• Two Giant Banks Face Criminal Charges

    image of banks in Paris and Zurich by Jacques Brinon/Associated Press and Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters

    Two banks are under criminal investigation by the U.S. Federal government. What is interesting is this: neither of the banks are American banks. Being investigated are the BNP Paribas Bank in Paris and Credit Suisse Bank in Zurich.
    The crimes under investigation are:

    • Credit Suisse: offering tax shelters to Americans
    • BNP Paribas: doing business with countries such as Sudan, which is now blacklisted by the U.S.

    Facing criminal charges could mean revoking the banks' charters to operate in the U.S., which would mean they couldn't do business. Article authors refer to this as analogous to the death penalty. But since Federal guidelines require analyzing the effect this would have on the business before the penalty is enacted, it is unlikely that the full penalty would be applied. This requirement continues to be invoked throughout discussions of wrongdoing.

    So...what does "facing criminal charges" really mean?  The penalty being considered is "temporarily suspending the bank’s ability to transfer money through New York branches on behalf of foreign clients, a move that could undercut the bank’s revenue."  Hmm. That doesn't seem very harsh.  In the BNP Paribas case, fines might also be incurred.

    It sounds like a cost of doing business...business-as-usual, that is. Their actions seem to be "above the law."

    Sources:  "Two Giant Banks, Seen as Immune, Become Targets," by Ben Protess and Jessica Silver-Greenberg, the New York Times, April 29, 2014.

    Follow up:

    • What does "above the law" mean?
    • What are the hurdles involved in prosecuting these cases?
    • What are the banks really trying to avoid in these cases?
  • 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 http://wire.novaramedia.com/ 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

    Follow 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?
  • Accounting skills linked to moral high ground

    image by Javier Jaén from the article linked below


    Americans don't understand much about accounting and finance. Jacob Soll, a professor of history and accounting at the University of Southern California, thinks that this lack of cultural literacy in accounting may be partially responsible for the unfettered lack of morality and self control exhibited by financial institutions in modern life.

    He makes the point that when accounting skills were pervasive in society, people viewed keeping things in balance as a moral prerogative as well. In the heyday of the Dutch East India Company and the Medici financiers in Italy, portraits of businessmen were painted with the individuals actually doing accounting, or with their books of account in prominent display.

    The basis essence of double-entry accounting is fairness and equality in each business transaction. Debits = Credits. According to Soll, as a society we have left the understanding of these accounting basics concept to "specialists and computerized banking." He suggests, "If we want stable, sustainable capitalism, a good place to start would be to make double-entry accounting and basic finance part of the curriculum in high school, as they were in Renaissance Florence and Amsterdam."

    It can't hurt.

    Source:  "No Accounting Skills? No Moral Reckoning," by Jacob Soll, New York Times opinionator, April 27, 2014.

    Follow up:

    • Do you want to get started on your accounting literacy? Check out this link from the Accounting Coach. Summarize what you learned.
    • What is the historical significance of the Dutch East India Company?
  • #backlash: a lession in social media for the NYPD

    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.

    Follow 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 BillMoyers.com, 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 generation...as 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 amazon.com

    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 once 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.

    Follow 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?
  • Researchers find USA is no longer a democracy; what does this mean for middle income business people?

    image from globalresearch.ca

    Many of us educated in the United States grew up thinking that "democracy" and "free markets" went hand-in-hand, and that both were "as American as apple pie." But a newly published research study, Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups and Average Citizens, by Martin Gilens of Princeton and Benjamin I. Page of Northwestern University, makes the case that the U.S.A. is no longer a democracy.

    Their findings, in a nutshell: "Comparing the preferences of the average American at the 50th percentile of income to what those Americans at the 90th percentile preferred, as well as the opinions of major lobbying or business groups, the researchers found out that the government followed the directives set forth by the latter two much more often." In other words, these groups have influence over public policy, regulation and law-making:

    • Americans with income of 90% and above
    • major lobbying groups
    • major business groups

    In fact, Gilens and Page found that, "the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy."

    If there are few major employers, or power is concentrated in the hands of the few, what is the mechanism for paying adequate wages and salaries to workers and middle managers? There is no incentive to pay fair salaries if the number of employment options has diminished, and the regulatory bodies are controlled by the companies that are supposed to be regulated.

