Thursday, February 27, 2014

Employers now requiring SATs scores from job hunters!

I found this Wall Street Journal story through the Washington Monthly.  From Wall Street Journal:
Proving the adage that all of life is like high school, plenty of employers still care about a job candidate's SAT score. Consulting firms such as Bain & Co. and McKinsey & Co. and banks like Goldman Sachs Group Inc. ask new college recruits for their scores, while other companies request them even for senior sales and management hires, eliciting scores from job candidates in their 40s and 50s.
The SAT, originally known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test and taken during junior or senior year of high school, is a common element of college applications. The exam is scored on a scale of 2400, with up to 800 points each for critical reading, math and writing sections. The average SAT score last year was a combined 1498. (Before March 2005, the test had just two sections and was scored on a 1600-point scale.)
A low score doesn't necessarily kill a person's chances, hiring managers say; instead, they say they believe SATs and other college entrance exams like the ACT help when comparing candidates with differing backgrounds or figuring out whether someone has the raw brainpower required for the job.

But some companies do set targets, particularly on the math section. Mark Rich, managing director of consulting-industry recruiting firm Whitehouse Pimms, says clients often tell him to screen for candidates whose SAT scores placed them in or above the 95th percentile. Investment firm D.E. Shaw Group asks candidates to break out their math and verbal results.
Boston Consulting Group Inc. has long used SAT scores as a factor in its hiring process. The firm doesn't set a minimum score for applicants, said Jennifer Comparoni, head of Americas recruiting. But candidates with weak math results would need to demonstrate other strengths, such as subject-matter expertise or leadership ability, she added.
BCG managers won't say that SAT results predict job performance, but Ms. Comparoni said the company uses the test as a standard measure of "the basic building blocks of success," such as critical thinking, problem-solving skills and quantitative abilities.
What???  The SAT score does not predict job performance, but is a 'standard measure of "the basic building blocks of success," such as critical thinking, problem-solving skills and quantitative abilities?' 

So what does a bachelors degree in college measure?  Obviously a bachelors degree in college doesn't measure any sort of critical thinking skills, or problem-solving skills, or even any life experience lessons one learns in college that an employer will need in making hiring decisions, more than a single test score taken by a high school junior or senior?

Then, there is this final ironic quote from the Journal:
One former McKinsey analyst who conducted recruiting for the firm was content to share his own scores. "For me, it was great," he said. "I test much better than I am intelligent."
For the record, I did not take the SAT test in high school, but went through West Valley Community College and San Jose State for my bachelors degree in political science.  

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Comcast to purchase Time Warner for $45 billion

This is from

Comcast and Time Warner Cable could face a big, uphill battle against regulators in order to win approval for their $45 billion merger.

The combined company would bring cable or Internet service to about 30% of American subscribers and serve 19 of the country's 20 largest metropolitan regions. That would give Comcast, which is already the nation's largest TV, Internet and home phone provider, an even more sizable lead on its rivals.

Comcast (CMCSA, Fortune 500) and Time Warner Cable (TWC, Fortune 500) will have to gain approval from two regulators: both the Federal Communications Commission and either the Department of Justice or the Federal Trade Commission. The agencies have not yet decided which will take up the case. (The FTC typically scrutinizes cable mergers but the DOJ usually handles media deals, including Comcast's 2010 purchase of NBCUniversal from GE (GE, Fortune 500).)

The companies said in a statement the deal will be "pro-competitive" and "strongly in the public interest." For instance, Comcast noted that it has higher broadband Internet speeds than Time Warner Cable, more high-definition offerings, and the deal will help make future broadband and digital TV deployment cheaper for the combined company.
 So Comcast is trying to purchase Time Warner for $45 billion, in a deal that would combine two of the biggest cable companies in the United States.  This would make Comcast the dominant provider for cable television, and internet service, reaching out to around one in three Americans.  According to Tim Hanlon, founder of Vertere Group, a media and technology investment advisory firm, '"This isn't about TV anymore -- it's about controlling a fatter, more intelligent pipe for multiple services that emanate from it," including broadband Internet, phone and home security monitoring.'

The control here for Comcast is about broadband internet.  Internet sites such as Hulu and Netflix online through your TV and computer.  However, downloading these movies and TV episodes requires a fast internet connection--certainly faster than your old modem, or even DSL.  Otherwise, when you play an online movie, it will pause at time, as the movie is being downloaded.  So it takes a lot of bandwidth to download and play such online content.  By gaining more control over cable and broadband internet, Comcast can certainly charge higher fees to their customers, who use download online content, and possibly even block internet sites, such as Hulu and Netflix, from Comcast broadband internet customers.  According to Michael Hiltzik: 
 Comcast CEO Brian Roberts tried to finesse the issue Thursday by arguing that the deal "does not reduce competition in any market or in any way," thereby acknowledging the paramount flaw in the nationwide cable market and trying to depict it as a virtue.

But the ramifications of the cable monopoly go beyond mere access to channels on your set-top box. As we observed back in August, the more damaging consequence of the cable monopoly is in broadband Internet access, where the power of the cable firms' monopolies is magnified by the lack of practical alternatives to their Internet services.
Yes, you can buy DSL Internet connectivity from your local telephone company. In some places, you can buy fiber-optic connectivity, also from a phone company (Verizon or AT&T). But DSL service is typically much slower than cable service and is geographically constrained even within service districts. (The further you are from a DSL connection box, or "central office," the crummier your signal.).
Verizon has ended its rollout of its FiOS fiber service; if your neighborhood doesn't have it now, it's not getting it. AT&T says it's still rolling out its Uverse fiber service, but hardly at a light-speed pace.
The harvest of this domination of broadband connectivity by cable monopolies is easy to see: In general, the U.S. has the lowest connection speeds and the highest prices in the developed world. The New America Foundation serveyed the world in 2012 to determine what customers could get for the equivalent of $35 a month. In Hong Kong, they could download from the Internet at 500 megabits per second (a half a gigabit); in Tokyo 200 Mbps; in Seoul, Paris, Bucharest (Romania) and Berlin 100. In Los Angeles, 10. Los Angeles is a Time Warner Cable monopoly.
The constraint here isn't technological, but commercial. Our fat and secure cable monopolies simply don't feel competitive pressure to provide customers with the fastest speeds at reasonable, affordable rates. When they do get pressured, they respond.
So in the end, consumers will end up with even crappier cable and broadband internet services from Comcast, while also paying higher rates.  

