Sunday, August 31, 2014

Evolution of the Internet

I'm going to preface this blog post by noting that it's somewhat more technical than political, so if that is uninteresting, feel free to ignore.

I've been thinking a bit recently about what the internet needs moving forward. Specifically, I see a few looming problems which threaten to harm, if not effectively destroy, the internet as we currently know it. First, there is the problem of pervasive government monitoring, which threatens free communication of ideas. Second, there is the attack on net neutrality, which threatens to make only the content which the telcom providers sell viable on the internet. Both of these are serious problems, and although it's conceptually possible that they would have legislative solutions, that presumes the laughable premise that the government works on behalf of the people (as opposed to itself and/or large corporations who bribe them), which is obviously false. Therefore, it's prudent to look for a technological solution for these problems, if possible.

Fortunately, I do think a technological solution is possible (albeit at the expense of performance). Specifically, here's what I think we (the people) need: open source router firmware (dd-wrt style) which implements automatic multi-channel TOR communication, and passes all traffic through them, while itself serving as a TOR relay node (and optional exit node).

How would this work? TOR, by its nature, obfuscates traffic destinations, and encrypts traffic. It is, currently, one of the best defenses against network surveillance, both by individuals and governments. By passing data through multiple channels, you could guard against traffic analysis [at a node beyond the ISP level], and having each router act as a relay node would ensure wide distribution of nodes.

Moreover, this would effectively make net neutrality a de facto standard. With all network traffic sent through TOR relays, the ISP's would have no method of discerning the protocol or destination of traffic, and thus no metric upon which to bias the bandwidth. It's possible that they could apply a QoS to throttle TOR traffic itself (as some currently do with torrent traffic, for example), but with everything going over TOR, the ISP's would need to adjust their strategies or lose customers (and/or be subject to false-advertising claims with respect to their bandwidth). If enough people were using the firmware, it would become the de facto standard, and ISP's would be forced to live with it.

What about cost? Well, that's not insignificant: it would roughly triple the amount of network traffic necessary for the same communications, not counting encryption processing. It's even worse than that, though: multi-casting would become effectively impossible, and some elements of malicious usage detection and traffic would be rendered effectively impossible. Those would be the necessary costs of implementing a technological solution to a problem which would be much more efficiently solved at a political level, if not for the irreparably corrupt government we must deal with. Still, I think it would be worth the cost going forward, if the alternative is the internet as we know it ceasing to exist.

As always, I'd be interested in other opinions, either on this or other potential solutions. I don't know if something like this will happen, but given the various alternatives, I really hope that creative, smart people come up with some solution, before it's too late.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

High Crimes

President Obama has done a number of objectionable things during the six years of his presidency so far. Some things have been mere continuations, or slight expansions, of pre-existing objectionable policies (eg: domestic spying by the NSA, unauthorized and unconstitutional foreign military interventions, etc.). Others have been more substantial escalations of previous bad policies (eg: more expansive power grabs through executive orders, formulation of a legal opinion to allow arbitrary assassination of Americans, increasing the national debt at a historically record rate, etc.). Still others have been new, more creative attacks on American systems and long-term prosperity (eg: Obamacare, designed to be so expensive, arduous, and crippling to the health care system as to necessitate the adoption of socialized medical care). Obama is now finally regarded by Americans as the worst president in American history, and there's still [at least] two years of additional disasters to endure.

There's a new attack happening now, though, which might actually be worse than anything else Obama has done to-date. Like any good military operation, it's been years in the planning, with various subtle maneuvers designed with an overall strategic objective. It began shortly after Obama took office, with the direction to ICE to exercise prosecutorial discretion to essentially halt deportations for all illegal aliens (except for those who committed crimes deemed too excessive to ignore). Then Obama shifted DHS priorities, to ensure that the border was porous, while refusing to allocate any additional resources to shoring up holes. But that was just the start of the campaign.

