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Saturday, December 20, 2014

My check card number was stolen!

I got the call at about 8:20 on a Monday morning two summers ago. It was my Credit Union. They had detected some "unusual activity" on my Visa check card and had put a hold on the account. The lady on the line read me the charges in question and asked if I had made them. I hadn't. The lady then asked me to go in to the nearest Credit Union location, where I needed to fill out a report.

Turns out that someone had made a number of charges to my account overnight. They had bought about $120 in songs from I-tunes, opened up a Netflix account, bought something online from an electronics store, and tried to buy a bunch of cosmetics from Amazon. In all, about $650 went through before the Credit Union put a hold on the account.

After I filled out and signed the report for my Credit Union, they replaced 100% of the money to my account. But it did take two days for the money to show back up. The Credit Union handled everything with the police (they caught the woman who used my numbers - more on that in a moment). In the end the incident didn't cost me anything, other than some of my time and a sick feeling in my stomach.

How my information was stolen

About six weeks prior to this, I had eaten lunch at one of my favorite restaurants - a somewhat upscale Asian bistro in Hickory, NC (I won't name the restaurant because it really wasn't their fault). Its one of those restaurants where the waitress brings your check to you in one of those small leather folders, you put the cash or credit card inside, she then takes the payment, bringing back your change and/or receipt in the folder.

Apparently, in the few minutes my waitress had my check card, she jotted down my card number, expiration date, my name, and even the 3-digit security code (the cvv number) off the back of the card. It was everything she needed to use my card online.

Then she actually did something smart (from her point of view). She didn't use my number right away. Instead she waited more than a month before using it. I guess her thought process was to wait until I had made many other purchases with the card so as to obscure who might have stolen the numbers.

Unfortunately for her, it just happened that the card/account I used for that meal was not my main account. It was an emergency back-up account I rarely use. In fact, I only use that card a couple of times a year - just enough to keep it active.  That meal was the only time I used that card in about six-months, which made it real easy to pinpoint where & who stole the number. The police investigated and actually traced several other stolen account numbers to her. Same method of operation each time, waiting a month or more before using the stolen numbers.

Lessons learned

1) Your information can be stolen anywhere. This restaurant isn't some low-class dive, but is actually a fairly upscale establishment. A place that I am a semi-regular. Not somewhere I would expect to have to worry about such things.

2) Your information can be stolen by anyone. I remember the waitress in question. She was very nice, friendly, even sweet. And quite attractive. I don't know her motivations, but she wasn't some crack-head, meth addict, or homeless person. Quite the contrary, she seemed to have a lot going for her. Definitely not someone I would expect to be an identity thief.

3) They don't actually have to have your card to use it. As long as they have the basic information, a thief can easily use your accounts online.

4) Identity thieves can be quite sneaky. Had I used my regular card, she probably would have gotten away with it by waiting more than a month like she did. My regular account would have had dozens of other transactions on it by the time she had used it, making it impossible to pinpoint a likely culprit. It was just bad luck on her part that she got caught.

5) Never, ever let your cards out-of-sight. My waitress only had possession of my card for maybe two minutes, but it was long enough to jot down the information she needed. If I can't keep my eyes on my card at all times, I now pay with cash - even if it is a bit inconvenient.

Identity theft is now a 20+ billion dollar industry with more than 10 million people a year having their identity stolen, according to the latest stats from the FBI. It is also the fastest growing crime in America. Please take the security of your financial information very seriously.

See also: Change Your Passwords is now on Facebook. Please follow:

Friday, December 19, 2014

THE News Story of the Year

It is that time of year - magazines, newspapers and other media outlets start naming their news stories and news makers of the year. I thought I would chime in with what I thought was THE news story of the year, and why.

The Enterovirus D68 outbreak, which officials reluctantly admit killed at least 13 people, and fully or partially paralyzed over 80 more, was the most important (and under-reported) news story of 2014 for a number of reasons.

