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Why are companies trying to make it illegal to repair their products?

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We’re moving away from ownership of things to renting of things—for example, you don’t own the software you buy, you just have a license to use it. And it gets worse as Sara Behdad describes in Quartz:

Traditionally, when a car breaks down, the solution has been to fix it. Repair manuals, knowledgeable mechanics, and auto parts stores make car repairs common, quick, and relatively inexpensive. Even with modern computer-equipped vehicles, regular people have plenty they can do: change oil, change tires, and many more advanced upgrades.

But when a computer or smartphone breaks, it’s hard to get it fixed, and much more common to throw the broken device away. Even small electronic devices can add up to massive amounts of electronic waste—between 20 million and 50 million tonnes (22-55 million tons) of electronic devices every year, worldwide. Some of this waste is recycled, but most—including components involving lead and mercury—goes into landfills.

Bigger equipment can be just as difficult to repair. Today’s farmers often can’t fix the computers running their tractors, because manufacturers claim that farmers don’t actually own them. Companies argue that specialized software running tractors and other machines is protected by copyright and patent laws, and allowing farmers access to it would harm the companies’ intellectual property rights.

Users’ right to repair—or to pay others to fix—objects they own is in jeopardy. However, in our surveys and examinations of product life cycles, my colleagues and I are finding that supporting people who want to repair and reuse their broken devices can yield benefits—including profits—for electronics manufacturers.

A corporate quandary

At least eight states—Nebraska, Kansas, Wyoming, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, and Tennessee—are considering laws that would require companies to let customers fix their broken electronics. The proposals typically make manufacturers sell parts, publish repair manuals, and make available diagnostic tools, such as scanning devices that identify sources of malfunctions. In an encouraging move, the US Copyright Office suggested in June that similar rules should apply nationwide. And the US Supreme Court recently ruled that companies’ patent rights don’t prevent people from reselling their electronics privately.

Seen one way, these regulations put manufacturing companies in a tough spot. Manufacturers can earn a lot of money from selling authorized parts and service. Yet to remain competitive, they must constantly innovate and develop new products. To keep costs down, they can’t keep making and stocking parts for old and outdated devices forever. This leads to what’s called “planned obsolescence,” the principle that a company designs its items to have relatively short useful lives, which will end roughly around the time a new version of the product comes out.

However, our research suggests that companies can take a different approach—designing and building products that can be refurbished and repaired for reuse—while building customer loyalty and brand awareness. By analyzing surveys of hobbyists and the repair industry, we’ve also found that there are barriers, such as a lack of repair manuals and spare parts, that impede the growth of the repair industry that can be improved upon.

Consumers want to fix their devices

Even as machines and devices have become less mechanical and more electronic, we have found that customers still expect to be able to repair and continue using electronic products they purchase. When manufacturers support that expectation, by offering repair manuals, spare parts, and other guidance on how to fix their products, they build customer loyalty.

Specifically, we found that customers are more likely to buy additional products from that manufacturer, and are more likely to recommend that manufacturer’s product to friends. The math here is simple: More customers using a company’s products, whether brand-new or still kicking after many years, equals more money for the business. . .

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Typical thinking in the modern corporation: don’t consider the long view, go for the short-term gain.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 July 2017 at 3:39 pm

It’s getting more serious: Democrats Want to Know If Trump Quashed a Russian Money Laundering Case In Return for Dirt on Hillary Clinton

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That would explain a lot. Read Kevin Drum’s explication, very useful.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2017 at 5:11 pm

Interesting Thoughts on How to Bribe Everyone Into Fighting Climate Change

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Kevin Drum has a post worth reading—in particular how a world that does not run on fossil fuels would be more stable economically.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2017 at 12:48 pm

Trump Has Secretive Teams to Roll Back Regulations, Led by Hires With Deep Industry Ties

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Robert Faturechi, ProPublica, and Danielle Ivory, The New York Times, report:

President Trump entered office pledging to cut red tape, and within weeks, he ordered his administration to assemble teams to aggressively scale back government regulations.

But the effort — a signature theme in Trump’s populist campaign for the White House — is being conducted in large part out of public view and often by political appointees with deep industry ties and potential conflicts.

Most government agencies have declined to disclose information about their deregulation teams. But ProPublica and The New York Times identified 71 appointees, including 28 with potential conflicts, through interviews, public records and documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

Some appointees are reviewing rules their previous employers sought to weaken or kill, and at least two may be positioned to profit if certain regulations are undone.

The appointees include lawyers who have represented businesses in cases against government regulators, staff members of political dark money groups, employees of industry-funded organizations opposed to environmental rules and at least three people who were registered to lobby the agencies they now work for.

