Tag Archives: illegal

Smart Guns Don’t Kill People

This article originally appeared on Disinfo.com

Technologist and New York Times columnist Nick Bilton explores the development of ‘smart guns‘ designed only to work with the owner’s grip or palmprint. These biometric devices are not entirely new, but are still unable to make it into the marketplace. Smart gun tech may have appeased the most idealogical contenders of either side of the debate on Sandy Hook and other gun massacres: they would not have prevented the killers from being able to use any of the firearms in question, but allowed the original owners to keep them without any infringement of their rights.

Nick Bilton via the NYT’s Bits Blog:

For example, the iGun, made by Mossberg Group, cannot be fired unless its owner is wearing a ring with a chip that activates the gun.

But you would be hard pressed to find this technology on many weapons sold in stores. “The gun industry has no interest in making smart-guns. There is no incentive for them,” said Robert J. Spitzer, a professor of political science at SUNY Cortland and the author of four books on gun policy. “There is also no appetite by the government to press ahead with any kind of regulation requiring smart-guns. These safety options exist today.”

But gun advocates are staunchly against these technologies, partly because so many guns are bought not in gun shops, but in private sales. “Many guns are bought and sold on the secondary market without background checks, and that kind of sale would be inhibited with fingerprinting-safety technologies in guns,” he said.

I called several major gun makers and the National Rifle Association. No one thinks a smart-gun will stop a determined killer. But I thought Smith & Wesson and Remington, for instance, would want to discuss how technology might help reduce accidental shootings, which killed 600 people and injured more than 14,000 in the United States in 2010. The gunmakers did not respond, and neither did the N.R.A.

A Wired magazine article from 2002 gives a glimpse of the N.R.A.’s thinking. “Mere mention of ‘smart-gun’ technology elicited sneers and snickers faster than a speeding bullet,” the magazine wrote. It quoted the N.R.A.’s executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, as saying, “Tragic victims couldn’t have been saved by trigger locks or magazine bans or ‘smart-gun’ technology, or some new government commission running our firearms companies.”

TriggerSmart, an Irish company, has patented a childproof smart-gun. One feature is a “safe zone” that can be installed in schools and acts as a force field, disabling any TriggerSmart gun that enters a designated area. Robert McNamara, the company’s founder, has been trying to persuade gun makers to adopt the technology. He isn’t having much luck. “One gun manufacturer told us if we put this technology in one particular gun and some kid gets shot with another gun, then they will have to put them in all guns,” he said.

“We believe we could have helped prevent the Newtown massacre.”

You’ll notice how quickly the NRA equates reasonable proposals like smart gun technology with outright bans and government seizure. The impediments reveal the true, insidious nature of despicable groups like the NRA, who don’t care about human beings unless they have a large pocketbook. They don’t lobby for gun owners, but for large gun manufacturers; gun owners are the window dressing, support for them is incidental, tertiary, and superficial.

This is not the sole solution in a)the rampant problem with hundreds of thousands of unregistered guns, b)the irresponsibility of gun policy in this country, which can be well-regulated without violation of rights, or c)search of a problem, depending on your stance. Obviously ‘smart guns’ would not do anything about illegal guns or second sale or heirloom firearms, which account for a large percentage of sales and crime. This is the problem with most of the proposed legislation and ‘fixes’ from the left; they disproportionately affect responsible gun owners and not criminal use of guns.

Wayne LaPierre, no better than Diane Feinstein, used the tragedy as a pulpit to distract towards everything else besides his own moneyed lobby. It was the culture. It was vidyuh games (thanks, Jack Thompson). It wasHollywood. It was Jon Stewart. It was *as always* the atheists and gays. It was those damn mentally infirm. Hold! For a moment, my heart skipped a beat, would the NRA take an official and humanitarian position on our crumbling mental health care infrastructure? Would they promise millions in direly needed aid to prevent tragedies wrought by unfortunately afflicted people (and not their guns)? No, of course, the NRA’s position is that the mentally unfit should be registered, locked down, locked up, controlled, banned, pushed, filed,stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered. So the people themselves can be infringed upon and violated, but a material possession like guns cannot? Riiiight.

