Well Known Biases

Politics, Economics, and the Law

Monthly Archives: January 2012

Yet Closer to War

Another day, another step closer to conflict with Iran.

Due to their refusal to kowtow to American demands, U.S. legislators are working on yet more sanctions against the nation, and an American submarine and destroyer have moved into the area, almost certainly headed for the Persian Gulf. The whole exercise is a bit of a paint-by-numbers, with propaganda, increasing  sanctions, and moving forces into striking distance. It’s the same song and dance that preceded the invasion of Iraq, just more. I suspect that our government neither expects these sanctions to achieve their ostensible goals, nor genuinely cares. Sanctions are simply a tick-box that needs checked before we can be “justified” in overt military action.

There may be large flies in our ointment, though. There is a piece on Fox asserting that China is arming the Iranians, by funneling weapons and technology through the North Koreans. I’m intensely skeptical of anything on Fox, as they’re deeply loyal to the (conservative) establishment, but it is a possibility worth considering. If the Chinese are arming the Iranians with ICBMs and related tech, and if the Iranians have acquired nuclear warheads, then going to war could prove quite costly. At the moment I’m no more sold on this than I was on the Iraqi WMDs, but it’s something to consider. Michel Chossudovsky, Director for the Centre for Research on Globalization, goes further, asserting that China, which imports most of its oil from Iran, would back Iran in a conflict with the West, and push us into a world war. It’s a point for debate whether China needs us or them more, but should they decide on ‘them,’ then they possess an unimaginably powerful weapon: They could liquidate their holdings of American debt, and crash the dollar.

While myself and others object to conflict with Iran on moral as well as practical grounds, and do not consider them a legitimate threat to American security, I fear that a great many more Americans have swallowed the media Kool-Aid, and believe intervention is justified and necessary. Even if the public at large doesn’t believe this, the ruling classes have made it plain that they have every intention of going to war. While I very much hope to be wrong, I have every expectation that this war is now inevitable.

On Avoiding “Me-Libertarianism,” and Actually Talking to the ‘Left’

A huge hat-tip to ‘Bleeding Heart Libertarians,’ which is rapidly becoming one of my favorite blogs, for linking some articles on the ‘Moorfield Storey Blog’ (which I may have to begin reading regularly) concerning the problems with “me-libertarianism,” and the tendency of libertarians in general to communicate very badly with the political left. Though I find more often than not that I share the same goals with my “progressive” friends, our discussions reach an impasse as often as not. Perhaps, though I try for clarity, there has been a disconnect between what I think I’m saying, and what they think I’m saying.

‘The Disaster of Me Libertarianism’
‘No, Calvin, this is different!’
‘Why Libertarians Need to Talk With the Left and How to Do It’ 

Link Roundup – 01/28/12

More on drone usage, both at home and abroad.

The Military will be conducting exercises in and around L.A. The LAPD will be assisting.

Speaking of the military, here’s a slick, colorful chart to give a comparison of our relative spending and power vs. others’.

Doug Casey discusses the looming collapse of the EU, at least as we know it. And, related due to the mutual discussion of gold, Marin Katusa examines the status of the petrodollar, and its relation to wars in the middle east. Yet More concerning the economy, over on ‘Antiwar.’

I meant to talk about Hawaii’s plan to track every website you visit the other day, but it didn’t really fit with what I was writing about. Just as well, because there’s now a followup.

More news today concerning the Megaupload takedown case.

And finally, it appears we have our first usage of the new NDAA. The man in question is Yemeni, and not a U.S. national, so I guess we’ll have to wait a bit longer for the inevitable use of this law against Americans.

Link Roundup – 01/27/12

The Increasingly Troublesome Baggage of Social Networking

Social networking is now the method by which most of us keep up with one another. I’ve done Myspace, Facebook, Google+, and have dipped my toe into LinkedIn. Most people in my age group have at least an active Facebook, and a handful maintain a G+ account as well. Myspace is a ghost town, but still has a few users. And who else remembers Friendster? Add to this YouTube, the various photo uploading sites, webcam services where you can chit-chat with complete strangers, the abomination unto God and man that is Twitter, and countless more.

