Archive for the ‘Business’ Category
Another very interesting article in Pacific Standard (and again, right now in Firefox you have to scroll past several screens of links), this one by Nicole Woo:
The Nation recently sparked a robust discussion with its incisive online conversation, “Does Feminism Have a Class Problem?” The panelists addressed the “Lean In” phenomenon, articulating how and why Sheryl Sandberg’s focus on self-improvement—rather than structural barriers and collective action to overcome them—angered quite a few feminists on the left.
While women of different economic backgrounds face many different realities, they also share similar work-life balance struggles. In that vein, the discussants argue that expanding family-friendly workplace policies—which would improve the lives of working women up and down the economic ladder—could help bridge the feminist class divide.
A growing body of research indicates that there are few other interventions that improve the economic prospects and work-life balance of women workers as much as unions do. A new report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), which I co-authored with my colleagues Janelle Jones and John Schmitt, shows just how much of a boost unions give to working women’s pay, benefits, and workplace flexibility.
For example, all else being equal, women in unions earn an average of 13 percent—that’s about $2.50 per hour—more than their non-union counterparts. In other words, unionization can raise a woman’s pay as much as a full year of college does. Unions also help move us closer to equal pay: A study by the National Women’s Law Center determined that the gender pay gap for union workers is only half of what it is for those not in unions.
Unionized careers tend to come with better health and retirement benefits, too. CEPR finds that women in unions are 36 percent more likely to have health insurance through their jobs—and a whopping 53 percent more likely to participate in an employer-sponsored retirement plan.
Unions also support working women at those crucial times when they need time off to care for themselves or their families. Union workplaces are 16 percent more likely to allow medical leave and 21 percent more likely to offer paid sick leave. Companies with unionized employees are also 22 percent more likely to allow parental leave, 12 percent more likely to offer pregnancy leave, and 19 percent more likely to let their workers take time off to care for sick family members.
Women make up almost half of the union workforce and are on track to be in the majority by 2025. As women are overrepresented in the low-wage jobs that are being created in this precarious economy—they are 56.4 percent of low-wage workers and over half of fast food workers—unions are leading and supporting many of the campaigns to improve their situations. In an important sense, the union movement already is a women’s movement.
Education and skills can get women only so far. It’s a conundrum that women have surpassed men when it comes to formal schooling, yet women have made little progress catching up on pay. Many women who do everything right—getting more education and skills—still find themselves with low wages and no benefits. . . .
Because corporations focus totally on growing profits, they have an equally intense focus on cutting costs: every dollar cut from costs drops straight to the bottom line as pure profit. Thus corporations try to avoid clean-up costs (thus the Superfund sites: corporations put those costs on taxpayers), no longer care much about the communities around them, and have stripped training from their budgets, in effect demanding that training costs be borne by others—the taxpayers, most often, through community college training programs, but also their own employees, who must pay out of their own pockets for training. The corporation wants all the benefits, but none of the costs.
Lauren Weber writes in the Wall Street Journal:
Hu-Friedy, a manufacturer of dental instruments in Chicago, says its future hinges on four employees. So, it is paying them to leave their jobs for two years.
While their colleagues bend and grind cylinders of steel on the factory floor, the four workers since March have been mastering the fundamentals of metal composition and heat-treating, among other things. The hope, managers say, is that the two years of full-time training will help keep the 106-year-old dental-instruments maker competitive in a mature industry crowded with rivals.
What’s happening at Hu-Friedy Mfg. Co. LLC is a rare exception to decades of corporate disinvestment in skills development, and gets at the heart of the debate playing out in the hiring market over whose job it is to train workers.
Companies complain that they can’t find skilled hires, but they aren’t doing much to impart those skills, economists and workforce experts say. U.S. companies have been cutting money for training programs for decades, expecting schools and workers to pick up the slack. Economists say that reluctance to develop workers in-house has made it hard for workers to launch or sustain careers, resulting in a stalemate in the labor market: Companies won’t look at job candidates who lack a specific skill set, so openings go unfilled even as millions linger on the unemployment rolls.
