A Geek With Guns

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Archive for the ‘Politics’ tag

Berning The Middle East Down

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One thing that marks this presidential election is the complete absence of a mainstream anti-war candidate. In 2008 and 2012 Ron Paul was the predominant anti-war candidate for the Republicans and Obama pretended to be anti-war in his 2008 campaign. But this year not a single major candidate is even pretending to be anti-war. When I point this out somebody inevitably brings up Bernie Sanders but even he isn’t hiding his murderous desires:

QUESTION: Senator Sanders, you said that you think that the U.S. airstrikes are authorized under current law, but does that mean that the U.S. military can lawfully strike ISIS-affiliated groups in any country around the world?

SANDERS: No, it does not mean that. I hope, by the way, that we will have an authorization passed by the Congress, and I am prepared to support that authorization if it is tight enough so I am satisfied that we do not get into a never-ending perpetual war in the Middle East. That I will do everything I can to avoid.

(APPLAUSE)

But the President, no President, has the ability willy-nilly to be dropping bombs or using drones any place he wants.

HAYES: The current authorization which you cite in what Miguel just quoted which is the authorization to use military force after 9/11. That has led to the kill list. This President — literally, there is a kill list. There is a list of people that the U.S. government wants to kill, and it goes about doing it. Would you keep the kill list as President of the United States?

SANDERS: Look. Terrorism is a very serious issue. There are people out there who want to kill Americans, who want to attack this country, and I think we have a lot of right to defend ourselves. I think as Miguel said, though, it has to be done in a constitutional, legal way.

HAYES: Do you think what’s being done now is constitutional and legal?

SANDERS: In general I do, yes.

So he’s hoping, as president, he’ll receive authorization to continue doing what Bush and Obama have already been doing. But even more concerning is his support of the kill list.

I’ve discussed the kill list several times but I’ll summarize the problem with it for the benefit of newer readers. The names that appear on the kill list aren’t people who have been found guilty through due process. In fact we only know a little bit about the secret criteria used to justify adding names to the list and that information only came from an unauthorized leak. Sanders believes murdering foreigners without due process is both constitutional and legal.

To put this as diplomatically as I can, fuck Sanders. Anybody who claims he’s an anti-war candidate is either a liar or ignorant.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 28th, 2016 at 10:00 am

Banning The Boogeyman

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Does the boogeyman exist? Most people would say he doesn’t. But some might point out that there’s no way to prove with absolute certainty that he doesn’t exist. Technically that would be a true statement. However, few people would change the way they live their lives based on the infinitesimal possibility that the boogeyman may exist.

The arguments in favor of these bathroom restriction bills sounds an awful lot like arguments in favor of creating laws to ban the boogeyman. Most of the arguments in favor of these bills are based on the hypothetical threat that a cisgender male will pretend to be a transwoman to gain entry into the women’s restroom for the purpose of committing sexual assault.

I call the threat hypothetical because there hasn’t been a notable number of such crimes being perpetrated. In fact I’ve only found one instance of such a crime and it occurred in Canada and only after this debate started making headlines (which is important to note because it’s quite possible the perpetrator wouldn’t have attempted to use such an excuse had the politicians not been waging this war). That’s two less incidents than the number of Republicans arrested for misconduct in bathrooms.

The arguments in favor of these bathroom bills are no more valid than arguments in favor of passing legislation to ban the boogeyman. Both are built on a foundation of unfounded fear mongering.

What gets me is the hypocrisy of some of the proponents of these bills. Some of the people supporting these bathroom bills on the grounds of a hypothetical threat were also the ones arguing against restricting people from carrying firearms on the grounds that the anti-gunners’ hypothetical threats were never been realized. If hypothetical threats aren’t a valid foundation to build laws off of for one thing then they shouldn’t be valid for anything.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 21st, 2016 at 10:30 am

The Only Argument In Favor Of A Cruz Nomination

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I find almost nothing redeemable about Ted Cruz. The same goes for his competitors — and his party — and the opposing party — and its candidates. But somebody has finally given a valid reason to support Cruz as the Republican nominee:

Just when it seems that Rep. Peter King must have exhausted his venom for Ted Cruz, he fires off another poisoned dart.

“I hate Ted Cruz, and I think I’ll take cyanide if he ever got the nomination,” the New York Republican told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Tuesday, as voters prepared to cast ballots in the state’s primary.

