Archive for the ‘Reason’ Category

Interesting Links: July 30, 2015

July 30, 2015 Leave a comment

Here are links to a few interesting news articles I came across today. They all show that problems with the “law and order” system in the USA are too deep-rooted and systemic to fix via any sort of reform.

Link 1: The Drug War Is Creating Problems Too Big To Fix

David Colarusso, a public defender turned data scientist, has a fascinating post at Law Technology Today describing the many issues arising from the abusive activities of a single chemist at the Massachusetts state drug lab. The starting point of his post — and his problems — trace back a few years.In 2012, it was discovered that a chemist working at the Massachusetts state drug lab in Jamaica Plain had been falsifying drug tests (e.g., claiming that samples contained narcotics without testing them and even adding cocaine to samples to get a positive result when prior testing came back negative). She had worked at the lab for nearly a decade, and these revelations called into question the outcomes in tens of thousands of cases.

Obviously, this sort of tampering means there are convictions waiting to be overturned. But two years later, little progress has been made. It isn’t that the state is obstructing efforts to make the falsely-convicted whole again (there may be some of that, but Colarusso’s post doesn’t indicate there is), but that nearly a decade’s-worth of bogus lab work potentially infects thousands of convictions. Narrowing down this list to those directly affected is an enormous task, one that Colarusso was tasked with making more manageable. Narrowing down “The List” to a single link in the evidence chain — the drug receipt — still returned far too many potential matches to be of use. Additional restrictions trimmed the possible matches a bit more, but still left far too many potential victims of the chemist’s work.

Link 2: Number of people killed by police hits 664 in U.S. this year

The number of police-related fatalities in the U.S reached 664 in 2015, making the country’s police force one of the deadliest in the developed world, according to data from The Guardian, a British newspaper. In the first five months of this year, 19 unarmed black men were shot and killed by the police in the U.S. The Guardian compares that with Germany, where 15 citizens of any race were fatally shot in the two years from 2010 to 2011. California led the nation in the number of victims. So far this year, 107 people died in police-involved incidents in the state, significantly more than Texas, which came in second with 67 deaths. Florida was the third most deadly with 46. Per capita, Oklahoma tops the list with 29 deaths.

Link 3: Officers at Sam DuBose scene involved in death of another unarmed black man

Two police officers who corroborated a seemingly false account of the fatal shooting of Samuel DuBose in Cincinnati were previously implicated in the death of an unarmed, hospitalised and mentally ill black man who died after he was “rushed” by a group of seven University of Cincinnati police officers. Kelly Brinson, a 45-year-old mental health patient at Cincinnati’s University hospital, suffered a psychotic episode on 20 January 2010 and was placed inside a seclusion room at the hospital by UC officers. He was then shocked with a Taser three times by an officer and placed in restraints. The father of one – son Kelly Jr – then suffered a respiratory cardiac arrest and died three days later. In court documents obtained by the Guardian and filed by Brinson’s family in a civil suit against UC police and the hospital, all seven officers are accused of using excessive force and “acted with deliberate indifference to the serious medical and security needs of Mr Brinson”.

The officers involved in his brother’s death were “supposed to be fired”, Brinson said. “But what happened was because we had an out-of-court settlement, they had immunity and they couldn’t be prosecuted. “Everybody … associated with this case was supposed to be terminated,” he said. “And they didn’t – they didn’t terminate them.” Brinson’s family settled a federal civil court case with the hospital and the police department for $638,000. All University of Cincinnati campus police officers were also removed from patrolling the psychiatric wards at the hospital after Brinson’s death.

What do you think? Comments?

On the Futility of Attempts at Gun Control in the USA: July 26, 2015

July 26, 2015 3 comments

The act of publicly bemoaning a lack of “effective” gun control laws upon hearing news of yet another mass shooting is one of the most popular LIEbral ritual in USA. For reasons that I will get into a bit later in this post, most LIEbrals believe (or at least want to believe) that severe restrictions or outright bans on private ownership of guns will somehow magically translate into an almost total elimination of mass shootings and other incidents of firearm related “violence”. They will also tell you that the much lower rates of suicide (or homicide) by firearms in other developed countries with draconian regulation of private gun ownership support their beliefs. But is that really so?

