Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

And another thing that would not have happened save for the Internet

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This would never ever have happened before—and in fact it did not.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 November 2014 at 4:06 pm

Posted in Business

IMO: The nationwide Takata recall would not have happened without the Internet

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In the old days, the story would have been easy to kill. No more. And isn’t it good to have a government to force the recall rather than having to rely on the company’s moral compass?

Written by LeisureGuy

18 November 2014 at 3:47 pm

Posted in Business, Government

An excellent example of how difficult it is to fix a cultural balance once it’s broken

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Our social constructs—organizations, work groups, interpersonal relationships, committees, municipal government—are really rather fragile, it seems to me. A few bad actors can affect the dynamic in a ways that things become unbalanced and spin out of control—the corrupt sheriff who corrupts the judge and prosecutor and soon the town’s culture starts to resemble a feudal arrangement of powerful exploiting powerless in many ways. Or even the smoothly functioning committee that falls apart because of frictions caused by one borderline personality on it.

Look at what Fox News has done to the news industry, for example. This excellent column by Sophia McClennen in Salon is well worth reading:

Jon Stewart has been on the interview circuit to promote his new film, “Rosewater,” but many of his comments have turned to partisan politics and the pundits who encourage them.  Interviewers have not been able to resist the urge to talk about Stewart’s thoughts on the midterm elections, on immigration, and on the legacy of Obama.  But what has been really interesting to watch is Stewart’s comments on Fox News and on commentators like Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly.

In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Stewart explained that most of Fox News is about fear.  Fox News viewers, he explained, operate in a world where they have a high sense of being persecuted, and this is why, for instance, we will soon see pieces on the “War on Christmas” with commentators standing next to 60-foot-tall Christmas trees.  But not all Fox News commentators are equal in Stewart’s eyes.  He considers O’Reilly to be more like a “Kennedy Democrat” who comes by his views honestly.  Not so with Hannity, whom Stewart describes as “probably the most loathsome dude over there.” He describes Hannity as espousing “pure cynicism”: “Everything is presented in as devious a manner as it could possibly be presented.”

It’s worth remembering that from the moment that Fox News was founded in 1996 the goal was to offer a partisan view of the news.  David Brock and Ari Rabin-Havt in “The Fox Effect” explain in detail how Roger Ailes turned the cable channel into a propaganda machine.  And once the channel launched, all other cable news responded. Few recall that Ann Coulter used to work for MSNBC before Fox was founded.  It’s hard to imagine it in the blue versus red world we live in now.

Three years after Fox News used the slogan “fair and balanced” to promote a channel that had no intention of being either, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 November 2014 at 2:01 pm

Posted in Business, Media

What happens when you don’t put bankers in prison when they break the law

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What happens, of course, is that they continue to break the law—because they got big bonuses and suffered no penalties, so of course they are doing it again—it pays to own politicos, to be able to call up Eric Holder and get him to drop a case, it’s all good. Except for the country and the people in it. often employ, then… what? Then I’d feel better

From a good article in Salon by David Dayen:

New evidence over the last month shows that servicers employ virtually the same improper techniques when foreclosing. Instead of robo-signers, they use robo-witnesses, or robo-verifiers; more on them in a moment. Regardless, they are breaking laws and degrading the integrity of the courts to kick people out of their homes, a sad and enduring legacy of the destruction of the nation’s property system during the housing bubble years.

In 22 U.S. states, lenders must file foreclosure complaints with a court, and prove the facts of the case before a judge. But servicers have shown themselves largely unable to perform this seemingly simple task.

During the housing bubble, mortgages were traded so rapidly, with insufficient documentation, that true ownership has been confused on millions of loans. In addition, servicers operate with such thin profit margins and bare-bones staff that they don’t have the resources to retrace the steps of the mortgages, which may have gone through eight different companies or more. So they have resorted to a number of shortcuts to evict homeowners.

When servicers got caught robo-signing, they stopped. But they trained a new set of employees, best described as robo-witnesses. These low-level personnel work for the servicer’s litigation departments, and they fly around the country from courtroom to courtroom. Reading from a script, robo-witnesses claim to have personal knowledge of their employer’s practices, and that they can swear to the legitimacy of the foreclosures. “They’re trained to parrot a script, you could just bring a parrot in,” said Lisa Epstein, a foreclosure expert now working for a defense attorney.

But these robo-witnesses know pretty much nothing beyond the script; they have no insight into the individual cases in which they’re testifying. “They walk into court having read the documents of the case a moment before,” said Thomas Ice, a foreclosure defense attorney in Palm Beach, Florida. Ice argues that it’s no different than robo-signing, just moved into the courtroom. “They don’t give their signature now, they just perjure themselves in court.”

Written by LeisureGuy

18 November 2014 at 1:49 pm

Huh! Openness and honesty turn out to be pleasing to people—even customers

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I found that via this interesting article on the whole McDonald’s Canada campaign. (I think such a campaign would be harder in the US, where executives tend to think openness and honesty are counter-productive to increasing profits, and so finding an executive who remains capable of honesty is difficult. It’s not something you can just turn on and off. That’s practically the definition of dishonesty, in fact: turning honesty off by choice. No one can be dishonest in every statement, and for dishonesty to work, one must be trusted. So the whole art of dishonesty is to be honest except that you can turn it off when it’s to your advantage. And once you learn how to turn it off, it’s hard to unlearn it, because leaving it on is often painful. Much easier to turn it off—and so we have executives like those at Uber. But not just Uber: GM, JP Morgan Chase (in spades and depth), and so on. Police departments and crime reports. Our own NSA and other government agencies. Our president.

