Category Archives: Business

Brave New World: Workers implanted with microchips

This is from a couple days ago but there might be some GMD luddites who missed it. A snack company that supplies office break-rooms is testing out surgically implanting microchips in their own employees’ hands as part of a voluntary experiment.

Three Square Market’s CEO Todd Westby says: “[…] the implanted microchip makes it easier for people to pay for items at work. Instead of looking for coins, cash or a credit card, they would only need to place their hand in front of a scanner and electronically pay for their item.”

Three Square Market is planning to sell the technology to other companies and has partnered with a Swedish firm, BioHax International, to make the chip, which uses Radio-Frequency Identification to electronically identify stored information and near-field communication, the same type of technology used to pay for items with mobile phone scans. BioHax International: Digitizing Evolution

CEO Todd Westby Three Square Market shown with micro- chip on shoulder
CEO Todd Westby of Three Square Market shown with micro- chip on shoulder

The company reports 50 employees have voluntarily agreed to the chip implant. For those worried about privacy, the company says the data coming from the chip is encrypted and cannot be tracked they say.

If you wonder, as I do,  why Three Square Market at $300.00 a chip is shelling out $15,000 to make it easier for 50 employees to buy their own company’s snacks, well, it turns out the chips also function as  electronic keys to open doors and as ID login for company computers. And although the chip will not, so they say, track Three Square employees, the data will doubtless provide a time stamped record of when and where  employees opened a door or logged on.

Three Square Market’s Face Book page brags that their vending kiosk service for businesses break-room clients offers “three square meals daily without ever leaving the building.” And while in the building,  a Three Square seeing eye is on them watching who is coming and going for snacks because: A camera is mounted in our market to protect against theft; if inventory is off, we can check our cameras to see if and whom left without paying.

Or check on “whom” was goofing off at the snack kiosk?  Privacy assurances aside, Three Squares Market looks like a perfect fit for normalizing a new wave of corporate “Big Brother” style employee tracking technology. You may not be chained to your desk, but really what you’ve got is a longer, seeing-eye leash.

Job preservation at work in Vermont

Country Home Products named one of Vermont’s best places to work in 2017 has announced it is laying off dozens of Vermont workers. There’s a major layoff announcement in Winooski. Country Home Products informed employees this week that dozens will soon be out of a job.[…]selffeeding layoff The Vermont-born maker of outdoor power tools gave 67 employees a letter or reached out by phone, telling workers they are out of a job and when their last day will be.

In 2009 the longtime Vermont business Country HomeProducts/DR Power raised $12 million from 24 foreign investors through the EB-5 investment-for-visas program. The $12 million was used to fund product development and market expansion. As a designated “troubled business,” the company escaped the normal EB-5 requirement to create 10 jobs and only had to preserve existing jobs.

Six years passed, and in 2015 Country Home Products, now with a market value of $2.1 billion, was sold to Generac Holdings Inc., a larger publicly traded business. Generac is headquartered in Waukesha, WI, the CEO is Aaron Jagdfeld, and the company employs 4,202 people. Jagdfeld’s overall compensation in 2016 was $3.9 million, while all executive compensation was up 6.51% the same year.

And so now the layoffs start. Country Home Products president Matt Bieber says the full-time, part-time and seasonal layoffs are in addition to the complete closure of their Winooski assembly plant. [Emphasis added.]

Kind of raises a few questions about what “job preservation” in Vermont actually means. And whose job and for how long was it supposed to be preserved?

I am sure we will be told there isn’t much the State can do other than speedily provide unemployment benefits and perhaps job counseling.  Although Governor Scott offers this: “Any job loss in the state of Vermont is concerning,” His suggestion that, “It reinforces that we have to watch every dollar. We have to make Vermont more affordable,” might ring kind of hollow to those now out a good job. No prescriptions available for this malady from the Gov., just take two ‘affordables’ and call me in the morning.

Gov. Scott picks former ALEC chair for Green Mountain Care Board head

The Governor’s veto of the marijuana bill on Wednesday today may suck all the air out of Vermont newsrooms for the next day or so but he quietly made a couple appointments that will likely have as big an impact on the state.Scottkevinalec 2

Scott appointed state Senator Kevin Mullin (R-Rutland) to chair the Green Mountain Care Board and Maureen Usifer to the board. The legislature created  the independent GMCB in 2011. Its responsibilities include health insurance rates, hospital budgets, and major capital expenditures.