I admit that the thought of Peter King voluntarily consuming cyanide fills my heart with joy.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 20th, 2016 at 11:00 am

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Loyalty To The Party

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Politics is a necessarily collectivist activity. This is why I find the Libertarian Party amusing. Admittedly, of all the political parties out there — with the exception of the Guns and Dope Party — I hate the Libertarian Party the least. But the fact that it must constantly be at odds with itself makes for some top tier comedy.

I was at the Minnesota Libertarian Party Convention this weekend, helping run the Agorist Suite (I wasn’t part of the convention itself outside of giving a security talk), and the topic of John McAfee stating he would not vote for Gary Johnson came up a few times. What I found most interesting is that a lot of libertarians were very upside by McAfee’s statement. Apparently the most important aspect of being a Libertarian Party candidate is loyalty to the party.

These are the kinds of collectivist traps one finds themselves in when claiming to be an individualist but participating in the political process. McAfee’s personal choice to not support Gary Johnson shouldn’t be an issue. He shouldn’t be expected to provide active support to a party that nominates a candidate he doesn’t approve of. Yet his announcement is being treated like high treason by some. Many have even said his statement has convinced them not to support him any longer.

One of the reasons I don’t involve myself in the political process is because I’m not willing to set aside my individualist principles. If somebody says they won’t support a party because of personal objections I’m not willing to harangue them over it. In fact such an action would demonstrate to me that the person is more of an individualist than the people criticizing them.

I can’t help but doubt the feasibility of any means the requires compromising expressed philosophical beliefs.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 20th, 2016 at 10:30 am

Religious Freedom*

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Mississippi recently passed House Bill 1523 [PDF] into law. The bill was described by its proponents as legislation to protect religious freedom by prohibiting the government from discriminating against actions performed due to strong religious convictions. What the proponents of the bill forgot to mention was the giant asterisk that noted the restrictions. House Bill 1523 only protects your religious freedom as long as you believe the right things:

SECTION 2. The sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions protected by this act are the belief or conviction that:

(a) Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman;

(b) Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and

(c) Male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.

If your religious beliefs our outside of those three criteria this bill does not protect them. For example, members of the Church of the Phenomenological Agorist hold a strong moral conviction that participation in the black market is not only righteous but a holy duty. Even though black market participation is a strongly held moral conviction the government will still ruthlessly pursue discriminatory action against them.

Do your religious beliefs acknowledge polygamy? If so those beliefs actually directly go against this bill since it only protects beliefs that acknowledge marriage as a union of one man and one woman. Don’t like it? Tough shit. You should have chosen a governmentally protected religion.

So long as you believe one of the three approved beliefs the government of Mississippi will not prosecute you for refusing to perform a wedding or bake a cake nor will it prosecute you for enforcing bathroom assignments. It will not restrain itself from prosecuting you for, for example, refusing service to police officers, something the Church of the Phenomenological Agorist strongly encourages, or people who discriminate against polygamous families.

This bill isn’t about religious freedom, it’s about religious discrimination. It creates two tiers for religions: those that subscribe to the beliefs specifically noted in the bill and those that do not. Members of religions in the first tier receive special treatment from the Mississippi government. Members of all other religions have to suffer the full brunt of the government’s boot stomping down on their faces.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 7th, 2016 at 11:00 am

For Statists The Only Response Is Attacking Individual Freedom

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When a problem, perceived or real, arises there is only one response for statists: attacking individual freedom. As I noted last week, the knowledge that the Paris attackers used burner phones instead of encrypted communications would likely inspire useless legislation aimed at prohibiting burner phones. Jackie Speier seems hellbent on proving me right because she has introduced legislation to do exactly that:

Congresswoman Jackie Speier, a Democrat representing California’s 14th district, has introduced a the “Closing the Pre-Paid Mobile Device Security Gap Act of 2016,” or HR 4886, which will require people who purchase a prepaid device to provide proper identification.

“This bill would close one of the most significant gaps in our ability to track and prevent acts of terror, drug trafficking, and modern-day slavery,” Speier said in a blog post. “The ‘burner phone’ loophole is an egregious gap in our legal framework that allows actors like the 9/11 hijackers and the Times Square bomber to evade law enforcement while they plot to take innocent lives. The Paris attackers also used ‘burner phones.’ As we’ve seen so vividly over the past few days, we cannot afford to take these kinds of risks. It’s time to close this ‘burner phone’ loophole for good.”

Regardless of Speier’s claims, burner phones are not a significant gap in the State’s ability to prevent acts of terror, drug trafficking, or modern-day slavery. Setting aside the fact that most acts of terror, negative aspects of drug trafficking, and modern-day slavery are created by the State, we’re still left having to accept the fact that pervasive communication technology has rendered any ability to control communications practically impossible.

