Archive for Policy and Regulation

FTC begins fraud crackdown

ftc-logo1The Federal Trade Commission has begun its crackdown on internet scammers, get-rich-quick schemes, and other frauds. On July 1 the FTC issued a press release detailing some of their actions:

The Federal Trade Commission today announced a law enforcement crackdown on scammers trying to take advantage of the economic downturn to bilk vulnerable consumers through a variety of schemes, such as promising non-existent jobs; promoting overhyped get-rich-quick plans, bogus government grants, and phony debt-reduction services; or putting unauthorized charges on consumers’ credit or debit cards.

The article lists eight (8) early enforcement actions against some high-profile players across a broad range of get-rich-quick niches. Included in the early enforcement actions was TV infomercial regular John Beck/Mentoring of America, which produces “John Beck’s Free & Clear Real Estate System,” “John Alexander’s Real Estate Riches in 14 Days,” and “Jeff Paul’s Shortcuts to Internet Millions.”

Also named was Google Money Tree, for allegedly misrepresenting that they were affiliated with Google and failing to disclose their continuity fee billing.

It’s highly likely that this is just the first of many actions across the get-rich-quick universe, designed to gain some early publicity by tackling a few big hitters. I would not be surprised to see this enforcement trickle down the food chain. Fraud is nothing new, but bad economic times tend to increase the potential market for schemes. Lousy, unethical practices make it harder for legitimate small businesses to use good internet marketing. So I say good riddance to bad practices and let’s see who the FTC focuses on next.

Here’s a video the FTC put together to warn consumers about get-rich-quick fraud:

7 steps to fixing the auto industry

The Hindenburg burnsLike most things the government does, its approach to “fixing” the auto industry/energy/environment problem is broken. Badly broken. Wrong-headed. Misguided. Appallingly stupid. And sad. It always amazes me that when we have an industry more-or-less crippled by poorly thought out government regulation, the answer to fixing it is in more government regulation. What a concept.

Recent polls show that only 26% of Americans think the government’s plan to bail out GM is a good idea, and only 42% of GM car owners are even “somewhat likely” to buy GM again. Clearly, most of us don’t think we’re on the right track for fixing this mess. But there are things that can be done, and the industry can survive and progress without massive government meddling, spending, and regulation.

So here’s my 7-step plan for addressing the auto industry/environment/energy situation. Amazingly, there’s not one single step that requires new regulation or money for the auto industry. Read More→

Just Out: New Book On Solving Health Care Crisis

I just read about the new book, Solving America’s Health Care Crisis by Dan Perrin and Pat Rooney, in the Downsize DC newsletter. Downsize DC is an organization with principles of downsizing government and personal responsibility that I support. So I went to Amazon to check out the reader reviews. The book is new – released May 2 – so there aren’t a lot, but all eight of them are 5-star ratings.

I’ll be checking this out. Health care in the US clearly needs an overhaul, and Euro-style social medicine is equally clearly not a useful answer. Government never, ever, runs anything like health care (or education, welfare, or anything else) effectively, instead creating an ever-growing bureaucracy that produces less and less for more and more dollars. Hopefully Perrin and Rooney and provided a roadmap to a system that gets people the health care they need with the proper incentives to keep costs under control.

That Queasy Feeling

You know that feeling you get when you know you’re about to get bad news, like going to the doctor when you think the diagnosis will be bad? I have that feeling and it will stay with me for the next six to eight weeks.

I spent two hours with the new accountant today. We made some real progress and I feel good about how the project is going. But it’s not over. We (the accountant, my office assistant, and me) will spend another 3-4 hours together on Thursday making sure that all the stuff we’ve done in between is right and proper. Then my assistant will go about getting the rest of the data entered.

So what’s the queasy feeling? Taxes. I get it every year at this time – when I’m forced face-to-face with the unbelievable burdens our beloved government places on the self-employed. Every person in America ought to run their own business and have to pay their own taxes for a couple of years. It ought to be mandatory – like serving in the army or something.

