Pages

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The better angels of our nature

But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

-- James Madison (1788), The Federalist No. 51
Why is this of any particular relevance?
Privacy experts fear Donald Trump accessing global surveillance network

Concerns raised that current US and UK surveillance system is ‘ripe for further abuse under an autocratic, power-obsessed president’

Privacy activists, human rights campaigners and former US security officials have expressed fears over the prospect of Donald Trump gaining access to the vast global US and UK surveillance network.(...) “There have been some people who were complacent about things like drone killing of US civilians and mass surveillance under Obama, because they trusted him. That wilful neglect on their part is about to come back and possibly bite all of us in the ass,” said Nick Merrill, the executive director of the Calyx Institute, a technology focused research group that promotes encryption tools.

Ben Wizner, Snowden’s lawyer who works for the American Civil Liberties Union, said: “The danger of the aggregation of executive power we have seen over the last decade is that we might have an executive who is not worthy of that trust. This has been a trend in the US but there has been a weakening of constitutional oversight during the growth of the national security state. “I think many Americans are waking up to the fact we have created a presidency that is too powerful.”

Thomas Drake, an NSA whistleblower who predated Snowden, offered an equally bleak assessment. He said: “The electronic infrastructure is fully in place – and ex post facto legalised by Congress and executive orders – and ripe for further abuse under an autocratic, power-obsessed president. History is just not kind here. Trump leans quite autocratic. The temptations to use secret NSA surveillance powers, some still not fully revealed, will present themselves to him as sirens.”
The US have been excessively complacent about the lack of proper balance between individual freedom and security for far too long, and now it's probably too late to go back.

Edit 13/11: Glenn Greenwald: Trump will have vast powers. He can thank Democrats for them

No shit


Edit 13/11: Web Summit não vai fazer acontecer nada em Lisboa

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The New York Times and the Holocaust

That's some really shitty press you got there, America:


It turns out the prediction Hitler made in his Obersalzberg speech was correct:
Our strength consists in our speed and in our brutality. Genghis Khan led millions of women and children to slaughter – with premeditation and a happy heart. History sees in him solely the founder of a state. It’s a matter of indifference to me what a weak western European civilization will say about me. I have issued the command – and I’ll have anybody who utters but one word of criticism executed by a firing squad – that our war aim does not consist in reaching certain lines, but in the physical destruction of the enemy. Accordingly, I have placed my death-head formation in readiness – for the present only in the East – with orders to them to send to death mercilessly and without compassion, men, women, and children of Polish derivation and language. Only thus shall we gain the living space (Lebensraum) which we need. Who, after all, speaks to-day of the annihilation of the Armenians?

Sunday, April 24, 2016

"Éramos felices y no lo sabíamos"

A dupla Chávez/Maduro alcançou o extraordinário feito de tornar a Venezuela num país sub-saariano no espaço de 15 anos:

land of opportunity no more (2)

U.S. Raises Fee To Expatriate By 422% A Second Time
When the news broke a year ago that the U.S. was hiking the fee to renounce U.S. citizenship by 422% there was a backlash. If anything, the uptick in American expatriations grew rather than declined. The U.S. State Department said raising the fee for renunciation of U.S. citizenship is about demand and paperwork. Perhaps, but a hike from $450 to $2,350 is still steep. That is more than twenty times the average level in other high-income countries. The State Department complains about demand on their services and all the extra workload they have to process people who are on their way out.

Even worse, for the second time in a year, the State Department just did another hike. You can view it as yet another 422%. In fairness, the State Department presumably believes it is just bringing the fees into parity. Up until now, there was the enhanced $2,350 fee for renouncing, and a smaller $450 fee for relinquishment. It may be a distinction without a difference. As the State Department put it, it was just harmonizing the two, which are similar in any case. In short, it the fee is now the same $2,350 whether you are renouncing or relinquishing.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

high taxation and cartels

A Primer on Tax Havens (Dan Mitchell)
What we’re seeing throughout the world today are international bureaucracies and politicians from high-tax nations launching a very coordinated attack against these jurisdictions. In effect, what’s happening is that the high-tax nations of the world want to set up something equivalent to OPEC. But instead of a cartel to keep energy prices high on behalf of oil producing countries, it’s an effort by politicians in high-tax nations to create a cartel that will keep taxes high.

Most economists recognize that cartels are a bad idea. And if it’s a bad idea for there to be cartels in the private sector, it’s a horrible idea to have cartels among governments; and yet that’s what the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the European Commission, and various politicians from high-tax nations are trying to do.

The problem is, politicians for the most part don’t like low-tax policies. How do politicians win elections, how do they reward contributors, how do they steer money to their supporters? They do it by imposing high tax rates and then using the money to divvy up among those that are on their side. So why are they trying to attack tax havens? Because tax havens are the most powerful instrument of tax competition. (...)

