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TSA officer faces dismissal over ‘get your freak on, girl’ note October 29, 2011

(CNN) — An airplane baggage screener faces dismissal for leaving a note in a passenger’s bag that said “Get Your Freak On, Girl” after discovering a vibrator.

The Transportation Security Administration “has initiated action to remove the individual from federal service,” an agency spokesperson said. “Like all federal employees, this individual is entitled to due process and protected by the Privacy Act. During the removal action process, the employee will not perform any screening duties.”

The agency randomly selects checked baggage for screening on flights originating in the United States. Lawyer and writer Jill Filipovic tweeted a picture of the note Monday and later blogged about it on Feministe.

“This is what TSA will do when they inspect a bag you checked and find a, um, ‘personal item,’ ” she wrote. “Total violation of privacy, wildly inappropriate and clearly not OK, but I also just died laughing in my hotel room.”

The TSA identified and removed the employee from screening operations, the TSA said Wednesday on its blog. After completing an investigation, action was initiated to remove the individual from federal service.

“TSA views the handwritten note to be highly inappropriate and unprofessional and apologizes for this unfortunate incident,” the spokesperson said. “TSA has zero tolerance for inappropriate behavior by our employees as occurred in this instance. When this is brought to our attention TSA takes swift and appropriate action.”

An agency official reached out to Filipovic to apologize personally, the agency said. At this point, though, she said she wishes the story would go away.

“It’s easy to scapegoat one individual here, but the problem with the note is that it’s representative of the bigger privacy intrusions that the U.S. government, through the TSA and other sources, levels every day,” she wrote Wednesday after learning of the employee’s suspension.

“As much as this is a funny and titillating story, when I put the note on Twitter for what I thought was a relatively limited audience, I was hoping it would open up a bigger conversation about privacy rights (or lack thereof) in post-9/11 America. It unfortunately hasn’t done that, and instead has turned into a media circus,” she said.

“The note was inappropriate, the agent in question acted unprofessionally when s/he put in my bag, there should be consequences and I’m glad the TSA takes these things seriously. But I get no satisfaction in hearing that someone may be in danger of losing their job over this. I would much prefer a look at why ‘security’ has been used to justify so many intrusions on our civil liberties, rather than fire a person who made a mistake.”


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US supreme court stays out of gun rights debate October 3, 2011

The US supreme court has refused to consider whether an individual’s right to own guns includes carrying a firearm outside the home – staying out of one of the nation’s most divisive social, political and legal issues.

The justices let stand a ruling by Maryland’s highest court that upheld a state law prohibiting the carrying of a handgun without a permit outside of one’s home.

The court turned down the opportunity to define the reach of its landmark 2008 ruling that the constitutional right to keep and bear arms applies to individuals, and allows them to use guns for lawful purposes such as self-defence in the home.

The supreme court ruled in 2010 that gun rights applied not just to federal laws, but to state and city laws as well. The court’s rulings in the gun cases have been closely divided, by 5-4 votes and split along conservative and liberal lines.

Gun rights has long been a contentious issue. The United States has the world’s highest civilian gun ownership rate, with 90m Americans owning an estimated 200m guns.

At issue in the new case from Maryland is whether that right extends to carrying a gun outside the home. The supreme court without comment rejected an appeal by Charles Williams, who was convicted of unlawful gun possession.

Williams bought his handgun legally from a licensed dealer in August 2007, but never applied for a permit.

A police officer from Prince George’s County in October 2007 Williams standing behind a bus stop, pulling items out of a book bag near the woods.

When asked what he had hidden in the bushes, Williams replied: “My gun.”

The officer then retrieved the handgun, a black Glock with 15 rounds in the magazine.

Williams, who had been transporting the gun from his girlfriend’s house to his residence, was convicted of violating a state law prohibiting the wearing, carrying or transporting of a firearm in public without a permit.

He was sentenced to three years in prison, with all but one year suspended, and to three years of probation.

Stephen Halbrook, an attorney for Williams, said in the appeal that the supreme court so far has only ruled on the right to keep a handgun in the home, but argued the right also existed outside the home.

Maryland attorney general Douglas Gansler opposed the appeal. He defended the state law and said it protected an individual’s right to have a handgun in the home and carry one on the street with a permit.

The supreme court case is Charles Williams v. Maryland, No. 10-1207.

