Sunday, April 1, 2012

DNC Ad – Romney & Ryan – That’s Amore

Great new DNC video attaching Romney to the the Ryan plan that will decimate Medicare and many other programs throughout America, while benefiting the wealthy with additional tax cuts.

Apple, supplier pledge to improve conditions

Audit finds multiple labor law violations after complaints about factories

Image: Apple CEO Tim Cook talks to employees as he visits the iPhone production line at the newly built Foxconn Zhengzhou Technology Park, Henan province. Cook has shown a willingness to tackle the global criticism head-on.
Handout  /  REUTERS
Apple CEO Tim Cook talks to employees as he visits the iPhone production line at the newly built Foxconn Zhengzhou Technology Park, Henan province. Cook has shown a willingness to tackle the global criticism head-on.
updated 3/29/2012 5:28:24 PM ET
    In a landmark development for the way Western companies do business in China, Apple Inc said on Thursday it had agreed to work with partner Foxconn to tackle wage and working condition violations at the factories that produce its popular products.
    Foxconn — which makes Apple devices from the iPhone to the iPad — will hire tens of thousands of new workers, clamp down on illegal overtime, improve safety protocols and upgrade worker housing and other amenities.
    The moves come in response to one of the largest investigations ever conducted of a U.S. company's operations abroad. Apple had agreed to the probe by the independent Fair Labor Association in response to a crescendo of criticism that its products were built on the backs of mistreated Chinese workers.
    The association, in disclosing its findings from a survey of three Foxconn plants and over 35,000 workers, said it had unearthed multiple violations of labor law, including extreme hours and unpaid overtime.
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    Apple, the world's most valuable corporation, and Foxconn, China's biggest private-sector employer and Apple' main contract manufacturer, are so dominant in the global technology industry that their newly forged accord will likely have a substantial ripple effect across the sector.
    Working conditions at many Chinese manufacturers that supply Western companies are considerably inferior to those at Foxconn, experts say.
    "Apple and Foxconn are obviously the two biggest players in this sector and since they're teaming up to drive this change, I really do think they set the bar for the rest of the sector," FLA President Auret van Heerden told Reuters in an interview.
    The Apple-Foxconn agreement may also raise costs for other manufacturers who contract with the Taiwanese company, including Dell Inc, Hewlett-Packard, Inc , Motorola Mobility Holdings, Nokia Oyj and Sony Corp.
    The agreement could result in higher prices for consumers, though the impact will be limited because labor costs are only a small fraction of the total cost for most high-tech devices.
    "If Foxconn's labor cost goes up ... that will be an industry-wide phenomenon and then we have to decide how much do we pass on to our customers versus how much cost do we absorb," HP Chief Executive Meg Whitman told Reuters in Febr said it would reduce working hours to 49 hours per week, including overtime, while keeping total compensation for workers at its current level. The FLA audit had found that during peak production times, workers in the three factories put in more than 60 hours per week on average.
    To compensate for the reduced hours, Foxconn will hire tens of thousands of additional workers. It also said it would build more housing and canteens to accommodate that influx.
    Apple CEO Tim Cook, who company critics hoped would usher in a more open, transparent era at Apple after he took over from the late Steve Jobs last year, has shown a willingness to tackle the global criticism head-on.

    Video: 'Significant' labor issues found at Apple suppliers

    123As Apple CEO Tim Cook visits China to see factories firsthand, the Fair Labor Association's Auret Van Heerden tells cnbc about the overtime issues and safety risks found at two of Foxconn's factories that produce Apple products.
    "We appreciate the work the FLA has done to assess conditions at Foxconn and we fully support their recommendations," Apple said in a statement.
    "We share the FLA's goal of improving lives and raising the bar for manufacturing companies everywhere."
    The much-anticipated report marks the first phase of a probe into Apple's contract manufacturers across the world's most populous nation.
    With 1.2 million workers, Foxconn — an affiliate of Taiwan's Hon Hai Precision Industry — is by far Apple's largest and most influential partner.
    Foreign companies have long grappled with conditions at supplier factories in China, dubbed the world's factory because of its low wages and high-metabolism transport and shipping infrastructure.
    While that manufacturing prowess presents an attractive business proposition, consumer concerns about allegedly brutal working conditions in China have caused headaches for foreign brands.
    Global protests against Apple swelled after reports spread in 2010 of a string or suicides at Foxconn's plants in southern China, blamed on inhumane working conditions and the alienation that migrant laborers, often from impoverished provinces, face in a bustling metropolis like Shenzhen, where two of the three factories the FLA inspected are based.
    In months past, protesters have shown up at Apple events — the rollout of the new iPad, the iPhone 4GS and its annual shareholders' meeting — holding up placards urging the $500 billion corporation to make "ethical" devices123
    The actor Mike Daisey also did much to raise awareness of the issue through his one man show, "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," though his credibility was dented when it emerged that parts of his monologue were fabricated.