Today, labor and capital are a lot more mobile, which means that taxpayers around the world have options to move either themselves or their money across borders if governments are trying to impose high tax rates. (...)

The number-one thing on the OECD’s list is no or nominal taxes. So if you are a free-market, laissez-faire jurisdiction with a low tax burden, the OECD wants to punish you. There is no blacklist from the OECD of high-tax countries—the countries that are actually punishing growth and impoverishing people with bad policy. No, there’s only a blacklist of jurisdictions that are doing the right thing. But it’s not just the OECD. The European Commission has all sorts of various anti-tax competition, pro-tax harmonization schemes.

By the way, I can’t resist pointing out the irony of something. If you work for the OECD, you get a very generous salary, and you work in an elaborate chateau over in Paris. And guess what? By international treaty, you pay no tax. So we have these well-fed bureaucrats working at the OECD in the nice chateau—with its own private wine cellar—and they fly around the world in business class telling jurisdictions with low taxes that they’re doing something wrong and should be blacklisted, and yet these bureaucrats pay zero tax. (...)

When you listen to the politicians, what do they always say? “We’re trying to stamp out tax evasion.” Well, all the academic evidence out there says one thing: tax evasion is linked to one variable—tax rates. You can shut down all the low-tax jurisdictions, but it’s not going to affect tax compliance so long as tax rates are high.

Security paper tigers (2)

Time to close the TSA
When the Transportation Security Administration dispatched undercover investigators last spring to test the effectiveness of airport checkpoints, the results were deplorable. Agents posing as passengers were able to smuggle weapons and mock explosives through 67 out of 70 TSA checkpoints — a failure rate of 95 percent. Following that debacle, the TSA’s acting administrator was given the boot, and the Department of Homeland Security announced that it had “immediately directed TSA to implement a series of actions, several of which are now in place, to address the issues raised in the report.”

That was in June. In July, a new TSA chief pledged to lawmakers that within 60 days “we will have trained the failure out of the front line” of airport screening personnel. So how do things stand four months later? The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing on that question last week, with Homeland Security Inspector General John Roth as the key witness. Roth reported the final results of the the undercover testing at US airports, and he didn’t beat about the bush. “The test results were disappointing and troubling,” he said. “The results were consistent across every airport. . . . The failures included failures in the technology, failures in TSA procedures, and human error. We found layers of security simply missing.’’ (...)

Fourteen years after the creation of the TSA, there is still no indication that the agency has ever caught a terrorist, or foiled a 9/11-type plot in the offing. Conversely, there are reams of reports documenting the inability of TSA screeners to spot hidden guns, knives, bomb components, and other dangerous contraband as they pass through airport checkpoints. It’s doubtful that anyone is still capable of being surprised by a fresh confirmation of the TSA’s incompetence — even if members of Congress do sometimes feign alarm for the sake of the folks back home.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Why the euro's not so bad

Personally I'd prefer a currency that no government or government-mandated institution could control but failing that, the euro is in fact a much better solution for countries with historically weak currencies than allowing their respective governments to devalue the local currency. John Cochrane expands on that point:
Conversely, and perhaps more centrally, I'm less trusting of the stabilizing influence of central banks. Dispassionate omniscient central banks can, in theory, wisely spot demand shocks and cleverly devalue currencies to offset them, while not responding to supply shocks, political demands, and so forth. The same technocrats could quietly redefine the meter as needed to let tailors respond to shocks without changing prices.

But the history of small-country central banks is not so reassuring. Greece and Italy's repeated devaluations and inflations did not bring great prosperity.

Joining a common currency is a pre-commitment against bad monetary policy as well as foreswearing of hypothetical good monetary policy. Political forces seldom think there's enough stimulus. When Greece and Italy they joined the euro, they basically said, defaulting and inflating now will be extremely costly. They were rewarded for the precommitment with very low interest rates. They blew the money, and are now facing the high costs they signed up for. But that just shows how real the precommitment was.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Security paper tigers

