Good News: The NSA Can Hear You Only 30 Percent of the Time

NSAAll right, not exactly. After all the good snoops
over at the National Intelligence Agency say that they don’t
actually listen in on your conversations; they merely monitor with
whom you talk, for how long you talk, and from where you talk. All
to keep the bogeyman, uh, bad terrorists away.

Today’s Washington Post reports that the NSA can only
actually collect information on about
30 percent
of all of our telephone calls:

The
National Security Agency
is collecting less than 30 percent of
all Americans’ call records because of an inability to keep pace
with the explosion in cellphone use, according to current and
former U.S. officials.

The disclosure contradicts popular perceptions that the
government is sweeping up virtually all domestic phone data. It is
also likely to raise questions about the efficacy of a program that
is premised on its breadth and depth, on collecting as close to a
complete universe of data as possible in order to make sure that
clues aren’t missed in counterterrorism investigations.

In 2006, the officials said, the NSA was collecting nearly all
records about Americans’ phone calls from a number of U.S.
companies under a then-classified program, but as of last summer
that share had plummeted to less than 30 percent.

But don’t worry that you’re being ignored; the NSA is diligently
seeking permission from its pet Foreign Intelligence Surveillance
Court to ramp up its programs so that it can collect up and store
all the records of your phone calls.

With regard to keeping terrorists away, keep in mind that last
month a
report
by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Board appointed by
President Obama stated:

We have not identified a single instance involving a threat to
the United States in which the telephone records program made a
concrete difference in the outcome of a counterterrorism
investigation.

The same board warned:

Permitting the government to routinely collect the calling
records of the entire nation fundamentally shifts the balance of
power between the state and its citizens…while the danger of
abuse may seem remote, given historical abuse of personal
information by the government during the twentieth century, the
risk is more than merely theoretical.


Secret government is always the chief threat to liberty
.

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You Can Now Buy Bud for Bitcoin in Washington State

Bitcoin and bud are a match made in liberty heaven. They are perfect examples of things people want, but that the state thinks is their job to “protect” you from. Two inevitable forces, two civil rights issues. Bitcoin can help the nascent legal marijuana business, and the marijuana business can help Bitcoin. I wrote a piece all about this last month, which I suggest reading titled: How Bitcoin Could Serve the Marijuana Industry as Banks Remain Too Scared to Enter.

Now from Coindesk:

Medical marijuana dispensary Kouchlock Productions, which opened on Monday February 3, began accepting bitcoin for its wares this week. The dispensary, based in Spokane, is said to already have sold the drug in several bitcoin transactions.

While medical mariijuana dispensaries are legal in the state, they are still federally illegal, which makes it difficult for them to process credit cards. This makes bitcoin a useful alternative for them.

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Will Michael Dunn’s Trial, Unlike George Zimmerman’s, Have Something to Do With ‘Stand Your Ground’?

The New York Times says
the trial of Michael Dunn, the middle-aged software developer who

shot and killed
17-year-old Jordan Davis at a Jacksonville gas
station in 2012, is not about race so much as “the mechanics of
Florida’s self-defense laws and how juries apply them.” In that
respect, the Times says, the case is
different from George Zimmerman’s 2012
shooting
of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida.
Which is weird, because there was no mention of race in Zimmerman’s
murder trial, which ended in an
acquittal
last July, and a juror interviewed afterward said it
did not come up during deliberations either.

It seems to me that race may have played a bigger role in Dunn’s
shooting of Davis, which grew out of an argument over loud music,
than it did in Zimmerman’s shooting of Martin, which grew out of a
violent struggle that Martin seems to have started. It’s not just
that Dunn is “whiter” than Zimmerman, a Hispanic with an
Afro-Peruvian great-grandfather, but that his perception of Davis’
allegedly violent intent may have been colored by the fact that he
was confronting a bunch of black teenagers (Davis and his friends).
In Zimmerman’s case, by contrast, people speculated that he mistook
Martin for a burglar and decided to follow him at least partly
because he was black. Even if that’s true, Martin’s skin color had
nothing to do with whether he started the fight and was smacking
Zimmerman’s head against the concrete, thereby posing a potentially
deadly threat, when Zimmerman fired his gun (although Martin’s
perception of Zimmerman’s racially tinged suspicions may help
explain how the fight started).

Presumably Dunn’s murder trial, which began yesterday,
will involve “the mechanics of Florida’s self-defense laws
and how juries apply them,” as the Times says. It
certainly should. But that does not mean any special aspect of
Florida’s law will determine the outcome. Judging from the
opening arguments
, the case, like Zimmerman’s, comes down to
dueling narratives that go to the question of whether the defendant
reasonably believed firing his gun was necessary to prevent death
or serious injury. According to the prosecution, there was no
threat at all, let alone a deadly one.