They are unforgivable hypocrites at best, and monstrous profiteers at worst; they have done their part to arm the mentally illAnd in 2007, the NRA fought to allow suspected terrorists of having guns.

My eyes began to glaze over and drool formed around the zombified corners of my mouths as gun advocates praised ideas like putting more guns in schools, more armed guards in our police state children’s vicinity, arm the teachers and principals, FUCK IT, ARM THE KIDS THEMSELVES! None of this makes any goddamned sense, of course, when we look at instances of armed people (including cops) who make shootings even worse by playing hero and spraying more bullets in our combat zones public spaces, often getting themselves and others injured or killed.

And while I don’t believe that there is any NWO scheme to take the guns out of our cold dead hands, I do think that Democrats view it as an easy P.R. win. Another insincere and empty gesture, fully knowing that the final legislation will be watered down, ineffective, meaningless and probably contain a few provisions for special interests and corporations. It might even contain a payout for the NRA, if they play their cards right. Whatever bill is passed will expire or be struck down a few years later, and the whole dance can begin again. The whole hysteria, you’ll notice, is great for gun sales.

Neither LaPierre, Feinstein, nor any other mainstream pundit is proposing any combination of rational and evidence-based approaches to guns or mental health. Even Obama’s statements about making mental health care more easily accessible were lacking any resolution, detail or conviction. They are all knee-jerk reactions based on ideological bias and false, dystopic views of how the world really works.

As FactCheck.org points out, it is a complicated issue with seemingly contradictory statistics and no clear answers. There is academic disagreement and dubious causation for what is happening in America, where gun manufacturing and sales are up, but violent crime and crimes committed with guns are down. However, “non-fatal gun injuries from assaults increased last year for the third straight year“, so there are other factors. We don’t know if there are more gun owners, or more of the same people buying more guns. And still the maniacal massacres continue. Include suicides in the number of gun deaths, and the whole story changes. Gun deaths may outstrip falling rates of automobile deaths by 2015.

I’m not an advocate for any sort of ban at this point, but conflating handguns to assault rifles is like apples to oranges. Or comparing guns to fists and hammers. Or small businesses to multinational corporations. Or fracking done in the 50′s to fracking done today. Ad nauseam. It’s absurd. Guns still account for over double all other murder weapons in the US combined.

I’m sure to ruffle feathers on both sides of the aisle whenever I talk about guns, but I just don’t see the problem with treating them like automobiles. Responsible people register them, irresponsible people don’t. If you want to keep it in your garage and not use it, don’t register it and don’t take it out. If you want to take it out and not pay a hefty fine or punishment, then register it. They only get banned when they get used irresponsibly.

So guns don’t kill people. Smart guns don’t kill people. Sane and insane people use guns to kill lots of people (more people than other weapons can in a single shot), including themselves. And those in power each have vested interests in not being reasonable.

Perhaps the best coverage of the shootings in 2012 was summed up in The Onion’s headline: Fuck Everything.

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The “Right to Work” for Lower Wages and Less Representation in Michigan

This article originally appeared on Disinfo.com

The moneyed elites *ahem* engines of the economy are finally seeing success in Michigan, as a union-busting law effecting millions of workers is passed, kneecapping the fund-raising for union organizations by dividing workers against each other (Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks has a very thorough and accurate rundown). This is a boon to the “burden shifting” robber baron industrialists, as union membership in Michigan was finally starting to rise again, after a steady decline since 2007.

Contrary to all the paid advertising, several myths persist about how unions work. Nobody is ‘forced’ to pay union membership in Michigan. The law states they are only required to do so when the union provides a service such as contract negotiation and representation, but the new law would allow anyone to receive those services without contributing into the workers’ collective funds. Once again, the “Right to Work” has been misleadingly named and propagandized, and has also convinced some conservative workers that their hard-won unions are taking their dues and using them for some leftist political agenda. In fact, collected dues do not go towards political contributions, but on operational and legal expenses, while political money is fundraised voluntarily and separately. As stated, union membership is not a requirement to work, the only ‘choice’ or ‘right’ involved here is whether or not to accept benefits without paying for them, a practice that (as per the designs of the Paymasters) will drain resources and weaken or destroy any worker power.

