Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Three UCLA Players & The Other Side of the Sword

UCLA's Codey Riley, LiAngelo Ball & Jalen Hill
After work last evening I stopped by my local ACME to pick up a few things - it was truly crazy in there. Epic.

Even though a display of artificial Christmas trees and wreaths greeted me at the entrance, like millions both here and around the globe, I'm looking forward to spending the Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends.


While carefully weaving my way through aisles filled with anxious shoppers pushing laden grocery carts filled with their Thanksgiving Day needs, my mind kept wandering to Codey Riley, LiAngelo Ball and Jalen Hill - the three UCLA basketball players who made global headlines a couple weeks ago after getting arrested for shoplifting in a Louis Vuitton store in the city of Hangzhou, China.

Now ironically, as the BBC reported the Bruins were overseas for their season opener against Georgia Tech as part of what's called the "Pac-12 Global Initiative, aiming to boost international recognition and the personal experience of players."  

If you look at the PAC-12 Global Initiative webpage, the UCLA basketball team's recent trip to China was about a lot more than just a season opener.

It was part of a five-year partnership between a large west coast American university, the government of a major Asian power and a major foreign corporation that involved the efforts and participation of administrators, high-profile alumni like former NBA All-Star Bill Walton and members of UCLA's cheerleading team leading clinics for local kids.

Members of UCLA & Georgia Tech's teams,
coaches and cheerleaders in China
To say nothing of the sponsorship involvement of Alibaba, the massive Chinese e-commerce company (think "Asian Amazon.com"), with a market capitalization of over $486 billion, it's now the world's sixth largest internet company - and owner Jack Ma is the wealthiest man in China.

But thanks to the three aforementioned players, the trip has been branded by the actions of three people.

UCLA's recent visit certainly boosted "international recognition" and player's "personal experience",
but probably not quite in the way that the Pac-12 probably intended.

As a former Division I college athlete, and a young man of color who played football on a high-profile athletic team on a predominantly white campus, I watched and read the news reports over the past couple week with interest.

Partly because I certainly made errors in judgement that many college students make while trying to fit in, or appease others  - or while just acting stupid or careless.

Believe me, I definitely did some things that wouldn't have looked good being reported as a lead story on ESPN's Sports Center - things I still think about and regret

But I certainly never took advantage of, or hurt anyone - and definitely never even thought about stealing anything.

When the members of major Division I college sports teams (particularly football and basketball) travel to bowl games or special exhibition games, these are big high-profile events that usually involve some kind of network television coverage.

College football National Championship games
have become globally-televised spectacles
I was fortunate enough to experience those kinds of events at Penn State where I played in a Kickoff Classic season opener at the Meadowlands and in four different post-season bowl games including the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Arizona.

I can tell you that virtually every single minute of the player's time is choreographed according to a strict itinerary.

That's partially intentional to keep young guys out of trouble and focused on the game.

Between meals, travel to and from practices, studying film, publicity events, scheduled trips to places like theme parks, awards dinners - there's scarcely a moment that one is not under constant scrutiny from team coaches, administrators and the media.

The scope of the event follows you everywhere you go, even the lobby of the hotel where teams stay is a hangout for reporters, alumni and the members of player's families who are lucky enough to be able to afford to travel to see their son or daughter play - and of course, fans and curious strangers.

The only time you're not in the spotlight is when you're in your hotel room, and the little bit of free time you do get to explore the city you're in is a rare commodity that's limited by a curfew.

You are constantly reminded that as a player, you are a representative of the college or university and that your behavior reflects that.

TV news graphics like this were replayed for days
after the arrests were first reported
So when I heard the news about those three UCLA kids getting arrested in China, I cringed reflexively.

Part of me was pissed, part of me had sympathy for them, and part of me was genuinely confused.

What part of their brains was thinking that shoplifting sunglasses from an expensive store in a pricey downtown shopping district in China was a good idea?


Let's be honest here, the specter of race cannot be separated from this whole incident - in fact it helped drive the story.

These are three young African-American men in China, how could they not realize they wouldn't be under constant scrutiny no matter where they went given the authoritative nature of the Chinese state and a tightly-controlled culture that lacks the kind of racial diversity found in America?

While head coach Steve Alford announced that he was suspending all three players from the team indefinitely, their futures are very much up in the air - and that's an unfortunate thing to consider when you're talking about three college undergrads with their whole lives ahead of them.

What they did was an embarrassment to themselves, the UCLA students, faculty and alumni and the Bruins basketball team - Bruin'sNation.com even has a snap poll where members of the UCLA community can weigh in on what kind of penalty the players deserve.

But I guess I'm writing all this because even though I feel what they did was stupid and they must each face the consequences for it, my heart goes out to their families.

When egos collide: Donald Trump v. LaVar Ball
Playing major college sports is a bit of a many-sided sword - and the hyper-scrutiny is one of the sides that can cut deeply.

Friends, classmates, former teachers, members of your family and even total strangers know all kinds of things about what you're doing and how you're performing on and off the field.

That's why I kept thinking about those three UCLA players while I was shopping.

Amidst all the Thanksgiving rush last evening I kept wondering: What's Thanksgiving going to be like for those three players with the truth of what they did now a global story that hovers over each of them like a personal cloud?

When young men like that reach the Division I level in any sport, the members of the communities where they come from already know all about them and their athletic achievements - those same people will know all about their having been arrested for shoplifting in China too.

Especially since the whole affair has taken on a surreal circus-like reality-TV feel as, predictably, Donald Trump has used the situation to start yet another petty public spat with LiAngelo Ball's father LaVar - another textbook narcissist who views virtually anything that happens from the perspective of his own gargantuan ego.

LaVar Ball is the guy who claimed he could have beaten Michael Jordan one-on-one on the basketball court back in August (Yeah, OK LaVar...), Jordan responded by saying Ball couldn't have beaten him if he (Jordan) was "one-legged."

Trump is still Tweeting about it two weeks after it happened like some maladjusted 15-year-old who just can't let go - check out Vann Newkirk's piece in The Atlantic Monthly, "Donald Trump's Eternal Feud With Blackness".

And so it goes, stupidity is cheap, shoplifting is still a crime, and a lot of people are scratching their heads wondering what three talented college basketball players with athletic scholarships that pay their college tuition were thinking trying to steal sunglasses from a store in China.

