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Comment: Re:I'm all for abolishing the IRS (Score 1) 209

by Zordak (#49375103) Attached to: Sign Up At irs.gov Before Crooks Do It For You

I dislike the IRS as much as anyone, but I think taxing income is a lot simpler to make progressive than trying to categorize all the different kinds of products available would be.

Have you seen our tax code? When I took Federal Income Taxation in law school, I had to get a copy of the tax code, and it was about six inches thick. (I don't remember, or care, if or how much it was annotated.) That's a mighty long list of exceptions to consumption tax.

But consumption taxes will never take on, because the tax code is really about control. If I grant tax favors for certain preferred behaviors, I can exercise a phenomenal amount of control over what you do. If I'm a power-grubbing statist anywhere on the purple spectrum, that's much better than merely influencing what you buy.

Comment: Re:I'm all for abolishing the IRS (Score 2) 209

by Sarten-X (#49373719) Attached to: Sign Up At irs.gov Before Crooks Do It For You

This depends on what you mean by "progressive".

A consumption-based tax is very simple and easy to tie to consumption, by attaching it to goods as we already do with sales tax. That matches well with the definition of "progressive" that refers to having more tax come from those who use more.

Unfortunately, if you're looking for a "progressive" definition related to making progress in the areas of social justice and economic fairness, consumption taxes are disproportionately burdensome on lower-income demographics. It turns out that people only eat so much and have so much time for nonessentials. The rich often literally have so much money that they make more (usually from investments) than they can spend. With a consumption tax, their effective tax rate is a far smaller percentage of what they make than the effective tax rate of a less-wealthy individual.

The standard theory is that we tax profit because the public contribution (through governmental support) allowed the individual to profit, and fostered the profit-conducive environment. If that is the case, then people should not be taxed based on their own consumption, but rather on what others had to give up to support their profitable endeavor.

Let's assume I am a billionaire who commutes mainly via private helicopter. It doesn't bother me at all to throw a few thousand dollars toward a local road-improvement project. For a struggling single parent to do the same would be a significant hardship, even though they would be far more likely to actually use and benefit from the improved road. Under a taxation system that encourages a fair distribution of hardship, I would be responsible for a far larger portion of the project, simply because I can afford to without an unfair amount of actual harm.

Unfortunately, judging actual hardship is difficult. Even as a billionaire, I might already be donating all of my incoming profit to charities supporting the global community, so taxing me more would only reduce the amount of good I could do directly. That struggling single parent might not be struggling if they didn't spend so much on cigarettes and alcohol, effectively somewhat-freely choosing their fate.

That's why our tax code is so complicated today. The United States has been trying to define "fair" in a way that covers everyone's situation, and for the most part it's been okay. The modern economic system has thrown a few new wrenches into the machine, and we need to work those out, but it's still trying to be a fair system.

Comment: Re:Be careful what you ask for (Score 1) 209

by Sarten-X (#49373191) Attached to: Sign Up At irs.gov Before Crooks Do It For You

Except, of course, for a custom car that's mostly driven on private roads and tracks for exhibition, but the owner keeps it street-legal just in case he wants to drive it publicly.

Then there's also the uneven usage for cars pulling trailers, which don't have odometers.

Then there are people whose car may not be registered in the same state as the majority of their driving, which is legal in some circumstances.

These are some easy examples. All this idea does is shift the problems from one easily-identified group of people to a large variety of special cases.

Comment: Re:Shut uuuuup (Score 1) 153

by Sarten-X (#49368719) Attached to: Europol Chief Warns About Computer Encryption

I seem to recall discussion of encryption-using terrorists in the 80s and 90s. It's not a new concept.

What is a new concept is having nearly-unbreakable encryption available for $2 at an electronics shop in the nearest major village, ready to be deployed to an untrained operative, and available in a large enough quantity to be sure that every message the organization sends is secure.

That's what's spooked the spooks.

