Jeff Bezos, First Centi-Billionaire in America

Jeff Bezos, the co-founder of Amazon has officially made it all the way to the top of Forbes list of world’s billionaires. Moreover, he has become the first and only person in America to acquire the title of centi-billionaire at a total worth of $127 billion, as determined by the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He has now surpassed other well-known billionaires, like Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft who is estimated at the worth of $90 billion, and Warren Buffet, the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway. Though Bezos was already a centi-billionaire from the sudden development of the Amazon shares last year, he has already earned about $15 billion more in the start of just this year and is expecting further growth.

This is apparent by the four percent increase – in Amazon stocks – in February when the broader market suffered a decline of four percent.

“Bezos has seen his wealth remain in excess of $100 billion, and with the likes of Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Mark Zuckerberg also tipped to reach that eye-watering milestone, it seems we’re entering the era of the centi-billionaire,” articulated by Vishal Chhatralia, the Vice President of Digital Operations for RS Components.  

To illustrate the astronomical extent of his wealth, juxtapositions have been made. To begin with, the ratio of a centi-billionaire with exactly $100 billion juxtaposed with an average American’s wealth (based on the country’s Gross Domestic Product) is 1 to 1.8 million. Likewise, the ratio of an average American’s wealth juxtaposed with Jeff Bezos’ fortune is 2.3 million to one.

Capitalism promotes profitability and long term economic expansion. It is the market system that has led to the United States’ success in today’s global market. However, it is also a system that works by merit. Although it can bring about a vast reduction in the unemployment rate that consequently eliminates the costs and wastes in the society, many have brought up the counterargument concerning the increasing gap in wealth inequality. Ultimately, the decision-making power within the market will fall on the top tier of the society, the centi-billionaires and the government, resulting in the negligence of other consumers’ wants and needs. This is a cause of distress because if the gap of wealth inequality gets bigger without a solution, various form of political instability and radicalization of society will be more likely to happen.

Nonetheless, the neoliberal form of capitalism is believed to be the most satisfactory political economic future so far as it is able to solve the demand problem caused by wealth inequality. This is attributable to the increase in state spending following the increase in profit margins as business proprietors dominate the labor industry. Like the conventional capitalist system, this, too, works by merit and though wealth inequality may become an issue, the increased collective spending can act as a counter against it. The strength of continuing the neoliberal form of capitalism, perhaps with some adjustments to it is that it is currently the most efficient system in maintaining a balanced relationship between the society and economy of a nation. Yet again, this system, without its previous function to ensure a stable growth in the economy, will only result in a decline in the living standard of the majority.

Hence, a centi-billionaire’s decision towards the final placement of their fortune can affect the future of many; ranging from an individual to an entire nation. Prospective centi-billionaires such as Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Mark Zuckerberg have all pledged to return a big portion of their fortunes to the society for the greater good. No such promise has been made by Jeff Bezos. Then again, Bezos and his spouse have been quite the philanthropist for some time now. As alumni of Princeton University, they have previously donated a sum of $15 million to the college. In addition, the United States branch of Reporters Without Borders opened an office in San Francisco, California after receiving a generous donation of $250,000 from Bezos.

Adding to the list is a $33 million donation made to TheDream.US, a scholarship reserved for a thousand immigrant high school students with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status who are receiving tertiary education. His reason for choosing this cause could be traced back to his father. As a sixteen years old Cuban immigrant, his father travelled by himself to the States under Operation Pedro Plan.

All things considered, however, the key aspect to keep an eye on is Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos’ space exploration company. His alleged plan is to support this company by trading off $1 billion worth of Amazon stock annually. Blue Origin centers its research with the goal to acquire technological revolution. Bezos have explained his vision to build an economical space platform to compete with the Internet, despite its current focus on commercial purposes.

“That will be necessary to save the Earth, because without being able to expand into space, human civilization will have to contract,” he justified at a conference held in Los Angeles, California last November.

Featured Image via Wikimedia

Amazon Instant Pickup will give customers their orders in two minutes

In this age of instant gratification, eCommerce retailers like Amazon face a dilemma. A consumer can make a purchase in seconds with a few clicks of a mouse or taps on a screen—it doesn’t get much more instant than that. Then, though, customers must wait for days or weeks before they get their hands on the purchased item.

It is arguably the last advantage brick-and-mortar stores have over the eCommerce industry: when customers make a purchase at a physical store, they can walk out with the item(s) in hand.

So, Amazon is making a continuous effort to shorten delivery times—to close the gap between the “buy now” click and the unboxing of the goods. In October 2014, the company launched a same-day pickup service which allowed customers to pickup items ordered before 11:45 am by 4:00 pm the same day, at one of a number of locations throughout the nation and around the globe.

A few months later, the company rolled out PrimeNow, through which Amazon Prime customers in select locations can get household essentials like paper towels and shampoo, small items like books and toys, and even big-screen televisions delivered to their doors in two hours at no added cost, and in one hour for an additional $7.99. Amazon even partnered with restaurants and grocery stores in certain markets to offer delivery from those locations.

Tuesday, the giant announced another leap forward, Reuters reportsAmazon Instant Pickup. The service lets customers pick up their orders within two minutes. It is currently operational only in Berkeley, CA and Los Angeles, CA, per Amazon’s website. According to Reuters, the program will expand to college campuses in Columbus, OH; College Park, MD; and Atlanta, GA in the near future, and to additional locations by the end of the year.

When a buyer places an Instant Pickup order, an Amazon employee culls the purchased item from the shelves and puts it in a locker, which is sealed using a unique bar code. When the customer arrives at the pickup location, they can scan the barcode, open the locker, and retrieve the item.