Enterovirus D68, a disease in the same family of viruses as polio, had only been seen handful of times in the US over the last 40-something years. Beginning in late August, this previously extremely rare disease started sending hundreds of young children to the hospital in Missouri. Outbreaks also began to occur in various cities and states around the country, eventually spreading to at least 48 US states and five Canadian provinces.

Despite assurances from the CDC and other government officials that the outbreak was unrelated to the border crisis over the summer, evidence quickly began to mount to the contrary. I was the first to report on the previously rare occurrence of the disease and the unlikely coincidence of a major outbreak coinciding with the border crisis without being related to it. The disease was shown to have erupted in cities that received high numbers of illegals. A medical study published in a peer-reviewed journal revealed that Enterovirus D68 was quite common in teens in several Central American countries (the same countries that most of the illegals came from). And several doctors unconnected with the CDC came forward to state the outbreak likely originated in the border crisis and accusing the CDC and government officials of trying to cover up that fact.

One of the most ridiculous comments made this year came from the CDC when they flat-out stated that none of the 60,000+ illegals that crossed the border had Enterovirus D68. They were later forced to admit that none of the 60,000+ had actually been tested for it, therefore they had no reason other than political correctness upon which to base their assurances.

{Click here to read my Entrovirus D68 page. Full coverage of its origins is given in the origins section about midway down.}

In addition to killing 13 people and paralyzing over 80 more, the Enterovirus D68 outbreak deserves the News Story of the Year title for a number of reasons:

1) The quick spread of a previously extremely rare disease in the US shows the importance of maintaining control over our borders. Legal immigration should be allowed and encouraged, but we must be able to monitor and control who is allowed into the country. There are some folks who should not be allowed into the country - drug dealers, human traffickers, gang members, career criminals, terrorists, and, in this case, folks carrying highly infectious diseases. This is something that should be carefully considered in all future discussions and debates regarding immigration.

2) The mainstream media showed its willingness to ignore, downplay, and even distort a news story if it does not fit their preferred ideology. Media bias is well-known, but this example was particularly callous because the media were willing to let people die rather than to truthfully report a story that went against their liberal ideology.

3) The CDC and other government officials were also willing to lie in order to support an ideological position and politically correct narrative. Think about that. The CDC was willing to let people die rather than to take a politically incorrect stance. Chilling.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Federalist 69: The Real Character of the Executive

The following is the text of Federalist Paper number 69, published in March of 1788 under the name Publius (the pseudonym used by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay). It was almost certainly written by Hamilton, and addresses the intended role of the President, including the checks and limitations placed upon the power of the presidency. 


The Real Character of the Executive

To the People of the State of New York:

I PROCEED now to trace the real characters of the proposed Executive, as they are marked out in the plan of the convention. This will serve to place in a strong light the unfairness of the representations which have been made in regard to it.

The first thing which strikes our attention is, that the executive authority, with few exceptions, is to be vested in a single magistrate. This will scarcely, however, be considered as a point upon which any comparison can be grounded; for if, in this particular, there be a resemblance to the king of Great Britain, there is not less a resemblance to the Grand Seignior, to the khan of Tartary, to the Man of the Seven Mountains, or to the governor of New York.

That magistrate is to be elected for four years; and is to be re-eligible as often as the people of the United States shall think him worthy of their confidence. In these circumstances there is a total dissimilitude between him and a king of Great Britain, who is an hereditary monarch, possessing the crown as a patrimony descendible to his heirs forever; but there is a close analogy between him and a governor of New York, who is elected for three years, and is re-eligible without limitation or intermission. If we consider how much less time would be requisite for establishing a dangerous influence in a single State, than for establishing a like influence throughout the United States, we must conclude that a duration of four years for the Chief Magistrate of the Union is a degree of permanency far less to be dreaded in that office, than a duration of three years for a corresponding office in a single State.

