Archive for June, 2014

Even more interesting things

Posted on June 30th, 2014 Be the first to comment

Some people seem to revel in apocalyptic scenarios.

Not me, as I’ve hopefully explained earlier.

I actually rather enjoy city life and, for the most part, my neighbourhood (and the city too). Toronto and its people can be pretty cool.

Worldpride 2014

Worldpride 2014

As I stated earlier, I’m not against police or even government, per se. I’m just not happy with what they and their offspring have become.

If the government ever does something to benefit the people, that’s simply a side-effect of benefiting itself and its buddies first and foremost. Besides, they’ll get your benefits through all of their fraudulent means anyway, whether you like it or not, and they’ll publicize how they crushed you under their boot afterward (“for your benefit!”).

It’s Not All Bad

However, I’m not a “tear it all down” guy. For example, I think cities are the most environmentally sensible, as opposed to the vast wasted tracts of the suburban gated communities and sprawling strip malls (government planning). Cities take getting used to, but there are many benefits too.

And “progress”, in the old techno-oriented way, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s all in how it’s used, something that can can be said of any tool.

homer_gun

Government? Well, if this were a true democracy and the people had direct say into political affairs then I see no reason why government (or any other agency), can’t co-exist — as long as it’s actually selected by, and works for, the people. Same for the police, the military, etc., etc.

After all, there are some good politicians, and there are some good cops, so it’s not as if these institutions couldn’t be run effectively and in the interests of the citizens. It’s possible that no one would lose their jobs if they could justify their value to society. It’s conceivable, though doubtful, that things would stay exactly the same.

Yes, some communities might elect to have absolute government dictatorship. Others might be a bit more relaxed and vote to limit government influence. I imagine that probably there’d be a mix of the two, with a direct focus on the needs of the community (not the government).

This may also mean disparity between public works between communities (roads, water works, electricity, income, etc.), but could someone please explain how that is any different from what the government is imposing right now? I bet strong local advocacy, even direct government participation, would help to equalize the needs of all of Toronto’s disparate neighbourhoods (and way more efficiently).

Unworkable?

Give. Me. A. Break.

Electronic Voting

This is 2014!

Has anyone noticed that the internet is pretty much everywhere? And if not, it could/should be. Maybe not everywhere, yet, but in any major urban metropolis it seems doable (at least, I say, we shouldn’t let government failures dissuade us).

Online encryption-based voting systems have been well-studied over the past quarter-century, and numerous super-smart people are further exploring the field. Many of the comments against electronic voting include exactly the kinds of thingsproper electronic voting system avoids (i.e. examples we’ve seen so far have been built by government, so…)

Because of the difficulty of breaking the underlying encryption, when properly deployed such a system would prevent even governments from being able to game it along with everyone else (which is a good indication of why government would never accept it).

The ownership of your decision would belong solely to you and could be verified as a valid, un-forgeable vote, along with being anonymous and inherently fraud-resistant (the “authority” would simply maintain the open-source voting software and public access points).

Perhaps a little prior testing might be nice too.

Here are some other stated goals:

  1. Correctness:
    • Only authorized parties can vote, i.e. registered voters
    • No voter votes more than once
    • No voter can replace votes
    • The party in charge of tabulation cannot change the outcome
  2. Verifiability: universal or private
  3. User anonymity
  4. Receipt-freeness

Consider how the current government system of paper-ballot voting compares:

  1. Correctness: FAIL (Who verifies that the government’s count is accurate?)
  2. Verifiability: FAIL (How do we verify what happens to our vote once in the box?)
  3. User anonymity: FAIL (Voters must vote using real name, in person)
  4. Receipt-freeness: PASS

The “receipt-freeness” part means that people don’t need to walk out with receipts to prove that they voted a certain way. This is a “PASS” for paper ballots, but overall the system gets a big “FAIL”.

While it’s true that electronic voting doesn’t necessarily prevent coercion, the current system in which government provides protection against your evil fellow man isn’t that great in preventing even itself from participating in the same problem.

The reliability concern is something that (in the “government doesn’t work for you” context), is something the state isn’t keen to deal with, and on a side-by-side basis it looks like electronic voting wins out anyways.

Also, let’s keep in mind which group has been tasked with bringing electronic voting into being: government. Would they really want to relinquish their monopoly? Seems unlikely. Would they promote its competition? Probably not. And who, exactly, is nay-saying electronic voting anyway? Yeah, the government, apparently comprised of no one who is able to read scientific literature.

Of course problems will exist, but with electronic voting the system can be verifiably fixed; with government voting we just have to trust them.

Again, the solution here really needs to be extra-systemic. It needs individuals to pool together and make it happen by slow insinuation.

And More

While government is keen to promote the negative uses of encryption (unless, of course, they’re doing it), what appears to be emerging from it is generally very positive — and it’s not all voting, privacy, and anonymity. It is, after all, a tool that can be wielded like any other.

As far as I’m concerned, evil intent regarding encryption as ascribed by government reveals more about the person (or organization) demonizing the tool rather than the tool itself.

The topics I’ve covered in this series aren’t as disparate as I might’ve implied, and individuals’ efforts are often broader than I may have hinted. And despite the negative aspects of this series, I think it’s always a good reminder that the insurmountable government systems of a not-too-long-ago yesterday are today the playthings of children, and that we can always depend on plenty of government incompetence, corruption, and old-fashioned red tape to get in the way of their own innovation.

