A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for the ‘News You Need to Know’ Category

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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Meet Voluntary Association

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The big social media sites have been clamping down on, well, pretty much any content that doesn’t advocate for something left of center. In response to this people whose personal ideology lies to the right of the center have been fleeing to other platforms. Those who fall towards the fascist side of the political spectrum have been fleeing to Gab, a social media site that advertises itself as a free speech platform. But hard times have befallen Gab because most of the services it relies on have decided to disassociate with it:

Gab, a “free speech” alternative to Twitter that’s popular with the far right, has been shut down after losing service from a number of mainstream technology platforms, including PayPal, Joyent, Medium, and GoDaddy.

“Gab is under attack,” the company’s home page now reads. “We have been systematically no-platformed by App Stores, multiple hosting providers, and several payment processors.” Gab is working to get back online using new service providers.

Of course the language that “Gab is under attack” is hyperbole. Nobody is attacking Gab. Service providers who disagree with much of the speech that Gab hosts have decided to stop doing business with the social media site. Since Gab’s administrators have made themselves dependent on these service providers, they have found themselves in a rather awkward position.

I can’t say that I blame these service providers. If I administered a social media site, I wouldn’t let fascists use it to post their nonsense (I also wouldn’t let communists, Republicans, Democrats, or any other politically focused individuals use it) nor would I want to associate it with any service that did. However, if I was planning to setup a site to host, to put it politely, controversial content, I would ensure that I owned the infrastructure from top to bottom. The servers would be mine. I’d accept payment in cryptocurrencies so I wouldn’t be dependent on third-party payment processors. If it wasn’t the primary way to access the site, I’d at least publish a Tor Hidden Service address to protect against censorship from Internet service providers and domain registrars.

What gets me most about sites like Gab is that they advertise themselves as being willing to host controversial content but still make themselves dependent on third-parties that don’t want to associate with anybody who hosts such content. Setting up a website that is resistant to third-party censorship isn’t terribly difficult (and doesn’t require anywhere near the same level of care as hosting outright illegal content) but none of these sites bother to do it. It’s as if they want to be censored just so they have something to bitch about and can feed some kind of persecution complex.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 30th, 2018 at 10:00 am

Crowdsourcing Healthcare

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A lot of statists have been pointing out the prevalence of healthcare-related fundraisers on crowdsourcing sites like GoFundMe as an argument for implementing government monopolized healthcare (usually sold under the euphemism “universal healthcare”). On the one hand, there are quite a few healthcare-related fundraisers on crowdsourcing sites. One the other hand, a lot of them are for bullshit treatments that no government monopolized healthcare system would cover anyways:

They focused on five treatments that were showing up a lot in their results, searching the sites systematically for US- and Canada-based campaigns from the last three years that were specifically for those five. They found 1,059 campaigns that fit the bill, with the collective goal of raising more than $27 million, and hitting about a quarter of that target.

Just less than half of the campaigns were for an obvious culprit: homeopathic or naturopathic treatments for cancer, which raised $3.5 million across 474 campaigns. Around 200 campaigns were raising funds for hyberbaric oxygen therapy for brain injury, which supposedly “enhances the body’s natural healing process by inhalation of 100 percent oxygen in a total body chamber.” Much like homeopathy, it’s ineffective for anything other than efficiently emptying people’s pockets. While these treatments themselves might not do any direct harm, the harms of untreated cancer are glaring. (And we probably don’t want to be funneling funds towards the people offering these therapies.)

The other treatments on the list were less popular, but offer more direct dangers. Stem cell therapy for brain injury or spinal cord injury carries substantial risks, while unproven claims of benefits are oversold. And long-term antibiotic therapy for so-called “chronic Lyme disease” can damage the body’s microbial partners, as well as causing antibiotic resistance and heightened risk of life-threatening infections. Together, these made up around 400 campaigns, raising $2.5 million.

Isn’t it annoying when somebody performs more than a cursory glance of your shoddy argument?

Most crowdfunding sites have little oversight of fundraisers. Obviously illegal fundraisers, such as people trying to crowdsource money to buy illegal drugs, usually get pulled quickly but if somebody managed to write a solid sob story about how they’re going to lose their house or die of cancer, it seems very little investigative effort is put into verifying the claims. Does the person who setup the fundraiser even live in a house? Does the treatment being sought by the cancer patient who setup the fundraiser have any medical validity? Who knows!

If you’re going to point to the number of healthcare-related fundraisers on crowdsourcing sites, you should take the time to investigate how many of those fundraisers are legitimate.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 26th, 2018 at 10:00 am

Job Opportunities

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A lot of people complain that illegal immigrants are taking jobs from hardworking Americans. I expect many of them will soon be heading down to Texas to claim the jobs recently freed up by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE):

ICE rounded up more than 150 employees — nearly a quarter of Hiebert’s workforce — loaded them into buses and booked them for working in the country unlawfully. A criminal investigation of the company continues.

OK, I don’t expect any of the people complaining about illegal immigrants taking jobs to head down to Texas to fill those jobs. Why? Because welding trailers all day is generally seen as shit work. The hours are long, the work is repetitive, and the environment isn’t as comfortable as most office jobs. In other words it’s work that most Americans have no interest in doing, which is why a lot of these industries are dependent on illegal immigrants. While a lot of these jobs qualify as shit work for the average American, they qualify as a huge step up from the opportunities otherwise available to many illegal immigrants.

ICE isn’t freeing up these jobs so hardworking Americans can claim them, they’re removing the only labor pool that these manufacturers realistically have available to them. If ICE keeps up its current efforts, it could put a lot of manufacturers out of business.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 25th, 2018 at 10:00 am