In Case It Was Unclear, This Is Fascism

Fascism has a number of defining characteristics including dictatorial powers, oppression of opposition, strict governmental control over the populace, and strong governmental control of the economy. All four characteristics were present in the executive ordered issued by Joe Biden this afternoon:

In an address made from the White House on Thursday, Mr Biden directed the Department of Labor to require all private businesses with 100 or more workers to mandate the jab or require proof of a negative Covid test from employees at least once a week. The order will affect around 80m workers.

Dictatorial powers? Biden issued this order by himself through an executive order. Oppression of opposition? This order is a direct attack on individuals who haven’t received one of the available COVID vaccines. Strict governmental control over the populace? If order every person who works for an arbitrarily large company isn’t strict government control over the populace, I don’t know what is. And finally strong governmental control of the economy? Biden just ordered every business with more than 100 employees to either force their employees to get a COVID vaccination or subject them to weekly testing.

Proponents of democracy should be appalled by this. Congress didn’t propose this. It didn’t debate this. It didn’t pass this. It didn’t get to say a goddamn word about this. It was a single man using a tool that I and every sane person has been warning about for ages: executive orders. An executive order is the antithesis of democracy. It creates dictatorships.

Those who claim to fight for the poor and downtrodden should be appalled by this. As Glenn Greenwald noted, this order is going to hurt the poor and downtrodden much more than the well off. And before somebody brings up the fact that COVID vaccines are free (and by free I mean paid for by the federal government with tax money and printed dollars), everybody knows that. The individuals in lower income brackets who haven’t received a COVID vaccine know that. They haven’t chosen to forego the vaccine because they’re ignorant of the cost. But they have chosen to forego it and that makes this order a direct attack against their autonomy.

Advocates of body autonomy should be especially appalled by this for obvious reasons.

In fact anybody who isn’t appalled by this is a fascist. They might not realize they’re a fascist, but they are one.

That ends my rant.

In case my feelings on the matter are unclear, I will close by giving my opinion on the COVID vaccines. If you want one, get one. If you don’t want one, don’t get one. It’s your body. You should be the only person who decides what to put in it.

Apple Adds Big Brother to iOS

There are two dominate smartphone operating systems: Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS. Google’s business model depends on surveilling users. Apple has exploited this fact by making privacy a major selling point in its marketing material. When it comes to privacy, iOS is significantly better than Android… at least it was. Today it was revealed that Apple plans to add a feature to iOS that surveils users:

Child exploitation is a serious problem, and Apple isn’t the first tech company to bend its privacy-protective stance in an attempt to combat it. But that choice will come at a high price for overall user privacy. Apple can explain at length how its technical implementation will preserve privacy and security in its proposed backdoor, but at the end of the day, even a thoroughly documented, carefully thought-out, and narrowly-scoped backdoor is still a backdoor.

[…]

There are two main features that the company is planning to install in every Apple device. One is a scanning feature that will scan all photos as they get uploaded into iCloud Photos to see if they match a photo in the database of known child sexual abuse material (CSAM) maintained by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC). The other feature scans all iMessage images sent or received by child accounts—that is, accounts designated as owned by a minor—for sexually explicit material, and if the child is young enough, notifies the parent when these images are sent or received. This feature can be turned on or off by parents.

When Apple releases these “client-side scanning” functionalities, users of iCloud Photos, child users of iMessage, and anyone who talks to a minor through iMessage will have to carefully consider their privacy and security priorities in light of the changes, and possibly be unable to safely use what until this development is one of the preeminent encrypted messengers.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the amount of outrage I’ve seen online about this feature. I expected most people to praise this feature out of fear of being labeled a defender of child pornography if they criticized it. But even comments on Apple fanboy sites seem to be predominantly against this nonsense.

This move once again demonstrates the dangers of proprietary platforms. If, for example, a Linux distro decided to include a feature like this, users would have a number of options. They could migrate to another distro. They could rip the feature out. They could create a fork of the distro that didn’t include the spyware. This is because Linux is an open system and users maintain complete control over it.

Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of options when it comes to open smartphones. The options that do exist aren’t readily accessible to non-technical users. Android Open Source Projects, which are versions of Android without Google’s proprietary bits, like LineageOS and GrapheneOS don’t come preinstalled on devices. Users have to flash those distros to supported devices. Smartphones developed to run mainline Linux like the PinePhone and Librem 5 still lack stable software. Most people are stuck with spyware infested smartphone. Exacerbating this issue is the fact that smartphones, unlike traditional x86-based computers, are themselves closed platforms (which is not to say x86-based platforms are entirely open, but they are generally much more open that embedded ARM devices) so developing open source operating systems for them is much harder.

Collective Punishment of Automobile Owners

Congress slipped a provision into the infrastructure bill that will requires vehicles developed after 2027 to detect if the driver is drunk:

The U.S. Congress is debating about a massive bill titled “Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act,” and it includes a provision that makes it mandatory for cars in the future to have an advanced drunk and impaired driving prevention technology. What makes it interesting is that the bill actually stipulates 2027 as the year for its implementation, which is not very far. As Vice points out, these are not retro-fitted devices but actually standard fitments that go in during the manufacturing process.

I can’t wait until even entry level vehicles cost $100,000 (in today’s dollars, not in future dollars severely devalued from today’s money printing efforts) on account of all of the sensors needed to ensure that drivers aren’t drunk, high, tired, infected with a respiratory illness, dizzy, overweight (it takes more fuel to move around more weight and that makes Mother Gaia cry) or otherwise deemed unfit for the road. It’s always nice when politicians in Washington DC decide to punish everybody (in this case by increasing the cost of vehicles) for the actions of a handful of people.

Google Suspends Element from Its Play Store

The developers of Element; a decentralized, federated, and secure messaging client; were just informed that their application has been suspended from the Google Play Store, which means Android users cannot currently install Element unless they do it through F-Droid or side loading. Why did Google suspend the app? At first Element’s developers weren’t given a reason but they were eventually informed the suspension was because of abusive content. Both the lack of transparency and citing abusive content have become staples of application store suspensions, which are two of many things that make centralized application stores like the Apple App Store and Google Play Store so frustrating for both users and developers.

The abusive content justification is bullshit because Element is no different than any other messaging application in that all content is user created. If Element is removed due to showing abusive content then by that very same justification Signal, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, and Google’s own Gmail should be removed. Furthermore, Element actually has a pretty complete set of moderation tools so Google can’t even argue that the lack of moderation is the culprit. But this doesn’t matter because there are no consequences for Google if it suspends an application for incorrect reasons. Agreements between developers and Google (and Apple for that matter) are one-sided. The only option for developers when their applications are suspended is to beg for clemency.

The suspension of Element is yet another example on the already extensive list that shows why centralized application stores and closed platforms are bad ideas. Without prior notice or (initially) any reason Google made it so Android users can no longer install Element unless they jump through some hoops (fortunately, unlike with iOS, Android generally gives you some options for installing applications that aren’t in the Play Store). Google might decide to be magnanimous and change its mind. Or it might not. In any case there’s very little that Element’s developers or Android users can do about it.

Cutting Off Power and Water

I’m going to start this post by quoting myself from yesterday:

It is also easy to see how the state was able to become more authoritarian as more and more people migrated into tightly packed cities (there’s a reason the most authoritarian regimes tightly control travel) and as the state claimed monopoly powers over critical infrastructure such as electricity, power, and sanitation. If you live in a city, the very things you depend on to survive are likely entirely controlled by the state and that gives it literal power of life and death.

I think the universe may be conspiring to prove my point:

The mayor went on to announce the “business ambassadors program” — an effort to get nonessential businesses to close.

“This behavior is irresponsible and selfish,” he said of those that remain open.

He said the Department of Water and Power will shut off services for the businesses that don’t comply with the “safer at home” ordinance.

