We’re not in Mayberry anymore

October 6, 2016

Radley Balko writes about a recently released documentary.

‘Do Not Resist’: A chilling look at the normalization of warrior cops

The haunting thing about the new policing documentary “Do Not Resist” is what it doesn’t show. There are no images of cops beating people. No viral videos of horrifying shootings. Sure, there are scenes from the Ferguson protests in which riot cops deploy tear gas. But there’s no blood, no Tasings, no death. Yet when it was over, I had to force myself to exhale.

What makes this movie so powerful is its terrifying portrayal of the mundanities of modern policing. I watched the movie weeks ago, but there are scenes that still flicker in my head. We all remember the clashes between police and protesters in Ferguson. We’ve seen the photos. We saw the anger and the animus exchanged across the protest lines. What we didn’t see were the hours and hours before and after those moments. We didn’t see the MRAPs and other armored vehicles roll in, one at a time, slowly transforming an American town into a war zone. We didn’t hear the clomp of combat boots on asphalt in the quiet hours of the early morning, interrupted only by fuzzy dispatches over police radio. […]

Fittingly, the most chilling scene in the movie doesn’t take place on a city street, or at a protest, or during a drug raid. It takes place in a conference room. It’s from a police training conference with Dave Grossman, one of the most prolific police trainers in the country. Grossman’s classes teach officers to be less hesitant to use lethal force, urge them to be willing to do it more quickly and teach them how to adopt the mentality of a warrior. Jeronimo Yanez, the Minnesota police officer who shot and killed Philando Castille in July, had attended one of Grossman’s classes called “The Bulletproof Warrior” (though that particular class was taught by Grossman’s business partner, Jim Glennon). […]

The trailer:


It may be worse than Snowden said

October 5, 2016

Paul sends a link to this story from Reuters.

Yahoo secretly scanned customer emails for U.S. intelligence

Yahoo Inc last year secretly built a custom software program to search all of its customers’ incoming emails for specific information provided by U.S. intelligence officials, according to people familiar with the matter.

The company complied with a classified U.S. government demand, scanning hundreds of millions of Yahoo Mail accounts at the behest of the National Security Agency or FBI, said three former employees and a fourth person apprised of the events.

Some surveillance experts said this represents the first case to surface of a U.S. Internet company agreeing to an intelligence agency’s request by searching all arriving messages, as opposed to examining stored messages or scanning a small number of accounts in real time.

It is not known what information intelligence officials were looking for, only that they wanted Yahoo to search for a set of characters. That could mean a phrase in an email or an attachment, said the sources, who did not want to be identified. […]

According to two of the former employees, Yahoo Chief Executive Marissa Mayer’s decision to obey the directive roiled some senior executives and led to the June 2015 departure of Chief Information Security Officer Alex Stamos, who now holds the top security job at Facebook Inc. […]


IoT security

October 5, 2016

Heh… Pornhub on a refrigerator’s display at Home Depot (from John McAfee).



Socialism kills

October 5, 2016

Remember that the next time someone makes a "Do It For The Children" argument for more state control.

Venezuela: Health Crisis Means Kid’s Scraped Knee Can Be Life or Death

It was just a scraped knee. So 3-year-old Ashley Pacheco’s parents did what parents do: They gave her a hug, cleaned the wound twice with rubbing alcohol and thought no more of it.

Two weeks later, the little girl writhed screaming in a hospital bed. Her breathing came in ragged gasps as she begged passing patients for a sip of water.

Her mother stayed day and night in the trauma unit. She kept Ashley on an empty stomach in case she might cut in front of hundreds of other patients for emergency surgery in one of the hospital’s few functioning operating rooms.

Her father scoured Caracas for scarce antibiotics to fight the infection spreading through his daughter’s body.

They had no idea how much worse it was going to get.

If Venezuela has become dangerous for the healthy, it is now deadly for those who fall ill.

One-in-three people admitted to public hospitals last year died, the government reports. The number of operational hospital beds has fallen by 40 percent since just 2014. And as the economy fails, the country is running short on 85 percent of medicines, according to the national drugstore trade group. […]


"We are afraid of Trump, too"

October 5, 2016

Here’s news from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about Washington University, where preparations are under way for Sunday’s debate.

Frankly, I was a little surprised by the College Republicans. Not that they fear Trump – but that they’d display a sign saying so on the day of the debate. If they were as pusillanimous as many people have been this year, they’d keep the sign out of sight.

At Wash U ahead of debate, College Republicans display a sign: ‘We are afraid of Trump, too’

ST. LOUIS • When Republican Donald Trump arrives at Washington University Sunday to debate Democrat Hillary Clinton, he won’t have the formal backing of the campus’s largest Republican student group.

