The Occasional Muse

Commentary with a touch of activism

Work At Home Online Shopping Scam – A Personal Journey

Posted by Bob on April 18, 2013

m2sWe have all become painfully aware that the rise of advertising on the internet has reached a furious pace with no end – only growth – in sight. Many online businesses are capitalizing on this upward trend by appealing to the “work from home market” to jump on the band wagon and capture some of this lucre for yourself. Unfortunately most of these schemes are a scam. This post will describe how this works based on a personal experience. In today’s job scarce economy this humble blogger is not above the fray when it comes to grubbing for dollars. :)

It all started with a simple internet search for work from home opportunities. This resulted in a barrage of e-mails for all kinds of “opportunities” and even phone calls.

Most of e-mails came in the form of long drawn out videos of the company founder and selected success testimonials all living in the lap of luxury, surrounded by fancy cars and homes presumably acquired by spending as little as one hour a day on this “business” and urging you in every paragraph to take advantage of this unique opportunity to become rich. Too good to be true, you bet, but that was (is) the pitch.

So what is this “business?” In short it involves a template based website, thousands of e-mail addresses and getting your website ad placed on other websites. Your website consists of hundreds of logos and links to retail stores much as you would find walking through a shopping mall. A visitor to your site would click on one of these stores and hopefully make an on-line purchase for which you would receive a commission. Your shopping website would be provided for you by the company pushing this work from home opportunity. And, surprise, surprise there is a fee for this. The first of many fees as it turns out.

But let’s back up a bit.

My experience started with a phone call. It was clear listening to the person on the other end of the line and the background chatter that they were calling from a bucket shop of telemarketers but I decided to play them along to see where this went. After refusing their initial price of some $500 which included a referral link on the website they were to provide, they finally agreed to provide the package for about $250. But it did not end there.

After several more calls, each with a different person trying to pressure me into buying more “options”, I decided to give it a try for the Fall of 2012 and the holiday shopping season. It was little to risk.  If it paid off, great. If not, at least it would be fodder for a blog post.

One of the options offered was the purchase of a list of e-mail addresses. Initially they wanted to sell me 10,000 addresses at 50 cents each. Whoa, $5,000? You have got to be kidding! Needless to say I declined this offer. Where these addresses came from, who knows? See my previous blog post Are You A Victim of UBE? – Unsolicited Bulk E-mail. Anyway, they agreed to give me 3,000 addresses but I doubt that any of those received a marketing e-mail for my website.

I received a thin booklet that presumably described the use of the website and how the business worked. But it was pretty much worthless.

The company was big on having me sign their Terms and Conditions, Ts and Cs. As it turned out there were two different Ts and Cs on their website and one in the booklet. All were different. This may be a clue into the scam nature of these businesses.

One of their selling points was a series of lessons on marketing. Not being a marketing guy I thought this would be helpful. The big test came when I was to develop a marketing blog post for shopping mall website they provided. So I ginned up some ad copy and sent it in to my assigned representative. I was told it was good and that was the end of this extensive Marketing 101 course. I think I could have sent in a passage from the Bible and it would have been okay.

Did I make any money from this venture?

After developing and posting numerous flyers around town before and during the holiday season, posting timely blog entries and having a link to my shopping website on my e-mail communications I came away with nothing, not one cent. Am I surprised? No.

Operationally, the idea behind these types of online shopping sites is seriously flawed. First, why would anyone link to a store from a shopping site like mine? For name brand stores why not just go directly to the store’s site?  Secondly, it is difficult to see how and why any store on the site could possibly credit you, not to mention the thousands of other similar sites, with a commission during their order fulfillment process. Finally, aside from pure exposure, why would my shopping site be any different from the hundreds or thousands of similar sites this company is putting up?

Clearly, this company’s business model is to get ad revenue from stores placed on the shopping mall websites and to lure you into the dream of riches and self-sufficiency by selling you their shopping website and the e-mail addresses. By the way, e-mails sent out from organizations like these end up being spam for the recipient.

Posted in internet, technology | Tagged: , , , , | 25 Comments »

Are You A Victim of UBE? – Unsolicited Bulk E-mail

Posted by Bob on March 28, 2013

domain millUnsolicited Bulk E-mails or UBE, more commonly known as SPAM, is on the rise. Not only do these unwanted e-mails continue to clog our inboxes and junk mail folders but they are becoming harder to eliminate. This article will examine where many of these e-mails come from and how you can reduce them by offering, what I hope you will consider, some handy tips.

The daily barrage of spam messages in our inboxes and junk mail folders consumes countless hours to sort through and delete. Companies now spend hundreds of thousands of dollars each year on software in an effort to filter spam from their employee company e-mail accounts to prevent them from clogging their servers, wasting employee time and to prevent attacks by all sorts of malware.