If you ask a random Joe on the street why the state usually claims a monopoly on providing utilities like power and water, the odds are extremely good that they will claim that those things are natural monopolies. It’s a bullshit claim because natural monopolies don’t exist. The real reason the state claims a monopoly on those things is because those things provide it tremendous power. A lack of power and water will cripple most businesses (and residences) this day and age.

Go Be Homeless Somewhere Else

Remember Minneapolis’s Hooverville? As usual the overlords of the city wanted to sweep their homeless problem under the rug but were hampered by the fact that the media was giving heavy coverage to the camp. So instead of the usual tactic of sending the police in under the auspice of “public health” to breakup the camp, Minneapolis’s overlords had to go through the work of setting up a homeless shelter. Now that the media coverage has subsided, the homeless individuals who were brought to the shelter are being kicked to the curb:

On Monday, officials in Minneapolis capped a yearlong effort to clear the state’s biggest homeless encampment by closing the temporary emergency shelter on Cedar Avenue, where they had forced residents of the camp to move roughly five months ago.

Won’t this result in another Hooverville popping up? Of course it will and the city official know that:

Officials are aware of plans for another tent settlement this year and are working on a plan for responding to it.

I’m betting the plan involves nipping the Hooverville in the bud before it gets national coverage. Nobody involved in the Minneapolis government wants a repeat of last year’s embarrassment (which wasn’t the existence of the Hooverville but the media coverage that prevented the government from sending in law enforcers to confiscate the tents and crack some homeless skulls in the hopes of convincing them to go be homeless somewhere else).

Corporate Control

Gun restriction advocates haven’t enjoyed much recent success in their political efforts so they’ve switched gears. They’ve been leaning on corporations to lean on gun retailers. This has resulted in banks refusing to do business with gun retailers and other such nonsense. Now Salesforce has decided to cave to the unwashed masses and is telling gun retailers to either stop selling modern firearms or abandon its platform:

SAN FRANCISCO — On its website, Salesforce.com touts retailer Camping World as a leading customer of its business software, highlighting its use of products to help sales staff move product. A Camping World executive is even quoted calling Salesforce’s software “magic.”

But behind the scenes in recent weeks, the Silicon Valley tech giant has delivered a different message to gun-selling retailers such as Camping World: Stop selling military-style rifles, or stop using our software.

The pressure Salesforce is exerting on those retailers — barring them from using its technology to market products, manage customer service operations and fulfill orders — puts them in a difficult position. Camping World, for example, spends more than $1 million a year on Salesforce’s e-commerce software, according to one analyst estimate. Switching to another provider now could cost the company double that to migrate data, reconfigure systems and retrain employees.

Not many better examples of corporate mutually assured destruction exist than this one. One the one hand Camp World could fold and decide to stop selling modern firearms. If it did, it would almost certainly incite the wrath of gun owners and, as Dick’s Sporting Goods can tell you, pissing off gun owners can hurt your bottom line. On the other hand Camp World could tell Salesforce to go pound sand, which would cost the company both money and public relations, since it spent so much time touting Camp World as one of its success stores. Either way this move could cost Salesforce many other accounts since I’m willing to bet that Camp World isn’t the only gun retailer using Salesforce.

There is a lesson to be learned here. Becoming dependent on a third-party platform is a liability. If you make your business dependent on a third-party platform, your business is suddenly at its mercy. The third-party might come to you some day and tell you that you need to change your business model or it will pull the rug out from under you. If you’re a business owner that values your independence, then it’s in your best interest to avoid becoming dependent on any single third-party.

Putting the Slaves in Their Proper Place

Once again proving that the concept of due process isn’t acknowledged even in so-called liberal democracies, the overlords in New Zealand have announced that in the aftermath of the Christchurch attacks they’re not just punishing the shooter, but they’re also punishing every gun owner in the nation:

New Zealand will ban all types of semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles following the Christchurch attacks, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said.

