Archive for January, 2008

Protect Your Privacy In a Predatory World

Sunday, January 20th, 2008

One of the many signs that we have lost control of our destiny is that Big Brother is watching everywhere we go. After all, the CIA was allowed to listen in on our telephone conversations without authority or penalty because of the alleged weapons of destruction they were monitoring. While there are situations such as this that we have no control over, we need to be aware of monitoring we may be subjecting ourselves to voluntarily.

The latest invasion of personal privacy is being done by Sears. If you decided to sign up for this retailer’s emails and you joined the “My SHC Community” you are probably sharing a lot more information about yourself with others than you thought. Apparently, you are not just sharing your details with Sears but with comScore, a company that tracks and aggregates browsing habits on the Internet.

When you install the Sears software, you also install VoiceFive software that provides data directly to comScore about your Internet browsing habits, basically making it spyware. Clearly this program is working for comScore because they have been able to effectively monitor people’s browsing habits – most likely, unknown to most of the folks being watched. In fact, comScore is the company that provided the stats showing that GodTube was the quickly growing website last year and that more people stole Radiohead’s most recent album than those who legally downloaded it. Would you reveal this type of stuff knowingly to a spyware company? I sincerely doubt it but obviously comScore has been able to quietly monitor and compile browsing habits for millions of people to come up with these kind of statistics.

However, Sears is legally correct in their actions because they did make mention of the software deep within the privacy statement users need to agree to prior to signing up for the SHC Community. The privacy statement, in part, reads:

Once you install our application, it monitors all of the Internet behavior that occurs on the computer on which you install the application, including both your normal web browsing and the activity that you undertake during secure sessions, such as filling a shopping basket, completing an application form or checking your online accounts, which may include personal financial or health information.

Once again, if this was more clearly stated in the forefront of Sears’ website, I doubt that many people would sign up for this “community”. Would you knowingly allow unknown parties to check out everyone you go online, including you personal bank accounts, credit accounts and health information? However, it is scary to think that you’ve already allowed someone this access if you joined Sears SHC Community.

Certain experts feel that this disclosure was too hidden to meet the intentions of the FTC regulations requiring companies to make it clearly apparent when spyware was going to be used. Somehow I don’t believe that sticking the statement above in a multiple page privacy statement documents is clarity, but it won’t be Sears that ultimately pays for this invasion of privacy – it will be the individuals who unwittingly supplied their personal details and continued to surf the Internet while they were being watching by spyware.

Sears is just a small example of what is going on internationally with regard to invasion of privacy and misrepresentation. Big business and government continues to get away with exploiting our basic rights so we need to become knowledgeable on our own and read all the fine print to protect ourselves in this predatory world. Mamasaid there’d be days like this…

Don’t Wan’t FDA Clones? You’re Not Alone

Thursday, January 17th, 2008

Last year I wrote an entry about cloning and my disapproval of the process. Although popular opinion seems to be against cloning, apparently that doesn’t make a difference to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration because the FDA has deemed that milk and meat derived from clones is as healthy as products derived the traditional way.

It seems that a campaign of secrecy and desensitization is the plan to get this cloned food out on the shelves – despite numerous independent studies that don’t agree cloned food is as healthy and despite the moral implications of cloning.

According to Bruce Knight, USDA undersecretary, there will be a transition period to allow “the marketplace to adjust” and he does not state how long this alleged period of time will continue. He states, “This is about market acceptance.” He is calling a meeting of leaders in the industry to plan a strategy – or at least to plan a way to overrun the American public and what we really want.

Although Stephen Sundloff, FDA food safety chief, says, “Meat and milk from cattle, swine and goat clones are as safe as food we eat every day,” many don’t intend to buy it. Because of this, it will be years before food from cloned animals will be sold on store shelves. Additionally, it costs about $20,000 to clone an animal so it is more likely their offspring will be used for meat. Finally, big companies such as Hormel Food Corp. and Dean Foods Co. will not sell the meat or milk from clones at this point because of the concerns and anxiety of the general consumer.

The greatest concern about food from clones is that the FDA will not ultimately require the food makers to label if their products came from cloned animals. While companies will be able to voluntary provide the information, in consideration of the vast consumer disapproval of cloning, do you really think they will? There is a voluntary system in play that includes an electronic identification tag on cloned animals sold with a customer pledge to market the animal as a clone – but no real laws govern any of it.