The continuing rise of e-mail marketing in our growing market society has come about because it is one of the most cost-effective advertising tools and, more importantly, its use makes it easier to track conversions – tying the ad to customer purchases or donations. This was hugely effective in this last election cycle.  According to Wikipedia it is estimated that in the U.S. alone over $1.5 billion was spent on e-mail marketing in 2011 and is expected to grow to over $2.4 billion by 2016.

But where, specifically, do all these bulk e-mails come from?

Three sources account for most of the junk e-mail we receive: 1) e-mails sent by well-meaning family and friends, 2) notices from organizations to which you belong, have done business with or have subscribed to, and 3) messages sent by bulk e-mail marketing companies. See related blog post What Happened To Our Privacy.

Many organizations that you may belong to or companies you do business with are now taking advantage of cost-effective e-mail marketing services. While many may do their own in-house e-mail marketing others turn to e-mail marketing companies like MailChimp, iContact, and Constant Contact. These companies send out informative messages to their members using a vetted membership or subscription e-mail list provided by the client organization. These timely messages are typically composed by the organization which pays a monthly fee based on the number of e-mail addresses. Part of their service includes the handling of unsubscribe requests as required by the FTC CAN-SPAM act. More on this later.

E-mails sent by responsible e-mail marketing service companies will generally include their name and a link to their website in the footer of a message. Many will also include a statement explaining why you are receiving the message.

Less reputable are those e-mails that come from what I call “domain mills.” A domain mill is a company that sells domain names – the part of the address after the @ symbol -  to a client for the purpose of sending out frequent blasts of e-mails from questionable sources like Asian Dating, Cash Advance and JustMyHookups to mention a few. Some of these even appear to be from legitimate companies.

The way this works is that a domain mill company will spawn numerous domains which I will call “a slave domain.” The domain mill will then send out e-mails from their list of addresses based on how many the slave domain client is willing to buy, typically as much as $.50 per address. The slave domain client will then be paid a click-through fee for that ad and possibly commissions on any sales. E-mail addresses from these slave domains will typically have a random sequence of letters and numbers for the name and some nonsensical domain name, for example: 48LWOQMW59922CDE796@secretarysnuff.com or immiscibly@yaynetsy.com. This is a tactic used by spammers to essentially make the blocking features in your e-mail service ineffective.

Tip: Look at the e-mail address in the FROM field of the e-mail message. If it has some random characters for the name and nonsensical domain name you can be pretty sure that it is spam.

Something else you can do is to enter the domain name of the e-mail into your browser address bar. If you try this with enough of these you will find that there are collections of these addresses that all reference a common home page like many people living at the same physical address. In other words, they have no unique business home page of their own and some you will find have no home page at all.

As further verification you can enter the domain name into a query of the Whois database, for example: whois.net. This is a database of the registration information for all domain names.

What you will find for these slave domains is that many of them are owned by a domain mill company. But beware, some domain mill companies further hide their identity by opting to have their registration information hidden. These folks clearly do not want to be contacted about their activity.

A recent search found 27 domain names all owned by a single domain mill company. This company owns 277 domains and another company I found owns an astounding 2,857 domain names.

Several domain mill companies were contacted for information via e-mail for this article but did not reply.

So how does your e-mail address get on these lists?

As already mentioned, if you are a member of an organization then you will probably have already given them your e-mail address. Companies and non-profit organizations are getting very adept at strategies to get you to enter your e-mail address to receive something for free, to sign-up for a newsletter or to register for an event, just to mention a few. Then there are those products that request you to register and downloadable software you get in response to providing your e-mail address. And let’s not forget any affiliates associated with those products and services.

Generally speaking, if you supply your e-mail address on a website then you have agreed to receive e-mails from the organization unless there is an opt-out check box of some sort that you can select.

Tip: Affiliate relationships are easy to do on the web and are becoming more pervasive. Be sure to check for any options that will allow you to opt-out of any ads from affiliates if you want to reduce spam.

Another way your e-mail address gets on spammer lists is through the harvesting of e-mail addresses from websites like Facebook, Craigslist and even from Google search results. This easy process will net spammers using free harvesting software thousands of addresses. Using addresses obtained in this manner is illegal and considered to be unethical. However, the small percentages who do reply combined with the low probability of prosecution results in enough business to make this practice worthwhile.

Finally, we can’t leave our discussion of UBE without saying something about the process of unsubscribing and the role of the CAN-SPAM act. Are companies complying with the requirements of the act and does unsubscribing really work?

The Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing Act of 2003 (CAN-SPAM) has seven main requirements for domestic business e-mailers that the FTC is charged with enforcing. Many of these, however, are routinely violated by spammers.

The one provision of the CAN-SPAM act that most people are familiar with deals with the process of unsubscribing from unwanted marketing e-mails. Briefly, this section says that a visible and operable unsubscribe mechanism be present in all marketing e-mails, consumer opt-out requests are to be honored within 10 days, and opt-out lists also known as suppression lists are only to be used for compliance purposes.