Well.. the short answer is “no”. But the longer answer is far more interesting and provides some intriguing insight into their mindset and worldview.

FYI, this is not my first blog post expressing strong skepticism about the effectiveness of passing more gun control laws in the USA. I have previously pointed out that most mass or spree shootings in the USA are the end result of somewhat unique and systemic social problems. Also, people who commit such acts frequently have no suspicion-invoking history of violent behavior. Furthermore, trying to suppress one manifestation of a much deeper set of problems almost guarantees that they will manifest themselves in another, and even more problematic, manner. It is also no secret that those clamoring the loudest for more gun control are doing so to maintain their power and social status.

There is however something else that I have alluded to, but not discussed at length, in my previous posts on this topic. I am now going to talk about one of the core issues that underlies discussion on gun control laws but is seldom mentioned- especially in public forums.

Some of my previous posts on other topics talk about factors that influence (positively or negatively) the perceived legitimacy of any given system of government. Now, many of you might think that opinions of citizens about the degree of legitimacy of the government system they live under are largely a non-issue in “developed” countries with democratically elected governments. As I will show you in the next paragraph- perceptions and opinions about the legitimacy of government systems are far more important for policies on gun control than most LIEbrals want to believe. It really comes down to two inter-linked issues..

Firstly- even a brief reading of the previous 150 years of global history show a rather disconcerting, yet seldom talked about, pattern for violent deaths. Governments of countries (as opposed to individuals) have been responsible for the vast majority of violent deaths in populations governed by them. If you don’t believe me just add the body count of all major inter- and intra-state wars, genocides and consequences of war (such as the influenza pandemic of 1918) which have occurred in the last century and half. My point is that the vast majority (way over 99%) of violent deaths (around 150-200 million) in that time span were state sanctioned and therefore technically “legal”. Furthermore, the number of violent deaths caused by recent or ongoing conflicts such as those caused by american meddling in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan within the last decade are still many tens of times higher than a sum of the body count caused by individual mass or spree shooters in the same time span. Even the police in USA kill many times more unarmed people than mass shooters in the same calendar year. To put it another way, governments of nation states (and their subsidiaries) are by far the biggest cause of violent deaths- including those by guns. I fail to see how passing more gun control laws would have change that fact.

And this brings us to the second issue- namely, that a significant minority of people do not perceive the current government system as being legitimate. But why does that matter? Don’t people in other developed countries have similar views about their governments? Well.. it does matter, because people in other developed countries do perceive their governments to be significantly more legitimate than people in the USA see their own. But why? What makes people in Japan, Germany or even the U.K feel that their government is legitimate? The simple answer is that the perceived legitimacy of a government is directly proportional to the consistency and effectiveness of its efforts to maintain the quality of life for the median citizen.

It is therefore no surprise that gun control measures seem to work in countries where the government directly or indirectly intervenes in favor of the median citizen. I should also point out countries with such government systems always had very low rates of deaths by individual acts of violence- especially in the post-WW2 era. In contrast to that, countries in which governments routinely and overtly abuse the majority to benefit the rich minority always had rather high rates of non-state sanctioned homicides. That is why certain countries such as Mexico, Brazil and South Africa have rather high rates of non-state sanctioned homicides despite highly restrictive gun ownership laws. My point is that the USA has always been more like Mexico, Brazil and South Africa than Japan, Germany or the U.K.

LIEbrals push for more gun control laws because they do not want to acknowledge that the USA has always been an affluent third-world country and that they have tremendously benefited from this apparent contradiction.

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting Links: July 19, 2015

July 19, 2015 Leave a comment

Here are a few interesting links that I came across in the last few days. They are new stories about the contents of the hacked internal emails and documentation of a corporation that supplies spyware and malware to law enforcement known as the “Hacking Team”.

Link 1: Hacking Team and Boeing Subsidiary Envisioned Drones Deploying Spyware

There are lots of ways that government spies can attack your computer, but a U.S. drone company is scheming to offer them one more. Boeing subsidiary Insitu would like to be able to deliver spyware via drone. The plan is described in internal emails from the Italian company Hacking Team, which makes off-the-shelf software that can remotely infect a suspect’s computer or smartphone, accessing files and recording calls, chats, emails and more. A hacker attacked the Milan-based firm earlier this month and released hundreds of gigabytes of company information online. Among the emails is a recap of a meeting in June of this year, which gives a “roadmap” of projects that Hacking Team’s engineers have underway.

