Time Flies

Where does the time go?

For over a decade, civil libertarians have been fighting government mass surveillance of innocent Americans over the Internet. We’ve just lost an important battle. On January 18, President Trump signed the renewal of Section 702, domestic mass surveillance became effectively a permanent part of US law.

Section 702 has already been on the books for 10 years. 10 years of the opponents of this legislation failing to vote hard enough to repeal it. But I’m sure this is the year where all that will change. This is the year where the plebeians will say that they’ve had enough, flood their representatives’ offices with letters and phone calls, and rush to the polling places to vote out everybody who worked to renew this legislation.

The thing Section 702 illustrates more than anything else is the relationship between bad laws and time. Originally the surveillance powers granted by Section 702 were called illegal by its opponents. Then those powers downgraded to merely being abusive as people started becoming more comfortable with their existence. Now the powers are little more than background noise. While a handful of people still make a fuss every time Section 702 comes up for renewal, most people don’t care because the law has been on the books for a decade and hasn’t impacted their lives in any noticeable way.

Time is the ally of legislation. If a law, regardless of how abusive it may be, can be kept on the books long enough for it to become background noise to the masses, it can exist forever. And it doesn’t take long for a law to become background noise. A few months is usually enough for a controversial law to fall out of the news cycle and by extend the minds’ of the masses. Once that has happened, building up enough momentum to get the law repealed is all but impossible.

Drugs are Bad, M’kay

What would happen to you if law enforcers discovered that you were distributing a lot of opioids in your area? The most likely outcome would involve a SWAT team storming into your home at oh dark thirty, shooting your dog, and holding your family at gunpoint until they become bored with tossing your joint and decide to kidnap you so they can go home. You would receive this treatment because of a combination of two factors. First, the government had decided that there is an opioid epidemic that it needs to fight. Second, you’re not a sanctioned opioid dealer.

But things are different for sanctioned opioid dealers:

Drug companies hosed tiny towns in West Virginia with a deluge of addictive and deadly opioid pills over the last decade, according to an ongoing investigation by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

For instance, drug companies collectively poured 20.8 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills into the small city of Williamson, West Virginia, between 2006 and 2016, according to a set of letters the committee released Tuesday. Williamson’s population was just 3,191 in 2010, according to US Census data.

When you’ve received a government sanction to deal drugs you don’t end up looking down the barrel of a SWAT team gun in the middle of the night. Instead some letters of inquiry are sent to you and various oversight boards. You might be dragged in front of Congress to testify on C-SPAN so the country can see that their politicians are doing something. After being grilled by two or three members of Congress you will be allowed to return home and that’s where your hardship will likely end.

Situations like this really illustrate that the war on drugs isn’t about safety, it’s about the government ensuring it and its cronies get a cut. After all, if the government was actually concerned about the opioid epidemic that it claims to be fighting, opioids wouldn’t be legally available at all or, at the very least, situations like this would result in immediate arrests.

The Freest Country on Earth

Where else besides the freest country on Earth can a sporting event turn an entire city into an open-ended military presence:

With Super Bowl festivities swinging into full gear, so have the massive security measures that have lent downtown Minneapolis a distinctly military ambience.

Police officers with bomb-sniffing dogs patrol skyways and downtown streets. Rifle-toting deputies in Army fatigues and helmets stand watch over Nicollet Mall, which has been swamped with visitors to the Super Bowl Live event. Video feeds from 2,000 cameras are monitored in a law-enforcement command center near U.S. Bank Stadium.


In the time it took Lisa Cook to walk across the Hennepin Avenue Bridge to her job downtown, she had counted two “convoys” consisting of three “armored vehicles and a variety of marked and unmarked vans and trucks,” along with dozens of officers from departments around the metro, she said.


There are unseen elements, too: snipers perched on rooftops and in buildings in strategic places around downtown and plainclothes officers blending into crowds. A reporter visiting Nicollet Mall on Monday was approached by a plainclothes officer identifying himself as “NFL security,” who asked why the reporter was taking photographs and asked to see his media credentials.