Even more revealing is the brazen anti-worker language employed by objective Fox journalists, Liberals Unitereports (via I Acknowledge Class Warfare Exists):

On Monday, Fox News host Gregg Jarrett said that a woman who thought Michigan’s new “right-to-work” law was unfair could “go get a job elsewhere” if she did not like it.

Fox News host Martha MacCallum mentioned an earlier Fox News broadcast had featured a woman angry that the proposed anti-union law would allow workers to unfairly receive benefits who did not pay union dues.

“One woman, in a soundbite we had earlier, said ‘I don’t want to work with somebody who doesn’t have to pay what I have to pay.’ That is part of the outrage there,” MacCallum told co-host Jarrett.

“Then she doesn’t have to work. I mean, if she doesn’t like that, she can go get a job elsewhere, I suppose,” Jarrett responded. “But the point here is, it seems anathema to democracy to force somebody to join a union, to force somebody as a condition of having a job to join a union.”

Rapid Increase in US Electronic Surveillance

This article originally appeared on Disinfo.com

The United States government has revealed information about the Justice Department’s use of warrantless internet and telephone surveillance of American citizens (known as “pen register” and “trap and trace” records). And even though they are legally required to do so, the documents were not released until the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit with a Freedom of Information Act claim:

Via Ars TechnicaRTWIRED’s Threat Level:

Pen registers obtain, in real time, non-content information of outbound telephone and internet communications, such as phone numbers dialed, and the sender and recipient (and sometimes subject line) of an e-mail message. A trap-and-trace acquires the same information, but for inbound communications to a target. These terms originally referred to hardware devices law enforcement could attach to the phone network to capture information about (but not the contents of) phone calls.

Today’s telephone networks have the ability to capture this information without any special equipment. And the government has expanded the concept to include other forms of communication such as email.

The legal standard for conducting this kind of non-content surveillance is less stringent than the rules for conducting a wiretap. To get a wiretap order, the government must convince a judge that it is essential to an investigation, but judges are required to sign off on pen register orders when the authorities say the information is relevant to an investigation. No probable-cause warrant is needed to obtain the data.

“Because these surveillance powers are not used to capture telephone conversations or the bodies of emails, they are classified as ‘non-content’ surveillance tools, as opposed to tools that collect ‘content,’ like wiretaps,” Naomi Gilens of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project explains. “This means that the legal standard that law enforcement agencies must meet before using pen registers is lower than it is for wiretaps and other content-collecting technology.”

The statistics uncovered by the ACLU show a striking increase in the frequency of government surveillance. Here is the number of orders issued by the government over the last 12 years:

Statistics: The American Civil Liberties Union

In 2001, the DoJ issued only 5,683 reported “original orders.” (.pdf) Fast forward to 2011, the latest year for which data is available, the number skyrocketed to 37,616 — a more than sixfold increase. Though these can be used to track e-mail, the vast majority are used to get information on mobile phone users’ phone calls and texts.

Consider that last year mobile carriers responded to a staggering 1.3 million law enforcement requests — which come from federal, state and local police, as well as from administrative offices – for subscriber information, including text messages and phone location data. That’s according to data provided to Congress that was released in July. The nation’s major phone providers said they were working around the clock and charging millions in fees to keep up with ever-growing demands.

Not surprisingly, the number of people affected by such orders has jumped as well – consider the below chart on the number of people who the DoJ got information about using trap-and-traces and pen registers.

Statistics: The American Civil Liberties Union

As the Naomi Gilens points out, “more people were subjected to pen register and trap and trace surveillance in the past two years than in the entire previous decade.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, in ongoing litigation, claims that the National Security Agency, with the help of the nation’s telecoms, is hijacking all electronic communications.

The new statistics also show a large spike in Internet surveillance:

Statistics: The American Civil Liberties Union

While the growth rate for Internet surveillance is high, such surveillance still accounts for a tiny fraction of pen register and trap-and-trace orders overall. In 2011, only about 800 of each type of order was issued for Internet traffic, compared to almost 20,000 of each type of order for telephones.

