Posts Tagged ‘ politics

Can you trust your own government?

So I’m sure you have all heard of PRISM, Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, and Lavabit. I’m also sure you have heard of Wikileaks, Bradley Manning, and Julian Assange. You might have heard of Aaron Schwartz. You’ve definitely heard of PIPA and SOPA. And you know what, this list is endlessly long. But there are two pieces of recent news that I’d like to talk about.

First is the David Miranda incident and it’s aftermath. Ever since the internet exploded, we have slowly but surely outgrown the government’s control of mass media. Propaganda is harder to spread since there are many on the internet willing to take time and debunk lies and myths that the government attempts to spread. Unlike printed media, you cannot control all of the voices in the blogosphere. Everyone can create their own soap box to stand on and speak. Because of this trend, the government has to resort to greater intimidation tactics to try and influence those who are speaking out. These tactics are both highly unethical and borderline illegal. Laws are twisted and sometimes flat out ignored by the government. And you know what? This is the future. This is where we are all headed. A world where a Chinese police state is the norm except the public has no idea that it’s happening.

Do you think your government is different? That your politicians aren’t corrupt? Let me tell you this, America isn’t the only bad apple in the basket. Every government is capable of violating your privacy because, as all technologists have known for a long time, not all protocols are perfectly secure. And even if they were, all it takes is the government exerting secretive powers to strong arm companies and individuals into doing their bidding. And when they choose to protect their users instead of betraying them? Their companies and lives are destroyed ala Lavabit. We live in a world where hard working, honest people can be threatened by governments at will without repercussions. A world where people like David Miranda can be detained for bogus reasons just to intimidate them into being quiet. A world where being the Bolivian president doesn’t mean jack shit.

And you know what, good people will continue to fight the good fight. But how long can that keep continuing? Especially when personal possession can be confiscated and destroyed without compensation. Without reason. Without and legal standing. All all without any recourse from the individual. Or when technology can be compromised or simply forced to shut down ala Lavabit or Silent Circle. Apparently not long as this bring me to the second bit of news I want to highlight. Groklaw is shutting down.

Email is a vital part of communication in the modern world as are SMS (texting), VoIP, XMPP, and various other protocols. But just like phonecalls and mail before them, all governments are capable of intercepting these messages. We never had privacy which is why anonymous sources and secretive meetings were some of the few ways confidential information was passed along. But in our technological age, where confidential information can come from all over the world, we are reaching the point where nothing may be confidential anymore. If the government has years of history on every as well as access to all of their private, personal data, then we are at a dead end. Encryption? That won’t last. Secure channels? Doesn’t exist when the companies running the hubs have been compromised. The only option is to risk your sources and fight or shutdown in the biggest way possible so as to make a splash that will hopefully ripple into a wave of political activists.

Groklaw is taking the second route. For that I am thankful but at the same time, I mourn the loss of perhaps the greatest objective news source in the intellectual property fight. Without them, it is not a stretch to say that Android would not exist. That the current state of the internet would not be possible. Or that we would have a choice for computing software/hardware outside of Microsoft and perhaps even Apple. I sincerely hope their death will not be in vain.

So I guess it’s time to ask, can you trust your government? I don’t for the obvious reason that I live in America and we have had the blessing of the PRISM leaks. Snowden gave us a fighting chance to force the government to reveal all of its corruption. Everyone else? History and recent evidence says no. So how about we all come together and think of a way to take back control of our lives and our governments?

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A Response To Senator Schumer

So this article by Cringely is a good read and finally prompted me to finish this article that I’ve been meaning to write after receiving a response from Senator Schumer about the PROTECT IP Act (more on this later).

A lot of people see and recognize the problem [of having no new frontier] but few have a solution. Personally, I think the US is partially fucked because the frontier that we could have gone into (or rather, should be currently exploring), the internet, has been blocked off by nonsense patent laws (why do you think this We The People petition is so popular – Direct Patent Office to Stop Issuing Software Patents), insane copyright/trademark issues, and overall government corruption that caters to lobbyists pushing for stronger “IP” laws in both the US and other countries. And no, that is not hyperbole. I really do mean the US government is corrupt in the sense that they cater to lobbyists. Of course people always suspected the power of lobbyists but it wasn’t until Wikileaks came about that these sources of corruption have become so public and have been revealed in a timely (meaning the issues are still relevant) manner.

Specifically for the topic at hand (IP laws), Wikileaks has shown that the US gov’t has strong armed some countries into implementing stronger DMCA laws and other IP related changes (e.g., Wikileaks Cables Show Massive U.S. Effort to Establish Canadian DMCA). Case in point: ACTA (signed by the US very recently) and PROTECT IP – both of which are horrible for entrepreneurs and small businesses. Hence why most promising startups are moving away from the US and the trend is happening faster than I predicted because of these idiotic laws/lawsuits. But do our representatives listen to us? Do they see the downward trend in the industry and realize why it is happening (the developers, myself being one, state it quite clearly)? I’d venture to say no because this is the scripted response I got from Senator Schumer when he replied to my email several months after Protect IP went to vote (sent in at the same time I wrote my article on PROTECT IP):

Dear —–:

Thank you for your contacting me in opposition to S.968, the PROTECT IP Act. Like you, I believe that consumers should have access to a vibrant and innovative online community to discuss their ideas and opinions. At the same time, we must not let the internet become a haven for intellectual property thieves.

