Marijuana Wars with Maraschino Cherries and D.C.’s Mayor

Washington D.C.’s decriminalization of marijuana went into effect last week, drawing the wrath of prominent Congress members. Rep. Jason Chaffetz reportedly said D.C.’s Mayor could “go to prison for this.” Federal law enforcement’s war against marijuana has been continuous since Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act in 1970. However, that war has often shattered lives, as Arthur Mondella’s tragic story reveals.

Maraschino CherriesWhile the District of Columbia was preparing to decriminalize marijuana, local police and federal agents were conducting a raid on Maraschino Cherries Factory in Brooklyn. Law enforcement claimed to have a warrant to search the factory for violations of environmental laws, but the raid’s true purpose was to search for marijuana. The factory owner, Arthur Mondella, had inherited the business from his father and grandfather. Initially Mondella cooperated with the police. Authorities eventually discovered a secret room concealed by a fake wall. Mondella immediately went to the bathroom.

His sister, obviously concerned, followed. Mondella asked her to “take care of my kids” and then Mondella shot himself. After Mondella’s suicide, police entered the hidden basement. Law enforcement found a 2,500 square foot marijuana farm underneath the cherry factory.

Maraschino Cherries Kingpin vs. Washington, D.C.’s Mayor

Although I drew comparisons between D.C. and Mondella, there are enormous differences. In D.C., the voters had approved a measure decriminalizing marijuana. If D.C. were a state rather than a federal district, Congress would not be as hostile. Mondella, on the other hand, was a private actor growing marijuana in knowing violation of the law. Mondella wasn’t trying to change the law, which would be legal; he was violating the law for, possibly, his own profit.

News coverage of the cherry factory conflict with each other. Most stories quote an unknown police officer claiming Mondella wouldn’t have done any jail time. However, some stories claim the officer wouldn’t have done time for spilling cherry syrup in the water while other stories quote the officer saying Mondella wouldn’t have done jail time for marijuana.

Although Mondella wouldn’t have gone to jail for cherry syrup, the idea that Mondella wouldn’t have gone to jail over marijuana is laughable. Mondella was concealing what looked like a multi-million dollar farm on his property. Federal prosecutors would have indicted Mondella as a drug kingpin and there is no doubt that Mondella would have served significant time. If Congress is threatening to lock up the mayor of D.C. for enforcing an initiative to decriminalize marijuana, imagine what the Justice Department would do to a man caught running an entire drug operation in his factory.

States across the country might be decriminalizing marijuana, but there’s no doubt that some federal actors still want to win the war on marijuana.

Forever 21 Was Caught Pirating Software from Adobe

Everyone knows that stealing is wrong. If you walk out of a store without paying for merchandise, you shouldn’t be surprised when an alarm sounds.

forever 21 sued by adobeForever 21, a retail-clothing store, would agree with this premise in the context of someone stealing a blouse or a skirt. You would think that they would also agree with this premise when it comes to software programs?

In January of this year, Adobe filed a lawsuit against Forever 21 for copyright infringement. Autodesk and Corel joined Adobe in the lawsuit and alleged that Forever 21 pirated software such as:

  • Photoshop
  • Acrobat
  • Illustrator
  • WinZip
  • Autodesk
  • PaintShopPro

The companies alleged that the piracy happened on 63 different occasions. It’s still unclear how Adobe became aware of the infringing acts, but the company has been encouraging employees to turn in their employers for using unauthorized copies of its software programs.

The alarms have been set off. Now Forever 21 has to show proof of purchase or face an expensive legal battle.

What You Should Know about StingRay Cell Phone Surveillance

What Is the StingRay Tapping Device?

A new device called StingRay Tapping Device enables the police and the government to track cell phone communications. The StringRay is a box that electronically connects to local cell phone towers. It then simulates the cell phone tower, and in turn prompts signals from cell phones attached to the tower.

cell phone tower stingray trackingIf the police can connect to hundreds of citizen’s phones, what stops them from tapping into the general population’s phones?

StingRay’s Use by Police

From 2007-2014 in Tallahassee, FL, the city police used the StingRay in more than 250 investigations. This means they used it in about 40 investigations per year, in a city where the population is only 186,000. Even if the police are using the StingRay just to find criminals, are they taking advantage of this power and relying on it too much?

In one of these cases, a drug deal gone wrong lead the police to use the StingRay to track down the location of the suspect. Tadrae McKenzie and a couple of friends robbed a dealer of weed and money in a parking lot and fled the scene. Police found his whereabouts about a week later and he was arrested.

During the trial, McKenzie’s defense team became suspicious that a secret surveillance tool was used because there was no evidence that would lead the police straight to McKenzie’s home. The judge then ordered the police to show the device. They did in fact use a StingRay.

The FBI has declared there is no mandate for court warrants to be used when connecting a StingRay to a cell phone tower. They decided the device does not violate our Fourth Amendment and it is lawful for the police to track communications of suspects. The Obama Administration stands by this. The administration has declared that citizens have no privacy in public areas.

