Protests Only Work When It Hurts…

It’s funny the things that will come up when you’re in the process of moving. During me and my wife’s latest move from the foothills of North Carolina to the Gulf Coast of Florida, I happened across probably one of the more disappointing moments from this year (at least until possibly the election in November)…

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Now, the seats weren’t fantastic – in fact, they were at the other end of the arena from where the stage was situated. But they were square on with the stage and would have offered a great opportunity to see much of the crowd enjoying the show from Bruce, one of the legendary performers in rock history (I could tell stories about seeing him in 1980 for a six-plus hour show, but we’ll save that for another time). My wife and I were eagerly anticipating the show as it had been many years since either of us had been able to see “The Boss” in action.

Then the North Carolina General Assembly and asswipe Governor Pat McCrory got their panties in a bunch.

In February, the Charlotte City Council passed an ordinance extending protections to the lesbian/bisexual/gay/transgender (LGBT) community. A part of this ordinance – and the issue that sparked the most controversy – was the provision for allowing people to use the restroom of their gender identity, rather than that of whichever sex they were born. In essence, the ordinance allowed those who were in the process of shifting from one sex to another to use the restroom of that other sex (male transgendered individuals could use female restrooms and vice versa).

The response by McCrory and the GOP-dominated North Carolina legislature (which has been gerrymandered to make it virtually impossible for a balanced legislature to occur – witness the THREE TIMES that the federal government has called the state’s legislative districts unconstitutional) was immediate. Convening a special session of the General Assembly (one outside the normal working times of the legislative body), McCrory and his henchmen pushed through HB2, a bill that was so overreaching in its aim it was destined for the “unconstitutional” bin almost from the start.

Not only did that bill immediately set that “all people” had to use the restroom of the birth sex, but it also removed the right for minorities and the LGBT community to sue through the state court system for discrimination. It included a provision that prevented individual cities from enacting their own laws that differentiated from state statutes. With many Democratic representatives protesting by leaving the voting floor, the statute passed through the General Assembly with only about 12 HOURS of overall discussion.

This was the end of March and, within days, the impact was felt. Several local productions in theaters around the Tar Heel State reported that the rights holders to significant stage productions (plays) were pulling their approval for performance over the bill. The streaming provider Hulu pulled the production of a program they had set for airing out of North Carolina over the bill and PayPal suspended expansion of its operations center in the state. This was but the tip of the iceberg, however.

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Many entertainment artists have also pulled out of shows that they were scheduled to perform, including “The Boss,” Pearl Jam, Boston, Bryan Adams, Ani DiFranco, Ringo Starr, Nick Jonas and Demi Lovato and Cirque du Soleil. The real thunder came down, however, over the past couple of months, first with the National Basketball Association’s removal of the 2017 NBA All-Star Game from Charlotte. Then, just yesterday, the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) removed SEVEN championship games or playoff sites from the state, citing the law as the reason. All totaled, the loss of business regarding all of these repercussions could total to as much as half a billion dollars by the year anniversary of HB2’s passage, with the NBA All-Star Game accounting for about $100 million of that total, and could even impact future business in the state.

The reason this came back to me was not only a result of the move. Finding that ticket stub for an unused concert was simply the catalyst for a reply to model Kate Upton’s Twitter hissy fit over athletes not standing for the National Anthem. Of course, over the weekend was the opening weekend of the National Football League season (and the 15th anniversary of 9/11, just coincidentally) and, following in the footsteps of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s continuing protest against inequality in the United States, some players either did not stand for, knelt in protest or displayed the “Black Power” salute as the National Anthem played. This bunched Upton’s panties, who stated, “This is unacceptable. You should be proud to be an American. Especially on 9/11 when we should support each other.”

The continued attention being drawn to what has now become a movement (hey, if a subject catches the nation’s attention for more than two years – yes, it’s been that long since the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, widely considered the spur – it is a movement) is only done when a protest has an impact. Kaepernick has been vocal in the past regarding the issues of black people in the United States and their treatment at the hands of law enforcement, but no one was paying any attention to what he was saying. It wasn’t until his act of defiance of not standing for the National Anthem – and attention was drawn to the fact that he was doing it – that there became a national conversation (admittedly sometimes not about what Kaepernick wanted to talk about, as with Upton’s attempt at using her First Amendment rights by silencing Kaepernick’s, but still there was discussion).

