A Geek With Guns

Discount security adviser to the proles.

Archive for the ‘Superdickery’ tag

Why Does The TSA Suck? It’s Your Fault You Stupid Slave!

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The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been receiving a lot of well deserved flak in recent months. Security theater lines have been growing and now the TSA recommends air travelers show up two hours early to ensure they get through. It reminds me of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). When wait times increase the agency doesn’t hire more staff or make its processes more efficient, it demands people take more time out of their day. This shouldn’t surprise anybody though. Nobody has the option of using a competitor to the TSA, DMV, or any other government agency so the agencies have no motivation to improve their service.

But the public is pissed, which means boring congressional hearings could be in the TSA’s future. Probably hoping to avoid going to yet another meeting where they have to pretend to pay attention while congress members pretend to provide oversight, the heads of the TSA are trying to find some reason for its failure that will satiate the public. I doubt the reason it’s giving will work though since it’s resorted to blaming everybody besides itself:

The comments reflect a statement released earlier this week after long lines were reported at Newark, JFK and LaGuardia airport security checkpoints. When asked about those long lines, the TSA essentially blamed you in a press release, specifically passengers who bring too many carry-on items:

There are several factors that have caused checkpoint lines to take longer to screen passengers… including more people traveling with carry-on bags, in many cases bringing more than the airline industry standard of one carry-on bag and one personal item per traveler;

Passenger preparedness can have a significant impact on wait times at security checkpoints nationwide…Individuals who come to the TSA checkpoint unprepared for a trip can have a negative impact on the time it takes to complete the screening process.”

Not surprisingly, it’s also blaming air passengers for not paying the agency its desired extortion fee:

In the past three years, the TSA and Congress cut the number of front-line screeners by 4,622 — or about 10 percent — on expectations that an expedited screening program called PreCheck would speed up the lines. However, not enough people enrolled for TSA to realize the anticipated efficiencies.

Perhaps the TSA should look inward. One of the biggest contributing factors to the length of security theater lines is likely the agency’s inconsistency. If you know what you have to do when you reach the checkpoint you can prepare ahead of time. For example, you might untie or entirely remove your shoes and take off your belt. You might also remove your liquids and laptop from your bags. When you arrive at the actual checkpoint you can efficiently put everything through the x-ray machine, opt out of the slave scanner, and be through as quickly as possible. But you can’t prepare yourself ahead of the checkpoint because you have no idea what you’ll be expected to do until some idiot with a badge is barking order at you.

If PreCheck is supposed to help reduce wait times and the TSA is actually committed to reducing wait times the agency should make the program free. That would encourage more people to sign up for it. You can tell that the program is more about extorting the public than making wait times shorter but the simple fact that PreCheck isn’t free (and since the TSA is a government agency it doesn’t have to concern itself with making a profit so making the program free isn’t a big deal).

Businesses know that the customer is usually right. A private security provider knows that absurdly long wait times in line will reflect negatively on the venue that hired them, which may hinder their chances of getting another contract in the future. Because of that they are more motivated to make the screening process as efficient as possible. They don’t tell an angry venue owner that the wait times are due to the incompetence of the customers because that excuse isn’t going to fly. But the government doesn’t have customers, it citizens (which is a fancy term for people being preyed on by the State). That being the case, it has no problem blaming its own failures on its citizens.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 18th, 2016 at 11:00 am

The Ignorant Stupidity That Is America

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They say ignorance makes people fearful. If that’s the case the United States must be one of the most ignorant countries on Earth. People here in the United States like to talk a big game but it seems like most of them are scared of their own shadows. This is made most obvious when people fight against any attempt to defang the State. If you mention cutting military or law enforcement budgets you’ll suddenly find yourself surrounded by people saying, “But then the child molesting hacker terrorists will get us!”

This fear has becoming especially ridiculous amongst airline passengers. 15 years after 9/11 and airline passengers are still seeing terrorists in every seat. Does the person next to you speak a language that sounds Middle Easter? They’re a terrorist! Is the person next to you writing Arabic numerals? They’re also a terrorist:

Menzio said he was flying from Philadelphia to Syracuse on Thursday night and was solving a differential equation related to a speech he was set to give at Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada. He said the woman sitting next to him passed a note to a flight attendant and the plane headed back to the gate. Menzio, who is Italian and has curly, dark hair, said the pilot then asked for a word and he was questioned by an official.