    There are an increasing number of op-ed pieces, research papers, and books addressing the issues of income inequality and the diminished existence of truly free markets. Both have affected the economy and business practices in the United States.

    Sources:  "Princeton Concludes What Kind of Government America Really Has, and It's Not a Democracy," by Tom McKay, PolicyMic,  April 16, 2014, citing an article to be published this fall in Perspectives on Politics.

    Follow up:

    • Do an internet search for "oligarchy" AND "free markets". Summarize the results of your search.
    • According to the article by Tom McKay (or the research paper itself), what are some specific implications of Gilens' and Page's findings for middle-class business people?
    • Play the devil's advocate: why is an oligarchy good for American business?
  • One really good bank for small businesses; Where is YOUR money?

    image from www.cleveland.com

    What makes a bank a "good bank" from the standpoint of supporting business growth and providing excellent service to customers?  According to Steve Steinour, chairman and CEO of Huntington Bank:

    "Small businesses are the foundation of our Main Street economies throughout the United States. These businesses generate two-thirds of all of new jobs and help keep our neighborhoods healthy. Huntington is committed to supporting small-business growth as a key way to strengthen our communities as they continue through the economic recovery."

    Huntington Bank--a regional bank in Ohio--is the 33rd largest bank in the U.S. and has branches in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Indiana, West Virginia and Kentucky. Nevertheless, Huntington Bank will probably be the number one small-business lender in the United States this year. For the first six months of federal fiscal year 2014 (which ends June 30, 2014), Huntington has the largest number of SBA loans.

    The classic business model for a traditional bank (as opposed to an investment bank) is to take depositors money, on which one interest rate is paid, and loan it out to regional businesses at a higher rate, thereby generating a profit. Investing in local businesses is the way to build strong business communities.

    On a side note, first quarter profits were down for Huntington, so a buy-back of shares is planned to help investor returns. First-quarter profits were $149 million, a declined of $4 million from a year ago. Per share, profits were unchanged at 17 cents.

    Sources:  "Huntington Bank on track to become nation's largest small-business lender, but profits dip in first quarter," by Teresa Dixon Murray, the Plain Dealer, April 16, 2014.

    Follow up:

    • What does "pent up demand" mean? Give another arena where this phenomenon has been observed.
    • Where is YOUR money?  In a mega-bank like Bank of American or Wells Fargo? Or in a bank with high numbers of small business loans?
    • Watch the film "It's a Wonderful Life." How does the Savings and Loan depicted in that film exhibit the characteristics of a bank that is important to small businesses?
    • How does buying back shares help the returns for the bank's investors (as opposed to the banks depositors or creditors)?
  • Offshore tax havens mean higher taxes for individuals

    The graphic above illustrates how much in additional taxes is paid by each person by state, due to corporate and wealthy individuals' use of offshore tax havens.  I live in California...and I'd love to have my state tax bill reduced by $1,783.

    What is an "offshore tax haven" exactly? These are banks in other countries, such as Switzerland and several island nations, with low tax rates and laws that provide secrecy regarding financial transactions. Corporations and wealthy individuals--even though they are required under penalty of perjury to report all income on the U.S. tax returns regardless of where it was earned--can sometimes hide illegally obtained income and the earnings on that income in such banks. Jordan Belfort, the "Wolf of Wall Street," was imprisoned partly due to his illegal use of a Swiss tax haven.

    Some states, such as Montana and Oregon, have taken steps to close the tax haven loophole by applying the same kind of taxation formula used for companies who do businesses in several states. The report, by the U.S Public Interest Research Group, "Closing the Billion Dollar Loophole" provides a roadmap for how this is done and what it can accomplish.

    In addition to tax revenues lost by states, the federal government has losses as well. The Congressional Research Service estimates these to be $90 billion to $100 billion annually. This results in more money out of the pockets of tax-paying individuals.

    Perhaps a tax overhaul is needed so that the tax system is perceived as "fair." The businesses would not have to waste creative energy pursuing tax avoidance, and could focus more on positively improving their products and their bottom lines.

    Sources:  "How Much Do Offshore Tax Havens Affect You," by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, via Upworthy, April 15, 2014.

