Hacker-In-Chief? A look at Beto's misspent youth

Burning down the frontier of the Internet:

The hugely influential Cult of the Dead Cow, jokingly named after an abandoned Texas slaughterhouse, is notorious for releasing tools that allowed ordinary people to hack computers running Microsoft’s Windows. It’s also known for inventing the word “hacktivism” to describe human-rights-driven security work.

Members of the group have protected O’Rourke’s secret for decades, reluctant to compromise his political viability. Now, in a series of interviews, CDC members have acknowledged O’Rourke as one of their own.

My first takeaway after reading this is that Beto is leaps and bounds more (technically) intelligent than the rest of the pack of Dem candidates. Just being able to access those message boards and forums back in the 1980's took skills most people didn't (and still don't) have, much less being able to write code to break security protocols. While Beto doesn't appear to have been involved in some of the darker operations, he was not above breaking the law to get what he wanted:

Like O’Rourke, Wheeler said, he was hunting for video games that had been “cracked,” or stripped from digital rights protections, so that he could play them for free on his Apple. Also like O’Rourke, Wheeler wanted to find other teens who enjoyed the same things, and to write and share funny and profane stories that their parents and conservative neighbors wouldn’t appreciate. It was good-natured resistance to the repressive humdrum around them, a sort of “Footloose” for those just discovering the new world of computers.

Wheeler and a friend named the Cult of the Dead Cow after an eerie hangout, a shut-down Lubbock slaughterhouse – the unappealing hind part of Texas’ iconic cattle industry. Most CDC members kept control of their own bulletin boards while referring visitors to one another’s and distributing the CDC’s own branded essays, called text files or t-files.

At the time, people connected to bulletin boards by dialing in to the phone lines through a modem. Heavy use of long-distance modem calls could add up to hundreds of dollars a month. Savvy teens learned techniques for getting around the charges, such as using other people’s phone-company credit card numbers and five-digit calling codes to place free calls.

O’Rourke didn’t say what techniques he used. Like thousands of others, though, he said he pilfered long-distance service “so I wouldn’t run up the phone bill.”

I worked in media manufacturing for many years, from audio cassettes to later compact discs. A lot of popular music was duplicated there (by the millions), but we also produced CDRoms with new software and updates. Needless to say, we had to constantly monitor operations to make sure various copyrighted content was kept secure.

But aside from an ingrained distaste for content thieves, I also have a big problem with how hackers approach financial issues. It appears Beto was literally stealing money from people by using their telephone account, but even now he can't admit that and writes it off as "pilfering." It ain't magic money that came out of nowhere, somebody paid for you to play around.

But all that teenage history aside, these are the things we need to be looking at:

O’Rourke and his old friends say his stint as a fledgling hacker fed into his subsequent work in El Paso as a software entrepreneur and alternative press publisher, which led in turn to successful long-shot runs at the city council and then Congress, where he unseated an incumbent Democrat.

Politically, O’Rourke has taken some conventional liberal positions, supporting abortion rights and opposing a wall on the Mexican border. But he takes a libertarian view on other issues, faulting excessive regulation and siding with businesses in congressional votes on financial industry oversight and taxes.

In reality, all of those policy positions could be placed squarely in the Libertarian category. Ron Paul might be against abortion, but he's an outlier. And (real) Libertarians have more than once come here on BlueNC and talked about doing away with borders entirely. And the second part about "excessive regulation" and taxes and such should be a deal-breaker, because that is straight-up Blue Dog nonsense.

But he's young, energetic, and exciting, and he waves his arms around a lot so he must really care. You're right, that was some deep snarkasm. But we Democrats often find it really hard to fall out of love with a candidate, and this is the time to be looking very close at their bonafides, not right before the Primary.



More to come

Not necessarily about Beto, but possibly any of the Democratic hopefuls for 2020. As I said, it's best to have these conversations (arguments?) now than in early 2020. Our Primary is less than a year away, since Republicans decided to move it up.