On the list: Develop a way to infect computers via drone. One engineer is assigned the task of developing a “mini” infection device, which could be “ruggedized” and “transportable by drone (!)” the write-up notes enthusiastically in Italian. The request appears to have originated with a query from the Washington-based Insitu, which makes a range of unmanned systems, including the small ScanEagle surveillance drone, which has long been used by the militaries of the U.S. and other countries. Insitu also markets its drones for law enforcement.

Link 2: How Hacking Team Created Spyware that Allowed the FBI to Monitor TOR Browser

In July of 2012, FBI contractor Pradeep Lal contacted the customer support department of the Italian company Hacking Team, a maker of spyware for law enforcement and intelligence agencies worldwide. Lal needed help; he had used Hacking Team software to break into and monitor an investigative target’s computer, but the monitoring wasn’t working as well as Lal expected. It reported what addresses his target visited in normal web browsers, but not when his target used Tor Browser, software designed to mask sensitive web surfing. Lal described his problem succinctly, complaining on Hacking Team’s customer website that the company’s “URL collector does not collect web traffic on TOR browser,” according to a large trove of emails and other documents recently obtained by one or more computer hackers.

When a user opens Tor Browser, their computer starts the Tor program in the background, and in the foreground it opens up a modified version of Firefox that’s configured to force all its traffic to go through the Tor program. The solution was to modify Tor Browser on a hacked computer to force all of its traffic to go through an outside server that the attacker controls, rather than the one provided by the Tor program. When the hacked user loads a website in Tor Browser, the malware is then able to spy on the traffic before it gets handed off to the Tor network to be anonymized. Last week the Tor Project published their own brief analysis of this capability. But Hacking Team had no capability against the Tor network itself; it could only spy on people if their computer was already infected by Hacking Team spyware.

What do you think? Comments?

An Excellent Satire on the Silicon Valley Social Media Business Model

July 16, 2015 1 comment

Many of you might have heard about all the drama and bullshit going on at Well.. it was all very predictable, as this 3-year old clip will explain you.

Also, substituting the word “Chinese Government” with “Multinational Corporation”, “USA”, “NSA”, “FBI” or “GCHQ” improves the accuracy of this satire.

What do you think? Comments?

Two Unanswered Questions about the Greek “Bailout” Deal

July 13, 2015 2 comments

Yesterday the Greek PM (Alexis Tsipras) agreed to a tentative deal with other EU leaders that would provide a “bailout” of 86 billion Euro to Greece in exchange for levels of austerity and privatization far surpassing those reject in a referendum about a week ago. Leaving aside all the speculation surrounding the circumstances of this deal, there are two broader questions about this situation that have not been answered properly (i.e without speculation, self-serving lies and bullshit).

Question 1: Why do such a large percentage (over 65%) of Greeks want to remain in the Eurozone?

One of the central electoral promises of Syriza was that it would stop further EU-imposed financial austerity and still keep Greece in the Eurozone. But even more curiously, various polls showed that 2/3 rds of Greeks wanted to stay in the Eurozone. While those percentages might have gone down in the last few weeks, I still have a hard time understanding why Greeks would want to be on a team where most other members hated and abused them. I mean, it is possible to remain in the EU even after exiting the Eurozone.

While average incomes in Greece (as measured in Euros) did rise after joining the Eurozone, it is hard to make the case that it has made their lives any better. The sad reality is that they could have gotten most of the benefits of joining the Eurozone by joining the EU but maintaining their own currency. While I can understand why the Greek 1% ers (or 10% ers) wanted to join the Eurozone, the extensive popular support for retaining the Euro as the default currency in Greece does not make much sense. It is ego? Is it false consciousness? Is it the desire to be seen as European rather than Mediterranean?

Question 2: Do Germans (both its leaders and average citizens) think that making Greece sign an economic version of the Versailles treaty in 2015 will somehow stabilize a fundamentally defective currency?

