The Next Step

Amazon is growing in leaps and bounds so it just makes sense that they start their own air delivery system both big and small. In order to control costs end-to-end processes are required and that is just what Amazon is doing.

2016-08-05_07-36-34SEATTLE (AP) — Seattle-based Amazon is unveiling its first branded cargo plane, one of 40 jetliners that will make up the e-commerce giant’s own air transportation network as it takes more control of its delivery process.

Source: Amazon unveils cargo plane as it expands delivery network – Business Insider

I have been a pretty constant Amazon customer for the past 15 years or so.  I wish I could say that I have also been a stockholder for that period but this seems to be another example of lost opportunities for me.  :)  I simply like the convenience of getting what I need without gassing up the car and driving the 45 miles round trip to most stores. The variety of goods that Amazon now carries is astounding and seems to grow daily.

I am convinced that Amazon is the next paradigm shift in how we get much of what we need. Maybe clothes, a high touch item, and food are not totally compliant with remote sales but Amazon is even testing those areas.  It seems inevitable that they will be the Walmart of the 21st century in that they will dominate the consumer retail sales.  For them to become number one means Walmart will have to shrink and that will mean lost jobs at many rural locations where jobs are needed the most. But since Walmart is pretty much a minimum wage employer not as much is lost as is gained in  areas where Amazon builds regional fulfillment centers. I just checked the Amazon regional center near me and it appears that they pay about $12 to $14/hour compared to Walmart’s $7 – $11/hour.  I know that Amazon has a reputation of expecting their employees to perform at fully involved levels that are not comfortable for some. I also know that their centers are highly automated.

Amazon is one of those forward thinking companies that is just not satisfied with the status quo. They are even investigating drone delivery to locations close to their centers. Is all this a good thing?  I guess it depends on your point of view doesn’t it?

Innovation…

The main crux of this post is about whether a company can remain innovative as it ages. I want to use Sears and Amazon as study points. Being a U.S. history buff I can’t help but draw a parallel between Sears in the early 20th century and Amazon a hundred years later.  Here with the help of Wiki here is a little history of Sears:

2016-07-17_15-51-55.png Farmers did business in small rural towns. Before the Sears catalog, farmers typically bought supplies (often at high prices and on credit) from local general stores with narrow selections of goods.   Prices were negotiated, and depended on the storekeeper’s estimate of a customer’s creditworthiness. Sears took advantage of this by publishing catalogs offering customers a wider selection of products at clearly stated prices. The business grew quickly. The first Sears catalog was published in 1888.   By 1895, the company was producing a 532-page catalog. Sales were greater than $400,000 in 1893 and more than $750,000 two years later. …

In 1993, Sears terminated its famous general merchandise catalog because of sinking sales and profits…

Source: Sears – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The parallels between Amazon and Sears startups are quite striking.  Jeff Bezos started the company in 1995 with the idea to sell books on-line. It quickly grew in both sales and product offerings so that today it is by far the number one retailer on-line.

2016-07-17_15-53-10.pngAccording to recent industry figures, Amazon is the leading e-retailer in the United States with more than 107 billion U.S. dollars in 2015 net sales. The majority of the company’s revenues are generated through the sale of electronics and other products, followed by media and other activities. As of the fourth quarter of 2015, the e-retailer reported more than 304 million active customer accounts worldwide. Due to Amazon’s global scope and reach, it is also considered one of the most valuable brands worldwide.

Source: Amazon – Statistics & Facts | Statista

One of the striking things about Amazon beside their explosive product line is the speed at which they deliver their products. For $79/year you can get unlimited 2 day delivery at no cost.  I must admit I am a major customer who places orders probably 30+ times a year for the last several years.

Because it wasn’t available on-line I recently ordered a drawer unit for my micro-RV remodel from Sears.  I was told that it would take 2 – 3 weeks for delivery. In Amazon time which is now the norm for me that is an outrageously long. Somewhere along the line Sears just lost their innovative edge. The Sears store in Bloomington just closed down so now I have to travel about 50 miles to pick up my cabinet.  It is either that or pay $70 to have it delivered!

