Friday, July 18, 2014

How Not To Fire People

Microsoft laid off 18,000 people yesterday, and the memo that went out with the news is so laden with corporate-speak and happy-talk about someone else’s future stock portfolio that it makes you want to wither and crawl away.  Kevin Roose at New York magazine takes a look.

Typically, when you’re a top executive at a major corporation that is laying off more than 10 percent of your workforce, you say a few things to the newly jobless. Like “sorry.” Or “thank you for your many years of service.” Or even “we hate doing this, but it’s necessary to help the company survive.”

What you don’t do is bury the news of the layoffs in the 11th paragraph of a long, rambling corporate strategy memo.

And yet, this was Microsoft honcho Stephen Elop’s preferred method for announcing to his employees today that 12,500 of them were being laid off. (18,000 are being laid off companywide; Elop, the former head of Nokia, oversees the company’s devices unit, which was hardest hit by the layoffs.)

How bad was Elop’s job-axing memo? Really, really bad. It’s so bad that I can’t even really convey its badness. I just have to show you.

Here’s how it starts:

Hello there,

Hello there? Hello there? Out of all the possible “you’re losing your job” greetings, you chose the one that sounds like the start to a bad OKCupid message? “Hello there” isn’t how you announce layoffs; it’s what you say right before you ask, “What’s a girl like you doing on a site like this? ;) ” It’s the fedora of greetings.

Read the whole thing, and then go out and buy a Macbook.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A Bitter Pill

The consensus among the commetariat about yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling on the Hobby Lobby case seems to be a collective “Well, it could have been worse.”

Yes, the court could have decided that for-profit companies have the same religious rights as a person — much as they did in the Citizens United case, giving free speech rights to corporations — but instead narrowly found that closely-held companies — those that aren’t publicly traded, basically — could, on contraception only, get away with dictating to their employees what kind of birth control they could use.  But still telling us that it could have been worse isn’t much consolation, and the ramifications go far beyond just some Christians who don’t know much about IUD’s but know a hell of a lot about minding the way other people spend their money.

There is some good points made by people who know the law trade far better than I do about what this ruling means, including Eric Loomis at LGM and Kate McDonough at Salon.  From the latter:

To sum it up, five male justices ruled that thousands of female employees should rightfully be subjected to the whims of their employers. That women can be denied a benefit that they already pay for and is guaranteed by federal law. That contraception is not essential healthcare. That corporations can pray. That the corporate veil can be manipulated to suit the needs of the corporation. That bosses can cynically choose à la carte what laws they want to comply with and which laws they do not. Each specific finding opens a door to a new form of discrimination and unprecedented corporate power. If you think this ruling won’t affect you, you haven’t been paying attention. If you think these corporations are going to stop at birth control, you’re kidding yourself.

(By the way, it should be noted that not just women use birth control.  I may be gay, but I do know that men have a part to play in the reproductive process, and their lives can be impacted by making it harder for people to have access to contraception as well.  Also, the pill isn’t just for birth control.  There are a number of other medical reasons for taking it.  That tidbit of news seemed to escape the grasp of Justice Alito et al.)

The Republicans are rejoicing, not just because this is seen as a smackdown for Obamacare and a win for their Religious Reich handlers, but because now they can campaign on preserving the sanctity of corporate faith and family values.  Yeah, that will really win with the womenfolk vote.  Going into the elections of 2014 and 2016 embracing the morals framed in 19th century era patriarchy will win the day, I’m sure.  As Steve Benen notes,

Congratulations, Republicans, you’ve won your big case at the Supreme Court, and positioned yourself this election as the 21st century political party that supports restrictions on contraception access. The party saw a political landmine and decided to do a victory dance on it. We’ll see how this turns out for them.

 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Solar Flare

Just in time for Earth Day:

Homeowners and businesses that wish to generate their own cheap, renewable energy now have a force of conservative political might to contend with, and the Koch brothers are leading the charge. The L.A. Times, to its credit, found the positive spin to put on this: Little old solar “has now grown big enough to have enemies.”

