from the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University, puts the full taxpayer burden of fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria over the last 17 years at several times higher than official Defense Department estimates, because it includes increases in Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs spending, as well as new military equipment and personnel.

“Because the nation has tended to focus its attention only on direct military spending, we have often discounted the larger budgetary costs of the post-9/11 wars, and therefore underestimated their greater budgetary and economic significance,” the new report states.

And what does the United States have to show for this $6 trillion? The wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria are still ongoing as are wars in other countries that are related to the “war on terror.” On top of that none of these countries show any sign of stabilizing. As if that weren’t bad enough an unknown number of innocent civilians have been killed on top of the casualties incurred by all factions engaged in fighting.

So, really, the United States has jack shit to show for those $6 trillion. But it doesn’t seem to understand that because there is no sign that the “war on terror” will end anytime soon.

Written by Christopher Burg

November 16th, 2018 at 10:30 am

One of These Things is Just Like the Other

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If you display a Nazi flag, you’re probably going to be persona non grata in your neighborhood (and will likely receive a visit from your local Antifa). This makes sense. The government that that flag represent murdered millions of innocent people. But why isn’t the same true if you display a Soviet Union flag:

This is the nub of the issue. While Naziism is intrinsically linked to the crimes of its followers, communism can always be separated. No one would tolerate a t-shirt emblazoned with Adolf Hitler or Benito Mussolini, yet the wildly oppressive Che Guevara is easily detached and morphed into a symbol of revolution.

The only real difference between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union is that Nazi Germany got its ass handed to it and therefore wasn’t around long enough to rack up the same body count as the Soviet Union.

As the article points out, “Nazis, rightfully, are seen as hateful and vicious because their ideology is built around the idea that one group is superior to the other.” This is the excuse more communist sympathizers give me when I ask why they’re so starkly against displaying Nazi symbology but willing to wear Soviet symbology. The argument doesn’t hold up though. Marxism, like Nazism, is built around the idea that one group, the proletariat, is superior to the other, the bourgeois. Like Nazism, which is built on the conspiracy theory that the Jews have oppressed the Aryan race, Marxism is build on the conspiracy theory that the bourgeois have oppressed the proletariat. And like Nazism, which results in the “oppressed Aryans” killing the “oppressor Jews,” Marxism results in the “proletariat” killing the “bourgeois.”

One should have as much revile for the Soviet Union and its symbology as one has for Nazi Germany and its symbology. Both were horrible, oppressive regimes that murdered millions.

Written by Christopher Burg

November 16th, 2018 at 10:00 am

Disposable Soldiers

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The United States government is constantly demanding that we treat soldiers as heroes. However, this is a case of “do as I say, not as I do.” While the government is demanding that we treat soldiers as heroes, it’s treating them as a disposable commodity:

The Department of Veterans Affairs has acknowledged that the failure of a new IT system for processing claims for Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits has been holding up payments for months and causing financial hardship for thousands of veterans. “Many of our Post-9/11 GI Bill students are experiencing longer than typical wait times to receive monthly housing payments,” the VA said in a statement, with processing times averaging “a little over 35 days” for first-time veteran applicants. More than 82,000 veterans were still waiting for housing payments for the fall semester as of November 8, with some having lost housing as the result of non-payment.

I’ve yet to hear a positive experience from a veteran who has had to deal with the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA). Whenever the VA’s abysmal record is dragged out for yet another round of political maneuvering, politicians act outraged at how this nation’s supposed heroes are being treated and pledge to get to the bottom of it. Of course they never do and the system continues to provide endless pain to the veterans who have to rely on it. I doubt this will ever change because politicians use the term “human resource” in its most literal sense, to them humans are a resource to be used and discarded afterwards.

Written by Christopher Burg

November 14th, 2018 at 11:00 am

The Collapse of Civilization

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Some people are never happy. After decades of warning about overpopulation, the BBC and other news agencies are now freaking out because population growth is beginning to decline:

There has been a remarkable global decline in the number of children women are having, say researchers.

Their report found fertility rate falls meant nearly half of countries were now facing a “baby bust” – meaning there are insufficient children to maintain their population size.

Fewer tax cattle to milk. Fewer future solders to send off to die. Fewer future slave laborers to staff the prison factories. This could be the collapse of civilization as we know it!

Of course civilization as we know it is a cesspool and I’m not convinced that nomadic peoples didn’t have the right idea, but I digress.

Why would the BBC, after warning people for decades about overpopulation, report this news as being bad? Probably because it recognizes that, as a government agency, its livelihood is at risk because a population decline makes it impossible to continue the Ponzi schemes that are government programs. When there aren’t enough tax cattle being born to prop up the system, the system necessarily has to make cuts and most politicians are going to be more apt to cut something like the BBC than something like welfare programs.

Written by Christopher Burg

November 9th, 2018 at 11:00 am

Making Surveillance Easy

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We’re only a few days away from yet another “most important election in our lifetime.” Since the Republicans are in power, the Democrats and their sympathizers are pissed and when they’re pissed it’s not uncommon for them to protest (Remember the last time they were out of power? They actually protested the wars that the party in power started! Those were the days!). Nobody likes it when people protest again them so the party in power wants to keep tabs on the people who might take action against them. Fortunately for them, most protesters make this easy:

The United States government is accelerating efforts to monitor social media to preempt major anti-government protests in the US, according to scientific research, official government documents, and patent filings reviewed by Motherboard. The social media posts of American citizens who don’t like President Donald Trump are the focus of the latest US military-funded research. The research, funded by the US Army and co-authored by a researcher based at the West Point Military Academy, is part of a wider effort by the Trump administration to consolidate the US military’s role and influence on domestic intelligence.