I find it ironic that just as Sears was terminating their catalog sales a young Jeff Bezos was planning on starting one on-line.  For 2015 Sears revenue decreased by $6.1 billion to $25 billion while Amazon revenues were $107 billion.   I wonder what would have happened in 1993 if Sears had decided to aggressively take their catalog on-line instead of abandoning it?  I am personally convinced that on-line sales is the wave of the future.  Why do I need to get in the car, drive to a store, and lug my purchases home when all I have to do instead is just click a few buttons and in two days it appears on my doorstep.

When Robots Make Cars….

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I know that robots have taken over many of the repetitive tasks from us humans. Many see that as stripping jobs away from those who don’t care to otherwise be ready for today’s workforce.  The mind-numbing jobs are being taken over my mindless robots and that is as it should be. Let’s take auto manufacturing as an example:

  • Robots don’t make mistakes... They do the same thing over and over again because that is all they are programmed to do.
  • Robots don’t know Monday from Friday…. They don’t take their eye off the task at hand because they are still remembering the weekend or are anticipating the coming one.
  • Robots can do the same thing over and over with the same accuracy…. Not only do they not make mistakes but they do what they are programmed to do with extreme accuracy. They simply don’t have other distractions on their minds.

Let’s face it, compared to today’s cars, the cars of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s were junk. The fit and finish were terrible and the lemons made because of absent minded defects were very troublesome to those who were unfortunate enough to get them. Humans just never did a good job of making cars.

So where does that leave us humans? For those unprepared for anything else but mindless  assembly line work it leaves them with flipping hamburgers or other low skilled work  that were once meant as entry type jobs. But for those willing to put in the effort to equip themselves with the necessary skills it leaves them with opportunity. Many young people today are taking that opportunity but many are not. Some think they are not smart enough to learn, some just can’t afford it. The later needs our help but then again so does the former.

We need to make higher education more affordable, if not free, for anyone who wants to improve themselves.  Free high school education has been the norm now for many decades and now its time to kick that up a notch to at least two years of free trade school or college.

For those who don’t think they are smart enough we need to do a better job of encouraging them. We need to make learning as important to them as high school sports are now.  Part of that is a teacher thing but the biggest share belongs to the parents.

 

Tax Breaks in “Hopes” of Getting Something in Return..

I just wish I could vote for Elizabeth Warren for president this year.  She is what we really need right now to reign in the capitalist greed that is overtaking our society.  It troubles me to no end that both parties in our political process pander to the current process of giving massive tax breaks to corporation in “hopes” of getting something in return.   Elizabeth Warren would definitely shake up the status quo in that realm.

Here are some important words about this topic:

2016-03-24_13-52-12

The major multinationals complain about a tax problem that most citizens would love to have for themselves: Thanks to a loophole in the tax code, the companies do not have to pay US taxes on profits they have earned in foreign countries until they bring the money home to American shores. Altogether, the globalized US companies have accumulated $2.1 trillion in untaxed profits, most of it parked in overseas tax havens.

To put it plainly, this trade-off is certain to worsen income inequality, because the money goes to the very people—shareholders and corporate execs—who have already done fabulously well at the expense of other Americans.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, as she often does, found the right words to describe this transaction. She called it “a giant wet kiss for the tax dodgers.” Warren and Senator Sanders have repeatedly charged that the system is rigged. What’s particularly outrageous about this new rigging of the tax code is that even though the politicians are engineering it in the midst of a presidential election, most voters don’t have a clue…

Back in 2004, when President George W. Bush was running for re-election and John Kerry was his opponent, they agreed upon a similar proposition. Both were snookered, but it was ordinary citizens who were really screwed. The measure was called the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004, and companies repatriated $362 billion at a reduced tax rate of 5.25 percent.

Then they walked away from the jobs promise. In fact, the largest companies killed jobs after they got the money—some 60,000 jobs—moving them overseas to low-wage, low-tax countries. They used their windfall to boost stock prices and thereby enrich investors and CEOs. Now the same crowd is planning a rerun, counting on the wayward press to maintain public ignorance.

SOURCE:  Democrats and Republicans Are Quietly Planning a Corporate Giveaway—to the Tune of $400 Billion | The Nation.

2016-03-24_13-22-15.pngWhy can’t we as a country learn from our mistakes. It seem that after the 2004 debacle we should be changing the laws to prevent a tax loop hole that benefits only a very  small portion of our citizenry. Yes, I know that it is not too late to close the door and protect what we have not already lost.  Left unabated there will be many more jobs moved to low income countries and it will likely not stop until there are no low-income jobs left. What happens then??