Amazon considered automating the fulfillment process, Reuters says, decided against doing so at this time. Automation could occur down the road, though.

The service will cater toward impulse buyers: the majority of the several hundred different products available at Instant Pickup locations will be high-volume, quick-purchase items like phone chargers, snacks, and drinks. The last two offerings will make Instant Pickup an alternative to vending machines.

“I want to buy a can of coke because I’m thirsty,” said Ripley MacDonald, Amazon’s director of student programs, per Reuters. “There’s no chance I’m going to order that on and wait however long it’s going to take for that to ship to me.”

That is, MacDonald says, until Instant Pickup came along.

However, Forrester analyst Amanda Chakravarty told Reuters that while the new service will be convenient for some items, vending machines will not disappear anytime soon. “[Instant Pickup] might work for some electronic gadgets that are not commonly available at vending machines,” she said. “Two minutes is too long to wait for a soda can.”

But, many analysts expect Amazon to build Instant Pickup into something beyond a high-tech vending machine: a full grocery store.

“This is a natural extension of [Amazon’s] larger push into the grocery space,” Morningstar analyst R.J. Hottovy told Reuters.

Amazon acquired Whole Foods in a $13.7 billion deal in June. TechCrunch notes that Amazon could make Instant Pickup available at some or all of Whole Foods’ 467 physical locations. Customers could build a grocery cart on their way to the store and pick up their food when they got there. Moreover, the Whole Foods stores have plenty of space for inventory, so Amazon could make them Instant Pickup locations for a host of products beyond food.

In eliminating shipping costs, Instant Pickup may allow Amazon to reduce prices, Reuters points out.

Featured image via Flickr/Robert Scoble

Tesla’s semi-truck will be electric, Autonomous

Tesla will meet with the California and Nevada Departments of Motor Vehicles to talk about testing a semi-truck in those states, Bloomberg reported Wednesday. 

In April, CEO Elon Musk tweeted that the company planned to “unveil” an electric semi-truck in September. Many had speculated that that vehicle would be autonomous or semi-autonomous.

“It’s at least a semi-autonomous truck,” Ben Kallo, an analyst at Robert W. Baird & Co., told Bloomberg in April.

The reported discussions between Tesla and the DMVs confirm that the semi will drive itself to some degree. A DMV spokeswoman told CNBC that Tesla had “requested the meeting to talk about…efforts with autonomous trucks,” but added that the DMV “is not aware of the level of autonomy of the trucks.”

In an email to a Nevada DMV official, Tesla regulatory official Nasser Zamani wrote, per CNBC: “…our primary goal is the ability to operate our prototype test trucks in a continuous manner across the state line and within the States of Nevada and California in a platooning and/or Autonomous mode without having a person in the vehicle.”

“Platooning” involves programming vehicles to autonomously follow one another in a formation or “platoon,” CNBC says.

Tesla is headquartered in Palo Alto, CA. It’s only production facility is in Fremont, CA, and its battery gigafactory is in Sparks, Nevada, just over 15 miles east of the CA-NV border, Bloomberg noted. So, it is logical for Tesla to begin testing its autonomous trucks in those states.

However, the electric automaker will face regulatory hurdles. A spokesman for the Nevada DMV said, per Bloomberg, that Tesla does not have and has not as yet applied for a testing license in the state. According to CNBC, “no companies yet have tested self-driving trucks in Nevada without a person in the cab.”

Moreover, California Highway Patrol does not permit testing of vehicles weighing more than 10,000 pounds (as Tesla’s truck will). However, a California DMV spokeswoman told Bloomberg her department is working to draft regulations governing the testing of such vehicles.

Many companies are developing autonomous long-haul transport vehicles. CNBC says commercial transport may be the ideal early market for autonomous technology, as trucks maintain constant speeds, and encounter minimal traffic on most interstates.

Nobody anywhere has developed an electric long-haul transport vehicle; battery range has been prohibitive. Tesla’s luxury Model S and Model X offerings are among the longest-range electric vehicles on the market today. The former can travel 335 miles on a single charge, the latter 295. A tank of diesel, on the other hand, can carry today’s trucks for 500 miles, CNBC says.

CNBC cites Venkat Viswanathan, a lithium ion battery researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, as saying that the battery needed to sustain a long-haul-transport electric vehicle would be so large they would become the trucks’ cargo.

Still, Musk maintains his trademark confidence.

The development of the semi is another in a string of recent efforts by the progressive automaker to expand into a wider array of markets. Tesla is set to mass produce its Model 3, a mid-market car priced around $35,000. The company also plans to release a “next-gen,” convertible version of its first ever car, The Roadster, Musk said in a comment on the April tweet referenced above. In another comment on the same tweet, he said the unveiling of a pickup truck was scheduled for 18-24 months’ time.

“The important thing is that while everyone is focused on the Model 3, there are a lot of other projects going on at Tesla,” said Kallo in April’s Bloomberg report. Per the same article, analyst James Albertine of Consumer Edge Research said Tesla’s ventures into new markets should excite investors.

The automotive industry is accelerating toward a future of electric, autonomous vehicles, and Tesla looks poised to capitalize on both fronts. Investors are showing their faith. Since December 30, the company’s stock has climbed almost 70%. Since Musk’s April 13 Twitter statements, Tesla shares are up 18.4%.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons

Investors bought exclusive community in San Francisco–and residents didn’t even know

The 35 mega-mansions on Presidio Terrace in San Francisco each cost many millions of dollars. They have been homes to some of Washington’s political elite, including House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and California senator Dianne Feinstein.

In 2015, Michael Cheng and Tina Lam bought the street itself and its common areas—everything except the houses—for $90,000, The Washington Post reports.