“We are afraid of Trump, too,” reads a sign that College Republicans have displayed on campus and will put up again at an event before the debate Sunday.

And yet, the unorthodox candidate has still lit a fire under some conservatives on campus.

One student who co-founded the Missouri Youth for Trump group is hosting a “Meet the Deplorables” rally Sunday, referring to the derogatory name Clinton called half of Trump’s supporters.

Such is the atypical political scene on campus during an atypical presidential matchup. […]

And in the Boston Globe, Jeff Jacoby gives a fairly left-handed endorsement of Gary Johnson. My emphasis below.

If character matters, electing either Clinton or Trump would be a moral disaster

WOULD YOU HIRE a babysitter who lied with impunity? Would you choose a therapist who was a compulsive braggart? Would you want as your accountant or financial adviser someone who trailed the reek of corruption and bottomless avarice? Would you list your home with a real estate agent who routinely played fast and loose with rules that others must abide by? Would you attend the church of a pastor who spewed insults and threats and trafficked in delusional conspiracy theories?

If so, you’ll have no trouble supporting Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton for president.

But if you wouldn’t entrust your personal affairs to someone manifestly devoid of ethics and good character, how can you think of entrusting the nation’s highest office to either of the major-party candidates?

Over and over this year, Trump and Clinton have been described as the two worst presidential nominees in living memory — perhaps the worst matchup in US history. Both candidates espouse bad ideas and destructive policies, but that isn’t why they are so widely regarded as appalling choices for the White House. It is the candidates’ lack of integrity that makes so many Americans despair when they think of the upcoming election. […]

I plan to cast a ballot for the Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson. I don’t agree with every position Johnson endorses (though I certainly share the libertarian tropism for smaller government, lower taxes, free trade, robust immigration, and individual autonomy). Nor, to be fair, do I disagree with every proposal and priority of the Trump and Clinton campaigns.

But I’m not voting for president this year on the basis of traditional issues. I’m basing my vote on character. Johnson’s is acceptable — he appears to be honest, friendly, capable of self-criticism, and not egomaniacal. That puts him miles ahead of Trump and Clinton, incorrigibly mendacious self-aggrandizers for whom personal ambition always supersedes ethical standards or the national interest. […]

Jacoby’s piece reminds me of a recent e-mail exchange I had with one of my regular correspondents. I asked him, "Which egotistical, power-hungry, millionaire New Yorker do you want to be president?"

"Which tastes worse," he replied, "a sh*t sandwich or a big glass of puke?"

Update: See also this interview of Jonah Goldberg in Slate. Money quote: “When given a choice between two crap sandwiches on different kinds of bread, my response is ‘I’ll skip lunch.’”


A tempest in a teacup

October 4, 2016

Not that I have any interest in defending Donald Trump, but the kerfuffle about his tax returns is just more nonsense – maybe partisan nonsense. Here are some good posts about the topic that I came across this week. (My emphasis in the quotes below.)

TL;DR The U.S. tax code recognizes that there’s no reason a business can’t spend more money than it makes in a given year and it provides a way to average taxable income across years.

Megan McArdle at BloombergView:

Trump’s 1995 Return Shows Good Tax Policy at Work

The big news this weekend was the leak of Donald Trump’s 1995 tax returns to the New York Times. The returns showed that in that year, Trump claimed $916 million worth of business losses; those losses, said the Times, “could have allowed him to legally avoid paying any federal income taxes for up to 18 years.”

Liberal social media dissolved into an ecstatic puddle; conservative social media, at least the part that is supporting Trump, angrily denounced the Times for publishing this tripe.

A few sensible people tried to explain that while the story might have well show that Trump was a bad businessman, it didn’t really show any sort of interesting tax shenanigans. And since we had long known that Trump lost a bunch of money in Atlantic City, a story that has been amply and ably covered by folks like our own Tim O’Brien, it didn’t even really offer much news.

Why did people see scandalous tax avoidance in this case? At issue is the “net operating loss,” an accounting term that means basically what it sounds like: When you net out your expenses against the money you took in, it turns out that you lost a bunch of money. However, in tax law, this has a special meaning, because these NOLs can be offset against money earned in other years. You can use a “carryforward” to offset the losses against income made in future years (as many as 15 future years, under the federal tax law of 1995). You can also use a “carryback” to offset those losses against income you made in past years (three in 1995, which when added to the 15-year carryforward term, gives us the 18 years the Times refers to).

