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Teri Bernstein, MBA, CPA has been teaching full time in the Business Department of Santa Monica College since 1985.  Prior to that, she worked in Internal Audit and Special Financial Projects for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, CBS, Inc., and Coopers & Lybrand (which is now part of PricewaterhouseCoopers).  She attended the University of Michigan and Wayne State University.

  • Net neutrality: Speak out now, for or against...

    [View: utility/ :550:0] Video of John Oliver on Last Week Tonight, [warning regarding language] via YouTube If you want a painless way to learn about the ostensibly boring (but important) topic of "Net Neutrality," then listen to the John Oliver piece. Unfortunately, you have to be willing to endure a lot of bad language. Basically, phone/cable companies (specifically, Comcast , Verizon and AT&T ) want to end the practice of equal access to internet bandwidth. They want to implement a two-tier system that would allow big phone and cable companies premium access, and slower access for the rest of us. The Slate article linked below does a summary of some of the salient points of the issue: " Traditionally, with a few exceptions, the cable and phone companies have not blocked particular websites or discriminated in favor or against any of them. For the past decade, the FCC has made it clear it would punish a cable or phone company for deviating from providing 'neutral' access. In January, the FCC lost an important court decision, which said that the FCC does not have the authority to stop phone or cable companies from discriminating against websites or creating “'ast' and 'slow lanes' on the Internet—unless the FCC chooses to act under a particular part of the law known as Title II. Rather than act under Title II, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has proposed a rule that would permit the phone and cable companies to engage in discrimination, subject to fairly useless conditions. The FCC has received tens of thousands of citizen comments and stern letters from open Internet supporters in the Senate and Congress. The president—who repeatedly promised that he would ensure neutral access to the Internet without paid-for fast lanes—has provided almost no support for Wheeler, with the White House issuing distancing press statements. The chairman’s two fellow Democratic commissioners critiqued his plan publicly. " Oliver provided additional perspective regarding some of the operational tidbits regarding the big phone/cable companies. And almost everyone has agreed with him. But on the other side of the issue--in favor of the two-tier system are: Comcast, Verizon and AT&T politicians and citizens who oppose "anything Obama is for" the FCC chairman, Tom Wheeler, and Jon Healey, who wrote an opinion piece this week in the Los Angeles Times that has some internet traction Healey makes the point that Oliver is mainly a comedian, and should not be taken seriously. He also says, " The real question is what's the best way to preserve the Internet as an open platform for innovation and content, without interference from the cable and phone companies that dominate the market for broadband connections ." He mentions that many conservative and liberal observers oppose the FCC messing with the current open situation. These are not really arguments that support his opposition to Oliver's position. Nevertheless, the headline seems to be opposed. Since this is an issue which will have a major effect on everyone who uses the internet, it is probably important to have an opinion and to take advantage of a unique opportunity to state your opinion at the highest level. In case you want to actually comment where your comments will count, contact the FCC yourself at this website: Source: " John Oliver’s Hilarious Net Neutrality Piece Speaks the Truth...and nothing but ," by Marvin Ammori, Slate, June 6, 2014. " John Oliver finds humor in net neutrality, but loses the facts ," by Jon Healey, The Los Angeles Times Opinion , June 5, 2014. F ollow up: What arguments can you make IN FAVOR OF a change in the law to allow two-tiers of internet band width? Weigh those arguments against strengthening protections to keep the internet open. According to the Slate article, what are the more nuanced Business Law issues that are part of the net neutrality issue?
  • Maximizing productivity: take the strengths survey

