6 Lessons From Sony’s, “The Interview”

Sony The Interview - 2

Photo: All Rights – Sony Media

For years we’ve been told how the Internet is a very dangerous place. The stories keep trickling in, especially the ones about stolen identities, or a big box store being hacked for credit card numbers. The stories have been more frequent, and the thefts more blatant, but in the end it’s just been more of the same. These threats are usually more unsettling than frightening. It’s been a long time since the internet has served up a truly new threat. But now we have something special for the holiday season, a story about Sony Entertainment, a strange movie and international terrorism.

This is a story of blackmail, theft and extortion… and a timely reminder that the biggest threats to a corporation may be its top executives.  The dust still hasn’t settled down yet, but there are already many lessons to learn. Today, we’re going to look at six lessons from Sony’, “The Interview”…

Cyber Crime Is Real: We don’t yet know when this started, but sometime in the past few weeks a group of hackers informed Sony that they had breached their firewall, stolen emails from their top executives and were about to release the most embarrassing emails… unless Sony cancelled the release of their new movie, “The Interview”.

Since this is a comedy about the assassination of Kim Jong-un, the dictator of The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), the smart money is on the DPRK  being the ultimate mover behind the plot. After all, during the summer they threatened the US, and said they would retaliate if the movie was release. Whoever did it, the threats at Sony kept coming, and when they were not acknowledged, the threats went public. First threatening to release stolen emails, and then physically threatening any viewers.

Roles Are… Confusing: in the pre-cyber days, in order to attack an American company, you needed to get on US soil, or you needed to get into a US owned facility overseas. On the Internet, physical borders go away. Anyone can be attacked by anyone, regardless  of geography. Some nameless offshore entity could have attacked Sony. It could be the DPRK, or some proxy in another country. Their target could be the US, which they consider an enemy. Or they could have targeted Japan, which they have had a very bad history with due to their kidnapping of Japanese citizens throughout the 70’s and 80’s. The US could retaliate (and probably will), but so too could the Cyber Force, Japan’s cyber-attack quick response group (is it just me, or could Cyber Force be the name for a new Anime?)

Then again, Sony could hire its own hackers, or an independent hacker group could intervene… whether Sony wants their help  or not. Those in the know fear the damage that caused by two big government groups could cause if they slug it out on the Internet. What about the potential damage if private hacker groups choose sides and start a small war?

In 2013 a similar “small war” broke out between hackers who were for and against Spamhaus, a Dutch ISP that either A) fanatically defended the right to free speech on the Internet or B) provided a refuge for hate speech, neo Nazi’s and kiddie porn (depending on your point of view). When the object of a small war is better publicized, you can expect MANY more participants and probably more than just two sides.

Email Still Matters: The Sony story began with an electronic break-in, and stolen emails from the studio executives. Didn’t the Sony exec’s hear that you just don’t put certain things in email? Don’t write about how bad your clients are, don’t joke about the stupid things they do, and don’t send around notes to your friends on how much you hate your clients.

The perpetrators thought that the threat of exposing the most insensitive and egotistical emails from Sony’s executives would be enough to kill the release of “The Interview”. The strategy made sense. Look at the most boneheaded emails from Wall  Street. These emails insulted clients, pointed to potentially criminal activity and managed to alienate the American public. Sony… not so much. I’ve seen a few poorly written emails, and some badly turned phrases, but not the biggest mistakes I’ve ever seen. Even the email from Son’s Co-Chair, Amy Pascal, are surprisingly mild. So far.

We’ll see if there is more to come. The next executive email that’s splattered across the Wall Street Journal’s front page might come from Sony, or from some other corporation. Just be sure that it doesn’t come from YOUR corporation. See that your training department reminds everyone, especially your executives, that email is still the most frequent “smoking gun” on the Internet.