    "How states can reclaim $1 billion from offshore tax havens," by Niraj Chokshi, The Washington Post, January 31, 2014.

    Follow up:

    • What do you think? What kind of tax rule changes might encourage businesses to "buy-in" to the tax system and increase voluntary compliance with tax law?
  • From 35% to 12.6%: Corporate tax loopholes lower real tax rate

    image from blog

    OK, April 15th is behind us (Tax Day). Maybe you are pondering what tax planning you might be able to do to better your circumstances with the IRS bill. Maybe you are rationalizing your tax burden by thinking that everyone is in the same boat.

    But...corporations are not in the same situation as individuals. Many corporate tax loopholes end up reducing corporate tax burdens so that they are considerably lower than the rates that individual "average Americans" are paying. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the average corporate tax rate was 12.6% in 2010.

    Here are some of the juiciest tax loopholes enjoyed by U.S. corporations:

    • The "carried interest" loophole: Private equity and hedge fund operators pay capital gains tax rates (15% to 20%) on what is really their ordinary income (taxed to the rest of us at the maximum rate of 39.6%).
    • This loophole is also enjoyed by the real estate industry because of partnership accounting. Investment banking partnerships are 41% "real estate related" so they can take advantage of this favorable taxation as well.
    • Individual taxpayers are not allowed to deduct even a parking ticket--or any fine issued by a government agency. Corporations, on the other hand, can deduct the costs of fines and prosecution expenses for crimes from its tax returns.  So when a company like JPMorgan Chase admits wrongdoing and pays a fine--it costs the rest of us taxpayers money because the big bank gets to deduct the fine and lower their tax bill.
    • Corporate jets maintained for executive travel can be depreciated over 5 or 7 years (faster than airlines are allowed to deduct the planes they use for their main business). These deductions reduce corporate tax bills. Ironically, small businesses using luxury cars are not able to fully deduct those expenses...but the planes are not subject to these "luxury vehicle" limitations.
    • Corporations can deduct as compensation costs the executive stock options given to executives--even though they don't cost the companies any money. According to Citizens for Tax Justice, Amazon used this tax break to reduce their effective tax rate between 2010 and 2012 to 9.4% for federal and state taxes combined.  If they had not taken advantage of this loophole, their effective tax rate would have been 40.4% for the combined federal and state taxes.

    Source:  "Looking at Some Corporate Tax Loopholes Ordinary Citizens May Envy," by Andrew Ross Sorkin, New York Times Dealbook, April 14, 2014.

    Follow up:

    • What tax loopholes do YOU take advantage of? Do you think these are fair? 
    • What are your thoughts about corporate tax loopholes? Discuss the pros and cons.
  • Beer solves water crisis in California town

    image from article linked below--online version of radio story

    The drought in California does not just affect farmers--or homeowners worrying about their lawns.  As it turns out...this drought is so bad that the state of California has made a list of cities that will actually run out of water soon. So the businesses in these towns have a big problem to worry about...especially a business that is water-dependent like the Bear Republic Brewing Company in Cloverdale, CA.

    Acting in self-interest--but also realizing that its investment must first serve the citizens of the town--Bear Republic Brewing Company loaned the city of Cloverdale $466,133,000 to dig two new wells.

    The owner of Bear Republic, Ricardo Norgrove, took this bold action because he was a 5th generation resident of Sonoma County, and he wanted to stay put. He also wanted to keep Bear Republic Brewing in Cloverdale if at all possible. Of course he has considered moving his company, but he figures the water problem is going to have to be addressed everywhere: it is a global issue.

    Sources:  "Beer: Saving a town from drought," by Kai Ryssdal, Marketplace.com, April 15, 2014.

    Follow up:

    • What does Ricardo Norgrove recommend at the end of the online article? How might this be a marketing strategy by American Public Media to attract more hits to this article? What other strategies might be employed, if more hits to the website is APM's aim?
    • What other business/community partnerships might be encouraged to solve sustainability problems or other environmental or life-style issues?
  • "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, Marketplace.com, April 15, 2014.

    Follow 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?
  • "bots" pretending to be humans is a new form of ID theft

    image from pandodaily

    Bots pretending to be human is a new form of ID theft...but instead of targeting you and me and our credit cards online...the arena is "digital ad theft."