The revolution will be hidden.

Filed under: B Sides, Patrick Bay, Pictures

I’ll explain

Posted on June 27th, 2014 Be the first to comment

Sorry for the interruption.

Hopefully it’s at least revealing to know that even as I write these lines I’m in a precarious situation (whatever income I do have is entirely spoken for), so please don’t mistake me for some well-to-do bohemian philosopher. And I know I’m not getting that seized money back so now I have to decide which bills aren’t getting paid.

But let’s not dwell.

I’d like to explain what I was getting at earlier. Because I really do have faith in something, and that something is technology.

Oh, don’t get me wrong — I know my computer isn’t going to hug or feed me tomorrow. It’ll barely keep me warm in the winter. In the summer, it does a shitty job of keeping me cool. It never encourages me, and frankly, it barely acknowledges my presence. But it does provide access to something: digital privacy and anonymity.

Privacy

Of course government surveillance means that my expectations should be restrained, but based on everything I know about encryption, surveillance, and data collection, I believe that what governments are doing amounts to basically data warehousing — until they can figure out a way to crack some of the heavily encrypted stuff. And that’s proving very challenging.

So that’s a great place to start, for example, by learning how to encrypt your email. See if your friends can read them, just for shits and giggles. This took me a few moments to set up for the first time so I’d recommend giving yourself some time to absorb the instructions.

Don’t rush — misunderstanding is often as dangerous as sheer ignorance. The Khan Academy does a great job of explaining how you and another person can communicate privately when you’re constantly being listened in on (the ideas are initially explained using colours — no math!):

If you stuck around for the math in the second half, you may have noticed that this (the big number stuff), seems like something computers would be good at. Right? And the underlying concepts have many real-world analogues too.

One might opine that it’s almost as if God weaved these mathematical tidbits into the fabric of the universe for us to discover and use.

If you’re not really familiar with practical encryption, it’s a good idea to peruse the more general material. Take your time because encryption by itself isn’t enough. There are many ways that you can inadvertently reveal your personal information (stuff like writing your password on a sticky on your work PC), so an education in encryption is 50% technology and 50% human. Keep in mind that security is often also compromised via “rubber-hose cryptanalysis“.

 

Encryption-in-the-Real-World

So we’re also aiming for is anonymity. With everything now living in “the cloud” (a fancy term for “somebody else’s computer”), our anonymity can be ephemeral. If we can be both private and anonymous (eavesdroppers know neither what’s being said nor who’s saying it), then maybe there’s a chance that private exchanges between individuals (outside of the government’s gaze), are possible.

The privacy is done through encryption. Anonymity is provided by something like the Tor network.

Anonymity

Tor is the current crème de la crème of what is lovingly called “The Dark Net”. You know…

DarkNet_1 DarkNet_2 DarkNet_3 DarkNet_4 DarkNet_6 DarkNet_7

Yup, this stuff is out there. Big shock. I mean, don’t we know by now that when something is illegal, a black market will spring up? So law helps to stoke the fires, and government swoops in with a leaky, overpriced, corrupt bucket of water. And that such a market should exist online is equally as un-shocking. That doesn’t mean Tor is all bad — it’s all in how you use it. All it’s designed to do is to keep you anonymous.

How qualified am I to be dolling out Tor advice? Well, I wrote the library for controlling and communicating through Tor using Adobe Flash and AIR, so I’d say I’m fairly well qualified.

On this topic, I’ve written a pretty buggy and totally not-ready-for-public Tor application that you can play with (it launches whatever version of IE, Chrome, or FireFox that you may have installed in “Tor mode”): http://www.torontocitylife.com/downloads/BreakOutBox.exe

I’ll be releasing this as open-source as soon I’ve cleaned it up a bit. Feel free to write me to get your hands on it earlier, or with any of the obvious (or not so obvious) problems you encounter.

Update (July 1): I urge caution when using BreakOutBox at this point — it doesn’t correctly reset your browser’s proxy settings so you’ll probably have to reset them yourself after closing the program. I’ll try to have this fixed in the next version. Also, if you downloaded BreakOutBox before July 1st, it won’t work (I forgot to include the Tor binary!). Download and install again to fix.

Open-Source

What I’ve discussed so far is not that new. They’ve actually been around for a while, and they’ve been open-sourced for nearly as long.

That “open-source” thing is tossed around a lot, and often in totally bullshit ways.

All that “open-source” means is that the author has released the source code, the instructions they wrote to produce the software, for anyone and everyone to look at, use, adapt, and enjoy.

You have to teach yourself that particular programming language to use it, true, but you don’t have to depend on them telling you what their finished software does — you can build (and change) that software for yourself. Naturally, for any popular piece of open-source software there’s a community picking it apart to see if it breaks.

Proprietary or “closed-source” software, on the other hand, depends on you trusting the organization’s motives because they’re not about to share their “trade secrets” with you.

So it’s a choice between someone eager to share their work (in detail), and having equally eager people openly test it for stability and security — or what the corporation tells you is good for you. That’s how come open-source is so popular. It can be quirky — sometimes it takes a while to get used to a unique user interface and shortcuts — but it is, after all, made by individuals.