The escalating battle centers over two ways traditional utilities have found to counter the rapidly growing solar market: demanding a share of the power generated by renewables and opposing net metering, which allows solar panel users to sell the extra electricity they generate back to the grid — and without which solar might no longer be affordable. The Times reports on the conservative heavyweights making a fossil fuel-powered effort to make those things happen:

The Koch brothers, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist and some of the nation’s largest power companies have backed efforts in recent months to roll back state policies that favor green energy. The conservative luminaries have pushed campaigns in Kansas, North Carolina and Arizona, with the battle rapidly spreading to other states.

…The American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, a membership group for conservative state lawmakers, recently drafted model legislation that targeted net metering. The group also helped launch efforts by conservative lawmakers in more than half a dozen states to repeal green energy mandates.

“State governments are starting to wake up,” Christine Harbin Hanson, a spokeswoman for Americans for Prosperity, the advocacy group backed by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch, said in an email. The organization has led the effort to overturn the mandate in Kansas, which requires that 20% of the state’s electricity come from renewable sources.

Rachel Maddow reported last night that the state of Oklahoma, the leader in backwards thinking, has passed a law that charges homeowners for using solar panels.

The reason is obvious: solar and other renewable energy sources are a threat to the oil industry, and in America, oil rules.  If the Koch brothers’ fortune had come from the glass panel business, they’d make it their mission to put solar panels on everything.  That’s the way capitalism works, and that’s why they’re buying up every state legislature with more than 100 sunny days in the calendar year.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Where The Money Is

Someone knocked off televangelist Joel Osteen’s church.

Joel Osteen recently reported the theft of $600,000 from the safe in his church, but the theft wasn’t the only information of interest revealed. After finding out that this large chunk of money was from just one weekend of Osteen’s collected church donations, jaws dropped around the nation.

According to News Max on March 18, it didn’t take long for folks on the outside to do the math. Based on Osteen’s reported amount of money in this theft, it appears his Lakewood Church takes in $32 million a year. Calculator keys were punched around the nation taking the $600,000 for Olsteen’s [sic] weekend donation collection and timing this by the 52 weeks in a year.

Many consider this a conservative estimate of donations this church receives, as March is just an average month with no holidays for the church. The spirit of giving around the holidays has to net this church more than the average week. Then there’s Easter and other holidays.

All of it tax-free, too.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Friday, February 7, 2014

AOHell

When the Revolution comes, this guy should be the first to go.

Tim Armstrong should probably stop doing conference calls. The AOL CEO, who fired a guy during one for taking his picture, was perhaps too brash once again today, baldly telling his entire company that their benefits were being rolled back because two women went and got themselves pregnant. “Two things that happened in 2012,” Armstrong said, according to a transcript obtained by Capital New York. “We had two AOL-ers that had distressed babies that were born that we paid a million dollars each to make sure those babies were okay in general. And those are the things that add up into our benefits cost. So when we had the final decision about what benefits to cut because of the increased health-care costs, we made the decision, and I made the decision, to basically change the 401(k) plan.”

Earlier, on TV, Armstrong said, “As a CEO and as a management team, we had to decide, do we pass the $7.1 million of Obamacare costs to our employees? Or do we try to eat as much of that as possible and cut other benefits?”

First off, AOL is still in business?  I thought they went out with Windows 3.0 and Home Improvement.

Second, blaming “distressed babies” and Obamacare for cutting benefits to the rest of the AOL staff shows that this pondscum doesn’t know how to run a business.  Wages and benefits should be factored into the price of what you’re selling, not the profit.  Of course, you have to sell something in the first place….

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Games People Play

This Sunday I will keep my record intact and not watch the Super Bowl for the tenth year in a row.  It’s not that I have anything against either the Denver Broncos or the Seattle Seahawks, but I have a tough time getting all excited about something that is so overhyped that the game itself becomes nearly an afterthought.

