Book Review: The Art Of Invisibility

The Art of Invisibility is a book about methods of maintaining privacy and anonymity in an age of surveillance by American hacker and cybersecurity analyst Kevin Mitnick. The book gives advice on every aspect of modern technology which could expose one to nosy neighbors, identity thieves, law enforcement, and other sources of unwanted attention. The book is divided into sixteen chapters which advise the reader about various measures that can be taken to improve security.

The introduction begins with the revelations made about the NSA’s activities by Edward Snowden, then discusses the information that is publicly available about most people with very little searching required. The first chapter is about password security and security questions. Tips are given for choosing a strong password, using a password manager, creating answers for security questions, and using multi-factor authentication. The second and third chapters cover surveillance of email and phones. Mitnick covers the concepts of metadata, encryption, and social engineering. He explains how the Tor browser and MAC addresses work. He discusses several current and historic methods of wiretapping phone conversations and pinpointing the location of a phone, then explains how a burner phone may be used to obtain some privacy.

Chapter 4 is about the functionality and use of encryption to thwart eavesdroppers. This is discussed in the context of text messages, cell phones, and computers, each of which is remarkably vulnerable without it. The next chapter begins with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which is now being used to prosecute anyone who deletes browser history that federal prosecutors wish preserved. Mitnick makes the obvious recommendation of not collecting such history in the first place, then instructs the reader on how to do so. He then discusses how Internet browsers track a user’s location and how this may be countered. The chapter concludes with the dangers of connecting devices and cloud storage.

The sixth chapter details various tactics that websites use to track users, such as scripts, single-pixel images, cookies, and toolbars, then offers advice for stopping them. The chapter ends with a basic overview of Bitcoin for overcoming some current legitimate uses for tracking. The dangers of sharing an Internet connection make up the seventh and eighth chapters. Mitnick teaches the reader how to set up an Internet connection that is difficult for malicious users to find and use. Next, he discusses several cases in which webcams were used to spy on people, including underage students. The phenomenon of ransomware, in which a user’s files are encrypted by malware and can only be decrypted by paying an extortionist, concludes Chapter 7. After this comes the pitfalls of public computers and Wi-Fi connections. Lessons on avoiding man-in-the-middle attacks, using virtual private networks, resetting one’s MAC address, and more are found in the eighth chapter.

The second half of the book opens with examples of photo metadata being used to locate people, then tells how to delete such information and prevent it from being created. Mitnick then gives advice on how to get unwanted photographs of oneself removed from websites, though it may not always work. The dangers of posting sensitive personal information on social media or otherwise sharing it with strangers is discussed. The extent to which corporations track commentary on social media is detailed through examples of students found publicly discussing standardized test material. The absurdity of minors facing criminal charges for possessing nude photos of themselves is used to illustrate the potential dangers of Instagram and Snapchat. The chapter finishes with privacy problems that can come from using dating sites and mobile apps.

Mobile device tracking is the subject of the tenth chapter. Mitnick writes about the third-party accessibility of information recorded by fitness-tracking devices as well as the trackability of people through the GPS features of their devices. He also shares an interesting episode of social engineering combined with tracking in which he surprised a careless driver who almost killed him with a stern warning supposedly from the DMV. The use of drones and facial recognition to erode privacy come later in the chapter, along with some prototypical countermeasures. The next two chapters detail how cars and home appliances can be used to track people, then show people how to turn off many of these features. Doing so will deprive users of some convenience, but that is the general cost of privacy and anonymity.

Chapter 13 applies the information discussed in previous chapters to the workplace. The insecurity of copiers, printers, and other such office appliances is highlighted so as to warn readers not to use them for any purpose that one would not want one’s employer or any hacker to see. Videoconferencing and remote file storage systems are covered in the last part of the chapter, with advice given for increasing security on them. The fourteenth chapter details the myriad ways in which government agents violate privacy and interfere with private electronics and communications, then advises readers on how to protect themselves while being aware of the laws in various countries. Also included here are the privacy concerns with hotel keys, supermarket cards, and airline boarding passes should they fall into the wrong hands.

The fifteenth chapter is mostly about the arrest of Ross Ulbricht, describing the mistakes that led to his capture. Devices that masks geolocation, and could thus have hidden Ulbricht from law enforcement had they existed in 2013, are mentioned. The final chapter lays out a step-by-step guide to achieving as much anonymity online as possible.

From beginning to end, Mitnick shares a wealth of information with just the right amount of personal anecdotes and other stories to keep the reader engaged. The Art of Invisibility is an excellent reference that deserves a place on the bookshelf of all who care about online privacy and personal security until enough time passes to render the information within obsolete, which may be on the order of decades.

Rating: 4.5/5

The Benefits of a Trump-Russia Conspiracy

One of the most prominent news stories of the early days of the Trump presidency is the alleged conspiracy between officials in the Trump administration and members of the Russian government to help him get elected. The allegations that Russian intelligence agents interfered in the 2016 election are not going away, despite a lack of clear evidence for such claims. Relationships between senior administration officials and Moscow have come under intensified scrutiny in recent weeks, following Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, who was investigating such connections. But so far, what collusion is known to have occurred did not violate any laws.

As expected, the political and pundit classes are divided along ideological lines. Democrats and establishment Republicans are determined to find a scandal, while Trump supporters insist that this is a conspiracy theory and witch hunt. As usual, the sharpest argument on the issue is going unexplored by the chattering classes: that such a conspiracy, if it has occurred, would be beneficial. Therefore, let us consider the positive results that would occur if a conspiracy between Trump’s campaign and/or administration and the Russian government is proven, as well as the benefits of such collusion.

