We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

NSA outrage fatigue

A new story from The Guardian, barely twelve hours after the last set of revelations: “NSA loophole allows warrantless search for US citizens’ emails and phone calls”.

Yes, this one is indeed far worse than the previous ones, unbelievable as that might seem.

Explaining why to those not following in detail is almost not worth it any longer, however.

A friend of mine long ago coined the term “Outrage Fatigue”, the condition in which so many awful actions by a set of State actors have been revealed that one can no longer hope to track the entire list of their offenses and crimes in one’s head.

I have long since passed that point for the Obama administration in general. Imprisonment without charge, war crimes, coverups, the silencing of whistleblowers and dozens of other acts have become so numerous that I cannot hope to remember them all.

However, I have now passed the point where, even as a putative subject matter expert, I could hope to remember even everything that has been revealed about just this one scandal.

It is painfully clear that the contempt of the Obama Administration and its minions for the rule of law is near total, that their contempt for the truth is near total, and that one’s confidence in anything they say in public whatsoever should be precisely zero.

NSA catches cab driver sending $8,500 to Somalia

NSA Nabs Cabbie!

Yes, folks, you heard it here first! The NSA, in the midst of a full-court press to capture our hearts and minds, has revealed the secret of one of its most important cases. It managed to catch a cab driver who was sending $8,500 to Somalia. Countless lives must have been saved in the process!

With impressive results like these, it is obvious why we need a Stasi-like total surveillance state, at a cost of [redacted] billon dollars per year.

Lavabit shuts down

Lavabit was, until a few hours ago, a secure email hosting company with something over 400,000 customers. One of their users was (apparently) Edward Snowden.

They have shut down, apparently because they refused to assist in spying on their own clients, as similar companies such as Hushmail are reputed to do.

Unfortunately, US law now makes it a crime to discuss requests from our masters for “assistance” of this sort, so we can only assume that this is what has happened. Presuming the guess to be true, I commend them for their sense of honor. Many would not ruin themselves when faced with a choice between keeping their promises and obeying the authority of a police state.

Quoting their “goodbye” page:

“This experience has taught me one very important lesson: without congressional action or a strong judicial precedent, I would strongly recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States.”

Three links, presented without comment

Thirty seconds of video of Barack Obama claiming on TV that there are no domestic surveillance programs.

Reuters exclusive reveals IRS was aware of and cooperated with the DEA’s use of falsified provenances to cover up the fact that they used NSA intercepts in criminal court cases.

Wikipedia on the propaganda tool known as “Große Lüge” or “the Big Lie”.

Artificial Intelligence vs. Natural Stupidity

“[T]here is always a well-known solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong.”

– H.L. Mencken

A growing movement in the United States seeks to dramatically increase unemployment by imposing ever higher price floors on salaries. The recent conversion in the US of millions of full time jobs to part time to evade new health insurance requirements for full time employees was apparently an insufficient increase in human misery – the elimination of most entry level work on even a part time basis is now also apparently a goal.

For example, see this New York Times article reporting on a recent on fast food workers strike”one day strike by workers at fast food restaurants.

Now, to be fair, most of the people clamoring for new impositions on employers like health insurance and increased minimum wages are in fact unaware that their efforts will simply throw people out of work rather than helping them. Their goal, and I take them at their word, is to attempt to help the poor, not to destroy all hope they have for the future. The fact that their proposals (and sadly, in many cases, actual laws) do exactly the opposite of what they intend is difficult to convey to them.

This seems to be for two reasons. The first is that they are often completely unacquainted with economic thinking, and are unashamed of it or at least believe this ignorance to be irrelevant as economics is not needed (in their view) to analyze their proposals. Second, and worse, they completely focus on their desires over the likely real world effects of what they propose.

Attempts to point out the actual effects of a proposal (and how they are the opposite of what was intended) are often met with one of two responses, and sadly sometimes both. The first is blind repetition of the original rationale (e.g., “but poor people can’t afford to raise their families on what they earn at a fast food restaurant!”) without any attempt to address the question of whether the proposed remedy will in any way fix the original problem. The second is the demand “well, what would you propose doing?”

