small business

FILE PHOTO: Royal Bank of Scotland signs are seen at a branch of the bank, in London
FILE PHOTO: Royal Bank of Scotland signs are seen at a branch of the bank, in London, Britain December 1, 2017. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

April 22, 2019

By Iain Withers

LONDON (Reuters) – British state-controlled lender the Royal Bank of Scotland has doubled its funding pot to support small businesses to 6 billion pounds ($7.8 billion), but says the extra cash is no longer primarily for Brexit-proofing businesses.

NatWest, the biggest trading arm of RBS, said it had topped up its so-called Growth Fund in response to high demand from firms in industries including green energy and technology.

The lender previously topped up the fund from 1 billion pounds to 3 billion pounds in October. It said at the time that it was doing so after identifying nearly 2,000 businesses it lent to that were likely to suffer payment or supply problems due to Britain’s exit from the European Union.

Since then, Brexit has been repeatedly delayed amid deadlock in parliament and it is now unclear how Britain will leave the EU, if at all.

Brexit remained a core driver behind expanding the fund, NatWest said, but stressed other factors.

“It’s really about demand from growth sectors in the UK economy,” Mike Slevin, head of capital management at NatWest, told Reuters.

“Obviously it remains fully available for companies that require extra support for Brexit-related purposes as well.”

Customers were unlikely to roll back facilities taken out to prepare for Brexit while uncertainty continued, Slevin said, but demand for such products has “waned somewhat” in recent weeks.

Banks have been keen to promote their small business lending credentials ahead of Brexit, but groups representing small firms have expressed scepticism.

Rival lender Barclays announced a 14 billion pound fund over three years to help small firms manage uncertainty including Brexit last month.

However, Barclays’ fund included all projected lending to small companies over a three-year period, rather than just extra cash over day-to-day funding.

A Barclays spokesperson said the 14 billion pounds would represent an increase of around a third in lending over the previous three year period.

“While it’s good to see some of the banks looking to proactively support customers during this period of uncertainty, the fact remains that lending to smaller firms continues to lag behind big corporations to the tune of millions each year,” Mike Cherry, chair of the Federation of Small Businesses, said.

(Reporting by Iain Withers; Editing by Susan Fenton)

Source: OANN

Many Americans aren’t ready to clear President Donald Trump in the Russia investigation, with a new poll showing slightly more want Congress to keep investigating than to set aside its probes after a special counsel’s report left open the question of whether he broke the law.

About 6 in 10 continue to believe the president obstructed justice.

The poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research also finds greater GOP confidence in the investigation after Attorney General William Barr in late March released his letter saying special counsel Robert Mueller found no criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia but didn’t make a judgment on the obstruction question.

At the same time, the poll indicates that Americans are mostly unhappy with the amount of information that has been released so far. They’ll get more Thursday , when Barr is expected to release a redacted version of the nearly 400-page report.

Trump has repeatedly claimed “total exoneration,” after Barr asserted in his memo that there was insufficient evidence for an obstruction prosecution.

“It’s a total phony,” Trump said of all allegations to Minneapolis TV station KSTP this week. “Any aspect of that report, I hope it does come out because there was no collusion, whatsoever, no collusion. There was no obstruction, because that was ruled by the attorney general.”

Overall, 39% of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, roughly unchanged from mid-March, before Mueller completed his two-year investigation.

But many Americans still have questions.

“It’s kind of hard to believe what the president says as far as exoneration,” said James Brown, 77, of Philadelphia, who doesn’t affiliate with either party but says his political views lean conservative. “And in my mind the attorney general is a Trump person, so he’s not going to do anything against Trump.”

The poll shows 35% of Americans think that Trump did something illegal related to Russia — largely unchanged since the earlier poll. An additional 34% think he’s done something unethical.

Brown says he remains extremely concerned about possible inappropriate contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia, citing Trump’s past interest in building a Trump Tower in Moscow, and believes the president committed crimes of obstruction to cover up financial interests. “He’s not going to jeopardize his pocketbook for anything,” he said.

Still, the poll suggests Barr’s summary helped allay some lingering doubts within the GOP. Among Republicans, more now say Trump did nothing wrong at all (65% vs. 55% a month ago) and fewer say he did something unethical (27%, down from 37.

Glen Sebring, 56, of Chico, California, says he thinks the nation should put the Russia investigations to rest after reading Barr’s four-page summary of the Mueller report. The moderate Republican credits Trump with helping to “double the money” he’s now earning due to an improving economy and says Congress should spend more time on issues such as lowering health care costs.