This situation is the prime reason for the Trump phenomenon we are experiencing today. No one in the established parties (except for Warren) seems to get it.  Giving corporate America massive tax breaks without demanding something in return is a fool’s mission. Profits are number one in that world and there is no number 2.

 

 

About Apple’s Campus 2

2016-01-04_08-12-55.png

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.

2016-01-04_08-13-35.png2016-01-04_08-13-56.png

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…

Going After the Money…. We Can’t..

Made in China - inscription on Red Rubber Stamp.In this age of electronic banking the way to shut down any organization is to go after their access to money. It looks like that is just what is currently happening with North Korea at least to an extent.

“We need to step up and target those financial institutions in Asia and beyond that are supporting the brutal and dangerous North Korean regime.” When challenged by Royce about “a number of small banks” still doing business with North Korea and the need to choke off the country’s access to hard currency, Glaser replied: “That’s exactly what we are trying to do.” Royce said he hoped a bipartisan bill he sponsored that would label North Korea “a primary money laundering concern” would be passed by the Senate this year…. The country’s main economic ties are with China and, according U.S. government reports, its tiny economy has supported itself with money-making scams ranging from counterfeiting $100 bills to illicit arms and drug sales. SOURCE:  U.S. takes aim at North Korea’s remaining financial links – Yahoo News.

Being a simple guy I just can’t understand how we can give China so much power over our day-to-day lives when they support those who would love to see us annihilated from this earth. I don’t know about you but it seems everything I buy almost anywhere today comes with a “Made in China” tag. It is about time we started putting conditions on transferring our wealth to that country. Millions of good paying jobs have disappeared to be resurrected in mainland China at pennies on the dollar and the primary purpose is to provide more profits for their most often times very rich stockholders..

I know doing something about this problem will be a hard-sell for the Republicans in congress. They simply believe that what our corporations do to make their profits is their own business and the government should stay out of it. And again if Obama comes out for it they will naturally be adamantly against it whatever it is. I think this same thing would be happening no matter who the Democrat was that occupies the Oval Office. Its pure politics and it is getting uglier by the minute. But I am getting off topic here.

How can we allow China to help North Korea with their illegal schemes and not suffer any consequences?  Of course part of that reason, maybe the biggest part, is that we are already so deeply dependent on China that we simply can’t afford to confront them. If they for whatever reason decided to stop sending us the products they now make our economy would likely collapse. How did we get into this type of arrangement is of course because of greed. When a bigger profit can be made using Chinese labor at pennies per hour as opposed to dollars per hour for home-grown labor greed will go off-shore every time. But I kind of think that even those who made these decisions to move their production to China are surprised at the speed at which the total transformation occurred. They all seemed to rush there without really considering the consequences.  But then again greed has never been much of a forward-looking thing…

AT&T finishes rollout of 1Gbps connection…

2014-10-30_08-32-58AT&T has completed upgrading its fiber-network in Austin, Texas, to 1-gigabit-per-second broadband speeds, the carrier said Monday.The Dallas-based company, which started the Austin upgrade in August, has been working to increase the speed of its U-Verse with GigaPower fiber network from 300 megabits-per-second to 1Gbps. AT&T is racing to bring faster Internet to customers before its competitors. SOURCE:  AT&T finishes rollout of 1Gbps connection in Austin – CNET.

I am one of the fortunate ones along my road in that I am within the 1.5 mile distance from the AT&T central office. I can get my Internet connection at 0.003 Gbps. That is 300 times slower than folks in Austin get.  To put that in perspective what takes them one second to get takes me 5 minutes. Sadly those north of me are limited to 0.0002 Gbps.So when I run across these types of announcements I often say “SHAME ON YOU”.

We all know that in the 21st century information is power. Those with it have opportunity; those without it have almost none and of course the Internet and access to it is fundamental to the 21st century information age.  Why are those of us in less populated areas denied access to the Internet speeds that our urban neighbors take for granted? Of course the answer is profits.

I look out my front door and see a couple of two-inch diameter cables strewn between two poles across my front yard. In some places along my road these cables sag to just a few feet above the ground. They have not been improved in many decades. The picture above shows that both of those cables could be replaced by a single small fiber-optic line but to do that would require an investment that currently goes to the owners as profit.