    CNBC’s Jon Fortt takes a closer look at the Foxconn violations noted by the Fair Labor Association.

    In recent months, Apple's CEO has announced the results of an internal audit into more than a 100 of Apple's suppliers; caved to Wall Street pressure and put in place a dividend and stock buyback program; and addressed labor abuse protests directly.
    Cook reportedly told Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang he was working to resolve labor issues in the country. Apple joined the FLA in January and requested the group conduct a full-scale audit of its Chinese manufacturing.
    The FLA in its report sought measures that will reduce working hours while ensuring that migrant laborers — often willing to pile up the overtime to make ends meet back home — do not forego much-needed income.
    Foxconn committed to building new housing to alleviate situations where multiple workers were squeezed into dorm rooms that seem inhumane by Western standards. It will also improve accident reporting and help workers enroll in social welfare programs.
    But it is unclear if there will be independent monitoring of Apple and Foxconn's progress in adhering to its commitments.
    The Apple agreement is not the first time a U.S. consumer brand has agreed to address broadly the issue of working conditions at overseas factories.
    Nike Inc was rocked by reports in the 1990s that its contractors in China and elsewhere forced employees to work in slave-like conditions for a pittance.
    The sportswear brand eventually implemented wide-ranging reforms that vastly improved safety and working conditions, but the issue continues to rear its head: last year, Nike paid 4,400 workers $1 million to settle claims of non-payment of overtime wages.
    Yet even Nike stopped short of Apple's and Foxconn's hiring and income-boosting spree. Last month, Foxconn said it was raising salaries by 16 to 25 percent, and was advertising a basic monthly wage, not including overtime, of 1,800 yuan ($290) in the southern city of Shenzhen, Guangdong province — where the monthly minimum wage is 1,500 yuan.
    Besides the two factories in Shenzhen, the other factory covered by the FLA report is in Chengdu, in central China.
    Future forays by the FLA over coming months will encompass Apple contractors Quanta Computer Inc, Pegatron Corp , Wintek Corp and other suppliers, all notoriously tight-lipped about their operations.
    Should Chinese manufacturers and their American clients follow Apple's lead, already severely strained margins might further narrow, experts say.
    While labor costs are a relatively low percentage of total costs for electronics products, they account for a far higher percentage further down the value chain. Fast-food chains like McDonald's, or apparel makers like Nike or the Gap , are even more dependent on low-cost labor.
    Many companies have already relocated some manufacturing either to inland China, where wages are lower, or to countries like Vietnam.

    Tense lull, legislative limbo as nation waits for high court to rule on 'Obamacare'

    Art Lien / NBC News
    Gregory Katsas speaks March 26, 2012 as Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Associate Justice Samuel Alito Jr. listen at the Supreme Court in Washington.
    With three days of Supreme Court oral argument in the challenges to the 2010 health care law now over, a tense lull has settled over Washington.
    Health care reform “cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year,” President Barack Obama said on Feb. 23, 2009. But Obama and everyone else must wait at least several more weeks to learn the fate of the health care overhaul he signed into law in 2010.
    With the court’s public ritual over, it’s not that there aren’t big decisions being made ... it’s just that they’re all being made behind closed doors.
    On Friday, hidden from news cameras, sketch artists, and reporters, the justices will hold one of their weekly conferences.
    And at the end of this private meeting -- not recorded for public release as the oral arguments were -- they will have voted on all of the Affordable Care Act issues. This includes the individual insurance mandate, what parts of the law can stand if the mandate is void, and the expansion of the Medicaid program.
    According to George Washington University law professor Orin Kerr, a former law clerk for Justice Anthony Kennedy, the justices “will take tentative votes as to how to decide the case. Based on those tentative votes, different justices will be assigned to draft the majority opinion -- or perhaps majority opinions, as there are several moving parts in this case. Eventually, proposed majority opinions will be circulated among the justices: If any proposed opinion gets five votes, it becomes a majority opinion of the court.”