These networks have given us all a forum in which to stand up and say “Hey! Look at me!” and we’ve wholeheartedly taken them up on this offer. Whatever part of the human mind makes this sort of thing irresistible has been expertly marketed to, and it should come as no surprise that the people who own these sites have found their own way to capitalize on our deep-seated need to tell everyone everything. We’ve solved a number of market research problems by telling the entire internet what we enjoy, think about, and want to do and buy. All this information divulged without ever having been formally requested. I have a great many friends who are constantly ‘liking’ this and that on Facebook, despite knowing full well that they’re acting as unpaid market research subjects, and that this benefits them in no concrete way.

It is by now fairly well known that Facebook retains your data forever. I began to have my own suspicions as to this being the case when the service would occasionally glitch, and display items from years ago. There are also allegations that Facebook collects information to build a skeletal “shadow profile” of people who are not (yet?) users of the service. And let’s not forget the troubling facial recognition software which “helps” you by automatically tagging people. The truly staggering amount of money that is made selling this information to marketers is an obvious motivation for harvesting and retaining it, yet there appears to be more to the story.

Articles are beginning to appear, mainly on tech-oriented websites, concerning usage of social media information by banks and other money-lenders, both to help assess you as a credit risk, and to additional people to whom they can market their products and services. More disconcerting still is the fact that the government increasingly monitors social networks for their own purposes. The Department of Homeland Security keeps tabs on people and news outlets, and monitors them for dissent. This information is then made available to the various other alphabet soup agencies. Not to be outdone, the FBI has expressed interest in a program to automatically collect information from various social and news sites, filter it, and plot the location from where it originated onto a map.

Facebook is certainly commonly thought to be the worst offender, but G+ should be catching up soon, as Google has changed its terms of service, and intends to fully integrate their various services, all in an effort to better serve you. Whether or not this will in fact better serve the end-user remains to be seen, but I would assume it will better serve Google’s pocketbook, and in the meantime could certainly streamline the process of information gathering by third parties.

Towards the end of this past year I decided to abandon the Facebook account that I’d had for several years, and to begin a new one under a pseudonym. I did this for various reasons, privacy being only one of them. This certainly won’t provide any deterrence to an entity with a genuine interest in discovering who I am, but it provides at least a small measure of separation between my name, and my online presence. Eben Moglen would argue that this still makes me part of the problem, and I’m inclined to agree with him, though I’m not yet sure what to do about it. The intelligent and principled thing to do would be to commit “web suicide” and never look back, but few of us would use these services to begin with if they didn’t provide some utility. However I have greatly scaled back my online persona, and have created my own personal policies regarding what sort of information I intend to provide. It’s not perfect, but it’s some kind of start.

The ever-building mountain of evidence that social networking is being exploited by various parties, none with our best interests in mind, should act as a reminder that it’s exceedingly foolish to depend upon another party to safeguard our information and maintain our privacy.

Additional links:

Europe v. Facebook
Electronic Privacy Information Center on ‘Facebook Privacy’

‘Personhood’ Amendment Full Text, etc.

Today, while poking around for some other bit of legislation, I remembered that I’d said I’d post the bill number, and full text, of the Personhood Amendment. So here it is.

Kansas legislature page for HCR 5029
HCR 5029 full text (pdf)

The bill is much shorter than I’d have assumed it would be. I’m not sure how it compares to the Colorado or Mississippi versions, as I’ve not read them. Without a doubt my favorite parts is the wording of the explanatory statements, chiefly the statement concerning what it means to vote against the bill:

“A vote against this proposition would not amend the constitution, in which case the current federally mandated legal status of preborn humans would remain that of a class of human beings that can intentionally be killed.”

Wow.