Looking at the history of utilities in rural America I see where this is nothing new. It wasn’t until the 1930s that electricity or telephone was widely available to the farmers who provide the rest of us with food.  The New Deal of the 1930s would finally help remedy that situation via the REMC. Here is a little about that from my friends at Wikipedia:

Many such cooperatives exist in the rural United States, and were created by the New Deal to bring electric power and telephone service to rural areas, when the nearest investor-owned utility would not provide service, believing there would be insufficient revenue to justify the capital expenditures required. Many electric cooperatives have banded together to form their own wholesale power cooperatives, often called G&Ts for generation and transmission, to supply their member-owners with electricity.

If we had a functional government in place, instead of the gridlock that is there, maybe this issue could be resolved like it was then. I guess I should be grateful for my 0.003 Gbps Internet connection even though my city neighbors had connections three hundred times faster. At least my snail like speeds are several times faster than all my neighbors north of me.  It is about time for AT&T to spend a little money and put all of us on a fiber-optic system so that we all have a more or less level playing field for the future.  I thought that was the FCC’s mandate but if it is it is being totally ignored. Shame on AT&T for not having done so already…. And shame on the FCC for not having forced them to do it already….

Doctors net billions from drug firms….

2014-10-02_09-11-00Drug and medical-device companies paid at least $3.5 billion to U.S. physicians and teaching hospitals during the final five months of last year, according to the most comprehensive accounting so far of the financial ties that some critics say have compromised medical care…. Some doctors have earned tens of thousands of dollars annually from drug companies by flying to various cities to give paid speeches, while some surgeons have received even larger amounts from medical-device makers, partly from royalties on products they helped develop…. One former Senate staffer who was closely involved in the effort to pass the Sunshine Act hopes the database will do some good. “This website will let patients ask a very important question: ‘Is a relationship between my doctor and a drug company right for me?’ It took six years of hard work to get this site together and, hopefully, it will help clean up medicine,” said Paul Thacker, a former aide to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) who is now a fellow at the Safra Ethics Center at Harvard University. He said the “total amount of money is pretty eye popping.”

SOURCE:  Doctors net billions from drug firms – Yahoo Finance.

Doctors receiving $3.5 billion from the drug companies was a total surprise to me. I knew the drug companies pampered them hoping that they will prescribe their drug over their competitor’s but some of the instances reported in the source articles go way beyond an ethical boundary.

I find it totally astounding that it is illegal for the largest medical care company in the country to negotiate prices with the drug manufacturers. It is a well known fact that all other countries in the world get their pharmaceuticals at a deeply discounted price. Why must Medicare pay full price when everyone else can bargain for their needs? How many billions of dollars are needlessly spent to give these guys a golden apple?

They say Medicare will go broke in about twenty years or so. I wonder how far that would be extended if we could bargain with the drug companies? Getting back to the original thoughts about this article why  is it even legal for doctors to take all the bribes that apparently do from these guys. A doctor being paid $70,000+ to give a seminar in an exotic location and which no one attends is surely a grossly unethical situation. Doctors who are among the top ten most compensated profession makes enough without these bribes!

It will take a legislative branch similar to those during the Teddy Roosevelt administration to finally put an end to these types of practices. If we are serious about cutting our healthcare costs in this country the drug companies are the low hanging fruit to be first dealt with. If only our current gridlocked government would life up to their responsibilities and do the people’s business. It is as simple as that….

Apple Innovations…

2014-09-01_09-28-00The new iPhone will make mobile payment easier by including a near-field communication chip for the first time, the person said. That advancement along with Touch ID, a fingerprint recognition reader that debuted on the most recent iPhone, will allow consumers to securely pay for items in a store with the touch of a finger…. “Love it or hate, Apple drives a lot of standards in the industry,” Bajarin said in an interview. “They are the mover in these markets. When they do something, the industry seems to follow.” SOURCE: Apple Said to Team With Visa, MasterCard on IPhone Wallet – Yahoo Finance.

Today being the day for the “big” announcements from Apple almost necessitates that it also be the subject of this post.

A couple of years ago I downsized the wallet I used to have from a one inch behemoth that bulged from my back pocket to something less than a half-inch and the size of half a dollar bill and I found out I don’t miss all that other stuff I used to needlessly haul around. I have been waiting to move to the next stage and that is to chuck the whole wallet. It looks like with the latest Apple innovation I might be able to do that sooner rather than later. Of course soon is a relative term when it comes to our electronic gadgets.