Demands Never End: The first demand was simple, don’t show the movie. After a few theater chains pulled out of the release, Sony gave in and cancelled “The Interview”.  Instead of an end to the threats, they got new demands. Sony was told, “That doesn’t just mean theatrical release, it means DVD’s, cable, streaming media, related products… anything! Independent theaters wanted to show the movie, and Sony was in a very embarrassing position, so the release was back on for Christmas day.

If Sony hadn’t rescheduled the release, what would the next demand have been? Would Sony be able to distinguish between the “real” terrorists” and the copy cats and pranksters that would inevitably follow? Would all screenplays need to be released onto the Internet for “pre-approval” before they could be released?

Don’t Threaten the Internet: Ironically, the history of this attack reads like a bad Hollywood script. The powerful Western (or is it Japanese?) Corporation is brought to its knees by an anonymous group of techno-geeks. But the geeks, might not be just some anonymous characters. Instead, they may be the secret agents of the last great dictatorships on earth. The attackers (at least briefly) won an extraordinary victory, over one of the most sophisticated corporations in the world. But then they decided to go a bit further.

They not only threatened Sony, they threatened everyone who wanted to see “The Interview”, or download it off of the Internet. And thus the plot turns once again, and the overconfident villain… in the last chapter, loses. Sony did stand up to the hackers until a few major theater chains opted out of the release. But “The Interview” was rescheduled for a Christmas release, using a coalition of independent theaters and streaming services like YouTube, Netflix and Amazon. In the end, the backlash from the Internet may make the Interview a bigger success than it would have been without the hackers.  The Sony incident also accelerated the next big thing in Hollywood…

Day & Date Streaming: The greatest impact of the hacking at Sony may result from the actions of the big theater chains. By caving into terrorism, they brought about the one thing the chains were all against… day and date streaming. Movie ticket sales have been in decline for over 20 years. The high cost of tickets, plus the quality (and comfort) of home theaters has diminished the theater experience. A big release movie… 3D, Imax movie, with popcorn, soda and snacks (not to mention gas and parking) … can cost a family of 4 plus $100 to $200.

Watching a streaming movie at home provides a big screen, great sound system, and comfortable seating for just a few dollars. Theaters are fighting back with better seating and better food, but that means higher prices. The only thing that theaters have that you don’t have at home is the a monopoly on first day releases. Studios want to release to theaters and streaming services at the same time (the strategy for scheduling movie releases through different channels is called “day and date”), but the big chains unanimously resisted simultaneous releases, knowing that it will diminish ticket sales. But Studios need more simultaneous releases to limit piracy between the release in the theaters and on-line. Once the theater chains pulled out, Sony had an irresistible opportunity to stream “The Interview” on the release date. By the end of 2015 we can expect to see many more simultaneous releases.

This story is far from over. In the final days of 2014, we saw what appears to have been a cyber-attack on North Korea, as well as attacks on the Sony on-line gaming platform. Both of these attacks may have nothing to do with “The Interview”, but you can bet that the next attack, or the one after that, may be the next small war on the Internet. At least, that’s my Niccolls worth for the New Year!

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Katy Perry: The Real Magic Act In “Dark Horse”

Dark Horse

Photo: All Rights Katy Perry/Capital Records


Katy Perry is a music mega-hit machine. Her latest hit is Dark Horse, is set, as the video says, “A crazy long time ago” in Memphis Egypt. This tightly crafted video is typical of the best new entertainment. Very high production values, very skilled artists… and absolutely no production credits for anyone other than the stars!

These videos are mini movies, but unlike theatrical movies, there are no credits at the end, to show who contributed to the production. In this video, men are in elaborate blue and red body paint, and the women are in identical gold outfits wearing cat-head masks that completely cover their heads and hair. It’s impossible to see who in acting in the video. The real magic in Katy Perry’s video is that the production credits have disappeared!

You may think, “Well, who cares who did what?” Keep in mind that the coin of the media world is exposure and recognition for your work. If you don’t know who did what, how do you know who to hire for the next video or album, or whatever?

