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Memories of Bobby Bowden: Much more than winning football games

I recently was invited to a screening of “The Bowden Dynasty: A Story of Faith, Family & Football.” That’s the upcoming movie about the life and career of legendary Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden.

The film will debut Jan. 8 at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg as part of a celebration for the national college football championship game the following night in Tampa.

If you like football, or you went to FSU, or you think Bobby Bowden is an American treasure, or even if you’re a Gator, you should see this movie. It’s scheduled for simultaneous, one-night-only release at about 450 theaters around the nation, but I’m sure it will be available before long on DVD and other places.

I was invited to this screening because I covered FSU sports for several seasons starting in 1981 for The Tampa Tribune. That, joyously, included coverage of Bobby Bowden. Now 87, he coached the Seminoles for 34 years before being forced into retirement after the 2009 season.

FSU wasn’t the football colossus then that it is now. During the years I covered them, the Seminoles took on all comers – almost always on the road – to build the program. The first season I covered them, FSU had consecutive road games at Nebraska, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Pitt (with a quarterback named Dan Marino), and LSU.

For most programs, that would be a suicide mission, but FSU won three of those five games. Many football coaches are so tight they squeak but Bowden played loose, played fun, and won through innovation and a willingness to take chances. He was completely accessible, too – just call him up direct, no need to go through channels.

His greeting was always the same: “Hey buddy!”

I remember one game against Louisville when the kickoff was moved to late on a Saturday night, which wreaked havoc on newspaper deadlines. The Seminoles were expected to win easily. So what would be the harm, I asked him, if I came down in the break before the fourth quarter and asked a couple of quick questions for my story?

I think you can imagine Bowden’s answer.

“Use your own judgment,” he told me.

FSU was ahead 35-3 after three quarters that night. Sports Information Director Wayne Hogan, now with the Florida Sports Hall of Fame, escorted me the field, shaking his head as we went. I asked my questions and zipped back up to my spot in the press box.

Imagine asking that same favor today of Urban Meyer or Nick Saban – or even most high school coaches.

Without question, though, my No. 1 Bowden memory came after I had moved from beat writer to columnist at the Trib. It was the opening game of the 2004 season at Miami. The day before, Bowden had attended the funeral of his 10-year-old grandson, Bowden Madden, who had died in a car wreck.

I was assigned to do a story of how the coach handled such a tragedy. The Seminoles lost 16-10 in overtime, like that mattered much. I hung back in the postgame news conference until all the talk about the evening’s battle was done, then approached. Bowden was gracious as always, even admitting, “It was hard for my mind not to be somewhere else.”

I went on about my business interviewing other people that night when I heard my name. I turned to see Bobby Bowden as he was headed toward the team bus. He flipped the cap he had worn during the game in my direction and said, “Give it to your grandson.”

The cap sits on my mantle, waiting to be delivered when I have a grandchild. I will tell him the story of a coach like none other.

The movie of Bowden’s life is compelling and revealing, and it’s more than worth the two-hour investment in time. The project was spearheaded by FSU alumnus John Correy.

Rob Harvell and Brian Goodwin are the co-directors. They have worked on some of the outstanding ESPN documentaries, including “I Hate Christian Laettner.”

They captured the essence of a man who did more than win a lot of football games. We know how important college football is in the South, but what happens when the games are over is the true measure of a coach. Bobby Bowden changed lives and I was blessed to have a ringside seat for things I never will forget.

Gus Bilirakis: Getting things done for Florida and America

Looking back on 2016, a turbulent year for sure in politics, we often saw the biggest rivalries and the loudest pundits take center stage. All along, my main focus was always working hard on behalf of Florida’s 12th District. We accomplished some important legislative wins for our communities, with 16 initiatives I wrote being signed into law this year.

While there’s still much work to be done, a unified Republican government come January will give us a strong foundation to solve the largest problems facing Florida and the entire country.

One of my top priorities continues to be ensuring Veterans get the care they have earned and deserve, and in 2016 a number of my initiatives to support Veterans became law. Two major bills I introduced, the COVER Act and the Jason Simcakoski PROMISE Act, will ensure Veterans get personalized care when it comes to dealing with their physical and invisible wounds.

