Posted by: zycos | March 20, 2009

Guilty or not. You still get arrested!

I was watching one of those quasi-courtroom television shows today. You know the ones where both sides forgo an official court proceeding in favor of binding arbitration and a chance to be on TV.

Judge Judy being the most notable (and notorious) of the robed judges can set aside all proper courtroom procedure and cast personal opinion on litigants lifestyles, almost in prejudgment. Many times I’d hate to find myself in her studio courtroom. Btw, it’s reported she earns a cool $45 million a year for her TV judge role.

Today there was a middle aged woman who lost her drivers license for 7 months because after being stopped by a police officer and proclaiming her sobriety, refused to take a field breathalyzer test.

Upon her refusal, the officer arrested her and took her into custody.

In court her case of DUI was dismissed (presumably for lack of evidence) but the judge suspended her driving privileges anyway.

Seven months in a mobile society without personal mobility. Depending on others to get back and forth to work, get groceries and so on. Seven long, hard months.
I thought to myself how odd this all seemed. In my case, I’ve never drank anything containing alcohol. Never, not even sip a beer. Not as a small child, teenager or adult. It’s not that I’m super religious or anything but I simply chose not to imbibe and have seen no reason to rescind that choice over the years.

I wondered how I would fare in a similar situation as I too, would refuse a breathalyzer test. Not because I had anything to hide but simply on principle. Absent any direct, obviating proof otherwise, my word should be good enough. I shouldn’t be forced to clear myself by incriminating myself. And like this woman, I would probably find myself before a judge and ultimately, have my drivers license suspended.

There are many conditions that could be reason before suspicion of DUI. Perhaps I was on new medication, or tired or simply preoccupied with something else, momentarily crossing a line or lane marking. Some are even citable offenses but do not necessarily presume or indicate DUI.

And that’s my real issue. Our legal system today has become so twisted and inequitable in so many different areas it bears little resemblance to the system I grew up with. A very simple but protective presumption: A person was presumed innocent until proven guilty. In fact that was the one basic tenet that distinguished the USA from other countries. Our innocence was first assured until it could be proven we had actually committed a crime.

Today, we are guilty until proven innocent. And the burden of that innocence falls upon our shoulders and in most cases, our limited purses.

The prosecuting attorney, armed with deep pockets and hired guns wanting to make a name for themselves are no match for the lone individual, unfamiliar with the way today’s court systems work, has to defend him or herself against unfounded accusations.

To be considered guilty because you refuse to take a breathalyser test when you know you’re not drunk is tantamount to suspicion of being a terrorist because you have no national identity card. All bullshit. It is also I contend, a violation of our fifth amendment right. Protection of self-incrimination. Drunk driving is a crime, a felony in most jurisdictions. To consent to a breathalyzer test is a form of self incrimination without proper legal representation.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am totally against driving while drunk or incapacitated in any manner. To not be would be insane. My family is out there, too. To lose a loved one to someone so irresponsible as to make the decision to drive under the influence, would be impossible for me to reconcile. Especially if that same person had prior DUI convictions or served time with only a slap on the wrist. In fact, the real efforts should be at putting teeth into the existing DUI laws but since many politicians are drinkers themselves, they fear getting caught up in their own too-tough laws. I’m for mandatory imprisonment even for first-time offenders because it IS a conscious decision to drink and then drive.

But to consider anyone guilty of DUI without proof, is going too far. We can’t solve all the world’s ills by arresting anyone who might commit a crime. Too, we shouldn’t arrest anyone where absolute proof is absent.

The battery of coordination tests administered a suspected DUI driver along with the probable cause he/she was pulled over, should prove sufficient in determining whether an arrest is warranted. Passing all field coordination tests but refusing a sobriety test should not be the sole determining factor in making an arrest.

And DUI checkpoints should be limited by law to only a visual assessment of the driver and absent any witnessed improper driving, not extend to license status, insurance coverage, search and seizure or any other myriad of situations. Nazi Germany had checkpoints where a person’s paperwork had to “all in order” at each inspection or they would be detained, some never heard from again. Have we as a once free nation, exhausted all resources to have similar checkpoints randomly set up across our great land…all under the guise of a DUI checkpoint? At least the Nazis didn’t mince words over what their intentions were.

What do you think?

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Posted by: zycos | March 20, 2009

WATCH THIS VIDEO BEFORE APRIL 15TH AND SAVE MONEY!

This is my 30 second entry for Taxslayer.com, a FREE online tax preparation site with state and federal e-filing for only $9.99!

Your constructive comments are welcome and appreciated!

What follows affects us all, whether you’re a musician or a music lover. Proposals from the RIAA and DiMA will have a devastating effect on the quality and amount of music created in the future as well as allow it’s suporters, the record companies, to steal more of artist royalties. Royalties which are currently only 9 cents a song, the RIAA wants to cut to 6 cents for more record label profitability. Think about this the next time you pay $17.99 or more for an album of bland music. AOL, Yahoo and Real Audio Networks are involved also to the extent they support the RIAA and DiMA efforts.

Listen to the audio version here

Received this email yesterday from ASCAP, one of the agencies representing the interests of musicians and songwriters along with BMI, SESAC, etc.

Seems the RIAA (Recording Industry of America) wants to flex it’s self- imposed muscle again by proposing all recording and performance royalties be cut. Looks like the record labels aren’t happy with the lion’s share of profits from musicians work. No, they want even more and their consumer watchdog, the RIAA, wants to give it to them.

From the ASCAP member email:

“Today, the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) begins a hearing that will determine mechanical rates for every songwriter and music publisher in America. It will be critical because, in addition to setting rates for physical products, rates will be set for the first time ever for digital products such as digital downloads, subscription services and ringtones. Our friends at The National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA) will be representing the mechanical right interests of songwriters and music publishers in this hearing. They will be fighting vigorously to protect those mechanical right interests to ensure that musical compositions are compensated fairly. On the other side of this fight stands the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Digital Media Association (DiMA). Both the RIAA and DiMA have proposed significant reductions in mechanical royalty rates that would be disastrous for songwriters and music publishers. David Israelite, NMPA President and CEO tells us, “The current rate for physical phonorecords is 9.1 cents. The RIAA has proposed slashing the rate to approximately 6 cents a song – a cut of more than one-third the current rate! For permanent digital downloads, NMPA is proposing a rate of 15 cents per track because the costs involved are much less than for physical products. The RIAA has proposed the outrageous rate of approximately 5 – 5.5 cents per track, and DiMA is proposing even less. For interactive streaming services, which some analysts believe will be the future of the music industry, NMPA is proposing a rate of the greater of 12.5% of revenue, 27.5% of content costs, or a micro-penny calculation based on usage. The RIAA actually proposed that songwriters and music publishers should get the equivalent of .58% of revenue. (That’s little more than one half of 1%) And DiMA is taking the position that songwriters’ and music publishers’ mechanical rights should be zero, because DiMA does not believe we have any such rights!” Irwin Robinson, ASCAP Board member and Chairman of the NMPA added, “Our opponents in this hearing are proposing a rate structure which would have devastating consequences for songwriters, composers and music publishers trying to make a living, now or in the future.” The initial hearing will last four weeks, followed by a rebuttal hearing in May, and a final decision expected on October 2. Among the ASCAP writer members testifying at the hearing are Rick Carnes, Phil Galdston, and Board member Stephen Paulus. And while all this is going on, ASCAP has been leading the fight for fair performance right compensation in Federal Court against DiMA members AOL, Yahoo! and RealNetworks (RealAudio). Our case has been heard and we expect an outcome this summer. Clearly these are perilous times for those of us that create the music that generates profit for those that use our music. But remember this, there would be no profit without our musical compositions that they are fighting to use so freely! ”

Well said! Note that AOL, Yahoo and RealAudio (Networks) are all fighting against us in the fight for fair performance right compensation.