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For a protest to have an impact, there are a couple of things that it should have. It has to have some financial teeth, some fiscal bite, that pushes some to reconsider their positions (it also has to have a side that understands those fiscal implications – apparently North Carolina Republicans are morons if they issue this response). Along with that, it should have some emotional impact on people. There were plenty that were upset over Springsteen’s decision to not perform in North Carolina, just as there are more than likely many upset that Demi Lovato didn’t come to North Carolina or that LeBron James won’t be making an appearance during the NBA All-Star Game in the state. A protest only works when it hurts, either physically or emotionally. That is what makes a protest enact the change that comes about (eventually) with issues.

I’m putting those unused Bruce Springsteen tickets back in the desk as a reminder to myself for a couple of reasons. One, something has to be lost (in some cases) for a protest to have its desired effect, and Two, there is the ability to protest at all levels, from the richest of us all to the poorest. It will be some time before the protests of the actions in North Carolina and the national discussion of inequality are adequately addressed, but hopefully it is sooner than later.

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When U R Gone, What 2 Do with Ur Legacy

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It’s taken me a few days to come to grips with the death of the legend that is known as Prince and, to be honest, there aren’t words that can express the depths of the impact of his death. Barely older than myself at 57, Prince Rogers Nelson stepped into his elevator on Thursday last week at his sprawling Paisley Park recording studios/home in Minneapolis and, with no one else around, passed away inside the car. In one moment, another icon of the music industry had been stolen from the world.

2016 has been a particularly difficult year for iconic musical legends. The one most applicable to Prince was David Bowie (who also had a seismic impact on myself) and the two, if not cut from the same cloth, at least were in the same skein of fabric. Both were innovators in the music they created; they followed the path of their own choosing and, upon their death, it was automatically known that there would be no one else like either of them. Add in other legends like B. B. King, Merle Haggard, Paul Kantner, Glenn Frey, Lemmy Kilmister and Maurice White (just to name a few) and, if there’s a Heaven, then the joint is rocking pretty hard lately.

Perhaps the Grim Reaper can leave musicians alone for a while…

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There are several other legendary performers that Prince has a great deal in common with, however. One of the big issues that has come out is that Prince was notoriously known to keep a humongous stash of his own recorded materials on the grounds of the Paisley Park studios. A past studio musician who worked with Prince in the 1990s stated that, at that time, there were at least 50 albums of unreleased material that were in basically a bank vault inside the home. Now that Prince has passed away, will there be similar comparisons to Jimi Hendrix, Tupac Shakur and Michael Jackson as to their posthumous activities?

Hendrix only released three albums of original material prior to his death in 1970 but, following his passing, it seems there were tracks just laying around that he had worked on. Between 1971 and just last year, 59 total albums have been released bearing Hendrix’s name (12 studio, 25 live and 22 compilations) and this isn’t even counting Extended Play (EPs), singles or “official bootlegs” of Hendrix performances. The same is true in the case of Shakur; he released four albums prior to his death in 1996 and seven albums after his demise. Hell, Shakur even came back as a hologram at Coachella in 2012 to “perform” for the crowd.

Jackson didn’t escape this type of action either. While he was a bit more prolific with his career prior to his death in 2009 (ten solo albums plus his work with his brothers as the Jackson 5 or the Jacksons), he – or, better yet, the Jackson estate – has released two albums of work posthumously, Michael and Xscape. There was also a documentary movie released, This Is It, that detailed out the preparations for the World Tour that Jackson was set to embark upon before his death.

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Estimates on Prince’s entire estate at the time of his passing have been put at $250 million (probably much better off than any of the men whom we’ve discussed previously when they left this mortal coil) and it is conservatively thought that, over the next five years through just what is in the marketplace currently, another $100 million could be earned by the Prince estate. The question becomes what do you do with that wealth of material that Prince put in the vault.

If there were 50 albums of material in the mid-90s, with someone like Prince there are probably a couple of hundred albums of FINISHED product there now, waiting for eager fans to hear. There’s probably another couple of hundred of albums consisting of bits and pieces that could be cobbled together into some form of functional music. The question becomes do you just keep it locked away? Or do you go ahead, realize the potential goldmine that you have and release it?

There are plenty of cases where a writer or musician will leave a piece unfinished because it just doesn’t feel right for a particular mood that they are working on at that moment. In other cases, they lose the momentum that drove them to write the piece in the first place or they simply forget that they were working on it in its entirety and move onto other things they feel are more challenging. These things really happen – you ought to see the number of things I start writing that either never reach fruition or fizzle out…if I revisit them today, they move forward hesitatingly again until that fateful moment that they get forgotten about.