At the end of every commercial movie, you have that endless procession of people and positions you’ve never heard of. It’s what’s called, “The Ending Credits.” Yes, it does go on (and on) for what seems like forever. However, this is where all the people who contributed to the movie get credit for their work. People that you don’t know, who perform jobs that you never knew existed, get their few seconds of fame.

Instead of just leaving at the end of the movie, take a few seconds and read the credits. Just what is a key grip, or a best boy? What do they do? Well, whatever it is, if they didn’t do it, you probably wouldn’t have a movie to watch. The actors on the screen are usually just a tiny fraction of the talent needed to produce a move, TV show or a piece of music. We recognize the stars, but without credits no one else gets much recognition. Especially if their costumes hide their faces.

In the strange workings of the media world, a commercial movie has very strict rules, and these rules are enforced by union contracts, including how credits work. If it is not a movie, and it was not produced by a unionized studio, the rules can be very different. Including giving no mention or no credits at all, to everyone else in the production other than the very recognizable stars. Just like  Dark Horse.

Of course, you might think that the industry should give up its antiquated ideas of credited work, and instead focus on how talent is paid. Maybe, but the industry is changing even more quickly there, and not in the right direction if you happen to be an artist. A hundred years ago, most artists were just learning that they could get paid for recording their work. Today, artists are learning that most forms of new media barely pay them for their work. Tiny details of how your work is played, make a very big difference in what you will be paid.

Residuals, the money artists are paid for replaying their work, differ based on minutia about how the music is used.  Did you know that residuals are much higher for talent when you play a song from a CD or a downloaded MPG, than when you listen to a streaming service, like Pandora? We’re not talking about a little difference here, it’s a staggering amount! One artist said that in the past for one song he did with a well-known star he made enough to by a house. Today, he did a digital release that got a huge number of hits, and had enough to buy a discount breakfast.

In the past, the idea was that radio helps to promote your “real” sales, and so they receive a steep discount per play. When media went digital, and then went streaming, strange new rules took over that dramatically reduced payment per play. For example, one artist showed that for 18,797 plays on commercial radio, already far less than if you bought a CD or MP3, he was paid just $1,374. You’re probably thinking, “That’s all?” Well, on Pandora, one of the most popular streaming services, the artist got over a million plays of the same song but only received $16.89.

This is the real magic in Dark Horse. As most media becomes digital media, the niceties about how credit and money from projects is split between the talent… niceties that took decades to put in place…  is quickly being lost.  Young artists need recognition in order to become tomorrow’s stars. Pay attention to the credits and to how you choose to use digital media, or the disappearing act in Dark Horse is going to deprive us all of the next generation of entertainment! And that’s my Niccolls worth for today.


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High Cost for Cheap Phones

Star N9500

Photo: All Rights, … Mysterious Persons in China

No term in the English language better describes today’s story than,  “I told you so!” In the past, I’ve written about the problem with fake goods from China, spying from China and the world’s biggest market for counterfeit goods, EBAY! Each of these issues is a story, a very long story, in itself. Today we’re going to pull all of these issues together into one jumbo tale of exceptionally bad judgment.

Having the best smart phone is a matter of status, for all of us. It might be the highest res screen, or the fastest processor, or a new 3D technology… but we all crave new “bling” on our phones. Plus, most smart phone plans have a loan built into the plan that only requires an up-front payment of between $0 and $200, instead of the $600 or more cost of the phone. When you make your last loan payment, you’re usually told, “You’re eligible for a free new phone!” That process has created a culture where we upgrade our phone every two years, making even slightly old phones look outdated.

Why are our tiny phones so expensive, when entry level laptops can cost as little as $300? Well, for the most part, our phones are computers. They have similar amounts of memory, not quite as good storage and processor speed, higher resolutions monitors and better battery time. Not identical,  but smart phones are equivalent to laptops, if you think of them as specialty laptops… or tablets. And, it has always cost a lot more when you want to package the same features in a smaller space. There are definitely consumers who want to upgrade their phones much more quickly than they would upgrade their home computers.

