Later On

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

Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

Smoking gun on GM lies

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This is why executives should face prison terms: their high salaries are in exchange for responsibility as well as authority, and they should be prosecuted.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

15 July 2014 at 7:00 pm

Posted in Business, Government, Law

What happens to a McDonald’s hamburger left in a desk for five years?

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Answer: nothing. It’s still as good as it was, more or less. What are they made of?

It’s a true story (with photo of 5-year-old bun and patty at the link).

Written by LeisureGuy

15 July 2014 at 1:23 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Food

Patent trolls now account for 67 percent of all new patent lawsuits

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Amazing story, albeit brief (and it includes a graph). If we had a functional Congress, we could put a stop to this immediately. But we cannot seem to govern ourselves.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 July 2014 at 1:11 pm

Posted in Business, Congress, Law

Airbus wants to patent the most uncomfortable plane seats ever

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The idea of air travel is to make it increasingly unpleasant until people stop traveling—at least that seems to be the case.

Take a look at the “seats” Airbus is contemplating.

Airbus seats

 

rowseats

Written by LeisureGuy

14 July 2014 at 12:34 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

Three New JPMorgan IT Deaths Include Alleged Murder-Suicide

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For those following the unnatural deaths count for JPMorgan, three more to add to the tally. Pam Martens and Russ Martens have been tracking this for a while. The SEC doesn’t want to hear anything about it, of course—the SEC views its job as protecting Wall Street, not holding any Wall Street firms accountable. The latest report:

Since December of last year, JPMorgan Chase has been experiencing tragic, sudden deaths of workers on a scale which sets it alarmingly apart from other Wall Street mega banks. Adding to the concern generated by the deaths is the recent revelation that JPMorgan has an estimated $180 billion of life insurance in force on its current and former workers.

Making worldwide news last week was the violent deaths of JPMorgan technology executive Julian Knott and his wife, Alita, ages 45 and 47, respectively, in Jefferson Township, New Jersey. However, two other recent, sudden deaths of technology workers at JPMorgan have gone unreported by the media.

The bodies of the Knott couple, who have a teenage daughter and two teenage sons, were discovered by police on July 6, 2014 at approximately 1:12 a.m. According to a press release issued by the Morris County Prosecutor’s office, Jefferson Township Police Officers Tim Hecht and Dave Wroblewski responded to the Knott home located in the Lake Hopatcong section following a “report of two unconscious adults.”

Who made the call to police and whether the children were home at the time has not been announced by the police or the prosecutor’s office. After a preliminary investigation, the police announced on July 8 that they believe Julian Knott shot his wife repeatedly and then took his own life with the same gun.

Friends and colleagues say Julian Knott was a kind and thoughtful individual. The idea that he would orphan his three teenage children, leaving them with the memory of the brutal murder of their mother at the hands of a father they loved and trusted, is causing shock and disbelief among relatives and friends in the U.K. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 July 2014 at 12:30 pm

Posted in Business, Law

More things for which cops are not held accountable

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We’ve seen that beating people is okay in many (most?) instances, as is shooting people—for example, SWAT teams crashing into the wrong house in the middle of the night and shooting those who protest. Police seem to have immunity for bad behavior because if you call the cops to report it, the blue wall of silence comes down to protect the perpetrators.

And it’s not that they simply will not arrest or charge one of their own: they also go after the person filing the report and try to ruin his life.

Read this Washington Post report by Tom Jackman of life in the US today, under the corporate police state:

Dallas Northington spent nearly eight years working for Target in loss prevention, roaming the stores and scanning the surveillance cameras. In an episode at the Leesburg Target store in May that he said was typical, a man was allegedly captured twice on video shoplifting, and Northington responded as he said he always did: He called the Leesburg police, made a report and provided them the videos of the two incidents.

But the man in the video may have been a Fairfax County sheriff’s deputy, Northington said he soon learned. And within days, two things happened: The deputy retired from the sheriff’s office and Target fired Northington, 29, a married father of two with a third child on the way.

Northington said Target officials told him that he had violated procedure by not filling out the proper paperwork before contacting the police, though he said his office had operated the same way for years. He said he also was told that he had been insubordinate for not seeking approval before calling police, though he said the standard practice was for him to act as needed.

But the man Northington said he and his supervisors identified as a deputy has not yet been charged with a crime though Northington said he had provided the man’s name and two color videos of him in action, his face clearly visible, to Leesburg police on May 27, the date of the second incident.