Un-Intelligence Agencies

If investigators find an improper connection between Trump and Russia, it will thoroughly discredit all of the US government’s intelligence agencies. A foreign power managing to successfully conspire with a presidential candidate in order to install someone who owes them favors at best and is their puppet at worst is exactly the kind of event that those agencies are supposed to prevent. A failure of that magnitude would signal that the leading positions in the US government are vulnerable not only to foreign interference, but to a hostile takeover by agents of a foreign government by means of a Manchurian candidate. Should this be the case, it would be clear for all to see that the government in general and the office of the Presidency in particular are too powerful.

To fail to prevent a declining second-rate power like Russia from altering the outcome of an election should finish off the American people’s trust in these agencies. Their trust has already been diminished by the revelations of Edward Snowden and the general failure of these agencies to do much besides entrap ‘terrorists’ of their own manufacturing, so such a spectacular failure might be the last straw. In a world where centralized statist means of security are increasingly ineffective and decentralized private alternatives are necessary, such a revelation could provide the impetus for a complete rethinking of the provision of security.

Preventing War

As the quote frequently misattributed to Lenin goes, “The best way to control the opposition is to lead it ourselves.” If Trump is compromised by Russian influence, as the conspiracy theorists claim, then war between the United States and Russia becomes pointless from a Russian perspective. Why engage in hostilities with a nation when one has influence over its leadership, but not enough influence to overcome the disparity in military capability? More progress can be made from their position by working with a friendly American president who is compromised by them.

In the world today, there is no greater potential threat to American and Russian citizens than a war between their governments, as each side has nuclear weapons and the great advantage that the United States enjoys in conventional military firepower would encourage Russia to escalate to a nuclear exchange. Of the two major presidential candidates, Clinton was the most bellicose toward Russia and its client state in Syria, and her interventionist position on the Syrian Civil War had great potential to bring American and Russian forces into direct conflict with each other. In the estimation of a competent Russian policymaker, it was in the best interest of Russian citizens (and everyone else, for that matter) for Russia to interfere in the US presidential election to help Trump win, especially by means that would create a sense of reciprocation once Trump is in office. Given the stakes involved, increasing cooperation between the United States and Russia is more important than the means used in so doing.

Delegitimizing The System

Those who hope for the accusations against Trump to be true may not appreciate the logical conclusions of the result they anticipate. If Donald Trump, why not anyone else? If the Presidency, why not any other office? If 2016, why not any other election year? Such a scandal would call into question the democratic process in the United States at every level. Senators, governors, mayors, county commissioners, and all of the rest would be at least as suspect, if not more so. Though such offices lack the power of the Presidency, the resources needed to infiltrate and commandeer such offices are far fewer. These offices could be used to accomplish particular foreign policy goals of Russia, China, or another rival power, such as hampering the construction of a military base in a particular state or blocking funding for anti-ICBM defense systems. Given the power that state and local governments have over the daily lives of citizens, a few solid plants in key positions could do significant damage.

If the process for selecting politicians is compromised, then the laws they pass and policies they enact are compromised a fortiori. The chaos injected into American political life by this realization is scarcely imaginable. Reams of legislation and regulation would need to be examined and possibly invalidated on the grounds that they were not properly ratified. Politicians and judges would be scrambling to figure out the correct precedent to set for dealing with such an event. Should they be in error (and they likely would be), their perceived legitimacy would be greatly diminished. Leaving dubiously passed laws and regulations in place would taint the perceived validity of the whole United States Code and federal regulations, while examining them all would take entirely too much time. The third option of eliminating many of these policies would provide a rare opportunity to repeal a large amount of burdensome legislation and regulation.

Additionally, all of the appointments the politicians have made would come into question, from department heads all the way up to Supreme Court justices. This would call all of their decisions into question as well. When someone points out that these politicians and judges have a conflict of interest because they themselves might be compromised by foreign influence, the American people might even get to witness a Mexican standoff of “Are You A Soviet Spy?” between government officials, which would be thoroughly entertaining, if nothing else.

Should Congress try to impeach Trump over a revelation that his election was compromised by Russia, it is likely that he would respond by declassifying and speaking about all of the underhanded means that they have used to bribe their way into their House and Senate seats, as well as any other scandals in which they might be involved. The American people would suddenly learn that the system is far more hopelessly corrupt than they ever imagined. Tu quoque may be a logical fallacy, but it has tremendous moral and emotional weight. If Trump went down, he could take many members of Congress with him when the 2018 midterm elections come.

Though everyone in the establishment would consider these events to be unthinkably dangerous, for libertarians this chain of events would be nothing short of glorious. Though it might endanger Americans in the short term to have such a government failure, it would provide an excellent opportunity for market actors to step in and provide more effective services. The loss of faith in democracy would allow for more libertarian forms of governance to be considered with less public hostility.

Conclusion

Regardless of the actual facts of the case, a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian government would be beneficial to Americans on multiple counts. The aftermath of such a revelation is impossible to predict, but no one could reasonably conclude that more statism is the answer. Thus, let us hope that the conspiracy theorists are correct. Such a sharp line of argumentation has gone completely unexplored by the establishment media, and one may speculate that this is due to a combination of their role as propagandists for the US government, a lack of insightful boldness, and the damning implications of such reasoning for the status quo political arrangement.

On Sharp Argumentation

In chess, the term ‘sharp’ is used to denote a move, position, game, or style of play that involves highly tactical positions in which there is the potential for great reward and little or no room for error. The term may also refer to a player who regularly plays in such a manner. A sharp position frequently contains a significant amount of asymmetry, meaning that the position has differing goals for each player. Players may use sharp moves in order to take an opponent out of his or her comfort zone and see if this can produce a mistake that one can use to win the game. But this can also backfire; a mistake on one’s own part can lose the game in such positions. The essence of sharp play is to play aggressively, making threats and responding to threats with counter-threats rather than with passive or retreating moves. Common advice to novice players is to practice playing sharp lines, but doing this in tournaments or against stronger players is likely to produce defeats, as one is likely to make a mistake. It is more effective to be a sharp player than to try to find sharp moves here and there.

