Monday, February 29, 2016

F.B.I. v. Apple: how we could all lose

I've spent way too much time reading coverage of this conflict. While some of the technical overviews have been useful (like the EFF's), most of the mainstream coverage has only confused me by mixing up what is technically feasible versus what is at stake legally. It certainly hasn't helped that the unwashed masses (among whom I include myself) have been arguing past each other.

Here's how I understand the matter. The F.B.I. wants to access the encrypted data on the phone in the hope that the San Bernardino killer will have implicated as-yet unknown co-conspirators. (You'll forgive me if I don't bother looking up the killer's name or linking to a news account: you can search on "F.B.I." and "Apple" if you somehow missed this news.) The agency can't just try guessing the 4-digit passcode apparently protecting the iPhone because Apple's iOS can render the data totally inaccessible after ten bad guesses. The F.B.I. is asking for, and a federal judge has ordered Apple to provide, a modified version of iOS that will not render the data inaccessible after ten failed tries. The modified version of iOS must also permit the F.B.I. to submit their passcode attempts without having to type them in at the screen, which obviously would take a great deal of time.

If you're still fuzzy on the technical issues, consider this analogy: a house made out of shredded personal papers mixed with mortar, such that the owner can magically reconstruct her personal papers by sticking the key (which only she possesses) into the front-door lock. If anyone tries picking the lock enough times, the building destroys the lock so that nobody can get in, including the owner.

You might not want Osama bin Laden to own such a house — but if you're worried about protecting your personal papers, wouldn't you want it?

Now, before you assume I'm an "Apple bigot" or a "terrorism lover" and give up reading, understand that I'm genuinely conflicted. I think the F.B.I. might be completely sincere when it claims it doesn't want wholesale access to iPhones, that all it wants is to track down any possible co-conspirators who might otherwise kill a bunch of people down the line.

Apple justifies its resistance to the judge's order by warning darkly about the danger the order poses. From Apple's FAQ, attached to Tim Cook's open letter to Apple customers:

Yes, it is certainly possible to create an entirely new operating system to undermine our security features as the government wants. But it’s something we believe is too dangerous to do. The only way to guarantee that such a powerful tool isn’t abused and doesn’t fall into the wrong hands is to never create it.
But before you focus too much on the "powerful tool", Apple seems to be arguing that the danger really lies in setting the precedent.
The digital world is very different from the physical world. In the physical world you can destroy something and it’s gone. But in the digital world, the technique, once created, could be used over and over again, on any number of devices.

Law enforcement agents around the country have already said they have hundreds of iPhones they want Apple to unlock if the FBI wins this case. In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks.

So far, so good. I can follow this argument: create the tool once, and we'll be ordered to use it again and again and again, pretty much at the whim of law enforcement. Not only U.S. law enforcement, either. If the F.B.I. successfully compels Apple to cooperate, there are no moral grounds for the company to object if any other government asks for similar cooperation. If I were Tim Cook, I wouldn't want to help Bashar al-Assad's police, to name but one unpleasant possibility.

Then Apple says something I can't quite square with what I know of its technology and what the judge ordered in this case.

Of course, Apple would do our best to protect that key, but in a world where all of our data is under constant threat, it would be relentlessly attacked by hackers and cybercriminals. As recent attacks on the IRS systems and countless other data breaches have shown, no one is immune to cyberattacks.
Now we're back to the "powerful tool", which seems to me a red herring.

The judge's order allows Apple to customize its hacked software so it will only work for the San Bernardino killer's iPhone. I believe (and here's where my understanding of Apple's tech may be incomplete) that the hacked software must be cryptographically signed by Apple in order to run on the phone. A side effect of signing the software is, it can't be modified after the fact without invalidating the signature — and without a valid signature, the software won't run on the phone. Nor can just anybody sign the software: it has to be Apple.

So if the tool can be made to work only on the one iPhone, and nobody but Apple can modify the tool to work on another device, it's not going to be useful to anyone except the F.B.I. even if it leaks out to the world. What is Apple worried about?

Maybe the tool doesn't have to be signed. It would astonish me if that were the case, but maybe I'm totally misunderstanding the tech. If that's so, I can see why Apple would be extremely reluctant to make the tool. That might also explain why the company's statements have been a little vague and hard to parse: it would hardly be eager to admit that its supposedly robust device security could be so easily subverted.

