How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

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Stay Safe in Public
Starbucks is offering free Wi-Fi to all customers, at every location, starting today. Whether you’re clicking connect on Starbucks’ Wi-Fi or some other unsecured, public Wi-Fi network, here’s how to stay safe and secure while surfing a public hotspot.Just because most wireless routers have a firewall to protect you from the internet doesn’t mean you’re protected from others connected to the same network. Lots of wireless hotspots these days are completely unencrypted, usually so they’re easier to connect to (baristas don’t need to be giving out the internet password to everyone that walks in). However, this leaves you unprotected against malicious users in the same coffee shop, so there are a few settings you should always make sure to tweak when you’re connected to a public network…

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Europe Seeking to Break U.S. Ratings Monopoly

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Ratings agencies have not been kind to European countries
as they struggle with massive national debt

Few doubt that US ratings agencies contributed greatly to the global financial crisis. Europe is now worried that the euro could also fall victim to credit downgrades — and is exploring the possibility of creating its own ratings agency.
People like Brian Coulton aren’t exactly the most popular figures in the financial industry these days. Politicians, in particular, aren’t particularly keen on him and his ilk either. Coulton, the European chief analyst for the ratings agency Fitch, was largely responsible for the downgrading of Spain’s credit rating late last month. It was a move that once again sent stocks tumbling in New York and the euro down against the dollar.
Coulton doesn’t accept any of the blame. “We performed our assessment, and that’s it,” he said tersely. The reason for the downgrade, he added, is concern that the austerity program announced by Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero on the previous Thursday would throttle economic growth. He declined to comment further.
In the midst of the euro crisis, the highly indebted countries are embroiled in a grotesque dilemma. The rating agencies will punish them if they don’t get their gigantic mountains of debt under control. But the same agencies will also downgrade them if the governments impose austerity programs to reduce their debts.
In this sense, the crisis is feeding the crisis, as a downward spiral gets underway. Many critics blame the major rating agencies, Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch. “Whatever you do, you’re doing it wrong,” says Gustav Horn, head of Germany’s Macroeconomic Policy Institute, referring to the countries in question. Berlin economist Michael Burda criticizes the timing of the Spanish downgrade most of all, which couldn’t have been worse.
Aura of Infallibility
In the United States, where the rating agencies are based, they have long since lost their aura of infallibility. The agency that supervises the markets, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), as well as dozens of companies and private individuals, have filed damage suits against the rating agencies for having failed entirely in their assessments of billions of dollars worth of investment vehicles backed by subprime mortgages.
Because the issuers of the toxic securities paid for their ratings, the agencies constantly found themselves in a conflict of interest. “We rate every deal. It could be structured by cows, and we would rate it,” a rating analyst wrote in September 2007. Meanwhile, investors blindly trusted the overly rosy assessments, which contributed greatly to the eruption of the financial crisis.
Last Wednesday, two prominent industry leaders appeared at a Congressional hearing in Washington, D.C. In addition to Moody’s CEO Raymond McDaniel, investing legend Warren Buffet, in his role as a major shareholder, attempted to downplay the blatant mistakes that were made. “The entire American public was caught up in a belief that housing prices could not fall dramatically,” Buffet said under oath, calling it a “mass delusion.” He said that he too was wrong.
But even if the ratings agencies have taken a beating since the financial crisis, an alternative rating system is not yet in sight. Credit ratings are still an important decision-making factor in the global web of financial transactions. Be it banks, insurance companies or investment funds, all of them manage a large portion of their investments with a view toward three letters: AAA, the highest rating. Should a country’s credit rating falls below a certain threshold, many investors in those bonds, pension funds, for instance, have bylaws requiring them to sell. If the securities are on banks’ balance sheets, regulators require more equity capital as a safety cushion.
As such, ratings often work like gasoline when poured on a fire. Countries lose billions when their credit ratings are downgraded. Investors pull out, causing bond prices to fall. And even though the bonds are then cheaper, they continue to provide the same annual interest, thereby increasing yields.
A Vicious Cycle
The effect means that governments have to pay more to borrow money. Spain, for example, will be facing much higher interest rates now when it seeks to refinance €16 billion worth of bonds which mature in July. The higher interest rates, in turn, makes borrowing riskier and makes the country more vulnerable to further downgrades, which in turn leads to even higher yields — the beginning of a vicious cycle.