Since I am in no manner as productive as Prince, as musically talented or as in demand as to my product (I’d like to think I can turn a phrase or two sometimes, however), the dilemma becomes whether he left explicit instructions for his family members following his passing. It is possible that he detailed out what to do with this vault of recordings down to the T and his family will follow them faithfully. It is possible that he dictated that those recordings never reach the ears of the civilized world, which would be a true tragedy. Then again, the family may go against any of Prince’s postmortem wishes (or a court might) and just release things as they need the money and it will seem as if Prince never left us.

The worst thing that could happen is that Prince’s family sells the rights to Prince’s legacy to either a record company or another artist. This is what happened in the 80s when Jackson bought the rights to The Beatles catalog (and destroyed the friendship he had with Sir Paul McCartney, who encouraged him to get into music rights ownership, over the issue). Simply the material that is in public today should be enough for Prince’s family to be able to not only live well but be able to erect some sort of appropriate way to memorialize their loved one who left far too soon. To sell off his legacy in such a manner would be heresy to his memory.

I personally hope that we do get some more QUALITY Prince material – in my opinion, there’s a reason that Prince put those recordings in a vault…he didn’t feel that they were of the standard that he wanted his audience to hear. But if his family were to deem those recordings should stay unheard by the public – or if Prince himself explicitly dictated that they weren’t to be released (the worst thing to hear would be that they would be destroyed – it would seem like another fire at the Library of Alexandria for music lovers), then those wishes would have to be respected. There is one thing that is clear – we’d love to not be thinking about this issue and instead wondering when Prince would either perform next or what would be the general groove of his next album.

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Freedom of Speech Only Goes So Far…

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Earlier this week, former Boston Red Sox pitcher and ESPN baseball commentator Curt Schilling offered up on his Facebook account an anti-transgender meme that has been making its rounds on the internet. In this particular meme (I’ll refrain from putting it on here because…UGH!), a rather unattractive man is wearing female clothing with the quotation beside him, “LET HIM IN! To the restroom with your daughter or else you’re a narrow minded, judgmental, unloving, racist bigot who needs to die!!!” Schilling shared the meme and, after a moment’s thought, deleted it, but not until after some people had screen-captured what he’d done.

To take it a step further, Schilling then stepped to his personal blog and tossed more gasoline on the raging fire. To give him credit, Schilling didn’t shy away from his personal beliefs (“There are things I have deeply held beliefs in, things that are core to who I am, things I am passionate about…whether you like that…or not is completely up to you.”), but he also had to know what was coming (more on this in a moment). That “other shoe” that Schilling might have been expecting came on Wednesday night when his employer, ESPN, terminated his contract, stating simply “ESPN is an inclusive company. Curt Schilling has been advised that his conduct was unacceptable and his employment with ESPN has been terminated.”

This wasn’t the first time that Schilling had stepped down this path. He was suspended after first Tweeting a meme that compared Muslims to the 1930s Nazis and, once ESPN kicked him off the broadcasts of the Little League World Series, followed up with a defensive post to another blogger that cost him the remainder of the Major League Baseball season (despite the factor that the post also defended the person who replaced him, former U. S. Olympic softball star Jessica Mendoza, against comments the blogger made). And this doesn’t count what other memes that Schilling shared over his Facebook feed.

Opinion over what Schilling has shared over his social media – this week and previously – takes an interesting course, one that requires some thought before making a statement. Plenty of people believe that Schilling was simply “saying what a lot of us are thinking. Apparently you can’t have an opinion at ESPN if that opinion isn’t a liberal opinion.” Others believe that Schilling will be quite happy on the unemployment line (probably not; Schilling’s video game company, 38 Studios, filed for bankruptcy protection in 2012 and Schilling has sold off personal memorabilia to cover his expenses), saying, “Who would want to work for a company that would punish you for telling the truth?”

There are those that take the other side. “Schilling’s freedom to say what he wants hasn’t been denied; the government has not punished Schilling for what he said,” one person stated. “ESPN, however, has the right terminate his employment.”

That is the key point that many are missing with this situation. Schilling has all the “freedom of speech” rights in the world. The government cannot come after him and tell him “you can’t say that, Mr. Schilling, otherwise we will have to put you in jail.” It is one of the tenets of the First Amendment that allows everyone the right to speak out about…well, whatever they feel are the injustices of the world.

