Is Privacy a Thing of the Past?

Has Facebook reached its tipping point?

According to Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling book of the same name, a tipping point is “a moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.”

The recent school shooting in Florida and the massive student response, including huge rallies this past weekend, may have been the tipping point on finally passing sane gun laws, while Harvey Weinstein’s repulsive behavior toward women seemed to have been the last straw regarding predators getting a pass on sexual harassment.

Last week Facebook reached its own moment of reckoning with the revelation that Cambridge Analytica improperly obtained personal data from 50 million unsuspecting Facebook users in an attempt to influence the 2016 presidential election. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been asked to appear before a Congressional committee to answer questions on how such a breach could occur.

Facebook collects information on everything from our birthdays, families and friends to where we live and work. I’m shocked that this info could be misused. Maybe because I’ve been too busy dealing with the fallout from my personal data being stolen from Equifax, Target, and eBay.

Have you recently filled out a fun quiz on Facebook designed to trick you into revealing personal data? Join the crowd. We have been mindlessly relinquishing our privacy, and are now paying the price. Sure, it’s nice to get birthday wishes from scores of friends (some whom you wouldn’t recognize if you tripped over them), but is it worth the tradeoff? Did you think Zuckerberg is letting you share photos of your cat out of the goodness of his heart?

Facebook is far from the only social media network profiting from your personal data, and monetizing personal information is nothing new. But when it is used for questionable purposes, and without our knowledge, a red line has been crossed.

Mining personal data affects everything in our lives, from getting a job or loan to being detained at an airport. Too many vital decisions are already made without our knowledge, input or consent. If we don’t demand laws mandating a ban on unauthorized data collection, we only have ourselves to blame.

Feel free to comment on this column. Just remember, I know where you live. Kidding! (Or am I?)


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Say Hello To My Little Staff

“My! People seem to come and go so quickly here!”  (Dorothy Gale, The Wizard of Oz).

You can’t quit, you’re fired! seems to be the new catchphrase of The Apprentice, White House edition. The number of those either quitting, reading termination tweets or being dragged kicking and screaming from the White House seems to have surpassed the number of trains departing Grand Central Station at rush hour.

Last week it was Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The week before was economic advisor Gary Cohn, and the week before that communications director Hope Hicks. Now rumored to be on his way out is national security advisor H.R. McMaster, although White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted “no changes at the NSC.” Which means McMaster should start packing his bags pronto.

Meanwhile, a trip down memory lane brings a tear to my eye. Remember Omarosa? Spicey? The Mooch? (no, I’m not talking about treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin, who allegedly flew with his wife at taxpayer expense to Fort Knox to view the solar eclipse. He’s still around).

As special counsel Robert Mueller draws the noose tighter, the sharper rats quickly scurry from the sinking White House ship. The Democrats shocking Congressional seat victory in a rock solid Republican Pennsylvania district last week was the canary in the coal mine for the GOP.

When Mueller releases the information he is methodically gathering (my bet is late fall), every Democrat in the U.S. will be lined up to vote at 6 a.m. Election Day. By January, a Congress of cowards who put party over patriotism will be history.

How will this all end? The last scene from Scarface, with Al Pacino as a raving Tony Montana, comes to mind. I see a defiant Trump stepping from the Oval Office, no one left at the White House to stand beside him except a quivering Stephen Miller, as the Feds charge up the stairs.

Trump bellows “Say hello to my little friend!”, but Miller has dived under the desk. Donnie Darko is now all alone, ranting about the great ratings this will receive, as the Feds drag him out.

As this plays out on live TV, a standing ovation fills American living rooms across the land. Ding dong, get your popcorn ready!


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St. Patrick’s Day Parade 2018: Pride and Tolerance

If you had the luck of the Irish

You’d be sorry and wish you were dead…

When John Lennon sang those biting lyrics in 1972, he was lamenting how the Irish suffered for decades under British rule and oppression. In the mid 19th century, the potato famine drove more than a million starving Irish from their homeland, seeking a better life in America.

Not that the Irish were in clover when they landed here. Newspaper classified ads read “No Irish need apply.” They were quickly branded as dirty, animalistic criminals stealing the jobs of real Americans. Sound familiar?

Cut to 2018. On Saturday, the Irish will march proud and free down 5th Avenue, in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, with millions watching and cheering on the sidelines and TV.

Organizers have grown more tolerant over the years, finally allowing a gay group to march under its own banner in 2015. While some hailed the decision, others grumbled, including Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, who called it “contemptible.” The parade continues to become more inclusive, despite complaints from those for whom tolerance seems to be a dirty word.

