Tag: Corrupt Politicians

Net Neutrality Day

Today's the Net Neutrality Day of Action.

Here's what I said about net neutrality during the open comment period in 2014, before the Title II rules passed, when the FCC was pushing a policy that would allow ISPs to charge websites for fast lanes:

This is exactly the kind of policy you get when you put a cable company lobbyist in charge of the FCC: a plan nobody but the cable companies could possibly want, and that seeks to make the Internet work like cable TV.

This plan has no benefit whatsoever to consumers. Cable companies demand extortion money from content providers; the providers who are willing and able to pay pass that cost on to their consumers (as Netflix has already done by raising its streaming subscription price), and the providers who aren't are put at a crippling disadvantage. You can bet the ever-increasing bottom dollar on your cable bill that if Comcast had had the opportunity to demand a premium from YouTube to stream video in 2005, we wouldn't be talking about YouTube today -- though maybe that would have been good news for Real Networks, as we'd probably still be limping along on the vastly inferior RealPlayer. Buffering...

This proposal is a government handout to the kind of companies that need it the least: monopolies and near-monopolies that already provide poor service at exorbitant prices, and suffer no market backlash for the simple reason that they provide a necessary service and have no competition.

Google doesn't want this. Microsoft doesn't want this. Netflix doesn't want this. Amazon doesn't want this. Consumers don't want this, and small businesses sure as hell don't want this. The only ones who DO want this are the cable companies who pick our pockets every month -- and their former employees like Chairman Wheeler.

And here's what I said during the open comment period this year, with the FCC preparing to repeal the Title II rules and, once again, proposing Internet fast lanes:

Seeking public comment? This is a farce. Chairman Pai heard exactly what the public had to say in 2014. The public responded, overwhelmingly, in support of net neutrality; indeed, the public interest was so high that the traffic brought down fcc.gov.

If Chairman Pai cared what the public thought, he would not be reversing a rule supported by the public in order to grant more power to internet service providers, some of the most despised companies in America. Nobody wants this except Comcast, AT&T, Charter, and Time Warner.

There is no free market competition in broadband Internet in America. There is no incentive for ISPs to compete on price or on service. We, as Americans, are a captive audience; our only choices are "use whatever ISP is available at our address" and "try to participate in twenty-first century America without Internet access".

We've already seen AT&T prioritizing its own traffic and Comcast banning protocols it didn't like. We need net neutrality protections to prevent predatory, monopolistic ISPs from engaging in that behavior. This is obvious to every American who's seen their monthly bill go up while the quality of service goes down.

But Chairman Pai has made it abundantly clear that he doesn't care what the American public has to say. If he did, he wouldn't even be considering repealing net neutrality.

I was wrong about Wheeler. He backed away from the fast-lane proposal, and passed Title II regulation. It wasn't perfect, but it was better than I ever thought we'd get.

I don't think I'm wrong about Pai. I'd love to be, but I think the fix is in. Pai doesn't give a fuck what the American public has to say.

But it's not about Pai. Pai won't last forever. Trump won't last forever. Even if the Republican majority in Congress sticks around, they're going to have to face their constituents sooner or later. And while net neutrality is a partisan issue on Capitol Hill, it's got broad bipartisan support everywhere else.

I don't think today's protests are going to make a damn bit of difference to Pai. But this is a long game. We need to keep the pressure on.

And hey, I've been surprised before. I thought SOPA and the TPP were foregone conclusions too. Maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised again.

Tracking

I wrote a post about VPNs a few months back, referring to the recent repeal of Obama-era regulations that would have prevented ISPs from selling customer browsing history.

There's a common refrain I've seen from people who favor the repeal, both in the government and in Internet comments sections: "Google and Facebook track you and sell your data, and the government doesn't stop them from doing it, so it's not fair to stop your ISP from doing it!"

Now, this argument is fundamentally dishonest, for the following reasons, off the top of my head:

  • Your ISP sits between you and every single site you visit. Google and Facebook have extensive tracking operations, but not that extensive.

  • You can use the Internet without using Facebook or Google. It may not be easy, but it's possible. You can't use the Internet without your ISP.

  • Google and Facebook's business model is that they provide a service and, in exchange, you allow them to gather your personal data and resell it to third parties. Your ISP's business model is that it provides service and, in exchange, you pay them eighty fucking dollars a month. Did I say eighty? They just kicked it up to one-thirty, if you want unlimited data.

    When you give your personal data to Facebook or Google to sell to third parties, you get their service in return. When you give your personal data to your ISP to sell to third parties, you get fucking nothing in return, because you're already paying your ISP money in exchange for Internet service. Is your ISP going to lower your bill in exchange for taking your personal information to sell to third parties? LOLno.