So what’s with open-source licenses? If you dig in, you realize that they actually turn the standard software licenses on their heads:

Permission is hereby granted, free of charge, to any person obtaining a copy of this software and associated documentation files (the “Software”), to deal in the Software without restriction, including without imitation the rights to use, copy, modify, merge, publish, distribute, sublicense, and/or sell copies of the Software, and to permit persons to whom the Software is furnished to do so, subject to the following conditions:

The above copyright notice and this permission notice shall be included in all copies or substantial portions of the Software.

Translation: Our software MUST remain free  for you to do with as you damn well please with one exception; we will sic copyright law on you if you try to claim exclusive ownership over it or its derivatives. If you want to sell this software, even as-is, then as long as you include the copyright notice we’re cool!

Sounds a little strange, even contradictory, but what it actually means is that while you’re free to profit off of open-source work (in most cases), you agree that it is open-source and that you will not violate other’s access to the same open-source material. What you do with that material, as long as you give a little nod via the license, is up to you — just as it is for others.

Now that’s a software license I can get behind.

Such licenses are all pretty much the same, more or less, and that same philosophy applies to non-software too (that little Creative Commons tag at the bottom of this site, for example).

And this model (giving stuff away for absolutely nothing), runs directly counter to every inbred economic instinct, and yet has proven to be profitable in very standard economic ways.

So now you have privacy, anonymity, and a some discretion in software (etc.) choices.

Now it starts to get interesting.

Cryptocurrrency

Many people have problems with this concept, so don’t feel bad if you have been labouring under the same misunderstandings.

When we talk about Cryptocurrencies, we often talk about one big example: Bitcoin, but there are quite a few more out there.

The “coin” part of the name is unfortunate because there are really no coins involved, electronic or otherwise. Bitcoin is more of a massive, peer-to-peer, public ledger into which transactions between individuals can be placed and verified. The BTC (Bitcoin) unit is simply a representation of worth to the parties involved, and the Bitcoin network makes it possible for these transactions to be done securely and honestly using strong cryptographic techniques.

Sounds kind of arbitrary, but it’s really not. Let’s say I decide that 1 BTC is $1. Do you agree with that? Great — when I want to send you payment for something, and we both agree that that something is worth $20, I’d send you 20 BTC. As long as I honour the BTC’s worth, you can then use it to exchange for another $20-worth of goods or services. Think of it as an IOU (which is basically what money used to be).

That’s fine for the both of us, but what if Bob down the street wants in on the action? Well, we can agree that $1 is 1 BTC, or maybe we can re-jigger our values to make it more accurate for all of us. So Bitcoin — the unit representation of community-derived worth — is more or less what people make of it. The Bitcoin network enables them to do that, and then use that agreed-upon “currency” for exchange.

This is a bit of a simplification, but that’s the gist of it.

Ultimately, using Bitcoin isn’t much more different than using money, and there are plenty of places where you can do exactly that. The transaction isn’t unlike using a debit or credit card in many ways, but the big difference is that you own your own account (usually stored on your device). If you lose access to it or someone hacks it, tough titties; it’s very much like cash in that way.

Bitcoin is pretty easy to integrate with Tor but needs a little help to be safely anonymous. Your Bitcoin wallet address might look like random data (and it mostly is), but without Tor and some additional protections, transactions may still be traced directly back to you, and with enough such information it’s feasible that you could be discovered. You may not think that selling good old-fashioned lemonade would bring the wrath of government down on you, but yeah, it will — they’ll fuck your life over good.

So protect yourself from these criminals as best as you can.

You may have read about some large Bitcoin and Tor-related site busts which, despite the rhetoric, were done using old-fashioned detective work — the technology remains pretty solid. Just don’t forget about the human part of the security and anonymity equation.

Keeping It Real

Having the ability to purchase physical goods and services using a cryptocurrency is great, but most likely those are going to be delivered via the government-owned post office. “And why exactly do you need all these lemons, Mister Bay?”

Unfortunately, it’s not looking like I’ll be able to replicate a bushel of lemons at home any time soon, but there are many real-world, physical objects which can be transferred digitally (and privately and anonymously), and reconstructed on increasingly cheap devices like 3D printers (and they’re not just for plastic trinkets). Star Trek-style gizmos, it turns out, aren’t that far-fetched.

Now do you suppose that with these nifty new 3D printers people will just stop everything and say, “Done! No more innovation!”? I doubt it.

Of course, this technology also has questionable applications, but these come with the territory.

We shouldn’t minimize the import of such uses, but we also shouldn’t focus unduly on what amounts to a drop in an ocean. We also can’t become complacent because the state is constantly working to put us under their thumb, but at the same time we shouldn’t get too paranoid about their capabilities.

There are many good people working hard to make all of this a reality. Some of those evil hackers that the teleprompter readers warn you about are some of the same people building these systems — you’ll need to discern for yourself what their true intentions are.