An analogy may be drawn with a particular style of argumentation. Sharp argumentation aims to step outside the Overton window in order to take an arguer out of their comfort zone and make them defend ideas that they assumed were universally accepted. The goals are different for each participant in sharp argumentation, in that the mainstream commentator is trying to defend the range of allowable opinion while the sharp arguer is trying to challenge and move it in their direction. This tactic has the high risk of making one look foolish if one cannot defend such a position with great skill, and it has the high reward of making an opponent look foolish if they cannot attack the position well. The goal of a debater should not be to seek out particular sharp positions just to troll and trifle with one’s opponents, but to become sharper in a more general sense.

Accepting Absurdity

With the nature of sharp argumentation established, let us now consider a situation in which one might use this tactic. Consider a libertarian who supports the right to keep and bear arms and is going to debate with a progressive who supports greater gun control measures. The progressive says, “The right to keep and bear arms is not absolute. For example, no one thinks private citizens should have nuclear weapons. There are reasonable restrictions that we can all agree upon.” The goal of the progressive here is to define a certain position as out of bounds while stealthily taking ground.

How might the libertarian respond? One could agree that there should be some restrictions, but believe that the state is not the best way to accomplish this. While this is not anathema to libertarian theory, in the sense that the rules of membership in a stateless community may require that one not be in possession of certain weapons if one wishes to remain in that community, it is a dull response because it both accepts the opponent’s framing of the issue and makes a concession where none need be made. Another possible response is to accuse the progressive of throwing out a red herring because the discussion is about guns that are commonly used by individuals, not weapons of mass destruction. This is not as dull of a response because it calls out the tactic that the opponent is using, but it is not sharp because it does not answer the claim in a robust manner.

Now let us consider a sharp response. The libertarian says, “Speak for yourself. I support private ownership of nuclear weapons,” and offers a detailed explanation of why nuclear weapons are better in private hands than under state control. This line is sharp because it rejects the opponent’s framing of the debate, robustly accepts an idea that the opponent regards as absurd, and strongly challenges all mainstream views about nuclear weapon ownership. The progressive may become so flustered as to regard the libertarian as beyond reason, responding with insults, dismissals, and other such non-arguments. Getting an opponent to react in this way does not necessarily mean that one’s reasoning is correct, but it does make one the winner of the argument as long as one remains calm and reasonable while the opponent loses composure. Short of this, the progressive may attempt to pick apart various aspects of the case for private nuclear weapons. In this case, the libertarian must be able to defend against such attempts because a false move can easily lose the battle for public opinion, while a solid defense against every objection will make the progressive look poorly versed in the subject matter.

Discomfort Zone

Some lines of sharp argumentation require an arguer to leave one’s own comfort zone in order to battle the opponent on unfamiliar ground. Consider a Republican who is debating a Democrat concerning the 2016 election. The Democrat says, “The 2016 election result, and thus the presidency of Donald Trump, is illegitimate because of Russian interference during the general election.” Here, the Democrat is making a strong claim backed by what is an unproven accusation at the time of this writing.

How might the Republican respond? One could say that there needs to be a full investigation into connections between the Donald Trump campaign and the Russian government to find out the extent of any collusion between the two, but stop short of agreeing with the Democrat. While a Republican may have legitimate concerns over foreign meddling in the democratic process, this is a dull response because it accepts the Democrat’s framing of the situation and concedes that the Democrat may be correct. Another possible response is to point out that there is no evidence of tampering with the election process itself, other than the usual questions about turnouts exceeding 100 percent in a few heavily Democratic districts. This response is not dull because it reframes the issue in terms of hacking of email servers belonging to Democrats, as well as in terms of election tampering done by Democrats. But it is not sharp because it fails to challenge the Democrat’s claim that Russia was involved and that this would delegitimize Trump.

In this case, going sharp requires one to depart from Republican orthodoxy and take a libertarian-leaning position that is too extreme for most Republicans to entertain. The Republican says, “There is no evidence that the Russians altered the outcome of the election to hand Trump the Presidency, but if they did, they were justified in doing it,” followed by a case for why they would be justified. This line of argumentation departs quite far from Republican orthodoxy about national security and foreign policy, but is very capable of throwing the Democrat for a loop. As before, the leftist may forfeit the argument by losing composure, hurling insults and dismissals. Otherwise, the Republican would need to defend the positions that Hillary Clinton was more likely to cause a war with Russia, that the Russian people have a right to influence the US election because they are affected by its result, and that the US has no room to talk given its track record of overthrowing governments when its leaders dislike election results. The latter two are certainly not conventional Republican arguments, but they are defensible. Again, failure to defend such bold positions effectively would make the Republican look crazy, but a skilled defense may leave the Democrat speechless.

Enough Versus Too Much

Just as there are problems with being too dull, one can also argue too sharply. Consider a conservative who is debating a social justice warrior on almost any topic that one cares to imagine. At some point, the social justice warrior is likely to resort to calling the conservative and/or the case the conservative is making racist, misogynist, or another such epithet. The SJW is doing this in an effort to cow the conservative into backing down from the case being made.

How might the conservative respond? All too frequently, the conservative will say, “I am not a misogynist/racist/etc.,” or “No, it isn’t,” followed by an apology or rationalization. This is dull because it plays into the SJW’s narrative. When a SJW resorts to name-calling, they are no longer engaged in rational discussion, and attempting to bring the discussion back to rationality once one of the participants has renounced reasoned debate is like administering medicine to the dead. An apology is even worse, as this concedes the point to the opponent and emboldens other SJWs to shut down debate by similar means. A better response is to inform the SJW that name-calling is not an argument and leave it at that, though this lacks the necessary boldness to be a sharp response. It also fails to challenge the frame set by the SJW.