“It’s like beating a dead horse,” Sebring said. “We’ve got a lot more important things to worry about.”

Even as Trump blasts the Mueller probe as a Democratic witch hunt, poll respondents expressed more confidence that the investigation was impartial. The growing confidence since March was driven by Republicans: Three-quarters now say they are at least moderately confident in the probe, and 38% are very or extremely confident, up from 46% and 18%, respectively, in March. Among Democrats, about 70% are at least moderately confident, down slightly from a month ago, and 45% are very or extremely confident.

Still, majorities of Americans say they believe the Justice Department has shared too few details so far with both the public (61 and Congress (55%). About a third think the department has shared too little with the White House, which has argued that portions of the report should be kept confidential if they involve private conversations of the president subject to executive privilege.

Democrats have been calling for Mueller himself to testify before Congress and have expressed concern that Barr will order unnecessary censoring of the report to protect Trump. The House Judiciary Committee, led by Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, is poised to try to compel Barr to turn over an unredacted copy as well as the report’s underlying investigative files.

The poll shows that even with the Mueller probe complete, 53% say Congress should continue to investigate Trump’s ties with Russia, while 45% say Congress should not. A similar percentage, 53%, say Congress should take steps to impeach Trump if he is found to have obstructed justice, even if he did not have inappropriate contacts with Russia.

“We don’t even know what we found yet in the probe. Until we do, Congress should definitely continue to push this issue,” said Tina Perales, a 35-year old small business owner in Norton, Ohio, who describes herself as Republican. “That little letter Barr sent out summarizing the report I think was completely BS. This Mueller thing is hundreds of pages, and he just sums it up like this? These things just don’t add up.”

Deep partisan divisions remain.

Democrats were much more likely than Republicans to believe Trump had done something improper and to support continued investigations that could lead to his removal from office. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has downplayed the likelihood of impeachment proceedings but isn’t closing the door entirely if there are significant findings of Trump misconduct.

On investigations, 84% of Democrats believe lawmakers shouldn’t let up in scrutinizing Trump’s ties to Russia, but the same share of Republicans disagree. Similarly, 83% of Democrats say Congress should take steps to impeach Trump if he is found to have obstructed justice, even if he did not have inappropriate contacts with Russia, while 82% of Republicans say Congress should not.

The AP-NORC poll of 1,108 adults was conducted April 11-14 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.1 percentage points. Respondents were first selected randomly using address-based sampling methods, and later interviewed online or by phone.

Source: NewsMax America

Czech President Zeman gestures in Vienna
Czech President Milos Zeman gestures in Vienna, Austria April 3, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

April 15, 2019

PRAGUE (Reuters) – Czech President Milos Zeman will appoint Karel Havlicek, the head of a small business association and deputy chief of the government’s science and research council, as new industry minister on April 30, a spokesman said on Monday.

The president will also appoint lawyer Vladimir Kremlik as new transport minister, replacing Dan Tok who resigned after serving more than four years, a record tenure for the transport post.

Havlicek’s main tasks will be regulating the telecoms market and preparing a project to boost the European Union country’s nuclear power capacity.

Both ministries are controlled by Prime Minister Andrej Babis’s ANO party, which leads the coalition government.

(Reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Frances Kerry)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party congress in Berlin
FILE PHOTO: German Chancellor Angela Merkel talks to Peter Altmaier during a Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party congress in Berlin, Germany, February 26, 2018. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch -/File Photo

April 15, 2019

By Andreas Rinke and Paul Carrel

BERLIN (Reuters) – After a brief ceasefire, Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats are fighting among themselves again over the future shape and leadership of their party as the chancellor stage-manages her exit as German leader.

The battle, ostensibly over a new industrial strategy led by Economy Minister Peter Altmaier, is symptomatic of a deeper struggle in the party over its future and has broken a truce agreed in December after a divisive leadership contest.

At stake are both the direction the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) takes as it starts to chart a course for the post-Merkel era, and the prospects of Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer – the new party leader and Merkel’s protege.

The debate pits supporters of a more interventionist industrial policy like Altmaier against CDU traditionalists who seek to limit the state’s role to creating the right legal framework for competition to flourish. They see this approach, known as “ordo-liberalism”, as key to Germany’s postwar economic revival.

Altmaier was forced on Friday to dismiss reports his job was under threat from Friedrich Merz, who narrowly lost out to Kramp-Karrenbauer in December’s run-off vote to decide the CDU leadership.

“This standoff is clearly about the future of the CDU,” said Carsten Nickel at Teneo Intelligence, a consultancy.