(As an aside, I will describe one my more vicious tactics, which I’m mildly ashamed of and invoke only when particularly frustrated by combined cases of “well what do you propose?” and “but there is a problem!”

I sometimes mention that my father has been dead for years and I miss him terribly. When I propose to sacrifice the children of the minimum-wage advocate to Baal to propitiate the god and ensure my father’s resurrection, and mention that, if they don’t like the proposal they should give me an alternative, frequently they decline to offer one. Sadly, they rarely see the parallels to their own suggested fixes for the problems of the poor either.)

The desire to help by destroying extends everywhere these days — one can barely open a newspaper without encountering it. For example, there is now a “labor activist” jihad against unpaid internships, which has, sadly, seen some considerable success in US courts and regulatory agencies.

The result is already predictable. Internships are starting disappear entirely. People clamored for such internships not because they enjoyed working for free but because they desperately wanted to get real-world job experience onto their résumés so they could get a paying job later. Legions of college students, deeply in debt from loans pushed on them by the state and having majored in utterly useless topics like “Communications”, will soon find themselves unable repair the damage their education has done to them even by offering to work for free in exchange for experience, and will be even less employable. Victory for the self-proclaimed “advocates”, misery for the putative objects of their “assistance”.

A sort of minor victory for the market appears to be brewing, however.

It will not, sadly, provide jobs for the poor and unskilled. Jobs can only be provided by an employer who stands to make more by employing an individual than that individual costs to employ, and, in the case of workers at the bottom of the skills ladder, paying an employee less than they cost has been made illegal by the state.

These new developments will, however, at least lower the cost of goods that are sold to everyone, including the poor, and they may keep the economy from contracting under the dead weight of yet more labor regulation.

I am speaking, of course, of automation. More and more companies, faced by the “helpful people destroying others lives” lobby, are figuring out ways to replace their employees with machines.

I opened by mentioning the recent fast food restaurant strikes. Should the various “labor organizers” succeed at increasing the cost of restaurant labor, one result may be that such jobs could vanish altogether. A startup called Momentum Machines is already working on fast food restaurants with completely automated kitchens. They claim that they will be able to produce a better, tastier and more consistent product as well. Whether this particular firm succeeds or not is almost irrelevant — if they do not, the idea is out there, and others will follow in their footsteps.

Similarly, faced with increasing pressure to improve pay and benefits for semi-skilled assembly line workers, Foxconn, the Chinese contract electronics manufacturing giant, has decided to replace almost all of those workers with robots. Whether this was entirely because of the helpful assistance of “activists”, including some who simply made up stories about the company for lack of real problems to discuss, or is simply because the time is ripe, I cannot say. Regardless, Foxconn has already deployed its first 20,000 robots.

I find it hopeful that, even if we cannot prevent the legions of well-meaning destroyers from wreaking additional havoc on the lives of others, we can at least bypass their more egregiously foolish ideas. They may be able to eliminate jobs for millions, but they will not be able to eliminate the industries they target, which will simply operate without human employees.

If the DEA does it, it isn’t perjury

According to this Reuters exclusive entitled “U.S. directs agents to cover up program used to investigate Americans”, the US Drug Enforcement Administration has been running a secret program to cover up the fact that it has been receiving information from the National Security Agency that it has subsequently used in court.

Under this covert program, agents are instructed to fabricate plausible explanations of how the agency uncovered evidence through means that did not involve NSA intercept capabilities in order to hide the true source of the information.

Now, normally, under US common law, such coverups are considered a very, very bad violation of the rights of a defendant, who is entitled to learn the source of information used against them at trial so that they can rebut the evidence presented by the prosecution. Furthermore, under the laws of almost every civilized country, lying in court is considered a crime, to wit, perjury.

I suspect, however, that we will not see any investigations, let alone prosecutions, of government officials for what is clearly a crime. Indeed, I suspect that we are all so conditioned to the idea that government officials are now above the law that no one reading this would even expect such a prosecution.

There’s something rather sad about this state of affairs, isn’t there?