  • Google and Facebook have competitors. Those competitors don't have the dominant market position that Google and Facebook do; hell, maybe they're just plain not as good. But they exist. They're options.

    There is no significant broadband competition in the US. If I don't like my ISP, I can't just switch to another one, because there is no other one available at my address. My choices consist of Cox, no Internet, and moving.

    There's no incentive for your ISP to behave ethically. There's no incentive for your ISP to charge you fairly. There's no incentive for your ISP to provide quality service. My ISP is a monopoly. Yours probably is too. Or, at best, it might have one competitor that does all the same shit.

  • Google and Facebook have pages where you can opt out of tracking.

But. Despite the intellectual dishonesty of the "but Google and Facebook track you!" argument, there is a kernel of truth in there: yes, Google and Facebook track you, yes it's difficult to avoid that tracking, and no, there are no regulations in place to protect your data. This is a problem.

So, shortly after writing that post, I removed the Google Analytics code from this site. And now I've also updated the site so that the fonts it uses are hosted here at corporate-sellout.com, not called from Google Fonts (hat tip to the Disable Google Fonts WordPress plugin). I'm still using a Google Captcha on the Contact page for now, but I'm looking at alternatives. Plus, there are YouTube videos embedded on this site...and, well, there's nothing I can really do about preventing Google from tracking you when you load YouTube videos. Sorry about that.

I'm also planning on adding SSL to the site, eventually, but I haven't gotten around to it yet.

This blog's not a business. Occasionally somebody buys something through an Amazon Associates link, or buys my book (thanks!), but I've got a day job; I'm not here to make money. I write stuff here because I like to write stuff. Sometimes people like it, and that's cool, and it's cool to know that people are reading. But that's as far as my interest in analytics goes.

I don't resell data; I don't do SEO or A/B headlines or clickbait or any other kind of crap to try and drive people here -- hell, I hate all that shit. But I like looking at site stats once in awhile to see where people are coming from, where somebody's mentioned me, and to laugh at search terms like "did stan lee bone at jack kirby's wife".

So I'm looking for a new stats package. Server-side; just for me, not Google.

Meanwhile, I am looking for ways to use Google as little as possible, not just on this site but in general. I think I can probably get a few more posts out of that subject.

Resources for pfSense, Private Internet Access, Netflix, and Hulu

You've probably heard by now that the US Congress just repealed Obama-era regulations preventing Internet service providers from selling their users' browsing data to advertisers. I'll probably talk more about that in future posts. For now, I'm going to focus on a specific set of steps I've taken to prevent my ISP (Cox) from seeing what sites I visit.

I use a VPN called Private Internet Access, and a hardware firewall running pfSense. If that sentence looked like gibberish to you, then the rest of this post is probably not going to help you. I plan on writing a post in the future that explains some more basic steps that people who aren't IT professionals can take to protect their privacy, but this is not that kind of post.

So, for those of you who are IT professionals (or at least comfortable building your own router), it probably won't surprise you that streaming sites like Netflix and Hulu block VPNs.

One solution to this is to use a VPN that gives you a dedicated IP (I hear good things about NordVPN but I haven't used it myself); Netflix and Hulu are less likely to see that you're using a VPN if they don't see a bunch of connections coming from the same IP address. But there are problems with this approach:

  • It costs more.
  • You're giving up a good big chunk of the anonymity that you're (presumably) using a VPN for in the first place; your ISP won't be able to monitor what sites you're visiting, but websites are going to have an easier time tracking you if nobody else outside your household is using your IP.
  • There's still no guarantee that Netflix and Hulu won't figure out that you're on a VPN and block your IP, because VPNs assign IP addresses in blocks.

So I opted, instead, to set up some firewall rules to allow Netflix and Hulu to bypass the VPN.

The downside to this approach is obvious: Cox can see me connecting to Netflix and Hulu, and also Amazon (because Netflix uses AWS). However, this information is probably of limited value to Cox; yes, they know that I use three extremely popular websites, when I connect to them, and how much data I upload and download, but that's it; Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon all force HTTPS, so while Cox can see the IPs, it can't see the specific pages I'm going to, what videos I'm watching, etc. In my estimation, letting Cox see that I'm connecting to those sites is an acceptable tradeoff for not letting Cox see any other sites I'm connecting to.

There are a number of guides on how to get this set up, but here are the three that helped me the most:

OpenVPN Step-by-Step Setup for pfsense -- This is the first step; it'll help you route all your traffic through Private Internet Access. (Other VPNs -- at least, ones that use OpenVPN -- are probably pretty similar.)

