Monday, January 30, 2012

MegaUpload as an Object Lesson

Recently, the US federal government shut down MegaUpload, a cloud-service offering from a company, based in Hong Kong, which allowed online backup and file sharing. The government raided the hosting premises and took the physical servers, taking the company effectively offline. They did this, nominally, because MegaUpload was used in large part to share copyrighted material; the recent setback to SOPA/PIPA, and the renewed need to demonstrate obedience to their big media overlords patrons, was probably another motivating factor. However, that wasn't the end of the story.

Today, the government released an interesting statement, regarding the online assets of the customers hosted on MegaUpload. Apparently the government had released the servers, having copied whatever forensic evidence they "needed", and the data was back under nominal control of the company. However, as they also noted, the hosting companies might delete the data if MegaUpload did not pay their [monthly] hosting fees, which given their traffic, are probably large. Of course, that might be an issue, since the government still has all their assets frozen, thus making it impossible for them to do so.

The timing to too convenient to be accidental, in my mind. Why stage a huge, international law enforcement operation against a huge internet company, and then release all their systems in a matter of weeks? Could it be that the government wanted the company to miss the hosting payment, and have a scapegoat for when their data goes away ("not our fault, the hosting companies make that decision")? That sure would make their "case" against them pretty easy, when they have no evidence left to dispute the accusations. Oh, and also, their business is entirely destroyed, regardless of the eventual outcome of the legal battles. I'd say it's a pretty shrewd play, if you intent was to utterly destroy a company, and the people running it.

Which brings us to the object lesson: the government can, and will, utterly destroy you if they want to. Did the government respect international law or boundaries? Nope. Did the government respect the 4th Amendment? Nope. Did the government even give a token nod to due process? Nope. Is there jack the people running MegaUpload can do about it? Nope. Are they going to jail, broke, their lives ruined? Yup. And we, the rabble, didn't even have to give them the extra police-state powers that SOPA/PIPA would have endowed.

Some other possible lessons here:
- You cross the gestapo at your own peril.
- If you are storing data in "the cloud", it can be read/written/deleted by other people, like governments, and you will not be able to do anything about it; plan accordingly.
- However afraid of the government you are, it's probably not enough.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Devil in the Details

I listened to Obama's campaign speech State of the Union Address, and came away with an interesting perception: at a high level, I agree with a lot of what he's saying. There are plenty of reference to the speech/highlights on the web, but I'll focus on a few points, and point out where I agree with our socialist dictator socialist president, and where I differ.

[on the housing bubble/pop] Regulators had looked the other way, or didn’t have the authority to stop the bad behaviour. It was wrong. It was irresponsible. And it plunged our economy into a crisis that put millions out of work, saddled us with more debt, and left innocent, hard-working Americans holding the bag.

I totally agree. There was no reason for the government to be cheer-leading the housing bubble, when they knew it was unsustainable. Regulators not only looked the other way, they led the charge in the other direction: recall Greenspan's praise of the "new and innovative" lending products which enabled the bubble. Regulators were not only complicit, they were driving forces, and the GSE's were allowed to assume massive amounts of bad debt which the taxpayers are still paying for. It was wrong, it was irresponsible, and I hope some of the people who left taxpaying American's holding the bag (ie: many people in government during the bubble, including Senator Obama) is made to pay.

Together, we’ve agreed to cut the deficit by more than $2 trillion.

This is a bold initiative, Mr President, and if it's true then I salute you. The deficit, as you know, is the difference between money taken in and spending, and colloquially refers (implicitly) to the annual difference. The budget deficit for 2011 was approximately $1 trillion, and will probably be slightly more than that (or possibly significantly, given your history) in 2012. However, if you indeed have agreed to cut it by $2 trillion (thus giving us perhaps a $800 billion surplus in 2012), then you have done more than I could imagine in the name of spending reductions, and I might even be inclined to support you in 2012. After all, even Ron Paul proposed a relatively modest reduction of $1 trillion in the deficit, and presumably that was over four years.

Of course, you could also be full of misleading distortions and shit, but here's hoping your statement was accurate. :)

What’s happening in Detroit can happen in other industries.

I think we would do well to heed this warning. If the auto industry can get a massive taxpayer bailout/subsidy, and become a government-run zombie industry, beholden to the unions as a gift to Democrat supporters, it could happen to other industries as well. You are astute to issue this warning, Mr. President: let us not make the grave mistake of putting another socialist in office, while we still have some private-sector industries left.

My message is simple. It’s time to stop rewarding businesses that ship jobs overseas, and start rewarding companies that create jobs right here in America.

I wholeheartedly agree. We should revise the tax code, and stop making it a tangled mess of deductions, special-case favoritism, and disincentive on top of one of the highest business tax rates in the world. By simplifying the tax code and reducing the marginal rate, we can make job creation in America more appealing than abroad to all our benefit. I glossed over your specific suggestions, but I'm sure if you were serious about this one, they would be pretty close to mine.

[for education] In return, grant schools flexibility: To teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn.

Once again, I totally agree. We need to break the powerful teacher's unions and lobby groups, and allow schools to get rid of bad teachers, and reward good ones. We need to ensure our students are educated enough to pass the tests, but rounded as well: fluent in many areas. We need to stop extorting states to fall in line with federal education mandates, get the government out of schools, and let them get better, so they are competitive with private offerings. Well said, Mr. President.