A sharp response by the conservative would look something like this: “Fine, it is misogynist/racist/etc. It also happens to agree with the available facts. Now, make a valid counter-argument.” This response is sharp because it refuses to back down while challenging both the SJW’s framing of the issue and definitions of terms. Many SJWs have no argument beyond calling a person or idea bigoted, so this response is likely to make a SJW lose any sense of composure and fail to say anything else of substance. In the rare instance that one must continue, one must be able to make the case, as failing to do so can get one labeled a misogynist/racist/etc., which can have many adverse consequences.

A response that would be too sharp would be to reply to an accusation of racism or sexism by displaying clearly hateful bigotry toward the SJW. A response along the lines of “Shut up, (insert misogynist/racist/etc. slur here)” may be satisfying in the moment, but this is a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. An impartial observer will view the SJW as the victor for getting the conservative to respond in such a vulgar fashion. Meanwhile, the media career of someone who does this will take a major hit, which is exactly what the SJW wants.

Conclusion

Used properly, sharp arguments can explore new avenues of thought while making inferior debaters look foolish. However, improper usage can be disastrous not only for one’s argument, but for one’s reputation. As always, research and practice are necessary in order to perform properly in an intellectual setting. Sharp argumentation is not for everyone, but it is a useful tactic to know even for someone who is not naturally inclined to argue in such a manner.

Book Review: The Invention of Russia

The Invention of Russia is a book about the history of the Soviet Union and the formation of modern Russia by Russian journalist Arkady Ostrovsky. The book focuses on the time period of the rule of Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin, and Vladimir Putin. Special attention is paid to the role played by the media in shaping narratives and steering the population from the Soviet era to the present.

The prologue deals with the author’s experience during and immediately after the assassination of Boris Nemtsov on February 27, 2015. He briefly overviews events over the past few decades that factored into Nemtsov’s murder, and the author’s experiences through those years are also discussed.

The book proper is divided into two parts, each with five chapters. The division between the parts is roughly set at the 1993 Russian constitutional crisis. The first chapter begins with the end of the Soviet Union, then backtracks to give the reader a sense of Soviet history up to Gorbachev’s rise to power, with emphasis on the events that foreshadowed it, such as de-Stalinization and the crushing of the Prague Spring. The second chapter covers the time from Gorbachev’s appointment to the fall of the Berlin Wall. The nature of perestroika and glasnost are discussed, as well as how the Chernobyl incident affected both. Later in the chapter, Ostrovsky details the split between the liberal reformers and the Stalinist hardliners, as well as the beginnings of the privatization of state assets which formed the class of Russian oligarchs. The third chapter explores the final two years of the Soviet Union, including the economic difficulties, the rise of Yeltsin, the worries of the KGB and other elements of the Soviet power structure, the January Events in Lithuania, and the 1991 Soviet coup attempt. The fourth chapter looks at the role played by the media in the dissolution of the Soviet Union and how the generational shift from the shestidesiatniki to their children affected the changes. The Kommersant newspaper is highlighted as an example of the new Russian media, as well as one of several examples of less than honest business practices in the early 1990s, which occurred due to the moral vacuum left by communism. The fifth chapter covers the time from the end of the Soviet Union up to the 1993 crisis, with particular attention to the role of television, radio, and print media in shaping the narrative and saving Russia from another Communist takeover.

The sixth chapter continues the discussion of the 1993 crisis, then moves on to the creation of NTV, Russia’s first Western-style television station. Of course, NTV had to compete with Channel One and other state media, which caused tensions with the state when NTV covered the first Chechnya war from the Chechen point of view. The chapter concludes with the 1996 election, in which the media played an essential role in bringing Yeltsin up from single-digit polling to a victory over Gennady Zyuganov, his Communist challenger. The seventh chapter continues with the events after the election, including a battle between oligarchs that turned into a political crisis, continued troubles with Chechnya, the search for a vision for Russia moving forward, and finally, the 1998 Russian financial crisis.The eighth chapter shows how this milieu combined with NATO airstrikes in Serbia and an overly propagandistic media was able to elevate an obscure KGB agent named Vladimir Putin to the presidency of Russia. The decision of most of NTV’s leadership to side against this was the beginning of the end for the station. The ninth chapter covers the time from the beginning of Putin’s rule to the invasion of Ukraine in 2014, including the ouster of several high-profile opponents of the regime, the bringing of NTV into the control of Gazprom and its gradual turn toward the regime, further trouble with Chechen terrorists, the Russo-Georgian War, and the activities of various media personalities. The tenth chapter looks at Putin’s rule in light of Russian popular culture, the rise of the bureaucrat-entrepreneur, the protests of 2011-13, the military operations in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, and the use of propaganda to manufacture support for foreign aggression.

The book is excellent at face value, providing a perspective that can only come from a native person who lived through many of the events described in the book. But it is even more valuable to libertarians and reactionaries for the obvious parallels between Russian history and the current state of affairs in the West, as well as for the warnings concerning the improper dismantling of government monopolies, as happened during the transition from the Soviet Union to modern Russia.

To conclude, the unique explanations of historical events and the focus on the role of the media in steering the ship of state make this book an invaluable addition to the collection of any activist, analyst, historian, strategist, or student.

Rating: 5/5

In Defense of Russian Hacking

One of the most prominent news stories both during and after the 2016 presidential campaign is the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and phishing of then-Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s email system, along with the public release of thousands of emails, many of which included damaging revelations about the Democratic Party and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

The US government publicly announced on October 7, 2016 that it was “confident” Russia orchestrated the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and other political organizations of the Democratic Party. On December 29, 2016, the FBI and DHS released a report which details evidence that Russia was behind the attacks. President-elect Donald Trump rejects this assessment, pointing to the intelligence community’s numerous failures over recent years as cause to view their conclusions with suspicion. Of course, the establishment media have used this as an opportunity to attack Trump, and Trump’s opponents have used this to try to delegitimize his electoral victory.