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What many seem to forget, however, is that with the freedom of speech also comes the consequences of that freedom. For example, it is allowable to be able to burn the U. S. flag in protest (and to dispose of it, but that’s another story), encoded by the U. S. Supreme Court decision Texas v. Johnson (1989). While you can go ahead and burn the flag, you also have to accept the consequences of what might happen if you do that; in some cases, there may be a major league ass-kicking that comes along with it…not condoning physical violence, but it is a potential consequence. In Schilling’s case, he perfectly has the right to freedom of speech, what he forgot was the consequences part.

ESPN is a part of the massive Disney empire, which is the target of boycotts by one organization or another probably several times a day, 365 days per year. They try to minimize those issues by offending as few people as possible with the multitude of entertainment options that they provide (this is probably why they chuck the Disney girls who come up through their shows out before they go wild…look at the recent arrests of Debby Ryan and Kelli Berglund and let’s not even get into Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears). Thus, when someone continually chafes their audiences through poking the proverbial bear with their social media actions (as Schilling has done here and in the past), there comes a point when ESPN can decide enough is enough and remove the problem by dismissing the person.

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It isn’t the first time that ESPN has done something along these lines. After a profanity-laced tirade at a roast for Mike and Mike hosts Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic in which she went off on Golic’s alma mater Notre Dame by saying “Fuck Notre Dame, fuck Touchdown Jesus…and fuck Jesus,” former ESPN anchor Dana Jacobson was suspended for a week from the ESPN airwaves after irritating the Catholic League. Commentator Stephen A. Smith was suspended for his comments on domestic violence and SportsNation host Max Kellerman earned a suspension for his comments on the same matter. These barely even broach the suspensions and/or firings that have been handed out by ESPN in its history for “freedom of speech” violations.

Freedom of speech is a guaranteed right under the U. S. Constitution, but it is only guaranteed when you are speaking about the government. You can criticize the President, Congress, our military actions (or lack thereof), our political directions and decisions or an array of other things and there isn’t a thing that the government can do about it. They cannot come to the street corner where you might be ranting about these things, they cannot censor what you write on the subject and they certainly cannot arrest you for what you’ve said (within reason, of course…advocating for armed treason is one of those areas that they might have actionable cause).

When it comes into the private arena, however, the game completely changes. A company can (and does) look into your personal background, your social media (some companies nowadays ask for your social media names, at the minimum; state and federal legislatures are trying to prevent this) and monitor for where their employees might discuss the company. If this is a surprise to you, I’ve got a story that will emphasize the point for you from more than 15 years ago.

While working in the public sector, I worked with a gentleman who went into an online chatroom and discussed the company we worked for at great length. Needless to say, he wasn’t exactly glowing in what he said about our company as he detailed out what he felt were problems that the organization had. Although he thought he had an online ‘handle’ (screenname) that would prevent him from being identified (they could trace ISP addresses, even back then), the company found out who it was and terminated him immediately, despite his protests of “freedom of speech” (this is an old refrain).

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How many of us would be willing to lay our social media accounts in front of our employer and let them have a look at what we think and say? How many of us would be able to pass the scrutiny of such an examination that our employer wouldn’t have to dismiss us out of protection of their organization? I’ll be the first to say I’m probably not perfect as to some of what I’ve written on social media; I wonder how many people who read this can be that honest.

So it isn’t the factor that Schilling’s freedom of speech is being violated. It is a factor that Schilling didn’t consider the consequences of what his freedom of speech might bring onto the company he represents. For those who contend that a “liberal company” is “silencing” a “conservative” thought, it isn’t that at all; it is a business looking to protect its bottom line by eliminating a loose cannon that could cost it money, plain and simple.

“Cutting the Cord” If Only for A Day

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I thought it would be an interesting experiment. I’ve read quite a bit lately about people who have been ditching their cable or satellite companies – “cutting the cord” as it is called – and just going with what can be found on their computer or other streaming services. For the last couple of years, I’ve owned a Roku 3 (a great Christmas gift from my lovely wife) and use it quite frequently, especially during the baseball season. As an experiment, I thought I would give it a day’s trial, just to see if I could “cut the cord” for a simple 24-hour period. You might be surprised about a couple of things that occurred.