And that, ultimately, is what it comes down to … freedom. Conscious freedom to choose who you talk to, who you do business with, and to do what you want to do. Of course, with freedom comes responsibility, though most of us probably know that. If only government & friends could get a hint. But forget those fools because there are even more interesting things out there…

Filed under: B Sides, Patrick Bay, Pictures

The CRA violates my rights again

Posted on June 26th, 2014 Be the first to comment

Today I received my pay stub for tomorrow. Surprise! The Canada Revenue Agency is now taking 66.5% of my every pay! Most ever!!

stub

When was I warned that this was coming? Never. No one from the CRA called me, sent me a letter, or even so much as sneezed in my direction. If it wasn’t for the above pay stub, I wouldn’t have even suspected (until tomorrow, of course). I got HR to send me the CRA letter (dated the 12th) which claims that I still owe around $7,000 (no doubt all interest and penalties), and that they’re now seizing 50% instead of 30%. Period. No explanation.

 

demand

If it wasn’t for this letter, which I had to ask my employer nicely for (they’re not even sure if they’re allowed to share it with me!), I would have no idea which bright new CRA collections agent was now fucking over my life (they’ve even switched cities by half a continent — most previous CRA contacts were in B.C.). Note the little “c.c.” at the bottom too which they’ll probably use to claim they did contact me and this is my problem. Still waiting for my “c.c”…

Oh, I know, maybe they sent it to the wrong address! And half of it in French!

This comes after I had provided them with a detailed breakdown of my income, bills, etc. So they know that they’re leaving me without the ability to pay my loans, rent, bills, or pay for food. I may be able to do two of those next month, if I’m lucky. They purposefully, knowingly fucked me over, just like the CRA’s other crimes and provable Charter Rights violations.

Criminals.

I don’t know what recourse I have. I can’t hire a lawyer, and even if I could, the CRA will continue to violate my Rights while I attempt to go up against their limitless resources (which they got partially from me). Maybe I should start releasing real names and contact info, and maybe a nice long narrative thread complete with evidence. If there’s a newspaper, magazine, or good cop out there reading this, now would be a good time to jump in!

Should I go full frontal on these people?

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Update: Oh, they did mail it. I found it on the floor in front of my mail slot when I got home today. Makes sense considering they sent it on Monday. Timely notice of 0 days (an improvement!)

postmark_small

Filed under: B Sides, Patrick Bay, Pictures

What’s to be done

Posted on June 25th, 2014 Be the first to comment

What’s to be done?

I truly believe that if change must be made, it must be extra-systemic. While I like to believe that the system is not irredeemable, much like the other “isms” that bowed to Capitalism, I’m sure that with this entire system as well as the underlying misnomer of democracy, neither of which are either the US (a Constitutional Republic), or Canada (a Constitutional Monarchy), we are finally seeing the flaws in its utopian vision. Just like the other isms, our system is susceptible to infiltration by corruption, and I truly believe we have reached the saturation point.

Again, not sure if Wikipedia is the best source for this but if one looks at the various analyses of the Fall of Rome, we find some startling parallels:

Did I miss anything? Probably, but this seems sufficient to make my point. And this oft-heard refrain is not uncommon, so it’s not as if I’m alone in this, but the usual adjunct is “yeah, but what can we do?”

Well, for starters, let’s cross violence off the list right away. In fact, let’s also take out extortion, intimidation, threats, abduction, imprisonment, corporal punishment, fraud, destruction, theft, covert manipulation, deception, fear, and hypocrisy. These are the tools of government & friends, and the only logical conclusion must be to reject them wholly (especially with that hypocrisy bit).

Violence used in self-defense is probably the only time I would relent, and then only when applied in quid pro quo fashion. This is not in any way illegal under any current laws, though all levels of the regime have adopted the stance that if it’s defense against them, that’s a crime. And so, defending yourself against open aggression by the state is a de facto crime (they certainly aren’t going to be held responsible!)

Not sure if slapping my tormentors upside the head would qualify under these categories, but at least it’s safe to say that it probably wouldn’t change anything. In fact, maybe that’s how they got that way in the first place. It’d feel good though…

Voting is a bad joke and, in fact, some people argue that participating in it is itself a sort of crime. The argument: by choosing the winning candidate, you are forcing others who did not vote in the same way to support your socio-economic-political views via the unchecked extortion of the state. By voting for a non-winner, you are implicitly condoning this extortion (though this is never explicitly true). And even winning candidates often embark on courses of action that are not part of their stated agenda, thereby directly violating their contract with their supporters.

And how are elections kept “fair”? Oh yeah, the government maintains an exclusive monopoly in dictating the results to you (the same government openly committing fraud to maintain their power). If elections are merely the switching up of one figurehead for another, which appears to be the very case (frauds come from one supposed side as easily as the other, etc.), then it’s reasonable to conclude that sticking your little piece of paper into a flimsy and easily tampered-with cardboard box is a waste of time (even if just to mark the ballot in protest).

Further, this idea can be extended to representative voting systems where leaders like Harper and Obama are, in fact, voted in by a vast minority of voters, if at all. Instead, candidates are party-elected leaders, and these leaders are then the titular heads of government. How many people actually, directly voted for Harper and Obama? Were they even actually on the ballot somewhere? (I think they have their own ridings so probably yes, but still…)

So voted in by a majority they were not. Not in any real sense. Rob Ford’s “majority” was 47% of voters (25% of Toronto). Harper achieved a complete, unchallengeable “majority” of 40%. Obama won by a very slim 51%, but was actually chosen by the Electoral College and not directly by voters, similar to Harper. Really, only Rob was actually directly voted in, but reliably by only 25% of Toronto’s citizens.

