ERIC SNOWDEN – WHISTLEBLOWER OR TRAITOR?

Is Eric Snowden a whistleblower whom we should laud for disclosing that the NSA is, in effect, spying on its own law-abiding citizens, or should we condemn him as a traitor who is providing proprietary information to our enemies? That is the $64,000 question. Currently, the public seems to be rather evenly divided. Forty-seven percent of the respondents to an online poll think he is a traitor; 53% view him as a whistleblower. Furthermore, according to a recent Pew Research poll 56% believe it is acceptable for the NSA to track citizens’ telephone calls to investigate terrorism, while 41% say no. In a related poll, 52% believe they should not be permitted to monitor emails versus 45% who disagree. Politicians and commentators are also divided in their opinions. Some conservatives, such as Eric Bolling, co-host of “the Five” on Fox, have called Snowden a “hero” for disclosing the NSA’s actions. Rand Paul praised him for being “truthful.” On the other hand, politicians, as diverse as Nancy Pelosi and Dianne Feinstein on the left and John Behner and Peter King on the right have labeled him a “traitor.”

Who is Eric Snowden? To all outward appearances, Edward Snowden was a normal, soft-spoken 29 year old young man with a girl friend and a loving family. He lived in Hawaii. He qualified for a top secret clearance and landed a job with Booz Allen, a well-known defense contractor, which gave him access to the NSA’s communication monitoring activities. He claims that his “sole motive” for blowing the whistle on the NSA was to “inform the public as to [what] is [being] done in their name and that which is done against them.” He has fled the US, and, after a stopover in Hong Kong, is currently believed to be in Moscow.

The US is not sure where he is now. It wants him extradited, but has not been able to convince Russia or China to do so. Many people are interpreting this failure as an indication of the US’s waning influence in the world. I would agree. No one knows for sure what additional sensitive national security information he may have, what he has disclosed to authorities in China or Russia, and what he may disclose prospectively, voluntarily or otherwise. It is imperative that we get him back asap.

CONCLUSION AND PREDICTION

Eric Snowden is certainly a controversial figure. He has supporters and detractors on both sides of the political spectrum. Personally, I applaud him for blowing the whistle on the NSA. In view of all the government deceptive practices that have come to light in the last few years, I do not believe the NSA’s assertion that it is collecting telephone numbers but not listening to the calls without a probable cause warrant. Likewise, I do not believe them when they tell us they are collecting emails but not reading them without a probable cause warrant. Even so, we all know how easy it would be for the NSA to find a sympathetic judge to sign a warrant when it wants one.

On the other hand, I am troubled by the fact that Snowden fled the country and hid in China and Russia. These countries are not friends of ours, and one can only guess what sensitive, proprietary information he has told or will tell their governments. This is where I maintain Snowden has crossed the line from heroic whistleblower to traitor. His actions since he fled meet the very definition of treason, which is “a citizen’s actions to help a foreign government overthrow, make war against or seriously injure [his] country.” Incidentally, Snowden said he went to China because “they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent.” What? Is he delusional? Who is he kidding?

I think Snowden should return home asap and face the music, before he causes any further damage.

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COLLEGE GRADUATE, BUT UNDEREMPLOYED AND IN DEBT

You’re an overachiever. You’ve worked hard your entire life to earn the much coveted college diploma. In high school you studied really hard, even on the weekends when your friends were out playing ball or going to parties. You have worked since you were 14 to earn extra money. Then, in college you worked part time and summers to help pay your own way. Your parents have made financial sacrifices on your behalf. You took out a student loan certain that you would be able to pay it off after college when you got your first real job. And now, you’ve made it. You’re a college graduate. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that you’ve worked for your entire life is yours.

But, wait, where are the jobs? You kept up your end of the deal. Now, at the age of 22 you find yourself unemployed or underemployed, heavily in debt, and disillusioned. You’re supposed to be holding down a six figure job with high upward mobility, but instead you’re stacking shelves in a Wall Mart. You’re supposed to be living in a cool bachelor pad in a nice neighborhood, but instead you’re back living with your parents in your old room. What’s going on? What happened? How are you supposed to get married, start a family, pay back your student loans? That, friends, is the essence of the plight of many college graduates.