It's a question they (and their families) will be wrestling with over Thanksgiving and beyond as they try and heal the cuts from the other side of the sword.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Keystone XL - TransCanada's Unwelcome Intrusion

Ariel view of Thursday's 210,000 gallon TransCanada
pipeline spill in Amherst, South Dakota 
At this point, one could basically have a blindfolded monkey throw a dart at a large poster on the wall with the photos of all the major figures in the Trump administration on it and hit any number of examples of government gone wrong.   

But from my perspective, one of the most glaring examples of government absurdity in 21st century America can be found thousands of miles away from the nation's capital in the state of Nebraska.

Now you heard about that TransCanada pipeline spill last Thursday?

As Richard Gonzales of NPR reported on Thursday, TransCanada shut down a stretch of pipeline that runs from Hardesty in the Canadian province of Alberta, south to Cushing, Oklahoma and eventually to a massive oil storage and transport facility 75 miles east of St. Louis in Pakota, Illinois known as the Pakota Oil Tank Farm - which already receives oil from the Enbridge and Capline pipelines.

According to Gonzales' NPR report, a drop in pressure in the TransCanada pipeline early Thursday morning revealed that approximately 210,000 gallons of Canadian Tar Sands oil had leaked below the surface in the town of Amherst, South Dakota.

That's about 5,000 barrels of thick Canadian diluted bitumen sludge leaking underneath the ground in America - take a look at the ariel photograph above to see what that looks like.

Unlike crude oil which floats, the toxic diluted bitumen sinks - so try and picture the impact 210,000 gallons of that stuff slowly leaking down into the ground is going to have on the ecosystem.

While it is important to note that the Amherst spill last Thursday did not take place on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline which made headlines in 2015 and 2016, it is operated by the same owner, TransCanada - and a 17,000 gallon leak already took place in April 2016 along the Keystone XL pipeline.

So this morning I read Alexander Kaufman and Chris D'Angelo's Huffington Post article which reports that last Thursday's leak in South Dakota comes just as the Nebraska Public Service Commission is set to meet on Monday morning to make a final decision on approving the stretch of the 1,179 -mile Keystone XL pipeline that will pass through the state.

Nebraska landowners and citizens united in
opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline
According to the Website, the Nebraska PSC was initially established back in 1885 to regulate railroads, but its mandate has since expanded to a wide range of sectors including private water company rates, telecommunications carriers, major oil pipelines, natural gas jurisdictions, modular home construction and more.

The NPSC is composed of five commissioners who serve six-year terms, each of them represents one of five districts in the state - the elected position pays a tidy $75,000 a year.

The NPSC has been holding public hearings on the decision to allow the Keystone XL pipeline for years where the people of Nebraska have been expressing opposition to Keystone XL and for good cause.

According to an informative op-ed in the Scotts Bluff Star Herald back in August, if approved by the NPSC, the Keystone XL pipeline "will cross 250 intermittent streams and rivers and 350 roads...it will be within 500 feet of 270 water wells and 325 irrigation pivots."

As the op-ed notes, the diluted bitumen being pumped through the pipeline contains the carcinogen benzene and small amounts of xylene and polycylic aromatic hydrocarbons - "prolonged contact with these compounds has been associated with the induction of skin and lung tumors."  

Perhaps most disturbing, the Keystone XL pipeline would cross the Ogallala Aquifer - one of the largest fresh water supplies in the United States which provides freshwater to millions of Americans and untold numbers of animals and plants.

Despite baseless claims made by politicians who support the Keystone XL pipeline, it will only create 15 full-time jobs once it's completed.

Nebraska State Senator Annette Dubas
Given that it's owned by a foreign company and would be transporting hundreds of thousands of gallons a day of a highly dangerous toxic sludge to oil terminals in Port Arthur, Texas for transport to tankers where it will be sold overseas, one would think the decision to deny the project in the interest of public safety would be an easy one for the Nebraska PSC.

Especially given that approval of the pipeline would essentially be granting a foreign company rights and eminent domain over private land owned by Nebraska citizens.

But as the Huffington Post reported, remarkably, Nebraska's Major Oil Pipeline Siting Act of 2011 does not allow the NPSC to "evaluate safety considerations, including the risk or impact of spills or leaks from the major oil pipeline." 

It defies all logic that a state organization tasked with regulating oil pipelines is not allowed to consider "safety considerations" in deciding to approve a major oil pipeline project that could potentially have devastating consequences on Nebraska's environment.

But when you consider the fact that Nebraska State Senator Annette Dubas is the politician who introduced the Major Oil Pipeline Siting Act in 2011, it kind of makes sense.

As the Lincoln Journal Star reported back in 2011, Dubas took an undisclosed amount of money from TransCanada to allow them to park construction equipment on farm and ranch land owned by she and her husband.

It's a troubling example of government gone wrong when safety can't be considered in evaluating a project that could impact the lives of millions of people.

And if you're the politician who inserted that clause in the law, regardless of whether you're a Republican or Democrat, it's clear that the safety and well being of the people of Nebraska and the environment they live in mean less to you than the undisclosed money you got from TransCanada.


Anyway we'll see soon enough, the NPSC is scheduled to meet at 10am tomorrow morning.

And even if the law prevents them from considering the safety considerations when deciding to approve or deny the Keystone XL pipeline from passing through Nebraska, the five commission members can't be brain dead.

They know damn well 210,000 gallons of diluted bitumen Tar Sands sludge spilled in the neighboring state of South Dakota last Thursday.

And if they don't they've got no business making decisions that impact the health and safety of the people they're elected to serve.

Yesterday I was pulling for Penn State to beat Nebraska on the football field, but tomorrow I'll be rooting for the the people and environment of Nebraska not be reduced to a secondary consideration to the profit needs of TransCanada by a government agency tasked with regulating industries that impact their lives.

Not because I have anything personal against TransCanada's right to make money, but because people and the environment have rights too - and as I blogged about back in January days after the inauguration, the United States is already criss-crossed with a complex web of oil and natural pipelines.

We don't need Keystone XL to heat our homes, power our vehicles or boost our energy independence, and it's a project that puts American lives and our environment at risk simply to produce profit for a foreign company.

It's just not worth the risk - let's hope the Nebraska Public Service Commission feels the same way tomorrow.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Draining the Swamp? Or Filling the Cesspool?

Republican senate candidate Roy Moore
It's been eye-opening hearing the reactions of conservative supporters of embattled Alabama Republican senate candidate Roy Moore try and justify their support for a man accused of having engaged in inappropriate sexual contact with girls as young as 14 and 16 years-old when he was the District Attorney of Etowah County in his 30's.

