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Alien and Sedition Acts

The Alien and Sedition Acts are Back 


Supposedly April Fool’s Day started in the late 1500s when France changed calendars to the Gregorian calendar that set the start-date for the year as January 1. Those who failed to get the news about the change (unsurprisingly, not everyone got all the news on time in 1582) could end up celebrating the new year on April 1, the prior Julian calendar’s new year’s day. From the start, April Fool’s Day revolved around letting the gullible and uninformed know they were or are just that, uninformed and gullible.

April Fool’s Day in the US has been the traditional day for pulling pranks on people. The only April Fool’s trick I really ever pulled as a kid was switching the sugar for the salt before mom made breakfast. When the top fell off the salt shaker, ruining the eggs, my response was the classic defense, “Not me! I didn’t break the salt shaker. I just switched sugar for the salt.” Maybe it’s best I didn’t go into law.

Occasionally it’s just life that plays the prank. An early April Fool’s joke played on me this year is what we might classify as another First World Problem: the water heater started leaking a couple of Thursdays ago. Much of the world has to struggle finding water clean enough to drink, and I’m worried about the temperature of the water. First World Problem

My wife, who seems to have a sixth sense for sniffing out water leaks, called me at my office when she found the leak and I immediately called the people who installed the gas water heater 13 years ago. They were out on Friday to try to help. Pretty impressive how quickly the marketplace can respond when the marketplace is unfettered. The service tech arrived, inspected, then gave me the bad news: the water heater is done. 

This is – or was, rather – a 75-gallon water heater. Most home water heaters are 50 gallons. When it was put in 13 years ago, the installer asked “Why the big water heater?” My reply was simple: “You obviously don’t have three daughters.” ‘Nuff said. 

In 2023, however, installing a 75-gallon water heater is no longer allowed in the State of Washington. Washington State apparently has determined that an extra 25 gallons over the typical 50-gallon sized water heater will cause a climate catastrophe. I had no idea I had that kind of power. I can only assume someone has done the science and accurately determined that a consistent supply of 25 extra gallons of hot water will absolutely send the earth spinning into an overheated oblivion.

After a moment to roll my eyes about these absurd state interventions, I decided on a new tankless water heater, to arrive on Monday. So, Saturday, Sunday and Monday mornings, I channeled my inner Clark Kent change-in-the-phone-booth speed in taking showers. Soap up, then rinse off as if spraying habanero juice on a sunburn. Monday as I entered my exam room, my patients, I’m sure, noticed the faint aroma of leftover, not-fully-rinsed-off soap. Better than other smells, I guess.

For my wife’s part, as the discoverer of the problem, she got to spend the weekend as the chief sopper-upper of water with towels, putting the towels in the washer on spin cycle to get the excess water out of the towels, then drying the towels in the dryer, so they could be recycled to the base of the leaky water tank. The alternative was to shut off the hot water completely and take even FASTER showers. We survived. 

The heating/air conditioning/water heater company we used is respected and has treated us well in the past. I don’t think they would ever lie to me about regulations. But, when a state government mandates 25 fewer gallons of hot water just because they can, I start wondering who’s the gullible one here? 

The real April Fool’s Day gullibility check for those of us in Washington State is on its way: On April 2, at 11:59PM, the final State of Washington mask mandate will end. 

Rather than just saying “We’re done with this,” the governor has chosen to add the drama of implying there is magic, logic, or data – those are the only descriptors I can come up with – that support April 2 at 11:59 as the time-of-times to do this. I’m not an epidemiologist, but it’s pretty impressive to have such a handle on the activities of a virus that we can be sure we’re not safe at 11:57, but we are at 11:59. On April 2. Not on March 30. 

The combination of arrogance and cluelessness, further mixed with the religiosity of all things progressive in our Western world makes such an absurd announcement worthy only of a high government official such as a governor. It also anticipates, or predicts, or relies on a certain level of gullibility in the populace.

But, don’t tell anyone I said that. After all, I have just suggested the solemn event of ending a unilaterally-imposed, freedom-eschewing mandate is both long overdue and an exercise in nonsensical timing, the timing chosen just to be dramatic. It’s possible someone might be triggered to label my suggestion as misinformation. Maybe disinformation. And the State of Washington stands poised to make such a statement illegal if it can be deemed mis- or disinformation. 

Legislators here are considering HB1333. HB1333 is sort of a modern politically correct version of the 1798 Alien and Sedition Acts. In the version I read, HB1333, under the umbrella of worrying about “domestic violent extremism,” establishes a commission assembled to look for ways to “combat disinformation and misinformation.” 

