A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for the ‘News You Need to Know’ Category

Closing Loopholes

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Politicians likes to talk about various loopholes that private individuals exploit. But what about the loopholes politicians exploit? Realizing that data stored on government systems is potentially accessible via Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, some clever politicians have started storing their data on their private systems thinking that doing so will defend them against FOIA requests. The California Supreme Court decided to close that particular loophole:

The California Supreme Court ruled Thursday that state and local officials must disclose public records even if those “writings” are held on private devices or accounts. The City of San Jose and the County of Santa Clara had argued that such records could be exempted from the California Public Records Act.

The case dates back to 2009, when Ted Smith, a local environment activist, filed a public records request about various San Jose officials’ requests concerning local development efforts. When records came back that did not include materials from personal devices or accounts, he sued.

At one point it wasn’t uncommon for companies to forbid employees from brining private devices into the workplace. Perhaps government agencies should consider adopting such policies. Sure, it’ll make the lives of government employees a bit more miserable but I consider that an added bonus, not a detriment. It would make it more difficult for government employees to disappear information by storing it on personal devices and then wiping that data to guard it against FOIA requests (even if the law requires handing over that data one cannot hand over what no longer exists).

Written by Christopher Burg

March 3rd, 2017 at 11:00 am

Is Your Child’s Toy a Snitch

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The Internet of Things (IoT) should be called the idiotic attempt to connect every mundane device to the Internet whether there’s a good reason or not. I admit that my more honest version is a mouthful but I believe it would remind people about what they’re actually buying and that could avoid fiasco like this:

Since Christmas day of last year and at least until the first week of January, Spiral Toys left customer data of its CloudPets brand on a database that wasn’t behind a firewall or password-protected. The MongoDB was easy to find using Shodan, a search engine makes it easy to find unprotected websites and servers, according to several security researchers who found and inspected the data.

The exposed data included more than 800,000 emails and passwords, which are secured with the strong, and thus supposedly harder to crack, hashing function bcrypt. Unfortunately, however, a large number of these passwords were so weak that it’s possible to crack them, according to Troy Hunt, a security researcher who maintains Have I Been Pwned and has analyzed the CloudPets data.

When you buy something you should ask yourself what the benefits and costs are. People often make the mistake of thinking that the cost is purely the amount you have to pay at the store. But there are always other hidden costs. In the case of these IoT stuffed animals one of the costs is brining a surveillance apparatus into your home. Sure, most people probably aren’t too worried about toy manufacturers having a bug in their home. But another cost is the risk of the remotely accessible surveillance device being accessed by an unauthorized party, which is what happened here.

The sordid history of security failures that plagues the IoT market should be considered whenever you’re buying an IoT product.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 2nd, 2017 at 10:30 am

Everybody Wants Honesty Until They Get It

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What happens when the police in a city are brutally honest about their intentions? People get upset:

CATLETTSBURG — An Eastern Kentucky police chief has removed large decals with the Punisher skull and “Blue Lives Matter” from eight police cars after a backlash following the publication of a Herald-Leader story.

The Catlettsburg Police department, which employs eight full-time and two part-time officers for a population of about 2,500, featured the images on the hoods of its 2013 and 2017 Ford Interceptor sedans and sport-utility vehicles, assistant police chief Gerry Hatzel said. The stylized skull was from “The Punisher” comic book series.

The Punisher is one of my favorite anti-heroes. He’s a no nonsense dude who straight up kills evildoers. Considering the way police act today, I can see why The Punisher would be an idol to them. Of course, The Punisher goes after bad guys whereas American police officers spend a vast majority of their time going after people who haven’t harmed anybody.

Still, I appreciate that the officers put a symbol on their cars that blatantly stated their intentions. But I understand that most people don’t appreciate such honesty so I would have expected this kind of outrage.

Let the Hunger Games Begin

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The Minneapolis Institute of the Arts (MIA) had the pleasure of hosting a fight between some protesters and some people accused of being neo-Nazis:

A shoving match broke out in a most unlikely place, the typically serene Minneapolis Institute of Art, where three people who appeared to be neo-Nazis fought with several others in another group of activists, a witness said Sunday.

Security guards arrived at the mayhem Saturday afternoon on the museum’s third floor, broke up the confrontation and had one of the reputed neo-Nazis on the floor, said museum visitor Will Bildsten.