I don't really believe that's the case, though. I think the tool has to be signed. So again, what is Apple worried about? And again, we come back to not wanting to set a precedent. Yet I can't quite square that with the company's formal statement. After all, being worried solely about setting a precedent would mean that the ominous threat of "cyberattack" is purest horseshit intended to sow fear, uncertainty and doubt. However, giant companies do not issue formal statements that contain pure horseshit: their lawyers insist that statements can always be backed up by facts.

One reason I'm frustrated by this whole situation is that it has been increasingly difficult to understand exactly what Apple is trying to protect, and why.

Let's move on to a different consideration, one Apple sums up thusly:

If we lose control of our data, we put both our privacy and our safety at risk.
This gets to the heart of the matter for most people. Does the government have the right to get at the encrypted data on your personal device?

My initial reaction was, "Hell, no!"

However, I've since rethought the matter. While I don't particularly like where my reflection has taken me, I'm prepared to accept the conclusion as being in the best interests of society as a whole.

Law enforcement is allowed to enter your residence with a warrant. Depending on the scope of the warrant, it might be allowed to poke through your private papers, such as your appointment calendar and address book. Neither your porn stash nor your diary is off-limits if the warrant permits. There's no reason to believe that your phone would or even should be given greater protection. I know of no jurisdiction where such a device is inviolable, although the trend is to require a warrant. So unless we want to overturn a couple of centuries of law and custom in this country alone, Apple's "privacy" argument doesn't fly when it comes to law enforcement. (It's still a worthwhile goal to protect your data in case your phone is stolen, though.)

It's intellectually defensible to argue that government should never have been granted the right to break down your door or rifle through your papers, even with a warrant. As a practical matter, though, no nation — no community of human beings, in fact — could survive under such a constraint. If somebody is stockpiling sarin gas in his basement, I want the cops to have the authority to break in and seize it before he can make use of it to kill me.

Standing up for personal privacy and against government intrusion is always a crowd-pleasing move. However, it has the potential to backfire badly here, not just for Apple but for all of us. If Apple wins in court, it might prompt Congress to craft legislation in order to compel the entire tech industry to fall in line with law enforcement's wishes. Such legislation might or might not withstand a court challenge, but do we really want to make that wager? For that matter, do we really want Congress to consider anew how much personal privacy we deserve, at a time when many people are (irrationally) afraid of terrorism?

Moreover, Apple is taking steps to increase the security of iPhones so as to eliminate the possibility the company could help law enforcement to gain access to the encrypted data. What if Congress decides that such user protections are illegal because they place the data beyond the reach of any warrant and any coercion by the government, no matter how dire and legitimate the need? Would a law outlawing unbeatable security (which would include, but not be limited to, unbeatable encryption) for digital devices be Constitutionally supportable?

These are novel questions. As Jordan Orlando notes in Slate, the abstractions with which the law deals — contracts, locks, keys, etc. — are "necessarily rigid and difficult to change", but the "symbolic language that [lets] non-computer-scientists work with digital data", first introduced in the 1980s, has evolved and changed as the software has evolved beyond emulating the physical models on which it was based, i.e., the elements of the 1970s and 1980s office environment. To the extent that software has evolved unforeseen capabilities that don't map neatly onto the old physical model, the law lacks the language and moral reasoning to govern the technology's use — or abuse.

We're entering terra incognita. The question, "How much privacy do I deserve?" has had a more or less well-understood meaning for most of our history. (At least, that's how it appears to me. I'm a scholar of neither the law nor history, though, so I could be wrong.) We accept that the government can get warrants to wiretap our phones; that we have no expectation of privacy if our window shades are up, or if we're shouting so loudly that the neighbors can hear; that the police can search us if they place us under arrest, and use anything they find on our persons — like written notes — against us in court. Conceptually, again, to the extent that our phones are repositories for notes we once might have written on paper, there's nothing novel about law enforcement's expectation that it should be able to access our phones if they have probable cause we have committed a crime.

Should there be greater limits on police powers, though? I imagine a future world where technology exists that allows the reading of thoughts. Extending current practices forward, it would be legal for the police to read one's thoughts if a judge issued a warrant. Yet step back a moment and consider what that would mean. Today, merely thinking about an illegal act is itself legal: it's only if you actually do something about your thoughts that you've stepped over the line. So what would constitute "probable cause" for a "mind search" in this future world?