I say down with the RIAA and any other faction trying to limit or reduce (read, steal) more of the already miniscule profits earned by the people who create music. Without them there would be no RIAA, DiMA or record labels to begin with.

NOW IS THE TIME FOR ALL SONGWRITERS AND MUSICIANS TO GIVE THE FINGER TO THEIR LABELS AND USE THE INTERNET AS THEIR PRIMARY SOURCE OF MUSIC DISTRIBUTION.

The technology is here, why not use it? Why not release an album and sell it at fair market value as opposed to a retail price set by the record companies to maximize their profits? Imagine, the price of an album or single being by the musicians themselves with eventual value, determined by the buying public.

Not only would some great music be available at reasonable cost but creative artists would be inspired, encouraged and motivated to writing the music their public wants, not what some label exec dictates. This would return all creative control to the artists and leave the labels crying in their own greed along with such overbearing organizations like the RIAA, DiMA, AOL (Time Warner) and the like.

The model for music sales and distribution needs to be rewritten and in fact, is long overdue thanks to the digital age.

Instead of passing laws (like DRM) that try and force new technologies to bend to the obsolete days of vinyl marketing, we have the means and the power to embrace a whole new mass marketing tool for ourselves, the internet.

All we have to do is do it.

I urge everyone reading this message, whether you’re a musician or not, to write and express your disapproval to this greedy grab for more profits from the mouths of the people who create music. Call or write RIAA, DiMA, AOL, Yahoo and Real Audio and let them know you won’t support their actions or buy/use their products and services until they stop representing the greedy corporate label interests and start supporting the artists who make the music.

Everyone, including the general public will suffer. Eeryone but the labels and their lobbyists, that is. The RIAA, DiMA, et al, is on a self-appointed power trip and needs to be stopped!

Posted by: zycos | October 25, 2007

Is crime racial or just stereo-hyped?

The very first thing I want you to know about me is the most important thing you should know before reading this post. That is I don’t consider myself to be a racist in any way, shape or form. In fact, I abhor anyone proclaiming to be superior to another no matter what excuse or rationalization.

For the record I am white, middle aged and male. My best friend in the world is black, younger than me, also male and someone who holds my utmost respect and admiration for many more reasons than I could ever put here. He is, truly, my brother.

We have spent some time discussing the hidden racism that still permeates our society. Racism, despite how evolved and open minded we all think ourselves to be, still exists everywhere. Maybe not the blatant racism of old, that’s easy to spot. But silent racism that exists most all of the time. Racism in every facet of daily life and interaction between people of ethnic distinction.

From the white clerk who approaches my friend and I, automatically assuming I’m his customer to the black counter person who all but ignores me to chat it up with my friend. Quiet racism that almost goes unnoticed, unless you are the one feeling its sting. And subtle tendencies that have become too accepted as the norm in everyday life, based in stereotype prejudices.

Yes, racism still exists every day and in every way. Even though I say I’m not racist, I know that is only a hopeful desire. More accurately I should say I strive to be non-racist but admit to finding myself failing when presented certain circumstances.

Some of those situations have really been getting the best of me lately. Even though I mentally fight it, the facts seem overbearing. I use the term loosely as I’ve done no research as to the actual facts, just my impression of the nightly news reports.

Every night watching the local news I hear about another murder, rape or robbery occurring in my city. Senseless, violent crimes against people of all colors for any reasons and many times, none at all.

Tonight’s lead story was about a man who sawed off a shotgun, hid it under the sofa and wanted to confront his pregnant girlfriend about the paternity of her child.

He pushed the shotgun against her stomach and pulled the trigger, blowing the baby and her internal organs out of her body. Of course the baby died instantly and the woman is clinging to life. While this violent crime could have been white, odds were the man, at least, was black. And he is.

Why do I say this? Am I a ‘closet racist’?

It seems more violent crimes against women, especially black women are committed by black men except for one. Rape is committed by black men against white women more often than against black women. Rape by white men is more often committed against white women than against black women. And rape as everyone should know, is not about sex but more about power and control and anger.

Robberies of convenience stores occur so frequently to be almost considered just another job hazard. Every surveillance tape shows the male perpetrator who is almost always black, going behind the counter. When a white man robs a quickie mart, it’s usually for something stupid like beer, candy or cigarettes. A black man robs for the money and more often than not, viciously kills or injures his victim(s) even when there’s little to gain. In fact, when there’s no money, the robber often shoots his victim(s) in anger as if it’s their fault there’s not enough money to steal.

Carjacking reports happen frequently, sometimes violent and almost always at the hands of a black man.

It seems the more violent and senseless the crime against others almost guarantees the gender and ethnic probability of the perpetrator as male and black.

As I sit bombarded by these nightly news reports, I reflect on the fact that while blacks in my city represent a minority of the population, they seem to commit the majority of the violent crime. The part I really don’t understand is, a lot of the time it’s

    against their own people or their own community.

A recent report was about the senseless murder of a beloved inner city store clerk. This was a Bosnian man who gave candy to the neighborhood children, extended credit or gave formula and diapers to many in his mostly black community just to help them get by from week to week. The man was by all reports, loved by every one. Evidently not every one, as one black man ended his life in a robbery.

And another item sandwiched between those last two reports, showing surveillance video of a black man entering and robbing a convenience store, brazenly running off customers as he accosted the young clerk. Amazingly, no one exiting the store called 911, leaving the single clerk at the mercy of his attacker.

These stories are representative of a typical news day here in St. Louis but not exclusive. They are happening everywhere. And more times than not, the wanted face you see flashed on the television screen for these type crimes in middle America is that of an African-American male.

But to be fair, there’s plenty of crime to go around, racially speaking.

I frequently hear about yet another drunk driver crossing the centerline and colliding with another vehicle, head on, instantly killing innocent victims. Almost without fail, the perpetrator is almost always, white and male.

As I listen, I learn about yet another child abduction, mostly only attempted but too many times successful. And almost always, without fail, the molester is white and male.

Mass murderers seem to be predominantly male and white. School crimes like Columbine and others seem to be committed by young, white males.

The distinction between crime type and race is almost clear cut. So much so I had to remark to my friend that the difference seemed obvious, “White men rob banks and molest children while black men rob convenience stores and hijack cars.”

While in the Southwest, I heard the same type crimes being committed as in the Midwest. The only difference was that many times the man they were looking for in a murder, robbery or rape was Hispanic, not black.

Someone running a red light and mowing down a mother and child in a crosswalk, was more often than not, a Hispanic male.

Drive-by shootings seemed to be more geographical in nature. In the Southwest it was the Hispanic gang bangers while in Chicago, the black gangs.

