Tech Companies Want to Limit Government Surveillance Online

In June of 2013 Edward J. Snowden, a NSA government employee, revealed to the media the extent of government presence in the life of the American, and foreign citizen.  Snowden stole documents, which were later published, proving that the government actively examines phone calls, emails, and many other aspects contained within social networks. The government uses this information to create sophisticated maps of Americans’ social connections.  The maps they create reveal several things about the American citizen including: their associates, their locations at certain times, their traveling companions and other personal information.  The government does not deny their involvement in data collection and analysis of the average citizen but defend their acts as a form of counter terrorism and cyber security.

Recently, the major technology companies have called for regulation of this online spying.  Some of the companies that are actively seeking to limit government access to information are: Google, Microsoft, AOL, Apple, Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter.  These online super powers wrote a letter to the government in which they stated that, “The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favor of the state and away from the rights of the individual”.

These companies have come together and set some guidelines in order to protect the individual’s privacy of information.  They want to limit government authority in collecting user information.  They believe that the government should be held accountable; if they do collect cyber information, they should do so legally.  The government needs to be more transparent about why they are collecting and using private information.  The free flow of information should be respected.  Finally, to avoid conflict among governments, there should be similar privacy laws in all countries.

This fight for privacy is in the best interest of not only the American citizen but also the internet companies that collect the private information.  In time if the government is not controlled in online spying, the average American will begin to lose trust in the online companies to protect their information and that of course will be a decrease in business for those companies.  Privacy of information is important and one can only hope that the government can accept the terms presented to them, and make the necessary changes to protect our privacy.

Here’s PBS’s report on the latest events:

4 Reasons to Teach Kids Geography before International Politics

The topic of international politics can be a difficult one to grasp, no matter what your education level is. Between understanding foreign policies and getting a firm grasp on allies and historical events, international politics is a highly complex subject that requires a few pre-requisite topics to give a good understanding of the complicated subject.  Some educators have found that giving students a sturdy foundation in World Geography can be highly beneficial when it comes to discussing international relations. Here is a look at four solid reasons why it is easier to teach kids this subject once they have studied World Geography.

world mapNames and Places First

Before children can learn about foreign policy and international relations, they must first have a good knowledge of what countries and continents make up the world. By learning the names of the countries and where they are located on the globe, students are getting a better idea of how the world is divided. Political issues that affect Africa or Asia may not necessarily affect Australia or South America. By learning the names and locations of the countries and continents, children are getting a strong foundation that can be applied once they are ready to learn about international politics.

Country Borders

By learning which countries border each other, children can learn why certain international political policies are in place. For example, the United States of American has specific immigration laws in force that largely apply to Mexico and Canada. By understanding which countries neighbor each other, children can better identify regional issues and laws.

Geography Leads to Deeper Dives into History

Learning Geography leads to a deeper dive into country and world history. Teachers rarely just hand out a map and let children figure out which country is which. Teachers will explain the history of each country and this will provide a foundation of international knowledge. The student will be able to determine wealthier countries over impoverished ones, countries with a democratic presidency and countries that are under a socialist or communist state.

Helps Students Identify Different Types of Governments

Geography is not just the study of land, but it helps students understand how countries affect and influence each other. At this stage in their education, children may understand how the basics of how their own government works. Learning about geography will help children identify cultural and political differences across the world, and help prime them for when they are ready to learn about international politics.

Teachers can use the guidelines at http://www.lessonplanet.com/article/education/motivating-activities-for-geography-week to help them celebrate Geography Week.

December 26, 2013Permalink Leave a comment

What Did the Government Shutdown Cost?

According to the initial estimate from Standard & Poor’s, the 16-day shutdown cost the US economy $24 billion.  That’s $24,000,000,000.00 or $1.5 billion for each day.

Tourism, frozen government contracts, lost services, and, worst of all, employees who were forced to go without pay for two weeks.  While the government would not confirm how many employees were furloughed during the shutdown, the popularly accepted figure was upwards of 800,000.  That’s in addition to those employees in “essential” positions who were forced to work without pay, such as the thousands of active military personnel. The agreement which ended the shutdown promises to provide back-pay to employees, but no one is certain when that money will be distributed.

Experts breakdown the costs like this:

  • $152 million/day travel & tourism
  • $3.1 billion in total government services
  • $217 million/day federal/contractor wages — in DC area alone
  • $76 million/day due to National Parks closures

The S&P has also forecast that the United States GDP for the fourth quarter will only be 2.4 instead of the previously forecast 3.0.  This may fall even further, depending on how the stall in wages and services affects the holiday spending season.

