A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for the ‘Your Government Doesn’t Love You’ tag

This Is What Democracy Looks Like

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Ars Technica ran this story with the title China’s “democracy” includes mandatory apps, mass chat surveillance. The important part to note is the scare quotes around the word democracy. From the article:

As the National People’s Congress gathers in Beijing for the beginning of China’s “Two Sessions” political season, state media is making an international propaganda push on social media—including on platforms blocked by China’s “Great Firewall”—to promote China’s “system of democracy.”

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That system of democracy apparently involves mass surveillance to tap into the will of the people. While China’s growth as a surveillance state has been well-documented, the degree to which the Chinese leadership uses digital tools to shape the national political landscape and to control Chinese citizens has grown even further recently. That’s because authorities have been tapping directly into Chinese Communist Party (CCP) members’ and other Chinese citizens’ online activities and social media profiles.

I’m using the Ars Technica article for illustrative purposes but the general attitude amongst Americans seem to be that China isn’t actually a democracy. However, democracy is a system where voters have the opportunity to gang up against each other. This inevitably results is a paranoid police state where everybody has voted to surveil and punish everybody else.

The primary difference between China and apparently freer democracies is where they started. Take the United States for example. It started with an almost powerless federal government and a strong mythology about individual freedom. It took a great deal of time for voters to first vote a larger government into existence and then vote to wield it against each other. The People’s Republic of China, other the other hand, started with a much more powerful government so there was no delay from voters having to first vote it more power before they could wield it against each other.

The things for which us enlightened people of the glorious Western democracies mock China are in our future. Just look at the massive surveillance apparatuses in the United States and United Kingdom. There is scarcely a thing you can do or a place you can go that isn’t surveilled by some government entity. The Ars Technica article discusses the effort China is putting into propagandizing its party members but the author likely failed to recognize the similarities between those efforts and the efforts in Western public education systems to propagandize young children. While most Western democracies aren’t as overt about controlling their news outlets as China is, all of the major supposedly independent media outlets are little more than government propaganda machines (how else are reporters going to get access to the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room or get themselves invited to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner).

Make not mistake, what we’re witnesses in China today is the endgame of any democratic system. To insinuate that China isn’t a democracy is to misunderstand what a democracy truly is.

96 Dimensional Chess

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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.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 6th, 2019 at 10:00 am

Nothing to See Here

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The judge presiding over the Mohamed Noor case has announced that no audio or video recordings of the trial will be allowed:

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A Minnesota judge says there will be no audio or video recording allowed during the trial of a former Minneapolis officer who shot and killed an Australian woman.

Mohamed Noor is charged with murder in the July 2017 death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, who was shot after she called police to report a possible sexual assault behind her home.

If I were in the judge’s position, I’d do the same thing. Noor really put the Minneapolis justice system in a bind. Most law enforcers have the decency of fabricating some kind of plausible (if you use your imagination) justification for their unnecessary use of force. Noor just flat out executed a woman. Letting him off is going to require jury instructions that no judge would look good giving and certainly no judge would want to be recorded giving. At least that’s the only explanation of which I can conceive that explains the recording prohibition.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 26th, 2019 at 10:00 am

A Barrel of Laughs

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If it exists, politicians will try to tax it. As a correlative, politicians will try to tax it and tax it again. Politicians already tax personal electronics via federal and state sales taxes, regulatory compliance costs, tariffs, etc. But now some politicians in Kansas want to add an additional tax under the auspices of fighting human trafficking:

Two bills introduced in the Kansas House on Wednesday generate funding for human trafficking programs by requiring all new internet-capable telephones or computers sold in the state to feature anti-pornography software and by mandating adult entertainment businesses charge a special admissions tax.

Sabetha Rep. Randy Garber sponsored legislation requiring the software installations and dictating purchasers would have to pay a $20 fee to the state, and whatever cost was assessed by retail stores, to remove filters for “obscene” material. No one under 18 would be allowed to have filter software deleted.

Pay a $20 fee to the state or ask a neighborhood teenager (who will probably do it for free out of spite) to remove it just for the irony? Tough decision.

Setting aside the mental gymnastics required to tie human trafficking to the legal pornography industry, we’re left wondering how, exactly, Kansas legislators plan to enforce this. Take my ThinkPad for instance. Let’s pretend I purchased it in Kansas 20 minutes into the future and it included this hypothetical filtering software. The first thing I did after purchasing my ThinkPad was replace the stock hard drive with an SSD, which removed all of the included software. Moreover, I didn’t reinstall the included software, I install a Linux distribution. I effectively bypassed this legislation in a matter of minutes.