Cheng, who makes his living as a real estate investor, told The Mercury News Presidio was “the most unique property I’ve come across, by far.”

“I’m talking to my other investors,” he said, “and they’ve never seen anything like this — and they own some weird stuff.”

The San Francisco tax office put the land up for sale after the community homeowners’ association failed to pay the taxes on the property for more than three decades. The dues were $14 a year.

The homeowners’ association says the bills had been coming to the address of an accountant who had not been involved with the association since the 1980s. The debt had piled up to $994 by the time Lam and Cheng made the purchase. The tax office sold the land to “recoup additional fees and penalties,” the Post reports.

No warnings or notices were posted. In fact, the first time anybody on Presidio Terrace learned of the sale was when an investor working on behalf of Lam and Cheng approached the neighborhood about buying the land back.

One Presidio Terrace homeowner told The Washington Post she was “shocked to learn that this could happen.”

Attorney Scott Emblidge, who represents the homeowners’ association, says the back taxes are not the result of deliberate negligence on the part of residents.

“This isn’t about choosing not to pay property taxes; residents of Presidio Terrace pay their individual property taxes each year,” he said. “This is purely an oversight that needs to be corrected and we are working with the City to correct this unfortunate situation.”

Indeed, residents are taking legal strides to challenge the sale. A hearing in October will determine whether the sale will be rescinded. But, Amanda Fried, a spokeswoman for San Francisco’s treasurer and tax collector, says per the Post that  “there is nothing that [her] office can do” to reverse her sale. Fried is unaware of any precedent for a “rescission hearing.”

“Ninety-nine percent of property owners in San Francisco know what they need to do, and they pay their taxes on time — and they keep their mailing address up to date,” Fried adds.

According to the Post, the city taxes ownership of all of its 181 private streets.

Emblidge presumes that Cheng and Lam, whom he calls “savvy real estate professionals,” are endeavoring to “exploit a bureaucratic oversight to their advantage.” They waited two years to approach the neighborhood “so the property sale would be more difficult to rescind,” he charges.

Cheng told The Mercury News he and Lam “were kind of looking forward” to meeting with the residents face to face to discuss the matter, but that, in light of the pending litigation, the partners’ attorney had advised them not to talk to anyone in Presidio Terrace.

Cheng also said, per The Morning News, that he and Lang are not interested in exploiting the community, but are in fact considering building a house of their own in Presidio.

“When we saw it was zoned single-family, we started thinking about that — if it can be worked out,” Cheng told The Mercury News.

Still, Cheng noted that “as legal owners of the property, [he and Lam] have a list of options, and that he and his partner are “still trying to figure out what the land-use opportunities are.”

Some of those opportunities could be financially lucrative. For instance, if the couple does not sell the land back to the homeowners’ association, they could rent out the 120 parking spots that line the street.

In the past, racial segregation laws would have barred Chang, born in Taiwan, from purchasing the land. Prior to a 1948 Supreme Court decision prohibiting the segregation of neighborhoods, Presidio Terrace was whites-only, according to The Washington Post.

Today, Cheng and Lam can say they own one of the most exclusive communities in San Francisco, which they bought for less than the price of a top-of-the-line sports car.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons

Cannabis Company Purchases an Entire Town in Eastern CA

According to an Associated Press report published by Business Insider, cannabis company American Green, Inc. announced Thursday that it is in the process of purchasing the entire town of Nipton, CA, which spans 80 acres and is home to less than two dozen residents, with the intention of turning it into “an energy-independent, cannabis-friendly hospitality destination.”

Nipton’s current owner, Roxanne Lang, said per the AP that the sale was still in escrow, but confirmed that American Green was the buyer. She did not disclose the price but did mention that the town was listed at $5 million when she and her husband, Gerald Freeman, put it on the market a year ago.

According to the AP, Nipton consists of an “Old West-style” hotel, a few houses, an RV park, and a coffee shop. Located just three miles west of the California-Nevada border, the town generates much of its revenue by selling California lottery tickets to Nevada residents, whose home state is one of six without a state-sponsored lottery.

American Green aims to turn Nipton into the epicenter of the cannabis tourism industry, creating an economy driven almost entirely by marijuana. The company will invite edibles manufacturers and other major players in the cannabis industry to relocate to Nipton, bringing jobs. American Green will also sell cannabis-infused water drawn from the town’s aquifer.

“We are excited to lead the charge for a true Green Rush,” David Gwyther, American Green’s president and CEO, said in a statement, per AP. “The cannabis revolution that’s going on here in the US has the power to completely revitalize communities in the same way gold did during the 19th century.”

A gold rush put Nipton on the map in the early 1900s, but by the time Freeman came upon the town in the 1950s, Nipton was all but deserted. Freeman bought it in 1985 and set to work revitalizing the hotel and creating a solar farm.

As part of its energy-independence initiative, American Green plans to expand the solar farm Freeman built. In fact, Lang told the AP after a laugh, Freeman would likely have supported American Green’s purchase of Nipton. Freeman, a libertarian, defended people’s right to smoke pot and would have been all for American Green’s efforts toward energy independence.

Lang has an interesting tagline to describe her town’s location: “I like to say it’s conveniently located in the middle of nowhere,” Lang said, per the AP. The town sits 60 miles south of Las Vegas and about 10 miles east of I-15, which connects Vegas and LA.

The remoteness of Nipton is exactly what Carl Caveness, a handyman at the town’s hotel, likes about the town. “We [Caveness and his wife] like the quiet and solitude,” the 53-year-old told the AP.

American Green’s announcement surprised Caveness, who worries that the town’s new owners may push him out of Nipton.

