Article 43

 

Monday, November 16, 2009

Five Years Later

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When the power of Love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.
- Jimi Hendrix

Five years ago - the CWA AND AT&T DISCARDED US.

Some folks have new jobs and NEW CAREERS.
Some are HOLDING ON to what they have, and STILL LOOKING for MEANINGFUL WORK.
Some cling to the belief that RETRAINING is the answer.
Some lost A LOT.
Some lost HOPE.
Some SEE NO LIGHT and may be ready to GIVE UP.

Some remain DISGUSTED by OUTSOURCING, the RECESSION, and things like the SELF SERVING INTERESTS of unions DISGUISED as ORGANIZED LABOR MOVEMENTS - especially when creeps like CWA big-shot RALPH MALY are mentioned.

Four years ago the Supreme Court ruled AGE BIAS NEED NOT BE DELIBERATE.

Now this…

IF THE CWA DESERVES ANY RESPECT - they’d be supporting the EEOC, instead of the SAME OLD CRAP.

The EEOC filed a Complaint in August of this year concerning AT&T’s practice of NOT REHIRING PEOPLE who went out on VRIP and other force reduction programs. The Complaint says that this is part of a PATTERN of AGE DISCRIMINATION. Over the years, a lot of people have commented about being blacklisted from being rehired.

The EEOC attorney who is handling the case is Louis Graziano. His email address and telephone number are 212-336-3721.

This case is not associated with the CASH BALANCE CASE, Engers vs. AT&T. 

The complaint will be on the AT&T RETIREES WEBSITE.

Posted by Elvis on 11/16/09 •
Section Dealing with Layoff • Section Pension Ripoff • Section American Solidarity • Section Telecom Underclass • Section About Article 43
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Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Audacity of Failure

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In a government of law, the existence of the government will be imperiled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously. Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for the law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy.
- Justice Louis Brandeis

Those of us who manage the publics dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.
- President Barack Obama, A New Era of Responsibility, the 2010 Budget

For there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God
- Romans 13:1

“This is not just about supporting government employees. “If we do nothing, the entire economy will suffer.
Ethan Pollack - EPI, November 23, 2009

The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who dont do anything about it.
- Albert Einstein

The 4-year presidency of Barack Hoover Obama

By Mike Whitney
Information Clearinghouse
November 15, 2009

BARAK OBAMA is on his way to becoming a one-term president. According to Politico:

“President Barack Obama plans to announce in next years State of the Union address that he wants to focus extensively on cutting the federal deficit in 2010 and will downplay other new domestic spending beyond jobs programs, according to top aides involved in the planning.

The president’s plan, which the officials said was under discussion before this month’s Democratic election setbacks, represents both a practical and a political calculation by this White House.” (politico dot com)

Er, now who exactly is telling Obama that raising taxes or cutting spending in the middle of a severe economic contraction is a good idea?

This clip from Politico tells us more about the people surrounding Obama, than it tells us about Obama himself. Clearly, his chief lieutenants are just as committed to savaging Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security as their GOP counterparts. This is obvious by the way they’ve handled the fiscal stimulus. Where are the jobs programs, the boost to Green Technology, the massive infrastructure rebuild?

Nowhere. Because the industry-reps and bank lobbyists who fill out the Obama roster adhere to the same pro-business credo as the members of Team Bush, that is, that all public assets and resources should be strip-mined from their rightful owners and transferred to the robber barons at the top of the economic food-chain. There’s no way that Geithner, Summers and the rest of the Wall Street insiders would ever dream of rebuilding the public safety net they’ve been trying to destroy for the last decade or more. That’s not in their interests at all.

The administration’s announcement is tantamount to a stealth-attack on Social Security in the name of “fiscal responsibility”. It’s another public relations ploy intended to enrich the parasite class by stealing crusts of bread from penniless retirees. Surely, there must have been a quid pro quo between the two-year Illinois senator and his political backers about how they planned to deal with “entitlements problem”. In other words, Obama must have given the green light to the party bosses who wanted to purloin the last few farthings in the Social Security trust fund.

So, how will Obama’a attack on Social Security etc. effect the so-called “jobless recovery”?

For one thing, it makes a double-dip recession unavoidable. After all, (according to Goldman Sachs) last quarter’s surge in GDP to 3.5% was entirely a result of government stimulus. Take away the stimulus, and the economy slips right back into to recession. Is that what Obama wants, another stretch of negative growth, plunging economic activity, lower demand and higher unemployment? Why? To satisfy the GOP “deficit hawks”?

All the handwringing over deficits is just more gibberish from the same people who brought us the Iraq War. The deficits are about as big a problem as the fictional WMD, maybe less. Here’s a clip from an article by Marshall Auerback which sheds a bit of light on the deficit fiasco:

“Large deficits are not the problem....Lets all take a deep breath here: Whilst the dollar index has fallen some 15% from the high sustained earlier this year, it is still above the lows sustained at the height of the credit crisis reached about a year ago. Secondly, there seems to be a fear that the current fall in the dollar could well engender inflation, and create a panicked response from policy makers where the Fed actually does raise rates and the Treasury begins to reduce government spending. Given high prevailing debt levels and the weak state of the consumerҒs personal balance sheet, this would be an unmitigated disaster.

