Archive for the ‘Business’ Category
I think everyone knows not to refrigerate fresh tomatoes, but maybe not yet. Joanna Klein reports in the NY Times:
The tomato hitching a ride home in your grocery bag today is not the tomato it used to be. No matter if you bought plum, cherry or heirloom, if you wanted the tastiest tomato, you should have picked it yourself and eaten it immediately.
That’s because a tomato’s flavor — made up of sugars, acids and chemicals called volatiles — degrades as soon as it’s picked from the vine. There’s only one thing you can do now: Keep it out of the fridge.
Researchers at The University of Florida have found in a study published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that when tomatoes are stored at the temperature kept in most refrigerators, irreversible genetic changes take place that erase some of their flavors forever.
Harry J. Klee, a professor of horticultural sciences who led the study, and his colleagues took two varieties of tomatoes — an heirloom and a more common modern variety — and stored them at 41 degrees Fahrenheit before letting them recover at room temperature (68 degrees Fahrenheit). When they looked at what happened inside the tomatoes in cold temperatures, Dr. Klee said the subtropical fruit went into shock, producing especially damaging changes after a week of storage. After they were allowed to warm up, even for a day, some genes in the tomatoes that created its flavor volatiles had turned off and stayed off.
It’s like a symphony: “Remove the violins and the woodwinds,” Dr. Klee wrote in an email. “You still have noise, but it’s not the same. Add back just the violins and it still isn’t right. You need that orchestra of 30 or more chemicals in the right balance to give you a good tomato.”
When you can get fresh tomatoes, Dr. Klee recommends storing them at room temperature, to preserve their flavor, and eating them within a week of bringing them home. If you see your grocer storing them at temperatures that are too cold, tell them not to, he says. . .
And Hillary Clinton now owes Wall Street another big favor: it was Citigroup (probably the most criminal of the Wall Street banks) that recommended Hillary for State and Eric Holder for Department of Justice. (And don’t forget Obama’s appointment of Mary Jo White as chair of the SEC: Wall Street seems totally in control.) So the Hillary Clinton administration will be a handmaiden of Wall Street. Still, it’s better than Donald Trump, who seems to suffer from dementia or other mental health problem.
Pam Martens and Russ Martens report in Wall Street on Parade:
If there is any truth to the allegation that Russia is behind the hacking of emails being released by WikiLeaks, then the American public owes Russia a huge debt of gratitude. At a time when the American people are sharply focused on how the leader of the free world is chosen, WikiLeaks is giving us an unprecedented, historical opportunity to understand how corporate money in politics has corrupted everything we believe in as a democracy.
This week, for example, emails from WikiLeaks show that President Obama, using the email address firstname.lastname@example.org, was communicating directly with Michael Froman of Citigroup in 2008, who fed Obama lists of recommended appointments to his cabinet. In an email from Froman dated October 6, 2008, with Froman using his Citigroup email address of email@example.com, Hillary Clinton shows up on Froman’s list for Secretary of State or head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). In a separate list attached to the email, Eric Holder was recommended for U.S. Attorney General at the Department of Justice or as White House Counsel. (See the email and the attachments here.) In less than a month after Obama’s election as President on November 4, 2008, Obama had nominated Clinton to be his Secretary of State and Holder as his Attorney General. Despite the unprecedented corruption rooted out on Wall Street by regulators, Holder failed to prosecute any of Wall Street’s top executives for the crimes that led to the greatest financial crash since the Great Depression.
Froman had served as Chief of Staff to Robert Rubin when Rubin was Secretary of the Treasury in the Bill Clinton administration. Rubin led the effort to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act, which barred investment banks and brokerage firms on Wall Street from merging with commercial banks that held FDIC insured deposits for savers. The Glass-Steagall Act had been in force since 1933, after Congress had conducted three years of hearings showing the recklessness and corruption of the major Wall Street banks. Rubin left the Treasury Department and promptly took a job at Citigroup, the primary beneficiary of the repeal in 1999. Over the next decade, as Citigroup was serially charged by its regulators for abusing the public trust, Rubin collected compensation of $126 million.