Given that the October 16th agreement is only a temporary fix and another shutdown could happen again on January 15th, consumer confidence may take some time to rebound.

Here’s “the shutdown edition” of the weekly white house video update:

 

contributed by Bill Conway, a financial reporter and blogger who writes for money and finance sites.

October 25, 2013Permalink Leave a comment

Tribal Lending Companies Rights at Stake in NY Payday Loan Order

The legality of tribal lending companies has been called into question in the state of New York.  Earlier this month the state’s Superintendent of Financial Services, Benjamin Lawsky, distributed a written order to over 140 lenders and banks calling for an end to online lending, specifically that online lenders cease making personal or “payday” loans to New York residents.  While Lawsky is within his rights to regulate state banks and loans, he does not have authority over the tribal lenders who received the notification.

billFederal law clearly designates that Native American tribes who have Congressional recognition as such are sovereign entities.  The doctrine of tribal sovereignty dates back several hundred years and has been upheld in countless court cases where states and even federal authorities have attempted to infringe on tribal rights.

In addition to issuing the order, Lawsky has put pressure on banks and payment processing companies who work with lenders to stop assisting what he calls “illegal” loans.  The problem is that tribal lenders are licensed and monitored and any loans they make, within federal guidelines are in fact legal, no matter the state of the borrower. Lawsky is incorrectly labeling these legal loans and interfering with the legal activities of the tribal companies and their partners.

In 2011 a similar case in Colorado was decided in favor of tribal sovereignty.  That case took seven years to work its ways through the courts and cost millions of taxpayer dollars. The judge ruled that tribes had immunity from enforcement actions as well as lawsuits and that that immunity extends to “non-Indian operators” who contract with tribes to provide expertise and administrative that is beyond the tribe’s abilities.

In response to Lawksy’s order, both the Native American Financial Services Association (NAFSA) and the Online Lenders Alliance (OLA) have spoken out against Lawsky’s actions.  They contend that the sixteen tribal lenders provide legal loans and that New York is interfering with their right to conduct business and with the ability of tribes to develop economic self-sufficiency.  They have called on banks and payment processors to continue working with the tribes in making legal loans to New York residents.  NAFSA has also indicated that they are investigating their legal options should New York ignore the cease and desist order that they sent.

New York taxpayers and borrowers are not the only people who are at financial risk.  Many Native American tribes are facing severe funding cutbacks in areas such as schools, child care, and health clinics.  This is a result of the recent budget sequester which cut over $550 million in federal funds to tribes across the country.  If tribal lenders are forced out of business, a significant stream of revenue that supports essential tribal services will be cut off.

August 28, 2013Permalink 1 Comment

First Step Fails for Genetically Modified Food Labeling Requirements

Efforts to require labeling on genetically modified foods failed in California this year. Proposition 37, a California ballot initiative, was defeated in the November 6, 2012 general election. The final vote tally was 53 percent opposed to 47 percent in favor. Called “Right to Know,” the initiative garnered much attention in the media and general population.  If it had been successful, California would have been the leader in such labeling requirements for foods sold in that state. It also would have prohibited labeling or marketing products as “natural” if they contain genetically modified ingredients.

Genetically modified soybeans, corn, or other crops are used in most processed foods sold in the USA. The DNA of these crops has been spliced with other species’ genetic material. Such methods have been used for 16 years. These modified crops are able to survive despite applications of weed killer. They are even toxic to the bugs and insects which eat them.

Genetically modified foods are already required to be labeled in 50 countries, including:

  • Australia
  • Europe
  • Japan
  • China
  • Russia.

Supporters of the California initiative believe that citizens have the right to know whether their food has been genetically modified. The issue has forced attention on the value of sustainable farming and humane treatment of animals. Consumer groups instigated grassroots activities, and were joined by the organic industry.

Opponents cited increased food costs to consumers. They called labeling “deceptive” because they say science has not shown modified foods to be harmful, according to major medical groups. Those opposing the measure included well-funded agricultural and industrial interests.

Next steps are already being planned.

  • Similar petitions are planned next for California’s neighbors to the north: Washington State and Oregon.
  • Supporters will also attempt to force change at the federal level in Washington, D.C. The primary agency for food and food additives regulatory oversight is the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Strategists had hoped that a victory in California would ease the uphill climb in D.C., but it was not to be. However, state passage is not absolutely necessary for legal strategies concerning the FDA.

