Sunday, September 30, 2012

What Is Your Mother's Maiden Name? Gdkeref(?)

     Probably the most common “secret” questions by which an online account user's identity is supposed to be verified are:
     What is your mother's maiden name?
     What was the name of your first elementary school?
     Where did you meet your spouse?

      And in these days where everything is available on the world wide web, what is secret about them? Anyone with half an ounce of computer knowledge can often get the answers in a few minutes.
     Recently I called my bank and asked to submit new answers to my secret questions, and was told that once one has the answers established, they cannot be changed. How can your mother's maiden name be different from what it was when you originally submitted it?
     Of course, it isn't different, but that does not mean that one can't change the answer to the question. What difference does it make to the bank if you change your answer from Mabel Smith to Shirley Temple, or even to something like Brom Bones or Gdkeref? As long as you give the same answer every time the bank asks the question, you are identified, and no hacker is going to find your answer on the web in a thousand years. The same is true of any secret question.
     Some organizations have caught on to the problem, and allow one to make up one's own questions. Wonderful! You don't even need a legitimate question. Suppose I ask, “Is it warmer in the summer or in the country?” Answer: Purple. As long as I give the same answer whenever the question is asked, my identity is verified.
     For the password itself, how about something like [Gj4&sD34#6Df]? Coupled with an unsearchable secret question, the account is virtually uncrackable.
     Some financial institutions use one's email address as the user ID. By intercepting the user's email to the institution, a hacker discovers the user's ID.
     A simple way to avoid this problem is to set up an email account which is used only for the user ID. Actual contact with the institution is through the normal email account.
     For example, suppose I set up a special email account, say secretstuff@myemail.net, which I submit as my user ID. However, whenever I contact the institution, I use my regular email account: regularstuff@myemail.net. A hacker who intercepts my message can try all day to use my email address as the user ID, to no avail. The only time the secret address is ever used, is when the institution contacts me.
     Of course, all this presupposes that one can remember to use the regular email and the answers to the secret questions. Simple enough, write it down and keep it next to your computer – not in it.
     This seems like real cloak and dagger stuff, but with ID theft becoming more prevalent, one can't be too careful.
     PS – My bank is the only institution which would not allow me to change my answers. I'm going to take another crack at them tomorrow.
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     My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback or Kindle at Amazon.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Emulating The Founding Fathers

     A few days ago I posted a blog in which I called one of the presidential candidates a hypocrite, and presented an argument which I thought justified the appellation. A short time letter one of my Facebook friends unfriended me. This is fine – he has as much right to do that as I have to express my opinion.
     We do not know each other except through Facebook, but I sincerely hope that if we did, we would display what is becoming a rare faculty these days: disagreeing and yet remaining friends.
     The Bible says: “. . . unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” I am not an expert on the kingdom of heaven, but the statement sounds like good advice in the personal relations field. I have seen children fight as if they meant to kill each other, and an hour later they were again best friends.
     The choice today seems to be between friendship and enmity - there is no middle ground. I have heard of a case in which friends were dining together when one, in jest, called a radio talk show host by a mildly derogatory name. His friend got so angry that he got up and walked out without eating, and to my knowledge they have not spoken since.
     I cannot think of a more suitable adjective to describe this reaction than “unamerican.” Although I am sure he would disagree, Sen. Mitch McConnell's statement: “Making Obama A One-Term President Is My Single Most Important Political Goal.” is a case in point. If the Founding Fathers had behaved like that, our national anthem would be God Save The Queen.
     Friends John Adams and Thomas Jefferson became bitter political enemies, but eventually they overcame their enmity. It is through their writings to each other that we are aware of much of the background of the revolution.
     The point is that even though they were still political opposites at the end of their lives, (they both died on July 4, 1826) they saw the good in each other.
     As long as we consider that “those people” who disagree with “us” are enemies, we differ from radical Islamists only in degree.
     We can do better. In fact, we must do better, or our republic is in danger of tearing itself apart.
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     My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback or Kindle at Amazon.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Mitt: A Rhyming Word For Hypocrite.

     In a September 25th speech at Education Nation, Mitt Romney said: “The largest contributors to the Democratic Party are teachers' unions. And so, if they can elect someone, then that person is supposed to be representing the public vis-a-vis the teachers' union, but actually most of the money came from the teachers' union. It's an extraordinary conflict of interest. That's something I think is a problem and should be addressed.” He added later, “We simply can't have a setting where the teachers' unions are able to contribute tens of millions of dollars to the campaigns of politicians and then those politicians, when elected, stand across from them at the bargaining table.”
     Romney has a point – according to Open Secrets, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association contributed about $5.4M to federal candidates, parties and committees during the 2008 election cycle. About 95% of the contributions went to Democratic causes. Tens of millions indeed!
     However, CBS News reports that at least 26 people or companies gave $1M or more to Restore Our Future, the main Super PAC supporting Mitt Romney. The top three donors to Republican causes gave a total of $72.1M* – over 50% more than the entire total collected by the Democratic Super PACs. I think it is safe to assume that they are expecting a substantial return on their investment.
     Through July, the top two Republican Super PACs have raised a total of $137M compared to $47.5M for the top three Democratic Super PACs.
     If Romney wins the election, he “is supposed to be representing the public vis-a-vis” any legislation affecting the business community. Not a problem? Yeah! Right!
* 1. Sheldon Adelson & Family. Total: $37.5 million
Adelson is CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corp.
2. Harold Simmons/Contran. Total: $18.7 million
Simmons is CEO of Dallas-based holding company Contran Corp. and publicly-traded Valhi.
3. Bob Perry. Total: $15.9 million
Perry is a Houston-based homebuilder and president of Perry Homes.