Froman followed Rubin to Citigroup where he served as Chief Operating Officer of Citi Alternative Investments and later as Managing Director of Citi Infrastructure Investors, a unit of Citi Alternative Investments. The latter is the division that blew up the bank in the same month that Obama was elected President. Froman had been a major bundler for Obama, raising funds that USA Today placed at $200,000 to $500,000.
Just seven days after Froman sent his Hillary and Holder recommendations to Obama in 2008, Citigroup received $25 billion in a bailout. Other Wall Street banks received similar amounts. But what happened just 19 days after Obama’s election was unprecedented in the annals of U.S. financial history. Citigroup received an additional infusion of $20 billion in equity from the government, assets guarantees on more than $300 billion of its toxic assets, and, it was secretly receiving billions of dollars in low-cost loans from the Federal Reserve – an amount that would cumulatively add up to $2.5 trillion from 2007 to 2010. This is how we reported in November 2008 on Citigroup’s teetering status as the President-Elect was secretly receiving his personnel marching orders from one of Citi’s executives: . . .
Perhaps the CEO is kept in the dark? Not likely. He’s simply lying, which seems to be increasingly the norm in public discourse. Pam Martens and Russ Martens report in Wall Street on Parade:
There’s a new mantra making the rounds of Washington and Wall Street. No matter how big the lie you’re caught in, no matter how much documented evidence exists against you, just deny, deny, deny. That’s how Democratic National Committee Interim Chair Donna Brazile handled the email released by WikiLeaks showing that she leaked a debate question to Hillary Clinton; that’s how Hillary Clinton handled revelations about sending classified government material over an unclassified server in the basement of her home; and that’s how Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein is handling the widespread public perception that there’s a banking cabal meeting in secret to plot its continued dominance over the interests of the average U.S. citizen.
Yesterday, CNBC’s David Faber interviewed Blankfein and asked about the suggestion that Donald Trump had made on October 13 in a speech in West Palm Beach, Florida that there is an international banking conspiracy undermining the sovereignty of the United States. Faber asked Blankfein: “So am I to take it that you weren’t meeting in secret with international banks and Hillary Clinton to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty?” Blankfein responded: “We could parse that clause by clause, but to every clause, the answer is no, we weren’t doing it. We weren’t meeting in secret and we certainly weren’t plotting destruction.”
The first half of Blankfein’s answer is flatly false and he knows it. The big Wall Street banks do meet in secret and have been doing it for decades. His own General Counsel,Gregory Palm, part of the Management Committee at Goldman Sachs, is part of the secret cabal.
Just five days before Blankfein made his false denial, Bloomberg News’ reporters Greg Farrell and Keri Geiger had landed the bombshell report that the top lawyers of the biggest Wall Street banks had been meeting secretly for two decades with their counterparts at international banks. At this year’s secret May meeting at a posh hotel in Versailles, the following were among the big bank lawyers in addition to Palm according to the Bloomberg report: Stephen Cutler of JPMorgan (a former Director of Enforcement at the SEC); Gary Lynch of Bank of America (also a former Director of Enforcement at the SEC); Morgan Stanley’s Eric Grossman; Citigroup’s Rohan Weerasinghe; Markus Diethelm of UBS Group AG; Richard Walker of Deutsche Bank (again, a former Director of Enforcement at the SEC); Robert Hoyt of Barclays; Romeo Cerutti of Credit Suisse Group AG; David Fein of Standard Chartered; Stuart Levey of HSBC Holdings; and Georges Dirani of BNP Paribas SA.
The Bloomberg report indicates that the meetings are secret and that this is the first time their existence has been reported to the public. But this is hardly the first time there have been reports of Wall Street banks huddling in secret.
Just this past July . . .
And do read the whole thing: the meetings are regular, secret, and include regulators and the regulated. It looks like a cabal and acts like a cabal, and it seems to have the President in the palm of its hand.
Pam Martens and Russ Martens report in Wall Street on Parade:
Last Friday Senator Elizabeth Warren released a 12-page letter calling for President Obama to remove Securities and Exchange Commission Chair, Mary Jo White. For a female Senator and former Harvard Law professor to publicly humiliate a female Federal agency head and fellow lawyer is an extraordinary event. There is a code in Washington that women in power support other women in power. Warren didn’t just violate the code, she shredded it.