Consider, too, what trawling through your mind would reveal. Even today, an enthusiastic search of your home or car could reveal evidence of unrelated illegal acts for which the police could arrest you. A search could also uncover information which, while not grounds for arrest, could be profoundly embarrassing. You have no protection against "accidental" disclosure of such information: you can sue, of course, but you can't erase people's memories. How much worse would a search of your mind be? How much more embarrassing information could be revealed?

Now, consider what our present-day smartphones are: digital witnesses to our lives. They can check in with cell towers and/or GPS; they have audio and visual recording capabilities; they can remind us of appointments and store the contact information for everyone we wish; and of course, they allow us to communicate. They are as close to "personal assistants" that share our minds as humans have been able to create.

A human personal assistant may decline to testify (or may testify readily, for that matter) in court; a human assistant might use his or her intelligence to reveal only as much information as he or she feels is needed. A smart device, on the other hand, is an extension of ourselves that has no will of its own. How much control ought we to have over it? If we want it never to betray our embarrassing secrets, must we forego using it?

Law enforcement's answer to the last question would be an unhesitating, "Yes": if you don't want to be incriminated (or embarrassed) by your phone, don't use it. But should law enforcement be given the last word on this? Isn't there even a theoretical basis for arguing that there exists some fundamental core of a person that is inviolable?

We're entering an era in which the old rules of what our rights are, no longer work well. We need to revisit our fundamental assumptions of what kind of society we want, in order to understand how our new technologies should work. The current dispute between the F.B.I. and Apple may not be the best start to the conversation, but as long as we're arguing, let's understand where any decision on this dispute might lead us.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Feinstein is wrong, wrong, wrong

I've touched on Sen. Dianne Feinstein's history, reputation and predilections before. She is highly sympathetic to law enforcement and holds scant regard for the niceties of civil liberties and privacy, ironic in light of her membership on the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law (per Wikipedia). As I wrote two and a half years ago, she has "a troubling yen for order at any price".

So it is no surprise that, per SFGate, Feinstein's take on the clash between the F.B.I. and Apple is, "Apple is not above the laws of the United States."

I have absolutely no use for Feinstein, and I haven't had any use for her since she provided political cover for George W. Bush's worst extrajudicial abuses. She is, like the late and similarly benighted Antonin Scalia, hopelessly lost in her own fossilized mind.

Feinstein parrots the F.B.I.'s argument that there could be crucial information on the San Bernardino murderer's iPhone that might lead to other conspirators. This is a weak argument, as The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf explains:

The killers deliberately destroyed other devices but didn’t bother destroying this one. It was a work phone issued by San Bernardino County. Until some time prior to the killings it was backing up to iCloud, and the FBI was able to get those backups.

So once again, law enforcement personnel got information about some of what was on the phone. They’re missing a mere fraction of its contents. And one would guess that in the time between the last iCloud backup and the terrorist attack, Syed Farook did not suddenly start updating his work iPhone’s contacts with the addresses of his terrorist buddies, but refrained from calling or texting them (which the phone company could tell the FBI).

To Feinstein's implied claim that Apple is holding itself above the law: it is not "holding oneself above the law" to file an appeal of a judicial order one considers unjust. And the order to Apple, to facilitate the F.B.I.'s decryption efforts, is manifestly unjust.

What the F.B.I. demands is not so much a tool — though it does demand that — as a legal precedent. If Apple is forced to comply with this order, it will be compelled to comply with similar future orders — not just from the U.S. government, but from governments all over the world. The precedent will have been set and most of the requisite technical work will have been done.

The mere fact that the F.B.I. has made this demand, incidentally, could embolden other nations' security agencies to make similar demands of Apple, whether or not this particular order is finally upheld. And unlike the U.S., the other nations' agencies may have the power to end legal sales of Apple products in their countries. Apple's place in the market may be at significant risk.

But you don't have to care whether Apple survives in the marketplace to be concerned about this issue. The fact is that if attitudes like Feinstein's carry the day, we can kiss our privacy goodbye. What will we get in exchange? The ability to look at the data of criminals who use these devices to store that data but don't destroy them before the police catch up. Oh, and along the way, we'll have given the police the legal and technical power to invade our privacy pretty much at will. All they will have to do is to claim you're a criminal and might incriminate other criminals in your device's encrypted data, and a warrant will appear like magic.