On NPR the other night I heard a woman from Alabama dismiss the accusations by saying young girls from Alabama mature quicker than other girls and look older than they are.

Earlier today, two days after a sixth woman named Tina Johnson stepped forward to accuse Moore of having grabbed her buttocks as she was leaving a meeting in his law office in 1991, Moore's wife Kayla dutifully appeared on the steps outside the state Capitol building in Montgomery alongside a handful of conservative Republican women to try and rally support for her husband.

She insisted that he wasn't stepping down in the face of what she called a slander campaign generated by the "liberal media" and "the Washington establishment" before attacking Moore's opponent, Democratic candidate Doug Jones for his positions on abortion and gun control.

As Andy Campbell reported for the Huffington Post earlier today, a bearded 58-year-old Moore supporter named Tim Hensley said allegations of sex with underage girls wouldn't dissuade his decision to back the controversial candidate:

"This was 40 years ago. I probably did some things I wasn't proud of then. I'd forgive him unless we found out about something, say, five years ago."   

Apparently the old saying "Time heals all things" holds particularly true in Alabama.

Real Washington Post reporter Lenny Bernstein 
But the obviously faked "Lenny Bernstein" robo-calls that a number of people from Alabama reported receiving earlier this week shed light on the local conservative Republican establishment's willingness to stir up anti-Semitic bigotry to try and undermine the legitimacy of the Washington Post story about the accusations against Moore.

Audio tapes released by the media reflect a truly deep-seated bias.

As The Atlantic reported on Tuesday (the same day that the sixth accuser came forward to accuse Moore of inappropriate sexual contact...), the robo-calls came from an undisclosed "private number" .

If you haven't heard the call, take a minute or two to listen to a recording received by a local pastor.

The nasally voice and phony New York accent offering $5,000 - $7,000 for women between the ages of 54 to 57 willing to offer damaging remarks on Roy Moore to send an email to the fictitious "lberstein@washingtonpost.com" (which is not the address used by Washington Post employees) are so obviously intended to stoke feelings of anti-Semitism that they reek of the alt-right movement's efforts to try and elect a right-wing anti-establishment Republican endorsed by former White House adviser and known anti-Semite Steve Bannon.

The real Lenny Bernstein, who reports on health issues for the Washington Post, not politics, released a statement on Twitter calling the robo-calls using his name an "Appalling effort to discredit the great work the Post and other journos do."

Tactics like that seem to reflect a broader embrace of a troubling authoritarian trend that has emerged in the wake of the 2016 election of a man who delights in exhorting his followers to dismiss the press as "fake news".

Karen Fonseca arrested for expressing her opinion
Particularly when the news is reporting stories that are related to Russian interference in the 2016 elections and the growing evidence that members of the Trump campaign knowingly colluded with representatives of Putin's government along with puppets of the Russian intelligence community like Wikileaks.

Read the MotherJones.com article about Wikileaks giving Donald Trump, Jr. the stolen password to a site that was preparing to post info about his dad's ties to Russia - you can bet special counsel Robert Mueller has.

But those kinds of overt attacks on the media have also extended to private citizens expressing anti-Trump opinions too, as evidenced by BuzzFeed reporter Brianna Sacks' November 16th article about a Texas woman who was arrested on Thursday for having a large "Fuck Trump" decal on the rear window of the pickup truck owned by her husband.

As Sacks reported, Karen Fonseca has been repeatedly pulled over by local members of law enforcement and was the recent target of a social media post by Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls who posted a photo of Fonseca's truck saying that the local prosecutor was willing to file disorderly conduct charges against the owner.

The Texas branch of the ACLU was quick to post a message on Facebook reminding the Trump-loving sheriff that in the case of Cohen v. California, the Supreme Court overturned the conviction of a man convicted of disturbing the peace for wearing a jacket in a courtroom that said "Fuck the draft".

Pro-Trump Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls
So unfortunately for Trump supporters, including Sheriff Nehls, this is still America and displaying the word "Fuck" as a form of protest is a right protected under the First Amendment.

Sheriff Nehls none the less jailed Fonseca on an outstanding felony warrant for possession and use of a fake ID.

That kind of crap reeks of Third World authoritarian oppression.

It's kind of like irate Republicans on Capitol Hill trying to use the Uranium One deal with Russia back in 2010 as a lame excuse to begin yet another round of Congressional investigations into Hillary Clinton in order to try and deflect attention from the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

Even though as Shepard Smith of Fox News and FactCheck.org (among others) have reported, the decision to allow ARMZ, the mining arm of the Russian nuclear energy agency Rosatom, to acquire a 51% stake in the company Uranium One was not made by then-Secretary of State Clinton alone as some Republicans are trying to suggest.

It was made by the nine-member Committee of Foreign Investments in the United States which includes the secretaries of State, Treasury, Homeland Security, Defense, Commerce and Energy - and the Attorney General.

Beyond that, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission also reviewed and approved the deal.

Republican attempts to use a deal made over seven years ago to stir up the deep-seated hatred of Hillary Clinton is a reflection of the degree to which the GOP will sink to try and distract Americans from the massive ethical lapses of the Trump administration.

And the mounting evidence that Trump campaign advisers knowingly conspired with Russia to affect the outcome of the 2016 elections.

Conservative efforts to undermine the Washington Post's reporting on the multiple women who've gone on record to accuse Roy Moore of inappropriate sexual contact (including pedophilia and assault), and conservative members of law enforcement and business attacking people who oppose Trump (remember Juli Briskman was fired by her employer for giving Trump's motorcade the bird) reflects a party's desperate attempts to silence opposition to a man who campaigned on a populist promise to "drain the swamp" - but instead is filling the cesspool.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Si, It's A Black Thing Now

Brazilian anchor Willam Waack
In last Friday's New York Times, Shasta Darlington wrote an interesting article about the recent backlash in Brazil caused by the release of a leaked video clip of William Waack, the well-known news anchor of the Brazilian network Globo, casually remarking, "It's a black thing. No Doubt."

He made the off-hand remark to a guest while preparing for a live shot in front of the White House during the 2016 presidential campaign.

As Darlington reported, Waack's snide remark came in response to a car honking loudly in the background, and the guest who was standing beside him (also a white Brazilian) chuckled with amusement.

Now as a former TV reporter, I can attest that a loud honk from a car or truck while you're outside trying to speak in front of a camera can be frustrating and annoying.

But bringing race into something as petty and random as that is pretty low rent, particularly coming from a well-known and experienced journalist doing a live report from in front of the White House in 2016 - especially given the plethora of racial overtones that shadowed the 2016 presidential campaign.