It is true that excessive government deficit spending can be inflationary, and could therefore cause some impact on exchange value of dollar. But this cant be viewed in some sort of vacuum. The size of the deficit is irrelevant in itself. There is no meaning in the terms ґlarge deficit or Ғsmall deficit. You have to relate them to the extent of labor and capital underutilization, which is a human measure of the aggregate demand deficiency. The fact that labor underutilization is now in excess of 16 per cent in the US (combined unemployment, underemployment and hidden unemployment) and capacity utilization is in the 60-65 per cent range rather than 90 per cent range sends one very clear message - the deficit is not large enough.

So the correct policy response is to spend until we get to full employment. That is the only consequence of excessive deficits җ insolvency is not possible. Your social security check will never bounce in a country issuing debt in its own freely floating non-convertible currency.” ( “The US Dollar - Dont just do something, stand there!” Marshall Auerback, newdeal2.0)

Get it? The best way to restore economic well-being is to increase the fiscal stimulus, expand the deficits and put the country back to work. There’s no chance of inflation until unemployment drops to roughly 5%, which could be a decade away. And don’t believe the doomsayers about the dollar either. It’s a bunch of malarkey. Check this out:

“As I have shown in two recent papers, even very large currency depreciations in developed economies have no effect on inflation unless they are caused by policies that attempt to hold an economy’s unemployment rate below its equilibrium level. With US unemployment currently at 10 percent, there is no chance that inflation will rise in the near term. Whether inflation rises in the longer run will depend on whether US monetary and fiscal policy stimulus is withdrawn appropriately as the economy recovers (and tighter macroeconomic policies would tend to support the dollar).” ("Who’s Afraid of a Falling Dollar”, Joseph Gagnon, Baseline Scenario)

The dollar is dropping because the Fed is doing everything in its power to push it downwards. “It’s the policy, stupid.” A falling dollar increases exports and speeds up recovery. But once the Fed stops printing money via quantitative easing, (which is set for the end of 1st Q 2010) watch out. The dollar will rebound. Here’s an excerpt from an article in the Economist:

“This dollar declinism is overblown. It exaggerates the scale of the slide and misunderstands its cause. Much of the recent weakness simply reverses the earlier safe-haven flight to dollars, a sign of investors optimism about riskier assets rather than their fears about America’s currency. On a trade-weighted basis the dollar today is close to where it was before Lehman failed. Yields on Treasuries have not risen and spreads on riskier dollar assets continue to shrink. If investors were growing leerier of dollars, the opposite should have occurred.” ("The Diminishing Dollar”, The Economist)

When the financial crisis broke out two years ago, investors around the world flocked to the dollar for safety. Now that the crisis has (somewhat) abated, those same investors are less risk-adverse, which means they are putting that money in other assets (stocks, bonds, commodities) Naturally, that is weakening the dollar, but it is not a sign of impending collapse. And while it is true that the greenback faces stiff headwinds in the long-term--due to the US’s deteriorating fiscal situation--the dollar is in no immediate danger of losing its position as the world’s reserve currency. That will take a decade or more.

The growing fear about the dollar and the deficits is understandable given the amount of money that is being hurled at the financial system. But that shouldn’t dissuade reasonable people from doing what needs to be done. The dollar and the deficits are NOT the issue. The issue is jobs, jobs, jobs. Here’s an excerpt from an article by Henry Liu which sums it up perfectly:

“An economy that has collapsed under the burden of excessive debt cannot recover until such debt has been extinguished. And debt can only be extinguished by wealth creation, not by creating more debt with easy credit. And wealth can only be created by employment and not by financial manipulation.” (Federal Reserve Power Unsupported by Credibility; part 1 “No Exit” Henry Liu)

Bingo. The Fed is bailing out unproductive speculators, while tossing the “creators of the nation’s wealth”, the workers, a few table scraps. That’s why we need a different policy which focuses on jobs programs, fiscal stimulus, and more deficit spending so households can rebuild their tattered balance sheets and the “engine of global growth” (the US middle class) can be re-energized. We don’t need more belt-tightening, as Obama seems to think. That is precisely the wrong approach.

Henry Liu again:

“Thus we have financial profit inflation with price deflation in a shrinking economy. What we will have going forward is not Weimar Republic type price hyperinflation, but a financial profit inflation in which zombie financial institutions turning nominally profitable in a collapsing economy.”

Right again. The soaring stocks and commodities prices prove that central bank policies can create asset bubbles even during periods of severe deflation. (like now) Fed chair Ben Bernanke’s policies have had no material effect on households, consumers or workers. This is why credit contraction is in its 8th straight month and jobless claims continue to mushroom.