Burner phones are just one method of communicating in a way that’s difficult to surveil. The same effect can be achieved with cloned subscriber identity module (SIM) cards. Furthermore, registrations are easy to bypass. The firearm community is well aware of the term straw purchase. It’s a term that describes having somebody who isn’t prohibited from purchasing firearms to purchase one for somebody who is prohibited. By having somebody else purchase a phone for you you can avoid having that phone tied to your person. Getting somebody to purchase a cell phone for you would be even easier than a firearm since few people see a cell phone as a destructive device. There is also the fact that burner phones from overseas can be smuggled into the country and sold for cash.

Legislation aimed at prohibiting something only accomplish one thing: creating a black market. Not a single piece of legislation aimed at prohibiting something has been successful. This bill will be no different.

Let’s Talk About Privacy Rights

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It was bound to happen sooner or later. The Republican lawmakers’ obsession with bathrooms has made its way to Minnesota. Senators Scott Newman, Dan Hall, Dave Thompson, Michelle Benson, and Paul Gazelka introduced a bill to mandate discrimination against transgender individuals:

Republicans in the Minnesota Senate introduced a bill on Friday that would block businesses and other employers from providing gender-neutral restrooms or from enacting policies that allow transgender employees to use appropriate restrooms. Senate File 3002 amends the 1993 Minnesota Human Rights Act — the nation’s first nondiscrimination law to include gender identity.

The bill starts with a specious definition of “sex.” It states, “A person’s sex is either male or female as biologically defined.” The bill does not mention people who fall outside the male-female binary such as those who are intersex, nor those whose sex designations have been legally changed under Minnesota law.

Why do these particular lawmakers feel qualified to define sex? Hell if I know. They probably believe democracy carries some kind of magical power that grants otherwise unremarkable individuals divine knowledge. Either way, their delusions of grandeur are only one absurdity amongst many in this case. Another absurdity is the justification given in the bill for its existence:

No claim of nontraditional identity or “sexual orientation” may override another person’s right of privacy based on biological sex in such facilities as restrooms, locker rooms, dressing rooms, and other similar places, which shall remain reserved for males or females as they are biologically defined.

Emphasis mine. Let’s discuss what a right to privacy is. A right, as it pertains to legal matters, is something that cannot be prohibited by the government. When somebody says you have a right to free speech they mean the government cannot prohibit you from saying something. When somebody says you have a right to a jury trail they mean the government cannot bar you from having a jury trail when it has accused you of a crime. When somebody says you have a right to privacy they mean the government cannot violate your privacy.

A right to privacy in a restroom, lock room, dressing room, or other similar facility means the government cannot surveil you in those facilities. That’s it. Since this bill has nothing to do with government surveillance in these facilities it also as no business arguing that its preserving a right to privacy.

In fact this bill would be a violation of privacy rights. How can a bill restricting what bathrooms transgender individuals can use be enforced? First, the enforcers have to identify transgender individuals. That would require looking through every individuals’ medical records. Second, the enforcers must surveil bathrooms so it can catch anybody violating the restriction. Since victimless violations of the law such at this one have no injured parties the only way to enforce them is through surveillance. That necessarily requires the government to violate everybody’s privacy.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 24th, 2016 at 10:30 am

Cruzing The Ghetto

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The attack in Brussels is only happened a few days. That means there hasn’t been enough time for a serious investigation. But that isn’t stopping people from playing the blame game. Wild speculations are being thrown about everywhere but I think Ted Cruz managed to become king of the asshole mountain:

After repeating his standard campaign-trail assertion that Barack Obama has failed to confront – or even properly identify – “radical Islamic terrorists”, he called for the US to stop admitting refugees from areas with a so-called Islamic State or al-Qaeda presence.

He then turned his attention to the home front.

“We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighbourhoods before they become radicalised,” he said.

Cruz is always looking to make government smaller and more efficient. Whereas Franklin Roosevelt built expensive concentration camps to hold American citizens of Japanese decent, Cruz wants to use the cheaper option of simply turning Muslim neighborhoods into little Warsaw Ghettos.

Since Cruz stylizes himself as an individualist his proposal is ironic. Collective punishment, as the name denotes, is an entirely collectivist ideal. By saying Muslim neighborhoods must be patrolled Cruz is stating that he believes all Muslims shared responsibility for the action of the bombers in Brussels. That’s the exact opposite of individualism, which only holds the individuals directly responsible for crimes responsible (because they were the only ones responsible).