Let us for a moment assume that Tsipras can get this deal through the Greek parliament and make sure that it is implemented in full. Let us also assume that his government, or any other replacing it, can keep it going for a couple of years. Then what? Does it improve the economic situation of the average person in Greece over the next two years.. five years.. ten years.. twenty years? My point is that pretty much any plan based in the neoliberal scams of austerity and privatization will almost inevitably cause more open-ended financial deprivation for the average Greek person. To put it another way, there is no light at the end of this tunnel.

Even if we ignore the very real possibility that such policies would almost inevitably lead to the the rise of right-wing nationalist parties in Greece, we are still left with an even bigger problem- namely, that other countries in the Eurozone might decide, or end up, sabotaging the Euro. It is no secret that significant minorities of the population in France, Italy and Spain have always been hostile to the idea of a common European currency. It is also well known that two out those three countries are not in the best of financial circumstances- at least as seen through the lens of neoliberal capitalistic dogma. However unlike Greece, they are large and have economies diverse enough to go willingly exit the Eurozone- if it comes to that.

Now consider the terms imposed by Germany on Greece and its likely effects on the later. Do you think people in those three large Eurozone countries will ignore what they are now seeing (economic colonialism) and will almost certainly see (more economic deprivation) in the future. Do you think they would still want to retain a common currency with Germany, if the later can do to them what it is doing to Greece? Why would you retain a common currency with a dominant country in a group if you have no political representation in the decision making process of that country? Let us not forget that the US Dollar works because all states in the USA send elected representatives to Washington DC. If they did not, states not benefiting from the common currency would start dissociating themselves from those that did so at the cost of the former.

What do you think? Comments?

Discussing “White Privilege” is a Way to Cope with its Irreversible Loss

July 12, 2015 12 comments

The issue of “white privilege” has become an increasingly frequent, though still minor, topic of discussions in both mainstream and alternative media. Hardly a week goes without a few new articles on how widespread the problem is or ideas about remedying it. These run the whole gamut from the hilariously self important, hilariously paternalistic, jumping on the bandwagon types to ones that are reasonable and nuanced.

But very few articles on this topic try to answer a simple question- Why has writing and talking about “white privilege” in the media exploded within the previous 4-5 years? I mean.. why did we not hear much, if anything, about this issue in the previous decades? Was this issue not existent or relevant then? If it was, why did people not talk about it then but are almost too willing to do so now?

The two most common ‘explanations’ for the explosion of media interest in this topic are as follows:

Most CONservative morons believe that the guilt and naivety of “bleeding-heart white liberals” is behind much (if not all) such articles and discussions about ‘white privilege’. Some CONservative morons see it an attempt to force the belief system of “feminists”, “left-wing liberals” and other assorted socialist types on to others.

LIEbrals, on the other hand, largely see this as an issue of publicly acknowledging something that is morally wrong. Of course, it is no surprise that a few self-identifying LIEbrals have made their careers (and money) through writing and talking about it.

While both the CONservative and LIEbral narratives on why everybody and their dog is now expressing their opinions about “white privilege” seem logical at first glance, neither holds up to careful scrutiny. Firstly, the whole idea that white LIEbrals are significantly more compassionate that white CONservatives is simply not true. The behavior and actions of White LIEbrals who express progressive beliefs is not that different from their stupider CONservative counterparts. In other words, the mindset of White LIEbrals (as implied by their behavior) is just as racist and exploitative as the CONservative morons they seek to differentiate themselves from.

So what is going on.. Why are white LIEbrals falling over each other to condemn their own supposed privilege.

The less cynical among you might see white LIEbrals decrying “white privilege” as a way to raise their perceived social status- and there is some truth to that. But I am far more cynical than that and see something which most others cannot see, let alone acknowledge.

It all comes down to extrapolation of an aspect of human behavior I had discussed in a previous post- Why Societies Fool Themselves about their True Selves. In that post, I said that societies usually lacks whatever quality, resource or attribute they claim to have in abundance. If we extrapolate that idea a little further, we can convert it into a more generalized statement.

Humans lacks whatever quality, resource or attribute they repeatedly claim to have in abundance.

