Brendan Tobolaski The assorted ramblings of Brendan Tobolaski

Yes, I'm a Socialist

I’m a socialist, with everything that goes with it. Wage labor is required for capitalism and wage labor is exploitation. Therefore, exploitation is central to capitalism. I don’t think that the primary result of our economy should be the increased wealth of the upper class. We have the ability to ensure that no one lives in poverty and I feel that we have the moral obligation to do so. This doesn’t mean that I don’t support measures that improve lives while keeping capitalism.

If you’d like to push for a living wage, I’m all for that. While I believe that we need universal income, pushing for a living wage will be a massive positive effect on a huge section of our population. In fact, everyone does better when people earn a living wage except for the capitalists. People are freer to start businesses when they have more money. People are more willing to spend money in said businesses when they have more money. That economic action generates more revenue due to sales tax, payroll and other such taxes. This isn’t hard to figure out.

I believe that universal healthcare should be something that everyone should get behind. While the Affordable Care Act is a massive improvement over what we had previously, we can do better. We pay more our healthcare and end up with worse results. Even for people with insurance, people need to hope that they don’t end up with a major medical condition. It is not moral to leave people with the possibility of losing everything due to an illness. We already have two socialized insurances and they are both well regarded, they just aren’t available to everyone: Medicare and Tricare.

If you’d like to reform the criminal justice system, I’m all for that. I believe that we need to end the war on drugs. Frankly, it is primarily used to put people of color in jail. Furthermore, as the legalization of marijuana in a few states, as shown, it can be a huge source of revenue for the state. This money can be used for many things: addiction treatment and education to name a couple. Moving on from drugs, we need to make it an issue if police kill people. The situations in which I think it is justifiable for police to fire a lethal weapon are very few. In particular, the way that everyone just looks the other way when the police execute a black person needs to change.

I’m fully willing to make changes for the benefit of all even within the capitalist system. For a more complete listing of my views, see my beliefs. The only things that I won’t work on are things that will make people’s lives worse or that will prevent future progress.

Get Out and Organize

It goes without saying that many people in the United States are having a rough time. This administration’s agenda is tailor-made to hurt people of color. Undocumented immigrants are being rounded up, those people that look like they may be Muslim have great difficulty passing through customs (regardless of whether they are US citizens or not). The damage is just beginning. I have gone through periods where I thought things were hopeless yet, there is something we can do. Get out into our communities and organize.

I recently started doing just this. I’ve found this to be an awe-inspiring experience. There are many people that you will meet that have been working hard against larger obstacles than you. Every time that I meet up with people, I get more inspired ant motivated to get to work, working towards what’s right. I can’t help it, I have a lot of work to do in order to catch up with those that have already been doing the work.

It is also the only way to make things happen. While you can call your congress people or state government, it isn’t likely to result in action if you’re the only one doing it. Things like 5 calls are great but, if you don’t have people calling with the same message, all of you could be wasting your time. Getting things done in the state and even more so, the local level is much easier and will likely result in a larger gain in people’s lives.

If you’re upset at the current state of affairs, you need to get out and organize. If you’re unable to, do what you can. You can organize online as well but, I’ve found that doing it in person results in a big boost to your psyche. It is an empowering experience, it becomes so clear just how big of an impact that you can have on people’s lives in your community. I’m only saddened by how long it took me to get involved.

We Have Nothing To Fear But The Contant Barrage Of Propaganda

We live in a post-truth society now. We live in a time where “alt-facts” exist. In more decent times, these would be known as lies but, we live in an indecent time. The age of Orwellian Newspeak is upon us. Neo-Nazi have a trendy new name, the Alt-Right. The media is now known as the “Opposition party”.

Most of this propaganda is blatantly obvious. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that it is ineffective. Research has shows us that familiarity can lead to acceptance of the material. All they need to do is to continue shoving this shit down our throats and then people will start believing it.

I noticed that this has happened to me. We have been continuously hearing about Illegal Immigrants. It seems that they have become a daily topic. This is very much warranted due to this regime’s inhumane treatment of them. ICE agents are attempting to round them up with any means necessary. This includes going door-to-door asking for people’s papers. Language matters, though. They are not illegal immigrants, they are undocumented immigrants. I found myself referring to them as illegal immigrants this week. I need to be better and everyone else needs to remain vigilant.

In conditions such as these, everyone needs to be hyper-vigilant. We must watch ourselves and the media that we follow and prevent our adversaries from implanting their framing within our minds. We cannot allow them to frame issues in their own terms. We must remember what we want and not let the constant disparate dissuade us from our objectives.