The latest news on US airport security theatre, as reported by ABC (via Zero Hedge):
An internal investigation of the Transportation Security Administration revealed security failures at dozens of the nation’s busiest airports, where undercover investigators were able to smuggle mock explosives or banned weapons through checkpoints in 95 percent of trials, ABC News has learned. The series of tests were conducted by Homeland Security Red Teams who pose as passengers, setting out to beat the system. According to officials briefed on the results of a recent Homeland Security Inspector General’s report, TSA agents failed 67 out of 70 tests, with Red Team members repeatedly able to get potential weapons through checkpoints. In one test an undercover agent was stopped after setting off an alarm at a magnetometer, but TSA screeners failed to detect a fake explosive device that was taped to his back during a follow-on pat down.
No reason to worry however, I'm sure they have everything under control:
“Upon learning the initial findings of the Office of Inspector General's report, Secretary Johnson immediately directed TSA to implement a series of actions, several of which are now in place, to address the issues raised in the report,” the DHS said in a written statement to ABC News. Homeland security officials insist that security at the nation’s airports is strong – that there are layers of security including bomb sniffing dogs and other technologies seen and unseen. But the officials that ABC News spoke to admit these were disappointing results.
Even though the outcome of this investigation was clearly not a one-off:
This is not the first time the TSA has had trouble spotting Red Team agents. A similar episode played out in 2013, when an undercover investigator with a fake bomb hidden on his body passed through a metal detector, went through a pat-down at New Jersey's Newark Liberty Airport, and was never caught. More recently, the DHS inspector general’s office concluded a series of undercover tests targeting checked baggage screening at airports across the country. That review found “vulnerabilities” throughout the system, attributing them to human error and technological failures, according to a three-paragraph summary of the review released in September.
But they probably just need to spend some more resources on it, right? It's extremely difficult to fight terrorism when you're not adequately funded:
In addition, the review determined that despite spending $540 million for checked baggage screening equipment and another $11 million for training since a previous review in 2009, the TSA failed to make any noticeable improvements in that time.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

BBC's neutral maths

From the Beeb:
Huge Republic of Ireland vote for gay marriage
The Republic of Ireland has voted overwhelmingly to legalise same-sex marriage in a historic referendum.
Huge? Overwhelming? How much is that exactly?
More than 62% voted in favour of amending the country's constitution to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry. 
6 out of 10 is huge and overwhelming. Had it been 5 out of 10 and there would be no clear outcome. 62% is not even enough for a qualified majority in several places around the world. If the BBC can't be trusted to report on other countries' political processes from an objective and neutral point of view, how could they ever do so on issues pertaining to the UK?

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Já comprei o bilhete de regresso


O camarada Jerónimo teme que Passos Coelho transforme Portugal numa Singapura da Europa aplicando uma política de salários baixos. Eu não sei bem o que é que os assessores políticos do camarada consideram um salário baixo mas o salário médio singapurense é mais do dobro do português e a taxa de desemprego por aquelas bandas é inferior a 2% enquanto em Portugal se situa actualmente nos 13%. Claramente um resultado indesejável para algumas pessoas que rejeitam os confortos da sociedade materialista e crêem que viver a pão e água em nome do bem comum é um ideal ao qual aspirar.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Campaign for Real Beauty

Love and learn to accept your body the way it is. Unless you're very thin of course, in which case you should be ashamed and we'll make it illegal for you to find work:
Using a model who has a BMI under 18 could result in jail time

France has become the latest country to ban excessively skinny models from working in the ultra-chic country’s fashion industry, joining Israel, Spain and Italy.

According to Reuters, the French legislature voted for a bill Friday the declares: “The activity of model is banned for any person whose Body Mass Index (BMI) is lower than levels proposed by health authorities and decreed by the ministers of health and labor.”

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

News from the ant colony

An example of EastEnders'​ popularity is that after episodes, electricity use in the United Kingdom rises significantly as viewers who have waited for the show to end begin boiling water for tea, a phenomenon known as TV pickup. Over five minutes, power demand rises by three GW, the equivalent of 1.5 to 1.75 million teakettles. National Grid personnel watch the show to know when closing credits begin so they can prepare for the surge, asking for additional power from France if necessary. [link]

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Decline and Fall

The Dying Russians
Sometime in 1993, after several trips to Russia, I noticed something bizarre and disturbing: people kept dying. I was used to losing friends to AIDS in the United States, but this was different. People in Russia were dying suddenly and violently, and their own friends and colleagues did not find these deaths shocking. Upon arriving in Moscow I called a friend with whom I had become close over the course of a year. “Vadim is no more,” said his father, who picked up the phone. “He drowned.” I showed up for a meeting with a newspaper reporter to have the receptionist say, “But he is dead, don’t you know?” I didn’t. I’d seen the man a week earlier; he was thirty and apparently healthy. The receptionist seemed to think I was being dense. “A helicopter accident,” she finally said, in a tone that seemed to indicate I had no business being surprised.

The deaths kept piling up. People—men and women—were falling, or perhaps jumping, off trains and out of windows; asphyxiating in country houses with faulty wood stoves or in apartments with jammed front-door locks; getting hit by cars that sped through quiet courtyards or plowed down groups of people on a sidewalk; drowning as a result of diving drunk into a lake or ignoring sea-storm warnings or for no apparent reason; poisoning themselves with too much alcohol, counterfeit alcohol, alcohol substitutes, or drugs; and, finally, dropping dead at absurdly early ages from heart attacks and strokes.

Back in the United States after a trip to Russia, I cried on a friend’s shoulder. I was finding all this death not simply painful but impossible to process. “It’s not like there is a war on,” I said. “But there is,” said my friend, a somewhat older and much wiser reporter than I. “This is what civil war actually looks like. “It’s not when everybody starts running around with guns. It’s when everybody starts dying.”