Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Old Nuclear Plants Online Are A Danger Overlooked

People should consider it a deeply worrisome sign that of Russia's ten nuclear power plants two recently suffered significant operating incidents in the same week. This caused multiple reactors to be taken offline. Russia's TASS reported that a "transformer short circuit" at the Kalinin nuclear power plant (NPP) resulted in "a complete shutdown of two and a partial shutdown of another power unit. In total 3 out of the 4 nuclear plant's reactors had to be "unplugged." The Kalinin plant is north-west of Moscow in central Russia and has been operational since the mid-1980s. The other incident reported by state media involved a nuclear plant in the central Russian city of Beloyarsk. There, a reactor had to be disconnected when an automatic safety mechanism was triggered. It came back online after an inspection found no issues.

Click On Map To Enlarge!
The point of this article is to underline the fact that it is only a matter of time before another disaster at a nuclear power plant occurs. This is something we have come to live with and grown complacent about.  If you live in the U.S., there’s a good possibility that you live near a nuclear power plant. More than 120 million Americans are within 50 miles of a reactor. Several nuclear disasters have taken place over the years. We tend to brush these aside and are often oblivious to the danger growing in our own backyard. As a reminder of the danger, I bring up names such as Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima. the fact is we can paper over and ignore this danger but once this gene gets "out of the bottle" it has proven both expensive and difficult to contain. As a reminder as to the potential for disaster sitting in our backyards lets look back at a couple of these past incidents.

In the early morning hours of April 26, 1986, things went horribly wrong in the town of Pripyat, in northern Soviet Ukraine. Reactor No. 4 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, was overwhelmed by an uncontrolled reaction that could not be stopped. Two initial explosions blew the top off the reactor. This allowed plumes of fission matter to escape into the atmosphere. Before long, this radioactive material spread onto Western Europe and the Western USSR. Nine days later the fire was finally contained but not before roughly 400 times more radioactive material was released than from the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Twenty-eight firemen and operators died from acute radiation syndrome in the months following the explosion.

The Chernobyl Disaster Has Faded From View
What exactly caused the Chernobyl disaster is still a matter of disagreement.  The first official explanation of the accident proved to be erroneous.  It now appears an ill-planned late-night safety test to simulate a power-failure set in motion the very chain reaction that led to the disaster.  During the experiment, the emergency safety and power-regulating systems were both intentionally turned off.  Then the operators attempted to boost the reactor output; a violation of the approved test procedure.  Soon after, all control was lost. Most accounts now assign equal blame to human error and reactor design flaws. It now appears that shortsighted engineers failed to idiot-proof the nuclear power plant for the operators and those operators succeeded at being idiots.

Disasters can also be the result of forces beyond our control. Following a major earthquake on 11 March 2011, a tsunami swept over the coast of Japan. The tsunami killed more than 15,000 people and destroying or damaging more than a million buildings. It also disabled the power supply and cooling of three Fukushima Daiichi reactors, causing a nuclear accident. The cores of reactors 1, 2 and 3 largely melted in the first three days while unit 4 was written off by a hydrogen explosion. This quickly became the most significant nuclear incident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster and the only other disaster since to be given the Level 7 event classification of the International Nuclear Event Scale.

Following a mass evacuation, an area now exists in Japan where people can never return to their homes. Years after the disaster we still don't know how much land must be decontaminated before people can return. Also, there is the issue of how long it will take. It won't be today and certainly not in the next few years. It took decades to clean up the reactor at Three Mile Island, and a quarter-century to clean up after Chernobyl where there's still a lot of work to be done. It might be decades before Units 1, 2, and 3 are cleaned up. Much of this delay is necessary to allow radiation dose rates to decay to the point where work can be done or villages can be reoccupied.

Nuclear Plants - A Bomb In Our Backyard?
America's big nuclear scare took place in 1979 when reactor 2 at Three Mile Island suffered a partial meltdown. At the time it sparked an evacuation and panic. Much of it was fed by a lack of information provided to the public. The incident did not result in any deaths or injuries but it spurred broad safety overhauls in the industry. The incident also inflamed worries about the safety, security, and transparency of nuclear plants that that continue to dog the industry today. While these concerns have raised the issue of nuclear plant safety they have not been enough to stop America from extending the operation of these plants well past beyond their planned useful life. 

In May 2019, Exelon Generation, the current owner of Three Mile Island nuclear power plant, acknowledged that it plans to go through with a shutdown starting in June. The last remaining nuclear reactor is scheduled to go offline in September. The domestic commercial nuclear power industry is facing economic headwinds due to the U.S. oil and gas boom and stiff opposition from the gas industry, as well as renewable energy advocates still skeptical of nuclear power. Last year nuclear power plants generated about 20% of the nation's electricity and produced the largest share of zero-carbon electricity in the country. Yet, in the face of cheap natural gas and falling prices for wind, solar and, more recently, battery storage, the business case for nuclear has become ever more difficult to prove.

Today, more than a third of the country's 60 nuclear plants are either unprofitable or slated to close. On average, it would cost $814 million annually to bring unprofitable plants back to a breakeven point. Of course, industry advocates such as Maria Korsnick, president and CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry's main trade group, still see nuclear energy as very important. she recently said, "It's in our nation's best interest for lawmakers both in state capitals and Washington to push for market solutions and policies that value all clean energy sources, or face the economic and environmental consequences for generations to come."