    image from the No one can be productive at work when they are preoccupied with their problems or wallowing in unhappiness. According to the consultants at Energy Strategy (based in Amsterdam), a key to maintaining personal happiness is cultivating your strengths. Since many of us find it difficult to identify our own strengths, it is best to ask people who know you well...or take this Character Strengths Survey (it is the near the bottom of the list). The survey results will identify five strengths. Then you can make of list of what gives you pleasure and another list of what, if you were at the end of your life, would you look back on and feel had meaning. Match up your strengths with what gives you pleasure and meaning, and you have some paths to happiness. Making rituals to remind you to take actions multiple times per day to give your strengths an opportunity to influence your environment, and you have a chance at increasing your happiness--in spite of what your natural state seems to be. If you are at work, your strengths are what will build your success. I did these activities at a workshop--and, simple though they seem, they were not easy. I was a little at odds with one of the strengths that both the survey and friends had identified in me: bravery. How could that lead to pleasure or meaning? Most of the times in my life where I have acted bravely have been extremely uncomfortable. One of the young people in my breakout group had an interesting insight. She asked how I felt in the moments or days before I took an action that required bravery. Did I feel torn? In an ethical dilemma? Was I afraid? Did taking action relieve any of these negative feelings? Were there positive results? She had a good point. Acting from bravery led to being less unhappy, if not happier. And those actions produced positive outcomes in the long run. Hmmm. For most people, identifying strengths and building on those strengths can lead to increased satisfaction and business success. Can you identify your strengths? Source: " Happier at Work: How to Embed the Science of Happiness in the Way We Work " by Rens ter Weijde for Energy Strategy , workshop May 31, 2014. F ollow up: Take the survey. What are your five identified strengths? How do you resonate with those strengths? How are you at odds with those strengths? How can you see applying these exercises to improving your work performance or managing others?
  • Buzzfeeds believe it or not Business Facts!

    image from the "article" linked below... Buzzfeed--which often links the social-networker to cute kitten videos--periodically posts various items that will "Blow Your Mind." This business communication technique (hyperbole) is a primitive way to generate excitement and urge viewers to click through to the "article." What is the purpose of this type of article? Buzzfeed makes it money from generating clicks is the purpose of a headline like this. I clicked through to find article inspiration for this blog...but the whole set up of this was interesting from a business communication point of view. In other words, nothing on the list really did "blow my mind".... Source: " 57 Fascinating Business Facts That Will Blow Your Mind " by Jessica Misener, BuzzFeed Business, March 21, 2014. F ollow up: How many ads did your run into when you viewed Buzzfeed's List of Business Facts? What products were offered? Did you find anything substantive in the list that added to your general knowledge? Did you research any items to find out additional information or see if they were true? Define hyperbole and give other examples of hyperbole
  • California dream or tragic corruption?

    image from Two widely divergent opinions are expressed in the linked article. Corruption and collusion are alleged by those supporting one side of this issue. Fairness is alleged by those supporting the other side. In any event, the issue--a loan program for California high school graduates without U.S. citizenship--highlights how divergent opinions can be when money is involved. The communication techniques on both sides of the issue can be identified and analyzed by a critically-thinking reader. What arguments are emotional? What arguments are fact-based? How are hyperbole used by each side? Identify, for each side, the selection of only those facts that support their position. Demographic predictions for the state of California--and their implications for business--seem to have been ignored by both sides. Nevertheless, demographics are usually a major factor in the business economy. Source: " Senator Lara Announces the California Dream Loan Program–College Loans for Illegal Aliens " by Stephen Frank, California Political News and Views, April 4, 2014. F ollow up: Putting your personal feelings aside, analyze the positions taken in the linked article with respect to principles of business communication. What effect might SB 1210 have on small business in California? Read the demographic data on Report P-1(Race) as you form your thesis. Comment on the communication techniques used by those posting comments to the linked article.
  • Brainstorm: harnessing the amazing and wonderful adolescent brain