The video clip of Waack's comments, leaked onto YouTube by a former Globo news editor who was offended at the remarks, quickly sparked an organic backlash on Brazilian social media that became a catalyst for ongoing discussions about race and the cultural identity of a country where over half the population are of African descent in a BRIC-nation economy that didn't outlaw slavery until 1888.

Brazilian actress Tais Araujo
Like the United States, the gradual migration of people of color into Brazil's upper economic strata in terms of employment, social organizations and prominence in high-profile sectors like media, entertainment and professional sports, has led to an all-too-familiar backlash born of resentment, lingering concepts of black inferiority, fear and ignorance.

Despite the fact that Brazil, like the U.S., has an extremely diverse population in terms of race and ethnicity, like it's North American neighbor, the society as a whole still finds it difficult to have an open dialog about race.

As the Brazilian graphic designer and blogger Leopoldo Duarte, "who loves to dissect everyday racism in Brazil and to contextualize the social injustices news media fail to deepen" (my kinda guy) observed in a November, 2015 op-ed on Telesur in the wake of a well-known Brazilian actress of African descent named Tais Araujo making headlines after a series of overtly racist comments were posted on her Facebook page:

"As blacks ascend the social ladder and start occupying the same social and professional circles formerly exclusive to the white elite, bigots will feel the urge to put them 'in their place'." 

The disturbing and denigrating racial animosity that was posted on Araujo's Facebook page back in 2015 (including people saying she looked like a "monkey") is not unique.

As Shasta Darlington observed in her NYT article last Friday, Maria Julia Coutinho, the first black female meteorologist to appear as a weather forecaster on prime-time Brazilian television, was also subjected to a toxic social media campaign of racial hatred in 2015.

Brazilian meteorologist Maria Julia Coutinho
A number of the racist comments appeared on the Facebook page associated with the television program on which she appears, Nacional Journal, on July 3rd, 2015 - a day that Brazil recognizes as the National Day To Combat Racial Discrimination.

Scores of people began using the Twitter hashtag #WeAreMaju (Coutinho's nickname is Maju) on social media to support her and express opposition to the outward displays of racial bigotry directed at her.

As the BBC reported back in November of 2015, a Brazilian civil rights activist organization run by Brazilian women of color called Criola began an ingenious campaign to put the racist comments posted on Coutinho's Facebook page onto large billboards.

The group used technology to locate where the people who posted the the racist comments lived, then purchased billboard spaces near their homes which displayed their comments - albeit with their names and photo's distorted.

Leopoldo Duarte's Telesur op-ed offers some pretty interesting insight into the issue of racism within modern Brazilian society if you want to give it a read.

More recently, William Waack was suspended from his news program by Globo last Wednesday hours before he was scheduled to appear on air - it is of interest to note that Globo, and other Brazilian networks have made efforts to hire and promote more Afro-Brazilians in front of the camera to combat racism.

Eddie Murphy, Judge Reinhold & John Ashton
in Beverly Hills Cop II
The network quickly distanced itself from Waack's remarks.

To wrap up, I just wanted to note that in this day and age, when race and ethnicity is such an intricate part of the ongoing dialog about American culture, it's easy to forget what an enormous impact comedian and actor Eddie Murphy had in terms of bringing a discussion of contemporary African-American identity into the mainstream.

In hits like 48 Hours, Trading Places and Beverly Hills Cop, Murphy used comedy to talk about racism.

In ways that were deceptively complex, his razor-sharp wit was used to direct serious social commentary at issues surrounding race and ethnicity that most Americans found hard to have an open honest dialog about.

When Murphy's character Axel Foley, a smart-mouthed Detroit police detective, sarcastically asked the perpetually angry white Beverly Hills police Chief Lutz "Is this a black thing?" during a scene in the 1987 movie Beverly Hills Cop II, it inspired a popular meme (often seen on clothing, hats and buttons) in the 80's and early 90's during a resurgent black identity movement that took place in popular culture in music, film and in schools and college campuses across America.

The line morphed into a statement that encapsulated something that many people of color found difficult to actually say to white people - that there were situations and scenarios tinged with racism or bigotry that African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians were keenly aware of, but that white people simply didn't see in a racial context.

Eventually the line became popularized as "It's a black thing. You wouldn't understand." and it helped to open up broader discussions about race in America in the 80's and 90's.

In some ways, Eddie Murphy has done more for dialog about race in this country than a bus full of Washington politicians ever did - and he often doesn't get deserving credit for that.

So it's more than ironic to see a highly-respected white Brazilian journalist torpedo his career and cause a social media storm by casually using a movie line that Eddie Murphy made famous in 1987 to make an astoundingly ignorant racist remark on a live television broadcast.

It would probably help for William Waack to simply acknowledge that it was inappropriate and apologize, I don't think it warrants his being fired - but as a journalist he should know better, especially in the context of the racist comments directed at well known Afro-Brazilian media figures.

Regardless, it's cool to see that Eddie Murphy is still influencing a broader discussion about race - I for one look forward to the long-awaited Beverly Hills Cop 4.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Amazon Key, 'Ghost in the Shell' & 2045: A.I. Among Us?

How much do you trust Amazon?
Yesterday I heard an interesting NPR segment about a new service being offered to Amazon Prime members called Amazon Key that has to be one of the most unusual news stories I've heard recently.

(Bible-thumping right-wing Republican Senate candidate and former Alabama judge Roy Moore being accused of having molested a 14-year-old girl when he was 32 notwithstanding...)

Amazon Key started on November 8th and utilizes technology to allow Amazon delivery people to gain access to your home to leave packages inside.

For now the service is limited to certain cities and regions (including Philadelphia) but basically for about $250, Prime members will get a small CCTV camera that needs to be mounted inside on a wall or ceiling within 25 feet of the front door, and a lock with a keypad that needs to be installed on the front door.

When an Amazon package is about to be delivered, Amazon authorizes the delivery, then sends a signal to the "Cloud Cam" inside which begins recording - then the door is unlocked remotely so that the Amazon delivery person can place the package inside.

Assuming everything works properly, the Prime member will get a text message indicating that a delivery is about to take place, and he or she can then watch the delivery live through the Cloud Cam - or watch the clip of the door being opened later and they also get a confirmation that the package was delivered.

Amazon has made headlines with its ongoing research into technology that will allow its packages to be delivered remotely to the door by small pilotless drones, but with a host of legal and liability issues still to be sorted out with that option, it's possible Amazon Key is some kind of "workable fix" that can temporarily fulfill CEO Jeff Bezos' desire to get packages to (or in...) the front door quicker and more safely.

