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More Top Execs Fired at Financially Troubled Target Corp.

April 25, 2017 Leave a comment

(Breitbart) Over the last few months, retail giant Target Corp. has been desperately cutting costs and canceling long-planned growth programs to regain profitability. As part of its scrambling to finally get into the black, the chain has also been firing top executives, and last week yet another top officer’s scalp was taken.

Target Boycott Cost More Than Anyone Expected; CEO Was BlindsidedOn Thursday Target announced that chief innovation and strategy officer Casey Carl was leaving the company after 20 years on the job. Casey is at least the fifth top executive to leave the company recently, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Despite firing its top innovation officer, Target CEO Brian Cornell released a statementinsisting that “Innovation is alive and well at Target.”

The move might not be a complete shock considering that as its stock price and profits tumbled, early this year the company abruptly canceled two once highly touted innovation and growth projects aimed at bringing Target into the future of retail. Despite these moves, Cornell still claims that “Innovation must be a mind-set, an essential component of every business, every strategy and every team.”

Carl joins a growing list of top officers shown the door at the nationwide retailer. Also fired in the last two years has been Target’s head of stores, head of marketing, its human resources boss, and its chief digital officer.

The scrambling comes after Target suffered three disastrous quarters of sales declines in a row and a loss of over $15 billion this year. The losses came after its April of 2016 announcement that it intended to allow men pretending to be women to use any bathroom or changing room they want to use at any given time.

The announcement sparked millions of people to boycott the company. In one particular case a #BoycottTarget petition organized by the American Family Association has surpassed 1.5 million signatures….

Original Source

11 Ways Trump Has Rolled Back Government Regulations in His First 100 Days

April 25, 2017 1 comment

(The Daily Signal) As President Donald Trump reaches his 100th day in the White House on April 29, he will have worked with Congress to rescind more regulations using the Congressional Review Act than any other president.

Trump Cites Stock Pond While Signing Waters of the U.S. Order“We’re excited about what we’re doing so far. We’ve done more than that’s ever been done in the history of Congress with the CRA,” Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., told The Daily Signal in an interview, referring to the law called the Congressional Review Act.

The Congressional Review Act, the tool Trump and lawmakers are using, allows Congress to repeal executive branch regulations. Once the House and Senate pass a joint resolution disapproving of a particular regulation, the president signs the measure.

Passed in 1996 in concert with the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act and then-Speaker Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America reform agenda, the Congressional Review Act is what the Congressional Research Service calls “an oversight tool that Congress may use to overturn a rule issued by a federal agency.”

The law also prevents agencies from creating similar rules with similar language.

Until this year, the law had been used successfully only once—in 2001, when Congress and President George W. Bush rescinded a regulation regarding workplace injuries promulgated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration during the Clinton administration.

Here’s a look at the 11 regulatory rollbacks Congress has passed and Trump has signed:

  1. Regulations governing the coal mining industry (H.J. Res 41).

Mandated by President Barack Obama and finalized in  2016, these regulations “threatened to put domestic extraction companies and their employees at an unfair disadvantage,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said.

The resolution, signed by Trump in February, repealed the rule and “could save American businesses as much as $600 million annually,” Spicer said.

  1. Regulations defining streams in the coal industry (H.J. Res 38).

“Complying with the regulation would have put an unsustainable financial burden on small mines,” Spicer said.

The so-called Stream Protection Rule included “vague definitions of what classifies as a stream,” Nick Loris, a fellow in energy and environmental policy at The Heritage Foundation, told The Daily Signal in an email, and undoing it does away with ambiguities:

For many regulations promulgated by the Obama administration, they fundamentally disregarded the nature of the federal-state relationship when it comes to energy production and environmental protection.

The Stream Protection Rule … removed flexibility from mining steps and simply ignored that states have regulations in place to protect water quality. State and local environmental agencies’ specific knowledge of their region enables them to tailor regulations to promote economic activity while protecting the habitat and environment….

Is It Time to Break Up Google?