Comment: Re:He thinks it is bad now? (Score -1) 153

by Sarten-X (#49368707) Attached to: Europol Chief Warns About Computer Encryption

This is a natural consequence of their refusal to abide by due process...

How is it a natural consequence? Is there some law that proves an increase in encryption must happen after a perceived injustice?

Rather, what actually happened is that the spy agencies watched everybody, and by and large didn't care about people who weren't throwing up red flags. If it weren't for Snowden and the Internet-fueled rage he spurred, you'd never know that you'd been investigated at all.

For most of its history, the Fourth Amendment has never been about protecting privacy, but rather protecting against using the state's power to disrupt innocent people's lives. An unobtrusive observation doesn't cause any significant disruption, so the process that is due is minimal. Even accounting for the Katz privacy considerations, the information is being gathered by a service provider, and provided en masse to the investigators. From that perspective, where the surveillance is seen as a reasonable and legal tactic, this new desire to have encryption everywhere is just an obstacle with no real benefit. Sure, there are a few legitimate places to use encrypted channels, like a corporate VPN, but for simple personal messages, it's only getting in the way of legitimate investigations.

Not only will the sophistication of encryption spread by it will go from being an option to being a default status quo.

That's the investigators' fear, yes. Again, they see the surveillance as being reasonable, and the encryption as a needless obstacle. That's why they're asking that "tech firms ... consider the impact sophisticated encryption software has on law enforcement".

In the not too distant future, if they want access to data, they will need to get the cooperation of the owner of that data... or get nothing at all.

...so they effectively get nothing at all, ever. To use the mandatory Slashdot car analogy, if a police officer asked you first, how often would you grant permission for him to pull you over, regardless of your speed?

By conducting indiscriminate monitoring of the speed of vehicles, he's probing your vehicle's status, and that's invading your privacy. Surely you have a right to keep your vehicular operational tendencies private, right?

Ultimately, there is a middle ground that must be found. Having encryption everywhere will indeed cripple law enforcement to a certain extent, and having no encryption will curtail essential liberty to a certain extent. Given mankind's tendency to overreact to immediate threats, I expect we'll waver between the two extremes, with the public at large demanding that police somehow magically identify criminals while blind, deaf, and impotent. That's a double-edged sword, too, and it'll bite us, as well.

Comment: Re:Systemd forks Linux kernel, for or against? (Score 2) 74

by Sarten-X (#49368267) Attached to: FCC Chairman: Net Rules Will Withstand Court Challenge

Apparently DistroWatch's source is "Ivan Gotyavich", a developer on the systemd project. A Google search for his name returns no other results, and it's suspiciously a corruption of "I got you", as one would exclaim after successfully perpetrating a hoax.

The AC commenting on every story trying to manufacture a systemd-centered argument is definitely a troll.

In short, Linux fans still have nothing to worry about. A new package provides several new utilities, some distros are choosing to include those utilities and depend on them. That may break a few things and cause disruption for a while, but in short order, the fanatic neckbeards with their bash superpowers will ensure that everything is compatible. It's business as usual in a large software ecosystem.

Comment: Re:He's good. (Score 1) 198

by Sarten-X (#49363143) Attached to: Prison Inmate Emails His Own Release Instructions To the Prison

By definition it's not possible for everyone to be able to beat inflation.

Only for very wide definitions of "everyone", including VC investment, R&D, government subsidies, international trade, and every other economic influence, many of which are high-risk investments that effectively dump most of their money into lower-risk investment vehicles.

I'm not suggesting that if everyone invested in a widely-diversified portfolio, they'd be rich. That's ridiculous, since that's exactly what banks do with their abysmally low-return (but very safe) accounts.

I'm saying that if someone wants to invest and have a good chance of a good return rate, they have access to such things.

Understandable. Daniel Kahneman has some amusing anecdotes who people who work in finance really don't seem to figure out what it is they're really doing.

Well, that's nice, but beyond a thinly-veiled insult, do you have a point?

