Later On

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

Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

Uber seems to be opening itself up to an anti-trust action

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See if you don’t think so. I think this is a little too overt for comfort.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 August 2014 at 2:16 pm

Posted in Business, Government, Law

Modern business ethics and principles in one question

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It’s in an article in the Washington Post by Craig Timberg: “So my phone can be tracked anywhere. Can I make it stop?

No, that’s not the question. The question is the last sentence of the article:

“Why would you protect your customers if your customers don’t complain about not being protected?” Nohl [a German telecommunications researcher] said.

Exactly. And why provide supplements as described on the label if no one is complaining? Or secretly slaughter diseased cattle for food if no one complains?

It’s the ethical posture anything you can get away with is allowed—and of course that’s exactly the guiding ethical principle of the modern corporation. (Bank of American is writing a $16 billion check, in effect, to pay fines, but the executives responsible not suffer in the slightest: their jobs, salaries, and exorbitant bonuses will continue as before. And certainly no one will go to prison. Are you kidding? For fraud this enormous? It’s just not done.

Eric Holder is another person for whom I’ve lost a lot of respect.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 August 2014 at 3:52 pm

Posted in Business, Government, Law

A Dodd-Frank victory: Whistleblower protection and award

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Very heartening to see. Joe Nocera writes in the NY Times:

Late last month, the Securities and Exchange Commission issued an oblique press release announcing that it was awarding an unnamed whistle-blower $400,000 for helping expose a financial fraud at an unnamed company. The money was the latest whistle-blower award — there have been 13 so far — paid as part of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, which includes both protections for whistle-blowers and financial awards when their information leads to fines of more than $1 million.

The law also prevents the S.E.C. from doing anything to publicly identify the whistle-blowers — hence, the circumspect press release. But through a mutual friend, I discovered the identity of this particular whistle-blower, who, it turned out, was willing to tell his story.

His name is Bill Lloyd. He is 56 years old, and he spent 22 years as an agent for MassMutual Financial Group, the insurance company based in Springfield, Mass. Although companies often label whistle-blowers as disgruntled employees, Lloyd didn’t fit that category. On the contrary, he liked working for MassMutual, and he was a high performer. He also is a straight arrow — “a square,” said the mutual friend who introduced us — who cares about his customers; when faced with a situation where his customers were likely to get ripped off, he couldn’t look the other way.

In September 2007, at a time when money was gushing into variable annuities, MassMutual added two income guarantees to make a few of its annuity products especially attractive to investors. Called Guaranteed Income Benefit Plus 6 and Guaranteed Income Benefit Plus 5, they guaranteed that the annuity income stream would grow to a predetermined cap regardless of how the investment itself performed.

Then, upon retirement, the investors had the right to take 6 percent (or 5 percent, depending on the product) of the cap for as long as they wanted or until it ran out of money, and still be able, at some point, to annuitize it. It is complicated, but the point is that thanks to the guarantee, the money was never supposed to run out. That is what the prospectus said, and it is what those in the sales force, made up of people like Lloyd, were taught to sell to customers. It wasn’t long before investors had put $2.5 billion into the products.

The following July, Lloyd — and a handful of others in the sales force — discovered, to their horror, that the guarantee didn’t work as advertised. In fact, because of the market’s fall, it was a near-certainty that thousands of customers were going to run through the income stream within seven or eight years of withdrawing money.

Lloyd did not immediately run to the S.E.C. Rather, he dug in at MassMutual and, as the S.E.C. press release put it, did “everything feasible to correct the issue internally.” For a while, he thought he was going to have success, but, at a certain point, someone stole the files he had put together on the matter and turned them over to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, which is the industry’s self-regulatory body. It was only when the regulatory authority failed to act that his lawyer told him about the whistle-blower provisions in Dodd-Frank and he went to the S.E.C., which began its own investigation.

The Dodd-Frank law has provisions intended to protect whistle-blowers from retaliation, but there are certain aspects of being a whistle-blower that it can’t do anything about. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 August 2014 at 9:00 am

Displaced by meme evolution

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In reading this profile of one of the last professional pickpockets, I noted the ripple effect of meme evolution:

These are lean years for pickpockets. People carry more credit cards and less cash; men wear suits less, and tightfitting pants more. The young thieves of today have turned to high-tech methods, like skimming A.T.M.s.

Displaced by cultural change.

Notice how intimately the Internet is woven into the above cultural change: it’s throughout that particular cultural change. And the Internet (including music, video, Twitter, forums, news, blogs, and so on) is a perfect meme medium: enormous reach and rapid mutation and selection. And, as noted above, the ripple effects are enormous (cf. Ferguson MO, identified as a hotspot via Twitter).

Indeed, the international criticism of what is happening in Ferguson is quite severe: the US no longer occupies any sort of moral high ground, and with its recent military failures and destructiveness, respect for it has ebbed. The Week magazine carried an abstract of a column by Daniel Haufler that appeared in Berliner Zeitung:

America is a de facto apartheid state, said Daniel Haufler. Blacks have ostensibly had civil rights for 50 years, but in reality “white reactionaries have fought unabated against equality.” Today, discrimination against African-Americans is pervasive and devastating. When unarmed teenager Michael Brown was hot dead by a white cop after being stopped for jaywalking in Forguson, Mo., he was just one more in a long line of black victims. [Indeed, we have another not far from Ferguson: two white cops show up to confront a man behaving irrationally. Within 15 seconds they had shot him dead. The police chief explained that he had attacked them with a knife, wielded overhand. A video made with a smartphone shows that the police chief's statement was false. - LG]

Whites, by contrast, can “brandish machine guns at the police”—as did supporters of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy—without fear of reprisal. And it’s not just the police but the entire government that is arrayed against black Americans. Systematically denied equal access to education and employment, they are demonized when seek government benefits. in fact, the higher the black population in a state, “the lower that state’s social spending.” Ongoing white resentment of the civil rights movement that took away their privilege is the reason the U.S. is the only developed country in which a major party, the GOP, “wants to abolish the welfare state.” That party is also actively trying to change state electoral laws to diseenfranchise African-Americans. It isn’t just the police that must change—-it’s the entire culture.

Very clear-sighted, I’d say—and note particularly this Kevin Drum post from today, regarding the last points.

But the point is: things are shifting rapidly. That is, cultural values are not so insulated by distance and language and expense of travel as once was true: Internet again.

So we’re in the midst of a major meme war, in effect, or—more appropriately—Cambrian Explosion of memes, evolving rapidly, exchanging patches of meme-DNA, and so on.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 August 2014 at 1:04 pm

When a company’s growth depends on putting more of us in prison, you want to know about their plans

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I think it’s obvious: business are driven to increase profits, and if your business is getting money from having people in prison, it’s obviously good business to get more of them in there—thus we get mandatory minimum sentences, 3-strikes laws, and the like: keep that revenue/prison population growing!

But we’ve entered a time of dropping crime rates, and if marijuana is legalized, then the drug pipeline to prison will take a hit. So how are the private prisons planning to cope with this?

We don’t know. For the first time, they have excluded press from their conference. I’m sure this will be dismissed as a “misunderstanding,” but I imagine the reason they have decided to go secret does not bode well for us.

And would businesses do that? Well, city governments do.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 August 2014 at 12:53 pm

Posted in Business, Government, Law

The political education of Silicon Valley

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Written by LeisureGuy

21 August 2014 at 9:13 am

Perceptive analysis of the Silicon Valley mindset re: Politics

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Good article.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 August 2014 at 1:20 pm

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