At the Education Department alone, two members of the deregulation team were most recently employed by pro-charter advocacy groups or operators, and one appointee was an executive handling regulatory issues at a for-profit college operator.

So far, the process has been scattershot. Some agencies have been soliciting public feedback, while others refuse even to disclose who is in charge of the review. In many cases, responses to public records requests have been denied, delayed or severely redacted.

The Interior Department has not disclosed the correspondence and calendars for its team. But a review of more than 1,300 pages of handwritten sign-in sheets for guests visiting the agency’s headquarters in Washington found that appointees had met regularly with industry representatives.

Over a four-month period, from February through May, at least 58 representatives of the oil and gas industry signed their names on the agency’s visitor logs before meeting with appointees.

The EPA also rejected requests to release the appointment calendar of the official leading its team — a former top executive for an industry-funded political group — even as she met privately with industry representatives.

And the Defense Department and the Department of Homeland Security provided the titles for most appointees to their review teams, but not names.

When asked for comment about the activities of the deregulation teams, the White House referred reporters to the Office of Management and Budget.

Meghan Burris, a spokeswoman there, said: “As previous administrations have recognized, it’s good government to periodically reassess existing regulations. Past regulatory review efforts, however, have not taken a consistent enough look at regulations on the books.”

With billions of dollars at stake in the push to deregulate, corporations and other industry groups are hiring lawyers, lobbyists and economists to help navigate this new avenue for influence. Getting to the front of the line is crucial, as it can take years to effect regulatory changes.

“Competition will be fierce,” the law firm Clark Hill, which represents businesses pitching the Environmental Protection Agency, said in a marketing memo. “In all likelihood, interested parties will need to develop a multi-pronged strategy to expand support and win pre-eminence over competing regulatory rollback candidates.”

Jane Luxton, a lawyer at the firm, said she advised clients to pay for economic and legal analyses that government agencies, short on staff, could use to expedite changes. She declined to identify the clients.

“You may say this is an agency’s job, but the agencies are totally overloaded,” Luxton said.


On a cloudy, humid day in March, Laura Peterson, a top lobbyist for Syngenta, arrived at the headquarters for the Interior Department. She looped the letter “L” across the agency’s sign-in sheet.

Her company, a top pesticide maker based in Switzerland, had spent eight years and millions of dollars lobbying the Obama administration on environmental rules, with limited success.

But Peterson had an in with the new administration.

Scott Cameron, newly installed at the Interior Department and a member of its deregulation team, had just left a nonprofit he had founded. He had advocated getting pesticides approved and out to market faster. His group counted Syngenta as a financial partner.

The meeting with Peterson was one of the first Cameron took as a new government official.

Neither side would reveal what was discussed. “I’m not sure that’s reporting information I have to give you,” Peterson said.

But lobbying records offered clues.

Syngenta has been one of several pesticide manufacturers pushing for changes to the Endangered Species Act. When federal agencies take actions that may jeopardize endangered animals or plants, they are generally supposed to consult with the Interior Department, which could raise objections.

For decades, the EPA largely ignored this provision when approving new pesticides. But recently, a legal challenge from environmental groups forced its hand — a change that affected Syngenta.

Pesticide lobbyists have been working behind the scenes at agencies and on Capitol Hill to change the provision. Companies have argued that they should be exempt from consulting with the Interior Department because they already undergo EPA approval.

Along with spending millions of dollars on lobbying, they have funded advocacy groups aligned with their cause. Cameron’s nonprofit, the Reduce Risks From Invasive Species Coalition, was one such group for Syngenta.

The organization says on its website that its goals include reducing “the regulatory burden of the Endangered Species Act on American society by addressing invasive species.” One way to do that is to use pesticides. The nonprofit’s mission includes creating “business opportunities for commercial products and services used to control invasive species.”

Because donations are not publicly reported, it is unclear how much Syngenta has contributed to Cameron’s organization, but his group has called the pesticide company one of its “generous sponsors.”

Cameron also served on a committee of experts and stakeholders, including Syngenta, that advised the federal government on decisions related to invasive species. At a committee event last July, he said that one of his priorities was “getting biocontrol agents to market faster,” according to meeting minutes.

Paul Minehart, a Syngenta spokesman, said: “Employees regularly engage with those in government that relate to agriculture and our business. Our purpose is to balance serving the public health and environment with enabling farmers’ access to innovation.”

A spokeswoman for the Interior Department did not respond to questions about how Cameron’s relationship with Syngenta might influence his review of regulations.


Under the law, members of the Trump administration can seek ethics waivers to work on issues that overlap with their past business careers. They can also formally recuse themselves when potential conflicts arise.