There’s no way in hell our tax system would be as abusive toward small business owners if everyone had to do it instead of having their employer pay taxes for them. It makes me ill to see the morons on TV commercials grinning stupidly when they say, “I’m getting money back!” as if the freakin’ government has given them some sort of bonus.

But it’s not just the Federal income tax. It’s the state income tax, the Federal unemployment tax, the state unemployment tax, the MediCare tax, the Social Security tax, the self-employment tax. Not only do I have to pay these, but my company has to match many of them. Yes, correct. I’m the only employee but I have to pay them twice. But that’s just the personal tax. Don’t forget the corporate tax, because my little one-man operation is an S-Corp.

And what does my money go for? Well, according to the Congressional Budget Office (pdf) 53% – that’s five-three – of the 2007 Federal Budget went to welfare and other entitlement programs (foodstamps, MedicAid, etc), 20% went to the Department of Defense, 18% goes to everything else – like education, roads, the FAA, etc. What’s worse, the Federal government employs 2.5 million people, most of whom are worse than useless as they do stuff that is completely unproductive and just gets in the way of the very few people left who actually do useful things. The Federal payroll is about $13 billion (billion, with a B) per month.

Being forced to face this every year turns me into a real grouch from about February thru April. And makes me completely intolerant toward my idiot acquaintances who think taxation is some sort of tool for punishing the rich. Being a Presidential election year doesn’t help, with candidates spouting the stupidest economic fantasies one can imagine and throngs of near-retards buying into it.

The only reason these dimwits can think this way is because the government has cleverly isolated them from paying their own taxes by making the employers do it. Oh, and they are all functionally illiterate in basic economics.

So I am not happy. I am a grouch. And unless you want to really ruin a conversation don’t mention politics or taxes to me until sometime around July. And if you work in some government-funded job, don’t speak to me at all unless it’s to say “Thank You.”

MacLockPick: A Vital Tool For Our Trusted Protectors

maclockpick_pulls_private_data_via_usb_portOnly $499 and available in bulk from Subrosasoft, The MacLockPick is a handy little device for computer-illiterate trusted civil servants to plug into sleeping MacBooks and collect data from all those computers left lying around at crime scenes – just like on TV. Via Digital Trends Magazine:

MacLockPick Pulls Private Data Via USB Port

Friday, April 27th 2007 @ 6:50 AM PDT
By Nick Mokey
Staff Writer, Digital Trends News

Uncle Sam has a new way to pry into your data, and it’s as simple as popping in a thumb drive.

Lock up your MacBooks, Apple fans: SubRosaSoft announced Friday that they are shipping a USB thumb drive, dubbed MacLockPick, that can extract passwords, Internet history, and system settings from an OS X user just by slipping it into a USB drive.

Of course, the drive is only available to law enforcement, but we have to wonder if the same technology that powers it will ever become available to less scrupulous individuals. […]

Anyone wonder just what security measures are in place to ensure that only law enforcement can purchase this. Better yet, what security is in place to ensure that law enforcement doesn’t lose, misplace, or steal the device? Not that it does anything that a power user couldn’t do given a little private time with the computer, but it does make it seamless, simple, silent, and quick – just the thing for the sort of abuse-prone neanderthals that seem to make up far too much of the law enforcement population.

The following is a list of file items that can be extracted using SubRosaSoft’s MacLockPick:

Apple Keychain Passwords

  • System – The user password of the logged in user. Often this is shared for root access and FileVault encryption.
  • General – Includes (but is not limited to) passwords for encrypted disk images, wifi base stations, iTunes music store, iChat login, Apple Remote Desktop.
  • Internet – Includes (but is not limited to) login and password details for web sites, email accounts, some peer to peer networks, online services and stores, auction sites, and .mac accounts.
  • AppleShare – A list of login and password details for appleshare servers this mac has connected to.