    Internet researchers believe that at least a third (and in some arenas up to 60%) of all internet traffic is not human. It is trained computers working those mouse buttons.  Computers are clicking on the Eye Creams and Diet Miracles and other products appearing in ads online. So, if an advertiser thinks they are getting 500,000 hits on their ad that appears in the Facebook margin...they are not getting their money's worth if the ad "viewer" is a robot trained to click ads.The computers don't represent potential sales.

    Of course, software has been developed to detect non-human mouse movements or click timing. But then more sophisticated robot ad clickers are developed.  It escalates.

    One company specializing in spotting digital ad theft is White Ops. Tamar Hassan, Chief Tech officer of White Ops, says that digital ad fraud can be more lucrative because there is a cost to obtaining the credit card number and the high risk of being prosecuted for fraud, because there are real human beings who are harmed. These risks are less with digital ad fraud, so ad fraud presents a "business opportunity" for the criminally minded.

    Sources:  "Digital advertisers losing the 'bot arms race'," by David Weinberg, Marketplace American Public Media, April 14, 2014.

    Follow up:

    • What are the marketing issues for the "big box" company mentioned in the article?
    • How does the digital ad criminal make money?
  • Lobbying community leaders to work against their communities

    Wouldn't millions of Americans be happy to have the choice to use pre-filled-in tax returns? Even according to the IRS, tax filing is expensive:

    Why would religious leaders, small town politicians, and a state NAACP official write letters to newspaper editors and op-ed pieces that spoke against such an option. The arguments they used was that the option would hurt low-income people and create a conflict of interest for the IRS, who could misuse their power against vulnerable taxpayers.

    As it turns out, the indignant individuals arguing against the implementation of the super-simplified tax system had been lobbied by individuals like Emily Pflaster, who works for Intuit's public relations firm, JCI Worldwide.

    Intuit makes the tax preparation software called Turbo Tax.

    Intuit's public relations reps did not point out some of these particulars, which were articulated by ProPublica:

    • return-free filing would allow million of taxpayers to do their returns in minutes
    • returns could be filed for free
    • the IRS would use information that is already submitted by banks and employers...and taxpayers could review the items and make adjustments
    • this program has been endorsed by former President Reagan and President Obama

    Also, according to ProPublica's research, Intuit spent over $2.6 million last year on lobbying.

    Sources:  "TurboTax Maker Linked to 'Grassroots' Campaign Against Free, Simple Tax Filing," Liz Day, ProPublica via Mother Jones, April 14, 2014.

    Follow up:

    • Describe the difference between "Grassroots" campaigns and "Grasstops" campaigns
    • Would you take advantage of a pre-filled-in tax return option? Why or why not? Who are the ideal candidates for this option?
  • Flash Boys: An insight into high speed--and seemingly "unfair" trading

    View the Bloomberg TV interview with Michael Lewis and Brad Katsuyama

    Michael Lewis's new book, Flash Boys, is about the chasm between stock market traders in the business world and the programmers--many from Russia--in the new environment of high-frequency trading.

    Brad Katsuyama was a trader new to Wall Street who worked for the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC).  He had an outsider's view of the trading system, based on norms from his Canadian work experience. He expected to understand trading transactions.  When his employer, RBC, bought Carlin Financial there was a bit of a culture shock.  Carlin's CEO, Jeremy Frommer, was not the same kind of grounded trader that was the RBC norm. In addition, Frommer headed a company that championed super-fast computer trading. But this trading did not work as it was supposed to work, according to logical norms.

    Here is what started happening:

    "Before RBC acquired this supposed state-of-the-art electronic-trading firm, Katsuyama’s computers worked as he expected them to. Suddenly they didn’t. It used to be that when his trading screens showed 10,000 shares of Intel offered at $22 a share, it meant that he could buy 10,000 shares of Intel for $22 a share. He had only to push a button. By the spring of 2007, however, when he pushed the button to complete a trade, the offers would vanish. In his seven years as a trader, he had always been able to look at the screens on his desk and see the stock market. Now the market as it appeared on his screens was an illusion."

    This meant that Katsuyama could not do his job the way he had always done it. He needed accurate information to be able to buy and sell stock for his clients. But his electronic screens showed him trades that would vanish whenever he took any action. At first, he thought it was an Information Technology problem, but the IT folks thought it was "user error." Then the IT folks blamed the distance between markets, and the number of people on the system.

