Monthly Archives: January 2012

FDA spying on its employees?

 

The FDA spied on a group of scientists and doctors for two years. Why? Well, they were sort of going to go to Congress and warn them that the agency was approving risky medical devices.

Information garnered this way eventually contributed to the harassment or dismissal of all six of the FDA employees, the suit alleges. All had worked in an office responsible for reviewing devices for cancer screening and other purposes.

The group of doctors and scientists, who are basically whistle blowers, are arguing that their constitutional rights to privacy were violated–even with the FDA posting notices that no one should have a “reasonable expectation to privacy.” I have to say that this does sort of look like a Watergate-like virtual break-in by the FDA. This just goes to show you that if you are going to be a whistle blower, you’d better cover all your bases and ensure that your communications are done securely off of the premises.

Chevron on the hook for billions more

 

As if Chevron didn’t have its hands tied in Ecuador; we now read that they face an $11 billion lawsuit for an oil spill in Brazil.

In environmental news, the oil giant Chevron is facing a possible $11 billion lawsuit in Brazil following an offshore oil spill in November. A Brazilian prosecutor has announced plans to file criminal charges against Chevron and some of its local managers within weeks. Transocean, whose rig was used in the operation, is also expected to be charged.

This is what you get when you get when you allow a corporation to run wild with little regulation. And guess what? Transocean is involved in this disaster as well!

Amazing. A bailed out bank CEO who will not take a bonus

 

I’m actually surprised to hear this. Granted, this is in Europe and not the United States.

The Royal Bank of Scotland’s chief executive, Stephen Hester, will not accept a £1 million ($1.5 million) bonus that drew criticism from the British public and politicians, the bank said Sunday.

A representative for the bank, David Gaffney, said Mr. Hester would not receive the bonus of 3.6 million shares he was awarded last week by the bank’s board.

The British people still own 82 percent of the bank. They spent the U.S. equivalent of somewhere around $71 billion dollars bailing RBS out.

Jobs: Teens find it hard to get work

 

Newt Gingrich wanted to create jobs by putting a mop in the hand of every poor kid in school and fire all the janitors; I wonder what he would say about this story and the reality of the dwindling employment opportunities for teenagers?

Even as the economy slowly picks up, finding a job is harder than ever for teenagers, according to a national study released on Tuesday. That’s likely because the jobs that are being “created” in recent months are being snapped up by adults—often people over age 50 who were laid off from other positions or forced out of retirement during the economic crisis.

This trend is nothing new. Back in 2006, when Barbara Ehrenreich published Bait and Switch she highlighted the story of a female executive who was laid off and found her self working at a big box store. So yes, the downward push on the labor market is affecting teenagers and their employment opportunities.

Ironically, the growing dearth of employment opportunities for youth—particularly low-income and minority youth—has come just as families most need that extra income, and as the experience the jobs provide is more important than ever for youth to get a leg up in an increasingly competitive labor market.

Even with what was mentioned above, I would say that if you can afford to not work and instead focus on your education that would be the way to go. Like many parents of teenage students would say “you can have a job so long as your studies aren’t affected.” Even in this horrible labor market I think education is more important than ever. Think of what kind of employment opportunities a teenager would have anyway—it would mostly be in the service sector. What kind of leg up is there to have from starting in those jobs early?

As a former boss of mine in retail once said “retail is for the ones who didn’t make it.” I remembered that and fought my way out of it going to college (it was a business school) at night-time for my Associate’s Degree in Multimedia Development and Management. I’m not finished with my education; I’m in debt but I do plan to go back! In the meantime I take the self-taught route via technology books. I’m also a voracious reader in general.

This story also reminds me of the news that some schools in Detroit will begin to offer classes on how to work at Wal-Mart. Now I don’t care what anyone says, retail jobs are not rocket science; so why they are wasting valuable class time teaching this as a subject is beyond me.

I understand that this is Detroit and that the unemployment rate is at 50 percent in the city, so any employment opportunities would be welcome, but this action reeks of hopelessness. Is the best a student in Detroit can hope to become is a Wal-Mart employee? We know about social mobility in this country, so don’t give me the argument that this can be viewed as an opportunity for advancement. A real opportunity would be helping these kids get a shot at college.

High turnover at Giant

 

I found some interesting information from the UFCW Local 400 blog on Safeway & Giant; it pertains to the high turnover at Giant supermarkets.

According to Jason, while they cite inability to meet payroll costs, store management often cuts the work hours of employees, yet the store still manages high sales volumes.  This seems to be a big factor that contributes to increased turnover of new employees.

High turnover is always a problem in service jobs. It’s a given in retail and in retail branch banking that employees won’t stay more than a year if that. I’ve witnessed it first hand. I think some corporations actually build this in to their financial models and probably look at it as a cost of doing business; the nature of the beast if you will.

In any case I bet that for some corporations it’s probably better to have high turnover, because you won’t have to enroll your employees in benefit programs or have them qualify for unemployment insurance. The one thing that Giant has going for it is that it’s a union shop. Workers in other sectors of the service economy which are not unionized have a diminished voice; unless there’s a worker center or other form of advocacy group fighting for them in the interim to unionization.

Did Apple and book publishers illegally collude to raise prices?

 

In the ongoing war between Amazon and book publishers; I was actually surprised to read that Apple Inc. and Macmillan Publishing are being accused of essentially conspiring against Amazon.

