The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘Apple’

THE LATEST TECHNOLOGICAL iMPROVEMENT FROM APPLE

The word is out – well, it must be.  I’ve heard it – and like the proverbial mother (using that term in its genealogical sense) – I’m always the last to know.

Apparently Apple, Inc. has been working on yet another “upgrade” to its line of iPhones.  This time they are trying to improve the security of the devices, by installing within each a unit a fingerprint reader which can identify the person who is using the phone as the actual owner.  Now that sounds pretty good – at least on the surface.

And actually, the surface is proving to be a bit of an impediment.  Apparently the delay in releasing this new device has revolved around the fact that the glass or the protective film laid over it have a tendency to smudge – thus making the scanner’s job more difficult and the results less accurate.

That, of course, might prove to be a blessing in disguise for the owner – who might be prevented by his own phone from making a call because he just ate a whole slab of ribs and didn’t get all the barbeque sauce off his fingers, potentially getting some foreign substance on this device which might damage it.

And a further unexpected positive consequence might be that we would have to start paying better attention to personal hygiene, using our lavatories more often after eating and performing other bodily functions to wash up.  That would indeed be a blessing to all.

But, of course, the greatest unintended benefit might be that if the device failed to secure a positive match with the owner’s print, he or she might well be prevented from making a call that the  NSA was monitoring.  (This would be particularly good if he had figured out how to disable the GPS chip inside the phone).

You know, with the revelation that the NSA (Not So American) is monitoring not only potential terrorists here and abroad (something I think most of us would favor) but almost everyone else as well, it makes you wonder if any reasonably intelligent person would even want to own a “smart phone.”  Think about it for a moment.

Okay, the NSA can monitor calls whether our phone calls are made from either a smart or traditional phone (I guess that traditional = dumb).  So there may be no getting around that, other than filing a law suit to require them to stop on Constitutional grounds.

But consider all these apps and GPS data and all the other gizmos that these phones include which enable the NSA (or a clever hoodlum phone hacker) to acquire so much personal information which we unwittingly give out in the process of the simple task of trying to communicate with business associates, family  and friends.

Now add to that the fact that we will be publishing an outgrowth of our personal DNA in the guise of a thumbprint for all who wish to hack in and take a peek.

I guess it will save the government money in the long run (and in theory us taxpayers) when it decides that for our safety we all need to be fingerprinted.  But this strikes me as an incredible intrusion (or is the word collusion) between private industry (Apple, Inc.) and our government over lords all being done in the name of security.

I was thinking about the value my smart phone has for me.  I realize that I am not one of the “with it” generation for whom a smart phone is as necessary a part of life as thinking for ourselves is for others of us.  What are the benefits that I really get from this phone?

Well, I don’t pay bills using it – that just seemed too risky long before the NSA scandal broke and certainly nothing has changed for me.

I do occasionally access the weather – but I can do that by looking out the window.  Besides, from July through August I know that Las Vegas weather will be “hot”.  If it’s 102 or 109 doesn’t really make much of a difference.

I don’t use the GPS feature on either my phone or the car (it doesn’t have one) because I generally know where I am and if I get lost (which rarely happens) I can call someone at my destination and ask for directions.

I seldom use texts – although I did send one the other day that read, “Yo bro – say dude awesome.”  Surprisingly the recipient found this to be a complete and meaningful message.

I do have one of those old-fashioned dumb flip phones which has been acting up lately and which I have thought about exchanging for a newer and more reliable model.  (How strange that these phones only last a couple of years – and the ones that Bell invented were good for a lifetime).

Now as I was thinking about which new smart phone I would trade this two year old relic in for, I began questioning myself.  Do I want another smart phone – or will dumb do for me?

So I thought, let’s see – the dumb phone let’s me list phone numbers for friends, family and businesses –  just like the smart phone.  If the name is in memory, when the caller buzzes me it shows who’s calling – just like the smart phone.  If I want to ignore the call it will send it to voice mail – just like the smart phone.  Golly, this dumb phone does just about everything that a smart phone does in the way of handling conversations – which is, to my old-fashioned way of thinking – the precise reason that phones exist.

And then I had a scary vision.  I had just won an all expense paid trip for one to the heart of Alaska – a Christmas getaway (or as they put it “an Xmas trip not to be forgotten”).  While the donor preferred to remain anonymous, I couldn’t help notice that there was government franking on the announcement envelope.  Well, who could turn this down?  It would be ungrateful to do so as I live in the land of the Freebie and the home of the Bewildered.

So I’m flown to my destination and on parachuting from the plane am told by the robo-pilot that there is a settlement of Inuits only about 10 klicks or so from my campground.  Of course, it’s bitterly cold but I have my smart phone to keep me company.  But in order to play a game (I hear that’s one of their features) I have to turn it on.