Colorado GOP Senator: "a good thing that he (Aurora Theater Shooter) had a 100-round magazine, because it jammed."

I found this story on both Daily Kos, and Talking Points Memo.  I'm still trying to wrap my head around the absurd logic of this story.  From TPM:
According to KDVR, state Sen. Bernie Herpin (R) made the comments during a hearing debating legislation he has proposed that would overturn the state's new ban on magazines of more than 15 rounds. A measure similar to Herpin's was voted down on Monday by Democrats in the state's House.
“My understanding is that James Holmes bought his 100-round capacity magazine legally,” state Sen. Irene Aguilar (D) said to Herpin during the hearing. “So in fact, this law would have stopped James Holmes from purchasing a 100-round magazine. ... I just wondered if you agree with me.”
“Perhaps, James Holmes would not have been able to purchase a 100-round magazine,” Herpin said in response. “As it turned out, that was maybe a good thing that he had a 100-round magazine, because it jammed. If he had instead had four, five, six 15-round magazines, no telling how much damage he could have done until a good guy with a gun showed up.”
Herpin was elected in September to replace former state Senate President John Morse, a Democrat who faced a recall following his support of gun control measures.
Talking Points Memo also has the audio here:

Fox 31 Denver, has more on this story.

It is a "good thing" that the 100-round magazine jammed?  What if the 100-round magazine did not jam?  Would Holmes have killed more than 12 people, and injured more than 170 people in the Aurora theater shooting?  Is that responsible gun control--hoping gun magazines jam?

The madness of Republican politicians.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Republicans bring up the Ghost of Monica against Hillary Clinton

I found this Washington Monthly story rather interesting:
Sen. Rand Paul, echoed by RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, think they’ve got a real game-changer in response to claims that the GOP is waging a “war on women:” bring back Monica Lewinsky! Reminding Americans of the Lewinsky scandal, you see, will not only provide a distraction from the godless liberal idea that letting women control their own reproductive systems and obtain equal pay are relevant measures of what it means to be “pro-women,” but will also cause problems for Hillary Clinton if she runs for president in 2016! Brilliant, eh?
Apparently, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus told MSNBC News that the Monica Lewinsky scandal was "on the table," in attacking Hillary Clinton's potential 2016 presidential run:
Priebus said Monday on MSNBC that the Monica Lewinsky scandal is fair game when it comes to evaluating Hillary Clinton's potential presidential bid.
"I think everything's on the table," Priebus told Andrea Mitchell.
"I don't see how someone just gets a free pass on anything. I mean, especially in today's politics. So, I think we're going to have a truckload of opposition research on Hillary Clinton and some things may be old and some things might be new. But I think everything is at stake when you're talking about the leader of the free world and who we're going to give the keys to run the United States of America."
Hillary Clinton, Priebus added, "provides a lot of opportunity" for Republicans.
The question I would have to ask is....Why?   Why are the Republicans bringing up this old scandal?  There is no new information to be presented here.  Monica Lewinsky did not sleep with Hillary--Monica Lewinsky slept with former President Bill Clinton, and she was a fully grown adult when she had her affair with Bill Clinton.  We all know that former President Bill Clinton lied about the affair, and that he went through the House impeachment process, the Senate trial, and his eventual acquittal.  There is nothing new here.  As for Hillary and Bill's marriage in the aftermath of the scandal, they have patched up whatever they had to and are still a powerful Washington DC couple.  I doubt the Republicans are going to sway women voters in attacking Hillary for her husband's infidelity--if anything, the women voters may just sympathize with Hillary and provide her with more votes.  Are the Republicans trying to rile up their own base? 

You mean to tell me the GOP base can't be riled up enough with a black, Kenyan-born, Marxist, socialist, dictator now sitting in the White House?

So the GOP is bringing up a tired, old scandal.  The only reason I can think of is that the Republican Party has shifted so rightward into Crazyland, that they have no coherent, working policies to help solve the problems of this nation.  Tax cuts to the rich and big corporations, when there is a huge inequality gap between the rich and everyone else, and corporate profits are still rising in this recession?  They have refused to compromise on any legislation with the Democrats--unless "compromise" is defined as the Democrats rolling over and giving the Republicans everything they want (And the Democrats have rolled over numerous times).  The Republicans have engaged in hostage taking on the government shutdown.  The Republicans have voted against unemployment insurance.  The list goes on. If the Republicans have no coherent policies to present to the table and refuse to compromise on any legislation, then what do they have left to sell to the voters?

So the Republicans turn to hate.  And who better to hate, than Hillary Clinton and her potential 2016 presidential campaign.  Time to ramp up the "vast, right-wing conspiracy!"

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Introducing the Submarine Hotel--For only $149,000 per person per night!