In many cases, the administration has refused to say whether appointees to Trump’s deregulation teams have done either. . .

Continue reading.

The US is moving rapidly to having the kind of secret government seen in authoritarian dictatorships.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 July 2017 at 11:43 am

When Bannon and Kushner asked two businessmen who do contract work for the military how to proceed in Afghanistan, guess what they said?

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They said to turn it over to private military contractors (and to pay those contractors handsomely). Big surprise, eh? (Do you get the idea that Bannon and Kushner are way out of their depth?) Mark Landler, Eric Schmitt, and Michael Gordon report in the NY Times:

President Trump’s advisers recruited two businessmen who profited from military contracting to devise alternatives to the Pentagon’s plan to send thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan, reflecting the Trump administration’s struggle to define its strategy for dealing with a war now 16 years old.

Erik D. Prince, a founder of the private security firm Blackwater Worldwide, and Stephen A. Feinberg, a billionaire financier who owns the giant military contractor DynCorp International, have have developed proposals to rely on contractors instead of American troops in Afghanistan at the behest of Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, and Jared Kushner, his senior adviser and son-in-law, according to people briefed on the conversations.

On Saturday morning, Mr. Bannon sought out Defense Secretary Jim Mattis at the Pentagon to try to get a hearing for their ideas, an American official said. Mr. Mattis listened politely but declined to include the outside strategies in a review of Afghanistan policy that he is leading along with the national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster.

The highly unusual meeting dramatizes the divide between Mr. Trump’s generals and his political staff over Afghanistan, the lengths to which his aides will go to give their boss more options for dealing with it and the readiness of this White House to turn to business people for help with diplomatic and military problems.

Soliciting the views of Mr. Prince and Mr. Feinberg certainly qualifies as out-of-the-box thinking in a process dominated by military leaders in the Pentagon and the National Security Council. But it also raises a host of ethical issues, not least that both men could profit from their recommendations.

“The conflict of interest in this is transparent,” said Sean McFate, a professor at Georgetown University who wrote a book about the growth of private armies, “The Modern Mercenary.” “Most of these contractors are not even American, so there is also a lot of moral hazard.”

Last month, Mr. Trump gave the Pentagon authority to send more American troops to Afghanistan — a number believed to be about 4,000 — as a stopgap measure to stabilize the security situation there. But as the administration grapples with a longer-term strategy, Mr. Trump’s aides have expressed concern that he will be locked into policies that failed under the past two presidents.

Mr. Feinberg, whose name had previously been floated to conduct a review of the nation’s intelligence agencies, met with the president on Afghanistan, according to an official, while Mr. Prince briefed several White House officials, including General McMaster, said a second person.

Mr. Prince laid out his views in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal in May. He called on the White House to appoint a viceroy to oversee the country and to use “private military units” to fill the gaps left by departed American soldiers. While he was at Blackwater, the company became involved in one of the most notorious episodes of the Iraq war, when its employees opened fire in a Baghdad square, killing 17 civilians.

After selling his stake in Blackwater in 2010, Mr. Prince mustered an army-for-hire for the United Arab Emirates. He has cultivated close ties to the Trump administration; his sister, Betsy DeVos, is Mr. Trump’s education secretary.

If Mr. Trump opted to use more contractors and fewer troops, it could also enrich DynCorp, which has already been paid $2.5 billion by the State Department for its work in the country, mainly training the Afghan police force. Mr. Feinberg controls DynCorp through Cerberus Capital Management, a firm he co-founded in 1992.

Mr. McFate, who used to work for DynCorp in Africa, said it could train and equip the Afghan Army, a costly, sometimes dangerous mission now handled by the American military. “The appeal to that,” he said, “is you limit your boots on the ground and you limit your casualties.” Some officials noted that under the government’s conflict-of-interest rules, DynCorp would not get a master contract to run operations in Afghanistan. . .

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It’s become clear that no one in the Trump administration has the vaguest clue as to what constitutes a conflict of interest.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 July 2017 at 6:47 am

666 Fifth Avenue: Yet Another Massive Conflict of Interest for the Trump White House

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Kevin Drum points out how the United States government is possibly being used to play a role in the business interests of the Trump organization:

The Intercept has a story about young Jared Kushner and his catastrophically bad 2007 purchase of a New York skyscraper. Kushner has basically lost his entire $500 million investment, and the only way to turn things around is to demolish the building and put up a bigger, more valuable one in its place. But that requires a huge amount of money, and it turns out that Kushner was hoping to get a big chunk of it from a Qatari zillionaire:

Not long before a major crisis ripped through the Middle East, pitting the United States and a bloc of Gulf countries against Qatar, Jared Kushner’s real estate company had unsuccessfully sought a critical half-billion-dollar investmentfrom one of the richest and most influential men in the tiny nation, according to three well-placed sources with knowledge of the near transaction

Qatar is facing an ongoing blockade led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and joined by Egypt and Bahrain, which President Trump has taken credit for sparking. Kushner, meanwhile, has reportedly played a key behind-the-scenes role in hardening the U.S. posture toward the embattled nation.