The government hasn’t tracked spending on corporate training since the mid-1990s, but one rough measure, the percentage of staffers at U.S. manufacturers dedicated to training and development, has fallen by about half from 2006 to 2013, according to research group Bersin by Deloitte.
Employers’ expectations for new hires have shifted since the recessions of the early 1980s, when companies laid off masses of workers and slashed training programs. Where bosses once hired for potential, viewing workers as lumps of clay to be molded to the company’s needs, they now want hires to arrive with all or most of the skills needed for the job—another symptom of how the employer-employee relationship has become reduced to a transaction, said Peter Cappelli, a management professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.
If employers “want only people who can step in immediately because they are currently doing the job, [they] narrow the pool to almost no one,” said Mr. Cappelli. He added that today’s novices are more likely to briefly shadow an experienced worker or log a few hours of on-the-job training than participate in a weekslong learning program. . . .
Pam Martens reports in Wall Street on Parade:
Wall Street On Parade has been reporting for the past six months on a series of tragic, sudden deaths of Information Technology workers at JPMorgan. Now coming to the fore are stories of relentless prosecutions of Wall Street’s IT workers by Manhattan District Attorney, Cyrus Vance. Bloomberg News reports today that Vance is engaged in at least four prosecutions of Wall Street workers over theft of computer code or other intellectual property.
Bestselling author, Michael Lewis, devoted a significant part of his latest book, Flash Boys, to the prosecution of Sergey Aleynikov over alleged stolen computer code. Aleynikov had been working for Goldman Sachs when he received an offer to move to a hedge fund and build a system from scratch. Aleynikov accepted the offer but agreed to stay at Goldman for six weeks to train his colleagues. (That does not seem like the action of a person on the run with stolen computer code.)
That was 2009. For the past five years, Aleynikov has been arrested and jailed by the Feds, had his conviction overturned by the Second Circuit Appeals Court, rearrested by the Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, and now faces more prosecution over the same set of facts: namely, that he took computer code that belonged to Goldman Sachs. Aleynikov is said to be among the best coders in the industry. He is increasingly being seen as the victim of malicious prosecution at the behest of the powerful Goldman Sachs.
According to the Lewis book, on the very same day that Kevin Marino, Aleynikov’s lawyer, gave his oral arguments to the Appeals Court, “the judges ordered Serge released, on the grounds that the laws he stood accused of breaking did not actually apply to his case.” He had been in prison for a year.
When the Second Circuit Appeals Court handed down its opinion of the case in December 2010, it found that Aleynikov had neither taken a tangible good from Goldman nor had he stolen a product involved in interstate commerce – noting that at oral argument the government “was unable to identify a single product that affects interstate commerce.”
But the hounds from hell were not finished with Aleynikov. Approximately six months after his vindication by the Second Circuit Appeals Court, the Manhattan District Attorney, Cyrus Vance, arrested Aleynikov, placed him in jail on essentially the same charges, and sought to have bail denied on the basis that he was a flight risk. Lewis notes in the book that the prosecutor put in charge of the case, Joanne Li, was actually the flight risk – Li soon fled the case, getting a job at Citigroup.
The ill repute that is now surrounding the Vance case is sending a message to close observers that this is more about harassing IT workers and delivering a cautionary warning to others than it is about punishing a real crime.
On Friday, June 20 of this year, New York State Judge Ronald A. Zweibel found that Aleynikov’s arrest at the hands of the Feds had been illegal. The Judge wrote that the FBI agent “did not have probable cause to arrest defendant, let alone search him or his home.” The Judge further noted that the “defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated.”
The Judge also ruled that Aleynikov’s computer property seized by the FBI should have been returned to him after his case was overturned by the Federal Appeals Court. Instead, the Federal prosecutors turned the computers over to Vance’s office.