A Leesburg police spokesman said investigators were still trying to confirm the suspect’s identity. Northington said Leesburg police typically filed similar cases against shoplifters within a few days. He also said a Leesburg police sergeant investigating the case said while watching the surveillance video on May 27 that he recognized the man from a local gym where the two worked out. Store supervisors also knew the man, Northington said.

Northington said he is considering his legal options. “I’m confused and don’t understand why,” Northington said. “I’ve been there for eight years, no issues. I’m just trying to provide for my family, and I just really want to get back to work.”

Molly Snyder, a corporate spokeswoman for Target, said in an e-mail that she would not discuss the details of the case for privacy reasons. But in Northington’s case, she said, “we have conducted a full investigation and don’t believe there is any merit to this individual’s claims.”

Declan Leonard, Northington’s attorney, said he typically represents employers in such disputes, but “when we heard how he was treated by Target, we decided to step in.”

Leonard said Northington “intends to fight Target on this for as long as it takes.”

Northington said that in his role as an assets-protection specialist for Target, he had summoned the Leesburg police numerous times in recent years to investigate shoplifters and had done so without filling out any paperwork or seeking permission from a supervisor.

In the first alleged shoplifting, on May 16, Northington said, he arrived at work and his supervisor said he had noticed the man stick a tube of toothpaste into a bag after already paying for other items. He said the supervisor “didn’t feel comfortable” confronting the man, who the supervisor “thought was some sort of law enforcement.”

Northington said the store manager was contacted and the manager said he knew the man because they had participated in an NCAA March Madness pool together. The staff watched the surveillance video and decided, as they often did, Northington said, to wait for the man to return.

The man who Northington said appeared to be the deputy did not return a call seeking comment. The Washington Post is withholding his name because he has not been charged.

Northington said that when he clocked in on May 27, the supervisor told him the man had returned. That time, according to Northington, video appeared to show the man with a cart full of items at the pharmacy register inside the store but paying just for about half of them while concealing the cart from the cashier. After checking out, Northington said, the man wheeled away and stashed the rest of his merchandise, which Northington could not see, into the bags of purchased items and left.

Again, Northington said, the supervisor said he “didn’t feel comfortable” confronting the man, so the supervisor called Leesburg police and Northington went to the police station to file a report. A Leesburg sergeant then returned to the store, watched the video and said, “I know who that is,” Northington said. He said the sergeant also told him, “This is pretty serious” because the man was allegedly in law enforcement. Leesburg police confirmed that Northington had filed a police report on May 27. The Post did not independently review the video.

Soon after, Northington said, the supervisor told him the man’s full name. Northington said he phoned it in to the Leesburg police. It is unclear how the supervisor knew the man’s name.

On May 30, Northington said, he was called into the store’s personnel office and suspended for two days. The next week, he said, he was terminated for “gross misconduct.” He said he was told he had violated a policy on confidentiality by contacting police without approval, providing the surveillance video to police and not filling out internal paperwork before doing so . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 July 2014 at 10:18 am

The American Century (1914-2014) has ended

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This article by Michael Lind in Salon makes a very good case, IMO.

In 1914, the American Century began. This year the American Century ended. America’s foreign policy is in a state of collapse, America’s economy doesn’t work well, and American democracy is broken. The days when other countries looked to the U.S. as a successful model of foreign policy prudence, democratic capitalism and liberal democracy may be over. The American Century, 1914-2014. RIP.

A hundred years ago, World War I marked the emergence of the U.S. as the dominant world power. Already by the late nineteenth century, the U.S. had the world’s biggest economy. But it took the First World War to catalyze the emergence of the U.S. as the most important player in geopolitics. The U.S. tipped the balance against Imperial Germany, first by loans to its enemies after 1914 and then by entering the war directly in 1917.

Twice more in the twentieth century the U.S. intervened to prevent a hostile power from dominating Europe and the world, in World War II and the Cold War. Following the end of the Cold War, America’s bipartisan elite undertook the project of creating permanent American global hegemony. The basis of America’s hegemonic project was a bargain with the two major powers of Europe, Germany and Russia, and the two major powers of Asia, Japan and China. The U.S. proposed to make Russia and China perpetual military protectorates, as it had already done during the Cold War with Germany and Japan. In return, the U.S. would keep its markets open to their exports and look after their international security interests.