“Under Merkel, the party has focused on the new urban middle classes. The looming end of that era seems to be reinvigorating the more traditional parts of the CDU’s base such as small business owners,” added Nickel. “Merz is their hero.”

Altmaier, a close Merkel ally and formerly her chief of staff, annoyed the CDU’s free-market-loving base in February with plans for a more defensive industrial strategy that could see Berlin buy stakes in companies to prevent foreign takeovers.

His policy pivot was driven by concerns about Chinese firms acquiring German know-how, but by riling CDU traditionalists it has challenged Kramp-Karrenbauer to define her economic stance.

A social conservative, Kramp-Karrenbauer is pragmatic and more centrist on economic policy, like Merkel, whom she is in pole position to succeed after winning the CDU leadership that the chancellor decided last year not to seek again.

But her narrow margin of victory over Merz – 517 votes to 482 in a run-off – means she is taking care to appeal to the CDU’s conservative business base, which he represents.

To that end, Kramp-Karrenbauer appeared with Merz at a CDU campaign rally on Friday ahead of European elections in May.

CDU conservatives, led by former finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, warm to Merz, a businessman, who would have a platform for a potential run for chancellor if he were to take over as economy minister.

BALANCING ACT

A CDU source dismissed as “nonsense” the idea that Merz could replace Altmaier. Asked whether Merz was after his job, Altmaier told Deutschlandfunk radio on Friday: “I do not have the impression that a plot is being hatched in the party.”

But one senior German official said Altmaier was isolated in his own ministry over his industrial policy plan: “The minister is very committed to this. But if you talk to the ministry officials, it is very different.”

Carsten Linnemann, head of the MIT group that represents small and mid-sized businesses in Merkel’s conservative bloc, called for “corrections” to Altmaier’s industry plans.

“But it is unfair to make Mr Altmaier the economic lobby’s scapegoat for its discontent with the grand coalition,” he said.

Altmaier remains a close Merkel ally and his position is not in jeopardy, government sources say.

“Altmaier is not up for discussion,” said one. “Of course there are differences, like over the industry policy proposals. The chancellor has said these can be discussed in detail. But it was her express wish that Altmaier kick off a debate.”

He may nonetheless be forced out in the longer term, especially if Kramp-Karrenbauer keeps close to Merz.

Like Kramp-Karrenbauer, known as ‘AKK’ after her initials, Altmaier is from the tiny western state of Saarland. Should she become chancellor, two CDU Saarlanders in the cabinet may be one too many for other party members from bigger states.

Kramp-Karrenbauer has been working hard to unite the CDU and improve ties with its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, which last year clashed with their Social Democrat (SPD) allies and pushed the ruling coalition close to collapse.

However, a series of gaffes this year – most recently poking fun at trans-gender people – have raised questions about her suitability for the highest office. She needs to be careful with her policy positions as well as watching her style.

If Kramp-Karrenbauer moves too far right and the left-leaning SPD performs poorly in European elections, a state vote in Bremen – also in May – or regional polls in eastern Germany in the autumn, the party could decide to rebuild in opposition.

The SPD only joined the coalition after a bitter internal debate last year.

“AKK is catering heavily to the traditionalist right now,” said Nickel. “But the risk for the coalition is that this rightist turn will provoke a nervous SPD to pull the plug later this year.”

(Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Source: OANN

A man carries containers used to filled them with fuel that is sold on the black market in Port-au-Prince
A man carries containers used to filled them with fuel that is sold on the black market in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, February 24, 2019. Picture taken February 24, 2019. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

April 14, 2019

By Anthony Esposito

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) – A dispute between Haiti and a U.S. energy trading firm is leading to long blackouts and fuel shortages in the Caribbean nation, feeding anger at President Jovenel Moise’s government following the collapse of a supply deal with Venezuela last year.

    The capital Port-au-Prince’s fragile power grid was dealt a blow when Novum Energy Trading Corp suspended shipments in February, leaving residents without electricity for days and many gas stations with no fuel at the pumps.

Novum says the government owes it $40 million in overdue payments for fuel. Haitian officials did not reply to requests for comment.

The Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation, Haiti long relied on fuel shipments from nearby OPEC member Venezuela, which offered cheap financing to several Caribbean nations to buy its gasoline, diesel and other products through a program called Petrocaribe.

    But the scheme fell apart last year due to economic turmoil in Venezuela, forcing Haiti – a nation of 11 million people – to return to international markets.