I also wrote a bill to officially dedicate the Elfers Post Office after local Purple Heart hero Private First Class Roger Fussell, who was tragically killed serving in Vietnam. To make sure our heroes are getting the most out of the benefits they are promised, I led initiatives to expand opportunities for disabled Veterans to fly on military aircraft and improve Veterans’ education assistance programs.

Going forward, we need to make the transition process better for our men and women who serve. While our military spends on average six months to a year preparing soldiers for their assignments, we only spend three to five days preparing them to reintegrate to civilian life. Making sure Veterans have a robust support system for returning home would help with a whole host of problems like homelessness, unemployment and substance abuse. I will be making this a priority in the coming year.

After three years of work, the 21st Century Cures Act finally crossed the finish line in December. This legislation is a game-changer for millions of patients and families who are affected by diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s, ALS and more. Importantly, Cures includes my initiatives to create a national database for neurological diseases and streamline FDA regulations to get medical products to market faster. In Florida, I met with doctors, patients, researchers, and advocates about how government can become an ally—not an obstruction—to medical innovation. Proudly, much of their input is now reflected in the final law.

Additionally, we passed legislation to help seniors better identify out-of-pocket costs under Medicare, and combat the opioid abuse crisis across the nation. While this work does not always dominate national headlines, it can truly improve lives and make a difference in our communities. In 2017, I plan to hit the ground running to continue these efforts.

At the top of the agenda is repealing and replacing Obamacare. Under Obamacare, costs have nearly doubled for working families, millions of people have been kicked off the insurance plans they like, and insurers have fled the market, leaving people with less options for their health care. Our health care system should be affordable, personalized, and offer the best quality care possible.

We also need to overhaul the tax code, and ensure it is focused on maximizing growth and competitiveness for American businesses. The tax code should make it easier for businesses to create jobs and raise wages, not harder. Our system should be simpler and fairer for hard-working families, too.

None of the successes of the past year, or the goals set for the year ahead, would be possible without the folks of Florida’s 12th District. Your voices will continue to guide me as your representative in the People’s House. I pledge to keep working hard to solve our problems here at home in Florida and around the U.S.

___

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis represents Florida’s 12th Congressional District.

Drunk is the new barefoot and pregnant

Drunk is the new barefoot and pregnant. Both work equally well to keep women from posing a threat to men in the marketplace, which may explain why “heavy drinking has been normalized” for the sex that isn’t built to metabolize alcohol.

Men can be stewed to the gills and nevertheless stay in high places for an entire career. For women, the distance from first drink to rode hard, put away wet is a lot shorter. It’s not fair, but the science is conclusive. Women have smaller bodies than men, and a smaller quantity of the enzymes needed to process toxins in the tequila.

Blood alcohol levels in women climb faster and stay elevated longer than they do in men. Women who can avoid debilitating hangovers, date rape and DUIs may have a harder time avoiding breast cancer, heart disease and atrophy of the brain. Liver disease starts earlier and progresses faster in women than in men. A woman may get on the wagon, but liver disease will continue to progress in ways it does not in a man who dries out.

When it comes to pleasures of the flesh, science is never a match for marketing, and marketing is the steamroller behind what The Washington Post calls a “profound cultural shift: Women in America are drinking far more, and far more frequently, than their mothers and grandmothers did, and alcohol consumption is killing them in record numbers.”

In 2013, more than a million of them turned up in emergency rooms. Middle-aged women were the demographic most likely to be suffering from severe intoxication.

Over in Africa, it’s always Wine O’Clock for a growing population of professional women who need to ” … unwind after a hard day’s work money to spend on more expensive drinks.”

For working moms and stay-at-home moms who don’t have time to wash stemware, there’s a wineglass big enough to hold an entire bottle of fruits of the vine with names like Mommy’s Time Out, Mommy Juice and Mommy’s Little Helper. It’s a road we’ve been down before, and even the Rolling Stones know where it ends.

