The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘National Security Agency’

LIFE, LIBERTY AND THE PURSUIT OF … PRIVACY

Let me say that I think of myself as a private person.  Perhaps you might describe me as rather “dull”.  Since I gave up skydiving, the most exciting things that happen in my life are taking the puppies to the dog park or trying out a new recipe.  Pretty ho-hum stuff.  Well, that’s me and I like it that way.

Now as you might expect from a person like myself who is pretty boring, there aren’t a lot of skeletons in my personal closet which would make a splash if they were uncovered.  I think that’s probably true for a lot of Americans who try to be responsible adults, do the right things and keep their noses clean.  After all, we can’t all be Kim Kardashians – thank you, Jesus.

Of course, part of the reason for writing this post has to do with recent disclosures about the snooping the NSA does on me and you and everyone else in the country.  But I would like to put what that agency classifies as a mere case of 2700 “clerical errors” in the context of an experience I had about twenty years ago.

After I started my financial planning business, I was looking for a way to expand my client prospect base.  Business was good and I was pleased at the progress I was making, but I knew that I had a lot more free time than I wanted and was actively looking for new clients.

One day when I arrived at my one person office I saw a newspaper in front of the door.  It was “The Chicago Daily Law Bulletin”.  I had never heard of this publication and had no idea why it had been delivered to me.  I thought it was meant for another tenant, but there was no subscriber name on the paper.  So then I thought that maybe the paper was trying to increase their circulation by offering some free copies to businesses they thought might be potential subscribers.

In any event, I brought it in, set it to the side of my desk, made a few phone calls and did some paperwork.  A little later in the morning I picked up the paper and started to read through it.

There were a number of stories about recent court rulings and a list of cases that were upcoming in various courts.  None of that interested me.  But I kept looking through the paper, hoping that at least there would be a crossword puzzle or some cartoons.  I was disappointed as there were neither.  However, there was one section which caught my eye.  That was a list of deceased people whose estates were being adjudicated in probate court.

If you have a “Last Will and Testament” your name will one day appear in a list of decedents in “The Chicago Daily Law Bulletin” or some similar publication.  And a listing of your financial assets will be available to anyone who has the interest in looking at it.  Not a big deal, you might say.  After all, you’re dead.  But consider how this might impact your heirs.

As I reviewed the list in the paper, I began thinking that those who were the beneficiaries of the deceased might be prospects for my services.  But there weren’t any details listed as to the size or contents of these estates.  So a few days later I walked over to the Cook County Building and found out which department held these records.

I brought the list from the newspaper with me, filled out the appropriate request form and ten minutes later I had thirty-five files of deceased people which included a complete list of assets, addresses, the names of their beneficiaries and their addresses (and in most cases telephone numbers).  It occurred to me that I might have hit the mother lode in prospecting for new clients.  And it turned out this was a highly profitable way of trying to build my business and provide a valuable service to my new clients.

I sifted through those thirty-five files and culled them down both by size and completeness of contact information and wound up with twenty new prospects.  I wrote these heirs a letter, enclosed a brochure and from this first group developed three new clients – a fifteen percent conversion rate.  (In direct mail, the average response is two percent).

As a result of my first success, I began subscribing to the newspaper and made visits twice a week to the county offices.  As a result of these frequent visits, I became friendly with a number of the clerical staff who did the work of pulling the files.  And one day, Susie who was the clerk whom I knew best, brought my files and said, “You’re not pulling a Wayne G.,” are you?

Since the only person I knew named Wayne had the surname of Newton, I asked, “Who’s Wayne G.?”

She went on to explain that about seven years earlier, Wayne G. had started coming into their office and requesting probate files.  Apparently, he also had the idea of   prospecting for customers.  However, he was actually perpetrating a well-organized scam.

He had found a closeout on some pseudo-publication which promised a way to “beat the lottery” and promised anyone who read it the ability to hit it big by playing the daily game as well as Illinois’ weekly jackpot game.  As it came out in his trial, he had apparently bought up hundreds of these books at twenty-five cents apiece but was selling them for $9.95.

Wayne G. would write a threatening letter to the deceased, which he knew would be forwarded to his or her heirs and read:

“We sent you ‘The Lottery Book’ on a good faith basis with the expectation that you would remit the nominal $9.95 cost after reviewing it.  It has now been three months since you received this valuable information and, despite our two previous letters, we have still to receive your remittance or the return of the book.  It we do not receive your remittance within ten business days, we will be forced to turn this over to our collection agency.  We hope that you will honor your commitment and avoid our need to take legal action.  Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.”