Another issue is that to extend their life these plants often require expensive infrastructure improvements. An example is the $478 million planned upgrade at Cook Nuclear Plant in southwestern Michigan taking place in 2019-2020. Unit 1 began operation in 1975 and unit 2 in 1978. The first had an operational license that expired in 2014 and the second in 2017, both licenses have been extended by 20 years. The owner, Fort Wayne, Indiana-based Indiana Michigan Power is asking for higher rates to help pay for it. The utility is asking the Public Service Commission to review base rates for an overall increase of nearly 19%. For a typical residential customer who uses 1,000-kilowatt-hours this would amount to about $36 a month.

While the above example is very common, more of a concern is that little has been done to improve safety at many of these plants. Two coastal reactors at the Diablo Canyon Power Plant upwind of ten million people in California are surrounded by earthquake faults. They are also in a tsunami zone like the one where the four Fukushima reactors exploded.  PG&E, the company running the Diablo Canyon plant is in bankruptcy, with its third president in two years, This brings into question whether PG&E is qualified to run two large, old, obsolete, crumbling atomic reactors which are surrounded by earthquake faults.

If a major disaster were to occur, Los Angeles could find itself under an apocalyptic cloud that could result in the death of millions. The people living there would see their lives and the state left in radioactive ruin. The bottom-line is that past disasters and the fact these plants are aging is indeed a reason for concern. Adding to the danger is that we the public are often "sheltered from the truth" and not informed of potential problems. The logic behind this is that it might elevate our fear. Still, this fear is justified when you think about being told to leave your home in the middle of the night with no place to go and never being able to return.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Advancing Time: Modern Slavery And The Ugly Tale Of Human Traffick...

Advancing Time: Modern Slavery And The Ugly Tale Of Human Traffick...:

Slavery continues in many forms and even flourishes in many parts of the
world. Modern slavery is an ugly topic that includes not only forced labor but enters into such things as sex trafficking.

The term, "human trafficking" is the modern polite replacement for the
word slavery. It involves the trade of humans for forced labor, sexual
slavery, or commercial sexual exploitation.

This all ties into the Jeffrey Epstein child molestation case which has
made big headlines because it is expected to link many rich and powerful politicians and
Washington insiders to this unsavory activity. This article delves into this huge and very ugly business that lurks just under the radar.

Modern Slavery And The Ugly Tale Of Human Trafficking


Modern slavery is an ugly topic that includes not only forced labor but enters into such things as sex trafficking. Unfortunately, slavery continues in many forms and even flourishes in many parts of the world. When a person is owned by another and considered by law as property or chattel they are deprived of the rights ordinarily free people have come to expect. This highly profitable enterprise still exist and most likely will expand as inequality grows because in many ways, whether society wants to admit it or not, the ultra-rich are often above the law.

The term, "human trafficking" is the modern polite replacement for the word slavery. It involves the trade of humans for forced labor, sexual slavery, or commercial sexual exploitation. This market is the trade of selling people, especially women and children but does not necessarily involve the movement of the person from one place to another. Human trafficking can occur within a country or across borders. It may encompass many things such as providing a spouse in the context of forced marriage or even the extraction of organs or tissues.  Human trafficking is a crime against humanity in that it violates the victim's rights of movement and centers on exploitation.

This all ties into the Jeffrey Epstein child molestation case which has made big headlines because it is expected to link many rich and powerful politicians and Washington insiders to this unsavory activity. The fact that years ago Epstein was busted and possibly used his connections to stay out of jail certainly adds to the drama. Although many people can get photographed with celebrities who claim to be “friends” with them in this case, Epstein is, at the very least, a known associate and maybe even actual friend of Bill Clinton and Donald Trump as well as others in their circle. When someone who has abused large numbers of underage girls at his home is connected with US Presidents this raises eyebrows and shocks the public.

Click here to enlarge!
The trade of men, women, and children is occurring all over the globe and governments failing to enforce laws and victims unwilling or afraid to come forward adds to their plight. The subject is often blurred because at times these victims seem to have the freedom to move about within certain limits. Still, the sub-conscience effort to deny the existence of slavery allows the trade of human beings to continue. This activity had lurked in the shadows but is now being reinforced by new high-tech forms of tracking the whereabouts of people. The use of GPS chips and small identification tags which can be placed inside the body and hidden from sight increase the control the powerful and corrupt have over the oppressed.



Sadly, the public should not be shocked as there is a crisis of child abuse and rape throughout the halls of power in nations across the Western World. In Britain, Operation Hydrant a police investigation into cases of non-recent child sex abuse has over 2,200 open investigations unites together by the fact that the suspects, like Mr. Epstein, are all people of “public prominence.” This large scale operation formed to search for perverts and rapists in the UK elite appears not to be a unique phenomenon. The Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has been able to shed a lot of light onto numerous suspected pedophiles within Parliament and evaluate how the nation’s political parties have dealt with or refused to deal with accusations of this crime being thrown at their members. This investigation is one of many into different areas of British society including religious organizations as well as governmental bodies and delves into recent cases involving those currently active.