I found this story via, which even I can't believe:
If candy and flowers won't cut it this Valentine's Day, one high-end travel organization is offering an experience that's sure to be remembered.
The Lovers Deep offers the chance for an adventurous, rich — and not claustrophobic — couple to spend an evening below sea level. The sky-high price of $140,000 per person for one night doesn't include airfare.
The swanky submarine is an over-the-top — or shall we say below-the-deep — luxury experience billed as the "Mile Low Club" that offers members the luxe services of a chef, a butler, and a captain who cater to the two guests.
The vessels start from about 40 feet long. The hefty price tag includes romantic gestures aplenty. The package includes rose-petal scattering, Barry White on the soundtrack, and a dinner that serves up oysters, caviar, and chocolate fondant.The leisure submarine "is designed to your personal specification and built as a unique, one-off trip of a lifetime that you'll never forget," according to the website for Oliver's Travels.
"This is now Oliver's Travels' most unique, luxury and expensive 'property' on the site," spokeswoman Rachel Aldersley told Yahoo in an email. "We don't believe other travel rental companies offer an underwater vacation like this one."
As underwater vacations go, you can't beat the view. Guests can choose where to dock, "whether that be a stunning coral reef off the coast of St. Lucia or a sunken battleship in the Red Sea," the press release notes.
Good news for moguls who like subs (looking at you, James Cameron): Since this property was just added, Lovers Deep hasn't received any bookings yet — so now's the chance.
You can view the pictures of this Submarine Hotel here: 

In the back of my mind, I can just hear Robin Leach gush about how "swanky" this submarine hotel is, where you and your sweetie can enjoy your "champagne wishes and caviar dreams." In a sense, I wonder if I am living in the 1980s, watching recycled versions of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. The Travel Channel is famous for showing these series of people flaunting outrageous wealth--Extreme Houseboats, Extreme Yachts, World's Hottest Hotels, and Island Secrets. The cable channel Destination America has such series Epic Homes and Epic Log Cabins. Destination America even had a series, showing "Epic Bathrooms!" Epic Bathrooms???

I could go on a rant in saying that the wealthy have too much money, or present statistics in showing this inequality of wealth. In one sense, it doesn't matter. But then you have these stories of $140,000 a night stay in a submarine, and the extreme wealthy building their own private city outside the slums of Nigeria. And they are flaunting this extreme wealth in showing how much they've spent building their epic home, epic log cabin, epic bathroom! A functioning society can not exist with this type of extreme inequality, where a small segment of the population has taken all the wealth, and then gives the middle finger to the rest of society. Something will crack, and you will see a class warfare that may become violent and bloody.

Friday, February 07, 2014

A tale of two unemployment numbers

I'm going to start this posting off with two different numbers, from two different news sources.  First, is the New York Times story on today's unemployment figures:
For the more than 10 million Americans who are out of work, finding a job is hard. For the 145 million or so who are employed, getting a raise is even harder.
The government said on Friday that employers added 113,000 jobs in January, the second straight month of anemic growth, despite some signs of strength in the broader economy. The unemployment rate inched down in January to 6.6 percent, the lowest level since October 2008, from 6.7 percent in December.
But the report also made plain what many Americans feel in their bones: Wages are stuck, and barely rose at all in 2013. They were up 1.9 percent last year, or a mere 0.4 percent after accounting for inflation. Not only was that increase even smaller than the one recorded in 2012, it was half the normal rate of wage gains in the two decades before the last recession.
The stagnation helps explain why many people feel apprehensive even though the economy grew at a robust pace in the second half of 2013, corporate profits rose, the stock market boomed and the housing market continued to gain ground. The issue cuts across the American work force. In fact, white-collar workers did a bit worse than blue-collar workers last year in terms of wage growth.
“People are running in place in terms of their living standards,” said Ethan Harris, co-head of global economics at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “There’s almost no growth in spending power.” As recently as 2008, when the economy sank deeper into recession and Lehman Brothers collapsed, wages still managed to rise by 3.5 percent, before inflation. But the combination of a backlog of workers left behind in the recession’s wake, as well as productivity gains resulting from new technologies, means salaries may not rebound anytime soon.
“We won’t see stronger wage growth until unemployment gets below 6 percent and we begin adding 200,000 jobs a month,” Mr. Harris predicted. Friday’s data from the Labor Department shows an economy performing well below that level, however. The 113,000 jobs that were added in January fell far short of the 180,000 economists had anticipated, and came after a particularly weak December. Despite the decline in the jobless rate, some economists said on Friday that job creation had indeed slowed, in what might be called a winter wobble for the economy — the cold weather equivalent of last year’s summer swoon.
Dean Maki, chief United States economist at Barclays, noted that over the course of November, December and January, the more reliable three-month pace of job creation stood at 154,000, roughly 75,000 positions fewer than employers added in September, October and November. Initially, the weak report for December was blamed on wintry conditions that inhibited hiring, but Mr. Maki said a second straight month of disappointing job gains led him to conclude that the cold and snow could not be blamed this time. 
You have just got to love these unemployment figures.  We have an anemic job growth, where employers added only 113,000 jobs in January,  and yet the unemployment rate dropped from 6.7 percent in December 2013 to 6.6 percent in January 2014. So what happened here?  How about Americans stopped looking for a job in January, and were dropped from the unemployment rolls?  According to the Economic Policy Institute:
In today’s labor market, the unemployment rate drastically understates the weakness of job opportunities. This is due to the existence of a large pool of “missing workers”—potential workers who, because of weak job opportunities, are neither employed nor actively seeking a job. In other words, these are people who would be either working or looking for work if job opportunities were significantly stronger. Because jobless workers are only counted as unemployed if they are actively seeking work, these “missing workers” are not reflected in the unemployment rate.