The same goes for the Olympics.  Setting aside the homophobia and genuine concern about safety in Sochi, it’s so hard to actually see anything resembling a sporting competition at the games without it having been tweaked and peaked to a level that would make a drag queen blush.  The only thing I’ll watch will be the opening ceremony, and that’s because some good friends are hosting their Olympic feast.  They do this every two years with dishes from the host country.  I’m expecting to be treated to some delicious borscht and blini.

Am I the only one who’s being a grumble-bunny about these two monumental paeans to the meth-like combination of sports and consumerism?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

At A Minimum

Fast food workers in South Florida are joining the protest for higher wages.

Protesters will gather at different restaurants in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach as they seek to have their wages raised to $15 an hour.

Right now, employees of fast food restaurants claim they’re living at or just above the poverty line, with the average pay for a fast food worker at $8.94.

Some argue that the low pay forces these workers to take government assistance, meaning tax dollars, and claim it’s slowing down the economy.

Some workers even claim they can’t afford to pay for clothes for their kids working these jobs.

The protest, the third in the nation since last spring, is set to take place at noon. According to organizers, the demonstration will include rap battles against the fast food industry.

Do the math.  If you earn $8.94 an hour and work full-time — 40 hours a week — you would earn $18,592 a year before taxes.  We don’t need to get into the intricacies of the tax code, but even assuming that there’s only Social Security and Medicare taken out, you’re down to $17,172 a year.  If you’re at the federal minimum wage level of $7.25 an hour set in 1998, you’re grossing $15,080, net $13,926.  It’s $1,161 a month.  Try living on that.  And many minimum wage earners are not full-timers, so it’s even less.  Many of them are not single teenagers living with their parents; they’re all ages, many with dependents, or they’re elderly trying to close the gap between a pension, Social Security, and the avoidance of Tender Vittles for dinner again tonight.

President Obama is backing the effort to raise the minimum wage to $10.10.  That would barely catch it up to the average cost of living, grossing out at $21,008 a year.  That’s an improvement — certainly better than the status quo — but again, figure in taxes and you’re barely breaking $19,000.  That sounds like a pretty good annual income — it did to me in 1990 — but then I was paying $500 a month in rent, I had a partner who was making about the same, and it was 27 years ago.

The workers in California are asking for $15 an hour.  That would bring the gross up to over $30,000.  A lot of corporations are saying that’s too much; they would have to raise prices and it becomes a vicious cycle.  There’s good arguments for both sides, but it’s clear that $7.25 an hour is way too low in this economy.  Minimum wage earners have to make up the difference somehow, either through the social safety net of food stamps and housing assistance from the government, which we all pay for.  It makes a hell of a lot more sense to pay workers enough money that they don’t need to rely on the kindness of the tax code.

And there’s one more thing.  Knowing you’re earning a salary that doesn’t make you shop for food with kittens on the label might tend to help with the morale and enthusiasm for the job, which translates to a better work place and a minimally better life.

Ghost Writers

The American Legislative Exchange Council, aka ALEC, those wonderful folks who gave us the Arizona immigration law, voter-ID legislation, and are now trying to spread Stand Your Ground to all fifty states, had a convention in Washington, D.C. recently.  And by convention, I mean a semi-secret conclave that rounded up right-wing legislators from around the country so they could get their marching orders from the Koch brothers.  Thanks to a document dump at The Guardian, we now know that they want legislation that will penalize homeowners who save energy with solar panels.

An alliance of corporations and conservative activists is mobilising to penalise homeowners who install their own solar panels – casting them as “freeriders” – in a sweeping new offensive against renewable energy, the Guardian has learned.

Over the coming year, the American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec) will promote legislation with goals ranging from penalising individual homeowners and weakening state clean energy regulations, to blocking the Environmental Protection Agency, which is Barack Obama’s main channel for climate action.

Details of Alec’s strategy to block clean energy development at every stage – from the individual rooftop to the White House – are revealed as the group gathers for its policy summit in Washington this week.