I know most African-Americans, Latinos and other ethnic peoples are law abiding citizens who want their neighborhoods cleaned of these low life types, regardless of race. Just like most Caucasians, they want to live in clean, crime free cities where they can safely raise their families, work, play and just get along with one another. In a nation as great as ours, that should be everyone’s guaranteed right.

But why has our world turned into just another episode of The Jerry Springer Show? Like watching his pandering television show, you know the feuding white guests will most likely be white trash. Low IQ types, sleeping with their pregnant wife’s sister while smoking dope and drinking beer. You can spot it the second they open their mouth and see their missing teeth.

At the same time, Maury Povich has strung together a career of paternity testing shows, mostly featuring black “guests” with a token white couple occasionally thrown in. Such exploitation on the basis of racial stereotyping should be illegal as it only breeds and promotes racial prejudice. At the very least the Springers and Povich’s of the world should be reduced in stature to the garbage eating vermin they are, lower than even their lowest guest’s perversions. But I digress…

It’s sad that a small percentage in each group can stigmatize the character of so many good people. Good people of all races.

And there are crimes where no certain race holds any precedent. Murders of children and spouses for example, seem to know no color or gender.

But most experienced detectives know the perpetrator of a crime, especially combined with geographical location, can be identified as to race, gender and even age group with a fair degree of certainty. More often than not, relying on these acquired instincts to solve the crime.

Even a mental picture of the Hell’s Angels brings to mind mostly a gang comprised of mainly white, 20-30 something males while the image of younger, white males are often stereotyped in gangs same as black, Hispanic and Asians. I mean does a white supremest have a shaved head or is it a shaved head that makes a white supremest? I submit it’s neither but more on how our association of a shaved head creates the stereotype of a white supremest. An image that impressions bias one way or another.

To sum up, is crime racial? What do you think? Have I become cynical by watching too much news? Is a certain type crime really identifiable with a certain race? Does geographical location influence the statistics about stereotypes? What about gender? What about age? Or is it something I’ve missed completely?

I’d like to know.

Posted by: zycos | October 25, 2007

Producer or Consumer…which are you?

Everybody in the U.S. today seems to be about 98% consumer and 2% producer. The 2% that is producer represents those who have a job and know just enough about it to keep it.

The other 98% is evidenced by the unquenched consumerism gripping our country.

Not that there’s anything wrong with being a consumer, necessarily, but think back to what this country was built upon. At one time we were the strongest nation in the world not according to how much we bought but by how much we produced.

Today we buy very few products that aren’t produced by some other country or at least assembled somewhere else.

Actual, complete production in our country has come almost to a standstill, comparatively speaking while countries like Mexico, Philippines, Taiwan and others are becoming wealthy and strong by being production oriented. China has become the proverbial tail that wags the American dog.

How did this happen? Who traded our status of being a producer nation for one of consumerism?

If you ask, most people will not even understand what being a producer is. If they think about it all, most folks will admit to being a consumer but unsure of what being a producer means.

I contend the mess we’re in today doesn’t come from easy credit as most experts think. I believe it’s because we are a nation of consumers, not producers.

So, what does it mean to be a producer? To understand the term you only have to look backwards into our past.

Not so long ago we used to make our own clothes, grow our own food, build our own houses and so on. When something broke, we’d just figure a way to fix it, never giving thought to throwing it away. It instilled a sense of pride to do so. A security in fact, that whatever went wrong, we could fix it.

There were reasons for this and one main one was lack of money. To stretch what little most folks had back then called for creating, improvising and using down home ingenuity to make it or repair it. Qualities rarely held in high esteem, today.

Instead, if something breaks or wears or just simply goes out of style, we throw it away. Merchants are all to happy and eager to take our hard earned money on bright, shiny new objects of our attention and cater to us. And we respond in droves.

Back when a doll cost 39 cents, it was patched and repaired so many times, it almost became brand new again by virtue of it’s parts. Even the repairs were made using something old, used and hand me down. The doll became a cherished keepsake, like an old friend whose been with you through thick and thin.

Today, a mass produced doll costs $59 or more. When it’s hair gets too tangled or it’s dress gets a little dirty, we throw it away and jump into the car to buy a new one. It’s almost like any excuse will do to get us out of the house and go to Wal-Mart.

And forbid we don’t have the latest version of something! Perfectly good things are tossed out in favor of newer items serving the same purpose. Imagine where Mattel would be if we didn’t keep buying yet another contrived version of Barbie.

Corporations are killing us to cater our every whim. Our landfills are becoming landfulls, our resources becoming exhausted. All in the name of consummate consumerism.

And I’ve never seen so many people with more money than sense. These are the same ones who’ll bitch and complain about healthcare costs for their family and then, go right out and spend $2,000 for a prom dress. Can’t use the last one after all ’cause the colors aren’t right.

On the other hand this creates a great market for the true entrepreneur (ET.)  Because ET’s are by nature, producers who take an idea and run with it, creating a product or service that caters to the wants and needs of consumers.

Trouble is, ET’s are so outnumbered today, a vacuum is created and instantly filled with imported goods from the producers of other countries. And up goes our debt, individually and nationally.

If anything will save our country from financial ruin, it’ll be the ET’s. The inventors, the do-ers, the producers. I’d like to see our country once again become the production capital of the world, making products for the rest of the world’s consumers, instead of the other way around.

Just my 2 cents. What about you? What do you think? Are you a producer or consumer?

It was announced this week the RIAA (Recording Industry Ass of America) had won their lawsuit against a Minnesota mother of two in a file sharing arrangement using KAZAA.

The RIAA coerced separate settlements with (the parents of) a 12 year old child and an 80 year old grandmother for ‘illegal’ music file sharing. (A bit odd since according to Wikipedia, the RIAA started out as “an organization formed in 1952 primarily to administer… a technical standard of frequency response applied to vinyl records during manufacturing and playback.” – I assume their self appointed omnipotent status evolved over time as they currently “participate in the collection, administration and distribution of music licenses and royalties.” and also “The association is responsible for certifying gold and platinum albums and singles in the USA.)

This woman was alleged to have put copies of 24 songs on her computer in a shared folder where other KAZAA users could access and copy the songs to their own computers.

In a strange complaint (seems to me) the plaintiffs were not suing her for illegally copying music but pursued their case on the basis she made the 24 songs “available for copying” and in doing so, caused great monetary loss to the labels and artists the RIAA supposedly represents. (I say ‘supposedly’ because there has been some past questionable validity over their claimed membership, specifically who is and who isn’t represented by the RIAA. See this Wikipedia link about the RIAA.)

The court found the woman guilty as charged and slapped her with almost a quarter of a million dollar lawsuit in favor of the RIAA. Not at all surprising, since today’s courts seem to favor corporate rights with its deep pockets over the limited funded private citizen rights. (Just goes to show you, we have the best judicial system money can buy.)

Anyway, ignoring the fact that plaintiffs couldn’t account for any direct loss against the woman or whether or not any award was justified, the ruling, if allowed to stand, represents a warning shot to millions of otherwise law abiding people: When it comes to copyright law, the courts will almost always find in favor of the plaintiff.

And this latest round, mind you, is not for copying music but simply for making it “available for copying.”

My question is this. Shouldn’t the RIAA have gone after the people who actually copied the music from this woman’s computer? Didn’t they commit the actual crime of stealing by copying what they found on her system? Did she commit any crime by putting this music on her personal computer?

