Apple, Microsoft and Google must fix CIA exploits within 90 days

WIKILEAKS’ PROMISE to give tech firms access to exploits in their systems before making them public have hit a snag after the organisation added a demand that they must be fixed within 90 days. But now, according to reports, when Assange finally contacted Apple, Microsoft and Google about disclosing security flaws in their operating systems before Wikileaks publishes documents in future, he made a series of demands that the companies are now mulling over.

— source theinquirer.net

The End of Employees

Never before have big employers tried so hard to hand over chunks of their business to contractors. From Google to Wal-Mart, the strategy prunes costs for firms and job security for millions of workers

No one in the airline industry comes close to Virgin America Inc. on a measurement of efficiency called revenue per employee. That’s because baggage delivery, heavy maintenance, reservations, catering and many other jobs aren’t done by employees. Virgin America uses contractors.

“We will outsource every job that we can that is not customer-facing,” David Cush, the airline’s chief executive, told investors last March. In April, he helped sell Virgin America to Alaska Air Group Inc. for $2.6 billion, more than double its value in late 2014. He left when the takeover was completed in December.

Never before have American companies tried so hard to employ so few people. The outsourcing wave that moved apparel-making jobs to China and call-center operations to India is now just as likely to happen inside companies across the U.S. and in almost every industry.

The men and women who unload shipping containers at Wal-Mart Stores Inc. warehouses are provided by trucking company Schneider National Inc.’s logistics operation, which in turn subcontracts with temporary-staffing agencies. Pfizer Inc. used contractors to perform the majority of its clinical drug trials last year.

The contractor model is so prevalent that Google parent Alphabet Inc., ranked by Fortune magazine as the best place to work for seven of the past 10 years, has roughly equal numbers of outsourced workers and full-time employees, according to people familiar with the matter.

About 70,000 TVCs—an abbreviation for temps, vendors and contractors—test drive Google’s self-driving cars, review legal documents, make products easier and better to use, manage marketing and data projects, and do many other jobs. They wear red badges at work, while regular Alphabet employees wear white ones.

The shift is radically altering what it means to be a company and a worker. More flexibility for companies to shrink the size of their employee base, pay and benefits means less job security for workers. Rising from the mailroom to a corner office is harder now that outsourced jobs are no longer part of the workforce from which star performers are promoted.

For companies, the biggest allure of replacing employees with contract workers is more control over costs. Contractors help businesses keep their full-time, in-house staffing lean and flexible enough to adapt to new ideas or changes in demand.

For workers, the changes often lead to lower pay and make it surprisingly hard to answer the simple question “Where do you work?” Some economists say the parallel workforce created by the rise of contracting is helping to fuel income inequality between people who do the same jobs.

No one knows how many Americans work as contractors, because they don’t fit neatly into the job categories tracked by government agencies. Rough estimates by economists range from 3% to 14% of the nation’s workforce, or as many as 20 million people.

One of the narrowest definitions of outsourcing, workers hired through a contracting company to provide on-site labor for a single client, rose to 2% of all U.S. workers in 2015 from 0.6% in 2005, according to an academic study last year.

Companies, which disclose few details about their outside workers, are rapidly increasing the numbers and types of jobs seen as ripe for contracting. At large firms, 20% to 50% of the total workforce often is outsourced, according to staffing executives. Bank of America Corp. , Verizon Communications Inc., Procter & Gamble Co. and FedEx Corp. have thousands of contractors each.

In oil, gas and pharmaceuticals, outside workers sometimes outnumber employees by at least 2 to 1, says Arun Srinivasan, head of strategy and customer operations at SAP Fieldglass, a division of business software provider SAP SE that helps customers manage their workforces.

Janitorial work and cafeteria services disappeared from most company payrolls long ago. A similar shift is under way for higher-paying, white-collar jobs such as research scientist, recruiter, operations manager and loan underwriter.

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 25% of all medical transcriptionists, who type medical reports recorded by doctors and nurses, were employed in what the agency calls the business support services industry in 2015. The percentage has jumped by more than a third since 2009, a sign that transcriptionists are being pushed out of many doctors’ offices and hospitals.

“I haven’t yet met a CEO who’s not surprised by how many people who touch their products aren’t their own employees,” says Carl Camden, president and CEO of staffing agency Kelly Services Inc. Outsourcing and consulting brought in 14% of Kelly’s revenue in 2016.