As a Prime member myself, I certainly appreciate free shipping and unlimited access to Prime Video, but I'm not really ready to allow Amazon access to enter my home when I'm not home.

Besides the fact that Buster the cat would be looking to make a break for it at the sound of the latch clicking.

Obviously Amazon already has access to my credit card information, online search data, financial history, address and date of birth etc., but I just don't have the kind of trust factor with Amazon that I'm willing to authorize strangers access to my apartment.

Personally speaking I'm just not that comfortable with that level of integration of rudimentary Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) into my personal life.

Hell, I'm still getting comfortable with my iPhone reading out directions to me in the car when I'm going someplace unfamiliar - I switched the accent to the female British-accent which sounds sexy and smart and is now eerily comforting.

Now as fate would have it, about an hour after hearing that NPR segment about Amazon Key, I went to my mailbox and found the 2017 film Ghost in the Shell in the mail from Netflix waiting for me.

After watching the very well done and entertaining, but somewhat somber and introspective, 2011 independent film Higher Ground the other day (the directorial debut of the talented actress Vera Farmiga who also stars alongside the excellent Norbert Leo Butz), I was in the mood for some fast-paced action-packed sci-fi so I upped Ghost in the Shell to number one on my Netflix DVD delivery list.

And I'm glad I did, it's a fascinating fictional look at what the rapid integration of technology and humans might look like in the future - as well as something of a cautionary tale about the dangers of A.I. as well.

It's no wonder that producer / director Steven Spielberg, who directed the brilliant and highly-underrated 2001 film A.I. Artificial Intelligence, bought the rights to make a live-action version of Ghost in the Shell back in 2008 - his DreamWorks and Paramount co-produced the 2017 film.

The illustrated cover of the 1995
Manga series
Based on the hugely popular Japanese manga series, Ghost in the Shell is a fusion of cyberpunk and sci-fi that explores themes of technology, corruption, corporate greed, politics, ethics and metaphysics that was first written and illustrated by Shirow Masamune back in 1989.

While there've been other animated films and television versions made since 1995, the live-action film version released back in March of 2017 is the one I watched - and my first introduction to the story.

The story revolves around a character named Major, a woman who was seriously injured as a young girl who had her brain enhanced by cybernetic technology and placed into an artificial body - making her into a human-cyborg with exceptional physical strength as well as the ability to insert her consciousness into the digital world.

She's the principal character in a rogue anti-terrorist government organization called Sector 9 made up of highly-skilled ex-soldier and cop-types for whom violence is second nature and loyalty a creed.

The story takes place in the future fictional Japanese city of Niihama - which is basically presented as a dense urban landscape that looks like a futuristic Tokyo or Hong Kong.

In my blog post last month about Blade Runner 2049 I gushed about the lush visual effects of the futuristic Los Angeles landscape - Ghost in the Shell's production design is definitely on that level and its $110 million budget is reflected on the screen.

In fact, the various sweeping sequences in the city in Ghost in the Shell are filled with all sorts of cool moving holographic projections of ads moving on and around the buildings including carp, snakes, dogs and people - it was released back in March, months before Blade Runner 2049, and I'd be willing to bet that Ghost in the Shell inspired some of the special effects work done in post-production on Ridley Scott and director Dennis Villeneuve's sequel.

(Given that Scott's original Blade Runner basically inspired cyberpunk, Scott has a right to do so.)

A deadly Geisha "companion" robot in Ghost in
the Shell
In the world of Ghost in the Shell, robots equipped with A.I. abound, and humans enhance themselves with all kinds of funky cybernetic implants - which allows them to be "plugged in" to computer networks wherever they are.

The danger is that cyber-criminals and terrorists can "hack" people, hijacking their consciousness via computer networks for a variety of nefarious purposes - it's the job of Major and Sector 9 to track them down. 

Appropriately, Ghost in the Shell premiered in Japan a couple weeks before its opening in U.S. theaters, and as an article in The Hollywood Reporter from April, 2017 demonstrates, it received much better reviews and response from Japanese audiences than it did from American audiences.

Obviously a lot of that can be chalked up to the fact that the franchise and story were far more familiar to Japanese audiences, and embedded in their popular culture.

As the THR article reveals, Japanese audiences praised the special effects and acting, in fact one of the most fascinating aspects of the criticism of the film is that Japanese audiences had much less of an issue with actress Scarlett Johansson being cast as Major than some American audiences and critics did.

In my blog back in July about Hollywood receiving criticism for "whitewashing" Asian characters, I looked at some of the Asian characters who were portrayed by white actors in major films.

Scarlett Johansson as Major 
As you may have read there was a pretty big dust up recently after white actor Ed Skrein voluntarily backed out of the new Hellboy movie because of audience objection to his being cast to play a character that was Asian in the comic book series.

Korean actor Daniel Dae Kim, who recently quit CBS' Hawaii Five-O over a contract dispute, agreed to step into the roll.

So I was definitely curious about that when I decided to rent Ghost in the Shell. 


As Scarlett Johansson had received some flack from critics and fans for playing Major.

But I think she was excellent in the role, not just in terms of acting but in her demeanor, her ability to effectively pull off the action scenes.

Even though the film was clearly set in a futuristic Asian city and had a distinct manga style - her overall look was just "right" for the film.

If you look closely at the cover image of the original Ghost in the Shell manga comic as illustrated by the creator Shirow Masamune, in typical Japanese manga style, the character Major has an almost American or European look to her eyes and facial features.

That's true of many manga and anime characters even though they are created by Japanese artists for Japanese audiences.

There's no question that Scarlett Johansson is an excellent actress who always delivers 110% in any film she's in, and she's one of the few actors or actresses in the film industry today whose presence can elevate the quality of a film - that was true for Ghost in the Shell too.

Major as seen in the Ghost in the Shell Japanese anime
film (left) versus Johansson in the live-action film
A performer of her caliber can open and drive a movie, and given that Ghost in the Shell wasn't really widely known to American audiences, I think it was a smart casting decision by DreamWorks and Paramount to cast her as the lead.

As a Japanese fan named Yuki told Hollywood Reporter last April, he felt Johansson was the "best choice" to play Major.

He made this interesting observation:

"I heard people in the U.S. wanted an Asian actress to play her. Would that be okay if she was Asian or Asian-American? Honestly, that would be worse, someone from another Asian country pretending to be Japanese. Better to just make the character white."