This vision of a solitary American globocop policing the world on behalf of other great powers that voluntarily abandon militarism for trade has been shared by the Clinton, Bush 43 and Obama administrations. But by 2014 the post-Cold War grand strategy of the United States had collapsed.

China and Russia have rudely declined America’s offer to make them subservient military satellites, like Japan and Germany. China has been building up its military, engaging in cyber-attacks on the U.S., and intimidating its neighbors, to promote the end of American military primacy in East Asia.

Meanwhile, Russia has responded to the expansion of the U.S.-led NATO alliance to its borders by going to war with Georgia in 2008 to deter Georgian membership in NATO and then, in 2014, seizing Crimea from Ukraine, after Washington promoted a rebellion against the pro-Russian Ukrainian president.

There are even signs of a Sino-Russian alliance against the U.S. The prospect excites some neoconservatives and neoliberal hawks, who had been quiet following the American military disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan. But in a second Cold War against a Sino-Russian axis, the European Union, with its economy comparable to America’s, will not provide reliable support. Russia is a nuisance, not a threat to Europe. China doesn’t threaten Europe and Europeans want Chinese trade and investment too much. In Asia, only a fool would bet on the ability of a ramshackle alliance of the U.S., Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam and Australia to “contain” China.

The U.S. still has by far the world’s most powerful and sophisticated military — but what good is it? Russia knows the U.S. won’t go to war over Ukraine. China knows the U.S. won’t go to war over this or that reef or island in the South China Sea. As Chairman Mao would have said, America is a paper tiger.

The U.S. military was able to destroy the autocratic governments of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya — but all the foreign policy agencies of the U.S. have been unable to help create functioning states to replace them. Since 2003, Uncle Sam has learned that it is easier to kick over anthills than to build them.

In addition to having a huge military that for the most part can neither intimidate strong adversaries nor pacify weak ones, America has an economy that for decades has failed to deliver sustained growth that is widely shared. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2014 at 9:20 am

Corporations in the US can do what they want and suffer mild punishment if that

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John Ryan reports (and with an audio report at the link):

It was the state’s worst industrial accident in nearly 50 years.

On a chilly April night in 2010, a giant fireball lit up the sky above Anacortes, Washington. A southeast wind pushed a plume of black smoke toward the heart of this seaside town an hour north of Seattle.

Just after midnight, 911 calls poured in from residents shaken from their sleep.

Dispatch: “Skagit 911. What’s your emergency?”

Caller: “I’m trying to find out what’s going on at the refinery.”

Dispatch: “We don’t know at this point, sir.”

Caller: “All I can tell you is I live 2 ½ miles from it, and the explosion was hard enough to rock my house, and there’s one hell of a fire going there.”

That explosion at the Tesoro refinery on the outskirts of Anacortes killed seven workers.

Four years later, no one has been held publicly accountable for the deaths of Daniel Aldridge, Matt Bowen, Matt Gumbel, Darrin Hoines, Lew Janz, Kathryn Powell and Donna Van Dreumel.

Refinery owner Tesoro agreed to pay millions to families of the dead, but the company continues to fight government accusations that it willfully put its workers in harm’s way. The families have also sued Lloyd’s Register Energy Americas, a company that advised Tesoro on how to inspect the refinery’s maze of high-temperature, high-pressure machinery.

With legal proceedings still under way, it remains unclear whether government will hold anyone responsible for the human cost of Tesoro gasoline.

State efforts to penalize Tesoro have stalled on appeal. Federal prosecutors are attempting to go after Tesoro under environmental laws, which are tougher than the nation’s workplace-safety laws.

Yet, the Obama administration’s attempt to impose criminal penalties has made little headway. Four years after the explosion, no one has been charged with any crimes.

After a six-month investigation, the Washington Department of Labor and Industries accused Tesoro of willfully breaking the law 39 times. In October 2010, the agency hit Tesoro with the biggest workplace-safety fine in state history: $2.39 million.

That penalty made headlines, and it might sound like a strong deterrent to any company running a dangerous operation. But to a Fortune 100 company like Tesoro, a couple million is petty cash. The San Antonio, Texas, firm brings in that much revenue in about half an hour.

Still, Tesoro attorneys have appealed the penalty, and they’ve been fighting it for the past three and a half years before a judge with a little-known state agency, the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals.

Last year, Judge Mark Jaffe overturned 28 of Tesoro’s 39 alleged willful violations of state law. He also slashed more than two-thirds off that record fine. It’s now down to $685,000 and could go lower. He’s expected to make his final decision next year.