Men And Children Are Also Sold Into Slavery
Slavery and human trafficking is a problem that plagues the world. In Brazil JBS, the world’s biggest meat producer, and other enterprises that can be found on Brazil’s ‘dirty list’ for slave labor donate money to top politicians.  Statista.com states that over 41 percent of all recipients receiving such money are part of the influential ruralist caucus, a congressional faction keen on revoking land rights of indigenous communities and limiting efforts to combat slavery. The leftist Workers’ Party of former presidents Dilma Roussef and Lula da Silva, who is currently facing imprisonment due to corruption, has received a stunning 20 percent of donations from companies on the dirty list. While such donations are not illegal in Brazil when the money received is from such dubious origin we have to question who the politicians are working for.

Few Americans feel women are treated well in Middle Eastern cultures where men are often held in higher esteem. Still, it is important to realize the degree and severity of oppression varies greatly in different situations. While some Americans are appalled at the treatment of women in the Middle East we should not forget varieties of this ugliness is on full display in many poor countries. In Asia, tens of thousands of North Korean women and girls are being actively trafficked into the Chinese sex trade by criminal organizations. Once there they and are often forced to endure "systematic rape, sex trafficking, sexual slavery, sexual abuse, prostitution, cybersex trafficking, forced marriage, and forced pregnancy." According to a report from The Korea Future Initiative, the victims commonly between 12-29 years old are often sold more than once and forced into at least one form of sexual slavery within a year of leaving their homeland.

As they are pushed from their homeland by a patriarchal regime built on the imposition of tyranny, poverty, and oppression, North Korean women and girls are passed through the hands of traffickers, brokers, and criminal organizations" according to the London-based Korea watchdog group. According to the report's author, victims are mostly aged between 15-25 and are habitually subjected to penetrative vaginal and anal rape, forced masturbation, and groping. Girls as young as nine are forced to perform graphic cybersex acts and are sexually assaulted in front of webcams which are streamed to a global audience. This means the prospects for North Korean women and girls trapped in China’s multi-million-dollar sex trade are bleak and many have perished.

With China so large in the news today it very important to key in on the abuses happening there. According to the report, sex trafficking and exploitation is a $105,000,000 per year business for the Chinese underworld. Once in China the victims are prostituted for as little as $4 United States Dollars, sold as wives for just $146 United States Dollars, and trafficked into cybersex dens for exploitation by a global online audience. A shortage of marriageable Chinese women has created a market for foreign brides and sex workers. This demand is being filled in China's southern provinces by trafficking in victims from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia as well. Girls and women driven by desperation and fear unwittingly are sucked into this nightmare.

Returning to the situation here in America, it could be that we dramatically understate the magnitude of human trafficking taking place within our borders. The covert nature of these operations and our lack of awareness means statistics under-represent the scale of this problem. Adding to this is the opioid crisis because people suffering from drug addiction are particularly susceptible to being trafficked. The top five cities in America for human trafficking reports are Washington DC, Atlanta, Orlando, Miami, and Las Vegas. This is often driven by the prostitution industry.  While some prostitutes may work entirely on their own a significant number of them are working against their will. It should be noted that each of these locations are major tourist destinations with international airports. On a per-capita basis, Washington DC and Nevada have the most reports of human trafficking in the nation with rates as much as five times greater than in other areas.

The second major category of human trafficking is coerced labor. In heavy agricultural states trafficking reports are also very high. In America, a great deal about the history of slavery is centered upon the oppression of blacks but most people forget or never knew many of the Irish that came to America arrived as indentured servants. A case could be made that slavery is color blind and simply hones in on the most vulnerable of society with something the rich and powerful desire. When all the above is considered, it is not surprising that slavery often resides at the intersection of power and taboo. Cultural taboos whether social or religious prohibiting or forbidding a particular practice often have a strange allure. With this in mind, it seems those in power seem to get a real kick out of suppressing and dominating others. Allowing and accepting this diminishes all of us.
 
                                                                                  This blog is not written for money
                                                                                  or profit but as a way to share ideas
                                                                                  and thoughts. If you liked this post
                                                                                  feel free  to E-mail it to a friend
                                                                                  using  this link. E-mail to a friend


Footnote; A topic not addressed in this article is that of "state imposed forced labor." The link below delves into how China treats its millions of citizens that do not make an effort to march in step. The ruling Communist Party has built "re-education camps" in an attempt to bring these people into the “modern, civilized” world promote what the government calls “ethnic unity” but in simpler terms the apparent goal is to force detainees to embrace the Chinese communist party.
https://brucewilds.blogspot.com/2018/12/chinas-human-rights-abuse-ignored.html

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Advancing Time: Amazon Quietly Exploits Everyone And Everything

 Amazon exploits its workers and its vendors. It also negotiates special
deals with the government and even electric companies that shift costs
to its other customers. Utilizing the "power of the web" it slips and
sneaks its messages into places uninvited. These all have been a big
factor in thousands of retailers being forced to close and in the
destruction of small businesses across America. The article below delves
into whether there is anyone or anything that Amazon doesn't exploit? Advancing Time: Amazon Quietly Exploits Everyone And Everything:

Amazon Quietly Exploits Everyone And Everything

The Backlash Is Rapidly Growing
When doing a "Bing search" of Target today Amazon dominated the page that came up on the screen. It was only when you scrolled down to the bottom of the page that you found Target's sales specials. Walmart, on the other hand defended itself much better. This is an example of the "power of the web" and proof it helps to control a big chunk of it which allows companies to sneak in and slip their messages into places uninvited. Much like the robocalls that interrupt our day despite being on the no-call list. Still, with so many people ties to the internet, these pop-up messages are stamping an influence on how we live. Having noted this, Amazon.com, Inc.’s Web Services (AWS) unit has been the engine behind the company’s spectacular recent performance, AWS generated operating income of $7.2 billion last year, up 68% year-over-year and accounting for 59% of Amazon’s total operating income.

Amazon's decision to invest in, expand, and develop its own cloud because of its huge computer and data needs has taken the company down a path few of us expected. Amazon's power in computing has greatly multiplied the ways it can exert pressure and exploit us. We should never underestimate how having total control of its own "cloud" has given Amazon power that few companies have ever held. Amazon's on-demand cloud computing platforms provide individuals, companies, and governments, on a metered pay-as-you-go basis. By entering into super low-cost agreements that no other cloud company wants to compete with Amazon has been able to rapidly expand and weasel into companies simply to log up growth. 

According to an article on Bloomberg, Amazon has also negotiated an unknown rate discount with American Electric Power in Ohio. This has happened in other places also and shifts the cost to other customers without them even knowing. Much in the same way it has worked out an agreement with the United States Parcel Service to deliver its packages at a lower rate and with better terms than competitors get Amazon uses these tactics to move forward. Generally, the company doesn't get caught or it spins and buries the bad press but allegation of unethical conduct do occasionally get out. Sadly, because of the ties Amazon has within government it usually results in talk of a crackdown or investigation without the follow-through.

A while back Bloomberg reported that Amazon is set to purge many of its small suppliers over the next few months. This could shatter the relationship between Amazon and many of its long-time vendors. This comes on the heels of reports that Amazon was "crushing" its merchants by undercutting the vendors by introducing in house versions of their own. Purging vendors is aimed at cutting costs and focusing wholesale purchasing on large brands like Procter & Gamble, Sony, and Lego. Amazon claims this is about ensuring it has adequate supplies of "must-have" merchandise that will help it compete with companies like Target and Walmart.  

This could leave a lot of companies scrambling to replace lost business since Amazon tends not to give much lead time when it makes such changes. This marks one of the large shifts in Amazon strategy since it opened the site up to independent sellers nearly twenty years ago. Now, many smaller retailers that have relied on Amazon for a steady stream of orders will have to win sales one shopper at a time on the platform's marketplace. Amazon normally secures inventory in two ways: it buys items directly from wholesale vendors and resells them or by allowing independent merchants to post their own products on the site.

Amazon has been in full speed ahead mode to expand product selection without spending more to oversee it. The initiative includes automating tasks that were previously done by human employees, like forecasting demand and negotiating prices. It also involves pushing more Amazon suppliers to sell goods on their own so that Amazon doesn’t have to pay people to do it for them. For Amazon, it means holding less inventory and reducing the risk that it gets stuck with it. this translates into collecting a commission on each sale a vendor makes while charging them fees to store, pack and deliver their goods. This is a sweet deal for Amazon.

Senator Warren Has Spoken Against Amazon
Senator Elizabeth Warren states, “Amazon crushes small companies by copying the goods they sell on the Amazon Marketplace and then selling its own branded version,” One vendor, Jason Boyce, has been wary of regulation as small business owner but despite this, he was willing to consider proposed regulations by Senator Elizabeth Warren that would prevent Amazon from competing against its merchants. Boyce said: “If you’re going to have a marketplace, you shouldn’t be able to piggyback off the hard work and labor of your sellers to beat them.” Among its offerings, Amazon has started selling bocce ball sets that cost $15 less than Boyce’s and giving them ideal page space to win the shopper looking for the lowest price.

Many vendors are increasingly dependent on for their livelihood on Amazon. This allows the company to make whatever impromptu changes it wants with no consequences. because of this Amazon merchants are increasingly finding they are on the wrong end of a lopsided deal with the company. Amazon share has "almost tripled to more than 40 percent in the past few years," according to merchants quoted by Bloomberg.this is significantly higher than peers like eBay, who take just 6 cents per dollar. This near-monopolistic dominance of the $600 billion online retail market that's growing at triple the pace of retail spending has put Amazon in a position where they can continue to increase control over vendors.

Until now merchants have gravitated toward Amazon despite these higher rates and even as the company has raised how much it takes from each sale. Still, it is logical to think that at some point the backlash that is quietly building will make itself heard. Its message being, enough is enough. The most disturbing part of all this is that after sucking all it can out of both vendors and consumers Amazon is rushing to replace its workers with robots. This leaves the question, is their anyone or anything that Amazon doesn't exploit?
                                                                                  This blog is not written for money
                                                                                  or profit but as a way to share ideas
                                                                                  and thoughts. If you liked this post
                                                                                  feel free  to E-mail it to a friend
                                                                                  using  this link. E-mail to a friend

Footnote; This is the second part of a three-part series. Part one explored how Amazon is a destructive force that is bad for society. Part three will delve into the Jeff Bezos "empire" and why antitrust laws and other ideas should be looked into to halt its advance.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Amazon Is Bad For America - Boycott Anything Amazo...