Will it result in a measurably safer environment for the rest of us? Of course not.

Is that a fair price to pay for a little (if any) greater security? I say no. In fact, I say hell, no.

And so I also say, "Dianne, I'm tired of your pious posturing on national security. You pretend you're concerned for people's safety but you just want to create a police state. Go fuck yourself and your authoritarian attitude."

Feinstein is wrong, wrong, wrong on this. We must push back hard against her authoritarian, borderline tyrannical attitude.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Links before I sleep, 2016/02/17

Some thought-provoking pieces I don't have time or energy to give their full due, but which are definitely worth passing along:
  • Apple is pushing back against the F.B.I.'s demand, now backed by a federal judge's order, that the company create a workaround for its security policy on iPhones (at least, on older ones). The phone in question belonged to one of the San Bernardino murderers.

    I haven't read a lot of coverage on the subject but I can tell you that the New York Times, at least, has done a mediocre job of conveying the issue: one of its main articles on the subject never explains the subtle technical issues. The problem with that omission is that it suggests Apple is behaving mulishly, whereas Apple is actually doing the hard job that the Justice Department ought to be doing: looking out for the privacy and security of all Americans. The national security state has got to be resisted. Apple is one of the good guys, no matter how angry and fearful you may be about terrorism.

    To understand the technical issues, I recommend Ben Thompson's overview at stratechery.com. It's a good explanation even if you're not a computer security specialist, and he thoughtfully lays out not just the technical issues but the policy consequences of the F.B.I.'s demand. He also seems to be updating the piece as he gets new information.

  • I've given up on late-night TV, and with fewer regrets than I expected. I miss Jon Stewart and the Report-era Stephen Colbert, but as I noted last year, I'm probably better off without them.

    That said, a couple of new shows definitely intrigue me. Samantha Bee's Full Frontal looks good, at least the first episode, and I have no reason to believe she'll lose her intelligence or nerve going forward. And Craig Ferguson returns to talk TV with Join or Die, about which everything I've heard and seen makes me very happy.

    The L.A. Times' Robert Lloyd has a good article about Ferguson in which he explains the new show's format. Scott Timberg in Salon has a good interview with Ferguson in which, among other things, Ferguson expresses similar sentiments to mine about comedians who complain about political correctness cramping their style.

  • Speaking of late-night hosts, I'm still making my way through David Marchese's lengthy interview with John Oliver in Vulture. Oliver, along with Sam Bee, is one of Jon Stewart's best gifts to TV. Perhaps what Oliver's, Bee's and Ferguson's shows have in common — being weekly, not daily — is the key to their appeal for me: they're not trapped by a 24-hour news cycle that misses the forest for the trees.
  • Whatever happens in November, the issues Bernie Sanders has been highlighting must be adopted by a movement that exists independent of his campaign. That movement has to do the hard, unglamorous work of educating voters over time, outside the frenzied atmosphere of an election. That movement must operate at the local and state as well as at the federal level, finding and supporting candidates who will press the issues Sanders has broached. Even if Sanders wins in November, he won't be able to set the agenda in any significant way because of Congress' current makeup and disposition. Only a long-term, grassroots effort to change the very nature of the electorate — to coax reactionary voters away from reflexive hostility to change, and to instill a sense of responsibility for the communal good (in addition to one's own self-interest) in everyone — will change our broken government. (A sense of responsibility to the larger polity, be it local, state or national, is what "civics class" was for, back in Ye Olde Days. Maybe it's time to resurrect that long-dead subject.)

    It will take years. It will not be easy. But it is the only way out of our current morass.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

A little sympathy for George Lucas

With Senate Republicans pandering to the most irresponsibly obstructive impulses of their party's base by stonewalling on a replacement for Antonin Scalia — before the White House has announced a nominee, mind you — I find Washington, D.C. to be a thoroughly dispiriting place and subject. So I'll mouth off about something trivial and vaguely fun instead.

I finally saw Star Wars - Episode VII: The Force Awakens. I enjoyed it but thought there was too much calculated echoing of events from what are now called Episodes IV and V. I was curious whether others felt the same way, so I sought out the reviews I had studiously avoided in my quest to avoid foreknowledge.