“The St. Patrick’s Day parade is a New York City tradition, but for years Irish LGBT New Yorkers could not show their pride,” said Bill de Blasio, who as mayor boycotted the parade until 2016. “Finally they can celebrate their heritage by marching in a parade that now represents progress and equality.”

The spirited and hopefully peaceful parade, which dates back to 1762, will run from 11 a.m. through 5 p.m., and can be viewed from 44th to 79th Streets on 5th Avenue.

For the Irish, as well as women, gays, immigrants and those of all religions and colors, the words of John F. Kennedy, our first Irish-Catholic president, still ring true: “I hope that every American, regardless of where he lives, will stop and examine his conscience…The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated.”

Or as Lennon sang: If you could keep voices like flowers

There’d be shamrock all over the world.

Sounds like a plan. Enjoy the parade!

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Melania & Isabelle: A Tale of Two Immigrants

The EB-1 visa program allows immigrants who’ve achieved greatness in their fields to live permanently in the United States. Nicknamed the “Einstein visa,” it is reserved for a special few with “extraordinary ability.”

Immigration expert Sarah Pierce of the Migration Policy Institute said that only the top 2 percent of people in their fields qualify, telling The Washington Post that the “quintessential award you want to put on the application is Nobel Prize.”

Melania Knauss didn’t earn one of those, but in 1998 she snagged a famous boyfriend. She met Donald Trump at a party and they began dating. Two years later, Knauss was featured on the cover of British GQ, photographed nude on a fur rug on Trump’s private jet.

Did the former Slovenian model, now first lady Melania Trump, qualify for the EB-1 “extraordinary ability” visa she got?

Then what about Isabelle Muhlbauer of Jackson Heights? Muhlbauer is a Dreamer, an immigrant who was brought here illegally and who attended Baruch College. She was an intern at Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s office of veterans affairs casework department.

She now works as a paralegal in the Veterans Assistance Project in the New York Legal Assistance Group, Muhlbauer told The New York Times. “I have the opportunity to work with a team that is committed to helping the low-income veteran population in NYC get access to the benefits they earned through their service.”

That is, if Muhlbauer isn’t deported. “I had hoped to attend law school to further advance my career in public interest law, but given the current uncertainty of what will happen with DACA, it’s become increasingly difficult to plan for the future,” she said.

The Supreme Court declined a request last week to immediately decide whether the Trump administration can end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects some 700,000 Dreamers from deportation. It gives Muhlbauer and thousands of other law-abiding people like her breathing room until Congress or the courts act to make the Dreamers’ status legal — or not.

Meanwhile, with a green card, Melania Trump was now able to petition for her parents, who are obtaining U.S. citizenship under what her husband disparages as “chain migration.”

What’s wrong with this picture?

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Compared to NY, Other States’ Gun Laws are Obscene

Florida lawmakers apparently think we are in more danger from Stormy Daniels than a disturbed teen storming a school with an assault weapon.

The same day it voted down a proposal to ban assault rifles (despite pleas of classmates of those gunned down in their Florida high school), the state’s House of Representatives voted last week to declare pornography a public health risk.

If you need another reason to be thankful you live in the New York metropolitan area, there you go. Is there any New Yorker, liberal, conservative or other, who thinks it’s less risky to face a deranged teen firing a semi-automatic weapon than watch Daniels’ “Big Busted Goddesses of Las Vegas?”

After the Sandy Hook school massacre, Connecticut lawmakers tightened the state’s gun laws, including expanding the definition of assault weapons and banning the sale of large capacity gun magazines. The rate of gun homicides in Connecticut has since dropped to record low levels, according to state data.

In the two weeks since the Parkland, Florida massacre, Gov. Rick Scott has proposed a couple of reforms of state law, but not a word about assault rifles. Meanwhile, the state remains intent on protecting its citizens from killer smut.

Am I saying we northerners are smarter than those in Florida and other states when it comes to common sense gun laws? Absolutely! According to the National Center for Health Statistics, Florida had 12.6 deaths per 100,000 population in 2016, almost tripling New York’s 4.4. Florida’s neighbors did even worse, with Alabama averaging more than 21 deaths per capita.

It’s not an accident. New York state law bans most assault weapons and large capacity magazines, and keeps a statewide database of firearms licenses.

As fellow lawmakers continue to ignore his state’s high gun death rate and instead “study” the evil effects of porn, one Florida state representative voiced disgust. “(We are) wasting our time with debate and legislation that declares porn as a health threat,” Carlos Guillermo Smith (D-Fla) told The Independent. “Meanwhile we can’t even get a single debate, vote or hearing on anything related to assault weapons.”