“Healthcare makes up approximately 20 percent of our economy, so it is critical to have strong, experienced leaders on this Board. Kevin is a proven leader with decades of business, management and public service experience, which he will bring to bear in this important leadership role. And, as an experienced chief financial officer and board director for respected companies, Maureen’s expertise in finance, management and oversight will be incredibly valuable to the Board and Vermonters,” said Scott in a press release [added emphasis]

So who is Senator Mullin, Scott’s choice to chair the Green Mountain Care Board? What kind of Republican is he? And what do we know about his view on the role of government in say, healthcare? Well, Mullin does have a long resume at the State House. He served as State Rep. from Rutland for four years, was appointed to the Senate in 2003, and won re-election to the seat ever since. He is currently chair of the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs and sits on the Senate Committee on Education.

Senator Mullin served two separate times as Vermont state chair of one of the Koch Brothers’ many organizations, The American Legislative Exchange Council. A national franchise, ALEC supports right-wing state legislators with model legislation favorable to its corporate members. According to sourcewatch.org: ALEC’s agenda extends into almost all areas of law. Its bills undermine environmental regulations and deny climate change; support school privatization; undercut health care reform; defund unions and limit their political influence; restrain legislatures’ abilities to raise revenue through taxes; mandate strict election laws that disenfranchise voters; increase incarceration to benefit the private prison industry, among many other issues.

Mullin did not support Trump in last year’s GOP presidential primary. He sort of sat on his hands preferring John Kasich but when rumors that speaker Paul Ryan might jump in the race Mullin said he’d support him. Paul Ryan never ran but he is now champion of the GOP’s despicable American Health Care Act, which the CBO says would leave 23 million Americans uninsured by 2026 if it replaces the ACA (Obamacare) in its current form.

Ryan favors making millions of Americans uninsured, and ALEC wants to undermine regulations. I wonder which part of Mullin’s two favorite leadership models Governor Scott wants him to bring to bear on the Green Mountain Care Board Speaker Ryan’s health care lies, the Koch Brothers’ anti-government corporate-fueled juggernaut or both.

Either way, stock up on Band-Aids, since that’s all the healthcare many of us will be able to afford under Mullin and TrumpDon’tCare.

 

Why does WCAX’s Celebrating Cinco de Mayo video start with U.S. Border Patrol?

I don’t have cable and rarely look at WCAX online. But I did check out Vermont’s news station after hearing that the Martin family, owners of WCAX TV, had agreed to be sold to Gray Television, a media conglomerate from Georgia, for $29 million. WCAXmayo2

For no special reason I clicked on a days-old video story Celebrating Cinco de Mayo in Vermont. It was a bit of a shock that a still shot showing what seems to be a U.S. Border Patrol immigration traffic stop of some kind precedes the actual story about a May 5th party in Essex Junction .

Cinco de Mayo commemorates a battle between the Mexican army and French forces in 1862. The May 5th date is significant in the U.S. as a celebration of Mexican-American culture. I guess since the recent waves of immigrant arrests an algorithmic profile (or some staffer?) at WCAX NEWS thought, ‘Nothing says Cinco de Mayo 2017 in Vermont more than a Border Patrol immigration stop.’

Well for better or worse WCAX will likely be in for changes and adjustment soon under the new ownership. And it’s clear the lucrative New England political media market is what Hilton Hatchet Howell, Jr., CEO and vice chairman of Gray Television, is after.

And make no mistake Hilton Hatchet Howell is in it for the political ad money. He commented on Gray Television’s recent purchases of WCAX, a Maine station and one in Florida: “Of particular note to me. This acquisition leads Gray to, for the first time in its corporate history, have three New England stations and all three of those New England stations have some of the highest political revenue in their markets and we are quite excited about that. It moves us into New Hampshire for the very first time in the Northern part of that state, and we add to our operations in Maine, which is a politically-sensitive state during the presidential election year.”

Upwards of $100 million was spent on political ads in broadcast and cable television in New England markets. It looks like Hilton Hatchet Howell, Jr., went shopping for and bought himself a cash cowaccess to the New Hampshire presidential primary ad revenue.