    But these were never factors before. Finally Katsuyama hired Rob Park, a technology guy, to work with him in a two-way conversation that would shed some light on these transactions. RBC gave them a budget to conduct trading experiments...which led them to discover that if they approached only ONE trading exchange with a possible transaction, the screen data would be accurate. But if they approached multiple exchanges, transactions would disappear the moment the trader tried to act on information. They got a programmer, Allen Zhang, involved. Acting counter-intuitively but effectively, Zhang designed a program that would delay transactions a couple of milliseconds so that all the buy or sell orders would arrive at the exchanges at the same time. For some reason, this eliminated the problem of the disappearing transactions. 

    The article goes on to explain further complications and elucidations involving this trading, explained fairly straightforwardly for someone interested in Wall Street finance. The earnest approach of Katsuyama and his colleagues--to fixing and understanding the trading system--almost makes high finance seem like a regular business. 

    For the whole story, read the book, Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt by Michael Lewis.

    Sources:  "The Wolf Hunters of Wall Street," by Michael Lewis, New York Times Magazine, March 31, 2014.

    ...and the Bloomberg video linked above.

    Follow up:

    • Do you think that these risks described are blown out of proportion? Can these high speed trades be controlled and understood by the average investor after all?
    • What is the role of regulation in this environment? Do you think it is best undertaken privately, as was done by the Royal Bank of Canada? What are the pros and cons of private regulation?
    • What does "RBC nice" mean? How would that compare to the "Wolf of Wall Street" mentality?
  • Nothing is safe: Heartbleed coding flaw breaks encrypted financial transactions

    image from businessinsider.com

    How much of a problem is the Heartbleed coding mistake that endangered every encrypted financial transaction?

    According to Bruce Schneier, a cryptographer and security consultant: "I've been saying that on a scale of one to 10, this is an 11."

    There are public policy issues that are arising with respect to Heartbleed (i.e.the NSA and other security organizations have known about the vulnerability, and have most likely taken advantage of it--without informing citizens and consumers).  But, like many business problems--fixing the blame and finding those who abetted the crime does not help the "victims"--which are the millions of us who have been using online banking and retailing sites over the last few years. 

    What do we do about this?

    The basic advice is:

    1. Don't change your password until you are sure the site has fixed its vulnerability problem; and
    2. DO change your password for every single institution with which you transact online business.

    Although it may seem daunting to make a list of all of the sites with which you have done business, and systematically go through them one by one to change the password--that hassle pales in comparison to dealing with identity theft once it has occurred.

    Make sure you don't forget to change your passwords on Google, Facebook and Yahoo--who have already admitted that they were affected by Heartbleed. They have already fixed the flaw on their side.

    Some institutions have said that the flaw did not affect them, but others have claimed the issue was "industry-wide" with respect to banking institutions. But if you have used the same password on more than one site--if your password was used on a vulnerable site, it is out there and can be tapped to invade your identity on sites that said they were safe.

    Sources:  "Flaw Calls for Altering Passwords, Experts Say," by Molly Wood, the New York Times, April 9, 2014.

    Follow up:

    • Have you changed your password for Google, Facebook, and/or Yahoo yet?  If not, why not?
    • Have any institutions informed you that their site was vulnerable? Have they encouraged (or required) you to change your password? What was the procedure like? How long did it take? Share your experience with others and encourage them to protect their identities as well.
  • Peeps all year: too much of a "good" thing?

    photo of the formerly seasonal Marshmallow Peeps; image from the radio article linked below

    Just Born, the maker of the polarizing marshmallow snack called "Peeps," recently announced that Peeps will be available all year round beginning May 1, 2014.  Of course (Peeps fans already know this), the Peeps season--springtime: for the festive and secular side of Easter--has already begun.  

    A company spokesperson said, "We're making every day into a holiday."
    I think I'm more aligned with the comment made by Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal: "It is this week's sign that the apocalypse is upon us."

    I'm wondering if the marketing people have really thought this through--will Peeps lose its market niche as a seasonal treat if it is always in the candy or treat aisle? Or, like Oreos, are Peeps so beloved by their fan base that sales will increase?