It’s rather fascinating to me that so many people living here in the United States still consider themselves among the freest people on Earth. While the Bill of Rights; with its guarantee of press freedoms, free speech, the right to bear arms, etc.; certainly looks impressive, it is little more than a fiction. All of the so-called rights describe in that document can be revoked by the government at its whim. Consider the reported mentioned in the above excerpt. What if he didn’t have press credentials? My guess would be that he would have been removed. I’m also fairly certain that your right to free speech is pretty limited in Minneapolis at the moment, especially around the building hosting official Super Bowl events. Your right to bear arms isn’t going to get past the military goon squads that have setup the various checkpoints.

I’m fond of saying that your rights end where a politician’s perception of safety begins. An addendum to that is that your rights also end when a multibillion dollar organization decides to host an event in your area.

Explaining the Plebeians Love of the Games

The Super Bowl is being hosted in my neck of the woods this year. It’s not bad enough that the entire city looks like it’s hosting an open-ended military presence but it also has to keep up this appearance all week. The plebeians, even though most of them can’t afford to attend the actual game, don’t seem to mind though. In fact many of them belief it’s an honor to host such a great event.

What honor do these individuals experience as they watch the Super Bowl taking place a few miles from their home on televisions that their fellow plebeians in, say, Houston, Texas don’t get to experience as they watch the same game on their televisions?

The honor of knowing that if a sizable nuclear bomb were dropped on the US Bank Stadium, they and their house would be consumed in the exact same blast!

What greater honor could any of us experience?

Airport Security Remains a Joke

How can one best illustrate the ineffectiveness of airport security? By pointing out that serial stowaways are a thing:

The woman known as a “serial stowaway” for her years-long history of sneaking onto airplanes was arrested once again at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport early Sunday — just two weeks after she managed to board a flight to London from the same airport.

In an attempt to divert attention away from the failure of the airport security team, a member of the local sheriff’s department made a statement that actually made them look even more incompetent:

The sheriff’s office had advocated for special treatment for Hartman, according to NBC Chicago.

“Releasing any seriously mentally ill person without support and treatment is never a good idea,” Cara Smith, the sheriff’s policy chief, told NBC Chicago on Thursday. “This order seriously reflects many things wrong with the criminal justice system.”

“We have a woman who is obviously suffering and in need of significant services,” she said, according to the station. “Without the help she clearly needs, history is likely to repeat itself.”

Not just any woman managed to board two flights but a woman who apparently doesn’t have full faculties.

Security theater continues to be a joke. Its existence only serves to ease the fears of ignorant flyers. Anybody who has read the seemingly ceaseless stream of stories about airport security failures is left to realize that airport and security are currently mutually exclusive terms.

The Rules Change When the Super Bowl Is in Town

Starting either late Sunday night or early Sunday morning an incident erupted at the Graduate Hotel in Minneapolis. Police have been very coy about the entire ordeal. From what little they have provided it seems that their officers are standing off against an individual who has locked himself in his room. What is especially noteworthy though is that as of this writing the situation is still ongoing:

A standoff between police and a man holed up in a hotel room near the University of Minnesota entered its second day Tuesday as authorities continued to work for a peaceful resolution.


Late Monday after 21 hours, the man released a woman who had been in the sixth floor room with him. She was uninjured and was talking with investigators, said University of Minnesota spokesman Chuck Tombarge.

The suspect was still in the room negotiating with officers from the U, Minneapolis, State Patrol and Brooklyn Park, he said.

I feel as though this guy is only alive because the Super Bowl is in town. If we look at the history of the Minneapolis Police Department, we could safely assume that the standard response to situations like this is to rush in and waste the guy. However, that kind of reaction tends to result in a lot of bad press and none of the higher ups in Minneapolis want to make any headlines that aren’t exceedingly positive while the city is hosting the most holy of holy events.

Monday Metal: Like Orpheus by Orphaned Land

Orphaned Land released a new album on Friday. It’s their usual affair, which is a blend of metal with traditional Middle Eastern music. Furthermore, the album has a lot of songs that attempt to bridge the gap between Judaism and Islam that exists especially in Israel. This song specifically, is about exactly that. Needless to say Orphaned Land realizes that metal really is a universal language.

A Reasonable Response

I often refer to laws as arbitrary rules. This doesn’t sit well with statists because they believe that laws are more than arbitrary declarations by politicians. In their world laws are the result of a problem being recognized, intelligently discussed, and sensibly addressed through appropriate legislation. But when the “problems” being identified are as minuscule as disposable straws, any claim that the problems being addressed by politicians are actual problems at all gets tossed out of the window:

Calderon, the Democratic majority leader in California’s lower house, has introduced a bill to stop sit-down restaurants from offering customers straws with their beverages unless they specifically request one. Under Calderon’s law, a waiter who serves a drink with an unrequested straw in it would face up to 6 months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

“We need to create awareness around the issue of one-time use plastic straws and its detrimental effects on our landfills, waterways, and oceans,” Calderon explained in a press release.