It’s par for the course for major industrial accidents in the United States. Companies are often able to whittle down or at least delay the consequences of their unsafe workplaces. . . .

Continue reading.

It’s a lengthy article and it is infuriating at how corporations can literally kill people through forcing practices that it knows are unsafe and have no accountability—certainly no officer of the corporation is held responsible (despite their high salaries and big bonuses that seem to indicate that they are responsible for what happens), and the fines that corporations pay are laughably small: pocket change, in effect.

I encourage you to read the entire article and listen to the audio clips.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2014 at 8:51 am

Elon Musk donates $1 million to Nikola Tesla museum

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Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2014 at 8:27 am

Posted in Business

Why organic food is more healthful

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Sarah Gray writes in Salon:

Could there be a clear difference between organic and non-organic food? An international study, due out next week, in the journal British Journal of Nutrition, presents evidence that there is, indeed, a discernible difference.

Carlo Leifert from Newcastle University, led the team of researchers. Their conclusion states that organic food may have more antioxidant compounds present and lower levels of pesticides — four times lower than non-organic — and toxic metals like cadmium .

Leifert told the Guardian that the differences in antioxidant levels were “substantially higher.” They were apparently ranging between 19% and 69% higher in organic food. This study, according to the Guardian, is the first to show an actual difference between organic and non-organic food.

The debate of whether organic is healthier, is still far from over, as this is only one study. If anything it opens up new questions, and will lead to new exploration on the topic.

And of course not all are convinced, including Tom Sanders, a professor of nutrition at King’s College London. He said the study does show some difference but has some questions. “But the question is are they within natural variation? And are they nutritionally relevant?” he asked, “I am not convinced.” He also believes the article is misleading due to a reference to antioxidants as key nutrients.

The Independent also reports questions amongst the nutrition community, including Professor Richared Mithen of the Institute of Food Research. “The references to ‘antioxidants’ and ‘antioxidant activity’, and various ‘antioxidant’ assays would suggest a poor knowledge of the current understanding within the nutrition community of how fruit and vegetables may maintain and improve health,” Mithen explained.

The results, according to the Guardian are ” based on an analysis of 343 peer-reviewed studies from around the world – more than ever before – which examine differences between organic and conventional fruit, vegetables and cereals.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 July 2014 at 9:17 pm

Why is the government so inept at investigation?

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The eruption of the VA scandals showed clearly that the government does a poor job of investigating its programs. And now Medicare has been found to simply accept large-scale fraud, seemingly making no effort whatsoever to detect and punish fraud—until newspapers write stories about it. Charles Ornstein has an infuriating article in ProPublica:

The fraud scheme began to unravel last fall, with the discovery of a misdirected stack of bogus prescriptions — and a suspicious spike in Medicare drug spending tied to a doctor in Key Biscayne, Fla.

Now it’s led to two guilty pleas, as well as an ongoing criminal case against a pharmacy owner.

Last year, ProPublica chronicled how lax oversight had led to rampant waste and fraud in Medicare’s prescription drug program, known as Part D. As part of that series, we wrote about Dr. Carmen Ortiz-Butcher, a kidney specialist whose Part D prescriptions soared from $282,000 in 2010 to $4 million the following year. The value of her prescriptions rose to nearly $5 million in 2012, the most recent year available.

But no one in Medicare bothered to ask her about the seemingly huge change in her practice, Ortiz-Butcher’s attorney said. She stumbled across a sign of trouble last September, after asking a staffer to mail a fanny pack to her brother. But instead of receiving the pack, he received a package of prescriptions purportedly signed by the doctor, lawyer Robert Mayer said last year. Ortiz-Butcher immediately alerted authorities.

Since then, investigators have uncovered a web of interrelated scams that, together, cost the federal government up to $7 million, documents show.

In February, the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Southern District of Florida charged Maria De Armas Suero, who had been a secretary at Ortiz-Butcher’s Island Clinic from March 2011 to September 2013, with 11 counts of conspiracy, fraud and aggravated identity theft.

Suero subsequently agreed to plead guilty to two counts of conspiracy and identity theft. In a recounting of her wrongdoing, called a factual proffer, she acknowledged using Ortiz-Butcher’s paper prescriptions to “create fraudulent scripts for numerous Medicare beneficiaries…The prescriptions falsely represented that the Medicare beneficiary was seen by [Ortiz-Butcher] and that the listed prescriptions were medically necessary.”