Eventually, some large companies could be pruned of all but the most essential employees. Consulting firm Accenture PLC predicted last year that one of the 2,000 largest companies in the world will have “no full-time employees outside of the C-suite” within 10 years.

Accenture is one of the world’s largest providers of outsourced labor. Along with many rivals, it is pitching chief executives on the idea that their company’s core business is smaller than they think.

“We’ve shown we can do core parts of their business better than they can do it themselves,” says Mike Salvino, who ran Accenture’s outsourcing business for seven years until he left in 2016.

Steven Barker, 36 years old, says companies often dangle the possibility of full-time employment but seldom follow through. He has worked contract assignments at Amazon.com Inc., where it was common during orientation sessions for someone to ask if the job could become permanent.

He says the answer usually was: “We’ll see. Anything’s possible!”

At Amazon, Mr. Barker applied to become a full-time employee on X-Ray, which lets customers access actor biographies and other information while watching movies and television shows. He was an X-Ray contractor since it was in the development stage, he says, but wasn’t offered a job interview and eventually received a generic rejection letter from the company. Amazon declines to comment.

Companies sometimes try outsourcing and then change their minds. About 70% of Target Corp. ’s information-technology jobs were outsourced when Mike McNamara became chief information officer at the retailer in 2015. About 70% of those jobs now are done by employees.

“I’m a strong believer that if you can get competitive advantage out of something, you want it in-house,” he says. “That I have better supply-chain algorithms than [my competitors] really matters.”

Few companies, workplace consultants or economists expect the outsourcing trend to reverse. Moving noncore jobs out of a company allows it to devote more time and energy to the things it does best. When an outside firm is in charge of labor, it assumes the day-to-day grind of scheduling, hiring and firing. Workers are quickly replaced if needed, and the company worries only about the final product.

Steven Berkenfeld, an investment banker who has spent his career evaluating corporate strategies, says companies of all shapes and sizes are increasingly thinking like this: “Can I automate it? If not, can I outsource it? If not, can I give it to an independent contractor or freelancer?”

Hiring an employee is a last resort, Mr. Berkenfeld adds, and “very few jobs make it through that obstacle course.”

Visitors arriving at SAP, based in Walldorf, Germany, likely don’t notice that about 30 receptionists at its U.S. facilities work for contractor Eurest Services, part of Compass Group PLC. It happened in 2014 after SAP executives concluded during a review of potential outsourcing opportunities that some managers were paying their receptionists above-market wages.

SAP handed over hiring, training and oversight of receptionists to an outside firm. They were told they could leave SAP or keep their jobs through Eurest, which pays the receptionists in line with the overall market.

SAP says the move left the company with less to manage. “Internally, when [an employee’s] skills aren’t up to par, there’s a protracted process of managing performance,” says Jewell Parkinson, the human-resources chief for SAP’s North American division. “Working through the vendor, it’s a more efficient turnaround.”

Some economists liken the strategy to Hollywood studios, which greenlight movies and then hire directors, actors, editors, special-effects teams and marketing agencies for production. All those outsiders work together to deliver the movie, but the studio has no long-term obligations after the film’s release.

When jet-engine maker Pratt & Whitney no longer wanted to handle coordinating deliveries to its factories, it hired United Parcel Service Inc., which has thousands of logistics experts and specialized automation technology.

For years, suppliers delivered parts directly to Pratt’s two factories, where materials handlers unpacked the parts and distributed them to production teams. Earl Exum, vice president of global materials and logistics, says Pratt had “a couple hundred” logistics specialists. Some handlers were 20- or 30-year veterans who could “look at a part and know exactly what it is,” he adds.

As Pratt wrestled with plans to speed production of a new jet engine and open three new factories, executives decided in 2015 to centralize delivery and distribution of parts in one facility. That facility would receive all the parts, pack them into assembly kits and send them to the five factories.

UPS custom-built a 600,000-square-foot facility, roughly the size of 10 football fields, for Pratt in Londonderry, N.H. About 150 Pratt employees who handled parts at the two factories were offered a chance at retraining for production jobs. Many did, and the rest left the company or retired. UPS has hired about 200 hourly workers for the facility.