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What Makes You Trust Anyone’s Investment Advice? September 30, 2011

Mitch Tuchman

It is well documented in surveys and studies by financial institutions that when we seek investment help, we make choices based upon one major criterion: trust. It all boils down to this one word. Who is giving me the advice? Can I trust them? 

If you are a hard-core do-it-yourself investor who loves to day-trade, you may trust the Motley Fool or the Daily Options Trader based upon the success of their recommendations. If you delegate your investing, you may trust your friend’s son who works at Smith Barney. You know, the one who got his Wharton MBA and plays with your kids.

[In Pictures: 6 Numbers Every Investor Should Follow.]

Conmen and Ponzi scheme operators know how to get our trust by playing with our fears and our greed. The SEC knows it can’t regulate trust, but it does regulate how advisors engender it. Thanks to laws from the 1930s, an investment advisor cannot advertise testimonials from other clients. That’s why you never see advertisements showing celebrities like Oprah crowing, “Joe Morningstar is my favorite money manager! He helped me buy this estate in Maui!” In fact, social networks are panicking many investment advisors today. We wonder: If a client “likes” you on Facebook, is he endorsing your service and leaving you open to an SEC investigation?

We may look at past performance from mutual funds for trust. But this has been proven fallacious at best; thus the fine print noting that “past performance is no indication of future results.” And as we’ve written many times, the game of performance reporting is rigged. A bad mutual fund can buy up a high-performing one and just assume the latter’s track record.

[See In Pictures: 20 Funds That Have Weathered Downturns.]

But when it gets down to it, we must trust someone or something before handing over our dough.

Unfortunately, most investors fly blindly without ever thinking through the question of, “Who should earn my trust and why?” We continually encounter investors who own a variety of mutual funds, pay enormous fees, and have no idea that they are engaged in “active” investing. They believe that if they are buying products from a large institution, then they’ll achieve their goals. We meet investors who have delegated managing their money to an individual because he was on the Barron’s “Top Financial Advisors” list.  Others find status by being able to say, “I’m a Goldman client.”   

Giving our trust is a complex emotional dynamic that we’ll leave to the shrinks to articulate. But what can we learn about trust from the smartest investors in the world? Do the trustees of Yale sit with prospective hedge fund managers, look them in the eye, and then have a discussion about who has better eye contact and a more confident handshake? No. They develop investment trust, not by emotions or instincts, but through a logical evaluation of three dimensions in the following order:

1. The process. First and foremost, smart investors invest with an investment methodology. They adhere to a philosophical approach that they believe to be true about investing. For instance, Warren Buffett fans believe in buying out-of-favor, inefficiently priced stocks and holding them until everyone else changes their opinion. At MarketRiders, we focus on finding the right asset allocation and then recommending low-cost ETFs and a consistent rebalancing protocol. Vanguard fund owners have generally bought into the idea that low fees will make them more money, so they like passive investing instead of active investing. Whether or not you know anything about investing, you need to spend some time learning about the various investing “religions” and developing your own point of view.

[See Why You Should Give ETFs a Try.]

2. The institution. Institutions come and go, as we’ve seen with Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns. A “Wall Street Legacy” is an oxymoron. The names come and go. But doing business with a firm with a culture and track record of delivering on your process is nonetheless vitally important. The firm needs to be solid and have checks and balances and high standards of compliance. Why does Vanguard have over a trillion dollars under management? Because Jack Bogle’s original vision to help working Americans by building a not-for-profit organization has remained intact. Vanguard continually lowers its fees as it adds assets, and it adheres to its process of passive investing. 

3. The person. If you have a belief in an investment process and have found an institution that embraces that process, then trusting the individual with whom you work becomes the last piece of the equation. You can make sure the individual has not been sanctioned by regulators and ask for background information. But make this is the last piece, not the first, for establishing trust. Trusting people and institutions before you’ve first developed a core belief about investing gets the whole thing backwards. Spend the time to understand the various investment philosophies and then develop your own point of view. Then look for people and institutions to help you implement it.

Mitch Tuchman is CEO and founder of MarketRiders, an online investment advisory and management service helping Americans invest for retirement. MarketRiders gives investors greater peace of mind knowing that they are leveraging the best thinking of Nobel Laureates and the investing methods used by the world’s most elite institutions and wealthiest families. MarketRiders is on the investor’s side, helping reduce investment costs and risks, and increasing retirement savings.

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