After Zweibel’s ruling, Aleynikov’s lawyer, Kevin Marino, released a statement saying that the Judge’s decision “represents a damning indictment of those assistant U.S. attorneys, assistant district attorneys and FBI agents who have now twice pursued an unlawful prosecution of an innocent man at the behest of Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs.” Marino added that Goldman “not only provoked but has been an active co-conspirator in the government’s case against Mr. Aleynikov.”
Is co-conspirator too strong a word? To comprehend the arrest and imprisonment of IT workers on Wall Street, one has to have context.
For many decades, there was a saying on Wall Street that . . .
It’s pretty clear that Wall Street controls at least some of the Federal government. They do not use their power to good ends.
I think Cuomo has shown his true colors, and they are unattractive in the extreme. Consider this report from Justin Elliott in ProPublica:
In early 2007, when he was New York State attorney general, Andrew Cuomo brought on a longtime confidant as a consultant on mortgage industry investigations, a move that has gone undisclosed until now.
The friend was Howard Glaser and he had another job at the same time: consultant and lobbyist for the very industry Cuomo was investigating.
Glaser, who went on to become a top state official in Cuomo’s gubernatorial administration, was operating a lucrative consulting firm, the Glaser Group, with a host of mortgage industry clients.
Later that year, Glaser provided insights on Cuomo’s investigations to industry players on a conference call hosted by an investment bank.
Cuomo’s office ended up giving immunity to one of Glaser’s clients a year into his term as attorney general.
In the end, experts say, the mortgage investigations Cuomo touted as “wide-ranging” came to little, even as he held one of the country’s most powerful prosecutorial positions through the financial crisis and its aftermath.
Glaser’s role in the attorney general’s investigations was disclosed to ProPublica in response to a public records request. The extent of his work is unclear, as is how long it lasted. Glaser told ProPublica the scope of the work was limited. While it was a formal arrangement, it was unpaid.
Cuomo’s office referred questions to Steven Cohen, who was chief of staff when Cuomo was attorney general. “There is no doubt Glaser provided advice to the governor when he was attorney general,” said Cohen. “The role he served was as a general consultant on the industry overall. He did not provide advice on specific investigations.”
Glaser also said that, despite the investment bank conference call, he never advised clients on Cuomo investigations.
One person who worked in the mortgage industry during that time said Glaser had a reputation as having Cuomo’s ear.
“If you needed to get to Cuomo, Glaser was the guy to go to,” the person said.
Before becoming a lobbyist for the mortgage industry, Glaser worked in the late 1990s under Cuomo at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, where he was known as Cuomo’s “right-hand man” and “hammer.”
Glaser declined to release a list of his clients from the period he worked for the attorney general. . .
This is similar to Obama’s picking a telecommunications industry lobbyist to head the FCC or a Wall Street defense lawyer to head the SEC: finding foxes to guard chicken coops. It shows where Cuomo’s (and Obama’s) true loyalties lie.
Corporations will do anything to make money (read this article on how they are leeching money from higher education), and one tactic is to get states to make it illegal for cities to offer free (and quite good) broadband services to residents. The FCC might be able to forestall this heavy-handed tactic, as Brian Fung explains:
While everyone’s worked up about how to keep the Internet an open platform, another little-known controversy is quickly gaining steam. How it plays out could determine whether millions of Americans get to build their own, local alternatives to big, corporate ISPs such as Comcast and Verizon.
Last night, House lawmakers pushed through legislation that would effectively undo those prospects for many cities around the country. In an amendment to a must-pass funding bill, Republicans led by Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee approved an amendment that would prohibit federal regulators from ensuring cities’ ability to sell their own high-speed broadband directly to consumers.
Cities have lately been taking matters into their own hands, attempting to lay down publicly owned fiber optic cables where they say there are gaps in coverage, quality or price from incumbent ISPs. In Blackburn’s state, Chattanooga has emerged as a prominent example of a city that successfully challenged the status quo; the local government now offers 1 Gbps service for $70 a month. (Those speeds are roughly 100 times faster than the national average.) Longmont, Colo. is also moving forward with its municipal broadband project despite earlier resistance from the cable industry.