It is something that is happening more than you think across the United States and around the world. Estimates are that as many as 10% of U. S. homes are disconnected from traditional cable or satellite service. A 2014 survey by Mike Vorhaus of Frank N. Magid Associates for a trade conference estimated that 59% of U. S. households paid for a subscription video-on-demand (VOD) service and Netflix was 43% of that group. Finally, that same survey from Vorhaus noted that, among 18-34 year olds, television as the primary medium for entertainment was down to only 21%. Two years later, imagine where those numbers are…

My experiment, however, didn’t get off to a great start. First of all, getting up in the morning and turning on the television was distinctly out. As I prepared my son’s lunch for school, I absentmindedly hit the television in the kitchen for CNN. Just as quickly, I shut it off as I reminded myself what today’s experiment was to be about. After I returned home, it was fortunate that I had some work to do and a doctor’s appointment because I wasn’t concerned about what was either on the television or what I was missing from the news. This was good and bad, in my opinion.

Being able to get your work done – especially for someone like myself who works from home – takes a great deal of discipline. Sure, part of the reason we do it is for the flexibility of the situation (my wife and I also save a great deal on child care), but to be able to look at what you have to complete from a work status and be able to achieve those goals while sitting in your abode is something that all people enjoy. The down side is that, yes, we do work from home so we can have a few extra niceties, such as the television on in the background; I especially like CNN because it isn’t something that you have to concentrate heavily on and, in the cases of “BREAKING NEWS,” it allows you to keep on top of what’s going on in the world.

After the doctor’s appointment, I tried to use one of the new features from CNN, CNNGo, which brings their live broadcast to your computer screen. As I halfway listened to the news that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan was “absolutely, positively NOT” going to be the GOP’s savior at their convention in Cleveland (sure, Paul…just like you “DIDN’T WANT” the Speakership), it suddenly cut off and I brought up the window. Sure enough, I reached a situation that many do when they try to break away from their cable service.

To be able to access CNNGo (and, as I was to find out later with my son, to be able to access Disney Junior), you had to have an active cable service account. While CNNGo asked for several of the prominent carriers in the business – names such as Charter, Xfinity, DISH Network and others – they didn’t come up with mine:  Time Warner Cable. As such, I couldn’t WATCH CNNGo on my computer – and my son could not watch Disney Junior through the Roku 3 later in the day – because the companies cannot come to a financial agreement so that CNNGo or Disney Junior can be offered on the computer or Roku (you can, however, access them through the Time Warner app that is available through the Roku…figure that one out). This is one of the reasons that pisses off many with the whole “cutting the cord” thing; in reality, you’re not cutting the cord because, at the minimum, you have to at least have minimal cable service to be allowed access to certain channels, whether it is on the computer or through such a streaming device as a Roku.

Roku4After this revelation, the next problem arose as to the “break away” from the cable company. I sat back and watched, through Poker Central, some of the action from the Global Poker League on the Roku 3 during the afternoon and got a bit restless. Taking a look around, there were very few free streaming channels that you could find to actually watch any type of substantive programming (PBS is good for this and free, but fun isn’t the first thing you think of with PBS). To be able to have any selection to be able to choose from, you had to have access to something like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video or Hulu Plus, each of which charge a monthly fee for access.

These three are the “power brokers” in the new streaming world (“streaming” being whether you watch on your cellphone, your computer or through a device like the Roku) and could have a seismic impact on the shape of the television world in the future. They have already had an impact on programming, beginning to offer their own scripted television shows that have garnered critical acclaim (at the expense of the traditional television networks). But would people actually move to a piecemeal system like this over the traditional cable system?

Some studies suggest that the bundled channel system that cable companies use actually save customers money rather than cost them more, and there’s some evidence to suggest that they may be right. If your cable company offers a basic cable package for $20 per month (and that’s about as base as it gets in many areas, pretty much offering the local channels and a few other stations like the Weather Channel, CNN, ESPN and others), that is normally what people will watch; where people get irritated is when they have 300 channels and nothing is on. With the streaming outlets, you pay somewhere along the lines of $9 a month for Netflix or Hulu (Amazon Prime is $99 per year), but you might have to pay $4.99 for this station to get access over your streaming device and another $4.99 to access another station…it begins to mount up if you have several access points.

Then there is the factor of live sports. Pretty much every sports league has some sort of live package where you can watch every game from the league (except the National Football League; at this time, the NFL Sunday Ticket package is still the domain of DirecTV, although you can pay to be able to watch, on a tape-delayed basis, the NFL games the next day). These packages can range in cost up to $129…if you put that together for baseball, basketball, hockey and hell, let’s say the NFL comes around and does it too, it’s over $500 per year. That’s not counting any NCAA collegiate games, NASCAR, Formula 1, Indy Car, Major League Soccer, Premier League…you might be getting my point by now.