A citizen’s petition with over one million signatures is pending with the agency.It demands that the FDA re-examine its policy that foods containing genetically modified ingredients do not have to be labeled.The petition points to FDA’s failure to mandate pre-market safety testing and its permissive labeling policy. Supporters suggest that this effort could bring about a federal lawsuit naming the FDA.

reported by Irene Vashdi, a freelance journalist and natural brand advocate. Ms. Vashdi’s work has appeared in newsmagazines, blogs, and sites like this.

August 7, 2013Permalink 7 Comments

Does the 2 Party System Work?

Hillary ClintonEvery person has at least one opinion on any political subject — and some manage to hold multiple opinions, breaking down larger questions into smaller parts. The result is that any issue, including whether or not the two-party political system works, is subject to multiple arguments.

While on the whole the current US system of government works, in that in continues to hold elections, provide services, and collect taxes and fees, the underlying question is whether there is another system that would work better or if the two-party is the best political system.

To clarify, a two-party system does not require legal or constitutional standing. There is nothing in the US Constitution that prohibits additional parties from forming, which is how there are candidates from parties such as Libertarian, Green, and Tea Party on various ballots.  However, there is no question that the two major parties, Republicans and Democrats, dominate virtually all elections from school board to President. By controlling legislatures and administrative regulations, members of those two parties can make it more difficult for other parties to form and succeed in elections. In the US, third parties have been able to exert influence on the major parties over the years and even to elect officials to lower offices.

Benefits of Two-Party Politics

Supporters of the current two-party system point to the US’s overall economic security as an example of how the system works.  While there have been recessions and even depressions over the past two centuries, the relative political stability of the country has been reflected in economic growth and fairly quick recovery from crisis.

That stability is a result of the fact that governing two groups is easier than trying to govern a dozen. Countries with a strong multi-party system often find themselves unable to govern as no party can gain enough votes in parliament or the legislature to rule by majority.  It is also easier to come to a compromise between two opinions than through half a dozen strident ideologies. Lastly, each of the two parties has to develop platforms that appeal to a majority of the population in order to get elected, which promotes centrism and addressing the needs of large numbers of voters, instead of only needing to represent a smaller fraction.

Disadvantages of Two-Party Politics

The biggest argument against the two-party system is that it stifles alternative ideas and choices.  Voters are presented with two options and two strategies for solving problems that are increasingly critical and, at the same time, increasingly complex.  Having multiple parties would give voters the chance to think outside the box and see alternative viewpoints and solutions.

Majority parties in a two-party system have little to no incentive to listen to minority parties, leaving large sections of the electorate without representation that accurately reflects their views.  With two parties dominating the landscape, there is more talk of “mandate” and authority that allows those parties to ignore dissent and to institute rules that make it difficult for third party candidates to run for office.

There has been increasing talk amongst political pundits about the breakdown of the American two-party system. Rather than working together to represent the majority of citizens, they are polarizing and refusing to compromise in order to protect their voter base.

Perhaps the increased debate on the subject is simply proof that the American electorate still cares about their political system and is willing to question whether it works or how it might work better.

Article provided by John Duncan a blogger and writer on politics, finance and sports. He writes about financial topics like money mutual and sports figures like Scott Tucker as well as a variety of political topics.

Trucking Industry Recovers

The trucking industry is in a period of recovery.  As a truck driver you must always be thinking about how to reduce your fuel costs as prices continue to rise each day.

However, just switching to another alternative is not enough if you are not aware of how to get the maximum mileage out of your truck. A few simple pointers in your mind can help you save more than you could have imagined.

TruckGood maintenance: Like all other machines or devices, automobiles also need proper maintenance; this will ensure that your truck gives you the maximum mileage possible. Check the alignment of the wheels on your truck.  If they are not aligned properly, you will get less than ideal gas mileage. Also be careful about choosing tires; more friction generally leads to less mileage.

Aerodynamics: Try employing aerodynamics best practices to enjoy maximum mileage out of your truck. Install a bed sheet in such a way that your truck has less friction with the air it is cutting through.

Do not over burden your vehicle: Always be careful not to overload your truck. Get anything that’s not absolutely critical off your truck and you’ll observe a significant difference.