The President of the United States would be liable to be impeached, tried, and, upon conviction of treason, bribery, or other high crimes or misdemeanors, removed from office; and would afterwards be liable to prosecution and punishment in the ordinary course of law. The person of the king of Great Britain is sacred and inviolable; there is no constitutional tribunal to which he is amenable; no punishment to which he can be subjected without involving the crisis of a national revolution. In this delicate and important circumstance of personal responsibility, the President of Confederated America would stand upon no better ground than a governor of New York, and upon worse ground than the governors of Maryland and Delaware.

The President of the United States is to have power to return a bill, which shall have passed the two branches of the legislature, for reconsideration; and the bill so returned is to become a law, if, upon that reconsideration, it be approved by two thirds of both houses. The king of Great Britain, on his part, has an absolute negative upon the acts of the two houses of Parliament. The disuse of that power for a considerable time past does not affect the reality of its existence; and is to be ascribed wholly to the crown's having found the means of substituting influence to authority, or the art of gaining a majority in one or the other of the two houses, to the necessity of exerting a prerogative which could seldom be exerted without hazarding some degree of national agitation. The qualified negative of the President differs
widely from this absolute negative of the British sovereign; and tallies exactly with the revisionary authority of the council of revision of this State, of which the governor is a constituent part. In this respect the power of the President would exceed that of the governor of New York, because the former would possess, singly, what the latter shares with the chancellor and judges; but it would be precisely the same with that of the governor of Massachusetts, whose constitution, as to this article, seems to have been the original from which the convention have copied.

The President is to be the "commander-in-chief of the army and navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several States, when called into the actual service of the United States. He is to have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment; to recommend to the consideration of Congress such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; to convene, on extraordinary occasions, both houses of the legislature, or either of them, and, in case of disagreement between them with respect to the time of adjournment, to adjourn them to such time as he shall think proper; to take care that the laws be faithfully executed; and to commission all officers of the United States." In most of these particulars, the power of the President will resemble equally that of the king of Great Britain and of the governor of New York. The most material points of difference are these:--First. The President will have only the occasional command of such part of the militia of the nation as by legislative provision may be called into the actual service of the Union. The king of Great Britain and the governor of New York have at all times the entire command of all the militia within their several jurisdictions. In this article, therefore, the power of the President would be inferior to that of either the monarch or the governor. Second. The President is to be commander-in-chief of the army and navy of the United States. In this respect his authority would be nominally the same with that of the king of Great Britain, but in substance much inferior to it. It would amount to nothing more than the supreme command and direction of the military and naval forces, as first General and admiral of the Confederacy; while that of the British king extends to the declaring of war and to the raising and regulating of fleets and armies--all which, by the Constitution under consideration, would appertain to the legislature.(1) The governor of New York, on the other hand, is by the constitution of the State vested only with the command of its militia and navy. But the constitutions of several of the States expressly declare their governors to be commanders-in-chief, as well of the army as navy; and it may well be a question, whether those of New Hampshire and Massachusetts, in particular, do not, in this instance, confer larger powers upon their respective governors, than could be claimed by a President of the United States. Third. The power of the President, in respect to pardons, would extend to all cases, except those of impeachment. The governor of New York may pardon in all cases, even in those of impeachment, except for treason and murder. Is not the power of the governor, in this article, on a calculation of political consequences, greater than that of the President? All conspiracies and plots against the government, which have not been matured into actual treason, may be screened from punishment of every kind, by the interposition of the prerogative of pardoning. If a governor of New York, therefore, should be at the head of any such conspiracy, until the design had been ripened into actual hostility he could insure his accomplices and adherents an entire impunity. A President of the Union, on the other hand, though he may even pardon treason, when prosecuted in the ordinary course of law, could shelter no offender, in any degree, from the effects of impeachment and conviction. Would not the prospect of a total indemnity for all the preliminary steps be a greater temptation to undertake and persevere in an enterprise against the public liberty, than the mere prospect of an exemption from death and confiscation, if the final execution of the design, upon an actual appeal to arms, should miscarry? Would this last expectation have any influence at all, when the probability was computed, that the person who was to afford that exemption might himself be involved in the consequences of the measure, and might be incapacitated by his agency in it from affording the desired impunity? The better to judge of this matter, it will be necessary to recollect, that, by the proposed Constitution, the offense of treason is limited "to levying war upon the United States, and adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort"; and that by the laws of New York it is confined within similar bounds. Fourth. The President can only adjourn the national legislature in the single case of disagreement about the time of adjournment. The British monarch may prorogue or even dissolve the Parliament. The governor of New York may also prorogue the legislature of this State for a limited time; a power which, in certain situations, may be employed to very important purposes.