I pull off the heavy fur-lined glove on my right hand – immediately feeling the blast of Arctic winter weather as my extremity starts to succumb to frost bite and try to turn on my phone, applying my right thumb to it.  Lo and behold it actually powers up – even in the inclement weather.

But I am unable to loosen my thumb from the face of the phone.  And with my thumb thoroughly attached I cannot access any of the phone’s features – including getting help from the nearby natives.  So I wander aimlessly, trying to find assistance but there is none to be had.  And so I freeze to death and my remains are consumed by a Kodiak bear and her family after the spring thaw.

I have to stop reading Jack London late at night.

Well, as you may have guessed, I’m going to replace my old “dumb phone” with one that is equally stupid but that works a bit more dependably – at least it should for about the next two years.  And I’m going to try my hand at writing some poetry.  I think my first work will be entitled “An Ode To J. Edgar Hoover”.

If only he were alive today – he would be having a blast.

THE POISON APPLE

In our technologically oriented world, if you were to ask most users if they owned at least one product manufactured by Apple, Inc. the answer would come back a resounding, “yes.”  It is accurate to say that the company is the most highly valued (as measured by total share value) of any company in its industry and at one point recently of any company in any industry anywhere in the world.

As you probably know, Apple’s products are not manufactured in the United States but are outsourced to companies primarily in Asia, China being one of its largest suppliers.  Perhaps it is only my impression but I have noticed that people who are really proficient in their reliance on technology tend to be younger, more socially liberal and express their concerns more enthusiastically about equity and equality.

They must be disturbed by the conditions that exist for workers in several of the Chinese plants that manufacture components and products for this technological mega giant.

According to China Labor Watch in a 133 page report released today, the conditions under which Chinese workers are forced to work would have made the textile industry in the U. S. and its demands on its female workers 100 years ago look like a day at a picnic.  In large measure, the conditions in the textile factories gave impetus to the labor union movement in the United States.

The two companies most highly featured in the report are both Taiwanese-owned,  operating manufacturing facilities on the mainland.  They are Foxconn Technology Group and Riteng, a division of Pegatron Corp.  The average wage at Foxconn is $1.60 per hour – at Riteng $1.30.  And you wonder why everything you see on the shelves of our stores in the United States are stamped “Made in China.”

One of the things that the report made clear was that both companies regularly violate the laws regarding overtime.  According to the survey of their findings gathered over a four month period, the average worker at Foxconn works a 10 hour day – and 12 hours at Riteng.  Furthermore, the report cited cases where workers put in as many as 180 hours of overtime per month, far exceeding the 36 hour legal limit established by the People’s Republic of China.

In addition, although the law requires that workers be covered by health insurance, many plants ignore that regulation.

Apple says that it “audits” its suppliers’ compliance closely.  If you want to see the company’s official policy you may click the link below, but don’t be surprised if Apple’s official statement of standards appear to be quite different from the report that China Labor Watch published.

http://www.apple.com/supplierresponsibility/

Giving Apple the benefit of the doubt that they do have standards and audit their suppliers to make sure they comply with them, apparently they need to do a better job evaluating these companies.  That is not unlike J. P. Morgan Chase’s needing to do a better job managing risk internally.

But to play devil’s advocate for a moment – what if Apple’s real motivation is simply making as much profit as possible – and if thousands of workers suffer in that effort, well that’s business?  I’m not advancing that position – but it does represent one possible scenario.  So if that’s the case, what then does the conscientious person concerned about the social welfare of all working people do?

The most effective thing would probably be that when Apple launches a new product, don’t get in the line of eager beavers waiting to purchase it.  And let the company know why you’re not going to buy that product.

But in the meantime, the dedicated Apple user can use the time to contact Apple and express her discomfort with the conditions in their suppliers’ factories; write posts; email friends; and put notices on the social media publicizing the difference between what Apple says it stands for and what it accepts from its suppliers.

Who knows, if the message goes viral, it will no doubt prove an embarrassment to the largest tech company in the world and cause them to demand better working conditions for those who manufacture their products.

Let’s not forget, the plants we are talking about are in China.  And in China, “Saving Face” still means a lot.

IS A PUZZLEMENT

In 1951 the play, “The King And I” premiered on Broadway, the third collaboration between Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II.  The play had a three year run and in 1956 was made into a movie starring Yul Brynner as the King of Siam.  The play has some wonderful songs and has been staged repeatedly in community theaters and in revivals almost non-stop since it’s first performance.