Today, most of the guests at the Hotel Nipton are “desert aficionados” and Old West fanatics, according to the AP. If American Green’s vision takes off, the hotel could become an unparalleled tourist destination.

American Green revolutionized the market with its ZaZZZ vending machines, which use “military grade biometrics” to verify consumers’ ages, thereby allowing the legal sale of age-restricted products like beer, cigarettes, and marijuana.  With its purchase of Nipton, the company is poised to see the cannabis industry through another revolutionary leap.

With 50,000 individual shareholders, American Green possesses “the largest shareholder base of any cannabis-related public company in the US,” according to its website. Shares increased 131% to $.0037—that’s 37/10,000 of a dollar or 37/100 of a cent—apiece on news of the Nipton acquisition. If the venture takes off, that decimal point may move quite a few places to the right.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons

True Religion Apparel Files for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy, Submits Reconstruction Plan

True Religion Apparel, Inc. announced Wednesday that it has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization. The company joins a host of fellow California apparel enterprises, including American Apparel Inc., Pacific Sunwear of California Inc., Nasty Gal Inc. and Wet Sea, who have also gone bankrupt.

The outbreak of retail failures comes as consumers continue to shun traditional stores in favor of online shopping. According to a 2016 study by performance marketing firm HookLogic, 63% of shoppers make most of their clothing purchases online. Macy’s, J.C. Penny, Sears, and Payless have all shut the doors of many of their physical retail outlets. Last year, True Religion closed 20 of its “brick-and-mortar” stores.

The reeling fashion giant, which lost $78.5 million last fiscal year despite $369.5 million in revenue, will aim to reduce its debt by selling equity in its new, reorganized operation.  Its parent company, Towerbrook Capital Partners, an equity enterprise that bought True Religion off of the public market in 2013 for $835 million, has reached a deal with lenders which would cut the apparel retailer’s debt by about 75%, the LA Times reports.

It could take between three and four months for the bankruptcy court to confirm True Religion’s restructuring plan. If the plan is approved, the company will continue to operate, and will move toward “future growth and success,” Chief Executive John Ermatinger said in a statement. Part of the recovery effort, Ermatinger said, would be to allocate more resources to online operations.

True Religion was established in 2002 and grew exponentially in the late 2000s. From 2007-2012, the company’s size tripled  In 2013, the company generated $490 million in revenue, despite online shopping trends which chipped away at sales numbers. Today, it employs 1900 people across 140 proprietary retail stores.

However, high-end clothing companies like True Religion, which prices many of its jeans above $200, have been marginalized by international “fast fashion” stores like Zara and H&M.

H&M’s website claims to offer “fashion and quality at the best price.” The most expensive pair of men’s jeans listed on the site costs just $69.99. A large banner on the homepage advertises a 70% off summer sale.

H&M’s website also invites the customer to “shop in store or online,” and offers next day delivery and free in-store returns of online orders.

The cheapest pair of men’s jeans to be found on True Religion’s site is listed at $159.00, and prices quickly jump above $250 and then over $300.

Consumers’ preference for companies like H&M indicates that fashion trends have become economical.

According to California Fashion Association president Ilse Metcheck, however, many consumers remain willing to spend high dollar on denim. True Religion stores were just “not exciting enough,” Metcheck says, “and [True Religion wasn’t putting enough marketing energy behind their brand to bring them to an aspirational level — that the consumer would aspire to [buy] True Religion.”

In the bankruptcy petition, Ermadinger acknowledges that his company was “… adversely impacted” when it introduced “new product designs… that failed to resonate with the consumer.”

The restructuring agreement, along with $60 million in “post-petition debtor-in-possession (DIP)” from Citizen’s Bank, has given True Religion new life. The fashion market is fickle and consumer tastes are nearly impossible to predict, but if the reorganized company can build its online presence and once again capture the eyes and wallets of consumers, True Religion Apparel could become a household name in the fashion industry once again.

But Metcheck warns that customers are “no longer excited” by “piles of jeans on the table” in a retail store.

“There has to be a look around it,” she says. “Is there an excitement to it that defines the brand?”

If True Apparel wants to reclaim its place at the heart of the fashion industry, it will have to find the exciting X-Factor Metcheck references.

Roundup Facing Potential Warning Label

California is becoming the first state to require popular weed killer Roundup to come up with a label warning that it is known to cause cancer. Roundup’s main ingredient is glyphosate, a chemical that will appear on California’s list of potentially cancerous chemicals. With the new addition, Roundup may be required to add a warning label on their product.

Glyphosate is a chemical that Monsanto introduced it in 1974 as an effective way of killing weeds while leaving plants and crops intact. Dues to efficiency, glyphosate has been successful due it being sold in 160 countries worldwide. In California, U.S.’ leading farming state, farmers use it on 250 types of crops. With such a large market, should the Roundup indeed contain a cancer-causing chemical, then it is understandable as to why regulators are pushing so hard for Roundup to be issued warning labels.

Roundup has responded by doing everything it can to prevent having to put a label on their products. Monsanto, the chemical’s maker, has filed an appeal after losing in court to block the labeling. Monsanto argued that Roundup does not cause cancer and that a warning label on their products will harm the company’s business.

State regulators are still deciding if there is a high enough amount of glyphosate in Round to pose a risk to human health. Monsanto is justified in arguing against the compulsory warning label on the grounds that without verification as to whether there is a high enough chemical dose to warrant a warning label, a warning label could be hurting business despite no detrimental health impacts.

There has been some evidence, as presented by Michael Baum, an attorney who represents more than 300 people claiming a loved one who became sick or died from exposure to Roundup. If glyphosate does indeed cause cancer, there would be more unheard cases that would further provide evidence to the need for a warning label, considering the time passed since glyphosate has been introduced, and the large market that the product has been sold to.