The President is to have power, with the advice and consent of the Senate, to make treaties, provided two thirds of the senators present concur. The king of Great Britain is the sole and absolute representative of the nation in all foreign transactions. He can of his own accord make treaties of peace, commerce, alliance, and of every other description. It has been insinuated, that his authority in this respect is not conclusive, and that his conventions with foreign powers are subject to the revision, and stand in need of the ratification, of Parliament. But I believe this doctrine was never heard of, until it was broached upon the present occasion. Every jurist(2) of that kingdom, and every other man acquainted with its Constitution, knows, as an established fact, that the prerogative of making treaties exists in the crown in its utmost plentitude; and that the compacts entered into by the royal authority have the most complete legal validity and perfection, independent of any other sanction. The Parliament, it is true, is sometimes seen employing itself in altering the existing laws to conform them to the stipulations in a new treaty; and this may have possibly given birth to the imagination, that its co-operation was necessary to the obligatory efficacy of the treaty. But this parliamentary interposition proceeds from a different cause: from the necessity of adjusting a most artificial and intricate system of revenue and commercial laws, to the changes made in them by the operation of the treaty; and of adapting new provisions and precautions to the new state of things, to keep the machine from running into disorder. In this respect, therefore, there is no comparison between the intended power of the President and the actual power of the British sovereign. The one can perform alone what the other can do only with the concurrence of a branch of the legislature. It must be admitted, that, in this instance, the power of the federal Executive would exceed that of any State Executive. But this arises naturally from the sovereign power which relates to treaties. If the Confederacy were to be dissolved, it would become a question, whether the Executives of the several States were not solely invested with that delicate and important prerogative.

The President is also to be authorized to receive ambassadors and other public ministers. This, though it has been a rich theme of declamation, is more a matter of dignity than of authority. It is a circumstance which will be without consequence in the administration of the government; and it was far more convenient that it should be arranged in this manner, than that there should be a necessity of convening the legislature, or one of its branches, upon every arrival of a foreign minister, though it were merely to take the place of a departed predecessor.

The President is to nominate, and, with the advice and consent of the Senate, to appoint ambassadors and other public ministers, judges of the Supreme Court, and in general all officers of the United States established by law, and whose appointments are not otherwise provided for by the Constitution. The king of Great Britain is emphatically and truly styled the fountain of honor. He not only appoints to all offices, but can create offices. He can confer titles of nobility at pleasure; and has the disposal of an immense number of church preferments. There is evidently a great inferiority in the power of the President, in this
particular, to that of the British king; nor is it equal to that of the governor of New York, if we are to interpret the meaning of the constitution of the State by the practice which has obtained under it. The power of appointment is with us lodged in a council, composed of the governor and four members of the Senate, chosen by the Assembly. The governor claims, and has frequently exercised, the right of nomination, and is entitled to a casting vote in the appointment. If he really has the right of nominating, his authority is in this respect equal to that of the President, and exceeds it in the article of the casting vote. In the national government, if the Senate should be divided, no appointment could be made; in the government of New York, if the council should be divided, the governor can turn the scale, and confirm his own nomination.(3) If we compare the publicity which must necessarily attend the mode of appointment by the President and an entire branch of the national legislature, with the privacy in the mode of appointment by the governor of New York, closeted in a secret apartment with at most four, and frequently with only two persons; and if we at the same time consider how much more easy it must be to influence the small number of which a council of appointment consists, than the considerable number of which the national Senate would consist, we cannot hesitate to pronounce that the power of the chief magistrate of this State, in the disposition of offices, must, in practice, be greatly superior to that of the Chief Magistrate of the Union.