“I thought they were trying to get clues about her illness,” he told The Associated Press in an email. “Instead, they tell me that the woman was concerned that I was a terrorist because I was writing strage things on a pad of paper.”

I guess the should have used Roman numerals. In all seriousness though, the fact that the woman sitting next to him saw a terrorist when she couldn’t make sense of what he was writing shows just how fearful this society has become. It’s even more absurd that the flight attendant who she passed the note to didn’t ignore the concern outright. Without any evidence the flight attendant called the badged men with guns to the plane to harass a passenger. Further adding to the absurdity was the security guards not dismissing the call for lack of evidence. But they were likely afraid of losing their jobs if the reporting passenger or flight attendant told the press that they reported a suspected terrorist and the security team failed to respond. And the media would certainly take the angle of lazy security guards putting passengers at risk of a terrorist attack over the angle of the security team acting in a reasonable manner when no evidence of wrongdoing is presented.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 17th, 2016 at 10:30 am

Fear Is The Last Refuge Of A Scoundrel

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Stingray is a product name for an IMSI-catcher popular amongst law enforcers. Despite the devices being trivial enough that anybody can build one for $1,500, law enforcers have been desperate to keep the devices a secret. The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), for example, would rather throw out cases than disclose its Stingray usage.

Here in Minnesota law enforcers are also busy keeping tight wraps on Stingray usage:

A Fox 9 Investigation has revealed that tracking warrants for a surveillance device called StingRay have routinely been kept sealed, despite a law requiring them to become public with 90 days.

The StingRay device is used by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension about 60 times a year, said BCA Superintendent Drew Evans. Hennepin County Sheriff also had a StingRay, but a spokesperson said they discontinued it after using it only four times.

Why the secrecy? If you were expecting a detailed legal defense you’re going to be left wanting. The only defense law enforcers can muster is fear. Whenever a law enforcement department is pressed about the secrecy of Stingray devices they respond with the scariest case they can think of that involved the device

“This technology has been absolutely critical in locating some of Minnesota’s most violent criminals, more quickly than we ever were before,” Evans said.

Photo State of surveillance: StingRay warrants sealed despite changes in Minnesota law
Law enforcement used the technology last month when a disgruntled client allegedly gunned down a clerk at a St. Paul law firm and then went on the run. Police had the suspect’s cell phone and tracked him down.

[…]

“Just this week we were able to locate a level 3 sexual offender that was non-compliant, a suspect in a series of serial rapes, and a homicide suspect, this week alone,” he explained.

This usually satisfies journalists and the general public but shouldn’t. Whenever a law enforcer brings up a scary case where they used a Stingray device the immediate response should be, “So what?”

So what if the devices were used in secrecy to find a suspected murderer or a level three sex offender? Will these devices suddenly cease working if they’re subjected to the same oversight as any other law enforcement technology? Will they power off forever the minute a warrant is unsealed? No.

Law enforcers have no legal justification for keeping these devices secret, which is why they’re resorting to fear tactics. The question everybody should be asking is why they’re so desperate to keep these devices in the shadows. I theorize that there is a known weakness in the technology that would make them potentially inadmissible in court. What other reason could there be to go so far as to throw out individual cases rather than unseal warrants and release technical details about the devices? It’s not like the devices are a novel technology that nobody knows how to make or defend against.

Traditional Cigarette Industry Finally Receives The Protection It Paid For

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E-cigs have become a tremendous problem for traditional cigarette manufacturers. Like traditional cigarettes, e-cigs deliver the nicotine people want. Unlike traditional cigarettes, e-cigs don’t include the massive list of harmful additional materials. Not only is vaping healthier, it’s cheaper to boot. There is also a taboo around smoking these days whereas vaping is seen as the new cool thing to do. These benefits are allowing the e-cig industry to eat the traditional cigarette industry’s lunch.