Bernanke--a disciple of Milton Friedman--has taken the monetarist “trickle down” approach throughout, which is why stocks are surging even though the broader economy is still flat on its back. The Fed chief is doing what he’s always done, stimulate demand by creating more bubbles. Only this time it’s not working because liquidity is unable to flow through the clogged credit system. The administration needs to bypass the credit system altogether and provide direct relief via state aid, tax cuts and jobs programs to jump-start the economy and reduce the widening output gap. What’s needed is more stimulus and an aggressive reform agenda aimed at putting the country back to work. Here’s Paul Krugman:

“Its truly amazing, and depressing, how completely deficit-phobia has swept the field in Washington. The economy remains in deeply dire straits....Yet the respectable thing, all of a sudden, is to claim that we can’t possibly afford to spend any more money on job creation.

History says differently...Other advanced countries have been substantially deeper in debt without either defaulting or having runaway inflation....

Id be a little more forgiving of the nonsense if all the people screaming about the deficit were sincere. And some are. But many, if not most, are perfectly happy to incur huge unfunded liabilities for the wars they want to fight, and/or to eliminate inheritance taxes for the heirs of multimillionaires. ItҒs only deficits incurred to help working Americans that get them all moralistic.

The point is that the economy desperately needs more help and yes, we can afford to provide it.” ("Fiscal Perspective” The conscience of a liberal, Paul Krugman, New York Times)

Yes, we can afford it. We just need to shrug off the deficit hawks and the dollar demagogues and provide the necessary resources to get the job done. It’s that simple.

Here’s more from Marshall Auerback:

“The Administration ... must free themselves from the discredited dogmas of neo-liberalism and channel the spirit of FDR’s bold experimentation. We need less deficit terrorism. Fiscal policy must be much more oriented to personal balance sheets, not bank balance sheets. We need to turn around the private sector and begin to produce more tax revenue, so that the large deficits would be short-lived.

If we continue down the current path, we slow recovery and court large budget deficits for many years to come. Far better to spend now to create jobs and get the private sector growing again.("New Agenda for America: How to Start Anew”, Marshall Auerback, newdeal 2.0)

Economists know what it will take to put the country back to work; debt relief, loan modifications, wage growth and full employment. But it will require a fundamental shift in ideology; a rejection of neoliberalism and a strong commitment to rebuild the middle class. Obama can either help in that process or follow the beggarly path to early retirement. So far, there’s no reason to be hopeful.

SOURCE

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A Science Fiction Story

By Fidel Castro
Escrambre
November 13, 2009

Cuban Revolution leader Fidel Castro holds the view that before Obama completes his term there will be from six to eight right-wing governments in Latin America that will be allies of the empire. Likewise, the US extreme right will try to limit his administration to one term.

I very much regret to have to criticize Obama knowing that there are in that country other could-be presidents worse than him. I am aware that that position in the United States is today a major headache. The best example of this is the report in yesterdays edition of Granma that 237 US MEMBERS OF CONGRESS, or 44%, are millionaires. This does not mean that every one of them is an incorrigible reactionary but it is extremely difficult that they feel like the many million Americans who do not have access to medical care, who are unemployed or who need to work very hard to earn their living.

Of course, Obama himself is no beggar; he owns millions of dollars. He excelled as a professional and his command of language, his eloquence and intellect are unquestionable. Also, he was elected president despite his being an African American, a first time occurrence in the history of his country’r racist society, which is enduring a profound international economic crisis of its own making.

This is not about being an anti-American as the system and its huge media intend to label its adversaries.

The American people are not the culprits but rather the victims of a system that is not only unsustainable but worse still: it is incompatible with the life of humanity.

The smart and rebellious Obama who suffered humiliation and racism in his childhood and youth understands this, but the Obama educated by the system and committed to it and to the methods that took him to the US presidency cannot resist the temptation to pressure, to threaten and even to deceive others.

He is a workaholic. Perhaps no other American president would dare to engage in such an intense program as he intends to carry out in the next eight days.

According to plan, he will take an extensive tour of Alaska where he intends to address the troops stationed there. He will be visiting Japan, Singapore, the Peoples Republic of China and South Korea. He will attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC) and that of the Association of East Asian Nations (ASEAN). He will hold talks with the Prime Minister of Japan and His Majesty Emperor Akihito in the land of the Rising Sun as well as with the prime ministers of Singapore and South Korea and the presidents of Indonesia Susilo Bambang, of Russia Dimitri Medvedev and of the PeopleҒs Republic of China Hu Jintao. He will be making speeches and giving press conferences. He will be carrying with him his nuclear briefcase, which we hope he will have no need to use during his hasty tour.

His Security advisor has said that Obama will discuss with the president of Russia the continuance of the START-1 Treaty set to expire on December 5, 2009. There is no doubt that some reductions of the enormous nuclear arsenal will be agreed upon, albeit this will be of no consequence to world peace and economy.

What is our distinguished friend planning to discuss during his intense journey? The White House has made its solemn announcement: climate change and economic recovery; nuclear disarmament and the Afghan war; and, the risks of war in Iran and in the Peoples Democratic Republic of Korea. There is plenty of material to produce a science fiction book.