Hence it appears that, except as to the concurrent authority of the President in the article of treaties, it would be difficult to determine whether that magistrate would, in the aggregate, possess more or less power than the Governor of New York. And it appears yet more unequivocally, that there is no pretense for the parallel which has been attempted between him and the king of Great Britain. But to render the contrast in this respect still more striking, it may be of use to throw the principal circumstances of dissimilitude into a closer group.

The President of the United States would be an officer elected by the people for four years; the king of Great Britain is a perpetual and hereditary prince. The one would be amenable to personal punishment and disgrace; the person of the other is sacred and inviolable. The one would have a qualified negative upon the acts of the legislative body; the other has an absolute negative. The one would have a right to command the military and naval forces of the nation; the other, in addition to this right, possesses that of declaring war, and of raising and regulating fleets and armies by his own authority. The one would have a concurrent power with a branch of the legislature in the formation of treaties; the other is the sole possessor of the power of making treaties. The one would have a like concurrent authority in appointing to offices; the other is the sole author of all appointments. The one can confer no privileges whatever; the other can make denizens of aliens, noblemen of commoners; can erect corporations with all the rights incident to corporate bodies. The one can prescribe no rules concerning the commerce or currency of the nation; the other is in several respects the arbiter of commerce, and in this capacity can establish markets and fairs, can regulate weights and measures, can lay embargoes for a limited time, can coin money, can authorize or prohibit the circulation of foreign coin. The one has no particle of spiritual jurisdiction; the other is the supreme head and governor of the national church! What answer shall we give to those who would persuade us that things so unlike resemble each other? The same that ought to be given to those who tell us that a government, the whole power of which would be in the hands of the elective and periodical servants of the people, is an aristocracy, a monarchy, and a despotism.


1. A writer in a Pennsylvania paper, under the signature of TAMONY, has asserted that the king of Great Britain owes his prerogative as commander-in-chief to an annual mutiny bill. The truth is, on the contrary, that his prerogative, in this respect, is immemorial, and was only disputed, "contrary to all reason and precedent," as Blackstone vol. i., page 262, expresses it, by the Long Parliament of Charles I. but by the statute the 13th of Charles II., chap. 6, it was declared to be in the king alone, for that the sole supreme government and command of the militia within his Majesty's realms and dominions, and of all forces by sea and land, and of all forts and places of strength, EVER WAS AND IS the undoubted right of his Majesty and his royal predecessors, kings and queens of England, and that both or either house of Parliament cannot nor ought to pretend to the same.

2. Vide Blackstone's Commentaries, Vol I., p. 257.

3. Candor, however, demands an acknowledgment that I do not think the claim of the governor to a right of nomination well founded. Yet it is always justifiable to reason from the practice of a government, till its propriety has been constitutionally questioned. And independent of this claim, when we take into view the other considerations, and pursue them through all their consequences, we shall be inclined to draw much the same conclusion.

***All the Federalist Papers can be found on the Project Gutenburg website

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Review: Swiss Army Knife "Hiker"

"Hiker" by Victorinox

When I was 12, I received one of my favorite Christmas presents ever - my very own Swiss Army Knife. I used that knife throughout my Boy Scout years and into my college days, before I finally lost it. I never did figure out what happened to it.

I still carry a Swiss Army Knife everyday. My current one is the Hiker model by Victorinox, which I've had since 2010. Its tools include two knife blades (small/large), two straight-edge screwdrivers (small/regular), Phillips screwdriver, can opener, bottle opener, wire stripper, wood saw, reamer (awl) with eyelet, tweezers, and toothpick. It also has a ring to attach it to a keychain or lanyard. It also has the "secret compartment" found on many Swiss army knives where you can store a sewing needle or pin.