    [View: utility/ :550:0] Full length video via YouTube If you are between the ages of 12 and 24--this book can empower you and help you become more effective in your business life and in your personal life. If you are an educator or a manager, it can provide guidelines about motivating students or employees. If you a public policy wonk, it can provide you with the template for an incubator that could solve the world's problems. But if you are an entrepreneur looking to make a fast buck, there is no magic bullet here. A classic way to make money is to create a problem or a need and sell a product or a service that will fix that problem or assuage that need. Demonizing "the teenage brain" and naming diseases and syndromes to identify as a "problem" what may in fact be a natural evolutionary necessity creates business opportunities. Therapists, counselors, pharmaceutical companies, testing laboratories and departments in institutions of higher learning can all profit. If the characteristics of the adolescent brain are hard-wired as part of human growth--making this a problem to be solved is, from a marketing perspective, a huge and unending potential source of revenue. The author of this book takes a different perspective. He argues that the human brain is infinitely "programmable," and that each individual is the best programmer for their own brain. He also argues that the years between 12 and 24 are like a Silicon Valley incubator (or "start-up accelerator") . Any effort during this time period can bring greater life-time rewards. And some of the most effective tools are totally free. The investment requires a small amount of time daily, and the willingness to be in charge of one's own personal brain development. Source: " Brainstorm " by Dan Siegel, M.D., published by Tarcher, 2014. F ollow up: Are the approaches suggested by Dr. Siegel low-risk or high-risk investments? If you were managing a department with individuals in their first jobs out of college, how could you apply some of these principles in a practical way?
  • "Chef": social media meets career path crossroads

    [View: / :550:0] trailer of the movie "CHEF" from YouTube By most accounts, "Chef" is not a profound film, but it is an engaging story that coincidentally highlights several aspects relevant to business and career realities. Here are some of the highlights (spoiler alert): a chef is at odds with his boss: the boss wants a conservative menu; the chef wants to be creative the boss gives the chef an ultimatum a food critic uses Twitter to soundly criticize the chef the chef learns about Twitter from his son, but responds to a tweet in what he thinks is a personal environment, but what is in fact, the Twitter universe emotional outburst gets viral attention, leading to the end of the chef's employment career path crossroads: chef starts a food truck the best-of-all-possible outcomes evolves For business students, this stream of events produces some obvious questions: Can being fired be the best of all possible events? Is Twitter a profound and effective marketing medium for a restaurant? What are the regulatory requirements for setting up a food truck in various states or other jurisdictions? Is being an entrepreneur the answer to every worker's dreams of real fulfillment and financial success? Can financial backing realistically materialize in the way it does in this movie? However these questions are answered, "Chef" remains an engaging and inspirational advocate for the entrepreneurial spirit. Sources: "‘ Chef’ movie review: Jon Favreau makes a satisfying return to his indie roots , " by Michael O'Sullivan, Washington Post , May 15, 2014. F ollow up: What would you do if you were in a job where you felt your best qualities were not appreciated by your boss? What are the pros and cons of taking action--either for the character in the movie, or as you would imagine in your own situation? Are you a Twitter user? Have you ever been a part of a communication situation that has spiraled out of control? What examples from fairly current events can you cite where Twitter users did not understand the way that Twitter works...with unfortunate and unforeseen consequences?
  • Have a lot of followers? ZAP: In Russia, you're now a regulated media outlet

    cartoon from The Moscow Times article (in translation) Censorship is alive and well in Russia. Putin just signed a law that requires bloggers with more than 3,000 daily readers to register with the government as a "media outlet". But the bloggers are caught between Scylla and Charibdis . The law means that they have to abide by the same requirements legally to substantiate what they are saying on their blogs. However, because they are not "journalists," they are not allowed to make the official inquiries that could actually grant them the resources to provide the required documentation. Bloggers are stuck--not being able to write about the issues and situations that they find egregious if they cannot document them fully. Putin viewed the internet as a "special CIA project" in justifying this law. And he is not alone in tightening censorship of the internet. Crackdowns in China, Turkey, Venezuela and Pakistan have also occurred recently. Even in the United States, the recent controversy over "net neutrality" and broadband access has implications for free speech and censorship. The internet is a powerful platform for the dissemination of ideas...and where there is power, there is often a fight for control. Source: " Russia Quietly Tightens Reins on Web With ‘Bloggers Law’ , " by Neil MacFarquhar, the New York Times , May 6, 2014. F ollow up: What does "between Scylla and Charybdis" mean? What is another idiom that means the same thing? What other reference (from the article" refers to the same predicament? Why do you think there are so many cultural references to this situation? Think about the blogs that you read. What would be the pros and cons of these requirements being placed on the blogs with which you are familiar? Give specific examples.
  • Berkshire Hathaway: TRUST is matter what others say