And speaking of politically sensitive, 3-H better adjust WCAX’s algorithmic profiling and/or staff cultural awareness training before Cinco de Mayo rolls around again.

[Updated] Exemption in the GOP stampede of Obama-care repeal madness

[UPDATE:  The House by unanimous vote removed the provision that exempted members of  Congress and staff from certain repeal provisions before the up-or-down vote on bill.  From Talkingpointsmemo.com

“We firmly believe members of Congress should live by the same rules as everyone else. Period,” Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) said Thursday on the House floor. “It’s only right. It’s only proper.”

But Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) {has a different  and more realistic view, in my opinion  BP} responded, “They planned to exempt themselves from Trumpcare until they got caught.”]

There’s a mad rush of crazed GOP Representatives in the US Congress about to vote on a health care bill, the details of which most of them will know very little.elephantstampede2

House GOP leaders worked Wednesday night to fast-track consideration of their Obama-Care replacement bill without posting the bill text and without a Congressional Budget Office analysis detailing the effects of the latest changes to the legislation.

In one way this vote probably isn’t big GOP news as they have already voted 54 times in the past to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act (aka: Obama-care). But as of Wednesday one thing has managed to stay stuck fast from the beginning of this renewed effort to gut Obama-care in the otherwise ever-changing versions of the house bill. That would be a provision that exempts members of Congress and their staff from losing certain provisions of ACA they apparently enjoy having. Calling this special feature a “loophole”  Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) claims he will work hard to close after the bill is passed. MacArthur is the Congressman whose name is on this version of the  “Repeal and Replace” bill, framed as an amendment.

Funny how so many other provisions can get rapidly plugged and unplugged from the repeal bill as it races forward, but one that favors Congress and staff just can’t seem to be stamped out of any drafts. Gosh, that’s just sooo puzzling!

The House elephants never, ever forget themselves when it comes to programs they want to take away from the rest of us.

Congress votes on budget bill, but marches on its stomach

An omnibus spending bill is expected to be passed by Congress, reportedly will be signed by the President, and will fund the U.S. Government until the end of September 2017.

President Trump failed to get much of what he had demanded from the Congressional bill. The Mexican border wall won’t get a bit of the funding he spelled out in his own budget “outline.” So the army of hundreds of private contractors waiting to bid and cash-in on it will have to wait to build Donald’s dream wall.

Another kick in the  White House budget priorities is that funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities and National Endowment for the Arts survived. Not only did it survive, but in fact the NEA will get an increase! And for Big Bird and other PBS fans, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (PBS funding mechanism) appropriation was not zeroed out as Trump dreamed, but will be level-funded for this period.

Housecafe1So Trump didn’t get much of what he wanted but Rollcall.com reports that issues both the House of Representatives and Senate have with their dinning service vendors made it into the omnibus spending bill.

The House found the room in the massive spending bill to make known their complaints about the variety of food served in their cafeterias. “There is concern with continued food service issues surrounding lack of food variety, consistent quality of service, and management challenges with the food services provider,” appropriators drafting the omnibus spending agreement said in an accompanying report.

The current House food service vendor is the catering giant Sodexo, operating large dining halls, along with offering Dunkin’ Donuts and Subway. The spending bill’s report signals a potential interest in more chains.

And Senators, at least for purposes of the spending bill, are less concerned with the quality of food itself but with food service workers’ pay. Last year, the Department of Labor found that nearly 700 workers with the Senate’s food services had been underpaid. Restaurant Associates was found to have improperly classified workers in positions where they would make lower wages. The back pay due exceeded $1 million. The accompanying Senate report recommends more training for contract staff on labor laws as well as making worker rights information available in multi-language formats.

The old saying attesting to the need to be well provisioned attributed to both Frederick the Great and Napoleon goes: An army marches on its stomach. It seems members of Congress feel they can’t “march” properly unless they have more food optionsdifferent food chains providing their food. “And what’ll it be today Congressman, a nice GOP-friendly Chick-fil-A, McDonald’s Happy Donald Meal or perhaps one of former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain’s Godfather’s Pizzas?