Warren called Mary Jo White’s conduct as SEC Chair “brazen” and wrote that White was undermining the SEC’s central mission of investor protection. All of that is true as Wall Street On Parade repeatedly predicted it would be over three years ago. (See hereand here.) Between White’s career at law firm Debevoise and Plimpton and her husband John W. White’s long term career at the international law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP, the two had represented every major Wall Street bank. John White went right on representing them after his wife took her seat as SEC Chair.
Of course, after Warren released her letter, President Obama was quick to reassure Wall Street that no change was coming. White House spokesman Eric Schultz promptly stated that “The president continues to believe that Chair White is the right leader for the Securities and Exchange Commission.”
In her letter, Warren had attempted to spin White’s derelict actions as an affront to the President’s wholesome agenda, writing that White is “undermining your Administration’s priorities….”
As our readers well know, we have never believed that President Obama has ever genuinely wanted to level the playing field for the average American. He could not have had that agenda and appointed the people he did to his cabinet and regulatory agencies.
Obama’s choice for U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder, came from the law firm Covington & Burling which had fronted for Big Tobacco for decades and directly engaged in misleading the public about the devastating health impacts from smoking, according to a Federal court decision. (See Was the U.S. Justice Department Sold to the Highest Bidder.) Then Obama remained silent as the Justice Department failed to indict any Wall Street bank executives for the crimes leading up to the financial crash in 2008. As the PBS program Frontline reported, there were no subpoenas, no wiretaps, no investigations involving Wall Street banks at the Justice Department.
Less than three weeks after Obama had been elected to his first term, and before actually taking office, he announced his pick of Tim Geithner for U.S. Treasury Secretary. Geithner had been the head of the New York Fed and, unknown to the public at that time, had secretly funneled trillions of dollars in below-market rate loans to Wall Street and global banks without any authorization from Congress.
An equally scandalous appointment was Jack Lew as U.S. Treasury Secretary in Obama’s second term. Lew had been Chief Operating Officer in the very division of Citigroup that had imploded the bank, leading to the greatest financial bailout in U.S. history. While the bank was insolvent, Lew had accepted a $940,000 bonus from the firm. Lew, as part of his Citigroup perks, had invested in a fund in the Cayman Islands at the very street address that the President had called a tax scam.
Robert Scheer, writing at The Nation magazine said at the time:
I suppose that he can’t be much worse than Timothy Geithner, but that should be scant cause for cheer over the news that the president has nominated Jack Lew as Treasury secretary. Both championed the financial deregulation craze of the Clinton administration, and both are acolytes of Robert Rubin, the former Clinton Treasury secretary who unfettered Wall Street greed and then took his own considerable cut of the action.
Rubin went to work at Citigroup, the world’s largest financial conglomerate whose legality was enabled by legislation he advanced while in government. He made off with a salary of $15 million a year during his decade at that bank, which specialized in toxic mortgage derivatives and had to be bailed out by taxpayers to avoid bankruptcy. . . .
I fear the pattern will continue with Hillary Clinton. Bernie Sanders was our best chance.
It’s been established that the wealthy are less ethical than the non-wealthy, and now we find they are also less empathetic
Of course, one might wonder whether the lack of ethics and empathy assists with the accumulation of wealth—those without ethics and empathy are more willing to ride roughshod over their fellows—but in her Washington Post article Karen Weese cites research that indicates that wealth that damages ethics and empathy (probably why Jesus warned so strongly against wealth, a warning that many Christians routinely ignore, just as they ignore His strong condemnation of divorce).
I was polishing off some pancakes at Denny’s with a friend when our waitress dropped off the check. We paid the $11 bill, and my friend tossed a $5 tip on the table.
I tried not to look surprised. My friend worked as a caregiver and was raising two kids on less than $19,000 a year.
She read my face. “Look at her,” she said, cocking her head at our waitress, who was visibly pregnant and speed-walking from table to table with laden platters in the busy restaurant. “She’s been on her feet for probably six hours already and has three more to go, she’s got a baby on the way, you know she’s exhausted, and somehow she still took great care of us like she’s supposed to. She needs it more than I do.”
I felt my face turn red. I could afford an extra $5. Why hadn’t I thought of that? “You are something else,” I said finally.