Most of the UPS employees had no experience in the field, and assembly kits arrived at factories with damaged or missing parts. Pratt and UPS bosses struggled to get the companies’ computers in sync, including warehouse-management software outsourced by UPS to another firm, according to Pratt.

The result: a 33% decline in engine deliveries by Pratt, a unit of United Technologies Corp. , or about $500 million in sales, in the third quarter of 2015.

Production was back on schedule by the following quarter, and Pratt’s Mr. Exum says the facility is running well now. The 200 UPS employees can do work for five factories that 150 Pratt employees used to do for two. Pratt’s employees were unionized, but UPS’s aren’t. The union representing Pratt workers objected to the move.

The flexibility of outsourced labor helps Southwest Airlines Co. shield its employee base from the ups and downs of the airline industry. The fourth-largest U.S. carrier by traffic has about 53,000 employees and 10,000 outside workers.

The nonemployees range from wheelchair pushers in airports to information-technology professionals. “We’ve never had a layoff in our history,” says Greg Muccio, Southwest’s head of recruiting. “When we look at contingent workers, we’re protecting that because what we don’t want to do is balloon up and then be in a situation where we need to lay people off.”

Outsourced workers at Google parent Alphabet arrive through staffing agencies such as Zenith Talent, Filter LLC and Switzerland’s Adecco Group AG , which alone bills Alphabet about $300 million a year for contractors and temps who work there, according to an Adecco executive.

Google wouldn’t comment on how it decides which jobs are done by contractors rather than employees. A former contractor in the search division says he got the impression from conversations and meetings that he was a nonemployee because his skill set wasn’t a core feature of the product on which he was working. He says managers also needed the ability to ramp down quickly if the project wasn’t successful.

The contractor eventually became a full-time employee. He says he was told the decision to put him on the regular payroll had to be approved by Google co-founder Larry Page, now Alphabet’s chief executive, at a product-review meeting.

The trade group Staffing Industry Analysts estimates businesses spend nearly $1 trillion a year world-wide on what it calls “workforce solutions,” or outside services to place and manage workers.

As more companies outsource jobs, the resulting improvement in some measurements of productivity puts pressure on other companies.

Bank of New York Mellon Corp. executives were asked in a 2015 earnings conference call to explain why its revenue per employee trailed other banks.

Todd Gibbons, BNY’s vice chairman and chief financial officer, said investors should focus on a different indicator “because it’s just too hard to tell exactly what’s going on with head count and how people compute it and whether they’ve got contractors in versus full-time employees and so forth.”

BNY Chairman and CEO Gerald Hassell vowed to “drive down the labor component of our company” with technology that can perform tasks currently done by people. Other companies view contracting as a stopgap until more jobs are automated, freeing firms to dispense with some workers altogether.

In January, BNY told analysts and investors that the bank has “more than 150 bots now in production.”

— source wsj.com By Lauren Weber

Nazis Once Published List of Jewish Crimes

The Trump administration has announced plans to publish a weekly list of crimes committed by unauthorized immigrants living in so-called sanctuary cities, where local officials and law enforcement are refusing to comply with federal immigration authorities’ efforts to speed up deportations. The plans for the weekly list, to be published by the Department of Homeland Security, were included in Trump’s executive orders signed last week.

Andrea Pitzer talking:

this weekly report that he has called for recalls a number of things from the past that we have seen before, which is this move to isolate and identify and then vilify a vulnerable minority community in order to move against it. When he—I just went back last night and reread his speech from when he declared his candidacy, and the Mexican rapist comment was in from the beginning, and so this has been a theme throughout. And we see back in Nazi Germany there was a paper called—a Nazi paper called Der Stürmer, and they had a department called “Letter Box,” and readers were invited to send in stories of supposed Jewish crimes. And Der Stürmer would publish them, and they would include some pretty horrific graphic illustrations of these crimes, as well. And there was even a sort of a lite version of it, if you will, racism lite, in which the Neues Volk, which was more like a Look or a Life magazine, which normally highlighted beautiful Aryan families and their beautiful homes, would run a feature like “The Criminal Jew,” and they would show photos of “Jewish-looking,” as they called it, people who represented different kinds of crimes that one ought to watch out for from Jews.

So this preoccupation with focusing in on one subset of the population’s crimes and then depicting that as somehow depraved and abnormal from the main population is something we’ve seen quite a bit in the past, even in the U.S. Before Japanese-American internment, you had newspapers like the San Francisco Chronicle running about the unassimilability of the Japanese immigrants and also the crime tendencies and depravities they had, which were distinguished from the main American population.