Given our appetite for new phones, we shouldn’t be surprised to see counterfeit phones. Earlier this year we saw a credible looking Samsung Galaxy knockoff, the Goophone i5S. Clearly designed to look and act like the Galaxy phone of a similar name, but at half the price. Now we have the Star N9500, yet another Galaxy knockoff (this time the S4). You can buy this Chinese manufactured fake on EBay. For those of you who don’t know about Ebay, aside from being the world’s largest auction house, it may also be the world’s largest seller of counterfeit goods (although that dubious title may soon be taken by Alibaba, China’s big trading site).

Ebay has been repeatedly sued and  petitioned by well-known brands, such as Tiffany’s, to stop the sales of counterfeits. However, because Ebay is an auction house, and not a department store, the law does not provide the same protection against counterfeiting. You can sue thousands of individual sellers, but not eBay itself, which is technically not selling… just facilitating a sale between two other parties. In an environment where buyers actively seek “knockoffs”, fully knowing that they are not the real product, it becomes even more difficult for major brands to protect their brands and reputations.  Which brings us back to the Star N9500. Most buyers know that it is not a Galaxy, and that it a different phone with different specs. But, what no one knew was that the phone has malware built into the operating system!

Yep! This phone was designed as a spying device. It doesn’t just have spyware, IT IS SPYWARE! The software that allows it to remotely control your camera and capture all of your activity, and then hide this so deeply that you cannot find it, is built into the core of the phone’s hardware and cannot be removed!  How’s that for a bargain phone? It’s like someone put together every urban legend about the Internet into one story. Chinese espionage, the dangers of buying on-line, corporations ripping off the average citizen, my phone is spying on me!

It looks like your Grandma was right. You get what you pay for. Big brands have been screaming about counterfeits for years, but the average buyer thinks, “What’s the harm? Besides I know it’s fake!” You may know that it’s not a real Galaxy, but do you know that it is a “real” spyware device? It’s hard to resist that once in a lifetime deal, and the bad guys know that. But for a deal like this, once in a lifetime is once too much… and that’s my Niccolls worth for today!


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The Disappearing Feast: An Empty ocean

School of Bigeye Jack

Photo: All rights copyright, Microsoft Corp.

he good news is that Americans are rich, and can pretty much afford to each whatever we want. Those dire warnings about the death of fish species and the emptying of the oceans… doesn’t really apply to us. True, between America and China we’re managing to eat some of the tastier species of finned fish faster than they can reproduce, but if you can afford a $50 steak, you can afford a $50 can of tuna. A bigger problem is that our choice of fishing methods plus other human activities, are killing off other species that we don’t eat, but which are very important for the health of the oceans.  And, of course, if you don’t happen to live in a rich country, you’ve got a big, BIG, problem.

As the oceans of the world are depleted, the cost of fish will rise and countries that rely on a seafood diet will have massive problems keeping their populations fed. These fish based countries, pretty much any country with a coastline, may also rely on fishing for income. No fish means no food AND no job! That’s not the formula for global political stability. The US consumes a lot of fish, just because we are a rich and large nation. However, we’re not very fish dependent. China catches more fish than any nation on earth, and Chile consumes more fish than any other country (nearly 180 lbs. annually, compared to about 30 in the US). If fish go away America would miss them, but we would survive.

We are not a fish dependent nation, we know that something has been going on, but not what. We’ve seen notes on menus at progressive restaurants telling us that some fish are endangered, and some can be sustainably farmed. The problem is that when we look at our ocean, rivers, and lakes, we can only see what’s on the surface. All the interesting things happen deep underwater. We know see that elephants and rhinos are disappearing because we can see and count the remaining herds. We can’t see most of the life in the oceans. Even well-known species… like whales… live lives that are largely unknown to us.