Many people never realize the needle storage compartment exists, but it is an intentional design feature by Victorinox, specifically to hold a needle or pin. To find it, simply open up the Phillips screwdriver and look for the tiny hole in the red casing near the base of the screwdriver. A sewing needle or pin fits perfectly, though I find a pin works better because its head makes it easier to insert and get out. You have to supply the needle or pin.

A Swiss Army Knife is much more than just a pocket knife. It is a fully-functioning multi-tool. I've had the Victorinox Tinker models in the past, and now carry the Hiker (which is the Tinker plus a wood saw). I've used them many times for all sorts of repair jobs, from replacing door knobs to putting up bird houses, and they have proved quite rugged and durable. The screwdrivers on mine get used as much as the knife blades do, and have always done the job. The wood saw is the best on any multi-tool I've ever seen, and is VERY sharp, easily handling wood up to an inch thick.

The knife blades come quite sharp too, and are easy to maintain. I am not an expert knife-sharpener, putting my skills more in the "intermediate" range. However, Victorinox does sell a sharpener specifically designed for their knives, and I am able to keep an excellent edge on mine with it.

Speaking of the knife blades: I use my large blade for most day-to-day tasks, saving the smaller blade for more detailed work. Other folks use the smaller blade for daily tasks, and keep the larger blade clean to cut food. How you use them is up to you.

One advantage of a Swiss Army Knife is that most folks don't find it as threatening or intimidating as a regular knife. This is especially useful in an urban environment where folks may not be used to people carrying knives. A Swiss Army Knife may work well as part of a "gray-man disguise."

Of course, know the laws and regulations for knives in your area.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

FEMA Safety Tips by Text

Below is a list of all the disaster specific keywords you can sign up to receive bi-monthly safety tips from FEMA for:
  • Hurricanes: text HURRICANE to 43362 (4FEMA)
  • Home fires: text FIRE to 43362 (4FEMA)
  • Wildfires: text WILDFIRE to 43362 (4FEMA)
  • Tornadoes: text TORNADO to 43362 (4FEMA)
  • Earthquakes: text EARTHQUAKE to 43362 (4FEMA)
  • Winter storms and extreme cold: text WINTER to 43362 (4FEMA)
  • Power outages: text BLACKOUT to 43362 (4FEMA)
  • Floods: text FLOOD to 43362 (4FEMA)
  • General monthly safety tips: text PREPARE to 43362 (4FEMA)
Please Note:
  • If subscribing to more than one list, please send a separate text for each disaster type you would like to subscribe to. There is no limit to the number of lists you can subscribe to.
  • Unsubscribe (at any time): text STOP to 43362 (4FEMA) 
  • Sending STOP will automatically unsubscribe you from all FEMA text lists.  You can re-subscribe to the list(s) of your choice one-by-one.
  • Get more information: text INFO to 43362 (4FEMA)
  • List of all keywords you can subscribe to: text LIST to 43362 (4FEMA)
  • The FEMA text message program is not a substitute for 9-1-1. During an emergency, call your local fire/EMS/police or 9-1-1.
  • FEMA’s text message number is 43362. If you receive a text message from another number and they say they are from FEMA, disregard it and report it to the authorities if you feel it is warranted.
  • FEMA will not solicit info, ask for personal information, or ask you to donate money to FEMA.
Smartphone App

You can also use the FEMA text message program to receive a link for the FEMA smartphone app for your specific mobile device. Thy will reply with a link back to your phone’s specific app store.
  • Apple devices: text APPLE to 43362 (4FEMA)
  • Android devices: text ANDROID to 43362 (4FEMA)
  • Blackberry devices: text BLACKBERRY to 43362 (4FEMA)