– the crime rate among immigrant populations in the United States is actually lower than it is among ordinary American citizens, but yet this is attempting to take isolated incidents or particular crimes and sort of raise them to the level of a general trend

It is. And I think it’s part of a disturbing narrative in which you strip out the broader context and the specificity of actions like this, and you try to weave them into this preset narrative of good and evil somehow, that really ends up being simple and dishonest and very counterproductive for the society as a whole. But yes, in general, these groups would want to keep a lower profile. They would want to stay off law enforcement’s radar. And so, this is one of the reasons that’s been suspected that it’s actually a lower crime rate. But if you get a few dramatic images—and don’t forget now, this won’t be coming out—you know, Breitbart has had this “black crimes” tag that they’ve used to try to do a similar thing in the past. And now we have Bannon in the White House. And it’s sort of a scaling-up and doing this with a different minority group, and you’ll have these, what will no doubt be, very dramatic narratives that will come forward that will eclipse the larger picture. And they’re going to have the imprimatur of a government report, which I think is another disturbing aspect.

– White House considering a plan to make visitors reveal cellphone, internet data. Describe the role mass surveillance plays in authoritarian societies.

over time, we’ve seen that it’s very hard to have an authoritarian or a totalitarian society, a state that runs, without a secret police. And you can’t—what you need the secret police for is to gather information secretly. The surveillance techniques and abilities that we have today are really unparalleled in history. And while we can’t yet be sure what the Trump administration’s motives are, what they have at their disposal is far greater than what was had in Soviet Russia, in Nazi Germany. I’m thinking in particular of Himmler complaining that he had trouble keeping track of all the people he needed to, because he needed so many agents. But when you have the kind of technology that we do, you don’t need as many people, if you have the right tools to use. And so, the ability to gather that kind of information and then potentially use it, domestically or on foreigners who happen to be here, I think is something that’s worth paying attention to and to be concerned about.
____

Andrea Pitzer
journalist and author who writes about lost and forgotten history. Her upcoming book is called One Long Night: A Global History of Concentration Camps. It looks at mass civilian detention without trial from 1896 to today.

— source democracynow.org

Circular worries medical institutes

Government hospitals, last hope for the poor, may have to hike user charges

The Union Finance Ministry’s circular to all centrally-funded autonomous institutions asking them to generate 30% of the additional financial impact incurred on implementing the 7th Pay Commission has left healthcare institutions wondering how they would do it without burdening patients. Most institutions have now written to the Union Finance Ministry’s Department of Expenditure explaining the difficulty.

The circular, issued on January 13, will impact nearly 600 autonomous bodies in the country, including major hospitals such as the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research (JIPMER) and the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience (NIMHANS), apart from around 200 commodity bodies, an equal number of research organisations and educational institutions, including the Kendriya Vidyalayas and Navodaya Vidyalayas. The worst affected are hospitals for whom it may be inevitable to hike patient user charges if they have to generate the funds.

In NIMHANS, the country’s premier mental health organisation, which has close to 800 employees including 200 faculty members, nearly Rs. 165 crore of the total Rs. 370 crore annual government grant is spent on salaries and other employee benefits. Although there are no figures available on the additional financial impact of the 7th Pay Commission’s recommendations, sources said it would be a difficult task to generate 30% of the additional requirement. NIMHANS collects over Rs. 20 crore every year as user charges of Rs. 20 per patient.

— source thehindu.com

This is the real fascism. A democratic govt controlled by few merchants.

The Obamas prepare to cash in

Barack Obama certainly did his part. Corporate profits soared during his eight years in office. The wealth of the richest 400 Americans grew from $1.57 trillion to $2.4 trillion. Social inequality increased at an accelerating rate.

With Obama in the White House, the stock market enjoyed one of its most successful runs in history (the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose by 148 percent, a greater percentage increase than under Ronald Reagan).

Concretely, according to CNN Money, “Dow components JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs have skyrocketed since the [2008-2009] bailout and are not far from their record highs. … Apple’s shares have surged more than 415% since he [Obama] took office. Amazon’s are up an astonishing 900%. And Facebook, which went public during the last few months of Obama’s first term in 2012, is up 230% from its offering price.”