    Novum, which has supplied Haiti with fuel for more than four years, stepped up its shipments as the Petrocaribe deal unravelled. Novum said it supplied 80 percent of Haiti’s gasoline and diesel needs last year.

On Feb. 27, Novum anchored a vessel carrying 150,000 barrels of gasoline off Port-au-Prince until the payment dispute could be resolved. The cargo was equivalent to roughly half of Haiti’s monthly consumption of gasoline, according to industry experts.

   After more than a month waiting, Novum on April 4 said the situation was “untenable” and sent the vessel to Jamaica to take on provisions.

Youri Chevry, mayor of Port-au-Prince, a sprawling city of more than 2.6 million people, said electricity and gasoline shortages had grown worse over the past month as Haiti waited for the shipment.

“It’s a very bad situation … It has a lot of repercussions,” he said.

    Chris Scott, Novum’s chief financial officer, said the vessel would not dock until the government could pay. He said Novum had taken such measures “fairly regularly” since mid-2018 as Haiti started to fall behind on payments after the Petrocaribe program collapsed.

    “They need to pay in order for us to be able to discharge,” Scott said.

   A government official, who asked not to be identified, said fuel distribution companies in Haiti had not paid the government for gasoline and diesel it purchased on their behalf from Novum. That in turn meant the government could not pay the U.S. company for the fuel.

    The official said other companies were still supplying Haiti with fuel. He did not provide details.

The scarcity of fuel and growing economic problems has put basic necessities increasingly out of reach for many Haitians, despite a $229 million loan program from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) reached last month.

“I’m barely surviving,” said 40-year-old Amos, one of scores of hawkers selling black market gasoline on a busy street in the capital. On bad day, he earns little more than 50 cents. “It’s going to be difficult to see change in this country.”

PROTESTS

Protesters have for months agitated to remove Moise, a former businessman who took office in February 2017. They blame him for inflation running at around 17 percent, the depreciation of the gourde currency, and for not investigating alleged misuse of Petrocaribe funds by public officials.

Between Feb. 7 and Feb. 27, the protests claimed at least 26 lives and injured more than 77 people, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, though the situation has calmed since then.

    Moise has refused to step aside, saying in February he would not hand power to the leaders of violent protests. He pledged his government would take steps to address people’s grievances.

Corruption is a perennial concern in Haiti. The nation ranked 166 from 183 countries in Transparency International’s global survey of perceptions of corruption last year – only Venezuela had a worse ranking in the Western Hemisphere.

International pressure has grown for an investigation. In a March 20 letter, 104 member of the U.S. Congress asked President Donald Trump’s government to support investigations into Petrocaribe in Haiti, pointing to the alleged misuse of $2 billion in low-interest loans under the scheme.

At the height of the Petrocaribe program, Venezuelan fuel covered nearly 70 percent of Haiti’s needs. Venezuela provided long-term financing for the oil on flexible terms, with a maximum 2 percent interest rate and a two-year grace period.

Petrocaribe included a fund for infrastructure and social projects in member countries.

By April 2018, Venezuela was no longer exporting fuel to Haiti, according to documents from Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA seen by Reuters.

After the program lapsed, Haitian energy companies lacked the hard U.S. currency to be able to buy fuel on international markets, said an executive at one firm, who asked not to be identified.

Andre Michel, an opposition leader looking into the alleged corruption surrounding Petrocaribe, said it was difficult to estimate how much was stolen but the signs of misused of funds appeared compelling.

    “No serious projects have been completed: no hospitals, no campus for students, no roads, no housing projects,” he said.

An oft-heard lament on the streets of Port-au-Prince is that while politicians pilfer billions, Haitians go hungry. Roads in the city are potholed and the vestiges of a deadly 2010 earthquake can still be seen at practically every corner.

    Destine Legagneur, a small business owner, whose shop is a stone’s throw from the presidential palace, said Haitians would be scarred by the Petrocaribe scheme for years to come.

“That money is going to have to be paid to Venezuela one way or another,” he said. “If it’s not me, it’s my kids that are going to have to pay.”

(Reporting by Anthony Esposito in Port-au-Prince; Additional reporting by Marianna Parraga in Mexico city; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Lisa Shumaker)

Source: OANN

President Donald Trump showed “contempt” for the law by telling a Customs and Border Protection official that he’d pardon him if he went to jail for stopping asylum seekers at the border, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said Sunday.

In an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Nadler was asked about Trump’s remark to former CBP commissioner and current Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan during a visit to the border in Calexico, Calif.