    Sources:  "Peeps year-round: Harbinger of apocalypse," by Kai Ryssdal, Marketplace.com, April 9, 2014.

    Follow up:

    • What are the risks of the decision to produce Peeps year-round, from a marketing and sales point of view? What are the possible rewards?
    • Very few folks are neutral when it comes to Peeps. Where do you stand?
  • Managing Up vs. Managing Down: two different skill sets

    Kim Bowers of CST Brands: image from the New York Times article linked below

    Kim Bowers is the CEO of CST Brands, a large "corner store" retailer (they are a spin-off from the gas station company Valero). She was recently featured in the NYT "Corner Office" article area, focusing on her views about management and human resources. Ms. Bowers indicated that over time, she has become "less tolerant of bad attitudes," and is quicker to sense when investing in an employee would be a waste of time and resources. She also has strong views about "managing up" (knowing how to communicate effectively with your boss) versus "managing down" (leading or inspiring the employees who report to you). 

    Kim Bowers says:

    "I put people into two different categories: people who manage up really well and people who manage down really well, and I love the latter. If I find someone whose team would walk across hot coals for them, that’s the person I want to work with because I know there is authenticity there, and they are supporting their teams and vice versa.
    It’s the folks who manage up really well but have this underlying storm all the time who concern me because you don’t know if they’re just trying to charm to cover up.

    Both skills need to be developed for an employee to be able to adapt to different types of leadership. Here are some guidelines from a different source:

    graphic from sochal.wordpress.com

    Ms. Bowers also has some advice for college students: "Make sure not to set your expectations too low for what you can do, and recognize that at every twist and turn you’re going to have opportunities to expand your horizons, and you should take those. You shouldn’t be looking just to climb the ladder, but be open to opportunities that let you climb that ladder."

    Sources:  "Kim Bowers of CST Brands on Managing Up vs. Managing Down," by Kim Bowers, the New York Times, April 5, 2014.

    Follow up:

    • What was Kim Bowers' "CIA story"? Has fate ever intervened for you in a big decision?
    • Do you think Ms. Bowers' early management experience shaped the views she holds today? Do you think her family position (birth order) influenced how she manages? Give examples.
    • Do you do better at Managing Up or Managing Down? Why? What is hardest for you in the area where you are weaker?
  • "Silicon Valley": business start-up comedy comes to HBO...and YouTube

    from HBO via YouTube

    HBO's new comedy "Silicon Valley" premiered this past weekend.  The show portrays young programmers--one of whom has developed a program he calls "Pied Piper." He designed this program to alert aspiring song writers to any copyright infringement problems, by searching all music libraries everywhere for the note sequences entered. 

    Others realize that the main feature of this program is its ability to instantaneously search through compressed files and deliver sound quality that isn't distorted...and that there are limitless business applications of this rapid and high-quality search algorithm.

    In addition to the comic interactions portrayed in the series, there are business partnerships, business decisions to make, business entities to consider, and business values to ponder. By the end of the first episode, we learn the importance of a good business plan. The show is its own "Introduction to Business."

    Interestingly, HBO has decided to let the first episode air on YouTube, so everyone can take a look.

    Sources:  "Watch the first episode of HBO's 'Silicon Valley' on YouTube," by Chris Velasco, engadget.com, April 7, 2014.

    Follow up:

    • What are the pros and cons of HBO's decision to let the first episode air on YouTube? What entities stand to benefit?
    • Can you identify with any of the characters? What business advice would you give the main character?
  • SAT scores wanted by employers in hiring process

    chart published in the Wall Street Journal

    Did you think that once you got into the college of your choice that you could forget about your SAT scores? As it turns out, they might follow you from job search to job search. 

    What employers are looking at these scores?  McKinsey & Company, Bain & Company, Goldman Sachs. Even though performance on ACHIEVEMENT tests rather than APTITUDE tests (like the SAT) is a better predictor of success, the differences aren't enough to make employers develop their own tests. It is easier for employers getting thousands of applications to use the usually-available SAT test score to weed out candidates from these large applicant pools.

    And according to the NYT article, the SAT "measures what psychologists call 'g,' or general mental ability — how well a person might respond to an unspecified challenge. In this age of rapidly changing technology and constantly upgraded skills, 'g' may be a better predictor of success than expertise in a specific software package."

