Montana leading the way on net neutrality

Don’t look now but Montana is leading the charge on net neutrality.  This was made clear after Gov. Steve Bullock signed an executive order putting the Treasure State at the forefront of the national battle, a move that’s since been echoed by the governors of New York and New Jersey.  Each of the orders in question essentially state that internet providers doing business with the state can’t charge more to deliver particular content faster to any customer in the state.  The efforts are a direct response to the FCC’s recent decision to dismantle Obama-era regulations that prohibited broadband providers from blocking websites or charging for higher-quality service or certain content.

Republican Commissioners on the FCC outvoted their Democratic counterparts 3-2 to undo the regulations, making it even more noticeable that it was a traditionally red state that moved so aggressively to protect them.  Similar bills had been introduced in New York and Rhode Island, but Montana was the first state where a governor used an executive order to accomplish this, as reported by the NY Times last week.  More governors around the country are likely to pursue similar steps, particularly in those states where first amendment protection is a higher political priority.  It also appears legal challenges to the order are imminent, as we are in new territory regarding the net neutrality battle at both the state and federal level.

Stay tuned..


Fox Network may have paid bribes for soccer TV rights

Last week in a Brooklyn federal court, a marketing exec alleged he helped Fox Sports pay bribes in return for soccer TV rights.

The testifying witness, Alejandro Burzaco, was formerly head of a marketing company called T&T Sports Marketing Ltd., which was jointly-owned by Fox Sports.  While in this role, Burzaco alleged he helped facilitate a $3.7 million contract between T&T and Somerton Corp., which was actually a cover for bribes related to securing TV rights.

These bribes were paid to the three soccer officials now on trial in Brooklyn, specifically Juan Ángel Napout, former president of CONMEBOL and Paraguay’s soccer federation; Manuel Burga, former president of Peru’s soccer federation; and José Maria Marin, former president of Brazil’s soccer federation.  In exchange for these bribes Fox Sports was awarded coverage of soccer tournaments, though it remains unclear at this point whether Fox Sports itself will face charges.

Prosecutors introduced the $3.7 million contract into evidence, and it would appear the FIFA corruption saga is only getting heated up in terms of criminal convictions.

Burzaco not only testified about the bribes related to TV coverage, but also separate bribes related to helping Qatar secure the 2022 World Cup.  The NY Times reported that Burzaco named the bribed parties in the Qatar case as three officials on FIFA’s executive committee: Julio Humberto Grondona, Nicolas Leoz, and Ricardo Teixeira.

There have been rumblings related to bribery and corruption related to the Qatar World Cup ever since the country was named as a host.  This testimony will likely only increase pressure to rescind the decision to hold the event there.

Smartphones, stupid people

This entry will be a bit of a departure from the norm, but in these strange times do norms even exist anymore?

I sense a shift coming in the paradigm of the human experience.  An impending numbness..

I was 25 when smartphones came out.  I didn’t get one, but watched with bemusement as they started to creep into everyday conversation.  At first, they were an extension of activities people were already doing.  They played music.  They took pictures and video.  They were also phones.  Phones that people carried with them wherever they went.  It seemed a benign sort of development at first, simply a nicer version of the flip-phones people were already using.

Then social media began to take hold.  I still didn’t get one, but all of a sudden noticed I wasn’t understanding aspects of the everyday conversation they inhabited.

Likes, posts, tweets, shares, hashtags.  There was a new universe.  A newniverse.  I didn’t understand it and wasn’t a part of it, but could feel it expanding around me.  If people weren’t staring at their screens, they were talking about something on their screens.  They looked at them when they woke up, then again before they left the house.  While they drove to work.  Something new was always a swipe away and people were more than willing to fill their time in the safety of their own personal spaces.

Parents, for reasons I don’t fully understand, felt it necessary to provide their teenagers with phones.  You could witness, in real time, the retrenchment of an entire generation.  Kids pulling back from the real world and investing wholeheartedly into the worlds they created online.

The phenomenon also transformed the news landscape and pop culture.  Conflict and controversy were amplified, and offended people were everywhere.  Localized and isolated tensions became national debates and divisions deepened with each wave of news.  An era of outrage began to take hold.

Outrage and, it would seem, a sort of accelerated mental degeneration.

One study by De Montfort University linked the number of times a person uses the internet or their mobile phone with their likelihood of experiencing a range of ‘cognitive failures’ or mental blunders.  Another from the University of Waterloo found an association between heavy smartphone use and lowered intelligence.  There are more I could mention, but at this point the debate seems more experiential than academic.  It’s a shift you can see all around you.  On subways, buses, and in the streets.  In living rooms and kitchens.

I have no answers except to refrain from engaging in social media and to use my phone as infrequently as possible.  This feels more like avoiding the problem than actually fixing anything, but sometimes perhaps avoiding more stupidity is the best we can do.

French bank being investigated for role in Olympics bribery scandal

French bank Société Générale facilitated a $2 million dollar wire transfer that prosecutors now believe was part of a bribe to ensure the 2016 Olympics would be held in Rio.  According to the NY Times, the transaction in question occurred between a Brazilian businessman and the family of an IOC member days before the selection was announced.  The bank has already been fined $6 million for inadequate anti-money laundering controls, but it appears they are going to put up a lengthy legal fight in this case.

Lord knows they have the resources.

The news reminded me of the FIFA bribery scandal that blew up a few years ago following a lengthy FBI investigation.  In that case a Swiss banker was implicated for his role facilitating the bribes, though no fines or sanctions were levied against the bank itself.