Yes, watching too much pornography can be harmful to your health. But I can’t recall the last death at a porn shoot.


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A Chill In South Florida

With all of its ex-New Yorkers, South Florida is referred to by some as the “sixth New York City borough.” Not quite.

In Florida for a break from the winter cold, I recently woke up to 80-degree sunshine. Later that day, there was horror. Seventeen people, mostly teenage students, were gunned down at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, not far from where I was staying.

The day after the shooting, I took a stroll down the street. A guy held up a large sign on the corner: “GUNS”

He pointed in the direction of the Palm Beach Shooting Association store in a nearby mall. I was buzzed in to the dark store, and asked the proprietor what I’d need to purchase a gun. He said that if I had a Florida driver’s license, I could have one in three days. If I had a concealed weapons license, he could get me a gun in 15 minutes.

Michele Epstein of Wellington, Florida, a mother of two and owner of a clothing boutique in Boynton Beach, thinks Florida gun laws are much too loose. “We have killings every day here,” she said. “We were looking for a house in Parkland, because of its safe community and schools. Now this happens. When is enough, enough?”

Unlike Florida and most other states, New York makes it difficult to obtain and carry a firearm. In 2011, only about 4,000 people had permits to carry concealed handguns in New York City, according to public records reviewed by The New York Times.

The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017 could alter that reality. The bill, which has passed the House of Representatives, would mandate that all states that issue concealed-carry permits or licenses allow people from other states to carry a concealed weapon if they qualify in their home state. Do we want those living in our “sixth borough” or any other area with permissive gun laws to bring their firearms to our streets?

For those who insist that little or nothing can be done about this, why do all other western nations have a fraction of the gun deaths we do, with no continual school shootings? Meanwhile, the National Rifle Association contributes generously to politicians who always offer “thoughts and prayers” for the children killed by gun violence — but never a single idea to stop the proliferation of guns.

My thoughts and prayers are that these political whores are voted out in November.

On my way back to the airport, I squinted at the guy still waving his “GUNS” sign. Chilling.

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On Presidents Day, Trump Dishonors Past Leaders

Monday is Presidents Day, established to honor George Washington, later adding Abraham Lincoln and all past presidents.

After leading the colonies to victory over the British and becoming our first president, Washington worked hard to set a template of fairness and integrity for commanders in chief. Unfortunately, President Donald Trump often disregards and dishonors Washington’s vision.

Washington helped establish our democracy, and appointed Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson and other capable leaders to the country’s first Cabinet.

Meanwhile, Trump bashes the news media, demeans the FBI and intelligence agencies, and appointed fawning toadies to his Cabinet. The 2017 video of Trump going around a conference table as his groveling appointees paid Soviet-style tribute to him still makes me cringe.

His latest notion is to hold a military parade on Pennsylvania Avenue. The fact that 89 percent of Military Times readers say no to the idea doesn’t seem to faze him.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), a former Army lieutenant colonel, tweeted: “We don’t live in a dictatorship or monarchy. I swore on an oath — in the military and the Senate — to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, not to mindlessly cater to the whims of Cadet Bone Spurs and clap when he demands I clap.”

North Korea’s Kim Jong Un had his uncle killed after he allegedly confessed to planning a coup and for half-hearted applause for Kim, according to the country’s news agency. Trump suggested some Democrats were “treasonous” because of their stony reaction to his State of the Union address. Of course, things like military parades take the focus off real acts of possible treason, like conspiring with Russia in the 2016 race.

If Trump truly cares about our military, he can use the money he’d waste on a Third World-style military parade to care for homeless vets. But if he forces his parade plans, perhaps we’ll get to see Trump review the troops in full military regalia, sporting gleaming medals for hugest lie or biggest ego.

Presidents Day is intended to honor past presidents and the democracy they defended. Unfortunately, Trump’s behavior often seems to undermine the nation’s principles.

Luckily, presidents come and go. American democracy is — hopefully — forever.

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Hot Pepper Challenge Makes Me Weep

Are you familiar with the ALS Pepper Challenge?

Last October, Patty Haberstroh of Westport, Connecticut, was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a progressive disorder that has no cure.

Aware that the Ice Bucket Challenge raised a good deal of money for ALS research in 2014, the Haberstroh family posted a video of themselves eating hot peppers on Christmas, and dared friends to do the same to raise cash for research.

Since then, several celebrities have accepted the challenge, including Shaquille O’Neal, who after chomping down on a hot pepper looked ready to weep. The initial goal of $50,000 was reached in January, and a new goal of $1 million was set. You can learn more about the challenge at

I salute those who participate and donate, but there’s something about it that makes me angry. Why do we have to torture ourselves to get adequate funding to research cures for deadly diseases?

