20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – NSA Taps into Fiber Optic Cables

WebIt’s the sort of thing you would have expected if George Orwell and Jules Verne had been contemporaries and collaborated on a novel.  The Department of Defense creates a vast Hypertext Transfer Protocol Network and allows the private sector to take it over and expand it worldwide. Rather than passing through the pesky step of securing private data through the system’s service providers, the government simply taps into the data as it passes through the undersea fiber optic cables stretching from one continent to another. Suddenly the World Wide Web is one vast party line, at least from the NSA’s perspective.

That’s the theory presently being promulgated by investigative reporters with the New York Times. According to The Times‘ article, NSA May Have Hit Internet Companies at a Weak Spot , the data centers belonging to companies like Yahoo and Google are “are locked down with full-time security and state-of-the-art surveillance, including heat sensors and iris scanners.”   If anything, it’s easier for government spies to tap the Level 3 Communications Infrastructure, the so-called backbone of the  World Wide Web, made up of  high capacity optic fiber cables owned by companies like Verizon, the BT Group, and the Vodafone Group.

Nearly everything you and I do online passes through this backbone in route to its final destination.  I  guess you can say that the NSA has taken up global  spinal tapping: sampling the flow of information for infectious or inflammatory elements.

In 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Jules Vernes wrote “The sea is everything. It covers seven tenths of the terrestrial globe… It is an immense desert, where man is never lonely, for he feels life stirring on all sides.”

This statement is perhaps more true now than ever before.  The sea is a very busy place indeed. And the NSA is one very busy body.

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What Not to Do with Your 401K – Wendy Davis Takes Poetic License with Her Past

Throughout  the United States,  voters are putting a premium on candidates who are skilled at getting out of debt. If anyone has mastered that art it’s Wendy Davis, Democratic frontrunner for this year’s gubernatorial race.

Wendy DavisSenator Davis became famous, not just statewide but nationally, last summer when she filibustered a Texas State bill which would have banned abortions after the twentieth week. That was the beginning of her romance with Texas Democrats. Feeding on her press-fueled momentum, Ms. Davis painted a rags-to-riches story of herself as having been a single teenage mother living in a trailer park who worked her way up and into Harvard Law School.  Some of the details in her artfully woven tale are now starting to fray. On January 20th, the Dallas Morning News reported that Davis was twenty-one (not nineteen) when she and her first husband separated and that she only lived in a mobile home for a few months “before moving into an apartment with her daughter.

It has also come to light that her second husband, Jeff Davis, “cashed in his 401(k) to help fund her education.” (Hilary Hylton “A Storybook Tale Gets Some New Footnotes,” Time Magazine, February 3, 2014).  He paid for Ms. Davis’s last two years at Texas Christian University and kept their two daughters while she studied at Harvard Law School in Boston.

According to Jeff Davis, Wendy Davis “left him the day after he paid off her Harvard loan in 2003.” (Hylton). Following their divorce, he was granted custody of the two girls.

It seems Senator Davis has graduated from Ball-Busting to Filibustering.  This may not necessarily cost her the nomination, as Democratic supporters are treating recent revelations (or should that be clarifications) as a rabid attack by Republicans. As Dallas News correspondent Wayne Slater puts it:

Campaigns… understand that when critical stories appear, advocates on both sides respond like characters in the movie Dodgeball, running to the center of the floor, selecting a ball and ferociously heaving it at their opponents.

This should make for an interesting election year in the State of Texas. In the meantime, Men, hold on to your wallets and your hats.  Everyone knows it’s Wendy.

Dutch Executives Seeing Green – How Millennials Are Reshaping the World

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Davos, Switzerland — If you can’t beat them, bribe them. Are the days of environmentalists versus capitalists coming to an end?  DSM, a global firm based in The Netherlands, is tying forty-percent of its executives’ short-term incentive pay to whether or not the company meets its environmental and sustainability goals. 

What is driving capitalism’s sudden interest in saving the environment? My guess is that it’s the Millennials, the twenty-somethings who make up the most rapidly growing demographic in our current workforce.  When  Millennials go looking for jobs, they seek out employers who are a cultural fit. That is, they want to work for companies which care about the same things they care about and which demonstrate that care both by the way they do business and by the non-business causes they support.  Outside of Silicon  Valley and the High-Tech world, Millennials have not yet made it to the C-Suite. However they are the force which is motivating a growing number of companies to select and act on a cause. Actions companies take may include realigning their business practices to support the cause they’ve adopted, allowing employees to perform volunteer work on company time,  educating their employees and their clients about the cause, or making outright donations to non-profit organizations.