Plan your route and time intelligently: If you do not have to reach your destination at a particular time of the day, opt for a time when traffic is less. In the event you have to be there at a certain time, pick off peak hours, and try to think of the alternate routes that could let you avoid the traffic, while saving fuel in the process.

Speeding up and Braking:
Frequent acceleration and braking puts a lot of pressure on the engine and burns gas so it helps to maintain a consistent speed. Even when you get the road clear, do not accelerate like a jack-rabbit! Gain speed slowly and steadily. Keep an eye as to where must you slow down, and do it gradually.

Mark is an automotive enthusiast and also a writer for TruckertoTrucker.com, a site dedicated to helping owners sell trucks qualify leads and to discuss the joys of trucking from being an owner operating to the steps it takes to become financially comfortable in the trucking industry.

US Auto Industry Still a Powerhouse

The recent recession brought the failures of the auto industry to the forefront.  The government was forced to bailout major automakers to stave off the collapse of a significant contributor to the overall economy.  Since its heyday in the mid-twentieth century, the auto industry has been a key employer, a major factor in the GNP and an indicator of the overall US economic health.

It’s good to know, then, that 2012 was the best in five years for the US auto industry and that 2013 looks to be even better.  With vehicle sales accounting for 30% of the country’s domestic economic growth, a good year for auto makers is a good year for the United States.

Vehicle Sales

Over 14 million cars, trucks and other vehicles were sold in the US in 2012. Part of the reason for the increase in sales is the recent financial crisis.  Families couldn’t afford to buy a new vehicle in the past five years resulting in the average age of cars on US road rising to 11 years or older.  Those older cars are now beginning to be replaced, with some experts predicting that 2013 and beyond will see even larger increases in car purchases

The leading seller in 2012 was General Motors who sold almost 2.6 million vehicles.  Other domestic manufacturers did well with Ford selling 2.17 million and Chrysler 1.65 million and Toyota sales also topped 2 million. While middle-class brands like Dodge selling 524,000 vehicles, luxury brands like Lincoln actually slipped.

Other Indicators

Investors are seeing growth in the auto industry.  Stock prices for GM and Ford both rose in 2012. GM saw a gain of 42% compared to 2011 while Ford shares finished the year more than 20% higher than 2011.

Much of that stock investment is a reflection of predictions from industry experts at Polk automotive information and marketing solutions.  They expect vehicle registrations to climb another 6.6% in 2013. Registrations of new vehicles should rise to 15.8 million in 2014 and in 2015 reach 16.2 million. This will approach the 17 million mark from pre-recession years.

A major contributor to this resurgence is the automakers themselves.  In the coming year they are expected to introduce 43 new vehicles to the market as well as redesigning 60 of existing models. So much novelty should draw car lovers to the showroom which will translate to increased sales.

Other factors that could positively influence auto sales include lower interest rates, improved vehicle quality, and a weak-but-stable value for the US dollar.

The Rules of the Track

It may not seem like it, but there are actually a ton of different rules and regulations out there.  Whether you’re building a house, walking across the street, or addressing an envelope, there are certain laws and regulations that you have to follow if you want to make sure that your house stands up during an earthquake or your letter arrives where you want it to.  Well, auto racing is no different.  Not only are there regulations from racing bodies and individual tracks, but there are regs from the government as well.

NASCAR is one of the most rule-laden organizations out there.  Nearly everything about the cars is regulated, down to the length of the fuel lines and the type of carburetors.  Thanks to Smokey Yunick and others, who grew their careers around finding loopholes in the rules for a competitive advantage, NASCAR has had to essentially design the cars for their teams.

Iowa race trackOne set of rules that all racing bodies adhere to are track rules.  There is a certain etiquette that drivers use while racing to make sure that everything is fair and reasonably safe.  For example, not driving over a certain speed in the pits ensures the safety of the crews.  Meanwhile, intentionally wrecking another car is frowned upon.

Individual tracks a lot of the time have their own rules, usually to comply with their insurance policies and to keep the hooligan behavior to a minimum.  One such rule is in effect at many drag strips.  If a car runs faster than 11 seconds in a quarter mile the driver must wear a helmet, and if the car breaks 10 they must have a roll cage.  These individual tracks also have their own etiquette, like appropriate passing areas, crash protocol, and unique messages for flags.