As part of its ongoing effort to create the metrics needed to assess how well the economy is working for America’s broad middle class, EPI is introducing its “missing worker” estimates, which will be updated on this page on the first Friday of every month immediately after the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its jobs numbers. The “missing worker” estimates provide policymakers with a key gauge of the health of the labor market.
What the Economic Policy Institute is saying here is that the "missing worker" are those workers who are not employed or are seeking employment due to the weak job market.  And as the unemployment rate only counts workers who are actively seeking work, these missing workers are dropped from the unemployment rolls. 

The Economic Policy Institute estimates that when you count in the missing workers, the true unemployment rate is at 9.9 percent!

Current “missing worker” estimates at a glance

Updated February 7, 2014, based on most current data available

  • Total missing workers, January 2014: 5,730,000
  • Unemployment rate if missing workers were looking for work: 9.9%
  • Official unemployment rate: 6.6%
Here is a chart showing the number of missing workers sidelined, from a time period of January 2006 through January 2014.

This chart shows the difference between the missing workers unemployment rate, and the labor market unemployment rate, both from a time period of January 2006 through January 2014.

What is even more surprising is this chart, showing that a majority of missing workers are in their prime working age.

Am I surprised at this disconnect between the labor market unemployment rate, and this missing worker rate?  Not really.  I've known that workers who have exhausted their unemployment benefits are dropped from the unemployment rolls. The long term unemployed is still a huge problem in this country, with around 3.6 million Americans having been unemployed for six months or more.  The labor participation rate for January, 2014 stands at 63 percent of Americans over the age of 16 are participating in the labor market--wither working in a job, or looking for a job.

Even worst, wages continue to stagnate.  Wages were up 1.9 percent for 2013, or around 0.4 percent after inflation.  This increase is smaller than the wage increase recorded in 2012, but it was also half the nominal rate of wage gains before the 1990s recession.

The stock market went up today:

Bad news appears to be good news again as investors shrugged off the tepid jobs report and put their faith in the Federal Reserve.

The Dow soared 160 points Friday, while the S&P 500, and Nasdaq also rose even though the government said that only 113,000 jobs were created in January. Economists surveyed by CNNMoney expected the U.S. economy to have added 178,000 jobs. The unemployment rate ticked down to 6.6%.-- its lowest level in five years.
It was the second straight day of gains in what's been a choppy week for the market. Stocks did wind up finishing the week in positive territory. But the Dow is still down almost 5% this year.
 I really do not know how long this disconnect can continue.  You have a government unemployment rate figure that is a complete lie due to some serious fudging.  Wall Street cheers this fudged unemployment rate, sending stocks even higher.  Wages remain stagnant.  Middle and lower class Americans are cutting back on their spending due to lost jobs, or the stagnating wages.  Meanwhile corporate profits are soaring, and consumer spending in the U.S. is being generated by the upper rich.  I get the impression that the U.S. economy is now being built on a house of cards.

The question I have is when will it collapse? 

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Billionaire Sam Zell claims, "The 1 percent work harder!"

I found this Huffington Post story, via Daily Kos.  From the Huffington Post:
When the going gets tough, the rich dudes stick together. Or at least rich dude Sam Zell did in an interview with Bloomberg TV Wednesday.
The billionaire chairman of Equity Group Investments backed up fellow rich guy Tom Perkins, who set off a firestorm when he recently compared the "progressive war on the 1 percent" to Nazi anti-Semitism in a letter to the Wall Street Journal. (He later apologized for using the word "Kristallnacht" but defended the overall "message.")
"I guess my feeling is that he’s right," Zell said when asked by Bloomberg's Betty Liu how he felt about Perkins' stance. "The 1 percent are being pummeled because it’s politically convenient to do so."
Zell then said the problem is that all non-rich are just jealous that they don't have the same work ethic that the country's wealthiest do.
"The problem is that the world and this country should not talk about envy of the 1 percent. It should talk about emulating the 1 percent," he said. "The 1 percent work harder. The 1 percent are much bigger factors in all forms of our society."
Liu countered that the ever-widening gulf between the richest and poorest Americans must make it harder for those living under the poverty line to get ahead, no?
Nah, said Zell.
"Lots of people have come from nowhere and become part of the 1 percent," he said.
You know, I would love to see Zell work 8-12 hours a day in a fast food restaurant,  on a summer weekend day in 100 degree heat.  I'd like to see him hustling on a fryer, prepping burgers, or moving between taking lunch rush orders, mixing shakes, and handing out food for customers.  And after the lunch and dinner rushes are over, I would love to see Zell clean off counters, bus tables, sweep outside, wash dishes, restock food drawers, conduct food prep of making sauces or slicing food, and perform closing shift of even more cleaning of kitchen, wiping down dining room tables and chairs, sweeping floors, mopping floors, cleaning and sweeping kitchen area.  And I want to see Zell perform this work, making minimum wage, and still have to come home to perform his own housekeeping chores, cleaning, laundry, or fixing his own food.  I worked in a fast food restaurant for several years, starting from cooking french fries, and moving all the way up to practically supervising the night operations at the store.  It was the hardest job I have ever had to work at.

This guy is full of crap!