About 800 state legislators and business leaders are due to attend the three-day event, which begins on Wednesday with appearances by the Wisconsin senator Ron Johnson and the Republican budget guru and fellow Wisconsinite Paul Ryan.

Other Alec speakers will be a leading figure behind the recent government shutdown, US senator Ted Cruz of Texas, and the governors of Indiana and Wyoming, Mike Pence and Matt Mead.

In a way, you have to admire their ingenuity.  Most state legislators aren’t experts at writing laws: it’s complicated, time-consuming, and there are all those annoyances like listening to constituents drone on and on about their petty little concerns like losing their health insurance or high utility bills.  It’s a gift to have a helpful group like ALEC come along and hand out pre-packaged and field-tested legislation that does all the right things and is guaranteed to meet with the approval of the powerful lobbyists because they wrote it.  The only catch is that they have to swear a blood oath that they will “will act with care and loyalty and put the interests of the organization first.”  That organization being ALEC, not the Constitution.

One thing ALEC doesn’t like is publicity, which to them is always a bad thing, and they hit a rough patch when it was revealed that they were behind the Stand Your Ground laws that made the news when Trayvon Martin was killed in Florida and the man responsible for his death was acquitted in part to the law.  Corporate sponsors began to run away and took their funding with them.  Once the light comes on, the cockroaches scatter.

Charlie Pierce is on to them:

Nobody has any excuse any longer. Reporters — local and national — no longer have any excuse to treat ALEC and its work product as anything more than corporate-funded propaganda designed to exist outside the imperatives of democratic self-government. Voters — local and national — no longer have any excuse that they were somehow fooled by their representatives, who were acting out of loyalty to some distant boardroom and not to the people who elected them. Democratic parties — local and national — no longer have any excuse to keep from crushing this organization in whatever new guise it chooses to camouflage itself and its agenda. That last part — the “draft agreement” by which state legislators agree to be big old ‘ho’s for the people who run ALEC — should be politically suicidal. It’s long past time to ACORN these bastards in the public mind.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

McEnomics

Here’s some helpful advice from McDonald’s on how to get through the holidays without breaking open the piggy bank.

McDonald’s McResource Line, a dedicated website run by the world’s largest fast-food chain to provide its 1.8 million employees with financial and health-related tips, offers a full page of advice for “Digging Out From Holiday Debt.” Among their helpful holiday tips: “Selling some of your unwanted possessions on eBay or Craigslist could bring in some quick cash.”

Elsewhere on the site, McDonald’s encourages its employees to break apart food when they eat meals, as “breaking food into pieces often results in eating less and still feeling full.” And if they are struggling to stock their shelves with food in the first place, the company offers assistance for workers applying for food stamps.

Here’s another suggestion: Pay your employees a living wage.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

At A Minimum

Via ThinkProgress:

A Walmart in northeast Ohio is holding a holiday canned food drive — for its own underpaid employees. “Please Donate Food Items Here, so Associates in Need Can Enjoy Thanksgiving Dinner,” a sign reads in the employee lounge of a Canton-area Walmart.

Kory Lundberg, a Walmart spokesman, says the drive is a positive thing. “This is part of the company’s culture to rally around associates and take care of them when they face extreme hardships,” he said. Indeed, Lundberg is correct that it’s commendable to make an effort to help out those who are in need, especially during the holidays.

But the need for a food drive illustrates how difficult it is for Walmart workers to get by on its notoriously low pay. The company has long been plagued by charges that it doesn’t pay its employees a real living wage.

So what does it tell you about the “company’s culture” when you pay employees such a low wage they have hold a food drive for some of them?

Did you know that the Walton family is worth $150 billion?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Breaking News: Insurance Companies Screw You Over

Via TPM:

Across the country, insurance companies have sent misleading letters to consumers, trying to lock them into the companies’ own, sometimes more expensive health insurance plans rather than let them shop for insurance and tax credits on the Obamacare marketplaces — which could lead to people like Donna spending thousands more for insurance than the law intended. In some cases, mentions of the marketplace in those letters are relegated to a mere footnote, which can be easily overlooked.