Sundloff goes on to say that, “Both the animals and the food produced from those animals is indistinguishable from any other food source. There’s no technological way of distinguishing a food that’s come from an animal that had a clone in its ancestry. It’s not possible.”

Despite his statements, because so many consumer advocates are opposed to cloning, the FDA is not moving forward more quickly. According to Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who sponsored legislation for the FDA to study the issue further, “The FDA has acted recklessly. Just because something was created in a lab, doesn’t mean we should have to eat it. If we discover a problem with cloned food after it is in our food supply and it’s not labeled, the FDA won’t be able to recall it like they did Vioxx – the food will already be tainted.”

Carol Tucker-Foreman of the Consumer Federal of America adds, “If you ask what’s for dinner, it means just about anything you can cook up in a laboratory.”

Already the two main cloning companies in the United States (Trans Ova Genetics and Viagen Inc.) have produced more than 600 cloned animals for breeders. All of this since has occurred since 1997, when Scottish scientists announced the first successful cloning of Dolly the Sheep. Funny to note that sheep are not on the FDA’s list of approved cloned animals. Besides the possible ramifications with regard to human consumption, cloning technology has not been perfected and attempts at cloning end in tragic birth defects, deformities and fatalities for the animals. After all, Dolly was euthanized in 2003 and suffered from lung disease. Frankly, cloning is unfair to people and animals because it compromises the natural reproduction process and creates an unnecessary, unnatural situation.

Despite the vast unpopularity of cloning, the government and scientists march on to the beat of their own drum. In fact, David Farber, president of Trans Ova, says, “We are certainly pleased.” I can imagine they are because everyone is profiting from research that is unnecessary in light of the fact cattle are perfectly capable of reproducing on their own – I still wonder what is wrong with good, old-fashioned procreation. Is this society so against anything normal that we can’t even handle cattle reproducing through sexual intercourse? Has life become such as “planned event” that we are losing our sense of right and wrong? Further, wouldn’t research time and facilities be better used to address the myriad of “mystery” ailments attacking the general public with no specific causes or treatments than to create cloned cattle when animals know how to reproduce on their own? Further, if there is a shortage of cattle for meat or milk, why does almost half the food we buy wind up in the trash?

Mamasaid there’d be days like these…

More About False Promises to Veterans

Friday, January 4th, 2008

After being away for a couple of weeks, I enjoyed reading all the comments from readers about a variety of issues I’ve written about including immigration and veterans concerns. Today, in response to the latest reader commentary, I will follow up on a post a wrote in August entitled, “False Promises to Veterans and a Possible Draft”.I want to thank reader Jerry R. for providing a link with more information about the University of Illinois veteran scholarship scam and wisely stating, “How dumb can U of I be? Call veterans jarheads, change admissions deadlines for vets, recruit civilians to take their place, forge signatures on letters, lie to a Lt. Governor and US Congressman, and get exposed with their own internal documents and still continue to lie about it. Great lesson for all those students. In the real world, you go to jail for this.”

Apparently Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn has stepped up and asked the University of Illinois to prove they are providing business school scholarships promised to veterans and military members last year. While 110 scholarships were to be awarded for the executive MBA program, only 35 scholarships were awarded for the fall, 2006 school year. At the end of November, 2007, Quinn mailed a letter to university President Joseph White requesting a list of all scholarship recipients along with a list of applicants who were turned down.

Quinn states, “Since that promising beginning, I have been deeply disappointed by the University of Illinois’ failure to fulfill its promises to our veterans. Instead of honoring our pledge to our veterans, the University of Illinois has cut back on its promise.” Spokesperson for the University, Robin Kaler, had no definite response, stating the person of charge of scholarships was out of town and “They are working on a response.” Meanwhile, Elizabeth Austin, spokesperson for Quinn, says, “We have heard concerns.”

The former assistant dean at the University, Robert Van Der Hooning, said he was told to set up the program when school officials requestd he use military scholarships to build up attendance and revenue in the MBA program. He also stated he was ordered to cut back the program because of costs and worries about admitting dozens of “jar heads” who would dilute the quality of the MBA program. Of course, the University disputes Van Der Hooning’s version and says the scholarships were never to be awarded all at once or for just the Chicago-based MBA program. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has given the University praise when they tentatively accepted 70 applicants while Van Der Hooning lost his job, which he believes was in retaliation for his honesty. He filed a legal complaint with the Court of Claims and remains unemployed and unwelcome on college campuses because of his complaint. He says, “I’ve gotten close a number of times, but this … subject keeps coming up again and again. When you explain it to people, they understand it … On the other hand, I wasn’t a compliant soldier who just saluted at attention.”

