The Occasional Muse

Commentary with a touch of activism

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6 Tips To Avoid Nuisance Phone Calls

Posted by Bob on June 2, 2014

do_not_callMost of us know by now that listing your phone numbers on the federal Do Not Call Registry is, for the most part, a joke. Among the loopholes are provisions that election campaigners and organizations that you have done business with in the past can ignore your entry on the list.

This last provision is particularly troublesome. How many times have you received a call from a telemarketer whose charitable organization you have never heard of before thanking you for your previous support?  If this has happened to you then your phone number has been shared on a sucker list with other similar unscrupulous organizations.

Other annoyances include calls identified as ANONYMOUS on your caller ID or 800 SERVICE or UNKNOWN.

Another problem are those just plain bogus numbers showing up on your caller ID. For several years now people have been receiving a spate of calls at all hours from a number 12-345-6789 or slight variations of the same number sequence, for example.

There should be a law that the information in the caller ID should be truthful and that you should be able to *69 or return the call to the number displayed and get an answer. Anyone who has tried this will find out that returning the call will usually result in an out of service message. But requiring truthfulness in caller IDs is likely to be as successful as the Do Not Call Registry.

So, what to do? Here a few tips of things you might try.

1.    The simplest approach would be to not answer the phone at all unless you recognize the caller ID name or number. Let the call go to voice mail or let your answering machine pick it up. This takes a bit of mental endurance to ignore the lure of a ringing phone but what you will find is that most of the bogus or robo calls will just hang up.

2.    Try blocking the call through your phone service. Unfortunately modern VOIP services like Comcast will only let you list 12 numbers. Check with your carrier to see if they offer the service and how many numbers can be blocked.

3.    Purchase a call blocking device that connects to your land line phone. Entering “Call Blocking” into Amazon’s search field will result in a list of several devices. Many of these devices only cost about $60 and will block 1,000 or more numbers. Check the product details and product reviews carefully because some of these devices do not work well with VOIP services provided through Cox Communications or Comcast.

4.    Talk to the folks calling you and request that your number be removed from their list. This will probably not work but it is worth a try.

5.    Be careful who you share your number with and, if at all possible, don’t list it in the phone directory or enter it on website pages if at all possible.

6.    The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations prohibit telemarketers from using automated dialers to call cell phone numbers without prior consent. (see https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0133-cell-phones-and-do-not-call-registry). The premise for this prohibition, as I recall, was because unlike land lines, cell phone users are charged for the minutes on all calls sent or received. Of course the prohibition only applies to telemarketers and robo calls which we know they ignore.

Like land line phones cell phone users still have to deal with those pesky nuisance calls. For some solutions try Googleing “call blocking app.” In the search results you will find apps and instructions on how to use your cell phone’s built in call blocking features. If your cell phone doesn’t have a call blocking feature try visiting your favorite app store to find one that will meet your needs.

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

Posted in lifestyle, technology | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Ode To A Pick

Posted by Bob on May 3, 2014

picks
Lost my pick
What a bummer
Couldn’t play a lick
With or without a drummer

Posted in poetry | Leave a Comment »

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 Email

Posted by Bob on March 28, 2013

domain millUnsolicited Bulk Emails or UBE, more commonly known as SPAM, is on the rise. Not only do these unwanted emails continue to clog our inboxes and junk mail folders but they are becoming harder to eliminate. This article will examine where many of these emails 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 emails come from?

Three sources account for most of the junk e-mail we receive: 1) emails 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 email marketing others turn to email marketing companies like MailChimp, iContact, and Constant Contact. These companies send out informative messages to their members using a vetted membership or subscription email 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 email 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 emails 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. Email 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 email 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 email 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 email address. Companies and non-profit organizations are getting very adept at strategies to get you to enter your email 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 email 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 emails 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 email 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 emailers 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 email recipient to unsubscribe. Among these are requirements for you to enter your email 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 email address from their list. This updated list, hopefully without your email address, is then sent to their client for use in their email 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: , , , , , , , | 43 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 »

 
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