Because they are tuned into and care deeply about such things as culture and branding, Millennials are making an impression on corporations not only as prospective employees but as prospective consumers of their products and services.  The radio station I listen to each morning (The Rod Ryan Show  on Houston’s 94.5 The Buzz) appeals  to a Millennial audience. In their sometimes R-rated, may-not-be-suitable-for-more-sensitive-listeners morning banter, the Buzz’s DJs make more references to “giving back” and talk more about what celebrity or what local business is doing what good deeds than any station I have ever listened to before. Not only that, the show itself supports its favorite causes. Its Drumsticks for Drumsticks campaign auctions off drumsticks signed by famous drummers to raise money for the Houston Food Bank.  In the fall, it raises funds to provide backpacks to underprivileged Houston school children. This spirit of giving back is being repeated by other companies throughout the United States whose clientele is primarily Millennials.

Because the Millennials’ manner of speaking (concise, direct, straight-from-the-hip) often comes across as curt, Baby Boomers tend to write them off as rude. But these young people have heart. They not only care about the world, they pay attention to how individual companies treat the environment,  animals, third world countries, and other underdogs, and they demonstrate their concern by choosing which companies they will or will not work for and whose products or services they will or will not buy.

The BBC reports that  “At the Davos 2014 World Economic Forum, a gathering of more than 1600 global business leaders in Switzerland this week, one of the hot topics is ‘doing business the right way’.”  In fact, the summit’s theme is Reshaping the World.

When I was growing up, Bob Dylan sang, in his awful twang, about “The Times, They Are A-Changing.”  Well, guess what. Nothing is static. The times are changing again, maybe, (sorry, all you doomsayers) for the better. Under pressure from our young people, corporations are recognizing that the bottom line and making the world a better place are not necessarily mutually exclusive. In fact, they may be more closely linked than we ever imagined before.

What Are Behavioral Economics? Or Why Johnny Lingo Paid Eight Cows for His Wife

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From a Human Resources standpoint, Behavioral Economics occurs when an employer pays its workers more than what the current market demands, on the premise that the more valued the workers feel, the better they will perform.

Patricia McGrerr‘s  famous short story “Johnny Lingo’s Eight-Cow Wife” (Women’s Day, November 1965) is a good example of this principal. On the Pacific island where Johnny Lingo lived, a man could purchase a decent wife for two to three cows. A highly satisfactory wife could be had for four to five cows.  Sarita, the woman Johnny wanted to marry, was plain and skinny and, in the opinion of most islanders, worth only two cows, three at most.  To everyone’s amazement, Johnny paid eight cows for her.

After Johnny and Sarita wed, she became a beautiful, charming woman, one of the finest in the village. Johnny attributed her transformation to the price he had paid for her.

“Do you ever think,” he asked, “what it must mean to a woman to know that her husband has settled on the lowest price for which she can be bought? … I wanted Sarita to be happy, yes. But I wanted more than that. … Many things can change a woman. Things happen inside, things happen outside. But the thing that matters most is what she thinks of herself. In Kiniwata, Sarita believed she was worth nothing. Now she knows she is worth more than any other woman in the islands.”  

In theory, the more valued your employees feel (as reflected by their salaries), the more they will value themselves and their skills and the more likely they are to live up to your high expectations.

This is just one aspect of Behavioral Economics, the main gist of which is that humans do not always behave in an economically rational way.  Johnny Lingo’s decision to pay eight cows for a wife who was originally worth no more than two or three was anything but rational.

The sometimes irrational and, therefore, unpredictable decisions people make in regards to finances and economics can be a force for good (the transformation of Johnny’s wife) or for evil. Many economists blame the crash of 2008 on the irrational decisions made by banks and other organizations.

This theory of Behavior Economics plays an important role in Janet Yellen, our newly appointed Chairman of the Federal Reserve’s, approach to economics.

If this post is the first time you’ve heard of Behavioral Economics, it’s not likely to be the last, as Ms. Yellen takes over our nation’s economic reigns.

Only time will tell how many cows she is truly worth.