Over the years I have seen quite a bit of miniaturization in the world around me. The doctor’s office, of which I seem to spend more and more time lately, has finally  gone totally digital. The dozen or so ten foot high by twenty-foot wide racks of patient records now reside on laptops carried around by the nurses. The doctors for the most part still stubbornly resist having to use “those things” so they relegate that responsibility to them.

I used to get about ten different paper magazines a month in order to keep up on what is happening in the world and to follow the hobbies that interested me.  I am now down to one weekly magazine. Everything else is on-line. Let’s face it the digital world saves trees and since trees give us our oxygen that is a good thing.🙂

Our world is becoming smaller each year and it is about time to chuck the old wallet of the 19th and 20th century for a digital one. I am still using a three-year old iPhone but will upgrade to the iPhone 6 after the hoopla dies down. When that happens I will move as much as possible to digital transactions. Thanks Apple for giving us 21st century solutions to our daily challenges. I certainly look forward to your announcements this afternoon.

 

No More Whoppers For Me…

2014-08-26_08-36-25Burger King’s plan to scurry across the Canadian border to avoid U.S. taxes could be seen as the corporate equivalent of flipping President Barack Obama the bird…. “My sense is this is Burger King trying to dodge paying its taxes. I don’t know that I’d attribute it to their making a move like this to directly challenge Obama,” Frank Clemente, executive director of the nonprofit Americans for Tax Fairness, told The Huffington Post. “I can’t say what’s on the company’s mind here, whether they’re trying to beat the clock on this and do something before Congress passes legislation or do something before Obama signs an executive order.” SOURCE:  Burger King Dares Obama To Stop It From Fleeing To Canada.

It irks me to see U.S. corporations declare bigger than ever profits and then shirk their tax responsibilities by moving out of the country.  As far as I am concerned Burger King might just as well move all their stores to as I will not be frequenting any of them in the future.  They can send me all the coupons they want but they will go immediately to the trash can.

Burger King is also known for paying no more than minimum wage to most of their store employees.  In my small town that results in huge turnover and low customer service. I’m sure the executive officers are well paid and like most others have figured a way to get their lavish bonuses year after year.

Goodbye Whooper…… We overthrew one king I guess we can do the same to this one…

Triangle Factory Fire…

The Triangle Factory Fire was a defining moment in US history. Here is a little about what Wikipedia says about it

2014-04-30_09-32-20The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in Manhattan, New York City on March 25, 1911 was one of the deadliest industrial disasters in the history of the city, and resulted in the fourth highest loss of life from an industrial accident in U.S. history…

The fire caused the deaths of 146 garment workers – 123 women and 23 men [1] – who died from the fire, smoke inhalation, or falling or jumping to their deaths. Most of the victims were recent Jewish and Italian immigrant women aged sixteen to twenty-three…

Because the owners had locked the doors to the stairwells and exits – a common practice at the time to prevent pilferage and unauthorized breaks[6] – many of the workers who could not escape the burning building jumped from the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors to the streets below. The fire led to legislation requiring improved factory safety standards and helped spur the growth of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, which fought for better working conditions for sweatshop workers.

I recently watched a very moving documentary about it on PBS. One of the shocking things I learned from that program was just how much the “system” was against the striking workers. The police, judges and city hall did monstrous things to beat the women back.  It would take J.P. Morgan’s  very privileged daughter to turn this trend. When she came out in favor of the workers things finally started to shift.

For those who might misunderstand the meanings of my words I want to state up front that I believe capitalism is the greatest monetary system in the world. Nothing else even comes close.  But this tragedy is a lesson learned that you just can’t have unregulated industrialization.  Without regulation greed overwhelms the capitalistic system. The owners who caused these unnecessary deaths took their insurance money and basically disappeared with no consequences for the deaths they caused.

I do thank God that these sort of things don’t happen in this country today but they continue to happen in those countries that supply us with our unquenchable desire for more and more cheap goods. We have current government agencies such as OSHA and although they are generally very understaffed compared to those they regulate they do a good job of reigning in unsafe corporate greed.

 

 

Raising The Minimum Wage….