April 25, 2017 Leave a comment

In just 10 years, the world’s five largest companies by market capitalization have all changed, save for one: Microsoft. Exxon Mobil, General Electric, Citigroup and Shell Oil are out and Apple, Alphabet (the parent company of Google), Amazon and Facebook have taken their place.

They’re all tech companies, and each dominates its corner of the industry: Google has an 88 percent market share in search advertising, Facebook (and its subsidiaries Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger) owns 77 percent of mobile social traffic and Amazon has a 74 percent share in the e-book market. In classic economic terms, all three are monopolies.

We have been transported back to the early 20th century, when arguments about “the curse of bigness” were advanced by President Woodrow Wilson’s counselor, Louis Brandeis, before Wilson appointed him to the Supreme Court. Brandeis wanted to eliminate monopolies, because (in the words of his biographer Melvin Urofsky) “in a democratic society the existence of large centers of private power is dangerous to the continuing vitality of a free people.” We need look no further than the conduct of the largest banks in the 2008 financial crisis or the role that Facebook and Google play in the “fake news” business to know that Brandeis was right.

While Brandeis generally opposed regulation — which, he worried, inevitably led to the corruption of the regulator — and instead advocated breaking up “bigness,” he made an exception for “natural” monopolies, like telephone, water and power companies and railroads, where it made sense to have one or a few companies in control of an industry.

Could it be that these companies — and Google in particular — have become natural monopolies by supplying an entire market’s demand for a service, at a price lower than what would be offered by two competing firms? And if so, is it time to regulate them like public utilities?

Consider a historical analogy: the early days of telecommunications.

In 1895 a photograph of the business district of a large city might have shown 20 phone wires attached to most buildings. Each wire was owned by a different phone company, and none of them worked with the others. Without network effects, the networks themselves were almost useless.

The solution was for a single company, American Telephone and Telegraph, to consolidate the industry by buying up all the small operators and creating a single network — a natural monopoly. The government permitted it, but then regulated this monopoly through the Federal Communications Commission.

AT&T (also known as the Bell System) had its rates regulated, and was required to spend a fixed percentage of its profits on research and development. In 1925 AT&T set up Bell Labs as a separate subsidiary with the mandate to develop the next generation of communications technology, but also to do basic research in physics and other sciences. Over the next 50 years, the basics of the digital age — the transistor, the microchip, the solar cell, the microwave, the laser, cellular telephony — all came out of Bell Labs, along with eight Nobel Prizes.

In a 1956 consent decree in which the Justice Department allowed AT&T to maintain its phone monopoly, the government extracted a huge concession: All past patents were licensed (to any American company) royalty-free, and all future patents were to be licensed for a small fee. These licenses led to the creation of Texas Instruments, Motorola, Fairchild Semiconductor and many other start-ups.

True, the internet never had the same problems of interoperability. And Google’s route to dominance is different from the Bell System’s. Nevertheless it still has all of the characteristics of a public utility.

We are going to have to decide fairly soon whether Google, Facebook and Amazon are the kinds of natural monopolies that need to be regulated, or whether we allow the status quo to continue, pretending that unfettered monoliths don’t inflict damage on our privacy and democracy.

It is impossible to deny that Facebook, Google and Amazon have stymied innovation on a broad scale. To begin with, the platforms of Google and Facebook are the point of access to all media for the majority of Americans. While profits at Google, Facebook and Amazon have soared, revenues in media businesses like newspaper publishing or the music business have, since 2001, fallen by 70 percent.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, newspaper publishers lost over half their employees between 2001 and 2016. Billions of dollars have been reallocated from creators of content to owners of monopoly platforms. All content creators dependent on advertising must negotiate with Google or Facebook as aggregator, the sole lifeline between themselves and the vast internet cloud.