In response to the entire situation, reader Laurie aptly states, “So Watergate comes to Champaign through a military scholarship scandal with a coverup by Dean Ghosh, President White and the Board. Excellent work. Now you have the Lt. Governor demanding answers in addition to a court of law. How despicable to promise veterans a free degree and then change the admissions deadlines after they were accepted? A message to Joe White, Richard Herman, the Board of Trustees and that scoundrel Avijit Ghosh – I don’t want to hear another thing about Brilliant Futures or Inclusive Illinois from you.

University of Illinois has one standard for athletes and students but another for your own employees. You refuse to play by the rules. You should not expect it from your students.”

Another reader, Montsy P, adds, “Veterans should be treated with respect and dignity because they were brave enough to fight for this county. They should be able to live comfortably in the United States with all their vital needs provided. Many veterans come back from war traumatized and disabled. We as Americans should look out for those who fought for our freedom.”

Frankly, it would be a welcome change to have experienced military members who were able to survive a war and international crisis complete an executive MBA program and become the leaders of big business. With all the failures in big business today, we need people who know what’s going in in the world and have the capability to handle themselves under any situation instead of self-centered, narrow-minded morons who create programs they refuse to fulfill and then tell tall tales later. Mamasaid there’d be days like this…

Realize The Power That Lies Within in 2008

Tuesday, January 1st, 2008

Both internationally and personally, 2007 was a very difficult year. As we face the first day of 2008, I want to wish everyone a healthy new year filled with new realizations and experiences. While the world around us marches on to the beat of political powers who define our exterior boundaries, we still have the power to define ourselves. This power is the the only force that can prevent us from becoming caught up in the tragedies surrounding the next pending world war, which clearly seems inevitable.Bedridden for a couple of weeks with my own physical difficulties, I had an opportunity to review this past year and do a bit of reading myself. I was amazed by a story I read about the Rev. Hamilton Coe Throckmorton in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, who took a bold step to challenge his congregation and make them realize the power within themselves.

In September, 52 year old Rev. Throckmorton decided to hand out $40,000 cash after one of his sermons. He read from the Gospel of Matthew the parable of talents, which tells of a rich master who entrusts three servansts with a sum of money or “talents” and tells them to do good with it. To put his money where his mouth was, the Reverend gave each adult listening to the sermon $50 and the church members were told to double their money and put the proceesd toward church missions to help others. Children were also included and given $10 to realize their potential.

As the money was handed out, Throckmorton told the people to live the parable of talents. The cash was loaned to the church by a few anonymous donors and anyone who didn’t want to do it could simply return the money to the church.

The results of this little experiment were truly amazing. Although all the church goers were stunned at first and wondered what they could possibly offer that would double the money, it was a challenge they obviously couldn’t resist. According to Hall Maskiell, a retired Navy pilot, “There was definitely this tension, this pressure to live up to something.” Human nature wants to meet challenges – good or bad and when presented with a positive challenge, obviously people are willing to work at it. Clearly a case for people in power to take note of how and where they are really leading people.

The Reverend’s money gave people a starting point to realize what they could do to help. With some thought, everyone was realizing their own unique talents and putting them to work. From taking people riding on planes or motorcycles to preparing tomato soup and applesauce to making birdfeeders and origami to crafting blankets and dolls, to hanging out with hens and putting in overtime as a doc, people were showing what they could do and raising money to help needy folks in the process. Ann Nagy even wrote and recorded a touching song for her father, who passed on October 11, just a couple of weeks before the October 28 deadline for the church challenge.

Kris Tesar, a retired nurse, found out she had the talent to make very popular crafty flip-flops, which are still in demand. She said, “Anyone can open their wallets and give cash. This was just an extraordinary process of exploration and discovery and of challenging ourselves. It became bigger than any one of us or than any individual talent.”

Talent was so abundant that the church held bazaars after services for people to display and sell their goodies for charity. As of October 28, the amount distributed more than doubled and the amount is still growing as people finish projects and extend the deadline.

This touching story reminded me that we are all commanders of our own destiny and we can all stop the insanity at any moment we choose to explore the unique talents within ourselves. Unlike our money, our homes and our assets, our inner talents belong to us and they are all we really have to give. By focusing on what makes us special and putting it out into the world, we can counter all the negative energy around us with some positive forces of our own. Here’s to your self-discovery and success in 2008 – because the innocent need to unite and take care of each other in the face of adversity.