The RIAA argued she did so in a knowing attempt to make the music available for copying. They contended there couldn’t be any other legitimate reason for her doing so.

I don’t know. Could she have simply wanted her music accessible for listening pleasure wherever she happened to be? Isn’t that what the whole concept of portable music is?

Did she, in fact, even know the music was in a shared folder or could she have mistakenly put it there? Is it possible she wasn’t as sophisticated a user as the RIAA wants her portrayed or simply made a mistake in understanding how KAZAA worked?

Did she even put the music on her computer or was it someone else? Maybe one of her kids?

Absent any hard evidence, it all seems far too circumstantial and way too convenient for the case bulldogged through by the RIAA and its strong arm tactics.

She is appealing her case. I pray the Appellate Court shows more judicial resolve than the lower Minnesota court. If not, anyone who makes their legally owned music available to anyone else could be subject in the next RIAA lawsuit.

This ludicrous ruling extends far beyond the internet and file sharing. And whether you think all music should be free or paid for, isn’t the point.

(I personally think the idea of taking someone else’s work for your own use (or others) without permission is like stealing someone’s clock radio so you can get up in the morning. Both uses may not be for any profit but still constitute taking something you don’t rightfully own.)

But imagine lending a music CD to a friend who rips some tracks off it and burns his own CD. According to this lawsuit, you are primarily liable for restitution to the RIAA, not your friend, because you made the music “available for copying.”

So, what does “available for copying” exactly mean? And how far does it extend?

Could a radio station be accused of making it’s music “available for copying” because they broadcast music over the public airwaves where anyone can record their favorite songs? Sure they license their use but aren’t they, in fact, making music “available for copying?”

What happens if you leave your mp3 device lying on the table at the library and someone comes along and steals it, copying all the music from it onto their own device? By your own negligence, didn’t you just happen to make your music “available for copying?”

Shouldn’t the RIAA wrath be directed at the people who do the actual copying of the music instead of the ones allegedly making it”available for copying?”

And doesn’t the premise of suing someone for something that might happen over someone who actually does something illegal send cold chills up your spine. It should.

More and more laws in the U.S. are being written based on fear of suspicion rather than actual commission of a crime. In other words, they’re more worried about what you might do, than what you’ve actually done.

There are already plenty of laws dealing with someone who commits a criminal offense but to make it a criminal offense absent any act, is a knee jerk reaction representative of a government living in fear of its people. And predatory corporations like the RIAA are all too ready to use their wealth and power to capitalize on it.

If the goal of any terrorist organization is to cause someone to live in constant fear, we can stop the so-called war on terror because the terrorists have, indeed, won.

So too, with the RIAA. They figure if they score a few, very public victories with large, scary awards against individuals, the rest will fall like dominoes. Just the fear of being liable for making music “available for copying” will stop everyone from copying music. Nothing could be more delusional or further from the truth.

The RIAA seriously needs to rethink itself as an organization and stop trying to intimidate and terrorize the public into submitting to its archaic model. And the music industry seriously needs to rethink having an organization like the RIAA, representing their best image and interests.

If you still don’t think the RIAA a bully, consider this: There are real pirates out there and it’s not the individual users who pose any real threat to music industry.

The real pirates are professional counterfeiters, foreign and domestic. The ones with mass duplication facilities set up to make thousands of copies per hour, feeding their global distribution networks twenty four hours a day, every day of every year, non-stop. The big boys, who in one day, flood the market with more counterfeit copies of music and movies than all the individuals combined, could accomplish in a year.

And make no mistake. These operations are the ones whose only motivation is driven by sheer profit (kind of like the RIAA.) Unlike friends sharing music CD’s or copying an occasional movie from satellite, these guys are seriously in the business of stealing and distributing intellectual properties for profit.

But it’s easier (and safer, literally) to appear more responsive and powerful by going after individuals who simply make their private music collections “available for copying.”

And it’s true, the pirates wouldn’t be in business if it weren’t for hordes of ready and waiting black market consumers. But how many of these people have you met or known in your lifetime? In this country? Really? And how many counterfeit albums do you possess or buy on a regular basis, if ever? To these questions, most readers will probably answer, “zero”

Or is the internet making it too easy for us to become criminals? Is convenience the only thing standing in the way of us all becoming murderers, rapists and robbers? The RIAA would have you believe that. Evidently they’ve convinced our court system, also.

The truth is the 98% of us are law abiding people in this country, being hunted like criminals because a giant industry can’t figure out how to effectively stop the 2% who are true criminals.

Does anybody really need/want an organization like the RIAA infringing on our private lives, spying on our internet usage and hunting us down like … well, like criminals? I expect all you self-righteous types to jump on that one, but hear me out.

Just because a large industry builds a powerful lobbying organization, successfully getting legislation passed making it a crime to wear yellow shirts, doesn’t make wearing a yellow shirt a crime. Not a real one, anyway.

It’ll appear real. And real enough, they’ll hunt you down under this color of law for the criminal they’ve literally made you. They’ll make you pay exorbitant fines, threatening unreasonable imprisonment as a public example to thwart any other free thinkers out there considering same. Kind of like the old practice of putting your enemy’s heads around town to scare off all other bad guys.

Now I’ve been kind of hard on my own industry but not as hard as we all should be on the RIAA. After all, if you live by the sword….

But unlike the RIAA, I offer a workable, sensible solution. One that might serve the computer software industry as well. (Hear that Microsoft, Adobe, et al?)

To the record companies and movie studios, where the shoe fits:

If you want to reduce illegal song copying at all levels, instantly improve your image by distancing yourselves from the RIAA at any cost, that’s number one.

Two, you should stop wasting money trying to develop the perfect copy protection scheme because it doesn’t exist. (For verification, consult with one of the professional pirates. It’s their business to defeat any copy protection your security experts could ever devise.. or you could just ask any 14 year old hacker ;<) Put the realized savings into lowering the retail price of your CD/DVD titles. I know that sounds almost sacrilegious to you but please, read on.

You know the media cost of a CD/DVD is negligible when produced by the millions and most tech savvy consumers know it, too. Even the non-techies are having their suspicions.
And most everyone knows it takes a helluva lot more people, resources and expense to make a movie than any music album. Yet, your CD’s and DVD’s are almost universally priced between $16 to $22 and up. This seems so much a contrived pricing arrangement as to be without any merit and seriously lacking in perceived value among consumers.

Moreover, the recording artists along with their publishers share only 9.1 cents per song on an album, appearing that you pocket the lion’s share of the grossly inflated price structure. (and you’ve even figured a way to reduce that pittance to your gain.)

In short, your consumers have no confidence in your valuation. When you’re Phillips Petroleum or Mobil Oil, it’s not a issue because people have to have your product at whatever price you set. When it’s about buying a non-necessity item, especially where people have other options available, price becomes the determinate factor… sometimes, even over quality.

By bringing CD/DVD prices into a more proportionate and believable realm, two things will happen. The most important being to undermine the profit incentive of the professional black marketeers. No smart counterfeiter is going to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in a distribution operation for any product with thin or non-existent margins.

Bring the cost of a CD or DVD down to, say $8.95 or less. Around this price point consumers will have less reason to copy a title or buy a bootleg. For only a few dollars more they can have the full blown, legitimate title and sleep better at night in the bargain.