Many of the most important facts of the case are dubious and/or classified, so the general public may not have the full details for many years to come. Even though there is no evidence that the actual voting process was hacked, let us assume for the sake of argument that the Russian government was responsible for the most extreme charge made by anyone: that of altering the outcome of the election to hand Trump the Presidency. I will attempt to show that if they did this, they were justified in doing it.

Preventing Nuclear War

Those who believe that the state is a necessary institution almost unanimously take the position that a government’s primary purpose is to defend its subjects from external threats. In the world today, there is no greater potential threat to Russian citizens than a war with the United States. Of the two major presidential candidates, Clinton was the most bellicose toward Russia, and her interventionist position on the Syrian Civil War had great potential to bring American and Russian forces into direct conflict with each other. Once two global powers are at war, developments can quickly spiral out of hand. Given the great advantage that the United States enjoys in conventional military firepower, the Russians could very well escalate to the use of nuclear weapons. Thus, Clinton was more likely to cause World War III and the end of life as we know it than Trump. Therefore, in the estimation of a competent Russian policymaker, it was in the best interest of Russian citizens (and everyone else, for that matter) for Russia to interfere in the US presidential election to help Trump win.

Ancient Liberty

From ancient times, there has been a sense that at least some of the citizenry should have a voice in determining the nature of governing structures which affect them. If we take this premise to its logical conclusion, one should not only have some means to alter the state in one’s own jurisdiction, but every state which has a measurable effect on one’s life. Being the most powerful and dangerous state apparatus in human history, the United States government affects everyone in the world through its foreign policy. Non-citizens of the United States are legally prohibited from voting in US elections under pain of fines, imprisonment, inadmissibility, and/or deportation. Non-citizens are also legally prohibited from funding political campaigns, parties, or communications. But a foreign national does have the means to alter a US election result by hacking political party servers, emails of campaign staff, and/or voting machines. Though a state does not legitimately act as the agent of its citizens in theory, this is the current way of the world. For the state to monopolize the service of representing an individual’s interests on the global stage is a travesty, but to monopolize this service and then fail to provide it is even worse. So again, if the state is to defend its subjects against external threats and act as their agent in foreign affairs, then a government may interfere with another government’s democratic process to attempt to ensure favorable results for its people.

The Moral Low Ground

The establishment media is attempting to sell outrage over Russian interference in American democracy, but is conveniently omitting the fact that espionage is a nearly universal aspect of statecraft, and cyber-warfare is an essential aspect of this for all states which are capable of it. Even allies spy on each other in the hopes of avoiding being blindsided by a sudden shift in foreign policy. The idea that the Russian government is aggressing against Americans absent any cyber-attacks by the US government against Russia is too naïve to take seriously. Furthermore, as the US has a dark and bloody history of dealing with unfavorable election trends by means of carrying out political assassinations, aiding coups d’état, and militarily invading other countries, American political leaders have no room to talk about another state interfering non-violently in a foreign country’s political processes.

Conclusion

Regardless of the actual facts of the case, the Russian government would have been justified in trying to prevent a war between two nuclear states, as well as in acting on behalf of its citizens rather than failing to do so. Such a sharp line of argumentation has gone completely unexplored by the establishment media, and one may speculate that this is due to a combination of their role as propagandists for the US government, a lack of insightful boldness, and the implications of such reasoning for the status quo global political arrangement.

Eleven observations on the Orlando shooting

At 2:00 a.m. on June 12, a terrorist who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State attacked a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., killing 49 people and injuring 53 others. Police later killed the shooter during a hostage standoff. The attack was the deadliest mass shooting by a single gunman in U.S. history, the deadliest incident of violence against LGBT people in U.S. history, and the deadliest terrorist attack in the U.S. since the attacks of September 11, 2001. Eleven observations on this incident follow.

1. A gun-free zone is a victim disarmament zone. The Pulse nightclub was a gun-free zone. But criminals are defined by the fact that they disregard laws as well as the wishes of private property owners. As such, the only people who would have a gun in a gun-free zone would be government agents and criminals (but I repeat myself). Mass shooters usually choose gun-free zones to attack, as they know that they will almost certainly not be facing citizens who can shoot back.

2. Politicians will never let a crisis go to waste. Before the dead bodies were even cold, leftists predictably began calling for tougher gun control measures. To politicize a tragedy and use it to put emotion above reason and evidence is par from the course for those who seek to expand the power of the state and curtail individual rights. Like other mass shooters before him, this gunman was undeterred by the background checks which are in place, as he had no felony convictions, no domestic violence convictions, no restraining orders against him, no dishonorable discharge from the military, was not a fugitive from justice, was never committed to a mental institution, and was not denied a firearm purchase by mistake. No measures that have been proposed would have disarmed the shooter without also disarming many innocent people.

3. Internal conflicts that are irreconcilable predictably lead to violence. The shooter was both gay and Muslim. The Quran condemns homosexuality, and some schools of Islamic jurisprudence support capital punishment for it, especially those linked to terrorism. As such, the shooter had a belief that an aspect of his being that he could not change made him worthy of death or other severe punishment. Those who think so lowly of themselves are unlikely to think highly of others, especially others who share that aspect of one’s being. Those who think lowly of themselves and others are far more likely to commit violent crimes than those who have a healthy sense of self-respect and respect for others.

