The Feinstein-Burr Encyption Bill: Let’s Just Unlock All The Doors

This week on “Why Politicians Shouldn’t Pretend They Know Things They Clearly Don’t,” we feature Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Richard Burr (R-NC), two United States Senators who are asking the government to consider their bill regarding encryption.

Much controversy has been had over encryption since the FBI asked Apple to decrypt the iPhone of one of the now-deceased San Bernadino attackers, a request Apple responded to with “yeah, that’s a terrible idea, so, no.”  Most people would think Apple is filled with a lot of smart people, and at least in this case, they’re correct.

The Feinstein-Burr bill, however, is far beyond asking for a single iPhone to be unlocked.  It would require every company that engages in any encryption method at any level to be able to quickly provide a method to decrypt the data, at law enforcement’s behest.

Quick primer on how encryption works: when two endpoints communicate, without encryption the data transmitted between the two endpoints is in plain-text form.  This is enormously insecure, as sniffing and intercepting traffic isn’t difficult.

With encryption in play, the messages sent between two endpoints are then scrambled exponentially; imagine a message sent using one of those decoder rings from a cereal box, except that instead of a single coded translation it’s coded dozens of times, and instead of needing a decoder ring to decipher it, you need an encryption key that’s normally at least one hundred characters long.  This way, if a message is intercepted, decoding the mention is near impossible unless the attackers have access to bona-fide supercomputers (and a lot of time on their hands).

Normally, encryption keys are only held as long as they’re needed (i.e. the time it takes to encrypt the message, send it, the other side to receive it, then decrypt it), or they’re kept extremely secure behind many layers of security.  This bill would force software and hardware companies to keep those keys, and decrypt any message asked of them by law enforcement.

Throw away any big brother thoughts you have, the danger is plainer than that: rule #1 of network security is that no solution is invulnerable.  No matter how secure a company makes its encryption key vaults, attackers will go after them, and one of them will succeed.

Essentially, this bill would murder any reality of security or privacy on any computer in the United States.

This isn’t sensational; it’s pure insanity.  It would likely ruin the tech industry in America.

The fact that a bill like this is even going to get a vote is preposterous.  It’s another classic example that Washington does not understand technology, at all.


A Quick Word On The Farm Bill

$8.7 billion over the next ten years have been cut from food stamps nationwide as part of the newly-signed Farm Bill.

The oil industry continues to receive around $35 billion/year in subsidies. They probably need it; they’ve been recently recording record-low profits. They’ve only been averaging around $60 billion/year profits the last few years. They need to eat too.

The pharmaceutical industry gets north of $250 billion/year, when calculating for subsidies and the fact that Medicare cannot negotiate prices with drug manufacturers, thanks to the 2003 Medicare Part D bill that continues to heavy contribute to our extremely high prescription prices. But they need to eat too.

Top-200 companies combine to receive well north of $1 trillion/year (with a T) in federal support, and that doesn’t count the fact that their lobbying (which they spend a far less than that on) gets them trillions of dollars of business combined. But we need to prioritize the well-being of the good people from Goldman-Sachs, AT&T, Microsoft, Comcast, Lockheed-Martin, big banks that already received a bailout years ago, and other enormously rich companies you’ve heard of. They need to eat, so badly.

So let’s ignore those in need and keep shoveling money to the people who already have all of it. That makes sense.

Some Brief Observations About Welfare

The conversation of welfare annoys me to no end. By my observation, it is one of the most emotionally charged political subjects among many people I know. People get legitimately angry about practically anything involving work or the perceived lack of it. I understand that emotion; I, like many of you, work hard. Most people work hard.

It can be very easy to point at the people who receive any sort of social benefit, and assume they are lazy or otherwise incapable, and that they are an enormous drain on our economy, and getting them to work would turn things around. It’s an easy, logical argument until you do 10 minutes of research.

First, a few baseline rebuttals to most typical statements/arguments/incorrect opinions:

– Across the board, half or more of recipients of any kind of welfare are only on it for two years or less. Around 75% (depending on the type of welfare) are off within three. It’s a small amount of people who are on welfare perpetually.

– Over 50% of welfare recipients have a job. It’s just that wages are lower and the cost of living is higher than 40 years ago. It’s often not laziness, it’s economic reality.

– People on welfare use drugs at a rate equal to or even below that of people receiving no benefits. Testing for drugs is dumb and wasteful, and that’s been proven by the dumb and wasteful states that have tried it.

– The only benefit undocumented immigrants can receive is Medicaid. They are not getting payments, unemployment, food stamps, or any other benefit. They can’t.

– The “Welfare Queen” was a thing Reagan made up. They certainly exist, but not to the pernicious extent ol’ Gipper present it as.

– If you made $50,000 last year, you paid $36 towards food stamps. That’s $0.10/day so some people can eat. Calm down.

Finally: our economy pays far more in corporate subsidy (re: welfare for people who already have more money than you will ever, ever have) versus social welfare (re: people who actually need money). Most recent figures put it over double.

So if you’re pissed about hard-earned tax dollars going to other people, point up, not down. Spit on the guy in a suit, rather than the one in rags.

Mike Pence: Avatar of Cruelty

This morning, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed HB1337 into law, which adds a myriad of further restrictions and provisions surrounding abortion.  Indiana had already been one of the more socially conservative states in the country regarding this issue, and now may be the most.

Provisions added in this bill include:

  • Can no longer use race, color, national origin, ancestry or sex as a reason for abortion
  • Can not use a diagnosis or Down’s syndrome or any other disability as a reason for abortion
  • Forces those seeking an abortion to listen to the fetus’ heartbeat, then come back no less than 18 hours later to actually perform the procedure
  • Forces the remains of miscarried or aborted fetuses to be cremated or buried, at the expense of the mother
  • Forces abortion providers to obtain “admitting privileges” at local hospitals

There’s a lot to unpack here.  While there’s a whole wave of arguments about whether abortion is right or wrong (and to what degree), there’s one line from the above that should upset anyone upon reading it, no matter who you are or what beliefs you hold.

  • Forces the remains of miscarried or aborted fetuses to be cremated or buried, at the expense of the mother

This isn’t thoughtful.  It doesn’t hold life sacred.  It’s not about symbolism, or anything positive.  This is punitive.  This is malice.  It is legislation of intimidation and control, without empathy or regret.  It’s not even technically about abortion at this point.  This is about punishing women for having a uterus in a world where bad things can happen.

That this is a real bill that will become law in a country that is supposed to be the leader of the free world would be laughable if it wasn’t so sad.  The idea of forcing a woman to pay for their dead baby funeral, even in the event of a miscarriage, is the sort of thing an unfeeling sadist would joke about.  However, in Indiana, USA we had someone actually write up the bill, three more assist in writing it, ten more sponsor it, and a large enough majority in two different parts of government to put it in front of the Governor.

Finally, we had a man, Governor Mike Pence, sign it into law.

Every single one of these legislators, these politicians, these fucking perverse maniacs don’t deserve a seat at the humanity table.  Seats are reserved for those who can conjure a thought or care for what other people feel, for those who can consider views and desires from another perspective.

Passing a law that makes it harder to get or perform an abortion, that is defensible from at least some perspectives.  Passing a law that intimidates or humiliates a woman before being able to have an abortion, that’s reprehensible.

Passing a law that forces a woman to pay for a funeral for a miscarriage is far, far beyond that.  It’s cruelty, of the highest order.

No One Fucking Thinks Anymore And It’s Driving Me Crazy

It takes all I can muster to not be an insufferable cunt on Facebook every day.  If I had less self-discipline, I would comment on every single fucking social/political meme that had 4 brain cell’s worth of thought put into it, which was then reposted a million times by people who agreed with a premise they refused to research or verify.  I would comment on every single fucking one with facts and analysis to show them how dumb they were for sharing an idea or statement that is fundamentally flawed with only 10 minutes of Google-Fu.

And it wouldn’t do a damn thing.

No one wants to know anything, and that’s the problem.  They want their feelings formed into a bullet point, and that’s good enough.  Fuck reading, fuck research, fuck fact-checking, fuck verification.  Someone took two minutes captioning a picture, so it can’t be all wrong, right?

This happened today:

Someone who I thought was smarter than they actually are reposted the following on their Facebook feed:


Hey, that’s not a bad point at first blush.  If I pretend like I only have a few hundred brain cells, I could probably conjure some rage and follow that up with “Yeah, how dare they!”

First: should risking your life be the only path to affordable higher education?

Second: tuition has increased at least 1,000% over the last 30-50 years (depending on who you ask), and that’s with adjustment for inflation.  So yeah, I guess risking your life does seem like a good fucking idea now.

Third: Note that the veteran in the picture is white; not surprisingly, that makes it more accurate.  There is a long history of minorities, specifically African-Americans, getting a shaft of some sort or another regarding their G.I. Bill benefits.

Fourth: Like many veteran’s benefits, the G.I. Bill has received numerous cuts in recent years.

Fifth: This meme distorts the overall message of the outcries from millennial/GenX young people who are often identified as the people “whining” and “complaining” about “life.”  The overall message is that they were sold a bill of goods (work hard, be smart, have a house and family and dog and comfortable life) that hasn’t been delivered upon.  Costs for everything are higher today than they were only 20 years ago, let alone 40 (adjusted for inflation, of course).  Hard work can still get you places, but not the same places it got your parents, or your parent’s parents.  Most people who are “crying” about getting their student loans forgiven are mad because they paid more for college and got far less than their parents (and their parent’s entire generation) did.

I spent maybe 10 minutes searching all that information up.  I’m not a genius.  But I am now more informed than what feels like half the people in America.  I’m not special, so that makes things even sadder.

The worst part of this is that the righteous indignation that people spew along with their opinions, opinions that have been poorly (if at all) researched, or opinions that they got from a fucking meme.  The person I know on Facebook probably posted that with an internal “yeah, those lazy fucks!”  Not only have they internalized a really weak opinion, but they have paired it with the entitled condescension of someone who you would have thought would have done a search or used their brain.  In reality, all they did was nod at a picture and click “share.”

This isn’t just obnoxious, this is deleterious to society, and has spread like wildfire.  Many, many people just don’t research for themselves.  They take the spoonfuls of information they’re willing to eat, and accepting that it is right.  It is reducing our culture to that of bullet points and sound bites.  I know this  is happening because Donald Fucking Trump is going to win a nomination for President Of The Fucking United States while treating every debate like it’s a wrestling promo.  He has provided zero detail on his plans, only surface-level proclamations, yet there are people hailing him a savior.

I don’t have a solution for this.  I can’t understand it.  The way I’m wired, if I read something that I’m not sure of, I go and research it.  I can accept that not everyone is like me.  But isn’t it good to, y’know, know things?  Isn’t it good to make sure you’re right before you call someone lazy, or worthless, or wrong?  Isn’t it good to base your arguments on things like facts instead of emotions or fucking memes?

Just fucking burn it to the ground, we wouldn’t notice anyways.

It’s Not Funny Anymore

Trump was a punchline only a few months ago.  Yeah, he had some polling numbers, but those didn’t really mean anything until people actually went and checked the box next to his name on a real voting ballot.  Yeah, the rest of the GOP field didn’t seem particularly strong, with a lot of flawed candidates and no clear favorite.  Yeah, at best Trump would get a wave of popularity (which is all he wanted, right?), he’d die off as one of the real politicians grabbed the reins, and he’d retreat back to wherever he would retreat to.  Probably off to fire somebody.

Instead, he’s now likely to win the Republican nomination with a delegate majority.  Donald Trump, Republican Nominee for President of the United States is very quickly becoming a reality.  It’s actually happening.

There’s little to say about it, so I won’t say much more.  It’s ludicrous this would happen, it seems a little obvious it would eventually in hindsight.  I’d rather talk about the implications this has on the public conversation, as that’s far more important.

I already blogged a tiny bit on this a few months ago, back in more innocent times.  There I wrote about how both Sanders and Trump were making their marks regardless of whatever success or failure they met in the primaries; they were both pushing populist messages that normally weren’t given voice in the mainstream media or the national political conversation.  That has absolutely continued, but there’s a key difference.

In Sanders, the long-silenced voice of the middle class, unions, and progressive reform has taken rise again.  His ideas and policies are largely derived from Roosevelt-ian doctrine (both Teddy and Franklin Delano) and the pragmatic progressive postures of northern European countries.  Sanders has tried to show us what America could be.

Trump, however, has given voice to a much uglier part of our past, or what we thought was our past.  He has peeled back the scab to show that the sore is still present.  Racism, xenophobia, and nativism have long thought to be dying, or at least on a steady march to the grave (though we still have a long way to go).  Instead, this base has been invigorated and mobilized behind the snake-est of snake-oil salesmen (it’s actually not hard to picture Trump as a figure in the late 1800s, lamenting the loss of the Civil War and doing his best to keep the roots of white supremacy planted firm).  Trump has shown us what America still is, and will still be for quite some time.

Here’s the thing: let’s assume Trump doesn’t win the presidency, if only for our own sanity’s sake.  Whether he loses the primary or the general election, there’s a key point to remember: his supporters aren’t going to go away.  They’re not going to go back to keeping their racist, xenophobic, nativist thoughts to themselves.  Trump has shown them that saying what you want (no matter what) is a virtue, even if what you want is reprehensible and unacceptable to most of rational, educated society.  The toothpaste is out of the tube.


In writing about politics here, I’ve tried very hard to remain objective and bipartisan, or at least the best I can be.  Obviously I’m a liberal, obviously I’m voting Democrat.  I’m done acting like I’m bipartisan, just to be nice.  The other side has stopped trying to be civil.  Violence and threats of violence have been common around Trump rallies and supporters, and I suspect it will only get worse with every passing speech or event.

We may reach a boiling pitch where Trump fails to get a majority of delegates (but is close), and the GOP sheepishly gives him the nomination in the face of a full-on, for-real violent revolt.  We may reach a time where Trump or Trump’s supporters crash Hillary’s or Bernie’s events, spreading the violence and unrest to the entire campaign.  We may reach a point where there are threats of violence (or worse, violence) at voting booths in November.  We may reach the point where he wins, and America officially becomes the laughingstock of the world, a great yet bleeding empire who has willingly handed the controls to a disingenuous sociopath who was only really in it for the Twitter followers anyways.

Or Trump loses, but his legacy remains.  Where his candidacy once lived, what remains are his fervent supporters, now angry that their avatar was vanquished.  But now they’re no longer afraid to shout their feelings from the rooftops.  They’re proud of their bigotry and intolerance now, so so proud because Mr. Trump showed them that it’s OK to talk about it.  It’s OK to exclude an entire religion from the entire country, while crying for the “religious freedom” to refuse service to people who don’t make fuck like you want them to.  It’s OK to destroy one of the great tenets of our country’s credo by building a wall next to an allied country.  It’s OK to just “bomb the shit out of them”, regardless of whether you’ve ever met “them”, or whether “them” has ever done anything to you, or whoever’s kids have to die fighting “them”.  It’s even OK to kill “them’s” family in the name of feeling more safe in a country that is actually very, very safe.

I’m not going to hold my tongue about it anymore, or be cute and pretend I’m bipartisan.  I’m not.  Especially in this election, where we have what we have.  I’m already accepting a Trump win in the primary, I honestly believe it will happen now.

So, while I lose no sleep over this whatsoever because not a single person I know in real life is a Trump vote, I’m going to say it anyways, if only to get it into print so I feel better.

A vote for Donald J. Trump is a vote for anarchy.  It is a vote against not just “everyone’s” self-interests, but your own.  It is a vote that is only born out of a negative quality; only ignorance, idiocy, or hatred leads to a vote for Trump.  He is a used-car salesman selling you a pinto with a fresh coat of paint.  He is a blackjack dealer, only dealing a game where he knows he will win.  He is the embodiment of everything wrong with America, and it’s incredibly saddening and disappointing to me that a significant part of our voting population is ignorant, stupid, or hateful enough to check the box next to his name.

If you’re reading this, and you honestly feel Donald Trump deserves your vote, I implore you, look within yourself.  Ask yourself why a shady billionaire with no political experience has any chance to do anything good for your country.  Ask yourself if you want a president who is a known misogynist.  Ask yourself if you want a president who has received a Stone Cold Stunner.  Ask yourself if a man who likes his steak well-done is deserving of sitting in the Oval Office.

If you still think Trump is the answer, then I don’t know what you say to you.  You’re either ignorant, stupid, or hateful.  And you’re proud of it.

My Second D&D Experience

My first D&D experience was confusing at times, but solid.  While the openness and free-form play can be daunting at times, it’s clearly a unique experience that I feel everyone should at least try.  There really is nothing else like it.

I was DM again, which I’m OK with for the moment, though I desperately want to play a character soon.  This time it was with Pathfinder rules (available at a gigantic discount from the Humble Bundle people for another three days…jump on it, it’s a huge value!), which weren’t terribly different from 5th edition, at least in the very small frame of reference I have.  However, it was with a different group of people, with a different level of experience and dedication.  Two of the other players had actually created back stories, and all three players had known each other very well, which boosted interaction greatly and made things much looser overall.

(Note: this isn’t slighting the first group, but really, the four of us that played last night have been friends for a very, very long time.  Hard to stack up to that level of familiarity.)

We rolled new characters instead of using pre-generated ones, but did use the beginner dungeon to get our feet wet. Luckily the documentation made my job as DM pretty simple, which allowed me to be creative and relaxed while corralling the adventure as best I could.  Everything was pretty great, and here it truly showed how awesome D&D could be.

I kind of resent myself for taking this long to try and experience it.

Anyways, we surely messed up some of the rules (I think combat math is still going to take some time to remember every time), and we didn’t quite finish the entire adventure as we had to call it around 2AM.  However, it’s an experience we will surely continue, and I hope to write more about it when we do.

I just realized this sounds like a love letter to not just D&D, but the friends I played it with last night.  I suppose it is.