A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

The Liability Shield

with one comment

I’ve discussed the redundant layers that the State has put into place to protect itself from meaningful change. One such layer is police unions. Last year we saw how police unions managed to get violent officers reinstated in both November and December.

Cities sign contracts with police unions that often shield officers from liability. Reuters looked at 82 police union contracts and found some interesting clauses:

• A majority of the contracts call for departments to erase disciplinary records, some after just six months, making it difficult to fire officers with a history of abuses. In 18 cities, suspensions are erased in three years or less. In Anchorage, Alaska, suspensions, demotions and disciplinary transfers are removed after two years.

• Nearly half of the contracts allow officers accused of misconduct to access the entire investigative file – including witness statements, GPS readouts, photos, videos and notes from the internal investigation – before being interrogated.

• Twenty cities, including San Antonio, allow officers accused of misconduct to forfeit sick leave or holiday and vacation time rather than serve suspensions.

• Eighteen cities require an officer’s written consent before the department publicly releases documents involving prior discipline or internal investigations.

• Contracts in 17 cities set time limits for citizens to file complaints about police officers – some as short as 30 days. Nine cities restrict anonymous complaints from being investigated.

Law enforcement is the idea that a handful of trusted individuals can be given power over everybody else. Theoretically this idea could work if the trusted individuals are held to a higher standard that everybody else. In practice those individuals are almost always held to a lower standard. Handing out authority without accountability is a recipe for disaster.

Consider the first point in the above excerpt. If an officer has a history of violent behavior it might not show up because records of previous incidents were purged. This seems rather odd when you consider how permanent criminal records are for you and me. A criminal record for an average individual can haunt them for the rest of their life. And we’re told that such records are necessary because recidivism is a very real threat. I guess badges guard against liability and recidivism.

The second point is also an interest double standard. If you’re arrested you will be interrogated before you’re allowed to see any of the evidence collected against you. In fact, you generally only get to see the evidence against you after you’ve been charged and your lawyer demands it from the prosecutor. But in many cities officers accused of wrongdoing are allowed to view all of the evidence against them before they are interrogated.

Police union contracts are giant double standards that give law enforcers a significant advantage when it comes to accusations of wrongdoing. This makes it difficult to holding bad cops accountable. The fact that holding bad cops accountable is difficult encourages unsavory sorts to pursue a career in law enforcement. I think you can see where this road ends.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 17th, 2017 at 10:30 am

The No Win Situation of Politics

without comments

More and more people seem to be realizing that all available political options are no win situations:

Establishment political parties have been playing a dangerous game — contriving situations in which the only acceptable choice happens to be one favored by elites, and hoping that voters will choose it under duress.

Voters have been revolting against no-choice politics by choosing the unthinkable: Brexit, fringe political parties, rejecting the Italian reform referendum, Trump.

You should be mad at voters for the alarming choices they are making. I certainly am. But you should also be mad at the establishment leaders and political parties who put voters in the position of choosing between the unpalatable and the absurd.

I often compare candidate choices to the choice of either colon cancer or lung cancer. While arguments can be made in favor of one over the other the end result of both if left untreated is death.

What amuses me is that the absurdity of our “choices” is becoming so obvious that even mainstream media outlets are having a difficult time ignoring it. Just look at the last presidential election. The choice was between a male fascist or a female fascist. The media pushed for the female fascist but the difference between the two was so insignificant that it had a difficult time finding a characteristic to sell her on. In the end the male fascist won because votes basically flipped a coin.

If you’re a student of history you’ve read about how this plays out. Things will continue to deteriorate. The “choices” will become worse. At some point the system will collapse in on itself like a massive star at the end of its life.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 17th, 2017 at 10:00 am

Monday Metal: Vozrozhdenie by Arkona

without comments

Written by Christopher Burg

January 16th, 2017 at 10:00 am

Posted in Media

Tagged with

Thanks, Obama

without comments

I’m sure that’s what Trump’s administration said as Obama’s administration expanded its power:

WASHINGTON — In its final days, the Obama administration has expanded the power of the National Security Agency to share globally intercepted personal communications with the government’s 16 other intelligence agencies before applying privacy protections.