Suero acknowledged that she was paid $100 for each prescription she generated. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 July 2014 at 11:45 am

Food Labelled ‘Organic’ Can Have Shocking Levels of Heavy Metals

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Imported foods, mostly—I hope. Ari LeVaux has the story at AlterNet:

Heavy metal pollution makes no distinction between how crops are grown. Irrespective of whether farming practices are organic or conventional practices are used, if the likes of cadmium, arsenic, lead, nickel and mercury are in the soil, water or air they can contaminate food and poison the people who consume it. With enough exposure, heavy metals can build up in the body, causing chronic problems in the skin, intestine, nervous system, kidneys, liver, and brain. Some heavy metals occur naturally in soil, but rarely at toxic levels, while human activities like mining, manufacturing and the use of synthetic materials like paint, and even some agricultural chemicals, can release heavy metals into the air and water, and from there they find their way to the soil. And once in the soil, heavy metals are virtually impossible to remove.

China acknowledged last April that a staggering one-fifth of its arable land is seriously polluted with heavy metals, thanks to decades of aggressive industrial development. China’s Environmental Protection Ministry looked at data sampled between 2006 and 2013 and described the situation as “not optimistic.” The most commonly found heavy metals were cadmium, nickel and arsenic. The revelation came after months of speculation about the report, which at one point was not going to be released as the results were considered to be a “State Secret.”

Cadmium, one of the metals found in high concentrations in Chinese soil, is one of the most toxic heavy metal pollutants. It moves through soil layers with ease, and is taken up by a variety of plants, including leafy vegetables, root crops, cereals and grains. Last year it was discovered that nearly half of the rice for sale in the southern China city of Guangzhou was tainted with cadmium, which caused a major uproar.

Nickel and arsenic, the other two pollutants found in greatest amounts, aren’t so great either.

In the U.S., arsenic in apple juice has been on the popular radar since September 2011, when Mehmet Oz reported high arsenic levels in multiple samples of apple juice that were independently tested for his television show. More than half of the apple juice consumed in the U.S. comes from China.

Oz was taken to the woodshed for being alarmist by a number of experts and authorities, including the FDA, which disputed the results with its own data. ABC News’ senior health medical editor, Richard Besser, called Oz’s claims “extremely irresponsible,” comparing it to yelling fire in a crowded theater.

A few weeks later, FDA admitted it had withheld many test results which did, in fact, support Oz’s claim. Besser apologized to Oz on national television, and soon after the FDA collected about 90 retail samples of apple juice for a new round of analysis. According to FDA documents now available, the levels reported by Oz are in fact consistent with those detected by the agency in samples from China and Turkey.

Last year the agency set a limit, also known as an “action level,” on arsenic in juice, at 10 parts per billion, the same level that’s enforced in drinking water. Currently, FDA has import alerts set for four firms, two each in China and Turkey. The products of these companies, while regularly tested for arsenic because of previous violations of the action level, continue to be imported.

While China is not the only polluted region from which we import food, with a combination of aggressive industrial development and legendarily lax enforcement, it’s become a poster child for scary food imports. But any region with rapid industrial development and suspect environmental regulations could be a candidate for producing food contaminated with heavy metals.

While we don’t import a huge amount of food from China overall, we do consume large amounts of certain things in addition to apple juice, like garlic and farmed seafood—including 80 percent of the tilapia we eat. Much of China’s surface water, including water used for aquaculture, is polluted, not only with industrial toxins but also with agricultural fertilizers, which fuel the growth of algae. Algae can accumulate heavy metals, as will the fish that eat it. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 July 2014 at 11:04 am

Fast-food ratings from Consumer Reports

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crm_consumer_reports_taste_champs_08-14

Written by LeisureGuy

8 July 2014 at 2:45 pm

Posted in Business, Food

Company cultures have a strong survival instinct: GM edition

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Culture—the active memes in use of the current cultural (or sub-cultural) populations–are close enough to living that they try to reproduce and if threatened, they struggle to survive. GM had a big Moment of Truth after the Cobalt incident and their own investigation clearly indicts the culture: Things Will Never Be The Same.