The announcement comes less than a week after 50 people were killed at two mosques, allegedly by a lone gunman.

Ms Ardern said she expected new legislation to be in place by 11 April, saying: “Our history changed forever. Now, our laws will too.”

Just because you had no hand in the commission of a crime doesn’t mean you can’t be punished. Now the slaves in New Zealand will join their counterparts in most of the other Commonwealth nations in being all but entirely disarmed.

96 Dimensional Chess

Fool me once; shame on you. Fool me 500,076 times, still shame on you. Trump has been in the White House for three years and he, despite having broken pretty much every political promise he made, still has zealous supporters. What’s his secret? His secret is that his supporters are very good at self delusion. Whenever news breaks that Trump is ready to support some reduction of state power his supporters are quick to say, “See? I told you he would reduce government!” Then when he fails to follow through his supporter say, “This is just part of his three dimensional chess game against the libtards!”

I’ve lost count of how may dimensions Trump’s chess game supposedly has at this point. I think it’s somewhere around 96 dimensional. But he decided to add an extra dimension yesterday when he reneged on his claim to support pulling American troops out of Syria:

WASHINGTON — Two months after declaring all U.S. troops are leaving Syria, President Donald Trump wrote to members of Congress that he now agrees “100%” with keeping a military presence in Syria.

This news comes as a shock to nobody who has paid attention to his track record.

Of course Trump isn’t unique in this regard. Lies are political capital and finding an honest politician carries worse odds than even the most rigged boxing match. While those who oppose Trump will scream at the top of their lungs about the importance of electing anybody else in 2020, the only thing electing a different president will do is shuffle the same shit around. After all, Trump’s predecessor campaigned on getting the United States out of its endless state of war and ended up getting the country into a few extra wars before his time in office was up.

How Things Have Changed

I’m a huge fan of the Hardcore History and History on Fire podcasts so I was excited when I saw that the hosts, Dan Carlin and Danielle Bolelli respectively, posted a conversation they recently had. The two discussed several things including modern political discourse.

One thing Dan said really resonated with me. He noted that he remembers a time when certain concepts, such as support for freedom of speech, were so close to universal in the United States that you could take them for granted in a political discussion and how he has a difficult time operating in an environment where that is no longer the case. I’m not a very old man but even in my relatively short life I’ve seen some dramatic shifts in political discourse. When I was in college certain near universals still existed including support for freedom of speech (although that was dying) and due process (which was also beginning to die). While an individual may not actually have believed in those concepts, they almost always, especially if they were a politician, paid lip service to them. Today’s world is a different one. Consider this fiasco that just went down here in Minnesota:

ST. PAUL, Minn. — A Minnesota House committee has passed a proposed “red flag” law that would allow families and police to get court orders to temporarily remove guns from people judged to be an imminent danger to themselves or others.

Due process, at one time, meant that an individual was only punished after a trial. Today due process isn’t even paid lip service. Rather legislation, of which this is just the latest example (civil forfeiture probably remains the most overt example), blatantly violates the concept of due process. What’s fascinating though is that these violation of due process aren’t met with widespread opposition. Gun owners are opposing this instance for obvious reasons but most people seem to either not care or, worse yet, enthusiastically support it.

I’ve even seen comments from professors who have reported surprise that students have expressed disagreement with the idea that authoritarianism is bad. Even my short life witnessed a time when the concept of authoritarianism was almost universally reviled (if not necessarily in practice, at least in words) here in the United States. Now support for authoritarianism is growing on both sides of the political spectrum.

I make no effort to hide my disgust with politics. Part of my disgust stems from the fact that many previously near universally supported concepts such as freedom of speech are no longer near universal. Expressing support for such concepts in today’s political environment oftentimes leads not just to disagreement but to a complete breakdown of civility (for example, depending on the other person’s political views, you might find yourself being labeled a fascist or a communist). Trying to have a reasoned debate in an environment where no ground rules exist most people appear disinterested in either being civility or establishing ground rules is, frankly, impossible.