The undisputed part of the story is that Dunn pulled into the
gas station, which included a convenience store, so that his
girlfriend could buy wine and potato chips. He was irritated by the
music blasting from the SUV in which Davis was riding with his
friends and asked them to turn it down. Initially they did, but
soon the volume was back up, apparently at the urging of Davis, who
said, “Fuck that nigger.” (That’s according to Davis’ friends as
well as Dunn.) Davis and Dunn got into an argument, and Dunn ended
up firing seven rounds, three of which struck Davis.

Dunn claims Davis threatened to kill him and was getting out of
the SUV, armed with something—a shotgun, a lead pipe, or maybe a
stick—when he fired his handgun, which he had retrieved from his
glove compartment because he felt threatened. Police found no
weapons in the SUV or at the scene, although Dunn’s lawyer, Cory
Strolla, claims Davis’ friends had time to ditch whatever it was
and that police did not search the area near the gas station until
days later, by which time the weapon easily could have been moved
again. Police did find a camera tripod, which a frightened man
might mistake for a gun, a lead pipe, or a stick.

According to the prosecution, Dunn was not frightened at all; he
was angry. “[Davis] never threatened the defendant,” Assistant
State Attorney John Guy (who was also one of the prosecutors in
Zimmerman’s trial) said yesterday. “He disrespected him.” In
addition to the missing weapon, Dunn’s defense is undermined by the
fact that he left the gas station after the shooting and did not
call police, even after his girlfriend saw a TV news report about
the shooting that said someone had died. The police tracked Dunn
down the next day via a license plate number reported by a witness.
Strolla said Dunn, who was in Jacksonville for his son’s wedding,
planned to call the police after he got back to his home in
Satellite Beach. This does not seem like the behavior of a man who
believed he had used deadly force in a legitimate act of
self-defense.

The right to “stand your ground” when you are attacked in a
public place—which Florida’s self-defense law, like those of many
other states, notoriously
protects—did not come up yesterday. It could make a difference in
Dunn’s trial (unlike
Zimmerman’s
) if the prosecution argues that Dunn should simply
have driven away when Davis threatened him. But at this point the
prosecution seems keen to deny that Davis threatened anything but
Dunn’s pride. If there was no threat, Dunn cannot possibly claim
self-defense, with or without a duty to retreat. And even if
Florida imposed a duty to retreat, Dunn could argue that he was
unable to safely withdraw when confronted by an armed man who
threatened to kill him. The Times mentions “Stand Your
Ground” twice but does not explain why it is relevant to the
case.

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Will Michael Dunn's Trial, Unlike George Zimmerman's, Have Something to Do With 'Stand Your Ground'?

The New York Times says
the trial of Michael Dunn, the middle-aged software developer who

shot and killed
17-year-old Jordan Davis at a Jacksonville gas
station in 2012, is not about race so much as “the mechanics of
Florida’s self-defense laws and how juries apply them.” In that
respect, the Times says, the case is
different from George Zimmerman’s 2012
shooting
of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida.
Which is weird, because there was no mention of race in Zimmerman’s
murder trial, which ended in an
acquittal
last July, and a juror interviewed afterward said it
did not come up during deliberations either.

It seems to me that race may have played a bigger role in Dunn’s
shooting of Davis, which grew out of an argument over loud music,
than it did in Zimmerman’s shooting of Martin, which grew out of a
violent struggle that Martin seems to have started. It’s not just
that Dunn is “whiter” than Zimmerman, a Hispanic with an
Afro-Peruvian great-grandfather, but that his perception of Davis’
allegedly violent intent may have been colored by the fact that he
was confronting a bunch of black teenagers (Davis and his friends).
In Zimmerman’s case, by contrast, people speculated that he mistook
Martin for a burglar and decided to follow him at least partly
because he was black. Even if that’s true, Martin’s skin color had
nothing to do with whether he started the fight and was smacking
Zimmerman’s head against the concrete, thereby posing a potentially
deadly threat, when Zimmerman fired his gun (although Martin’s
perception of Zimmerman’s racially tinged suspicions may help
explain how the fight started).

Presumably Dunn’s murder trial, which began yesterday,
will involve “the mechanics of Florida’s self-defense laws
and how juries apply them,” as the Times says. It
certainly should. But that does not mean any special aspect of
Florida’s law will determine the outcome. Judging from the
opening arguments
, the case, like Zimmerman’s, comes down to
dueling narratives that go to the question of whether the defendant
reasonably believed firing his gun was necessary to prevent death
or serious injury. According to the prosecution, there was no
threat at all, let alone a deadly one.