If turning Muslim neighborhoods into ghettos isn’t the proper response to these attacks, what is? As much as people hate to hear it the only proper response is to have patients. Nothing can be accomplished until a thorough investigation has been performed and the evidence has been analyzed. Until the investigation has concluded anything we hear will be speculative or preliminary in nature. Once the investigation has concluded we can consider methods of mitigating future attacks like this. Unfortunately it will be impossible to bring those responsible for these attacks to justice since they killed themselves. But we can use the information gathered by investigators to make future attacks like this harder to pull off (of course, since the government will claim a monopoly on implementing countermeasures, we’ll probably just get an expansion of the police state instead of effective methods of guarding against these kinds of attacks).

Written by Christopher Burg

March 24th, 2016 at 10:00 am

Property Taxes Encourage Gentrification

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Property taxes are often used by municipal governments to raise funds for the services they’ve monopolized. These services include paychecks for municipal employees, which often includes the very people who voted to implement the current property tax rates.

Because property taxes are used to fund municipal services they’re also a popular topic for political do-gooders. Whenever a perceived blight on the city arises; whether it be homelessness, crime, or environmental issues; the do-gooders demand the property taxes be raised to fund programs to alleviate the blight. Oftentimes these do-gooders are also the same people who complain about gentrification. As politics tends to do, this creates a vicious cycle that leads people to be at odds with themselves.

The very property taxes that fund municipal services are also an incentive for municipal governments to gentrify entire neighborhoods. Gentrification, after all, leads to an increase in property taxes since older, lower-valued properties are replaced with newer, higher-valued properties. Together a few home built in the 1940s tend to have a much lower property value than a single high-density apartment complex. Since property taxes are almost always tied to the value of a property a municipal government can make more money off of the high-density apartment complex than the old homes.

As the number of municipal services increases the number of city employees also increases. That means a larger and larger block of municipal voters are dependent on the rate of property taxes. Furthermore, municipal employees, like every other kind of employee, want to see their pay increase over time. Since politicians tend to want to stay in office instead of finding meaningful employment they have a vested interest in pandering to the majority of voters. How can members of a city council promise municipal employees that their jobs won’t go away and that they’ll get their desired raises? By raising property taxes, of course. As an added benefit the increase in property taxes allows the members of the city council to increase their pay as well.

I’m sure you can see the vicious cycle that forms from this. Wanting to increase the amount of money brought in by property taxes, the municipal governments continue to implement programs that encourage lower-valued property be replaced by higher-valued properties. As these programs fulfill their intended goal the number of properties affordable by poorer individuals continues to decrease. In effect property taxes, instead of being a form of relief for the poor, create a cycle that incentivizes municipal governments to push the poor out of the city.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 23rd, 2016 at 11:00 am

Obama To South By Southwest: Fuck Your Privacy

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I normally don’t follow South by Southwest too much but when Obama takes the stage to talk about privacy I can’t help but take note. Unfortunately his speech wasn’t surprising. It could be summed up as fuck your privacy:

President Barack Obama called on the tech community to build a safe encryption key to assist in law enforcement investigations, saying that if it failed, it could one day face a more draconian solution passed by a Congress that is less sympathetic to its worldview. The president said he could not comment on the FBI’s current fight with Apple over its demand that the company build software to unlock data on an iPhone used by one of the alleged San Bernardino shooters. But he spoke broadly about the need to balance privacy and security, and warned that absolutist views on both sides are dangerous.

Balance, in the case of privacy and security, means people like you and me get shitty crypto that the government, and anybody else with the master key, can break while the government gets to enjoy crypto we can’t break.

Obama warned against an absolutist view but crypto belongs to one of those very few things in the universe that is either black or white. There is no gray. Crypto is either effective, that is to say it has no known methods of attack that are faster than brute force, or it is ineffective. I’ve written extensively on this blog as to why this is.

The biggest problem with a master key is that anybody who holds that key can decrypt any data encrypted with a scheme that key can work for. If every iPhone was setup to decrypt the data with the government’s master key it would only be a matter of time, probably an alarmingly short period of time, before the key was leaked to the Internet and everybody in the world had the ability to decrypt any iPhone at will.

So we need an absolutist view because it’s the only view that offers any amount of security. But Obama heads one of the largest surveillance states in the world so it’s no surprise that he holds a total disregard for the security of us little people.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 14th, 2016 at 10:30 am