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My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback or Kindle at Amazon.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Is 47% The Limit?

According to the non-partisan Tax Policy Center, 93% of the non-taxpaying freeloading Americans earn $50K or less, 5% earn between $50K and $100K, and the remaining 430,000 nonpayers earn more than $100K per year. The last group includes about 4,000 households with annual incomes in excess of $1M. In spite of what Mr. Romney said, I doubt that all of these “government dependent” people are going to vote for Mr. Obama.
But lately there have been signs that the group of people which the GOP considers unworthy of consideration is much larger than the 47% group. For example, in honor of the Labor Day holiday, Eric Cantor, the house majority leader, sent out the following Tweet: “Today, we celebrate those who have taken a risk, worked hard, built a business and earned their own success.”
This would come as a surprise to Matthew Maguire, who first proposed the holiday in 1882 while serving as the secretary of the Central Labor Union of New York, or Peter J. McGuire of the American Federation of Labor, who also proposed the holiday about the same time. In 1894, just six days after the deaths of a number of workers (not owners) during the Pullman Strike at the hands of U.S. Law Enforcement officials, Labor Day became a national holiday.
Apparently Mr. Cantor, a leader of the party, would forget laborers in order to honor business owners.
Mr. Romney himself gave an insight into the party thinking in his nomination acceptance speech. In speaking of immigrants, Mr. Romney said, “They came not just in pursuit of the riches of this world but for the richness of this life. . . And yes, freedom to build a business. With their own hands.” Apparently, if they came just to earn a living, they don't deserve recognition.
It appears that the underlying party belief is that only business owners, officers and entreprenuers deserve commendation. Forget the workers.
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My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback or Kindle at Amazon.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Small Business Problem

Let's pretend that you are the sole proprietor of a small business – one that employs 15 or 20 people. Suppose you manufacture two products: shirts and widgets. Both lines are selling very well - your bottom line nets out to about $100K, on which you pay about $15K in income tax after deductions.
Now the government, in its relentless pursuit of job creation, lowers your taxes to $13K. How many new employees will you hire with that extra $2,000? (A no-brainer.)
Suddenly your sales of shirts drop 50% because your competitors have outsourced their production to India; do you keep all the employees in the shirt production line, or do you lay some of them off? (Another no-brainer.)
Your accountant tells you that the government will give you a hefty allowance if you install automated equipment (made in China) that will enable you to compete. In fact, you will need even less employees than you have now! Do you buy the new equipment? (This is almost too simple.)
Suddenly a new use is found for your widgets, and the sales double in just a few months. You absolutely must find extra equipment and employees to handle the increased volume. So you hire a consultant who fixes you up with automated equipment which can handle the entire increase, and better yet, can be run by only one new employee. You are back in clover.
Now let's take a look at what happened here. Job creation was dependent upon two variables: it was directly proportional to sales and inversely proportional to operational efficiency. Tax adjustment was useless, at least for the small business.
In the old days the mantra for business success was location, location, location. Not any more – these days success is determined by customers, customers, customers.
Mr. Romney, please take note.
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My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback or Kindle at Amazon.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Clint Eastwood, Political Expert.

I have just finished watching Clint Eastwood's speech to the Republican National Convention for the umpteenth time, and since just about everyone else has already sounded off on the matter, I have decided it is now my turn. Although as a liberal I am expected to disagree with everything Clint said, there are a few things with which I agree.
For example, I think it would be a good idea to end the adventure in Afghanistan. Our objective was to get Osama bin Laden, and we have done so. As Clint said, we should have consulted the Russians on the problems of stabilizing that country – if we had, we would have left when we got Osama.
It is not as if we are fighting for the security of the United States; it is extremely doubtful that the Afghans would attack us if we left. The rest of the world knows the tribal situation in Afghanistan, and is laughing at our stupidity.
Clint also mentioned that some of us in Obama's own party are disappointed that the economic problems of the country have not been solved, which is true, but we also realize that the solution is not dependent upon who is in office. As long as there are people in this world who are willing to work for pennies per hour, the jobs will flow in their direction. (Mr. Romney's tenure at Bain Capital is a prime example.) And as long as robots and software continue to displace people, the ranks of the unemployed will grow.
Mr. Eastwood may be correct in assuming that attorneys in government may not be a good thing - I won't speculate on that - but he neglected to mention that Mr. Romney has a Juris Doctorate from Harvard. Perhaps Clint forgot that during a senior moment.
Mr. Eastwood as well as the whole Republican party seems to be confused as to the goal of government as compared to that of business. Here is the difference – the object of business is to inflate the bottom line so that shareholders receive the highest possible return on their investments. Period!
The goal of government, at least that of the United States is to: form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.
The last businessman who became president was Herbert Hoover. Clint, ask yourself how that worked out.
As Clint said, [ideally] we - not the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson, Harold Simmons, Bob Perry nor any of the other billionaires who are attempting through SuperPACS to obtain the best [business friendly] government money can buy - own the country.
A few weeks ago I wrote a blog entitled I Can't Believe Someone Really Said This.” To that list I wish to add the following from no less than Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in the Citizens United decision: “We now conclude that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” I wonder if he still believes that.
One more thing: To put vulgar sayings in the mouth of an absent individual, president or otherwise, is to my mind the epitome of disrespect. But it is also an outstanding display of the complete lack of class of the individual who does so.
Clint, stick to acting.
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My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback or Kindle at Amazon.