A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for the ‘Corruption Corner’ Category

Your Internet Sucks Because of Government

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When it comes to Internet access parts of the United States often feel like a third world country. If you live in a small town you may be lucky if you can even get digital subscriber line (DSL) service. Those living in larger cities often have access to high speed cable Internet but that is far from the blazing fast fiber connections that people in other parts of the world and a handful of lucky denizens in the United States enjoy. But why does Internet access in the United States suck? Is it due to a failure of capitalism or market forces? No. As it turns out, the reason Internet access sucks in the United States is the same reason so many things suck, government:

Deploying broadband infrastructure isn’t as simple as merely laying wires underground: that’s the easy part. The hard part — and the reason it often doesn’t happen — is the pre-deployment barriers, which local governments and public utilities make unnecessarily expensive and difficult.

Before building out new networks, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) must negotiate with local governments for access to publicly owned “rights of way” so they can place their wires above and below both public and private property. ISPs also need “pole attachment” contracts with public utilities so they can rent space on utility poles for above-ground wires, or in ducts and conduits for wires laid underground.

The problem? Local governments and their public utilities charge ISPs far more than these things actually cost. For example, rights of way and pole attachments fees can double the cost of network construction.

So the real bottleneck isn’t incumbent providers of broadband, but incumbent providers of rights-of-way. These incumbents — the real monopolists — also have the final say on whether an ISP can build a network. They determine what hoops an ISP must jump through to get approval.

Starting an Internet service provider (ISP) or expanding an existing one normally wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg. Digging trenches and laying cable isn’t exactly rocket science nor is it exorbitant expensive. But receiving permission from municipal governments and their utility companies doesn’t come cheap because they have a monopoly.

If a free market existed in utility provision, ISPs would be able to negotiate cheaper right-of-way agreements when they were needed because most companies would be happy to receive a little extra for letting an ISP utilize already existing infrastructure. And if one utility company didn’t want to lease the use of its infrastructure, an ISP could negotiate a contract with one of that company’s competitors. Another possibility under a free market would be utility companies not even bothering to build infrastructure but leasing the use of infrastructure built by companies that specialize in building and leasing it to utility providers, including ISPs.

However, many municipal governments have granted themselves a monopoly on both utilities and the infrastructure. Without any competition these municipal governments can charge ISPs whatever they want for access to their infrastructure. This ends up hurting the people living in the municipality but municipal governments, like all governments, don’t care about the people they claim dominion over.

If Americans want better Internet they need to either take control of their municipal governments’ infrastructure (which was built with money stolen from taxpayers anyways) or bypass it entirely.

Written by Christopher Burg

July 18th, 2017 at 11:00 am

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before

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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Somebody calls the police to report a potential crime and the police arrive and shoot the person who called them while their body cameras were mysteriously turned off:

Minneapolis police responded to a call of a possible assault. At some point, a weapon was fired and a woman fatally shot. The BCA is now in charge of the investigation. They say the officers involved had body cameras, but they were not turned on.

Last year the City of Minneapolis spent $4 million to equip the officers in its department with body cameras. This was done in an attempt to restore some of the public’s trust in the department after its officers were involved in a serious of very questionable shootings. Here we are over a year later and that $4 million investment has been entirely wasted since when incidents like this happen body cameras are turned off for some inexplicable reason.

Unfortunately, the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD), as far as I know, has no policy in place for punishing officers who don’t turn on their body cameras (and if the department does it obviously doesn’t enforce it), which means these officers probably won’t receive any discipline. Moreover, the officers involved will probably say the magical words, “We feared for our lives,” which will ensure that the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) absolves them of any wrongdoing.

The only way body cameras can be useful is if departments implement policies that severely discipline officers for using nonfunctional (which would have to cover everything from the body cameras not being turned on to the batteries dying partway through a shift) body camera while on duty. So long as an officer can turn their camera off at will without repercussions they will only serve the purpose of collecting evidence against those who the police interact with. But I’ve said all of this before and I’m sure I’ll have to continue saying it until the day I die.

Written by Christopher Burg

July 17th, 2017 at 10:30 am

Mistaken Identity

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It’s a day ending in “y” so there must be another “isolated incident” where one of the “rare” bad apples in law enforcement performs a heinous act. Today’s heinous act involves a case of mistaken identity. Officers were searching for a 25 to 30-year-old 5′ 10″ tall 170 pound black male. When they came across a 19-year-old 5′ 2″ tall 115 pound black girl they mistook her for the suspect and served and protected the shit out of her:

On the day Tatyana Hargrove rode her bike to try to buy her dad a Father’s Day gift, temperatures in Bakersfield, Calif., had reached triple digits, so she stopped on the way home to take a drink of water in the shade.