The conventional wisdom has always held that a college degree is the pathway to success. Traditionally, the level and quality of one’s education has been the most reliable indicator of one’s economic success in life. That may still be the case for some, but whether it’s the current state of the economy or something more permanent, the fact of the matter is that presently there are simply not enough quality jobs for all college graduates. More students are graduating college than ever before, which is great as far as it goes, but about half of them end up working in jobs that do not require a college degree, such as waiting tables, driving a taxi, or working at the local deli counter. For example, we classify fire fighting and driving a taxi as blue collar jobs, yet 15% of them have college degrees.

Persons with some college degrees are more employable than others. For example, holders of economics and engineering degrees are faring better than business majors, which are eight times more likely to have to settle for a lesser job, if they can find one at all.

Then, there is the issue of student loans. It now requires a king’s ransom to pay for college, especially a private school. In addition, many colleges stretch out the process to five years or more. Student loans and other financing is relatively easy to obtain, but you have to pay it back someday. In 2012 the average student debt was nearly $30,000. Many professions, most notably doctors and lawyers, require additional schooling. For example, a typical doctor could be in school until his or her 30’s earning little or no money. Then, when he commences his career he could have a student debt in the mid six figures. Today not every doctor earns substantial money, certainly not right away, so they could spend most of their working lives paying off their student loans. The delinquency rate is 12%. Don’t be surprised if student loans are at the center of the country’s next financial crisis.

CONCLUSION AND PREDICTION

It’s no wonder that surveys show a considerable level of disillusionment of college graduates. Like I said, you work your whole life to achieve a certain goal, and when you do, there is an expectation that it will bring you success, status, and satisfaction. But, then you discover there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, just frustration, disappointment and your old room in your parents’ house.

Hopefully, the situation will be resolved when economic growth returns. However, one note of caution. The present immigration bill, which is expected to become law in some form, will likely add many millions to the labor force. In many cases, they will be competing with the college graduates for these jobs at the lower end of the market.

MANNERS

“After you. No, after you. No, I insist, after YOU.” That was the essence of a famous vaudeville routine in the early 1900s by Alphonse and Gaston that was based on a comic strip of the same name. Sounds trite today, but it raises the question: Where have manners and politeness gone? What has happened to the courtly gentlemen and proper ladies of yesteryear? Who are the present day Cary Grant, David Niven, Audrey Hepburn and Katherine Hepburn? In my opinion, we have, for various reasons, become a less polite society. People have generally become more narcissistic and less tolerant of others. For me, the turning point was the 1960s and the breakdown of respect for authority, which was fueled primarily by young people’s anti-war protests, and the trend has continued.

For example (and forgive me for using generalizations, which I realize, by definition, do not apply to everyone):

1. Respect for authority – Children are less respectful of parents, teachers, and others (older people and symbols of authority, such as police officers). When I was a boy we called adults “Mr.” and “Mrs.” I didn’t even know the first names of my parents’ friends or the parents of my friends. We didn’t disrespect teachers. Now, kids actually beat up teachers! We didn’t talk back to coaches and game officials. Now, parents not only berate coaches and game officials (who, in many cases are kids themselves and volunteers to boot), but they even fight with them. Guys, remember how much fun we had playing sports by ourselves, without parents watching our every move and yelling “advice” at us?

2. Attire – This is not even close. Fifty years ago, people dressed more neatly and, yes, respectfully. Men wore suits to white collar jobs. That’s where the term “white collar” originated. Men even wore white shirts and ties to baseball games. Just look at the old films if you don’t believe me. Male teachers wore a tie and jacket, and, by the way, air conditioning was not common. Yet, somehow people managed. Women did not go out in public dressed inappropriately. Kids dressed respectfully and properly in school. A student exposing his or her midriff and/or cleavage was unheard of! In contrast, ask any teacher how the kids dress in school now. For example, my wife, who is a teacher, told me a story of her principal meeting with a parent to discuss how inappropriate and provocative her daughter’s clothes were. He knew the meeting was for naught when the mother walked into his office wearing the same skimpy attire! When businesses permitted casual business attire, many people had no clue what to wear. They would often come to work dressed as if they were going to wash the car or do yard work, and their clothes would be wrinkled as if they had slept in them. Furthermore, some people don’t even dress up for church, weddings or funerals. To me, that is the height of disrespect.

3. Politeness – Many people have forgotten the words “please,” ” thank you,” and “you’re welcome.” Women, how often do men hold the door open for you anymore? I believe that rudeness is catching, like a virus. People feel that if you’re rude to them, they can be rude right back. Driving can be hazardous to your health in more ways than one, e.g. road rage.