Hulu Traffic -- Setting up Hulu to bypass the VPN is an easy and straightforward process; you just need to add an alias for a set of FQDNs and then create a rule routing connections to that alias to WAN instead of OpenVPN.

Netflix to WAN not OPT1 -- Netflix is trickier than Hulu, partly because (as mentioned above) it uses AWS and partly because the list of IPs associated with AWS and Netflix is large and subject to change. So in this case, instead of just a list of FQDNs, you'll want to set up a couple of rules in pfBlockerNG to automatically download, and periodically update, lists of those IPs.

That's it. Keep in mind that VPN isn't a silver bullet solution, and there are still other steps you'll want to take to protect your privacy. I'll plan on covering some of them in future posts.

Private Prisons

I wrote something yesterday that forumgoer Mothra referred to as "a Thad mic drop", so I figured it might be a good idea to repost here. For posterity and stuff.

Mothra had brought up the Kids for Cash scandal, which has been in the news recently due to the Third Circuit's rejection of Mark Ciavarella's appeal.

The short version of the story is that two judges accepted bribes from the owner of a private juvenile detention center, in exchange for sending as many children there as possible.

I'm not a religious man, so when I say that there is a special place reserved in Hell for them, what I actually mean is "a minimum-security prison".

Anyhow, here's what I wrote yesterday; originally posted on Brontoforumus.


There are a lot of industries I hate. A lot I see as hopelessly, incurably corrupt, as industries whose very function is to profit from human suffering.

Health insurance. Investment banking. Oil and coal. Weapons. Newscorp.

But the private prison industry is the very worst.

The very proposition of creating a profit incentive for putting people in prison and keeping them there is one that should result in only two reactions: laughter that the notion is farcical; disgust at the realization that people are serious about it.

Have I mentioned the private prison lobby's role in crafting SB1070 lately? Because here, let me just link this again:

Prison Economics Help Drive Ariz. Immigration Law, by Laura Sullivan, NPR, 2010.

Judging Congress

Dear Speaker Boehner,

I recently read your comments that Congress should not be judged on how many new laws it creates, but on how many laws it repeals.

Given that this Congress has repealed a total of zero laws, can you tell me what the thinking behind that statement was?

Was it (1) an honest admission that this really IS the worst Congress in history, (2) did you, as Speaker of the House, not actually know how many laws your Congress has repealed, or (3) did you just figure the American public is stupid and nobody would look it up?

Thanks for your time, and I look forward to your response as it will help settle a bet with my wife. (She says it's 2, but it's gotta be 3, right? Don't let me down, Mr. Speaker.)

Kisses,

Thad

Hey NSA, Here's a Freebie

Dear Speaker Boehner,

I read your comments today, regarding your latest attempt to weaken the Affordable Care Act, that "It's unfair to protect big businesses without giving the same relief to American families and small businesses." I must say that I am impressed by your sudden and completely unprecedented concern about big business getting preferential treatment over individuals. I mean, you know, it's sort of an interesting definition of "preferential treatment" -- you are suggesting that, because big business is getting a reprieve from having to pay for employees' healthcare, individuals should be allowed a reprieve from receiving healthcare -- but it's the thought that counts.

But Mr. Speaker, you may want to sit down -- because you may not know this, but in 2010 the United States Supreme Court ruled that corporations have the same rights to free speech as individuals. Well, I say "same" -- but the Court also ruled that money is a form of speech, meaning corporations get more speech than individuals. Mr. Speaker, you strike me as a man who knows his Orwell; I'm sure you can recognize a "some are more equal than others" proposition when you see it.

That's why I'm sure I can count on you, based on your words today, not only to reject all corporate campaign contributions and run only clean grassroots elections from now on, but indeed to champion a Constitutional Amendment putting an end to corporate personhood. I'm sure that from here on in you will see to it that every Republican in the House votes in favor of individual liberties over monied interests.

Just kidding. I know you have absolutely no control whatsoever on how House Republicans vote.

Thanks for your time,

Thaddeus R R Boyd

James Clapper and Other Disgraces

So I mentioned last night that asking the question, "Is Snowden a hero or a traitor?" completely misses the fucking point.

Here now to completely miss the fucking point are The New Yorker's John Cassidy ("hero") and Jeffrey Toobin ("traitor").

I guess we should applaud The New Yorker for showing its journalistic integrity by presenting both sides of the not-actually-the-fucking-story.

Look. I don't give a goddamn if Edward Snowden raped a bear in his meth lab while canceling Firefly. First of all, he'd still be less of an asshole than Dick Cheney, and second, if you think it's okay for the government to spy on your phone and Internet habits, you should probably come up with a better reason than "Well, I'm for it because that bear rapist is against it!"