“Ah, you cheeky bastard,” you say, “but what about your phone?” If I lived in Kansas under this law, I would purchase my phone in a neighboring state. If that wasn’t an option, I would likely purchase an Android smartphone with an unlockable bootloader and flash something like LineageOS on it, which would accomplish the same thing as installing Linux on my ThinkPad.

I also guarantee that if this legislation passed, a script to remove the filtering software would be published to GitHub within a day or two. “But that would be illegal,” you say? Maybe in Kansas but that doesn’t apply to anybody in, say, Minnesota.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 20th, 2019 at 10:00 am

Establishing Precedence

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I’m not sure what exact train of thought has convinced Trump that building a completely worthless fixed fortification is the hill on which he is willing to die but in his pursuit of building, as George S. Patton once said, “a monument to the stupidity of man,” he has decided to declare a state of emergency. In of itself, this declaration would be forgotten in a short period of time due to the irrelevance of any border wall built between the United States and Mexico. However, it would establish a precedence that could be used by future presidents for other pet projects.

Nancy Pelosi is already making noise about how a future Democrat president could use this precedence to enforce gun restrictions:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned Republicans on Thursday that a future Democratic president could declare gun violence a national emergency.

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“If the president can declare an emergency on something he has created as an emergency, an illusion that he wants to convey, just think about what a president with different values can present to the American people,” Pelosi said.

“You want to talk about a national emergency? Let’s talk about today,” Pelosi said, referring to the first anniversary of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 dead on Feb. 14, 2018.

She said the shooting was “another manifestation of the epidemic of gun violence in America.”

“That’s a national emergency. Why don’t you declare that an emergency, Mr. President? I wish you would,” she said. “But a Democratic president can do that. A Democratic president can declare emergencies as well.”

What’s noteworthy here is that Pelosi isn’t making any real effort to prevent the current president from declaring a state of emergency to push his pet project forward. Instead she’s chomping at the bit to use the same power in the future to push her pet project forward.

It’s almost as if every politicians has a list of things they want to do that aren’t “legal” (as if that means anything when they’re the ones who define what is and isn’t legal) and are just waiting for one of their cohorts to establish the precedence that will allow them to go through with it.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 15th, 2019 at 10:00 am

Sex Trafficking Increases in Wake of Anti-Sex Trafficking Legislation

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A piece of legislation will generally do the opposite of what its title claims, which is why it should come as no surprise that the passage of the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) preceded a significant in crease in sex trafficking:

When the SESTA-FOSTA bills were being hashed out in Congress, sex workers loudly advocated against them, saying that rather than decrease sex trafficking, these laws would make it more likely. According to new police statistics, they were right.

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New statistics shared by the San Francisco police show that sex workers, unsurprisingly, were right about the effect this law would have on their profession and on sex trafficking. According to KPIX 5, while most violent crime is down in San Francisco, sex trafficking shot up 170 percent in 2018.

I’m fairly certain that the politicians who pushed for SESTA see this as a feature, not a bug. After all, consensual sex work is a mutual exchange of money for sex. It harms nobody. But most people don’t base their morality on harm alone and the puritanical history of the United States has etched certain oddities in the societal psyche such as the idea that sex itself is dirty. In an ideal world, this wouldn’t matter because politicians would legislate based on their personal morality, they would legislate based entirely on whether a certain act causes real harm. But this isn’t an ideal world and these moralists we call lawmakers legislate their morality all the time and, I’m fairly certain, feel a rush or joy whenever they see somebody who they consider immoral harmed by legislation.

The best argument that can be made for the abolition of government is the fact that people with power cannot be trusted to not use that power to target and hurt anybody they personally dislike.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 6th, 2019 at 10:00 am

Bipartisanship

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The rift between the two dominant political parties here in the United States appears to be widening ever day. If one party says that it’s in favor of something, the other party almost reflexively says that it’s against it. But there is one issue on which the two parties agree wholeheartedly: bombing people in foreign lands whose skin color is any shade lighter than Scandinavian pale:

WASHINGTON — The Senate, in a bipartisan rebuke to President Trump’s foreign policy, voted overwhelmingly to advance legislation drafted by the majority leader to express strong opposition to the president’s withdrawal of United States military forces from Syria and Afghanistan.

The 68-to-23 vote to cut off debate ensures that the amendment, written by Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and backed by virtually every Senate Republican, will be added to a broader bipartisan Middle East policy bill expected to easily pass the Senate next week.

Granted, if history is any indicator, remaining in Afghanistan is a self-correcting problem. There’s a reason it’s often referred to as the graveyard of empires.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 5th, 2019 at 10:00 am

Peak Bureaucracy

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Never underestimate a bureaucracies absolutism when it comes to following its own rules:

As the plane was preparing to take off for a second time and depart from the Great White North, the aircraft ran into a mechanical issue. Natalie Noonan, a United Airlines spokeswoman, told Global News that the door of the aircraft wouldn’t shut because it had likely frozen in the frigid temperatures.