What’s the last refuge of a dying industry? The State, of course. Fortunately, for the traditional tobacco industry, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is stepping in to stomp down the blossoming e-cig industry:

As the debate over the health risks of e-cigarettes rages on, the FDA is stepping in to “improve public health and protect future generations.” To do that, the US government will regulate e-cigs and vaping gear like it does any other tobacco product. Until now, these products haven’t been subject to government oversight. With the FDA’s changes, the federal law that already forbids tobacco sales to people under 18 will now apply to vaping as well. Sure, this age limit was already being enforced in some places, but this more formal announcement makes it a nation-wide law.

What’s more, vaping products will be subject to the same regulations in terms of packaging and production. Manufacturers will have to register with the FDA and provide a list of products to the agency. Companies will also be required to disclose ingredients, including any harmful or potentially harmful substances, and they’ll have to get approval before putting new tobacco products on the market. In terms of packaging and advertising, e-cigarette and vaping products must also feature a health warning label — just like the brands selling regular cigarettes.

There’s nothing as fun as good old protectionism. The e-cig market has thrived because the lack of government regulations allows new entrepreneurs to enter the market with little startup capital. Since the e-cig industry is fairly new and the products are highly customizable there is a lot of room for new, innovative entrepreneurs. By putting e-cigs in regulatory parity with traditional cigarettes the FDA has ensured that innovation within the industry will drop and that the entire industry will slowly be monopolized into a handful of large companies.

The slowdown in innovation, restrictions from advertising, and other regulatory burdens will allow traditional cigarette companies to stand a good chance of competing successfully again.

“But Chris,” I hear somebody say, “what about the longterm health effects of e-cigs?” To that I say, what about them? All of the concerns about health effects are unrealized at this point so they can’t even been addressed. Entirely hypothetical threats are not a good foundation for policies. Besides, what a person puts into their body is their own business regardless of health side effects. To quote Ludwig von Mises, “If a man drinks wine and not water I cannot say he is acting irrationally. At most I can say that in his place I would not do so. But his pursuit of happiness is his own business, not mine.” If you want to inject some krokodil into your eyeball, inject some heroine between your toes, and vape all at the same time that should be your right.

There is no sound reason for the FDA’s declaration here except to provide the traditional cigarette companies the protections they paid, err, lobbied for.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 10th, 2016 at 10:30 am

The War Against Privacy

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If you read the erroneously named Bill of Rights (which is really a list of privileges, most of which have been revoked) you might be left with the mistaken impression that you have a right to privacy against the State. From the National Security Administration’s (NSA) dragnet surveillance to local police departments using cell phone interceptors, the State has been very busy proving this wrong. Not to be outdone by the law enforcement branches, the courts have been working hard to erode your privacy as well. The most recent instance of this is a proposed procedural change:

The Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure set the ground rules for federal criminal prosecutions. The rules cover everything from correcting clerical errors in a judgment to which holidays a court will be closed on—all the day-to-day procedural details that come with running a judicial system.

The key word here is “procedural.” By law, the rules and proposals are supposed to be procedural and must not change substantive rights.

[…]

But the amendment to Rule 41 isn’t procedural at all. It creates new avenues for government hacking that were never approved by Congress.

The proposal would grant a judge the ability to issue a warrant to remotely access, search, seize, or copy data when “the district where the media or information is located has been concealed through technological means” or when the media are on protected computers that have been “damaged without authorization and are located in five or more districts.” It would grant this authority to any judge in any district where activities related to the crime may have occurred.

In layman’s terms the change will grant judges the ability to authorize law enforcers to hack into any computer using Tor, I2P, a virtual private network (VPN), or any other method of protecting one’s privacy (the wording is quite vague and a good lawyer could probably stretch it to include individuals using a public Wi-Fi access point in a restaurant). The point being made with this rule proposal is clear, the State doesn’t believe you have any right to protect your privacy.

This should come as no surprise to anybody though. The State has long held that your right to privacy stops where its nosiness begins. You’re not allowed to legally possess funds the State isn’t aware of (financial reporting laws exist to enforce this), manufacture and sell firearms the State isn’t aware of, or be a human being the State isn’t aware of (registering newborn children for Social Security and requiring anybody entering or leaving the country to provide notice and receive approval from the State).

Perpetual Prison

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A man is sent to prison. He stays his time. After being released he’s required to fulfill additional stipulations. Due to financial restrictions, which isn’t an uncommon restrictions for people getting out of a cage, he is unable to fulfill those stipulations. As a result he’s sentenced again and returns to prison.