Birth control and higher education have made it possible for girls of 20th-century vintage to gain a toehold on the ladder of success.  But we won’t have equality until a drunk woman can go as far in life as a drunk man, and stay alive long enough to enjoy it.

rape protest

Florence Snyder: Now in her 80s, Susan Brownmiller continues to inspire

At age 81, the journalist, historian, and feminist icon Susan Brownmiller has lost none of the youthful mix of outrage and optimism that fueled the four furious years of research and reporting that became “Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape.”

Brownmiller in 1975 (AP)

The highly influential tome was front page news when first published in 1975.

Since then, the book has informed and inspired generations of lawyers, social workers, and everyday people who are trying to bend the arc of history in the direction of justice for rape victims.

As this year full of extraordinary loss comes to a close, it is reassuring to know that Brownmiller is of sound and generous mind, giving interviews to Al-Jazeera, PBS, and fan-girls from Florida who call to say “thank-you.”

Brownmiller was in her 30s when she began reporting on the movement then-known as “women’s liberation.” Somewhere in a consciousness-raising group, “I realized that rape had a history,” said Brownmiller, and someone needed to tell the story of those who, since ancient times, had been violated, and thereafter shamed in to silence.

“Against Our Will” maps the weaponization of male genitalia from the Trojan War to Vietnam.

“It’s still a battle strategy,” Brownmiller said last week, when, for too-brief a moment, People on TV were talking about Aleppo.

Today’s news that Boko Haram is teaching child soldiers how to rape comes as absolutely no surprise to Brownmiller’s audience.

When Brownmiller began her research at the New York Public Library, its card catalogue contained more entries for rapeseed than for rape.  Police and prosecutors viewed rape as a property crime against fathers and husbands, if they thought about it at all.

The ratio of rape to rapeseed has changed in today’s digital card catalogue, thanks to women like Brownmiller who did the hard and largely thankless work of bringing light to dark corners where women’s spirits are broken.

Even though rape remains a ubiquitous weapon of war, Brownmiller continues to “hope that changes in our lifetime.”

“I have to feel optimistic,” she said. “The fires of good always burn, and pendulums shift all the time.”

Joe Henderson: Separation of powers there to keep legislators from running amok

Politicians have long been outraged – OUTRAGED, I tell you – about so-called “activist judges” who make them follow that pesky thing known as the law.

I guess it’s logical, therefore, for frustrated lawmakers to try and beat judges at their own game.

FloridaPolitics.com reported that State Rep. Julio Gonzalez, a Republican from Venice, filed two bills to address this issue. If passed, voters would be asked to approve a constitutional amendment to basically allow the state to thumb its collective nose if a judge just says no.

If enacted, it would allow the Legislature to over-ride rulings by a two-thirds vote within five years of the ruling.

Interesting gambit.

The bills by Gonzalez take aim at both state and federal judges who, in the words of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, are the best example “of people putting power above principle …”

“We need judges who respect the Constitution and the separation of powers; who will reject the temptation to turn themselves into some unelected, super-legislature,” Corcoran said during a speech at his swearing-in ceremony.

“The problem with holding the same office for, in essence, life, is you start to think that the office is far, far, far less important than the person in it — which is why we need 12-year term limits on judges, so we can have a healthy judicial branch.”

Well, hold that thought for a moment, Mr. Speaker.

The separation of powers Corcoran embraces was never designed to be a judicial rubber stamp for lawmakers. It’s in there so judges can keep lawmakers from running amok – kind of the way Florida has done with its gerrymandered congressional boundaries and state House and Senate districts.

That was done against the will of voters, by the way. They approved separate constitutional amendments in 2010 that ordered districts “may not be drawn to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party.”

And then, Republicans drew new districts that favored, well, Republicans. There was lawsuit by the League of Women Voters, which led to a ruling by Circuit Judge Terry Lewis that the boundaries of two districts broke the law.

To me, that is the textbook example of the separation of powers.

The same was true when the state Supreme Court ruled Florida’s death penalty law was unconstitutional. Note, the court didn’t say capital punishment itself was unconstitutional – only that the law saying only 10 of 12 jurors had to vote for death didn’t meet the legal standard.