However, because the airport had no customs officers on duty overnight, passengers were unable to leave the plane.

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As the hours ticked away, temperatures continued to drop, sinking to as cold as -26 degrees Fahrenheit around 8 a.m. AST in Goose Bay, according to Weather Underground data.

I’m sure United Airlines is relieved to not be the source of the problem. However, I’m doubting the passengers sitting on a plane with a door that wouldn’t close in subzero weather were seeing the wisdom of barring them from deplaning because a bureaucrat wasn’t present to process their papers.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 22nd, 2019 at 10:00 am

Totally Not Socialism™

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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her pals within the Democratic Party are touting their Green New Deal, which is their vision for a massive wealth redistribution scheme. Of course they’re not calling it a wealth redistribution scheme because that sounds like socialism and if there’s one thing Americans won’t stand for it’s anything that calls itself socialism. But Americans will stand (with their hand over their heart no less) for socialism so long as it’s wrapped up in Totally Not Socialism™ packaging. So to claim that their Green New Deal is Totally Not Socialism™ the advocates of this Green New Deal are calling it an economic stimulus package. One ritual required for wrapping a socialist program in Totally Not Socialism™ packaging is explaining how the programming will be funded by using traditional American methods (because, you see, America has always been anti-socialist so if something was done in the past it obviously can’t be socialist).

Ocasio-Cortez are performing this crucial ritual by pointing out that income tax rates between World War II and Regan’s presidency seldom dipped below 70 percent and even reached as high as 90 percent for the “wealthiest” Americans. So funding this stimulus package doesn’t require socialism, it merely requires going back to America’s (totally not socialist) halcyon days! Needless to say their supporters are lapping up their bullshit and eagerly asking for more because they’re ignorant about the difference between statutory and effective tax rates:

Yet this historical narrative is both simplistic and wrong. It relies upon a confusion between the statutory tax rate (i.e., the number that’s on the statute books) and the effective tax rate (i.e., the percentage of income that people actually pay once exemptions, deductions, and other tax-code incentives are accounted for).

Although statutory rates were extremely high between World War II and the Reagan-era tax cuts, practically nobody actually paid the taxman’s full sticker price on their earnings. Instead, a plethora of intentional tax exemptions, deductions, and legal income shelters ensured that wealthy individuals paid a much lower effective tax rate.

How much lower are we talking about exactly? Let’s take an example from 1963, the last year that top rates exceeded the 90 percent high water mark. A single filer in the $1 million bracket ($8.2 million today) faced a rate of 91 percent for every dollar earned over $200,000. While the statutory rate dropped for earnings below $200,000, it did not drop much. The 72 percent rate’s threshold kicked in at $44,000 (about $360,000 today). A 50 percent rate applied to single-filer earnings above $16,000 (about $130,000 today), with several other rate jumps as you attained higher income thresholds in between.

Finding a person who can obtain power without being corrupted is almost impossible. Finding a person who is willing to tell their benefactor to fuck off is even harder.

Those wealthy Americans that Ocasio-Cortez and her pals are claiming they’re going to soak? It turns out that they’re the ones who pay their biggest campaign contributions, the lobbyists who host their lavish dinners, and the human resource personnel who offer them absurd salaries to become lobbyists after they become bored with politics. So there’s no way that Ocasio-Cortez or almost any other politician is going to fuck them over.

The difference between the statutory and effective income tax rates is the key to how politicians keep their base supporters and benefactors happy. They promise their base supporters that they’ll soak the rich and redistribute the seized money to them. Since their gullible base supporters are ignorant of how taxes actually work for the wealthy, they fall for it hook, line, and sinker. Meanwhile, their benefactors are happy because the same politicians who passed the higher statutory income tax rate also created a large number of tax-incentives that allow anybody who falls into the new higher rate category to avoid paying the published rate.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 8th, 2019 at 10:30 am

One Weird Trick to Avoid Not Receiving a Refund

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The Internal Revenue Service (IRS), in its quest to make the federal government “shutdown” as painful as possible, has announced that while it will continue to take your money, it won’t return your refund:

During a shutdown, the IRS typically doesn’t perform audits, pay refunds or offer assistance to taxpayers if they have questions, especially outside of the filing season. And while some of the lights may still be on in the building, the agency is currently operating with only 12.5 percent of its workforce, or fewer than 10,000 federal employees.

A lot of people are upset about this but I’ve got one weird trick to avoid not receiving your refund: don’t overpay. If you receive a refund on your taxes, it means you gave the government an interest free loan that it is returning to you. If you adjust your withholdings properly, you won’t overpay and therefore won’t need to worry about a refund.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 7th, 2019 at 10:30 am