John Sargent, the plain-spoken chief executive of Macmillan Publishing, was the first to get on a plane to Seattle to inform Amazon of the decision and to threaten to withhold Macmillan’s books if Amazon did not agree to the new pricing model. Bezos and his colleagues reacted angrily by removing options to buy Macmillan’s books directly from Amazon. Amazon eventually relented, and e-book prices on bestsellers jumped from $9.99 to $12.99 or higher. (The publishers’ move has triggered ongoing antitrust investigations in Europe and Washington, D.C., over whether book publishers and Apple illegally colluded to raise e-book prices.)

How amazing is that? To be fair, I think that book publishers need to realize that like their music and movie brethren and sistren, the media in which people consume their content is changing. While digital books may not really be fairly priced at $9.99, they probably aren’t priced correctly at $30-$40 for the hardcover either. It’s also ridiculous to do what HarperCollins did and delay Kindle editions of highly anticipated memoirs in order to drive people to the hardcover versions.

Thought: I’m typing on a computer not a typewriter. My phone has no wires. I made the shift from paper books to a Kindle—although I will still read a paper book now and then. I also still read print magazines in addition to reading them online. The fact is I’d rather be carrying a lightweight device than a heavy tome. Technology can be disruptive, but you can’t preserve the old ways of doing everything. You can however be as fair as possible with everyone involved.

Unilever – not as clean as it claims

Update – 11/23/2013 – It seems that this post is starting to get some visitors. It’s probably because of Unilever’s new sustainability kick.

As the blog Brand Channel says:

The company is encouraging people to commit “acts of sunlight,” which will be translated into aid for two million children through partnerships with the World Food Programme, Save the Children, UNICEF, and in the US, Feeding America, with the company donating an additional two million meals to help the 1 in 5 children who face food insecurity every day. So far, via hashtag #brightfuture, over 9.6 million ‘acts’ have been accounted for.

They’re calling it “Project Sunglight.” Well, if the company is really concerned about sustainability I hope that will also translate to how they’re treating their employees as well.

The original video in the post-

Wade Rathke hits it home on Apple and NY Times article

 

This week, the New York Times article on how the US lost out on iPhone manufacturing has been making the rounds all over the Internet. From what I’ve read so far, I think that Wade Rathke the chief organizer for ACORN International has the best rebuttal to the Times article out there.

Good news that we are really talking about manufacturing. Bad news that the ideology underpinning the conversation is that there can only be manufacturing at the expense of workers’ rights and wages in sweatshop conditions.

Shame on Apple, the Times, and the rest of the tribe that makes these rationalizations!

One of the examples in the Times article that Rathke criticizes, is the ability of Chinese corporations like Foxconn to mobilize eight thousand workers in a heartbeat, with this supposedly being impossible to do in America.

The reporter and others marveled at how on a whim 8000 workers could be pulled out of bed in company owned and run dormitories and put to work on a last-minute changeover. Wow, the article and others seemed to say, that couldn’t happen here in America.

Well, that’s wrong. It could happened here in America, but Apple would have to pay for it, and that’s still the real difference (emphasis added).

That’s the truth! Apple would have to pay a lot more to do this stateside and rightfully so. Another thought I had was that some of the examples that supporters of this sort of manufacturing tout, would be frowned upon in the United States. There’s a reason why sweatshops are reviled in this country.

The other point that the Times article attempts to make about corporations not being able to find thousands of people ready to work in rapid fashion is also refuted by Rathke.

Even in the pages of the New York Times, if they were interested they can read about the skilled works by the thousands that have trucked themselves into North Dakota (of all places!) to live in, yes, bunks, trailers, and all manner of man-caves in order to work in the oil industry on the planes. But, whoops, once again, I should add that they are doing so, because they get paid, and paid pretty damned well to do so!

So basically when corporations say they can’t find people to hire in the United States, what they’re really saying is that they don’t want to pay a fair and just wage for it.  Lastly, there was an argument made that besides the so-called lack of workers, the infrastructure and resources to manufacture on a large-scale and in a specialized manner, has simply left the U.S. The United States cannot compete with the coordinated system of manufacturing in Asia we’re told. If we tried, it would just add to the cost of making each iPhone. Even so, Apple would still make a handsome profit!

https://twitter.com/#!/MMFlint/status/161978908508569601

The problem is really about the existence of what author Phillip Bobbitt calls the market-state, and its attempt to supersede the nation-state.

The “market-state” is the latest constitutional order, one that is just emerging in a struggle for primacy with the dominant constitutional order of the 20th century, the nation-state. Whereas the nation-state based its legitimacy on a promise to better the material well-being of the nation, the market-state promises to maximize the opportunity of each individual citizen.

If we embrace the market-state then all the talk of “made in the U.S.A.” becomes irrelevant and that is troubling.

Two gilded ages set to collide

What is it really
That’s going on here
You’ve got your system for total control
So is there really anybody out there
Now watch us suffer cause we can’t go
What is it really that is in your head
What little life that you had just died
I’m gonna be the one that’s takin over
Now this is what it’s like when worlds collide

— Powerman 5000

 

According to the NY Times, there are two gilded ages upon us, with the east going through it’s first gilded era, and the west embarking on its second go round.

And when they collide:

The two gilded ages can also get in each other’s way: As good an explanation as any for the 2008 financial crisis is that it is the result of the collision between a gilded age in China and one in the West. The financial imbalances that are an essential part of China’s export-driven growth model played a role in inflating the credit bubble that burst with such devastating consequences in 2008.

I’d also like to add that  just because there is now a new emerging eastern elite, it doesn’t mean that wealth is being democratized. More importantly, this new reality doesn’t mean that social mobility is any easier for those on the bottom rung of the ladder—in the east or the west.