One of the songs that the king sings is entitled, “Is A Puzzlement”.  He has hired an English school teacher to help modernize his view of the world which is, at the play’s beginning, very Siam-centric and to bring him into the modern world of the 1860’s in which the play is set.  But the new ideas which Anna, the teacher brings to him are, in many cases, in conflict with what he has learned and believes.  Yet, he sees some of the truth in what she tells him and he expresses his confusion in “Is A Puzzlement.”

This week Facebook began what Wall Street commonly calls its “Road Show” as it begins to gauge investor sentiment before it becomes  a public company next week.  The purpose of this “Road Show” is to determine how many shares will be issued and what the offering price will be.  Current estimates are that the company will come to market with a value between $75 – $100 Billion, turning founder Mark Zuckerberg who  will retain a 51% controlling interest into another member of the elite 1%.

As I thought about this remarkable public offering, the largest in history, I wondered how the OWS movement might respond to this and to the events which led up to it.  For some reason, the king’s song from the “King and I” came to mind.

In speaking with a number of people who are part of that movement I realize that there is a lot of frustration about the fact that many are mad because they made the effort to earn a college degree, now have the expense of that education hanging over their heads and are unable to find a job using that education.  I can understand that frustration.  Three of the members of the elite 1%, Bill Gates of Microsoft Corp.; the late Steve Jobs of Apple, Inc.; and now Mr. Zuckerberg of Facebook were all college dropouts.   It doesn’t seem fair and truly, “Is A Puzzlement.”

But there is something that the members of OWS can do to express their sense of unfairness.  They can turn off their computers, whether Windows or Apple-based; refuse to buy or use any I-Phones or other Apple products and resign their membership in Facebook.  Since by their own admission they are the 99% and since these companies all depend on large numbers of users for their continued success that should have a profound effect on all these companies’ bottom lines.  Otherwise, OWS members are supporting some of the various entities that they so abhor.

Will this happen?  Will the members of OWS honestly live up to their rhetoric?

Is a puzzlement.

ON BUFFETT BALONEY

If you had your choice of accepting a similar position with Eastman Kodak or Apple, Inc., which company would you choose to work for? (To help make your decision easier, after 130 years in business Eastman Kodak filed for bankruptcy a few days ago).

Eastman Kodak will soon release their remaining employees to join the mass of the unemployed already in the marketplace. The reason is that their management did not have the vision to adapt to the technological changes which have occurred in the world of photography. They were failures.

Apple on the other hand has innovated products that resonate with consumers and has experienced exceptional growth. They will no doubt hire more people from the ranks of the unemployed, thus reducing the stress on the economy. They are successes.

Well, Tuesday was the day we found out how successful one of the Republican presidential aspirants, Mitt Romney has been. According to his tax returns, Mr. Romney has done very well – having reported approximately twenty million dollars in income during each of the last two years. That puts him in an earnings class shared by a very few – including some Hollywood and professional sports celebrities.

Good for Mr. Romney. I love a success story. It leaves me with a warm and fuzzy feeling that if I only apply myself I too might one day be one of those stories. (Perhaps as a child I read too many books by Horatio Alger, Jr.).

But now the flak begins – and into the fray enters Warren Buffett – stage left. Although his attack was directed at Congress over the inequities in all sixty-two thousand pages of the Internal Revenue Code and not at candidate Romney, the casual observer – with the help of the media – will find this distinction minor.

Let’s be clear – when expressed in terms of the effective fourteen percent of his income that Mr. Romney paid, that number seems low (Mr. Buffett’s point being that millionaires should pay a higher percentage of their income for the common good). When expressed as a payment to the Internal Revenue Service of nearly six million dollars – that number takes on a different meaning.

We have talked about tax reform in this country for decades – the result being that we have merely added pages and chapters to the IRC and reformed or deleted very little. I enjoyed reading “War and Peace” – but it finally came to an end.

As we saw from the confirmation hearings for Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, when you have a code that is so complicated that the person who now heads up the Internal Revenue Service cannot understand it and “misfiles” his own return – how are the rest of us supposed to cope with it?

The tragedy is that the Congress will not do anything substantive – this being an election year and all. Which means we will kick the can of tax reform down the road for yet another year. Our elected officials have perfected this technique to the point that it is a science. (I refer you to the last thirty years during which we have failed to enact a real energy policy).

Given that likelihood, I would like to offer Mr. Buffett a suggestion that may, in the short term, help ease his conscience and angst. If he feels that he is being under-taxed – let him “donate” an amount that he believes is appropriate to bring his percentage of payment up to the level that he thinks is equitable. (There is no provision in the tax code to prevent him or anyone else from doing so).

If Mr. Buffett sets that example, I promise to throw in a few extra bucks myself this April 15th.

The power to tax is the power to destroy.”

– Chief Justice John Marshall

 

 

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