In Longmont and various other jurisdictions, though, state laws have made it difficult if not impossible for cities to build their own broadband networks. Some states, like Colorado, require voter referendums to reach a certain threshold before it’ll let cities proceed. Google Fiber reportedly passed over Boulder, Colo. because of such restrictions, meaning that consumers missed out on a potentially game-changing service.
Other states have sought to ban municipal networks outright: Earlier this year, Kansas tried to outlaw city broadband before public opposition convinced the legislature to back down. New Mexico is also considering a ban.
The Federal Communications Commission has signaled its intention to intervene, saying that its congressional charter, the Communications Act of 1996, gives it the authority to overturn or “preempt” the state-level restrictions. A federal court seemed to agree with that interpretation of the law in January when it wrote that the bans posed a “paradigmatic barrier to infrastructure investment” that the FCC is empowered to move against.
“If the people, acting through their elected local governments, want to pursue competitive community broadband, they shouldn’t be stopped by state laws promoted by cable and telephone companies that don’t want that competition,” wrote FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in a recent blog post.
But opponents of intervention argue that whatever the law says about the FCC’s authority, the agency must first deal with a higher constitutional problem. By leaping into the municipal broadband debate, the FCC would be inserting itself into the relationship between states and their cities — a potential no-no when it comes to the issue of federalism. . .
Continue reading. Later in the article:
“If the people, acting through their elected local governments, want to pursue competitive community broadband, they shouldn’t be stopped by state laws promoted by cable and telephone companies that don’t want that competition,” wrote FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in a recent blog post.
The GOP pretty much hates anything the government does that benefits the public. The GOP wants businesses to make money from the public in every way possible, because the GOP derives its support from businesses. It’s very difficult to see any benefit to the people of the state for the legislature to make it illegal for cities to offer a municipal broadband service—and the vigorous public reaction in Kansas showed that the state legislature was doing this in obedience to private businesses, not out of a concern for citizens.
I was thinking of the male movie stars generally regarded as masculine and attractive in a fit, tough, man kind of way: Joel McCrae, for example, or Gary Cooper, or Randolph Scott. When they had to play some no-shirt scene, sometimes involving fisticuffs, it bears little resemblance to the current version: today the fisticuffs are martial arts production pieces, and the chiseled body we view has been shaped by weeks if not months of training and day-to-day diet control with a professional nutritionist and professional trainers. Movies are big bucks, and as little is left to chance as possible—plus there is the meme-evolution/competition factor: each new blockbuster must set a new mark, and one strand of the resulting evolution is how the hero’s physique became increasingly developed and ripped—to the point where the normal guy starts to feel that something’s going wrong here: reality is being distorted, in effect, so that the internalized cultural image a man carries and secretly measures himself against is such a god-like warrior that makes his own physique seem somewhat lacking. I bet feminism has some useful reading on this sort of thing, when cultural values/memes undermine and weaken the power of certain groups. And, of course, if you can make a person feel that there’s something wrong with him (or her), you can make a lot of money selling potions and equipment and supplements and training courses that promise to fix what’s wrong. “Power abs in 10 days!” You start to see that sort of thing—very much along the lines of “Lose 25 lbs in 7 days with …!”
Pam Martens reports in Wall Street on Parade how Senator Warren asked some very pertinent questions of Fed Chair Yellen—and got totally unsatisfactory answers.
Yesterday, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen delivered her Semiannual Monetary Policy Report to the Senate Banking Committee. Yellen deftly maneuvered questions on slack in the job market, asset bubbles on Wall Street, and assorted digs at the explosion of the Fed’s balance sheet to over $4 trillion as a result of quantitative easing.
When it finally came to the turn of the last Senator on the docket to quiz Yellen, Senator Elizabeth Warren, the Fed Chair gave her a big, warm smile at the beginning of the questioning, likely figuring she was about to steal home and get big kudos for her performance back at the Fed.
Things didn’t go as planned.