And what about the Senate restaurant workers’ back pay issue? Well, some workers were already paid. However, thanks to modifications the Trump administration made to Obama-era labor-enforcement rules, other Senate restaurant workers may have more waiting to do before they see change.

ICE cold to VOICE pranks

By executive order President Trump recently directed the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to set-up an information clearing hotline to gather and compile and publish information about crimes committed by “criminal aliens.” Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) Office […] aims to “assist victims of crimes committed by criminal aliens,” according to the Department of Homeland Security.

“Alien” is a term used by the federal government to describe individuals who are not American citizens but who reside on U.S. soil.

There have been efforts in the courts and Congress to curtail the use of the terms “alien and “criminal alien,” but that was well before Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions came to power and started their immigration-ban round-ups.  laughsjail

Those in charge of operating VOICE may wish they had used a different term. The hotline has been flooded with calls prompted by twitter users to report everything from “ETs, UFOs” to “muggle-borns” (wizards and witches born to parents without magical powers) from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. As you can imagine this pranksterism leaves immigration enforcers cold: “Their [the pranksters’] actions seek to obstruct and do harm to crime victims; that’s objectively despicable regardless of one’s views on immigration policy,” an ICE official said. 

According to the fact-checking and urban myth-debunking website Snopes:

The hotline’s website states that it is not intended to report crime, but rather to “ensure victims and their families have access to releasable information about a perpetrator and to offer assistance explaining the immigration removal process.” It did not elaborate on how this would help the victims of crimes.

However ICE isn’t just about hotlines and lists. The agency has contracted GEO Group to start building a detention facility in Texas for $110 million. GEO, the country’s largest for-profit prison corporation has had a long-standing private-public partnership with ICE since the 1980’s. And they have soaring expectation for profit: The 1,000-bed Facility is scheduled for completion in the fourth quarter of 2018 and is expected to generate approximately $44 million in annualized revenues and returns on investment consistent with GEO’s company-owned facilities.

ICE may not have a sense of humor but they are helping GEO Group prison corporation and their shareholders laugh all the way to the bank.

FCC boosts Trump favorite Sinclair Broadcasting’s merger

The FCC, headed by Ajit Pai, a Republican appointed under President Obama and recently named by Trump as chairman, has eased restrictions in order to make it easier for media companies to own more stations in more markets:

The Federal Communications Commission, on a 2-1 Republican-led vote on Thursday, restored the practice of counting just part of some stations’ audience.[…] The change adds room to grow for companies including Sinclair, Nexstar Media Group Inc. […] Sinclair, with 173 TV stations, is working to finalize a deal to buy Tribune, which owns stations in major markets including New York, Chicago, and Miami.

Sinclair Broadcast Group  is a family-owned business based in Maryland. They own and operate 173 stations in 81 markets covering 24% of American households mostly in the South and Midwest. Their local affiliates include Fox, ABC, CBS, and others.trumpcast2

SBG has a history of using its stations to promote a conservative message and also attempted to influence the 2004 election in favor of the Republican Party, says Media Matters. Days before the 2004 presidential election the network pre-empted regular programming to run an anti-John Kerry film.

More recently the Washington Post published: How the nation’s largest owner of TV stations helped Donald Trump’s campaign. In it they document Sinclair Broadcasting’s intentional tilt toward Trump. This included directing their stations toward favorable to neutral coverage of his campaign and an emphasis on negative reporting regarding the Clinton campaign.

Trump’s right hand man, son-in-law Jared Kushner, reportedly acknowledged that the campaign struck a deal with Sinclair Broadcasting, providing them access in exchange for wide coverage. The agreement gave Trump’s campaign a local edge over national networks in swing states such as Florida and Ohio where SBG dominates. With a greater local audience assured Kushner said simply “it’s math.”

After their planned merger, when finalized Sinclair will have added 26% to their existing nationwide coverage. Factoring in overlapping market share between Sinclair and the company it plans to acquire new coverage will reach 42%. Think how effective the newer bigger stronger Sinclair propaganda could be for Trump and other GOP favorites the next time around.