About half the critics I've read agreed with me. On reflection, a negative reaction probably has more to do with age than anything else: if I were twelve I likely wouldn't object as much, if at all.

In consulting the critics I expected a variety of reactions to the movie, and I got that. I didn't expect, though, that nearly every review would bring up the prequels. And nearly every review that did, pilloried them. Examples:

  • "the abhorred prequels"
  • "those best-forgotten prequel films"
  • "the muddled Star Wars prequels"
  • "Episode I-III's dreadful midi-chlorian-covered mess"
  • "those odious prequels"
  • "the benighted prequels"
  • "three lackluster prequels"
  • "the dismal prequel trilogy"
  • "the black hole of George Lucas' trilogy of paralyzingly dull Star Wars prequels"
  • "Apart from the suspenseful last half-hour of The Revenge of the Sith, the Star Wars prequels were truly terrible, marked by lifeless pageantry, tectonic-plate pacing, Jar Jar, effects-cluttered frames, and Medusa dialogue (i.e., it turned actors to stone)."
  • "the three execrable prequels"
  • "From the earliest stages of Abrams's production, it was clear that he was well aware of the deficiencies of [the prequels]: the orgiastic overuse of CGI, the window-mannequin performances, the fourth-rate dialogue. And so with The Force Awakens, Abrams has begun one of the most important reclamation projects of our time: the complete erasure from cultural memory of The Phantom Menace and its sequels."
  • "I salute your courage in going to see 'The Force Awakens' ... paying to watch a new 'Star Wars' movie, in the wake of its predecessors—'The Phantom Menace,' 'Attack of the Clones,' and 'Revenge of the Sith'—is like returning to a restaurant that gave you severe food poisoning on your last three visits."
  • "the vanity projects of a revered but dotty old uncle"
I dislike the prequels and am happy not to think of them, but the concentrated bile aimed at them in these reviews made me a little sad for George Lucas. The last three broadsides alone were devastating (I can't decide which is cruelest), but they were only the deadliest shots of a veritable artillery barrage. Critics didn't just dislike the movies, critics took offense at them, and took time out of a review for a different movie to drive the point home ("again", if they reviewed the prequels).

You're probably thinking: "Sticks and stones. Anyway, critics hammer other directors (hello, Michael Bay) just as hard, or harder. If you're gonna make blockbusters, you'd better have a thick skin. And all that money he made on the prequels must take a lot of the sting away."

Maybe. But I still feel a little sorry for him. Unlike other directors (hello again, Michael Bay), I don't think Lucas has a cynical bone in his body. He earnestly meant for the prequels to be good — better than the original trilogy. He offered up his best efforts, and the critics (and most of the adult non-critics) savaged them.

It has to hurt even more that for a lot of people, J.J. Abrams is the hero who rescued the franchise. Imagine: the kid's adoptive parent is widely agreed to be doing a better job of raising it. Ouch! Sorry, George.

But this stranger, at least, is still grateful to you for giving us one of our modern mythologies. That's a huge contribution to humanity, and you should be immensely proud of it.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Yes, Obama can nominate Scalia's successor

It's a bit unseemly to be fighting like hyenas before Antonin Scalia's body is even cold, but such a fight is exactly what the majority leader of our supposedly august and wise legislative house, the Senate, has started:
“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice,” Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican majority leader, said in a statement. “Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”
Ted Cruz, that inveterate opportunist, also chimed in, as did Chuck Grassley, though at least Grassley didn't try to pretend his partisanship was high-minded:
Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee, agreed [with McConnell], citing “the huge divide in the country and the fact that this president, above all others, has made no bones about his goal to use the courts to circumvent Congress and push through his own agenda.”
Yeah, and you and your fellow Republicans can hold up any number of statesmanlike figures who would never dream of making it their goal to use the courts just that way, Senator. But like I said, at least you didn't pretend to be more virtuous than you are.

On the other hand, Sen. McConnell, what's this about the people "should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice"? Guess what? We did. We elected Mr. Obama — twice. The people spoke loud and clear, Senator: you just didn't like the message. Obama still has eleven months as President, and he's damned well entitled to send up a nominee for confirmation. Get over it.