Senator Questions the Use of StringRay

Recently, Florida Senator Bill Nelson gave a speech to the Senate about the threat that StingRay poses to consumers’ privacy. “It’s time for us to stand up for the individual citizen of this country and their right to privacy,” said Nelson. The Senator also send a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, requesting certain explanations regarding the nature of the company behind StringRay.

Walmart Joins the Trend to Increase Minimum Wage

Minimum wage has always been a controversial topic. Proponents argue that minimum wage protects the working poor. Others feel that minimum wage slows job growth and discourages employers from hiring new employees. For most of America’s history, there was no minimum wage. While a first attempt at establishing a national minimum wage came in 1933, it wasn’t until United States v. Darby Lumber Co in 1944 that the Supreme Court held that Congress had the power under the Commerce Clause to regulate employment conditions.

minimum wage increase walmartIn November 2014, many states put the question of whether minimum wage should be raised to a vote. Voters in a number of those states have voiced overwhelming support in favor of higher minimum wage. Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, Delaware, Virginia, Rhode Island, Michigan, Minnesota, Connecticut, Maryland, and Massachusetts have passed higher wages that have been implemented as of January 2015. Cities such as Seattle, Portland, Louisville, and San Francisco have implemented higher minimum wages to support and grow their local economies.

Most recently, Walmart made headlines when it announced that it planned to give its lowest paid employees a wage hike. By April, all employees would earn a minimum of $9 per hour. By February of 2016, the wage will be increased to $10 an hour. The wage hike will affect 500,000 workers.

Walmart can’t take credit for paving the road, however, as GAP and Ikea implemented higher minimum wages for employees last year. While the motive behind the move is mixed, there’s no denying that many other companies are likely to follow in the footsteps of the corporate giant. In fact, today Marshall’s and TJ Maxx announced that they plan to increase the wages of their employees to $9 an hour by June 2015.

Proponents of raising the minimum wage argue that it could have far reaching positive effects on the economy—both on local and national levels. Raising the minimum wage means that those workers are earning more and have more money to spend, thus stimulating the economy. The logic then follows that as people spend more, businesses grow and create an environment that requires more employees.

Additionally, supporters argue that if workers are surviving on higher minimum wage, they are not as likely to rely on social programs for support as they can now support themselves. As a result, there is less stress and expense placed on social programs. Additional positives noted are less turnover as employees with more earning potential are happier in their jobs and less likely to leave.

Needless to say, despite the positives, minimum wage increases has many worried. In fact, in San Francisco, Borderlands Books, a small science fiction, horror and fantasy, was set to close its doors on March 31st due to the wage hike. The wage hike was calculated to result in a 39% increase in wages for his employees in four years—a cost too high for the bookstore to maintain. (Note: Due to savvy business ideas, Borderland Books was able to keep its doors open—for 2015—through the implementation of membership programs and sale of bookstore memorabilia.)

Additional negatives that many believe are created by a minimum wage hike are layoffs, price increases, fewer hirings and increased competition. Smaller businesses simply cannot compensate the same number of employees at a higher wage and thus layoff many. In order to generate enough income to support the increased costs of wages, many business owners will raise the cost of their product. Small businesses also worry that they will not be able to increase their workforce because they won’t be able to afford to pay new employees.

No matter which side of the fence you stand, there is no doubt that minimum wage will be making headlines for the foreseeable future. The question is the impact it will have on the economy.

Women in Technology: When Will the Discrimination End?

It’s no secret that the tech industry is dominated by a “bro” culture that leaves almost no room for women. Google published a “diversity” report last May, determining that its workforce is 70% men. Facebook, LinkedIn, and Yahoo! have published similar reports, and share the same disparity in the ratio of men to women.

Ellen Pao, Chief executive of Reddit

Ellen Pao, Chief executive of Reddit

There is even an insider joke among Silicon Valley companies called the “Dave” rule. This rule says there needs to be the same number of women as there are men named “Dave” in the office in order to have “gender balance.” This doesn’t quite seem like the most accurate system. In general, less women are hired, offered promotions, or receive the same pay as men in the industry.

On average, women make about 99.7% of what men do. For example, a female software engineer at Facebook makes $117,391 per year, while a male in the same position makes $128,575. More importantly, however, women are constantly being subjected to sexual harassment. Due to the frat-like environment, men can fall into viewing women as sexual objects rather than professional coworkers. Sexual harassment lawsuits are rampant among the tech industry, and it’s deterring smart and capable women from pursuing a career in this field.

Chief executive of Reddit, Ellen Pao, is suing her former employer Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers for several grievances, including: ignoring the sexual harassment she received from male managers when she worked for them, punishing and eventually firing her for complaining, and excluding her and fellow women employees from meetings and promotions. Pao is asking for $16 million in damages for lost wages and other compensation, including to punitive damages. This lawsuit could have a huge impact on the tech industry, and it might force sexual harassment and discrimination to dwindle in these companies. The trial is expected to last four weeks.

In another sexual harassment lawsuit, Whitney Wolfe, who was vice-president of marketing for Tinder, has said Justin Mateen, chief marketing officer, called her a “whore”; her complaints to the CEO were completely ignored. These are just a few examples of the rampant sexual harassment that takes place in tech companies.