    Sources:  "How Businesses Use Your SATs," by Shaila Dewan, the New York Times, March 29, 2014.

    Follow up:

    • What do you think about the pros and cons of using SAT scores to weed out candidates for employment?
    • What did the article say were reasons that some employers do NOT use SAT scores in their hiring decisions?
  • Oculus: what I don't understand might make a fortune for others

    This image of "The Rift" by Oculus was taken by Christina Ascani for Mashable (linked below)

    When I read the news that Facebook had purchased Oculus VR, a "virtual reality" start-up, my first thought was, "Huh? What does this have to do with Facebook?"

    The Oculus "Rift" device lets a user experience a video game as though they were inside it. Moving your head can result in dodging a virtual bullet, and turning your head gives a different view of your video game environment, as though you were really inside that environment. This device is still what I like to refer to as "vaporware"--it doesn't exist yet. Oculus developers were trying to raise enough money through Kickstarter to continue development (they'd already raised $2.4 million). Then Facebook came along...and for $2 billion bought the whole operation.

    While this solved the Oculus developer's cash problem, it didn't make some of the Kickstarter supporters very happy. David Prosser writes about those concerns in an online Forbes article.

    from vimeo

    Still--what is in this for Facebook? Do they just want a piece of the video game action?  Or do they foresee the Rift device as a way that Facebook friends can also interact? We'll see...

    Source:  "What is Oculus Rift--And Why You Should Care," by Samantha Murphy Reilly, Mashable online, March 26, 2014. 

    Follow up:

    • What is "virtual reality" and what makes it different from other media experiences?
    • How do the potential users of Rift use Facebook now? Who might eventually be the users? What potential might this product have as an educational tool?
    • Read the Forbes article written by David Prosser.  What might be the issues for the original Kickstarter supporters, and what bigger concerns might that mean for Kickstarter?
  • Too late for Obamacare?


    image from healthcare.gov website


    Many individuals who have not been lucky enough to have parent-sponsored or employer-sponsored health care--as well as uninsured individuals--procrastinated when it came to signing up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).  Some of the hesitation was due to the technology failures, but some of it was due to a mis-perception about where one might land in the pie-chart below. The big fear, of course, is that one would be unable to get a good deal on new insurance, and would fall into the 3% "potential losers" category.

    In any event, the "deadline" for enrollment was March 31, 2014.  But there might be ways for those who did not manage to obtain coverage to still be enrolled, according to an Associated Press article.

    image from offeringhope.org

    Here are some possibilities to obtain a second chance to sign up, or avoid a fine for being uninsured:

    • TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE GRACE PERIOD: If you started to enroll by March 31, but couldn't finish, have until April 15th to complete an online application or until April 7th to turn in a paper application.
    • USE A SPECIAL ENROLLMENT PERIOD: Special 60-day enrollment periods are being considered by the federal call center (800) 318-2596 and by the state marketplaces. Some of the special extension are being granted for emergency hardships, for example: bad weather, domestic abuse, illness, errors by advisors and insurance companies. These special enrollment periods also open up throughout the year for life events (job changes, marriage, divorce, parenthood).
    • SIGN UP FOR MEDICAID: There is no deadline for those eligible for Medicaid to sign up--and now Medicaid is open to adults making less than $16,100 per year, as well as families with children.
    • BUY INSURANCE OUTSIDE THE GOVERNMENT MARKETPLACES: Even if you can't get the government subsidies this year, you can still buy insurance privately.  Obamacare means you can't be refused for pre-existing conditions, so it will be more "worth it" than it was before.
    • PLAN AHEAD FOR THE NEXT ENROLLMENT PERIOD: It starts November 15, 2014 and it runs for 3 months. Do your research early!

    Sources:  "Putting Rate Shock Into Perspective," by Joan McCarter, The Daily Kos, October 31, 2013.
    "It's STILL not too late to sign up for Obamacare," by The Associated Press via blackamericaweb.com, April 1, 2014.

    Follow up:

    • What is one of the hurdles that people wanting to take advance of the grace period or special enrollment periods have to jump through? Will proof be required, or is it on the "honor system"? Explain the pros and cons of this.
    • In an ideal world, how would health insurance be handled? Do some research and provide support for your answer.
  • 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?