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

CVS to end tobacco sales by October 1st

This story is from the NY Times:
CVS/Caremark, the country’s largest drugstore chain in overall sales, announced on Wednesday that it planned to stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products by October.
The company’s move was yet another sign of its metamorphosis into becoming more of a health care provider than a largely retail business, with its stores offering more miniclinics and health advice to aid customers visiting its pharmacies.
The company estimated that its decision would cost an estimated $2 billion in sales from tobacco buyers, which includes incidental items like gum that those customers might also purchase. That is a mere dent in its overall sales of $123 billion in 2012, the latest figures available.
“We have about 26,000 pharmacists and nurse practitioners helping patients manage chronic problems like high cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart disease, all of which are linked to smoking,” said Larry J. Merlo, chief executive of CVS. “We came to the decision that cigarettes and providing health care just don’t go together in the same setting.”
CVS does not sell electronic cigarettes, the highly popular but debated devices that deliver nicotine without tobacco and emit a rapidly vanishing vapor instead of smoke. It said it was waiting for guidance on the devices from the Food and Drug Administration, which has expressed interest in regulating e-cigarettes.
Some major retail stores like Walmart and convenience stores still sell cigarettes and other tobacco products, although antismoking groups and health care professionals will probably use CVS’s decision to try to pressure others to consider doing so. Municipalities have also begun enacting legislation governing where cigarettes can be sold.
Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services, said in a statement that the CVS decision was “an unprecedented step in the retail industry” and predicted it would have “considerable impact.”
I am not a smoker, however my mother smoked for almost 20 years before quitting cold turkey.  I remember the smell of tobacco that permeated throughout the house and furniture.  Even today, I will gag at the smell of cigarette smoke.

Do I applaud CVS's move to ban cigarette sales in their stores?  I'm not sure. There is this issue of CVS's attempt to "metamorphosis into becoming more of a health care provider than a largely retail business, with its stores offering more mini clinics and health advice to aid customers visiting its pharmacies."  To me, this sounds like a marketing / PR and strategic business decision to shift from pure retail sales to a hybrid retail / health clinic store.  I know that CVS has offered flu shots in their stores for years.  With the rollout of health care reform, maybe the CVS execs are seeing potentially bigger sales revenue in providing simplified health care services to customers in their stores, over the sales of cigarettes.  According to the NY Times:
Nik Modi, an investment analyst who follows tobacco stocks at RBC Capital Markets, said he doubted CVS’s move would have a major impact on tobacco sales, noting that roughly three-quarters of cigarette sales occur in convenience stores. Additionally, he said, “the dollar channel recently started to get into the tobacco space because they were losing foot traffic to other channels as cigarettes are key to driving in-store traffic.”

On Tuesday, CVS executives met with executives from tobacco companies to discuss the shift. “Obviously, you would expect they would be disappointed with this decision,” Mr. Merlo said. “At the same time, I think they understand the paradox we faced as an organization.”
In other words, American smokers are buying their cigarettes from 7-Eleven, liquor stores, and gas station mini-mart stores.  The cigarettes are usually located in a locked case, somewhere behind, or under the cashier counter.  It is a simple matter for the cashier to turn around, unlock the case, and remove the cigarette package for the customer's purchase.  In my local CVS store, the locked cigarette case is located at the front wall of the store.  The cashier needs to leave the register to unlock the case and remove the product for the customer's purchase.  It is not as convenient to purchase such cigarettes.  Or the cashier may have to call a supervisor to get the cigarettes.  Remove the locked cigarette case from the front, and you free up more retail space to place other impulse-buying products for customers.

Both Walgreens and Rite-Aid have said that they are "assessing" the sales of cigarettes "to make sure it suits the needs and desires of customers."  In other words, both stores will continue retail selling of cigarettes to their customers. 

CNN Poll: Americans want less income inequality and government to reduce the gap

Well, isn't this an interesting poll from
(CNN) – A majority of Americans surveyed believe the government should work to reduce the income gap between rich and the poor, according to a new national poll.
A CNN/ORC International survey released Wednesday indicates more than six in 10 Americans strongly or somewhat agree that the government should work to narrow that gap, compared to 30% who believe it should not.
"That sentiment may put Republicans in a difficult position, because nearly seven in 10 of those surveyed believe GOP policies favor the rich compared to the 30% of respondents who said Democratic policies benefit the wealthy," said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.
The results come after President Barack Obama made a major push in his State of the Union address last week for policies curbing income inequality.
The White House has billed 2014 as a 'Year of Action' and efforts to stem the widening gap between the rich and poor has become a cornerstone of the administration's agenda.
Opinion on the income gap appears to have changed little since the Reagan era. In 1983, 68% of Americans favored government action to narrow the divide. Today, that number stands at 66%.
Most Republicans oppose such measures, and nine in 10 Democrats favor them. Among independents, two-thirds believe the government should work to reduce the income gap.

Higher income earners agree. Fifty-seven percent of Americans who earn more than $100,000 a year said the government should help decrease the income inequality.
There is a gender gap on this issue as well, with women, at 70%, slightly more likely to favor measures to reduce the gap than men, at 62%.
I am not sure of what else to say here, except that two days ago, the New York Times ran a story, saying that businesses are now catering their products and service to the upper rich class, and forgoing the middle class. When you have 85 of the richest people on earth owning as much wealth as the bottom half of the global population, you have a serious problem here. The middle and working class has no money to spend on products and services that businesses need to sell.  No money to spend means no economic demand--there are only so many $4,000 refrigerators that the uber-rich are willing to buy.  And I certainly do not see these 85 of the richest people on earth willing to donate part of their fortune to alleviate this income gap--These are the individuals who will "retire" to their walled, private city of Eko Atlantic, surrounded by a slumville. 

Which leaves the government to take care of this situation.  Unfortunately, the government will not solve this situation, as the uber-rich, and mega corporations have just about purchased the politicians to do their bidding.  The only way things are going to change is when Americans wake up, and start demanding that the government institute such changes.  Otherwise, when things get so bad to the point where Americans have nothing else to lose, the country could end up in a dangerous time.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Tennessee Governor calls for 2 years of free community college

I found this story off the New York Times, and I'm pretty floored by the concept:
 Public colleges have sharply raised their prices since the 1990s in the face of declining state support, but a plan by Tennessee’s governor to make two years of community college and technical school free for all students represents a striking reversal of that trend.

