Monday, October 16, 2017

Stan Lee (1)

Stan Lee at MegaCon 2017 in Orlando

Catalonia Shows the Danger of Disarming Civilians

Catalonia Shows the Danger of Disarming Civilians

Since the tragic murder of 59 peaceful concertgoers in Las Vegas Sunday, I’ve heard well-intentioned Americans from all political corners echoing heartbroken and tempting refrains:

Can’t we just ban guns?

Surely we can all get together on the rocket launchers.

Things like this would happen less often.

We have enough military.

While victims were still in surgery, some took to television and social media to criticize the “outdated” and “dangerous” Second Amendment to the Constitution. They have lived so long in a safe, stable society that they falsely believe armed citizens are a threat to life and liberty for everyone.

Those who claim to see no necessity or benefits of individual gun ownership need only look to the rolling hills of Catalonia, where a live social experiment is currently unfolding.

Unarmed Patriots

Just hours before an alleged lone gunman opened fire from the Mandalay Bay casino, the citizens of a small region surrounding Barcelona, Spain, cast a vote for their regional independence. Catalonia’s citizens have a unique language, culture, and history, and consider Spain a neighboring power, not their rightful rulers. So as America’s Continental Congress heroically did (and as Texans and Californians occasionally threaten to do) Catalonia wished to declare independence and secede.

Polling stations in Catalonia were attacked by heavily armed agents of the state with riot gear and pointed rifles. Spanish National Police fired rubber bullets and unleashed tear gas canisters on voters, broke down polling center doors, disrupted the vote, and destroyed enough ballots to throw results into serious doubt.

Exceedingly few of those would-be patriots were armed.

In Spain, firearm ownership is not a protected individual right. Civilian firearms licenses are restricted to “cases of extreme necessity” if the government finds “genuine reason.” Background checks, medical exams, and license restrictions further restrict access. Licenses are granted individually by caliber and model, with automatic weapons strictly forbidden to civilians. Police can demand a citizen produce a firearm at any time for inspection or confiscation. Spain has enacted, it would seem, the kind of “common sense restrictions” American gun-control advocates crave.

But of course, that doesn’t mean that Spanish citizens don’t buy guns. In fact, Spanish taxpayers maintain an enormous arsenal of weapons, which are all in the hands “professional armed police forces within the administration of the state, who are the persons in charge of providing security to the population.”

Those agents of the state weren’t “providing security to the population” of Catalonia on Sunday — they were pointing guns at would-be founding patriots who had challenged the rule of their oppressors.

“If somebody tries to declare the independence of part of the territory — something that cannot be done — we will have to do everything possible to apply the law,” Spain’s justice minister said in a public address.  While many polling places were closed or barricaded, 2.3 million voters (90% in favor of independence) were permitted to vote, he claimed, “because the security forces decided that it wasn’t worth using force because of the consequences that it could have.”

The consequences of a government using force to control those it is sworn to protect must be high. When citizens are armed, the consequences for tyranny rise and its likelihood falls.

Armed Tyrants

Americans have grown too trustful of the State, too ready to assume bureaucrats have only our best interests at heart. Even with a maniacal man-child in the Oval Office, many are seemingly eager to turn over individual liberty to those who promise to manage our lives for us. The United States was designed to be the smallest government in the history of the world, with no standing army, and little right to intrude in the private activities of its citizens. Instead, we have the most powerful and intrusive government in human history, with 800 permanent military bases in 70 countries, unfathomable firepower, and staggering surveillance capabilities. Unchecked abuses of power are routine and tolerated.

67 federal agencies, including the IRS and the FDA, have military weapons, according to the OpenTheBooks Oversight Report The Militarization of America. Among the most intrusive programs, including the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Safety Authority, do not disclose their weaponry budget.

The number of armed government officials with arrest and firearm authority has doubled since 1996. The US now has more armed “civilian” federal officers (200,000+) than US Marines (182,000). The IRS spends millions of taxpayer dollars annually on pump-action shotguns, AR-15 rifles, riot gear, and Special Forces contractors to train thousands of “special agents” in targeting American citizens.

Local police, sheriffs, and state troopers have also been armed to wage war against American citizens.  Battlefield weapons are being given to state and local police, allegedly to combat drug trafficking and fight terrorist threats at local pumpkin festivals. Military SWAT-style raids are used to serve search warrants for low-level drug possession, not hostage situations. Relatives and neighbors of alleged criminals have had government guns held to their children’s heads. Violations of civil rights, including illegal searches and the seizure of money and property without evidence of any crime, are commonplace.   