And much like Rob Ford, the obvious crimes perpetrated by the excluded class go unpunished because of the systemic collusion I keep pointing out. So politics is also not really a solution — it’s a big part of the problem. As are the courts, cops, and many of the people mindlessly (or otherwise) pushing oppression on the masses. Not all, of course, but it seems that these days there are far too many.

So I have to conclude that working within the system is a losing proposition. Not that I want to dissuade anyone from trying to implement positive systemic changes, I just don’t see much chance for success.

Even under optimistic conditions, the system will barely satisfy the needs of any single group as it seeks to balance conflicting interests. Those interests needn’t be in conflict if they were relegated to individual communities, so it’s accurate to say that government is the source of conflict and inequality. And that’s if you don’t ascribe any nefarious aspects to it.

So what is to be done?

I think the answer can be summed up in one word: individualism

Now let’s be very clear about this because there have been many infamous cases of “individualists”  or “sovereign citizens” in the news — widely discussed and regurgitated to remind you of what happens when individuals take matters into their own hands. And I admit, some bad stuff can happen. But compared to the rare lone gunman (one out of how many tens or hundreds of millions?), the government is far more destructive and murderous, so individualism wins by sheer virtue of the numbers.

Simply put, I don’t buy the government-created line of thinking that has us all turning into murderous, criminal brutes the moment that government stops intervening. I just don’t see it. In fact, I see the state as being the primary instigator of violence in most cases (no wonder that we have no domestic police murder statistics).

Whatever individuals decide on, however, is ultimately their choice. I can even understand the feeling that violence may be the only choice. But just because a bunch of be-suited liars decree that it’s now okay to kill and torture in order to support their corrupt junta doesn’t make it any less murder and torture, whether your name is Stephen Harper, Barack Obama, or Elliot Rogers.

Note that individualism doesn’t mean no government, it means voluntary government. It doesn’t mean no police, it means a direct voluntary contract between an individual and the police. Anarchy, despite the incessant attempts to pollute its original meaning, doesn’t mean chaos, it means individual choice, freedom, and responsibility. Community and individualism need not be mutually exclusive.

Individualism begins right where you are now — with you. It begins with a solemn oath to yourself that you will no longer willingly support the corrupt, murderous regime of the state. Doing so with a clear conscience requires an extended oath rejecting violence, extortion, intimidation, etc. In my view, any action taken on such a basis, with due consideration for the rights of your fellow man, is justified and right. The corrupt courts, bleating politicians, and thuggish police can stuff their disgusting laws and declarations back to the last days of Rome where they below — I know I’m not hurting anyone or doing anything wrong!

Individualism requires you to be brave in the face of the machine. It requires you to know that you are not a criminal, no matter what the system’s laws demand. It requires you to know that you don’t willingly harm or defraud your fellow man because you respect their sovereignty in the same way that you expect yours to be (but are also subject to repercussions when that sovereignty is violated). It requires you to know, above all else, that the corrupt state does not grant you these freedoms — you are born with them and anyone who tries to take them away from you without your consent are criminals. By extension, the fact that the Canadian government ensnared without consent the population of Canada (Did you ever consent to be taxed? Were you assigned your SIN before your age of majority? etc.), absolutely makes them criminals — one and all. Those involved in the periphery are accessories, just as with any standard crime. If that doesn’t sit well, there’s also the War Crimes angle, the massive defrauding angle, etc.

I know for a fact that TCL, and perhaps other outlets, are being monitored. Most likely by government organizations working together with private “reputation management” firms.

That’s okay — it’s a public blog! So why is it so wrong for the government to scour these pages when, really, anyone can openly do so? Because:

  1. I know they’re not doing it for good or beneficial reasons (i.e. the only possible purpose to collect this is to use it against me or someone else).
  2. They’re using my (and your) tax money to do so, and they’re doing it without our consent.

That’s why government surveillance of public sites is equally as despicable — we all know full well they are not doing it to benefit us (and are lying to us about it). Plus, there’s all the illegal stuff they’re doing for our “benefit” too.

I’m particularly conscious of the technological aspects of this because I’m a longtime developer, now software architect (a title I recently acquired), something that I like to believe stems from reasonable competence and experience (20-ish years, give or take). I also run a meager Google Plus group tracking the implications of technology as progressing or regressing individual freedoms. I don’t comment much, just post links and let the context tell the story — and that story is usually bleak and dark. All that stuff I rant about, like the fact that we’re heading for an Orwellian nightmare, that’s based on years of deeper-than-average research in a field in which I specialize. If my qualifications don’t match up to your liking, there are plenty of voices out there in an ever growing chorus saying the same things; you don’t need to believe just me.

But I do hope that you believe me because in among the darkness of systemic oppression I can see slivers of blinding light. The walls are showing cracks, the armour exhibits chinks, and through these cavities I can see a way through. I’m sure that it’s not the only way (getting bogged down by a dogged ideology is not productive), but there is something  — some things, actually — that can be done.

If you’re religiously inclined, this is probably the part where God steps in. If you’re all scientific-like, ditto.

Shall I explain?

Filed under: B Sides, Patrick Bay

What’s to be done?