The New York Times gloated last year, “The facts are inescapable: The Obama years have been among the best of times to be a stock investor, going all the way back to the dawn of the 20th century. Consider that had you been prescient enough to buy shares of a low-cost stock index fund on Mr. Obama’s first inauguration day, on Jan. 20, 2009, you would now have tripled your money. Stock market performance of this level has rarely been surpassed.”

Supplementing that, Time magazine pointed out that while under Obama, “U.S. stocks more than tripled investors’ money, generating total returns (which include the value of reinvested dividends) of 235%…shares of companies based in Europe, Japan, and other developed economies gained just 96% in total.”

So it only seems fair that having made the already immensely rich a great deal richer, at the expense of the working class, Obama should reap the appropriate reward. He and his wife certainly seem to be of that opinion.

One recent startling headline reads, “Obama could make up to $242 million after leaving Washington, D.C.” It is based on a study carried out by a researcher at the business school of the American University in Washington. The study itself, a little less sensationally headlined, “How Presidents Make Their Millions,” indeed argues that “the Obamas could earn as much as $242.5 million from speeches, book deals and pensions. (Assuming a retirement age of 70.) Not bad for a couple that entered office with $1.3 million in total net worth.”

The great question the study addresses is whether the Obamas will outdo the Clintons in amassing wealth after leaving the White House. “Could the Obamas equal or even exceed the Clintons’ $75 million in their 15th year out of office? That seems likely. President Obama leaves office with two best-sellers already to his name to add to the estimated $40 million in book fees he and Michelle will receive. Add $3 million in pension income and about 50 speeches a year at a conservative $200,000 apiece and you’re already close to $200 million before taxes. Enough to put the Obamas high up on the list of wealthiest former first families.”

The Washington Post suggests other options. “Any corporate board would probably be happy to have a former president at the table. Corporate boards pay well, with many offering healthy six-figure fees and private jet travel to and from the meetings. Obama has said he does not want to travel by commercial air in the future.”

The Obamas are already wealthy. Columnist Andrew Lisa notes, “Barack Obama earned $400,000 a year throughout his entire eight-year term. … The president also receives a $50,000 annual expense account, a $100,000 nontaxable travel account and a $19,000 entertainment budget.

“On April 15, 2016, President Obama released his 2015 tax returns, which showed that he and first lady Michelle Obama filed jointly and reported an adjusted gross income of $436,065. They paid $81,472 in taxes according to their 18.7 percent tax rate. … According to CelebrityNetWorth.com, Obama has a net worth of $12.2 million and Michelle Obama is not far behind with a net worth of $11.8 million.” Obama’s pension payment for 2017 will be $207,800.

Upon leaving the White House January 20, and following a vacation in Palm Springs, California, Obama and his family were scheduled to move into a quasi-mansion in the Kalorama section of northwest Washington, D.C. The house, with nine bedrooms “and eight-and-a-half bathrooms spanning three stories (not including a lower level)” ( Forbes ), is a “lavish residence in a desirable neighborhood. It was built in 1928, and it has 8,200 square feet” ( Business Insider ).

Business Insider adds, “Both Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and the family of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner can be counted as the Obamas’ new neighbors in Kalorama, as both have also recently purchased homes in the neighborhood. The Obamas will lease the home from Joe Lockhart, who served as press secretary in President Bill Clinton’s White House, until their younger daughter, Sasha, finishes high school. It was listed for sale at $5.3 million before going off the market in May.” Forbes suggests the property is worth $7 million, “a figure expected to increase by over $300,000 in the coming year.”

The Obamas will be paying $22,000 a month in rent for their residence. In addition, they own a $1.5 million home in Chicago, and, if the Washington Post is to be believed, “Obama, an avid golfer, is also reportedly noodling around for a home in Rancho Mirage [in the Palm Springs area], where golf is akin to a religion.” The Palm Desert Patch indicates that, according “to the rumor mill, the Obama family is looking to buy a home in Rancho Mirage, possibly in the [exclusive] Thunderbird Heights neighborhood.” The area is known “as the ‘Playground of the Presidents.’”

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels argued more than a century and a half ago that the “executive of the modern state” was nothing more than “a committee for managing the common affairs” of the entire ruling class. That is more transparently and obscenely true and the officials of this “executive” are more highly compensated than ever.

— source wsws.org By David Walsh