    [View: :550:0] video from WSJ: Woodstock for Capitalists Charlie Munger, vice chairperson of Berkshire Hathaway ,was at " Woodstock for Capitalists " recently. Munger is a long-time friend of Warren Buffet. Munger's take-away quote: “ By the standards of the rest of the world, we overtrust. So far it has worked very well for us. Some would see it as weakness.” The statement was a response to the overwhelming trend in businesses and educational institutions to "lawyer up." In addition, businesses are now spending millions on consultants that specialize in (minimum-possible) compliance with regulations. Munger's point was that a better use of business energy is to hire those you trust...and to skip creating an environment of distrust and policing. The Rock Center for Corporate Governance (Stanford University) is studying Munger's thesis with respect to its validity and efficacy as corporate policy. Source: " Berkshire Hathaway Promotes Trust , " by Andrew Ross Sorkin, the New York Times , May 5, 2014. F ollow up: How much does Berkshire Hathaway spend on corporate counsel? Why is this unusual, and what other policy is unusual with respect to other corporations' behavior? Could it constitute "negligence," as suggested in this article? Munger has said (regarding the policy in Roman times), " If you build a bridge, you stood under the arch when the scaffolding was removed .” What do you think this means, in terms of being a metaphor for modern corporate behavior? In what other (major) ways is trust important to business transactions?
  • Millennials trash privacy rights...and so do those controlling "big data"

    from " Your personal information is yours ." According to the LA Times, "A new report, written by a group led by White House counselor John Podesta , says that big data — the various entities that benefit from knowing all there is to know about you — is growing out of control." What does this mean? It means that sensors are everywhere: in our homes on city streets on wearable devices embedded in credit cards on our computers on our phones in our doctors' offices with our insurance companies at our places of business Business and government agencies are not going to be restrained from using this data if only "voluntary codes of conduct" are in place. Regulations and audited compliance will be the only things that protect us. "Consumer data" is personal data. NSA monitoring and widespread (but withheld) knowledge of the Heartbleed Virus means that businesses are not acknowledging personal rights. The business perspective might be: WE NEED this data to efficiently MARKET to our target demographics. But if Verizon is selling to third parties information about websites you are visiting and purchases you are making online, shouldn't you have a say? Or at least get a financial piece of the action? "We are concerned," says Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, "that the principle is collect first and worry about privacy and consumer protection later." Maybe we should take the lead from Europe, where they set the line of scrimmage with this principle: "all people have a right to privacy." In U.S. law that right is only implied. Moreover, the EU has taken the following step: "In response to the NSA spying revelations, the European Parliament passed even stricter privacy rules in March. They still have to be approved by the European Union's 28 member countries, but represent the region's commitment to individual rights. The new rules wouldn't just give people more control over who can obtain their personal info but also grant a right to have online data erased — a so-called right to be forgotten." Wouldn't that be a right we could appreciate. Source: " Ownership of personal data still appears up for grabs , " by David Lazarus, the Los Angeles Times , May 6, 2014. F ollow up: Do you read the privacy disclosures before you agree to them? Why or why not? Reminder: have you changed your passwords in response to the Heartbleed virus? Remember: the passwords you have "out there" may be a ticking time-bomb. Would you value the European protections with respect to privacy? Would you like to be able to have your online data erased? Why do businesses support the loss of personal privacy? What are the pros and cons of this from a business perspective?
  • Lying with statistics: how to read the labor graphs