The 19-year-old girl turned around at the intersection where she had paused and noticed three police cars. One of the officers, she said, had already drawn his gun.

What followed, according to both Hargrove and police, was a case of mistaken identity and an altercation in which police punched Hargrove in the mouth, unleashed a police K-9 dog on her and arrested her. Though the incident took place June 18, it gained wider attention this week after the Bakersfield chapter of the NAACP shared a video of Hargrove’s account on its Facebook page that garnered millions of views.

On the day police stopped Hargrove, officers had been looking for a suspect — described as a 25- to 30-year-old, bald black man standing 5-foot-10 and weighing about 170 pounds — who had threatened several people with a machete at a nearby grocery store, according to a police report.

She was black, the suspect was black, and they all look alike, right? According to these fine officers that must be the case but I’d bet money most of us lowly untrained civilians would be able to tell the difference immediately.

Had the arrest not been captured on video it’s likely that this entire incident would have disappeared down a memory hole. Since this was caught on video though it means that there will likely be an internal investigation that will find that the officers followed their training and are therefore innocent of all wrongdoing. But to show how benevolent it is, the department will likely be willing to drop the charges against the girl (as is often the case, the girl was charged for “resisting or delaying an officer and aggravated assault” even though the officers delayed themselves by assaulting her instead of continuing their search for the suspect). With that said, there is a chance that the officers involved will be fired from the department… only to be reinstated when their union strong arms the department into doing so. There might even be a jury trial where the prosecutor brings the most difficult to prove charges they can against the officers, evidence is withheld from the jury, and the jury is given instructions on how to rule based on the letter of a law written in such a way that an officer cannot be charged under it.

You know, when I put it that way, it really sounds like we live in a police state. Weird.

Written by Christopher Burg

July 13th, 2017 at 10:30 am

What’s the Difference Between the IRS and a Thief

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What’s the difference between the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and a thief? There isn’t one:

The unmarked vehicles arrived in the morning. More than 20 armed agents poured out.

Hours later, Mii’s Bridal & Tuxedo was out of business after serving customers for decades. Its entire inventory of wedding gowns and dresses as well as sewing machines and other equipment were sold at auction.

The hastily-called sale held inside the store netted the IRS about $17,000 — not enough to cover the roughly $31,400 in tax debt alleged, court records show. The balance is now likely unrecoverable.

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Regarding the speed of the sale, the government said in legal filings that the IRS used a special law that allows for a streamlined procedure if the agency determines the goods seized could “perish or waste” or become greatly reduced in value.

As a result, the IRS didn’t have to post advance public notice of the Mii’s sale or wait at least 10 days before selling the goods, as is normally required.

How are tuxedos, wedding dresses, and sewing machines perishable goods? They’re not. The IRS just made shit up so it could perform this act of theft without giving the owners enough time to involve lawyers.

While I spend a great deal of time brining up civil asset forfeiture laws, there are other laws on the books that allow the State to legally steal property without convicting the owner. Arcane tax laws are often used in this way. In this case the IRS once again used, or should I say abused, laws against structuring. I’ve mentioned this before but there is a law that requires people making deposits greater than $10,000 to report them. Many businesses don’t realize this is a law, they only realize that the bank requires them to fill out a bunch of additional paperwork if their deposit is above $10,000. So to avoid paperwork many businesses take deposits over $10,000 and divide them into multiple deposits that are each under $10,000. Doing this violates the law against structuring so the IRS combines the fact that many small business owners are entirely unaware of this law with the fact that it’s illegal to justify rolling in, seizing a small business’s assets, and auctioning them off.

These kinds of laws violate the concept of private property. So long as they continue to exist nobody in the United States can be said to actually own property, they can only lease property for as long as the State permits them.

Written by Christopher Burg

July 11th, 2017 at 10:30 am

Stealing a Skyscraper

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Civil asset forfeiture is widely used by law enforcers to steal cars, cash, and other valuable items that are easy to transport. Over time law enforcers have become bolder and have now gone so far as to steal an entire skyscraper:

The government can seize a skyscraper in Midtown Manhattan that it says is controlled by Iran, a jury concluded on Thursday, allowing federal prosecutors to complete what they called the largest terrorism-related civil forfeiture in United States history.