There were movements on the propaganda front as well. Obama positioned himself as pro-amnesty, and began gather allies in Congress for another wave, horse-trading favors on other measures to make clandestine allies. Allies like Eric Cantor, nominally one of the strongest opponents to Obama's other policies, but somewhat less confrontational on the issue of amnesty for illegal aliens. That front was developing well, and it looked like Obama was poised to push through another amnesty wave (along with whatever meaningless promises of border security the Democrats would throw in this time, with a wink and a nod, knowing that they would ignore them just like the last time they passed an amnesty bill). They had a setback, though, with Cantor's defeat... but as with any military conflict, a general does not let one defeat decide the war, he presses on.

And press on the Obama administration did, insinuating that Obama would act to affect amnesty unilaterally (irrespective of the lack of Constitutional authority to do so), while basically ordering DHS to stand-aside on the border. That was not enough, though: to ensure that local communities would not be effective in fighting back, Obama went a step further, and actually had the federal government relocate illegal aliens into the middle areas of the country, to ensure they could not be deported! These measures have been having the desired effect: a massive influx of illegal invaders streaming into the country, with no defense offered (and indeed, the efforts have been aided by the Obama administration), leading to a large shift in population (and voting) dynamic.

To what end? Well, that's simple: power, as always. Illegal immigrants vote, in small numbers (while illegal), and in large numbers (after being granted amnesty). When they vote, they vote overwhelmingly Democrat, primarily because the Democrat platform advocates forcible wealth redistribution, and illegal immigrants are largely poor (and thus socialist-type policies benefit them). Obama can do more to ensure continued Democrat leadership in government by shifting the voting population than any other action he could take (and indeed, since people are waking up to how unequivocally horrible the rest of his actions have been, minimizing the voice of legal American citizens is probably his best course of action).

Of course, in wars you have allies, and this situation is no different. There are many immigrant advocacy groups who would promote the free flow of people into the United States, but some are more specific and transparent with their goals than others. La Raza, for example, one of President Obama's political allies, has been somewhat outspoken (in less guarded moments) about the desire to establish hispanic control over a section of the United States, if not its entirety. In essence, they advocate taking control of the country through invasion, and shifting of population dynamics.

This is a section of the US code:
Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason...
If we take for hypothesis that the people who would advocate gaining control of the United States through [peaceful or violent] invasion are enemies of the country, then we can conclude that Obama's latest affront is distinctly more significant than all his previous efforts. He is, without doubt, by virtue of his position and oath of office, owing allegiance to the United States. He has aided enemy efforts by encouraging the invasion, promising to work toward appeasement and amnesty, and intentionally weakening the border enforcement and punitive measures. He has refused to enforce the law, with respect to these enemies. He has given them aid and comfort, both in supplies and care, as well as relocation to stymie local efforts to repel the invading forces. By all accounts, then, he is in direct and open violation of U.S. Code § 2381.

I don't want Congress to sue the President, as he taunted them to do, in relation to his latest unconstitutional power grab. I want Congress to prosecute him for his more serious offense, the only one spelled out in the Constitution itself.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Criticism where Appropriate, and the Converse - Iraq 2014 Edition

It would be fair to say that at times, I have been somewhat critical of President Obama, as well as Democrats in general, on this blog and elsewhere. As it happens, I find myself in frequent disagreement with his/their policies, pushes, and general philosophies on how government should work. However, I like to think of myself as having [strong] opinions on issues, and sometimes on ideology, but not on partisan political groups per se, despite the frequent overlap.

In that sense, I'd like to espouse the following opinion: I have no issue, whatsoever, with how Obama has handled our military interactions with Iraq since he took office, and I don't feel he should bare much, if any, blame for the ISIS uprising there.