“This shows the president’s contempt for law, another incidence of the president’s contempt for law, to order that something clearly illegal, mainly blocking people claiming asylum, from coming into the country, which is clearly against our law… or offering a pardon… to someone who would disobey the law at the president’s request,” Nadler said.

“That’s the main job of the president, to see that the laws are faithfully executed,” Cardin added. “For a president to sabotage that goal by deliberately seeking to break the law is unforgivable.” 

Nadler also charged that Trump, before he became president, “stole” a 9/11 grant that should have gone to small businesses — and that Trump has “no moral authority to be talking about 9/11 at all.”

”I was instrumental in getting funding for small business grants for victims of 9/11, people with small businesses in the area,” the New York lawmaker said. “Donald Trump actually took a $150,000 grant from the Bush administration, they let him take $150,000 grant for 40 Wall Street. 

“He stole $150,000 from some small business person who could have used it to rehabilitate himself… He has no moral authority to be talking about 9/11 at all,” Nadler added, referring to Trump’s tweet condemning remarks by Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., about the terror attacks.

Source: NewsMax Politics

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez never misses the opportunity to bash capitalism.

At the 2019 South by Southwest festival, the Congresswoman derided capitalism, describing it as “irredeemable.” She says that the U.S. is currently facing the consequences of “putting profits over everything else in our society.” Curiously, the freshmen congresswoman pivoted her rant towards a critique of the New Deal.

How could such a staunch leftist like Ocasio-Cortez — who fashioned her pet legislation as the “Green New Deal” — criticize its 20th-century predecessor? She was able to do so by turning this discussion into a matter of race.

In her view, Roosevelt’s New Deal cut African Americans a raw deal:

“The New Deal was an extremely economically racist policy that drew little red lines around black and brown communities and it invested in white America.”

Ocasio-Cortez continued expanding on the New Deal’s harmful effects: “It allowed white Americans access to home loans that black Americans didn’t have access to, giving them access to the greatest source of intergenerational wealth.”

Misinterpreting the New Deal’s Racist History

The congresswoman is correct about the New Deal’s racist policies, albeit from an observational standpoint. I wrote about this previously, detailing how the federal government promoted segregated housing during the New Deal at the African-American community’s expense.

However, Ocasio-Cortez’s talk about the New Deal flagrantly omits other government interventions that clearly affected racial minorities in a negative way. The Wagner Act of 1935 — which established labor-union monopolies — gave incumbent unions tremendous power to exclude low-wage workers. During this period, union heavyweights discriminated against black workers in order to keep wages artificially high for white workers.

Similarly, the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 allowed the executive branch to create industrial cartels to restrict output and enact minimum-wage policies. This resulted in approximately 500,000 blacks being pushed out of the labor market thanks to high, non-market wages.

Despite these overlooked aspects of the New Deal, Ocasio-Cortez continues to race hustle and thinks that more government intervention will somehow “correct” past injustices that the government itself created.

How Limited Government Made African Americans Prosperous

In contrast to the New Deal, markets have historically helped racial minorities. It was during the Gilded Age that the African-American community was able to first establish itself as an economic force. This was an era when there was no welfare state, no federal tax maze, nor an alphabet soup of bureaucracy to impede capital accumulation and business creation.

During this time, African American civil society was at its peak. David Beito’s From Mutual Aid to Welfare State was a seminal work in demonstrating how the African-American community thrived without any form of government assistance before the New Deal. Civic organizations like the Independent Order of Saint Luke and the United Order of True Reformers “specialized initially in sickness and burial insurance,” and became leading institutions in African-American civil society.

The Independent Order of Saint Luke stood out for its entrepreneurial endeavors and ended up establishing the Saint Luke Penny Savings Bank of Richmond, which had the honor of having Maggie L. Walker as the first, black female bank president in American history.

Additionally, prosperous enclaves such as “Black Wall Street ” in Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Greenwood District and Detroit’s Black Bottom neighborhood demonstrated the power of black capitalism. No central planning was needed to establish these business neighborhoods.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her intellectual cohorts make sure that this history falls down the memory hole. Bashing capitalism is simply too easy and anything that disrupts the narrative, must be cast aside.

Is Capitalism Truly Irredeemable?

So, is capitalism irredeemable and worthy of eternal scorn? Human Progress depicts what capitalism has been able to achieve, even with the fiscal and regulatory shackles imposed on it:

“….in 1820, 94 percent of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty (less than $1.90 per day adjusted for purchasing power). In 1990 this figure was 34.8 percent, and in 2015, just 9.6 percent.”