    Note: You can't really play the video, it is a screenshot [due to an embed FAIL]. The Video is linked at NYT On the first Friday of the month, the labor report comes out. The airwaves, business print, and internet sites are full of conclusions and spin. But what does it all mean? In fact, the statistics--and the way they are presented--can be very misleading. The "margin of error" in the reports could mean that EITHER one of the following two graphs would be accurate, based on the exact same set of data: OR..using the SAME data, the jobs report could look like this! What is the difference? The statistical swing is partly the result of the unknowns and seasonal fluctuations. Is the job increase or decrease the result of holiday hirings or layoffs? Are people slow to start looking for work again? Or... has there been a sampling error in the data presented? [Note: the sampling error of a few hundred thousand jobs in question is a small percentage of the 130 million jobs in the economy, but the sampling error is extrapolated as though it represents the economy as a whole.] In addition, one month of data can't really tell you what the trend is. The problem is: the Labor Report and the analysts who read the report influence stock traders. Traders influence the market...So misleading labor statistics can really skew the real-life results of financial trading based on the labor analysis. Also, the voting public can be influenced by "trends" that don't really have a basis in reality. One reason for this is that each one of us, as a human being, has a brain that is wired to make sense of whatever data we we are more comfortable coming to a wrong conclusion than we are with hanging out with random, meaningless data. All we can do is be aware of the problem, and try not to take action on data that we don't really understand. Sources: " How Not to be Misled by the Jobs Report , " by Neil Irwin and Kevin Quealy, the New York Times , May 2, 2014. F ollow up: According to the article, what conclusions CAN be drawn from the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics Report?
  • 48,000 Adidas and Nike workers on strike in China

    image from the Associated Press via the Epoch Times; linked below " 48,000 workers at the Chinese shoe supplier to Nike and Adidas, Yue Yuen (part of the Pou Chen Group), have been striking since 14 April. Workers went on strike to demand that the company repay years of stolen social insurance payments, implement a significant wage increase, and sign legal labour contracts (having found that the company had been making them sign fake work contracts for nearly 20 years). The company had responded by offering a measly wage increase and cost of living payment that the workers rejected. The sheer scale and longevity of the action represents an historic turn in the formation of global capitalism. There are a number of reasons why this strike is terrifying not only for the supplier factory bosses in China but also for transnational capitalism." The above, slightly alarming report from first came to my attention while I was perusing the blog site The Daily Kos . Since the strike was large, since the strike involved American and European companies, and since the strike had been on-going on for almost two weeks, I was surprised that it wasn't being reported elsewhere. The Associated Press (AP) did report that about 75% of the striking workers returned to the job within the last few days, even though there was no formal agreement with the immediate Chinese employer, the Taiwan-based Yue Yuen Industrial Holdings Ltd . The AP also reported that the return to work had been "assisted by the police," and that it was unclear why the workers had, in fact, returned. Global labor issues influencing this industry include the shortage of a migrant labor, and increasing labor activism. These and other factors are driving up prices. It remains to be seen how this dispute finally settles out. Sources: " Huge Strike in China (and not a word from anyone) , " by James Leo, the Daily Kos , April 27, 2014. " Strike ends Partially at Massive Chinese Shoe Factory That Produces for Adidas, Nike, New Balance ," by the Associated Press , published by the Epoch Times , April 26, 2014. Follow us: @EpochTimes on Twitter | epochtimes on Facebook F ollow up: Why do you think a huge labor strike like this is not getting major media attention on CNN, MSNBC, FoxNews and in the major newspapers (New York Times, Wall Street Journal)? What are the major issues involved in this strike? Do you think they have been resolved? Why or why not?
  • #backlash: a lession in social media for the NYPD

    J images from article linked below The New York Police Department had a Good Idea: set up a Twitter site, #myNYPD , so that people could tweet their smiling selfies with heroic police officers, and other happy pictures. Things did not go well. Instead of happy photos good for public relations, they got photos of NYPD officers abusing citizens in various ways. Oops. Marketing experts don't seem to be surprised by the nasty tweets. McDonald' s had run into the same problem. Said Ann Handley, co-author of Content Rules , " You can't get people to talk about how great you are on Twitter . ” Source: " The NYPD learns about #backlash " by Dan Bobkoff, Marketplace American Public Media , April 23, 2014. F ollow up: What is the "law of unintended consequences"? How might the NYPD avoided this social media debacle? Are such problems part of what is to be expected in the fast-moving social media-sphere?
  • What "the 1% don't want you to know": Paul Krugman on Thomas Piketty