A friend of Bildsten’s said he saw punches thrown during the fracas.

Normally I wouldn’t share a random story about two groups getting into a scuffle in a museum. But the comments I’ve been hearing about this warrant some comment from me.

As you might expect, a lot of people have been cheering the activists who engaged the accused neo-Nazis. This is all part of the “Is it okay to punch a Nazi,” trend. One side believes violence is an unacceptable response to somebody exercising their free speech, regardless of how vile that speech is. The other side thinks people have a moral obligation to use force against anybody advocating fascism. It’s the second group I want to pan right now.

Why do I have a moral obligation to violently attack advocates of fascism but not advocates of Marxism–Leninism? In fact, many of the people demanding Nazis be violently attacked wherever they are are advocates of Marxism–Leninism. There is no meaningful difference between the two groups other than one is for national socialism while the other is for international socialism and they use different ways of labeling groups they want to wipe out.

Fascists want to wipe out Jews, Marxist–Leninists want to wipe out kulaks. Fascists want to wipe out people who aren’t white, Marxist–Leninists want to wipe out people who aren’t proletariats. Fascists want to wipe out opponents to fascism, Marxist-Leninists want to wipe out counter-revolutionaries. What’s especially interesting is that these different labels are often applied to the same groups of people. Jews are frequently labeled kulaks and bourgeois, for example.

All I’m asking for is some goddamn consistency. Those who are against using violence in response to any form of speech are already acting consistently. But if you believe it’s okay to punch a fascist then you should be equally fine with punching a Marxist-Leninist. Both philosophies are equally vile.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 28th, 2017 at 11:00 am

Insurance. You Keep Using That Word, I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

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Some health insurance companies have started pilot programs where customers can receive a discount for wearing a fitness tracker and sharing the data with the company. This seems like a pretty straight forward idea. But according to Bloomberg it’s a sinister ploy:

Think about what that means for insurance. It’s meant to be a mechanism to pool risk — that is, to equalize the cost of protecting against unforeseen health problems. But once the big data departments of insurance companies have enough information — including about online purchases and habits — they can build a minute profile about each and every person’s current and future health. They can then steer “healthy” people to cheaper plans, while leaving people who have higher-risk profiles — often due to circumstances beyond their control — to pay increasingly unaffordable rates.

Whenever health insurance companies up I’m forced to explain what insurance is. I shouldn’t have to do this but nobody seems to know what it means.

Insurance is a way for multiple people to pool their resources for risk mitigation. Take home owner’s insurance for example. When you buy a home owner’s policy you’re donating some money to a common pool. Any paying customer can withdraw from the pool if they experience a situation, such as a house fire, that is covered by the insurance policy. Those with higher risks are more likely to withdraw from the pool so they pay a higher premium. Those with lower risks pay less.

Automobile insurance is the same way. Higher risk drivers; such as young males, people who have been found guilty of driving while intoxicated, people who have been found guilty of reckless driving, etc.; pay a higher premium because they’re more likely to withdraw from the community pool.

Most people accept that higher risk people should pay a higher premium for home owner’s or automobile insurance. But when they’re talking about health insurance they suddenly have a change of heart and think that higher risk people should pay the same as lower risk people. That makes no sense. Health insurance, like any other form of insurance, is pooled risk mitigation. If you live an unhealthy lifestyle you’re more likely to withdraw from the pool so you pay a higher premium. Oftentimes these risks are outside of your control, which sucks. However, if the pool empties, that is to say there are more withdrawals than deposits over a long enough period of time to completely drain the accounts, everybody loses their coverage. That being the case, higher risk people have to pay more to ensure the pool remains solvent even if the risks are outside of their control.

It’s not a sinister scheme, it’s exactly how insurance works.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 24th, 2017 at 10:30 am

Getting the Right Idea

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Yesterday I wrote a post about some neoliberals threatening to homeschool their children. Homeschooling isn’t the only anti-state idea neoliberals are getting though. Some are now claiming that they won’t pay their taxes because Trump was elected president:

Andrew Newman always pays his taxes, even if he hates what the government is doing with them. But not this year. For him, Donald Trump is the dealbreaker. He’ll pay his city and state taxes but will refuse to pay federal income tax as a cry of civil disobedience against the president and his new administration.