[…]

Previously, the N.S.A. filtered information before sharing intercepted communications with another agency, like the C.I.A. or the intelligence branches of the F.B.I. and the Drug Enforcement Administration. The N.S.A.’s analysts passed on only information they deemed pertinent, screening out the identities of innocent people and irrelevant personal information.

Now, other intelligence agencies will be able to search directly through raw repositories of communications intercepted by the N.S.A. and then apply such rules for “minimizing” privacy intrusions.

I’m sure the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) are going to have a field day with it.

Initially the National Security Agency (NSA) was tasked with surveilling foreign entities but not domestic entities. That mandate changed over time. Thanks to Edward Snowden, we know that the NSA is now surveilling people domestically. However, the agency itself has no enforcement powers. But the FBI and DEA do! And that’s why this rule change should be concerning.

There’s a world of difference between having access to filtered data and raw data. Presumably, the NSA’s goons were feeding other intelligence agencies data that it thought was pertinent to its mission. Even if the NSA was feeding other intelligence agencies more than that it still had access to limited manpower, which meant the amount of data it was handing over was necessarily limited. With access to the raw data agencies like the FBI and DEA can now comb through it for their purposes. There will be more eyes looking at the data and those eyes won’t be restricted to what the NSA considers important.

We know that the NSA surveils domestic Internet and phone communications. Since so many illegal transactions (not criminal, since a vast majority of these transactions don’t involve victims) take place over the Internet or through phone calls the FBI and DEA now have access to data that gives them a potentially rich target environment. Even if agencies like the FBI and DEA are legally restricted from using data acquired by the NSA to prosecute domestic individuals the law enforcement community has already created a workaround to such limitations.

When Obama took office his administration was given control of the vast surveillance apparatus that Bush’s administration had expanded. Under his tenure as president those apparatuses expanded further. Now Trump’s administration is receiving control of that expanded surveillance apparatus. To all of the people who didn’t give a shit about those expanding powers under Obama but are now flipping out about Trump having those powers, this is why us libertarians are against expanding the State’s powers. You never know who will be given those powers after your guy leaves office.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 13th, 2017 at 11:00 am

A Real American Hero

without comments

Instead of “”In God We Trust” the motto of the United States of America should be “Give Me Your Goddamn Money”. Judging by my Catholic upbringing, there isn’t a lot of godliness in the United States but every level of government demands that you pay a tithe. Unlike most religions though, the State will punish you severely for failing to pay your tithe. But just because the State has a gun to your head doesn’t mean you can’t be a little creative:

A US businessman in dispute with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has paid his $3,000 tax bill using five wheelbarrows containing 300,000 coins.

Nick Stafford from Cedar Buff, Virginia, delivered so many coins that the DMV’s automated counting machines could not cope with the volume.

His delivery stunt follows a legal row he had with the DMV over contacting its staff to make tax inquiries.

It took staff at least seven hours to count the coins, working until late.

Nick Stafford is a real American hero. He managed to make his $3,000 tithe a bigger pain in the ass to the State than it was probably worth. At the bare minimum he tied up several of the Department of Motor Vehicle’s (DMV) goons while they hand to manually count the 300,000 coins. And the pain wouldn’t have stopped there. The money had to be stored until it could be transferred to the State’s coffers. Transferring the coins, which weighed 1,600 pounds according to the article, would require more gas than paper bills or a check. Some poor sucker at the State’s bank might even been required to recount the money.

I’m sure this stunt will cause whatever level of government Mr. Stafford was dealing with to change the rules so that tithe payments can’t be made with coins. But he managed to throw a wrench in the State’s machinery and cause a bit of havoc, which is what matters. If everybody did the same the State would end up choking on its own bureaucracy.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 13th, 2017 at 10:30 am

Disloyalty to the Fatherland Will Not be Tolerated

without comments

The religion of statism loves its rituals. Stand and remove your hat when you sing the national anthem, Rockets and Bombs. Stand, remove your hat, and put your hand over your heart when you pledge your allegiance to the skycloth. Don’t burn the skycloth that you have no issue wiping your mouth with on July 4th. The list of rules go on and on.