ESPN Plaza - Bristol CT

Then there’s the monolith known as ESPN. Losing money left and right nowadays (as much due to the competition from outlets like Fox Sports, the CBS Sports Network, the NBC Sports Network and insane fees to the sports leagues for broadcasting rights), ESPN has been considering taking the route of Netflix into an “a la carte” service. According to a 2015 article from The Motley Fool, 40% of people would be willing to pay $10 per month for a “Netflix” version of ESPN. The problem is, the Fool states, that ESPN would need at least $15 per month from subscribers AT THIS TIME to maintain its current standard of performance revenues. This isn’t even looking into the future, when the marketplace is further crowded and the bidding wars for rights fees for athletic events gets even more bloodthirsty.

By the time the Yankees game against the Toronto Blue Jays ended tonight on the Roku, it was time to end the “cut the cord” experiment. I had proved I could do it – there’s enough out there and there is the capability to still watch what the television networks provide, if you’re willing to wait in some cases – for at least a day, but any longer might be a stretch. Perhaps in a few years, when the streaming networks have become more like the cable companies and are actually offering “channel packages” and the cable companies have gone truly “a la carte” to allow their customers to choose ONLY the channels they want, then it would be good to try it again. Right now, I’ll dance between the two worlds quite happily – and enjoy them both immensely.

At What Price Security? At What Price Privacy?

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As many U. S. citizens awoke this morning, they were greeted by the news of the most recent battle of the civilized world against those who would seek to change it through terrorist attacks. In Belgium, at least three bombs – two in an airport and another in the subway system in Brussels – have killed at least 30 people and injured 230 more (and the numbers are increasing). As always, the world is stunned at the ferocity and sophistication of the attacks as the process begins of investigating and capturing the people involved.

Much of what will occur in Belgium and on the European continent over the next few days will rest in the hands of security agencies and law enforcement investigators, probably with assistance from our Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigations. These two departments – along with INTERPOL, MI6, FIS and several other powerful organizations, not to mention local law enforcement in each country – will put together the smallest threads of evidence, discover how and where the bombs were built and, eventually, find those responsible for the attacks (whether they are apprehended alive or dead doesn’t really matter, unless we’re truly interested in why they did what they did). But what happens for the United States, when we’ve built a society that treasures security as much as their citizens’ privacy?

This is a monumental question today – at what price do we want security? At what price do we sacrifice privacy? – with several cases that the federal government is currently pursuing in courts across the United States. Currently in Brooklyn, a federal judge has denied the U. S. Department of Justice’s request that Apple assist them in unlocking the iPhone of a drug suspect, citing that he lacked the authority to be able to order the computer giant to disable the security protocols that they established to ensure that their customers’ information was safe. Likewise, the popular messaging application WhatsApp has come under scrutiny from the feds because the encryption used in their program prevents anyone outside of the sender and receiver from seeing what has been passed. If pushed in a courtroom, would WhatsApp fall under wiretap orders – more than a decade old that were passed for landlines – or would it be protected under privacy laws?

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The biggest fight, however, has been the Department of Justice’s ongoing battle against Apple regarding the iPhone of one of the terrorists responsible for the attacks in San Bernardino, CA, late last year. Syed Farook, one of the terrorists killed after Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, ruthlessly murdered 14 people (most of whom were Farook’s co-workers) and injured another 22 people before they were gunned down by law enforcement as they attempted to escape the scene. As a part of the massive amount of evidence against them, Farook’s iPhone was allegedly found to possibly have information on it that could be beneficial to law enforcement (adding information as to potential accomplices or groups that might have helped the duo), but was inaccessible due to the security features that Apple employs on every iPhone that customers around the world purchase.

If there are too many attempts at an individual’s password for an iPhone, then the phone completely erases whatever information is on the device, locks up and becomes completely useless for whoever has the device, be it the owner, a thief or, in this case, the federal government. Naturally, investigators want to preserve any information that might be on the terrorist’s phone and, in the case of Farook’s phone, the potential destruction of whatever evidence might be contained on the device is something that is necessary to avoid. But should there be some way to get around this security feature?

The feds did kindly ask Apple to create a “backdoor” that would allow them to access Farook’s phone but, with their customers not only in the United States but worldwide in mind, Apple politely declined to create such a plan, program or application to assist the government. In Apple’s eyes, allowing such a move for the government would allow them to do that with virtually any iPhone they wanted access to (see the Brooklyn case above). For their part, the feds are saying no, we’ll only use it this one time, honest as they try to plead their case to the court of public opinion.