4. Noise – Ever have the pleasure of listening to someone talk on their cell phone? They talk as if the other person is deaf. What makes them think the whole world is interested in their inane conversation. Quick story. Once, my wife and I were on an Acela train in a “quiet car.” Apparently, this one oblivious passenger didn’t get the memo, as he was talking on his cell phone in a voice loud enough for all the other passengers in the car to hear. Finally, I had to ask the conductor to tell him either to stop or move, which, thankfully, he did. At least with the advent of ear plugs we don’t have to listen to loud music on boom boxes anymore. Remember them?

CONCLUSION AND PREDICTION

As I said, we have become a less tolerant and friendly society. I’m not sure of the causes, but I feel strongly about the result. Moreover, I don’t see the trend reversing itself. I think we are all lesser for it.

I would be interested in your opinion and experiences.

PRIVACY VERSUS SECURITY

It’s June 13, 2013. Do you know where your social security number and other confidential personal information is? Before you answer: “yes, of course,” and think what an inane question to ask, consider all the people to whom you have given this information VOLUNTARILY (medical professionals, credit card companies, banks and securities broker-dealers, to name a few). Also, consider who else to whom you have granted access INVOLUNTARILY (email providers, Facebook, hackers).

Well, now you can add the Federal government to that list. A “whistle blower” named Eric Snowden has just disclosed that the NSA has been identifying and storing your telephone numbers and, perhaps, your emails without a “probable cause” warrant. Mr. Snowden is currently in hiding possibly somewhere in Hong Kong. Regardless of whether you consider him to be a hero or a traitor, and I have heard both characterizations, we should ascertain what else he knows and can tell us. Better we debrief him than the Chinese or some other foreign government, don’t you think?

Is this practice a contravention of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, which prohibits illegal “search and seizure?” Most legal experts opine that it is constitutional for the government to obtain telephone numbers that one calls without a warrant, but it is not constitutional for them to actually listen to the conversations or to read one’s emails without one. Storing without reading seems to be more of a gray area. The NSA claims that it is merely recording the telephone numbers, and that it is necessary to do so in order to foil terrorist plots. They deny they are storing the information or that they are reading emails without a “probable cause” warrant. This begs the question of the purpose of the 1 million square foot storage facility currently under construction somewhere in Utah.

Interestingly, this is the one issue that has crossed party and philosophical lines. One can find liberals and conservatives and Republicans and Democrats on either side. Can you identify any other issue for which this is true?

The government’s arguments sound good. We all want to be safe and secure. Furthermore, we love using the internet and social media for shopping, paying bills, gossiping, etc., but few of us stop to think what we are giving up in terms of the loss of privacy. Let’s not blame the Googles, Amazons and Facebooks of the world. Before you commenced using their services, you were required to agree to their Terms and Conditions in which you virtually signed your life away. But, who of us were aware of the Federal government’s intrusion?

Some have pointed that government snooping is not new. The NSA has been monitoring citizens’ communications since 1957. Fair enough, but I think we can all agree that communications and snooping techniques have advanced somewhat since 1957, so I fail to see that as a valid comparison or excuse. I think there are several concerns:

1. Can we believe what the government is telling us? Do we really trust them in view of all the other instances of government overreach and/or incompetence that have come to light recently? I covered this angle in my recent blog “Who Do You Trust,” so it is not necessary to repeat it here. I think most Americans would answer with a resounding “no.” Trust is at or close to an all-time low and with good reason.

2. How would this information be used/leaked. For example, what’s to stop the government from conducting selected investigations against average citizens based upon this information or blackmailing opposing politicians with the threat of disclosing compromising or embarrassing information? We have recently learned that the Administration is not above using the IRS or justice Department for political purposes. Why not this as well?

3. What, if any, safeguards has the government implemented to secure the information. We have to presume that any electronic data can be hacked. We all know what hackers can do with even a modicum of personal information.

4. The efficacy of this program is dubious. For example, it did not prevent the Boston Marathon Massacre, various incidences of school violence, or the Fort Hood incident. Under Congressional grilling the NSA could not cite one specific instance of prevention of terrorism or violence.

5. Even if you are a blind supporter of the Obama Administration, you have to be concerned that this is setting a precedent for future administrations, which may not be aligned with your political beliefs.

CONCLUSION AND PREDICTION

People should read George Orwell’s book, 1984. I say this with my tongue only halfway in my cheek. At the time it was written it seemed very far fetched. Now, not so much.