Law enforcement requests military equipment directly from the Pentagon’s war-fighting machine: tanks, machine guns, rocket launchers, tear gas, camouflage, shields, and gas masks.  Military equipment is often purchased with civil asset forfeiture slush funds to bypass legislative appropriations challenges.

The high percentage of civilian law enforcement who are military veterans (one in five, by some estimates) compounds the cultural risks of treating average Americans like enemy combatants.

Showdowns between civilians and heavily armed agents of the state in Ferguson, Baltimore, the Oregon Wildlife Refuge, and at various other political protests across the country should remind us that gun control advocates won’t be reducing the number of guns so much as shifting them all into either federal or criminal hands.

The senseless murder in Las Vegas is a frighteningly familiar tragedy. But don't say "Americans shouldn't be allowed to buy guns" when what you mean is "citizens should only be allowed to buy guns for their rulers."

Laura Williams
Dr. Laura Williams teaches communication strategy to undergraduates and executives. She is a passionate advocate for critical thinking, individual liberties, and the Oxford Comma.

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Sunday, October 15, 2017

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Friday, October 13, 2017

Spanish PM Pulls a Lincoln on Catalan Secession

Spanish PM Pulls a Lincoln on Catalan Secession

In the wake of Catalonia’s referendum on independence, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy continued to argue, as he had in the weeks leading up to the vote, that any attempt by Catalans to become an independent state violates "the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation, the common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards."

Americans watching with interest could hardly have missed the similarity to U.S. President Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural speech, in which he declared, “It is safe to assert that no government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination.”

The difference is Lincoln was doing just what he said he was doing, “asserting.” His novel theory had no basis in the words of the U.S. Constitution itself and contradicted both the Declaration of Independence and the ratification statements made by three states, including Virginia, who all reserved the right to secede from the union as a condition of ratification.

The Catalonia Conundrum

Prime Minister Rajoy’s statement, on the other hand, was not based in theory. He was quoting directly Article 2 of the Spanish Constitution, which contains the provision Lincoln had to invent. But Rajoy wasn’t quoting the whole Article, which reads,
The Constitution is based on the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation, the common and indivisible country of all Spaniards; it recognises and guarantees the right to autonomy of the nationalities and regions of which it is composed, and the solidarity amongst them all.
Jumbled together in that one paragraph are the same conflicting pressures which exploded into civil war in 19th century America and continue to smolder under the surface today. On one hand is the recognition that diverse cultures within the union have a natural right to govern themselves as they see fit, without having their political decisions overridden by politicians in a distant capitol who don’t share their values, have no local stake in the community and, in Catalonia’s case, don’t even speak the same language.

But at the same time, the Spanish Constitution expressly states what Lincoln argued was implied: whether that natural right is respected or not, secession won’t be tolerated. Upon ratifying their respective constitutions, it is as if the governments the Americans and Spaniards created became the character Sonny in A Bronx Tale, who said just after locking the door of his tavern on the troublemaking bikers, “Now, youz can’t leave.”

There is also the related question, publicly debated by Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine during the French Revolution, of whether any one generation can bind future ones into a political arrangement in perpetuity. Burke, widely recognized as the father of British-American conservatism, said it could. Rejecting the idea that governments are formed to secure natural rights, Burke took the conservative position that only long-standing institutions can protect Man from his own barbarous nature.

Paine took the position established in the Declaration of Independence that the people have a right to alter or abolish their governments when they failed to secure or became “destructive” of their natural rights. Interestingly, this question is even more at the center of the Catalonia controversy than it was during the French Revolution or American Civil War.

Unlike the French peasants or Confederate states, Catalans themselves are divided on whether they want independence from Spain. Yes, the Confederate states had many of the same differences with Washington Catalonia has with Madrid: They were net taxpayers, meaning they paid more in taxes to the general government than they collected in benefits. They were culturally different, not quite so much linguistically, but certainly so in every other way. And they had a history of self-governance, even while part of the British Empire, that by the time of the Civil War was hundreds of years old.