Why? It’s human nature. Nobody wants to think of themselves as dishonest. A lot of people, however, have a point at which they’ll cross the line, if the motivation proves high enough. The easier the rationalization in doing so, the more willing and justified the action. Kind of like why locks are used… to keep the honest people honest.

Lowering the price of a CD or DVD product will strengthen the point between whether one chooses to see himself as an honest person or a petty crook. The number of customers who prefer to own a legitimate release with all the features, will increase considerably.

In fact, I’d bet even at $8.95, a larger number of people will buy a first release movie than would copy it or buy it on the black market. Again, because most folks prefer to think of themselves as being honest (most of the time, anyway.)

And for music CD’s. How many times have we all been burned buying an $18 album only to find one or maybe two songs, to our liking? That speaks more to artist and label accountability for innovative and entertaining content. Qualities that are rarely seen of late.

I’ll suggest a music CD as being more critical in terms of content quality than a movie DVD. Most of the time we have an idea what a movie is about, maybe having seen it in a theater and then purchase a copy for home viewing. But listening to a whole music CD before purchase is seldom available except on the internet. That’s why the 99 cent downloads and custom mix CD’s have proven so popular.

Today’s legal DVD’s are filled with mindless crap promoted as “Bonus Features” which should be more appropriately called “Boner Features.” And like the broken promises of cable television, we now have to endure commercials and endless previews on our legitimately purchased DVD’s. That’s almost reason enough to drive someone to make feature-only copies.

There’s the answer in a nutshell. Improve the creative quality of the content and lower the retail cost. You’ll see sales rise and illegal duplication and piracy diminish. The perceived need or place for an adversarial organization like the RIAA will cease to exist. The money you’ll save on copy protection schemes and department staffing will help offset the price reduction. Sales volume will more than make up for lower retail pricing.

Most importantly, you’ll have more happy, honest and loyal customers gladly paying a fair price for a legitimate product. Gone will be the combative approach the RIAA takes towards your potential and valued customers. Seems like a win-win situation to me.

If the RIAA should continue to exist, let them focus their efforts on the real criminals who counterfeit titles by the tens of thousands. If they’re not up to the task, then all the more reason to disband the RIAA.

By the way, I am a published independent music producer (ASCAP) as well as an award winning video producer. I do not agree nor believe in the tactics employed by the RIAA, just for the record. (No pun intended.)

It’s a whole new world requiring a whole new approach. What worked yesterday doesn’t work today. What works today may not work tomorrow. Embrace the change and you’ll profit from it. Resist the change and you’ll eventually go the way of your old, archaic thinking.

For my 9.1 cents, I would prefer the latter fate for the RIAA and any other organizations insistent on maintaining a stranglehold against technology.

Posted by: zycos | September 14, 2007

Don’t point that finger!!!!

On a lighter note, I wanted to share a story I’d heard many years ago. You may be familiar with it but if so, it’s worth repeating. It was as good (and applicable) then, as now. I hope you enjoy it and remember it’s message for years to come.

The Hot Dog Stand

There was a man who ran a hot dog stand. Day after day he’d be on the same
street corner selling his hot dogs. He did this to provide a good home for
his wife and young son. One of his goals was to send this son to college.

After working many years and building his business into a very lucrative one,
he had saved enough money to put his son through one of the country’s finest
universities. The son graduated, head of class, in business administration.

Proud of having a college graduate in the family and without formal schooling of his own, the man consulted his son about his hot dog business. Business had been good over the years and he wanted to expand the operation, maybe even franchise it.

The son replied:

“Father, I know that stand has worked for you over the years but times have changed.
Fast food chains are the money makers now. Besides, the stock market has taken a
major hit and people are bringing their own lunch to work. You know how the cost of
everything has gone up lately and with all the new health laws, the paperwork will be
overwhelming. There’s no way a small hot dog stand could ever survive such turbulent times.”

The man thought long and hard about what his son told him. He’d faced troubled times before, true enough but nothing like his son was talking about.

He reasoned that being college educated, his son must surely know what’s going on in the business world. Who was he to question it? After all, he just a hot dog vendor. Talking it over with his wife, they didn’t want to risk everything he’d worked so hard for over the years and decided to play it safe.

Instead of expanding his operation, he began cutting back. First by reducing the number
of free condiments offered with each hot dog. Then he started charging for the condiments.
As a hedge against the impending inflation, he raised the price of his hot dogs almost two-fold. Even though his sign needed repainting, he didn’t want to invest the money at that time.

As the economy weakened, his long time customer base began to dwindle. The man became even more certain his son was correct. Business had fallen off sharply and despite charging evermore for his items, his profits were marginal.

He began to grow bitter because he thought, “Here I have the best, college educated mind in business, I’ve followed his advice, cut back my operations and business is still lousy. Man, what bad times we’re going through.”

As his remaining customers began to take note, the man grew increasingly despondent… and more bitter with each passing day. Soon, he had no more customers. The economy was bad but the truth was nobody wanted to pay a premium for doing business with an old grouch… and a tightwad at that!

Sure enough, within about 6 months time the man closed up shop, retreating to the comfort and relative safety of his home. Reflecting on the situation, he called his son.

He said, “Son, I want to thank you. You saved everything we have. By taking your advice, I averted financial ruin because of this economy. I’ve never seen it this bad. I couldn’t take it anymore, so I closed the hot dog stand.”

His son said, “That’s all right pop. You made a wise decision. I guess sending me to college was a good idea for us both!”

Hmmmm…..

Zig Ziglar, one of the foremost noted motivational speakers of all time, says this: (paraphrased)

If stinkin’ thinkin’ is clouding your outlook, maybe it’s not from external causes. After all, when you’re pointing your finger to blame others, you should realize three of those fingers are always pointing back at you.  – Thanks Ziggy!

‘Nuff said.

Here’s your Doodle-O’da-Day. Case in point, so to speak.

pointer.jpg

C’ya!

Posted by: zycos | September 13, 2007

Lead Paint In Toys? Horrors!!

Typical of the media and it’s supportive handwringers to blow the toy lead paint issue out of proportion. Not uncommon, because for over 40 years safety advocates have found it popular (and profitable) to blow the so-called whistle on various manufacturers and products. Their efforts combined with a concerned and equally misguided government, served to bring down entire, long standing industries.

Looking back I realize how things have so dramatically changed in such a short time. Forty years represents just 2 complete generations born and coming of age. Or put another way, less than one average working person’s career.

Growing up in the 50’s, all my toys were painted with lead paint. They were not only made in Japan but in America, too. Reputable names like Tonka and Ertl and other large, U.S. toy manufacturers come to mind. Even the little 15 cent bottles of paint you bought for your modelmaking contained lead. Housepaint, both interior and exterior, contained lead. Lead was in everything. Lead was a big industry. You could even buy and sell lead. Yes, some inner city toddlers did chew on their lead laden windowsills. I chewed on my lead painted baby blocks and crib rails, as most every baby did during teething.

And I remember digging in the asbestos covered heat piping next to my school desk. And carving my initials with my lead pencil into the soft, workable surface. I purposely chose that seat location so I could do so. And so did countless other children in my generation and generations before me.