The unsubscribe process usually involves clicking on an “unsubscribe” link in the e-mail message.  While unsubscribing using these links is supposed to only require a simple single click, most seldom are that simple. Many schemes are employed to make it difficult for the e-mail recipient to unsubscribe. Among these are requirements for you to enter your e-mail address even though the sender already knows your address, or a message instructing you to send an e-mail to request removal from their list.

Some unsubscribe links send your request to a service like UnsubCentral.com. No, this is not the source of criminals (unsubs) as seen on the TV program “Criminal Minds” but a company that provides compliance and suppression file management services. These businesses receive your unsubscribe requests and remove your e-mail address from their list. This updated list, hopefully without your e-mail address, is then sent to their client for use in their e-mail marketing effort.  This, presumably, is the reason for the FTC 10 day compliance time.

If you are interested in this or any of my articles for your print publication please send me a comment.

Posted in internet, technology | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 42 Comments »

What Happened To Our Privacy?

Posted by Bob on March 4, 2013

privacy_lapThe short answer is that we gave it away sometimes unwillingly or unwittingly.

It was less than a decade ago that people were alarmed to learn that they were legally being spied upon in retail store changing rooms and in the workplace.

A lot has changed since the late 90s. We are now observed on the street where, we are told that the expectation of privacy is non-existent, in retail stores where every gaze is carefully scrutinized not to mention those loyalty cards that monitor our purchases and most intrusively on the internet.

Fiction or not it is not surprising that for several years the crime dramas, NCIS, Person of Interest, Criminal Minds, etc., have featured techie types that scourer the network and instantly come up with all sorts of personal information about their victims and suspects. Some even go so far as to access the floor plans of buildings, gain control of doors and elevators, and monitor all sorts of webcams, cell phones and GPS devices. Except for the near instantaneous results of their probes most of their activity is either true today or will be in the near future.

For the most part we give away our privacy willingly. Since the advent of social media websites like Facebook and Twitter we are encouraged to “share” with potentially everyone on the planet but ostensibly to let our friends and followers know our personal details and what we are doing throughout the day. Obviously this creates a relatively permanent on-line record searchable by anyone.

What is interesting about this is that there are now companies coming on-line that for a fee will monitor on-line activity and alert them when  a search result reveals their personal information and then take steps to correct inaccurate information to protect the person’s reputation.

It is a sad state of affairs when we now have to pay to protect information that we either gave away or was acquired someone for nefarious purposes.

Most of the privacy we give away or is taken from us is in support of on-line businesses. This has become much more invasive than the physical junk mail that we received and has, for the most part, kept the post office in business. However, the daily barrage of junk e-mail while having less of an environmental impact is no less annoying.

This again has spawned numerous businesses to filter junk e-mail, commonly called SPAM, for which companies and individuals pay a fee.

The pressure for sales has become so intense that a person can’t even visit a website without that event being recorded, your e-mail address being captured and used to send you unsolicited business e-mail or spam if you will. Even clicking on an ad by mistake will often result in more spam.

Businesses have taken up the strategy of predictive target marketing big time. Target marketing is the idea that if you bought or researched a product from the company then they assume, usually incorrectly, that you will be interested in more of the same and use that as an excuse to send you a barrage of spam, which, by the way, is legal according to the FTC CAN-SPAM Act.

Another very popular business strategy is affiliate marketing. This usually appears as ads for other goods and services that are placed on another companies website. These ads generate revenue in the form of a click through fee, that is, when you click on one of these ads the host company receives a fee for every click which is part of the affiliates’ advertising budget.

You have probably noticed a reference to affiliates in those privacy notices we receive in the mail and that you usually throw away. Anyway, out of the half-dozen provisions on the notice, information sharing with affiliates are the only ones that you may be able to opt-out of.

Speaking of opting out, the aforementioned CAN-SPAM ACT requires businesses  to provide you with a simple way to opt-out or unsubscribe in their e-mails. While this sounds good it does not always work and may not be simple. Of course these provisions only apply to domestic businesses.

Please see follow on blog post Are You A Victim of UBE? – Unsolicited Bulk Email.

As always, if you are interested in this or any of my articles for your print publication please send me a comment.

Posted in internet, technology | Tagged: , , | 17 Comments »

Murder in the Middle East

Posted by Bob on September 25, 2012

The murder of our diplomats in Libya and the constant killing of our troops, 51 so far this year in green on blue attacks, in Afghanistan should prompt further investigation into why we are there.

It has recently been reported that the surge troops have been withdrawn because the Taliban has been successfully routed. This is good. The less troops we have in the region the better. Yet we hear that our troops are being murdered by the Taliban who have infiltrated the security forces they have been training. So what is it? Are the Taliban gone or not?