Advancing Time: Amazon Is Bad For America - Boycott Anything Amazo...: An All Too common Sight All Across America Amazon's coming Prime Day global shopping event is the perfect time for consumers to just say no to the company. Prime day is part of Amazon's engulf and
devour strategy to weasel its way into our lives. It is difficult to
quantify all the damage Amazon has done to America as it has burrowed
its way into the fabric of society. 


This article explores some of the many ways Amazon has exploited communities by continually telling consumers it is the answer to a "better America" while it feeds at the government teat. It also urges people to consider what kind of
community and society they want in the coming years before jumping on the
Amazon bandwagon. Again I say, Boycott Amazon!

Amazon Is Bad For America - Boycott Anything Amazon

An All Too common Sight All Across America
Amazon's coming Prime Day global shopping event is the perfect time for consumers to just say no to the company that employs an engulf and devour strategy to weasel its way into our lives. It is difficult to quantify all the damage Amazon has done to America as it has burrowed its way into the fabric of society. This company has exploited communities by continually telling consumers it is the answer to a "better America" while it feeds at the government teat. Only after it has wrecked communities leaving many Americans jobless and retail stores sitting as giant empty shells might short-sighted consumers finally see the airs of their way. Amazon is bad for America - it is that simple!

An example of this surfaced a while back when it was reported that Amazon would be allowed a two year trial in New York state to ship food to customers and be paid with their EBT cards. This would in effect hammer Amazon's competitors that were not allowed to do the same. While nobody seemed to care this translates into grocery stores willing to locate in poorer areas losing business to a company unwilling to locate in these less desirable markets. This is a rather self-defeating in that it rewards those unwilling to commit to making the community better and damages the brick and mortar stores that will. Not only do these stores pay local real estate taxes and provide jobs for those in the community they also are forced to deal with a huge number of shoplifters.

As A Taxpayer I Find This Not Acceptable!
It galls me to no end to see retailers in our communities going out of business as the US Postal Service bends over backward to give Amazon a special edge. This is very wrong! Considering that the USPS has had to purchase special equipment such as larger trucks to deliver packages for Amazon it is not difficult to reach the conclusion the USPS is simply in cahoots with Amazon or willing to sell out rest of American businesses for a few dollars in revenue.  On Memorial Day I saw the USPS delivering a package for Amazon. Please name another company that gets this type of special treatment and service from the post office. This is a time when most stores are closed so their employees can be with their family, ironically, in the past, many retailers have reaped public outrage for staying open and trying to profit during major holidays.

Fred's valuable tip was a "Hallmark moment"
People often claim to expound old-time values such as cherishing personal relationships with the people in their neighborhoods that they do business with. Sadly, without much thought, these "Hallmark moments" are often thrown under the bus. While consumers may cherish the help and advice supplied by Fred at the local hardware store they can rapidly become disloyal when seduced by a good ad appearing online. It seems some consumers become almost giddy at the thought of receiving a package from an online seller mistaking it for a gift. The truth is these packages are not free. Even if they are paying the same price such goods come with a hidden cost levied against their community. That cost is lost jobs, local sales, and a lower tax base. This is why if prices are anywhere near the same it is wise to "do the right thing" and support your local merchants.

On another note, when things get tough that is when you find out who your friends are. I remember the eyes of the nation turned towards Florida when Hurricane Irma was bearing down with category 5 winds and companies like Walmart and Target queued up to give back to the communities that supported their stores. In one heartwarming commercial, we saw Walmart paints a picture of America coming together supporting those who saw their lives washed away by Hurricane Harvey just days before. Meanwhile, Amazon.com increased prices on basic supplies ahead of the hurricane’s landfall in Florida. The fact Amazon jumped the cost of water drew the most ire. Kate Taylor of Business Insider reports, customers took to Twitter to share screenshots of water from various brands — for example, Aquafina and NestlĂ© — priced roughly between $20 and $25 per case. Usually, the same cases of water sell for between $4 and $8. The bottom line is Amazon gouged customers for about 500 to 625 percent.

Over the years Amazon has employed an "engulf and devour" strategy that takes no prisoners. It even crushes merchants working on its platform by stealing their product ideas and undercutting them on prices. This is done by giving their own Amazon-branded products premium real estate on their website. Amazon has also been stepping up efforts to recruit Chinese suppliers and manufacturers directly which cuts small American merchants out of the picture. As these new Chinese players have entered the picture "an explosion" of counterfeit products and fake reviews have hit the site. This is an issue prominent in Chinese e-commerce. With US shoppers estimated to spend $317 billion on Amazon this year or about 52.4% of all online sales. profits have increased for seven quarters in a row Amazon has become a formidable force.