But, how can Obama unravel the problems of climate change when the position of his representatives during the preparatory meetings of the Copenhagen Summit on the greenhouse effect gas emissions was the worst among those of the industrialized and rich nations, both in Bangkok and Barcelona, because the United States chose not to sign the Kyoto Protocol and the oligarchy of that country is not willing to really cooperate.

How can he contribute to the solution of the grave economic problems afflicting a large part of humanity when at the end of 2008 the total debt of the United States --including that of the federal, state and local administrations, the businesses and families amounted to 57 trillion dollars, that is, over 400% of its GDP, and that countrys budget deficit reached almost 13% of its GDP in fiscal year 2009, an information that Obama is certainly aware of.

What can he offer Hu Jintao when his openly protectionist policies have been aimed against the Chinese exports and he is demanding at all costs that the Chinese government revaluates the Yuan, an action that would adversely impact on the growing Third World imports from China?

The Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff, who is not a disciple of Karl Marx but an honest catholic among others who are not willing to cooperate with the imperialism in Latin America, has recently said that “we are risking our destruction and the devastation of lifeŒs diversity.”

[] almost half of humanity is living today under the poverty line. “The wealthiest 20% are consuming 82.49% of all of the riches on Earth while the poorest 20% are living on a tiny 1.6%.” He also quotes the “FAO as he warns that there will be in the upcoming years from 150 to 200 million climate refugees.” And then he adds that “humanity is consuming today a 30% above the regenerating capacitythe planet is giving unmistakable signs that it can stand it no more.”

What he says is true, but Obama and the US Congress have yet to find out.

What is he leaving to us in the hemisphere? The shameful problem in Honduras and the annexation of Colombia where the United States will set up seven military bases. They also established a military base in Cuba more than one-hundred years ago and remain there by force. It was in that base where they installed the horrible torture center widely known around the world; the same that Obama has been unable to close, yet.

I hold the view that before Obama completes his term there will be from six to eight right-wing governments in Latin America that will be allies of the empire. Likewise, the US extreme right will try to limit his administration to one term. Once again there will be a Nixon, a Bush or the like of a Cheney in the White House. Then, the meaning will be clear of those absolutely unjustifiable bases threatening today the South American peoples with the pretext of fighting drug-trafficking, a problem created by the tens of billions of dollars that organized crime and the production of drugs in Latin America receive from the United States.

Cuba has shown it only takes justice and social development to fight drugs. In our country, the crime rate per 100,000 people is one of the lowest in the world. No other country in the hemisphere can exhibit such low rates of violence. It is known that, despite the blockade, no other country can boast our high education levels.

The Latin American peoples will resist the onslaught of the empire!

Obamas trip seems a science fiction story.

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 11/15/09 •
Section Dying America
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What Would Maslow Think

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It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.
- Marx

In today’s SPIRITUALLY DARKENED America - that’s getting DARKER, DARKER, and DARKER by the minute - the attainment of transcendence seems to me FAR FROM ACHIEVABLE, but the author of the article below (and book - The Shift) thinks we’re well on our way to HIGHER CONSCIOUSNESS and moving up the spiritual ladder.

He gotta be KIDDING.

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Maslow Predicted The Shift

By Owen Waters
The Shift
November 14, 2009

Abraham Maslow (1908-70) was a psychologist who became famous for his hierarchy of human needs. When he developed his theory in the 1950s, he predicted the transformation of humanity into a realm of spiritual transcendence, but he had no idea just how soon this would develop into a major movement.

Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs shows that basic human needs have to be fulfilled before people can attend to higher needs and values.

First, the basic physiological needs of FOOD AND SHELTER must be catered for in order to ensure survival.

Second, once food and shelter are obtained, SAFETY AND SECURITY must be achieved.

Third, acceptance by others is sought, in both the SOCIAL and romantic senses. To fulfill this ‘belonging’ need, people become part of a group, a tribe, an extended FAMILY or a COMMUNITY.

When these deficiency, or outer-directed, needs are satisfied, then the individual works to acquire self-respect. Recognition by others produces self-esteem.

Once the outer needs are fulfilled, the inner-directed need for self-actualization comes into play. To self-actualize means to become the best you personally can be. Self-actualized people include those who have achieved material abundance, and also those who, as a decision of personal power, have chosen simplicity over the pursuit of further abundance. At some point, when a person says “That’s enough” to the ENDLESS PURSUIT OF ADDITIONAL FINANCIAL SECURITY, then they become free to accomplish anything that inspires their inner joy the most.

Self-actualization is achieved after the individual ceases to have deference to hierarchical authority, and instead matures into the ability to MAKE THEIR OWN RULES of personal responsibility. Personal responsibility is always more powerful and effective than any SYSTEM OF IMPOSED RULES. For example, you can threaten to punish someone if they steal and hope that the threat works. But, a SELF-RESPONSIBLE PERSON SIMPLY WOULDN’T STEAL because they would feel EMPATHY for the loss that a would-be victim would feel. They simply WOULDN’T HAVE THE HEART TO DO SUCH A THING to another person.