As for those Afghan security forces, we hear that some 300,000 have been trained. Is this not enough to provide security and continue their own training? Seems like a lack of will on the part of Afghanistan.

Which gets me to my last point. Our diplomats have been murdered and our troops continue to be killed at the hands of so-called allies and yet the administration has done nothing. Well yes we have done something, we continue to send billions of our taxpayer dollars into the region, tax dollars we can’t afford or could be put to better use at home. Why? This makes no sense.

These events are not just a “bump in the road” this is a bump the size of the Himalayas.

According to Congress.org several members of congress led by Lindsey Graham are calling for a full investigation into the attack. While this is good Sen. Graham does not support a bill introduced by Sen. Rand Paul on 9/21 calling for restrictions to be placed on foreign aid.

While Sen. Paul’s bill calling for aid restrictions tied to verifiable business development is a step in the right direction, isn’t it time we got out of the Middle East totally and cut off all aid?

Contact your elected representative and the President to let them know that the American people have had enough.

After a decade or so haven’t we Americans expended enough blood and tax dollars on a backward people who apparently refuse or are unwilling to put forth the effort to build a secure and functional society and become part of the civilized world?

If you liked this blog post you may also want to read another post related to this topic End All Foreign Aid Now.

Posted in foreign aid, Middle East, politics | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Occupy Wall Street: The Crux of the Issue

Posted by Bob on November 11, 2011

The “Occupy” protests across the country have been criticized by the media and mostly ignored by our elected representatives. Much of this criticism stems from the desire by both the media and the politicians for a single sound bite or demand while the focus of the issue is as plain as the nose on their faces, to separate money from politics.

The single issue is the fact that we have become a Corporatocracy where the 99%, expressed as the rallying cry of the OWS movement, are marginalized and ignored

This naturally leads to the many and varied voices coming out of the movement like financial inequality, the fallout from TARP bailouts, expectations vs. reality and jobs.

One might rationalize that it is easier for the political elite to deal with the single need of corporations, profit, than the petty manifold demands of the public. Make no mistake, profits are the lifeblood of our capitalistic society. Most of what we see around us including the return on the investment to shareholders would not exist without profits.

But we are still a government “of the people.” Corporations still need us to buy their products and politicians still need our votes even if they do forget us between elections.

Obama in his 2008 campaign spoke out against the influence of big business lobbies and even encouraged the organization of  home parties to generate and send in a wish list of changes. His attitude toward lobbies obviously changed as evidenced by the influence they had on the implementation of Obamacare and the financial bailouts. Much of this is still happening as the banking lobby waters down the Dodd-Frank bill. But why?

The big contribution of lobbies, next to campaign contributions, is data. The industry lobbies have at their disposal mountains of data that they collect and synthesize to support their biased view which they then present to hungry politicians who can’t get it any other way (see my previous blog: Our Information Democracy and the Influence of Lobbies). To make matters worse our representatives encourage these groups to write the legislation.

All the 99% have are a collection of heart wrenching anecdotes which are used to formulate a mish-mash of ill-defined demands. The only way we can make a difference is at the polls. Viva la vote!

Everyone should be deeply disturbed that since the start of the “occupy” movement not one politician has stepped forward to acknowledge their complicity in bowing to the demands of the 1% or offered a single solution to the political poison of campaign financing and  big business influence on our political and economic systems. Neither have they come out to condemn the privatization of the gains while socializing the losses as has happened most recently beginning with the 2008 financial collapse.

Obviously we need to have a serious conversation about campaign finance reform including a reversal of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and repeal of personhood for corporations. We should demand that these issues be put up for a popular vote; after all that is the only real voice the 99% have.

(Update 8/15/12)  Move To Amend,  formed in September 2009, is a grassroots coalition of hundreds of organizations and tens of thousands of individuals committed to social and economic justice, ending corporate rule, and building a vibrant democracy that is genuinely accountable to the people, not corporate interests.

The Move To Amend website further declares that “[w]e are calling for an amendment to the US Constitution to unequivocally state that inalienable rights belong to human beings only, and that money is not a form of protected free speech under the First Amendment and can be regulated in political campaigns.”

This movement is growing across the country. Go to the website, http://www.movetoamend.org/, to sign the petition and then contact your local and national representatives to encourage their support.

(Update 11/18/11) Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, today introduced an amendment that would ban corporate money in politics and end corporate personhood once and for all.

The amendment is called the Outlawing Corporate Cash Undermining the Public Interest in our Elections and Democracy (OCCUPIED) Amendment, would overturn the Citizens United decision, re-establishing the right of Congress and the states to regulate campaign finance laws, and to effectively outlaw the ability of for-profit corporations to contribute to campaign spending.

In his statement provided to ThinkProgress Deutch said “I introduced the Amendment because the days of corporate control of our democracy must end now. It is time to return the nation’s capital and our democracy to the people.”

See also Robert Reich’s blog.