I ask all consumers to see Amazon for what it is, a self-promoting hype machine. This company is far from transparent and while politicians fall over themselves to be in its shadow it is not our friend. Because of its massive advertising budget and other ties to Amazon, we find the media often seems to be in bed with Amazon and fall all over themselves to portray the company as both the flavor of the day and the future of commerce. This means you seldom hear anything bad about the retail behemoth that has the power to turn most news articles about Amazon into nothing more than free advertising that is spun to place the company in a flattering light.  

Current tax laws at the local, state and federal level have changed little over the decades and lag far behind how business is conducted in our modern age. This feeds directly into creating an unfair advantage for Amazon which has used them as a foundation to fuel its growth. Still, even more troubling is how the company has created an environment that draws in other sellers of goods then in a predatory manner undercut their ability to compete. When you add these actions with Amazons growing influence in Washington due to its strong relationship and contracts with the CIA and deep state and its CEO's ability to drive public opinion through the Washington Post we have every reason for grave concern. Remember the proverbial saying 'power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely'.

I strongly urge people to consider what kind of community and society they want in the coming years before jumping on the Amazon bandwagon. Amazon excels in creating illusions that fail to hold up under scrutiny. For all the praise many people and politicians heap upon small business they are often quick to cut the very throat of the creator of much of our wealth and jobs. India recently tightened the noose on E-retailers and America should too. America also needs to investigate ways to level the playing field and protect brick and mortar retailers that provide jobs and are so important to the fabric of communities. Since Washington has become tangled up in its own feet and unable to get anything done it is time we the people take action, that is why I again state, "Amazon is bad for America" I urge you to boycott anything Amazon.

                                                                                  This blog is not written for money
                                                                                  or profit but as a way to share ideas
                                                                                  and thoughts. If you liked this post
                                                                                  feel free  to E-mail it to a friend
                                                                                  using  this link. E-mail to a friend

Footnote; This is the first part of a three-part series. Part two will explore how Amazon exploits businesses that sell on its marketing platform and part three will delve into the Jeff Bezos "empire" and why antitrust laws and other ideas should be looked into to halt its advance.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Advancing Time: Low Unemployment Brings A Big Negative To Business...

Advancing Time: Low Unemployment Brings A Big Negative To Business...: Employers Pay Good Money For Bad Workers M illions of people are back to work and economists agree that the economy is now at or close...

Low Unemployment Brings A Big Negative To Businesses

Employers Pay Good Money For Bad Workers
Millions of people are back to work and economists agree that the economy is now at or close to full employment. How this impacts business and society is a double-edged sword. When economists talk about full employment, they don’t mean everybody has a job because not even the rosiest economic health can cut unemployment to zero. If unemployment falls too much, inflation will rise as employers push up wages as they compete to hire workers. To economists, full employment means that unemployment has fallen to the lowest possible level that won’t spark inflation. In the U.S., that was once thought to be a jobless rate of about 5 percent but has been lowered to around 4.5 percent. Today the LBS claims the unemployment rate is 3.7 percent.

In 1977 the American government added to the Federal Reserve the goal of creating "maximum employment." More important is creating what might be considered the "optimum" rate of employment. Most governments set themselves or their central banks a guideline of full or maximum employment but what exactly counts as full employment is up for debate. Central bankers continue to seek the "sweet spot" but in our fast-changing economy that remains a challenge. It must be noted the boundary between long-term structural unemployment and the temporary, cyclical kind is not clear-cut.

Non-productive Workers Often Nap At Work
While we are busy praising low unemployment numbers we should remember that with these comes a huge negative that directly impacts employers. Not only are they forced to pay higher wages but it is often for workers residing at, shall we say, the bottom of the barrel. These workers are often "brain dead" or carry so many bad habits that in many ways they are more trouble than they are worth. By this, I mean that they can actually cost an employer more to employ than they add to the company's bottom line. Poor quality employees actually cost companies money and often creates more problems than they solve. It is important to remember that simply raising the minimum wage without a corresponding rise in productivity does not work. 

Toxic Employees The Bane Of Small Business
From the employer's point of view, low unemployment makes running their business far more difficult in ways that most people never consider. Filling your ranks with lazy, stupid, or incompetent employees creates a slew of costly management headaches. This is exacerbated if these people are required to work off site outside a controlled environment. Is such a situation people are often called upon to make judgment calls or decisions that can quickly come back to haunt them and the company is the one responsible for their actions. Toxic employees are the bane of small business.

Make no mistake, the brunt of the damage being done as a result of this low unemployment era is falling directly upon the shoulders of small business and retailers. Not only are desperate employers having to pay more for less, at times they cannot even fill job slots. this often means at times they are being forced to cut hours. While it is generally the marginal hours where the fewest customers visit it still has a long-term effect because when customers find a store closed they often break their buying habits and seek out other alternatives. Another factor hacking away at the bottom line of employers is that as soon as they have spent money training a new employee that person is pouched by a bigger company offering better pay and benefits. This adds to the "turnover factor." When jobs are plentiful employees are quicker to explore other job options and turnover becomes a costly problem.