Stay tuned to see whether prosecutors in this case have more substantial proof showing institutional complicity involving money laundering, and if so expect a significant fine against Société Générale announced in the coming months.

And by significant I mean an amount that will have no effect on their bottom line whatsoever.

Disney wants to start their own Netflix

A few weeks ago and without much fanfare, Disney announced it was buying 42 percent of an internet distribution company called BamTech for $1.6 billion.  The purchase brought Disney’s total stake in the company to 75 percent, and signaled the beginning of what will be Disney’s own direct-to-consumer streaming service.

Disney, it would appear, is jumping full-fledged into the distribution game.  In doing so, they will have to sever a very lucrative licensing deal with Netflix, as the two companies will now be direct competitors.  The official amount has never been disclosed, but the NY Times estimated Netflix pays Disney somewhere between $220 million and $300 million each year to be able to play their content.  This partnership is now singing its swan song, and the implications will drastically affect the streaming landscape.

The power-grab comes as Google, Apple and Facebook have announced plans to spend billions on original programming, echoing Amazon’s efforts and signaling a drastic shift in the media market in the coming years.

DMX facing jail time for tax evasion

After pleading not guilty to 14 charges of tax fraud, DMX (aka Earl Simmons) stated he was relying on his faith to get him through the troublesome times.  “My life is in God’s hands” the rapper stated after spending the night in a New York jail and being released on a $500,000 bond.

Prosecutors claim he avoided at least $1.7 million in taxes between 2002 and 2005, and “went out of his way to evade taxes, including by avoiding personal bank accounts, setting up accounts in other’s names and paying personal expenses largely in cash” (according to the indictment).

The once bombastic rapper known simply as “X” was also charged with failing to file tax returns from 2010 through 2015, and filing a false affidavit in United States Bankruptcy Court.  If convicted he faces up to 44 years in prison.

One of his first jams came to my mind:


One interesting note is that although the bail agreement stipulated confinement to the New York City area, his lawyer is requesting travel permission to allow for future DMX shows.

Stay tuned for updates..

John Oliver reeaaally wants to talk about the Murray lawsuit..

But he can’t..

During a recent appearance on The Late Show, Oliver was asked about it and looked physically pained at having to comply with the advice of HBO’s Counsel not to speak on the matter.

Here’s a brief clip:

Murray Energy Corporation, one of the largest coal mining companies in the country, recently sued HBO and Oliver over a piece aired on the comedian’s show.  It is the latest in a string of lawsuits Murray Energy Corp has filed against media entities.  This includes a recent suit against the NY Times for publishing an article stating Bob Murray, the company’s founder, had falsely insisted a fatal mine collapse had been caused by an earthquake, and that Murray Energy was a serial violator of mining regulations.

The Times has moved to dismiss that case, and dismissal indeed appears likely in both cases given the weakness of Murray’s position.  There are indisputable facts on record showing Murray’s lengthy mining safety violations, and Oliver saying Bob Murray looked like a “geriatric Dr. Evil” is going to be hard to dispute.



Warner Bros settles lawsuit with the Tolkien Estate

After years tangled up in court, Warner Brothers has finally settled a copyright infringement lawsuit for $80 million filed by the Tolkien estate.  The lawsuit was centered on a breach of contract claim for merchandising Tolkien’s characters beyond what was originally agreed to by both parties.  This included the rights to an online gambling game, which Tolkien’s estate (rightfully) argued denigrated the author and his work.  Warner Brothers had originally countersued, claiming millions of dollars in losses directly caused by the lawsuit.

It now seems they’ve exhausted all efforts to jam this up in court in deciding to settle the case, finalizing what’s been an embarrassing chapter for Warner in their relationship with Tolkien’s work.

The NY Times first reported the news, and although terms of the settlement were not disclosed, it was likely a hefty payday for the estate.  The original 1969 agreement between the parties only granted Warner the right to sell “tangible personal property” such as “figurines, tableware, stationery items, clothing and the like.”  Because electronic or digital rights weren’t included, Warner had little to stand on here.  Despite their best efforts to drag out the proceedings, their final decision to settle was the right one and reflects the overall weakness of their position.

JRR Tolkien 1955

Unreleased Prince music held up by legal disputes

Prince fans will have to wait a bit longer for a chance to hear the troves of unreleased songs found in a vault at his Minnesota home.  After his death, Universal negotiated for rights to some of the unreleased material, only to later find the artist had signed an agreement with Warner Brothers (relating to the same material).  Universal claims they were defrauded by the Bremer Trust, which managed Prince’s assets, into thinking the purchase was legitimate.  The NY Times has now reported that litigation over these songs appears to be imminent.

It’s not known how much material was found in the vault, but some have claimed it could be thousands of songs.  In June, Warner released a reissue of “Purple Rain” that included a bonus disc of unreleased material, but this apparently only scratches the surface.


Court orders exhumation of Salvador Dali’s body to settle paternity dispute

A Spanish court has ordered Salvador Dalí’s body be exhumed to settle a dispute filed by a woman claiming to be his daughter.  He is buried in a crypt in his hometown of Figueres, Spain, above which sits a theater and museum dedicated to his work.

The NY Times reported the Court’s findings, which included the determination that the exhumation was necessary because no other remains were available that could adequately settle the paternity claim.

The matter started when a Spanish Tarot card reader, Pilar Abel, claimed she was his daughter as a result of a “clandestine love affair” her mother had with the painter in the late 1950s.  Dalí left paintings worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the Spanish state, and Ms. Abel has filed a lawsuit against the Spanish state and Dali’s foundation, saying she wants “whatever corresponds” to her for being his heir.

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