Comment: Re:victim shaming (Score 2) 198

by Sarten-X (#49363007) Attached to: Prison Inmate Emails His Own Release Instructions To the Prison

Let's assume that someone without "enough spare income for a whole portfolio" has the desire to invest, and the ambition and effort to do their own research. They'll find a whole class of funds and brokers that will pool several clients' investments into a single security purchase, and those brokers will often accept even a few dozen dollars' investment at a time. Most will also diversify investments appropriately, as well, as a part of their normal business.

Several investment vehicles have purchase minimums. The investment manager doesn't want to deal with the expense of managing accounts for thousands of small-scale clients. However, they'll often happily deal with a single broker purchasing on behalf of his own clients, as long as that broker manages all the busy work of distributing returns appropriately.

The brokers will take their cut from the returns, but it's still usually higher than a bank's low-risk-and-low-reward savings account.

Comment: Re:He's good. (Score 4, Informative) 198

by Sarten-X (#49361375) Attached to: Prison Inmate Emails His Own Release Instructions To the Prison

Having worked in finance, I can assure you that pretty much everyone* has access to investment vehicles with a larger return than 2%. The problem is that those investments are significantly more risky than a bank, and losing the investment is unlikely to be catastrophic to someone with a large supply of other diversified assets, but it could be catastrophic to someone with only a weekly paycheck to fall back on.

The solution to that problem is to properly diversify your investments for safety. An investment adviser can help with that, but they'll charge a fee for their work, and many people feel (accurately or not) they can't afford that service. There are books and other resources to assist someone in wisely choosing their own investments, but that requires ambition, effort, and the admission that one is not naturally a financial expert. That last part seems to be the most difficult to come by.

* American, not already in excessive debt, with a stable income... some disclaimers apply, but the vast majority of the American population qualifies, not just those who fall under the "rich" label.

Comment: Re:Say what you will about ULA... (Score 1) 42

by Sarten-X (#49361295) Attached to: Taxpayer Subsidies To ULA To End

Absence of proof is not proof of absence.

SpaceX is a young, hip company eager to show that it does things the public likes, including the OSS-loving public of nerds. They're different from existing spaceflight options, and they want the public support to help make those differences look like good things, especially if their business ever falls on the mercy of Congress.

ULA is a partnership of old companies who really don't care what the public thinks of them because they're operating under the status quo. They already have the political clout to be sure that any changes won't be disastrous to their business model, so drumming up public support is a waste of money.

I'd expect that an audit would find comparable uses of OSS, from Linux servers and BSD embedded devices to innumerable copies of PuTTY scattered across workstations.

Comment: Re:I'd put a 'may' there (Score 1) 42

by Sarten-X (#49361257) Attached to: Taxpayer Subsidies To ULA To End

From my own time working on government contracts, I have a similar experience, but a substantially different perspective.

Often, the most valuable people on the team are the ones who know what to do. Every process is the result of bureaucrats getting their say, so having a manager who knows what the bureaucrats want is a good way to know what to expect. It may be just knowing that eventually you'll need this report, or as intimate as knowing that reviewer will want that level of detail, but knowing the expectations from the other side of the phone call makes every part of the project run more smoothly.

Yes, this is reflected in the buying process as well. If they have a rapport with the contractors, the buyers know that they'll get what they want the first time, rather than waste their own time and money going through several rounds of revisions.

Comment: Re:Same can happen at a cloud provider... (Score 1) 262

by Zordak (#49341535) Attached to: RadioShack Puts Customer Data Up For Sale In Bankruptcy Auction
It's not quite that simple. When B purchases the data, the contract between you and A doesn't just disappear. B purchases the data subject to the contract. Since there is no provision in the contract that it's not transferable (at least not on RS's end), that's a normal and acceptable thing to do with a contract. That's not a guarantee that they won't do the most nefarious thing with it that they can get away with, but simply putting up a torrent of it probably won't fly. In fact, that's exactly what the NY AG is talking about here. RS received the data under an agreement. They can't breach that agreement just because they're going bankrupt.

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