Averages Apply to Criminals Too

George Carlin once said, “Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.” This applies to criminals as well.

If you believed the claims of politicians and law enforcers, you’d think that the invention of encryption and the tools it enables, like Tor and Bitcoin, is the end of law enforcement. We’re constantly told that without backdoor access to all encryption, the government is unable to thwart the schemes of terrorists, drug dealers, and child pornographers. Their claims assume that everybody using encryption is knowledgeable about it and technology in general. But real world criminals aren’t James Bond supervillains. They’re human beings, which means most of them are of average or below average intelligence.

The recent high profile child pornography site bust is a perfect example of this point:

He was taken aback by what he saw: Many of this child abuse site’s users—and, by all appearances, its administrators—had done almost nothing to obscure their cryptocurrency trails. An entire network of criminal payments, all intended to be secret, was laid bare before him.

[…]

He spotted what he was looking for almost instantly: an IP address. In fact, to Gambaryan’s surprise, every thumbnail image on the site seemed to display, within the site’s HTML, the IP address of the server where it was physically hosted: 121.185.153.64. He copied those 11 digits into his computer’s command line and ran a basic traceroute function, following its path across the internet back to the location of that server.

Incredibly, the results showed that this computer wasn’t obscured by Tor’s anonymizing network at all; Gambaryan was looking at the actual, unprotected address of a Welcome to Video server. Confirming Levin’s initial hunch, the site was hosted on a residential connection of an internet service provider in South Korea, outside of Seoul.

[…]

Janczewski knew that Torbox and Sigaint, both dark-web services themselves, wouldn’t respond to legal requests for their users’ information. But the BTC-e data included IP addresses for 10 past logins on the exchange by the same user. In nine out of 10, the IP address was obscured with a VPN or Tor. But in one single visit to BTC-e, the user had slipped up: They had left their actual home IP address exposed. “That opened the whole door,” says Janczewski.

Despite the use of several commonly cited tools that supposedly thwart law enforcement efforts, law enforcers were able to discover the location of the server hosting the site and identity of suspected administrators using old fashioned investigative techniques. This was possible because criminals are human beings with all the flaws that entails.

One thing this story illustrates is that it takes only a single slip up to render an otherwise effective security model irrelevant. It also illustrates that just because one is using a tool doesn’t mean they’re using it effectively. Despite what politicians and law enforcers often claim, Bitcoin makes no effort to anonymize transactions. If, for example, law enforcers know the identity of the owner of some Bitcoin and that individual knows the identify of the person buying some of that Bitcoin, it’s simple for law enforcers to identify the buyer. Popular legal crypto exchanges operating in the United States are required to follow know your customer laws, which means they know the real world identity of their users. If you setup an account with one of those exchanges and buy some Bitcoin, then law enforcers can determine your identity by subpoenaing the exchange. Even if the exchange you’re using doesn’t follow know your customer laws, if you connect to it without obscuring your IP address even once, it’s possible for law enforcers to identify you if they can identify and put pressure on the exchange.

No fewer than three mistakes were made by the criminals in this case. First, they falsely believed that Bitcoin anonymizes transactions. Second, they failed to obscure the real world location of the server. Third, one of the individuals involved connected to their Bitcoin exchange without a VPN once. These mistakes made their efforts to secure themselves against law enforcers useless.

When politicians and law enforcers tell you that the government requires backdoor access to encryption in order to thwart terrorists, drug dealers, and child pornographers, they’re lying. Their claims might have some validity in a world where every criminal was as brilliant as a James Bond supervillain, but we don’t live in that world. Here criminals are regular humans. They’re usually of average or below average intelligence. Even though they may know that tools to assist their criminal efforts exist, they likely don’t know how to employ them correctly.

Jury Rules Fairly in FBI Fabricated Plot to Kidnap the Michigan Governor

Back in 2020 when the news broke that a handful of militiamen had been arrested for plotting to kidnap the Michigan governor, my first assumption was that the plot was likely fabricated by undercover Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) agents. This is because many, if not most, of the high profile terror cases seemingly thwarted by the FBI were in fact created by the FBI in the first place.

If you delve into the details of these cases, you quickly learn that no serious plot would have ever developed had the FBI not gotten involved. Therefore, I’ve argued that these cases are entrapment and the arrested suspects should be found not guilty. Unfortunately, juries usually side with the state in these cases, which encourages the FBI to fabricate more of them. Fortunately, the jury for the Michigan kidnapping plot acted against the norm:

A US federal jury has acquitted two men accused of plotting to kidnap Michigan’s governor and failed to reach a verdict for two other defendants.

[…]

Jurors began deliberating this week after 14 days of testimony and had indicated earlier on Friday that they were deadlocked on some of the charges.

They ultimately reached no verdict against Mr Fox, who was alleged to be the group’s ringleader, and Mr Croft, both of whom were also facing an additional count each of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction.