The chief difference between the two conflicts is the absence of a single, defining issue around which the forces for secession can rally. Sadly, that issue for the Confederacy was slavery, although all the other grievances were part of the fuel which burst into flame. For Catalonia, there are only those longstanding grievances, which continue to smolder. And so, unlike the Confederate states’ secession conventions, a Catalan vote on independence in which most eligible voters participated would likely be very close. It may even fail.

But even if all eligible voters in Catalonia participated in a referendum and those opposing independence won a narrow electoral victory, would that really resolve anything? What about those over two million Catalans, roughly half the voting population, who had effectively withdrawn their consent to be governed by Madrid?

Democracy in the Digital Age

The Industrial Age was an age of consolidation, politically and economically. It mobilized people into factories to produce the economies of scale that raised the living standards of most of society. Similarly, the whole world consolidated into nation-states that brought together very large interest groups, who voted together largely in their perceived economic self-interest. If you were a factory worker in a union town, you voted with the union. If you were a farmer or a financier, you voted accordingly.

It was an age that naturally lent itself to democracy.

The Digital Age is leading in precisely the opposite direction. Economically and politically, it is a decentralizing force. Instead of driving to a big box retailer to purchase an item of clothing, consumers can now order them from Amazon on their phones, while sitting on their patios.

Similarly, the politics of one’s geographic region are beginning to lose their dominance over political sensibilities. While geography still matters more than anything else, there is an undeniable trend towards identifying politically with those in one’s social media networks, rather than merely in one’s city or state. It doesn’t take much imagination to look ahead a few decades and wonder whether geography will matter at all in a completely digital world, where even large-scale manufacturing has given way to the decentralizing influence of 3D printers or some new technology.

In such a brave new world, national or regional majorities based on geographical boundaries will seem far less legitimate to more autonomous individuals plugged into global networks, perhaps no longer needing even to travel to an office or factory to work. And resentment will continue to grow exponentially as geographically-based governments override what those individuals perceive as their own natural rights to liberty and to keep the fruits of their labor, instead of having them redistributed at the whim of politicians whose rule is based on regional majorities who may seem as alien to those people of the future as Washington seems to Iowans today.

As exciting as individual secession sounds in theory, last weekend’s events in Spain should remind us that governments have only one response to noncompliance with their rule: force. And just as in 19th century America, there is still plenty of support for governments to stamp out secession movements with violence. One can only hope the technological advances of the next several decades are accompanied by at least some small advances in wisdom.

Tom Mullen

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? and A Return to Common  Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America. For more information and more of Tom's writing, visit

This article was originally published on Read the original article.

Spencer Wilding (3)

Spencer Wilding at MegaCon 2017

Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein’s “Responsible Encryption” Demand is Bad and He Should Feel Bad

Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein’s “Responsible Encryption” Demand is Bad and He Should Feel Bad

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein delivered a speech on Tuesday about what he calls “responsible encryption” today. It misses the mark, by far.

Rosenstein starts with a fallacy, attempting to convince you that encryption is unprecedented:

Our society has never had a system where evidence of criminal wrongdoing was totally impervious to detection, especially when officers obtain a court-authorized warrant. But that is the world that technology companies are creating.

In fact, we’ve always had (and will always have) a perfectly reliable system whereby criminals can hide their communications with strong security: in-person conversations. Moreover, Rosenstein’s history lesson forgets that, for about 70 years, there was an unpickable lock. In the 1770s, engineer Joseph Bramah created a lock that remained unpickable until 1851. Installed in a safe, the owner could ensure that no one could get inside, or at least not without destroying the contents in the process.

Billions of instant messages are sent and received each day using mainstream apps employing default end-to-end encryption. The app creators do something that the law does not allow telephone carriers to do: they exempt themselves from complying with court orders.

Here, Rosenstein ignores the fact that Congress exempted those app creators-“electronic messaging services”- from the Computer Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA). Moreover, CALEA does not require telephone carriers to decrypt encryption where users hold the keys. Instead, Section 1002(b)(3) of CALEA provides:

(3) Encryption. A telecommunications carrier shall not be responsible for decrypting, or ensuring the government’s ability to decrypt, any communication encrypted by a subscriber or customer, unless the encryption was provided by the carrier and the carrier possesses the information necessary to decrypt the communication.

By definition, when the customer sends end-to-end encrypted messages—in any kind of reasonably secure implementation—the carrier does not (and should not) possess the information necessary to decrypt them.