Of course, the book had never been mailed out – but if someone wrote back and said they had no record of receiving such a publication, Wayne G. would quickly mail out a “second” copy.  Most of these letters, however, were answered – with a check for $9.95.  In fact, over 55,000 people sent Wayne G. checks – so his total  retail “sales” were nearly $550,000 and this gave him a bottom line which was in excess of $500,000.  This scam went on for three years before Wayne G. was brought to justice for mail fraud and was incarcerated for a five year term.

I assured Susie that I was not trying to follow in Wayne G.’s footsteps and explained what I was doing with my research.  As a result, she asked me some questions about her personal finances which I happily took the time to answer.  She seemed to appreciate that.

Now consider that when all this took place, both Wayne G. and I were doing our research manually.  I’m not sure that at that time the Blackberry had yet been invented.  Obviously, our technology has advanced one hundredfold and our ability both to access as well as analyze data has multiplied exponentially.

I suppose I should take some comfort in President Obama’s statement that “the government is not spying on ‘ordinary’ Americans.”  There is probably no one roaming this country who is more “ordinary” than I am.

But, just to speculate, what if some bureaucrat decides that boring people like me fit the profile of individuals who are deep undercover terrorists?  I mean these folks have to do something to justify their hefty salaries.  Well, maybe they don’t.

If we have 2700 instances (and this is just from one program and in no way encompasses all NSA activities) where “clerical errors” are responsible for unintentional snooping, consider the possibilities if a government gone wild should actually target specific people who oppose their agenda.  Does Lois Lerner and the IRS sound familiar?

I have very few aspirations. I guess I could summarize those as being the right to live my life freely, in a law-abiding way within a law-abiding society and the privacy to do what I want without oversight or intrusion.  That probably isn’t a lot different from what other “ordinary” Americans want.

Well, that’s my side of the story.  Apparently, however, the government has a different agenda for me – and you.

OUR LIVES ARE AN OPEN BOOK

The reality is that apparently Obamacare is going to move forward with the state exchanges open for business in October, 2013.  It will probably take a little bit of time for us to really see the full impact of how poorly designed this law was from inception.

Of course, by illegally deferring the employer reporting mandate, the administration put off (until after the mid-term elections) some of the effect this portion of the law would have in reducing the number of workers who will have their work weeks cut in order to avoid the act’s onerous requirements.  So we will have to wait until 2015 to see how harmfully this affects the economy and “recovery”.

Of course, now that Congress has gained an exemption for themselves and their staffers and then gone on vacation (although they have a long way to go to catch up with the vacation time the Prez has taken), these esteemed lawmakers can just sit back and let the dice roll as the Obamacare craps game plays itself out.

That, of course, is really only the concern for those of us who remain who actually will be compelled to obey the law.  The unions who were ardent advocates for the passage of universal coverage have now looked at the law (probably ahead of former Speaker Nancy (Pip Squeak) Pelosi and decided that it reeks and have asked for exemptions.  This includes the union representing those who are given the responsibility of administering a significant portion of the law – the IRS.

While we do not know how much of this law will play out – whether we include the limitation of services (death panels), the actual cost of obtaining insurance, whether the predication of Obamacare’s success that younger, healthier people will actually enroll or just pay the rather minimal penalty that will apply in its first year of existence which could sink it, there is one thing that we do know now.

The administration (translation Health and Human Services) which has had nearly four years to develop a secure system to maintain the personal information to which it will be entrusted, has yet to test their system and prove that it is hacker-proof and secure.  It missed its first deadline to do so earlier this year and is going to try again later this month.  We will need to see if they are able to accomplish this.

The IT systems developers with whom I have spoken have unanimously doubted the likelihood that this test will prove the system to be secure.  Their experience suggests that a system of this scope and magnitude needs one to two years of constant testing before it is safe to unleash.

You’ve probably heard of a service called “Life Lock” which is supposed to protect your financial information from hacker intrusion.  There are a number of such services which attempt to alert us and provide early detection against hacker intrusion into our private financial records.  But what this service protects against, the amount of data that they monitor on our behalf, is so small compared with that which will be collected under Obamacare that it pales in comparison.