Of course, it’s not enough for us to increase student aid. We can’t just keep subsidising skyrocketing tuition; we’ll run out of money. [...] So let me put colleges and universities on notice: If you can’t stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down.

This sounds exactly like what I've been saying for a while: higher education costs have skyrocketed because of subsidies and government programs; they are chasing the tail of the problem they are creating. Cut the subsidies, and the costs will go down. It will be a painful transition (as coming off any other addiction), but it's what we need to do: get the government [largely] out of the education subsidization business. Once again, Obama surprisingly seems to be [somewhat] aware of the root of the problem, and [somewhat] proposing an actual viable solution.

And I’m proud to announce that the Department of Defense, the world’s largest consumer of energy, will make one of the largest commitments to clean energy in history – with the Navy purchasing enough capacity to power a quarter of a million homes a year.

I support this plan. As long as the DoD is operating within their budget, which is in-turn within a balanced and constrained federal budget, I support their purchasing of clean energy to generate demand. There are worse things we could spend military money on than domestic energy production and investment.

Let’s never forget: Millions of Americans who work hard and play by the rules every day deserve a Government and a financial system that do the same. It’s time to apply the same rules from top to bottom: No bailouts, no handouts, and no cop-outs.

I couldn't agree more. It's time to hold those worthless politicians accountable: the ones who enacted the worthless stimulus package, bailed out the banks, bailed out the auto industry, propped up the housing market after the bubble popped, gave taxpayer money to the GSE's, authorized the FHA to keep giving risky loans after the bubble, gave massive handouts to their union supporters, and copped-out on their personal massive contribution to the national debt. Throw all those crooks out of office, starting at the top and working down, till all those scum are purged from our government.

But in return, we need to change our tax code so that people like me, and an awful lot of Members of Congress, pay our fair share of taxes.

I agree: put a cap of 20% of income on taxes, for everyone, then get rid of all the deductions for everyone making over... whatever arbitrary amount you consider "rich". People paying less will then pay their "far share", and people paying more won't get dicked-over by heavy-handed class-warfare tax policies. It's a win-win, and I can get behind it.

I’m a Democrat. But I believe what Republican Abraham Lincoln believed: That Government should do for people only what they cannot do better by themselves, and no more.

I believe that too, Mr. President, as does Ron Paul, probably more than anyone else in government. You should seek him as your running mate in 2012, to show you are serious about this pledge. I look forward to your reductions in the scope of government to match this pledge; frankly, I want nothing more than this from the government. If you follow through on nothing else stated here, but actually hold true to this, I give you my promise: I will support you.

Of course, as I said, the devil is in the details.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

One [Big] Reason for Conspiracy Theories

There are a lot of conspiracy theories out there. Many of these have to do with governmental, or extra-governmental, organizations, and how they are following secret agendas to advance their own goals, to the detriment (or in indifference to) to well-being of the rest of humanity. I'd be surprised if there weren't a few which are true, but likewise I'd speculate that most are false, yet they continue to persist, and many are at least somewhat plausible. I postulate that one significant reason for this is that people, probably largely subconsciously, refuse to believe that the actual governments could be as bad as they actually are.

Consider, for example, the Department of Homeland Security. You could certainly make the argument that, as part of a secret plot by the Skull and Bones fraternity (of which George Bush was a member), and using the 9/11 attacks as a pretense, DHS was setup as en evolution of police-suppression and monitoring in the US, and was designed to be a modern-day gestapo to oppress the people. Now, lots of that makes sense: the DHS is a modern-day gestapo, it does monitor the populace, it actively ignores Constitutional rights, and it could (and probably will) certainly be used to suppress dissent and exert government control. However, the idea that DHS was designed to do all of these things from the beginning stretches credibility: it would be akin to asserting that all the people who voted for Obama were secretly collectively architects of Socialism in America; while it may be true that Obama himself has socialist goals, it's difficult to believe that most people supporting him were intelligent enough to see the eventual consequences of their actions.

Rather, in the DHS case, it's more likely a product of incompetence, short-sightedness, and the undercurrent of adding to centralized government control which created this gestapo-nightmare, rather than a coordinated plan. I think people are quick to attribute eventualities which seem so counter to the well-being of the people to forces outside of the government (which nominally exists to protect and serve the people, rather than oppress them); in reality, it's more likely just a combination of incompetence, corruption, gross malfeasance, contemptible disregard for the Constitution, and outright stupidity which create these incomprehensibly bad eventual situations. There may indeed be a few people who could foresee the predictable outcomes, but the idea of a conspiracy encompassing all the people who contribute to the problem (in this case, essentially all of the federal government) defies common sense.

I think in reality, that's probably the cause of many of the conspiracy theories related to extra-governmental forces working to control events. To be fair, I think it would be a mistake to assume there aren't at least a few truly evil people in government, but most of the people in office are probably just ignorant, corrupt, or simply not interested in serving the interests of the people, or upholding the values of the country. Sure, you could interpret the fact that virtually everything the government does being detrimental to the people they nominally serve as one or more conspiracies, but I think Occum's Razor would suggest that, given the plethora and magnitude of downright scum in government, it's probably more just a natural consequence of an institution which itself has evolved to become the #1 enemy of the people, rather than sinister plans of external entities.

That's my thought, anyway, although I don't expect this will dissuade anyone who clings to the belief that government cannot possibly be as collectively bad as the end-results would suggest. For some things, we may never know the whole truth.