“Nah,” she demurred. “But I used to be her, you know? So I know how it is. Besides, karma’s a b—- and you can never be too careful.” She winked and reached for her keys. “Ready to go?”
There’s little question that people find it easier to give when they see something of themselves in the recipient. It’s what motivates families of cancer survivors to participate so eagerly in fundraising walks and why my friend at Denny’s gave so readily to our waitress. It’s also why hedge fund manager John Paulson gave $400 million last year to Harvard University, his alma mater, and not to, say, Habitat for Humanity.
Proximity plays a role, too. We give more easily to the people and causes we see, often regardless of the magnitude of the need. Americans gave nearly $1 billion more to the approximately 3,000 victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks than they gave to victims of the South Asian tsunami three years later, even though the latter tragedy killed more than a quarter of a million people. A study by the Chronicle of Philanthropy showed that affluent people in homogeneously wealthy Zip codes are less generous than equally affluent people in mixed-income communities. If you never see a homeless person or a trailer park, it’s easier to forget they exist.
But a lot of it comes down to the sheer capacity for empathy — and it turns out that some people have more of it than others.
When shown photos of human faces with different expressions, lower-income subjects are better than their more affluent counterparts at identifying the emotions correctly, according to a study by Yale professor Michael Kraus. (This makes some intuitive sense — if keeping your job depends on reading your customers’ emotions, you’ll probably get good at it.) When University of California psychology professors Paul Piff and Dacher Keltner recorded behavior at four-way stop signs, they found that the drivers of Toyotas and other inexpensive cars were four times less likely to cut off other drivers than the people steering BMWs and other high-end cars. In a related experiment, drivers of more modest cars were more likely to respect the right-of-way of pedestrians in a crosswalk, while half the drivers of high-end cars motored right past them. In other experiments, lower-income subjects were less likely than higher-income individuals to cheat, lie and help themselves to a jar of candy meant for kids.
Strangely, even just thinking about money can make people act more selfishly. When University of Minnesota professor Kathleen Vohs primed study participants with images of money (showing them screensavers depicting floating cash, or asking them to unscramble lists of words that included terms like “cash” and “bill”), they were less likely to give money to a hypothetical charity. And when a research assistant dropped a box of pencils on the floor right beside them (pretending it was an accident), the money-primed subjects were less willing to help pick them up.
Does this mean wealthier people are inherently more selfish and self-absorbed, and lower-income people inherently more generous and empathetic? Or did being rich or poor make them that way?
There is “an obvious chicken-and-egg question to ask here,” Michael Lewis wrote in the New Republic in 2014. “But it is beginning to seem that the problem isn’t that the kind of people who wind up on the pleasant side of inequality suffer from some moral disability that gives them a market edge. The problem is caused by the inequality itself: It triggers a chemical reaction in the privileged few. It tilts their brains.”
Indeed, when University of North Carolina researcher Keely Muscatellshowed high- and low-income subjects photos of human faces with accompanying personal stories, the brains of the low-income subjects demonstrated much more activity in the areas associated with empathy than the rich subjects’ brains.
Similarly, when University of Toronto researcher Jennifer Stellar showedvideos of children at St. Jude’s hospital bravely undergoing medical procedures, lower-income viewers exhibited more heart-rate deceleration — which scientists use as a measure of compassion — than their higher-income counterparts.
This is, of course, not good news for a society with an inequality problem. If being richer makes people less empathetic toward the struggles of others, the people with the most power and resources will be the least inclined to help. And this seems to actually be the case: A 2014 study of Congress members found that while Republican lawmakers favored the same economic policies regardless of their personal wealth, Democratic legislators’ support for certain policies rose or fell in line with their bank accounts. Richer Democrats were more likely to favor lower taxes on the wealthy and decreased business regulation, while relatively poorer Democrats were more likely to support legislation to make college more affordable or increase the minimum wage.
But there are some positive findings. . .
I included this in the “mental health” category because a lack of empathy does seem to be a problem.