Posted on June 16th, 2014 2 Comments

As I mentioned some time ago, I haven’t been sitting idly by and watching things around me unfold. I remain keenly aware of what’s happening each day in the over-the-top system we are subjected to.

Every day I read about more public gouging and fraud by corporations, media “pundits” defending absolute and unquestioning subjugation to the immoral “authority” of state who invoke their flimsy “won’t someone think of the children!” line at the same time as they actively work to undermine and criminalize those seeking to ensure children’s welfare (and everyone else trying to do some good). Every day the government ups the ante in contravening and violating rules, laws, and basic justice, directly suppressing people’s Charter Rights and access to the law. That is, of course, when they’re not busy arbitrarily making up new laws to hold us guilty of “crimes” that they invent on the spot.

And if those laws were ever intended as actual protection of citizens and their rights, it’s painfully obvious that they’re being used specifically to terrorize, extort, and control those same citizens and violate their rights — the exact opposite of their stated purpose. And worse, those laws are being perverted through the breaking and violation of other laws, a situation so repellent that it defies words. And the courts hold this aloft as being in all of our best interests while police go to work making sure we’re all “protected” under their benevolent regime. For this they demand our tax money, to be handed over to banking and corporate acquaintances that show a voracious appetite for control and dominance.

airlines-consolidation big-banks-mergers corporate_consolidation media-ownership

Beyond this I have my own decade-long history with the Canada Revenue Agency in a series of what I feel may fairly be described as omissions, lies, and possibly fraud — all documented in an extensive timeline on the government’s own stationary (i.e. stuff they sent me), often complete with signatures of the CRA agent, the timeline involved, authorizing supervisors, etc. It documents numerous Charter Right violations by them and other other members of the CRA. I can now actually claim to have reams of evidence: papers, transcripts, a long reconstructed timeline.

I can directly prove that the CRA has made, at the very least, an error in deciding that I “owed them” $20,000 for the year 2005, which they said carried over from 2004 where I “owed” $0.

Let that sink in for a moment.

If this was a problem, I was told, it’s on me to straighten out (and I’d better pay what they demand in the meantime!) Initially I thought this was related to the personal business I had started so that I could work as a contractor, but the longer it went on, the sketchier it became. I mean, I only made about $55,000 that year which, according to the math means that the CRA had expected me to remit 36% of my earnings (apparently just for EI alone — see below), a number that jumped far higher after numerous re-assessments (and I better pay that too!)

Ten years in and I still have no assessment, just a bunch of “Notices of Assessment” (tricky wording, huh?) that contradict each other and tell me very little in and of themselves. I’ve continuously demanded to know what the CRA claimed I “owed” them for, and only once did I receive the verbal response that it, the initial $20,000, was marked as “EI — maybe Employment Insurance?” somewhere in the history of the file. I asked for that in writing, as well as the agent’s initials or some other identifying feature to prove that this is the information I was asking for.

Eventually, I received yet another Notice of Assessment that notified me that I “owed” $20,000 from 2005, my 2004 “owing” was $0, and the agent’s initials appeared at the bottom (printed). Well, good, then. Guess that’s that.

So, now I’m sitting on many many copies of Notices of Assessments, many in French (a big indicator to me that someone was messing around with my info at the CRA), many with conflicting information (numerous re-assessments made before I ever submitted returns for any of these years), and still not a single one indicating anything except some sort of weirdness at the Canada Revenue Agency.

I deeply suspect the involvement of a since-acquired IT staffing agency at the outset (2004-2005). They refused to send me my T4 and would only provide me with a photocopy which had what looks like sloppy white-out applied to a conspicuous box. Combined with the fact that they demanded that I was an independent contractor even as they sent me a T4 and a Record of Employment (yes, I have these, plus signed contracts, etc.), suggests that they provided the CRA with some interesting “information” too, which the CRA may have decided was perfectly okay and probably also decided that, yeah, I should be treated as an independent contractor.

I’ve since worked for other large IT staffing firms that have similarly tried to circumvent Ontario’s labour laws, readily co-mingling “employee” with “independent contractor” (one place actually used both in the contract wherever they were expedient), treating ignorant contractors like employees and sticking them with the taxes that they should be paying.

I mean, back in my Henderson Bas nightmare I had to explain to my fellow workers that working 80 hours per week is not expected by law, so it’s not surprising that this kind of thing goes on regularly.

I’m assuming that this is how the situation started . The fact that the Canadian government ripped off Canadian taxpayers through the Employment Insurance system at the same time certainly adds a lot more spice to this whole thing — I suddenly owe twenty grand on what I can best ascertain to be Employment Insurance tax, on the same year as the government guts the system?

That “amount owing” quickly grew to $35,000 and by today I’m sure that it’s ballooned to well over $40,000 what with all the fees and extra bells and whistles they like to throw in. In the meantime, the CRA has frozen my assets in very strategic ways — typically on the last day of the month (when I get paid, pay rent, etc.) — because I didn’t cooperate with their extortion demands (which regularly encompass friends and family — “what assets do they have?” “We can seize whatever we need to!”, etc.) By assets, of course, I mean the gaping debts I have elsewhere in my life.

I’m  told I have the right to challenge this, I have the right to the correct information in a timely manner, etc. etc.

Right.