Tennessee would be the only state in the country to charge no tuition or fees to incoming students under the proposal by Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, which policy analysts called a big step toward a better-educated work force.
 I will admit, I find it rather surprising for a Republican governor to be offering such a bold, policy idea.  Is Governor Haslam serious?  Or is this just a GOP talking point?

 Continuing with the NY Times story:
 "This is the best idea to boost participation in higher education in a generation,” said Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education, a major association of public and private colleges.
Mr. Haslam made it the centerpiece of his State of the State address on Monday, calling for two years of free schooling for state residents with high school diplomas or equivalency degrees, without regard to academic credentials or financial need. The change requires approval by the state legislature, whose leaders reacted favorably to the idea.
“We just needed to change the culture of expectations in our state,” the governor said Tuesday in a telephone interview. “College is not for everybody, but it has to be for a lot more people than it’s been in the past if we’re going to have a competitive work force.”
Community college is fairly inexpensive; a full year’s tuition and fees in Tennessee are about $3,800, and the national average is $3,300. Federal Pell grants and other scholarships make the net price zero, or a very small sum, for most students.
I will admit that the devil here is in the details.  What are the eligibility requirements for the students?  Residency requirements?  What about older workers who may already have a college degree, but need to go back to school for professional certification?  Will they be included in this free education?   What colleges and technical schools will be participating in this program?  Are private colleges allowed to be participating in this program....Can you say College Voucher?  What will be paid in this "free education?"  Tuition?  Room and Board?  Books and supplies?

Governor Haslam estimates that the cost for this program will be around $34 million a year, which will be paid by diverting surplus revenue from the state lottery.  He also said that the state will work with private foundations to provide mentors to students on "navigating college."  This brings up two more interesting questions.  The first is, if the state lottery "surplus revenues" drop below $34 million to where the program can not pay the free tuition to students, who will make up the shortfall?  The state's general revenue fund?  The taxpayers?  The students?

The second question I would have is this entire idea of "private foundations" to provide these mentors to students?  Who or what are these private foundations, and what type of mentoring information will they be providing the students?  Will the students be required to see these private foundation mentors in order to get this free college aid?  What about older students who are returning to college, and will know all the hoops they must jump through for attending college?  Is this another scam for the governor to divert public taxpayer money to conservative companies providing either these mentoring services, or conservative colleges?

A quick, final thought here.  Tennessee is a small state, where the NY Times reports there are 13 degree-granting community colleges, and 27 Colleges of Applied Technology.  Will this program become a template for bigger states with a greater number of colleges and students....say California?  I don't know.  I do know that something needs to be done to stop the growing inequality between the rich, and everyone else.  I know that something needs to be done to revive the job market, increase worker wages, and improve employee skills and training to gain better jobs.  This is not the perfect, catch-all policy program that will solve the serious problems this country faces.  However, I would never have expected a Republican governor to advocate such a policy.  So I'll keep an open mind.

And wait for the details.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Corporate boss can look over your shoulder with a "wearable gadget."

This is from
(CNN) -- If you're a person who hates it when your supervisor looks over your shoulder at work, you may want to stop reading this column right now.
Because what follows is only going to depress you.
Hitachi, the big electronics company based in Japan, is manufacturing and selling to corporations a device intended to increase efficiency in the workplace. It has a rather bland and generic-sounding name: the Hitachi Business Microscope.
But what it is capable of doing ... well, just imagine being followed around the office or the factory all day by the snoopiest boss in the world. Even into the restroom.
And, the thing is, once you hear about it, you just know that, from a management point of view, it is an innovation of absolute genius.
 Apparently, Hitachi has constructed the perfect employee monitoring system to watch and record everything you do, everything you say, every time you take a crap on the toilet, every time to take a drink at the water cooler--your every moment that you are at work!  The device will look like an ID badge, but will contain "infrared sensors, an accelerometer, a microphone sensor and a wireless communication device."  According to
If you get up to walk around the office a lot, the badge sends information to management about how often you do it, and where you go.
If you stop to talk with people throughout the day, the badge transmits who you're talking to (by reading your co-workers' badges), and for how long.
Do you contribute at meetings, or just sit there? Either way, the badge tells your bosses.
The stated intention of this is to increase productivity and get the most out of employees
Management's argument for such a device is supervisors need to keep an eye on how workers are spending their time on the company hours, with employers paying for their workers time.  If the employees do not like wearing the Business Microscope, then they can find another job.   The Business Microscope is an employer's dream 'of maximum efficiency, and Hitachi says that, since the Business Microscope was first developed in its labs in 2007, "over one million days of human behavior and big data" have been collected."'

Corporate slavery has arrived.

When I read this article, I seriously wonder just how much hypocrisy and degradation that corporations have towards their employees.  It is bad enough to look at career pages on a corporate website, and read about how much corporations value their employees, and want to make employees feel like they are working in an exciting career, with great wages, and everyone will be treated like family.  While in reality, employee wages have remained stagnant, while the corporate CEOs pay has skyrocketed.  Corporations want to pay as little as they can on wages, expect complete loyalty from you, and treat you not as an "asset," but as a "cost" and "liability," from which they can fire you at any time and for no reason. 

What is especially amazing is that Hitachi had the crazy idea to design this employee monitoring device to eventually market and sell to such corporations.  And Hitachi is probably right.  There may be a huge market for more corporate-intrusive monitoring on employees.  The problem will be whether employees will abide towards company instructions of wearing such monitoring devices.  When companies treat their employees like crap, you can be employee morale and employee loyalty towards the company will plummet.  If employees can quit and move on towards another company which doesn't use such devices, they will.  If employees can not move on towards better jobs, they may be forced to wear such devices at the company workplace.  But such employees will certainly be resentful, and simply put in their time towards the company store--but they will not put in the extra effort, or desire to improve the company products or services.