Senator Warren has apparently been looking at the bare bones 35-pages released to the public for the various “living wills” or wind-down plans if a systemically important (too-big-to-fail) bank gets into trouble again and compared these to the cryptic, unintelligible tomes of paper that constitute the real wind-down plans behind the Fed’s equally opaque draperies.
Senator Elizabeth Warren Questioning Janet Yellen During Senate Hearing on July 15, 2014
Senator Elizabeth Warren Questioning Janet Yellen During Senate Hearing on July 15, 2014
Warren opened her questioning of Yellen by reminding the Fed Chair that Section 165 of the financial reform legislation known as Dodd-Frank mandated that large financial institutions submit plans to the Federal Reserve and the FDIC explaining how they could be “rapidly” liquidated without bringing down the economy – as occurred in 2008.
To drive home her point, Warren compared the situation of Lehman Brothers at the time of its collapse in 2008 to the Wall Street behemoth, JPMorgan today. Lehman, said Warren, had $639 billion in assets and 209 subsidiaries when it failed and it took three years to unwind the bank. Today, said Warren, JPMorgan has $2.5 trillion in assets and a staggering 3,391 subsidiaries.
Warren pointedly asked Yellen if these big Wall Street banks had ever given the Fed wind-down plans that were “credible.”
Yellen proceeded to bury herself pretty deeply in her answer. She said it was her “understanding” that there is a “process.” (Surely the Fed Chair should be completely on top of this critical piece of the Fed’s supervisory role of the largest bank holding companies in the country and have more than just an “understanding.”) Yellen went on to say that the wind-down plans are “complex” and some plans encompass “tens of thousands of pages.”
Yellen added: “I think what was intended is this interpretation you’re talking about, whether they’re credible, in other words, do they facilitate an orderly resolution, and I think we need to give these firms feedback.”
“Feedback” to banks which have exponentially increased in size since the greatest economic collapse since the Great Depression and have consistently demonstrated illegal cartel and consumer rip-off behavior was clearly not the answer Warren had in mind.
Warren responded: . . .
Continue reading. You’ll learn how another Obama appointee, Stanley Fischer, basically said that the Fed has no intention of complying with the law. Fischer, a creature of Citigroup (at the link: a story about Citigroup’s shady if not criminal operation—and it probably is criminal, but DoJ and the SEC are not really good against the wealthy), is apparently pledged to protect his former employer and the source of his wealth.
Obama has done a poor job with his choices to regulate Wall Streeet, though better than the abysmal job done by George W. Bush.
Mary Jo White, Obama’s choice to run the SEC, is turning out to be much as one feared: subservient to the demands of Wall Street. Read this article by Jesse Eisinger in ProPublica. It begins:
Mr. Fink has been making the case that gargantuan asset managers — coincidentally, like the firm he heads, BlackRock — should not be given the dreaded label of Systemically Important Financial Institution. Being a S.I.F.I. means that you are capable of transmitting all manner of systemic financial diseases to trading partners and customers and need an extra measure of regulation.
Such Washington spectacles are made all the worse when the head regulator of Mr. Fink’s firm echoes industry talking points. Mary Jo White, the chairwoman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, BlackRock’s main regulator, has been on a genuflecting tour to reassure asset managers that they have a sympathetic ear in the nation’s capital. The S.E.C. has been jostling for turf over this question. Recently, Ms. White disagreed with the Treasury Department, telling the industry that it isn’t “overreacting” to the process.
But just because Mr. Fink is talking his book and Ms. White is acting the sycophant doesn’t mean they are wrong. Large asset managers shouldn’t be designated S.I.F.I.s.
Regulators have clear tasks left unfinished from the financial crisis. Where they have made progress, it’s been inadequate. This needs to be the relentless focus. Asset managers don’t top the list.
O.K., some context is in order. . . .
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.
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).
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.
The idea of air travel is to make it increasingly unpleasant until people stop traveling—at least that seems to be the case.
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. . . .
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 . . .
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. . .
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. . . .
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.
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.” . . .
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. . .
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. . .