I would have rather seen a not guilty verdict, but I find a deadlock fair enough since the suspects still beat the charges.

Although I suspect this is decision a statistical anomaly, the optimist in me hopes that it’s the beginning of a trend where juries rule against the state in these kinds of cases. The FBI should not get credit for thwarting plots it creates. I will even argue that, if anything, the agency should be punished severely for doing so (but I know that will never happen).

If you’d like to learn more about the FBI’s tendency for fabricating terror plots, there is a good albeit a bit dated book titled The Terror Factory by Trevor Aaronson that details this strategy up to the 2014 publication date.

Full Faith and Credit

A common criticism made against market based currencies (for example, precious metals and cryptocurrencies) by advocates of fiat is that market based currencies aren’t backed by the full faith and credit of any notable governments. The implication is that governments are the best shepherds of currency. Is this really true though? A quick look at the historical performance of government fiat indicates that it isn’t.

The dollar is currently experiencing a high rate of inflation. While official numbers state an inflation rate of approximately eight percent, the real rate is likely significantly higher. Compounding this issue is the fact that these numbers aren’t unprecedented. The linked article notes that this is the highest rate of inflation since 1982, which wasn’t that long ago in the grand scheme of things. If you look at the performance of the dollar since 1800, you’ll find that 22.52 2022 dollars are needed to equal the purchasing power of a single 1800 dollar.

When people think of Bitcoin, they often think of its short term ups and downs. Critics use its sometimes wild short term fluctuation in value as an argument against it. But if you look past its short term performance and instead look at its long term performance, you’ll notice that it has increased in value dramatically. When Mt. Gox (remember them) came onto the scene in 2010, one Bitcoin was worth $0.07. As of this writing, not quite twelve years later, one Bitcoin is trading at approximately $44,428.81. Meanwhile, in the same span of time a single dollar has inflated to $1.30. Had you invested in dollars in 2010, you would have lost almost a third of your purchasing power. Had you invested in Bitcoin in 2010, you would have gained a tremendous amount of purchasing power.

Bitcoin isn’t the only market based currency that increased in value over the last 12 years. Let’s take a look at gold. At the beginning of 2010 a troy ounce of gold was worth approximately $1136.40. As of this writing a troy ounce of gold is worth $1,934.43. That’s nowhere near the same increase in value as Bitcoin, but it’s still a sizable increase. As with Bitcoin, had you invested in gold in 2010, you would have gained purchasing power.

The dollar isn’t the only government backed currency that sucks. Since 2010 a single euro has inflated to €1.20 , a single ruble has inflated to ₽2.09, and a single Canadian dollar has inflated to $1.24. Even the Swiss franc has inflated, albeit only to fr.1.01 (making it the least terrible fiat store of value on this list).

It seems that the full faith and credit of a notable government is actually detrimental to a currency. Unless, of course, you like losing purchasing power over time. But if that’s your thing, I suggest just sending your unwanted purchasing power to me. I’ll happily take it.

It Always Comes Back to Fascism

Champions of democracy whether they be republicans (not the party), socialists, communists, or social democrats always claim that their idealized form of government is the opposite of fascism. When things are going well for democratic governments, they can appear quite different from fascism. However, when things go bad, democracies always revert to fascism.

A few weeks ago a bunch of Canadian truckers decided that they had had enough of their government’s COVID mandates. As a form of protest they drove to Ottawa and setup camp. What makes this protest different from recent popular occupational protests like the Occupy movement is that the protesters are working class instead of petty bourgeois. Because of that they’ve been labeled insurrectionists, racists, and worse instead of protesters (it turns out self-proclaimed champions of the working class tend to hate the actual working class). In spite of the labels foisted on the protesters, they have successfully embarrassed the Canadian government. The Canadian government’s reaction was predictable. It resorted to good old-fashioned fascism:

Under the extraordinary measures invoked by Mr. Trudeau, the police across the country will now be able to seize trucks and other vehicles being used in blockades. The measure will formally ban demonstrations that “go beyond lawful protest,” and the government can formally ban blockades in designated areas like border crossings, airports and the city of Ottawa.

Tow-truck operators, who have been reluctant to cooperate with the police, will also now be compelled to work with law enforcement agencies to clear Ottawa’s streets and the border crossings at Coutts, Alberta. If they don’t cooperate, they could face arrest.

The second paragraph is the most interesting. Most tow-truck operators who possess the equipment necessary to move semis rely on the good grace of truckers for their income. As a result they have refused the government’s request for towing services. In response the Canadian government is now putting a gun to their head and demanding obedience. This practice is commonly referred to as forced labor or slavery.

The Canadian government’s behavior isn’t unique amongst democracies. All democracies will toss aside their facade of respecting individuals when their power is challenged.