The Senate Betrayed the People

On Tuesday, the senate confirmed Betsy DeVos for secretary of education. She has no qualifications for the job and her plan is to gut the public school system. No one thought that she was qualified for the job. The public outcry was huge and yet only two republicans were brace enough to stand with the people and vote against her.

Yesterday, the senate confirmed Jeff Sessions for attorney general. He was deemed to racist for the Reagan administration to appoint as a judge. The senate even went so far as to silence Elizabeth Warren when she attempted to quote Coretta Scott King’s letter about Jeff Sessions due to its content calling him racist. Let’s be clear, he is clearly racist. He has worked to prevent and the undermine the voting rights of People of Color. He is also fiercely anti-LGBTQ, anti-immigration, and against the legalization of marijuana. He is against many things that most of the country is for.

This just continues the trend of the Trump/Bannon choices to continuously ram immensely unpopular policies on us. Our only hope is to get congress on our side. They have been continuously betraying us, going along with the nazis currently in power. Our Congresspeople need to feel our wrath. We must make them listen. They must understand that they must work for us or we are coming for them.

We Have Nothing to Fear but Bigotry

Trump has been president for 11 days and during this time, he has confirmed everything that was feared. He is doing exactly what he said that he would. While this comes at no surprise to those that were really paying attention, it has caught others off guard.

Trump has issued an executive order to build a wall along the Mexican border. There is no reason to build this wall. Illegal immigration from Mexico is at a near all-time low. It will also cost in the 10s of billions to construct. There are many better uses for this money. Despite Trump’s claim that Mexico will pay for it, we will be paying for it.

More recently, Trump signed an executive order banning all travel from 13 largely Muslim countries. This order was implemented immediately and those that were currently in transit when the order was signed were detained at the border. This order is specifically target at Muslims. This is wrong. Similar to when we turned away Jews during WWII, we are sending refugees back to die. This ban is not protecting us from anything. Even if it was, it is still wrong. This is only going to cause more people to radicalize and want to do us actual harm.

So far, Trump’s presidency has been marked with hatred. These are exactly the things that he campaigned on. If he has been pushing so hard in the first few days, where are we going to be at the end of 4 years?

2016 - The Tools I Use

This year is quite a big change from previous years. I’m no longer using MacOS, this year I’ve switched to using Arch Linux.

Desktop

  • vim - not a whole lot to say here.
  • mutt & offlineimap - I’ve grown tired of graphical email clients. This combination really works for me.
  • pass - pass uses files encrypted with your pgp key. It’s a good way to store credentials that you need in your shell. I’ve written a shell script to securely handle my aws credentials. I also use it to encrypt my mail credentials.
  • ejrnl - I previously used Day One but, I wanted something that I could use on Linux and that encrypted my journal entries. I wasn’t able to find something that really fit what I was looking for so, I built it.
  • Zeal - zeal is a clone of Dash for Linux. It works pretty well. It isn’t nearly as nice as Dash but, it does the job
  • LibreOffice Fresh - Again, there isn’t a whole to say here. An office suite is a nearly universal requirement. LibreOffice is ok, it gets the job done.
  • Ansible - I’ve been using ansible as my primary configuration management tool for quite a while. There are a large number of things that I don’t like about it but, out of the options, it feels the best to me.

iPhone

  • Tweetbot - Tweetbot is a pretty good twitter client
  • Signal - signal is a secure messaging application.
  • Daedalus - Daedalus is a text editor. I don’t like it very much but, there aren’t many text editors that sync over WebDAV.
  • Prompt 2 - Prompt is an ssh client for iOS. There are a couple of them available for iOS but prompt is the best.
  • Transmit - Transmit is an sftp client for iOS. It works pretty great and makes editing remote files not quite so painful.
  • Working Copy - Working Copy is a git app for iOS. It works pretty well.

Multiple

  • Enpass - Enpass is a password manager. It’s a decent looking app that actually has a Linux version. It also syncs over WebDAV.
  • Amazon Music - it has pretty good selection and web client.