The Guardian has an interesting article by Simon Garfield on the bizarre but flourishing market for luxury analogue watches. From the article, the question he addresses:
. . . And therein lies the mystery of the modern timepiece. These days, no one requires a Swiss watch to tell the time – or a watch from any country. The time displayed on our mobile phones and other digital devices will always be more accurate than the time displayed on even the most skilfully engineered mechanical watch, yet the industry has a visual presence in our lives like few others. The storefronts of the world’s big-money boulevards glow with the lustre of Rolex and Omega; newspapers and magazines appear to be kept in business largely by watch adverts; airports would be empty shells without them. The export value of the Swiss watch trade fell by 3.3% last year, due primarily to a downfall in demand from the east Asia. But it is up 62.9% compared with six years ago. In 2015 the world bought 28.1m Swiss watches valued at 21.5 billion Swiss francs.
We live in uncertain economic times, but watch prices at Baselworld show no signs of making a cut-price concession to the unstable yen or rouble, or even the recent competition from the Apple Watch. Indeed, the opposite seems to be true: the higher the asking price, the greater the appeal, for cheapness may suggest a reduction in quality.
So the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Day-Date 40 in platinum (“The watch par excellence of influential people”) is on sale for £41,700, while the platinum Patek Philippe Split-Seconds Chronograph with the alligator strap (“For men who take accuracy seriously”) is £162,970. For some collectors, this would be considered entry-level: the most complicated limited-edition watches sell for £1m or more. These watches have a waiting list, as the world only contains so many squinting master craftsmen who can make them, and even they haven’t found a way to extend the day beyond 24 hours.
But why do we continue to buy these over-engineered and redundant machines? Why do so many people pay so much for an item whose principal function may be bought for so little? And how does the watch industry not only survive in the digital age, but survive well enough to erect a 16,000-litre salt‑water shrine to its continued mastery of an outmoded art? Far beyond the telling of time, watches tell us something about ourselves. And so the answers to these questions lie within our propensity for extreme fantasy, our consumption of dazzling marketing, our unbridled and shameless capacity for ostentation, and our renewed reverence for craftsmanship in a digital world.
And perhaps there is something else ticking away at us – . . .
Read the whole thing. I actually got very interested in mechanical wristwatches and in fact bought a couple (not terribly expensive, but still). But then I looked around more and backed away quickly. I now wear a Casio.
Corporate spying on your every online activity is making great progress, though corporations don’t talk about it much at all. Julia Anguin reports in ProPublica:
After we published this story, Google reached out to say that it doesn’t currently use Gmail keywords to target web ads. We’ve updated the story to reflect that.
When Google bought the advertising network DoubleClick in 2007, Google founder Sergey Brin said that privacy would be the company’s “number one priority when we contemplate new kinds of advertising products.”
And, for nearly a decade, Google did in fact keep DoubleClick’s massive database of web-browsing records separate by default from the names and other personally identifiable information Google has collected from Gmail and its other login accounts.
The change is enabled by default for new Google accounts. Existing users were prompted to opt-in to the change this summer.
The practical result of the change is that the DoubleClick ads that follow people around on the web may now be customized to them based on your name and other information Google knows about you. It also means that Google could now, if it wished to, build a complete portrait of a user by name, based on everything they write in email, every website they visit and the searches they conduct.
The move is a sea change for Google and a further blow to the online ad industry’s longstanding contention that web tracking is mostly anonymous. In recent years, Facebook, offline data brokers and others have increasingly sought to combine their troves of web tracking data with people’s real names. But until this summer, Google held the line.
“The fact that DoubleClick data wasn’t being regularly connected to personally identifiable information was a really significant last stand,” said Paul Ohm, faculty director of the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law.
“It was a border wall between being watched everywhere and maintaining a tiny semblance of privacy,” he said. “That wall has just fallen.”
“We updated our ads system, and the associated user controls, to match the way people use Google today: across many different devices,” Faville wrote. She added that the change “is 100% optional–if users do not opt-in to these changes, their Google experience will remain unchanged.” (Read Google’s entire statement.)
Existing Google users were prompted to opt-into the new tracking this summer through a request with titles such as “Some new features for your Google account.”
The “new features” received little scrutiny at the time. Wired wrote that it “gives you more granular control over how ads work across devices.” In a personal tech column, the New York Times also described the change as “new controls for the types of advertisements you see around the web.”
Connecting web browsing habits to personally identifiable information has long been controversial. . . .
NOTE: Later in the article it tells you how to turn off at least some Facebook ad-tracking/targeting.