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Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

“WE DON’T CARE, WE DON’T HAVE TO”

In Bureaucracy, Business, Law, Politics, Social commentary on October 23, 2014 at 2:52 pm

Comedian Lily Tomlin rose to fame on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In as Ernestine, the rude, sarcastic switchboard operator for Ma Bell.

She would tap into customers’ calls, interrupt them, make snide remarks about their personal lives.  And her victims included celebrities as much as run-of-the-mill customers.

On one occasion, she called then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, letting him know that “it really takes a Hoover [vacuum cleaner] to dig up the dirt.”

She introduced herself as working for “the phone company, serving everyone from presidents and kings to the scum of the earth.”

But perhaps the line for which her character is best remembered was: “We don’t care.  We don’t have to. We’re the phone company.”

Watching Ernestine on Laugh-In was a blast for millions of TV viewers during the mid-1960s and early 70s.  But confronting such corporate arrogance in real-life is no laughing matter.

Clearly, too many companies take the same attitude as Ernestine: “We don’t care.  We don’t have to.”

This is especially true for companies that are supposed to safeguard their customers’ most sensitive information–such as their credit card numbers, addresses, emails and phone numbers.

An October 22 “commentary” published in Forbes magazine raises the highly disturbing question: “Cybersecurity: Does Corporate America Really Care?”

And the answer is apparently: No.

Its author is John Hering, co-founder and executive director of Lookout, which bills itself as “the world leader in mobile security for consumers and enterprises alike.”

Click here: Cybersecurity: Does corporate America really care?

This has been a bad month for credit card-using customers of Kmart, Staples and Dairy Queen–all of which have reported data breaches involving the theft of credit card numbers.

Earlier breaches had hit Target, Home Depot and JPMorgan/Chase.

“One thing is clear,” writes Hering.  “CEOs need to put security on their strategic agendas alongside revenue growth and other issues given priority in boardrooms.”

Hering warns that “CEOs don’t seem to be making security a priority.”  And he offers several reasons for this:

  • The sheer number of data compromises;
  • Relatively little consumer outcry;
  • Almost no impact on the companies’ standing on Wall Street;
  • Executives may consider such breaches part of the cost of doing business.

“There’s a short-term mindset and denial of convenience in board rooms,” writes Hering.

“Top executives don’t realize their systems are vulnerable and don’t understand the risks. Sales figures and new products are top of mind; shoring up IT systems aren’t.”

Anyone who’s ever watched the operation of an airport luggage carousel has seen this principle in action.

If you’ve checked your luggage, then you need to head for the baggage carousel as  quickly as you can get out of the airplane.

Because if you don’t get there in time to grab your own bag, there’s a good chance that someone else will.

The reason?  There’s no security officer there to make sure that your luggage goes only to you, and not to someone else.

Experienced baggage thieves know this.  So they wait at the luggage carousel for a piece of luggage to go around two or three times.  If no one collects it, they assume the owner isn’t there yet–and make off with it.

Sure, there might not be anything of value in it–from the thief’s viewpoint, anyway.

No diamonds.

No jewels.

No expensive cameras.

For the thief, it’s a setback–but only a minor one.  He simply dumps the luggage and perhaps goes back to the carousel for another shot at finding a bag stuffed with valuables.

But for the traveler-victim, it’s a disaster.

Most–if not all–of his clothes are gone.

Anything personal–such as gifts he was bringing for friends or relatives–is gone.

So are any vitally-needed medications–if he was foolish enough to store these in his suitcase instead of a carry-on bag.

And does the airline care?

Don’t be stupid.

Why should they?  They got your money when you bought the plane ticket.

That’s all they wanted from you.  And the truth is, that’s all they’ve ever wanted from you–even during the “golden age of air travel” before airplanes became “flying buses.”

The skies of United were never so friendly that airlines felt an obligation to ensure that their passengers’ luggage was actually waiting for its rightful owners.

And the same principle–or lack of principle–applies with such companies as banks, department stores and insurance companies that hold the most private information of their customers.

There are two ways corporations can be forced to start behaving responsibly on this issue.

First, some smart attorneys need to start filing class-action lawsuits against companies that don’t take steps to safeguard their customers’ private information.

Second, there must be Federal legislation to ensure that multi-million-dollar fines are levied against such companies–and especially their CEOs–when such data breaches occur.

Only then will the CEO mindset of “We don’t care, we don’t have to” be replaced with: “We care, because our heads will roll if we don’t.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TRUST YOUR BOSS LIKE HE’S GOD–AND SEE WHAT HAPPENS

In Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on October 10, 2014 at 12:25 am

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says women don’t need to ask for a raise. They should just trust “the system.”

Speaking on October 9 at an event in Phoenix to celebrate women in computing, Nadella was asked: What advice do you have for women who feel uncomfortable asking for a raise?

His reply:  “It’s not really about asking for the raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along.

“Because that’s good karma.  It’ll come back because somebody’s going to know that’s the kind of person that I want to trust.”

Satya Nadella

This from a CEO at whose company women comprise only 29% of its more than 100,000 employees.  And where its CEO has a net worth of $45 million.

Click here: Satya Nadella – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

If it’s true that corporations are people, then they are exceptionally greedy and selfish people.

A December, 2011 report by Public Campaign, highlighting corporate abuses of the tax laws, makes this all too clear.

Public Campaign is a national nonpartisan organization dedicated to reforming campaign finance laws and holding elected officials accountable.

Summarizing its conclusions, the report’s author writes:

“Amidst a growing federal deficit and widespread economic insecurity for most Americans, some of the largest corporations in the country have avoided paying their fair share in taxes while spending millions to lobby Congress and influence elections.”