Posted in economy, finance, financial crisis, financial reform, government, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

End All Foreign Aid Now

Posted by Bob on February 13, 2011

End all foreign aid, especially to dictators.

Diplomatic relations, always. Free and fair trade, yes. Humanitarian aid directly to the people, yes. Military protection for NATO allies, yes. Financial and military aid, no.

The recent events in Egypt highlight yet again how poor the U.S. is at picking foreign powers to support. Think how well American support went with the Shaw of Iran, Saddam, Augusto Pinochet, Ferdinand Marcos, Manuel Noriega and the list goes on.

And yet we continue this failed policy with the support of Pakistan where it is well-known that aid dollars are being funneled to the Taliban through corruption and now we are supporting Yemen to the tune of $250 million a year, up five times from previous years.

Paying off foreign countries with our tax dollars to be our friend does not result in a lasting relationship nor does it guarantee that the foreign government will adopt American democratic values including free and fair elections.  So how does this aid figure into our national security or national interest as we are told? Or is it all just a pathetic attempt at nation building?

P. J. Crowley,the assistant secretary of state for public affairs, said on an NPR interview, “[we] provide assistance to Egypt because it is in our national interest to do so. And Egypt has been a stable country and a partner in pursuing peace in the Middle East and other interests… and we do have civilian programs to provide democracy assistance to grow civil society.” In other words our State Department is pursuing a nation building objective which strangely enough was campaigned against in the first Bush 43 election.

Isn’t it time, indeed past time, that we as a country adopt a foreign policy that is consistent with the values of the people and those that make our country great?

How can we go around the world preaching human values and free and fair elections while at the same time supporting autocrats of one sort or another whose internal policies are inconsistent with freedom and true democratic values?

Politicians claim that foreign aid builds good relations with other countries. In reality, the people of the world end up thinking that the U.S. wants to dominate them, and keep them in bondage to their corrupt rulers.

This means that the true cost of foreign aid isn’t just the $15B to $50B we spend on it each year. The real cost includes the hatred and the enemies that this spending buys for us.

We are being taken for suckers because the aid we give is money that these corrupt governments do not have to spend and as we have seen much of it goes directly into the pockets of their leaders.

It offends me and it should you to learn that our taxes have kept folks like Mubarak in power for 30 years.

We need to stop all direct government foreign aid. Any aid should come NGOs for humanitarian purposes or through the U.N.

It’s time that we drew a line in the sand or where ever one draws lines these days that says that the U.S. will not support a foreign power, if indeed we do it at all, unless their policies are consistent with our values as a nation and as a people.

Besides, there is no Constitutional provision for giving tax money to foreign rulers. If you would not voluntarily give your money to support someone like Mubarak why should our tax money be spent on them in violation of the Ninth and Tenth Amendments?

Consider this: if a foreign country qualified for 501(c)(3) status would you donate to them? If no, then our government should not be giving away our tax dollars to them. If yes, then perhaps a charitable organization should be established to funnel individual donations to that country.

Write to your elected representatives including the President to end this expensive and failed policy.

Posted in American, foreign aid, government, politics | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

For A Free Internet

Posted by Bob on December 22, 2010

Periodically the Internet comes under attack  by governments who either want to control, censor or tax it.  This time the desire to control the Internet was probably precipitated by the recent Wikileaks release of State Department cables that left officials scrambling to control the disaster. But this piece is not about Wikileaks or any isolated incident that has occurred and will, undoubtedly, occur again in the future. It is about government control of a resource that is at its foundation about free expression and the free exchange of information as originally conceived by the DARPA inventors in the late 70s.

Prior to the Internet the free press served as a sort of watchdog on our culture, the goings on of governments, and a forum for the free expression of the people, what’s left of it still does. Today the internet serves much the same purpose especially as the traditional media tries to figure out how to survive in the age of the world-wide web and make use of this resource. Indeed for some, rightly or wrongly the Internet IS the press. Of critical importance the internet has also given a voice and an outlet to the people through blogs in addition to the millions of web sites.

The fight for a free press worldwide continues be it print or electronic media. Remember the flap over the Pentagon Papers and government lying during the pre-Internet Vietnam era? Is todays Wikileaks any different?

We are all painfully aware that governments have this need for power and control over the people in complete disregard for the will of the people and any constitutional mandate. One needs to look no further than our own Patriot Act or the Internet censorship in China. Reasons of national security, in the case of the Patriot Act, is usually the only excuse they need. Sadly, in this age some government snooping seems necessary. However, for China it is control, plain and simple.

As recently reported on NPR the U.N. is considering some form of governance over the Internet to benefit “those governments who simply favor more control over the Internet and for those who want to see the network reformed for the benefit of less powerful countries.” Some governments don’t like the free flow of information and are looking for rules to limit the political impact of the Internet.