Human Progress’s findings are in line with Mises’s view in Human Action that economies with nominal degrees of capitalism are still capable of delivering constant improvements in living standards: “The characteristic mark of economic history under capitalism is unceasing economic progress, a steady increase in the quantity of capital goods available, and a continuous trend toward an improvement in the general standard of living.”

Most importantly, capitalism has made us more humane in our treatment of domestic animals and has granted women and children unprecedented access to leisure activities and educational opportunities to improve economically. Sadly, select parts of the world — especially present-day Venezuela — have regressed into barbarism due to their political class’s complete rejection of capitalism and private property rights.

Indeed, Western mixed economies still have work to do, but the direction they must head towards is one of more liberalization, not government control.

The Invisible Iron Fist of Government Bureaucracy

Politicians like Ocasio-Cortez see poverty and working-class people struggling to make ends meet, but they don’t see the mountains of paperwork and regulations in the background that make the cost of living so high and make it difficult to run a small business. They also ignore the minimum wage laws that keep countless unskilled minority workers – their primary constituents – from entering the workforce and getting the experience they need to improve their lives.

Refuting the historical distortions and false narratives surrounding capitalism is incumbent upon on all free-marketers. George Orwell said it best, “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”

Politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez come and go, but their ideas have staying power. When these ideas are allowed to go unchallenged, they can transform into veritable nightmares in the political arena. The very least we could do is challenge these flawed ideas. If we fail to do so, we are only sowing the seeds for our inevitable defeat.

Attorney General William Barr is beginning to call out the Obama & Hillary camps for the crimes they committed during the 2016 presidential elections.

Source: InfoWars

When I was a kid in the 1980s, Velcro shoes hit the stores in force.

Although Puma first started using the fasteners in 1968, it was not until the 1980s that the shoes became commonplace on the street and at retail outlets.

At the time, many of us mocked the idea. “Who is so lazy he can’t tie shoelaces?” we snickered. We were all sure we were quite superior in our willingness to tie our own shoelaces. Years later, I noticed that quite a few elderly people — and others with reduced mobility or disabilities such as severe arthritis or cerebral palsy, often wore shoes fastened with Velcro. At that point, my playground cleverness didn’t seem quite so clever anymore.

Velcro shoes, of course, aren’t the only product that might strike us as only for lazy people.

The Huffington Post has mocked tomato slicers and corn “kernelers,” to name just two examples among the plethora of “useless” products marketed by greedy capitalists who will sell anything to make a buck.

Many of these products, however, aren’t pointless at all. While everyday tasks like slicing a tomato may be easy for those of us with normally functioning bodies, that’s not necessarily the case for everyone.

In Vox last year, responding to criticisms of allegedly useless products like the “Sock Slider,” author s.e. smith [sic] writes :

“If I didn’t have that silly piece of plastic with ropes, I wouldn’t be able to put socks on,” says Emily Ladau, a disabled advocate, writer, and speaker with Larsen syndrome , a congenital skeletal disorder.  Ladau, who uses a wheelchair for mobility, cannot bend over to put on socks. Without a “sock putter-onner,” as she calls it, she would be forced to rely on the assistance of a personal care attendant (PCA) to put her socks on every morning. “Something that people think is a silly piece of plastic is one of the reasons I don’t need a PCA when I travel.”

Environmentalists to the Disabled: Screw You

The daily hassles faced by the disabled, though, appear to have gone quite unnoticed by environmentalists who have taken to attacking useless products as not only silly, but as morally objectionable. These products, we are told, are environmentally damaging.

One example is a case of Twitter-manufactured outrage over “wasteful” packaging of pre-peeled oranges at Whole Foods. In 2016, an apparently non-disabled woman posted a photo of the oranges on the shelf and complained — with the usual level of tiresome snark we’ve come to expect on Twitter — “If only nature would find a way to cover these oranges so we didn’t need to waste so much plastic on them.”

As of this writing, the comment has over 104,000 likes, and Whole Foods eventually responded, saying “Definitely our mistake. These have been pulled. We hear you, and we will leave them in their natural packaging: the peel.”

That comment received over 750 likes.

What received far fewer likes was a comment from another user, who wrote:

I’m so sorry you’ve decided to do that. I have rheumatoid disease and it’s often impossible to peel an orange.

This, however, was apparently not very convincing to the Environmental Justice Warriors. One dismissively told the woman claiming to have rheumatoid disease to buy an orange peeler, which earned the response “If I could handle that, I could handle an orange. 🙂 It’s really no different from baby carrots in a bag or getting a pizza delivery.” To that, the Enlightened Environmentalist essentially responded “tough luck, there’s too much plastic in the ocean.”