But putting aside whether glyphosate does, in fact, cause cancer, and must, therefore, be placed on California’s cancer-causing chemical list, is it in Monsanto’s best interest to fight or comply with adding a warning label to Roundup. It is better in the long run that Monsanto does put a warning label on their products, which will more than likely hurt its company’s business now, than having to pay much higher compensation fees in the future should the correlatives that Roundup causes cancer be proven true.

Monsanto will either have to research a new chemical to put in their product that proves to be as close as efficient to Roundup as possible without the chemical causing cancer, or take the loss of revenue. Either way Round will be getting a warning label. Monsanto have an opportunity here to utilize the label not as a punishment, but as a means of fulfilling their contract for consumer safety. The damage to their reputation will result in a larger loss of faith in the company for failing to take responsibility regarding consumer health and safety, than the damage a decrease in sales adding a warning label to the product will cause.

Competitors of Monsanto also have an opportunity here to provide a safe alternative product that is ideally as effective as Roundup, increasing their own customer base at the expense of Monsanto. It will be interesting to see what Monsanto do in this situation, especially if glyphosate is proven to be a cancer-causing chemical.

Featured Image via Flickr/Mike Mozart

California Attempts to Built up Legal Marijuana Market

As the legal marijuana market continues to grow, the government of California is set to a rather difficult task. They must form the regulations that will govern California’s legal marijuana market.

California joins twenty-six other states, and the District of Columbia, who already have some form of laws surrounding the ever-growing legal marijuana market. Many of these states made marijuana legal and other simply legalized the drug for medicinal or recreational uses.

As of now, California allows adults the age of 21 to possess one ounce of marijuana and own at least six plants in their home. More thorough laws for the recreational use of marijuana in California will be finalized by January 1st of next year.

However, unlike California and the other twenty-six, some states are opposed to the idea of selling legal marijuana in any form. Then there are the states like Nevada who doesn’t allow businesses to use marijuana for public uses unless they obtain a permit to do so.

Legal marijuana currently is estimated to bring in $7 billion. The new industry would bring $1 billion in taxes each year for state and local governments.

Governor Jerry Brown came up with the suggestion of spending $50 million in order to properly organize the collections of taxes as well as issue proper licenses. The money would also go toward the hiring of employees to regulate the growing industry.

However, if the government fails to properly establish these new regulations, the marijuana industry will remain on the black market.

Unemployment Rate Drops in California to 5.2%

The state of California saw 3,700 new jobs created in December, bringing the unemployment rate down .1 percent from November and .7 percent from the end of 2015 to 5.2% The national average rate was 5% in December.

Robert Klienhenz, an economist at Los Angeles-based Beacon Economics says “An unemployment rate in the 5% range is what you see in California when it’s firing on all cylinders.”

This rise in employment comes despite a rising minimum wage, paid sick leave, and increasing liability for labor violations. On the contentious topic of rising minimum wage, Kleinhez said “There may be some effect of the higher minimum wage on the extent to which some industries are hiring, but it’s not obvious.”

The sectors with the strongest showings were trade, transportation, utilities, and hospitality. Combined, they added a net 20,900 jobs. On the other side of the spectrum, professional and business services cut the most jobs of any industry in California at 8,600.

Government, trade, healthcare, transportation and utilities produced the largest labor gains over the year. These industries alone contributed to more than half of California’s new jobs in 2016.

Since December of 2015, California has added jobs at a rate of 2%–slightly more than the national rate of 1.9% growth. Growth has slowed in the state, according to data released by the California Employment Development Department, as it approaches full-employment. Previously, April of 2015 saw the lowest unemployment rate for California since June 2007.

The labor force also grew last year by 383,900 people, who were promptly absorbed into vacant positions. Additionally, from December 2015 to December 2016, jobs in the state increased by 332,500.

As employers in Los Angeles Country expanded their payroll by 8,100, unemployment dropped from 5.1% in November to 5% in December. A net increase of 58,600 jobs over the year contributed to the steady decline of the jobless rate in the county. Los Angeles has boasted a lower jobless rate than the state average for the past couple months, which Klienhenz remarked was “pretty remarkable.”

Uber Defies DMV; Self-Driving Cars Still Being Tested in California

Uber says that it will continue to test its self-driving cars despite being told by the California DMV to cease all testing. The California Department of Motor Vehicles threatened to take action unless Uber shuts down all testing within the city of San Francisco unless the company obtains a permit to do so.

Uber doesn’t think that it needs a permit to do what companies like Tesla have been doing with cars that are able to park themselves without driver assist. Uber also believes that the only way they would need a permit is if the vehicles they are testing lack the presence of a human body in the driver seat.

Anthony Levandowsky runs the Uber autonomous car programs and says that there are people who occupy both driver and passenger seats in the vehicle to record and monitor the cars actions during the test. He says, “When the vehicle is operating, they are instructed to have their hands on the wheel. They have them in the 5 and 7 o’clock positions.” He also confirmed that there are two sets of controls in the vehicle, just like during drivers training, so the passengers are able to take over at any time during the test drive.

However, the DMV has threatened legal action unless Uber obtains the necessary permits to properly continue their testing. Companies like Google and Ford have already gotten the permits to test their self-driving models. Ford has even announced that it plans on producing a fully autonomous vehicle by the 2021.

Uber refuses to comply with the California DMV simply because they believe that their semi-autonomous cars don’t fit under the category of fully autonomous vehicle that would require them to file for a permit. However, the DMV stated that permit is to ensure that “those testing the vehicle have provided an adequate level of financial responsibility, have adequately trained qualified test drivers on the safe operation of the autonomous technology; and will notify the DMV when the vehicles have been involved in a collision.”