But for some it’s not enough just to have these religious rituals. They want these rituals to be mandatory:

A Mississippi legislator has sponsored a bill that levies a $1,500 fine on any school that doesn’t recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag within the first hour of class each school day.

Rep. William Shirley, a Republican whose District 84 covers Clark, Jasper and Newton counties, wants to amend Section 37-13-6 of the Mississippi Code of 1972. The code provides stipulations on the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools and when, where and how to present the flag on school grounds.

All schools will lead the children in pledging their allegiance to the Fatherland!

When I was in elementary school we recited the Pledge of Allegiance every morning. Do you know what school children use that time for? Coming up with funnier words, usually involving fart jokes, to say loudly enough for nearby students to hear yet quietly enough so the teacher doesn’t hear. All the Pledge of Allegiance is to school children is a bunch of meaningless words they’re made to recite. As it turns out, concepts like patriotism are a bit beyond the mental capacity of most children (more accurately, school children aren’t yet dumb enough to be brainwashed by patriotism).

Written by Christopher Burg

January 13th, 2017 at 10:00 am

Your Private Medical Data isn’t So Private

with one comment

People seem to misunderstand the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability (HIPPA) Act. I often hear people citing HIPPA as proof that their medical data is private. However, misunderstandings aren’t reality. Your medical data isn’t private. In fact, it’s for sale:

Your medical data is for sale – all of it. Adam Tanner, a fellow at Harvard’s institute for quantitative social science and author of a new book on the topic, Our Bodies, Our Data, said that patients generally don’t know that their most personal information – what diseases they test positive for, what surgeries they have had – is the stuff of multibillion-dollar business.

The trick is that the data is “anonymized” before it is sold. I used quotation marks in that case because anonymized can mean different things to different people. To me, anonymized means the data has been scrubbed in such a way that it cannot be tied to any individual. This is a very difficult standard to meet though. To others, such as those who are selling your medical data, anonymized simply means replacing the name, address, and phone number of a patient with an identifier. But simply removing a few identifiers doesn’t cut it in the age of big data:

But other forms of data, such as information from fitness devices and search engines, are completely unregulated and have identities and addresses attached. A third kind of data called “predictive analytics” cross-references the other two and makes predictions about behavior with what Tanner calls “a surprising degree of accuracy”.

None of this technically violates the health insurance portability and accountability act, or Hipaa, Tanner writes. But the techniques do render the protections of Hipaa largely toothless. “Data scientists can now circumvent Hipaa’s privacy protections by making very sophisticated guesses, marrying anonymized patient dossiers with named consumer profiles available elsewhere – with a surprising degree of accuracy,” says the study.

With the vast amount of data available about everybody it’s not as difficult to identify who “anonymized” data applies to as most people think.

HIPPA was written by an organization that hates privacy so it’s not surprising to see that the law failed to protect anybody’s privacy. This is also the why legislation won’t fix this problem. The only way to fix this problem is to either incentivize medical professionals to keep patient data confidential or to give exclusive control of a patient’s data to that patient.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 12th, 2017 at 11:00 am

It’s Good to be the King’s Men

with 2 comments

Life can be difficult down here in the trenches. For example, when somebody dies due to our misdeeds or negligence we usually end up facing criminal charges and being sentences to rot in a cage for years. Not so for the king’s men. The Supreme Court once again ruled in favor of protecting police from their negligence:

The case revolved around the fatal police shooting of Samuel Paulie in New Mexico. Police officers arrived at the Paulie brothers’ home after two women called police to report one of the Paulies allegedly driving drunk. According to the facts presented in the ruling, police determined after talking to the women that they did not have probable cause to arrest Paulie but wanted to go to his house anyway to “get his side of the story,” to see if he was drunk, and to see if there was anything else going on. The officers went separately. The first two officers to arrive didn’t identify themselves as police, instead telling the Paulies they were surrounded and to come out or they would come in, causing the Paulies to believe they were being targeted for a home invasion and to arm themselves.