4. Government has not solved this problem because it cannot. Governments are effective at destroying other centralized entities. If there is a physical target that can be bombed or a living person that can be exterminated, states are usually able to carry out those acts. (Of course, they frequently go overboard with their bombings and killings, which motivates more people to become terrorists, but statists rarely care about this, as prolonged war is prolonged health of the state.) The regimes of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein quickly fell after the U.S. military invaded their respective lands. But in their wake came decentralized enemies in the form of anti-occupation insurgents, online jihadist recruitment, and home-grown lone-wolf terrorists. These have proven impossible for governments to stop. After all, governments, with their bureaucratic red tape and intrinsic inefficiencies, must be correct every time in order to prevent all terrorist attacks. Islamic jihadists, with their ability to remotely recruit and train new terrorists anywhere in the world, need only be correct once to carry out each attack. When governments do catch such terrorists, they must do so either through a legally dubious entrapment scheme or by catching the terrorist after an attack has been carried out. Even these arrests sometimes occur after private citizens find terrorists who evade government agents.

5. Even if governments could stop terrorism, it would not be in their interest to do so. If the War on Terrorism were won, then the rationale for police statism and massive military spending would vanish. If the War on Terrorism were lost, then the state would fail at the one job that it is supposedly solely capable of performing, namely keeping its people safe. The ideology of Islamic terrorists disallows a draw, so the only other option is an endless war.

6. Part of the solution is division, not unification. People cannot peacefully coexist with people who want to kill them. If people cannot peacefully coexist, then they need to separate. It makes perfect sense for an LGBT establishment to ban known adherents of a religion that considers LGBT people to be fair targets for killing. But governments interfere with the private property rights and freedom of association of their citizens by enforcing laws against discrimination, thus preventing people from taking necessary and proper measures to ensure their safety.

7. Some religions are more dangerous than others. There are many religions which call for violence against non-believers as well as violence against people who engage in certain sexual practices, even if those practices do no harm to anyone who is not a willing participant. But in the contemporary world, Islam has a disproportionate percentage of followers who believe that such violence is legitimate.

8. In the digital age, dead men can still tell tales. The shooter was radicalized in part by videos made by Anwar al-Awlaki, a pro-terrorism imam. Although Awlaki was killed in a drone strike in September 2011, his videos live on at various locations on the Internet. As such, killing recruiters for terrorism is no longer sufficient to stop them.

9. A backlash is likely to follow. Just as far-right anti-immigrant movements gained ground following the Paris attacks and the Brussels attacks, they are likely to do so again, especially with the rise of Donald Trump. Although the shooter was born in New York and raised in Florida, his parents immigrated from Afghanistan. His father is a well-known Taliban sympathizer who holds anti-American and anti-LGBT views. In a sense, it is worse for a person born and raised in a country to commit a terrorist attack there than for an immigrant to do so, as it suggests a fundamental incompatibility between cultures.

10. The terrorist has blood on his hands, but so does the American government. The American government allowed the shooter’s parents to enter the country despite their own radicalism, banned discrimination, conducted an interventionist foreign policy that motivated terrorists like this one to retaliate, and failed to stop him despite knowing that he was a threat. While the ultimate responsibility for evil acts falls upon those who commit the acts, there is a vicarious responsibility upon the American government for taking actions which made the attacks possible and likely.

11. Terrorism cannot be solved by more terrorism. Merriam-Webster defines terrorism as “the use of violent acts to frighten the people in an area as a way of trying to achieve a political goal.” Oxford defines terrorism as “the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.” A government is a group of people who exercise a monopoly on the initiation of force within a geographical area. In other words, a government uses violence and intimidation to keep its population obedient and manage external threats to its operation. This leads to an important truth that few wish to speak: every government is a terrorist organization. For decades, Western nations have attempted to defeat Islamic terrorism with more terrorism in the form of military interventions, to build Western democracies among populations whose cultures are incompatible with such an apparatus, and to arm one faction against another even though such weapons frequently fall into the hands of the most evil and destructive groups. What Western leaders fail to realize is that in the irrational game of Middle East politics, the only winning moves for them are to withdraw from the game or to knock over the board.

Ten observations on the Paris attacks

On Nov. 13, at least eight terrorists affiliated with the Islamic State attacked several locations in Paris, killing 129 people and injuring 352 others. Seven of the terrorists were killed during the attacks. Ten observations on this incident follow.

1. Who dies matters more to the media than how many die. The day before the Paris attacks, a similar event was perpetrated in Beirut, killing 43 and injuring 239. The media coverage of this event was disproportionately less than that of the Paris attacks, even though Lebanon had also gone ten months without a terrorist attack just as France had.

2. Immigration policy is partly to blame. In a community founded on libertarian principles, immigration would be on an invite-only basis, regardless of who the immigrants are. Someone would have to sponsor an immigrant, have lodging set up for them, have employment set up for them unless the immigrant is wealthy enough to live without working or the immigrant is fleeing an immediate danger, and perhaps have some vicarious liability should the immigrant turn out to be a criminal. Unfortunately, the immigration policies of nation-states do not remotely resemble this standard. They overrule the desires of property owners through their monopoly on initiatory force and exercise exclusive control over who may enter and/or remain within a geographical area. This is bad enough, but to violently monopolize a service and then fail to provide it is even worse. Had France and other European nations refused to allow the terrorists to enter or remain inside their territory or allowed private property owners to impose the same, then the Paris attacks could not have happened.

3. Anti-discrimination laws are partly to blame. Like most Western nations, France violates the private property rights and freedom of association of its citizens by enforcing laws against discrimination. In France, there is an “independent administrative authority” which “has the right to judge all discrimination, direct or indirect, that is prohibited by law or an international agreement to which France is a signatory.” With this sort of interference, the French people are disallowed from asserting their individual preferences and working out their biases in action. This not only deprives them of recourse against an invasion of immigrants that they do not want and that their government forces upon them, but will contribute to the backlash that is sure to follow an event like the Paris attacks.