Newman is not alone. A nascent movement has been detected to revive the popularity of tax resistance – last seen en masse in America during the Vietnam war but which has been, sporadically, a tradition in the US and beyond going back many centuries.

Bombing children in the Middle East, having the highest prison population in the world, widespread unwarranted surveillance, civil forfeiture, and a plethora of other horrible government programs weren’t enough to convince them to not pay their taxes. But Trump getting elected? That warrants such action.

This is me not really giving a shit about their tax protest.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that they’re finally understanding why us libertarians are so opposed to government power. But their protests ring a bit hallow when it’s obvious that the only thing they’re upset about is who is in power, not what people in that position of power has been doing. I’m sure these same people would gladly pay their taxes if Hillary was in power regardless of what horrible shit she was doing because the only thing that matters to them is the party, not the actions.

While I do appreciate their sentiment I must also admit that I look forward to seeing their reaction once they realize that taxation, regardless of what they have previous claimed, is backed by the barrel of a gun.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 17th, 2017 at 11:00 am

Someone Would Do That? Just Go On the Internet and Tell Lies?

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I admit that my bullshit detector isn’t perfect but I think it’s pretty well calibrated. One of the things that always raises a red flag on my bullshit detector are stories that seem to be a little too perfect for a group or individual. When the news broke that immigrants were running rampant and sexually assaulting women in Germany the story raised a few red flags. It just fit too perfectly into the alt-right’s narrative. Of course I had nothing but a gut feeling to go on since I can’t read German (yet) so I was relegated to the sources available to me. As it turns out, my bullshit detector wasn’t wrong:

But police confirmed on Tuesday to the Frankfurter Rundschau that their investigation of the allegations had led them to believe that they were spurious.

“Interviews with alleged witnesses, guests and employees led to major doubts with the version of events that had been presented,” the police said.

“One of the alleged victims was not even in Frankfurt at the time the allegations are said to have taken place.”

The police were indeed unequivocal in how they understood the events to have unfolded.

“Masses of refugees were not responsible for any sexual assaults in the Fressgass over New Year. The accusations are completely baseless,” the police said.

Before the Bild report, no sexual assaults were reported to police from Fressgass over New Year.

I’m sure the alt-right will either completely ignore this story or explain it away as a conspiracy by the police to coverup immigrant crime.

The first casualty of politics is language. The second is the truth. Usually the former is used for the latter. But sometimes the truth is killed by good old fashioned lying.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 16th, 2017 at 10:00 am

Unintended Consequences

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Whenever the State involves itself in an issue there are unintended consequences (okay, the consequences could be intended but I’ll give the politicians the benefit of the doubt in this case). When the State involved itself in the alcohol market by prohibiting its manufacture, sale, and consumption criminal organizations arose to provide the prohibited good. Today we’re seeing the same thing happen again as the State has involved itself in the markets of several other substances. When the State further involved itself in the healthcare market health insurance premiums skyrocketed.

What happens when the State involves itself in immigration? Unintended consequences:

For four months every year he employs almost exclusively Hispanic male workers to pick the harvest. This year he had 64 men out in the fields.

Then HB56 came into effect, the new law that makes it a crime not to carry valid immigration documents and forces the police to check on anyone they suspect may be in the country illegally.

The provisions – the toughest of any state in America – were enforced on 28 September. By the next day Cash’s workforce had dwindled to 11.

Today there is no-one left. The fields around his colonial-style farmhouse on top of a mountain are empty of pickers and the tomato plants are withering on the vine as far as the eye can see. The sweet, slightly acrid smell of rotting tomato flesh hangs in the air.

On Friday, the 11th circuit appeals court in Atlanta blocked the first of those measures, but allowed the state to continue detaining suspected illegal migrants. So it is unlikely that Cash’s workers will dare to reappear.

The blow to Cash can be measured in those $100,000 – money he says he had wanted to put aside as insurance against a poor crop in future years. But it can also be measured in other ways.

A great deal of manual labor in this country is performed by “illegal” immigrants. Why? Because they’re willing to do the work for the pay being offered, unlike most Americans. When those immigrants aren’t available to do the work the work often ends up not being done, which costs producers money and consumers available goods.