And don’t expect PBS news reporting to pick up the slack. Trump’s “skinny” GOP budget doesn’t just target the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (the major funding arm for PBS) with sizable cuts but with total elimination. OMB Director Mick Mulvaney broadcast his administration’s plans to “unwind our involvement in CPB” loud and clear: […] [the budget] will see a zero next to it; the policy is we’re ending federal involvement with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Trump may continue his 100-day stumble-and-flail at day-to-day governinghis new role. But it’s just not his world. His most successful role was as reality TV star, playing a caricature of himself as a world’s best deal maker/businessman.

But he does know brand marketing is all about grabbing control of the largest friendly market-share coverage. For Donald it is not about fair or balancedfact or fiction. As his right hand man, son-in-law Kushner admitted “It’s math.”

Of course, the next generation might have trouble with understanding that concept once Sesame Street’s “The Count”  isn’t around to teach them their numbers.

Randolph Exit 4 I-89 development land conserved

Sometimes with the right combination of co-operation, money, power, and influence things can be made to “click” to preserve open land here in Vermont.vermontlandsave1

An agreement has been made involving developer Mr. Jesse “Sam” Sammis and his wife Jean “Jinny” Sammis, the Castanea Foundation, and a Vermont goat farm that will result in the conservation of hundreds of acres almost two hundred acres of land which will remain open and farmed. Sammis’s now-abandoned  development proposal  along Exit 4 from I-89 in Randolph as planned would have included 274 residential units, 280,000 square feet of office space, 236,000 square feet of light manufacturing space, and a 180-bed hotel and conference center.

As reported in a press release last week from the Preservation Trust of Vermont:

The Montpelier-based [Castanea] foundation is acting as an intermediary to hold the land to allow time for the sale of a conservation easement with public funding, private fundraising, and the eventual sale of the conserved land to Ayers Brook Goat Dairy for agricultural purposes.

In addition, Sam and Jinny Sammis have agreed to sell the remaining 22 acres that they own at Exit 4 to the Preservation Trust of Vermont. Working in conjunction with Conservation Law Foundation, the Vermont Natural Resources Council and the citizen group Exit 4 Open Space, the Preservation Trust of Vermont will have the opportunity to purchase the remaining 22 acres. The groups will need to raise $1 million dollars – substantially below the assessed value for the property – over the next 60 days to complete the deal.

The original sprawling undertaking had the backing of the Shumlin administration. Part of the proposed project was an agreement with the state for developer  Sammis to build and run an officially sanctioned state welcome center. The center and a 30-year lease on state-owned land would have provided  exceptionally convenient access with the Interstate exit funneling traffic to the Sammis-owned industrial park, office space, conference center and hundreds of residential units. Former Governor Shumlin’s former Secretary of Administration, Jeb Spaulding, was particularly enthusiastic “When I first heard about this proposal I thought it sounded too good to be true.

The recent agreement to save hundreds of acres of land took an impressive alignment of active local opposition to the development, several heavy-hitting conservation groups, and of course lots and lots of money.

But despite all the smiles and good feeling now, developer Sammis’ said: “I’m happy about it from a conservation standpoint. As a developer and somebody who’s lived in Randolph for over 40 years and knows that there’s a tremendous demand for good jobs, I’m disappointed.”  Sammis’ remark (nudging pretty close to right up against some sour grapes) anticipates future development battles.

And those battles will involve Act 250 Vermont’s statewide development review process. Governor Phil Scott has pledged to “reform” Act 250. His  encounter with Act 250 as young businessman is part of his well-worn origin story. The review process is bound to be factor as that thousand-acre utopian city-state planned for nearby Upper Valley towns of Royalton, Sharon, Strafford and Tunbridge moves forward.

So there’s more to come. Think of all the open land through no fault of its own located near the interstatefound just “sitting” there, “undeveloped”barely even monetized! For Phil Scott, surely a heresy!

International Fact-Checking Day is the 2nd of April

Yes, you read that right, April 2nd  the day we waited all year for! A day Donald Trump dreads like a vampire fears the daylight. International Fact-Checking Day is promoted by the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter in partnership with fact-checking organizations around the world.tweetsource3

Follow their link to find a bunch of real resources including lesson plans, the IF-CD fake news trivia quiz and other activities including the always popular “hoax-off.” So check out the top debunked claims of the year.

International Fact-Checking Day is not a single event but a rallying cry for more facts — and fact-checking — in politics, journalism, and everyday life.