Michigan Makes History With Self-Driving Cars

Governor Rick Snyder approved a legislation that will allow Michigan to be the first state to test and sell self-driving cars. The law will allow the testing of cars that lack a steering wheel or brake pedal.

Companies like Ford, Fiat Chrysler, and Uber came together to help form the legislation. Once the technology is properly tested and secured, the self-driving vehicles can be sold. Google and Ford, which are part of the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets, are just a few companies who want the government to release a better set of rules on the testing of self-driving.

Meanwhile, this September the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) asked states create rules for self-driving vehicles. NHTSA requested auto companies to come up with a fifteen-point system that will guarantee the safety of the upcoming technology. This request was contradicted by the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets who said in a statement that they wanted to keep the “state and local policymakers from pursuing their own rules and contributing to an inconsistent patchwork of regulations.”

The California DMV had rules that allowed self-driving cars on the road as long as there was a driver in the front seat. The new legislation that allows the testing of driverless cars is a win for Google who has been pushing for driverless cars on the road. Google’s disapproval of the DMV laws caused the DMV to review the law in October and have yet to be officially finalized.

With the American Center for Mobility’s 335 acres and the University of Michigan’s 32 acres, both set aside for the testing of self-driving cars, it’s evident that Michigan is more than ready for the future of self-driving cars.

Disney Theme Park Bans Selfie Stick

These days, taking a selfie once every five seconds has become a mundane affair. The act of taking a selfie during social interactions and inconvenient situations should in fact be doomed as bad etiquette in the handbook of good manners.

To make matters worse, the invention of the selfie stick and its gaining popularity took over the globe. Disney however has probably had enough of the selfie shenanigans and wants to put an end to the madness.

Therefore, selfie sticks are now banned within the Disney Theme Park. This ban will be enforced by the 30th of June for the Disney Resort in California and Disney World in Florida.

Kim Prunty a spokeswoman for Disney said, “Unfortunately selfie sticks have become a growing safety concern for both our Guests and Cast.”

When guests repeatedly ignored the park’s warning signs and staff requests, Disney decided to be firm on the matter.

To the inconvenience of the guests, a ride had to be closed for an hour after a passenger bought a selfie stick on the ride.

The ban in the parks goes worldwide and will be enforced in the Disney parks in Paris and Hong Kong as well.

A DNA Test Proves that KFC did not Serve Rat

About a few days ago, KFC came under the fire after a botched order. Even though a messed up order does not seem too serious, this one definitely was an exception. A customer from California by the name of Devorise Dixon was served a strange looking piece of fried chicken at a restaurant branch in Wilmington.

The chunk of fried chicken resembled a deep fried rat with a tail. A furious Dixon did not get the apology he was hoping for from the staff at the restaurant. Rather, they just offered to replace his order and end the matter.

Dixon said he was planning to sue the restaurant after that unfortunate incident. However, after a further investigation which included a DNA test, it was proven that he was not served rat after all. It happened to just be an oddly shaped piece of chicken.

The company said in a statement,

“On Friday, the customer’s attorney turned over the product in question for testing at an independent lab, and the results officially confirmed what KFC knew all along — the product was chicken and not a rat as he claimed.”

Furthermore, the company said that their chicken tenders vary in size and shape so the customer may have been confused by that.


KFC Served Deep-Fried Rat to a Customer

Being a popular chain of fast-food restaurants doesn’t always mean that it will be in the news for good reason. In fact, over the past few months KFC has had several complaints and unsatisfied customers. Even the KFC business in China is not doing as well as it used over the past years.

But for now, a strange new controversy had taken shape for the restaurant. Apparently, the restaurant has recently accidentally served a customer deep-fried rat. An unwary diner named Devorise Dixon who lives in California, went to a KFC restaurant in Wilmington.

To his surprise, Dixon saw that instead of chicken, the restaurant served him deep-fried rat. Dixon tried to receive an explanation from the restaurant, the woman behind the counter said to have admitted that it was a rat.

The restaurant tried to make amends by replacing the order but would that really be enough to ameliorate the situation? An official from KFC contradicted the man’s statement by saying, “Following an immediate investigation, no evidence was found to support this claim.”

Photographs and a short video clip of the meal that is clearly a rat is flanked all over the internet.


Image via Facebook

protestors outside a KFC restaurant in Royal O...
protestors outside a KFC restaurant in Royal Oak, MI, May 5, 2007 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Intel Bets on its Future with Altera

Intel has reached an agreement to purchase Altera, a producer of microprocessors, for $16.7 billion.

Altera, founded in 1983, is known for its FPGA (field programmable gate arrays) products. These are chips that can be programed to execute a plethora of computational commands. Altera FPGAs are used in every day devices like cars and optical imaging, but also play a crucial role in data processing and storage. For example, earlier this year Audi asked Altera to adapt its FPGAs for assistance in producing its own automated cars.

The San Jose based integrated circuits company started working with Intel in February of 2013. The project integrated Intel’s 14-nm node technology into Altera’s FPGA chips to improve its transistor technology.

The benefits for both companies are clear. With the acquisition, Intel is growing its market share. Currently a manufacturer of computer chips for individual computers and industrial servers, as Brian M. Krzanich, CEO of Intel put it, “Intel’s growth strategy is to expand our core assets into profitable, complementary market segments. With this acquisition, we will harness the power of Moore’s Law to make the next generation of solutions not just better, but able to do more.”