It’s not just newspapers that are hurting. In 2015 two Obama economic advisers, Peter Orszag and Jason Furman, published a paper arguing that the rise in “supernormal returns on capital” at firms with limited competition is leading to a rise in economic inequality. The M.I.T. economists Scott Stern and Jorge Guzman explained that in the presence of these giant firms, “it has become increasingly advantageous to be an incumbent, and less advantageous to be a new entrant.”

There are a few obvious regulations to start with. Monopoly is made by acquisition — Google buying AdMob and DoubleClick, Facebook buying Instagram and WhatsApp, Amazon buying, to name just a few, Audible, Twitch, Zappos and Alexa. At a minimum, these companies should not be allowed to acquire other major firms, like Spotify or Snapchat.

The second alternative is to regulate a company like Google as a public utility, requiring it to license out patents, for a nominal fee, for its search algorithms, advertising exchanges and other key innovations.

The third alternative is to remove the “safe harbor” clause in the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which allows companies like Facebook and Google’s YouTube to free ride on the content produced by others. The reason there are 40,000 Islamic State videos on YouTube, many with ads that yield revenue for those who posted them, is that YouTube does not have to take responsibility for the content on its network. Facebook, Google and Twitter claim that policing their networks would be too onerous. But that’s preposterous: They already police their networks for pornography, and quite well.

Removing the safe harbor provision would also force social networks to pay for the content posted on their sites. A simple example: One million downloads of a song on iTunes would yield the performer and his record label about $900,000. One million streams of that same song on YouTube would earn them about $900.

I’m under no delusion that, with libertarian tech moguls like Peter Thiel in President Trump’s inner circle, antitrust regulation of the internet monopolies will be a priority. Ultimately we may have to wait four years, at which time the monopolies will be so dominant that the only remedy will be to break them up. Force Google to sell DoubleClick. Force Facebook to sell WhatsApp and Instagram.

Woodrow Wilson was right when he said in 1913, “If monopoly persists, monopoly will always sit at the helm of the government.” We ignore his words at our peril.

China’s Xi urges restraint on North Korea issue on call with Trump

April 25, 2017 Leave a comment

BEIJING: Chinese President Xi Jinping urged “restraint” on North Korea during a phone call Monday (Apr 24) with US President Donald Trump, days before an American supercarrier is due to arrive in the Korean Peninsula.

The conversation came amid growing concerns that Pyongyang will conduct another nuclear or missile test to mark the 85th anniversary on Tuesday of the founding of its Korean People’s Army.

“(China) hopes that the relevant parties can maintain restraint and avoid actions that would increase tensions in the Korean Peninsula,” Xi said, according to a statement from the foreign ministry.

“The only way to realise denuclearisation in the Korean Peninsula and quickly resolve North Korea’s nuclear problem is for each relevant party to fulfil its duties.”

It was the second phone call between the two leaders since their summit at Trump’s luxury resort in Florida early this month.

Speaking in Sydney on Saturday, US Vice President Mike Pence said the American aircraft carrier Carl Vinson would arrive in the Sea of Japan, bordering the Korean Peninsula, “in a matter of days”.

The ship joined other warships for joint exercises with Japan in the Philippine Sea on Sunday.

Confusion has clouded the carrier group’s whereabouts in recent days after President Donald Trump suggested the “armada” was steaming towards North Korea when in fact it was sent towards Australia.

Pence also renewed calls for Beijing — Pyongyang’s only major ally and largest trade partner — to use its “unique” position to bring Pyongyang to heel.

“The steps we’re seeing China take, in many ways unprecedented steps, bringing economic pressure to bear on North Korea are very welcome,” Pence said.

“We do believe China can do more.”

In February China announced it was halting all imports of coal from North Korea — a crucial earner for Pyongyang — for the rest of the year.

China also issued a stern warning earlier this month that a conflict over North Korea could break out “at any moment”, as Pyongyang vowed a “merciless” response to any US military action.

The comments came ahead of a failed missile test coinciding with the 105th anniversary of the birth of North Korea’s founder, Kim Il-Sung.

The North has ramped up its rhetoric in recent weeks, threatening to hit back against any provocation from the US and its regional allies, Japan and South Korea, which both host large American military contingents.