HB1333 sort of follows a tradition echoing Section 2 of the Sedition portion of the Alien and Sedition Acts. The language used at that time defined mis/disinformation for those acts: “if any person shall write, print, utter or publish, or shall cause or procure to be written, printed, uttered or published, or shall knowingly and willingly assist or aid in writing, printing, uttering or publishing any false, scandalous and malicious writing or writings…to excite any unlawful combinations therein, for opposing or resisting any law of the United States, or any act of the President of the United States,” that person can be fined $2,000 and imprisoned for two years. That early $2,000 is just shy of 50,000 of our emaciated dollars.

As might be expected in a state legislative act, misinformation and disinformation in Washington State HB1333 are not defined nor accompanied by limitations. In fact, more language is spent detailing the apparently extremist-targeted groups to be represented on the commission than in defining mis- and disinformation. Those words, misinformation and disinformation, have primarily come into vogue regarding COVID and opinions voiced that are at variance with mandate-demanded behaviors during the pandemic governmental response period.

Presumably the Washington State HB1333 commission would/could define those terms according to their own wishes and values. The state attorney general’s document that was used as the foundation for 1333 does acknowledge that other states in similar legislation have tried to protect constitutional rights such as free speech, but it doesn’t suggest the same be done in Washington State. Nor does HB1333 suggest speech be protected.

You would hope that if the commission is going to suggest punishment for mis- and disinformation, it would first accurately, clearly and honestly define the information at risk for distortion, as well as explaining precisely why this potential or suspected information distortion is a problem and worthy of interference with constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech. Obviously, my gullibility is showing again.

It is patently clear – all too clear – that government doesn’t have to exhibit intellectual honesty in anything. Or, pay attention to Constitutional law, for that matter. It can merely assert power and the discussion is over. Hence, the unilaterally-imposed, freedom-eschewing mask mandate ends precisely at 11:59 on April 2.

If the appointed HB1333 commission defines mis/disinformation in any way approaching the Sedition Act, someone opposing gubernatorial “mandates” in writing or speaking could be punished by fines and imprisonment. HB1333 is predictably vague on what sort of penalties might be needed, other than “public health style responses,” “data-tracking,” and “legal tools, both civil and criminal….”

HB1333 and its commission will be spun to suggest it is pristine in its mission to protect all of us in the state from extremism. The HB1333 spin will also let us know we’re all constantly surrounded by and in danger from violent extremism. The rate of spin that the tub of our clothes washer generated during the spin-dry cycle we used as step one for our sopping-wet towels, the towels we used to sop up water from the leaky water heater, can come nowhere near the amount and speed of spin HB1333 will get. 

That kind of spin would shake the washer apart. That kind of spin probably would take the house apart along with the washer. HB1333 and its commission will be justified as necessary to protect state citizens and likely be used to penalize resistance to future mandates. Mandates conveniently avoid any sniff from lazy, self-involved legislators while satiating the gubernatorial desire for pure, unadulterated power. Governments relish the limitation of liberty in the quest for power, money, and control. Appointed commissions empower personal agendas to be mandated, to the glee of both administrations and the appointed commissioners. Legislators watch and say “Who, me?”

Throughout this era of house-arrest mandates, the CDC, the NIAID, many state governors, most state health departments, and other governmental entities such as licensing boards have held an inquisition, an inquisition targeting health professionals and small businesses. It has been an inquisition of the orthodoxy and the protocol. 

Galileo reportedly had to recant his testimony of the Earth revolving around the Sun and was placed under house arrest during the original Inquisition. That sounds eerily familiar in the current world. Not following orthodoxy, protocol, and the decided-from-above dogma means your license to practice is threatened and you will be forced to comply. Galileo might have felt very much at home in this mandate-mad era.

With the Alien and Sedition Acts, not-yet-Presidents Thomas Jefferson (an icon of freedom, having been the primary author of the Declaration of Independence) and James Madison (an icon of a strong but restricted Federal government, having been the primary author of the Constitution) both suggested the individual states nullify the Acts within those individual states. HB1333 has the potential to codify what frightened Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. 

It’s a very safe bet that the Washington State government has no one approaching the intellect or stature of either of these Founders. An exceedingly safe bet. Happy Fool’s Day and Year, everyone. I wonder – worry – if we can contain this contagion.

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  • Eric Hussey

    President of the Optometric Extension Program Foundation (an educational foundation), Chair of the organizing committee for the International Congress of Behavioral Optometry 2024, Chair of the Northwest Congress of Optometry, all under the umbrella of the Optometric Extension Program Foundation. Member of the American Optometric Association and Optometric Physicians of Washington.

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