White, both CONservatives and LIEbrals, almost never talked about “white privilege” in previous decades because they believed that it was safe. They had actually convinced themselves that they would always have higher living standards and be more technologically advanced than the rest of the world- because they were actually superior to all those other people. Sure.. there were outliers like Japan, but generally whites felt their relative position was unassailable.

Then the last three decades happened..

The last thirty years have been marked by two trends. On one hand, real technological innovation has basically disappeared in the white west. It has been replaced by a simulacra consisting of colorful presentations and papers written in language approved by both advertising and legal agencies. On the other hand, living conditions in the rest of the non-white world have improved by leaps and bounds- often at rates incomprehensible to the white mind (if there is such a thing). Then there is the issue of demographic changes, both in the general population of the west as well as in technology intensive occupations.

Many of the less retarded whites (predominantly LIEbrals) have realized, if still largely at a subconscious level, that the era where being white meant having real privileges is rapidly and irreversibly slipping away. CONservatives are too stupid to have read the writing on the wall and believe that they are world is still stuck somewhere in the 1950s-1980s.

The acknowledgement of “white privilege” by white LIEbrals allows them to enjoy whatever real white privilege is still left while still appearing to be morally superior to white CONservatives. They know, if only in the back of their minds, that the little white privilege they enjoy will soon be history- regardless of their actions in support or opposition of it. It is just that decrying it will make them look morally superior and prescient in the future when even the most retarded white CONservative rube has to face reality.

Therefore, all those articles about “white privilege” by LIEbrals are about positioning themselves for the inevitable future rather than any innate sense of justness or fairness.

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting Links: July 1, 2015

July 1, 2015 1 comment

Here are links to a couple of long and interesting news articles that I came across today. They are about two issues which appear to be unconnected, but in reality are just two diverse manifestations of the same basic problem- which I hope to write about in my upcoming posts.

Link 1: XKEYSCORE- NSA’S Google for the World’s Private Communications

XKEYSCORE allows for incredibly broad surveillance of people based on perceived patterns of suspicious behavior. It is possible, for instance, to query the system to show the activities of people based on their location, nationality and websites visited. For instance, one slide displays the search “germansinpakistn,” showing an analyst querying XKEYSCORE for all individuals in Pakistan visiting specific German language message boards. As sites like Twitter and Facebook become increasingly significant in the world’s day-to-day communications (a Pew study shows that 71 percent of online adults in the U.S. use Facebook), they become a critical source of surveillance data. Traffic from popular social media sites is described as “a great starting point” for tracking individuals, according to an XKEYSCORE presentation titled “Tracking Targets on Online Social Networks.”

The NSA’s ability to piggyback off of private companies’ tracking of their own users is a vital instrument that allows the agency to trace the data it collects to individual users. It makes no difference if visitors switch to public Wi-Fi networks or connect to VPNs to change their IP addresses: the tracking cookie will follow them around as long as they are using the same web browser and fail to clear their cookies. Apps that run on tablets and smartphones also use analytics services that uniquely track users. Almost every time a user sees an advertisement (in an app or in a web browser), the ad network is tracking users in the same way. A secret GCHQ and CSE program called BADASS, which is similar to XKEYSCORE but with a much narrower scope, mines as much valuable information from leaky smartphone apps as possible, including unique tracking identifiers that app developers use to track their own users. In May of this year, CBC, in partnership with The Intercept, revealed that XKEYSCORE was used to track smartphone connections to the app marketplaces run by Samsung and Google. Surveillance agency analysts also use other types of traffic data that gets scooped into XKEYSCORE to track people, such as Windows crash reports.

Given the breadth of information collected by XKEYSCORE, accessing and exploiting a target’s online activity is a matter of a few mouse clicks. Brossard explains: “The amount of work an analyst has to perform to actually break into remote computers over the Internet seems ridiculously reduced — we are talking minutes, if not seconds. Simple. As easy as typing a few words in Google.” These facts bolster one of Snowden’s most controversial statements, made in his first video interview published by The Guardian on June 9, 2013. “I, sitting at my desk,” said Snowden, could “wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge to even the president, if I had a personal email.” Indeed, training documents for XKEYSCORE repeatedly highlight how user-friendly the program is: with just a few clicks, any analyst with access to it can conduct sweeping searches simply by entering a person’s email address, telephone number, name or other identifying data. There is no indication in the documents reviewed that prior approval is needed for specific searches. In addition to login credentials and other target intelligence, XKEYSCORE collects router configuration information, which it shares with Tailored Access Operations. The office is able to exploit routers and then feed the traffic traveling through those routers into their collection infrastructure. This allows the NSA to spy on traffic from otherwise out-of-reach networks. XKEYSCORE documents reference router configurations, and a document previously published by Der Spiegel shows that “active implants” can be used to “cop[y] traffic and direc[t]” it past a passive collector.