That may be annoying to prosecutors and lawmakers who like to brag they’re tough on crime, but forcing them to work harder before sentencing a murderer to death is not unconstitutional.

Yes, judges sometimes make wacky rulings. Legislators also sometimes propose wacky bills that can become law.

When that happens, the only recourse is in the courts. Crying foul about “activist judges” who don’t see it their way is a weak argument from lawmakers who probably were trying to pull a fast one.

Even if these bills pass through the Legislature and makes their way to the governor’s desk for his signature though, opponents shouldn’t worry too much. They can probably get them overturned by appealing to one of those activist judges.

Mitch Perry’s Top 10 films, books, and music events of 2016

Self indulgence warning.

As I’ve been doing since my first year with Creative Loafing (2009), I’ve assembled a top ten list of my favorite movies, music and books of the year.

When it comes to movies, I remain a stalwart in seeing moving pictures on the big screen. Living within a couple of movie houses helps considerably, but it also hurts — I’ve seen far too many terrible comedies on some weekends because I just wanted to get out of the house – regretting it deeply afterward.

I mean, seeing Robert DeNiro in “Bad Grandpa” – specifically in one scene with his pants around his ankles – was legitimately disturbing, and was a sight that nobody deserves to see.

As someone who goes to the cinema probably an of fifty times a year, I can also honestly say that until the fall season came around, this really was a bad year for Hollywood’s line of products. And there seemed to be less interesting foreign movies/documentaries making their way into the market. I suppose if you have a Netflix membership you can get around that, but I’m limiting this list to movies seen in a cinema, which is why Ezra Edelman‘s,” OJ Simpson Made in America,” won’t be getting any love from this corner.

When reading the top ten movie list, as always, it comes with a caveat that some of the most acclaimed films of the year haven’t been released in the Tampa Bay area market as of December 20, and thus the list can and probably will change in another month or so.

Best Movie

1. Loving directed by Jeff Nichols

2. Manchester By the Sea by Kenneth Lonergan

3. Hacksaw Ridge by Mel Gibson

4. Moonlight by Barry Jenkins

5. Christine by Antonio Campos

6. A Bigger Splash by Luca Guadagnino

7. Nocturnal Animals by Tom Ford

8. Weiner by Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg

9. The Hologram for a King by Tom Tykwer

10. The Eyewitness by James Solomon

When it comes to music and books, I probably saw less live music than I ever have in my life, and that is not a good thing. Part of that has to do with the fact my work prevented me from going to some weekday shows I might want have checked out, but there were also fewer shows I was into seeing. It didn’t help that my annual trip to see a festival – this past year, the Governors Ball in New York — was marred by bad weather that resulted in the final day of the event being canceled.

However, I think I’ve probably never read more fiction that in the past year, and that’s something that will continue.

Best Music

1. David Bowie – Blackstar

2. M83 – Go

3. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

4. Beck in concert/Governors Ball, NYC June 4

5. DIIV – Is the Is Are

6. Savages – Adore Life

7.  Wild Nothing – Life of Pause

8.  Hope Sandoval and Kurt Vile – “Let Me Get There” single

9. Car Seat Headress — Teens of Denial

10. Peter Hook doing New Order’s Substance Nov 19, Ritz Theatre Ybor City

Best books

Fiction:

1. The Nix by Nathan Hill

2. Here I am by Jonathan Safron Foer

3. Innocents and Others by Dana Spiotta

4. Sweet bitter by Stephanie Danler

5. Bright, Precious Days by Jay McInerney

Nonfiction:

6. American Heiress by Jeffrey Toobin

7.  Strangers In Their Own Land by Arlie Russell Hochschild

8. The Accidental Life by Terry McDonnell

9. Disrupted by Dan Lyons

10. The Last Innocents by Michael Leahy

Can we just get 2016 over with, please?

When the news came on Christmas Day that singer George Michael had died, well … can we get this year completed, please?

Just this month alone, we have lost actor Alan Thicke, astronaut/hero John Glenn, actress Zsa Zsa Gabor, former Florida Lieutenant Gov. Jim Williams, broadcaster Craig Sager and musician Greg Lake of Emerson, Lake and Palmer fame. This was after Keith Emerson of the same band died in March.

