RJ's Corner

About Apple’s Campus 2

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When Steve Jobs presented his proposal for a new Apple campus to the Cupertino City Council back in 2011, he had one aim: to create the best office building in the world.

via 16 facts about Apple’s Campus 2 – Tech Insider.

If you are interested in architecture or forward looking building I would highly recommend that you click on the source above to see all the info about the new Apple campus being build. It is going to be a place almost beyond imagination but being from Apple that is not too surprising.

I have included a couple of pictures here to entice you to the original URL.

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Rich people have nowhere to put their money. This is a serious problem.

2016-01-24_08-58-34.pngThese facts are being treated as grand mysteries by most commentators. But may I invoke Occam’s Razor and suggest the simplest explanation is the right one: There’s not enough stuff going on in the economy that’s worth investing in.

As the amount of money in the financial markets grows compared to the amount of worthwhile investments, it’s like having more and more rich people standing on a shrinking platform. Of course financial markets become more volatile, and begin panicking in response to what would have seemed, in earlier decades, like no big deal. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the era of rising inequality and massive shareholder payouts has also been the era of rapidly rising and wildly swinging stock markets

SOURCE: Rich people have nowhere to put their money. This is a serious problem..

I like the picture of “more and more rich people standing on a shrinking platform” maybe because eventually some will fall off and finally realize how the rest of us live.  Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t have any animosity towards towards people making money. While I am not rich by many standards I do have enough to live comfortably in my chosen lifestyle of simplicity.

I do agree that there is just not enough stuff going on in the economy that’s worth investing in. If it doesn’t have something to do with terrorists or our military it is just not getting any attention now days. No potential jobs producers seem to want to risk their capital on something that is not a sure thing. In that regard they seem as fearful as the population in general. We just now seem to be a very risk averse country for the most part.

With the Feds holding interest rates at essentially zero does not invoke a sense of venturing into new territories. Interest rates near zero was not something that most, including myself, envisioned when we retired. I worked hard and lived a simple life during my earlier years so I could have a satisfying and secure retirement. When I retired interest rates were around 5% and been pretty much there for many years.  And then the Feds took that away. There is just no safe place to put my earnings now except under the proverbial “pillow”. I’m not rich but even I don’t have any thing to do with my hard-earned gains from the employment years.

So, the super-rich 1%ers are essentially putting their money under their pillows and that doesn’t do the rest of us any good …

 

Shared Equity vs Pure Capitalism…

But, first, let’s look at an unusual way of running a business, by having your employees own the company. One popular craft brewery has made a name for itself in part by going that route, with strong results so far….

One of things that we think is a big societal issue is this widening gap between the haves and the have-nots. And we realized that we had an opportunity to support people owning something that was increasing in value. Shared equity has been an incredibly powerful engine for us….

The better I do, the better we do, and I personally take that to every day of my job, and it really does inspire us all to go above and beyond in a way that I haven’t experienced at other employers….

Source: Brewery workers pour their hearts into business when given a stake

Shared equity vs pure capitalism is a very thought provoking idea to me. Especially in the circumstances where we find that today’s capitalism returns are overwhelmingly skewed to the top 1% of our citizens. It is just not being shared by the people who are actually creating the wealth as it once was.  Will shared equity become the new capitalism in the future?  I can only hope so; it would indeed solve many of the social issues of our times.

In my day “the three legged stool” was the symbol for a successful enterprise. The three legs were Owner/Employees/Customers. Each had equal weight in corporate prosperity. If something is beneficial to all three then it was quickly implemented.  Over the years the Customer leg has been shortened. If something can be made for a penny less and the product will still last at least through its warranty period it is cost reduced. Product longevity and quality is missing from far to many capitalist institutions.

The Employee leg of the stool has been ruthlessly amputated. As profits rise they are never shared by those who generate them. In fact brutal downsizing has become the mantra. The median income for U.S. families has actually decreased significantly while profits sour.

The only leg getting attention now is the Owner or stockholder. He is the king of capitalism as shown by the massive increase in wealth of the ultra-rich in our society. It seems the only way to straighten out the three legs is to make the employees the owners. With shared equity another thing that diminishes is the constant need to grow profits. The new owners will usually be satisfied with a constant income and not be obsessed with more and more. It is obvious that many business fail because they tried to grow too fast.

Our industrial society started out as a cottage  industry. Small businesses were built based on local needs. Maybe it is time to start heading back in that direction. If you ask me “Too Big To Fail” is a formula for the implosion of capitalism. How to make shared equity once again happen is the question of the day.  The first answer is probably to force  politicians to join Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in realizing that shared equity appears to be our only viable future.