Before his latest conversation with Xi, Trump called Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, speaking to him about the joint drill between the Carl Vinson and Japan’s Maritime Self-Defence Force.

“I told him that we highly appraise US words and actions that show all options are on the table,” Abe told reporters following the call.

“We completely agreed that we strongly demand restraint by North Korea, which has repeatedly taken dangerous provocative actions.”

President Trump to host unusual meeting with UN Security Council

April 25, 2017 Leave a comment

President Donald Trump

Andrea Mitchell

President Trump will host members of the United Nations Security Council at the White House Monday, a highly unusual meeting made even more startling because of his harsh criticism of the international institution during the campaign and since taking office.

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley is serving this month as the President of the Security Council, a role that rotates each month among the five permanent members: the U.S., Great Britain, France, China and Russia. There are 15 members of the group — but the others, right now including Egypt, Japan, Senegal, Bolivia, Ethiopia, Italy, Kazakhstan, Sweden, Ukraine and Uruguay are non-voting members.

Haley will be attending before the group returns to New York for scheduled Security Council meetings on Tuesday.

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The president’s budget outline proposed deep cuts in the U.S. contribution to the UN, which could dramatically impair its peacekeeping functions around the world.

Other high profile UN functions include refugee relief and vetting of refugee visa applicants to the U.S, the World Health Organization, UNICEF and the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna — the weapons inspectors who monitor Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal.

Diplomatic sources told NBC News the ambassadors are expecting to have coffee at Blair House — also known as the The President’s Guest House — with members of Congress Monday morning and then go to the White House to meet with the President and have lunch.

North Korea will inevitably be a major point of discussion.

China abstained on a UN resolution last week condemning the latest missile test — instead of vetoing it — a symbolic gesture. But Beijing has so far resisted tougher action.

The Trump administration could unilaterally impose much tougher banking sanctions against North Korea if it wanted to — similar to the Obama administration’s past sanctions on Iran — for instance blocking all foreign banks who deal with North Korea from trading in dollars or banking in the U.S. That would be a direct hit on China’s financing of the regime in Pyongyang.

So far, however, the Trump White House has not chosen that route but has repeatedly said “all options are on the table,” implying military action was possible.

Many experts, including former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, have discounted the viability of preemptive military strikes given the proximity of millions of people in Seoul and 28,500 U.S. troops in South Korea, all within artillery range of North Korea if it were to retaliate.

This all comes as an American citizen, a Korean-American accounting instructor, was detained Sunday at the airport in Pyongyang while trying to leave the country after having been there for a month.

The State Department has reached out to Sweden’s embassy, the protectorate for the U.S. in North Korea, to try to obtain his release.

Washington D.C. To Hold Massive “Coordinated Terror Attack” Drill This Wednesday

April 25, 2017 Leave a comment

terrorism-police-militarized

April 26th is shaping up to be a busy day.

As we reported on Friday, that’s when Operation Gotham Shield, an exercise involving FEMA, Homeland Security and a myriad of law enforcement and military agencies and which simulates a nuclear bomb blast over Manhattan, is set to conclude.

Then, as we learned earlier, April 26 is also when the entire Senate will be briefed by Donald Trump and his four top defense and military officials on the situation in North Korea at the White House, an event which Reuters dubbed as “unusual.”

April 26 is also when the USS Carl Vinson is expected to finally arrive off the coast of the Korean Penninsula.

Now, in a statement from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, the regional association reports that “law enforcement officials and other first responders will participate in a full-scale exercise on April 26 designed to prepare for the possibility of a complex coordinated terror attack in the National Capital Region.”

The statement adds that emergency managers who work together at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) planned the exercise to help protect residents by preparing for an attack involving multiple target locations and teams of perpetrators.

The exercise will be conducted across a widespread geographical area. According to the release, the regional exercise will be staged at six sites in the District of Columbia, suburban Maryland and Northern Virginia, and will involve hundreds of police, fire, and emergency medical service personnel and volunteer actors.