Trust, once broken, is damned difficult to regain. And I think Reagan wrecked our trust in government, both in word (“The nine scariest words in the English language: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”; “The government can’t fix the problem—the government is the problem.” and so on) and in deed (Iran-Contra, Oliver North, dope smuggling). Cynicism in a way excuses by expecting the dishonesty we get. Outrage fatigue sets in. We simply accept, become docile. And then another step is taken against us. Little by little. Like herding slow-moving sheep.

But back to the article at the link: here’s a passage from the article:

All of this, of course, is part of a bigger trend in the world of branding toward so-called transparency. Indeed, Google’s Ngram Viewer, which compiles usage rates of specific words and phrases found in millions of books, shows that occurrences of the word transparency have increased by around 200 percent between the mid-1980s to mid-2000s. This spike might be largely due to more talk of how big-name brands (and governments) are attempting to rectify tarnished images in the face of public pressure. “The Internet is giving consumers a lot of power, and there aren’t many secrets anymore,” Glen Urban, a professor of marketing at the MIT Sloan School of Management, tells me. “If you look at the auto industry, for example, used cars used to be a haven for manipulation and consumer victimization, but when eBay started doing consumer ratings and guarantees and escrow payments, the used-car market cleaned up and became trustworthy. A lot of the used-car dealers on eBay are the same dealers that were untrustworthy before, but now they can’t be because they’d get no business. If you don’t have four or five stars, nobody’s going to buy a used car from you.”

A recent documentary titled The Naked Brand, produced by the ad agency Questus, argues the same point. Since countless blogs, comment sections, and Twitter accounts provide an abundance of information, companies are having a harder time keeping their once-private dealings private. Today, ordinary citizens have more access to what’s happening in the world than ever before, meaning corporations can either opt for transparency or crank up their opacity machines. One example of a company that’s chosen the former route is outdoor clothing retailer Patagonia with its “Footprint Chronicles,” a webpage that documents the company’s global supply chain for all to see.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 November 2014 at 1:35 pm

The media in the US is moving toward the position Pravda had in the Soviet Union: A partisan mouthpiece

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Note that I say “partisan” rather than “government.” Some of the media do speak for the government (whoever’s in power), but other media speak for a particular party (Fox News, for example). True journalism, driven by facts, is becoming uncommon, partly because the primary mission is no longer reporting the truth (comforting the afflicted, afflicting the comfortable), but turning a profit. Once the focus moves to money, less attention is paid to what was once the main purpose. The previous post is one good example of how frequently reporting just follows the government line, and Democracy Now! has another under the title “Antiwar Voices Absent from Corporate TV News Ahead of U.S. Attacks on Iraq & Syria.” Their blurb:

A new analysis of corporate TV news has found there was almost no debate about whether the United States should go to war in Iraq and Syria. The group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting found that of the more than 200 guests who appeared on network shows to discuss the issue, just six voiced opposition to military action. The report, titled “Debating How — Not Whether — to Launch a New War,” examines a two-week period in September when U.S. involvement in Iraq and Syria dominated the airwaves. The report also finds that on the high-profile Sunday talk shows, out of 89 guests, there was just one antiwar voice — Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation. We speak to Peter Hart, activism director at FAIR.

Video and transcript at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 November 2014 at 12:09 pm

John Hodgman: ‘The government should be laying down broadband like Eisenhower laid down interstates’

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Exactly: the same sort of investment in infrastructure that benefits the common welfare. Eisenhower (a Republican) pushed the Interstate highway system—well supported by the automotive and trucking industries, to be sure—and I would say it has paid off: Interstate highways show the value of a socialized approach in certain areas.

The same clearly goes for (true) broadband networks, which our telecoms don’t want to spend money on—though they will go to considerable lengths to stop municipalities from offering broadband services to their communities. I.e., the telecoms don’t want to do it, but they don’t want anyone else to do it, either.

Brian Fung writes in the Washington Post:

Long before John Oliver called for an end to “cable company f**kery,” another comedian also named John was beating the net neutrality drum. As far back as 2006, author and actor John Hodgman was using postal envelopes to explain how Internet service providers might let content from Google and Amazon through to consumers very easily while discriminating against content from other companies.

Now Hodgman is back at it. In an essay on Tumblr posted Monday night, Hodgman takes aim at large telecom companies who can “control what is increasingly a mandatory purchase” for many Americans: access to high-speed broadband that connects them to information, entertainment and economic opportunity.

Hodgman has some personal stake in the issue as a performer. Arguing that the Internet helps promote artists and small businesses that drive the U.S. economy, Hodgman added that many of the country’s dominant telecom providers would not be in their successful position today had they not benefited from public resources such as land and wireless airwaves.

The issue has clearly been on Hodgman’s mind for some time. At the end of a lengthy response to a separate BuzzFeed article, Hodgman told his readers he’d be holding an impromptu Q&A session on Tumblr for an hour to discuss Obamacare, net neutrality as well as any other issue his followers thought important. Amid queries on his favorite vegetable (brussels sprouts) and whether to see the movie “Interstellar,” (…yes?) Hodgman saved his longest response for last.

“I believe in capitalism but not monopolies,” Hodgman wrote. “I believe in entrepreneurship and I am not against government efforts to foster it. I believe more communities should invest in their own broadband to break regional telecom monopolies. Personally I believe that the federal government should be laying down broadband like Eisenhower laid down interstates. And I believe preferential fast-laning for big companies will decrease competition and quality and ultimately hamper what is poised to be the most important area of economic, cultural, and technological innovation of our time.”

This isn’t far off from . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 November 2014 at 11:23 am

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