It’s a matter of increased maturity. When a person abandons the impositions of external authority and becomes their own, self-directed authority, then they become far more functional in the world. This is, in fact, a higher state of consciousness, one which provides a higher vista of awareness. From this expanded vista, they see clearly how they as an individual can best serve humanity.

In this state of awareness, the person acquires the ability to think and analyze situations independently. As a result, new and creative solutions spring to mind. They have enough self-esteem to be able to clearly see their own needs, skills, strengths and weaknesses, and from that they see where they can best be of service to humanity.

Once basic needs are fulfilled, the next values to require attention relate to being. The first of these being-values is self-actualization, which is the instinctual need of a human to make the most of their unique abilities.

Above that, Maslow placed transcendence, which he considered a spiritual value. Traditional universities typically presume that spiritual matters are beyond the understanding of their students, so they present the Maslow hierarchy of human needs differently. They present it with self-actualization as the ultimate human goal, and omit the transcendence stage beyond that.

The being-values of self-actualization and transcendence are the higher, more beautiful aspects of human consciousness. They include unconditional love, altruism, inner joy, a love of nature, the development of intuition (in males as well as females), idealism, and a sense of wisdom which springs from within. These skills develop the right-brain functions of creativity and intuition.

In the 1950s, Maslow believed that only 2% of the population had achieved self-actualization. The mid-1960s changed all that when masses of people began the search for the higher values, such as unconditional love and spiritual wisdom. Today, that core group of progressive society has blossomed from 2% to over 20%, and is climbing every year.

The Shift is not a temporary by-product of the BABY BOOM generation, or any other generation of modern society. It is not a passing fad. It is not going away. It is a cosmic pressure that is unfolding and relentlessly increasing the frequency of all consciousness upon the planet.

It is a part of THE PLAN of Infinite Being that we progress to the next stage of conscious human achievement. The Shift is, to put it simply, the most wonderful transformation in recorded history. This is where humanity gets to build, literally, Heaven on Earth.  [Yeah, right.  ed.]

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From my new age friends:

5 Traits of The Self Actualized Person

Perceives reality accurately and objectively; tolerates and even likes ambiguity; and is not threatened by the unknown

Accepts himself, others and human nature

Is spontaneous, natural, genuine

Is problem-centered (not self-centered), non-egotistical; has a philosophy of life and probably a mission in life

Needs some privacy and solitude more than others do; is able to concentrate intensely

Is independent, self-sufficient and autonomous; has less need for praise or popularity

Has the capacity to appreciate simple and commonplace experiences; has zest in living, high humor, and the ability to handle stress

Has (and is aware of) rich, alive, fulfilling “peak experiences,” or moments of intense enjoyment

Has deep feelings of brotherhood with all mankind; is benevolent, altruistic

Forms strong friendship ties with relatively few people; and is capable of greater love

Is democratic and unprejudiced in the deepest possible sense

Is strongly ethical and moral in individual (not necessarily conventional) ways; enjoys work in achieving a goal as much as the goal itself; is patient, for the most part

Has a thoughtful, philosophical sense of humor that is constructive, not destructive

Is creative, original, inventive with a fresh, naive, simple and direct way of looking at life; tends to do most things creatively, but does not necessarily possess great talent

Is capable of detachment from culture; can objectively compare cultures and can take or leave conventions

Posted by Elvis on 11/15/09 •
Section Spiritual Diversions
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Saturday, November 14, 2009

How Bureaucracy Killed G.M.

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The article - UNIONS KILLED DETROIT - is a great read, and makes a lot of good points.

But I find the MISMANAGEMENT issue a bit MORE PRESSING.

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After Bankruptcy, G.M. Struggles to Shed a Legendary Bureaucracy

By Bill Vlasic
NY Times
November 12, 2009

In the old General Motors, EMPLOYEES WERE EVALUATED according to a performance measurement process that could fill a three-ring binder.

In Terry Woychowskis case, for example, his job as director of G.M.’s vehicle engineers was spelled out in exhaustive detail, and evaluated every three months.

But in his new job as vice president a promotion he was given 20 days after G.M. emerged from bankruptcy - his performance review will be boiled down to a single page, something he had never seen in his 29 years with the company.

Mr. Woychowski said he felt the grip of G.M.s legendary bureaucracy start to loosen, something he never imagined possible. Now, such reviews are being scaled down and simplified across the company.

“We measured ourselves ten ways from Sunday,” he said. “But as soon as everything is important, nothing is important.”

For all its financial troubles and shortcomings as an automaker, no aspect of G.M. has confounded its critics as much as its hidebound, command-and-control corporate culture.

When G.M. collapsed last year and turned to the government for an emergency bailout, its century-old way of conducting business was laid bare, with all its flaws in plain sight. Decisions were made, if at all, at a glacial pace, bogged down by endless committees, reports and reviews that astonished members of President Obama’s auto task force.