Only culture is sticky and alive: see this story. The new GM acts a lot like the old GM.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 July 2014 at 6:22 pm

Google CEO Larry Page discusses the possibility of a four-day work week

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Page talks about in in this report by Jena McGregor in the Washington Post. It has been tried, and tried successfully, but business owners seemed quite skittish about their employees having more leisure time: too much time to think and “to get up to mischief,” as I bet some said. Read the fascinating article at the second link. Perhaps it’s time to revisit the idea.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 July 2014 at 4:01 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

Good summary of Hobby Lobby implications

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Alan Park has a good post at Mother Jones on the problems implicit in the Hobby Lobby decision. Basically, one the corporate veil is ripped open, then things flow in both directions: if the owners can have the corporation reflect their religious beliefs, they are well on their way to having to pay (personally) for the corporation’s debt. Park’s post begins:

Here’s one more reason to worry about the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, which allowed the arts and crafts chain to block insurance coverage of contraception for female employees because of the owners’ religious objections: It could screw up corporate law.

This gets complicated, but bear with us. Basically, what you need to know is that if you and some friends start a company that makes a lot of money, you’ll be rich, but if it incurs a lot of debt and fails, you won’t be left to pay its bills. The Supreme Court affirmed this arrangement in a 2001 case, Cedric Kushner Promotions vs. Don King:

linguistically speaking, the employee and the corporation are different “persons,” even where the employee is the corporation’s sole owner. After all, incorporation’s basic purpose is to create a distinct legal entity, with legal rights, obligations, powers, and privileges different from those of the natural individuals who created it, who own it, or whom it employs.

That separation is what legal and business scholars call the “corporate veil,” and it’s fundamental to the entire operation. Now, thanks to the Hobby Lobby case, it’s in question. By letting Hobby Lobby’s owners assert their personal religious rights over an entire corporation, the Supreme Court has poked a major hole in the veil. In other words, if a company is not truly separate from its owners, the owners could be made responsible for its debts and other burdens.

“If religious shareholders can do it, why can’t creditors and government regulators pierce the corporate veil in the other direction?” Burt Neuborne, a law professor at New York University, asked in an email.

That’s a question raised by 44 other law professors, who filed a friends-of-the-court brief that implored the Court to reject Hobby Lobby’s argument and hold the veil in place. Here’s what they argued:

Allowing a corporation, through either shareholder vote or board resolution, to take on and assert the religious beliefs of its shareholders in order to avoid having to comply with a generally-applicable law with a secular purpose is fundamentally at odds with the entire concept of incorporation. Creating such an unprecedented and idiosyncratic tear in the corporate veil would also carry with it unintended consequences, many of which are not easily foreseen.

In his opinion for Hobby Lobby, Justice Samuel Alito’s insisted the decision should be narrowly applied to the peculiarities of the case. But as my colleague Pat Caldwell writes, the logic of the argument is likely to invite a tide of new lawsuits, all with their own unintended consequences.

Continue reading.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

7 July 2014 at 3:37 pm

Posted in Business, Law, Religion

The curse of smart people

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An interesting blog post that discusses a problem in decision-making laid out in Russo and Schoemaker’s highly useful book Decision Traps: Ten Barriers to Brilliant Decision-Making and How to Overcome Them: that we tend to trust people who radiate confidence, and that confidence is often misplaced—that is, the confidence is based on their own self-esteem and the logic/rationalization they used to arrive at their conclusion. Quite often, the confidence is based on (logical) expectations rather than (actual) experience. From many painful mistakes, human culture ultimately arrived at the scientific method in which experience of the actual is the supreme arbiter—but we still love a shortcut, and confident people offer one.

At any rate, an interesting post. And I continue to recommend the book, as you see.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 July 2014 at 11:16 am

Posted in Books, Business, Daily life

Why OSHA is required: Otherwise, businesses would let their employees be killed

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Michael Grabell reports at ProPublica:

Inside the sugar plant in Fairless Hills, Pa., nobody could find Janio Salinas, a 50-year-old temp worker from just over the New Jersey border.

Throughout the morning, Salinas and a handful of other workers had been bagging mounds of sugar for a company that supplies the makers of Snapple drinks and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. But sugar clumps kept clogging the massive hopper, forcing the workers to climb inside with shovels to help the granules flow out the funnel-like hole at the bottom.

Coming back from lunch that day in February 2013, one employee said he had seen Salinas digging in the sugar. But when he looked back, Salinas was gone. All that remained was a shovel buried up to its handle. Then, peering through a small gap in the bottom of the hopper, someone noticed what appeared to be blue jeans.