Arguments over how species depletion needs to rely on statistics, rather than pictures of missing “herds” of fish. The vast majority of scientists know that species are in trouble, but complex scientific data is hard to understand, and too… academic. As long as the damage is hidden from our view, we substitute opinions for data. What do we really KNOW about the fish in our oceans?

It’s Nothing New:  Before we ran out of fish, we were told that our fish had been poisoned. And they were. For decades, we’ve known that many ocean fish contain unacceptable levels of mercury and other toxins. Which ones? The fish that eat other fish. The most poisoned are the biggest carnivorous fish. Top predators, like the tuna, have the toxins they are exposed to, and also all the toxins that everything they’ve eaten (i.e. little fish).

Strangely, except for fish, American’s don’t eat predators. We eat beef, chicken, pork,  lamb, turkey, even rabbit and deer. None of which are predators. We don’t eat vultures, lions, wolves, etc. We instinctively avoid eating predators. Jews, Christians and Muslims are all prohibited from eating predators. Unfortunately, ancient religious leaders living in a desert didn’t know much about the hunting habits of deep sea fish.

Tuna, cod, perch, salmon, pike,  and many other fish we consume are predators. Worse yet, top predators often eat fish, who eat other fish (who might eat other fish). This is why top predators are sponges for heavy metals and toxic chemicals. We knew all of this, decades ago. That’s when we realized “the ocean is NOT endless.” We started to pay a bit more attention to pollution in the ocean. We had to! Some fish breeding grounds were so polluted, that they had essentially died, and took the fishing communities with them. Other still had fish, but they were too toxic to eat. We learned our lesson, did some basic science, put some laws in place and old fishing grounds started to come back. For a while. Then we started to ask a slightly different question. “If the oceans are not endless, could it be that the number of fish are also not endless?”

Fishermen Cheat: At the end of the day, individual fishermen talk about the “fish that got away,” who are inevitably larger than the best fish in their catch. In industrial fishing, factory ships with bulging nets that haul in hundreds of tons of fish a day somehow report very meager catches. Why? Because international fishing limits are very far below the capacity of international fishing fleets. Especially the Chinese fleet.

Virtually every country in the world with a significant fishing fleet has complained about over fishing by the Chinese. Even when scientists agree that fishing quotas are reasonable, no one believes that everyone is strictly following these quotas, or that we have enough monitors to know who is cheating. Many studies pointed to China. The latest of these studies shows that China is catching 12 times their quota. Chinese over fishing may be more than all of the legitimate fish harvesting in the world. And… other countries are cheating too!

Size Matters: American’s like big fish. Fish like tuna and cod. As we’ve discussed, many of the biggest fish are predators. In order for a predator fish to gain a single pound of weight, it must consume several pounds of smaller fish. The exact ratio depends on the species of predator, the species of forage fish (the little fish the bigger fish eats), time of year and other factors. For a farmed fish like salmon, it takes a 5 to one ratio. If we use that ratio, and there is another link on the food chain (the little fish eats  smaller fish), it takes 25 pounds of forage fish for your 1 pound of fish fillet. A third link in that chain, and it could take 125 pounds of forage fish for your 1 lb. fillet.

Many countries consider small fish (anchovies, sardines, etc.) to be a delicacy. If America  changed its preferences, and relied more on smaller fish, we could dramatically turn around the depletion of the oceans. It would be a major change in how we look at fish, but carefully choosing fish that are one or two links further down the food chain could dramatically change human impact on fish populations. And, there are other preferences that could dramatically change the depletion of our oceans.

Bycatch: Bycatch is the industry name for the fish that are accidentally caught, usually in trawling nets. Bycatch, about 20% of the fish harvest, die during the fishing process and are then just thrown away. Shrimp fishing is the most bycatch intensive catch of all. Shrimp is just 2% of the tonnage that the fishing industry catches, but it generates a third of the world’s bycatch. That’s a lot of wasted fish, And most of it is completely edible, it’s just not profitable enough to bother bringing home. Shrimp nets not only kill other species, they also drag across the bottom of the ocean and destroy the fish breeding areas and coral reefs.