Altera benefited tremendously from the deal too. According to the New York Times, “Under the terms of the transaction, Intel would pay $54 a share in cash for Altera. That represents a premium of about 56 percent to where Altera was trading on March 26 before reports of merger talks emerged.”

Interestingly enough, as reported by the Times, “On Monday morning, shares of Altera were up 6 percent, at $51.81. Intel shares were down nearly 0.5 percent.”

This acquisition comes at a time when the semiconductor industry has seen numerous companies taken over and amalgamated. Only last week Broadcom was taken over by Avago Technologies for $37 billion. This past March, Freescale Semiconductor was purchased for $12 billion by NXP Semiconductors. Intel’s acquisition of Altera is one in a trend but is more notable simply because Intel is an international force in the production of computer chips.

Intel is betting on the increasing importance of FPGAs because they are more efficient than microprocessors at performing the same tasks. According to Jason Mars, professor of computer science at the University of Michigan, “This is where things are moving. And Intel is responding.”

Mars and his cohorts have found that FPGAs are also useful for voice recognition software, another burgeoning area of the technological world.

Another area where Intel is improved by the merger is GPU (graphics processing unity) production and development. Intel’s competitors such as Facebook and Google have already started developing their GPU systems to power speech and image recognition technology. Despite having a chokehold over classic individual computer processors, that is a technology of the past. To keep up, this acquisition was an absolute necessity for Intel, which makes the drop in share price rather surprising.

FPGA and GPU technology are the future, and in absorbing Altera, Intel has moved one step closer to being an innovator in future computing ventures. The largest acquisition in the tech monster’s 47-year history is a grab for additional revenue streams as mobile devices start to eclipse individual computers as the most important technological medium in the world.

Los Angeles to Raise its Minimum Wage to $15 Per Hour

The minimum wage debate in the United States took a turn this week when the Los Angeles City Counsel voted to raise the minimum wage from $9 to $15 per hour. This increase will occur incrementally over the next five years with the per-year rate sitting at $1.50.

In Los Angeles, more than half of the working population earns less than $15 per hour. As the second largest city in the United States, this increase will have the most widespread impact of any wage increase thus far.

Many cities on the West Coast have passed higher minimum wage bills. Seattle and San Francisco have already passed similar $15 legislations, Chicago is up to $13 per hour, while cities like San Diego and Oakland are operating above $11 per hour. New York City, Washington D.C and Kansas City have all proposed the same $15 wage increase.

The magnitude of this type of increase has not been seen since the creation of the Welfare State in the 1960’s.

Labor advocates will tally their greatest victory to date as the Los Angeles City Counsel passed the measure by a 14-1 vote. With rising inflation and an outdated federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, states and city municipalities have been forced to take the issue into their own hands.

After the minimum wage increases to $15 in 2020, it will be connected to an average of the Consumer Price Index (CPI). This essentially connects the minimum wage to inflation rates, allowing for a correlated rise or fall in wages with the value of the dollar. A ratio like this will attempt to avoid political paralysis on the topic.

These increases affect all employers, however small businesses (defined in this case as 25 employees or fewer) will be granted an additional year to comply.

Some argue that older individuals should have a higher minimum wage, however the oft discussed age scale for minimum wage will not be enacted. Law stipulates that workers between the ages of 14 and 17 must be paid 85 percent of the minimum wage for their first 160 hours of employment, however after the age of 17, all workers have the same minimum wage.

According to President Obama, increases to the minimum wage should be occurring on a federal level as well, with the White House Council of Economic Advisers publishing a study concluding that 19 million workers would directly benefit from an increase of $10.10 per hour.

That said, there are plenty minimum wage opponents. Challengers hold that higher wages will induce excessive layoffs. Most of these thinkers are conservative free market capitalists, believing that the market should set wages, rather than the government. In simpler terms, workers should be paid their worth. Individuals of this disposition worry that a standard wage will lead to less jobs and increased outsourcing. This concern is specifically focused on small businesses, a sector where wage increases can directly lead to closings or relocations.

There are certain individuals and industries that will be particularly be affected by this trend. In 2012, 59 percent of the minimum wage workers were below the age of 24; of those, 59 percent were women. In terms of affected industries, the hospitality and dining businesses are very reliant upon low-skill, low-wage work and may be forced to downsize in the aftermath. However, minimum wage advocates hold that these ill effects can be mitigated by price increases.

For both sides of the debate, one fact holds true. No one is sure what the future impacts of such a dramatic increase will be, but they will shape the labor discussion for generations to come.

Image: Via Flickr/PIctures of Money

Glassdoor Answers: Which Are the Top 50 Cities for Jobs?

The job network site, Glassdoor, has helped a myriad of aspirants in some way or another get jobs. Be it vacancy postings, 6 degrees of separation or even ranks, this website has so many answers. As of now, Glassdoor has posted a list of the top 50 cities for jobs. In times like these, a list of this nature is helpful indeed.

Job seekers gaze hopefully down this list with a view to understand where to job hunt next. The rankings have been tallied on three major aspects: the first aspect is hiring opportunity, the second is the cost of living in that city and lastly is the basis of job satisfaction. Based on these calculations, the results are truly a sight to see.

Number 1 on this list is Raleigh-Durham in North Carolina. What is surprising is that some cities that one would expect are nowhere on the list. Instead, the city of Louisville, Kentucky is number 8 and Washington, D.C. is number 10. While ranking in at 25 is Nashville, Tennessee and Jacksonville, Florida is number 30.

There are a few promising cities at the end of the list as well. Hartford, Connecticut is at 31 and Detroit, Michigan at number 32. Ranked at number 40 is Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and at the final rank of number 50 is Riverside, California.

So here’s to hoping that this definitive ranking with help young professionals all over the country find the jobs they want amongst these cities.