If the President does it, it isn’t treason

This morning the New York Times, NPR and the BBC have all been discussing details of communications between senior Al Qaeda leaders which form the basis for closing numerous US, UK and other embassies worldwide. A New York Times article on the subject is typical:

The Obama administration’s decision last week to close nearly two dozen diplomatic missions and issue a worldwide travel alert came after the United States intercepted electronic communications in which the head of Al Qaeda ordered the leader of the group’s affiliate in Yemen to carry out an attack as early as this past Sunday, according to American officials.

Additional detail is given later in that article and in dozens of others from numerous news organizations. They know these details only because they were leaked said details by sources inside the Obama administration.

These details are clearly useful to Al Qaeda. They inform the leadership of that organization in no uncertain terms of US intercept capabilities, alerting them to the need to change their communications methods.

Had an Edward Snowden or a Bradley Manning revealed such information, it would be called “treason” by many commentators. Charges would be pressed in court of “aiding the enemy”.

When the leak is official and far more damaging, no one mentions treason. Instead, this is simply business as usual.

News headlines do not focus on questions about the identity of the suspected leaker. The leaker or leakers will not have to flee to foreign countries to evade prosecution, even though the Obama administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all previous administrations combined. That is because the leak is clearly authorized at the highest levels, never mind that it may have just “burned” a vital intelligence source in the process.

One may wonder why the Obama administration has chosen to leak such information to the press. That is an open secret. The New York Times first article on the subject some days ago has, buried within it, the following paragraph, a paragraph that should by all rights be the lead:

Some analysts and Congressional officials suggested Friday that emphasizing a terrorist threat now was a good way to divert attention from the uproar over the N.S.A.’s data-collection programs, and that if it showed the intercepts had uncovered a possible plot, even better.

In other words, aiding the enemy is fine provided it is in the service of fighting the actual joint enemy of Al Qaeda and the Obama administration, to wit, the general public.

Samizdata quote of the day

What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could not understand it, it could not be released because of national security… Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ‘regretted,’ that, unless one were detached from the whole process from the beginning, unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these ‘little measures’ that no ‘patriotic German’ could resent must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head.

– An excerpt from: They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45 by Milton Mayer, published by the University of Chicago Press. 1955

Too many scandals to track

In the latest attempt by the Obama White House to recapture the glory days of the Nixon administration, it has been revealed that the US Department of Justice went on a fishing expedition into the telephone records of the Associated Press. They learned who everyone that any AP reporter using one of the telephones in question spoke to for months.

Government obtains wide AP phone records in probe.

As it happens, this is against the law. According to 28 CFR 50.10: “”No subpoena may be issued to any member of the news media or for the telephone toll records of any member of the news media without the express authorization of the Attorney General.”

What are the odds anyone will even be mildly disciplined for this? Zero, I’d say.

Not the quote of the day…

Not the official QOTD, but pretty great anyway:

“If prices are information, then subsidies are censorship.”

– Russ Nelson

David Stockman’s “Sundown in America”

David Stockman has written a controversial Op Ed piece entitled Sundown in America that was published last Sunday in the New York Times.

I’ll quote the opening paragraphs to give a taste of the content:

The Dow Jones and Standard & Poor’s 500 indexes reached record highs on Thursday, having completely erased the losses since the stock market’s last peak, in 2007. But instead of cheering, we should be very afraid.

Over the last 13 years, the stock market has twice crashed and touched off a recession: American households lost $5 trillion in the 2000 dot-com bust and more than $7 trillion in the 2007 housing crash. Sooner or later — within a few years, I predict — this latest Wall Street bubble, inflated by an egregious flood of phony money from the Federal Reserve rather than real economic gains, will explode, too.

I’m not certain I agree with all of it — his political prescriptions towards the end seem especially suspect — but it is absolutely worth a read.

Update: Stockman addresses critics, including Paul Krugman (who in typical fashion fired off a torrent of mocking ad hominems instead of a response), in this interview with Marketwatch.

Fire burn and housing bubble redux

It appears that it isn’t merely the U.K.’s “Conservative” party that has difficulty recalling 2008, a year now so distant as to be beyond the memory of living politicians:

Obama administration pushes banks to make home loans to people with weaker credit

I’ll give the devil his due — Marx said it best in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon when he noted that history repeats itself, “the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”