2014-08-03_11-10-40But the problem is we have structured our economy in this sort of death spirally way, where huge profitable organizations like Wal-Mart pay poverty wages to a million workers, and then taxpayers make up the difference in social services programs like food stamps and Medicaid and rent assistance, and so on and so forth.  It’s as morally repugnant as it is economically inefficient. It’s a fact that Wal-Mart earned $27 billion in profit last year. They could afford to pay their bottom million workers $10,000 more a year, raise all of those people out of poverty, save tax payers billions of dollars, and still earn $17 billion in profit, right. It’s simply nuts that we have allowed this to happen. And the only way you can change things is to raise the minimum wage. Certainly the people that run Wal-Mart will not do this on their own.  The idea that businesses will go out of business if they pay workers more is just not true, even though I understand the sort of visceral fear that some of them feel about this change. SOURCE: Why capitalism has nothing to do with supply and demand | Making Sen$e | PBS NewsHour.

These quotes above drive home what I believe is a very basic reason our economy is still in the state that it is. We just give too much power to the most avid capitalists among us. In other words we give too much power to those few who control most of our nation’s wealth. I am a firm believer in the idea that government’s role in a democratic/capitalist society is to reign in the greed that naturally comes with capitalism.

Unions used to have some control over this wage vs established wealth issue but that is just no longer the case. As is typical of these sort of thing unions themselves became too powerful and as a result too self-focused and corrupt to continue to hold the influence they once had. Unfortunately there was nothing there to replace the void left by the extinction of unions so it is necessary for our government to step in. But even that is another tragic failure in this very disjointed country.

With the almost total breakdown of the ability to govern, especially at the national level, this dichotomy between wages and wealth has gone unabated for a couple of decades now. Our economy is almost totally based on consumer spending but if consumers are stripped of any sense of discretionary income it seems like that is a natural spiral that we will not escape from. The richest among us just don’t eat out 10,000 times a month to replace those who can no longer afford such luxury.

We depend on our government to reign in the excess of our capitalist system and that is just not happening in today’s world.

Secret iPhone 6 feature uncovered?

2014-07-11_07-59-24Apparently, the new iPhone 6 will incorporate a more advanced vibration motor that could offer better tactile feedback to users, depending on the app they’re using or the area they tap on the screen. SOURCE:  Secret iPhone 6 feature uncovered? – Yahoo News.

I have had my iPhone 4 for about three years now and am for the most part very pleased with its operation.  But one areas that needs improvement for me is the vibrate mode. Since I am deaf I rely exclusively on vibrate to let me know when text messages come in. The current vibrate mode is rather weak and sometimes hard to detect especially when my mind is on other things.

While the ring mode has dozens of options, the vibrate mode is limited to two short bursts only. So, I was pleased to hear of this new secret feature. Yeah, I am one of those guys waiting for iPhone 6 to do an upgrade. I guess there are millions of us out there. I know Apple phones are more expensive than some of the competitor but given its overall features it is well worth the price.

Bitter Rivals….

2014-07-20_09-28-10Apple and IBM are teaming up to bring iPhones and iPads to business customers, the two companies said in a surprise announcement Tuesday. In a wide-ranging partnership, the two tech giants that were bitter rivals for decades will create a suite of apps and services aimed at enterprise clients…. “For the first time ever we’re putting IBM’s renowned big data analytics at iOS users’ fingertips, which opens up a large market opportunity for Apple,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said in a statement. “We are delighted to be teaming with Apple, whose innovations have transformed our lives in ways we take for granted, but can’t imagine living without,” IBM CEO Ginni Rometty offered. “Our alliance will bring the same kind of transformation to the way people work, industries operate and companies perform.”2014-07-20_09-28-39 SOURCE:  Apple Partners With Former Rival IBM to Target Enterprise Customers | TIME.

IBM and Apple doing business together???  Go figure… Next thing we know the Israelis will be getting along with their neighbors!  Wouldn’t that be something to see. But then again when money is involved things seem to get worked out sooner. That is, money coming in, not going out…

Apple has always been considered the computer of choice with the creative crowd and IBM amongst the bean counters. I know the iPhones and iPads have been making their way into the business world folks. They just can’t pass up the leap in quality over Apple’s competitors and finally the IT departments are beginning to slack up on the adamant resistance to anything Apple.

Maybe what it took was for Apple to move beyond its first generation of bosses. Now that Tim Cook is at the wheel instead of Jobs the rivalry has been tamped down a hair and that is good for all of us.

 

 

Direct From The Manufacturer….