I would like to interject a word of caution. No one wants to compromise the country’s security. We all want to feel safe, be safe. On the other hand, there is still much we do not know about this matter, and that is precisely the point. We don’t know and we should. We are all busy with our personal lives and personal issues. However, it is imperative that we focus on this issue. It has a profound impact on us all.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

What’s in a name? Apparently, a lot as evidenced by the frequency with which celebrities have changed their birth names. Why do they do it? Various reasons. Sometimes, it is to disguise their ethnicity or national origin, such as Margarita Carmen Cansino, whom we know as Rita Hayworth. Ms. Hayworth was of Hispanic background, which would not have exactly been a boost for her career as a film star in the 1930s and 1940s. Rappers, such as Artis Ivey Jr., better known as Coolio, changed his name to appear, well, cool. Sometimes, a person’s given name is simply too long for the movie marquee or too much for fans to remember, such as the case of Jose Antonio Dominguez Bandaris, better known as Antonio Bandaris. But, whatever the motivation, it is fun for fans and fodder for this blog.

So, for all you pop culture devotees, this quiz is for you. Name that celebrity!

1. Nathan Birnbaum

a. Mel Brooks
b. Bob Hope
c. John Denver
d. George Burns

2. Curtis Jackson

a. 50 Cent
b. Jon Bon Jovi
c. Stevie Wonder
d. Sting

3. Vincent Damon Furnier

a. Matt Damon
b. Alice Cooper
c. Boy George
d. Tom Jones

4. James Todd Smith

a. LL Cool J
b. Dr. Dre
c. Vanilla Ice
d. M C Hammer

5. Henry Deutschendorf, Jr.

a. Henry Fonda
b. Mel Brooks
c. Don Johnson
d. John Denver

6. Camille Javal

a. Ingrid Bergman
b. Sophia Loren
c. Brigitte Bardot
d. Sally Field

7. Issur Demsky

a. Kirk Douglas
d. Bob Hope
c. James Garner
d. Henry Fonda

8. Bernard Schwartz

a. Don Johnson
b. Jack Benny
c. Tony Curtis
d. Don Rickles

9. Marion Michael Morrison

a. Gary Oldman
b. Mel Brooks
c. John Wayne
d. Michael Keaton

10. Enrique Jose Morales

a. Ricky Martin
b. Enya
c. Billy Idol
d. Henry Jones

11. Anna Mae Bullock

a. Sandra Bullock
b. Tina Turner
c. Tiffany
d. Madonna

12. Reginald Kenneth Dwight

a. Boy George
b. Ozzy Osbourne
c. Prince
d. Elton John

13. Erich Weiss

a. Larry King
b. Danny DeVito
c. Joe Pesci
d. Harry Houdini

14. Robert Zimmerman

a. Robert Redford
b. Bob Dylan
c. Fred McMurray
d. Robert Mitchum

15. Tracy Morrow

a. Ice T
b. Moby
c. Jay Leno
d. Jay Letterman

16. Robert Van Winckle

a. Ice Cube
b. Ice T
c. Mr. T
d. Vanilla Ice

17. Tara Patrick

a. Tiffany
b. Carmen Electra
c. Lady Gaga
d. Beyoncé

18. Michael Douglas

a. Mike Myers
b. Michael Keaton
c. Al Michaels
d. Michael J. Fox

19. Lew Alcindor

a. Prince
b. Ice T
c. Kareem Abdul Jabbar
d. MC Hammer

20. Cordazer Calvin Broadus

a. MC Hammer
b. LL Cool J
c. Sting
d. Snoop Doggy Dogg

CONCLUSION

I think I made this harder than I wanted, but I purposely omitted birth names that included the same name as the assumed name such as John Bongiovi (Jon Bon Jovi) and Larry Ziegler (Larry King) so as not to make it too easy. Good luck. No peeking!

Answers: 1. d; 2. a; 3. b; 4. a; 5. d; 6. c; 7. a; 8. c; 9. c; 10. a; 11. b; 12. d; 13. d; 14. b; 15. a; 16. d; 17. b; 18. b; 19. c; 20. d

BABY BOOMERS

Were you born between 1946 and 1964, inclusive? If so, you are a proud member of the Baby Boomer generation, a generation that has, in my opinion, generated more interest and speculation than any other in my lifetime. In many ways, it has set the standard for all the generations that follow, both positively (longer lifespan, better health, higher standard of living) and negatively (as you will see below). (Full disclosure: Technically, as my wife keeps reminding me, I am not a member of this exalted group having been born in 1945, but I have always identified with them. So, let’s call me an honorary member.)