Everyone knew Detroit’s reputation for insular, slow-moving cultures, Steven Rattner, head of the task force, wrote recently in Fortune magazine. “Even by that low standard, I was shocked by the stunningly poor management that we found.”

G.M. will present its first postbankruptcy scorecard on Monday, when the company reports third-quarter earnings and its cash reserves. The company said on Nov. 3 that its financial health had “improved significantly” in recent months.

Even as it labors to change its culture, G.M. must convince consumers that it is building better cars. One sign of its challenge: Fewer than a dozen of the company’s models were recommended in a recent Consumer Reports survey.

But instead of playing down the survey, as G.M. might have in the past, its chief executive, Fritz Henderson, ordered it sent to every employee in the company.

“Have we made some missteps? Yes,” said Susan Docherty, who last month was promoted to head of United States sales. “Are we going to slip back to our old ways? No.”

G.M. emerged from bankruptcy this summer as a much smaller company, 60 percent owned by American taxpayers and free from much of the debt and health care obligations that had crippled its balance sheet.

But its cultural change is a work in progress. G.M.s new chairman, Edward Whitacre Jr., and directors have prodded G.M. to cut layers of bureaucracy, slash its executive ranks by a third, and give broad, new responsibilities to a cadre of younger managers.

“Replacing a binder full of job expectations with a one-page set of goals is just one sign of the fresh start,” said Mr. Woychowski.

“You know theres not much good that comes out of a bankruptcy,” he said. “But it is a force that helps you change a culture.”

Mr. Henderson, said he was aware the company was being scrutinized to prove it had learned from its mistakes. “Above all, we need to be faster,” Mr. Henderson said in a recent interview.

Speed has never been G.M.’s forte. In 1988, when G.M. still dominated the United States market, a senior executive named Elmer Johnson wrote a stinging internal memo that summed up the company’s biggest problem.

“We have not achieved the success that we must because of severe limitations on our organization’s ability to execute in a timely manner,” wrote Mr. Johnson.

The memo fell on deaf ears, mostly because G.M.’s top executives prized consensus over debate, and rarely questioned its elaborate planning processes. A former G.M. executive and consultant, Rob Kleinbaum, said THE CULTURE EMPHASIZED PAST GLORIES AND CURRENT MARKET SHARE, RATHER THAN FOCUSING ON THE FUTURE.

“Those values were driven from the top on down,” said Mr. Kleinbaum. “And anybody inside who protested that attitude was buried.”

But the shock of bankruptcy has prompted changes that would have been unheard-of in the old G.M.

In the first week of August, Mr. Henderson told Jon Lauckner, the new head of global product planning, to scrap G.M.s organizational chart for vehicle reviews and start over.

In the old G.M., any changes to a product program would be reviewed by as many as 70 executives, often taking two months for a decision to wind its way through regional forums, then to a global committee, and finally to the all-powerful automotive products board.

“I used to see the same presentation three times,” Mr. Lauckner said. “The first time it was interesting, the second time less so, and the third time it was just a transaction that needed to be done.”

Mr. Lauckner came up with a new schedule that funneled all product decisions to weekly meetings of an executive committee run by Mr. Henderson and Thomas Stephens, the company’s vice chairman for product development.

The new system was tested on Oct. 23, when Mr. Woychowski and Mark Reuss, the companys new head of global engineering, asked the committee for a three-month delay in introducing the Chevrolet Cruze compact car.

The delay, they argued, was needed to improve engine performance and the quietness of the Cruze’s ride important areas of comparison with the segment-leading Honda Civic.

“In the past, we might not have had the guts to bring it up,” said Mr. Reuss. “No one wanted to do anything wrong, or admit we needed to do a better job.”

But to the relief of Mr. Reuss, the executive committee approved the delay. Soon after, he and other senior engineers were putting the Cruze through 80-mile-per-hour comparison tests with the Civic to close the competitive gap.

In the past, G.M. rarely held back a product to add the extra touches that would improve its chances in a fiercely competitive market.

“They used to have a budget and a time frame, and when it was exhausted, that was the finished product,” said Joseph Phillippi, a principal in the consulting firm Auto Trends Consulting. “I used to ask them, did you run out of money before you completed the interior?”

G.M. executives used to take great offense to such remarks. Now, they concede that the company did produce inferior products.

“I don’t even want to talk about what was good enough anymore,” said Mr. Stephens, a career engineer who took over G.M.s top product job last year. “You cant win with good enough.”

For two months, Mr. Stephens has been leading meetings with staff members called pride builders. The goal, he said, was to increase the emotional commitment to building better cars and encourage people to speak their minds.

“If EVERYBODY IS AFRAID to do anything, do we have a chance of winning?” Mr. Stephens said in one session last month.

G.M. veterans recalled how product meetings used to be run according to a 50-page presentation that had already been read and approved in advance.