4. Gun control is partly to blame. France’s gun control laws are not quite as oppressive as those of some other countries, but carrying a firearm in public essentially requires one to be a government agent or a criminal (but I repeat myself). This meant that the only people who had guns in Paris during the attacks were the terrorists and the police, and when seconds mattered, the police were hours away. Gun control did nothing to prevent the Paris attacks, nor will it do anything to stop the next attack. It will only disarm the victims and keep them from defending themselves. The politicians prefer it this way, of course; a well-armed populace has little need for the state to protect them and is much harder for the state to victimize.

5. The attacks were an example of blowback. Syria was a colony of France from 1923 to 1946. France has also been a participant in the War on Terror since it began in 2001. More recently, France has intervened in the Syrian Civil War, providing air support for the Kurds and providing training, funding, and non-lethal military aid to rebels opposed to both Bashar al-Assad and Islamic State. This intervention is known to have motivated at least one of the terrorists in Paris, who shouted, “This is for Syria!” The Islamic State claim of responsibility for the attacks says in part,

Let France and all nations following its path know that they will continue to be at the top of the target list for the Islamic State and that the scent of death will not leave their nostrils as long as they partake in the crusader campaign, as long as they dare to curse our Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him), and as long as they boast about their war against Islam in France and their strikes against Muslims in the lands of the Caliphate with their jets, which were of no avail to them in the filthy streets and alleys of Paris. Indeed, this is just the beginning. It is also a warning for any who wish to take heed.

6. The terrorists have blood on their hands, but so does the French government. The French government let the terrorists in and failed to expel them, banned discrimination against them, disarmed the French people so they could not defend themselves, and conducted an interventionist foreign policy that motivated terrorists to retaliate. While the ultimate responsibility for evil acts falls upon those who commit the acts, there is a vicarious responsibility upon the French government for taking actions which made the attacks possible and likely.

7. A backlash is likely to follow. Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right Front National party, has seized upon the opportunity presented by the Paris attacks to push for a more nationalist, anti-immigrant, and anti-Islamic policy. Her vice president and close adviser, Florian Philippot, and her niece Marion Maréchal-Le Pen have also spoken out to link immigration with Islamism and terrorism. An anti-immigrant protest organized by far-right groups in Germany has occurred since the Paris attacks, and a more anti-immigrant government is taking office in Poland. Like most emotional outbursts, the backlash is likely to be against anyone who appears to be similar to Islamic terrorists, which will cause problems for peaceful Muslims.

8. The state will never let a good crisis go to waste. Since the Paris attacks, the French government has ramped up police state measures, such as the first nighttime curfews and border closures since 1944; curtailment of free assembly, freedom from search and seizure, and the right to keep and bear arms; and the ability of government agents to act without judicial oversight. To exert such control over the domestic population is the dream of many who wield state power, but only in a crisis can they get the people to accept it with applause.

9. Nation-states do not learn from the mistakes of other nation-states. French President Francois Hollande has said that “France is at war,” that “France will be merciless,” and that “Terrorism will not destroy France, because France will destroy it.“ This is highly reminiscent of then-President George W. Bush’s statements following the September 11 attacks, and it appears that France may make the same mistakes that America made after 9/11. This should not be a surprise, of course. Nation-states do not learn from the mistakes of other nation-states because they do not have to. When a group of people face no competition in the provision of military defense services and may force a population to pay for said services, there is no incentive to improve quality of service or be economically reasonable about it.

10. Terrorism cannot be solved by more terrorism. Merriam-Webster defines terrorism as “the use of violent acts to frighten the people in an area as a way of trying to achieve a political goal.” Oxford defines terrorism as “the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.” A government is a group of people who exercise a monopoly on the initiation of force within a geographical area. In other words, a government uses violence and intimidation to keep its population obedient and manage external threats to its operation. This leads to an important truth that few wish to speak: every government is a terrorist organization. For decades, Western nations have attempted to defeat Islamic terrorism with more terrorism in the form of military interventions, to build Western democracies among populations whose cultures are incompatible with such an apparatus, and to arm one faction against another even though such weapons frequently fall into the hands of the most evil and destructive groups. What Western leaders fail to realize is that in the irrational game of Middle East politics, the only winning moves are to withdraw from the game or to knock over the board. For the sake of avoiding unimaginable destruction and needless genocide, let us demand that they choose the former.

Book Review: Selected Salvos from the Loose Cannon Libertarian

Selected Salvos from the Loose Cannon Libertarian is a collection of political, social and cultural articles written by fellow Libertarian Examiner Garry Reed.

Mr. Reed begins with an article about a lesson taught by a comic strip about Scrooge McDuck which shows how free markets reward productivity and punish corruption, as well as offers an explanation for why currency debasement is not helping to fix the economy. In the next article, Reed presents a solid case for how government is the cause of most of the chaos present in daily life, rather than the barrier keeping disorder at bay, as is the common delusion.

Next, Mr. Reed explores some hypothetical future news stories which have yet to happen. While the stories are plausible, they lower the credibility level of the book and feel out of place.

The following article considers the faith-based initiative during the Bush administration and the media’s reaction to it. Predictably, they focused on the matter of separation of church and state but ignored the replacement of charity with the distribution of stolen goods through government welfare programs, an injustice perpetrated by Democrats and Republicans alike.

Next, there is a foray into the subject of jury nullification. While a good article, it is somewhat incomplete from a historical perspective, failing to mention the Supreme Court decision Sparf v. U.S. (1895), which led to the current lack of information given to juries about the option, as well as Bushell’s Case (1670), in which the practice of jury nullification was firmly established in English (and hence American) law.

Another article concerns the failure of government-run public transportation, as well as how a free market in such services is more efficient, but it reads more like a petition than a logical case against government services.