The extreme lengths to which some insurance companies are going to hold on to existing customers at higher price, as the Affordable Care Act fundamentally re-orders the individual insurance market, has caught the attention of state insurance regulators.

The insurance companies argue that it’s simply capitalism at work. But regulators don’t see it that way. By warning customers that their health insurance plans are being canceled as a result of Obamacare and urging them to secure new insurance plans before the Obamacare launched on Oct. 1, these insurers put their customers at risk of enrolling in plans that were not as good or as affordable as what they could buy on the marketplaces.

TPM has confirmed two specific examples where companies contacted their customers prior to the marketplace’s Oct. 1 opening and pushed them to renew their health coverage at a higher price than they would pay through the marketplace. State regulators identified the schemes, but they weren’t necessarily able to stop them.

It’s not yet clear how widespread this practice became in the months leading up to the marketplace’s opening — or how many Americans will end up paying more than they should be for health coverage. But misleading letters have been sent out in at least four states across the country, and one offending carrier, Humana, is a company with a national reach.

I’m shocked, shocked, I tell you.

The odds of Congress investigating this rampant fraud are roughly the same as me winning the Mr. Universe contest, but let the healthcare.gov website crash overnight and it’s Benghazi! and Watergate all over again.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Life Stinks When You’re Rich

This guy seriously thinks he’s the victim here.

AIG’s CEO Robert Benmosche — who came in to rescue the company after the 2008 financial crisis — told the Wall Street Journal that the outrage over the bonuses promised to AIG’s members was just as bad as when white supremacists in the American South used to lynch African Americans:

The uproar over bonuses “was intended to stir public anger, to get everybody out there with their pitchforks and their hangman nooses, and all that — sort of like what we did in the Deep South [decades ago]. And I think it was just as bad and just as wrong.”

Yes, enduring some public criticism for receiving multimillion-dollar bonuses after helping crash the global economy is a lot like being hanged from a tree by your neck until you die.

I believe the words you’re looking for are “Bite me.”

Friday, July 26, 2013

Halliburton Pleads Guilty

Somehow this news is not really a big surprise.

Halliburton Energy Services has agreed to plead guilty to destroying evidence in connection with the 2010 Gulf oil spill, the Department of Justice said Thursday.

Federal officials said in a news release that a criminal information charging Hallburton with one count of destruction of evidence was filed in federal court in Louisiana.

Halliburton has agreed to pay the maximum fine, be on probation for three years and continue to cooperate with the government’s criminal investigation, said the news release, which did not spell out the fine amount.

The Houston-based company has also made a $55 million voluntary contribution to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. It was not a condition of the court agreement, the news release says.

Oh, that contribution to the foundation is a nice touch: “See, we’re really not all evil.  Here, have the change that we found in the sofa cushions.”

And that’s not all:

Halliburton Co, the largest provider of pressure pumping services used in hydraulic fracturing, said on Thursday it had also been contacted by the U.S. government regarding potential antitrust issues in the pressure pumping market.

Halliburton said it had received an information request from the Department of Justice. In a quarterly filing on Wednesday, rival Baker Hughes Inc disclosed the receipt of a civil investigative demand from the DOJ on May 30.

“We understand there have been other participants in the industry who have received similar correspondence from the DOJ, and we do not believe that we are being singled out for any particular scrutiny,” Halliburton said in a statement.

Halliburton, without disclosing what the government was seeking, said it was cooperating with the investigation.

What ever happened to the good old days when a company could do whatever they wanted?  What’s good for Halliburton is good for America, right?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

McBudget

McDonalds is giving helpful advice to their workers so they can live the American dream.

McDonalds has partnered with Visa to launch a website to help its low-wage workers making an average $8.25 an hour to budget. But while the site is clearly meant to illustrate that McDonalds workers should be able to live on their meager wages, it actually underscores exactly how hard it is for a low-paid fast food worker to get by.