The threat to intellectual property owners over the internet is clear. Every year, the US Chamber of Commerce estimates that copyright theft costs our nation about $58 billion in lost output, 373,375 in lost jobs, and $16 billion in lost employee earnings. These numbers present an unacceptable burden to US businesses. In addition, companies may be less likely to innovate because their products may be stolen by intellectual property pirates, creating a drag on the US economy.

The PROTECT IP Act addresses the problem of intellectual property theft online, but it also contains important due process protections to ensure that legal activity over the internet is not disrupted. As you may know, the PROTECT IP Act would allow the Department of Justice to file a claim against a website that 1) has no significant purpose other than engaging in or facilitating copyright infringement, circumventing technology controlling access to copyrighted works, or selling or promoting counterfeit goods or services; or (2) is designed, operated, or marketed and used to engage in such activities. A judge would have to find that a website is intentionally violating intellectual property rights of an American entity before he could issue an order against that site. I believe PROTECT IP Act would provide law enforcement and intellectual property holders additional tools to protect American intellectual property from websites while still ensuring the constitutionally protected rights of free speech and due process. The PROTECT IP Act currently is awaiting action on the floor of the Senate, and I will continue to monitor this bill as it moves through the Senate.

Thank you for contacting me on this important issue. Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future if I can ever be of assistance to you on this, or any other matter.


Charles E. Schumer
United States Senator

Please do not respond to this email. To send another message please visit my website at . Thank you.

Ouch! Talk about being paid off to spew shit that he doesn’t know anything about. The original mail I wrote to him was similar to my old post on PROTECT IP except without the profanity and stripped down to the most important factual points. His response doesn’t address a single argument I put forth and relies on “statistics” that were created by lobbyists strictly to push their own agenda. If you read the actual source of those numbers (here you go for your reading pleasure), you will see that they are based on very poor premises such as (and I’m only posting a few):

  • Some of their inane premises, specifically:

    1. Internal estimates of piracy losses compiled by each of the copyright industries.
    2. Confidential estimates of piracy losses developed by others on behalf of individual copyright industries.

    4. Sales data by country and physical piracy rates for recorded music from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI).

    Seriously? Would you trust a study that uses non-biased data AND data whose methodology for being produced isn’t even revealed? It’s like writing your thesis without a bibliography and claiming yourself to be an unbiased expert in the field. Yeah, I think my professors would have flunked me if I tried pulling that on them.

  • Every download = 1 lost sale. Yeah… sure. You wish. There isn’t a single economist that believes that to be the case. There are so many reasons that this cannot be true, it’s mind boggling to see them use this assumption (e.g., some of these people don’t even have the disposable income, some wouldn’t even bother looking at media X because the cost is greater than their desire to check it out, etc.)
  • The double counting of losses using multipliers, taxes (counted in multiple ways), and the icing – employees’ lost earnings. Yeah right, like they would hire more people or give raises if piracy suddenly disappeared. Production of new works wouldn’t suddenly require more people nor would they suddenly start producing additional works – and this is giving the kind assumption that they produce things which they don’t because the RIAA, etc. are just representatives for production companies. The industries themselves, specifically the artists, see very little of the money that is collected. And that isn’t even accounting for how little money the RIAA, etc. seems to get.)

Being an optimist, I thought that my well thought out letter would have elicited a better response. It saddens me to see the direction my nation is going and worse yet, the time I take to read and understand these issues is probably 100 times more than the amount of time Senator Schumer puts into understanding these issues. This is disappointing on two levels:

  1. Senator Schumer is our representative and it is his duty to do what is best for America. I have yet to see a good argument as to how this would benefit anyone other than the richest people in the US.
  2. As someone who is fairly well read in this field (I’m primarily a web developer so this is a crucial part of my industry), I would assume Senator Schumer would need to put in a lot more effort to understand the nuances of these issues to fully comprehend the effects that will result from pushing for things like PROTECT IP.

I know our Representatives can’t possible dedicate time to all issues, but they shouldn’t allow themselves to be spoon fed complete bullshit from lobbyists. Our Representatives can always abstain from voting on an issue that they are not knowledgeable in. It would show better judgement (patience is a virtue after all, so take your time to do your due diligence), result in fewer knee jerk decisions, and perhaps (yes, remember I’m an optimist) allow for more sensible laws. So Senator Schumer, I put in my time, how about you put in some of yours?

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The Republican Congress is Racist

Bam! Going to post my most controversial opinion ever. I doubt I’ll ever top this one.

The Republican Congress is Racist

Ok so maybe not all of them, but I’d wager that 90% of them are racist. If not racist, then at least they condone racism and allow it to flourish.

You: So why hysan? Why would you say something so controversial?