It's a reflection of the ethnocentrism of many Americans who forget that Japanese, Koreans, Chinese, Cambodians, Laotians and Vietnamese are all distinctly different cultures even though they're all from Asia.

Interestingly, the only criticism some Japanese fans expressed of the 2017 live-action American version of the film is that the story didn't probe an area that was more central to the original manga version - the question of what happens to the soul when a human brain is merged with a cybernetic body.

Which, in the context of the subject of A.I. in general, is a fascinating subject - maybe they (DreamWorks and Paramount) can explore that question if they decide to do a sequel.

So bottom line: Even though Ghost in the Shell got mixed reviews here in America when it was released last March and (by Hollywood standards underperformed at the box office, earning an estimated $169 million on a budget of $110 million and that's not counting marketing) I think it's kick-ass sci-fi.

I think this film will also eek out a modest profit as it migrates to online video and DVD, and it may even grow on American audiences who give it a chance.

Michael Pitt as Kuze
Remember, the original Blade Runner was considered a box-office disappointment when it was released back in 1983 too - I'm not saying Ghost in the Shell is of that caliber in terms of being a genre-defining classic, but director Rupert Sanders made a damn good sci-fi film.

One with really good special effects, excellent production design, a kickass soundtrack, an interesting story and fascinating multi-dimensional characters.

The cast is really solid and includes Juliette Binoche as Dr. Ouelet, the scientist who "created" Major, the brooding Michael Pitt as the villain (or is he...?) Kuze, Pitt was excellent in the HBO series Boardwalk Empire, and Takeshi Gitano as the Chief of Sector 9 Daisuke Aramaki - Pilou Asbaek is solid as Major's loyal cybernetic team member Batou as well. 

As the introduction of Amazon's new Amazon Key service allowing remote access to your home for delivery with a camera system connected to the cloud and remote door lock technology clearly demonstrates, A.I. is becoming more and more a part of who we are - it's already a part of our daily lives to some degree.

Whether we as a society are ready or not, it's here.

Dir. James Cameron with his fictional A.I. creation
In the September 27th issue of The Hollywood Reporter, director James Cameron was interviewed about his decision to reboot The Terminator franchise for the 21st century with a trilogy that will include original stars Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton.

(According to him, like the new Star Wars trilogy, they'll hand the torch to younger actors).

When asked about the impact of the merger of A.I. into human society, he offered some interesting insight - Cameron opines that A.I. "will reflect our best and worst nature" as humans create and program "them".

"But it's going to take a lot of money. So who's got the money to do it and the will to do it? It could be business, so the Googles and the other big tech companies. And it you're doing it for business, you're doing it to improve your market share or whatever your business goals are. So you're essentially taking a machine smarter than a human and teaching it greed. Or it's for defense, in which case you're taking a machine smarter than a human and teaching it to kill. Neither one of those has a good outcome in my mind."

The well-known scientist, thinker, writer, inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil, who currently serves as Google's director of engineering, has made over 147 predictions about science and technology - 86 percent of them have come true.

He's the author of the 2005 book 'The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology', one of the many books he's written about the merger of technology and humans.

Scientist Ray Kurzweil
He's written extensively on' The Singularity', the point at which advanced technology will enable machines and computers to surpass human intelligence - that represents the point at which technology and man essentially merge and this intelligence will exponentially expand outward into the universe.

At a talk at the SXSW conference in Austin, Texas in October, Kurzweil said:



"2029 is the consistent date I have predicted for when an A.I. will pass a valid (Alan) Turing test and therefore achieve human levels of intelligence. I have set the date 2045 for 'the Singularity' which is when we will multiply our effective intelligence a billion fold by merging with the intelligence we have created." 

Are the advancements in cell phone technology and power and things like Amazon Key signs of that eventuality? Is the fictional reality of Ghost in the Shell that far off?

Kurzweil says 30 years from now. How will we notice it when it happens?

My guess is that point will take place quietly in some lab owned by Google or Apple, or maybe in a classified military drone - or maybe in the halls of DARPA.

James Cameron says, "It probably won't be that dramatic and will probably happen off-camera to us, and we'll suddenly be living in a world where that has happened."

'Suddenly' really doesn't seem that far off does it?

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

2018 Midterm Snapshot: Dems Score at the Polls

Phil Murphy, New Jersey Democratic governor-elect
It's been damp, cool and rainy most of the day here in Hamilton, New Jersey.

Reflective, perhaps, of the fact that almost a year ago the lowest American presidential voter turnout in 20 years elected a man who may well be the most unqualified, unpopular, divisive and ethically-repugnant candidate ever elected to the highest office in the land.

But today is another election day, and this morning I felt a measure of quiet political optimism for perhaps the first time since inauguration day back in January.

As I usually do if I'm in the office and don't have an appointment scheduled or phone calls to make, this morning I started off my day at work listening to The Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC.org.

While I was particularly interested to listen to what other New Jersey voters had to say about election day during a segment when Brian fielded calls from Garden State listeners, his overview of the elections in New York and around the country were informative and got me fired up to cast my own vote.

Knowing it was going to rain, I cut out at about 11:20am to drive over and vote at the local senior citizens center that serves as my local polling place - fortunately it's only a three-minute drive from work so I was there, signed in, cast my vote and was back in the office in about eight minutes.

Now obviously I'm eager to see the lackluster, remarkably unproductive, scandal-plagued era of Republican Governor Chris Christie come to a merciful end, but I think Phil Murphy is the best candidate to represent the changes that most New Jerseyeans want to see.

Overall, Republican gubernatorial candidate Kim Guadagno, Christie's lieutenant governor since 2009, ran a fairly unimaginative and uninspiring campaign.

NJ Republican candidate Kim Guadagno 
With the state hovering dangerously close to the border of fiscal crisis with issues like massive infrastructure spending needs and a looming pension crisis that keeps getting kicked down the road (including by Christie...), Guadagno tried to dazzle voters.

Not with innovative ideas, sound fiscal policy or a plan to boost sagging wages, but with vague promises to cut taxes by eliminating unidentified "government waste".

Which is little more than Republican code-speak for cutting state government jobs and gutting social spending programs - the same kind of "Starve the Beast" nonsense that sent the Kansas economy spiraling into fiscal free-fall under Republican anti-tax fetishist Gov. Sam Brownback.

Aside from Guadagno's divisive xenophobic fear-mongering about immigration, Guadagno followed her notoriously short-tempered boss' unsuccessful 2016 presidential campaign tactic and took a hard ideological-right in an attempt to drum up support among the hardcore right-wing conservatives that went for Trump here in New Jersey last November.