How neat it was when our 6th grade science teacher walked around the room depositing a nickel sized dollop of mercury on our desktops. We were instructed to learn the unique physical properties of mercury by playing with it. Poking a pencil into it, separating it while holding it in our hands and watching it almost miraculously, join back together. Mercury was pretty cool. It was a hands-on learning introduction to a common, everyday substance. And it was every bit as toxic then as is today.

Today, if an item even thought to contain the smallest amount of mercury is discovered broken or missing, the entire school is shut down, children evacuated and inspected for contamination and the HAZMAT moonsuit teams dispatched. Overreaction? We can’t be too careful, can we?

Ralph Nader killed the Chevrolet Corvair. Literally. He published a book entitled “Unsafe At Any Speed.” The fear he was able to instill in people brought him instant fame and recognition. And fear and loathing of one of the decades most fun, sporty, economy cars.

Design instability was his mantra against the Corvair that he preached from every pulpit at every opportunity. He was, after all, riding a wave of his own making. He became a household name synonymous with safety. If Ralph Nader said anything, television, radio, magazines and newspapers hung on his every word. Along the way they discovered something really important, too. Fear sells. Almost as well as sex but without the stigma.

Acting on the peoples fear and allegedly in their best interest created a loyal, lasting customer base. And that created immediate and long-term profits. From then on mass media was always digging to report on some new, potential falling piece of sky.

The more alarming the headline, the more papers sold or newscasts watched. It was a win-win formula for success. They made more money by raising concern over everyday products people used and loved for decades. The age of consumer protectionism had begun.

Government, bending under pressure from it’s people and not wanting to appear unresponsive, created investigative commissions and departments for overseeing its citizen’s safety. Some were actually needed, others on a witch hunt to justify their funding.

Glory day. There was no longer any need for people to think and decide for themselves. After all, how could individuals be smart enough to know what was bad for them? And it was profitable to be their watchdog. The big bad world sterilized by the people and agencies who purported to look out for you more than your own mother and father. In fact, even your own mother and father came under their scrutiny and authority.

Back in the late forties and fifties, Buster Brown, Red Parrot and many other shoe stores had a dangerous little apparatus called a fluoroscope. It was a device for checking the fit of a new pair of shoes.

You inserted your feet with new shoes on. Then looked in a dual eyepiece to see a green glow representing your feet inside the new pair of shoes. It instantly showed how each shoe fit your foot. Amazing new technology back then. Trouble was, it was really a poorly adjusted x-ray machine using dangerous gamma radiation and worse, leaking it.

But here’s my point…

No caring mother let her kids use that machine – ever! At least not more than once. Despite less education back then, most moms knew when something wasn’t safe. Call it instinct or whatever, mom knew. As a result, I was never allowed to see my glowing, green feet inside a new pair of shoes again. Bummer!

Mom knew and she accomplished more than any consumer watchdog agency could ever do. She simply said, “No.” No in those days meant, “No.” That was the end of it. For those of you unfamiliar with how well this works, please read my previous blog.

I did know some kids whose moms either didn’t care, didn’t know or were rarely in some other part of the store when their kid tried the intriguing device.

But I never heard if they eventually lost their feet or contracted cancer from using it. Knowing what we know today, the momentary, infrequent exposure created by that machine was probably less than a typical modern day chest x-ray or airport scan. And the potential for harm far greater than the fear created by it.

With all the dangers out there, it was a wonder if we’d make it to adulthood. And if so, we surely couldn’t have children.

For me the most dangerous thing I remember back then, were the Japanese made tin-toys. Everything was made of tin back then. The popular way of assembling tin toys was a bent-over-tab-thru-slot affair and it was sharp as a razor blade. Several times I cut myself trying to disassemble one of those toys. But I eventually learned from the experience and could soon take anything from Japan apart without injury. Kind of a what doesn’t kill you, only makes you more determined.

Amazing then, how my generation and all generations before it were able to not just survive but thrive and actually grow to healthy adulthood. And yes, most of us had perfectly normal children. Equally amazing since we’ve outlawed all these dangerous chemicals and substances and yet, the rate of current day dysfunctional children seem to be at an all-time high. Maybe it wasn’t the lead in our toys, the asbestos in our schools or the mercury in our thermometers, not even the green glow of our feet.

Maybe it was just good old common sense, something so apparently in short supply today.

Hmmm… seems like more and more the things we should be worried about, we aren’t and vice versa.

OK. Here’s the Doodle-O’Da-Day:

toes.jpg

C’ya!

Posted by: zycos | September 10, 2007

Mothers, don’t eat your children!

Running an errand the other day, I drove by a somewhat modest home situated in a medium sized, newer neighborhood. I couldn’t help but notice there had to be at least 30 cars overspilling the driveway, lining both sides of the narrow residential street.

From there my eyes were directed to one of those very large, inflatable jumping rooms kids love so much nowadays. It was a commercial grade design anchored in the side yard. Next to it on an unimproved lot, was an impromptu riding corral complete with about 4 or 5 ponies and/or horses.

Both areas were filled with anxious children, impatiently waiting their turn for a ride or to take part in a group bouncing session.

Upon seeing this, I reflected on my own grandchildren’s recent birthday parties. And how ‘over-the-top’ they seemed. There were the obligatory pony rides, a pinata, a visiting clown making balloon animals and oh yes, a baby chimpanzee. This was for just one of my grandkids. The other kids respectively had their own chosen birthday themes which included a baby animal petting zoo, bounce house, more riding ponies and more. Much, much more.

Occupying almost a quarter of a very large great room were the birthday gifts. Most wrapped, some in decorator type bags with themed tissue paper sticking out and in every size, shape and colors.

The usual licensed gamut from Teletubbies to Big Bird, Barney to Dora, Nickelodeon to Hanna Montana and more were on display. Some gifts were just too big to wrap like the two seat, motorized John Deere garden tractor, complete with working, detachable dumpcart making it’s own statement with its ubiquitous green color and familiar running deer (I say leaping) logo.

This would all soon become added clutter to their already busy, dedicated playrooms filled with every toy imaginable. Matched with an outdoor, wood-constructed, jungle gym that would put many municipally-funded structures to shame, several big screen televisions throughout the house, all complete with Wii, PS3 and Xbox systems and of course, in-ground swimming pools.

Oh, did I mention these birthday affairs are always catered, big time? No one goes home hungry or without a boatload of leftovers. This last time included several 30″ pizzas, bountiful salads, pasta, chicken wings (3 varieties) and of course a large, theme decorated 50/50 sheet cake complimented by several flavors of ice cream.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my grandchildren, incredibly. Like any grandparent I want the best for them and it warms my heart to see them enjoying the best life has to offer any precocious four year old. I’m very grateful to God that my sons have been Blessed with equally successful careers, good health, loving spouses, beautiful homes and all….

BUT (you had to know that was coming)

Come on!!!

These are just birthdays! Not graduations. Not celebrations in recognition of any kind of milestone accomplishment. Birthdays!!

Undetectably shifting into Old Geezer mode…

Birthdays around our home were modest affairs with select relatives, neighbors and friends invited. Most came with only a small gift and card or just a money card of $5 and their good wishes.

The cake was homemade, usually an angel food or devil’s food. In fact, part of the fun and excitement leading up to the birthday was in helping mom decorate the cake and getting to lick the icing bowl and mixer beaters afterward.

These were typically the “in-between” birthdays. In between the big ones like Sweet Sixteen and the big bang, Twenty-First. Back then turning 16 held the driver’s license as the most coveted present and becoming of age, traditionally meant the first time alcohol was served at mom and dad’s house. At least with their consent and knowledge.

No. Birthdays were cause for celebration to be sure but not akin to winning the Powerball jackpot, Nobel Peace Prize or ending a world war.

And the most amazing part of all? Our kids accepted the simplicity of it all, having had a great birthday. They enjoyed their birthdays just as much as my grandchildren appear to like theirs today. More so, I’d say. I never saw either of my kids throw a tantrum because they didn’t get the right color or style or latest toy.

In fact, I’ve seen my sons more appreciative of receiving a small gift than my one grandchild appeared when presented with a life size mechanical pony that would ride you around the room simply by pumping the stirrups. Sidenote: Within a few days of receiving this gift, it had taken permanent occupancy in a corner of the garage, seldom, if ever, to be ridden again. Whatever happened to the ponyhead sticks? At least those required imagination and were just as much fun, if not more.

My concern and question is this: Aren’t parents raising the expectations of little Johnny or Janey too high? I mean, yes we were all ecstatic when they were born. And we greet each passing birthday with loving anticipation (and a little sadness.)

But what happens as these kids grow older and the bar gets raised for every birthday? At the current rate, they’ll have chauffeur driven limos and personal assistants before they turn twelve.

And what happens once they’re into the real world? A world where nobody gives a damn (really) about your birthday, save your mom and dad and a few close, personal friends?

Are today’s parents conditioning their kids to expect too much from life just by virtue of the fact they were born? Jeez, I mean we were all born. At what point will these kids realize the world doesn’t even care about their birthday much less owe them anything for it?

And what happens if the adult-child actually manages to accomplish something of even minor significance? What will it take to assure them as to how appreciative we all are? Nothing less than a helicoptered entrance to a globally, televised event complete with holographic performances by then long dead, The Rolling Stones, hosted by special guest, Britney Spears-Martin-Gardena-Ortega, a thrice divorced, twice recovered, middle aged, over-the-hill-but-don’t-tell-her-that, gone-diva.

I’ve recently heard it suggested from HR experts in order to keep a young adult worker motivated today, a company should throw a huge birthday party on company time just to show him/her how appreciated they are. That’s the recommendation for today. What are they going to do when my grandkids are old enough to enter the workplace?

I hope every company can accommodate it’s Gen-Y, Z, whatever employees by meeting birthday expectations with a complete Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey circus complete with sideshow. Maybe they can get Chuck-E-Cheese to cater it and pay Bounce-U for some fun, giant inflatable palaces.

Jeez. This definitely comes under the category of “Just because you can, doesn’t necessarily mean you should.” Please think about what you’re really doing to your kids down the road, parents (I’m using that term lightly.) You’re not helping your kids, you’re not even being good to them! Wake up and start acting like parents instead of buddies. If you don’t know how to do this, I suggest you ask your parents or better yet, your grandparents for their input and guidance.

Either that or invite me to some of these wingdings. I can’t seem to get Britney to return any of my calls.

OK. Either you agree with me or not. If not, you probably haven’t read this far and clicked to another blog thinking I’m just a bitter old fart who probably never had a birthday of my own. And you’d be wrong. I was very spoiled (albeit nothing like today’s kids) and I know how hard it was as an adult to painfully learn my true worth in the real world.

If you’re still with me, here’s your Doodle-O’Da-Day: About how I’m gonna feel when these over-indulged, pampered, spoiled brats enter the workforce.

monkeyrun.jpg

C’ya!

Posted by: zycos | August 31, 2007

Excuse me… your identity slip is showing.

Our government knows something needs be done about identity theft but doesn’t really know what to do about it. In attempts to look responsive they pass largely ineffectual laws, increasingly infringing upon privacy rights and restricting the freedoms of its own law abiding citizens.

By their own figures, identity theft touched 1.7 million people in 2005.

Frightening statistic, is it not?

NOT!

It does sound like a lot and if you’re included in that unfortunate number, it can certainly be a life interrupting, frustrating event. But in a nation of 300 million+ people, the percentage is .0058 of the current U.S. population. That’s right, not even half of a half of one percent. The way the media portrays it, every other person in America is a victim of identity theft and the person standing next to him or her is surely next.

(UPDATE: This figure was reported on the nightly news but in double checking the facts, I found only 685,000 cases initially reported as identity theft in 2005. Of that number, only 37% or 253,450 cases were actual identity theft (.00085% of the U.S. population) while the remaining 63% concerned various other types of consumer fraud cases. This information can be found of Page 4 of this link to the Governments Consumer Sentinel Program.)

I’m not making light of someone whose identity has been stolen but let’s take a realistic look at some of the reasons why that may have happened.

The news and special investigative reports dredge up intelligent appearing victims who claim to have exercised due diligence at safeguarding their personal and financial information. Yet, they still fell victim to identity theft. That’s enough to strike financial fear in any responsible person and certainly among the masses.

The problem is not unresponsive government, although they are not without complicity in this matter. The great State of Misery, uh, Missouri, actually sells personal information from it’s drivers license database to the highest bidders. That’s right. Name, address, DOB all sitting there to be used and abused. Mandatory information collected to grant you a driving privilege, then sold off for everything from junkmail to identity theft. Think it’s only Missouri? I bet not.

But even despite that serious fiduciary breach by the state, the true fault sits squarely on the victim’s shoulders. You heard it right. The victims are ultimately to blame for their own identity theft. Here’s how:

People still willingly give out their personal information to complete strangers and in the case of the internet, faceless strangers. Why? Many times it’s provided just for the asking.

Have you ever overheard a store salesclerk ask a customer for additional information to verify their check or credit card purchase? How about delivery information and when the best time someone will be home? The customer responds with the requested info in a normal speaking voice, sometimes even repeating it just to make certain the clerk gets it right. Uh-huh. The clerk and anybody standing close enough to be interested. Why would anybody in today’s society make it so easy for someone to rip them off?

Every time I overhear something like this, it makes me want to kick the salesclerk’s ass and slap the crap out of that customer. (Oh, sorry. I must remember my anger management classes.)

Just as a wakeup call, I’ve thought about calling that customer at home, verifying the delivery time and date, then politely informing them… I’m not the store. Hangup and let ’em wonder (and worry) about who that might have been. But I’m not that mean.

Reserving one simple right for yourself will protect your personal information more than any other measure. Remember it, live by it and fight for it: Just because someone or some entity asks for your private information it doesn’t, in any way, obligate you to give it. You’re not morally obligated, many times not legally obligated and not even under the guise of false patriotism, obligated to surrender it.

Even if they say it’s required, threatening to withhold services from utility companies, insurance companies and the like. I’ll pay a deposit if I have to, just to not submit a credit history with SSN. Not everyone can afford this and they do have you by the shorts, more or less, but you can still complain…and LOUDLY! Make it more trouble than it’s worth or demand to keep seeing the next higher supervisor until you get your way.

Companies can always justify their “needing” your private information. In reality and truth few need all of it, some might actually need some of it, most don’t need any of it.

Most just want it for their own (and their affiliates – which can mean anything) marketing purposes, others see it as a sacred cash cow. Regardless, your identity is at stake. You have every right to defend it, even a responsibility to yourself to do so. At least as much responsibility as they’ll tell you they have in collecting it.

Believe me, if they’re a legitimate company to begin with, they want your money far more than they want your social security number. (Beware when the money they get FOR your information exceeds the money they get FROM you.)

I’ve refused to complete health and life insurance forms where they ask for a social security number (which they cannot legally require) demanding they issue an “internally generated number” (remember that term) for administering my account. Without objection or exception, they issued my policies assigned with their own identifiable numbers.

That’s why I cringe at companies like Progressive Insurance and others, who require a credit check just to give you a quote. Kudos to Allstate who recognized a ballpark quote will suffice for most comparison shopping and offer your choice with or without the credit check.

And I’ve taken my business elsewhere. When a storage facility required my fingerprints and SSN, citing their participation in a police-sponsored drug awareness program, I’m the one who just said, “No.” Without surrendering that specific identity, they refused to rent me a 5×10 storage space saying, “If I had nothing to hide, I wouldn’t object.” What? My state issued photo driver’s license wasn’t enough to rent a storage space? Get real.

(I hoped enough people would object to this program where the merchant would have to decide whether to stand on its false doctrine or stay in business. I was disheartened to learn many people were so obviously in need of extra storage space they complied without even a whimper. This kind of silent surrender only fuels more useless and invasive information mining schemes.)

The responsibility of protecting your identity belongs to you, not the government. The laws are already there. You need to inform yourself and be more assertive in safeguarding your private information. Nobody is going to do that better than you. If you think youself already vigilant, consider how many times you’ve filled out a questionnaire, entered a contest or completed a new patient medical form? How much information have you voluntarily, if unwittingly, provided?

How about when you write out checks printed with your name, address, phone number and then add your social security or drivers license number for further proof to your identity?

Ever pay your credit card bill and write your account number on the “Memo” line? Now they have your name, address, bank name, checking account number and your credit card number. Don’t forget to put your account number in the space provided on the outside of the envelope, you know, right under your return name and address.

Jeez! How dumb can people be?

And my personal pet peeve: Well meaning people who excitedly publish their family tree on the internet. Oh, now anyone with the same last name can find out if they’re related. Isn’t that fun? No. It’s moronic. And extremely dangerous in terms of hurdling the last criteria for positive identification – your mother’s maiden name. Or hell, your great grandmother’s maiden name for that matter. Why don’t you just post all your personal and private financial information on the web and invite everyone to have a crack at it?

I love the responsible folks who think they’re so I.D. savvy and proudly announce they would never buy anything on the internet. Those same dolts will travel out of town, dine at an unknown restaurant and hand a perfect stranger their credit card. The waiter disappears with your card in hand for 3 maybe 5 minutes or more. You don’t get nervous about that, do you?

You should.

What do you think can be done with your card and a copy machine in those 3-5 minutes? Even a basic pencil can copy the vital card information including your “failsafe” 3 digit ‘Securecode.’ You’ve just given that stranger all the pertinent information needed to make a successful online or telephone sale, including your signature. And they know you’re on vacation so that’ll give them an extra couple days to sack your credit line before you get home.

The facade of security permeates our society. The media reports on it. Government officials thump their chest with concern. And the only ones who can actually do something about it are the credit card companies who issue the card in the first place. But they don’t do as much as they could. If it wasn’t so serious, it’d be a joke.

To their credit (no pun intended) some card issuers have begun to alias a random number in place of the actual card number. The alias is tied to their internal records but supposedly unavailable to the merchant. That’s a start. Having each user on an account be provided his or her own alias number would serve even better.

But what about the people working at the credit card companies? Could a disgruntled employee be selling your information to someone else at $50 a pop? Sure they could. The people working at credit card companies are just like anybody else. Most of them are honest but enough of them aren’t. And it really only takes one.

What if all of them were honest? Is it thinkable they may have a friend or family member who isn’t? Of course.

A more recent scam is thieves who set up fake companies on the internet, advertise too-good-to-be-true prices, usually on electronics, never intending to deliver the goods. They just want to capture your credit card information.

It’s amazing how having a simple merchant account, even for a tiny home based business, can extract all your personal data from one purchase. I was always amazed at the information delivered me with every purchase made on my site. If I was a bad person, I could have used that information a thousand different ways.

And how about this one: A large, national mortgage company erroneously put my fax number on all its satellite office fax machines (they were just one digit off.) I began receiving 15, 25 and 30 page, completely revealing, financial documents for some very wealthy clients purchasing new homes.

Over a period of about 6 months I repeatedly emailed this company, faxed them and even called to alert them of their error. I finally told them I would begin contacting their clients directly and explain how careless this mortgage company was with their financial records. That stopped the faxes… for about a year. Then a couple more loan packets came through again. This time I threatened legal action to recover my lost time and expenses. Since then I’ve only received one more packet. Amazing. Simply amazing.

Know this:
Your liability in the unauthorized use of a credit card is only $50. It’s a federal law and clearly printed in your card issuers terms. You have a responsibility to report a lost card within so many days of discovering it lost but that’s about it. All that special insurance they offer so you don’t have to pay thousands in unauthorized charges, is just a ploy to pry more dollars from your wallet.

Compare that to your ATM debit card where you entire bank balance is at stake. Lose that card and you risk financial ruin. Think they can’t use it without your secret PIN number? Guess again. Every crook knows by pushing the “Credit” button instead of the “Debit” button at the checkout line authorizes the use of an ATM Debit card WITHOUT a PIN number. Duh! (See what I mean by the credit industry not doing enough? A simple programming change at the main terminal would prevent this.)

So, you have a whole bunch of people running around like chickens with their heads cut off trying to solve a problem that isn’t a problem for anybody except the companies who issued the damn card in the first place. They don’t appear too concerned about it, so why should you?

To protect your credit. ‘Cause nobody else is interested in protecting your credit. Nobody. Not the credit card companies. Not the government.

Ask the 1.7 million people how easy it was to get their credit reports corrected. The big 3 credit reporting companies have the upper hand in determining when and if they’ll correct inaccuracies in your file. There should be a law requiring them to do so within 60 days of receiving notice from you. After all, if you’re lying they can always destroy your rating at a later date. But if you’re honest like most people, you’ll play hell getting all 3 bureaus to unanimously remove errors and adjust for inconsistencies.

So the first line of protecting your personal and sensitive information is really, up to you. Guard it wisely and always respond to their questions with one of your own, “Why do you want to know.”

The military calls it “On a need to know basis.” More often than not, the drones asking for your personal information don’t really have “a legitimate need to know.”

It’s your credit, use it and protect it wisely.

Addendum: My father used to have a police scanner. The kind you buy at Radio Shack. We’d sit there for hours listening to routine traffic stops. The officer would always call in for verification of a stopped motorists credentials. Among information provided would be the detainee’s name, address, license plate and drivers license number along with date of birth. Though we didn’t think about it then, there’s certainly enough information to assist any identity theft operation. More frequently the Social Security Number is being reported along with this information for anyone with a scanner to hear… or use.

Just some disquieting food for thought the next time you’re pulled over.

OK. Here’s the Doodle-O’da-Day. Kinda apropos, given the subject matter.

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C’ya!

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