While it’s useful for the public to have these statistics, they give just one small piece of the overall surveillance puzzle. For example, these statistics likely don’t include cell phone location tracking by law enforcement. They also omit government access to emails stored by third party providers. And they entirely exclude the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program under the FISA Amendment Act. While hard numbers are hard to obtain, what little evidence we do have suggests that all of these forms of surveillance have been increasing.

Why is the government spying on us so much more than it did just a decade ago? The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 were surely one motivating factor. But it can hardly explain the sharp increase in the last two years. Another important factor is likely just supply and demand. As information technology in general has gotten cheaper and more powerful, the technology to capture and store large amounts of intercepted data has also gotten cheaper. So economic constraints that limited the amount of data the government could collect in the past has become less and less of a constraint.

The Failed War on Drugs

This article originally appeared on Disinfo.com

As the financially and morally expensive Drug War rages on, it’s become all too obvious to most of us how futile the efforts of those ‘powers that be’ have been. Virgin Group’s Richard Branson sponsored a global survey that found over 90% of respondents around the world say the War on Drugs has failed. Technology giants like Google may even make a bigger difference when it comes to battling the big Mexican cartels, and Anonymous has even joined the digital fray. While still a very dangerous game (the cartels have been deadly and merciless in theirretribution against online critics in the past), it is clear that the current actions of our governments are not working. In fact, incompetencemixed messaging and/or collusion have only benefited the drug trade.

Since all the facts and figures can be overwhelming, here is a tasty infographic (sent by Camille Brockman) on the wasted tax dollars, inverse consequences, and cost to human lives:

Schrödinger’s Drone: The Assassination Program That Both Does and Doesn’t Exist

This article originally appeared on Disinfo.com

Despite his many ’08 campaign promises and pronouncements after being inaugurated, Barack Obama’s may be the least transparent presidency in modern history, decreasing the fulfillment of FOIA requests each year, and prosecuting record numbers of whistle-blowers. Some of his past statements now seem laughably naïve (either for him or for us):

“For a long time now, there’s been too much secrecy in this city. The old rules said if there was a defensible argument for not disclosing something to the American people, then it should not be disclosed. That era is now over.”

~Barack Obama, January 21, 2009

Nowhere has this hypocrisy been more *ahem* clear, than with the administration’s ramped up drone program, which it alternately attributes and denies is being coordinated between the military and the CIA. The drone strikes which eyewitness and press reports have shown to take place (even at funeral processions and against those trying to give aid to drone strike victims) are veiled behind contradictory official reports, classifications, outright denials, and obfuscatory language. No accurate assessment of civilian deaths can be made, as the administration refuses to acknowledge any real numbers, and furthermore designates any drone strike victims as ex post facto militant combatants.

President Obama recently lied through his teeth to CNN, claiming that the preference was always capture and that strikes required a ‘strict, tight criteria’, while of course, sidestepping any accountability and offering no verifiable numbers or details. Glenn Greenwald and other journalists have done a stellar job of doggedly following these secret military maneuvers, including Eric Holder’s dismissal of due process, which can now be fulfilled by secret “internal deliberations by the executive branch”.

At the same time, government officials love to tout the successes of their drone strikes, such as the assassinations of Anwar al-Awlaki last year, and Abu Yahya al-Libi last June (which may have been a major factor in Al Qaeda’s revenge killings against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi this week). They want to have their cake, but also claim that the cake is a lie. Apparently, the drone program exists in a superposition of possible rest states. Probably shouldn’t trust unnamed sources, anyway.

ProPublica has recently collated the reporting of the secret drone war in a nifty, easy-to-use visual timeline.

Administration officials—often unnamed—frequently seem to celebrate drone strikes that kill suspected militants. But the administration has also worked against disclosures of less positive aspects of the CIA’s program, including how many civilians have been killed. We’ve laid out four years of statements by current and former officials discussing the CIA’s drone program, both on and off the record. (Most of these stories also include a “no comment” from the CIA or the White House.)Highlighted in red are the CIA’s legal stances refusing to even acknowledge the program in response to Freedom of Information Act requests.

ProPublica‘s ongoing project is now available online for your perusal.

Related: How the Gov’t Talks About a Drone Program it Won’t Acknowledge Exists