Confusing Data: in previous decades, the Lobster industry of New England was going out of business due to over fishing. Agreements were made, and for many years the fishermen limited their catch, and strict monitoring was put in place. A few years ago, there was a miraculous recover. Then, against all odds, there was a record harvest of lobsters. It was a miracle, and another reason to ignore the scientific evidence. However, the reason why there has been a turnaround is that there are holes in the environment, where there were once other species. Without predators, the population of lobsters has exploded. And, the price of lobsters has hit a new low. Too many lobsters have been worse for lobstermen than too few lobsters.

If you are not a scientist, you probably think, “If lobsters made a come-back, the conditions of the ocean can’t be THAT bad. After all, the lobsters must be eating… SOMETHING?”  When you answer that question you, learn a bit more about how much the oceans have changed. Today, for the first time, big lobsters eat… little lobsters! Under extreme conditions, such as being confined in a small area with no other food, many species in and out of the ocean will eat each other. But only when other food isn’t available. A very hungry lobster might eat a baby lobster, if nothing else is available. But lobster cannibalism has become a primary source of prey for adult lobsters. THAT is something new, and disturbing.

We humans have changed the oceans. At first, we dumped our garbage in the ocean, and we learned how poisoning the oceans could poison our food. Now we’ve learned about another limit. There are only so many fish in the ocean. The good news is that we can do a lot to reverse the damage. Something as simple as eating sardines (or some other small fish) instead of big tunas, and we could give a lot of species room to recover. Find a less destructive way to fish than slicing up the ocean floor with nets and throwing “undesirable fish” overboard, and we can do a lot more.

We can eat our fill of fish for generations to come, if we make a few changes in what we eat and how we catch it. But we don’t have forever to fix the damage we’ve done. The very latest research tells us that there may be a point of no return for some ocean environments. Once they’re gone, Coral and other complex structures, could take centuries or even longer to recover. If we want to continue to harvest the oceans, we’d better help to protect them! And that’s my Niccolls worth for today!

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YO! Space Taxi!


Photo, All rights copyright Microsoft


The world has a love-hate relationship with Taxi’s. Here in New  York, where we have more taxi’s than anywhere in the world. We often make fun of taxi’s. We complain about the quality of the service, we complain about their cleanliness, we complain about the accents of the drivers… but we use them more often than any other city dwellers on earth.

In fact, in New York and elsewhere, when we create another form of reliable and inexpensive transportation we often slap the “taxi” name on it. We have water taxis in NYC, which usually seats 20 or more people. We even paint them NYC taxi-yellow. Occasionally, I hear of some kind of sky taxi (a helicopter or small plane). Now, the space transportation firm “Space X,” has a sky taxi!  I wonder whether they will consider painting it yellow?

America has largely forgotten that the US space program, doesn’t have any space ships. Sure, we have some rockets to put satellites into orbit, but even these flights are largely outsourced to other countries. The last craft that the US had that was capable of launching a human into space was the space shuttle, which retired in July of 2011. Even before the shuttle was grounded, we began relying on the Russians for space transportation. The Russian space program charges us a hefty price to put a man in space. Our previous contract from 2016 charged $22 million per astronaut, which went up to $71 million in 2013. Still, this costs less than the shuttle did.

And then came the Crimea. Since we’ve been less than supportive of their policy in Crimea, Russian has warned America that when the contract is over in 2016, the price is going way up… or they may simply not renew. America’s reaction was to consider eliminating some Russian contracts. However, all of this  enmity over space has been (so far) restricted to US/Russian government contracts, not all the private industry contracts. What will NASA use once the Russians shut off our space service?