The next article purports to explain libertarianism to the uninitiated, but really only succeeds at explaining what libertarianism is not. A philosophical approach to libertarianism must be found elsewhere, and Mr. Reed even admits as much, begging the question of why it is included in the book.

Several articles following concern a libertarian, non-interventionist (but not isolationist) approach to foreign policy, and how failing to follow such policies has incited hatred and violence against Americans. Mr. Reed recommends a few measures that are not purely libertarian, such as maintaining a state-run military and offering rewards (presumably tax-funded) to intelligence-bearing defectors from other nations, he does deliver a mostly sound criticism of current foreign policy, and even manages to sound a bit like Harry Browne at times. He also explores the civil liberties issues of the PATRIOT Act in standard libertarian form.

Mr. Reed then turns his attention to the judicial branch, and some of the reasons why it has failed to protect Americans from the overreaches of the legislative and executive branches. Toward the end of this section, he recommends the correct solution: make the state irrelevant by disobeying and nullifying its laws.

Next up is a humorous piece with a multitude of pork references concerning multiple manners of government interference in the affairs of peaceful people. While a good read, it feels out of step with much of the rest of the book.

Mr. Reed finishes with criticisms of the War on Drugs, adeptly pointing out the logical fallacies of government anti-drug ads, as well as the truth about where drug cartels and terrorists get much of the money they need to cause havoc (spoiler alert: it is stolen from American taxpayers and handed over by the US government).

Overall, the book has high points but is lacking in details and depth, and Mr. Reed’s self-deprecating sense of humor in some places can become tiresome. This could be a possible starting point for those interested in libertarianism, but better introductions can be found elsewhere.

Rating: 3/5

The Santa Claus Lie And The Harm It Does To Children

Every year on Christmas Eve, children across America eagerly await a visit from Santa Claus. Children are typically led to believe that he is a nice man who visits the homes of good children to bring them presents. While many parents may believe that this is a harmless “white lie”, there is a case to be made that the myth of Santa Claus is actually very harmful to children. Let us examine the facts.

First, we begin with the true origin of Santa Claus and the custom of leaving presents under a tree. His original form was nothing like his common appearance today. The custom of presents placed under a tree began with mother/child cult of Semiramis and Nimrod in ancient Babylon. The mythology says that Nimrod married his mother, setting her up as the “queen of heaven” and himself up as the “divine son of heaven.” The two of them had a son named Tammuz. Upon Nimrod’s death, Semiramis claimed to see an evergreen tree spring up to full size overnight, symbolizing the “new life of Nimrod.” She then taught Tammuz to go into forests and make offerings to his father on the day that is December 25 in the Gregorian calendar (the origin of the date of Christmas), who was now worshiped as the sun god Ba’al, the false god mentioned numerous times in the Old Testament of the Bible. This Babylonian myth is the true origin of the custom of leaving presents under a tree. The custom was well-known to the author of the book of Jeremiah in the Old Testament, which includes the following:

“Do not learn the way of the Gentiles; do not be dismayed at the signs of heaven, for the Gentiles are dismayed at them. For the customs of the peoples are futile; for one cuts a tree from the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the ax. They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with nails and hammers so that it will not topple. They are upright, like a palm tree, and they cannot speak; they must be carried, because they cannot go by themselves. Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, nor can they do any good.” ~Jeremiah 10:2-5 (NKJV)

The book of Jeremiah is believed to have been written in the late 7th century and early 6th century BCE, which was well before the time of Jesus, disproving any assertions that the customs surrounding Christmas were an invention of Christians. According to William L. Langer’s Encyclopedia of World History, Nimrod was also known as “Santa” throughout Asia Minor. Another name for Nimrod, used in Greece, was “Nikolaos.” The name Nikolaos (Nicolas) is a combination of the Greek words nikos and laos, which together mean “victory over the laity” or “conqueror of common people.” So “Santa Claus” or “Saint Nicholas” is really a manifestation of the ancient cults of Babylon.

Now that we know the truth about the Santa Claus myth, let us examine what a parent is doing when telling a child that Santa Claus is real. Parents who participate in the Santa Claus lie are destroying their own credibility. The children will someday realize that their parents have lied to them, and while this particular lie may not do a great deal of damage in and of itself, the fact is that the children cannot trust their parents after that point. This can lead to trust issues that persist even into adult life, as well as damage a fundamental and irreplaceable relationship in a young person’s life.

Another danger is that the Santa Claus myth teaches children to believe in entities whose existence and efficacy are not supported by credible evidence. A scientific analysis of what Santa Claus and his flying reindeer would have to do to fulfill the conditions set for him shows that he would have to endure G-forces more than 1,000 times beyond what is lethal. The idea of gifts coming seemingly out of nowhere, deus ex machina style, to those who deserve them, requires a supernatural violation of physics as well as economics. If a child can be taught to believe in Santa Claus in the absence of credible evidence, then it will be easier for them to fall prey to religious cults or confidence schemes later on.

But perhaps the most damaging aspect of the Santa Claus myth relates to the similarities between Santa Claus and the institution of the state. Remember the song that goes, “He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake?” The idea of a benevolent gift-giver who regularly violates one’s right to privacy is a close approximation of government under the ideals of collectivism, and sets up children to be accepting of a state apparatus that frequently violates their natural rights. A young child is not yet able to grasp the ideas of the state, taxation, bribery, etc., but he or she can understand the idea of rewards for obedience. Thus the myth of Santa Claus makes the subjects of the state easier to control, and helps to fulfill the definition of the name “Saint Nicolas.”

All things considered, the story of Santa Claus is a setup for destroying trust in the family, trust in reason and science, and the desire for freedom and liberty in the mind of a child. For this reason, we can fairly say that telling the Santa Claus lie to children is a form of mental abuse. If you want children to value honesty and have a healthy, independent mind, tell them the truth about Santa Claus.