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.

A Do It Yourself Future

I would assume that most people who read Nineteen Eighty-Four understand that the Party is supposed to be the bad guy. However, most politicians and a large number of corporations seem to believe the Party is the good guy and should be emulated as closely as Snes9x attempts to emulate the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.

It seems like every day we see news of new surveillance technologies either being mandated by politicians of voluntarily implemented by corporations. The two entities aren’t always intentionally working in tandem. Many of the surveillance technologies implemented by corporations are done for profit. Google and Facebook for example have business models dependent on surveillance. But sometimes they two entities are working in tandem. The Pegasus spyware is an example of a protect developed by a corporation for the obvious intent of selling to governments interested in surveilling individuals. Then there are the gray ares. Apple’s recent decision to install spyware on iOS devices to ostensibly detect child pornography is an example of something that was likely implemented at the behest of politicians but not mandated (yet).

Unfortunately, the situation is unlikely to get better before it gets worse. There’s too much money to be made by spying on customers and politicians’ power necessarily depends on surveilling citizens. Does this mean you will have to give up technology entirely? Will the Hutterites and Amish be the only free people left in a few years? Not necessarily. There is an option to utilize technology without subjecting yourself to constant surveillance. That option is to do it yourself.

This is really an extension of my self-hosting advocacy. For a long time I’ve preached and practiced self-hosting online services. It’s much harder for Google to surveil your e-mail if you host your own server (of course Google can still surveil your conversations with Gmail users). However, at the current rate of things the do it yourself strategy will have to be applied to technological products other than online services. For example, there is no longer a privacy respecting smartphone readily available to consumers. Your only option is to buy a device that both allows you to flash custom firmware and is supported by privacy respecting firmware.

The laptop and desktop market at least has a few privacy respecting options like System76 available, but beyond those boutique manufacturers you can’t trust the default operating system shipped with most computers. You need to install an operating system that you can trust such as a Linux distro or one of the open BSD flavors like OpenBSD and FreeBSD. There is also the issue of surveillance technology baked into the hardware. Just installing a trustworthy operating system isn’t enough if the hardware itself is spying on you too. In that case you’re going to have to build your own hardware to some extent. This will require many of the same skills as building a computer does today except instead of choosing parts for performance, you’ll need to choose parts for lack of baked in surveillance technology.

If you want an automobile that won’t spy on you, you’ll likely need to either maintain automobiles that were manufactured prior to surveillance mandates or learn how to disable installed surveillance technology. Mind you that either strategy could and most likely will be declared illegal. In that case you will need to spoof the surveillance technology in such a way that it isn’t tampered with in a detectable manner or can be quickly restored to a fully functional state if you need to take the vehicle in for an inspection or repair.

For those unwilling to unable to do the work themselves, they will be dependent on black market dealers who can. The upside is there is already a black market for surveillance avoidance and it will expand as surveillance becomes more pervasive. But the days of being able to buy a technological product and be reasonably sure that it isn’t spying on you are over (they’ve been over for a while, but the situation is continually becoming worse).

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.

The Collusion of Corporations and Government

The First Amendment is supposed to citizens from government censorship… unless those citizens are inciting a riot… or making a false statement of fact or saying obscene things or expressing themselves in any of the other prohibited manners. It turns out free speech in the United States is a fairy tale, but I digress.

Even though the First Amendment is a joke the idea it is supposed to enshrine, the freedom of expression, is one that seemed to enjoy majority support in the United States until Trump’s 2016 presidential victory. Those who didn’t believe Trump was able to win started looking for scapegoats as soon as his victory was announced. One of the most common scapegoats became social media. Trump’s opponents decided that misinformation spread by Russian bots on Facebook and Twitter was responsible for Clinton’s loss. It came as no surprise when they started demanding social media sites start censoring anything they deemed to be misinformation. It also came as no surprise when those social media sites, predominantly owned and operated by individuals who expressed a great deal of (deserved in my opinion) hatred towards Trump, complied. When sites like Facebook and Twitter started censoring pretty much any content expressing political beliefs slightly right of Mao, those who were being censored started screaming about free speech.

The response from those in support of social media censorship (those not being censored), like every other expressed political opinion following Trump’s election, was predictable. They purposely misconstrued the concept of free speech for the First Amendment and haughtily pointed out that the First Amendment only protects against government censorship.

Short of a revolution, which in the absolute best case is only temporary, nothing can stop the erosion of a freedom. Free expression is no exception. The concept of free expression has been eroding in the United States since the country’s founding, but accelerated significantly after Trump’s election. Now we have reached the inevitable point where the government is directly involving itself in censorship:

In terms of actions, Alex, that we have taken — or we’re working to take, I should say — from the federal government: We’ve increased disinformation research and tracking within the Surgeon General’s office. We’re flagging problematic posts for Facebook that spread disinformation.