That’s when the third officer, Ray White, the plaintiff of the case that made it to the Supreme Court, arrived, just in time to hear the Paulies yell “we have guns.” He took cover behind a wall. Sam Paulie then exited his house with a shotgun, firing one shot that didn’t hit anyone. One of the officers shot at Paulie but missed. Then White left his cover and fired at Paulie, killing him.

The Supreme Court ruled that White deserved qualified immunity (a concept that, in essence, protects government employees from liability and civil damages so long as “their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known,” as the Supreme Court decided in the 1982 case Harlow v. Fitzgerald.

This is an example of police negligence leading to death. The police didn’t announce themselves but threatened Mr. Paulie. Under such circumstances it’s easy to see to see why Mr. Paulie might think his home was being invaded by a nongovernmental gang. Office White arrived on the scene after his cohorts had already made a mess of things but he didn’t bother alerting Mr. Paulie that he was in office either. Apparently the department doesn’t train its office to say, “We’re the police.”

Some people will likely side with Officer White by claiming he acting in self-defense. But such a defense generally requires that one demonstrate that they didn’t create the situation. In Minnesota we call this being a reluctant participant. If you created the situation then you generally can’t claim self-defense. Unless, of course, you have a badge.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 12th, 2017 at 10:30 am

Welcome to Costco, I love you.

with 4 comments

Our future, ladies and gentlemen, is looking bleak. It’s not simply because of rampant statism but also because of rampant stupidity.

I make plenty of grammatical mistakes on this site. When somebody is gracious enough to point them out to me I thanks them and correct the mistake(s) they alerted me to. Apparently this isn’t the case with most people:

Scientists have found that people who constantly get bothered by grammatical errors online have “less agreeable” personalities than those who just let them slide.

And those friends who are super-sensitive to typos on your Facebook page? Psychological testing reveals they’re generally less open, and are also more likely to be judging you for your mistakes than everyone else. In other words, they’re exactly who you thought they were. That sounds pretty obvious, but this is actually the first time researchers have been able to show that a person’s personality traits can actually determine how they respond to typos and grammatical errors, and it could teach us a lot about how people communicate (or miscommunicate) online.

As somebody who prides himself on constantly improving I appreciate when people point out my mistakes so that I can correct them. It seems most people don’t have an interest in improving their grammar and instead get angry that somebody would dare point out their error.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 12th, 2017 at 10:00 am

Posted in Side Notes

Tagged with

Winning the Battles Just to Lose the War

without comments

What happens when you’re winning battles but end up losing the war? I’m not sure. Perhaps somebody should ask the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI):

Rather than disclose the source code that the FBI used to target a child porn suspect, federal prosecutors in Tacoma, Washington recently dropped their appeal in United States v. Michaud.

The case is just one of 135 federal prosecutions nationwide involving the Tor-hidden child porn website Playpen. The vast effort to bust Playpen has raised significant questions about the ethics, oversight, capabilities, and limitations of the government’s ability to hack criminal suspects.

For those of you who haven’t been following this story, Playpen was a child pornography site hosted using a Tor hidden service. The FBI managed to identify the server the site was being hosted on and take over the job of hosting and improving the site. Why would the FBI host and make improvements to a child pornography site? The agency’s justification was that it was using the site to distribute malware that revealed the identity of individuals accessing the site. Using this tactic it managed to bring charges against 135 individuals.

However, the FBI has been unwilling to reveal the exploit it used to reveal the users’ identities. Its obsession with secrecy is so strong that it’s letting suspected child pornographers walk rather than reveal the exploit, i.e. the evidence, to their defense attorneys. The FBI won the battle to identify individuals who accessed the site but is losing the war.

The FBI’s unwillingness to follow through to prosecute these suspects raises a lot of questions. The most obvious one, I believe, is if the FBI was unwilling to prosecute these individuals, why did it use government funds to host and make improvements to a child pornography site? The fact that the agency even utilized that tactic raised significant moral questions but its failure to follow through just makes the act even more despicable. Another question I have is, why do people still look at the FBI has anything other than a criminal organization? Between manufacturing cases of terrorism and distributing child pornography the agency stands guilty of significant crimes.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 11th, 2017 at 11:00 am