The FCC  in their Net Neutrality statement, FCC-05-15, encourages broadband deployment and the preservation and promotion of the open and interconnected nature of the public Internet. On 12/21 the FCC adopted new rules that prohibit ISPs from selectively slowing the performance of rival websites for landline subscribers but excludes such prohibitions for wireless devices.  Some providers claim that the ability to control the performance of some sites is just a way to manage the network traffic. So much for net neutrality.

As the issue of net neutrality rages some envision a future FCC “Internet Decency Statement” or an “Internet Lawful Use Policy”  or an effort by Congress to give the FCC authority to regulate ISPs who would be required to filter or otherwise monitor their users to ensure compliance. We have already seen evidence of filtering and monitoring by ISPs in the case of Wikileaks but this seems to have been done on a voluntary basis. 

Taxing the Internet has, so far, pretty much been limited to the collection of state and local sales taxes which has been inconsistent and unenforceable. To solve this problem President Obama has introduced the idea of a nationwide tax on Internet goods and services in the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) National Broadband Plan. Presumably this is designed to unburden entrepreneurs and small businesses from having to deal with a myriad of state and local tax laws.

The U.S. Supreme Court has decided that, in general, out-of-state retailers can’t be required to collect sales taxes unless Congress changes the law. But will Congress protect small Internet retailers and the consumers they serve from another Internet tax scheme?

We also need to be watchful that Congress does not interpret “goods and services” so broadly as to include taxation of the Internet itself. 
 
It must be noted in closing that advocacy for a free Internet, however, does not include or condone cyber attacks in any form. This includes those in the hacker community who believe that just because information resides on a computer it is fair game for illegal retrieval or those self-appointed cyber vigilantes that presume to test and expose computer security weaknesses in the misguided belief that they are performing some public service. Nor does it include invasions of privacy such as tracking usage for marketing purposes.

UPDATE: On March 9, 2011 the House voted to reverse the FCC Net Neutrality ruling on the grounds that the rules will discourage phone and cable companies from investing in costly network upgrades by barring them from offering premium services over their lines or prioritizing traffic from business partners in order to earn a return on those investments.

References:

http://www.npr.org/2010/12/17/132144972/U-N-Delegates-Debate-Control-Of-Internet
http://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2010/04/court-rejects-fcc-authority-over-internet
http://www.publicknowledge.org/pdf/FCC-05-151A1.pdf
http://nation.foxnews.com/business/2010/04/02/obama-plans-levy-internet-tax
http://www.cnn.com/2010/TECH/web/12/21/fcc.net.neutrality/
http://news.cnet.com/8301-13578_3-20009603-38.html
http://www.npr.org/2010/12/21/132237820/Fight-Over-Net-Neutrality-Is-Far-From-Over
http://www.npr.org/2010/12/21/132237824/How-Will-Net-Neutrality-Rules-Affect-Consumers
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=133854778

Posted in government, internet | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Lawbreakers May Be Getting A Free Pass

Posted by Bob on August 1, 2010

In a  7/30/2010 AP news story it was reported that the Obama administration has been looking for ways to skirt congress to solve the immigration problem. The article discusses an April 11-page internal memo by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services that outlines ways that the government could provide “relief” to illegal immigrants including delaying deportation perhaps indefinitely. 

This sounds a bit like amnesty and we all know how well that went back in 1986. Rewarding illegal behavior results in more of the same. In 1986 there were about 1 million illegals, now we have an estimated 12 million.

At the same time the Obama administration obtained court injunctions against several provisions of the Arizona immigration law, S.B. 1070. You would think that the federal government would be thankful to Arizona for helping with the illegal immigration problem. But they undoubtedly have another agenda. Could that possibly have something to do with VOTES, democratic votes?

The issue is not about race or profiling as the media and some in government would have you to believe. These are just smoke screens. The issue is about the law.

So here we have a situation where illegal immigrants are in our country either because they came across the border illegally or have overstayed their visas. They reside here with forged documents or hide behind anchor babies. Many collect welfare and take advantage of our medical services much to the well documented economic detriment of those medical facilities and to the taxpayer. And, then there are those in the mix that are possible terrorists and those who commit crimes. To make matters worse many of these illegals have no intention of assimilating into the American culture.

America is the most liberal nation when it comes to immigration yet we are being taken for suckers by people who take advantage of American hospitality and have no respect for our laws. Should they be given a free pass?

So it looks like the Obama administration wants to give the illegals a free pass for the sake of votes.  Of course this free pass would be couched in terms like “foster economic growth” or “preservation of family unity.” Never mind that we have a large number of citizens that could do with some economic growth and family unity. You would think that the brain trust in D.C. could come up with some program to transition our unemployed into jobs held by illegals.

If you have a problem with circumventing congress, not to mention the will of the people, and establishing immigration reform by executive order then write your representatives NOW. Forget writing the president, we know where he stands.

Are you willing to sacrifice our rule of law for a few votes? And what precedent would that sacrifice set?