We had to say goodbye this year to former first lady Nancy Reagan, a classy dame if there ever was one. We lost Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Prince, David Bowie, Gene Wilder, Garry Shandling, Patty Duke, Abe Vigoda, Leon Russell, Pete Fountain, Merle Haggard, Glenn Frey … so many others.

Make it stop!

I mention all this because it’s customary at this point on the calendar to look back upon the nearly finished year, hoping to gain some perspective about what we went through and what might be about to come.

If it’s OK with you, though, I think 2016 has been filled with so many things we would like to forget (and I’m not even talking about Donald Trump … yet) that we should cut this year short. It has been an unwelcome guest for 51 weeks, and it needs to go away.

That has been particularly true in Florida.

We learned that terrorism can happen close to home when 49 people were murdered at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

We had the Zika virus. There was green ooze from the Lake Okeechobee algae bloom, fouling nostrils along the East Coast. We had a massive sinkhole in Polk County that polluted the aquifer.

We had two reminders from Mother Nature that she is still in charge. Hurricane Hermine helped flood St. Petersburg’s streets with untreated sewage, followed by Hurricane Matthew that scraped its way up the East Coast.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, trying for a 13th term in Congress, got a double whammy – a federal indictment alleging she had misused money earmarked for charity, and then she was beaten in the November election in her redrawn district.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio was humiliated when he lost the Florida Primary by a wide margin to Trump. But Rubio, who had vowed not to seek re-election because he was frustrated in the Senate, ran anyway and won.

We couldn’t even turn to sports for escape.

After winning a gold medal at the Summer Olympics in Rio, U.S. Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte embarrassed himself as his country by making up a story about being robbed. The former University of Florida star lost millions in endorsement contracts after his fib was exposed.

The Tampa Bay Rays and Miami Marlins were terrible, and the season ended in tragedy when Marlins star pitcher Jose Fernandez died in a boating accident. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were teasingly good until they figured out what they were doing right and corrected it.

The federal government basically ground to a halt, and the election was the nastiest anyone can remember as Trump and Hillary Clinton drove Americans to drink. When it was done, the nation had elected a man who has never held public office and believes in government by tweet, wants to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico and has hinted that we should expand our nuclear arsenal.

What possibly could go wrong?

With that in mind, you know that thing I said about needing 2016 to hurry and finish? Maybe we can coax this year into sticking around a little longer. As they say, things could always be worse.

Retiring Justice gives final voice of reason on Florida’s death penalty

There are some things that only lawyers can explain.

This is one of them.

But I defy them to make sense of it.

Just in time for Christmas, the Florida Supreme Court in two cases last week gave new leases on life to 213 convicted killers but turned down about 173 more.

The only difference between the two groups is the turn of one page on the calendar.

Those whose sentences — or new sentences after appeal — became “final” on June 24, 2002, will, in most cases, have another chance to persuade juries that they shouldn’t die. This time, all 12 jurors would have to agree that they should.

Those whose sentences became “final” on June 23, 2002, or earlier are out of luck, unless they can persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to correct the Florida court one more time.

It should. As Florida Justice James E.C. Perry protested in dissent, the majority’s ruling “makes constitutional protection depend on little more than a roll of the dice.”

The significance of June 24, 2002, is this: On that date, the U.S. court — hereafter, SCOTUS — ruled in Ring v. Arizona that a jury, not a judge, must determine the existence of any fact that increases the maximum penalty for a crime, as in the difference between life in prison and death.

But for 12 more years, the Florida court — hereafter, SCOFLA — continued to swat down defense lawyers’ arguments that Ring meant Florida’s death sentencing law was just as unconstitutional as Arizona’s. And SCOTUS took no opportunity to say so until last January, when it ruled in favor of Timothy Hurst, a killer from Pensacola.

Florida’s law left it to the judge to determine what factors the jury found in favor of a death sentence. It did not require — in fact, did not even allow — juries to report how they voted, except as to the ultimate vote on life versus death, which didn’t have to be unanimous.