Its key findings:

  • The 30 big corporations analyzed in this report paid more to lobby Congress than they paid in federal income taxes between 2008 and 2010, despite being profitable.
  • Despite making combined profits totaling $164 billion in that three-year period, the 30 companies combined received tax rebates totaling nearly $11 billion.
  • Altogether, these companies spent nearly half a billion dollars ($476 million) over three years to lobby Congress. That’s about $400,000 each day, including weekends.
  • In the three-year period beginning in 2009 through most of 2011, these large firms spent over $22 million altogether on federal campaigns.
  • These corporations have also spent lavishly on compensatng their top executives ($706 million altogether in 2010).

Among those corporations whose tax-dodging and influence-buying were analyzed:

  • General Electric
  • Verizon
  • PG&E
  • Wells Fargo
  • Duke Energy
  • Boeing
  • Consolidated Edison
  • DuPont
  • Honeywell International
  • Mattel
  • Corning
  • FedEx
  • Tenet Healthcare
  • Wisconsin Energy
  • Con-way

The report bluntly cites the growing disparity between the relatively few rich and the vast majority of poor and middle-class citizens:

“Over the past few months, a growing protest movement has shifted the debate about economic inequality in this country.

“The American people wonder why members of Congress suggest cuts to Medicare and Social Security but won’t require millionaires to pay their fair share in taxes.

“They want to know why they are struggling to find jobs and put food on the the table while the country’s largest corporations get tax breaks and sweetheart deals, then use that extra cash to pay bloated bonuses to CEOs or ship jobs overseas.

“….At a time when millions of Americans are still unemployed and millions more make tough choices to get by, these companies are enriching their top executives and spending millions of dollars on Washington lobbyists to stave off higher taxes or regulations.”

Assessing the results of corporate tax-dodging, the report states:

  • Using various tax dodging techniques, including stashing profits in overseas tax havens and tax loopholes, 29 out of 30 companies featured in this study succeeded in paying no federal income taxes from 2008 through 2010.
  • These 29 companies received tax rebates over those three years, ranging from $4 million for Corning to nearly $5 billion for General Electric and totally nearly $11 billion altogether.
  • The only corporation that paid taxes in that three-year period, FedEx, paid a three-year tax rate of 1%, far less than the statutory rate of 35%.

The report bluntly notes the hypocrisy of corporate executives who call themselves “job creators” while enriching themselves by laying off thousands of employees:

“Another area where these corporations have decided to spend lavishly is compensation for their top executives ($706 million altogether in 2010).

“Executives doing particularly well work for General Electric ($76 million in total compensation in 2010), Honeywell International ($54 million), and Wells Fargo ($50 million).

“Executives who have seen the greatest increase work for DuPont (188% increase), Wells Fargo (180% increase) and Verizon (167% increase).

Despite being profitable, some of these corporations have actually laid off workers.

Since 2008, seven of the corporations have reported laying off American workers. The worst offenders–by 2011–are Verizon, which laid off at least 21,308 workers, and Boeing, which fired at least 14,862 employees.

Insisting that “corporations are people” wins applause from the wealthiest 1% and their Right-wing shills. But it does nothing to better the lives of the increasingly squeezed poor and middle-class.

If the nation is to avoid economic and moral bankruptcy, Americans must demand that powerful corporations be held accountable–and punished harshly when they behave irresponsibly.

IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE–AND AN EVIL CEO

In Business, Entertainment, Politics, Social commentary on October 8, 2014 at 12:12 am

Every Christmas, TV audiences find comfort and triumph in the rerunning of a black-and-white 1946 movie: It’s a Wonderful Life.

It’s the story of George Bailey (James Stewart), a decent husband and father who hovers on the brink of suicide–until his guardian angel, Clarence, suddenly intervenes.

Its A Wonderful Life Movie Poster.jpg

Clarence reveals to George what his home town, Bedford Falls, New York, would be like if he had never been born.  George finds himself shocked to learn:

  • With no counterweight to the schemes of rapacious slumlord Henry F. Potter, Bedford Falls becomes Potterville, filled with pawn shops and sleazy nightclubs.
  • With no George Bailey to save his younger brother, Harry, from drowning in a frozen pond, Harry drowns.
  • With no Harry to live to become a Naval fighter pilot in World War II, he’s not on hand to shoot down two Japanese planes targeting an American troopship.
  • As a result, the troopship and its crew are destroyed.

George is forced to face the significant role he has played in the lives of so many others.

Armed with this knowledge, he once again embraces life, running through the snow-covered streets of Bedford Falls and shouting “Merry Christmas!” to everyone he meets.

Audiences have hailed George Bailey as an Everyman hero–and the film as a life-affirming testatment to the unique importance of each individual.

But there is another aspect of the movie that has not been so closely studied: The legacy of its villain, Henry F. Potter, who, as  played by Lionel Barrymore, bears a striking resemblance to former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Lionel Barrymore as Mr. Potter.jpg

Henry F. Potter

It is Potter–the richest man in Bedford Falls–whose insatiable greed threatens to destroy it.  And it is Potter whose criminality drives George Bailey to the brink of suicide.

The antagonism between Bailey and Potter starts early in the movie.  George dreams of leaving Bedford Falls and building skyscrapers.  Meanwhile, he works at the Bailey Building and Loan Association, which plays a vital role in the life of the community.

Potter, a member of the Building and Loan Association board, tries to persuade the board of directors to dissolve the firm. He objects to their providing home loans for the working poor.

George persuades them to reject Potter’s proposal, but they agree only on condition that George run the Building and Loan.  Reluctantly, George agrees.

Later, Potter tries to lure George away from the Building and Loan, offering him a $20,000 salary and the chance to visit Europe.  George is briefly tempted.

But then he realizes that Potter intends to close down the Building and Loan and deny financial help to those who most need it.  Angrily, he turns down Potter’s offer:

“You sit around here and you spin your little webs and you think the whole world revolves around you and your money. Well, it doesn’t, Mr. Potter!

“In the whole vast configuration of things, I’d say you were nothing but a scurvy little spider.”

It is a setback for Potter, but he’s willing to bide his time for revenge.

On Christmas Eve morning, the town prepares a hero’s welcome for George’s brother, Harry.  George’s scatter-brained Uncle Billy visits Potter’s bank to deposit $8,000 of the Building and Loan’s cash funds.

He taunts Potter by reading the newspaper headlines announcing the coming tribute.  Potter  snatches the paper, and Billy unthinkingly allows the money to be snatched with it.

When Billy leaves, Potter opens the paper and sees the money.  He keeps it, knowing that misplacement of bank money will bankrupt the Building and Loan and bring criminal charges against George.

But at the last minute, word of George’s plight reaches his wide range of grateful friends.  A flood of townspeople arrive with more than enough donations to save George and the Building and Loan.

The movie ends on a triumphant note, with George basking in the glow of love from his family and friends.

But no critic seems to have noticed that Henry Potter’s theft has gone unnoticed.  (Uncle Billy can’t recall how he lost the money.)  Potter is richer by $8,000.  And ready to go on taking advantage of others.

Perhaps it’s time to see Potter’s actions in a new light–that of America’s richest 1%, ever ready to prey upon the weaknesses of others.

Justice never catches up with Potter in the movie.  But the joke-writers at Saturday Night Live have conjured up a satisfactory punishment for his avarice.

In this version, Uncle Billy suddenly remembers that he left the money with Potter.  Enraged, George Bailey (Dana Carvey) leads his crowd of avenging friends to Potter’s office.

Potter realizes the jig is up and offers to return the money.  But George wants more than that–and he and his friends proceed to stomp and beat Potter to death.

The skit ends with with George and his friends singing “Auld Ang Syne”–as they do in the movie–as they finish off Potter with clubs.

Click here: SNL and Dana Carvey perform the “Alternate Ending of Its a Wonderful Life!

America is rapidly a divided nation–one where the richest 1% lord it over an increasingly impoverished 99%.

The time may be coming when many Americans are ready to embrace the SNL approach to economic justice.

PATRIOTS-FOR-HIRE

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on October 2, 2014 at 12:19 pm

Bill O’Reilly, host of the Fox News Channel program The O’Reilly Factor, has offered his own solution to fighting terrorism:  A multi-national mercenary army, based on a NATO coalition and trained by the United States.

Bill O’Reilly

“We would select them, special forces would train them–25,000-man force to be deployed to fight on the ground against worldwide terrorism. Not just ISIS,” O’Reilly said on “CBS This Morning” on September 24.

Searching for allies to back his proposal, O’Reilly invited Tom Nichols, a professor at the US Naval War College, onto his show.

Nichols’ response: “This is a terrible idea…not just as a practical matter but a moral matter. It’s a morally corrosive idea to try to outsource our national security. This is something Americans are going to have to deal for themselves.”

Actually, O’Reilly’s idea is in fact being tried out, albeit unofficially.

Sixty to 70% of America’s Intelligence budget doesn’t go to the CIA or the National Security Agency (NSA) or the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).

Instead, it goes to private contractors who supply secrets or “soldiers of fortune.”

The outsourcing of government intelligence work to private contractors took off after 9/11.

This was especially true after the United States invaded Iraq in 2003–and found its Intelligence and armed services stretched to their furtherest limits.

The DIA estimates that, from the mid-1990s to 2005, the number of private contracts awarded by Intelligence agencies rose by 38%.

During that same period, government spending on “spies/guns for hire” doubled, from about $18 billion in 1995 to about $42 billion in 2005.

Many tasks and services once performed only by government employees are being “outsourced” to civilian contractors:

  • Analyzing Intelligence collected by drones and satellites;
  • Writing reports;
  • Creating and maintaining software programs to manipulate data for tracking terrorist suspects;
  • Staffing overseas CIA stations;
  • Serving as bodyguards to government officials stationed overseas;
  • Providing disguises used by agents working undercover.

More than 500 years ago, Niccolo Machiavelli warned of the dangers of relying on mercenaries:

“Mercenaries…are useless and dangerous. And if a prince holds on to his state by means of mercenary armies, he will never be stable or secure; for they are disunited, ambitious, without discipline, disloyal; they are brave among friends; among enemies they are cowards.

“They have neither the fear of God nor fidelity to men, and destruction is deferred only so long as the attack is. For in peace one is robbed by them, and in war by the enemy.”

Americans–generally disdainful of history–have blatantly ignored both the examples of history and the counsel of Machiavelli.  To their own peril.

Mark Mazzetti, author of the bestselling The Way of the Knife, chronicles how the CIA has been transformed from a primarily fact-finding agency into a terrorist-killing one.

Along with this transformation has come a dangerous dependency on private contractors to supply information that government agents used to dig up for themselves.

The U.S. Navy SEALS raid that killed Osama bin Laden has been the subject of books, documentaries and even an Oscar-nominated movie: “Zero Dark Thirty.”

Almost unknown by comparison is a program the CIA developed with Blackwater, a private security company, to locate and assassinate Islamic terrorists.

“We were building a unilateral, unattributable capability,” Erik Prince, CEO of Blackwater, said in an interview.  “If it went bad, we weren’t expecting the [CIA] chief of station, the ambassador or anyone to bail us out.”

But the program never got past the planning stage.  Senior CIA officials feared the agency would not be able to  permanently hide its own role in the effort.

“The more you outsource an operation,” said a CIA official, “the more deniable it becomes.  But you’re also giving up control of the operation.  And if that guy screws up, it’s still your fault.”

Increased reliance on “outsourcing” has created a “brain-drain” within the Intelligence community. Jobs with private security companies usually pay 50% more than government jobs.

Many employees at the CIA, NSA and other Intelligence agencies leave government service–and then return to it as private contractors earning far higher salaries.

Many within the Intelligence community fear that too much Intelligence work has been outsourced and the government has effectively lost control of its own information channels.

And, as always with the hiring of mercenaries, there is an even more basic fear: How fully can they be trusted?

“There’s an inevitable tension as to where the contractor’s loyalties lie,” said Jeffrey Smith, a former general counsel for the CIA.  “Do they lie with the flag?  Or do they lie with the bottom line?”

Yet another concern: How much can Intelligence agencies count on private contractors to effectively screen the people they hire?

Edward Snowden was an employee of Booz Allen Hamilton, a consulting/security firm.  It was through this company that Snowden gained access to a treasury of NSA secrets.

From September 11, 2001 to 2013, the government has spent more than $500 billion on intelligence.

A 2010 investigative series by the Washington Post found that “1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the country.”

Jesus never served as a spy or soldier.  But he clearly understood a truth too many officials within the American Intelligence community have forgotten:

“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

THE NEXT 9/11: HOW IT WILL HAPPEN: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on September 16, 2014 at 12:09 am

All security systems–including those considered the best–are manned by humans.  And humans are and will always be imperfect creatures.

So there will inevitably be times when security agents will miss the assassin or terrorist intent on mayhem.  For example:

  • In September, 1975, two women–Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme and Sara Jane Moore–tried to assassinate President Gerald Ford.
  • Fromme was tackled by a Secret Service agent.  Moore’s aim was deflected by Oliver Sipple, a Marine and Vietnam veteran, thus saving Ford’s life.

Gerald Ford being hustled from danger by Secret Service agents

Until these incidents, the Secret Service profile of a potential assassin didn’t include a woman.

  • On March 30, 1981, John W. Hinckley, a psychotic obsessed with actress Jodie Foster, gained access to a line of reporters waiting to throw questions at President Ronald Reagan.
  • As Reagan got into the Presidential limousine, Hinckley opened fire. Wounded, Reagan escaped death by inches.

 

The Reagan assassination attempt

The Secret Service had failed to prevent the attack because no one–until that moment–had attacked a President from the section reserved for newsmen.

  • On September 11, 2001, Islamic terrorists armed with boxcutters highjacked four American jetliners and turned them into fuel-bombs.
  • Two of the airliners struck the North and South towers of the World Trade Center, destroying both structures.
  • A third hit the Pentagon.
  • The fourth–United Airlines Flight 93–crashed when it was diverted from its intended target (the White House or Congress) by passengers who resolved to fight back.
  • Three thousand Americans died that day–in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Until this day of catastrophes, no highjacker had turned a jumbo-jet into a fuel-bomb. Passengers had been advised to cooperate with highjackers, not resist them. 

As terrorists say, referring to anti-terrorism security services: “You have to be lucky all the time. We have to be lucky only once.”

So how will the next 9/11 happen?

In all likelihood, like this:

A terrorist–or, more likely, several terrorists–will sign up for one or more of these “VIP screening” programs.

They will be completely clean–no arrests, no convictions.  They may well be respectable citizens in their communities.

They will probably have amassed enough “frequent flier miles” to ingratiate themselves with the airlines and convince the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) of their integrity.

They will breeze through their selected airports

  • Without removing shoes and belts;
  • Without undergoing pat-downs;
  • Without being required to remove laptops and other electronic devices from their carry-ons;
  • Without exposing their electronic devices to x-ray technology.

Then they will board planes–either as part of an individual terrorist effort or a coordinated one, a la 9/11.

And then it will be too late.

Memorial to the passengers and crew of United Flight 93

The TSA/airlines’ VIP programs are based on the assumption that someone who has completed a security check in the past need not be checked in the future.

This assumption has proven false for American Intelligence agencies such as the FBI and CIA.

  • Robert Hanssen, a former FBI agent, spied for Soviet and Russian intelligence services for 22 years (1979 – 2001).  He’s now serving a life prison term in Florence, Colorado.
  • Aldrich Ames, a former CIA agent, betrayed American secrets to Soviet and Russian espionage agencies from 1985 to 1994.  He is likewise serving a life sentence.

Even requiring an agent to undergo repeated security checks is no guarantee of trustworthiness.

When asked about how he repeatedly passed CIA polygraph tests, Ames said, “There’s no special magic. Confidence is what does it. Confidence and a friendly relationship with the examiner. Rapport, where you smile and you make him think that you like him.”

Now think about that–and then consider this:

The TSA introduced its Pre-Check program during the fall of 2011.  By May, 2012, more than 820,000 travelers had received expedited security since the start of the program.

In early September, 2013, TSA announced that it would more than double its expedited screening program, PreCheck, from 40 to 100 airports by the end of the year.

Nor is TSA the only organization giving big-spending fliers special treatment at potential risk to their country.   For example:

  • Delta Air Lines offers Sky Priority, described as providing “privileged access through security checkpoints” at select airports.
  • Another private security program, Clear, collects several pieces of biometric data on well-heeled passengers as a screening measure at the airport.  Once verified by a kiosk local to the security checkpoint, the passengers are allowed to skirt the security barriers that poor and middle-class folks must pass through.
  • Then there is Priority Access, set up by TSA and the airlines.  This provides expedited service to first-class and business passengers.   To qualify, you need only possess certain credit cards–such as the United Mileage Plus Club Card.

Some critics blast this two-tier passenger check-in system as an affront to democratic principles.

“It’s stratifying consumers by class and wealth, because the people who travel a lot usually have higher incomes,” says Ralph Nader, consumer advocate and frequent business traveler.

But there is an even more important reason to disband these programs and require everyone–rich and middle-class alike–to undergo the same level of security screening:

The three thousand men and women who died horifically on September 11, 2001, at the hands of airline passengers whom authorities thought could be trusted to board a plane.

THE NEXT 9/11: HOW IT WILL HAPPEN: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on September 15, 2014 at 2:18 am

Thirteen years after 9/11, America is now selling its Islamic enemies access to the very weapons–jet-fueled airplanes–they need to wage jihad against us.

World Trade Center on September 11, 2001

This is happening thanks to the greed of American airline corporations and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

Essentially, it comes down to this:  Wealthy Americans hate waiting in long airport security lines.

But wealthy Americans–unlike poor and middle-class Americans–have lots of money to spend.

So they’re willing to shell out a good portion of it to the airlines and TSA so they won’t have to stand in line with the unworthy peasants.

And the airlines and TSA are happy to scoop up that money in return for giving these self-important Richie-Riches preferred treatment.

Even if this comes at the security of the nation they claim to love.

Consider the following:

TSA offers Pre-Check, a program from the Department of Homeland Security.  It’s for frequent fliers of many airlines.

According to the TSA’s website, here’s how it works:

  • An applicant must be a U.S. citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) and cannot have been convicted of certain crimes. If an applicant has a record of any of the crimes identified in the eligibility requirements, they may choose not to apply, as the application fee is nonrefundable.
  • Interested applicants must visit an application center to provide biographic information that includes name, date of birth and address. An applicant will be fingerprinted and will be required to provide valid required identity and citizenship/immigration documentation. An applicant also has the option to pre-enroll online to provide basic information and make an appointment before visiting an application center. There is a nonrefundable application processing fee of $85.
  • After completing enrollment, successful applicants will receive a Known Traveler Number (KTN) via U.S. mail approximately 2-3 weeks following the visit to the application center. An applicant also may check status online by visiting https://universalenroll.dhs.gov/ and clicking on “Service Status.” The Known Traveler Number is valid for five years.
  • Once approved as eligible for TSA Pre✓™, the enrollee must enter the provided KTN in the ‘Known Traveler Number’ field when booking travel reservations on any of the ten participating airlines.  The KTN also can be added when booking reservations online via a participating airline website, via phone call to the airline reservation center, or with the travel management company making reservations.  Additionally, the KTN can be entered in participating airline frequent flyer profiles, where it will be stored for future reservations.

Click here: TSA Pre?™ Application Program | Transportation Security Administration

The website further notes: “TSA is accepting applications at more than 300 locations nationwide, including 26 airports.”

And what does a Pre-Check passenger get in return for his $85 registration fee?

  • S/he is allowed to go through a special line at security with reduced screening.
  • Shoes, jackets and belts need not be removed.
  • Many electronics (including laptops) can be left in their carry-on.
  • Magnetometers (metal detecting scanners) are used instead of advanced imaging technology.

Here’s the difference between a scan by a magnetometer and one using advanced imaging technology:

If you’re trying to carry a metallic firearm aboard a plane, the magnetometer will likely pick it up.  But if you’ve filled your computer with plastic explosive, the magnetometer won’t pick it up.

Or maybe you want to prove a more successful shoe-bomber than Richard Reid, who tried to blow up an American Airlines flight in 2001.

Being allowed to skip the requirement to remove your shoes will certainly take you a long way toward reaching your goal.

Of course, TSA isn’t alone in wanting to make money from deep-pockets passengers.  The airlines have also been quick to get in on the act.

Most airlines make it possible for frequent-flier passengers to acquire elite status–for a price.

Passengers having any one of the following elite status memberships are eligible for this benefit:

Delta: Gold Medallion, Platinum Medallion and Diamond Medallion members
United: Premier Silver, Premier Gold, Premier Platinum, Premier 1K members
American: AAdvantage Gold, AAdvantage Platinum, and AAdvantage Executive Platinum members
USAirways: Silver Preferred, Gold Preferred, Platinum Preferred, and Chairman’s Preferred members
Southwest: A-List and A-List Preferred members
Alaska: MVP, MVP Gold, and MVP Gold 75 members
Jetblue: TrueBlue Mosaic members and those seated in Even More Space seats
Virigin America: Elevate Silver and Elevate Gold members

Click here: Travel Tuesday Top 10: Ways To Get Through Airport Security Faster in the US | The Points Guy

Yes, the greed of corporations and government agencies is partly responsible for this disgraceful–and highly dangerous–situation.

And so is the belief among the wealthy that they are the elect, and thus deserve special consideration.

But there is another factor at work here: The Calvinistic belief–shared by most Americans–that wealth is a sign of God’s favor, and thus proof that its holder is worthy of deference, if not awe.

In combination, they are steadily moving this nation closer to the day of the next 9/11 disaster.

OUTLAW THE JOB-KILLERS: PART THREE (END)

In Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on September 12, 2014 at 12:03 am

The last seven provisions of a nationwide Employers Responsibility Act would read as follows:

(9) Employers refusing to hire would be required to pay an additional “crime tax.”

Sociologists and criminologists agree that “the best cure for crime is a job.” Thus, employers who refuse to hire contribute to a growing crime rate in this Nation. Such non-hiring employers would be required to pay an additional tax, which would be earmarked for agencies of the criminal justice system at State and Federal levels.

(10)  The seeking of  “economic incentives” by companies in return for moving to or remaining in cities/states would be strictly forbidden.

Such “economic incentives” usually:

  1. allow employers to ignore existing laws protecting employees from unsafe working conditions;
  2. allow employers to ignore existing laws protecting the environment;
  3. allow employers to pay their employees the lowest acceptable wages, in return for the “privilege” of working at these companies; and/or
  4. allow employers to pay little or no business taxes, at the expense of communities who are required to make up for lost tax revenues.

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(11)   Employers who continue to make such overtures would be prosecuted for attempted bribery or extortion:

  1. Bribery, if they offered to move to a city/state in return for “economic incentives,” or
  2. Extortion, if they threatened to move their companies from a city/state if they did not receive such “economic incentives.”

This would protect employees against artificially-depressed wages and unsafe working conditions; protect the environment in which these employees live; and protect cities/states from being pitted against one another at the expense of their economic prosperity.

(12)   The U.S. Departments of Justice and Labor would regularly monitor the extent of employer compliance with the provisions of this Act.  

Among these measures: Sending  undercover  agents, posing as highly-qualified job-seekers, to apply at companies—and then vigorously prosecuting those employers who  blatantly refused to hire despite their proven economic ability to do so.

This would be comparable to the long-time and legally-validated practice of using undercover agents to determine compliance with fair-housing laws.

(13)   The Justice Department and/or the Labor Department would be required to maintain a publicly-accessible database on those companies that had been cited, sued and/or convicted for such offenses as

  • discrimination,
  • harassment,
  • health and/or safety violations or
  • violating immigration laws. 

Employers would be legally required to regularly provide such information to these agencies, so that it would remain accurate and up-to-date. 

Such information would arm job applicants with vital information about the employers they were approaching.  They could thus decide in advance if an employer is deserving of their skills and dedication.

As matters now stand, employers can legally demand to learn even the most private details of an applicant’s life without having to disclose even the most basic information about themselves and their history of treating employees.

(14)   CEOs whose companies employ illegal aliens would be held directly accountable for the actions of their subordinates.  Upon conviction, the CEO would be sentenced to a mandatory prison term of at least ten years.

This would prove a more effective remedy for controlling illegal immigration than stationing tens of thousands of soldiers on the U.S./ Mexican border. With CEOs forced to account for their subordinates’ actions, they would take drastic steps to ensure their companies complied with Federal immigration laws.

Without employers eager to hire illegal aliens at a fraction of the money paid to American workers, the invasions of illegal job-seekers would quickly come to an end.

(15)   A portion of employers’ existing Federal taxes would be set aside to create a national clearinghouse for placing unemployed but qualified job-seekers.

* * * * *

For thousands of years, otherwise highly intelligent men and women believed that kings ruled by divine right.  That kings held absolute power, levied extortionate taxes and sent countless millions of men off to war–all because God wanted it that way.

That lunacy was dealt a deadly blow in 1776 when American Revolutionaries threw off the despotic rule of King George III of England.

But today, millions of Americans remain imprisoned by an equally outrageous and dangerous theory: The Theory of the Divine Right of Employers.

Summing up this employer-as-God attitude, Calvin Coolidge still speaks for the overwhelming majority of employers and their paid shills in government: “The man who builds a factory builds a temple, and the man who works there worships there.”

America can no longer afford such a dangerous fallacy as the Theory of the Divine Right of Employers.

Americans did not win their freedom from Great Britain–-and its enslaving doctrine of “the divine right of kings”-–by begging for their rights.

And Americans will not win their freedom from their corporate masters–-and the equally enslaving doctrine of “the divine right of employers”-–by begging for the right to work and support themselves and their families.

Corporations can–and do–spend millions of dollars on TV ads, selling lies–lies such as the “skills gap,” and how if the wealthy are forced to pay their fair share of taxes, jobs will inevitably disappear.

But Americans can choose to reject those lies–and demand that employers behave like patriots instead of predators.

OUTLAW THE JOB-KILLERS: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on September 11, 2014 at 12:11 am

Kenneth Fisher, the billionaire CEO-owner of Fisher investments, isn’t worried that America doesn’t have enough jobs for its millions of willing-to-work unemployed.

On the contrary: He–and no doubt many other wealthy CEOs–believe there are too many jobs as it is.

Too many CEOs are piggish on America

But for those who are unable to find willing-to-hire employers–or to find employers willing to hire at a living wage–the situation looks different.

This situation, however, does not have to remain this way.

A solution lies at hand–provided Americans are willing to see corporate treason for what it is and to punish it accordingly.

That solution can be summed up as follows: A nationwide Employers Responsibility Act.

Among its provisions:

(1) American companies that close plants in the United States and open others abroad would be forbidden to sell products made in those foreign plants within the United States.

This would protect both American and foreign workers from employers seeking to profit at their expense. American workers would be ensured of continued employment. And foreign laborers would be protected against substandard wages and working conditions.

Companies found violating this provision would be subject to Federal criminal prosecution. Guilty verdicts would result in heavy fines and lengthy imprisonment for their owners and top managers.

(2) Large companies (those employing more than 100 persons) would be required to create entry-level training programs for new, future employees.

These would be modeled on programs now existing for public employees, such as firefighters, police officers and members of the armed services.

Such programs would remove the employer excuse, “I’m sorry, but we can’t hire you because you’ve never had any experience in this line of work.” After all, the Air Force has never rejected an applicant because, “I’m sorry, but you’ve never flown a plane before.”

This Nation has greatly benefited from the humane and professional efforts of the men and women who have graduated from public-sector training programs. There is no reason for the private sector to shun programs that have succeeded so brilliantly for the public sector.

(3) Employers would receive tax credits for creating professional, well-paying, full-time jobs.

This would encourage the creation of better than the menial, dead-end, low-paying and often part-time jobs which exist in the service industry. Employers found using such tax credits for any other purpose would be prosecuted for tax fraud.

(4)  A company that acquired another—through a merger or buyout—would be forbidden to fire en masse the career employees of that acquired company.

This would be comparable to the protection existing for career civil service employees. Such a ban would prevent a return to the predatory “corporate raiding” practices of the 1980s, which left so much human and economic wreckage in their wake.

The wholesale firing of employees would trigger the prosecution of the company’s new owners. Employees could still be fired, but only for provable just cause, and only on a case-by-case basis.

(5)  Employers would be required to provide full medical and pension benefits for all employees, regardless of their full-time or part-time status.

Increasingly, employers are replacing full-time workers with part-time ones—solely to avoid paying medical and pension benefits. Requiring employers to act humanely and responsibly toward all their employees would encourage them to provide full-time positions—and hasten the death of this greed-based practice.

(6) Employers of part-time workers would be required to comply with all federal labor laws.

Under current law, part-time employees are not protected against such abuses as discrimination, sexual harassment and unsafe working conditions. Closing this loophole would immediately create two positive results:

  • Untold numbers of currently-exploited workers would be protected from the abuses of predatory employers; and
  • Even predatorily-inclined employers would be encouraged to offer permanent, fulltime jobs rather than only part-time ones—since a major incentive for offering part-time jobs would now be eliminated.

(7) Employers would be encouraged to hire to their widest possible limits, through a combination of financial incentives and legal sanctions. Among those incentives:

Employers demonstrating a willingness to hire would receive substantial Federal tax credits, based on the number of new, permanent employees hired per year.

Employers claiming eligibility for such credits would be required to make their financial records available to Federal investigators. Employers found making false claims would be prosecuted for perjury and tax fraud, and face heavy fines and imprisonment if convicted.

(8) Among those sanctions: Employers refusing to hire could be required to prove, in court:

  • Their economic inability to hire further employees, and/or
  • The unfitness of the specific, rejected applicant.

Companies found guilty of unjustifiably refusing to hire would face the same penalties as now applying in cases of discrimination on the basis of age, race, sex and disability.

Two benefits would result from this:

  1. Employers would thus fund it easier to hire than to refuse to do so; and
  2. Job-seekers would no longer be prevented from even being considered for employment because of arbitrary and interminable “hiring freezes.”

OUTLAW THE JOB-KILLERS: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on September 10, 2014 at 12:22 am

Kenneth Fisher, chief executive officer of Fisher Investments, has a uniquely CEO view of jobs:  “Believe it or not, I’m for fewer jobs, not more.”

In the Christmas Eve, 2012 issue of Forbes, he asserted: “Job Growth is Overrated.”

“Believe it or not, I’m for fewer jobs, not more.

“Throughout 2012 we heard politicians and pundits of all stripes yammering endlessly on the need for job growth—that we don’t have enough jobs. It’s pure rubbish.”

Ken Fisher

Kenneth Fisher

According to Fisher, jobs are actually signs of weakness in the economy. Fewer employees can produce more products–and that’s good for us all.

For Fisher, the template for future economic success is Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest private employer:  “With Wal-Mart you get an awe-inspiring company at 13 times my January 2014 earnings estimate, with a 2. 2 % dividend yield.”

Of course, it’s easy for Fisher–a billionaire–to take a “What?  Me Worry?” attitude about the unemployment problems facing millions of willing-to-work Americans.

And it’s certainly easier for him to identify with his fellow billionaire boys club members, the Waltons, than with the low-paid employees of Wal-Mart.

In December, 2013, Wal-Mart announced that it would deny health insurance to newly-hired employees who work less than 30 hours a week.

Walmart eliminates healthcare coverage for certain workers if their average work-week falls below 30 hours–which regularly happens at the direction of company managers.

You can be certain that Fisher doesn’t have to worry about getting top-notch nedical care anytime he thinks he needs it.

Another thing that Fisher clearly admires about Wal-Mart: Its gross profit in July, 2014, stood at $128.08 billion.

C. Douglas McMillon, who became the president and CEO of Wal-Mart Stores on Feb. 1 2014, saw his total compensation skyrocket 168% to $25.6 million

On the other hand:  Most Walmart workers earn less than $20,000 a year.  According to Bloomberg News, the average Walmart Associate makes just $8.81 per hour.

But there is probably one thing about Wal-Mart that Fisher doesn’t want to talk about.

Since 2008, Walmart has fired or lost 120,000 American workers, while opening more than 500 new U.S. stores.  Many workers quit to find better-paying jobs.

As a result, turnover at Walmart has been correspondingly high.

Recently, Wal-Mart has been forced to launch a massive PR campaign to counteract its notoriety for low pay, employment of illegal aliens, lack of health benefits and union-busting tactics.

In 2011-12, Walmart spent $1.89 billion on self-glorifying ads.

And Fisher conveniently ignores the huge emotional role that being employed plays in the United States.

The majority of Americans–especially men–derive their sense of identity from what they do for a living.

Ask a man, “What do you do?” and he’s almost certain to reply: “I’m a fireman.”  Or “I’m a salesman.”

To be unemployed in America is considered by most Americans–including the unemployed–the same as being a bum.

And Republicans are quick to point accusing fingers at those willing-to-work Americans who can’t find willing-to-hire employers.

According to Republicans such as Mitt Romney and Herman Cain: If you can’t find a job, it’s entirely your fault.

And when Republicans are forced–by public pressure or Democratic majorities–to provide benefits to the unemployed, these nearly always come at a price.

Those receiving subsistence monies are, in many states, required to undergo drug-testing, even though there is no evidence of widespread drug-abuse among the unemployed.

But America can put an end to this “I’ve-got-mine-and-the-hell-with-you” job-killing arrogance of people like Kenneth Fisher.