At certain points, staff members were required to rate their assigned tasks as green, yellow or red, depending on whether the job had been completed, needed work, or should be frozen until a major problem was corrected.

“If you had a red issue and stood up, it was very punitive,” said Mr. Reuss. “We never had any debate. The vice president would say, I got here because I’m a better engineer than you, and now I’m going to tell you how bad a job you did.”

Mr. Reuss had been running G.M.s Australia division when Mr. Henderson summoned him to Detroit in July to take over global engineering. Last month, he convened a two-day meeting with his top people from China, India, Brazil and other G.M. engineering centers around the world.

They met at 6:30 a.m. on Oct. 15 in a parking lot at G.M.’s 4,000-acre proving grounds in Milford, a small town west of Detroit. Nine of G.M.s newest vehicles were lined up for test drives to northern Michigan.

But first, Mr. Reuss, wearing a red-and-black leather racing jacket, addressed the group.

“There has been fear in the organization, and people have been afraid for their jobs,” he said. “But now we need to be open and transparent and trust each other, and be honest about our strengths and weaknesses.”

As he drove north, Mr. Reuss, 45, reflected on his own career at G.M. He started as a student intern in 1983, and worked his way up the engineering ranks. One of his biggest assignments was serving as the executive in charge of one of the most ridiculed cars in G.M. history, the Pontiac Aztek.

The Aztek was half-car, half-van, and universally branded as one of the ugliest vehicles to ever hit the market. Mr. Reuss had little to do with the design, but his job required him to defend it as if it were a thing of beauty.

“It was brutal,” he said during an interview as he drove, to grit his teeth and pretend that the Aztek was something to be proud of.

“It was something that flame-hardened me personally”, he said. “Im in the never again business. I wouldn’t wish that experience on anybody.”

Mr. Reuss is also motivated by a deep desire to restore the respect G.M. has lost. His father, Lloyd Reuss, was fired in 1992 as G.M.’s president in the biggest upheaval the company ever experienced until this year’s bankruptcy filing.

“This is an opportunity my dad never had,” Mr. Reuss said. “I don’t want to waste it.”

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 11/14/09 •
Section Dying America
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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Monster Devouring Us

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Even the men who created the internet are beginning to fear its power to destroy our freedom.

By Michael Hanlon
Mail Online
November 3, 2009

Fast-forward 40 years. It is November 2049 and privacy is a distant memory.

Every telephone call you make, every text you send on your mobile phone, every email and videocall, every FINACIAL TRANSACTION is recorded, stored, analysed and CAN POTENTIALLY BE USED AGAINST YOU.

Each waking hour you are also deluged with marketing calls and sales pitches - which pop up on your mobile, your hand-held computer and even in your car. 

You walk into a shop and not only do the SALESMEN KNOW WHO YOU ARE, they know what you want - before you even open your mouth.

THIS IS A WORLD in which you are CONSTANTLY WORRIED about who is READING YOUR EMAILS and ANALYSING YOUR PHONE CALLS.

Come election time, you are bombarded with video texts of the party leaders addressing your concerns. The powers that be know how much tax you pay, what you spend your money on, how many children you have and who your friends are.

It is a Britain, indeed a world, where the private individual has ceased to exist, and one in which an unholy alliance of the state and Mammon rules our lives with powers that would have made Stalin sick with envy.

This dystopian nightmare is a distinct possibility thanks to what is probably the most significant invention of the 20th century - the internet.

And although this nightmare is set in the future, much of it is starting to happen.

The net, which turned 40 years old last week, is often touted as the ultimate tool of freedom and knowledge.

But in another 40 years’ time, will we still be celebrating this extraordinary electronic marvel - or rueing the creation of a monster? That is the troubling question being asked not just by technological luddites, but by the founders of the internet itself.

Although most people became aware of the net only in the early Nineties, the global ‘network of networks’ has a history stretching back to the earliest days of computing.

The first network connection was made on October 29, 1969, when an undergraduate called Charley Kline attempted to make a computer in Los Angeles communicate with another computer at Stanford up the coast.

The first word communicated on the net was ‘Lo’ - Kline was attempting to type the word ‘Login’ when the system crashed.

They got it working again and, for nearly three decades, what became known as the ‘internet’ (the actual term was first used in 1974) remained mostly a tool of academia and the military, gradually spreading its tentacles across the globe.

But then came the invention of the world wide web - the means by which anyone, anywhere could easily access this brave new online world.

This was the creation of British scientist Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau, his Belgian colleague at the CERN nuclear research institute in 1989.

Thanks to them, we are now in an age when it is almost impossible to imagine life without the net. With every passing year, its power and importance increases.

And herein lie the doubts of its founders.

For while the net has been championed as the ultimate expression of ‘people power’, there is a more sinister possibility. Its dominance in our lives has led its architects to fear it could be used as a weapon of INTRUSION, SUPRESSION and EXPLOITATION.

Already, anti-democratic regimes are increasingly subverting the openness of the net and using it as a weapon against their enemies.

Take China, which went online in 1993 and now has the greatest number of internet users of any nation - about a third of a billion.

This phenomenal growth in internet use has been subsidised and encouraged by the Beijing regime. And yet despite the flow of countless terabytes of data, China is as far from being a democracy as it was at the time of the Tiananmen Square riots 20 years ago. It’s a troubling paradox, but one explained by the very nature of what the internet actually does.

It has been joked that the one thing you need for a totalitarian state to work is a decent filing system. Indeed, it has been estimated that in East Germany, the Stasi secret police ‘employed’ a third of the population to act as snoops on compatriots.

Now imagine that the Stasi had had access to Google.

As Robert Cailliau says: ‘It would have been terrible.’

There would have been no need for a network of potentially unreliable human snoops; just a few servers quietly hooked up to everyone’s telephone lines and computers, monitoring their credit card usage and cross-matching it all with the pictures coming in from millions of CCTV cameras.

Cailliau’s fears are echoed by Professor Peter Kirstein of University College London, the man responsible for bringing the first internet connection to Britain in the early Seventies.

‘Once you have a universal medium like this, it is very hard to keep information about events hidden; to that extent, it is a great tool against oppression,’ he says.

‘However, by the same token, it is very straightforward to build in monitoring facilities into the heart of the network, so that the authorities can discover where the information they don’t like is coming from.’

In other words, far from empowering freedom-fighters, the web can be used to track them down easily and suppress them.

Professor Kirstein believes that in the future, there will be a constant battle, a kind of arms race between the authorities and the subversives - or oppressed.

Whether good or evil will be in the lead in 40 years’ time is anyone’s guess.

Yet Professor Cailliau believes there is an even graver threat from the net than totalitarian tyranny. He believes the ‘really sinister stuff’ will come not from governments, but from big business. The trouble, he says, stems from the ease by which data can be gathered, processed and sold on.

‘The temptation to exploit these things is very high.’

Already GOOGLE, the very SYMBOL OF THE 21-ST CENTURY NET, has been accused of hoarding data from its millions of email users.

Many fear that in the coming decades, Google will be unable to resist the temptation of cashing in on this GOLDMINE OF INFORMATION it holds.

Currently, the company makes much of its money from being a shop windowfor online advertising.

But Google’s ‘knowledge’ of individual people, thanks to its email services and mobile phone applications, goes much deeper than that.

The technology already exists to enable Google, or companies like it, to track every move - quite literally - of the millions who have a web-enabled mobile phone.

A life online

Indeed, it is already increasingly hard to live your life without the internet.

Booking holidays, buying airline tickets, banking, insurance - even keeping in touch with friends - is increasingly being done using the net. And everything you do online can, in theory, be recorded for ever.

‘If I sign up for Facebook and want my account destroyed, it is impossible,’ says Cailliau. ‘They keep tabs on you, there will always be a trace.’

Furthermore, every time you sign up for an online service, be it Twitter, Facebook or even an online supermarket loyalty card, you provide huge amounts of valuable information.

Even data about yourself that you have not directly volunteered can be gleaned by so-called data-mining software - used to spot patterns about your behaviour and sift gold dust from the morass of electronic information that you have produced by going online.

This can then be used to tailor Google’s service to your individual ‘needs’ or even financial status.

‘Maybe when I go to an airline site and buy a ticket, I’ll be quoted a price that they have worked out I will be able to pay - a price quite different from that given to my neighbours,’ says Robert Cailliau.

The key to all this is the ability of Google and other companies to store data.

Every move we make

Forty years ago, storing information of any kind was expensive; now computer memory is so cheap that in the near future it should be possible to record in digital form every telephone conversation, every television and radio transmission and every movie and still image.

Already, more than two billion songs a day are shared over the net, hundreds of millions of video streams are placed on YouTube, the surveillance CCTV cameras in London alone send 64 trillion bits of data a day to their command centres.

By the end of the next decade or so, humankind will be producing more information each second than was produced in the entire 19th century. And all this information can be stored, cross-referenced and mined for eternity.

This is a new phenomenon, and has massive and disturbing potential.

As Professor Kirstein says:

“Every travel movement you make, every commercial transaction, any official request - they are all logged somewhere. Our ability to disappear is completely constrained by any public activity.”

There are laws against this, though they are not well-enforced, but it is still possible - just - to avoid being sucked in by the net.

And surprisingly, one of those trying to is Robert Cailliau.

“I’m not on Twitter, nor Facebook, or LinkedIn, or any of these systems,” he says.

Why not?

“Because they suck in your soul and they will not let you go. Try to get out of any of them, and you will see. They are just like some religions where apostasy is punished by death.”

Forty years from its birth, the net has become ubiquitous, awesomely successful and, in itself, morally neutral.

But the question remains: will the internet of 2049 be a tool we will all cherish - or something which has become a force for evil such as we have not seen in the entire history of Man.

SOURCE

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Posted by Elvis on 11/11/09 •
Section Privacy And Rights • Section Broadband Privacy
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