Me: Because I read this article today by The Economist and had to wonder why the Republicans would be playing Russian Roulette with the lives of every American. Part of it is greed (not wanting to increase taxes to the rich), but a good deal of the sentiment I get from listening to the Republicans just seems malicious. It seems like they want to destroy Obama’s presidency at all costs. Then you think about all of the controversy about the Birth Certificate, religion (Is he Muslim? No he is not you dumbasses.), and all of the hubbub about him being the first black president. It feels like the leaders of the Republican party hate Obama more than any other democratic president because he is different. Politically? No, he’s pretty much the same as most democratic presidents. Background? Hell yes, he is different. He is the first black president. So my thinking is that the Republicans want to tear him down not for what he represents politically, but what he represents symbolically. Hence, racist.

This seems a bit loaded so let’s take a step back and first consider the problem that the Republicans are currently clamoring over: the debt ceiling. Should we raise it? Yes. Why the fuck not when we’ve done this over and over again throughout history. At some point we should stop using this tactic but now is not the time. It is irresponsible and, quite frankly, dumb as fuck to not raise the debt ceiling when we are in a recession. This is the worst time to be trying to make hard cuts. Save all of the arguments for a time when we have the luxury to say, “Let’s get our budget under control now that we aren’t in a goddamn recession.” Even if Warren Buffett said this in jest, it still shows the insanity of the position that the Republicans are currently taking:

I could end the deficit in 5 minutes. You just pass a law that says that anytime there is a deficit of more than 3% of GDP all sitting members of congress are ineligible for reelection.

-Warren Buffett


The Republicans are playing with fire (or really, more like a blowtorch) and are hoping to use that fire to burn Obama. The problem with this tactic is that they are going to burn all of us. The citizens of the United States of America. We are the ones who will suffer because the consequences of their actions will hurt us more than any of them. So again I ask, why would the Republicans go this far to make Obama look bad? And remember, they have been using this partisan tactic throughout the presidency which has resulted in sub-optimal results for normal citizens. Things could be a LOT better right now if they just focused on fixing the damn economy together.

Think about conservative media and the amount of propaganda they’ve been pushing to smear Obama’s legitimacy. It started during the election race and has not let up at all during this presidency. All of their “talking points” have been centered around labeling Obama as “different” whether it be through his legitimacy, his ethics, his background, or how he is un-American (He is not a fucking socialist. Please learn some government 101 please.). All of this propaganda can be categorized as a form of racism. Yes, I realize I’m stretching the definition here but using hyperbole seems to be the only way to get heard in America these days. Sadly, I’m one, powerless person who doesn’t have the influence to change anything in the government.

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Voting Machines – Yes or No? Oh wait, I rigged the choices.

Ignore the title of the video since it is sensationalist and not accurate. However, you should listen to the testimony. The computer program explains that there are only 2 ways to verify that voting machines are not rigged:

  1. view the source code on every machine prior to compiling and embedding it on the machine
  2. have voters also hand in the traditional paper ballots as a failsafe audit trail

What I’d like to talk about is #1. In particular, the common response given by companies like Diebold (they have renamed them selves after being accused of creating bad/rigged voting machines, but that is another discussion altogether) on why the source code should not be open sourced. All voting machine companies have constantly made the argument that the hardware and software tech behind voting machines should be kept secret and proprietary. They give these reasons:

  1. Security
  2. Trust

However, every reputable programmer I know (and even all of the stupid ones) has argued that these reasons are false and misleading. Since the general public does not understand how computers and software works, people will assume that big companies “know what is best.” However, as this very well qualified developer testifies, these reasons are pretty much shit.

  1. Diebold relies on security through obscurity. Meaning that it is more secure because people don’t know what software is running and therefore can’t look for holes. Well Windows is the easiest example of showing that this argument is pure crap. Everyone in security knows that security through obscurity is a very weak deterrent (especially when dealing with something as big as voting/politics). The payoff is huge so people will look for holes in your actual security model and if you do a shitty job, it will not be hard to crack.
  2. Then there is the issue of trust and as this testimony shows, you really should not be trusting these types of companies to be honest. Whether or not this company was approached for rigging shouldn’t be a concern. Rather everyone should be worried that with a single company controlling all aspects of development and rollout, any corrupt politician can just pick up a phone and know exactly who to ask to try and rig an election.

If source code and hardware is open sourced, there is no single controlling body that can modify the code base away from the prying eyes of the public. In fact, shouldn’t it be obvious that being able to see the source code and hardware designs would instill more confidence that nothing is being rigged? Open source projects (big ones) are generally more secure than proprietary counterparts because we have so many people looking at the code and criticizing it (and fixing it).

The continuance by the government on relying and granting monopolies to companies like Diebold is mind boggling. If we really want to stop all of the controversy over voting fraud/machine rigging, then just open source the code and hardware and create one governing body that audits and rolls out the machines during elections (make that process transparent too). It’s that fucking simple, and all developers have been arguing this for years. And now I shall end this on a controversial statement: the biggest indicator that voting fraud (or rigging) is happening is that the lobbyists have been successful at keeping voting machines proprietary and in the hands of companies like Diebold (if you read up on them, most of the other voting machine companies were absorbed by Diebold and they are now essentially a monopoly in this sector).



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