Now, the political reality is, Senate Republicans can and almost certainly will block any nominee until at least the next President takes office (if not later), so as a practical matter, Obama will almost certainly not be able to replace Scalia. However, this pretense of high-mindedness by McConnell and Cruz (via Twitter: "We owe it to him, & the Nation, for the Senate to ensure that the next President names his replacement.") is a bad joke. You shot your high horses long ago, gents, so get off them.

President Obama will send up a nominee because he's legally entitled to do so. We know Republicans will derail the nomination. But can they at least stop putting on ludicrous airs in the process?

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Fix all of Flint's pipes

The mayor of Flint, Michigan has announced a plan to replace all of the town's water pipes for $55 million. Considering that Michigan's governor, Rick Snyder, has estimated the total cost of ameliorating the Flint water catastrophe to be $712 million (per Rachel Maddow), $55 million seems like a relatively modest sum. If it won't make the town whole, it will certainly get it a long way toward that point, I would think.

Anyway, Flint's mayor wants to prioritize the pipe replacement:

Retired Brig. Gen. Michael McDaniel, who was tapped by [Flint mayor Karen] Weaver to oversee pipe removal, said the project will begin with high-risk households with children and pregnant women in neighborhoods where the highest levels of lead were found in kids’ blood.
I must be missing something, because I don't understand this.

To fix an entire water system, you have to start at its source and move downstream. That way, each successive fix keeps clean water, clean. You also must ensure that water in the system never moves "upstream" from dirty old pipes to clean new ones.

If all you had to do was to fix pipes in a "downstream" direction, then I could see a clear path: you would first fix the big distribution pipes, the ones that carry water to hundreds and thousands of houses, then you would fix the "last mile" pipes into individual houses on the priority basis the mayor described. But water only flows when somebody opens a tap. The rest of the time, it sits around in the pipes. To my knowledge all that water in the pipes is part of one big notional pool. The water doesn't move backwards in any great volume, but neither do contaminants remain isolated in those "downstream" old pipes. Those contaminants at minimum could spread out to other homes, including ones with new pipes; they might also damage the new pipes.

If I were a Flint resident, and this plan went into effect, I'd refuse to use the water coming out of those pipes until I had unequivocal proof that every inch of pipe in the town had been replaced and tests had showed the water running clean in multiple samples, over time, throughout the town.

An incremental-replacement plan that makes more sense to me would replace pipes neighborhood by neighborhood. Since contaminants can only spread slowly, by osmosis, you could be confident of decent-quality water once enough pipes had been replaced beyond your neighborhood to provide a "buffer", beyond which contaminants wouldn't have time to spread before the dirty water was drained by ordinary use (e.g., for landscaping). The downside of this plan is, it requires dirty water to be flushed out of home pipes through ordinary use, and what sane person in Flint would keep using this water for anything? Even landscape watering would create further problems by allowing lead to enter the soil (and eventually, ground water). Even this incremental-replacement plan, then, is problematic at best.

"Priority" replacement sounds good but it doesn't make sense if you think about it. Unless Flint takes extraordinary steps to isolate new pipes from old ones (and I'm not sure that's even possible), nobody should use the system's water until every pipe has been replaced.

Friday, February 5, 2016

False patriotism

A while back I wrote:
Let that be one dead giveaway to wing nuttiness: a propensity to bandy about the term "patriot" as if it were a club.
Cue the Oregon protesters, or rather, their supporters, responding to a sizable protest demanding that the seditionists go home:
The supporters, most of them from out of state, shouted back that freedom for all Americans was under threat no matter where you lived, and that patriotism was on their side. “Where are your flags?” they shouted. “Where are your flags?”
This is what patriotism means to the seditionists and their supporters: showing the flag. They think wearing a flag pin, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and carrying a pocket Constitution (along with a rifle) makes them patriotic.

Their patriotism is as empty as their heads.

Patriotism is not about showing the colors: any fool (or traitor) can do that. It's about giving a shit about your country. It's about giving a shit about your fellow countrymen (and -women), even if you disagree with them. And if there's one thing that is abundantly clear about these ranchers, it's that they do not give a shit about anyone but themselves.

The trouble with false patriots is, they shoot their mouths off — a lot. They exploit the human propensity to believe something if it is repeated often enough. So tune these yahoos out and do the hard work of making this country better by being a smart, engaged citizen. That's true patriotism.