To judge from the reaction on Twitter, this struck many people as a nefarious bit of chicanery. And to be fair, they were probably helped along in this belief by the New York Times description of it, which made it sound like some arcane loophole wedged into our tax code at the behest of the United Association of Rich People and Their Lobbyists. They called it “a tax provision that is particularly prized by America’s dynastic families, which, like the Trumps, hold their wealth inside byzantine networks of partnerships, limited liability companies and S corporations.”

Every tax or financial professional I have heard from about the New York Times piece found this characterization rather bizarre. The Times could have just as truthfully written that the provision was “particularly prized by America’s small businesses, farmers and authors,” many of whom depend on the NOL to ensure that they do not end up paying extraordinary marginal tax rates — possibly exceeding 100 percent — on income that may not fit itself neatly into the regular rotation of the earth around the sun. […]

Warren Meyer at Coyoteblog:

Yes, Let’s Make Entrepreneurship and Business Formation Even Harder

Well, it looks like the awesome team of Trump and Clinton may manage to take yet another shot at reducing entrepreneurship. It’s all a result of the report that the Donald had a nearly billion dollar tax loss decades ago, and that – gasp – this tax loss might have shielded his income from taxes for years. Hillary’s supporters are already demanding changes to the tax code and Trump, as usual, cannot muster an intelligent defense on even a moderately technical topic.

As someone who built a business over 10 years, I can’t think of anything that would do more to screw up the already languishing rate of new business formation than to somehow limit the deductability of business losses on future years’ taxes. […]

Dan Mitchell at International Liberty:

Trump, Tax Reform, and the Media-Generated Faux Controversy over “Net Operating Losses”

Because of his support for big government, I don’t like Donald Trump. Indeed, I have such disdain for him (as well as Hillary Clinton) that I’ve arranged to be out of the country when the election takes place.

The establishment media, by contrast, is excited about the election and many journalists are doing everything possible to aid the election of Hillary Clinton. In some cases, their bias leads to them to make silly pronouncements on public policy in hopes of undermining Trump. Which irks me since I’m then in the unwanted position of accidentally being on the same side as “The Donald.”

For instance, some of Trump’s private tax data was leaked to the New York Times, which breathlessly reported that he had a huge loss in 1995, and that he presumably used that “net operating loss” (NOL) to offset income in future years.

As I pointed out in this interview, Trump did nothing wrong based on the information we now have. Nothing morally wrong. Nothing legally wrong. Nothing economically wrong. […]

In other words, this is not a controversy. Or it shouldn’t be. […]

I’m ignoring the fact that Trump could have managed this whole kazish much better by releasing tax return info last summer – 5 months before the election rather than 5 weeks before.

And I won’t speculate about whether Trump may have gamed the system for his losses. I don’t know him or his businesses well enough to guess about that.


The time and place for paper records

October 3, 2016

From MIT Technology Review. RTWT.

The Internet Is No Place for Elections

Despite what your local election officials may tell you, you can’t trust the Internet with your vote.

This election year we’ve seen foreign hackers infiltrate the Democratic National Committee’s e-mail system as well as voter databases in Arizona and Illinois. These attacks have reinforced what political scientists and technical experts alike have been saying for more than a decade: public elections should stay offline. It’s not yet feasible to build a secure and truly democratic Internet-connected voting system. […]

Nevertheless, 32 states and the District of Columbia allow at least some absentee voters (in most cases just voters who live overseas or serve in the military) to return their completed ballots using poorly secured e-mail, Internet-connected fax machines, or websites. In the most extreme example, all voters in Alaska are allowed to return their completed ballots over a supposedly secure website. And there is a danger that Internet voting could expand. Vendors like the Spanish company Scytl, which supplied Alaska’s system, and Southern California-based Everyone Counts keep marketing these systems to election boards against the advice of security experts. And they haven’t opened their systems to public security testing. […]

Even if the risk of cybercrime could be mitigated, building an online voting system that preserves the core components we expect from democratic elections would be technically complex. Today’s commercial systems do not achieve this; most of the states that offer ballot return via the Internet ask that voters first waive their right to a secret ballot. The key challenge is building an online system that generates some sort of credible evidence that proves the outcome “is what you say it is” during an audit, while maintaining voter privacy and the secret ballot, says Rivest. […]

In the 90s, when my business partner and I were trying to solve problems with telephone automation*, we kicked around the idea of voting by phone. After several goes at that idea, we concluded there was no practical way to (a) make it secure and (b) keep it secret. Not much as changed in the interval, despite different technologies.

*For a list of all the ways technology has failed to improve the quality of life, please press three.

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