 

Its Called The Government..

A healthy society needs to provide people with health care coverage, retirement income, unemployment insurance, and paid time off, among other things. For a long time now, America has relied on employers to pony up many of these benefits on their own. But there’s increasing pressure throughout the economy to break that link, and allow more flexibility into the contracts and relationships between employers and employees.
So a group of minds …  think we need some sort of alternative: a structure, separate from any individual employer, that can provide workers with all those benefits, and allow them to carry them uninterrupted from job to job. The Washington Post reported that this group has put together a statement of principles.
But here’s the thing: Our society already has an institution that fulfills all these requirements. One that can provide workers benefits from retirement income to health coverage to paid leave, that can muster the resources to do so, and that can do all this completely independent from all employers.
It’s called the government….

But having the government take over the burden of many of these benefits would clearly offer employers more freedom, so it seems fair to restrict their freedom somewhat in this other area. Flexibility isn’t the only goal, and entrepreneurs don’t have some God-given right to try out any business model they want.

No one’s wringing their hands over the business model flexibility that America squashed by outlawing child labor, after all.

Source: Why America’s sharing economy needs a massive expansion of the welfare state

The premise of helping business by taking most of the responsibilities of caring for their workers away from them just makes pragmatic sense to me. Even our constitution says it is the governments job to “provide for the general welfare” of its citizens. So, what it the problem? I think basically it is because there is a significant portion of our population that just don’t care about the general welfare of our citizens. Especially the ones they don’t know.  To them it is all about their selfishness, some might call it greed, for more and more and of course that can only come by taking away from others.

Believe it or not the rest of the world knows things that we are yet to learn. If only we would take their examples and implement them our country would be much better off.  But instead we take this macho stand that if it is not invented here then it is not worth any effort to accomplish.  The “not invented here” syndrome is very dominant in this country.

Yes we are the leaders in this world in so many things but that doesn’t mean that others can never have better ideas than us. Once we get over that idea we can’t learn from the rest of the world and be better than we are…

The public shaming of America’s CEOs

2015-09-13_11-55-33This shame game just might rein in CEO pay where previous attempts have failed, said Gretchen Morgenson at The New York Times. Once the pay gap is boiled down to an “easily graspable and often decidedly shocking number,” employees and consumers might actually protest, and red-faced corporate boards will be forced to act. As soon as the outlandish ratios begin coming out, we’ll hear from “corporate apologists” that CEOs earn their megamillions, because they deliver impressive returns just like “star baseball players or movie stars,” said Robert Reich at Huffington Post. “Baloney.” The stock market has surged so much over the past three decades, and corporate tax rates have become so generous, that a CEO could have “played online solitaire” all day long and still watched the company’s share price soar

Source: The public shaming of America’s CEOs.

The rhetoric behind CEO pay has become so inflamed that I doubt it is possible to shame them into getting less pay as suggested above.  The basic problem is that these guys think they actually deserve the millions handed over to them.  Most of their egos are so large that they think they are the saviors of their industries.

Carly Fiorina who is currently running for president is a good example of that.  Before she left AT&T for her brief stay at HP she made a decision to move the business unit that I had worked in for almost thirty years.  She decided to put it in a joint-venture with a foreign company.  To us on the inside it became totally obvious that this merger was a huge mistake. The cultural clash that resulted basically brought down the unit and it was sold to a Chinese manufacturer for pennies on the dollar within two years of Carly’s great insight.

She then went on to likewise almost destroy HP. Her decision to buy another computer manufacturer was flawed from the very beginning and most everyone knew it from the get-go. But like a true huckster she manages to find a statistic here or there to seemingly say she made wise decisions.  With the CEO label attached to her name Carly now thinks she can run the country better than anyone else. The tragic thing about it is that some actually fall for her hype.  Her golden parachute was more than $40 million so she has plenty of money to spend on her grandiose scheme to become the leader of the free world.

The basic problem with the entire corporate leadership structure in this country it that it is almost entirely managed by a very small group. They are all, for the most part, CEOs themselves and serve on each others boards. The old saying “you scratch my back and I will scratch yours” is the current mantra for corporate America today.

Since most stock today is now in the hands of mutual funds companies who themselves are made up of lavishly provided corporate heads it is almost impossible for any small group of investors to effect a change in this structure. Somethings got to change to reign in CEO pay and parachutes, I just don’t know that it is…

I am that not so smart wise guy in this area…

Apple Live TV ….