I would make arrangements to “repay” with agents only to discover that, a month later, those agents were no longer working on my file, and the new agents determined that I owed now and they weren’t going to wait one damn second longer!

Have you ever tried to remove a government-imposed freeze on all your bank/credit accounts? If you’re not experienced with the wonder of a CRA Requirement to Pay, I hope you never have to experience the stress. It could easily push you into abject poverty and a good deal of despair. Illegal? Not if the government does it! And don’t forget, if the government is preventing you from paying your bills, or rent, or buying food, or whetever, that’s on you, legally or otherwise.

You could always declare bankruptcy. The CRA will be happy to assist with that.

Also fun is when they decide that freezing our accounts is insufficient so they’re just going to start taking 55% of your income (I’m staring at last week’s sickly pay stub right now), and you’ll be notified about it two weeks afterward in a letter saying that you’ve had a fair chance to reply to this notice so now it’s our turn!

At least it’s better than the 65% they were seizing earlier!

But then I catch them fucking around with my records, deleting information (people I spoke to, have signed letters from yet who don’t appear anywhere in my CRA records), altering other information (I didn’t request half of my information in French, and yes, I have a record of the request too), etc. and I have to say, I’m not inclined to joke about this too much.

I have never been before a judge on this issue, I’ve never had a chance to plead my case to anyone, in fact wasn’t even aware of the machinations behind the scenes at the CRA, but I’ve been summarily and secretly convicted and have been paying for my “crime” for a decade now with no end in sight. My right to appeal is non-existent because the Canada Revenue Agency is allowed to openly violate this and any other rights we may have (plus whatever laws they feel are irrelevant). That they can use my own tax money (and yours), to extend their defense indefinitely and with resources I could never access in court is a further violation of Charter Rights — that is in no way a fair trial.

So what?

I could complain to the CRA Ombudsman who has the authority to ask the Agency to, pretty please, stop doing this and answer this man’s questions first. If they decide that they don’t want to — all within their legal right — I can take my complaint to the Tax Court.

I’ve been in touch with the Ombudsman and, in fairness, they helped me to get the CRA to release yet another unannounced account freeze, but beyond that I haven’t had any luck; the good times re-started shortly thereafter and have been around since.

In the Tax Court arena I get to go up against the limitless resources of an agency that takes my money without my consent to defend itself and prosecute me. Perhaps Wikipedia isn’t the best source of information about this but based on everything I know it seems accurate in its assessment of the CRA as body that “collaborates” with the Department of Justice to hand down arbitrary judgments against anyone they want money from. Accordingly, “the onus is generally on the taxpayer to prove its case on a balance of probabilities” (i.e. the taxpayer is guilty before proven innocent)

And the best result one can expect from the Tax Court is that they force the CRA to have another look at your case. They may re-determine that there was a mistake. But more than likely, they’ll determine that they were right all along. The Tax Court, in other words, is just another way of grovelling before CRA which has ultimate authority in any event.

This results in direct and disturbing Charter Rights violations, but because it’s the government, they’ll do it anyway. They know that even if the Supreme Court directly rules that they violated the law, they’ll be perfectly free to continue destroying peoples’ lives simply because they can — who will hold them to account? It’s just like when cops decide on a new “policy”; that “policy” is no way a law, not enforceable, and constitutes a direct violation of both law and Charter Rights when carried out by police – or anyone for that matter. Yet the police do it without a care because, obviously, when the cops violate the law it’s because they’re “protecting” us. And, of course, you’re free to point out that the cops are violating the law right there and then, but that’s called resisting arrest and your rights and more laws will be further and more egregiously violated because your only right is to be oppressed by Her Majesty’s representatives. In fact, they’ll be rewarded for cracking some uncooperative skulls, and the courts will back them up every step of the way.

You may call these exaggerations, I call them real and factual.

I have physical, tangible records of being rolled over by the very institutions claiming to be there to help me, from the time my license plates and car were stolen by the Pickering Honda dealership (a forged signature was involved in that one), to the most recent interaction I had with the Enforcement Unit of the Municipal Licensing & Standards Office who claimed (and I have this recorded), that they “aren’t responsible for enforcement” and if I thought that something wasn’t right with the situation I was calling about, I could file a complaint. That situation, being forced to sit in one’s apartment in -18 degree Celcius temperatures because workers have blocked the exits and the elevators aren’t working  (as those workers are ripping out all the windows in your home), apparently doesn’t fall under their purview. Maybe try the police if it’s an emergency, they say, but I might be charged with calling them spuriously, so best just to take it up with the landlord. After all, there are laws to protect me in such cases!

Turns out, there is no agency that ensures that your wealthy landlord, or any other faceless corporation, can’t indirectly kill you in your own home. It makes even less of a difference if you’re paying for the privilege — leases are not intended for your protection. Things like elevators aren’t your right, even if you’re paying for them, I’ve learned. Now, if maybe contractors messed up on the caulking so that the owners complained, that’d be a different story…

Well, maybe.

I say this because the Landlord and Tenant Board, apparently the only place to vent your life-and-death tales, is working diligently to make sure that organisations like the poor, mistunderstood Starlight Investments, have a chance to explain why they’ve been violating municipal law, TSSA orders, etc. for years in our apartment building (and, undoubtedly, others).