What I’ve described is effectively a way for the State to imprison somebody for life for any crime. Jonathan Earl Brown probably isn’t most people’s idea of an upstanding person. He, at 26 years-old, was caught in bed with a 15 year-old girl. He was then sentenced to prison. It would be easy to toss him aside but justice is supposed to be blind so the situation he finds himself in should be analyzed separately from his person. And his situation is what I described in the opening paragraph:

After serving nearly two years for criminal sexual contact with a minor, Brown, 26, enrolled at Minneapolis Community and Technical College and began searching for a stable job and a place to live.

But just four months into his probation, Brown was sent back to prison. His offense: failing to enter sex offender treatment that he could not afford.

Attorneys and therapists say his case has exposed a major gap in Minnesota’s system of treatment for the nearly 1,600 convicted sex offenders who live under supervision in the community after leaving prison.

In Minnesota, sex offenders are often ordered by local judges to pay for their own treatment as a condition of probation. Yet many walk out of prison too broke to afford the co-payments. Brown was homeless, jobless and so destitute that his probation officer suggested he sell his blood to cover his $42 co-payment, court records show.

Last month a state appeals court panel upheld the revocation of Brown’s probation, triggering denunciations by prisoner advocates and public defenders.

People often like to bring up the recidivism rate amongst sentenced criminals as evidence that criminal behavior is something inherent in certain individuals. What is often ignored is the almost insurmountable odds many criminals face when they get out of prison. Prison sentences are supposed to be a means in which criminals can repay their debt to society (it’s a nonsense collectivist ideal since one cannot owe anything to an abstract idea such as society, but bear with me). Once that debt is repaid they’re supposedly free to return to their life. But most people who have served a prison sentence come out penniless and have few, if any, prospects for a job.

When you have nothing to survive on and you’re effectively blacklisted from legitimate work what are you supposed to do? Is it not feasible that many people who have been sentenced for a crime end up reverting to their previous criminal activity, such as drug dealing, because they have no other prospects?

Now imagine somebody like Brown who not only has nothing to survive on but must meet financial obligations just to remain outside of the State’s cages. He’s being required to fulfill criteria that he cannot fulfill and is being punished for it. Is this justice? If so, what’s to stop a judge from perpetually returning somebody to prison by knowingly placing an unmeetable probational burden on them?

Written by Christopher Burg

May 6th, 2016 at 10:00 am

An Ancient Historical Lesson Repeats Itself

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What happens when a government hands weapons to men and trains them to kill? It establishes a military. What happens when the same government ceases to pay this new military? The military uses its weapons and skills to prey on defenseless people:

The situation in Venezuela has become so bad that even soldiers are struggling to support themselves.

Over the weekend, six members of the Venezuelan military were detained by local authorities for stealing goats, the Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional reported Sunday. It said the soldiers confessed to stealing the goats and said they did it to feed themselves, since they had no food left in their barracks.

“It’s not a good sign when your military doesn’t have enough food, and when the military has been relegated to guarding and protecting food lines,” said Jason Marczak, director of the Latin America Economic Growth Initiative at the Atlantic Council. “This is endemic of the problems going on across the country.”

If you’re a student of history you’ve probably read about this happening numerous times. It shouldn’t be surprising either. The primary skill of a soldier is using force. That is, after all, their job. When they suddenly find themselves impoverished and starving they use the skills they have at hand to do what they believe is necessary to survive.

A notable difference between professional militaries and militias is that the latter are generally employed in another field and only act as soldiers temporarily. Since they’re not reliant on the government for the entirety of their income they have other skills to fall back on if the government stops paying soldiers. Professional soldiers, on the other hand, often lack other skills as well as experience in operating in a market. When they stop receiving a paycheck they, like a militia member, rely on the skills they have. The difference is the skills of a militia member are often honed in a market environment whereas the skills of a professional soldier are not.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 5th, 2016 at 10:00 am

Government Incompetence Saves Us All

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Conservatives always tell me that they want a competent government. The worst thing that could happen to a government is if it became competent. Today people around the world enjoy incompetent governments, which means their random decrees are not nearly as consequential as they could be:

A Brazilian judge has ordered (Google Translate) that all mobile phone providers in the country block WhatsApp traffic for 72 hours, beginning yesterday.

