The Progressive Ensign

insights and analytics to build an economy that works for all

Author: Patrick Hill (Page 2 of 12)

U.S. Has A Trade Surplus with Canada, What is the issue?

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab. Click on the Index Topic Name at the beginning of each post to see more posts on that topic on PC or Laptop.)

Image: Feedstuffs.com

The U.S. actually runs a small trade surplus, of $8.4 billion with Canada when services are included.  The GOP Administrations seems to miss this point in the present trade discussions even though 75 % of the U.S. economy is services based.

Source: Washington Post, 6/11/18

Note the U.S. exports about two and one-half more services to Canada than we import.  The American surplus in agriculture products is $2 billion. It seems that just looking at the diary market taken out of the context of the whole trade relationship is a near sighted way to look a trade policy.

Looking at the specifics of dairy imports and exports reveals a trade surplus of $418 million here as well.  In 2017, U.S. exported a total of $637 million of milk, cheese and other dairy products to Canada. Canada to protect its much smaller dairy industry has established a supply management tariff system.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 9/4/18

POTUS has been quite focused on the supply management trade of dairy products declaring a provision for 270 % diary tariffs are outrageous. We examined how the supply management system works in a previous post,

The reason there is a 270 % tariff on dairy powder is a system of supply management that was agreed upon by the US and Canada.  For most dairy products sold within the quota of US imports into Canada a tariff of 7.5 % is applied by the Canadian government.  When imports exceed the supply management quotas, super charges go into effect on products like dairy powder or over quota milk at 241 %.  Canada has established a supply management system with the US on dairy products, as most countries including the US subsidize their dairy industry.”

Next Steps:

The GOP Administration needs to understand the history of Canada – U.S. trade relationship and work with the Canadian government as partners not with ‘whack-mole” intimidation. By making a deal with Mexico first and leaving Canada out, the President is holding Canada hostage to get to a deal done while pushing on Canada to give the U.S. diary industry an ever bigger share of the Canadian dairy market.  Is this U.S. position fair?

We outlined our ideas on how to proceed in this way:

First, our President needs to treat our long-time ally to the north as an ally and friend to the American people with respect, dignity and cordial public discourse.  Privately, he may have disagreements, and negotiations should proceed to overcome trade imbalances where appropriate and to protect American jobs.

Second, the facts need to be used, not falsehoods as POTUS admitted in his first meeting with Trudeau, that he made up the idea there was an imbalance or equality or he didn’t know.  It is time to do the homework, research the facts in our relationship, preserve the on-going huge amount of commerce we already do, and figure out how to work more closely together as partners not adversaries.

Unfortunately, since June the trade rhetoric between the two countries has only grown more antagonistic mostly from the U.S. side.  Canadian trade negotiator, Chrystia Freeland in a press conference last week before flying back to Canada, kept very calm, did not try to negotiate in public, would not enter into a tit-for-tat battle with POTUS and showed a high level of professionalism and respect. We can only hope that our representatives will recognize how to treat our long time northern ally from her example.

Labor is Our Most Productive Asset

 

Image: progressivebumperstickers.com

“Nothing will work unless you do” – Maya Angelou

On Labor Day it is a good time to reflect on our labor force – the people who make our economy go. What has become of labor in America? Does labor hold equal power with capital? No.

Wall Street, the citadel of capital,  wields supreme power focused on profit throughout our economy and control of our government. Corporations pander to financial leaders with ever higher profits manipulated by stock buybacks juicing the value of share prices. Management ensures investors are pleased with financial results using loose financial gimmicks and laying on record debt. While workers have seen their wages stagnate for 30 years since the 1980s.

Executives are handsomely compensated at 300% of the average worker’s wage. Why? They think they ‘are’ the company. At a $400 million biotech firm, this author listened to a VP extoll the value of management over workers, “we have all the power; we decide wages, allocation of resources, when and how work is done, and we can fire them anytime”.  Yet, workers make the company go.  Nothing works until the employees make it work. Managers don’t do the work, they manage the work that is getting done.