Files and Folder details

  • Folder Dates – A list of all the key user folders along with their creation date, date of last modification, date of first access, and date of the most recent access.
  • Disk Images – Paths to the most recent disk images that have been mounted on this mac.
  • Preview – Full paths to recent files that have been viewed in the preview program.
  • QuickTime – File names for recently viewed movies fro the QuickTime player applications
  • Recent Applications, Documents, and Servers – Program names for the most recently used items on this Macintosh computer.

Instant Messaging

  • Default Login – for iChat instant messenger system.
  • Complete buddy list – including buddies who have since been deleted.

eMail

  • Account Details – login names and server addresses used.
  • Address Book – Address details for entries in the address book including contacts that have been deleted. This address book is used by most communication programs on the Mac and is used to synchronize with the iPod and other portable devices.
  • Opened Attachments – Paths to files that have been received as an attachment then saved or opened including the date and time of opening.

Web History and Preferences

  • Search Strings – The most recent items that the user has searched for using the google toolbar in safari.
  • Cached Bookmarks – Sites that have been bookmarked in Safari including items that have been deleted.
  • Current Bookmarks – Sites that are currently bookmarked in Safari.
  • Cookies – A full list of cookies include the server address the cookie value and the date and time of assignment.
  • History – Complete details of browsing history including the number of times visited and the date and time of the most recent visit.

Hardware Preferences

  • iPod – Serial numbers of any iPod that have been connected to this Mac along with the date and time it was first used.
  • Bluetooth Devices – hardware address of any bluetooth devices that have been paired with this mac along with the most recent time these devices have been paired.
  • Wifi Connections – Listings for wifi base stations that have been used on this computer including the base address and the date and time of the first connection.
  • Network Interfaces – MAC address for each integrated network interface on the suspect’s machine.

No doubt there will be, if there isn’t already, an open source version of this  or a free set of instructions to DIY for anyone with the time and inclination to do so.

Should a President Expect Congressmen to Read the Bills They Pass?

Politico.com is having a public poll to help determine questions to be asked of candidates in tomorrow’s Republican Presidential Candidate Debate. I just cast my vote for the question:

Do you believe that Congress should have to read the bills they pass? In other words, do you support adoption of the “Read the Bills Act”?

There are many important issues but, frankly, none of them matter if we don’t get some way of forcing politicians to actually read, understand, and acknowledge the full contents of bills for which they vote. At present, Congress camouflages bills with euphemistic, patriotic-sounding names that are completely irrelevant to the contents and impact. But the name is just about all most Congressmen know about a bill before they vote on it.

Whether your issue is Iraq, torture, WMDs, global warming, or whatever you should understand that as long as Congress keeps score by how many bills they pass, and that in most cases they have absolutely no clue what’s actually in the bills on which they vote, your issue is never, ever going to be treated in the open fashion any and every serious issue deserves.

If you’re interested, go to Politico.com and cast your vote for the questions you think are important, or submit one of your own.

Private Intelligence and the Sovereign Individual

In The secret service for the rest of us, Matt Mower writes:

I’ve often wondered how feasible it would be for us to setup an intelligence service to watch them (most recently I was wondering whether there are intelligence services at work in Second Life). After all; What is an intelligence service other than an organization that collects data from the edge and analyzes it for the benefit of its customers?

Blogs and other read/write web tools give us all the ability to gather data and, in our own fashion, analyze it and pass it on. We are each miniature intelligence services for a varied clientelle and, although we too are biased, our bias can be adjusted for since it is more easily determined (over time).

More than a decade ago two futurists – James Dale Davidson and William Rees-Mogg – wrote of the coming breakdown of state-based security and the growth of independent, individual security forces in their books “The Great Reckoning” and “The Sovereign Individual.” They were ridiculed pretty widely at the time and the books were considered fodder for bunker-dwellers, albeit rich bunker-dwellers. Much of what they projected was based on cultural and social models already visible at the time in Latin countries dominated by drug cartels. 15 years and the meteoric rise of technology have changed the landscape of what can be done but, if anything, the predictions of Davidson and Rees-Mogg seem more tangible than ever. If they were guilty of anything, it was merely being too far ahead of their time.