Link 2: Cruel and All-Too-Usual

Cell extractions are supposed to be a last resort—say, when an inmate is attempting suicide. In a well-run facility, a staff member will knock on the door and attempt to reason with a prisoner who is not following orders. But Steve J. Martin, a corrections consultant, explained that with militarized teams on call, supervisors became accustomed to using them for minor matters, too. Refusal to return a food tray, for instance, is a surprisingly common reason cited by prisons. In a bad facility, “staff like to do cell extractions because it’s an excuse to kick the crap out of inmates,” said Jeffrey Schwartz, a correctional consultant who has advised prisons on disciplinary policies. “There is no question that many cell extractions are unnecessary and avoidable.” Schwartz called the procedure used against Jamie “wrong and clearly dangerous.” “The female inmate is choking as they first put her down on the bunk, and she is also yelling for them to get off of her,” he said. “The staff should have stopped what they were doing and gotten a medical staff member to the scene immediately.” Pressing the spit guard over her face, he added, increased the chance that Jamie could “have a panic attack” or “vomit and asphyxiate with vomit in her airways.”

In November 2013, months after PREA implementation began, Michigan interviewed teenage inmates held at Thumb Correctional to see if they felt safe. In affidavits collected by Michigan as part of the lawsuit, most said they did. However, one said that in September, a guard had told him he would “rape my fat ass if I wasn’t 17.” Another 17-year-old inmate said, “[A]bout three weeks ago, an officer … told me that he was going to make sure I go up North to be fucked in the ass.” Overall, reported assaults by staff are rarely penalized. Between 2010 and 2013, Michigan received 1,122 allegations from inmates of staff sexual harassment. They substantiated 10 of them.Some kids later signed affidavits saying that they had been pressured by Michigan to participate in the interviews and even threatened with isolation. (An attorney for Michigan called the claims of intimidation “absolutely false.”) One wrote to his lawyer, “I sign a paper without reading it and was mad because I didn’t realize he was using [his] power to trick me.” Terry Kupers, a psychiatrist who reviewed the interviews for the plaintiffs, said that the state violated “every single point in the protocol” for interviewing sexual assault survivors and was “very unlikely to uncover the truth.”

On May 1, I went to see Max again. He had been removed from the housing unit with the dogs and sent to solitary for punching an inmate, an assault he said he didn’t commit. (His accuser told me in a letter, “He hit me soo hard,” although another inmate on the scene testified that he hadn’t seen Max fight with anyone.) His lawyers said they believe evidence will show that Max has been retaliated against for his participation in the lawsuit and willingness to speak to the press, and plan to address the matter in court. When Max found out he was going back to segregation, he lost it. He lashed out against staff members, earning more misconduct tickets. In separate lawsuits filed against Max’s facility last year, two inmates allege that after they reported officer wrongdoing, they were targeted with numerous forms of retaliation, including “unprovoked beatings, gassings, forced cell extractions, food and water deprivation, extended deprivation of basic hygiene and health care, and fabricated misconduct tickets.” MDOC responded in a legal filing that “the injuries and damages sustained by Plaintiffs, if any, were solely or partly a result of their own conduct.” On April 14, as the video below shows, he was forcibly put on suicide watch for “making threats of self harm.” He refused to submit to a strip search—he told me that taking his clothes off in front of the guards gives him flashbacks to his sexual assaults—and was gassed with chemical spray. When I saw the video, I could hardly believe it was the same person. In our conversations, he was calm and straightforward, chatting about playing basketball and football growing up. In the video he is naked, yelling and crying, the burly officers eyeing him like a wild animal.

What do you think? Comments?


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