Tesla’s campaign to sell its electric cars directly to consumers shifted into high gear this week as state lawmakers debated Tesla-related bills while powerful auto lobbyists braced for a fight. In New York, a measure designed to ban Tesla from opening new stores passed a key hurdle, while in Arizona, lawmakers pushed a bill to make it easier for Tesla to sell its cars without establishing a dealer network.

The escalating conflict underscores Tesla’s role as a disruptive force in the U.S. auto industry, not only because the company’s cars don’t use gasoline engines, but also because Tesla is trying to upend the dealership-franchise model that has underpinned the automobile industry for decades. That model — and laws protecting it — emerged in the 1930s as a way for automakers to build a national sales and service force and help foster local economic growth. SOURCE: Tesla’s War With the States Shifts Into Overdrive | TIME.com.

I have mixed feelings about the above topic.  This is kind of like a David/Goliath type thing. The little dealership guys are being squeezed out by the big corporations the same way as WalMart is squeezing out local retailers.  But size is a relative thing. Yeah Telsa is probably bigger then most auto dealerships but it is very small compared to its other automotive competitors. It is also pretty easy to see that those who own local or regional auto dealerships are usually much wealthier than the rest of us.  It is not uncommon to see mufti-millionaires auto dealer owners.  So David/Goliath is a relative thing.

Realtors are also in this type of corundum. When I sold my house in New Jersey it never actually went on the market. My realtor happened to have someone waiting for my type of house. When we closed on the house the realtor received a check from me for almost $18,000 for two hours work or so.  The only ones who even come close to that hourly wage are big time surgeons and some CEOs 🙂

The other example in my part of the country is in liquor distributorships. If you can land one you are assured a big annual paycheck. They are given out mostly as a political favor by State level politicians.

I don’t know but it seems like these sort of things need fixing. We should be able to buy direct and bargain with others for what are currently set as “standard” fees. Wages for most of us haven’t changed much in the last decade or more so the little guy needs all the help he can get in today’s world even as a consumer.

 

Google Is Making Itself a Lot Leaner and Meaner..

2014-01-31_08-57-01First, Google cracked the code on Internet search. Then the company used its search platform to build the world’s largest online advertising business. Now, the Silicon Valley icon is turning its attention toward streamlining its business to focus on next-generation hardware and services, particularly in the mobile space. Judging by Google’s latest earnings report, the company’s core business remains robust, as the Cupertino, Calif.-based cash machine posted strong sales and profit growth on Thursday, sending its stock price surging more than 4% in after-hours trading to an all-time high for the second consecutive quarter. SOURCE:  Google Is Making Itself a Lot Leaner and Meaner | TIME.com.

I don’t know how many of my readers realize just how earth-shaking the search platform that Google developed was. Before that time it took sometimes hours to find some of the most basic info on the Internet.  Let’s take a quick look at what Wiki says:

Google was founded by Larry Page and Sergey Brin while they were Ph.D. students at Stanford University. Together they own about 16 percent of its shares. They incorporated Google as a privately held company on September 4, 1998. An initial public offering followed on August 19, 2004. Its mission statement from the outset was “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”, and its unofficial slogan was “Don’t be evil”. In 2006 Google moved to headquarters in Mountain View, California, nicknamed the Googleplex.

Simply speaking Page and Brin made the internet what it is today. Never mind that Al Gore invented it (🙂 ), they changed it from a complex military network into an everyday appliance.  For that reason I am an avid fan. Even if I don’t use their browser or some of the other tools they make available. The above article is about how they have grown in the last ten years and where they might be going in the next ten. Will they go the way of Apple or the way of Microsoft?  That is a basic question that needs to be answered and I’m sure they are very aware of that difference.

Most of us old guys, especially the techies among us, know that Microsoft and Apple  happened at about the same time. Microsoft developed a user interface that totally dwarfed the FORTRAN language that was used to program the IBM mainframes. When I was in college desktop computers were still just a dream. Even in college I realized that computers would be a big part of the future so I took a couple of classes to build an initial foundation.  I spent hours writing up a very foreign code and then typing it out on punch cards which were used to put the code in the mainframe very early the next morning. Of course there was always that one card of out hundreds that I misspelled something and therefore the whole lot was rejected.

Thanks to Google, and yes Microsoft and Apple, the initial experiences of new users are vastly different from my own.

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