It has been opined that the US should have persisted in Iraq, establishing a long-term presence to deter aggressive forces, as we have in other regions of the world. It has been opined that the Iraqi military was not ready to stand on its own, and needed more training, more resource, more money, and/or more time to be so. It has been opined that the US should have insisted on a longer-term troop deployment, to secure the "gains" from invading Iraq and establishing a new government. All of these are debatable points, from a military and international diplomacy perspective.

However, making those decisions is the job of the Commander in Chief, and given the various options, I can find no significant fault in the decision to honor the wishes of the Iraqi government to control their own destiny, for better or for worse. We should not feel obligated to put our military assets (people and equipment) in harm's way, in service of defending against a nebulous future threat, and in opposition to the wishes of the local [democratic] authority. Like many others, I think the US should err on the side of non-intervention, even if we are vehemently opposed to what transpires inside another country; we should not be the world police.

I refuse to criticize Obama for prioritizing Afghanistan for military action, over Iraq, as I refuse to criticize for scaling down our military presence in Afghanistan as well. Iraq has a culture of corruption which they need to overcome to secure their freedom, and while I feel for the people there (who, like us, are victims of a corrupt government), it should not be the responsibility of the US to intervene when things go awry. Moreover, the US military exists to support and defend the interests of the US, and emphatically not to serve as a first line of defense for other countries. I have no issue with Obama taking a very measured and conservative approach to military actions in foreign countries, even if such sometimes results in gains by the "bad guys".

That's my opinion, anyway; just wanted to get it out there.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Mark Cuban, and the Difference Between Racism and Common Sense

So Mark Cuban is being criticized for some comments he made recently, tangentially related to the Donald Sterling controversy. Essentially, what Cuban said is that he would be cautious around people he perceived as potentially dangerous, and that perception could be based on many factors: area, race, clothing, tattoos, general appearance, etc. Then he characterized those perceptions as based on stereotypes... which is true, in a certain sense. In another sense, though, we might call that behavior by another characterization: common sense.

People (as well as animals in general) have evolved to be cautious of things they perceive as potentially dangerous, and for good reason. Dangerous things threaten us, and it would be foolish to ignore potential signs of danger, or wander through life intentionally ignorant of your perceptions of your environment, and the people and things in it. You wouldn't wander across a busy freeway, intentionally ignoring the cars whizzing by in some absurd nod to political correctness. Likewise, it's common sense to pay attention to the people around you, and evaluate (based on your knowledge and experiences) who might be a threat, so you can take appropriate precautions.

If you're walking alone in a bad neighborhood late at night, and you come across a group of heavily tattooed individuals wearing known gang attire, you're probably going to try to avoid them, or at least be more cautious around them. Now if they are hispanic, does that make you racist? Of course not; the race of the people is just one factor in your evaluation of them, possibly not even a major factor, and it would be absurd to ignore the potential danger which your common sense is alerting you to.

At what point, then, does an evaluation of people border on racism? Well, as Cuban observed, people's perceptions of the relative danger of others is influenced by their knowledge and observations, including factors which may be stereotypes or unfairly prejudicial. For example, if you think all black people are dangerous, you might be more inclined to avoid black people, even absent any other observable factors. That could lead to you being considered racist, by others who did not have the same impressions or experiences, and/or did not see any more reason to be fearful of black people.

The thing is, though: there are statistics, of crime and malicious activities, which are sometimes correlative to race, even though the political correctness class would prefer that not to be the case. Allowing statistics to influence your perceptions is probably wise, in general; that's why you might try to avoid walking alone in "bad" neighborhoods at night, for example. Someone who is judging prejudicially based on race might, in some cases, make the same judgments as someone acting without bias, but making judicious and informed observations based purely on statistics.