Desperate to close the gap between her and Murphy, in the final weeks of the campaign she finally sunk to the level of running bogus attack ads falsely claiming that Murphy's support for making New Jersey a sanctuary state for undocumented immigrants (NJ is one of the most diverse states in America) meant he wanted to shield violent criminals who are in this country illegally.

A simplistic bush-league Republican tactic that's been used by the GOP in campaigns around the country (including by Virginia Republican candidate for governor Ed Gillespie) to try and gin up the irrational conservative paranoia peddled by Trump and his cadre of xenophobic advisers and cabinet members. 

Virginia Democratic governor-elect Ralph Northam
and Republican Ed "Dixie Boy" Gillespie (right)
That same strategy backfired on Gillespie in Virginia tonight too, the former Republican National Committee chairman was soundly beaten by 54% - 45% by Democratic candidate for governor Ralph Northam.

Who, as NBC reported, benefitted from the boost of strong opposition to Republican attempts to destroy healthcare, Trump, and a strong state economy guided by outgoing popular Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe.

Like Guadagno donning the cloak of xenophobia, Gillespie really misread the temperature of Virginia voters.

Especially when he took up a pro-Confederate statue cause in the waning days of the election to try and draw support from Trump voters - as RNC chairman, he was actually fairly moderate and advocated for more inclusiveness.

Frankly I find it remarkable that with all the challenges we face in this country, Trump and his chief of staff John Kelly seem consumed with making a revisionist view of the Civil War and the Confederacy the main domestic focus of a White House trying to pull off a massive tax giveaway to corporations and the wealthiest percentage of Americans by Christmas.

Guadagno never strayed into "Confederate statue territory", but trying to embrace Trump's anti-immigrant hysteria at the last minute backfired for her here in New Jersey too - she won a mere 14% of the Hispanic vote and a paltry 9% of the African-American vote based on today's election results.

There are a healthy amount of Trump voters here in Jersey, but overall Garden State Republicans tend to be more moderate in the mold of my Congressman Chris Smith.

Chris Christie argues with a voter outside a polling
station earlier today
So I think Guadagno resorting to hate and bigotry to boost her sagging poll numbers didn't do much for her image as someone who was going to unify the state and bring something different to the NJ Governor's Mansion.

She's a pretty good communicator with some solid experience as a prosecutor and Monmouth County Sheriff, but regardless of what she did, it was going to be tough for her to get the stench of Christie and Bridgegate off of her.

Did you hear about him getting into a public argument with a NJ voter outside a polling station earlier today?

Believe it or not, Christie is so unpopular (14% approval rate according to one recent poll) that the most unpopular presidential candidate in modern American history is actually has a higher approval rate here in the Garden State.

Aside from the weight of the Christie baggage, Guadagno was also clearly a sounding board for people who might not have been all that excited by Phil Murphy, but hated Trump more and were eager to send a message to the Embarrassment-in-Chief and the Republican Party that tapped him as their candidate.

But the polls are closed in the east and the voters have spoken.

While professional pollsters and analysts will dig deeper into today's election results in the coming days over an election in which strong Democrat turnout led to decisive victories in the New Jersey and Virginia governor's races and the mayoral race in New York City by Bill de Blasio, there's little doubt that the Democratic base is fired up.

From my perspective tonight's results are a clear reflection that a majority of Americans are fed up with Trump and a Republican-majority House and Senate who've yet to pass a single piece of meaningful legislation on behalf of the American people in over nine months.

Next year's midterm elections are a long ways away, and a lot can happen before then, but if today's results are any indication, November 6, 2018 could be a rude awakening for Trump - one he won't be able to shrug off as "fake news" with a tweet.

As I said, I was quietly optimistic this morning, and I'll sleep much more soundly tonight than I did on election night last November.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Papa John Kneels For Trump

Papa John's CEO & Trump fan John Schnatter 
Now if you're one of the millions of people tuning in to an NFL game on network television (or radio) today, it's likely you'll see or hear at least one commercial for Papa John's Pizza.

A company that enjoys an exclusive licensing deal that allows it to call itself "the official pizza of the NFL" or some such thing.

As if the NFL are arbiters of good pizza, or branding Papa John's the official pizza of the NFL somehow makes it tastier.

When my sister or mother, friends, or any of the acquaintances at my local tavern decide we want to order a pizza, we usually pull out the menus to decide which place we're in the mood for - and we always choose local spots that we know from experience make a good pie. 

Nothing against a franchise or anything, I enjoy Popeye's, McDonald's or Wendy's every now and then if I'm in the mood.

But pizza is a much more complex and delicate creature, and the quality of a franchise can depend on who owns it, who's managing it and who's actually making the pies when you call up and order.

Honestly, ask yourself: what's the likelihood that a family or group of friends gathered together to watch a Sunday NFL game in Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, Hamilton, NJ (or any place with good local pizza joints) is going to order pizza from Papa John's?

Nothing against any of the thousands of local Papa John's franchise owners around the country (and overseas) but my guess is not so likely - 80 - 20 depending on where you live and what's around.

Corporate bros? Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones
and Papa John's Pizza CEO John Schnatter
Particularly if those family members or friends are supporters of the right of NFL players to peacefully and non-violently exercise their First Amendment right to free speech by choosing to kneel during the playing of the national anthem before kickoff to bring attention to the disparate use of excessive and deadly force against people of color in the United States by some members of law enforcement. 

As Hannah Withiam observed in an article for the conservative-leaning New York Post, the highly-visible founder and CEO of Papa John's Pizza, John Schnatter, made media headlines last week after he publicly tried to blame the NFL for a weak third-quarter earnings report released on Tuesday.


Some are speculating that it's actually Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones (who happens to own 120 Papa John's Pizza franchises...) who was behind Schnatter's controversial public comments blaming the NFL for "poor leadership" over the issue of players kneeling before games that is behind Papa John's lower-than-expected third-quarter performance.

"NFL leadership has hurt Papa John's shareholders...this should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago." Schnatter told analysts during a conference call last Wednesday, referring to  the national anthem protests that started with former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016.

While Schnatter seemed quick to pin his company's missed sales performance figures on NFL players calling attention to the way some members of law enforcement treat black Americans, it's not really clear what he meant by "nipping it in the bud" given that Kaepernick has ostensibly been blacklisted from the League.