With his faulty premises in place, Rosenstein makes his pitch, coining yet another glib phrase to describe a backdoor.

Responsible encryption is achievable. Responsible encryption can involve effective, secure encryption that allows access only with judicial authorization. Such encryption already exists. Examples include the central management of security keys and operating system updates; the scanning of content, like your e-mails, for advertising purposes; the simulcast of messages to multiple destinations at once; and key recovery when a user forgets the password to decrypt a laptop.

As an initial matter, “the scanning of content, like your e-mails, for advertising purposes” is not an example of encryption, “responsible” or otherwise. Rosenstein’s other examples are just describing systems where the government or another third party holds the keys. This is known as “key escrow,” and, as well explained in the Keys Under Doormats paper, the security and policy problems with key escrow are not only unsolved, but unsolvable.

Perhaps sensitive to the criticisms of the government’s relentless attempts to rename backdoors, Rosenstein claims “No one calls any of those functions a “back door.” In fact, those capabilities are marketed and sought out by many users.” In fact, critics of backdoors have fairly consistently called key escrow solutions “backdoors.” And any reasonable reader would call Google’s ability to access your email a backdoor, especially when that backdoor is used by unauthorized parties such as Chinese hackers.

Such a proposal would not require every company to implement the same type of solution. The government need not require the use of a particular chip or algorithm, or require any particular key management technique or escrow. The law need not mandate any particular means in order to achieve the crucial end: when a court issues a search warrant or wiretap order to collect evidence of crime, the provider should be able to help.

This is the new DOJ dodge. In the past, whenever the government tried to specify ‘secure’ backdoored encryption solutions, researchers found security holes – for example, rather famously the Clipper Chip was broken quickly and thoroughly.

So now, the government refuses to propose any specific technical solution, choosing to skate around the issue by simply asking technologists to “nerd harder” until the magical dream of secure golden keys is achieved.

Rosenstein attempts to soften his demand with an example of a company holding private keys.

A major hardware provider, for example, reportedly maintains private keys that it can use to sign software updates for each of its devices. That would present a huge potential security problem, if those keys were to leak. But they do not leak, because the company knows how to protect what is important.

This is a fallacy for several reasons. First, perfect security is an unsolved problem. No one, not even the NSA, knows how to protect information with zero chance of leaks. Second, the security challenge of protecting a signing key, used only to sign software updates, is much less than the challenge of protecting a system which needs access to the keys for communications at the push of a button, for millions of users around the globe.

Rosenstein then attempts to raise the stakes to near apocalyptic levels:

If companies are permitted to create law-free zones for their customers, citizens should understand the consequences. When police cannot access evidence, crime cannot be solved. Criminals cannot be stopped and punished.

This is a bit much. For a long time, people have had communications that were not constantly available for later government access. For example, when pay phones were ubiquitous, criminals used them anonymously, without a recording of every call. Yet, crime solving did not stop. In any case, law enforcement has been entirely unable to provide solid examples of encryption foiling even a handful of actual criminal prosecutions.

Finally, in his conclusion, Rosenstein misstates the law and misunderstands the Constitution.

Allow me to conclude with this thought: There is no constitutional right to sell warrant-proof encryption. If our society chooses to let businesses sell technologies that shield evidence even from court orders, it should be a fully-informed decision.

This is simply incorrect. Code is speech, and courts have recognized a Constitutional right to distribute encryption code. As the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals noted:

The availability and use of secure encryption may … reclaim some portion of the privacy we have lost. Gov’t efforts to control encryption thus may well implicate not only the First Amendment rights … but also the constitutional rights of each of us as potential recipients of encryption’s bounty.

Here, Rosenstein focuses on a “right to sell,” so perhaps the DOJ means to distinguish “selling” under the commercial speech doctrine, and argue that First Amendment protections are therefore lower. That would be quite a stretch, as commercial speech is generally understood as speech proposing a commercial transaction. Newspapers, for example, do not face weaker First Amendment protections simply because they sell their newspapers.

The Department of Justice has said that they want to have an “adult conversation” about encryption. This is not it. The DOJ needs to understand that secure end-to-end encryption is a responsible security measure that helps protect people.

Source: Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein’s “Responsible Encryption” Demand is Bad and He Should Feel Bad | Electronic Frontier Foundation