Posted in American, immigration, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Our Information Democracy and the Influence of Lobbies

Posted by Bob on July 29, 2010

Americans have been voracious collectors of data as far back as 1790 when the first census was conducted. Examples abound from the many polls that are conducted to measuring traffic flow to tracking what we buy and even personal demographics. All this data then becomes massaged, analyzed, filtered, sorted and condensed to become information. 

With the advent of the publically available internet this era has become known as the information age. Some individuals are so caught up in the torrent of information that they become information junkies.

But information is good. Right?

Yes, information helps businesses and governments adjust their strategies and resources to the constant changes in human behavior in order to remain efficient, viable and, in the case of governments, better serve the public. At least this is what we are led to believe.

But where is the will of the people? When it comes to buying products and services, consumers vote with their feet and look for the best deal as contrasted with government where citizens are pretty much stuck. Voters typically don’t move to support a better politician. As voters we exercise  influence with our politicians at the polls and the occasional letter, email, campaign contribution or phone call. Of course some have more influence than others but for now we won’t go there.

Two recent events highlight the importance of information in our democracy: the passage of the healthcare and financial reform bills. It should interest citizens to know that the deciding information was not provided by the people but by the big business lobbies. As we all should realize by now the lobbies won and with some minor exceptions it remains business as usual for the insurance companies and Wall Street.

So how did the lobbies win the day?

First and foremost big business lobbies are purveyors of information. This information is cast in a favorable light for the industry in question and offered up on a gold platter to our representatives. Lobbies even help craft the legislation or contribute legislation outright.

In the case of healthcare you can bet that the information offered had something to do with the role of insurance companies in our economy and jobs. For financial reform the emphasis had to be, again, their role in the economy, since by some estimates they now account for 43% of our economic activity[1], and our increasing role in world markets. As an aside, this global role of our financial institutions plays right into the hand of the Obama administration who participated in the establishment of a global economic government at the G-20 summit which will regulate our banks through an international Financial Stability Board[2]. But that is another story.

Where was the voice of the people? The short answer is nowhere.

We have learned that in 2009 the Obama adminstration submitted a proposal to congress outlining how reform legislation would look[1]. These guidelines were not made public and sure enough the bill that was passed conformed closely to the adminstration proposal.

For the healthcare bill it was predetermined that single-payer or the public option was off the table. Even though candidate Obama was in favor of single-payer. However, when it came to rug-cutting time we were told that it would be too disruptive. In other words, the information provided by the healthcare lobbies prevailed.

Sure, the citizens came away in both these 2000+ page bills with something: a stop to the abuse related to pre-existing conditions and dropping insurance when you get sick, and in finance, thanks to Elizabeth Warren, we got some consumer protection measures. But at what cost? The taxpayer has to pay for more government while it is pretty much business as usual for the subject industries.

72% of the voters wanted the single-payer or public option in the healthcare bill. But protesters were ignored and even arrested. In the financial overhaul the majority wanted restoration of Glass-Steagall and a breakup of the investment banks who were at least part of the root cause for the financial crisis. Basically, none of what the citizens wanted was taken into consideration.  One has to feel that we are being taken for suckers; that these possible solutions are being put out on the street to keep the citizenry distracted, something to waste their time and energy rallying around knowing that it is a non starter.

Citizen input to the issues of the day tend to be primarily anecdotal and based on feelings or opinion and not real information. Stories from the citizens are nothing more than fodder for political speeches to make people feel like our views are being heard but those views don’t make it into legislation. As a result we get what the lobbies want.

The poorly informed and easily manipulated citizen is just a pesky part of the election process.  Our politicians just want the vote and for us to then get out of the way.

One has to wonder what the predetermined outcome will be for other major issues like immigration reform in this new enlightened era of transparency.

That’s my view, what’s yours?

References:

1, Interview with Binyamin Appelbaum, financial reporter for The New York Times.

2. The post-American Presidency: The Obama Administration’s War on America by Pamela Geller

Posted in American, financial reform, government, healthcare reform, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Mr. President, I Want My Country Back!

Posted by Bob on June 13, 2010

The phrase “I want my country back” has either been articulated or at least thought by many in an attempt to make sense of events over the past decade or so. Our beloved country is rapidly becoming unrecognisable and will continue to change in ways that depart from who we are as Americans and as a country unless we take corrective action.

Each of us has probably contemplated a list of issues that if acted upon would restore things to some semblance of normality and order. Obviously, normality and order, like beauty, differs from person to person but such a list of common, hot button issues can be developed.

Is the idea of wanting our country back only a thought of citizens who have lived through enough history to notice the changes and remember a more peaceful time? But what many remember is mostly a Hollywood created nostalgia: a tranquility as portrayed in TV shows like Ozzie and Harriet and Lassie and a life lived in Mayberry.

