The Erosion Of Rights

On January 18th, along with thousands of other websites, I blacked out this blog as a sign of solidarity against SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act). These bills, while written in an attempt to stop the piracy of copyrighted material, also have the potential to cripple the Internet and affect many of the sites we have become accustom to; such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Under this legislation if an individual were to post copyrighted material on a website, that particular website would be liable for the actions of that individual. Even the simple act of posting a link on your Facebook page to a video or song on YouTube could cause you to be in violation of these acts. This would either force some websites to completely shut down or cause them to cease all user participation in the fear that one person could get them into trouble.

I am happy to say that as word spread about the flawed nature of these bills and the affect they could have, people voiced their opposition to them and seemingly our politicians have heard their outrage. Many in Congress who once supported these acts, including some of those who sponsored the legislation, have turned against it. While these bills are not completely dead, at least enough noise has been made for our elected officials to wake up and take notice of our gripe.

Even though SOPA and PIPA are a major cause for concern, there is a larger issue that has been bothering me. Over the last few years it seems like laws and regulations are being put into place to test how far people are willing to be pushed. They are trying to see how much freedom and how many rights we are willing to give up before we fight back. In some cases the government will say these regulations are designed to keep us safe. After 9/11 that’s the excuse they used to pass the Patriot Act. If asked today, that’s the same excuse they would use to explain the recently passed National Defense Authorization Act. You need only look as far as the airport to see this playing out. All the full body scans and pat-downs (groping) you endure while going through a security checkpoint; they are for your benefit. Time after time we hear horror stories about how the TSA mistreats people and even though there’s outrage, nothing is ever really done to rectify the situation. They usually just issue an apology, say that the matter is being reviewed and that’s it.

If it wasn’t bad enough that we have the government trying to limit our rights, we are also being attacked by the likes of credit card companies and banks. These companies feel that they have the right to charge any fee they see fit and they expect people to just accept it. A perfect example of this is when Bank of America tried to charge a $5 per month fee to use your debit card. What they didn’t expect though was that people had hit the breaking point. Their clients fought back to the point where the planned fee was scrapped. The anger was so great it even caused other banks to announce they wouldn’t charge such a fee.

People are finally starting to wake up to the fact that they don’t have to just roll over and take whatever the powers that be give them. It started last year with the citizens of Egypt and Libya revolting against their governments. They stood up against years of repression and their voices were heard. We’ve seen it here in the US with the emergence of the Occupy Movement and the focus on the 1% versus the 99%. All these protests, whether successful or not, should at the very least be a sign to governments that people are frustrated and willing to stand up for what they believe in.

While it might not seem like it sometimes, I still believe the direction of this country can be determined by its people. We don’t need politicians deciding what’s best for us, because the only thing they’re going to do is what’s best for them so they can keep their seats. They work for us, not the other way around. We’ve proven how powerful we can be based on the outcome of the SOPA/PIPA protests and we need to continue this type of pressure if we want to protect our rights and freedoms. There might be thousands of politicians trying to determine what’s best for us, but there are tens of millions of citizens in the US that can stand up to them if we don’t like what they do. If that’s the case, I like our odds.


Don’t Be A Slave To New Year’s

Five… Four… Three… Two… One… The clock strikes midnight and 2012 arrives. Confetti falls from the sky as Auld Lang Syne bellows through the night. People warmly embrace, wishing one another a Happy New Year. We shed off the skin of 2011, rejoicing in the fact that we can start anew. The page is turned and the next chapter begins.

As the jubilance of the moment fades, thoughts turn to the goals and aspirations we set for ourselves. For some it could be a grand scheme to drastically change your life. Others might have a feat they want to accomplish or a wish to simply be more productive. No matter how large or small these objectives are we all have them and everyone knows it. This inevitably leads to the question, “What is your New Year’s resolution?” I hate this question. Upon hearing it asked the first thing I think of is someone giving a cliché answer such as “I’m going to exercise more” or “I’m going to go quit smoking.” My next thought is that by the end of January the majority of these people will already have broken their resolution. It becomes less and less of a priority until it’s nothing more than a footnote for that year.

That is why I reject the notion of making New Year’s resolutions. I have two major issues with this custom. The first is the idea that the biggest changes you want to make in your life should come at the beginning of the year. If you want to make a change or commit to doing something it shouldn’t matter when you decide to do it. What difference does it make whether it’s January 1st, October 26th or any other date? That leads me to my second problem; the difference between “Should” and “Want.” With resolutions being so ingrained into our culture I think there are many people out there who believe they “Should” make one to begin the year. In other words, even if people don’t “Want” to they feel compelled to make resolutions because that is what’s expected. If you’re not truly committed to making a change then there’s a good chance your endeavor will end in failure. You have to “Want” to make a change. If you “Want” for something, you desire it and honest effort need to be put forth to attain your goal. Do you sit there and think, “I’m going to “Want” something beginning on January 1st”? The answer is no. “Want” is not dictated by a date. If you decide to begin the journey towards your objective on the 1st of the year then sobeit, but there is no rule stating you can’t start “Wanting” to do something at any time. Choose to change your life on your schedule, not at the behest of a calendar.

I raise this issue because for a long time I have gone back and forth about whether or not to blog. There were times when I’d get inspired to do so only to have the feeling wane a few days later. Then something would happen that I’d have an opinion on which would cause that desire to come creeping back. During those times when I thought I would start blogging the question that kept popping up was, “How should I start?” I had many things I could talk about, but nothing that I thought to be a good introduction to a blog. That was until now. What better way to begin than by discussing the tradition of people trying to start new things and making changes to their lives?

Even though I used New Year’s as a catalyst for subject matter to launch this blog, I didn’t suddenly decide I was going to start blogging in 2012 as part of a resolution. I didn’t tell myself that I was going to post entries on a weekly basis or create prose worthy of being published in The New Yorker. To me this is an experiment. This is my chance to express opinions on subjects that interest me. If people read it and enjoy it, that would be great. At the same time if no one ever reads what I have to say, then that’s fine too. It will enter the void with all the other blogs nobody cares about. As for how long this experiment will last? Will it be six weeks? Perhaps two years? Until there’s peace in the Middle East? I don’t know. The only thing I can say for sure is that like anything else a person attempts to do, as long as I “Want” to blog, it will continue.