Hurst left SCOFLA to decide how far back his ruling should be applied. In a rather inartful compromise, five justices settled on the date the first shoe fell, in the Ring decision of 2002. But two of them, the conservatives Charles Canaday and Ricky Polston, also argued that Hurst shouldn’t apply retroactively to anyone. (Canaday is on Donald Trump‘s short list for SCOTUS.)

A third, Fred Lewis, said it should apply to anyone who challenged the constitutionality of Florida law at any time.

“This court need not tumble down the dizzying rabbit hole of untenable line drawing,” he protested.

Much in the two majority opinions really is dizzying, involving gibberish about the differences between “jurisprudential upheavals” and “evolutionary refinements” and other distinctions that matter only to lawyers. Was Ring a “development of fundamental significance?” Was it of “sufficient magnitude” to require new sentencing hearings for all or most of the 383 people on death row?

If you ask me, nothing is more fundamental than the right to trial by jury. It appeared that way to Justice Barbara Pariente as well. In dissent, she argued against what she considered overblown fears of too much pressure on the justice system.

“I would conclude,” she wrote, “that Hurst creates the rare situation in which finality yields to fundamental fairness … The majority’s conclusion results in an unintended arbitrariness as to who receives relief depending on when a defendant was sentenced, or in some cases resentenced.”

Fundamental fairness? That’s what often sets “law” apart from “justice.”

And so it has again, in Tallahassee, Florida, on December 22, 2016.

Perry, in his last major decision before his mandatory retirement for age next week, wrote an even more passionate appeal to Florida’s conscience.

He noted that Mark James Asay, the test case defendant whose conviction was final eight months before Ring, would be the first white man Florida ever executed for murdering blacks. (He gunned down two in Jacksonville, exclaiming after the first that “you got to show a n—-r who’s boss.) On the other hand, said Perry, who is one of Florida’s two African-American justices, three out of every four blacks whom Florida has executed were convicted of killing whites.

“This sad statistic is reflection of the bitter reality that the death penalty is applied in a biased and discriminatory fashion, even today,” he wrote. “Indeed, as my retirement approaches, I feel compelled to follow other justices who, in the twilight of their judicial careers, determined to no longer ‘tinker with the machinery of death.’  I no longer believe that there is a method of which the state can avail itself to the death penalty in a constitutional manner.”

John F. Mosley, whom the court spared in the other test case, strangled the mistress who bore him a child and left the baby to suffocate in a plastic bag. It appears that the murderer and victims were all black. He gets a new sentencing hearing because his crime was in 2004, after Ring, and his lawyers raised that issue at every opportunity.

Perry had the best answer to all this bloody business. That was to invoke a 1972 Florida law providing for automatic life sentences whenever its death penalty is ruled unconstitutional.  It would treat everyone alike, it would spare the courts any new burden, and it would let no killer out of prison. It would moot any more appeals to SCOTUS, leaving 386 killers in prison for life, where they belong. That would be finality with a capital F.

But Perry’s was the only voice of pure reason. His retirement is Florida’s loss.

___

Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina.

Craig Fugate fumes while Florida sinks in a sea of bulls**t!

Like a teenager who wants Daddy’s money, but not Daddy’s directives, Gov. Rick Scott is not embarrassed to throw tantrums when the feds fail to pony-up fast enough whenever it rains, even as he sticks his fingers in his ears at unwanted advice like “try rolling up your windows.”

Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) director Craig Fugate isn’t having it.

Fugate was the wind beneath then-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s wings in the horrific hurricane seasons of the decade past. The Bush administration won worldwide admiration for its competence in dealing with whatever Mother Nature threw our way, and Fugate went on to earn more praise managing the nation’s response to the rapidly accelerating pace of acts of God and their ungodly consequences.

In a recent interview with Bloomberg View’s Christopher Flavelle, Fugate makes the case for a “disaster deductible.” The idea is to give state and local governments a pocketbook reason to get out of denial and in to action that would reduce the risk of death and damage from hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, volcanoes and earthquakes, fracking-related or not. States would be on the hook for a hefty deductible, but can bring the number down if they resist the urge to build in places people were not meant to live.