The undisputed part of the story is that Dunn pulled into the
gas station, which included a convenience store, so that his
girlfriend could buy wine and potato chips. He was irritated by the
music blasting from the SUV in which Davis was riding with his
friends and asked them to turn it down. Initially they did, but
soon the volume was back up, apparently at the urging of Davis, who
said, “Fuck that nigger.” (That’s according to Davis’ friends as
well as Dunn.) Davis and Dunn got into an argument, and Dunn ended
up firing seven rounds, three of which struck Davis.

Dunn claims Davis threatened to kill him and was getting out of
the SUV, armed with something—a shotgun, a lead pipe, or maybe a
stick—when he fired his handgun, which he had retrieved from his
glove compartment because he felt threatened. Police found no
weapons in the SUV or at the scene, although Dunn’s lawyer, Cory
Strolla, claims Davis’ friends had time to ditch whatever it was
and that police did not search the area near the gas station until
days later, by which time the weapon easily could have been moved
again. Police did find a camera tripod, which a frightened man
might mistake for a gun, a lead pipe, or a stick.

According to the prosecution, Dunn was not frightened at all; he
was angry. “[Davis] never threatened the defendant,” Assistant
State Attorney John Guy (who was also one of the prosecutors in
Zimmerman’s trial) said yesterday. “He disrespected him.” In
addition to the missing weapon, Dunn’s defense is undermined by the
fact that he left the gas station after the shooting and did not
call police, even after his girlfriend saw a TV news report about
the shooting that said someone had died. The police tracked Dunn
down the next day via a license plate number reported by a witness.
Strolla said Dunn, who was in Jacksonville for his son’s wedding,
planned to call the police after he got back to his home in
Satellite Beach. This does not seem like the behavior of a man who
believed he had used deadly force in a legitimate act of
self-defense.

The right to “stand your ground” when you are attacked in a
public place—which Florida’s self-defense law, like those of many
other states, notoriously
protects—did not come up yesterday. It could make a difference in
Dunn’s trial (unlike
Zimmerman’s
) if the prosecution argues that Dunn should simply
have driven away when Davis threatened him. But at this point the
prosecution seems keen to deny that Davis threatened anything but
Dunn’s pride. If there was no threat, Dunn cannot possibly claim
self-defense, with or without a duty to retreat. And even if
Florida imposed a duty to retreat, Dunn could argue that he was
unable to safely withdraw when confronted by an armed man who
threatened to kill him. The Times mentions “Stand Your
Ground” twice but does not explain why it is relevant to the
case.

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Ronald Bailey Predicts Obama Will Neither Approve Nor Disapprove the Keystone Pipeline

Keystone OilA week ago, the U.S. Department of State issued
yet another environmental study that found that the constructing
the Keystone pipeline to transport 830,000 barrels of oil per day
from Canada to the Gulf coast would not significantly worsen
man-made climate change. Pipeline proponents declared that the
State Department’s review means that the project should be
immediately greenlighted. Outraged environmental activists
threatened massive civil disobedience and a hissy fit at the polls
in November if President Obama dares to decide that building the
pipeline is in the “national interest.” Reason Science
Correspondent Ronald Bailey predicts that our politically savvy
president will deviously dither over his decision until after the
polls close in November.

View this article.

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Future Deficits Now Projected to be Even Bigger

America’s current budget deficits have
shrunk dramatically over the past few years. But its future
deficits are now projected to be bigger than previously expected.
When the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its
updated economic outlook
earlier this week, it painted a
gloomier picture than it did the previous year. The deficit is now
projected to rise by $7.3 trillion over the next decade, a $1
trillion increase since the CBO’s last estimates were
published. 

That’s not great news. But it’s actually worse than it sounds.
As the budget analysts at the Committee for a Responsible Federal
Budget explain,
this actually understates the size of the increase.

That’s because last year’s deficit totals were artificially
inflated because of a scoring convention that required the budget
office to count $425 billion worth of one-time spending on
Hurricane Sandy as a recurring annual expense. That assumption is
gone this year, but it means that last year’s 10-year deficit total
was actually more like $5.9 trillion.

The projections worsen further if you update the time frame.
Last year’s projections looked at the 2014-2023 budget window. This
week’s report stretches from 2015-2024. Since annual deficits are
now expected to grow at a greater clip, that makes for a bigger
change. Here’s the CRFB’s graph showing the actual size of the
change:

The main reason for the update is that the CBO now foresees
slower economic growth over the next decade than it used to. “By
2017,” the budget office report said, “CBO expects that economic
growth will diminish to a pace that is well below the average seen
over the past several decades.” And the accumulating debt won’t
exactly help. The “large and growing federal debt” the CBO expects
the nation to shoulder could have “serious negative consequences,
including restraining economic growth in the long term.”