These concerns have prompted European Union Internal Markets Commissioner Michel Barnier to seek stricter controls on the three ratings agencies. Under his bill, the new Paris-based EU regulatory agency for the securities industry would also regulate the three ratings agencies, which has been the responsibility of national regulators until now. Barnier’s proposals also call for a tightening of competition among the agencies. Issuers, like banks or financial companies, would be required to make all ratings information public, not just the information that relates to commissioned ratings.
Of course, the Frenchman’s proposals only apply to securities that are used to package and resell loans and mortgages. This is where the EU Commission sees the greatest need for action, based on the experiences of the financial crisis. Ratings of companies or governments, on the other hand, would not be affected.
To break up the de facto US oligopoly, the French camp also advocates the establishment of a European ratings agency. In a recent interview with the German financial daily Handelsblatt, the governor of the French central bank suggested installing private credit insurers like Euler Hermes or Coface as new providers. “They have the knowledge and the relevant experience,” said Christian Noyer, “and they even have to pay when the ratings are wrong.”
More Serious
Noyer’s proposal was well received in Berlin, mostly because market leader Euler Hermes is a wholly owned subsidiary of Munich-based insurance giant Allianz. Its database contains information on about 45 million companies around the globe. Using this information, the company can calculate the probability of default and the corresponding insurance premium for almost every shipment in the world.
The question is whether the credit insurers will operate more reliably than the US agencies, and whether they will calculate credit risk in a different way, thereby solving the Catch-22 dilemma of debtor nations.
In fact, Euler Hermes has not yet downgraded Portugal, Spain and Greece in its internal country analyses. “However, we are working within a much shorter time frame than the ratings agencies,” says CEO Wilfried Verstraete. He notes that 80 percent of the loans Euler Hermes insures mature within six to nine months.
Verstraete doesn’t know yet whether Euler Hermes will get into the ratings business. Although internal teams have been addressing the issue since 2002, the market hasn’t been ready so far. Verstraete believes that the current discussion over a European ratings agency is much more serious than it was two years ago.
“There is enough public pressure to bring about a change,” he says, noting that many are now chafing at the three US agencies. The key question, says Verstraete, revolves around who will pay the bill for incorrect assessments. “We are liable for wrong decisions with our own capital, which is a completely different incentive system than with the ratings agencies,” stresses Verstraete.
In his view, a credible business model can only function if investors, rather than the companies themselves, pay the ratings agencies to rate the securities that they hold.
‘System of Interests’
Of course, the notion of competition isn’t the only motivation behind the French campaign for a European rating agency. Many a politician and professor sees Moody’s and the other two agencies as a US instrument of power. Rudolf Hickel, an economics professor in the northern German city of Bremen, believes that the ratings agencies are incorporated into the “system of interests” of the American financial sector.
Do the agencies act as a beachhead for Wall Street? And by downgrading the ratings of European governments, are they even deliberately providing the ammunition for American euro speculators?
“The accusation of American influence on European ratings is absurd,” counters Alexander Kockerbeck, who is charge of analyzing two major economies, Germany and Italy, at Moody’s in Frankfurt. According to Kockerbeck, a rating committee that decides whether to downgrade a country’s debt by majority decision consists of “about 15 analysts from all regions of the world.”
Economists like Kockerbeck can only partly understand the criticism of the ratings agencies they work for. They want nothing to do with their counterparts from the toxic assets departments, who were singing the praises of packaged subprime mortgages before the financial crisis. They like to point out that country specialists use fundamental analyses and not fly-by-night models to arrive at their assessments. They also have fewer conflicts of interests with which to contend. For image reasons, the agencies usually prepare country ratings at their own expense. Only a few governments, including some in Eastern Europe, commission ratings.
Going to Asia
The wave of speculation against Greece was “triggered not by the ratings agencies, but by Greece itself,” Kockerbeck says sharply. In the past, the country provided false information about the size of its deficit. When its real debt was revealed, the markets reacted with suspicion, which in turn made borrowing more expensive for Athens. “Based on the new numbers, our debt formula logically indicated a lower rating,” Kockerbeck coolly explains.
The Moody’s executive does not believe that governments face a rating dilemma. The causality is not that simple as is sometimes argued, he says. “A government’s austerity plan is one thing, while its implementation is another,” he says. If a country’s economy suffers as a result of austerity measures, Kockerbeck explains, the costs of borrowing relative to government revenues will change in the medium term. For Kockerbeck, the consequence is clear: “We have to take this into account in a rating.”
In his written rationale for the recent downgrading of Spain, Fitch analyst Coulton presents similar arguments to those of his counterpart at Moody’s. But he apparently doesn’t believe that those who are affected will be more insightful in accepting his assessment. To be on the safe side, Coulton isn’t planning to vacation on Spain’s Costa Brava this year. “I’m flying to Asia,” he says.