It was Salinas. He had been buried alive in sugar.

As harrowing as the accident was, federal safety investigators recently discovered something perhaps even more disturbing: A safety device that would have prevented Salinas’ death had been removed just 13 days before the accident because a manager believed it was slowing down production.

After a series of gruesome accidents involving untrained temp workers, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has stepped up its enforcement of rules affecting temp workers. In recent cases, OSHA has held companies and temp agencies jointly responsible for training, and it has fined temp agencies for not assessing potential dangers before sending people to a workplace.

But the federal report on the accident that killed Salinas reveals how deeply rooted the problems are—and how difficult a challenge OSHA faces in changing the way temp workers are treated.

The Salinas case is featured in a new investigative report by Univision, airing tonight on its news magazine show, Aquí y Ahora. The report also features undercover video from the growing blue-collar temp world. Earlier this year, the Spanish-language TV network sent two producers to work for temp agencies in an immigrant neighborhood in New Brunswick, N.J. From there, the agencies provide workers to local warehouses to unload goods coming in from overseas.

Univision quickly learned that the agencies weren’t following employment rules. At five of the seven agencies they visited, the employment forms the producers received were in English, even though they spoke Spanish and the overwhelming majority of workers who use the agencies don’t speak English. One producer was asked to sign a safety quiz that had already been filled out. When they got to the warehouses, both men were sent to work without any training.

The temporary staffing business has been . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 July 2014 at 11:09 am

This is depressing: Destroying small businesses for fun and profit

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Kevin Poulsen reports in Wired:

Washington DC-area residents with a hankering for lion meat lost a valuable source of the (yes, legal) delicacy last year when a restaurant called the Serbian Crown closed its doors after nearly 40 years in the same location. The northern Virginia eatery served French and Russian cuisine in a richly appointed dining room thick with old world charm. It was best known for its selection of exotic meats—one of the few places in the U.S. where an adventurous diner could order up a plate of horse or kangaroo. “We used to have bear, but bear meat was abolished,” says proprietor Rene Bertagna. “You cannot import any more bear.”

But these days, Bertagna isn’t serving so much as a whisker. It began in early 2012, when he experienced a sudden 75 percent drop off in customers on the weekend, the time he normally did most of his business. The slump continued for months, for no apparent reason. Bertagna’s profits plummeted, he was forced to lay off some of his staff, and he struggled to understand what was happening. Only later did Bertagna come to suspect that he was the victim of a gaping vulnerability that made his opened his Google listings to manipulation.

He was alerted to that possibility when one of his regulars phoned the restaurant. “A customer called me and said, ‘Why are you closed on Saturday, Sunday and Monday? What’s going on?’” Bertagna says.

It turned out that Google Places, the search giant’s vast business directory, was misreporting the Serbian Crown’s hours. Anyone Googling Serbian Crown, or plugging it into Google Maps, was told incorrectly that the restaurant was closed on the weekends, Bertagna says. For a destination restaurant with no walk-in traffic, that was a fatal problem.

“This area where the restaurant is located is kind of off the beaten path,” says Bertagna’s lawyer, Christopher Rau. “It’s in a wealthy subdivision of northern Virginia where a lot of government employees live on these estates and houses with two- or three-acre lots … It’s not really on the way to anything. If you’re going there, it’s because you’ve planned to go there. And unless you know that the place is going to be open, you’re probably not going to drag yourself out.”

Bertagna immigrated to the U.S. from northern Italy when he was young. He’s 74 now, and, he says, doesn’t own a computer—he’d heard of the Internet and Google but used neither. Suddenly, a technological revolution of which he was only dimly aware was killing his business. His accountant phoned Google and in an attempt to change the listing, but got nowhere. Bertagna eventually hired an Internet consultant who took control of the Google Places listing and fixed the bad information—a relatively simple process.

But by then, Bertagna says, his business was in a nose dive from which he couldn’t recover—service suffered after the layoffs, and customers stopped coming back. He shuttered the Serbian Crown in April 2013. . .

Continue reading.

Later in the story:

. . . Beneath its slick interface and crystal clear GPS-enabled vision of the world, Google Maps roils with local rivalries, score-settling, and deception. Maps are dotted with thousands of spam business listings for nonexistent locksmiths and plumbers. Legitimate businesses sometimes see their listings hijacked by competitors or cloned into a duplicate with a different phone number or website. In January, someone bulk-modified the Google Maps presence of thousands of hotels around the country, changing the website URLs to a commercial third-party booking site (which siphons off the commissions).