However, Brazilians are discovering that the ban only covers mobile carriers—so Brazilians still can use WhatsApp over Wi-Fi or a VPN connection over their mobile data plan.

Imagine if Brazil’s government was competent. The entire country could have been cutoff from a very popular means of communicating securely.

I’m a fan of incompetent government. So long as a government cannot effectively enforce the decrees it issues the amount of damage it can cause is limited (when compared to what the damage could be, I’m not claiming the damage is usually minor).

Written by Christopher Burg

May 4th, 2016 at 10:00 am

Government Oversight

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Every time the government initiates another secret program some boot licking apologist excuses it as necessary to fight the enemies of America. After all, our wise benefactors put safety measure in place so these secret programs aren’t abused!

Except those safety measures don’t stop anything:

The secretive U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court did not deny a single government request in 2015 for electronic surveillance orders granted for foreign intelligence purposes, continuing a longstanding trend, a Justice Department document showed.

The court received 1,457 requests last year on behalf of the National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation for authority to intercept communications, including email and phone calls, according to a Justice Department memo sent to leaders of relevant congressional committees on Friday and seen by Reuters. The court did not reject any of the applications in whole or in part, the memo showed.

1,457 requests and not a single denial? Either the National Security Agency (NSA) and Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) are exceedingly cautious in with their requests or the court serves as a rubber stamp, not a check against abuse. Considering the history of both agencies I think it’s pretty safe to say the court is just a rubber stamp.

This is when some boot licker will tell me, “You don’t know that for sure, Chris!” And they’re right, which is the problem with secret programs. Everything takes place behind an iron curtain so the public has no way to verify if the program is being abused. What we do know is the lack of transparency creates an environment for abuse so even if a secret program isn’t currently being abused it will attract people who wish to abuse it.

The Problem With Statutory Laws

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Statutory law, like democracy, is often erroneously held up as a feature of truly great societies. The problem with statutory law is that it’s based on the belief that the decrees of legislators and the rulings of judges are justice. But justice is about righting a wrong as much as possible and statutory law often fails miserably at this. Consider the recent rape case in Oklahoma:

The case involved allegations that a 17-year-old boy assaulted a girl, 16, after volunteering to give her a ride home. The two had been drinking in a Tulsa park with a group of friends when it became clear that the girl was badly intoxicated. Witnesses recalled that she had to be carried into the defendant’s car. Another boy, who briefly rode in the car, recalled her coming in and out of consciousness.

The boy later brought the girl to her grandmother’s house. Still unconscious, the girl was taken to a hospital, where a test put her blood alcohol content above .34. She awoke as staff were conducting a sexual assault examination.

Tests would later confirm that the young man’s DNA was found on the back of her leg and around her mouth. The boy claimed to investigators that the girl had consented to performing oral sex. The girl said she didn’t have any memories after leaving the park. Tulsa County prosecutors charged the young man with forcible oral sodomy.

[…]

But the trial judge dismissed the case. And the appeals court ruling, on 24 March, affirmed that prosecutors could not apply the law to a victim who was incapacitated by alcohol.

“Forcible sodomy cannot occur where a victim is so intoxicated as to be completely unconscious at the time of the sexual act of oral copulation,” the decision read. Its reasoning, the court said, was that the statute listed several circumstances that constitute force, and yet was silent on incapacitation due to the victim drinking alcohol. “We will not, in order to justify prosecution of a person for an offense, enlarge a statute beyond the fair meaning of its language.”

According to the judge’s interpretation of the law a woman who is so intoxicated that she has been render unconscious cannot be forcibly sodomized. And Oklahoma’s law very well might be written in that way, which is the problem.

This case should be focusing on the wrong that was performed and the best way to correct that wrong as far as possible. In any sane justice system that would be the focus. The question of whether a person can consent if they’re not in a sound state of mind, for example, would probably be explored if the focus was on the wrong. Most people would likely agree that a person who is so drunk that they’ve passed out cannot consent to a legal control, let alone sex.

But under statutory law the focus isn’t the wrong but on what was written by legislators and ruled by other judges.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 30th, 2016 at 10:30 am