Currently the battle is raging in the real courts, with the Department of Justice so far winning the judicial argument as Apple maintains its privacy and security rights. The higher up the debate in the judicial branch has gone, however, it has become more difficult for the feds to be able to justify their breach of privacy and security, especially the “one time only” usage of such programs to penetrate Apple’s devices. Public opinion is split on the issue, with some attacking Apple for its stance while others are applauding Apple for standing up for the rights of citizens not only from the U. S. but also around the world. That battle has paused, at least for the moment, as the federal government yesterday asked to cancel a hearing in Los Angeles for reasons unknown.

The answers to the questions that surround this case – at what price security? at what price privacy? – are ones that, if you ask ten different U. S. citizens, you would probably end up with ten different answers. Since the attacks of 9/11, the U. S. citizen has consistently given up pieces of their privacy, their right to keep the government out of certain aspects of their lives, in exchange for the (false?) cocoon of “security” that is supposed to be provided by said government. And, for the most part, it has worked – there hasn’t been another 9/11 style attack in the nearly 15 years since that dark day.

EdwardSnowden

Just how far does the government need to go, though? Whether you like him or not, whistleblower Edward Snowden pointed out the vast amounts of data that is scooped up by U. S. agencies in the name of “homeland security,” and in many cases it was questioned why the government needed such extreme measures. The result was a minimal slowdown on data taken but, in the end, vast amounts of data collection continue unabated.

The need to be “safe” is an emotion that human beings consistently want to feel but it shouldn’t come at the sacrifice of the government consistently invading private aspects of your life. What books you order from Amazon, the websites you read online, even particular groups you interact with physically or online – all of these things are something that shouldn’t be known by the government. At the snap of a finger, however, a dossier can be created on probably every U. S. citizen that can trace their activities, a penetration into personal life that the government shouldn’t have.

I am fine with a “surgical” strike by law enforcement groups like the FBI. Go to the courts and obtain a subpoena, have a singular target for a specific time and ask whatever tech companies might have on the subject. A blanket gathering of information is not what was envisioned by the creators of the United States, in fact the federal government was meant to stay as far away from infringing on the individual as possible. Furthermore, to tell a company they HAVE to do something against their will – especially when that would violate the personal trust that people have put in a product that company produces – also violates the rights of the people against potential tyranny.

General Michael Hayden, a former director of the National Security Agency, said it best. “Look, I used to run the NSA, OK?” Hayden told USA TODAY earlier this year. “Back doors are good. Please, please, Lord, put back doors in, because I and a whole bunch of other talented security services around the world — even though that back door was not intended for me — that back door will make it easier for me to do what I want to do, which is to penetrate.”

The battle between the rights of the people and the protection of those people by the government will continue to rage onward. But the answer to the questions asked is that security shouldn’t be an extreme price, but privacy shouldn’t be sacrificed at the altar of security. Once privacy is shattered, any semblance of security disappears also.

Why Does Big Business Have a Bad Reputation?

No matter who you are or where you are in the world, you are going to have some interaction with big business in today’s world. Whether it is a trip to the local Target, a quick fast food lunch at McDonald’s or Burger King or, on the more serious end of the spectrum, a hospital or a pharmaceutical company, anyone in the world and U. S. citizens in particular are constantly in contact with the world of business. However, these companies don’t seem to grasp the concept of “customer satisfaction” but entirely get the concept of “maximizing profits.”

There are many that try to defend big business by saying “it’s just a few bad apples in the bunch” (an argument heard far too often on far too many subjects, to be honest), but historical evidence doesn’t support that connotation. Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle depicted the atrocities that occurred in the meatpacking industry in the early 20th century, including people losing body parts in food vats (or, in some cases, entire bodies), child labor, long working hours and inadequate wages (and Sinclair knew about these cases by experience; he worked in the Chicago meatpacking industry for several weeks researching the subject). A couple of decades later, John Steinbeck penned the story of the migrant farmer in his epic novel The Grapes of Wrath.

Throughout the last century, the mistreatment of those who worked in the coal mines of West Virginia, Kentucky and other Appalachian area by big business has become well known to the world, including coal companies cutting back on safeguards that might keep their employees alive. The rail industry, construction industries (how many men were killed just during the building of the Hoover Dam? Officially 96, in case you’re wondering) and other high risk jobs also have many incidences where those that employed the workers cut corners or unnecessarily risked their employees lives all to make a little extra money. Following the financial crash of 2008, only 15% of U. S. citizens trusted business leaders to make the proper choices – the ETHICAL choices – when faced with a decision, something that got worse during the British Petroleum oil spill in 2010 and the insistence by the then-President of the company, Tony Hayward, that he’d “like his life back.”