Managers are doing what they are compensated to do – increase profits and reduce costs. In Western accounting labor is viewed as an expense while money and machines are viewed as assets. Wait, aren’t employees assets? CEOs are always telling employees at ‘all hands’ meetings they are the companies’ most important asset. Do they treat employees that way?  What about when things get tough; instead of selling equipment, moving out of buildings or reducing executive benefits they lay off employees who can least afford it. Executives need to start treating employees like they are an asset.

Maybe we need to start recognizing labor as an asset from an accounting perspective. When we label capital an asset and labor a cost we are fundamentally placing a higher value on money and a lower value on people. That framework us wrong – if anything it should be the other way around. Because people create value in corporations not money. Money does not come up with the latest innovation or new process or service – people do. We need to require corporations to report on how they are building employees as assets and worker contribution to increasing company value.  The next step is for Wall Street to recognize social responsibility in their investments as Blackrock, CEO Larry Fink, has in a letter to CEOs of companies in their portfolio that he will be looking beyond profit, for implementation of policies by management in sustainability and worker advancement.

Unfortunately labor power is at an all-time low when in a great ‘boom’ economy now the 80 % in income have experienced declining wages since the Great Recession. On Labor Day we need to dig deep and renew our commitment to recognizing labor must share equally in all corporate prosperity.

Statesmen Envision, Create and Sustain: The Common Good

 

Photo: wikipedia.com

With the passing of Senator John McCain, it is a good time to reflect on our leaders who understand, believe and create the Common Good by their actions.  Senator McCain was certainly such leader in the two major areas: campaign finance reform and his deciding vote to keep Obamacare (‘policy should be decided in good order’).  The way he loved this country and reached out to members of both sides of the isle in Congress is an example we could all hope to emulate in focusing on the Common Good above all else.  In a fitting tribute we publish the letter he asked to be read after this passing:

My fellow Americans, whom I have gratefully served for sixty years, and especially my fellow Arizonans,

“Thank you for the privilege of serving you and for the rewarding life that service in uniform and in public office has allowed me to lead. I have tried to serve our country honorably. I have made mistakes, but I hope my love for America will be weighed favorably against them.

“I have often observed that I am the luckiest person on earth. I feel that way even now as I prepare for the end of my life. I have loved my life, all of it. I have had experiences, adventures and friendships enough for ten satisfying lives, and I am so thankful. Like most people, I have regrets. But I would not trade a day of my life, in good or bad times, for the best day of anyone else’s.

“I owe that satisfaction to the love of my family. No man ever had a more loving wife or children he was prouder of than I am of mine. And I owe it to America. To be connected to America’s causes – liberty, equal justice, respect for the dignity of all people – brings happiness more sublime than life’s fleeting pleasures. Our identities and sense of worth are not circumscribed but enlarged by serving good causes bigger than ourselves.

“‘Fellow Americans’ – that association has meant more to me than any other. I lived and died a proud American. We are citizens of the world’s greatest republic, a nation of ideals, not blood and soil. We are blessed and are a blessing to humanity when we uphold and advance those ideals at home and in the world. We have helped liberate more people from tyranny and poverty than ever before in history. We have acquired great wealth and power in the process.

“We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all the corners of the globe. We weaken it when we hide behind walls, rather than tear them down, when we doubt the power of our ideals, rather than trust them to be the great force for change they have always been.

“We are three-hundred-and-twenty-five million opinionated, vociferous individuals. We argue and compete and sometimes even vilify each other in our raucous public debates. But we have always had so much more in common with each other than in disagreement. If only we remember that and give each other the benefit of the presumption that we all love our country we will get through these challenging times. We will come through them stronger than before. We always do.

“Ten years ago, I had the privilege to concede defeat in the election for president. I want to end my farewell to you with the heartfelt faith in Americans that I felt so powerfully that evening.

“I feel it powerfully still.’

“Do not despair of our present difficulties but believe always in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here. Americans never quit. We never surrender. We never hide from history. We make history.

“Farewell, fellow Americans. God bless you, and God bless America.”