Server

  • Wordpress - this site runs on Wordpress. I don’t like it but it works well. I’m not happy about it but, it works.
  • nextcloud - it’s a bit hard to explain what nextcloud is. It’s a variety of software that is usually hosted in the cloud. It does file syncing, has a calendar app, a todo app, and contacts.
  • plex - I’ve written about plex before. It’s a great way to manage you videos.

ejrnl

About a year ago, I was a heavy user of Day One. I think that journaling is very beneficial. I stopped because I didn’t feel comfortable with having my private thoughts so readily available to employees or hackers. Initially, I needed to trust Dropbox but, I definitely don’t anymore. More recently, Day One set up their own sync solution and they’ve been working on adding encryption but, it still hasn’t been released. I also no longer utilize MacOS, so I needed something else. I couldn’t find something that worked exactly how I wanted it, so I built it myself. I called it ejrnl, for encrypted journal.

ejrnl is a command line utility for creating encrypted journals. It is written in Go and it utilizes Go’s standard library’s implementation of cryptography. It utilizes scrypt for generating the encryption key and it utilizes authenticated encryption with aes-128 being the algorithm. It should work on any un*xy system.

I put a lot of thought into designing the file format. It is designed to be synced between machines using some sort external process, i.e. Dropbox. I happen to use Nextcloud but any sync service should work fine. Due to this, I tried to design the storage system around problems that I’ve experienced in the past. Typically, what I’ve seen is file syncing being delayed or conflicting edits. Therefore, the format is designed to reduce the chance of conflicts. As such, each journal entry is stored as its own file. Since entries aren’t modified on multiple devices often, this should prevent most conflicts from happening. As lots of entries are added, rereading every entry to sort them by date would be extremely expensive. To speed this up, there is an index file that indexes every entry by its date. As this file is encrypted, everytime it changes, its contents are completely changed. This makes it very likely to encounter conflicts. As this is a probable outcome, this file can be regenerated as needed.

ejrnl is currently very light on features. It currently has the minimum features for me to be able to use it. I have many plans for features that I would like to add in the future. If you’ve been looking for an app to make an encrypted journal, please take a look at ejrnl.

Defending Democracy

Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so. Here are twenty lessons from the twentieth century, adapted to the circumstances of today.

  1. Do not obey in advance. Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked. You’ve already done this, haven’t you? Stop. Anticipatory obedience teaches authorities what is possible and accelerates unfreedom. 
  2. Defend an institution. Follow the courts or the media, or a court or a newspaper. Do not speak of “our institutions” unless you are making them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions don’t protect themselves. They go down like dominoes unless each is defended from the beginning. 
  3. Recall professional ethics. When the leaders of state set a negative example, professional commitments to just practice become much more important. It is hard to break a rule-of-law state without lawyers, and it is hard to have show trials without judges. 
  4. When listening to politicians, distinguish certain words. Look out for the expansive use of “terrorism” and “extremism.” Be alive to the fatal notions of “exception” and “emergency.” Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotic vocabulary. 
  5. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that all authoritarians at all times either await or plan such events in order to consolidate power. Think of the Reichstag fire. The sudden disaster that requires the end of the balance of power, the end of opposition parties, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Don’t fall for it.
  6. Be kind to our language. Avoid pronouncing the phrases everyone else does. Think up your own way of speaking, even if only to convey that thing you think everyone is saying. (Don’t use the internet before bed. Charge your gadgets away from your bedroom, and read.) What to read? Perhaps “The Power of the Powerless” by Václav Havel, 1984 by George Orwell, The Captive Mind by Czesław Milosz, The Rebel by Albert Camus, The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt, or Nothing is True and Everything is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev. 
  7. Stand out. Someone has to. It is easy, in words and deeds, to follow along. It can feel strange to do or say something different. But without that unease, there is no freedom. And the moment you set an example, the spell of the status quo is broken, and others will follow. 
  8. Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.
  9. Investigate. Figure things out for yourself. Spend more time with long articles. Subsidize investigative journalism by subscribing to print media. Realize that some of what is on your screen is there to harm you. Bookmark PropOrNot or other sites that investigate foreign propaganda pushes.
  10. Practice corporeal politics. Power wants your body softening in your chair and your emotions dissipating on the screen. Get outside. Put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. Make new friends and march with them. 
  11. Make eye contact and small talk. This is not just polite. It is a way to stay in touch with your surroundings, break down unnecessary social barriers, and come to understand whom you should and should not trust. If we enter a culture of denunciation, you will want to know the psychological landscape of your daily life.
  12. Take responsibility for the face of the world. Notice the swastikas and the other signs of hate. Do not look away and do not get used to them. Remove them yourself and set an example for others to do so. 
  13. Hinder the one-party state. The parties that took over states were once something else. They exploited a historical moment to make political life impossible for their rivals. Vote in local and state elections while you can. 
  14. Give regularly to good causes, if you can. Pick a charity and set up autopay. Then you will know that you have made a free choice that is supporting civil society helping others doing something good. 
  15. Establish a private life. Nastier rulers will use what they know about you to push you around. Scrub your computer of malware. Remember that email is skywriting. Consider using alternative forms of the internet, or simply using it less. Have personal exchanges in person. For the same reason, resolve any legal trouble. Authoritarianism works as a blackmail state, looking for the hook on which to hang you. Try not to have too many hooks.
  16. Learn from others in other countries. Keep up your friendships abroad, or make new friends abroad. The present difficulties here are an element of a general trend. And no country is going to find a solution by itself. Make sure you and your family have passports. 
  17. Watch out for the paramilitaries. When the men with guns who have always claimed to be against the system start wearing uniforms and marching around with torches and pictures of a Leader, the end is nigh. When the pro-Leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle, the game is over.
  18. Be reflective if you must be armed. If you carry a weapon in public service, God bless you and keep you. But know that evils of the past involved policemen and soldiers finding themselves, one day, doing irregular things. Be ready to say no. (If you do not know what this means, contact the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and ask about training in professional ethics.) 
  19. Be as courageous as you can. If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die in unfreedom.
  20. Be a patriot. The incoming president is not. Set a good example of what America means for the generations to come. They will need it.