Few doubt that US ratings agencies contributed greatly to the global financial crisis. Europe is now worried that the euro could also fall victim to credit downgrades — and is exploring the possibility of creating its own ratings agency.

The rating agencies assess and value the credit-worthiness, or ability to pay back a loan, of companies, banks and states. In doing so, the agencies publish ratings as well as assessments of business sectors and management reviews. The most influential rating agencies are Standard & Poor’s (S&P), Moody’s and Fitch, which are known as the “big three.”

Looking At Photos Of Sick People Boosts Your Immune System


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Sick but clever!

I harbor the superstitious belief that I will catch a cold from watching TV shows depicting people who are sick. I usually stop watching any program that has someone sniffing and sneezing. But it turns out that looking at images of sick people actually boosts your immune system, according to researchers at the University of British Columbia…

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Get Ready For The Google Branded Chrome OS Netbook

Another Sleek Google Goodie
Most of the tech world now considers it a given that Google will be selling its own unlocked phone, called the Nexus One, to customers directly early in 2010. A few stragglers are still debating the finer points of the difference between Google working with handset manufacturers and carriers on a good Android experience v. them dictating the hardware specs and selling it directly to users. While they work that out for themselves we’re off to the next story – the Google Chrome OS Netbook (although we think Google has a few surprises left around the Nexus One, too).Google has said from the beginning that they plan on working with select manufacturers to ensure a good Chrome OS experience for users when devices first hit the market next year…


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AIDS: The Greatest Deadly Lie in the History of Medicine?


Mankind appears to be facing a new threat in the form of the so called swine flu. A few years earlier, bird flu and SARS caused panic all over the world. AIDS however has been on the top of the list of “scary” diseases for thirty years.

Where are the projected millions of victims of SARS and bird flu? Where is the much talked about deserted Africa allegedly doomed for total extinction from AIDS? Gor Shirdel, M.D. of Irish descent who is currently practicing in Kiev, has cured two patients from AIDS and has a different view of the situation. 

“I don’t believe that AIDS is incurable. Weak immune system is an issue that has been around for at least 200 years. It can be solved. Viruses found in the blood of those with AIDS is not the cause of the disease, it’s a consequence of immunodeficiency.

“The world thinks AIDS is incurable because two doctors, an American Robert Gallo and a Frenchman Luke Montanye, managed to convince the world in the early 1980s that AIDS is caused by “human immune deficiency virus” (HIV). Montanye even received a Nobel Prize for his “discovery.” Yet, they cannot find this virus in the human body. AIDS patients are diagnosed through the tests that register antibodies in blood, not HIV.


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Nutrition Facts Labels for Songs


Before you download the next pop hit from iTunes, check whether it is hazardous to your health. A teen panel working with the Boston Public Health Commission has set up a “nutrition facts label” rating (like that seen on food items) for songs:

“Music, like food, can feed our brains and give us energy,” said Casey Corcoran, director of the Commission’s Start Strong Initiative. “But songs can affect our health and the health of our relationships.”

The tool, patterned after common food nutritional labels, invites consumers to become song lyric nutritionists by helping them identify relationship ingredients that make up a song. Using printed song lyrics as a guide, users can tally the number of healthy relationship themes, such as respect, equality, and trust, which are present in the song. And, like fattening calories, unhealthy relationship themes – possession, disrespect, and manipulation – are also counted. The number of times these themes are mentioned also factor into to the song’s total nutritional value. Corcoran recommends consuming lots of ‘healthy relationship’ ingredients for a balanced media diet.

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New Report: Over 60% of U.S. Bankruptcies From Medical Bills


The overbearing sickness industry gets scrutinized.

An article in the latest issue of The American Journal of Medicine makes chilling reading, and presents compelling evidence that the US health care system is broken. In 2007, before the current economic downturn even began, an American family filed for bankruptcy in the aftermath of illness every 90 seconds; three-quarters of them were insured. Over 60% of all bankruptcies in the United States in 2007 were driven by medical incidents. Summarising the results of the first-ever national U.S. random-sample survey of bankruptcy filers, the article shows the share of bankruptcies attributable to medical problems rose by 50% between 2001 and 2007. Medical bankruptcy is a unique American phenomenon, which does not occur in countries that have national health insurance…

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Coming Soon – GPS System Failure


Whats going to happen when the GPS system crashes?
Ahh, let’s see, maybe get a map or a compass

GPS technology has made leaps and bounds lately – from bicycle computers to the 911 system, many people are relying on the GPS system that’s been orbitting for over 20 years. As early as 2010, the system could begin to fail, with blackouts or just misinformation for the millions of people who use the global positioning system in one form or another. Continue reading… “Coming Soon – GPS System Failure”

Watching The Income Tax System Implode

 Watching The Income Tax System Implode

When it comes to our tax systems, we are living in caveman times

In the movie The Day After Tomorrow, survivors stranded in a library are easily persuaded to burn the multi-volume IRS Tax Code to stay warm. In this fictional scenario, the question one might ask before securing a match: Why did we wait until the end of the world?

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Intelligent Bridge Monitoring System To Prevent Tragedies

Intelligent Bridge Monitoring System To Prevent Tragedies

Smart bridges will know when they are in trouble 

From mundane traffic overpasses to marvelous feats of soaring engineering, bridges are something we tend to take for granted – until something goes wrong that is. A team from the University of Michigan is leading a five-year, $19 million project to engineer an intelligent infrastructure monitoring system designed to prevent tragedies like the collapse of the Interstate 35 West bridge over the Mississippi river in 2007 in which 13 people were killed and 145 were injured.

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Discover the Hidden Patterns of Tomorrow with Futurist Thomas Frey
Unlock Your Potential, Ignite Your Success.

By delving into the futuring techniques of Futurist Thomas Frey, you’ll embark on an enlightening journey.

Learn More about this exciting program.