What Cuban observed, correctly, is that people make informed judgments, and that doesn't necessarily make them racist. Racism is judging someone differently because of race, which can often be difficult to discern, without knowing the thought processes of the people involved. Using your knowledge and experience to avoid danger to yourself isn't racism; that's common sense. Assuming that someone is making judgments based on race, when there are valid statistics to also support the same judgement, means you're seeing racism where it may not exist. If you assume the person making such judgments is racists, just because of the color of their skin... that makes you the racist.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Google and the EU: The Right to be Forgotten

So there was an EU court ruling recently, in which google lost an appeal to remove links to someone's information which was deemed to be "out of date". Without getting into the specifics of the case or the ruling (both of which were dumb), the aftermath raises a few interesting points. Among them: how should google comply with the ruling, and what should google do to prepare for similar future rulings in other jurisdictions. One publication, for example, suggested that google should modify its core search algorithm to generate results which were more compliant with the EU court rulings. I think that idea is absurd and unworkable, and I have a better idea for them.

See, one of the problems google faces with complying with this ruling is the verification issue. Not only is verification of "outdated" data time consuming and expensive, but its also highly subjective. However, since fines in the EU can run as high as 5% of gross revenue per day, non-compliance is not an option. Google needs to do something to comply, without getting dragged into an expensive and potentially litigious process of manually handling and adjudicating every censorship request. That strongly suggests an automated process.

I suggest the following solution. First, establish (if not already in place) an EU portal, through which all visitors from the EU will be directed (allowing easy bypass is optional, depending on legal requirements). Then, establish a portal by which anyone can request any link be removed, with no verification whatsoever. Since google does not have a legal obligation to provide links to all sites, this would be fine legally-speaking, and sidestep the whole adjudication process. Then, for the EU portal, show the normal search results, with all censored links removed.

Benefits? Well, there are several. First, it would achieve easy compliance with the existing ruling, with virtually no overhead. Second, it would allow compliance with future rulings, no matter how absurd. Third, google could comply with similar rulings in other jurisdictions, with similar area-specific portals. Forth, if legally permitted, it would be trivial to allow users to bypass the filters, by simply accessing the US (and/or non-filtered) version of the search results. Fifth, it would be trivial to reverse, as necessary. Oh, and I guess you could also be "forgotten" online in the EU, kinda, if you considered that a benefit.

Drawbacks? Well, obviously it would be ripe for abuse, and you'd expect to see quite a bit of unfounded and/or malicious takedowns of links, until the EU portal was a very strange subset of the internet as a whole. However, I'm not sure I'd qualify that as a strict drawback, since the more absurd the result would become, the more absurd the original ruling would appear, which might be a positive in the longer run. Moreover, it could motivate people to standardize more methodologies to bypass area and nationality based restrictions on internet content, which would be good for freedom of information worldwide. Really, then, any drawbacks would likely be only short term, or balanced out by positives.

Anyway, that's how I think google should approach this ruling, for what its worth.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Right Approach for Taking a Stand

This blog post caught my attention recently: http://www.virgin.com/richard-branson/businesses-should-stand-up-to-climate-change-deniers

In it, Richard Branson (of Virgin Everything fame) espouses a view that more corporations should do what they can to invest in renewable resources, and encourage people to not support the corporations if they do not agree with their [essentially] political views. He ends the post by encouraging people who are not Global Warming (the religion) believers to "get out of our way". And, despite not sharing his opinions on global warming and such... I wholeheartedly support the approach.

The idea that people should not impose their beliefs on others is enshrined in the US Constitution, as well as much of the common idealism of the country. That goes both ways: in the same way the people who believe in Global Warming should not be allowed to force their views on others, so should the people who are more skeptically and/or scientifically minded not force their skepticism on those who chose to believe in the politicized pseudo-science and self-serving biased research. If Mr Branson wants to devote his company's resources to investing in technologies he feels will better serve the interests of his beliefs, I have no issue with it: this is the right way, in my opinion, to go about supporting things you believe in. If his board and/or shareholders wish the corporation's resources were otherwise allocated, they have the means to do so.