    Dr. Zeke Emanuel, former White House advisor for health policy in the Obama administration, offers his perspective on the impending fate of Obama's "Affordable Care Act."
    There are more than 30 other cases in which the justices haven’t yet issued rulings this term. As the weeks go by and the court announces its rulings, the yet-to-be-decided list will dwindle so that by June 25, the last scheduled day of the court’s 2011-2012 term, the ACA cases may be the last ones remaining to be announced.
    While no one can predict how the justices will decide based on the questions they asked during oral arguments, the individual mandate seems at risk.
    Justice Kennedy said Tuesday that the government is telling the individual citizen that he must buy insurance, “and that is different from what we have in previous cases, and that changes the relationship of the Federal Government to the individual in a very fundamental way.”
    “Do you not have a heavy burden of justification?” Kennedy asked Solicitor General Donald Verrilli in Tuesday’s argument.
    Even if a majority of the justices found the mandate to be unconstitutional, there are, said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Wednesday, “so many things in this act that are unquestionably okay.” If the mandate is struck down, the problem for the justices who are supporters of the law would then be to “salvage rather than throwing out everything,” as Ginsburg put it.
    Read our coverage of each day of the oral arguments:
    Court signals entire health care law might need to be struck down
    Supreme Court expresses skepticism over constitutionality of health care mandateCourt signals it will decide constitutionality of individual mandate
    Regardless of how the justices’ decision turns out, the political impact will be powerful and immediate.
    A ruling striking down the mandate or the whole law might cause a backlash among Democrats comparable to that caused by the 2000 Bush v. Gore decision.
    Chris Jennings, a health care policy advisor to President Bill Clinton, said a ruling striking down the mandate or the law might cause the Democratic base voters to work even harder to elect Democrats on November.
    Until now, he said, many Democrats “haven’t been engaged in a meaningful way” in making the case for the ACA. Many Democrats, especially on left side of the party, were dissatisfied with the law, preferring a single-payer system or “Medicare for All.” But the court might light a fire under them.
    “For the court to strike down this law would be to presume the powers of the Congress and abandon its role as an impartial and deliberate decider of constitutional law," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Wednesday.

    Art Lien/NBC News
    Justice Stephen Breyer holds two sections of the Affordable Care Act during a third day of arguments over the fate of the health care law.
    But it’s worth remembering that the high court has struck down all or parts of more than 160 federal laws since 1789, more than a dozen since 2000.
    Will Congress act if the court strikes down the law? Probably not, other than having some “messaging” votes in the months leading up to Election Day.
    House Republicans had one of those votes last week when they voted to eliminate the Medicare cost control board that is part of the ACA.
    Read the transcripts from the oral arguments:
    The afternoon transcript of Wednesday's oral arguments (.pdf)
    The morning transcript of Wednesday's oral arguments (.pdf)

    The transcript of Tuesday's arguments (.pdf)
    The transcript of Monday's oral arguments (.pdf) 

    It’s not likely Congress can do anything substantive until 2013: remember that it took more than a year to write and enact the ACA. The Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus held his first hearing on Feb. 25, 2009 -- and the law was signed by Obama on March 23, 2010.
    Debbee Keller, a spokeswoman for the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which would be one of the starting points for health care legislation, said Thursday Republicans “have already begun advancing bills to improve our health care system, including medical liability reform to end excessive lawsuits and bring down costs for patients, doctors, and taxpayers. The Supreme Court's ruling will be a major turning point in this debate, and we look forward to developing additional replacement legislation when the Court rules.”

    The Supreme Court is debating how much of the health care overhaul law should be salvaged if the health insurance requirement is thrown out. NBC's Pete Williams reports.
    But after a potentially traumatic Supreme Court ruling for ACA supporters, it’s hard to imagine bipartisan consensus, even on small pragmatic reforms.
    In the lull before the justices hand down their ruling, both Democrats and Republicans have plenty of time to think about how much the least visible branch of government matters.
    “We’re going to pay the price of this Supreme Court for a generation,” Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., lamented back in 2008 when the high court upheld Indiana’s voter identification law.
    Either supporters or opponents of the heath care law might be repeating those words this summer.

    We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 1, 2012

    Mon Apr. 2, 2012 8:10 AM PDT

    US Army 1st Sgt. Michael Strate (right), C-Battery, 1st Battalion (Air Assault), 377th Field Artillery Regiment, Task Force Spartan Steel, prepares to transport the M777 howitzer from Forward Operating Base Salerno to Combat Outpost Chamkani, March 28, 2012. Photo by the US Army.