Currently, BBs number 79 million persons, which includes about 7 million immigrants. For you “nitpickers,” there were 76 million births between 1946 and 1964, inclusive. Subtract the 4 million that have passed away, add the 7 million immigrants and you get 79 million. BBs comprise about 25% of the total US population of 314 million. Yet, they control about 2/3 of the nation’s wealth.

The origin of the name baby boomer is that after WWII returning veterans were eager to get on with their lives: get married, establish careers and start a family. As a result, the annual birth rate, which had been around 2.8 million or less, rose to a peak of 4.3 million annually from 1957 – 1961. BBs have had a profound affect on the country as a whole at every stage of their lives – demand for houses, public schools, colleges, jobs, vacation homes, and health services to name a few examples. If nothing else, their sheer size has and will continue to have a profound impact on the rest of the population. And now, on the cusp of retirement, they face new challenges.

1. Longer life – BBs will live longer than previous generations. In fact, many seniors will be retired longer than they were employed. Think about that. That’s great as far as it goes, but that also means that BBs will have to finance their retirement for up to 30 years. Statistically, a married couple of 65 has to plan that one of them will live at least to age 90. The trick is to manage one’s finances so that you can live comfortably, but not to outlive your money. This will take a level of financial sophistication that is far beyond many seniors, and accounts for the disturbingly high number of frauds perpetrated on seniors by unscrupulous financial advisors. These people prey upon seniors who are desperate to increase their return on investment not cognizant of the increased risk involved.

2. Decline of pensions. In the last 20 years or so, employers have trended away from defined benefit pensions (that provided a fixed payment). Instead, it has become the individual’s responsibility to squirrel away enough money for retirement in his or her 401k and IRA. How is this significant? Let’s say, for example, a retiree is receiving a pension of $100,000 annually under a defined benefit pension. Given the current rates of return on prudent investments suitable for seniors, it has been my experience that one would need about $2 million in investments to generate that amount of income consistently. Yes, it requires a very diligent and astute saver to accumulate enough for a comfortable retirement. Unfortunately, it has been well established that the typical BB is a poor saver, whether out of choice or necessity.

3. Social security – Social security was not meant to constitute the major portion of retirement income. It originated in the 1930s to alleviate poverty among seniors during the Great Depression, which had exceeded 50%. At the time, only a very small percentage of people lived beyond 65. With the current cost of living, it is still no more than a safety net. It is well known that the SS Trust Fund is projected to run out of money within the next 30 years or so, unless changes are made. There have been various proposals, but the point is prospective retires would be well advised to save on their own. There are no easy solutions, only hard choices, which have become more onerous because our political leaders on both sides of the aisle have delayed taking action for too long.

4. Postponing/redefining retirement – Many BBs will not be able to retire when they had planned and in the style they had hoped. Others, who have been laid off or discover that they retired prematurely will be forced to take low-paying or part time jobs to make ends meet. Unfortunately, this sector of the job market is overcrowded with others all competing for the same jobs – other seniors, college students, teenagers and the general unemployed. According to a recent AARP survey 70% of persons aged 45-70 expect to have to work during their “retirement.”

4. Other concerns –

a. Many BBs have become “sandwiched” between caring for elderly parents and supporting adult children who cannot find a job. In some cases, the children have children of their own, which means that there could be up to four generations living in the same home with all the attendant financial, emotional and social stress.

b. It is no surprise that surveys indicate that BBs are currently one of the most pessimistic, anxiety-ridden and stressed-out age group.

c. The poor economy is a major concern. It has been permeating and exacerbating all of the above issues and shows little or no prospect of improving significantly.

CONCLUSION AND PREDICTION

As a result of the foregoing, as is frequently the case, it is the poor and disadvantaged who will likely suffer the most. Wealthy, sophisticated and intelligent people will generally be able to adapt and fend for themselves.

There are no easy choices, no magic bullets. For the most part, BBs will have to deal with these issues on their own. However, I would caution the younger generations to take heed. Learn from the mistakes of your elders. Plan for your own retirement well ahead of time. Develop a plan, either on your own or with the assistance of a trusted professional, and stick to it. Good luck.