Imagine listing not only your social security number, your DOB, your home address, your marital status but add to that your entire health history – all reposited in one unsecure data base.  What a field day for our hacker friends to gain complete access to our most intimate, private matters.  Are you comfortable with exposing your life to anyone who is clever enough to hack into these servers?

But let’s assume, and this is a big assumption, that HHS is successful in implementing a secure system.  We will have eliminated one threat – or so we hope.  But there is another that might be even more dangerous.

Think about the bureaucrats who will have access to all that personal information.  Under normal circumstances and with a functional administration that conducted its affairs based on some at least minimal moral standard, that might not be much of a concern.  But that is not this administration.

We have all heard President Obama descry those who are “distracting the American people by raising the specter of all the ‘phony scandals.’”   Those, of course include the truth about Benghazi; the revelation that the IRS not only targeted conservative organizations – delaying their approving tax exempt status for purely political reasons – but the latest part of that “phony scandal” that they apparently communicated information to the Federal Elections Commission and redacted (translation deleted) certain information which they might have had to supply to Congressional committees based on what their friends at the DEA taught them; and, of course, the last “phony scandal” that the NSA has actively been collecting information on law abiding Americans and archiving what we once thought was personal, privileged communications.

My grammar school English teachers would have raked me across the coals for producing something akin to that last lengthy paragraph.  But when the administration continues to provide so much fodder, it’s hard not to run on a bit too long.

With an ever-growing list of such malevolence, it’s simply too great a leap of faith to believe that those in this administration will not use whatever information is available to benefit their own political agenda and not the citizens of this country.

reallyyoustilltrustthegovernment

BRAZIL – ARE YOU NUTS?!

Brazil’s Foreign Minister, Antonio Patriota is upset.  It seems that his government has received reports that billions of Brazilian email and telephone conversations have been monitored and archived by the United States of America’s “Do-gooder protect us from all evil agency”, the NSA.

On the surface, it might appear that the United States of America is employing the same sort of tactics that the former USSR used in its foreign surveillance activities.  But there are good reasons why these spying activities are in place and I would like to offer an explanation to help relieve the Foreign Minister of his concerns.

Irrespective of whether or not the Congress is able to come up with any sort of reasonable and workable immigration bill, it is clear that from the standpoint of our neighboring citizens to the south, America is still the land of opportunity.  Free phones, free food and free medical care are merely some of the benefits of living in the United States – whether that is legally or otherwise.  So who wouldn’t want to move in?

Given this continuing trend, it is my expectation that the land between Mexico and Panama within five to ten years will be empty.  That is what G-30 government analysts refer to as a “void.”  Imagine, all that land going unused – and therein lies one of the justifiable reasons for the NSA’s activities on Brazilian citizens, corporations and government.  In less than a decade, Panama City will effectively be the United States’ most southern urban establishment.

Now the nature of geography has inconveniently placed the continent of South America on which the Foreign Minister resides, awfully close to our new southern border.  And while it is true that between his country and Panama, Venezuela and Colombia are in the way, let’s face facts.

With the death of President Chavez, the Venezuelans are too busy trying to find a new dictator to rule them to care about geographic expansion, and the Colombians are too involved in perpetual fiestas funded by all the money they have made selling their drugs in the United States to care.

Brazil, the largest geographical country and the most technologically advanced in South America, naturally poses a threat with the potential of moving northward and poaching the resources of our new southern border.  And what is to prevent Brazil from continuing this wave northward?

With the abandonment of Central America and Mexico by its people in favor of the much nicer weather and other bennies to be found in the United States, Brazilian armies could just take over the entire Central American peninsula.  And the best part is that since no one will be there, your Portuguese speaking troops wouldn’t even have to take immersion courses in Spanish.  Surely, Mr. Foreign Minister you can see the threat involved to American sovereignty.

If this weren’t a long term game plan of your government, then why did you officially name your country The United States of Brazil?  Huh?  Answer me that one.

Of course, I suspect there is a bit of hubris involved in your shock and outrage at these legitimate spying activities.  I mean, Mr. Foreign Minister, do you think that you Brazilians are better than us red blooded Americans?  The NSA conducts the same sort of illegal surveillance on American citizens.  So if it’s good enough for us it should darn well be good enough for you.

And if you think otherwise – then you’re just nuts.

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