Current futurists and military analysts like John Robb (my source for the original story) are busily deconstructing the projected fall of the nation-state, peak oil,  the rise of non-state entities, etc all of which is important. But no one seems to be thinking about my problems in the way that Davidson and Rees-Mogg did – deciphering what all this chaos means to the individual – and more importantly what to do about it.

How do we predict the unpredictable? How do we assess probability and impact? How do we, as individuals, make the right choices for where to live, where to put our money, how to prepare for the unexpected, how to protect our family, our friends, ourselves? Packing the basement full of survival rations, bottled water, duct tape and gas masks is a shallow, and rather ineffectual, approach.

What we really need is analytic intelligence for the individual. Governments – no matter who’s – are unreliable sources of information for the individual (if they can be considered reliable sources for anything at all save waste and corruption.) But to get such intelligence will be very difficult. Matt is right, current social software tools provide a glimpse of what may be possible, and many of the tools are being deployed within intelligence communities. But that is the key. Could we, as individuals, build our own intelligence communities?

Private CIAs

John Robb, independent military analyst, futurist, and author of “Brave New War,” on Friday posted this interesting tidbit on Friday regarding the move by GlobalCos into the intelligence and security space:

JOURNAL: Private CIAs

By John Robb

A strong sign that the nation-state is in decay is the frequency we see announcements of companies that are replicating some of the most sensitive government services. The most recent mover is Walmart, which is in the process of putting together its own intelligence arm (it’s being built by a former CIA/FBI officer Kenneth Senser). For those unable to afford their own global intelligence unit, Blackwater’s Cofer Black is building one called Total Intelligence Solutions.

If you want to get up to speed quickly, the background for this is available in BNW.

This makes sense, of course. As these companies plan long-term deployments across the globe they can little afford not to know the risks involved. And the intelligence fiasco of Iraq WMDs showed how unreliable government intelligence can be. This looks, to me, like another area where oligopoly control of a market makes sense. I wonder how the potential for shared intelligence organizations, and perhaps shared risk, will alter the oligopoly landscape?

Read The Bills

There are 160 pages of Congressional bills listed at WashingtonWatch.com. 160 pages, at ~20 bills per page.

Keeping up with legislation, cyberstyle

WashingtonWatch is a site that summarizes legislation pending before Congress, and allows user comments on each piece of legislation.  The site is nice and clean, and the explanations proposed laws are clear and understandable.

The home page lists all the legislation currently pending, but grouped by tabs for categories such as: Most Popular, Newest, Greatest Cost, and Greatest Savings.  If you click on a proposed law it will take you to a page where you can leave a comment about the legislation.  Also, users can edit the section that describes why the legislation should or shouldn’t be passed.  Sort of like Wikidpedia, except probably with more controversy as the site becomes more popular.

What’s wrong with this picture? This is a great site, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that we don’t need 635 largely self-serving, ego-centric, half-witted politicians voting on 3,000+ ways to pick our pockets and screw up our lives. Because you know – you just know – they haven’t actually read any of them.

The only bill any of these clowns should be voting for right now is this one – Read The Bills Act. Of course, the Law of Unintended Consequences says even this bill will make things worse. Hat tip to Ernie.

Where’s the Chocolate?

This would be funny if it weren’t true. From Oligopoly Watch:

Chocolate or Mockolate?
Big world’s biggest confectionery companies, including Nestle and Hersheys, are doing what oligopolies do beat, influencing government regulation in their favor. At stake is the very definition of chocolate. According to a Bloomberg article (“Hershey Battles Chocolate Connoisseurs Over Selling `Mockolate'”. April 24):

The Chocolate Manufacturers Association, whose members include Hershey, Nestle SA and Archer Daniels Midland Co., has a petition before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to redefine what constitutes chocolate. They want to make it without the required ingredients of cocoa butter and cocoa solids, using instead artificial sweeteners, milk substitutes and vegetable fats such as hydrogenated and trans fats.

The reason for the requested change is the great expense of cocoa butter, a required ingredient. Big Candy would like to substitute cheaper stuff, included the dread trans-fats. […]