    Why George Zimmerman should not be 'crucified' for killing Trayvon Martin

    The Christian Science Monitor -
    Passionate citizens and leaders have no right to declare neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin. Due process in the legal system determines that guilt or innocence. Equating justice with imprisoning Zimmerman or firing officials is premature.
    Temp Headline Image
    People rally before the start of a Million Hoodies March in Los Angeles March 26 to protest the failure of police to arrest a Florida neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman for fatally shooting an unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin. Op-ed contributor Kyle Scott warns that passionate leaders and citizens should let due process determine Zimmerman's guilt or innocence, not emotion.
    (REUTERS/David McNew)

    By Kyle Scott
    posted March 29, 2012 at 10:31 am EDT
    Durham. N.C.
    “But they kept shouting, ‘Crucify him, crucify him.’” Pontius Pilate finally relented and gave the crowd what it wanted. Pilate, who could find no reason why Jesus should die, could not resist the crowd’s call.
    Listening to Sunday’s sermon I wasn’t thinking of the Passion or the Resurrection, but of Trayvon Martin. He was killed by neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman.
    The initial judgment from police was that the shooting was in self-defense only to be contradicted by media reports that the attack was unprovoked. One police investigator disclosed doubts about Mr. Zimmerman's story. And yet, police revealed that Zimmerman was attacked by Martin first, and that Zimmerman then shot him. Now, police video released yesterday appears to contradict Zimmerman's story of injuries sustained.
    As of now the general public does not know the entirety of what took place that night. All we know for sure is that a young, unarmed African American man was shot and killed. The nation has been overwhelmed by grief and sympathy for Trayvon and his family. And what has turned grief into anger in some is that Zimmerman was released and not charged that night.
    A young man was killed and another man was allowed to walk away. Much of the nation, and those who are closest to the case, want justice for Trayvon’s death. But I fear the cry for justice will turn to a cry for something much worse. And in some ways, it already has.
    Before we can ask for justice we must be clear about what justice is.
    Those of us who were not there that night have no right to declare Zimmerman guilty of murder. That is what the legal system is for, to declare guilt or innocence. This does not mean that Martin’s family and friends or other concerned citizens should not call for further investigation into the matter. But to equate justice with imprisoning Zimmerman or firing officials is premature. These determinations should not be made until procedures consistent with the due process protections contained in the Bill of Rights, and extended to the states by the 14th Amendment, have run their course.
    It is irresponsible for anyone to disregard due process of law and judge guilt or innocence from what they see on TV. Also, those in positions of authority, and those who are responsible for upholding and adhering to due process of law, should resist the temptation to further inflame passions.
    At a time like this, leaders and politicians should be the calm heads of reason and demand that justice be served in the only way it can be served, by a strict adherence to the rule of law and the procedures mandated by the Constitution.
    When passions dictate our actions, we can mistake vengeance for justice. If one of my children were shot I would not be willing to wait for a trial nor care a wit about the rule of law. I would want to see the perpetrator suffer. But that is also why I shouldn’t be allowed to decide the shooter’s fate.
    Government and the American legal system are set up for this due process, because people cannot act as impartial judges in their own cases. When people are left to be judge and executioner, their emotions will likely guide their reason, and society’s bonds will break.
    If the initial media accounts of that tragic night in Sanford are correct, Zimmerman did just this – let emotion guide reason – when he pursued and possibly when he shot Trayvon. But we cannot know the truth of that night, nor can we consider ourselves morally superior to Zimmerman, if we don’t aspire to a higher standard of justice.
    I believe Zimmerman should be arrested, and if indicted, tried in a court of law. But he should not be found guilty or innocent by public opinion. Cries for street justice should go unheeded.
    Our legal system is not perfect. It has made wrong decisions and will do so again. But it is a system that limits the number of wrong decisions and the effect a wrong decision has. To do this, the government must adhere to a strict set of standards in trying to prove guilt.
    The mark of a just government, and of a people truly committed to the idea of liberty and equality, is the degree to which they abide by those legal standards, chief among them due process. This must be true when we sympathize with the accused just as much as when find the accused repugnant.
    Kyle Scott teaches American politics and constitutional law at Duke University. His commentary has appeared in Forbes,, The Christian Science Monitor,, and dozens of regional outlets including the Philadelphia Inquirer and Baltimore Sun.

    Super PACs and multi-millionaire donors:

      What it will take to restore an unbiased system

    Jennifer takes a Facebook question that addresses Citizens United, a 2010 decision by the Supreme Court that allows corporations to spend unlimited funds for political purposes. The decision has resulted in corporate donors funneling millions of dollars into Super PACs in support of individual candidates.
    Jennifer Granholm discusses what is would take to reform the ruling that allows candidates to have an unfair advantage over their opponents. Go to United for the People for more information.