During the latest hearing, which has been ongoing for over a year, the judge hushed testimony as “irrelevant” by a witness for the tenants (also a tenant herself), who was recounting experiences in other buildings. Then in the very next sentence (couldn’t have been more than 10 seconds apart), the judge decided to allow exactly the same thing when one of Starlight’s pinstripe-suited lawyers asked the same witness about it.

In this instance, Starlight is being sued by many of the tenants of the building for the elevators — they don’t run much of the time, and when they do they can best be described as deathtraps — not stopping on some floors, stopping on others that weren’t requested, doors not closing, doors not opening, misalignment with the landings (sometimes as much as a foot or more), wobbling up and down of the car when it should be stopped, both floor indicator and ceiling lights going off (total darkness- fun!), exposed wiring (more than one person confirmed the wires were live), inability to go up from the ground floor (their solution was to post up a hand-written sign explaining that we just have to got to the basement first), etc.

The TSSA issued numerous warnings and finally a stop order because of the danger posed by the cars. Starlight’s response was to shut down the elevator (leaving the whole 17-floor building to one half-working death cage). In response to the no-work that Starlight did, the TSSA decided to lift the order, I guess, based on some promise that, no, really, they work great this time. Of course, within a month the same problems were noted again.

It apparently struck no one as odd that exactly the same problems were found after three individual inspections (in this specific case, each a month apart), problems severe enough to force the TSSA to shut down the elevators, and problems that miraculously re-appeared once again after the ban had been lifted. Is it likely that everything was fixed and broke down again in exactly the same way, or is it more likely that Starlight “befriended” the inspector and continued to ignore the problem in exactly the same way they had for years? The judge isn’t sure, so she decided she needed to hear from what I can only assume was a “character witness” for the faceless mega-corporation. And another 6 months’ worth of waiting for the next hearing is tossed out the window.

All of this is well-documented, and has been going on for literally years. And those involved in the lawsuit quickly realized that there are no laws to protect us from such obvious abuses, and even if there were, they wouldn’t be enforced. And even if they were enforced, the obvious glad-handing between Starlight and the court means that even that last resort would be futile. Of course it’s an absolute violation of the law. Of course it’s an abdication of the judge’s responsibility. Of course it’s all wrong. So what? The government is constantly green-lighted to violate laws and people’s rights, something that they can extend to characters like the team defending Starlight’s slimy abuse of their own tenants (I hate to judge a book by its cover but the corporation’s people even look like characters out of some greezy gangster movie).

On top of this, in another hearing before the LTB the tenants of the building are fighting an above-rate rent increase that Starlight is trying to foist on them to cover the cost of all of the renovations they did (I’m already paying the larger rent since I moved in later, but they’re trying to squeeze more money out of me in other ways); renovations like a new roof which leaked profusely into our top-floor unit the first major rain we had, blistering the ceiling and walls with giant water bubbles, and renovations like the window replacements I mentioned above that they decided to do in the middle of winter with absolutely no regard for the residents (I heard that other buildings where this branding make-over took place [it had nothing to do with energy efficiency, etc.] had the luxury of warming areas!) Oh, and the non-functional elevators, you know they want us to pay for “upgrading” those too…

And just to make sure we were all starkly reminded of how biased the judge is in our case, she pronounced that anyone who did not attend a hearing to testify about problems in our class action, problems like those with the elevators, would probably be disqualified because she can’t decide how much to award if she doesn’t know how people were affected as a result of Starlight violating everyone’s contract terms (we’re asking for abatement — rent reduction or refund — for those months where we can prove that the elevators were broken). Tough shit if you have a job in order to pay rent — the onus is on you. Of course, if you refuse to pay the rent and stand up in even this meager protest for your rights, the rental contract, the law, common sense, basic human decency, etc., it is you who will be hauled off by the cops. If the corporation endangers your life by exposing you to the elements (or asbestos, or black mold, or whatever), and furthermore violates contractual terms that they set out, it’d likely be you that’s hauled off by the cops for filing a complaint — at least that’s what the unhelpful lady in the “Property Standards Enforcement” (the people who don’t enforce stuff), unit said.

This assumes that there ever would be a ruling, which is realistically expected never so long as the judge continues to allow Starlight to produce “surprise witnesses” in post-post-post-postponed hearings. I’m not aware of any limitations or regulations surrounding “timely” cases (and that assumes that anyone would bother to enforce them).

Sure, those witnesses may not know anything about the situation, but, you know, the big-money people need their fair day in court. Those tenants who can’t be there, even though they’re being represented by a lawyer (well, a paralegal — it’s the best we could afford), and have all produced signed letters in their absence, are irrelevant. They court sure as hell isn’t going to postpone hearings for one more day to wait for those lazy assholes (or as the Starlight team put it, people who “can’t be bothered to show up”).

Besides all of this, I can’t even count how many times I’ve personally witnessed fraud and law-breaking at some of the companies I’ve worked for in the past. And every day I see cops openly violating the exact  laws that they’re “enforcing”. Then I listen to the media quacks drone on about the wonders of our illustrious and increasingly hard-line leaders, corporate saviours with “visionary” products and services, and wondrous celebrities at whom we should all gaze with adoration, and I can’ help but wonder…

What’s to be done?

So I gave it some thought…

Filed under: B Sides, Patrick Bay