Speaking of abortion, you may have already read elsewhere that Oklahoma Senator Ralph Shortey has introduced a bill to ban the use of aborted fetuses in food. To my knowledge, and near as I can tell to the collective knowledge of pretty much everyone else on the planet, this is not something that is currently being done, nor is it something that anyone is presently planning to do. Despite my own tendency to assume that anything horrible that can happen probably will, I wouldn’t lose any sleep over the possibility of this being a problem in the future, either. Ken, at ‘Popehat,’ wrote about the legislation in question, and I’m inclined to agree that Mr. Shortey has perhaps been spending too much time perusing Geocities pages.

Reading the full text of the bill, I’m confused that it specifies only that it shall be illegal to manufacture or sell food or other products made from aborted fetuses that are intended for human consumption. Are we to assume that Senator Shortey is totally okay with aborted fetus rawhides for the dog, or aborted fetus Fancy Feast for the discerning cat in your home? I’ll let you speculate among yourselves whether this oversight is because there exists some developing industry for aborted fetus bits’n’pieces, and they are financing the Senator’s re-election fund. It could also explain why Personhood hasn’t introduced a constitutional amendment in Oklahoma.

A Few Thoughts on the ‘State of the Union’ Address

• Are you still impressed by boilerplate calls for bipartisanship, getting things done, and “yay us!” feel-good-isms? I’m not.

• I find the claim that our foreign military adventures have made us safer and more respected highly questionable.

• It is disingenuous to claim or imply that we can meaningfully improve our national budget or debt situation by taxing the top earners more. A careful look at the government’s financial situation shows this will not be the case. This claim amounts to nothing more than populist rhetoric.

• I find the claim that the government will be imposing upon banks a requirement for a “living will,” a written method of repaying those the bank owes money, in the event of its collapse, interesting. However I’m unsure how you plan to implement this under our current system of fractional reserve banking, as under this system banks are at all times insolvent.

US Citizens May Be Forced to Decrypt Hard Drives

CNET posted an article yesterday concerning a distressing ruling by a Colorado federal judge where he decided that American citizens can be forced to decrypt hard drives in order to allow law enforcement to examine the contents.

In his ruling, Judge Blackburn writes:

“I find and conclude that the Fifth Amendment is not implicated by requiring production of the unencrypted contents…”

I suppose this is the sort of thing about which reasonable people can disagree. The fifth amendment asserts that, among other things, a citizen cannot “be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” One might assert that, in decrypting your data, you are not actually witnissing against yourself. Can we reason that the typing of the passphrase is a form of speech, and therefore would qualify as a form of “witnessing”?

As one might expect, Judge Blackburn trots out the “public interest” show pony in his justification, and asks to Think of the Children™, remember the terrorists, etc.

“Public interests will be harmed absent requiring defendants to make available unencrypted contents in circumstances like these.  Failing to compel Ms. Fricosu amounts to a concession to her and potential criminals (be it in child exploitation, national security, terrorism, financial crimes or drug trafficking cases) [. . .]”

There have been other cases where this has come up (referenced in the CNET article), and given the conflicting end results it seems likely this will make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court in the semi-near future. The case immediately in question involves money laundering and fraud.

This seems as good a time as any to segue into the topic of encryption and file erasure. While it remains to be seen what the final word is regarding the courts’ ability to compel you to decrypt your data, it is still good practice to encrypt anything you wish to remain private, especially on portable devices which may be lost or stolen. Most likely you have no crimes to hide from the police, but you almost certainly have some kind of information that you’d prefer not to be disclosed to all and sundry. Bank information, various email and social accounts left logged-in, etc.  Truecrypt is a fantastic open source encryption program that I’d highly recommend. Also, as you may or may not be aware, deleting files from your computer does not actually remove them, but only marks the space free. If you want something to acutally disappear, it must be overwritten. I would recommend Eraser for this task. In a world of ever-shrinking privacy, you must take personal responsibility to keep what you can of it.

(Hat tip to The Agitator for posting the article link.)

UPDATE: Discussion to be found on The Volokh Conspiracy.

More News Concerning Iran

‘The Law According to the Somalis’

An interesting discussion of Michael van Notten’s book ‘The Law of the Somalis,‘ on ‘The Daily Anarchist.’

This book is going on my reading list immediately.