Now, I happen to believe, based on the limited information we have at the moment, that Snowden did the right thing, and also that Snowden has gigantic balls. But I don't believe he's the most important person in this story. I don't think he's even in the top fifty.

Someone who is in the top fifty is James Clapper, perjuring fuck and Director of National Intelligence, who recently testified before Congress that the government is totally not collecting surveillance information on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans. Here, go watch John Oliver kill it on his first episode as fill-in host of The Daily Show (and be sure to stick around for the Moment of Zen where 2006 Joe Biden explains how this sort of thing is totally not okay when a Republican does it).

Fred Kaplan at Slate advocates firing Clapper, because, among other reasons, he has proven himself totally incapable of discussing this subject in an intellectually honest fashion or any other kind of honest fashion.

Among other reasons, here's Clapper's inept fucking explanation for why his lie was actually true:

Rambling on in his rationalization to Mitchell, he focused on Wyden’s use of the word “collect,” as in “Did the NSA collect any type of data ... on millions of Americans?” Clapper told Mitchell that he envisioned a vast library of books containing vast amounts of data on every American. “To me,” he said, “collection of U.S. persons’ data would mean taking the book off the shelf and opening it up and reading it.”

Jesus Christ. Between this asshole and Petraeus, I'm beginning to worry that our entire intelligence apparatus is made up of people who can't even come up with a convincing lie if they're given months of warning and an entire team of speechwriters.

Hey Clapper -- this is my comic book collection.

Image: My comic book collection.

I haven't read most of those books in years. Does that mean they're no longer part of my collection? Or does reading them once count? Does that mean the comics I bought last week and haven't gotten around to reading aren't part of my collection yet? Is this some kind of quantum physics shit where my collection is altered by the act of observing it?

What about garbage collection? Does it only count as collecting my garbage if the sanitation workers break open the bags and root through 'em? Because I've never seen them do that, and yet the city keeps charging me a garbage collection fee anyway.

You get the point. He's claiming his lie is not actually a lie because he was using a definition of a word that he just completely made up. Like how I had sex with Natalie Portman. It's not a lie because when I say "had sex" I actually mean "sat on the couch" and by "with Natalie Portman" I mean "and played Nintendo".

Man, I have had so much sex with Natalie Portman.

I don't know if I'm even as bothered by his lying -- hell, that's his job, I'd expect nothing less -- as the sheer fucking laziness of his lying. It's downright goddamned insulting. It lacks even the sublime, recursive absurdity of "That depends on what your definition of is is." It's just worthless. And so is Clapper.

I don't really think throwing him out on his ass is going to change things. Throwing the Republicans out of the White House sure as hell didn't.

But what the hell, they still deserved to be thrown out, and so does he.

Firing Clapper certainly wouldn't guarantee we'd have an honest national discussion about the nature of our government's various spying programs.

But not firing Clapper will guarantee that we won't.

The Real Questions

I was going to write a post about Edward Snowden.

But then I realized: that's bullshit.

Because this isn't about Edward Snowden.

I just read a great piece by Matt Taibbi titled As Bradley Manning Trial Begins, Press Predictably Misses the Point. He argues, persuasively, that focusing on Manning is what the government wants. It wants the story to be about a person instead of about the information he disclosed.

The NSA story isn't about Snowden, any more than the military leaks are about Manning or Assange. "Hero or traitor?" is a bullshit question.

There are real questions we should be asking. Here are a few courtesy of Bruce Schneier:

We need details on the full extent of the FBI's spying capabilities. We don't know what information it routinely collects on American citizens, what extra information it collects on those on various watch lists, and what legal justifications it invokes for its actions. We don't know its plans for future data collection. We don't know what scandals and illegal actions -- either past or present -- are currently being covered up.

We also need information about what data the NSA gathers, either domestically or internationally. We don't know how much it collects surreptitiously, and how much it relies on arrangements with various companies. We don't know how much it uses password cracking to get at encrypted data, and how much it exploits existing system vulnerabilities. We don't know whether it deliberately inserts backdoors into systems it wants to monitor, either with or without the permission of the communications-system vendors.

And we need details about the sorts of analysis the organizations perform. We don't know what they quickly cull at the point of collection, and what they store for later analysis -- and how long they store it. We don't know what sort of database profiling they do, how extensive their CCTV and surveillance-drone analysis is, how much they perform behavioral analysis, or how extensively they trace friends of people on their watch lists.

All that said: I can't resist linking the petition for Obama to debate Snowden. Obviously it's not going to happen, but if it gets 100,000 signatures, the White House will have to issue an official response.

And presumably up the signature requirement for an official response to 150,000 for next time.