….The revelation of the half-billion-dollar deal raises thorny and unprecedented ethical questions. If the deal is not entirely dead, that means Jared Kushner is, on the one hand, pushing to use the power of American diplomacy to pummel a small nation, while on the other, his firm is hoping to extract an extraordinary amount of capital from there for a failing investment. If, however, the deal is entirely dead, the pummeling may be seen as intimidating to other investors on the end of a Kushner Companies pitch.

There’s no way to know what’s really going on based solely on the information in the story. The problem is a very broad one: Jared Kushner runs a company that routinely needs to raise large sums of money, and one of the most common sources for large sums of money is foreign investors in places like China, the Middle East, and Russia. At the same time, Kushner is also a close advisor to the president of the United States, who routinely conducts foreign policy in places like China, the Middle East, and Russia. Conflicts of interest would be inevitable even if everyone involved were as pure as Caesar’s wife.

Is Trump helping out his son-in-law by putting pressure on Qatar? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 July 2017 at 7:22 pm

U.S. Agency Moves to Allow Class-Action Lawsuits Against Financial Firms

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At last consumers are protected from forced arbitration (which the banks love: they get to pick the arbitrators, so small wonder 99% of arbitrations are decided in favor of the banks). Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Michael Corkery report in the NY Times:

The nation’s consumer watchdog is adopting a rule on Monday that would pry open the courtroom doors for millions of Americans, restoring their right to bring class-action lawsuits against financial firms.

Under the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau rule, banks and credit card companies could no longer force customers into arbitration and block them from banding together to file a class-action suit.

The change would deal a serious blow to Wall Street and could wind up costing financial firms billions of dollars.

More immediately, its adoption is almost certain to set off a political firestorm in Washington, where both the Trump administration and House Republicans have pushed to rein in the consumer finance agency as part of a broader effort to lighten regulation on the financial industry.

Continue reading the main story

Under the Congressional Review Act — a 1996 law that had been rarely used before the current Congress employed it to reverse 14 rules from the Obama administration — lawmakers have 60 legislative days to overturn the rule blocking mandatory arbitrations. The rule could take effect next year.

The Chamber of Commerce and other pro-business groups have belittled the rule as nothing more than a gift to class-action lawyers, who tend to be Democratic donors.

But as much as Republicans deplore the consumer protection agency, they may find it difficult to kill a rule that could have wide populist appeal. Across the country, judges, prosecutors and regulators have decried arbitration clauses for allowing corporations to circumvent the courts and for taking away the only tools citizens have to fight illegal or deceitful business practices.

The rule is one of the signature efforts of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was created in 2010 as part of the Dodd-Frank regulatory overhaul to safeguard the rights of millions of Americans in the aftermath of the mortgage crisis.

At a time when Dodd-Frank has come under attack, the arbitration initiative from the consumer finance agency — which operates independently from the Trump administration — is a provocative stand against the prevailing political tide in Washington.

Indeed, the rule is largely unchanged from when it was issued in draft form in May 2016 and the agency began soliciting comments from industry.

It is that kind of independence that has drawn particular ire from Republicans.

Last month, the Treasury Department issued a report recommending that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau be neutered, accusing it of regulatory overreach and calling for the president to be able to remove its director, Richard Cordray.

Supporters of the agency say arbitration is exactly the kind of issue that requires independence from corporate interests.

The rule will unwind a series of brazen legal maneuvers undertaken by major American companies to block customers from going to court to fight potentially harmful business practices.

“These clauses allow companies to avoid accountability by blocking group lawsuits and forcing people to go it alone or give up,” Mr. Cordray said in a statement.

Over decades, financial institutions, led by credit card companies, figured out a way to use the fine print of their contracts to force consumers into private arbitration, a secretive process where borrowers have to go up on their own against powerful companies with deep pockets.

Prevented from banding together in a class and pooling their resources, most people simply abandon their claims entirely, never making it to arbitration at all.

The new rules could change all that when it comes to consumer finance. While the protections would not apply to existing accounts, consumer could pay off old loans and get new accounts that would fall under the new rules.

The new rules do not explicitly outlaw arbitration, but industry lawyers say that they will effectively kill the practice. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 July 2017 at 4:42 pm

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