Small businesses are the usual targets. In a typical case in 2010, Buffalo-based Barbara Oliver & Co Jewelry saw its Google Maps listing changed to “permanently closed” at the exact same time that it was flooded with fake and highly unfavorable customer reviews.

“We narrowed it down as to who it was. It was another jeweler who had tampered with it,” says Barbara Oliver, the owner. “The bottom line was the jeweler put five-star reviews on his Google reviews, and he slammed me and three other local jewelers, all within a couple of days.”
Barbara Oliver.

Barbara Oliver. Courtesy Barbara Oliver & Co.
Oliver’s Google Maps listing was repaired, because she had something Bertagna didn’t have: a web consultant on retainer feeding and caring for her Internet presence. That consultant, Mike Blumenthal, says he’s countered a lot of similar tampering over the years.

“I had a client who’s phone number was modified through a community edit,” says Blumenthal, who closely tracks Google Maps’ foibles in his blog. “It was a small retail shop—interior design. I traced it back to a competitor who left a footprint.” . . .

Those who destroy businesses in this way should face prison terms.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 July 2014 at 10:20 am

Posted in Business, Technology

Interesting adaptation: Taking Oil Industry Cue, Environmentalists Drew Emissions Blueprint

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Coral Davenport has a very interesting article in the NY Times:

In November 2010, three combatants gathered in a sleek office here to build a carbon emissions policy that they hoped to sell to the Obama administration.

One was a lawyer who had been wielding the Clean Air Act since his days at the University of California, Berkeley. Another had turned to practicing environmental law and writing federal regulations to curb pollution after spending a summer on a pristine island off Nova Scotia. The third, a climate scientist who is a fixture on Capitol Hill, became an environmentalist because of postcollege backpacking trips in the Rockies.

The three were as seasoned and well connected as Washington’s best-paid lobbyists because of their decades of experience and the relationships they formed in the capital.

Over the next two years the lawyers, David Doniger and David Hawkins, and the scientist, Daniel Lashof, worked with a team of experts to write a 110-page proposal, widely viewed as innovative and audacious, that was aimed at slashing planet-warming carbon pollution from the nation’s coal-fired power plants. On June 2, President Obama proposed a new Environmental Protection Agency rule to curb power plant emissions that used as its blueprint the work of the three men and their team.

It was a remarkable victory for the Natural Resources Defense Council, the longtime home of Mr. Doniger and Mr. Hawkins and, until recently, of Mr. Lashof. The organization has a reach that extends from the big donors of Wall Street to the elite of Hollywood (Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert Redford are on its board) to the far corners of the Environmental Protection Agency, where Mr. Doniger and Mr. Hawkins once worked.

The group’s leaders understand the art of influence: In successfully drafting a climate plan that heavily influenced the president’s proposal, the organization followed the strategy used by the American Petroleum Institute, the lobbying arm of the oil industry, to write an energy policy for Vice President Dick Cheney during the Bush administration.

“The N.R.D.C. proposal has its fingerprints throughout this, for sure,” said Dallas Burtraw, an energy policy expert at Resources for the Future, a Washington nonprofit, describing how the council’s work influenced the proposed 650-page environmental regulation.

Representatives of the coal industry agreed. “N.R.D.C. is crafting regulatory policy for the E.P.A. that is designed to advance their agenda at the cost of American businesses and people who will pay the price through much higher electricity rates,” wrote Laura Sheehan, a spokeswoman for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a lobbying group. Scott Segal, who lobbies for the coal industry with the firm Bracewell & Giuliani, said in an email that the council’s experts “have unprecedented access to this E.P.A. and are able to project influence down to the details of regulatory proposals and creative legal theories.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce was so certain of the council’s sway that it used the group’s proposal as the basis for its economic analysis of what it expected in the E.P.A. rule, before the rule’s actual release. “It is no surprise that N.R.D.C. has a great deal of influence on E.P.A. and the White House,” Matthew LeTourneau, a chamber spokesman, wrote in an email.

Continue reading. Also note the comments and links to related coverage.

One important point inexplicably omitted from the story is the result of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce analysis. Here’s Krugman’s comment on their analysis—and it found that the cost of combatting climate change is remarkably low.

See also this column.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 July 2014 at 8:04 pm

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