China is the third country that has launched a human into space, and even landed robots on the moon, but NASA hasn’t even started to negotiate a contact. Another big player is Space Agency. While they have put some satellites into orbit, they’ve never been able to launch people. At the moment, the Russians are the only game in town for the US, and we only have until 2016 until our contract expires. And the Russians may not renew. Remember all that nastiness over the Crimea? Well, the Russians certainly do! The US has hit them with penalties, and Russia in-turn has found a way to penalize us.

Just in time, the new space taxi from Space X, is due to arrive. It’s going to be down to the wire, but the space taxi may prove that commercial space transportation can be a LOT cheaper than the government provided alternative. If that turns out to be the case, the space taxi may be the single most important vehicle in human history. Alternatively, the winner in the commercial race for space will be Virgin airline, with their new Virgin Galactic space port in Arizona. Yes, Virgin airlines have a space transportation system that is already pre-booked its first  600 passengers. With Virgin, you can even go on-line today and book a flight.

NASA will have even more options coming up as the space transportation industry continues to mature, and even as its own Orion craft becomes available at the beginning of the next decade. But until then, why not call a taxi? And that’s my Niccolls worth for today!


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Edward Snowden And The Second Amendment Defense!


Photo: Public Domain, US National Archives.

Many Americans believe that the 2nd amendment provides a right to gun ownership. It doesn’t, and the supreme court has said so repeatedly, but politics and the law rarely mix well. If you do take a look at the scant 27 words that are the 2nd Amendment, you will see two troubling words… Militia and Regulated (in fact, “well regulated”). The purpose of the 2nd amendment was to provide a young and weak America with a military force, when it couldn’t afford to pay for a standing army.

Any doubt about the meaning of the 2nd amendment should have been swept away a few months after the Bill of Rights was introduced. The Congress, under President George Washington, followed the Bill of rights with the Militia Acts. clearly stating that all militias are at the direct command of the President, and exist to put down slave rebellions, Indian insurrections, and foreign invasions.

If you’ve ever listened to the rants of extreme 2nd amendment supporters, they clearly are not aware of the history of the 2nd amendment, or of the history of its enforcement. That history includes the Whiskey Insurrection, when an armed militia of 14,000 soldiers marched under President George Washington into Pennsylvania, with orders to shoot on sight any member of the Tea Party (a group of extremists who considered a tax on whisky the justification for armed rebellion against the US government).

And what happened to the 150 men who were caught by the militia? Why, they were tried for treason, of course. To me, this is pretty strong evidence that gun supporters misinterpreted the intentions of the founding fathers. Nonetheless, half of American families are gun owners, and many of them believe in the 2nd amendment story.

As I watched Snowden’s interview, I wondered if the gun rights movement, a group that supports the armed overthrow of our government, would also support the rights of American’s to use information-based weapons?  Is resistance against the government (or corporations, or anything else) the 21st century version of the riots of occurred in earlier eras in US history? Rather than asking if Snowden is a patriot or a traitor, we should ask if he wants to be  Che Guevara or Cesar Chavez. Is he trying to change the system or overthrow it?

America has always been a rebellious country. We like to think that we’re each individualists, who are in command of our own destiny, even to the point of taking our guns and going to the streets… although we talk about it a lot more than doing it. Now, we’re in an age where world-shaking  rebellion can happen without a single shot being fired. Snowden clearly thinks he is in the right, and he believes that he tried the official channels before he began his rebellion. Instead of patriotic rallies with gun brandishing patriots, what will these new rebels choose as their symbol?  Let me know what you think… and that’s my Niccolls worth for today!

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Is the (Tea) Party Over?

Hand Pouring Tea

Photo: All rights Microsoft Corp.


As the preliminaries for the 2014 elections get started, there is uncertainty in the air. Will the Republicans defeat the Democrats? If the Republicans do win, will it turn around their losing streak for the Presidency in 2016? The Republican party has been undergoing change for decades, and that long chain of changes is redefining the Republican party, possibly splitting the party in half. The 2014 elections will show us if the rise of the Tea Party is the defining moment in the growth the Republicans, or if it is the beginning of the end of the Republican’s as we know them.