Immigration is a hotly debated topic amongst libertarians. One camp believes that the State has the authority to decide who can and cannot cross the arbitrary lines it has created. The other camp, i.e. the correct libertarians, don’t recognize the State has a legitimate entity and believe that the only person who can decide who can and cannot enter a property is the owner. If a farmer wants to allowed laborers from Mexico to enter their property then those Mexicans can enter the property. Property rights cease to exist the second the State is allowed to dictate who can and cannot enter the farmer’s property.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 14th, 2017 at 10:30 am

Taxation is Slavery

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Last year Robert Higgs wrote an excellent article about how taxes are slavery. This sparked my interest in researching the practice of slaver renting. Needless to say, the analogy between slave renting and taxation dead on:

In some instances, masters allowed slaves to hire themselves out; this practice permitted some slaves to save enough money to purchase their freedom. Slave-hiring in Charleston became so complex that many slaves wore a badge around their necks with a number indicating their particular skill or craft. The Charleston city council taxed those badges, masters still received money for renting out their slaves, renters had laborers or skilled slaves for extended periods of time, and some slaves earned money in this elaborate process.

[…]

For masters, hiring or renting out their slaves brought additional income; for slaves with skills, especially those who rented themselves out, the process could lead to freedom. Even when masters took a good portion of their money, good carpenters, brick masons, and blacksmiths could, over a period of time, earn enough to buy their freedom.

Last year Americans were working until April 24th for Uncle Sam. It’s only after that point that they were allowed to make money for themselves.

Every one of us, except people who work purely in the agorist economy, has to buy our temporary freedom from Uncle Sam. If you are an employee then your employer buys your freedom by renting you out. Being rented out by your employer takes the form of automatically withheld taxes from your paycheck. If you are a contractor then you buy your own temporary freedom by paying estimated owed taxes every quarter. Slave renting hasn’t gone away, the criteria have just changed so that everybody is a slave of Uncle Sam.

But what happens if you fail to buy your temporary freedom? If you are an employee Uncle Sam may start by garnishing your wages, which is a fancy phrase for stealing your money. Uncle Sam might also opt to steal your assets, sell them off, and put the profits towards your temporary freedom. If Uncle Sam believes you are truly unruly he might sent his slave patrol to kidnap you and make you work in one of his forced labor camps prisons. In the absolute worst case his slave patrol might just murder you outright.

If you believe that you’re anything other than property in the eyes of the State then you are sorely mistaken. You are a slave. You just have the option of renting yourself out to raise money to temporarily buy your freedom.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 10th, 2017 at 11:00 am

Streamlining Subjugation

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The United Kingdom is planning to streamline its subjugation of its subjects. As things currently stand, pleading guilty to a crime requires at least signing a piece of paper and mailing it in. But soon subjects of the crown will be able to plead guilty by logging into a website:

A government report has confirmed it plans to roll out a scheme that allows petty criminals to plead guilty online and then have their sentence handed out over a computer.

“Under this proposal, defendants who opt in to the online procedure and plead guilty will be offered the option to accept a pre-determined penalty (including the payment of any appropriate compensation and costs), be convicted and pay the amount immediately.” said the report.

Progress!

This really isn’t as big of a story as some might think. Right now it’s aimed at petty “crimes” that usually don’t require a court hearing. But like those petty “crimes”, this is yet another example of a so-called justice system morphing into a pure revenue generation system.

If a “crime” doesn’t even require a court hearing then it’s not really a crime because there generally isn’t a victim. Consider the “crimes” that this system will be initially used for:

Initially the system will be tested with petty crimes that are non-imprisonable such as: Railway fare evasion, tram fare evasion, and possession of unlicensed rod and line.

If the railways and trams are privately owned then somebody who uses them without paying the required fare is guilty of trespassing. Justice in that case is the trespasser paying the owed fair and any expenses the railway and tram owners faced in collecting the owed fee. If the railways and trams are owned by the State then no crime has been committed because the State cannot legitimately own property. I shouldn’t say that no crime has been committed. The State committed the crime of theft to acquire the resources to build the railways and trams. Conveniently, the State’s courts, which have monopolized justice, won’t prosecute that crime though.

What about possession of an unlicensed rod and line? That’s not a crime no matter how you look at it.

So the real story here is that the United Kingdom’s court system is continuing its evolution into a revenue generation system. Creating a website for people to log into to plead guilty to non-crimes is just streamlining the process of subjugation that already exists.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 10th, 2017 at 10:30 am