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The government has agreed to distribute proceeds from the building’s sale, which could bring as much as $1 billion, to the families of victims of Iranian-sponsored terrorist attacks, including the Sept. 11 attacks. The office tower is highly coveted real estate; Nike recently signed a 15-year deal to rent seven of its 36 floors.

And, of course, the State received a rubber stamp approval from an “impartial” overview committee:

The jury, which deliberated for one day after a month of testimony, found that the Alavi Foundation, which owns 60 percent of the 36-floor skyscraper at 650 Fifth Avenue, violated United States sanctions against Iran and engaged in money laundering through its partnership with Assa Corporation, a shell company for an Iranian state-controlled bank that had owned the remaining 40 percent.

This is what happens when juries are instructed to rule on the letter of the law instead of whether or not the action was just. Civil asset forfeiture law is pretty clear about allowing the State to seize any property that it claims to be associate with a drug crime or terrorism. Because of that any jury ruling on a case involving civil asset forfeiture that is instructed to rule based on the letter of the law is bound to find any act of civil forfeiture, no matter hour absurd, to be legal.

In addition to the skyscraper, the State also seized several bank accounts but that’s pretty par for the course. Unfortunately, this precedent means that more high valued properties are likely to be seized by the State in the coming years. Yet again we see that one cannot own property in the United States.

Written by Christopher Burg

July 5th, 2017 at 10:00 am

Your Citizenship Has Been Revoked

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The Nazgûl Supreme Court recently ruled that illegally obtained evidence can still be presented by prosecutors. Accountability was thrown out of the window with this ruling since there is no consequences for illegally collecting evidence. This ruling was controversial enough that three of the judges disagreed with one of them disagreeing quite loudly:

In her dissent to the ruling in Utah v. Strieff, which revolved on the matter of reasonable suspicion, Sotomayor cited James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, W.E.B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folks and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me to describe what’s it’s like to live in constant fear of “suspicionless stops” as a person of color.

“Although many Americans have been stopped for speeding or jaywalking, few may realize how degrading a stop can be when the officer is looking for more,” wrote Sotomayor. “This Court has allowed an officer to stop you for whatever reason he wants — so long as he can point to a pretextual justification after the fact.”

Sotomayor said the court’s ruling had essentially classified all Americans as inmates in the prison-industrial complex.

“By legitimizing the conduct that produces this double consciousness, this case tells everyone, white and black, guilty and innocent, that an officer can verify your legal status at any time,” Sotomayor wrote. “It says that your body is subject to invasion while courts excuse the violation of your rights. It implies that you are not a citizen of a democracy but the subject of a carceral state, just waiting to be cataloged.”

I’ve heard many people, conservatives and liberals alike, make the distinction between citizens and non-citizens when it comes to rights. They claim that one of the advantages of citizenship is that you enjoy the protection of the Bill of Rights. However, this ruling by the Supreme Court nullifies that claim because pesky things like warrants no longer need to be acquired before a search is performed. All a police officer needs to do is have a legal excuse for initiating an interaction with you and from there they can collect whatever evidence they want, legally or illegally, and it can be used against you in a trial.

This trend is nothing new though. Our so-called rights, which are really a set of temporary privileges, have been dwindling since ink was being applied to the paper that became the Constitution (the Constitution itself was nothing more than a power grab by the federal government). Every new law has been a further restriction to our freedoms. And while we’ve enjoyed a few scraps of freedom here and there they have paled in comparison to the freedoms we’ve lost. The United States has become a police state. Anybody who denies that is a fool.

Double Standards

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I think that there is already enough evidence to show that the Yanez trial wasn’t on the up and up. But there is yet another demonstration of this point. Before the case began state investigators attempted to collect every shred of information about both Castile and Reynolds. Warrants were issued for their cellphone records, social media posts, and even files stored on iCloud. However, the investigators didn’t perform nearly as rigorous of a search into Yanez’s history:

The search warrants offer a revealing glimpse at how authorities conducted the investigation in the initial days, and how thoroughly they looked into social media accounts and cellphone records after the shooting.

It is not unusual for police to try to find out anything they can about those involved in a case like this, said Michael Quinn, a retired Minneapolis police sergeant. “If you’re a prosecutor, you would want to know everything [defense attorneys] would know,” he said.

But he was perplexed that investigators didn’t do the same searches on Yanez.

“You would think they would want to know everything on him,” Quinn said.

BCA spokesman Bruce Gordon said Friday that the agency searched for Castile and Reynolds’ phone and social accounts because “it was important for us to obtain every image available that may have captured the incident, those events that led to it and those that immediately followed.”