The site includes a sample”‘budget journal” for McDonalds’ employees that offers a laughably inaccurate view of what it’s like to budget on a minimum wage job. Not only does the budget leave a spot open for “second job,” it also gives wholly unreasonable estimates for employees’ costs: $20 a month for health care, $0 for heating, and $600 a month for rent. It does not include any budgeted money for food or clothing.

Their solution is to have two jobs, no heat, and live in a place that rents for $600 a month.

Take it from someone who knows a little about household budgeting and budgeting in general: this is Mitt Romney 1% bullshit to think that people can actually live like that.

Here’s a better solution: pay the people more than $8.25 an hour.  Oh, and turn the heat back on.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Welcome Home, Soldier

Here’s a little justice for the men and women who serve and then got served.

Members of the U.S. military whose homes were unlawfully foreclosed upon between 2006 and 2010 will receive about $39 million from subsidiaries of Bank of America and Morgan Stanley, the U.S. Justice Department announced on Thursday.

Each of 316 service members will receive at least $116,785, plus compensation and with interest, for any home equity lost.

It should be noted that the banks did not do this out of the goodness of their hearts.  They did it under threat of suit from the Justice Department.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Here Come the Clampetts

Matt Taibbi sums up the bailout of Wall Street.

It has been four long winters since the federal government, in the hulking, shaven-skulled, Alien Nation-esque form of then-Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, committed $700 billion in taxpayer money to rescue Wall Street from its own chicanery and greed. To listen to the bankers and their allies in Washington tell it, you’d think the bailout was the best thing to hit the American economy since the invention of the assembly line. Not only did it prevent another Great Depression, we’ve been told, but the money has all been paid back, and the government even made a profit. No harm, no foul – right?

Wrong.

It was all a lie – one of the biggest and most elaborate falsehoods ever sold to the American people. We were told that the taxpayer was stepping in – only temporarily, mind you – to prop up the economy and save the world from financial catastrophe. What we actually ended up doing was the exact opposite: committing American taxpayers to permanent, blind support of an ungovernable, unregulatable, hyperconcentrated new financial system that exacerbates the greed and inequality that caused the crash, and forces Wall Street banks like Goldman Sachs and Citigroup to increase risk rather than reduce it. The result is one of those deals where one wrong decision early on blossoms into a lush nightmare of unintended consequences. We thought we were just letting a friend crash at the house for a few days; we ended up with a family of hillbillies who moved in forever, sleeping nine to a bed and building a meth lab on the front lawn.

And now AIG, one of the companies we helped get through rehab — and is now running a PR campaign to say “Thank you” — is thinking about suing the U.S. government because their stockholders didn’t get a pony.

Digby says that’s chutzpah.  Wrong; it’s typical.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Place To Start

Charlie Pierce has a suggestion on how to institute gun control: go after the companies that make and sell them.

This could be the start of something real — a disinvestment campaign, modeled on the one aimed at companies doing business in South Africa and, later, at the tobacco industry, on the part of police, and fire, and school teachers’ unions to remove their money from the marketing end of mass killing. A campaign that would redefine gun violence as a public-health crisis, as David Satcher tried to do years ago, and to redefine it on the balance sheet, where that would really count. This could be the start of holding the people who really make the money accountable for how they make it. You could close the NRA tomorrow, and they’d be another lobbying arm started up by armaments money within the hour. You could shoot Wayne LaPierre to the moon, and they’d be 100 other lobbyists lining up to take his place. Both LaPierre and the NRA serve not their members, but  weapons manufacturers. (That’s why all those polls about “rank and file” NRA members who support, say, background checks, are worthless. At its top, the organization no more answers to them than it does to the Brady Campaign.) The paranoia stoked by NRA fundraising — which, alas, seems to have worked its dark magic on Adam Lanza’s mother — is not directed merely against sensible gun legislation. It’s to sell more guns to the people who marinate themselves in that paranoia, so the people who make the guns can make even more money. That’s the place you want to paint the bullseye.

This is America, after all: the place where everyone wants to make a buck… and then go out and shoot one.