Does Our First Amendment Still Matter?

Hopefully you follow the regular news sometimes. I read a lot of business news but every once in a while I take a peek at the regular news. The last handful of weeks Wikileaks has been talked about, and at first I was a little outraged that Wikileaks has been publishing our government’s secret documents. I am not a fan of private correspondence between politicians and diplomats being plastered out on the internet for the world to see. Much of it is extremely embarrassing but also probably necessary for our government leaders to access what’s going on in the world.

The information should have never leaked. We had a government employee, perhaps in the army, download a bunch of classified and secret information. The person who leaked the information is in trouble and being prosecuted, as he or she should be. As a requirement for his or her position and access to secret information, he or she is not allowed to disclose that information. So we have leaked information that should have never leaked. Who’s fault is that and what can be done about it? I believe our government should take steps that it never happen again.

Now back to the publishing of the information. Can and should Wikileaks be prosecuted for publishing the information? Our first amendment of the constitution guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press with exceptions, as written into law. One law that is still legitimately on the books is The Espionage Act of 1917. “It prohibited any attempt to interfere with military operations, to support America’s enemies during wartime, to promote insubordination in the military, or to interfere with military recruitment.” (Wikipedia) It might be possible to prove that Wikileaks did break the law under The Espionage Act, but this would have to be done in open court and certain things would have to be proved. Our government has declined prosecuting Wikileaks to date.

Instead, our government put pressure on all kinds of vendors who do business with Wikileaks. Companies like Amazon, Paypal, Mastercard, Visa, and various other U.S. companies that help internet users find Wikileaks and contribute to Wikileaks. It appears that other governments might have gotten into the act with Switzerland closing a Wikileaks bank account. This is where I’m rubbed wrong. There may be nothing to prosecute Wikileaks on, but our government can still take away it’s funding and make it difficult for our citizens to see. That amounts to censorship and economic prosecution of free speech and freedom of the press, and our government could use the same tactics on any press organization they find objectionable. Even my blog here. As far as I know, it is legal to do what our government is doing, but it breaks the spirit of the first amendment.

So what can we do about all of this? I certainly am not advocating any illegal action in response to this attack on free speech. However, we can legally show how we feel about our free speech right by voting with our ballots in the next election, and with our wallets by avoiding companies that disregard the first amendment.


Mud-Slinging And Other Political Mistakes

I saw a ton of mud slinging in the past week as the elections wrapped up.  “My oppoent is doing or will do this wrong…”  I mean, come on, don’t you know the one major rule of advertising?  You don’t advertise for your competitor by mentioning them.  Most people are smart enough to look beyond the rhetoric and see what is really going on.  And some people will vote for the name they hear the most.  So you have to find some way to promote yourself without comparing yourself to your opponent.

It’s soooo easy to fire back if you’re attacked though.  As hard as it is, you need to continue to promote yourself without directly responding to the mud-slinging sent your way.  Sure, you can indirectly respond to accusations.  But never, ever sling mud back.  Again, you are promoting your opponent at that point and you are making yourself look bad.

Politics in this way plays a roll in business also.  You are attacked by a competitor and you need to respond.  But before you do, take a look at Honda.  Never do they mention a competitor in their advertisements, even though other car companies mention them.  In this kind of an advertisement the other car companies are saying, without meaning to, that Honda is a car worth comparing ours too.  It creates an interest in Honda.  And by not mentioning competitors in Honda’s commercials, Honda is saying that they are beyond compare… that there is nothing like them.

The thing I’ve also noticed about the politics last week is how freekin much money is being spent for advertisements.  Each contender is trying to outdo the other.  I think they would do much better cutting back to a reasonable amount of advertising and let their opponent sling mud at them.  I am not a political specialist, maybe you need to sling a little mud to get elected, but I can tell you that you can’t really buy votes, you have to work for them.  Just like you have to work for customers.  Advertising does have a point of diminishing returns so you might be able to do better with less.

Personally, I’d love to see a contest where politicians have good original ideas that make sense.  Wouldn’t you?

Education Really Is The Key, It Really Is

I hear politicians right now talking about the jobless recovery and what can be done to stimulate job growth.  Sort term, there is probably nothing that can be done, especially since government itself is now letting workers go.  Our federal government cannot afford to employ all the unemployed people so the only solution is private sector job creation.  And are you going to go poof and create jobs?  No, the truth is that no matter what you do, business will not hire people they don’t need.

In this country, we need more skilled workers.  The ranks of the unemployed are nearly all unskilled or trades people.  There are many, many more openings for people with math, science, and technology skills than people to fill them… perhaps not as many as in the past, but there is still a need that is not fillable.  And I understand that you can say “Here in Detroit (or Houston, etc.) there are no jobs of any kind”, and you might be right.  But as a whole, the US has jobs for skilled workers that cannot be filled.  If we had more skilled workers and less unskilled, we would be closer to having a match between jobs and workers of all kinds.

There might be a difficult time retraining older workers for various reasons, and maybe those barriers need to be defined and broken down.  That’s one place where government could possibly help.  But even more importantly, we need to make sure that all graduating seniors that want to go to college get the opportunity to go without being burdened by a lifetime worth of debt.  More kids going into college in 2011 means fewer looking for a full time job, and more openings for older adults who need jobs.

Ok, nothing is solved in September 2010 by increasing college attendance in 2011, but it could help the unemployment rate next year a bit.  If there is really an effort to increase post-secondary education over the next few years, we might yet again achieve full employment in the United States, with the unemployment rate down around 4%.  Right now we’re near 10%.

If our federal government is going to throw money around and not help more kids go to college, shame on them for overlooking the one, and probably only, area that can be helped by government.

Please note that I have a child in college now and another one going next year, but I really don’t think I would be helped much directly by new education programs.  My thought is to help our society as a whole by making positive changes with education.