Then again, I seriously doubt that corporations would give a damn.

UPDATE:  I'm curious.  If corporations start forcing their employees to wear these Hitachi Business Microscope, will the CEOs and top corporate leaders also be required to wear these devices?  And who will be listening to the CEO's Business Microscope?

Businesses cater to high-end products, while middle class erodes

I found this interesting story off the New York Times:
In Manhattan, the upscale clothing retailer Barneys will replace the bankrupt discounter Loehmann’s, whose Chelsea store closes in a few weeks. Across the country, Olive Garden and Red Lobster restaurants are struggling, while fine-dining chains like Capital Grille are thriving. And at General Electric, the increase in demand for high-end dishwashers and refrigerators dwarfs sales growth of mass-market models.
As politicians and pundits in Washington continue to spar over whether economic inequality is in fact deepening, in corporate America there really is no debate at all. The post-recession reality is that the customer base for businesses that appeal to the middle class is shrinking as the top tier pulls even further away.
If there is any doubt, the speed at which companies are adapting to the new consumer landscape serves as very convincing evidence. Within top consulting firms and among Wall Street analysts, the shift is being described with a frankness more often associated with left-wing academics than business experts.
“Those consumers who have capital like real estate and stocks and are in the top 20 percent are feeling pretty good,” said John G. Maxwell, head of the global retail and consumer practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers.
In response to the upward shift in spending, PricewaterhouseCoopers clients like big stores and restaurants are chasing richer customers with a wider offering of high-end goods and services, or focusing on rock-bottom prices to attract the expanding ranks of penny-pinching consumers.
“As a retailer or restaurant chain, if you’re not at the really high level or the low level, that’s a tough place to be,” Mr. Maxwell said. “You don’t want to be stuck in the middle.”
In one sense, I am not surprised.  When 85 of the richest people on Earth have the same amount of wealth as the bottom half of the global population,  why wouldn't businesses start selling luxury items to cater to the wealthy?  General Electric is selling a Cafe line of refrigerators for $1,700 to $3,000--aimed at the top quarter of the market.  “This is a person who is willing to pay for features, like a double-oven range or a refrigerator with hot water,” said Brian McWaters, a general manager in G.E.’s Appliance division.  According to the NY Times: 

Although data on consumption is less readily available than figures that show a comparable split in income gains, new research by the economists Steven Fazzari, of Washington University in St. Louis, and Barry Cynamon, of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, backs up what is already apparent in the marketplace.
In 2012, the top 5 percent of earners were responsible for 38 percent of domestic consumption, up from 28 percent in 1995, the researchers found.
Even more striking, the current recovery has been driven almost entirely by the upper crust, according to Mr. Fazzari and Mr. Cynamon. Since 2009, the year the recession ended, inflation-adjusted spending by this top echelon has risen 17 percent, compared with just 1 percent among the bottom 95 percent.
More broadly, about 90 percent of the overall increase in inflation-adjusted consumption between 2009 and 2012 was generated by the top 20 percent of households in terms of income, according to the study, which was sponsored by the Institute for New Economic Thinking, a research group in New York.
The effects of this phenomenon are now rippling through one sector after another in the American economy, from retailers and restaurants to hotels, casinos and even appliance makers.
The question I would ask here is just how many $3,000 refrigerators with hot water, or double-oven ranges, or steak dinners at the Capitol Grill, are these upper 5 percent, or even 20 percent earners are willing to consume?  Yes, they are spending now.  More wealth is flowing upwards.  But there is only so much demand for such luxury products.  The hollowed out middle class, working class and poor?  They don't have the money to spend on such products.  They don't have the money to consume at the stores selling to such market segments--hence the troubles at J.C. Penny and Sears.  Even WalMart, the ultimate big box retailer which sells to low working class and poor, is now reporting that cuts to the government food stamps is hurting their bottom line:
Walmart Friday said bad weather and cuts in food stamp support for the poor weighed on US sales and would hit earnings for its November-January fourth quarter.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer and the country’s largest single private sector employer, said it now expects sales at its namesake US stores and its Sam’s Club chain to be “slightly negative” for the quarter, which included the crucial holiday shopping period.
Previously the company forecast “relatively flat” sales at Walmarts and 0-2 percent growth at Sam’s Clubs.
Walmart reports fourth-quarter earnings on February 20. The company had previously forecast underlying earnings of $1.60-$1.70 per share.
“Despite a holiday season that delivered positive comps, two factors contributed to lower comp sales performance,” said Walmart chief financial officer Charles Holley — referring to sales at comparable stores.
Holley cited deeper-than-expected cuts to benefits under the US Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — food support for the poor — and heavy weather in some areas that had forced some temporary store closings and kept consumers away.
I am starting to wonder when this entire economic house of cards will start crashing down.  Then again, they can always go to Eko Atlantic.

UPDATE:  Charles P. Pierce has a more profound take on this NY Times story in his The Politics Blog:
American "business," a concept that runs from your local pharmacist to Goldman Sachs, which then steals it all and runs away, pronounces itself startled that, having worked diligently at its highest levels to burn the entire house down, it is now difficult to see the TV clearly through all the smoke.
As politicians and pundits in Washington continue to spar over whether economic inequality is in fact deepening, in corporate America there really is no debate at all. The post-recession reality is that the customer base for businesses that appeal to the middle class is shrinking as the top tier pulls even further away. If there is any doubt, the speed at which companies are adapting to the new consumer landscape serves as very convincing evidence. Within top consulting firms and among Wall Street analysts, the shift is being described with a frankness more often associated with left-wing academics than business experts.
Perhaps because the former have been right all along, and the latter have been in the thrall of thieves and mountebanks, and almost 40 years of retrograde economic policy that have shoved the nation's wealth into a smaller and smaller place at the very toppermost of the poppermost. Suddenly, lo and behold, the blog's First Law Of Economics -- Fk The Deficit. People Got No Jobs. People Got No Money -- kicks in and, unless, you're selling yachts, business goes sour because...wait for it...nobody can afford to buy anything! Hoocodanode?
And he's completely right.  This really is a demand issue.  When wages have remained stagnant, with all the productivity gains going to the ubber-rich and corporations, ordinary people do not have money to purchase the middle-class goods and services that corporations have been trying to sell them.  Now that only the rich have all the money, corporate business has decided to abandon the middle and working class to sell luxury products to the ubber-rich.  But still, the rich are not going to purchase 10 or 20 or 30 G.E. Cafe line of $4,000 refrigerators.  Interestingly enough, in reading a lot of comments on Charles Pierce's post, and on the NY Times story, there are plenty of comments on Henry Ford paying his factory workers higher wages to build his Ford cars, then those same factory workers would be purchasing Ford cars, thus generating more demand for his Ford cars.  Will Corporate America ever learn this lesson?

Probably not.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Developer building private city for the ubber-rich

I found this rather interesting story through Daily Kos, which redirects into another Kos link.  The original source story can be found in The Guardian:
It's a sight to behold. Just off Lagos, Nigeria's coast, an artificial island is emerging from the sea. A foundation, built of sand dredged from the ocean floor, stretches over ten kilometres. Promotional videos depict what is to come: a city of soaring buildings, housing for 250,000 people, and a central boulevard to match Paris' Champs-Élysées and New York's Fifth Avenue. Privately constructed, it will also be privately administered and supplied with electricity, water, mass transit, sewage and security. It is the "future Hong Kong of Africa," anticipates Nigeria's World Bank director.

Welcome to Eko Atlantic, a city whose "whole purpose", its developers say, is to "arrest the ocean's encroachment." Like many low-lying coastal African countries, Nigeria has been hit hard by a rising sea-level, which has regularly washed away thousands of peoples' homes. To defend against the coastal erosion and flooding, the city is being surrounded by the "Great Wall of Lagos", a sea defence barrier made of 100,000 five-ton concrete blocks. Eko Atlantic will be a "sustainable city, clean and energy efficient with minimal carbon emissions," offer jobs, prosperity and new land for Nigerians, and serve as a bulwark in the fight against the impacts of climate change.
This new city is being funded and built by a financial empire called The Chagoury Group, along with some African and international banks.  The Chagoury Group "was a close advisor to the notorious Nigerian dictatorship of the mid 1990s, helping the ultra-corrupt general Sani Abacha as he looted billions from public coffers."  With Nigerian oil revenue flowing into the corrupt military government and elites, they are discovering they have no place to spend their money in a nation of extreme inequality: 
In congested Lagos, Africa's largest city, there is little employment and millions work and scavenge in a vast, desperate informal economy. Sixty percent of Nigeria's population – almost 100 of 170 million people – live on less than a dollar a day. Preventable diseases are widespread; electricity and clean water hard to come by. A few kilometres down the Lagos shoreline, Nigerians eke out an existence in the aquatic slum of Makoko, built precariously on stilts over the ocean. Casting them as crime-ridden, the government regularly dismantles such slums, bulldozing homes and evicting thousands. These are hardly the people who will scoop up square footage in Eko Atlantic's pricy new high-rises....
As elites in Nigeria and elsewhere have embraced such inequality as the very engine of growth, they have re-established some of the most severe forms of colonial segregation and gated leisure. Today, boutiques cannot open fast enough to serve the Nigerian millionaires buying luxury cars and yachts they'll be able to dock in Eko Atlantic's down-town marina. Meanwhile, thousands of people who live in communities along the coast expect the new city will bring displacement, not prosperity, says environmental activist Nnimmo Bassey. To get their way, the developers, backed by industry and politicians, have trampled over the country's environmental assessment process. "Building Eko Atlantic is contrary to anything one would want to do if one took seriously climate change and resource depletion," he says.

The wealthy and powerful may in fact take climate change seriously: not as a demand to modify their behaviour or question the fossil-fuel driven global economy that has made it possible, but as the biggest opportunity yet to realize their dreams of unfettered accumulation and consumption. The disaster capitalists behind Eko Atlantic have seized on climate change to push through pro-corporate plans to build a city of their dreams, an architectural insult to the daily circumstances of ordinary Nigerians. The criminalized poor abandoned outside their walls may once have served as sufficient justification for their flight and fortification – but now they have the very real threat of climate change as well.
So the end result is that we have this enormous, luxury city, which is sitting off the coast of a nation filled with extreme poverty. The big question I would have, and in the comments on Kos, who is going to take care of the city infrastructure?  Who is going to perform the maintenance of utilities, provide food, haul trash away, own and operate a myriad of shops and stores?  If there are restaurants in this city, who will perform the menial jobs of waiting on tables, or busboy services, or washing the dishes?  Who will be working the low-wage retail customer service jobs?  Stocking the grocery shelves?  Cashiers?  Will the individuals working these low-wage jobs be able to afford to live in this city--especially if the rents for this city's housing rises to astronomical prices?  Or will these low-wage workers come into Eko Atlantic from the surrounding slums?  Because if the ordinary Nigerians realize the disconnect of their living in slums and extreme poverty, while working in Eko Atlantic and the opulent wealth of the rich, how long will it be before 170 million people in a nation start to revolt against a city of 250,000?

Here is a YouTube video of what Eko Atlantic will look like, once completed:

YouTube video of Eko Atlantic's Business District: