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WANT A JOB? TAKE THE EXCUSES OUT OF THE EMPLOYER: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on November 18, 2019 at 12:30 am

Among the provisions of a nationwide Employers Responsibility Act:

(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 freeze.”

(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.

(11)   Employers who continue to make such overtures would be criminally 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. 

* * * * *

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.

WANT A JOB? TAKE THE EXCUSES OUT OF THE EMPLOYER: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on November 15, 2019 at 12:36 am

Ronald Reagan, like every major Republican Presidential candidate since, promised that giving tax cuts to the wealthy would prove highly beneficial to ordinary workers.

The official name for this policy was “supply side economics.”  In reality, it was known—and functioned—as “trickle down economics.”  And among the actions Reagan took to enforce it:

  • On January 28, 1981, keeping a pledge to his financial backers in the oil industry, Reagan abolished Federal controls on the price of oil.
  • Within a week, Exxon, Texaco and Shell raised gasoline prices and prices of home heating oil.
  • Reagan saw it as his duty to put a floor under prices, not a ceiling above them.
  • Reagan believed that when government helped business it wasn’t interfering. Loaning money to bail out a financially incompetent Chrysler was “supporting the free enterprise system.”
  • But putting a high-profits tax on price-gouging corporations or filing anti-trust suits against them was “Communistic” and therefore intolerable.
  • Tax-breaks for wealthy businesses meant helping America become stronger.
  • But welfare for the poor or the victims of a predatory marketplace economy weakened America by sapping its morale.

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. Employers, on the other hand, are not legally or even morally expected to provide jobs for those willing and able to work.

But America can put an end to this disgraceful situation.

The answer lies in three words: Employers Responsibility 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 ERA 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.

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.

WANT A JOB? TAKE THE EXCUSES OUT OF THE EMPLOYER: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on November 14, 2019 at 12:08 am

During the 2016 Presidential campaign, Donald Trump assumed a role that utterly confounded his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

He adopted the role of a populist, appealing to blue-collar voters. He visited “Rustbelt” states like Michigan and Pennsylvania and vowed to “bring back” jobs that had been lost to China, such as those in coal mining and manufacturing

Clinton, on the other hand, made two deadly mistakes:

First, she offered a “love-your-CEO” economic plan to the unemployed—and suffered for it. 

And, second, she didn’t deign to visit those “Rustbelt” states, assuming she had them “locked up.”

Most economists agree that, in a globalized economy, such jobs are not coming back, no matter who becomes President.

Even so, voters backed the man who came to promise them a better future, and shunned the woman who didn’t come to promise them any future at all.

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Hillary Clinton (Gage Skidmore photo)

In May, 2016, Democratic pollster CeLinda Lake had warned Clinton to revamp her economic platform. Clinton ignored the advice.

“Democrats simply have to come up with a more robust economic frame and message,” Lake said after the election. “We’re never going to win those white, blue-collar voters if we’re not better on the economy. And 27 policy papers and a list of positions is not a frame. We can laugh about it all we want, but Trump had one.” 

Had Clinton offered struggling or unemployed workers a realistic plan for turning their lives around, the 2016 election might well have had a different ending. 

But, since winning the White House, Trump has not been able to “bring back jobs” lost to corporations’ “outsourcing” to countries like China and Mexico.  

Nor have huge tax cuts for corporations resulted in large-scale hiring. He claimed that, with this extra income, CEOs would invest in their businesses and create tens of thousands of new jobs. And through his Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which Republicans rammed through Congress, the corporate income tax rate has been slashed from 35% to 21%. 

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Donald Trump

But that’s not what some of the biggest S&P 500 companies predicted they would do if they got those tax cuts. The people they wanted to please were investors, not workers.  And, least of all, those seeking work but unable to find employers willing to hire.

Darius Adamczyk, CEO of Honeywell International Inc., said “tax reform” would “offer greater flexibility for Honeywell.”  He added that the corporation would invest more cash in the United States to pay for mergers and acquisitions, share buybacks and paying down debt. 

He didn’t say anything about hiring more workers.

According to Moody’s Investors Service, American corporations have stockpiled nearly $1.8 trillion in cash overseas. 

Apple has more than $240 billion of that total.

Apple’s CEO Tim Cook said the company wanted to bring back offshore cash if tax rates for doing so were lower: “What we would do with it, let’s wait and see exactly what it is, but as I’ve said before we are always looking at acquisitions.”

Apple expected a tax windfall if Trump’s tax-cutting plan passed Congress. And analysts openly expected Apple to use those monies to boost its capital return program via buybacks, dividends and perhaps making a big acquisition.

What analysts didn’t expect Apple to do with its tax cut monies was create new American jobs.

Most of the offshore cash brought home by U.S. companies in past tax holidays was used to buy back shares or make acquisitions, not to fund investments in production capacity or jobs.

Corporations were not legally required to use those tax cut savings to hire more workers.  And Trump’s tax cut legislation has no such requirement, either.

According to John Divine, staff writer for U.S. News & World Report‘s Money section: “As long as there are no strings attached on how or where companies spend these savings, taxpayers get a raw deal.”

Tax cuts for the wealthy have been a favorite—perhaps the favorite—Republican mantra since 1980, when former California Governor Ronald Reagan ran for and became President.

Ronald Reagan

Reagan, like every major Republican Presidential candidate since, promised that giving tax cuts to the wealthy would prove highly beneficial to ordinary workers.

The official name for this policy was “supply side economics.” In reality, it was known—and functioned—as “trickle down economics.” 

“A rising tide lifts all boats,” claimed Reagan. A more realistic slogan for the results of his economics policies would have been: “A rising tide lifts some yachts.”

Among those charting Reagan’s economics legacy as President was former CBS Correspondent David Schoenbrun. In his bestselling autobiography, America Inside Out: At Home and Abroad from Roosevelt to Reagan, he wrote: 

“[According to Republicans] welfare for the rich is good for America. But welfare for the poor is bad for America, even for the poor themselves, for it encourages them to be shiftless and lazy.

“Somehow, loans to the inefficient management of American corporations would not similarly encourage them in their inefficient methods.”

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.

BOOING THE HEROES, CHEERING THE VILLAINS

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on September 26, 2019 at 12:04 am

It used to be a staple of dramatic movies: A lone crusader, battling heroically against the corruption of entrenched bureaucracies.

In Serpico (1973) audiences were led, frame by frame, to cheer on the lonely and dangerous efforts of incorruptible Frank Serpico (Al Pacino) to combat widespread payoffs within the NYPD.

And even though a wounded Serpico is forced to resign from the NYPD, he leaves behind the Knapp Commission to investigate widespread police corruption.

Serpico imp.jpg

At no time, though, was the audience led to root for the men who dedicated their lives to deceit and corruption.

But for Right-wingers, the opposite is the case. Supporting those who peddle lies for profit is considered a patriotic duty. And so is attacking those who dare to stand up against lies and corruption

Consider the following:

On December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza, a mentally unstable, 20-year-old gunman, slaughtered 20 school children aged six and seven and six adult staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Connecticut.

Enter Right-wing broadcaster and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who hosts The Alex Jones Show from Austin, Texas. 

On his program in January, 2015, he said: “Sandy Hook is a synthetic completely fake with actors, in my view, manufactured. I couldn’t believe it at first. I knew they had actors there, clearly, but I thought they killed some real kids. And it just shows how bold they are, that they clearly used actors.”

On August 1, 2018, families of four students and two educators who died in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre filed a defamation lawsuit against Jones.

Alex Jones Portrait (cropped).jpg

Alex Jones

Michael Zimmermann [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D

According to the complaint: 

“The Jones defendants concoct elaborate and false paranoia-tinged conspiracy theories because it moves product and they make money. Not because they truly believe what they are saying, but rather because it increases profits.” 

Thus, a reasonable person would understand that Jones meant the massacre was staged and the deaths were fabricated.

Typically, Jones responded to the lawsuit with more lies:  

“This is all out of context….And it’s not even what I said or my intent. I’m not going to get into the real defects of this, I’m going to wait until it’s thrown out with prejudice.”

Ernest Hemingway said: “Fascism is a lie told by bullies.”  More proof of this came on September 23.

On that day, 16-year-old activist Greta Thunberg indicted world leaders at the United Nations for failing to act on climate change:

“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”

Image result for greta thunberg on twitter

Greta Thunberg

Those who “talk about money”—and their Right-wing shills—were quick to strike back.

“She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see!” President Donald Trump tweeted sarcastically above a link to Thunberg’s speech. 

CNN’s Chris Cillizza immediately recognized the sarcasm: “Unfortunately, it’s not at all surprising that Trump saw fit to make fun of Thunberg’s passion and emotion. This is who he is — a schoolyard bully who doesn’t differentiate between a 16-year-old girl and Joe Biden. Or a Gold Star family. Or a prisoner of war. Or white nationalists and those protesting their ideology of hate.” 

Right-wing commentator Michael Knowles called Thunberg—who suffers from Asperger’s syndrome—“a mentally ill Swedish child who is being exploited by her parents and by the international left.”

Fox News host Laura Ingraham juxtaposed Thunberg’s speech with a clip from the 1984 horror film Children of the Corn, joking, “I can’t wait for Stephen King’s sequel, Children of the Climate.”

Fox News came under fire on Twitter for these attacks.  Retreating quickly, the network issued the following statement: “The comment made by Michael Knowles, who was a guest on The Story tonight, was disgraceful—we apologize to Greta Thunberg and to our viewers.”

Ingraham’s brother, Curtis, wrote: “I can no longer apologize for a sibling who I no longer recognize.”

According to a September 23 article in Teen Vogue magazine, “Attacks on Greta Thunberg Come from a Coordinated Network of Climate Change Deniers.” 

Specifically: “A large subsection of the commentariat driving the abuse of Greta is part of an established network of radical free-marketeer lobby groups — a network that has firm ties to the fossil fuel industry and funders of climate science denial.”

Many American commentators attacking Thunberg are tied to the Heartland Institute, funded by Big Oil, and which promotes climate science denial.

Other critics of Greta owe their allegiance to the Koch family, owners of the U.S.’s largest private energy company.

Like Holocaust deniers, Right-wing shills like Alex Jones and Laura Ingraham can’t afford to admit the corruption of the causes they support.

By demanding “Prove it!” and then attacking all evidence put forward, Rightists hope to keep their critics on the defensive. 

Thus, the best course to take when a Right-winger makes a claim: Assume it’s a lie—because it is.

SMOKE—AND POWER–GET IN YOUR EYES

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on September 19, 2019 at 12:46 am

Officially, government health agencies exist to make our lives safer.

Oftentimes, this simply isn’t true.

Meraki Market opened in October, 2017, at 927 Post Street, directly across from the San Francisco apartment building where Valerie (not her real name) lives.

The main feature of this store—which offers expensive, deli-style food to local residents—is a wood-burning stove. Its fuel is almond and mesquite wood. Mesquite emits an aroma similar to that found in Texas barbecue restaurants.

Since this store opened, Valerie’s apartment—and other apartments on Post, Geary and O’Farrell Streets—has been swathed in thick, foul-smelling smoke that makes eyes water and throats constrict. It clings to clothes and furnishings.

And it poses a threat to tenants’ health.

An article published by the American Lung Association on February 8, 2016, warned: “Wood Burning Stoves Could Be Harming Your Health.”  For example:

“…The reality is that smoke from residential wood heaters can be harmful to the health of those in your home and also in your community. This is especially true for people with lung conditions, as well as children, older adults, people with cardiovascular disease and diabetics….

“Smoke from wood-burning stoves can have both short-term and long-term effects. It can trigger coughing, wheezing, asthma attacks, heart attacks, and lead to lung cancer and premature death, among other health effects.

“This is because wood smoke contains fine particle pollution, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, black carbon and air toxics such as benzene. The wood smoke can increase particle pollution to levels that pose serious health concerns both indoors and outdoors. In fact, fine particle pollution (PM2.5) is so tiny that it can get deep into the lungs, harming the lungs, blood vessels and heart.”

The San Francisco Chronicle’s online edition reported: “An inspector with the San Francisco Department of Public Health (DPH) paid Meraki a visit…and found everything in order.”

But this is not as reassuring as it might seem.

The city’s Department of Building Inspection also handed out premature building permits to the notorious  Millennium Tower—a luxury residential high-rise in the South of Market district of downtown San Francisco.The result: Since its completion in 2008, the Tower has sunk 17 inches and tilted 14 inches.

Image result for Images of building inspection

The reason: The Millennium Partners did not build on bedrock.

As a result, this 58-story, 645-foot-tall apartment complex is now known as “the leaning tower of San Francisco.”

Meanwhile, Stanlee Gatti, the owner of the market, is one of the best-known event planners in the country. In 1999, he was described by a columnist as one of the three most powerful people in San Francisco.

Gatti’s enormous power as a friend of the city’s top politicians raises the question: “Is he the beneficiary of special consideration?”

The opening of Meraki Market came shortly after the extinguishing of the catastrophic fires in Napa and Sonoma in fall, 2017.

Starting in October, Valerie assumed these fires were still going on because the smell of burning wood was overwhelming the neighborhood.

It was only in early November that she learned the source of the pollution was the market across the street.

While there’s a health concern by those residents forced to live near the pollution-spewing market, it’s not shared by those city officials who don’t live near it.

On January 1, 2018, she emailed her local supervisor, Aaron Peskin.  That same day, Peskin replied: “I’m looping in the Department of Public Health to follow up.”

On January 2, Valerie received a second email from Peskin, which contained a notation from Barbara Garcia, an official with the local Department of Public Health: “I’ve added our Environmental Health management for response.”

On January 4, Valerie received that response from the Health Department:

“While we share the concerns for air quality and particulate pollution the outdoor air is primarily regulated by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD).

“The Department of Public Health’s Environmental Health Branch regulates the safe handling and preparation of the food sold at the market but the outdoor smoke issue is regulated by the BAAQMD.

Image result for Images of health inspection

“So in response to the complaints we received (November 2017) regarding the smoke from this location we directed the owner of Meraki Market to not use or operate the wood burning stove on the BAAQMD designated ‘No Burn Days.’”

Wow!  Local residents will be spared breathing polluted air on whatever days BAAQMD deigns to declare as “No Burn Days”!

For those days not so designated—tough luck.

Valerie had already contacted BAAQMD—and found they didn’t have jurisdiction over pollution caused by restaurants.  Moreover, one of its inspectors must actually come out and smell or see the pollution while it is occurring.

This is akin to a police department’s refusing to investigate reports of a murder unless one of its detectives actually saw it committed.

Valerie quickly drafted a reply to the Health Department: “Your email offers a textbook example why so many people have given up on government at any level.

“I [expected] the San Francisco Department of Public Health [to show] some interest in addressing the health concerns of a public that’s being daily exposed to toxic air. Obviously, that was a mistake on my part.”

She sent similar emails to Peskin and BAAQMD.

No action has been taken by any agency. 

UP IN SMOKE: YOUR HEALTH

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on September 12, 2019 at 12:07 am

Earlier this year, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera and Supervisor Shamann Walton co-authored a measure to ban the sale of e-cigarettes in the city until their safety had been reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration.

No e-cigarettes on the market have gone through such a review.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed the measure in June—making San Francisco the first city in the country to prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes. 

It’s slated to go into effect in January, 2020. 

Now vaping company Juul Labs, Inc., is sponsoring Proposition C to overturn the ban.  

This would allow e-cigarettes to be sold in San Francisco with new regulations, which would

  • Cap the number of e-cigarette devices and nicotine cartridges a customer could buy in a single transaction; and
  • Require online sellers that ship to San Francisco residents to apply for a new permit.

The measure was written by The Coalition for Reasonable Vaping Regulation—which is financed by Juul.

So far, Juul has spent $4.3 million to promote the measure—more than has been spent on any other ballot measure this year.

Flyers promoting “Yes on C” have been plastered on apartment doors and taped to telephone poles. The airwaves are filled with similar ads promoting vaping as a “healthier alternative” to tobacco.

Aerosol (vapor) exhaled by an e-cigarette user using a nicotine-free e-cigarette.

Alexander Russy [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D

In San Francisco, 15.4% of its inhabitants identify as LGBT. So Juul is promoting vaping as a healthier alternative for a population with higher-than-average smoking rates.

The company’s website boasts: “JUUL Labs was founded by former smokers, James and Adam, with the goal of improving the lives of the world’s one billion adult smokers by eliminating cigarettes.

“We envision a world where fewer people use cigarettes, and where people who smoke cigarettes have the tools to reduce or eliminate their consumption entirely, should they so desire.”

According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids:

  • Introduced in 2015, Juul e-cigarettes have skyrocketed in popularity among youth across the United States.
  • Public health officials have labeled their use “a youth e-cigarette epidemic.”
  • In 2018, e-cigarette use among high school students rose by 78%.
  • More than 3.6 million middle and high school students used e-cigarettes—an increase of 1.5 million students in one year.

VaporVanity.com [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D

According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the reasons for the popularity of Juul’s e-cigarettes include:

  • They’re “sleek, high tech and easy to hide.”
  • They look like USB flash drives and can be charged in the USB port of a computer.
  • They come in flavors that appeal to youth—such as fruit, creme, mint, mango, menthol and cucumber.
  • They deliver nicotine more effectively and at higher doses than other e-cigarettes.
  • Although Juul claims that each “pod” (cartridge of nicotine liquid) contains as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes, many teens don’t know they’re using a tobacco product.

Juul sales have grown dramatically and now comprise over 70% of the U.S. e-cigarette market.

But Juul faces a potentially devastating crisis: The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention warned on September 6 that Americans should not smoke e-cigarettes.

The reason: Hundreds of people have become sick and at least six people have died from lung disease related to vaping.

Serious adverse effects of vaping include corneoscleral lacerations or ocular burns or death after e-cigarette explosion. Less serious adverse effects of vaping include eye irritation, blurry vision, dizziness, headache, throat irritation, coughing, increased airway resistance, chest pain, increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.

According to a news story on the September 6 edition of the PBS Newshour:

“As many as 450 people, including 215 cases formally reported to the CDC, in 33 states have reported possible pulmonary disease after using e-cigarette devices, liquids, refill pods and cartridges.”  

“Symptoms of this pulmonary disease include shortness of breath, fatigue, fever and nausea or vomiting.” 

“While this investigation is ongoing, people should not use e-cigarette products,” said Dana Meaney-Delman, who oversees the CDC investigation. 

The Annals of Internal Medicine report that at least 10.8 million adults are estimated to use e-cigarette products in the United States.

Of those, 15% said they had never smoked cigarettes. 

Many chemicals and additives are present in e-cigarettes. And medical professionals don’t know what chemicals, or combinations of chemicals, could lead people to sicken and/or die.

The office of the U.S. Surgeon General warns: Besides nicotine, e-cigarettes can contain such harmful ingredients as:

  • Ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs;
  • Volatile organic compounds;
  • Heavy metals, such as nickel, tin and lead;
  • Flavorants such as diacetyl, a chemical linked to serious lung disease.

And while Juul touts its product as a safe alternative for those who want to quit smoking, the advice offered by the CDC is totally different: “Adult smokers who are attempting to quit should use evidence-based smoking cessation treatments, including counseling and FDA-approved medications.”

Many critics of the San Francisco moratorium have argued: “Even if people can’t get e-cigarettes legally, they’ll get them illegally. Or they’ll buy them in bay Area cities that don’t ban them.”

And that is true.

As with any banned product for which there is big demand, legions of suppliers—legal or illegal—will happily keep them supplied.

At best, cities, states and the Federal Government will pass laws regulating where e-cigarettes can be smoked.

Meanwhile, those who want to risk their health inhaling—and exhaling—poisonous vapors will do so. They cannot be stopped—except when their bodies give out.

Which, for legions of e-cigarette smokers, is now starting to happen.

A MORALITY LESSON FOR LABOR DAY

In Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on September 2, 2019 at 12:13 am

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

But in its depiction of the endless struggle between management and labor, it could just as well be shown on Labor Day.

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 new 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 testament to the unique importance of each individual.

But there is another aspect of this 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.

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.

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

Momentarily defeated, Potter bides 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.

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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.

It’s at this point that George almost commits suicide—only to be saved by Clarence, his guardian angel.

Then, word of George’s plight suddenly 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 later 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 Lang Syne”—as they do in the movie—as they finish off Potter with clubs.

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.

READY TO END GUN MASSACRES? HERE’S HOW.

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on August 6, 2019 at 12:05 am

The victims of the violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown. They are, most important of all, human beings whom other human beings loved and needed. No one—no matter where he lives or what he does—can be certain who will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed. And yet it goes on and on.

–Robert F. Kennedy, April 4, 1968

Senator Robert F. Kennedy announcing the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

What should the surviving victims of gun massacres do to seek redress?

And how can the relatives and friends of those who didn’t survive seek justice for those they loved?

Two things:

First, don’t count on politicians to support a ban on assault weapons.

Politicians—with rare exceptions—have only two goals:

  1. Get elected to office, and
  2. Stay in office.

And too many of them fear the economic and voting clout of the NRA to risk its wrath.

Consider Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama.

Both rushed to offer condolences to the surviving victims of the massacre at the Century 16 Theater in Aurora, Colorado, on July 20, 2012.

And both steadfastly refused to even discuss gun control—let alone support a ban on the type of assault weapons used by James Holmes, leaving 12 dead and 58 wounded.

Second, those who survived the massacre–and the relatives and friends of those who didn’t–should file wrongful death, class-action lawsuits against the NRA.

There is sound, legal precedent for this.

  • For decades, the American tobacco industry peddled death and disability to millions and reaped billions of dollars in profits.
  • The industry vigorously claimed there was no evidence that smoking caused cancer, heart disease, emphysema or any other ailment.

  • Tobacco companies spent billions on slick advertising campaigns to win new smokers and attack medical warnings about the dangers of smoking.
  • Tobacco companies spent millions to elect compliant politicians and block anti-smoking legislation.
  • From 1954 to 1994, over 800 private lawsuits were filed against tobacco companies in state courts. But only two plaintiffs prevailed, and both of those decisions were reversed on appeal.
  • In 1994, amidst great pessimism, Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore filed a lawsuit against the tobacco industry. But other states soon followed, ultimately growing to 46.
  • Their goal: To seek monetary, equitable and injunctive relief under various consumer-protection and anti-trust laws.
  • The theory underlying these lawsuits was: Cigarettes produced by the tobacco industry created health problems among the population, which badly strained the states’ public healthcare systems.
  • In 1998, the states settled their Medicaid lawsuits against the tobacco industry for recovery of their tobacco-related, health-care costs. In return, they exempted the companies from private lawsuits for tobacco-related injuries.
  • The companies agreed to curtail or cease certain marketing practices. They also agreed to pay, forever, annual payments to the states to compensate some of the medical costs for patients with smoking-related illnesses.

The parallels with the NRA are obvious:

  • For decades, the NRA has peddled deadly weapons to millions, reaped billions of dollars in profits and refused to admit the carnage those weapons have produced: “Guns don’t kill people.  People kill people.”  With guns.

  • The NRA has bitterly fought background checks on gun-buyers, in effect granting even criminals and the mentally ill the right to own arsenals of death-dealing weaponry.
  • The NRA has spent millions on slick advertising campaigns to win new members and frighten them into buying guns.

  • The NRA has spent millions on political contributions to block gun-control legislation.
  • The NRA has spent millions attacking political candidates and elected officials who warned about the dangers of unrestricted access to assault and/or concealed weapons.

  • The NRA has spent millions pushing “Stand Your Ground” laws in more than half the states, which potentially give every citizen a “license to kill.”
  • The NRA receives millions of dollars from online sales of ammunition, high-capacity ammunition magazines, and other accessories through its point-of-sale Round-Up Program—thus directly profiting by selling a product that kills about 30,288 people a year.

  • Firearms made indiscriminately available through NRA lobbying have filled hospitals with casualties, and have thus badly strained the states’ public healthcare systems.

It will take a series of highly expensive and well-publicized lawsuits to significantly weaken the NRA, financially and politically.

The first ones will have to be brought by the surviving victims of gun violence—and by the friends and families of those who did not survive it. Only they will have the courage and motivation to take such a risk.

As with the cases first brought against tobacco companies, there will be losses.  And the NRA will rejoice with each one.

But, in time, state Attorneys General will see the clear parallels between lawsuits filed against those who peddle death by cigarette and those who peddle death by armor-piercing bullet.

And then the NRA—like the tobacco industry—will face an adversary wealthy enough to stand up for the rights of the gun industry’s own victims.

Only then will those politicians supporting reasonable gun controls dare to stand up for the victims of these  needless tragedies.

CORPORATE DATA BREACHES? BLAME CEOs: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on August 2, 2019 at 12:43 am

On July 15, 2015, Ashley Madison joined the list of companies that failed to safeguard their customers’ most sensitive information—such as their credit card numbers, addresses, emails and phone numbers.

And Ashley Madison had more reason than most to do this—as the notorious website for cheating wives and husbands.

After all, its database is a blackmailer’s dream-come-true. Yet apparently its owners didn’t care enough about the privacy of their customers to provide adequate security.

Like so many other companies hit by hackers, Ashley Madison sought to reassure its dangerously compromised customers:

“At this time, we have been able to secure our sites, and close the unauthorized access points. We are working with law enforcement agencies, which are investigating this criminal act.”

This statement gave new meaning to the phrase, “Closing the barn door after the cow has gotten out.”

Avid Life Media assured its customers that it had hired “one of the world’s top IT security teams” to work on the breach.

Adultery-dating website Ashley Madison hacked

So why wasn’t this “top IT security team” hired at the outset?

On August 18, 2015, the hackers began releasing their pirated information. 

Ashley Madison’s customers chose to put their private information on its computer system.

Those of Equifax, didn’t. Equifax collected this from credit card companies.

From Mid-May through July, 2017, Equifax was hacked. The breach was discovered on July 29. 

But the company didn’t announce it until September 7, 2017.

As a result, the private data of nearly 150 million people was compromised.

On July 22, 2019, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that Equifax, one of the nation’s largest credit-reporting companies, would pay up to $700 million to settle with the FTC and consumers.

If approved by the federal district court Northern District of Georgia, the settlement will provide up to $425 million in monetary relief to consumers and a $100 million civil money penalty.

According to Karl A. Racine, attorney general for Washington, D.C., it’s the largest settlement ever for a data breach. 

“Equifax failed to protect consumers’ information and failed to enact reasonable security measures under California’s data security laws,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a news conference.

“That left very important personal information exposed and allowed hackers to steal consumers’ names, Social Security numbers, their birth dates, their addresses and in some instances their driver’s license number and even credit related information.”

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And for those who believe the private sector is inherently more efficient than the public one: On the week that Equifax agreed to pay $700 million for its massive 2017 data breach, Richard Smith, its disgraced former CEO, got some wonderful news: 

  • He was slated to receive as much as $19.6 million in stock bonuses since leaving the company.
  • That’s roughly 1,000 times the $20,000 maximum payout that any financially damaged consumer can collect from Equifax.
  • In addition, Equifax agreed to cover Smith’s medical bills for life, a benefit the company estimates is worth another $103,500.
  • Equifax decided he deserved a $24 million pension.
  • Smith got $50,000 in tax and financial planning services.
  • His stock bonuses cover a period that includes the former executive’s performance in 2017. 

When CBS News contacted Equifax on this development, the company refused to comment. Neither could Smith be reached.

There is a reason why these security breaches keep happening.

An October 22, 2014 “commentary” published in Forbes magazine raised the highly disturbing question: “Cybersecurity: Does Corporate America Really Care?”

And the answer is clearly: No.

Its author was 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?

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

Hering warned that “CEOs don’t seem to be making security a priority.” And he offered 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,” wrote 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.”

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

  1. Smart attorneys need to start filing class-action lawsuits against companies that refuse to take steps to protect their customers’ private information. There is a name for such behavior: Criminal negligence. And there are laws carrying serious penalties for it.
  2. 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.
  3. The Justice Department should vigorously prosecute CEOs whose companies’ criminal negligence leads to such massive data breaches. They should be considered as accessories to crime, and, if convicted, sentenced to lengthy prison terms.

Only then will the CEO mindset of “We don’t care, we don’t have to” be replaced with: “We care, because we’ll lose our money and/or freedom if we don’t.”

CORPORATE DATA BREACHES? BLAME CEOs: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on August 1, 2019 at 12:08 am

Comedian Lily Tomlin rose to fame on the 1960s comedy hit, 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.

Lily Tomlin as Ernestine

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. But facing 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.

Among those companies hacked:

  • Kmart
  • Staples
  • Dairy Queen
  • Target
  • Sony Pictures 
  • Primera Blue Cross
  • Home Depot
  • JPMorgan/Chase

In 2015, they were joined by health insurance giant Anthem Inc. The company announced that hackers had breached its computer system and accessed the medical records of tens of millions of its customers and employees.

Anthem, the nation’s second-largest health insurer, said the infiltrated database held records on up to 80 million people.

Among the customers’ information accessed:

  • Names
  • Birthdates
  • Social Security numbers
  • Member ID numbers
  • Addresses
  • Phone numbers
  • Email addresses 
  • Employment information

Some of the customer data may have included details on their income.

Click here: Anthem hack exposes data on 80 million; experts warn of identity theft – LA Times

Bad as that news was, worse was to come.

A February 5, 2015 story by the Wall Street Journal revealed that Anthem stored the Social Security numbers of 80 million customers without encrypting them.

The company believed that hackers used a stolen employee password to access the database

Anthem’s alleged reason for refusing to encrypt such sensitive data: Doing so would have made it harder for the company’s employees to track health care trends or share data with state and Federal health providers.

Anthem spokeswoman Kristin Binns blamed the data breach on employers and government agencies who “require us to maintain a member’s Social Security number in our systems so that their systems can uniquely identify their members.”

She said that Anthem encrypted personal data when it moves in or out of its database–-but not where it is stored.

This is a commonplace practice in the healthcare industry.

The FBI launched an investigation into the hack.

According to an anonymous source, the hackers used malware that has been used almost exclusively by Chinese cyberspies.

Naturally, China denied any wrongdoing.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said: “We maintain a cooperative, open and secure cyberspace, and we hope that countries around the world will make concerted efforts to that end.”

He also said that the charge that the hackers were Chinese was “groundless.”  

On July 15, 2015, Ashley Madison—the notorious website for cheating wives and husbands—joined this list.

Launched in 2001, its catchy slogan is: “Life is short.  Have an affair.”

One of its ads featured a photo of a woman apparently kneeling at the feet of a bare-chested man, her hand passionately clawing at his belt. Next to her was the caption: “Join FREE & change your life today. Guaranteed!”

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Millions of its clients suddenly found their lives changed in ways they never imagined—for the worse.

Ashley Madison claimed to have more than 37 million members.  

Its hackers were enraged at the company’s refusal to fully delete users’ profiles unless it received a $19 fee.

Referring to themselves as “The Impact Team,” they stated in an online manifesto: “Full Delete netted [Avid Life Media, the parent company of Ashley Madison] $1.7 million in revenue in 2014. It’s also a complete lie.

“Users almost always pay with credit card; their purchase details are not removed as promised, and include real names and address, which is of course the most important information the users want removed.”

On July 20, 2015, Avid Life Media defended the service, and promised to make it free.

The hackers demanded: “AM [Ashley Madison] AND EM [Established Men] MUST SHUT DOWN IMMEDIATELY PERMANENTLY.

“We have taken over all systems in your entire office and production domains, all customer information databases, source code repositories, financial records, emails.

“Shutting down AM and EM will cost you, but non-compliance will cost you more.”

The hackers threatened to “release all customer records, including profiles with all the customers’ secret sexual fantasies and matching credit card transactions, real names and addresses, and employee documents and emails.”

Avid Life Media assured its customers that it had hired “one of the world’s top IT security teams” to work on the breach:

“At this time, we have been able to secure our sites, and close the unauthorized access points. We are working with law enforcement agencies, which are investigating this criminal act.”

So why didn’t the company hire “one of the world’s top IT security teams” before the hack?

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