He declined to say why the same wasn’t done for Yanez.

I’m guessing he declined to comment because the only thing he could have said was, “Professional courtesy.”

I’ve seen several people comment that the searches into Yanez’s records weren’t necessary because a thorough background check was performed on him when he joined the force. That claim doesn’t hold water though. First, if that were the case you would think that the spokesman for the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension would have said so. It would have been a straight forward enough reason. Second, the background check was performed int he past. A lot of time has passed since then. How do we know that Yanez didn’t say things online that could have brought his claim of fearing for his life into question?

Granted, this shouldn’t surprise anybody. The State protects its own (unless they cease to be useful means for its ends), which is why making use of its courts to hold it accountable is a fool’s errand. It’s also why cases the declare government employees, especially law enforcement officers, not guilty of crimes must be taken with a grain of salt.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 30th, 2017 at 10:30 am

Just a Few More Bad Apples

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It’s a day ending in “y” so it should come as no surprise that another story of law enforcer corruption has come to light:

Detective David March and officers Joseph Walsh and Thomas Gaffney face charges of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and official misconduct.

Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times by a white officer in 2014, sparking widespread protests across the city.
Prosecutors accuse the three men of lying in the shooting’s aftermath.

“The indictment makes clear that these defendants did more than merely obey an unofficial ‘code of silence,’ rather it alleges that they lied about what occurred to prevent independent criminal investigators from learning the truth,” Special Prosecutor Patricia Brown said in a statement on Tuesday.

Officer Jason Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder in 2015 after dashcam footage appeared to show him fatally shooting Mr McDonald as he moved away from officers, contradicting police accounts. He has pleaded not guilty.

According to the indictment, the three officers allegedly falsified reports and tried to conceal the events surrounding Mr McDonald’s death “to shield their fellow officer from criminal investigation”.

This illustrates the problem with the few bad apples theory that the law and order crowd constantly parrot. If there were only a few bad apples in law enforcement then the majority of good apples would be holding them accountable. But that’s not what happens. Instead the supposedly good apples remain silent or conspire to cover up the misdeeds of the bad apples, which makes them bad apples themselves.

Law enforcement’s issues are more than a handful of bad officers. Sure, maybe a handful of bad officers are the ones committing the most heinous crimes. But the law enforcement culture has the concept of the thin blue line. If you’re on the law enforcement side of that line then your brothers and sisters in law enforcement will stand besides you through almost anything. If you’re on the other side of that line you’re life is judged as being less valuable. So long as this culture remains the entire bushel of apples will remain rotten.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 30th, 2017 at 10:00 am

Reefer Madness

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Anybody who has watched Reefer Madness knows that marijuana can send people into psychotic rages. Take Officer Yanez, for example. One sniff of the devil’s weed made him go from a calm cop who was issuing a citation for a broken taillight to a hardened killer:

The officer who fatally shot Philando Castile during a traffic stop last year told investigators that the smell of “burnt marijuana” in Castile’s car made him believe his life was in danger.

Of course cannabis doesn’t send people into psychotic rages. It actually has quite the opposite effect. If Castile was being influenced by cannabis he was probably more compliant and relaxed than normal. Likewise, had Yanez toked up before hitting the road it’s possible that Castile would still be alive today.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 22nd, 2017 at 10:00 am

Dashcam Footage from Yanez Case Released

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Now that the jury has acquitted Officer Yanez of wrongdoing the dashcam footage from his cruiser has been publicly released:

The video is pretty damning. Officer Yanez pulled Castle over for a broken taillight. After handing the officer his papers Castile calmly informed Yanez that he was currently carrying a firearm. At first Yanez appears to be calm and tells Castlie not to reach for it. Almost immediately afterwards Yanez is drawing his firearm and screaming at Castile not to reach for it while he and his girlfriend scream that he’s not reaching for it. Then Yanez shoots Castile without any apparent regard for the child and girlfriend who were also in the car.

After that Yanez just stands there aiming his gun at the surviving occupants of the vehicle while screaming a few profanities. After a few minutes pass another squad car arrives. Unlike Yanez, those officers were decent enough to attempt to provide medical aid to Castile. Meanwhile Yanez was panicking or continuing to panic. He wasn’t even able to get his gun back into his holster.

The absolute best case scenario here is that Yanez panicked and gunned Castile down without cause. It really makes me wonder if the nine pages of instructions the jury received concluded with, “As you can see the law is written in such a way that an office who panics is not legally responsible for their actions and that’s why you must acquit Officer Yanez.”