The only thing I would have an issue with, in this regard, is when governments are involved. Governments are supposed to stay out of religion (well, most first-world governments anyway), and I have a huge issue with various religious pundits lobbying government to take actions in support of their religious beliefs, and/or provide unfair and corrupt advantages for them (eg: pushing carbon credits, like Al Gore, or handouts to traditional religious groups, as some Republicans have done). As long as you're taking action yourself, though, and leaving the various governments alone, I have no issue with this method of taking a stand.

Now, you could argue that my praise is somewhat cynical, since most Global Warming pundits are heavily trying to influence government, usually for their own gain (including Branson). That is true, but irrespective of that, Branson's stated approach, of corporations and individuals allocating their own resources to serve their own goals, is the right way to go about doing so. Sure, it's possible that some of the "renewable" strategies might backfire, creating more environmental problems (eg: battery disposal), but really that's no different than other companies taking other approaches based on their own beliefs (eg: fracking). As long as the government is making sure there's a level playing field, not taking sides, and trying to ensure that other people are not stepped on in the process... that's how a free country should work.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Problem with "Reform" in Government (re: NSA)

So if you're not living in an internet-disconnected hole, you've probably read some of the information stemming from the Snowden disclosures (the biggest, and bravest, disclosure of clandestine government abuses since Watergate, by a good margin). Recently, the largest US tech companies chimed in with an open letter, requesting that the US do something to change course, before their business interests are more irrevocably damaged (I appreciate the stance, but let's not pretend it was magnanimous; they see the writing on the internet message board, so to speak). Unfortunately, I think they, like many other people, do not yet grasp the real problem with the expansion on unconstitutional government surveillance in the US, and why it's far worse than most people currently think.

The real problem, which most have not grasped yet, is how to address the issue of a government which is more than willing to defy the law (and indeed, the Constitution itself, the basis for the rest of the laws), and compulsively and unabashedly lie about doing so. How do you put limits on a government which has repeatedly demonstrated a propensity to ignore any such limits, even if you wanted to?

Sure, the issue right now is bad... but trying to fix the issue is even worse.

Let's suppose for a moment that the government gives the tech industry exactly what they are asking for (notwithstanding how monumentally unlikely that is, with Constitutional abuser-in-chief Obama in office, or head NSA cheerleader Fienstein in the Senate, but consider anyway for the sake of argument). The government says they have implemented new restrictions, maybe they pass some more laws, people apologize, etc. Everything is all good, right?

Would you believe them? This is the same government which has basically continuously lied about what they were doing, continuously overstepped the law, and continuously expanded power and control without respect for any boundaries in the past. These surveillance expansions have been done despite nominal oversight already, and in direct conflict to Constitution itself; what in the world would make anyone believe that the government would feel any more limited with a few public statements or simple laws?

Remember, Obama is the president who claims the authority to execute Americans at-will, arbitrarily. This is the president who claims the dictatorial right to choose which laws are actually enforced, and how they are interpreted (see, for example, immigration enforcement, or the complete cessation of such under Obama). This is the president who thinks its fine for the HSA/TSA to search/detain anyone, at any time, for any or no cause, for indefinite periods of time, without any legal recourse. You think that president gives one crap about any "law" which would purport to limit his authority in any way? Really?

The real problem here is not [just] that the government will use any means at their disposal to monitor, track, detain, and control their population, regardless of any tissue paper nominal restrictions they might choose to publicly display and privately ignore. No, the real problem is that there is absolutely nothing the government could possibly do that would convince anyone with more than two brain cells to rub together that they were not going to continue to do so without limit, to the maximum extent of their capability. No law, no statement, no laughable "oversight" would have any effect, and (aside from possibly a few very naive people) won't convince anyone otherwise, as they shouldn't. The real problem is that, for people who care about the government monitoring their online/telecommunication activity (which should be everyone, but in reality is only a subset of people), you simple cannot trust any company which is within reach of the US government, and there is nothing the companies or the government can do to regain that trust. To the extend that online business revenue depends on that trust, that revenue is gone, forever, and it could very well take the open internet with it.