    image is from an interview at, via VIMEO According to Paul Krugman 's analysis of newly observed changes in the structure of the U.S. economy, if you are not part of a family in which you will get a piece of inherited wealth--you and your own heirs are doomed. Not only will you never be rich--you and your family will become poorer with each those with inherited family wealth become richer. The focal point of the interview linked above between Bill Moyers and Paul Krugman is the new book by Thomas Piketty of the Paris School of Economics: Capital in the Twenty-First Century . In the book Piketty delineates how 67% of the increase in the top-heavy distribution of wealth that has occurred since the 1970's is the result of huge raises given to corporate executives. These huge salaries, combined with tax and other governmental policies in the U.S., have created the perfect storm for the formation of an oligarchical economic structure that has now become hard-wired and institutionalized. Krugman makes the additional point that wealth is now so concentrated that it is invisible to most of the public--the shear size of the fortunes are out of the realm of what the average person can understand in terms of wealth management. The impact of this wealth concentration on middle and lower income people in the United States is much more pronounced than it is in Europe because governmental policies in Europe create a higher standard of living for the poorest 20% by providing health care, higher minimum wage and other income and social service support. book image from Krugman experienced reading Piketty's book as as "Eureka!" moment, as it showed how radically the economic structure had changed when analyzed over the long term. The book also pointed out that o nce wealth is held in the hands of the oligarchical few, it becomes nearly impossible to change the laws to tax the wealthy at a greater rate. The concentrated wealth has gained control over public policy as well. Can the situation be changed--to favor real competition and the growth of small businesses and the middle class? I'm going to read the book to find out... Source: " Bill Moyers w/Paul Krugman: “What the 1% Don't Want You to Know ” " by bobswern, the Daily Kos , April 18, 2014. F ollow up: According to Paul Krugman, what forces might counter the oligarchical situation which we now find ourselves in? [this is about 18 minutes into the interview] What is the "high r, low g" economy that Krugman refers to? According to Bill Moyers and tax analysts, how many times greater are top management salaries more than low income workers, based on recent tax data?
  • "Why I love doing taxes": one man's story

    image of Bruce McFarland from Marketplace website link to radio story Bruce McFarland is the Missouri Tax Guy. He does tax returns and he loves it. He acknowledges that people sometimes have a poor attitude with respect to tax preparation. Nevertheless he sees taking one's business records to a tax professional as a haven of safety--where clients go (not unlike a spa) to be taken care of by an honest and knowledgeable person. I prepare my own taxes, with the help of an ever-morphing tax program whose "Easy Step" function becomes more cumbersome each year. Still, there is a certain satisfaction in knowing where all the money went--and also in seeing how much of a contributor I am to the functioning of the federal and state governments. Sources: " Why I love doing taxes ," by Kai Ryssdal and Bruce McFarland, , April 15, 2014. F ollow up: It is after April 15th. Have you filed an extension? Did you do your taxes? What changes are you going to make this year in record-keeping strategies? What apps are you using to help yourself?
  • City airport bulldozed by angry activists

    image--AN APRIL FOOL JOKE--from article linked below Today--April Fool's Day--the headline in the local paper used humor to discuss a very divisive and high-stakes local issue--the pros and cons of an increasingly more active airport in the middle of a residential community. Humor is a communication tool that has both rewards and risks--it can take an extreme position (as this photo-shopped picture does)--and thereby put what some people might be thinking "on the table" so that it can be viewed in a less emotionally-charged way. Humor can also be misunderstood--and it may offend people. Someone who reacts to the article, believing it to be true, might feel as though they had been made a fool of. Making others feel foolish is not usually a good business communication strategy over the long term. Nevertheless, humor can be used gently and effectively to increase people's level of comfort in discussing difficult topics. Source: " Santa Monica Airport gets bulldozed by angry activists ," by Loco Crazy Simpson, Santa Monica Daily Press , April 1, 2014. Follow up: What are the risks of using humor--especially parody--to make a point? Check out the other articles in this issue of the Santa Monica Daily Press. Which do you think are the most successful? Are there any articles that, on first glance, you thought were NOT parodies?
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