Let’s go way back, to the 1960 election. The Republicans were largely the party of the North, and the Democrats were largely the South. Republicans supported the rich, but favored progress and science, and the Democrats were for tradition (especially southern tradition) and church values. John Kennedy won the 1960 election on a platform or reform and progress, a platform that was expanded upon by President Johnson, to become the “Great Society.” The desire of the Democrats for a fair society backed by a large government, vs. the Republican’s desire for a market-driven  society with a small government defined the battle between the parties. There were other differences… the size of the military, involvement in international affairs, etc. But it was pretty easy to know which party a politician belonged to, based on the policies they backed.

Then, the economy softened, the US lost the Vietnam war, and Japan became the rising start of industrial countries. On the heels of the humiliating capture of the US Embassy in Tehran, the Republican’s re-dedicated themselves to their core beliefs in 1980 when Ronald Reagan became president. The Republican party was re-energized by the thought of overturning failed Democratic programs with smaller government, and a market led economy.

However, the Republicans also wanted a bigger military and very big international changes, such as the defeat of the Soviet Union. Small government and international ambitions don’t live together happily. While some parts of government shrank, overall government spending exploded as the military became larger and space defense systems, and high-tech weaponry became a regular part of the military budget.

By the 2000 elections, anti-spend Republican’s became pro-spend. There were still differences between the parties, but the differences became ever smaller. The Republican’s gained voters, but these were the most disaffected and disillusioned Democrats. The 2000 election also completed the move of the religious right into the Republican tent. Now the Republicans had a problem.

They had enough voters to win elections, but their new recruits turned the party into an uneasy mix of traditional wealthy and educated business leaders, and anti-evolution theorists. Under the Tea Party banner, the Republican party has become the anti-science party, denying not just evolution, but climate change, species depletion, stem cell research and just for good measure… statistical evidence that marijuana is not dangerous, and that guns, cigarettes and alcohol are.

Republicans had ignored  the environment in the past. Nothing new there. But Republicans running businesses based on agriculture, or travel, or tourism, or manufacturing, recognized that the weather matters. The Republican agenda used to be very pro-science. You have to be pro-science if you want to be pro-progress, and if you believe in an expanding economy. Science minded Republican’s have been holding their tongues, while their less science inclined brethren looked for a political agenda in environmental science and other academic research.  The splinter group that became the Tea Party brought with it politics that would not easily blend with mainstream Republican thinking.

Then we had the 2008 election. The Tea Party raged at the newly elected President Obama, feeling that he represented all that was wrong with America. When they weren’t challenging Obama status AS an American. Republicans wanted to get back into the White House, but the Tea Party wanted to stop impure politics at any cost.

Believing that most of America believed in what they believe in. That’s why the Tea Party thought that the shutdown of the US government, would propel them into seats of leadership, rather than just undermining the credibility of their party. Previous generation of politicians ranked their success by the deals they made. Tea Party politicians measured their success by the deals they stopped. Disruption, rather than effective deal making, was their goal. Which is why the number of bills that turn into laws has dropped so dramatically in recent years.

The Republicans are an aging party. Not only are their members older than the Democrats, but the leadership is largely Regan Era politicians, who are marginal to the Tea Party’s politics. Old Republican leaders don’t represent today’s key demographics. The Tea Party brings energy into the party, but they don’t bring loyalty to the old leadership or the patience to wait until they hare handed power within the party. Their energy could as easily be turned against the current leadership as it can against their traditional democratic foes.

Republicans need their next big thing, and so far the Tea Party it is. But does the Tea Party need the Republicans? That’s the really big question for the next election. Will the Tea Party prefer to be a smaller party with a tight message, or will these rebel Republicans learn to keep to the Republican party line? Whatever they choose, the Tea Part is over.  They can’t continue to just be a rebellious segment of a larger party. They either need to strike out on their own or truly join the Republican party. And that’s my Niccoll’s worth for today!

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