John McCain:                                                                                                                        August 29, 1936 – August 25, 2018

Our Internet Purchases Are Private, Let’s Keep It That Way

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab. Click on the Index Topic Name at the beginning of each post to see more posts on that topic on PC or Laptop.)

Image: scienceprogress.org

A year ago, Mastercard sold consumer store transaction data to Google, who sells the store transaction information and correlates it to searches for the same product or service to advertisers.  Advertisers can see patterns in consumer behavior from the ads that are run and whether a prospective buyer went to the store to buy the item or online (online tracking databases). This strategy by Google is focused on Amazon’s business, and their recent moves into in store retail to dominate emerging sectors.

Google is dominant in digital advertising:

Sources: eMarker, Recode – 2018

In digital advertising Google has 2 times the share of its next largest competitor – Facebook.  In mobile advertising, Google has a 1.5 times greater share of the advertising business. In short, Google is the digital advertising player for most advertisers to work with, and Google is interested in maintaining that dominant position versus possible competitors like Amazon. Amazon now has 50 % of the eCommerce business in the U.S. The eCommerce behemoth is in a position to both track consumer behavior and offer point of decision purchase capabilities.

So, what does this mean for us as users and our privacy?  Google is no longer a company just setting up a partnering relationship with Mastercard, they are controlling the retail market and manipulating data to put us under constant surveillance. We did not give our permission to Google to constantly put us under surveillance.  It is dangerous to our private lives to have a big corporation or partners knowing everything we are doing and buying.  What happens if hackers break into these databases and begin to use the data to find us or siphon off our purchases or find out our transaction information or credit card data?

Next Steps:

First principle is that we own our data, and we own the patterns of our searches that is our propriety information because it is our behavior and is not owned by the company. When users search on Google, they are looking for an idea, a product or a service or a person – not to be spied on.  Recently, Google was still keeping user location even when the user turned off  location services.  A couple of years ago Google tracked words in user email messages and sold the information to advertisers, so if a user mentioned their child’s bike, all the sudden bike ads were showing up in the side bar – they finally ended this practice after a lot of complaints it was just too spooky.

Second, Google and Internet companies can’t build trust with users if they are constantly telling us one thing and doing something else to their benefit and not ours. The U.S. should look at implementation of a policy like the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) plan which could be widened to include schemes like the Google – Mastercard deal. The GDPR provides users with control over their personal data and how or if it may be transmitted outside of the country. The GDPR policy particularly focuses on personally identifiable information and how this information is to be handled in a confidential manner, not disclosed to third parties and the information made anonymous to outsiders.  In a provision we particularly like the information processor (ie Google) must enable users to be able to erase their information on the system.

We need to take a stand as a user community that user rights come first. User’s own their data not the processors.  Users should have control over any processing of that data and who has access to their personal data. Otherwise, we are opening our citizens to corporate spying for any reason, and targeting of the linked Mastercard – Google profile data to hackers.

Workers Facing High Prices, Stagnant Wages Are Taking On Debt

 

Image: guardiandebtrelief.com

Worker pay continues to stagnant. Yet, companies are raising prices.  The price increases are due to tariff based supplier cost increases and government tax credits juicing the economy.  The Federal Reserve survey for July in the Philadelphia area showed that manufacturers plan on raising prices by 3 % versus 2 % last year.

Source: HIS Markit, Bloomberg – 8/28/18

How did companies get this pricing power?  Corporations have received a $1 trillion tax cut,  reduced regulations by the Trump administration, less oversight by the EPA, and less scrutiny on mergers.  Companies are at the zenith of their power allowing them to raise prices, keep wages low – below inflation, while increasing profits and executive compensation.

Source Bureau of Labor Statistics, Bloomberg – 8/24/18

Worker economic power continues to wane, as real wages actually turned negative this past month. Worker share of income as a percentage of non-farm business income is at a 70-year low even in a strong economy.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Bloomberg Businessweek, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 8/27/18

How are consumers handling the budget shortfall?  By borrowing, the debt as a percentage of income of the bottom 80 %  is 4 times the debt of the top 20 %.

Most of this debt is in the form of credit card, auto loans and home equity lines of credit.  Home owners have done a better job keeping their first mortgages in line with incomes this year versus the housing bubble of 2008.

Next Steps:

Caught between high prices and flat real wages, consumers are filling the budget gap by piling on debt. Companies are getting even richer from both sides of making a profit – increasing income by raising prices and reduced costs by keeping worker wages low.

Why is this vise tightening on worker budgets?  Corporations are accumulating power every day at an ever increasing rate; buying other companies, issuing stock backs to hype stock price, increasing lobbying budgets to get the federal government to make rules that tip their way, consolidating supply channels, distributing manufacturing world-wide and automating every job they can conceive be done by a robot.  Prices are rising due to tariffs in many industries, the wide spread use of tariffs on some consumer goods, contagion of one product category to another (tit for tat) and shrinking channels of distribution reducing price competition.

Meantime, workers continue to lose power at even faster rate than corporations gain power.  Wages have been stagnant for 20 years for the bottom 80 % in income.  We have outlined in previous posts why wages have actually declined – rise of corporate power, fewer unions, automation, mergers in the same industry reduce the overall number of jobs, increased availability of candidates over the Internet, outsourcing, and the gig economy.  Workers are getting some relief in the gig economy with lawsuits to recognize Uber drivers as employees, but it is a tough long slog through the courts.  Overall, most court decisions are favoring companies in reducing union power, allowing companies to give millions to campaigns unchecked (Citizens United case) and overtime pay.

Eventually prices will rise too high for declining incomes causing consumer spending to fall. Consumer spending has been falling this year, with the most recent decline announced today, as a revised downward revision to 3.8 % in 2nd quarter.

Sources: BEA, Factset – 6/1/18

Remember, corporate executives are compensated handsomely for what?  Making more profit by increasing income and reducing costs.  Workers, after all the PR from executives are viewed as a cost when managers get into salary and compensation review meetings. Workers are being squeezed between low wages and increasing prices nationally to feed the ever increasing profit making systems of corporations. Until, we as a society start to see that workers need to be an equal partner in corporate management, sharing in profits and benefits things will not change.  Without workers receiving a fair share of the economic pie, the common good will suffer and will lead to civil unrest and a contracting economy when consumer spending evaporates. The economic reality is that the U.S. economy is not working for the bottom 80 % and until it does we are faced with major disruptions in our economic life.

Health Providers Not Paying Care Workers Enough, Administrators Too Much

 

Photo: aarp.org

There are 3.5 million direct health care workers in the workforce today. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that another 1 million direct health care workers will be hired by 2024.  Direct healthcare workers include mostly all the assistant positions except a registered nurse: personal care workers, home health aides, and nursing assistants.

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Vox – 7/3/2017

Direct care workers often receive a wage below $15.00@hr.  About 90 % of  personal assistants receive $30,000 or less per year in income.  One reason wages are so low is that 70 % of all long term care costs are paid by Medicare and Medicaid.  These agencies reimburse care providers on a fixed cost basis. There is another reason. A high number of administrators are being hired rather than physicians, nurses or direct care workers.

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, National Center for Health Statistics – 2010

When viewed from the perspective of healthcare spending per capita, administrator hiring was about 650 % more than overall per capita services.  Healthcare is a lucrative sector for business, so they focus on hiring more administrators and managers rather than nurses and direct care workers. Healthcare providers can take the wages they pay too many administrators and give caregivers the wages they need to take are of themselves and their families. The byzantine way the healthcare industry is structured with insurance companies between the providers and workers when we only need one government agency to manage insurance is a good example.  Most providers have who departments devoted to interacting with insurers and Medicare staff, which expensive to staff with specialized expertise due the idiosyncrasies of insurance policies.

Next Steps:

We clearly need to use computer systems and software to reduce the number of administrators and overhead in the system to the norm of per capita costs.  End the use of private insurers except as contractors to a single government agency, use a standard reimbursement procedure with no middle layers of pharmacy benefit managers and end go to middle managers for insurance companies.

In previous posts we have recommended:

The core need is to provide low cost effective health insurance for all people (like all developed countries do), so when illness strikes patients receive high quality care and become healthy again. Why do we need multiple insurance payers – private and the federal government?  If we were running a corporation we would not have two accounts payable departments?  We need to transition to individual health accounts that stay with the patient regardless of employment status beginning at birth.  Here are ideas on how this transition could work.

Complete Analysis of ACA – We need to learn from the public exchanges that work – California’s public exchange has been quite successful covering new patients, and keeping costs reasonable for low income patients.   Yet, we also need to look at why those exchanges like Oregon are not working well and expensive. Let’s summarize the analysis and publish the results so we can build a consensus around the solution, extending what works and recommendations for changes.

Priority One Cover the 9 Million Uninsured – those not covered by insurance need insurance now, we need to figure out how to cover 100 % of our citizens immediately. Offering a public option on the exchanges for basic health services and drug coverage would be a good start.

End State by State Coverage – state pools not large enough to make insurance work for all.  With 360 million people in the US we can make our health insurance pool work to reduce costs. Plus, legislation needs to be passed to reverse the Supreme Court decision to allow states to opt out of subsidies.  For example, Texas opted out on $10 billion subsidies leaving many low income families without insurance or very high premiums they cannot afford.  Interestingly, a few months ago I talked with a small business office manager in Texas, she complained that ACA was not working (her firm did not offer health insurance), for her hourly staff. Obviously, one reason is that Texas opted out of the subsidy program. Using a national pool would help to spread out the disparities between regions in terms of the rising cost of insurance versus stagnant wage increases.

Create Individual Health Accounts – funding can be setup via a payroll tax, accrued to a personal national health insurance account when working (if they don’t have employer options – to be transitioned later). For individuals or families below the regional poverty level they would pay no health payroll tax. For those individuals who are not contributing to their health account, the federal government would fund a basic health and drug account by progressive taxes on wealthy individuals over $250k and the increase taxes on corporate profits. Corporations can offset the increased tax, by offering lower cost insurance, medigap plans or encouraging their employees to move to the basic national health insurance program.

End COBRA – by setting up health accounts regardless of being employed, there is no need for COBRA plans.  Otherwise, for those unemployed to continue coverage often they have to pay soaring COBRA premiums up to 400 % of their employed premium rate.  For this author, two major illnesses occurred when I was unemployed, often with the stress of being unemployed is the time we need health insurance.  COBRA is another example where health insurers are charging outrageous rates to those who need the insurance badly but can least afford it. For the unemployed they could rely on basic health coverage in their individual health account.

Transition Employer Plans – convert employer plans over 4 years into a national personal health care account. Rollovers can be accomplished in a similar way to 401K to IRA rollovers (without the penalty for early withdrawal).  Ending employer programs will cut a layer of administration in benefits departments that more rightly belongs to the individual regardless of employment status.

End Penalties For No Insurance – we want to to tax behavior we don’t want and support or subsidize behavior we do want.  All Americans who have Social Security numbers should be able to enroll in a personal health insurance account, if they do not have a employer sponsored program.  Parents can apply for a SSN for their child to be covered.  A public insurance option should be offered to all those families not in employer sponsored programs. The public option run by Medicare is a basic health insurance program run similar to basic Medicare for seniors with medigap plans to cover the other 80 % of coverage needed.

Use the Medicare Drug Formulary – we don’t need multiple formularies and tiers of drug coverage. Medicare already provides one formulary which should be used as the industry formulary.  We need to empower Medicare to negotiate all drug prices and health procedures with providers with provision for regional differences on procedures.  A critical medication list can be created by Medicare for life threatening (Epipens) or serious chronic conditions (diabetes) capped at 5% profit for drug manufacturers.

End Stock Buybacks by Insurers – insurers need to end stock manipulation and the waste of stock buybacks. Companies like Aetna have spent billions of dollars on stock buybacks which would go a long way to reducing premiums and costs to patients.

Pricing needs to be transparent – similar to a mortgage disclosure statement. The explanation of benefits and drug claim form needs to be clear about the provider or drug price, any discounts and rebates, the price the insurer is paying, the price the provider is actually requiring, the price the pharmacy is paying and the exact out of pocket cost to the patient, with patient accruals in out of pocket and co pays toward insurance coverage.

Do it Without Waiting – let’s get progressive investors to back drug manufacturers that adhere to drug cost reasonable, critical med list, transparent pricing innovative insurance, publicize get more investors on board. Work with Wall Street to setup an ETF stock to focus on companies adhering to the progressive national health programs demonstrating good returns.

Awareness of What Works – A media campaign with surrogates, leadership in Congress, interest groups like the AMA, and the insurers to bring the American people along on the solution journey and to put pressure on Congress to pass the necessary legislation.

Health insurers would focus on medigap plans, taking risk out of innovative drugs to help speed them to market, vision and integrative medicine, personalized medicine, telemedicine – taking their layer out with reduce costs dramatically. They can be contractors to Medicare for transition to health accts. Or insurers can be contract administrators to Medicare, keeping costs low and utilizing their expertise.

Lets establish a lifetime health insurance program that provides good quality care, and low cost medications for all Americans.”

The Internet Connects Us All in Common

 

Image:  Your Little Planet

We all enjoy the connectivity the Internet provides us today with instant messaging, email, hyperlinking, websites and news.  It was built by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) contracting with universities and research centers to build a powerful internetworking protocol and network for the Department of Defense beginning in 1969.  The network evolved with more research centers and government organizations using the system for communication and joint projects.  By the mid 1990s the Internet was opened to the public primarily for email, though soon websites and messaging systems were established.  Commercial common carriers were offered government contracts to provide more communication network support and services.  In 1993 the Internet provided 1 % of all two way communications, by 2000 51 % of all communications were over the Internet, then growth exploded to 97 % of all telecommunications information in 2007.

Built by taxpayer money by DARPA  for military communications,  next universities and research centers, then open to the public and commercial enterprises. So, why do companies like AT & T, Verizon, and Comcast think they should control how Internet is offered to our people?  We paid for it, as it evolved the Internet was envisioned as a wonderful new way to engage citizens in the political process and to level the playing field for new companies.

We certainly, have seen how innovation with a plethora of new services has emerged in the last 20 years, yet now a few giants run the content side: Google, Facebook, Netflix, Disney and the network side run by AT &T, Verizon, and Comcast.  As the content companies merge with networking companies we have huge companies deciding how to make more money from a network entity that is actually a public trust built by taxpayer money.

One way we see inequality growing is access to the Internet for many in poor, or rural  regions of the country is limited in speed and services.  Without Internet speedy Internet access or innovative services for universities, hospitals, and companies in these regions it is difficult for the working class to gain the skills to get a better job, or companies to compete with their high speed competitors.  Investment is declining in some regions of the Midwest and South due to poor Internet infrastructure which means fewer jobs for people living in the area.

The Internet is really a Common Good. It is a utility, not a platform for companies to make profits and not take responsibility for equity in access, speed and content which was the original purpose in designing the Internet as a peer to peer protocol rather than hierarchical.

The present GOP administration installed a company lobbyist as chair of the FCC who immediately decided that the network neutrality doctrine of the Obama administration should be overturned, giving control to for profit entities to charge whatever they wanted for speedy access or content. It is as if we turned the interstate system of freeways over to GM, so GM could give special lanes to GM cars and the others would have to go in slower lanes.

No, we don’t see the Common Good being protected by a for profit doctrine, it just can’t do the job.  Recently, when firefighters in the California Mendocino fire went over their mobile data plan limit, Verizon throttled their data transmission to 1/200 of the speed.  After the outrage over such predatory practices Verizon relented and will now offer all western state first responders standard data plans without throttling.  Why should they even be able to throttle?  If a user needs more data then just charge more over a certain limit – but throttling their network speed is coercive.

Network neutrality for all content, all websites, all messaging is the just doctrine for a Common Good like the Internet built with public funds. The fact that corporations think they should be able to do whatever they want shows once again that The Elite has control and power over the public interest.  Their position needs to shift to supporting the public interest as priority one, not profits. We need to have the common carriers see they have a public trust, and social responsibility in operating a public Internet utility.

Disney, Walmart Begin Offering Education Aid

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab.)

Source: payactiv.com

Disney announced this week that for 80,000 hourly workers in the U.S. to take online courses beginning this fall.  The media and entertainment giant will invest $50 million to kick off the ‘Disney Aspire’ education program with $25 million each year afterward.  Disney will provide up front funding for degree programs, high school diploma or learn a new skill.  The jump start funding enables  workers with little savings to begin taking courses right away. The program will begin with online courses only though classroom course programs may be added later.

Last May, Walmart introduced a tuition assistance program for 1.4 million hourly part-time, full-time and salaried workers to take courses online in business or supply-chain management. Employees will pay just $1 a day to participate in the assistance program. The retail colossus is looking to increase retention rates, and draw more new workers.  Drew Holler, VP of Innovation at Walmart U.S. was excited, “We know we’re going to see an influx of applications.”

Other major corporations are feeling the pressure to be competitive in benefits for hourly or retail workers. Starbucks offers a full tuition degree program for baristas at Arizona State University.  Chipotle Mexican Grill offers $5,250 in tuition assistance for degree programs.

However, for many hourly workers they have a difficult time committing to education programs due to erratic work schedules.  Our Walmart, an employee advocacy group, completed a survey of worker needs finding that 70 % of workers wanted more time scheduled to work full time, and more predictable timing.  Hourly workers are busy balancing work time with family commitments, like child care, doctor appointments and caregiving.

We have commented in our posts about the necessary investment corporations and government needs to make in education.  Hourly workers in particular have a difficult time getting more education due to random work schedules, little savings and limited study time.  Many of these programs begin to address the issue of upfront funding now they need to enable workers to actually go to school while working by offering predictable work schedules and flex time to handle family commitments.  We are pleased to see Disney, Walmart and other companies  respond to the need for workers to get a better education by investing in their employees’ future and to see the move as good business.

Verizon Shows Its More Interested In Revenue Than Firefighters

 

Image: theverge.com

During the Mendocino fire in California last month, firefighters using the Verizon service went over their data plan limit.  So, instead of helping to alleviate the problem, Verizon made it worse by throttling down their data rate to 1/200th until they switched to a new higher cost plan.  Plus, they made the firefighters do the work to switch plans – doesn’t Verizon get the fact that the firefighters are a little busy saving lives and property?

Santa Clara County Fire Chief, Anthony Bowden explained, “Verizon representatives confirmed the throttling, but rather than restoring us to an essential data transfer speed, they indicated that County Fire would have to switch to a new data plan at more than twice the cost, and they would only remove throttling after we contacted the department that handles billing and switched to the new data plan,”   Bowden wrote up the incident to support a law suit filed by 22 state attorney generals to stop the net-neutrality policy from being implemented by the FCC for the major carriers.  Bowden noted that Verizon had throttled firefighter data rates in the past when fighting fires.  A company spokesman said the throttling was a ‘customer service mistake’, and they would try to respond without throttling in future firefighting crisis situations.

Version is a huge wireless company with over 30 % of the wireless market:

Source: Statista – 2018

By size alone they command significant market power over users.  With this market power comes community and public interest responsibility. When Verizon, Comcast, AT&T and others lobbied for a waiver of net neutrality provisions they said they could be trusted to protect the needs of the public and small internet users.  Clearly, Verizon can’t be trusted to be a part of the community and put the Common Good over profits.

Next Steps: 

First, Verizon needs to make restitution to the Santa Clara County firefighters and any other group involved in fighting the fire, by giving a credit for any increased costs and to make sure there is a hot line in place to an executive who can cut through all the bureaucracy and do the right thing.  Verizon has demonstrated they are using people, even at the cost of lives and property to make a profit.  Last year, the communications giant announced a $5.4 billion stock buyback program until 2020 to goose their stock price resulting in soaring executive compensation and shareholder returns.  They could use some of this stock buyback money and help out all first responders!

Second, net neutrality provisions need to be restored so that common service providers are required by law to treat all users fairly no matter their size and not use predatory tactics like throttling to force users into upgrading plans. Verizon and and other common carries did not build the Internet, taxpayers did with DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) funds in the 1970s.  DARPA built a breakthrough set of communication and HTML linking technologies with a number of universities to establish the Internet channel backbone in the United States. The government built it, it is a public service and we should not be turning control over to private companies that are not serving the public interest.

It is about time huge corporations started solving the major problems we face in protecting the security of people and build the Common Good rather than being a major obstacle when the community is facing a crisis.

Update: August 24, 2018 – Verizon announced that it would not throttle first responders to wildfires on the West Coast including Hawaii.  The backlash was so strong from the Mendocino fire the firm had to respond. Too bad management did not take the opportunity to be proactive about supporting the Common Good.  We appreciate the late data rate support move by the company.

EPA Relaxes Coal Burning Regulations Endangering People and Economies

 

Image: agriland.ie

The day after that EPA announces relaxation of coal burning regulations scientists announced the first time in all recorded history the ‘last ice sea’ north of Greenland has thawed twice!  ­This assumption that ‘last ice sea’ would not thaw due to climate warming is no longer proving to be true. One scientist described the iconic ice thawing discovery as ‘scary’.

Sources: The Polar Science Center, The Guardian – 8/21/18

At the same time, global warming is causing the seas to rise by 8 inches since 1900 of which 3 inches was since 1993.  Scientists predict the sea level will rise another 3 to 7 inches by 2030. Today, rising sea levels are sending property values in low tidal areas spiraling down. University of Colorado and Penn State University researchers found that homes within just one foot of being flooded from a sea level rise were selling at a 14.7 % discount compared to homes on higher ground. Analysts have totaled property price losses since 2005 for Charleston at $265 million and Miami- Dade County at $465 million. Of course this is just the tip of the iceberg when considering all the coastal properties in the U.S. – losses are in the billions of dollars.

California has experienced the highest number and most acreage of wildfires in its history. Japan sweltered under hot July summer temperatures making new records. During the summer large areas of heat pressure or heat domes scattered around the hemisphere led to the sweltering temperatures. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation notes the heat is to blame for at least 54 deaths in southern Quebec, near Montreal, which sweated under record high temperatures. The worldwide list of new high temperatures goes on and on.  The chart below shows extremely hot temperatures worldwide in a model at 2 meters above ground.

Sources: University of Maine, The Washington Post – 7/5/18

The relaxation of Obama administration clean air restrictions would possibly kill from 470 to 1,400 people per year the EPA admits.  The policy shift would move enforcement responsibility to the states, and allow them to relax regulations on coal burning plants even when installing new equipment.  Utilities would be allowed to use old standards when installing new equipment without having to meet higher air quality regulations.  The Obama era policies were never enforced because the Supreme Court found in favor of the states who sued to overturn the tighter regulations.

Next Steps: 

Enough is enough, the federal government is here to protect American lives not kill more people as a result of policy.  The government’s position makes no sense, it’s time we as citizens take a stand.

As we have said in a previous post:

“we may need to look to how to make duty more of a core value in our culture and in particular business culture.  As we have observed our country is essentially run by Corporate Nation States, they must change their attitude, behavior and operating practices focused on their duty to all the people not just their executives and customers. Everything a corporation does in some way impacts the Common Good. We are the people these corporations serve, and we should expect nothing less than socially responsible behavior from the executives running these huge Corporate Nation States.”

We would like the executives of these coal companies to think about the people that will get ill or die because they wanted to make more money and be ‘efficient and affordable’.  What if their daughter died?  How would they feel.  It seems that we are back to the point we made in last week’s Common Good post we ‘use people, and love things (money)’. This policy is dead wrong, and should never be implemented.  Instead, these corporations should be coming to us with proposals on how to save people’s lives and speed up the process of reducing climate warming. Maybe, these executives need to look themselves in the mirror and ask ‘who am I serving?’.  Time is running out, people are being killed in the heat, economies are being destroyed.  All these forces will cause civil conflict unless we act now to reverse the course of climate warming, before it is too late. 

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