In the middle of 2017. President Trump attacked Amazon saying, the e-commerce giant is "doing great damage to tax-paying retailers" but has failed to follow through with any move to level the playing field. Ironically this was and remains at a time when Amazon with the aid of government is eating the lunch of brick and mortar stores. Still, Washington takes no action to recognize that e-commerce is a different kind of animal and that it has the potential to harm the economy. Understanding the value of brick and mortar stores to local communities India has placed several restrictions on E-retailers in order to level the playing field and make things fair.

Recently Amazon has been under a great deal of criticism for low pay and the harsh treatment of its workers so it should not come as a surprise that Bezos a proven master of hype and re-framing issues has announced his company will be increasing wages. Amazon said it will start lobbying for an increase in the federal minimum wage, currently at $7.25 an hour. The fact is most employees already are paid far more than this. Do not be fooled, this is just another ploy as Bezos pursues his goal to eliminate competition all over America. By raising the cost for smaller competitors he will put them out of business." It is little wonder he is now endorsing this as he eliminates workers and moves towards automation and utilizing more robots.

By far the worst abuser of the current e-commerce system here in America is Amazon which has developed strong ties with the government. Adding to the pain is the fact the United States Postal Service has decided to shower Amazon with special benefits. Not only do they give the company special rates but also have gone to delivering Amazon packages on Sunday. To make matters worse state and local governments have put special packages together with incentives and tax breaks aimed at luring Amazon to build in their areas oblivious to the damage it will cause in coming years. How can other retailers compete with that!

The truth is those small business owners often tied to brick and mortar are forced to wear many hats and their workers are often required to perform several different and distinct tasks. This often means large companies are better candidates for utilizing robots and automation as a way to reduce labor cost. This means a company such as Amazon gains a huge advantage over small and local businesses as wages rise during low unemployment. This helps explain why its CEO Jeff Bezos recently endorsed the idea of a higher minimum wage. For Bezos, this is a bonus in that it will help eliminate competition all across America as he doubles down on adding more robots to his workforce.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

How Will The Next Economic Crisis Affect You?

Wealth Transfer Is A Shell Game!
As the global economy muddles forward I fear far too many people have grown complacent as to how the next financial crisis will shape their life. Predicting when or which of the many possible catalysts will result in a collapse of the current situation is impossible. Still, what may be significant is this may be the longest bull market in history. As an individual or an investor, your chief concern should be that you do not become a victim.

In his book, Skin In The Game, Nassim Taleb, writes about the transfer of wealth and how the system is rigged. By this I mean, how certain people get to keep the profits when they make money but when they lose, someone else bears the cost as they do their Black Swan invocation. Taleb said this occurs whenever a mismatch builds up in the system as people jump in trying to make the easy money. We have witnessed this time and time again as society bails-out the same individuals that cause or allow a financial crisis to develop under the idea they are too big to fail.

Unfortunately, none of us qualify for such protection. A key factor in setting the bar that determines the rate of inflation or deflation in coming years is how much wealth escapes the next large economic crisis. If you believe we merely masked over most of our financial problems after 2008 with a huge amount of newly printed money you are likely to embrace this concept. Wealth and how things are valued is not constant but fungible and constantly changing. Wealth can be held in the form of paper, promises, or as something more tangible and real such as property or goods. Some items such as a tool hold "utility value" and its value may be based on how much work it can perform or the revenue it can produce. Replacement cost, supply and demand, and factors such as whether something can spoil or might grow obsolete over time also determines the value of an item and whether it is a good place to store wealth.

Wealth is defined as the abundance of valuable resources or valuable material possessions. An individual, community, region or country that possesses an abundance of such possessions or resources to the benefit of the common good is known as wealthy. Defining wealth is one thing but it is important to actually delve into its nature to truly understand just how elusive it can be. Wealth is also relevant and judged by how you compare to others in your community. Still, when you imagine your life as the poorest person in a very rich and wealthy society versus how you might live as the richest person in the poorest and wretched place. It becomes clear the former might be preferable.

Don't Be Naive - Nothing Will Change!
Pensions, annuities, and even investments in stocks and such all fall into the area of paper promises that are often recorded somewhere far from sight as a digital entry on a computer. These intangible stores of wealth based on faith have grown at a massive rate during the last several decades, prior to that they were relatively minor. Currencies, also known as fiat money, are also just IOUs or paper promises. The idea of a currency free society in my mind tends to break the bonds that link us to wealth but that is for another post.

In the past I have written several pieces about subjects such as, writing off the rising amount of bad debt, how debt is like a mirage moving into the distance, how bad debt is resolved, and how precarious the vessels where we store our wealth can be, however, the crux of this article centers around what will or might be left after stress pushes the global economy to the brink or into total collapse. A great deal will depend on how such an event unfolds, this means what kind or type of value and wealth is the first to vanish. I will be the first to admit the answer is unknown but this is more of an exercise of the mind where I am asking you to consider and question such a possibility.

Be Skeptical, Be Cautious, Get Smart!
Take a minute and think about the many ways your wealth might vanish into thin air or how it could seep away. In our modern society, much like a shell game, wealth is constantly being transferred and always on the move. Wealth zips across borders at the click of a button and just because you deposit it with a local institution does not mean it stays in your community. We saw shades of this decades ago during the savings and loan crisis when huge beautiful buildings were constructed in certain areas from money being transferred in from other parts of the country. Needless to say when the dust settled the big winners were the areas with the new buildings. They came at a great discount when the loans used to build them went into default.