Yes, there was a time when we did not fear letting our children go outside to play with their friends or to even walk to school. And, there was also a time when we could board airplanes without the onerous and expensive TSA screenings and pat downs that keep us safe from this new world of terrorism.

For younger folks the way it is now is all they know and when someone laments the recent upheavals they are dismissed as wanting to revert back to an era like the 50s. Of course the 50s were not devoid of chaos and uncertainty what with the bomb, the communist threat and the cold war.

To be sure, a lot of improvements have been made ever since the 50s: improved product quality, safer travel, advanced technology such as computers, digital cameras and cell phones, and extraordinary advances in medicine, to mention a few. Yes, there is life without Facebook and Twitter. :) Indeed technology has a great impact both positive and negative but there are larger cultural, economic and political issues that have contributed to an uneasy feeling that the USA is going down a detrimental path.

Please consider the following:

- The Pilgrims came to this land searching for religious freedom and now we have become inundated with Muslims, mostly as a result of a failed immigration policy, who are using our hard-won freedoms against us to spread Sharia Law. For example, look at the situation in Greely Colorado where meat packers have been forced to provide foot wash basins, separate male and female prayer rooms, and exempt Muslim workers from handling pork products. Similar religious facilities have been provided for Muslims in Michigan at taxpayer expense. For a plethora of other examples consult Creeping Sharia. Also, check out The Commonwealth’ Club’s presentation “Frank Gaffney: Shariah Law — A Threat to America?” where Frank describes the rise of Shariah banking and the support of Mosques and schools in the U.S. by the Saudi government. It was particularly troubling to learn that the 80% taxpayer owned AIG, according to Frank, is the largest purveyor of Shariah financial products in clear violation of the Constitutional separation clause.

Obama bows

President Obama bows to Saudi king.

- Again our failed immigration policy has resulted in a large population of mostly Mexicans who have come here illegally with false documents and defiantly refuse to speak English. To make matters worse they seem to want all the privileges of an American citizen while remaining steadfastly loyal to Mexico. Is anyone else tired of “press 1 for English or 2 for Spanish?”

- The phrase “failed immigration policy” was used in the previous two points but perhaps it is only failed to “we the people.” Given the inaction by this and previous administrations it seems the policy we have is the one our “leaders” want. This has to change!. The policy needs to be what “we the people” want.

- Abolish big business lobbies: their poisonous campaign contributions and their participation in creating legislation. Wouldn’t it be great if the millions spent on lobbying and the lobbyists themselves had to actually work to make a product or directly contribute to the welfare of the country?

- Rebuild and restore our manufacturing sector along with funding for basic research so that we become a major exporter again and rebuild our great middle class. We can start by building environmentally responsible businesses engaged in products like solar panels,wind powered generators, electric and hydrogen powered cars, smart grid technology and fuel derived from algae.

- Stop the addiction to gambling. Over the past decade or two we have become increasingly a nation of gamblers as evidenced by the rise in state lotteries, legalized casinos and the behavior of Wall Street that was a factor in the recent financial disaster. Gambling benefits no one except the house and surely does not contribute to economic growth.

- Very soon our national debt will exceed our GDP. Debt is currently 90% of GDP according to the Debt Clock. Simply put that means that we will be broke as a nation. Already we are in debt to nations that don’t like us much. In the past decade our budget deficit grew some $2 trillion dollars as compared to the previous decade where it grew only $500 billion and we had a budget surplus. From 1976 to 2004 our debt grew at an exponential rate of $232 billion/year compared to only $20 billion/year for the preceeding 30 years (see the National Debt Graph). We need to cut spending and push for a balanced budget amendment.

- Get out of the Middle East. We can’t afford being there both because of the loss of American lives but also in dollar cost. We have no business being there and efforts at nation building don’t look promising or long-lasting. Besides, why are we in the Middle East when we should be fighting the insidious threats previously mentioned at home?

- Cut farm subsidies. Did you know that most of these subsidies goes to wildly profitable corporate agribusinesses. To make matters worse subsidies are used to support our largest crops among which is corn. And corn, as you know, is used to make high fructose corn syrup, the major ingredient in most food products, and an ingredient which has been linked to numerous diseases which in turn represents a health care cost. Does this make sense? If subsidises exist at all it would be better if they supported independent organic farmers.

- Cut taxpayer-funded foreign aid. Most of these dollars goes to corrupt governments and never finds its way to benefit the people. And, as we have seen in the Middle East some of these monies even fund the same groups we are fighting. How ridiculous is this? Any foreign aid should come from NGOs and go directly to the people.

- Nation building begins at home. In addition to the points mentioned above we need to reinstate courses in American and Western History in our educational institutions.

There are a lot of points here, perhaps too many, but pick one and act on it. The time to act is NOW! Write to the President and your elected representatives.

That’s my view, what’s yours?

Posted in American, economy, government, immigration, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: