Category Archives: Corporations

Imagine a world where you had a remedy for bad cell and cable speeds

Anyone with cell phone or cable service knows that the transfer rates they advertise to get you to sign up (up to 100 Mbps download!) almost never match what you get in the real world. That is why they use those magic words “up to” since it allows them to say to you that they never promised you would get those actual speeds, even if they charge you extra for them.

As this article I ran across today notes, the UK is taking steps to give its citizens some recourse if the speeds they advertised to sign you up for that contract fail to materialize:

Internet users are to be granted more rights on connection speeds as [the UK] imposes tougher rules on how ISPs advertise broadband services.

The proposals give consumers the right to exit contracts penalty-free if speeds fall below a guaranteed minimum.

[British government regulator] Ofcom says there is a mismatch between what is advertised, and the speeds customers receive.

But experts say speeds are affected by different factors, and are not strictly a measure of connection to a device.

A public consultation is currently being conducted until 10 November.

Gillian Guy, chief executive of [the consumer advocacy group] Citizens Advice, said: “Many people seek our help each year because their slow and intermittent broadband service falls short of what their contract promised.

“For most people, a reliable broadband connection is a necessity, so when they don’t get what they’ve paid for they should always have a quick and easy way out of their contract.”

She said: “These changes are an important step in giving consumers more power to hold their broadband provider to account for poor service.” Ofcom’s existing broadband code of practice requires ISPs to provide consumers with an estimate of the internet speed they can expect from their service.

If the proposed rules pass consultation, broadband providers will need to be much more specific about the speeds customers will receive and will have to set a guaranteed minimum speed for each package.

This could mean current estimates of “up to 17Mbps” become “a minimum of 10Mbps”.

If the speed falls below the guaranteed minimum, under the new rules, the ISP will have one month to fix the problem, and if it cannot be fixed, the customer can terminate the contract without penalty.

With that simple change — changing the words “up to” to “a minimum of” the ISPs would be forced to account for the actual speeds you get on your service.

So what are the chances of these types of rules being forced on similar companies in America?

Don’t hold your breath. As you can see from the screen cap graphics from OpenSecrets.org accompanying this article, the telecom industry gave just under $26 million in political contributions to candidates for federal office in 2016 alone, almost evenly split between Democrats and Republicans.

In Washington money talks, and the telecoms are in the drivers’ seats on Capitol Hill until we consumers get our act together and decide to hold both parties accountable for the ways they allow cable and cellular companies in this country to saddle Americans with some of the most expensive service in the world for the least amount of reliable bandwidth. 

Booze at Taco Bell. What could possibly go wrong?

Wicker Park Taco Bell jefferly.com
This is the nicest Taco Bell I’ve ever seen – also known as damning with faint praise.

This has disaster written all over it.

Imagine mixing booze with customers whose main goal in life at the moment you encounter them is to “give me my god-damned Chalupa and a sir-vees-a!”

The 16-ounce frozen drinks, which can be spiked with your choice of Captain Morgan rum, Ketel One vodka, or Don Julio Tequila for between $6.19 and $7.19 an order, include appetizing names such a Mountain Dew Baja Blast, Catina Punch and Cantina Margarita.

Enjoy the drinks over new food menu items such as chili-cheese nachos, quesadilla triangles, “rolled tacos” and chicken tenders, which the [Chicago] Tribune called the best new item to eat there.

Taco Bell wants you to know that this is as far from your average road trip rest stop as you can get—the restaurant interior features exposed brick and the place has even been branded with a more “upscale” name: Taco Bell Cantina.

Help up Wicker Park’s douche vortex quotient by heading to the grand opening Sept. 22—we’ll be there to try the drinks so you don’t have to.

I worked in high school at an eat-in and drive-thru Taco Bell which stayed open until 3am — bars closed at 2am — and that last hour was the most entertaining and sometimes scary shit show you could possibly imagine. I hope to never have another conversation in my life with angry drunk people with bits of cheese hanging off their mouths as they scream at another customer for bumping into them accidentally.

And that Taco Bell did not serve alcohol. 

Every employee who works there should get an automatic raise.

Although I might go there on Valentines Day evening just to point and laugh at the poor souls whose dates take them there.

“Hey, there’s cheap booze AND it’s two-for-one Gordita night!”

Source: Here’s What’s On The Menu At Taco Bell’s Boozy New Location: Chicagoist

Tianjin: globalization’s cost in ruined and lost lives

globalization

The New York Times has a sobering piece looking at the corruption, greed and cheapness of human life that leads in a meandering line to the Tianjin tragedy, including an examination of the well-connected company Rui Hai at the root of an explosion so massive it makes the Oklahoma City bombing look like a firecracker in comparison.

Ladies and gentlemen (and everything in-between), behold that which globalization has wrought:

In interviews with more than a dozen of Rui Hai’s former clients and associates — and unusually critical reports in China’s state­controlled news media — a picture has emerged of a company that exploited weak governance in one of the party’s showcase economic districts and used political connections to shield its operations from scrutiny.

Rui Hai began handling hazardous chemicals before it obtained a permit to do so, and it secured licenses and approvals from at least five local agencies that conducted questionable reviews of its operations. Local authorities outsourced one safety review required for a storage permit to a private contractor that Rui Hai selected and paid.

As much as 3,000 tons of hazardous chemicals were stored at Rui Hai on the night of the explosions, including 700 tons of sodium cyanide, deadly in a dose of less than a tablespoon, and 1,300 tons of fertilizer nitrates, more than 500 times the amount used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

Rui Hai’s shipping yard covered more than 11 acres, but clients said it routinely packed huge volumes of different volatile chemicals together in haphazard fashion instead of storing them separately, at safe distances and in smaller quantities as recommended in the industry.

“Nobody wanted to stand in their way,” said one chemicals exporter in Tianjin, who asked not to be named to protect his business from reprisal, when asked why regulators took no action.

The catastrophe in Tianjin has stunned a nation inured to living with one of the worst industrial safety records in the world. By the government’s own count, more than 68,000 people were killed in such accidents last year — nearly 200 every day, most of them poor, powerless and far from China’s boom towns.

This encapsulates what globalization is all about.

Its proponents sell it by touting its rewards in bringing prosperity to previously poverty-stricken nations. But as with America before the labor movement took hold, that prosperity goes into the hands of a relatively precious few at the top while low-wage workers toil in dangerous conditions that jeopardize them on and off the job.

Entire geographic areas are helpless in the face of industries that flout or outright ignore local safety regulations, if they exist at all. Caught up in all this are the safety and health of people living and working in surrounding residential neighborhoods.

Globalization is, at its core, about exporting jobs from countries with strong labor, infrastructure, safety and environmental laws and regulations to countries that have weak or no protections so companies can add to the bottom line. End of story.

It’s as if the American robber barons of the 1800s were somehow able to magically teletransport their business models — profit at all costs, human beings be damned — to leaders of companies such as the one highlighted in the Times article.

Only instead of the obscene profits going to a few well-connected upper crust families in America with names like Vanderbilt and Carnegie, the money is now shoveled into multi-national corporations and the relatively small  local companies overseas which do their bidding (and insulate the multinationals partially from wrongdoing) supplying cheap labor and dangerous conditions.

Why financially struggling right-wing tea partiers whose jobs have been shipped overseas — or whose wages are stagnant or dropping  — continue to side with the Republicans on these issues is a mystery for which I can only guess at an answer.

Source: Behind Deadly Tianjin Blast, Shortcuts and Lax Rules – NY Times

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It’s not only Amazon which overworks and underappreciates

Overwork

The Nation looks at the somewhat dubious claim that work is what makes us feel most fulfilled:

By now many of us have read The New York Times’s insider account of the brutal workplace culture at Amazon’s corporate offices. We already knew about what it’s like to work in Amazon’s warehouse centers: boiling heat, impossible production demands, and frequent firings of the temporary workforce.

For the white-collar workers, demands are also high, if of a different nature: staff regularly cry at their desks, are shamed for taking time off for cancer treatments, and so often work during weekends and vacations that they develop ulcers. Failure to respond to a late-night e-mail comes with a reprimand. One employee recounts that her fiancee had to come to headquarters every night at 10 pm and call her repeatedly to get her to leave.

The Times article also includes stories from employees who profess to simply love working at that grueling pace. They are motivated by “thinking big and knowing we haven’t scratched the surface on what’s out there to invent,” as one retail executive put it. “This is a company that strives to do really big, innovative, groundbreaking things, and those things aren’t easy,” the company’s top recruiter said.

Our culture of work has so infiltrated our collective psyche that we like to think that we’re putting in long hours and responding to e-mails on the weekends because we’re devoted and ambitious. This is what journalist Miya Tokumitsu has skewered repeatedly in her writing: the “do what you love” ethos—the idea that we should all seek work that we’re emotionally devoted to, not sticking with just for a paycheck—that demands unending passion and therefore unending work, even if those long hours don’t actually mean we’re getting more done.

But while some employees call it a choice to put in long hours, it’s hard to see how that can really be true—for anyone. 

For a more realistic view of things from a first-hand perspective, read this piece by a woman who found out that the team spirit at Amazon, already weak to begin with, essentially evaporates when you get sick or have a baby.

Source: Longer Hours, More Stress, No Extra Pay: It’s Not Just Amazon, It’s the Modern Workplace

Source: I Had a Baby and Cancer When I Worked at Amazon. This Is My Story

Source: Amazon.com’s Workers Are Low-Paid, Overworked And Unhappy; Is This The New Employee Model For The Internet Age?

Source: Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace – The New York Times

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Unions win big in NLRB ruling

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This is good news for all unions and all workers being left behind by the so-called sharing economy in which employees share in the low-paid, part-time drudge work but not in the massive profits going to Wall Street:

A federal labor board voted Thursday to redefine the employee-employer relationship granting new bargaining powers to workers caught up in an economy increasingly reliant on subcontractors, franchisees and temporary staffing agencies.

The decision by the National Labor Relations Board could upend the traditional arms-length relationship that has prevailed between corporate titans such as McDonald’s and its neighborhood fast-food franchises. And it comes as concerns are growing about a generation of new Internet-fueled business such as Uber and Lyft that depend heavily on independent contractors.

In a case that drew intense lobbying by both business and union groups, Democratic appointees on the panel split 3-2 with Republicans to adopt a more expansive definition of what it means to be an “joint employer,” making it more difficult for companies to avoid responsibility through various forms of outsourcing.

In doing so, the panel sided with labor advocates and academics who have described an increasingly “fissured” economy, in which whole industries have been built on business models that offer workers few of the protections of a traditional employer relationship.

“With more than 2.87 million of the nation’s workers employed through temporary agencies in August 2014, the Board held that its previous joint employer standard has failed to keep pace with changes in the workplace and economic circumstances,” the Board said in a release accompanying its decision.

As the New York Times notes in this article, this is a particularly big win for fast food workers who wish to organize.

Source: In landmark case, labor board will let more workers bargain with their employer’s employer – The Washington Post

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Target posts genius “endorsement” of phantom customer service rep

TargetDEbbieSwartz

He got away with it for 2/3 of a day. And fooled a lot of right-wingers along the way.

AskForHelp, the not all that mysterious fake Target customer service rep who took to the giant retailer’s Facebook page to make fun of wingnuts over the outrage at the Minneapolis-based chain’s decision to remove gender-based labeling of its toy aisles, was removed after 16 hours. 

AskForHelp’s real name is Facebook user Mike Melgaard, and he even managed to get himself noticed in the pages of Adweek:

Melgaard tells AdFreak that he was just surfing Facebook on Sunday night when he noticed that Target was moving away from gender-based labels in both the toy and children’s bedding sections.

“Immediately, I knew there would be your typical outraged American spouting emotional reactions on their Facebook page,” he says. “After taking a look, I was literally laughing out loud at my computer. A few more minutes in and it struck me how hilarious it would be to portray myself as a parody customer service rep. So, I did just that, and the rest was history. Honestly, it was like striking comedy gold. Every one of these people gave me the ammunition I needed for a great response.”

A self-described “pot-stirrer,” Melgaard says his stunt was more about the comedy than taking a stance on the issue. “I definitely side with Target and support their decision wholeheartedly,” he says. “That being said, this was, for me, more about the laughs. I absolutely love satirical humor, and I think America could use a little more laughter.”

Target gave this statement to AdFreak on Thursday: “At Target, we are committed to providing outstanding guest service to our guests wherever we engage with them—in our stores, online, or on our social pages. Clearly this individual was not speaking on behalf of Target. Should guests ever have questions on whether a communication from Target is legitimate, we encourage them to reach out to guest relations at 1-800-440-0680.”

Clearly the guy was not speaking on behalf of Target. Except…

Then Target did something remarkable and issued a sort of non-endorsement endorsement of AskForHelp by posting the epic picture below, commented upon by Melgaard himself, as a stick in the eye to right-wing trolls everywhere.

And why not? Wingnuts have been trying to organize a disastrously unsuccessful boycott of Target for a very long time over its progressive policies.

Yet another reason to choose Target over Walmart.

Source: Man Poses as Target on Facebook, Trolls Haters of Its Gender-Neutral Move With Epic Replies – Adweek

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Pharmaceutical provisions of the TPP threaten drug access and affordability

Keeping in mind all the great things Obama has done for the country makes his support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) all the more perplexing, especially since all previous international trade agreements have allowed so many American companies to ship jobs overseas where labor is cheap because those companies do not have to observe laws we have in the U.S. regarding labor standards, worker safety and environmental oversight.

The Center for American Progress (CAP) notes that, in particular, cheaper pharmaceuticals those countries now make available to their citizens — and to the increasing numbers of desperate Americans who travel overseas to afford treatment — for everything from cancer to HIV disease would be either severely restricted or have to be scrapped altogether. It would also take generics longer to come to market in the U.S.

For example, leaked versions of the TPP include a 12-year exclusivity period for expensive biologic drugs—drugs made from living cells. These medications are becoming more common and make up about 40 percent of all drugs currently under development. Today, a generic version of a biologic—called a biosimilar—can enter the market after the exclusivity period is over.

A growing number of consumer groups and policy experts, including the Center for American Progress, believe that this 12-year period is too long. Other prescription drugs have a five-year exclusivity period, and the difference in the time it takes to bring those drugs to market compared with a biologic is, on average, less than a year. For this reason, the Obama administration has proposed shortening the exclusivity period for biologics to seven years. The administration’s trade officials, however, seem to be following the industry’s lead by arguing for a 12-year rule in the TPP. If included in the final agreement, this policy would be off-limits to future U.S. lawmakers.

Restricting the policy options available to curb rising health care costs would be an enormous win for the drug industry and a massive loss for the rest of the nation. All parts of our health care system face increasing prices for specialty drugs, most of which are biologics. Last year alone, the Medicare program—whose beneficiaries are most likely to need these expensive drugs—saw its costs for these drugs increase by 45 percent. In the private sector, spending for these drugs increased by 30 percent.

These cost increases are not a one-time phenomenon. Without competition from generics, there is zero chance that these prices will level out. Instead, in the next five years, spending on these drugs could quadruple from its 2012 level, with federal health care programs, taxpayers, and patients paying even greater prices for necessary drugs.

Speculation is rampant about why Obama supported this disastrous deal that primarily benefits multinational corporations, from the possibility that there is a job somewhere for him at the end of his presidency, to the possibility that he sincerely believes the agreement is in the best long-term diplomatic and national security interests of the U.S.

It certainly isn’t good for the United States financially. 

Source: Pharmaceutical Provisions of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Threaten Drug Access and Affordability | Center for American Progress

Amazon Prime same-day delivery has come to Chicago, Indianapolis

At least some of you out there in Chicagoland (and Indianapolis) now have same-day Amazon delivery, assuming you need toilet paper badly enough to pay a $7.99 same-day delivery fee:

Amazon’s Prime Now, the company’s same-day-delivery offering, is now available in two more cities. 

Prime Now has launched in Chicago, Illinois and Indianapolis, Indiana, Amazon announced on Thursday. The service will allow Amazon Prime members to order products and receive them in one or two hours.

Amazon launched its Prime Now rapid delivery service in December in parts of Manhattan, and has since expanded to several more cities across the US, including Dallas. Prime Now offers customers the ability to buy qualifying products — numbering in the “tens of thousands” so far — and have them at their doorstep within two hours. Customers who want the products delivered in one hour pay an additional $7.99.

Prime Now is available only to Amazon Prime customers who pay $99-per-year to have free two-day shipping, access to the company’s Instant Video streaming service, and a library of books through the Kindle Lending Library. Prime subscribers also received a benefit on Wednesday with a special shopping day called Amazon Prime Day, offering a slew of deals on a range of products. The effort worked out for Amazon, as well: Customers around the world ordered 34.4 million items and broke Black Friday records with 398 items ordered per second.

Two-hour delivery is free for Prime customers.

For the time being same-day service is only available in the 60614, 60610, 60654, 60622, 60642 area codes, but the company says it will be adding more as it gears up with the service.

Another thing I thought is interesting is that, according to CNET, Amazon’s recent one-day “Black Friday” sale was so successful. I think the dominant narrative to come out of that day was that it was a bust because the selection was so limited and included items nobody really wanted.

Be that as it may, the day sounds as if it was a success for Amazon, although some detractors persist.

Source: Amazon brings same-day delivery service to Chicago, Indianapolis – CNET

A closed-door secret meeting between ALEC and legislators — with armed guards

This video is from May, but it’s so good I thought I would share it anyway.

It shows a reporter from an Atlanta TV station trying to gain access to a closed-door meeting in a Savannah hotel between corporate lobbyists and Georgia state legislators — complete with armed guards in the form of fully uniformed off-duty sheriff’s deputies.

Sheriffs deputies prepare to escort a reporter for an Atlanta TV station out of the Savannah hotel where ALEC was staging a secret meeti
Sheriffs deputies prepare to escort a reporter for an Atlanta TV station out of the Savannah hotel where ALEC was staging a secret meeting.

The deputies were hired by the meeting’s organizer ALEC, the secretive organization that sponsors these meetings for right-wing legislators around the nation to essentially write bills legislators can then introduce when they get back to their state capitols. 

When voting on whether any proposed bill should be taken back to the particular state legislature from which each meeting’s participants are drawn, lobbyists and legislators have equal votes at these closed-door meetings.

It’s outrageous and happening all the time across the country. 

One of this video segment’s most unbelievable exchanges comes when the reporter starts asking questions of ALEC officials at the Savannah meeting:

When we refused to stop recording our interview with him in the public hallway of the hotel, Meierling said, “OK, well then I’d like to have you escorted out of the building please.” He motioned to the deputies.

“I’m a guest of this hotel,” I said. “I’m actually staying here at this hotel.”

“You are staying at this hotel?” Meierling asked.

We decided to ask our questions.

Keefe: “Why can’t the people who elected them see the process?”
Meierling: “This is a private meeting.”
Keefe: “A private meeting paid for by whom?”
Meierling: “By our members and donors.”
Keefe: “..are lobbyists, correct?”
Meierling: “No.”
Keefe: “They’re not lobbyists, the ones that we recorded in the bar last night aren’t lobbyists that are here as members?”

At that point the ALEC vice president clasped his hands, closed his eyes, and let out a sigh. He then called over the pack of four deputies without saying another word.

Sheriff’s Deputy: “I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
Keefe: “Alright, I’m a guest of the hotel sir.”
Sheriff’s Deputy: “Not for long. Not for long.”
Keefe: “I’m a paying guest of this hotel sir.”
Sheriff’s Deputy: “We’ll take care of that.”
Second Deputy: “We’ll escort you up to your room and you can get your things.”

The deputies called for the hotel manager who ultimately kicked us out of our hotel room for “taking pictures in the hotel.”

I asked the deputies, “did we violate some law or something? I mean are we violating a law?”

The first deputy ignored my question and turned to the second deputy telling him, “Don’t say nothing.”

Welcome to your government by the people for the corporations, everyone. Complete with uniformed, armed police doing their dirty work.

Source: Legislators and corporate lobbyists meet in secret at Georgia resort – Channel 11 Atlanta

What is it about rich people and the ease with which they swindle their workers?

Back when I worked as a food server, as so many of us have done — and I worked at couple of very nice white-linen, waiters-in-tuxes kinds of places — I remember having a couple of bosses/owners who were certainly tough in the sense that they expected you to show up for your shifts, pay attention to your work, know what you were doing and be mature enough to understand that whatever day-to-day problems you might carry in from the outside, you were there to cater to people who were there spending hard-earned dollars.

But as much as it was drudge work, at times, it was often lucrative (by food service standards) and the friendships and laughs I shared with my co-workers will stay with me forever. You felt like you were part of a team. When someone was in the weeds and you had time to help, you did so without hesitation. At the end of your shift you tipped out service bartenders and the bus staff generously if they did a good job for you.

These were people you gladly hung out with after work.

The owners/managers I dealt with cultivated this kind of atmosphere by being, without fail in my experience, fair and genuinely caring when it came to their employees.

Which is why the seeming pervasiveness these days of restaurateurs who fuck over the little guys in their employ seems so foreign to me. Especially in high-end restaurants in places like New York City and San Francisco where so many of the service staff must live hand-to-mouth anyway.

Take the scumbags who run this place in Manhattan:

Celebrity chef Thomas Keller’s Per Se restaurant in Manhattan is one of the world’s most expensive eateries, with diners paying a minimum prix fixe of $310 each for dinner.

And yet the restaurant has been caught charging certain customers for “service charges” that didn’t go to pay the people performing that service.

Now it faces having to pay $500,000 in restitution to employees who should have received this money.

In 2011, the New York State Department of Labor enacted a new Hospitality Wage Order (HWO), which clarified that any mandatory surcharge like a service or “food service” fee would be treated as a gratuity to be distributed to tipped employees. Restaurants can have surcharges that aren’t treated like tips, but the customer must be made aware that the mandatory charge is not going to be used as gratuity.

According to a settlement agreement [PDF] with the office of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the state began investigating Per Se two years ago over allegations that the restaurant was tacking on 20% service charges for banquet and private dining customers. Rather than distribute this fee as tips to wait staff, Per Se was using the 20% surcharge to pay for the general operating expenses of the business without revealing this fact to customers.

In fact, AG’s investigation found that Per Se was allegedly misleading guests into believing that the 20% surcharges were indeed being treated like tips, with statements like “[K]indly note that service/gratuity is certainly included in the pricing.”

What lowlifes.

Not paying legally sufficient wages or paying overtime is bad enough, but to make customers believe the wait staff was being tipped when the money was going into the pockets of the owners — it’s just so scummy and underhanded and cruel.

I am not a white-linen restaurant kind of person. Even if I could afford to eat there, I would not. But if I was so inclined I certainly wouldn’t eat there now until I had proof of some kind they had changed their ways — all of them.

Source: One Of World’s Most Expensive Restaurants Caught Keeping Tips From Waiters – Consumerist

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