If this were being proposed anywhere besides California, I’d bet against it going anywhere. But since it is being proposed in California, I give it even odds. That state’s politicians are especially loathsome. But I digress.

Let’s consider the problem. Apparently Calderon is upset about disposable straws ending up in landfills. I highly doubt Mother Gaia is going to keel over on account of a pile of straws, especially when I consider all of the other major environmental issues, many of which are created by the government. So I think it’s safe to list disposable straws as a rather minor issue deserving no real attention at all. But since it’s being given attention the punishment should at least be minor. However, Calderon’s proposal is to destroy the lives of waiters who give unrequested straws.

Waiters aren’t known for raking in money. A $1,000 fine is a pretty significant chunk of change for somebody making waiter money. But the real icing on the cake is the jail sentence. If a waiter is forced to miss work for months, they will likely find themselves without a job when they return. Furthermore, that waiter will then have a criminal record, which will make finding another job difficult. For the “crime” of distributing a disposable straw a waiter would find their life completely destroyed by this legislation.

There is nothing reasonable about this proposal but it could be passed into law because laws are arbitrary decrees issued by politicians.

Drunk Driving Laws Are About Profit, Not Safety

The blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) for sober driving (as opposed to drunk driving) is 0.08 for most of the country. Utah, however, decided to lower its BAC for sober driving to 0.05 and now neoprohibitionists want that standard set throughout the entire country:

The U.S. government-commissioned report by a panel of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine made multiple recommendations, including significantly lowering drunken driving thresholds. It calls for lowering the blood-alcohol concentration threshold from 0.08 to 0.05. All states have 0.08 thresholds.

But there’s a slight problem:

A Utah law passed last year that lowers the state’s threshold to 0.05 doesn’t go into effect until Dec. 30.

Utah’s arbitrary definition of drunk driving isn’t in effect yet so there’s no way an argument can be made that lowering the BAC to 0.05 reduces incidents of drunk driving. So if there’s no data indicating that Utah’s law is helping the situation, why is anybody arguing in favor of taking that law to the federal level? Money.

When somebody is charged with drunk driving they weren’t necessarily drunk. The dictionary definition of drunk is, “affected by alcohol to the extent of losing control of one’s faculties or behavior.” The legal definition of drunk is having a BAC over 0.08. Those two definitions are entirely unrelated. Alcohol affects different people in different ways. Some people are lightweights and a BAC of 0.08 impairs them while others aren’t impaired at all by a BAC of 0.08. If the real concern were dangerous driving, the law arbitrarily declaring drunkenness would be tossed out and the law against reckless driving would be used instead. But that would severely cut into government profits because it wouldn’t allow it to issue citations unless somebody was actually impaired.

Lowering the BAC for sober driving wouldn’t address the problem of dangerous drivers. It would increase government profits though, which is the actual reason such laws are sought after by politicians and the panels they commission.

The NSA Has Become More Honest and Open

Believe it or not, the National Security Agency (NSA) has a set of core values. Those values are little more than doublespeak but the NSA has finally decided to be a bit more honest and open about its intentions:

Since at least May 2016, the surveillance agency had featured honesty as the first of four “core values” listed on NSA.gov, alongside “respect for the law,” “integrity,” and “transparency.” The agency vowed on the site to “be truthful with each other.”

On January 12, however, the NSA removed the mission statement page – which can still be viewed through the Internet Archive – and replaced it with a new version. Now, the parts about honesty and the pledge to be truthful have been deleted. The agency’s new top value is “commitment to service,” which it says means “excellence in the pursuit of our critical mission.”

This reminds me of a picture I saw of a homeless guy holding up a sign that read something along the lines of, “I need money for booze and cigarettes. Hey, at least I’m not bullshitting you.” By removing honesty and truthfulness from its core values, the NSA has ceased bullshitting us as much. While that doesn’t help us plebs who are being constantly surveilled by the agency, we at least have a better idea of what we’re getting.