Today some market watchers claim that the stock market is being held at lofty levels while the smart money is rushing to the exits. Today tens of trillions of dollars are sitting in offshore banking accounts in places such as the Cayman Islands. Today government and businesses are borrowing hundreds of billions of dollars each year by issuing bonds some that will not return investor's money for decades. Today homes, apartments, and buildings are being built, some poorly constructed, with loans guaranteed more or less by the American people. Today America's national debt stands at 22.4 trillion dollars and is rising. Today currencies such as the euro and yen are even more fundamentally flawed than the dollar. I could do this a bit longer but I suspect I've made the point.

I hate to blow a hole in the idea that you can safely tuck your money away in an offshore banking account but I have to ask where all the money deposited in the Caymans really is. Banks do not just sit on deposits and keep them safe. We must never forget the world is full of crooks, evil politicians, and that it sports judicial systems where true justice is a rare commodity. Again, returning to the focus of this article. what is indeed important is what or how much wealth survives an economic crisis and in what form because when that wealth comes out of hibernation it will soak up all the tangible assets on the planet. This will be the determining factor of whether we face inflation, deflation, or some crazy mix of the two.

Remember it is the nature of those in charge to throw the masses under the bus when things go sideways. This means the average person should expect little in the way of protection in any coming storm. The economic landscape we face following such an event will without a doubt be shaped and depend on what wealth survives and how much vanishes following a tsunami of defaults. We might even see governments monetize their debt creating a massive wave of inflation. A word to the wise should be sufficient and cause any person prudent or interested in protecting their wealth to consider the many ways wealth can vanish. The fact is, this can happen to you.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Trump's View Of The World May Be Skewed By His Past

Trump Has A Distinct View Of The World
There is an old sales adage that says “sell the sizzle, not the steak.” With this in mind, we should remember Trump excels at promoting. Trump appears to not see himself as the smartest man in the room but at times acts as if he is the smartest man on the planet. As we have come to know more about him we can see he is very comfortable with economic manipulation. One commentator recently said again, and again, it seems Trump creates a crisis then pulls back at the last second. After pulling back he then claims victory and that he has resolved the issue.

This article is not written as an attack on Trump but to point out the President has a distinct view of the world which spills into the financial system. Trump appears to embrace MMT and often seems more worried about today than the future. His "damn tomorrow" attitude is reflected in deficit spending and calling for lower interest rates. His delusion that his stock market can go straight up forever is not based on years of stock trading but rather his years in real estate where inflation treated him well as prices rose ever higher. Within the sector of the economy where Trump made his fortune, world spending, debt, and lower interest rates are the key driver of expansion. Securing a low-interest rate loan and waiting for real estate values to rise has been a big winner.

While I tend to get annoyed when so-called experts state exactly what Trump is thinking, I feel an article originally appearing on NYPost.com. sheds some light on his views. The article delves into the remarks of Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Arthur Laffer, an economist who served as an adviser to President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign. Laffer jabbed at embattled Federal Reserve chairman Powell and questioned the body’s autonomy. He stated, “The Fed shouldn’t be independent of the administration. Never should be. None of those people were elected. They were appointed. And there’s no reason for them being appointed. It’s a policy tool that should be in the hands of the Congress and the President to make our country better,”

Trump, frustrated by the Fed’s interest rate hikes has pushed Powell hard to lower rates. Following in Trump's footsteps, Laffer encouraged Powell to be a “professional” and lower interest rates. 
Laffer, an adviser to President Ronald Reagan, is given recognition for his contributions to Republican economic theory. Much of this is centered around, the idea of “trickle down economics” and how lower tax rates trickle down to benefit the overall economy. It often appears that Trumps sees a higher stock market as proof he is on the proper track but is blind to how distorted markets have become.

Still, the ugly truth is American companies have little reason to bring jobs home. The logic that lowering corporate income tax will create a massive flow of jobs to our shore is flawed. The tax bill does little to level the playing field when it comes to issues such as healthcare cost and over-regulation. Simply put, the structural issues that haunt America's competitiveness far outweigh the benefits of lower taxes and remain as barriers to doing business in America. Hopefully, a positive, yet unintended consequence of this, coupled will the trade war currently raging, will be that companies build more production facilities here in America. This, of course, would have to do with the fact labor has become a much smaller part of overall production cost than in the past.

Circling back to the crux of this article, I contend that while Trump touts a fondness and respect for hard-working Americans his policies will continue to create more inequality. Low interest rates have several hidden costs. They include increasing speculation, distorting prices, and allowing boondoggles to be built while reducing income to savers. This money flows to big business and Wall Street first and less so to small local merchants. In short, they fuel a false economy. As for the economic concept of  “trickle down economics,” the problem is that those at the bottom share only a few drops of the benefits while those at the top swim in a pool.


Footnote; Below is the link to a recent article which argues the Federal Reserve has become the great enabler responsible for allowing the world to embark on a huge and rapid expansion of debt and credit. It warns that Trump’s desire to manipulate the dollar lower to boost exports would take the world down a very dangerous path.