And despite Schnatter's call for some kind of crackdown, even the NFL owners recognize that banning players from expressing themselves freely would be an unmitigated PR disaster for a league that is already trying to deal with declining ratings in an era when audiences are already unplugging from cable because of the vast array or entertainment options made available through OTT streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, HBO Go, Showtime Anytime and Hulu.

Members of the San Francisco 49'ers kneeling
earlier this season
As a long-time NFL fan and former NFL player, personally I think the drop in ratings is a combination of there simply being more things for people to watch, the explosion of the Internet, and the fact there are now simply too many NFL games on broadcast television.

There was a time in this country when "NFL Sunday" and Monday Night Football used to be must-see television events for millions of Americans.


But the gradual addition of games on Sunday night, and then Thursday night has simply made sitting there for three-plus hours being saturated by commercials less of an "event".

I think a lot of NFL owners and executives are not fully understanding the fact that millions of people who have unplugged from cable, like myself, simply don't want to watch commercials and are willing pay for other content (Netlflix, Amazon etc.) to do so - the NFL hasn't quite gotten that yet.

But to get back to the point, as CBS News MoneyWatch reported on Wednesday, Papa John's reported a 1 % increase in sales in the third quarter, but that increase was lower than expected, and much lower than the 5.5% increase in sales in the franchise reported in the third quarter in 2016.

So I think John Schnatter was expressing disappointment over his company's performance, and also venting the same frustration felt by large cable providers and a number of business owners who spend millions to advertise their company's products and services during NFL broadcasts, or associate their brands with the League's.

But in the case of Schnatter's public comments last week, my sense is that because he and Jerry Jones have a shared interest in the stock price and sales performance of Papa John's Pizza, as well as the popularity of the NFL, Jones may well have privately encouraged Schnatter to use the lackluster third-quarter earnings report and sales forecast to take a swipe at Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Jerry Jones and Roger Goodell talking during a
break between NFL owners meetings
Last Sunday, ESPN reported that Jones was allegedly the ringleader of 17 NFL owners who are pushing to block Commissioner Roger Goodell's pending contract extension, largely over displeasure over the way the NFL's front office has handled the national anthem protests

As ESPN quoted one unnamed NFL owner as saying of Goodell's contract extension, "If not for Jerry this deal would be done."

So this issue is about much more than the quality of the pizza Papa John's bakes and delivers, and how they're faring against their competition - which is questionable.

In the wake of Schnatter's comments last week, a number of spokesman for other restaurant franchises that depend on NFL games for significant portions of their revenue have pushed back against his claims that the national anthem protests are to blame for poor earnings - Buffalo Wild Wings said publicly that sagging NFL audience ratings were not expected to affect their sales targets.

In a conference call last week, Greg Creed, the CEO of YUM Foods which owns KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, said, "We're not seeing any impact of any of that on our business." 

Last Wednesday the Twitter account for frozen pizza brand DiGiorno responded to Schnatter's comments by spoofing Papa John's Pizza tagline "Better ingredients. Better Pizza" by tweeting, "Better pizza. Better sales." 

Ouch.

Some have speculated that Schnatter's conservative political views are to blame for his opposition to the national anthem protests given that he is an outspoken supporter of Donald Trump.

To be clear, the same First Amendment to the Constitution that gives NFL players the right to silently kneel during the playing of the national anthem gives John Schnatter the right to express an opinion for, or against their actions - or support the political candidate he wants to.

John Schnatter in one of the many Papa John's
ads in which he personally appears
But the fact is that Schnatter himself made the decision to build the brand of his business around himself and his own image, so his decision to weigh into the ongoing debate about NFL players kneeling during the national anthem is inextricably tied to people's perception of the Papa John's Pizza brand.

Many people, including many of his own shareholders, were not pleased with his comments - as Forbes reported last Wednesday, the value of Papa John's shares dropped by 11%.

That was just within 24 hours of his comments, and since Schnatter owns about 25% of the company, his personal net worth dropped by $70 million in less than a day.

There's no question that John Schnatter is a successful American CEO who built his business from the ground up.

He was making pizzas at age 16 when he was working two jobs, and famously built Papa John's Pizza after purchasing an old bar and installing an oven in the space where a closet used to be.

He's a hands-on guy known to show up at one of his franchises without warning and give employees and managers an earful if things are not up to his standards - by all accounts he's also generous with his money to friends, strangers and charities.

VP Mike Pence with Schnatter 
But he made a serious error in tying the brand he owns with his own personal conservative political views, because a lot of Papa John's Pizza customers, franchise owners and employees do not agree with his support of Trump.

He has a right to support Trump, but only about 30% of the U.S. population supports the most unpopular president in modern history - and clearly the business strategy of Papa John's Pizza is not to target a mere 30% of American consumers.

In 2012, Schnatter threatened to reduce his employees hours in response to the Affordable Care Act.

So he's got a history of linking his personal conservative views to his business whether intended or not - which, as he's learning, is not necessarily a good thing.

As Mediaite.com reported on Monday, neo-Nazi website the DailyStormer quickly threw their racist hat into the ring and embraced Papa John's Pizza as the "official pizza of the alt-right".

To their credit, Papa John's quickly released a statement condemning racism and bigotry in all forms and made clear that they "do not want these individuals or groups to buy our pizza." - but the damage is already done and frankly Schnatter should have thought about the broader repercussions of putting his company brand into the awkward position of criticizing those who are speaking out against unjustified police brutality.

In an op-ed in the September 27th issue of The Hollywood Reporter, writer and former NBA All-Star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar expressed the hope that athletes, entertainers and other high-profile Americans may be represent the most effective way to push back against the divisiveness, bigotry and repressive ideology of the Trump White House - and the advisers, cabinet members and politicians who seek to make his repugnant views and regressive policies a political reality.

As Abdul-Jabbar observed, "What makes this uprising of moral indignation and political zeal so significant is that those speaking out do so with the full realization that they have something to lose. Players risk their entire futures, jobs as well as endorsement deals. Clearly, they are motivated by something more important that profits: patriotism."

The cumulative effect of "Papa John" Schnatter having criticized NFL players for peacefully and silently protesting the glaring disparity with which some members of law enforcement use excessive physical force, or deadly force, against people of color, as far as the views of the vast majority of Americans are concerned, is that he failed to stand up for what is intrinsically, right.

He ostensibly kneeled for Trump.

Because of that, regardless of his right to express his personal political views, when a lot of people open that drawer to pull out the pizza menus, they're not going to be choosing Papa John's.

For reasons that have nothing to do with the taste and quality of the Pizza.