Timothy Snyder, Housum Professor of History, Yale University

Why it's different this time

I’ve found myself wondering if a Trump presidency will really be as bad as I fear. After all, there are always fears about a new president. This time, it really is different.

When George W Bush was elected, we were mainly concerned about his economic plan and the possibility of war. It turns out that our fears were well founded. When Obama was elected, people were afraid that he’d give us healthcare and, he did. They were also afraid of many other things but not what he said.

Trump is different. He was elected based on hate and bigotry. In his campaign, he promised to deport millions of Mexicans, prevent Muslims from entering the country (regardless of citizenship) and to reinstate our tourture program. None of these things are things that we should allow to happen and yet they’re why he was elected. Even if he doesn’t do any of these things, rhetoric is harmful as it is.

His actions since being elected have only reinforced why it’s different this time. His pick for chief strategist is an actual nazi. His pick for Atorney general was eliminated during the Reagan administration due to his racial views. He is not moving his assists to a blind trust as is ethically required. He is instead figuring out how to properly maximize his profit. He has also started disseminating fake news. He claimed that Ford was going to move a plant to Mexico and because of him, they aren’t. They were never planning on moving it.

Failure

On Tuesday, we elected a child rapist, mediocre businessman, sexist, racist pig to be our leader. We elected the man endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan. He has no experience in politics, his only experience is in business, where, he managed to lose money running a casino. The man’s only discernable features are a hatred of all non-white people.

I was aware of how racist the US is, I just didn’t expect white supremacy to be the only issue that mattered to 26.5% of the population. I want to be clear, furthering White Supremacist causes make you a White Supremacist and therefore, voting for Trump makes you racist.

These are what he has promised:

  • Build a wall between the US and Mexico
  • Deport all of the illegal immigrants
  • Deport US citizen because they’re “anchor babies”
  • Prevent Muslims from entering the country
  • Bring back water boarding and introduce worse forms of torture
  • Kill the civilian family members of terrorists
  • Reverse Women and Trans rights
  • Remove millions of people’s health insurance
  • Jail his political opponent
  • Reverse the legalization of Gay marriage
  • Reverse Roe v Wade
  • Restrict the freedom of the press (ironic since they handed the presidency to Trump)
  • Restrict the freedom of assembly
  • destroy the economy in order to induce riots

None of that sounds like making America great again. None of those things are things that should ever happen. This is not ok, we are not fine. These things can not be allowed to happen.

This is the result of a number of systemic failures. The GOP failed to prevent one of the fascist candidates from securing the nomination. The GOP failed in what should be a primary purpose, ensuring that our country doesn’t fall to fascism. The primary process for the Democrats resulted in a candidate that was not compelling enough to win.

Our final hope is the electoral college fulfilling their purpose and protecting us from a threat to our democracy. I think it is very unlikely to actually happen. While this is the explicit purpose of the electoral college, it has never been done before. It is also likely to cause extreme backlash from those who supported Trump. While this backlash is likely to be pretty damaging, a Trump presidency would be worse.

I could have done more. I’ve been too consumed with taking care of my family with our 5 month-old daughter. I haven’t been following along with the presidential race as much as I should. I, as well as much of the country, thought that the chances of Trump actually winning were negligible. We were very wrong.