Fugate calls the current governments won’t worry be happy FEMA will pay incentives “perverse.” And since he’s talking to Bloomberg, which is an ultra-sophisticated venue for business journalism and not a full-service family newspaper, he also calls them “bullshit.”

“The builders and developers and all the people running around saying they’re capitalists and they’re Republicans and they’re conservatives, and it’s all about individual freedom and making money and growing the tax base, and all the bullshit they throw at people, convincing them this is an economic boon activity. It’s nothing but socialism and social welfare for developers when you subsidize risk … FEMA is the euphemism for you, the taxpayer, holding the bag,” fumed Fugate.

Developers can buy permits, pols and PR campaigns about jobs! jobs! jobs! for pennies on the dollars they’ll make building whatever they want, whenever they want, wherever they want, Fugate is that rare public official who won’t ignore the smell, and isn’t afraid to call it by its right name.

Blake Dowling: Hacking, weaponized artificial intelligence, ransomware and other fun just for you

Breaches, hacking, ransomware, cyber threats, weaponized AI, smart toothbrushes are but a few examples of scary tech out there to make your day less than fantastic.

Weapons systems that think on its own are in production, with governments racing to catch up on how to regulate these fast-paced advancements.

Police and military already use drones and robots to eliminate threats, but (as far as we know) it’s hardware controlled by humans.

For example, in the Republic of Texas, police this year loaded a robot with explosives and — in true Lone Star State fashion — blew a sniper from whence he came. Who knows how many lives this effort saved?

That robot was controlled by a human. What happens when the robot can think on its own?

Maybe it decides it does not identify with being a robot, turning off the explosives?

Even if governments of the world (minus North Korea, Yemen, California, and Russia) enacted bans on this type of tech, what would stop rogue nations from creating their own? What vicious circle will we see here?

If such rouge nations start deploying them, we might have to implement them ourselves as a countermeasure.

Around and around we go. Scary stuff.

Maybe Stephen Hawking knew the 411 when, back in 2014, he said: “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”

Moving on to ransomware.

The first CryptoLocker threat was devious. Click on a fake UPS or American Express site, and your files are encrypted. The originator of the threat then offers you the encryption keys — if you pay a ransom.

Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t.

The latest version of ransomware, however, moves from devious to “Emperor Palpatine” mode. This one is called Popcorn Time.

Popcorn Time follows the same pattern as CryptoLocker, but with a twist.

In a true Dark Side manner, Popcorn Time creators also want to recruit you to become a loyal member of their version of the Sith. Once your files are encrypted, they ask you to pay the ransom or send a link containing the same virus to two people that you know.

If those people download the virus, they will give you the keys to unlock your files.

Whoa.

Talk about playing on people’s dark side (the trail of puns just keeps coming).

Security is only as good as the weakest link in the chain; generally, users have weak chains (who hasn’t come across a phishing email ever?). Ransomware is resolved relatively quickly, by relying on data backups.

It should go without saying, although you may be shocked by how many people fail at this.

Backups should also be redundant, copies of anything important both in the cloud (though a lot of malware can look for any drive associated with your computer, even Google Drive) and burned to a disc (surefire method).

Or you can go BC and chisel it into rock tablets in cuneiform (Moses knew what he was doing).

Cyber threats are out there, and if backed by a nation state with almost unlimited resources (like Russia), they will get you. Just ask former DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

It’s like hitting the town with Johnny Manziel — sooner or later, the cops are going to get involved.

As mentioned above, backups are essential. Make sure they are redundant, keep passwords long and complicated (like a letter from the IRS); use two-factor authentication with financial institutions, and don’t send anything in an email you don’t want people to see.

Also, keep your anti-virus and anti-spam solutions up to date; have an enterprise-level firewall deployed at your office. We set ours (and our clients) to block any traffic not coming from the U.S. This is a great front line of security as so many cyber threats originate in Africa, Russia, China, etc.

Be safe out there, and Happy New Year!

___

Blake Dowling is CEO at Aegis Business Technologies. His technology column is published monthly. Contact him at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com or at www.aegisbiztech.com.

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