2015-08-15_08-09-49Apple Inc. customers waiting for the company to revolutionize live television as it did for music and phone service will have to keep waiting, at least until next year.

Source: Apple to delay live TV service to 2016 – Yahoo Finance.

It is amazing how so few companies can change our culture so dramatically.  Apple is certainly one of them.  They revolutionized the music business so quickly. Gone are the black disks of my generation and now even tapes, CDs, DVDs, and record stores.  Amazon is another who is shaking up the retail business. Where locally there are hundreds of choices, Amazon offers thousands and delivers them within two days to you doorstep.  Yes, I know that there are some who work for these companies that are overwhelmed by the intensity of effort that it takes to achieve excellence in their field. Those who give their customers top priority thrive while others with different ones fall by the wayside.

I hope Apple is able to revolutionize TV service and we are able to choose what we want to pay for instead of being forced to choose a pre-packaged list. I imagine like the video stores this will happen faster than many are ready for. Customer is king and that is the way it should be in a free market economy…

The Disparity of Benefits… And a Possible Solution…

2015-08-14_09-13-12SEATTLE — Microsoft said on Wednesday that it would offer new parents an additional eight weeks of paid time off from their jobs at the company, in a significant boost to its parental leave benefits.

Microsoft’s changes to its policy came a day after Netflix, the online video service, said it would allow new mothers and fathers who are employees to take as much paid time off as they need during the first year after the birth or adoption of a child. The more generous policies are a way to hold onto employees, particularly the highly skilled technical workers who are in extremely high demand in the booming tech industry.

Source: Following Netflix, Microsoft Sweetens Parental Leave Benefits – The New York Times.

I know that companies that value their employees and recognize their worth generally give them benefits in order to keep them with the company. They typically allocated a certain percentage of their profits into this arena. Profits are the main, some say only, priority for many so they sparingly deal out benefits.

The problem with the current method of allocating benefits is that they are often only applicable to certain employees. For those who are beyond child-bearing years and those who choose something other than a married lifestyle the above benefits mean nothing to them.   It is kind of like those of us who are childless having to pay such a high percentage of our property taxes to send other kids through public education. We see no personal value to where all our dollars go.

There seems to be a great disparity of who gets benefits.  The solution to this problem is too obvious. Why not offer a cafeteria type choice of what benefits you receive? Give every employee a certain percentage of their income to the benefits pool and let them decide where to allocate the money.   Those who are childless might spend it on additional vacation time. For those with school age children they might take shorter hours in order to pick up their kids from school. For others something different.  Let the employee decide which benefits they want.

Companies, at least when I was working, made a big point of “empowering” employees to make their own decisions. That is the excuse, and I do mean excuse, they use to forcing their them off fixed benefit pensions and putting all the risk of financial planning on them even though most are totally unprepared for that task.

Cord-Cutting Gets Ugly: U.S. Pay-TV Sector Drops 566,000 Customers in Q2

2015-08-09_07-58-34Cord-cutting headaches for pay TV have now progressed beyond just a dull, throbbing pain.

Cable, satellite and telco TV companies suffered their worst-ever quarterly subscriber declines for the three months ended June 30, collectively shedding more than half a million accounts — an accelerating erosion that’s put new pressure on operators and media companies exposed in the pay-TV biz.

Source: Cord-Cutting Gets Ugly: U.S. Pay-TV Sector Drops 566,000 Customers in Q2.

QE BannerLater in this article one of the TV execs say that the customer should be the focus of this trend and not the corporate plan or such. Maybe they would like my opinion but I kind of doubt that they will get it.  I’m sure I am not alone in my feelings about Pay-TV.

If these guys want to save their jobs they need to understand that they should not be the ones who determine how they package their channels.  I shamefully admit that I pay more than $125 per month for Direct TV.  But since the average bill is over $100 I guess I am not the only fool who originally bought into the $29.95 mantra they advertise.  With that $100+ comes about 400 channels of which “sports” channels make up at least 100 of them. Another 50 or so are probably infomercials. I wonder if anyone actually watches those.

My wife is into several channels that I don’t watch and I am into some, like my car shows, that she doesn’t watch. And 80% of the offered list neither of us ever watch. Sports in any form is just something that we don’t view. They say that over half the pay-tv providers content expenses are for the sports shows.