Congressional “pork” projects regularly suck millions from the Treasury on wasteful endeavors. And a recent purchase of two new Air Force One refrigerators will cost taxpayers a mind-boggling $23.6 million.

Shouldn’t ALS and other serious diseases get the funding necessary to maximize research? What are our priorities? The United States could lose its place as the world leader in medical research, with spending down 13% from 2004 through 2014.

Will future humans look back at us the way we do Neanderthals? Is this the best we can do — desperately attempting to fund vital health research by dumping buckets of ice water on ourselves or eating burning-hot peppers?

The pepper challenge itself can be dangerous. In 2016, it was reported that a man who ate a superhot ghost pepper in a different contest burned a hole in his esophagus. Meanwhile, ALS sufferers pray for a cure.

“I’m fighting against time here,” Patty Haberstroh told People magazine. “The average life span from diagnosis is three to five years, and I pray those hot pepper eaters are raising enough money to find a cure for me and others before it is too late. It is truly an underfunded disease.”

Maybe it’s time to dump a bucket of ice water on the heads of those in Congress.

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Super Bowl Thrills for the Clueless

Sunday is Super Bowl LII — that’s 52 to those of you who don’t know Latin. The game will draw a humongous audience, but if you also don’t know much about football, why bother watching?

Here’s why: If you love hanging with family and friends, stuffing your face, gambling degenerately, or better yet, all three, you don’t have to know Tom Brady from Marcia Brady to have the time of your life.

The Super Bowl has become an unofficial national holiday, as American as pizza and guacamole, which will be consumed in obscene quantities, along with a gazillion gallons of beer, mountains of chicken wings and enough chili to gas up a fleet of Goodyear blimps.

Sure, lots of great grub, but shouldn’t you also cheer for a team, you ask?

The Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots are perhaps the two biggest enemies of our New York football squads, so how could you root for either one? Don’t! In fact, no need to even watch the game. Just socialize, pig out and place your bets. You can wager not only on the outcome, but also take part in one of those hundred-box pools. Don’t worry, it’s all luck, and the pool’s big winner always seems to be someone who has no idea what a touchdown is.

If having a betting interest gets your heart pumping, that’s only the beginning of the gambling fun, most of which has little to do with the game. For example, Las Vegas oddsmakers have set two minutes as the “over-under” for how long it will take Pink to sing the national anthem. No, I’m not making this up. If you put up $100 on her finishing in under two minutes, you will be screaming your lungs out at her to hurry it up if she embellishes singing “the land of the free.” Heart pounding action, and they haven’t even kicked off!

Such bets will be offered by Vegas and bookies nationwide throughout the game, right through to the end, when you can place a wager on the color of the Gatorade the winning team will dump on the coach’s head.

Yellow slime! Yes! I win! High five!

Who’s playing again?

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Are Devices Spying on Every Move You Make?

“Every breath you take, every move you make,

every bond you break,

every step you take,

I’ll be watching you.”

When Sting wrote this song in 1983, many thought he was describing an ex-lover who had turned into a creepy stalker. In 2018, are we inviting creepy electronic stalkers into our homes, schools, bedrooms and bathrooms?

At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this month, many of the hottest new gadgets regrettably included invasion-of-privacy aspects. From car monitors that detect where someone’s going, to brain-wave technology to see how much attention your child pays in school, the latest tech devices seem more than a bit ominous.

Depending on your views on parenting, such trackers might be useful or over the line. But do we really want technology that enables not only family members, but also quite possibly strangers and hackers, to know exactly where we are and what we’re doing — or thinking?

Is government Big Brother (or mom and dad, or a sleazy hacker) monitoring your every move? You might have an artificial intelligence device that activates on your verbal command — but it sometimes doesn’t wait.

Amazon Echo, Google Home and other state-of-the-art devices can deliver everything from your favorite song to a weather report. They also can listen to everything that goes on in your home. Amazon’s Echo Spot “smart alarm” comes with a camera, and would likely sit on a night table next to your bed. Now add one malicious hacker. Hello, you’re a porn star!

Sure, it’s amazing that apps on our smartphones can measure exactly how many steps we’ve taken and our exact location. But those giddy to get the latest technology rarely stop to consider the loss-of-privacy issue. While the advantages of these devices are clear, manufacturers often downplay the invasive downside.

Sometimes privacy violations are more subtle. A device called Buoy tracks water use in your home to detect leaks and save you money on bills. Sounds good, huh? But it can be quite specific. How long are you in the shower? How many times do you flush the toilet? How long do you wash your hands after you use it? You don’t? Come out with your hands up!

You’ve been warned.

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