Private companies are no longer the only ones involved in censorship. The federal government is admitting, openly no less, that it is flagging content it deems problematic for Facebook (with the implication that Facebook will remove the flagged content). There is a term for a political system where corporations and the government collude. Consider looking up that term your homework assignment.

As with any government grab for power this one comes with justification:

Asked what his message was to platforms like Facebook regarding Covid disinformation, Biden said “They’re killing people.”

“I mean they really, look, the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated, and that’s — they’re killing people,” Biden said on the South Lawn of the White House.

Biden was echoing earlier comments from White House press secretary Jen Psaki.

The justification is always safety (and always nonsensical). Air travelers must submit to sexual assault, either in being molested or virtually stripped naked by government agents, under the auspices of keeping air travelers safe from terrorists. Gun owners must fill out government forms and ask for government permission in order to buy a gun under the auspices of protecting the populace from gun violence. Every year representatives in Washington DC argue that effective encryption must be made illegal under the auspices of protecting children from rapists and human traffickers. Now the government has decided it needs to choose what is and isn’t appropriate to post on Facebook under the auspices of keeping the populace safe from a virus.

Defining Police

Those who identify themselves as left leaning are screaming about the need to defund the police and replace them with social workers. Those who identify themselves as right leaning are screaming about the rise in crime and blaming it squarely on the policies being advocated by the left. But neither side is stopping to consider the nature of policing. The policies being advocated by leftists assume police are peacekeepers. The policies being advocated by rightists assume police are law enforcers. The truth is police are tasked with both jobs, which creates a problem because the two jobs are mutually exclusive.

You cannot have law enforcers be peacekeepers or vice versa. This is because laws, with only a few exceptions, have nothing to do with peace. Consider the prohibition against cannabis. What tranquility is shattered by individuals growing, selling, buying, and smoking cannabis? None… until it’s made illegal. Once those activities are declared illegal, law enforcers are tasked with initiating violence against anybody growing, selling, buying, or smoking cannabis. Tax evasion is another example. How does avoiding paying taxes interfere with peace? It doesn’t… until law enforcers get involved.

The only way to fix policing is to separate the jobs of peacekeeping and law enforcement. However, this solution will never be achieved through politics because the State depends on one entity performing both jobs. It depends on law enforcers to enforce its will. Without law enforcers the State has no power. But a populace would not normally accept law enforcers with open arms because law enforcers necessarily prey upon the populace (laws exist, after all, to transfer wealth from the masses to the political class). So law enforcers are also assigned the job of peacekeeping. As peacekeepers police are legitimized and accepted by a populace.

While the left screams about the need to defund the police and the right screams about the need to bolster the police know that the only solution is to abolish the State.

It’s Crises All the Way Down

I assume that the people who watch and believe what passes for news today feel hopeless. Why? Because all news is bad news and crises never end, they merely turn into new crises.

Take the overpopulation crisis as an example. For most of my life I have been hearing about it. Even when I was in elementary school, teachers were warning us kids that too many people were consuming too many resources and we faced a bleak future because of it. The narrative continued throughout my high school and college careers. Today the news is reporting about the worldwide drop in fertility rates. This must mean that the population crisis has been averted and the future is looking brighter than it was, right? Wrong! The overpopulation crisis has turned into the baby bust crisis:

The U.S. is already below the so-called “replacement level” by some measures, meaning fewer young people to support the country’s otherwise aging population.

Myers said of the decline, “That’s a crisis.”

“We need to have enough working-age people to carry the load of these seniors, who deserve their retirement, they deserve all their entitlements, and they’re gonna live out another 30 years,” he said. “Nobody in the history of the globe has had so many older people to deal with.”

What the fuck? How did we snatch defeat from the jaws of victory? We did exactly what the experts told us to do! We had fewer babies! How did we end up facing yet another crisis? To answer that I will turn to George Orwell:

The war is not meant to be won, it is meant to be continuous. Hierarchical society is only possible on the basis of poverty and ignorance. This new version is the past and no different past can ever have existed. In principle the war effort is always planned to keep society on the brink of starvation. The war is waged by the ruling group against its own subjects and its object is not the victory over either Eurasia or East Asia, but to keep the very structure of society intact.

The crises you hear about in the news are not meant to be solved. They’re meant to be continuous. They exist to keep the masses in a constant state of fear because so long as the masses are afraid, they will seek a savior. When they find somebody who promises to be their savior, they will give him anything he demands. If he demands soldiers to fight a war against the enemy, they will gladly surrender their sons to him. If he demands broader surveillance powers, they will gladly surrender their privacy. If he demands wealth so he can fund the fight against the enemy, they will gladly surrender their income and assets. And his demands won’t stop even when the crisis abates. Instead he’ll come to them with new demands to fight a new crisis.