Image: Via Flickr/Matt Lemmon

Are Your Bosses Watching You Off The Clock?

There is a new definition of working from home when your boss can track you 24/7 and you don’t even know its happening.

Intermex employee, Myrna Arias knew her boss would be fully monitoring her work and professional life, but was unaware that her boss could tap into her whole life. Upon receiving the job she was told to install an app called Xora that would track her whereabouts using a GPS system as she drove around Central Valley in California as part of her job. Yet even when off the job the traker never stopped. Arias filed a lawsuit when her boss “admitted that employees would be monitored while off duty.

When she discovered this she immediately deleted the app off her phone which resulted in her being fired. Arias seeked out a wrongful-termination lawsuit saying the termination cost her lost wages and breach of privacy totaling to more than $500,000 in damages.

The company, which is a wire transfer service, decline to make any comments on the lawsuit.

Many other companies expect some sort of tracking service of their employees as well. Many times they are asked to install an app similar to the one Arias had to download. So it is not an unusual requirement for employers who do their jobs on the go.

The Aberdeen Group conducted a report that said 54 percent of companies who provide service call work to their workers, track their location and time on the job.

The tracking is put in place not only so the employer knows their worker is doing their job, but for safety concerns as well.

The GPS system is also known to save employers on gas cost by ensuring their workers are going the best cost efficient route to the job.

Their boss will also know if they stopped unexpectedly for a long period of time indicating they are not working.

Arias was fine with these guidelines for the reason she was being tracked, but felt it was wrong that she was being tracked past working hours as she was required to keep her company phone on at all times.

“Employers are entitled, if there is a legitimate business reason, to track,” said Aria’s Lawyer in an interview with Gail Glick from Bloomberg. “What we’re saying is that you don’t have a right to track 24 hours a day.”

It is true according to the Wall Street Journal that courts determined it legal for companies to track their employees while on the job. Meaning they can read work emails or go through the company computer’s search history and data to see what you have been looking at.

But that does not count for at home computers or personal emails. So the same goes for tracking during after-work hours. The privacy of the employer is then given back.

“Employees absolutely have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their movements while they’re off duty,” said Lauren Teukolsky, a California attorney who specializes in labor issues.

Whatever an employee decides to do off duty is completely up to them and should not be a determinant in their job position Teukolsky later adds.

Arias filed her case in California which has a particular stronger privacy protection for employers than most other states.

California Penal Code states:

“No person or entity in this state shall use an electronic tracking device to determine the location or movement of a person.”

So Arias case is a particularly serious matter in terms of violating privacy.

“This is a free country,” said Glick, Aria’s attorney.

“They abolished slavery with the 13th Amendment, and she felt like it was involuntary servitude.”

Her case may affect the whole system of how employees on the go are tracked.

Image via Xora


Solar Panel Laws and How it May Affect You – Florida Presses to Remove Restrictions


The merger and partnership of liberal environmentalists and conservatives was bonded because the two groups need to re-establish the laws and restrictions regarding the use of solar power in the state of Florida.

The groups joining forces include people from all sides of the spectrum including, business owner, libertarians, and Christian conservatives. A partnership that has started a new campaign that will hopefully place the subject of subject of restrictions regarding restrictions and suppression of the solar industry on the 2016 ballot..

Florida has 229 megawatts of potential solar capacity making it the 13 ranked producer of solar energy in the country; while California who has 8,544 megawatts is the number one.

English: Solar power station in White Cliffs, ...
English: Solar power station in White Cliffs, NSW, Australia. Français : La centrale électrique solaire de White Cliffs, en Nouvelle Galles du Sud (Australie). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Stephen Smith, states, “Florida is the best solar market in the eastern United States, and it’s clearly underperforming.” Smith’s organization promotes renewable clean energy and is clearly upset that Florida’s potential is not meeting current expectations.

In Florida’s current economy, consumers are only allowed to purchase electricity and the solar energy from utilities and the state law has made it illegal for citizen’s to buy such resources from third parties.

The group established itself because they feel that those who have the power for this change are simply not applying the needed force, that is why they are pushing for the matter to be on the upcoming ballot, which needs 680,000 signatures in order to be accepted as an issue.

Sterling Ivey, a spokesman for Duke Energy Florida, is able to provide electricity in several parts of the state wishes that he could help and states that he wants “achieve energy policies, incorporating solar, that are fair and beneficial to all of our customers.”


English: Nellis Solar Power Plant
English: Nellis Solar Power Plant (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Starbucks Moving Water Plants Away From California Drought

In efforts of lessening the burden on California’s drought, Starbucks Corp. will be moving their Ethos water bottle production plant to Pennsylvania.

The move will occur within the next six months as reported by Mother Jones.

Right now the Seattle based coffee company produces their water bottles in Merced, California, which has been determined one of the most affected cities and is in “exceptional drought.”

The private springs in Baxter from which the company sources their water and is then transferred for production in Merced is also in extreme drought.

Starbucks senior vice president of global responsibility and public policy, John Kelly announced:

“The decision to move our Ethos water sourcing from California and reduce our in-store water reductions by more than 25 percent are steps we are taking in partnership with state and local governments to accelerate water conservation.”


Jonathan Greenblatt

via Joanie Tobin

The waters will not be taken from the Californian Starbucks locations, but will be distributed through a new founded supplier.

The reason for Starbuck purchase of the Ethos water back in 2005 was to “address the  global humanitarian water crisis” by donating five cents per bottle sold in their stores

The company has raised more than $12 million to water efforts in Africa, Indonesia and Latin America for cleaner water.

Now Starbucks will move their productions to help save California from a water drought.