Getting back to what this customer, and I’m sure there are many others like me, wants is an ala carte method of picking what I want to pay for. I’m sure I could cut my bill in half with a pick-and-choose method. But I guess that is maybe one of the reasons they don’t offer it. They would lose revenue. But what is worse a customer who spends half as much or a customer who leaves them entirely?

Corporations just don’t seem to give the customer the attention they used to in the good old days. I know you have been waiting for this old guy to mention the good old days. Actually I don’t do that often but to some degree it is true.

Finishing up this post with a different thought, it seems strange that AT&T would buy DirecTV this past week if their revenue is falling so drastically. But, as in the past, AT&T often does things that confuse me and I worked for them my entire corporate life. They threw away the cellphone business in the 80’s because it didn’t have growth potential! Then, of course, they panicked when it did and played catch-up for years.  But that was the old AT&T before the break-up so I shouldn’t put that on the current leadership I guess….

Question everything..

 

You still use a landline? FCC voting on new phone rules

Some customers, consumer advocates and the telephone-workers union accuse the phone companies of not repairing copper networks that they want to shut down. The new rules would prohibit companies from retiring a copper network through neglect. If it wants to abandon copper, it would need to tell customers.

SOURCE: You still use a landline? FCC voting on new phone rules – Yahoo News.

2015-08-07_20-41-30QE BannerThis was a new one on me. I didn’t know that the phone companies could retire copper lines through neglect.  I guess when that happens they just leave it up to you to try to figure a way to get another source of communications.  For the city folks that is not a problem but for us in the country the copper wire is just about the only option.

We have a five-hundred pair cable strung across our front yard. At points between us and the central office it droops down to within two feet of the ground. I guess you can call that neglect? We do have a “DSL” with that wire but not according to the recent definition. Ours is at about 2Mpbs whereas in the city it is now approaching 25 Mpbs and in the “big city” it is at 2015-08-07_20-44-08600 Mpbs! Our connection goes out at least once every hour for a minute or so. We have complained about it but they say since we are at the max distance from them for DSL that is the best they will do. It seems if we complain about it they will just drop our service!

I hope the new FCC rules going into effect as indicated in the source article above help us in some way but I kind of doubt it.  All of our neighbors to the north of us are stuck with 0.05 Mpbs via dial-up. No, cable is not available here either. We have satellite but that does not provide Internet. I know part of the things AT&T had to do in order to get the DirectTV merger done is to add more fiber networks but I’m sure those will go to more dense neighborhoods than we are in the rural areas. I’m just hanging on to what the give us hoping that someday they will throw a few more scraps off their city table…

Meet the new workers’ movement that is terrifying the wealthy and the powerful

2015-03-30_09-35-17They aren’t actually anything new, just a variation on long-standing labor-organizing practices that have come back into prominence. “Micro union” is a recently coined term of art for bargaining units that encompass one category of workers at a business — the cosmetics workers at a Macy’s, for example — instead of the more traditional model of organizing all the workers for the business into one single bargaining unit. In 2011, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decided a group of certified nursing assistants at a nursing home constituted an appropriate bargaining unit in themselves, in a decision called Specialty Healthcare. In 2013, that decision got the stamp of approval from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. In 2014, the NLRB applied its logic to the aforementioned Macy’s cosmetics workers. Since then, union critics and business interests have been scrambling to respond. Retail industry groups told The Hill that the NLRB’s Macy’s decision would “pave the way for micro unions at thousands of retail stores around the country.” Isakson has made multiple attempts to pass his bill rolling back NLRB’s decisions, with the backing of GOP heavy-hitters like Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

SOURCE: Meet the new workers’ movement that is terrifying the wealthy and the powerful.

Micro-breweries are quite the rage right now and I admit I am one of their fans.  When we travel I often order local beers when I come across them. It is nice to see these types of cottage-industries rising up again. It is even nicer to see the micro trends more to work unions. One of the big problems with unions in the last half century or so is that they just grew too powerful for their own good.  They quit looking out for the workers and instead become just anti-owner organizations.

You don’t need giant unions to help you get your fair share from an employer. micro-unions seem to be a natural evolution in employee-employer relationships. But the thing that will make micro-unions effective is that all workers in an indirect way support the right of an employee to address grievances with their employer. They do that by not frequenting establishments that lord it over their workers. They do it by not rushing in to snap up a job after a worker has been fired.  Money talks…

The sad thing in the last few decades is that American business have been thriving with increased sales but not sharing their prosperity with the ones who generate it. We seem to be a owner-society now. Those with the money demand more and more of the pie. I hope micro-unions will reverse this trend…

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