The vast scale of this effort is reflected in a number of government social media surveillance patents granted this year, which relate to a spy program that the Trump administration outsourced to a private company last year. Experts interviewed by Motherboard say that the Pentagon’s new technology research may have played a role in amendments this April to the Joint Chiefs of Staff homeland defense doctrine, which widen the Pentagon’s role in providing intelligence for domestic “emergencies,” including an “insurrection.”

A couple of years ago a few friends and I had the opportunity to advise some protesters on avoiding government surveillance. They were using Facebook to organize and plan their protests. We had to explain to them that using Facebook for that purpose meant that every local law enforcement agency was likely receiving real-time updates on their plans. We made several recommendations, most of which involved moving planning from social media to more secure forms of communications (Signal, RetroShare, etc.). In the end they thanked us for our advice, decided that using anything but Facebook was too difficult (which made me suspect that there were undercover law enforcers amongst them), and kept handing law enforcement real-time information.

The moral of the story is that government agencies pour resources into social media surveillance because it works because most protesters are more concerned about convenience than operational security.

Drop the Word Internet

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It turns out Internet freedom is declining:

Digital authoritarianism is on the rise, according to a new report from a group that monitors internet freedoms. Freedom House, a pro-democracy think tank, said today that governments are seeking more control over users’ data while also using laws nominally intended to address “fake news” to suppress dissent. It marked the eighth consecutive year that Freedom House found a decline in online freedoms around the world.

“The clear emergent theme in this report is the growing recognition that the internet, once seen as a liberating technology, is increasingly being used to disrupt democracies as opposed to destabilizing dictatorships,” said Mike Abramowitz, president of Freedom House, in a call with reporters. “Propaganda and disinformation are increasingly poisoning the digital sphere, and authoritarians and populists are using the fight against fake news as a pretext to jail prominent journalists and social media critics, often through laws that criminalize the spread of false information.”

There’s a great deal of irony in a pro-democracy, i.e. a pro-mob rule, organization discussing a decline of freedom but I digress.

Internet freedom isn’t the only freedom that’s in decline. Pretty much every government that has the ability it tightening its grip on its slaves. That is the purpose of government after all.

Written by Christopher Burg

November 2nd, 2018 at 10:00 am

The “Impartial” Jury

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I’ll be the first to admit that a trial by jury is a better system than trial by a tribune of government bureaucrats but that doesn’t mean that I’m foolish enough to believe that a trial by jury can’t be rigged. There are numerous ways that government officials manipulate juries into declaring a desired verdict. However, government manipulation isn’t the only fault with jury trials. Another fault with jury trials is the jurors themselves:

The more severe a crime, the more evidence you should have to prove someone did it. But a new Duke study, appearing Oct. 29 in Nature Human Behavior, has shown that the type of alleged crime can increase jurors’ confidence in guilt.

“If the crime is more serious or more heinous, [mock jurors] are more likely to be convinced by the same amount of evidence,” said lead study author John Pearson, an assistant professor in the Department of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics in the Duke School of Medicine.

This shouldn’t be surprising. Most people know that there are certain crimes where being accused is pretty much an automatic guilty sentence. Terrorism and sexual crimes against a child are two examples.

This bias could be a useful tool for a government prosecutor. If, for example, a prosecutor wanted to make sure a suspect went down, they could add a charge that the suspect raped a child. Even if the prosecutor had no evidence to work off of, the jury’s bias again severe crimes might be enough for him to get a guilty verdict even if he can’t get the original charges to stick.

Despite best efforts there is no such thing as a truly impartial jury.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 31st, 2018 at 11:00 am

The Most Sensible Proposal

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Drug prices here in the United States are absurd, which shouldn’t surprise anybody since drug manufacturers hold government granted monopolies on their products. However, the plebeians are screeching and after a while that sound can get annoying to our overlords. In the hopes of reestablishing a serene environment, our overlords have been considering strategies to bring drug prices down. To accomplish this they could simply remove the monopolies they granted to the drug companies and let competition bring drug prices down or they could pay government employees to fly down to Mexico and buy the drugs for less. Guess which strategy is being fielded first:

Amid a flurry of national proposals to bring exorbitant U.S. drug prices in line with other countries’ charges, one Utah insurer has a different option for patients:

Pay them to go to Mexico.

PEHP, which covers 160,000 public employees and family members, is offering plane tickets to San Diego, transportation to Tijuana, and a $500 cash payout to patients who need certain expensive drugs for multiple sclerosis, cancer and autoimmune disorders.

It makes sense to try this strategy first. The pharmaceutical companies paid good money for their monopolies and revoking them would show bad faith on behalf of the government and that could dissuade other companies from paying to purchase monopolies.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 31st, 2018 at 10:30 am

Have Some Privileges Back, Plebs

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When the federal government passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) into law it handed manufacturers a fantastic tool to make repairing or servicing their products illegal. Since bypassing Digital Rights Management (DRM) schemes became illegal, tying hardware to software protected by DRM became a convenient way to criminalized repairing products. John Deere was quick to jump on this legal opportunity but certainly hasn’t been alone. Fortunately, after a great deal of begging, our overlords have decided to favor us by proposing to restore a pre-DMCA privilege:

The Librarian of Congress and US Copyright Office just proposed new rules that will give consumers and independent repair experts wide latitude to legally hack embedded software on their devices in order to repair or maintain them. This exemption to copyright law will apply to smartphones, tractors, cars, smart home appliances, and many other devices.

It almost makes you feel as though you can legally own the goods you pay for… almost.

What gets me about this story and all others like it are the people celebrating the decision as if we’re being granted a new legal privilege by the government rather than having a previously existing privilege returned to us by the very government that took it away. Had the DMCA never been passed into law, this decisions by the Librarian of Congress would never have been necessary.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 30th, 2018 at 10:30 am

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