The locations include neighborhoods in the northeast and southeast quadrants of the District of Columbia, Prince George’s County, and Arlington and Fairfax Counties.  Residents in those neighborhoods will be notified ahead of time to expect the exercise.

According to Scott Boggs, Managing Director of Homeland Security and Public Safety at COG, “Law enforcement officials practice and exercise their skills on their own regularly because that’s the best way to ensure we are always ready to respond quickly and professionally. On April 26, we’ll go one step further and stage a very realistic emergency event involving multiple sites and actors posing as the casualties.  However, there is no reason for residents to be alarmed because the exercise will occur in a controlled environment.

The is scheduled to take place near or at George Mason University, and last from 8;30am until 4:30pm.

The statement also advises that the only media availability will be in a one hour block before the exercise, from 7:30am – 8:30am on April 26.

Full statement below (link).

Full-scale exercise focused on preparing for complex terror attacks to include National Capital Region first responders, emergency managers

Law enforcement officials and other first responders will participate in a full-scale exercise on April 26 designed to prepare for the possibility of a complex coordinated terror attack in the National Capital Region.

Emergency managers who work together at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) planned the exercise to help protect residents by preparing for an attack involving multiple target locations and teams of perpetrators.

The regional exercise will be staged at six sites in the District of Columbia, suburban Maryland and Northern Virginia, and will involve hundreds of police, fire, and emergency medical service personnel and volunteer actors. The locations include neighborhoods in the northeast and southeast quadrants of the District of Columbia, Prince George’s County, and Arlington and Fairfax Counties.  Residents in those neighborhoods will be notified ahead of time to expect the exercise.

“Law enforcement officials practice and exercise their skills on their own regularly because that’s the best way to ensure we are always ready to respond quickly and professionally,” said Scott Boggs, Managing Director of Homeland Security and Public Safety at COG. “On April 26, we’ll go one step further and stage a very realistic emergency event involving multiple sites and actors posing as the casualties.  However, there is no reason for residents to be alarmed because the exercise will occur in a controlled environment.”

MEDIA AVAILABILITY PRIOR TO EXERCISE ONLY (see details below)

WHEN: Wednesday April 26, 7:30 – 8:30 A.M.

WHERE: Maryland National Capital Park Police Headquarters, 8100 Corporate Drive, Hyattsville, MD 20785

Contact: Jeanne Saddler
Phone: (202) 962-3250
Email: jsaddler@mwcog.org

Is the Silicon Valley Dynasty Coming to an End?

April 25, 2017 Leave a comment

Ethical lapses at some of the tech industry’s biggest companies suggest a chilling reality of what really matters in the world’s most rollicking economy.

It has been said that Silicon Valley, or the 50 or so square-mile area extending from San Francisco to the base of the peninsula, has overseen the creation of more wealth than any place in the history of mankind. It’s made people richer than the oil industry; it has created more money than the Gold Rush. Silicon chips, lines of code, and rectangular screens have even minted more wealth than religious wars.

Wealthy societies, indeed, have their own complicated incentive structures and mores. But they do often tend, as any technological entrepreneur will be quick to remind you, to distribute value across numerous income levels, in a scaled capacity. The Ford line, for instance, may have eventually minted some serious millionaires in Detroit, but it also made transportation cheaper, helped drive down prices on countless consumer goods, and facilitated new trade routes and commercial opportunities. Smartphones, or any number of inventive modern apps or other software products, are no different. Sure, they throw off a lot of money to the geniuses who came up with them, and the people who got in at the ground floor. But they also make possible innumerable other opportunities, financial and otherwise, for their millions of consumers.

Silicon Valley is, in its own right, a dynasty. Instead of warriors or military heroes, it has nerds and people in half-zip sweaters. But it is becoming increasingly likely that the Valley might go down in history not only for its wealth, but also for creating more tone deaf people than any other ecosystem in the history of the world.