The actions over the past week aren’t exactly looking to improve on those numbers any further for big business. First up was the automaker Volkswagen, who was found last week of purposely sending out 11 million vehicles with a serious defect in their product. These vehicles, for the most part the diesels that Volkswagen is known for producing, had their emissions software tampered with to make it appear that the emissions weren’t violating U. S. regulations. VW attempted to call the tampering with the software “an irregularity” but it soon became apparent that it went much further.

Other countries such as Germany, France, Italy and South Korea – all big customers of Volkswagen’s product – are examining their own laws to see if there were any violations and the company itself is looking to stem the damage. Officials with the company have decided to put together a $7 billion war chest to help pay for damages to customers, potential fines to government authorities and other costs. There is still a huge question as to how Volkswagen will make this right, but their first step instead of fixing the issue was to pull all unsold diesels off the market.

Now, some would say this is an example of “free market” economics working (Volkswagen’s stock has fallen 41% in the past week), but that isn’t enough to cure the reputation of big business as being callous to its customers in putting the almighty dollar over its performance.

One of the most heartless acts that big business committed over the past week was done by Turing Pharmaceuticals. The company and its CEO, a former hedge fund manager by the name of Martin Shkreli (because he couldn’t go by the name of Richard Dick), in August bought the rights to a critical drug called daraprim, which is used by those with weakened immune systems (primarily infants and AIDS patients). Almost immediately, the company raised the price on the pill from $13 (still pretty pricey) to $750.

It isn’t uncommon for the pharmaceutical industry to pull bullshit like this. Many times a company will obtain the rights to a drug and, by putting a couple of useless changes into the chemical makeup of the product, be able to change its name and resell it, usually at a higher price. If the drug is a “one of a kind” product – meaning that there isn’t a generic equivalent – the price for the drug can be outrageous from the start. But this case, and in particular Shkreli’s response to criticism of his company’s actions, has shown how bad big business can be.

In 2012, Shkreli tweeted “Every time a drug goes generic, I grieve,” demonstrating that he didn’t care about helping society but only helping his bank account. He was on Twitter again on Monday attempting to diffuse the situation but only seemed to throw more gasoline on the fire. Shkreli disparaged those that disagreed with him, including fellow industry leaders, the media and other opponents by snottily responding to complaints on Twitter before heading to CNBC to further insult people.

If there’s any justice in the world, then there will be reaction against drug price gouging like this. Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has stated that she will be presenting a plan against this type of price inflation; currently, the GOP candidates do not have any response. But perhaps the only things that big business might understand are humongous fines and the long arm of the law.

Also over the past week, the former CEO of a Georgia peanut company was sentenced to 28 years in prison and two other high ranking executives received jail time for their part in causing an outbreak of salmonella that killed nine people. Stewart Parnell, the CEO of Peanut Company of America, could have received life in prison for his actions but only got the 28 year sentence. His brother Michael, a broker for the company, received a 20 year sentence and a quality control manager at the plant in Georgia, Mary Wilkerson, was sentenced to five years.

So what did these people do? The Food and Drug Administration, upon inspecting the plant where the tainted peanut products came from (the company sent peanut paste to several outlets for usage in different products), found rat feces in the warehouses, dirty equipment used to process the peanuts into paste and forged certifications that said products were untainted despite actual lab results that indicated differently. Perhaps most damning was an e-mail reporting to the elder Parnell that salmonella levels were high on a shipment. His reply to the e-mail? “Shit, just go ahead and ship it.”

Look, we know that the object of a business is to make money; hell, there isn’t another reason to be in business unless that is what you’re doing. Along with the ability to make money, you also have to have the interest of your employees and your customers first and foremost in your company’s mind. You have to provide a decent job and wage to your employees; perhaps more importantly, you have to provide a product to your customers that is safe for their consumption (we could talk about how weak the laws are regarding this in some areas of business, but that is an argument for another time). If a business cannot do these things, then they shouldn’t be in business.

Ethics seems to be the weakest area of knowledge for plenty of businesses and industry’s biggest players. Perhaps if customer sentiment following a company’s error or fines implemented by government officials had an effect, the companies would work from an ethical standpoint rather than one simply driven by greed. Unfortunately, this starts with the customers because, by the time the government acts on any incidences of misconduct in the business world, the companies have already made their millions (billions?) from the product they’ve foisted on the public and are more than willing to part with a bit of those profits to escape jail or some other punishment.