Another environmentalist posted in response to the photo of the pre-peeled oranges:

Fu—ing hell. That makes me unbelievably angry actually. Talk about necessarily contributing to plastic taking over the planet.

When confronted with the idea that “not everyone is physically able to peel an orange,” she retorted “You know, as well as i do, that that is NOT who that is marketed towards.”

By this way of thinking, products that help the disabled are only to be tolerated if their packaging is emblazoned with phrases like “great for cripples!” or “designed for invalids!” All other products that aren’t obviously aids for disabled people shall be mocked as “useless,” and “wasteful” or perhaps banned under force of law.

The environmentalists’ war against the disabled perhaps reached a fever pitch in 2018 when activists throughout the wealthy West began demanding that small business remove all plastic straws from their stores, and that governments even outlaw them.

Some advocates for the disabled noted that plastic straws as essential in allowing many disabled people to enjoy the products and services many other people take for granted. One of these advocates, Alice Wong, explained at eater.com:

Plastic is seen as cheap, “anti-luxury,” wasteful, and harmful to the environment. All true. Plastic is also an essential part of my health and wellness. With my neuromuscular disability, plastic straws are necessary tools for my hydration and nutrition.

This argument didn’t get much of a better hearing than the orange-peel argument. Many social media readers suggested that disabled people should just carry their own straws everywhere. And after all, what’s the big deal? What did disabled people do before straws anyway?

 

Entrepreneurs vs. Consumers

There are many unpleasant lessons we could learn from these exchanges about the problems that come with being smug and self-centered.

But as this is an economics site, I’d like to focus here on what the “useless products” debate illustrates about the difference between consumers and entrepreneurs.

The lack of sensitivity we encounter with the anti-plastic environmentalists isn’t only a product of a single-minded ideology. It’s also the result of the narrow-mindedness that comes from thinking primarily as a consumer and lacking the broader mindset of an entrepreneur.

For example, in order to consume, one needs to think only in terms of himself and others like him. “I don’t need a tomato slicer,” the thinking goes, “so it’s safe to say that no one else needs one either.”

The entrepreneur, on the other hand, approaches things far differently. He (or she) thinks in terms of changing the status quo. The entrepreneur thinks in terms of meeting an unmet need.

Whether or not the entrepreneur thinks explicitly in terms of meeting the needs of disabled people is, of course, completely beside the point. The fact is that many new products created by entrepreneurs end up helping disabled people, and that’s now a common outcome in a marketplace. It’s to be expected in a marketplace where entrepreneurs think constantly in terms of expanding the world of products and services available to a large number of consumers.

So, as the universe of consumer goods expands to include Sock Sliders and tomato peelers and plastic straws, the market also expands to meet the unmet needs of more and more people.

Also irrelevant is the fact that many entrepreneurs and inventors of various products may have no idea of how these products might be used ahead of time. Entrepreneurs are partly in the business of guessing what new products and services people want. But since those products and services don’t exist already in the marketplace, they can’t know for sure.

Some products may, at first, appear to be useless. It may be the inventor of the Sock Slider didn’t set out to invent a “sock-putter-onner”  at all. The inventor may have simply been toying around with a variety of different ideas, as is suggested by inventor Simone Giertz:

The true beauty of making useless things [is] this acknowledgment that you don’t always know what the best answer is … It turns off that voice in your head that tells you that you know exactly how the world works.

Giertz is summarizing what many entrepreneurs also ready know: they can’t be sure about “exactly how the world works.” But, they are willing to try to deliver new products and services that the world might be willing to pay for. They often fail to guess properly. But they also sometimes succeed. The question is always this: can I meet an unmet need at a cost below the price people are willing to pay?” When the answer is “yes,” the world often gets new and better products — and many of them improve the lives of the disabled.

The consumer who wants to ban plastic straws and “useless” products for “lazy” people thinks in an entirely different way. These people already consider themselves experts on what everyone needs. They think they know exactly “how the world works” and they’re itching to pass laws and shame others to make sure the world fits their vision. Rather than expanding the world of new products and services, these consumers want to shrink it — to keep it in line with their personal needs, and to reflect what they themselves consider to be important.

While the consumer thinks “nobody needs that!” the entrepreneur thinks “I wonder if someone needs that.” These are two very different ways of looking at the world. Only one of them helps disabled people live easier lives.


Will Johnson presents a video and breaks down how a female was attacked by a leftist simply for wearing her ‘Make America Great Again’ hat.