In just the past month, the Valley has seemed like it’s happily living in some sort of sadomasochistic bubble worthy of a bad Hollywood satire. Uber has endured a slate of scandals that would have seriously wounded a less culturally popular company (or a public one, for that matter). There was one former employee’s allegation of sexual harassment (which the company reportedly investigated); a report of driver manipulation; an unpleasant video depicting C.E.O. Travis Kalanick furiously berating an Uber driver; a story about secret software that could subvert regulators; a report of cocaine use and groping at holiday parties (an offending manager was fired within hours of the scandal); a lawsuit for potentially buying stolen software from a competitor; more groping; a slew of corporate exits; and a driverless car crash. (The shit will really hit the fan if it turns out that Uber’s self-driving technology was misappropriated from Alphabet’s Waymo; Uber has called the lawsuit “baseless.”)

Then there was Facebook, which held its developer conference while the Facebook Killer was on the loose. As Mat Honan of BuzzFeed put it so eloquently: “People used to talk about Steve Jobs and Apple’s reality distortion field. But Facebook, it sometimes feels, exists in a reality hole. The company doesn’t distort reality—but it often seems to lack the ability to recognize it.”

And we ended the week with the ultimate tone-deaf statement from the C.E.O. of Juicero, the maker of a $700 dollar-soon-reduced-to-$400 dollar juicer that has $120 million in venture backing. After Bloomberg News discovered that you didn’t even need the $700-$400 juicer to make juice (there are, apparently, these things called hands) the company’s chief executive, Jeff Dunn, offered a response on Medium insinuating that he gets up every day to make the world a better place.

Of course, not everyone who makes the pilgrimage out West is, or becomes, a jerk. Some people arrive in the Valley with a philosophy of how to act as an adult. But here’s the problem with that group: most of them don’t vociferously articulate how unsettled they are by the bad actors. Even when journalists manage to cover these atrocious activities, the powers of Silicon Valley try to ridicule them, often in public. Take, for example, the 2015 TechCrunch Disrupt conference, when a reporter asked billionaire investor Vinod Kholsa—who evidently believes that public beaches should belong to rich people—about some of the ethical controversy surrounding the mayonnaise-disruption startup Hampton Creek (I can’t believe I just wrote the words “mayonnaise-disruption”). Khosla responded with a trite and rude retort that the company was fine. When the reporter pressed Khosla, he shut him down by saying, “I know a lot more about how they’re doing, excuse me, than you do.” A year later and the Justice Department opened a criminal investigation into whether the company defrauded investors when employees secretly purchased the company’s own mayonnaise from grocery stores. (The Justice Department has since dropped its investigation.)

When you zoom out of that 50-square-mile area of Silicon Valley, it becomes obvious that big businesses can get shamed into doing the right thing. When it was discovered that Volkswagen lied about emissions outputs, the company’s C.E.O. was forced to resign. The same was true for the chief of Wells Fargo, who was embroiled in a financial scandal. In the wake of it’s recent public scandal, United recently knocked its C.E.O. down a peg. Even Fox News, one of the most bizarrely unrepentant media outlet in America, pushed out two of the most important people at the network over allegations of sexual harassment. (Bill O’Reilly has said that claims against him are “unfounded”; Roger Ailes has vociferously denied allegations of sexual harassment.) Even Wall Street can (sometimes) be forced to be more ethical. Yet Elizabeth Holmes is still C.E.O. of Theranos. Travis Kalanick is still going to make billions of dollars as the chief of Uber when the company eventually goes public. The list goes on and on.

In many respects, this is simply the D.N.A. of Silicon Valley. The tech bubble of the mid-90s was inflated by lies that sent the NASDAQ on a vertiginous downward spike that eviscerated the life savings of thousands of retirees and Americans who believed in the hype. This time around, it seems that some of these business may be real, but the people running them are still as tone deaf regarding how their actions affect other people. Silicon Valley has indeed created some amazing things. One can only hope these people don’t erase it with their hubris.

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