While governments rarely interfere with motorsports, they do have some rules about them.  Luckily, the EPA hasn’t bothered NASCAR, F1, or any other series about emissions, but many local communities have piped up about noise.  In recent years many race tracks have been closed because of constant noise complaints from neighbors.  One of such is Fontana Speedway in California, which has been switching between open and shut down for some years.  One thing the government doesn’t appreciate is racing cars on the street.  Street racing, or driving cars that aren’t street-legal on public roads is a recipe for a crushed car and some hefty fines, so if you have to satisfy your need for speed, do it on a track.

Yes, rules are everywhere and motorsport is no exception.  But the rules that are in place help keep the sport safer and as thrilling as ever.

Glenn Sheldon is an avid race fan as well as a former government lawyer. He’s now enjoying a second career as a sports journalist, writing about NASCAR, Formula One, IMSA, and other racing topics for blogs like this one and news sites all over the web.

A Letter to Congress…and some sound advice

Dear United States Congress,

I have watched with interest and now shock the attempts to negotiate the debt ceiling and the current debt crisis.  I would like to offer some advice on how the small business of America and the single highest source of new jobs in the country has been dealing with the impact of this economy and their own debt crisis caused by the reckless gamblers on Wall Street and their unregulated rampage which destroyed the world’s economy.

The recession caused by greed and recklessness, much of that recklessness authorized by you such as two wars we could not afford has caused the US small business and hardworking US citizens in general extreme hardship. I keep thinking but they must know this…now I am not so sure.   However,  we have worked out how to deal with it.  When faced with a reduction of 60% in our revenues we started with major cutbacks.  You see Congress we do not have the option to increase out debt ceiling as the banks the ones we bailed out with your bill which you passed really quickly destroyed our credit.  When they got back on their feet they were quick to identify the US small business as “toxic assets” and closed down  our working capital credit lines.  Faced with the possibility of default with the hardship their clients were experiencing they closed those lines and promptly reported the debt to the credit  bureaus, in some cases such as Bank of America selling the debts to ruthless speculators.  This ensured that under no circumstances could we get any more credit for anything.  But we carried on and we made more cuts, downsized and found new and creative ways to keep going and feed our families because you see in a small business the only income we have is the revenue from our business.  We worked 24/7 to fill in for the staff we had to let go and we focused heavily on increasing our revenue, offering new services, cutting our fees and working closely with clients affected by the recession.  We continued to build trust despite the fact that the banks had decided that we were losers.  We found new and creative ways to cook ramen noodles and explain to our children why we no longer took vacations and why they could no longer have a MacDonald’s as a special treat.  When the State of Arizona decided that all our contract workers including out of state service providers and student interns were subject to Arizona Unemployment tax we were faced with the additional burden of proving they were wrong and the high legal fees associated with that.  When our health insurance was at risk because of our drop in staffing numbers we found new and creative ways to stay in our health insurance plan.  Not a good situation to be in with two children who suffer from chronic illnesses.  When my hair fell out due to the stress I was under I bought a wig and put on a brave face and carried on because that is what we do.

So we survived in spite of what congress did not because of it.  We have received no help no support and the SBA has been rendered redundant since all SBA funding goes through banks who now consider the US small business too toxic to touch.   The US small business is out there surviving with grace, dignity, ingenuity, creativity and sheer hard work.  I will never vote in a congressional election again.  I refuse to support a process that has no common sense and will not look to the people that they pretend to represent for answers.   Might I remind in case it is necessary that these are the very people who voted for you whom you now have abandoned.

To summarize the small businesses of America are surviving because they have to and because they did two things.

1) They cut their costs sometimes having to make painful decisions.

2) They increased their revenue.

This principal is not just being applied in the US small business but in homes across the country every day.  Families are increasing the revenues working two three and sometimes 4 jobs just to survive.   While families struggle through this and and give up their dream of sending their their kids to college you sit in Washington wasting their precious tax dollars, playing more games with their lives.

All you have to do is cut costs drastically, and increase revenue and since the only revenue the government has access to is taxes, you must increase taxes.  If we have to cut medicare so be it the painful decisions have to be made.  DO YOUR JOBS.   Sounds simple right! Yes it is that simple.  I assure you if you do not start listening you will lose your seats because there is no common sense.  We do not make this stuff up we live it.  You can continue to ignore us and continue with what seems to be an assumption that we are too stupid to notice your hidden agendas and support of nonsense like the Norquist pledge.    People like us do what we do because we care, because we love our families and our way of live.  You are missing that passion and you do not care.  We are intelligent people and in 2012 we will show just how intelligent we are with our vote of no confidence in the US Congressional system.