How?

The answer lies in three words: Employers Reponsibility Act (ERA).

If passed by Congress and vigorously enforced by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Labor, an ERA would ensure full-time, permanent and productive employment for millions of capable, job-seeking Americans.

And it would achieve this without raising taxes or creating controversial government “make work” programs.

Such legislation would legally require employers to demonstrate as much initiative for hiring as job-seekers are now expected to show in searching for work.

An Employers Responsibility Act would simultaneously address the following evils for which employers are directly responsible:

  • The loss of jobs within the United States owing to companies’ moving their operations abroad—solely to pay substandard wages to their new employees.
  • The mass firings of employees which usually accompany corporate mergers or acquisitions.
  • The widespread victimization of part-time employees, who are not legally protected against such threats as racial discrimination, sexual harassment and unsafe working conditions.
  • The refusal of many employers to create better than menial, low-wage jobs.
  • The widespread employer practice of extorting “economic incentives” from cities or states in return for moving to or remaining in those areas. Such “incentives” usually absolve employers from complying with laws protecting the environment and/or workers’ rights.
  • The refusal of many employers to provide medical and pension benefits—nearly always in the case of part-time employees, and, increasingly, for full-time, permanent ones as well.
  • Rising crime rates, due to rising unemployment.

MOVIES: A SELF-DESTRUCTIVE INDUSTRY

In Bureaucracy, Business, Entertainment, History, Social commentary on September 4, 2014 at 11:16 pm

On August 31, the Huffington Post ran a story about trouble in Hollywood, under the headline: “Film Industry Has Worst Summer since 1997.”

Little more than one month earlier–on July 22–a headline in the Hollywood Reporter had offered this insight into moviedom’s current woes: “Average Movie Ticket Price Hits $8.33 in Second Quarter.”

Click here: Average Movie Ticket Price Hits $8.33 in Second Quarter

Movie Theater

It’s hard to think of an industry that’s created a better recipe for self-destruction than the movie business.

Consider the following:

According to Rentrak, a company that keeps tabs on box office profits:

  • Ticket sales to movie theaters in the U.S. and Canada are expected to sink to $3.9 billion.
  • In July, movie ticket sales were down 30%.
  • That’s a 15% decline in movie revenues when compared to those racked up during the summer of 2013.
  • For the first time in 13 years, no summer film netted $300 million in domestic ticket sales.

Among this summer’s films that disappointed movie studios:

  • “The Expendables 3″
  • “Planes:  Fire and Rescue”
  • “Amazing Spider Man 2″
  • “Sex Tape”
  • “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For”
  • “Edge of Tomorrow”
  • “Transformers: Age of Extinction”
  • “How to Train Your Dragon 2″

Click here: Film Industry Has Worst Summer Since 1997

Analysts had predicted a drop-off in movie attendance owing to increased use of online streaming.  They also expected major television events like the World’s Cup to keep moviegoers indoors.

But they didn’t expect the summer of 2014 to prove the worst in ticket sales since 1997.

Which is outrageous.  The wonder is that the movie business hasn’t collapsed already.

It’s hard to think of an industry more geared toward its own destruction than the movie business.

First, there’s the before-mentioned average ticket price of $8.33.  You don’t have to be an Einstein at math to multiply $8.33 by, say, a husband, wife, and two to four children.

So a couple with two children can expect to spend at least $33.32 just to get into the theater.  A couple with four children will be gouged $49.98 for a single movie’s entertainment.

And that’s not including the marked-up prices charged for candy, soda and popcorn at the concession stand.

Second, it’s almost guaranteed that even the biggest potential movie “draw” will be released on DVD or streaming within three to six months after it hits theaters.

So if you need to save enough money each month to meet the rent and other basic needs, you’re likely to wait it out for the DVD to  hit stores.  Wait even longer than six months, and you can probably buy a cheaper used DVD.

With that, you can watch your new favorite movie as many times as you want–without being charged bigtime every time you do so.

This is especially tempting to those with big-screen TVs, whose prices have steadily fallen and are now affordable by almost everyone.

Third, there used to be an unspoken agreement between theaters and moviegoers: We’ll pay a fair price to see one movie.  In return, we don’t expect to see TV-like commercials.

Naturally, that didn’t include previews of coming attractions.  These have been a widely enjoyed part of the movie experience since the 1930s.

But starting in 2003, theaters began aiming commercials at their customers before even the previews came on.  Some industry sources believe cinema advertising generates over $200 million a year in sales.

Click here: Now showing at a theatre near you – Louisville – Business First

But for those who feel they’ve already suffered enough at the ticket booth, being forced to watch TV-style ads is simply too much.

Fourth, while some theaters provide lush seating and special help for their customers (such as closed-captioning for the deaf) many others do not.

At AMC theaters, an onscreen advisory tells you to seek help if you need it.   But your chances of finding an available usher range from slim to none at most theaters.

To sum it up: What was once thought a special experience has become a jarring assault on the pocketbook and senses.

Just as airlines are now widely considered to be “flying buses,” so, too are movie theaters fast becoming expensive TV sets for moviegoers.

In the 1950s and 1960s, theaters lured customers from small-screen TVs with film spectacles like “Ben Hur” and “Spartacus”.”  Or with new “you-are-there” film experiments like Cinnemascope.

“Family-friendly” movies like “Mary Poppins” and “The Sound of Music” proved box-office champs with millions.

But now theaters have allowed their greed–for high ticket prices, quick-release DVDs and/or streaming and TV-style ads–to drive much of their audiences away.

Unless the owners of movie studios–and movie theaters–quickly smarten up, the motion picture business may ultimately became a pale shadow of its former Technicolor self.

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