So because economic debt is expected to slow, we’ll take on more
debt—which could slow growth even further. It’s potentially a
rather ugly feedback loop of slow growth and higher debt. 

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Bitcoin vs. Apple: Videos of Users Destroying Their iPhones Proliferate on YouTube

Apple unleashed a well deserved firestorm in the Bitcoin community with its decision to suddenly ban the extremely popular Blockchain app. This app was the last remaining user friendly way to facilitate Bitcoin transactions on iPhones and it had been downloaded 120,000 times. Apple has remained completely silent on its reasons for removing the app, further infuriating the BTC community. Apple hasn’t done a single decent thing since Steve Jobs died.

The reaction to this has been nothing short of hilarious. As Wired reports:

Apple banned the popular Blockchain wallet yesterday, and the protest started very early this morning when, on the popular discussion site reddit, someone named “round-peg” promised to hand out Nexus 5 phones to people who posted videos of themselves smashing working iPhones — one phone for every 100 up-votes on the site. The post was quickly up-voted to the front of reddit, and then removed, apparently for violating reddit’s policy, which prohibits reddit vote manipulation.

Some of these videos are priceless. My personal favorite is the guy who destroys his iPhone with a sniper rifle. Nice shot brother!

Destroying an iPhone with a Rifle 


Destroying an iPhone with a Machete


Destroying an iPhone with a Steel Pipe


Ever wonder how a gigantic company with huge share destroys itself? You’re watching it in real time.

In Liberty,
Michael Krieger

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Bitcoin vs. Apple: Videos of Users Destroying Their iPhones Proliferate on YouTube originally appeared on A Lightning War for Liberty on February 7, 2014.

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Money Pours Into Sochi, and Life Gets Worse for the People Who Live There

The Sochi Games are reportedly the most expensive Winter
Olympics ever, by some estimates costing as much as
$51 billion
. With all that money flowing around, you might
assume life is improving for the people who live in the area.

Guess again
:


Click for more sardonic Olympics art.
The residents of 5a Akatsy
Street have lived for years with no running water or sewage system.
Construction for the 2014 Winter Games has made their lives more
miserable: The new highway has cut them off from the city center.
Even their communal outhouse had to be torn down because it was
found to be too close to the new road and ruled an eyesore.

The slum is one of the many facets of a hidden dark side in the
host city of this month’s Winter Olympics, which stands
side-by-side with the glittering new construction projects that
President Vladimir Putin is touting as a symbol of Russia’s
transformation from a dysfunctional Soviet leviathan to a
successful, modern economy. While state-run TV trains its cameras
on luxury malls, sleek stadiums and high-speed train links,
thousands of ordinary people in the Sochi area put up with squalor
and environmental waste: villagers living next to an illegal dump
filled with Olympic construction waste, families whose homes are
sinking into the earth, city dwellers suffering chronic power cuts
despite promises to improve electricity.

Putin promoted the Sochi Games, which begin Friday, as a unique
opportunity to bring investment to the Black Sea resort and improve
living standards for its 350,000 residents. Looking back at those
promises, many residents, weary from years of living in the midst
of Russia’s biggest construction project in modern history, say
they have yet to see any improvement in their lives and point to an
array of negative effects.

“Everyone was looking forward to the Olympics,” said Alexandra
Krivchenko, a 37-year-old mother of three who lives on Akatsy
Street. “We just never thought they would leave us bang in the
middle of a federal highway!”

Elsewhere in Reason: Why no sane city should want to
host
the Olympics
.

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Steven Greenhut on States’ Libertarian Approach to Crime

While the California prison system is bursting at
its seams, Texas has closed three prisons. Both states have crime
rates that are lower than they had been decades ago, but Texas’
rate is falling faster than national trends. Crime in California is
edging up slightly and its prison population is growing. California
pays twice what Texas pays per year to incarcerate an inmate.
Steven Greenhut highlights how the former state is beginning to
learn some lessons from the latter. 

View this article.

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Steven Greenhut on States' Libertarian Approach to Crime

While the California prison system is bursting at
its seams, Texas has closed three prisons. Both states have crime
rates that are lower than they had been decades ago, but Texas’
rate is falling faster than national trends. Crime in California is
edging up slightly and its prison population is growing. California
pays twice what Texas pays per year to incarcerate an inmate.
Steven Greenhut highlights how the former state is beginning to
learn some lessons from the latter. 

View this article.

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