Source: InfoWars

FILE PHOTO: A line worker installs the front seats on the flex line at Nissan Motor Co's automobile manufacturing plant in Smyrna Tennessee
FILE PHOTO: A line worker installs the front seats on the flex line at Nissan Motor Co’s automobile manufacturing plant in Smyrna, Tennessee, U.S., August 23, 2018. REUTERS/William DeShazer/File Photo

April 9, 2019

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. job openings dropped to an 11-month low in February and hiring decreased, which could partially explain a sharp slowdown in job growth during that month.

Still, the labor market remains a pillar of support for the economy amid signs that activity was easing because of the fading boost from a $1.5 trillion tax cut package and the effects of interest rate increases over the last few years. The economy is also facing headwinds from slowing global growth and the United States’ trade war with China.

“The February job openings data reinforced that the labor market weakened in February but there isn’t any cause for concern,” said Ryan Sweet, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

Job openings, a measure of labor demand, tumbled by 538,000 to a seasonally adjusted 7.1 million, the Labor Department said in its monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS, report on Tuesday. The drop was the biggest since August 2015. The level was the lowest since March 2018.

Vacancies in the accommodation and food services industry fell by 103,000 jobs in February. There were 72,000 fewer job openings in the real estate and rental and leasing sector. Job openings in the transportation, warehousing and utilities sector dropped by 66,000.

Nonfarm payrolls increased by only 33,000 jobs in February, the fewest since September 2017. The near-stall in job gains was partially blamed on colder weather and also viewed as payback after robust increases in December and January.

Job growth picked up in March, with the economy creating 196,000 positions, the government reported last Friday.

WORKERS STILL SCARCE

The drop in job openings in February likely does not change the theme of labor shortages in the economy. A survey of small businesses published on Tuesday found that just over a fifth of owners reported difficulties finding qualified workers as their “single most important business problem” in March.

According to the survey from the NFIB, 39 percent of small business owners reported job openings they could not fill in March. Thirty-three percent said they had openings for skilled workers and 14 percent have vacancies for unskilled labor.

Economists expect monthly job growth to average roughly 150,000 this year, stepping down from 223,000 in 2018.

“There are still millions of help wanted signs out there in the country so we hesitate to revise our outlook for the labor market overall,” said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG in New York.

The dive in job openings in February pushed down the vacancies rate to 4.5 percent from 4.8 percent in January. Hiring fell to 5.7 million in February from 5.8 million in the prior month. The decrease in hiring was led by the construction sector, where hiring fell by 73,000.

Hiring in the nondurable goods manufacturing industry dropped by 33,000 in February. Hiring by state and local government education departments fell 22,000.

The number of workers voluntarily quitting their jobs was little changed at 3.5 million in February, keeping the quits rate at 2.3 percent for a ninth straight month.

The quits rate is viewed by policymakers and economists as a measure of job market confidence. The worker reluctance to switch jobs is despite the tight labor market conditions that are steadily driving up wages.

“This is not as many quits as you would expect in such a tight labor market, when workers are in higher demand,” said Nick Bunker, an economist at Indeed Hiring Lab. “Though perhaps this isn’t surprising in the short term given that the ratio of unemployed workers to job openings has been rising.”

Layoffs increased in February, lifting the layoffs rate to 1.2 percent from 1.1 percent in January. There were increases in layoffs in the professional and businesses services, and healthcare and social assistance sectors in February.

(Reporting By Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Andrea Ricci)

Source: OANN

Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., on Monday urged the Federal Trade Commission to hold Google and Facebook accountable for potential privacy, data security and antitrust violations and publicly disclose whether it was investigating the tech giants.

“We understand that the FTC does not typically comment on nonpublic investigations, but the public discussion surrounding Google and other companies’ conduct have made this a uniquely important national issue,” the senators wrote in the letter.

“Accordingly, we respectfully request that the FTC consider publicly disclosing whether it is conducting an investigation of Google and/or other major online platforms and describe, in general terms, the nature of the conduct under examination in any such investigations,” they added.

The senators in their letter pointed out how Google dominates web traffic (90 percent) while both Facebook and Google hold a large chunk of digital advertising in the U.S.

“This type of market dominance has amplified concerns about how those companies protect consumers’ online information and about possible anticompetitive conduct that could harm consumers, innovation, and small business growth,” the two senators wrote.

Facebook and Google are already in the crosshairs of the FTC’s new competition task force, which monitors competition and considers possible antitrust violations in U.S. technology markets.

Source: NewsMax America


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